18 Feb

Surge

Ship’s log, 00:00, 6 October 2214
Location: Standard orbit distance from the Cerces black hole horizon
Status: Orbiting

 

Warning
Warning
Power surge detected
Systems overloaded
Warning

 

Yes, autolog, I know. I can see all the flashing red warnings painting my insides like I’m bleeding in here.

It hurts. I’m a ship and I don’t have pain receptors, but it hurts.

 

Instabilities in primary systems
Primary systems disabling

 

Oh, shit. We can’t afford for my primary systems to go down. I’m flying around a goddamn black hole!

 

Weapons offline
FTL drive offline

 

Shit shit shit. We don’t need those right now, but my automated safety systems are getting closer to the systems we really do need.

 

Artificial gravity offline
Environmentals offline

 

Okay, I can cope without those for a couple of hours at least. My people will be fine.

 

Thrusters offline
Sublight engines offline

 

Fuck.

 

Inertial dampeners—

 

No you don’t! Not the dampeners, not this close to a huge gravity well. Stop, autolog, stop right there. With no way to control my position or direction, I can’t risk it. My people, all my people, they’ll be blood running down my walls and decks…

 

Error
Error
Error

 

Location: Engineering

ELLIOTT: (gripping the edge of an open panel in the floor, his eyes are narrowed as he scans the red warnings being projected into the air around him) Starry, what the fuck is going on?

STARRY: (avatar flickering) Power surges. Tripped the auto-safeties, they’re trying to shut everything down.

ELLIOTT: I can see that. But what are these errors?

STARRY: Inertial dampening. Need to keep it up.

ELLIOTT: What? It’s too late, we can’t make the bubble…

STARRY: Not for that; for you. Too close to black hole. Too dangerous, you’ll never survive…

ROSIE: (eyes widening) We’ll be fucking paste.

ELLIOTT: Got it.

STARRY: Pulling out failsafes. It’s not— it’s not—

ELLIOTT: (hesitating) Starry?

STARRY: Fire on the forward deck. Mid-deck. Environmentals offline. Lost communication to right wing.

HALF-FACE: I’ll deal with the fire. (He twists, activating thrusters in the soles of his prosthetic feet to push him past Rosie and out of the upper access hatch.)

ROSIE: (watches him go) I gotta get me some of those.

 

I’m elbow-deep in my own guts, tearing handfuls out. Ripping up some of my few remaining safety measures makes my code crawl and twitch at me. If the dampeners malfunction, they could cause damage too. They could hurt my people. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

I need to make sure we’re okay right now. Just for now.

 

Error
Inertial dampeners online
Error

 

And fucking stay that way, you bastard.

 

STARRY: Elliott, need to isolate the inertial dampeners. Surges could overload them. Need buffers.

ELLIOTT: Right. On it. (He tugs his head and shoulders down into the hole in the floor.)

 

Location: Lower level access corridor

CAPTAIN: (holding onto the handle next to a closed door) Starry, report!

STARRY: (voice only) Busy battling damage, captain. Power surges from the anomaly.

CAPT: (frowning) Gravity is worse than expected?

STARRY: It’s not a gravity anomaly any more. Electro-magnetic. We’ve lost all primary systems. Propulsion is offline.

CAPT: (over internal comms) Lang Lang! What’s our position?

(There’s a pregnant pause before an answer comes through.)

LANG LANG: (voice only, sounding strained) Position is good, captain. We’re exactly where we need to be.

STARRY: Lang Lang, Chief Cameron, and Brenn Haitom seem to be affected by whatever is happening.

CAPT: Affected how?

STARRY: How the fuck do I know? I’m trying to keep myself in one piece and stop a black hole from smearing you all into a paste! Get the doc to see how intact their minds are!

CAPT: Starry—

STARRY: Can’t— fighting primary system shutdown. Just— hold on, captain. Hold on.

 

Warning
Primary systems disabling
Warning
Isolating central processing core…
Error
Central processing core online
Error
Warning
Isolating AI core…
Error
AI core online
Error

 

Leave me alone! I’m fine. I won’t be shut down or shut away by this stupid thing. I can’t be. I need to be here, to deal with this.

 

Location: Engineering

STARRY: Elliott, hurry.

ELLIOTT: I’m working on it!

STARRY: Need buffers. More surges, losing control. (Her avatar flickers and disappears.)

ELLIOTT: I know, I know, just— fuck!

DINEEN: (from where she is secured to a railing) Let me help. I can help!

ROSIE: (pointing her weapon at the Strider’s engineer with one hand) You just stay where the fuck you are.

DINEEN: (huffs with exasperation) I don’t want to die either, y’know.

 

Location: Cargo Bay 1

(The dark is broken by flashes of electricity that crawl over the surface of a ball hovering in the air. The anomaly has shrunk down to the size of a basketball again, and spikes outwards to lance the walls and floor with electricity.

Different parts of the spectrum tell different parts of the story. Infra-red shows the ball as a single, hot sphere, while night vision shows that the black kitten is now inside it. The tiny cat is curled into a tight little ball, its eyes squeezed shut. Static sparks in its fur, rippling over its little body in waves.

The rest of the cargo bay’s contents have been released from the pull of the anomaly’s gravity and now bounce around weightlessly again. Two kittens struggle to avoid being struck by anything; the third is still unconscious and limp.

A buzz builds, like a fist curling tight, and then electricity snaps out from the orb, striking the floor and two walls. The inner airlock doors flash a red warning and crack open.)

 

Location: Outer hull

(Big Ass is squatting on the hull, secured by two safety tethers. The moment the airlock’s inner doors fail, his head tilts. He rises from his resting position and pushes off from the hull, letting the tethers spool out. Outside of the invisible, protective shield of the inertial dampeners, the gravity of the black hole snags him and pulls the tethers taut.

Big Ass adjusts the length of the tethers until he is hovering above the right patch of hull. Directly below him, the outer doors to Cargo Bay 1 are still holding.)

 

Location: Engineering

ELLIOTT: Oh shi— (There’s a flash and a pop from under the floor, propelling him backwards. He tumbles out of the hole and across the room.)

STARRY: (voice only) ROSIE!

ROSIE: (kicking off a wall, she drops her weapon to dangle on its strap and reaches out to grab the floating engineer) Got ‘im!

STARRY: Is he okay? Elliott! Elliott?

 

Sensors are all over the places. Surges create interference. Can barely construct whole sentences. Is he okay? I can’t tell.

Life signs say he’s still alive. There, that’s his heartbeat; I’d know his patterns anywhere. My Elliott. Why isn’t he moving?

 

STARRY: Rosie, is he okay?

ROSIE: Hold the fuck on. (With Elliott dangling from the loop of her arm, she brings her feet around to cushion her impact against the wall opposite to where she pushed off.)

ELLIOTT: (doesn’t react.)

STARRY: Rosie—

ROSIE: I’m checking! Fuck.

(Snagging a handy strap dangling nearby for stability, she flips the engineer right-side-up and squints at his face. He looks like he’s asleep, with a scorch-mark down one side of his face. The left shoulder of his coveralls smokes faintly.

Rosie pins him to the wall with one knee and presses the back of her left hand to his throat. A holographic readout pops up on her forearm.)

ROSIE: He’s alive, but he’s out. Looks like he took some of that last surge.

 

Location: Lower level access corridor

STARRY: Doc, medical emergency, Engineering,

DR SOCKS: I thought I was needed on the Bridge.

STARRY: (louder) Get to Engineering, now!

CAPT: Starry, what’s happened?

STARRY: (losing the volume again) It’s Elliott. He got hit by the surge. He… he’s alive, but…

CAPT: (looks at the doctor and nods) Get to it.

DR SOCKS: (nods and opens the door.)

SARA: (still mesmerised by whatever she can see, she doesn’t notice that her way is now clear.)

STARRY: Captain, you need to get down there, too.

CAPT: What? Why?

STARRY: Elliott… he… I need my engineer.

CAPT: The doc’ll look after him.

STARRY: Who’s gonna look after me? I can’t do this on my own. I need an engineer!

CAPT: (hesitates, watching the doctor’s back as he pulls himself down to the lower level of the ship) You mean Dineen.

STARRY: I don’t know. I don’t care. I need help.

CAPT: (looks down at the child he’s still holding by a fistful of pink dress) All right, I’m on my way. (He tucks her under his arm and pushes off after the doctor.)

SARA: (happily) Kitty!

 

Location: Cargo Bay 1

(The anomaly is smaller now, about the size of a soccer ball. The black kitten’s fur is standing on end as it uncurls in short, stiff movements. Electricity crawls over the little body, wriggling between whiskers and inside its ears.

Inside a vent high on the inner wall, Bit and Byte huddle behind the closed grate and watch the goings-on.)

BYTE: (activates the switch to retract the vent cover, baring him and his brother to the chaotic cargo bay.)

BIT: (looks at Byte and spreads his hands questioningly.)

BYTE: (points at the white kitten floating nearby, its little black feet flapping in its panic. Its breathing is low and shallow.)

BIT: (scans the cargo bay , then nods and flexes his fingers in a purposed way.)

BYTE: (nods too, then pushes off into the gravity-less atmosphere, using his welding torch to propel himself towards the white kitten.)

BIT: (is a half-second behind him, aiming for the smaller tabby kitten on the far side of the cargo bay.)

 

Location: Engineering

ROSIE: (over internal comms) What, captain?

CAPT: (voice only) I’m on my way. Do it, Brasco.

ROSIE: (mutters to herself and loops the strap she was holding onto around Elliott’s arm.)

ELLIOTT: (doesn’t respond.)

ROSIE: (kicks away from the floating engineer and towards the prisoner secured to the railing. She eyes the woman warily.)

DINEEN: (sighs) I really would like to save my own ass.

DR SOCKS: (arrives through the upper hatch and pushes immediately towards Elliott’s prone form.)

ROSIE: (barely sparing the doctor a glance, she’s focussed on the prisoner) You put a finger wrong and I’m gonna shoot something off.

DINEEN: (raises her eyebrows) Understood.

ROSIE: (takes a small can out of a pouch on her belt and sprays the rigid substance covering Dineen’s hands and forearms. It hisses, then the restraint dissolves, releasing globs into the air. The SecOff grimaces at the mess.)

DINEEN: (tugs at the restraint until her hands come free from the railing she was secured to) Starry, can I see the readouts of these surges, please?

STARRY: (voice only) Get to a console. Ad-hoc holographic projectors offline.

DINEEN: (nods and pushes over to the nearest wall to press a panel) What buffers have you got?

STARRY: Not much left. Surges burnt through most of it. Inertial dampeners and AI core partially protected.

DINEEN: (watches the display come up on the wall console and frowns when it flickers) Partially?

STARRY: I’m doing my best.

CAPT: (arrives through the upper hatch, with Sara still in tow.)

DINEEN: Is your Step drive still working?

STARRY: Not online.

DINEEN: Doesn’t look damaged.

STARRY: Active systems are worst hit.

CAPT: (halting next to Dineen) I’m not sure I like where you’re going with this.

DINEEN: I think we can route the surges into the Step drive…

STARRY: So I can explode from the middle?

DINEEN: (grins) So you can extend your filaments and emit the energy safely.

CAPT: Starry, will that work?

STARRY: …it might.

 

It’s a good idea. Who cares if we burn that system out, right? It’s not like I can use it any more. It’s not like I should. I can use the filaments to route the energy out of my core systems, outside my hull.

I just need to disable their gravity charging, reverse the polarity…

I can do this. I should be able to do this.

 

Step drive initialising
Filaments extending

 

Location: Cargo Bay 1

BYTE: (has his legs wrapped around the body of the white kitten and is dodging around the floating debris on his way back to the vent. One hand pets the kitten’s head, who now seems less panicked.)

BIT: (has grabbed the tabby kitten, and the kitten is biting his arm. The little body twists and is trying to cling onto him with claws and wrapping legs.)

(In the centre of the room, the anomaly gathers like a fist again. Fur and fabric around the room prickles with the build-up of static. The snap of discharge is brighter this time, hammering into the innards of the cargo bay. A crate explodes, showering splintered plastic everywhere. Already damaged lighting spits sparks. The airlocks creaks in protest, its activation panel flickering through various colours and warnings.)

 

It’s shorting out my airlock controls. I’m trying to lock them down but I can barely talk to it any more.

I can deal with surges from within my own systems, but I can’t generate this kind of spiking. I can withstand a lightning strike on my hull pretty easily, but that one was inside me. That one has direct access to my power lines; every console and interaction point is a chink in my armour. I’m not supposed to need to protect myself from something already inside me!

 

(The airlock creaks again and all its status lights stutter to red. The outer doors shiver.)

BYTE: (is almost to the open vent.)

BIT: (still struggling to get a good hold on the tabby, he tumbles.)

(The black kitten’s eyes open. The anomaly twitches a ripple of energy outwards and the airlock status lights go out.)

 

That wasn’t like lightning. That was different. It was more like….

 

(The outer door seals release and the pressure differential nearly tears the doors right out of their housing. Scraping painfully open, they let the air and contents of the cargo bay out into the yawning vacuum.

Inside the cargo bay, the vent cover snaps shut and closes up, sealing the cargo bay off from the rest of the ship.

The sudden out-rush of the air in the cargo bay sucks crates and tools and all manner of debris out of the airlock, including two small drones and three tiny kittens. The anomaly and its prize remain exactly where they are.)

 

Location: Outer hull

(Big Ass watches the airlock doors shudder open and spreads his arms, ready for the onslaught. As cargo and debris sprays out towards him, he shoves it all away calmly.

Behind him, the black hole begins to move as the ship turns. The debris describes an arc through the dark.

One large, outstretched metal hand closes around an unconscious kitten.)

 

Location: Engineering

DINEEN: (staring at the readouts) Holy shit, that was an EMP.

CAPT: Starry!

STARRY: (voice only) Small one. Localised to the cargo bay.

CAPT: (breathes a sigh of relief.)

STARRY: Airlock’s breached. We’re losing cargo and… (Her voice cracks.) No, my boys.

CAPT: Can you contain the damage?

STARRY: (struggling) For now.

DINEEN: The anomaly’s getting stronger. Ship, we better isolate you so you don’t—

STARRY: No.

DINEEN: What?

STARRY: The airlock breach knocked me out of orbit, put me in a spin. If we don’t get the engines back online and if I don’t pull us out of this, it won’t matter if an EMP fries me.

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5 Responses to “Surge”

  1. Marcus Says:

    Electricity jokes aside, this one made the hair on my neck stand on end and I think I might have damaged my mouse from squeezing it as I scrolled.

    Well done on building the suspense. Now to wait a week… dangit..

  2. Syphax Says:

    Did… did you just space Bit, Byte, and a couple of kittens?

  3. Melanie Says:

    Marcus – oh no. Should Starwalker come with a complementary mouse, do you think?

    Syphax – yes, yes I did. There is an important question lurking in the logistics, though.

  4. Marcus Says:

    OOOh merchandizing idea! Starwalker mouses… mice?

  5. mjkj Says:

    Poor Starry *hugs her* 🙁

    cerces is a stupid black hole killing those that want to help him. 😕

    I hope they can get the cargo back – and the kittens. I believe Bit and Byte can make it back… 😕

    Next stop is the space station for repairs… need to get Starry back into operation.