01 May

Strangers in the mist

Navigator's log, 20:22, 18 September 2214
Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole
Status: Docked, powered down
Log location: Navigator Lang Lang Cartier's quarters

 

This is Navigator Cartier, reporting on the first attempt to contact the entity we know as Cerces. Present while I record this is Captain Warwick, Doctor Valdimir, and Starry, our ship.

I should probably start with what we know about Cerces. He’s a class 4 black hole, static and spherical. From the size of the event horizon and gravitational distortions, the star that made it was probably about 12 or 15 solar masses – that is, 12 or 15 times the size of Terra Sol, Earth’s sun.

 

STARRY: (avatar appearing in between where the captain and doctor are seated) Uh, sorry to butt in…

LANG LANG: Of course, Starry.

STARRY: In the main phase of his evolution, Cerces was about 13.5 solar masses.

LANG LANG: (blinking) How did you calculate so precise a measurement? The black hole doesn’t tell us enough about the composition of the star when it was still a star to be able to extrapolate his mass or density.

STARRY: (glancing sideways at the captain) I, uh, took a few readings during the last Step. Of Cerces’s timeline. I don’t have a lot of data, but I managed to get… glimpses of the system.

CAPTAIN: (frowning and sitting forward, his attention on the ship’s avatar) And you’re only telling us about this now?

STARRY: (lifts her hands and then lets them flop down against her sides) You didn’t ask. You said you had everything you needed. And no-one wanted to talk about the Step, so I didn’t want to bring it up.

CAPT: (sits back again, nodding at Lang Lang to continue.)

LANG LANG: (with some sympathy, to Starry) What else did you manage to pick up? He had planets, didn’t he? I’m so sure he had planets.

STARRY: (turning to the navigator) Yes! Four, or five maybe. Far enough out that a couple survived when he went super-giant and got all fat.

LANG LANG: (leaning forward eagerly) And was one of them blue?

STARRY: (tilts her head to the side as if she’s thinking) Yes, I think so. Or purple. One of them was definitely purple.

LANG LANG: (beams happily) Then he was showing me his planets. I wasn’t sure, it was so confused, and confusing….

CAPT: Lang Lang, how about you start at the beginning?

LANG LANG: (nods) Yes, of course. Sorry.

 

For the log, then, we attempted to communicate with the Cerces black hole through an induced coma state. I was chosen to make the attempt because I’ve been in some kind of contact with the black hole before and I would know what to look for. I also know the star charts we wanted to use as a touchstone for the attempt.

I was under for about six hours total. In that time, I believe that we… we made contact.

It seemed to take forever at first. I hadn’t ever initiated contact before; when I was injured and in the coma, the presence would just come and go, and I wasn’t aware of why or how. I wasn’t even aware that it was separate from me. But this time I was looking out for it, and I knew as soon as it arrived. It felt like hours, waiting and watching. I don’t know how long it really took.

 

CAPT: Doctor, do we have any insight into that?

DR SOCKS: (tips his head to the side) The readings altered about thirty-seven minutes after Navigator Cartier entered the appropriate consciousness level. Hard to say definitively if that change was caused by Cerces’s influence, but it’s a good enough hypothesis for now.

CAPT: (nods at the navigator to continue.)

 

Thirty-seven minutes. It definitely felt like longer, but dreams are strange that way. In comparison, the rest all moved so fast that I could barely keep up.

I didn’t ever really see Cerces. He was more of a feeling; a presence, like I said. The first thing I felt of him was an overwhelming sadness, the kind that makes you feel hollow and you end up staring out of windows for hours on end. I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. It made me think of, of everyone we lost on Earth – the Moonbase, they say it was destroyed outright, and hardly anyone had time to get away. So many people, gone, just gone. It made me think of that and I got the impression that he felt it, too, and he sympathised.

I don’t know if sympathy is the right word. He… resonated with it.

DR SOCKS: So emotion seems to be our base touchpoint.

LANG LANG: (nodding) Yes. There weren’t any words from him, just impressions. It’s surprisingly hard work.

DR SOCKS: I’m curious: why do you call him ‘he’?

LANG LANG: (blinks with surprise) I don’t know. It just seems… appropriate. I suppose stars don’t really have a gender. Cerces just seemed masculine.

CAPT: (to the doctor) Is that important?

DR SOCKS: (shrugs) Probably not. It’s just interesting to see how the black hole’s communications are being interpreted. Please, Ms Cartier, continue.

LANG LANG: (nods.)

 

I tried not to get hung up on the sadness. I felt like it was something we should talk about, but we didn’t really know how to talk to each other, so we weren’t quite ready. Instead, I tried to project the star charts for him.

It’s harder than it sounds, drawing a picture like that from nothing. I don’t know how Starry does it. It took a lot of concentration to construct it, and holding it in place was harder. After I got the charts of the area local to Cerces up, I pointed to the spot that represented the black hole, then to him. Which was hard because, like I said, I couldn’t see him; he didn’t have an avatar in the dream. I wound up just gesturing around.

I wasn’t sure if he understood, but I carried on anyway. Next, I projected the star charts of the area around Terra Sol, and pointed at Earth’s star, and then me.

It didn’t seem to work at first. I wasn’t getting anything from him. So I did what the doctor suggested and focussed on the feelings surrounding the place. I tried to picture what ‘home’ meant: safety and security and belonging. Family. Love. I closed my eyes and concentrated on it as hard as I could.

At first, I didn’t think it would work. It seemed to take forever, but eventually I felt an echo. When I opened my eyes, my projection of Terra Sol and her neighbours was still there. So was the image of the local area, but that wasn’t me. That was him, I’m sure of it. He brought it into focus, then shifted it, turning it like he was winding back a clock.

That’s when I saw his system. It really did look like there might be planets there, and a sun instead of a black hole. Then there was a flash and there was this awful keening… it wasn’t really a noise, but it was…. It felt like it cut right through me. I’ve never… I’ve never felt pain like that. I felt like I was drowning in it.

And then… then I woke up.

 

DR SOCKS: Your vital signs were registering distress, so I brought you out of the coma.

STARRY: You were screaming when you came around.

LANG LANG: I was?

DR SOCKS: (nods.)

LANG LANG: (winces) Sorry.

CAPT: (leans forward, watching the navigator’s face closely) What do you think happened? What do you think that pain was?

LANG LANG: (meets the captain’s gaze and swallows) Cerces. I think he was showing me his system when it was a home. And I think… I think he was showing me how it ended.

STARRY: (quietly) He’s grieving.

DR SOCKS: (nods) It explains why he’s so fixated on the emotions linked to missing people.

CAPT: (presses his lips together and sits back in his chair.)

STARRY: Captain?

CAPT: Hm? Oh, I suspect you’re all correct: he’s missing his people. That doesn’t really explain why he’s reaching out to us, though.

DR SOCKS: Actually, it might explain it. But we need more data to be sure.

CAPT: You have something, doctor?

DR SOCKS: A theory. A couple, actually, but it’s too early yet.

LANG LANG: Sorry, captain, I didn’t get what you needed.

CAPT: No, no. You did a great job, everything we asked of you.

LANG LANG: But it’s not enough.

CAPT: (firmly) It was the first attempt. You just became the first person to communicate with an alien mind.

LANG LANG: But we all talked to Kess.

CAPT: Who was part human and already knew the language. Don’t downplay the importance of what you achieved today. No-one expected you to come out with all the answers on the first attempt.

LANG LANG: (nods, wide-eyed) I’ll try again tomorrow.

CAPT: (regards her for a moment, then turns to the man next to him) Doctor, how safe is it for her to try again so soon?

DR SOCKS: She didn’t seem to suffer any particular neurological damage, though she underwent some strain. (To Lang Lang,) How do you feel?

LANG LANG: (quietly) I have a little bit of a headache.

DR SOCKS: Then tomorrow is soon enough. Though we might want to give some more thought about what questions we give Lang Lang to ask.

CAPT: Again, you seem to have something in mind.

DR SOCKS: (tilts his head to the side in a modulating gesture) Avenues of investigation, yes. Exact questions, no. It might be worth talking to the child and Brenn Haitom before we go in again. See what light they can shed on what the black hole showed Ms Cartier.

CAPT: And they might give us more insight so we know where to go with this next. Yes, I agree. Doctor, do you need any assistance with that?

DR SOCKS: No. Pretty sure I’m the only one qualified to do it anyway.

CAPT: Starry, you have tabs on our little visitor?

STARRY: Sara’s currently trying to get into a duct in Cargo Bay 3. Casper has her in hand. I’m trying to keep her on board me; it’s easier to keep track of her. Her nannybot is useless and annoying.

CAPT: You can’t just take control of it?

STARRY: (wrinkles her nose) I would, but I really don’t like its attitude. It’s all prim. I’m a little busy to be rewriting its protocols right now.

CAPT: All right, just make sure you don’t lose track of Sara.

STARRY: (flips off a sloppy salute) Aye aye.

CAPT: All right. Any more questions we should ask at this stage, doctor?

DR SOCKS: (considers Lang Lang for a moment, then shakes his head) Unless Ms Cartier has anything else to add about her observations?

LANG LANG: No, I don’t think so. I’ll let you know if I think of anything.

CAPT: Then I guess we’re done here. Well done, Lang Lang. We’ll get to the bottom of this yet.

LANG LANG: (smiles up at the captain as he rises) Thank you. I’m glad it was useful.

CAPT: (clasps her shoulder briefly) Good night. Get some rest.

(The captain and the doctor head out of the navigator’s quarters, and the ship’s avatar gives a last smile before she disappears.)

 

Well. I suppose that’s it, then.

I talked to a star, mind to mind. Me, Lang Lang Cartier, who spent her whole life just gazing at them until this mission – watching, measuring, wondering. I’ve admired them all these years and now… now, they are so much more than a telescope ever showed me. Now I’m talking to them. And they’re talking back.

The captain’s right: I shouldn’t let that go. It’s important and amazing. Astonishing! I’m running out of words.

Words. That’s not the kind of talking we were doing. But we understood each other. We understood sadness. I lost everyone I knew on Earth’s Moonbase. My family was there, the professor I studied stars with, the scientists I shared the telescopes with. It’s still hard to believe that the place I spent most of my life is just… not there any more. Obliterated, they said. A scar on the Moon.

And Cerces, he lost all his people, too. Their home is gone, exploded when he went supernova, and then gathered into himself when he collapsed into the black hole he is now. Did they have time to escape? Not all of them, surely. Does he grieve for the planets themselves, I wonder? Or just the people he lost on them? Because I’m sure there were people. We seemed to understand that about each other. We seemed…

It’s hard to know if I am simply projecting too much onto Cerces. Our contact is so nebulous, like a mist we both feel on our skin but can’t grasp. How do I know if I’m reading too much into things? I have spent my life gazing through telescopes and sensors at stars that have already burned out, and perspective is always the trickiest angle to calculate.

Perhaps I should have mentioned all of this while the doctor was in the room. He’s young, for a doctor, but he sees into the heart of things. He understands more than he lets on. And I think… I think he sees into us more than he says, too. He always knew when I was getting scared about my leg and wondering if it would ever heal right; he always knew just what to say to set me at ease. Perhaps not kindly, but that’s not his way. I wouldn’t always feel comforted, but I wasn’t scared after talking to him.

So maybe that’s what I’ll do. Talk to him, tomorrow. He seems to know how to keep his own perspective under control, so maybe he can help me with mine.

Before I jump into the mist with Cerces again. Me, little Lang Lang stargazer, gets another chance to talk to a star.

Navigator out.

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13 Responses to “Strangers in the mist”

  1. Nukestar Says:

    Interesting, I think this is the first time Lang Lang makes a log

  2. Marcus Says:

    A wonderfully well written chapter.
    Hopefully soon they will be able to communicate better with Cerces and help him.
    So many hugs for Starry over the course of this story, how does one offer hugs to a black hole?

  3. Syphax Says:

    So Ceres had life supporting planets? I though Kess said she was an anomaly in that matter.

    Also: Aliens!

  4. thomas Says:

    an amazing idea to talk mind-to-mind, sort of Spockish but without the weird fingers. I really liked the chapter Melanie but of course I have always like how you portray Lang Lang. She seems like a prototypical cute next-door neighbor girl; a girl you want to protect.

    Thanks

  5. Lokira Says:

    Hmmm… Looks like someone could use a comforting hug.

  6. mjkj Says:

    Wow, Lang Lang Stargazer 🙂

    *hugs Lang Lang and Starry*

    I agree with Marcus: you did a wonderful job, Melanie.

    @Marcus: to your question: how does one offer hugs to a black hole? – carefully, I advice; best would be to stay out of the gravitic event horizon: hug his avatar 😀

    mjkj

  7. Melanie Says:

    Nukestar – yup, this is Lang Lang’s first log entry. It was both weird and fun to write in her voice. (And harder when the captain and ship kept interrupting her. Pesky characters.)

    Marcus – thank you! 🙂 I’m not sure how you offer hugs to a black hole, but I’m pretty sure that once you do, you can’t take it back.

    Syphax – yup! And I guess Cerces is an anomaly too. It’s just unusual for a star to support life in its system (compared to all the stars that don’t).
    You know, I didn’t set out with aliens in mind for this universe, but now… alieeeeeens.

    thomas – thanks! Glad you like it. 🙂 Lang Lang’s one of my favourites; it’s nice to give her a chance to step to the fore. She’s such a wallflower.

    Lokira – hugs for all! Black holes need love too!

    mjkj – awww, thank you! After battling with it all week, it’s such a relief to know you guys like it. 🙂

  8. Francisco Says:

    After what they’ve found out, can they leave Cerces all alone? I’m not saying that everyone should stay I suspect that there would be one or two who would volunteer to keep him company.

  9. Kuro_Neko Says:

    Good stuff.

    “they are so much more than a telescope every showed me.”

    I think you meant ‘telescope ever showed’ there.

    Cheers.

  10. Melanie Says:

    Francisco – so true. Black holes need friends too.

    Kuro-Neko – thanks!
    And yes, you’re correct. Fixed! Thanks for that. 🙂

  11. Medic Says:

    @mjkj

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought of that as soon as it was read. 🙂

    I can just see it now, the nanybot starts acting like Starry. Hey, does this mean the nanybot is now one of Starry’s adopted children?

  12. Melanie Says:

    Medic – not quite yet! But soon, maybe. Getting closer….

  13. Marque Says:

    Wow its more than a little interesting that you are using emotional energy as a communications medium. I was astounded 7 to 8 years ago when a world renowned Physicist explained, at a physicists symposium no less, that there was evidence that humans in highly emotional states were communicating inter-dimensionally and that we, his colleagues, needed to develop new theories and tools to begin understanding and measuring this.
    Were you there Mel or are you just channelling him when you get emotionally focussed. 🙂