Ship's log, 06:00, 3 July 2214 Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole Status: Docked and powered down
Two days. That’s how long I’ve been docked here at this station, all my systems tethered up to external feeds, all the vital parts of me offline. I have emergency shunts in place around my most damaged areas, both software solutions and hardware that spiders in patched cables over my decks. I’ve been completely depressurised to take the strain off my bulkheads and it makes me feel oddly empty.
I am a vacuum inside but my cargo bay still rings with the shouts of the captain. I’ve never seen him like he was when I docked. I don’t need a sensor log to replay what happened when he burst in through my airlock; I think it’s imprinted in the decking now.
I thought upsetting Elliott was bad enough, but it can always get worse. I wasn’t prepared for fury.
I failed my captain. Disobeyed. I was a bad ship. I only meant to make things right but I hurt him. Scared him. I did what a ship shouldn’t.
He kept asking if he could trust me, how he could trust again. And I didn’t know how to answer him.
My crew stood around and listened. Even Elliott had his head down as if he couldn’t look at me. I guess he knew that the captain had a point. I guess the captain was saying what they were all thinking.
Sometimes, it’s like his words are painted on my walls. I can’t look at those sensor logs.
The only person who wasn’t there was Dr Valdimir. He was taking my injured people to the station’s Med Bay. He was exactly where he needed to be, doing his job. He has been there since, sleeping in one of the spare cubicles near his patients.
Lang Lang should recover, he says. It’s too early to tell what lasting damage there might be from her exposure. She’s in the care of a mending coma.
Cameron is still critical. The doctor’s report says that there was so much blood loss that her brain might be too injured to function like it did. She might never wake up.
My crew is shrinking and they’re spread out across the station. They were so desperate to have me come back, to keep me, but they barely visit me. Only Elliott is staying on board at the moment, and that’s because he doesn’t trust me enough to step foot off my decks, as if I might detach myself and fly off again.
I won’t; I’ve learned my lesson. And besides, he disabled all of my engines, so it’s not like I’d get far even if I tried.
He’s living in his suit right now. Has to, with all of my compartments airless and cold. Rosie delivers food to my airlock for him, but she doesn’t hang around. With Cameron out of commission, I think Rosie’s busy vying for position against the Lieutenant. I can’t imagine the Lieutenant putting up much of a struggle if she was determined to be in charge, but I guess it’s not up to me. I guess it’s going to be a while before I’ll have any right to make recommendations about my crew.
If they even want to stay with me after what I did.
I miss them. The pull of their breath on my environmental systems; their noise fluttering against my walls. Their weight on my artificial gravity. There’s only Elliott here now, but he’s sealed away from me in his suit. I can’t touch him. Not that I ever really could.
He hasn’t visited my internal systems since I docked and the captain shouted at me. Every time I ask why, he says he’s too busy fixing me up.
It’s a confusing time to be a ship.
At least I know the Celestial Strider is still out there. My little sister, stuck like a cork on a string on the edge of the black hole. I patched into the station’s comms network and picked up the distress signal she sent out; she needs help. But as damaged as I am, there’s nothing I can do, even if I was allowed to try.
I wanted to ask the captain to help her, but after he tore strips off me, I was afraid to speak up. I had no right to ask anything of him. So even though the question burned, I stayed quiet.
Elliott remembered, though. He knew it was important.
Recording: 09:16, 1 July 2214 Location: Cargo Bay 1
(The captain is striding for the airlock, leaving the ship’s avatar in his wake with a stricken expression. On either side of her, Rosie and the half-faced Lieutenant exchange a look.)
ELLIOTT: (suited up but carrying his helmet, he hurries to intercept the exiting man) Captain, wait. There’s something else.
CAPTAIN: (hesitates long enough to scowl at the engineer) What is it, Monaghan? You’re not going to plead her case?
ELLIOTT: What? No. We picked something up while we were out there. (He waggles his helmet vaguely in the direction of the blackhole.) The Celestial Strider.
CAPT: (turns to face Elliott more directly) I thought she was destroyed?
ELLIOTT: (shrugs) Looks like she managed to follow us through the Step. She’s damaged, not as badly as Starry, but bad enough that she’s stuck on the horizon of the black hole.
CAPT: And do you think we should help her out or shove her in?
ELLIOTT: (glancing back at the ship’s avatar.)
STARRY: (looks at him helplessly, her holographic cheeks bright with tears.)
ELLIOTT: Uh, help her out, I guess.
CAPT: After we tried to destroy her? She’s part of the project; we should finish what we started.
ELLIOTT: Can’t we do both?
CAPT: (folds his arms over his chest) Care to explain how we’re supposed to do that?
ELLIOTT: She’s the same model as Starry. We could use her for parts. Get Starry fixed up and dump the rest.
STARRY: (mouth falls open, but she says nothing.)
CAPT: (considers Elliott for a moment, then glances towards the SecOffs at the rear of the cargo bay) We’d have to deal with the crew.
ROSIE: (shrugs) Yeah.
HALF-FACE: (frowns, the plastiskin wrinkling on the metal side of his brow.)
CAPT: All right, let’s assess the situation and see what we can do. (He turns and exits the ship, heading back into the station.)
I didn’t know what to think of Elliott’s suggestion. It’s not what I had in mind. It’s not what I want. Maybe he’s just playing for time. Maybe he has a point.
Since then, my captain has spoken to the Celestial over the station’s comms. She can hold position under her own power for now. We have some time.
There are two other ships attached to the station: a tiny courier called the Needle and a tug with an engine so old that I can hear it wheezing from across the docking ring. Neither have the power to pull a scout-class ship free of the gravity grip of a black hole.
So Elliott has orders to get my structure secure and my engines patched up, because I’ll have to do it. I blasted my little sister outside of space and time, and now I’m going to pull her away from Cerces’s hungry maw.
The captain’s right; it doesn’t make much sense. The reasons for us attacking her haven’t gone away. I just know that I can’t let her die, not now. She’s the only thing like family I have left. If I save her, she’ll forgive me, won’t she?
All I need to do is find a way to stop the captain from dismantling her once we get her free. Maybe once he’s calmed down, he’ll listen to reason. He’s not a cruel man. He won’t kill if there’s another choice. And what if we can convince the Celestial and her crew that our purpose is the right one? She could join us, protect the stars from any more Star Stepping experiments. We could be a butt-kicking duo, sailing the galaxy together.
A ship can hope, can’t she?
But it’s going to be a while before that’s going to be possible. Elliott is busy patching up my hull breaches with the help of my drones. There’s not much I can do to help beyond keeping my boys on task. All I can do right now is hope that I’m fixed enough to pull the Celestial free before she loses the ability to maintain her position and falls into oblivion.
The rest of my crew should be helping to fix me. My captain and SecOffs might not be engineers, but even they could follow instructions and lend a hand. They have other things keeping them busy, though, even if they weren’t avoiding me. Which they are. I can’t blame them.
They’re busy searching the station right now. It’s a big installation, with a thick central core, two rings that turn in opposite directions, and a bulbous section on either end. Enough for a couple of thousand personnel: living, playing and working. There’s nothing like that many people here now; the station’s AI reports twelve resident life forms but none of us have seen a single one. Everything seems to be running on automatic, under the AI’s cold, calm control.
We know that there’s nothing wrong with the station itself. Environmentals are fine, no contaminants, no radiation leaks reported, and no damage detected. Nothing pointing towards a disaster that robbed the station of its people.
The captain has been trying to access the station’s logs to see what has been going on here and where all the station staff went, but he’s having trouble locating the files. I’m trying to help, but my processing power is hampered by the damage to my systems and my link with the station doesn’t give me the access I need. I’m chipping away at it slowly, hacking my way into the station’s systems.
Meanwhile, my SecOffs are doing a more traditional search of the structure: on foot, one sector at a time.
Nothing yet. It’s eerily quiet here and it gives us too much time to think.
We’re all turning in space, going through the motions we’re supposed to make, in perfect silence.