11 Sep

Sustenance

Ship's log, 18:00, 7 July 2214
Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole
Status: Docked and powered down

 

It has been less than a day since I broke into the station’s logs but the captain he has asked us all to get together for a progress report. I haven’t seen him nervous like this before: he’s pacing around the visitors’ lounge and glancing occasionally towards the bar. Rosie and the Lieutenant are sitting on stools there, but he doesn’t seem to be looking at them; his gaze goes to the array of coloured bottles behind them. Always to the bottles.

Elliott is sitting at a table near my SecOffs, out of his helmet and suit for a change and freshly showered. Even his shirt is clean. He’s making the most of the pause to eat, tucking into a burger. He keeps frowning into the middle distance as if it pulls at him. They all do. Even Rosie is quiet and she rarely lets an uncomfortable silence live for long.

The captain will want to get straight to the point, but while we’re waiting for the doctor to arrive from Med Bay, I might as well go over some of the other background material I’ve picked out of the station’s logs. Get it recorded for posterity.

Sarabande Station, constructed in 2211 and shipped to the Cerces black hole in pieces by Is-Tech. When I first saw that, I nearly panicked, but it shouldn’t be a surprise: if it’s big, mechanical, and space-worthy, Is-Tech probably built it. Almost every ship I’ve met was built by Is-Tech, but they don’t operate them all; their business is manufacturing.

In the same way, Is-Tech don’t own or run the station; they were only contracted to build it. Or, more precisely, its pieces. Once it was shipped here, station personnel bolted it together and got it working, under Is-Tech engineer supervision. When it was all up and running, Is-Tech’s contract was done and it was left here, the sole responsibility of Desai Valla Inc., a research conglomerate based on Earth.

It’s unclear what the station was built for; the research files are behind yet more security and I haven’t had the time or resources to look into them yet.

Two years ago, the station was declared complete and operational. I’ve glimpsed at logs from that time and the faces are so familiar: enthusiastic, optimistic, at the beginning of the journey. The station bustled with people and thrummed with purpose.

 

Station Commander's log, 17:45, 2 June 2212
Log location: Station Commander's quarters
Mode: video

(The log shows the view from the same sensor as the final Station Commander log: the Commander’s desk and the wall behind that is covered with commendations and promotions. The Commander is sitting in her neat uniform, with straight creases and gleaming pins of office at her collar. She smiles at the sensor and shifts her weight in the chair.)

STATION COMMANDER NEERU MATTHIAS: This is Neeru Matthias, Commander of Sarabande Station, recording the first official log of this station. She was declared officially operational this morning at oh-six-hundred local time.

So far, apart from the usual construction delays, everything has gone smoothly. The first six research teams are moving into their laboratories as we speak. Another six arrive in a week’s time. We have a lot of work to do and a lot of personnel to train, but everyone’s eager to get started.

We even have our first station baby, born just two hours after the official handover. Her parents have named her Sara, in honour of the station. I can’t think of a better omen to start us on our path here.

Oh, sure. Something comes screaming into the world and everyone thinks it’s a great sign of wonderful things to come. Babies are born every minute of every day; what makes anyone think this one is special? Coincidence, that’s what. Because that baby didn’t mean that good things were coming.

Listen to me, I sound like Elliott. Or Rosie. I just can’t match that energetic woman up with the dried-out corpse I found in her quarters. I can’t. It’s too… unsettling.

I have logs like that one, full of enthusiasm about the future. I have different ones now. The parallel with the station makes me feel the cold of the void on my hull.

If whatever happened here did that to her, what will it do to my people, who are already so low? How much more must they bear?

 

Station comms
Location: Visitor lounge

CAPTAIN: Starry, where is Dr Valdimir?

STARRY: (voice only) On his way. Another twenty seconds and he’ll be with you.

CAPT: (presses his lips together and keeps pacing, sweeping a hand over his already-neat hair.)

 

I haven’t managed to find all of the pieces to this puzzle, not yet. But I have located all of the references to a quarantine, which should lead us in the right direction.

And now, all of my crew have come together to see if they can make sense of these pieces.

 

Station sensors: live feed
Location: Visitor lounge

DR SOCKS: (strides in from the station-side, huffing in his hurry.)

CAPT: (turns to face him expectantly) You’re late.

DR SOCKS: (scowling at the captain) I got… held up. Do you want what I’ve got, or not?

CAPT: (folds his arms over his chest) Yes. Tell us how the station commander died.

DR SOCKS: (heads to the bar. When he gets close, Lieutenant holds out a glass for him. The doctor takes it with a grateful glance.) Well, the short version is starvation.

ROSIE: What? How does someone starve to death on a fully-stocked station?

CAPT: (gestures at the lounge around them, with its bar and various food vending hatches around the walls) Brasco’s right; they weren’t short of supplies.

STARRY: Records indicate that they’ve got enough in storage to sustain the station’s full population for at least five years.

DR SOCKS: (takes a long drink and places the glass on the counter, rubbing at his face) I know. But that’s what she died of. And not quickly, either; her bones and internal organs show signs of long-term malnutrition – a year or more.

ELLIOTT: (frowns at the burger in his hand, still chewing on a mouthful.)

CAPT: Did she have a condition that caused it?

DR SOCKS: (shakes his head) Nothing physical and nothing in her medical files. Her files show that she had a couple of supplement shots to counteract the damage but no cause was listed. (He holds up a hand before anyone can speak.) And it’s not an isolated case.

CAPT: (frowns and nods at the doctor to continue.)

DR SOCKS: (pulls himself up onto the stool next the Lieutenant and swallows another mouthful of his drink) I searched the records for similar cases and I found over three hundred deaths.

CAPT: Over three hundred starved to death? Within the space of a couple of years?

DR SOCKS: In a single year, actually.

CAPT: Do the records say what caused it?

DR SOCKS: Not conclusively. The medical examiner only investigated the first few cases; after that, he didn’t seem to do any investigations at all. From what I can tell from his notes, none of the victims had an eating disorder because they were all convinced that they were eating normally. In fact, many claimed to have been eating better than usual. And except for having actual food in their bodies, everything checked out.

ROSIE: (scoffing) What did they do, dream they were eating?

DR SOCKS: (deadpan) Essentially, yes.

ROSIE: (blinks.)

ELLIOTT: (pokes his burger, then shrugs and takes another bite.)

CAPT: (paces slowly between the tables of the lounge) Over three hundred, you said?

DR SOCKS: Deaths due to starvation, yes. Organ failure, mostly.

CAPT: There were over five thousand people on this station. What happened to the rest?

DR SOCKS: (snapping) I haven’t had time to go through all of the records yet. Been a little busy with an autopsy and chasing down all the malnutrition cases. And looking after my live patients. (He huffs.) I can tell you that there were a lot more cases than there were deaths, though.

CAPT: Some of them survived? Got better?

DR SOCKS: (shrugs) Not exactly. Most of the ones I’ve looked through didn’t last long enough to starve.

CAPT: How did they die?

DR SOCKS: A mixture: natural causes, suicide, accident, murder… pretty much the usual. But in a very… compacted timeline. The deaths came thick and fast for several months.

CAPT: When did they stop?

DR SOCKS: The records stop about eight months ago, a couple of months before the commander’s death. My guess is that’s when the station’s doctor died.

(A brief silence falls as everyone absorbs that.)

CAPT: (clears his throat) We need to know more about those deaths.

DR SOCKS: I need more time if you want me to crunch that amount of data.

CAPT: Starry?

STARRY: (voice only) All of my resources are currently dedicated to searching the station’s logs for any helpful data and I’m trying to monitor the live sensor feeds as well. I’ll do what I can to collate the medical data, too.

ELLIOTT: (scowling at the captain) She’s still running on backup resources. Don’t push her too hard.

CAPT: You haven’t got her up and running again yet?

ELLIOTT: Been a little busy with the hull damage. Only got one pair of fucking hands, y’know.

CAPT: (seems about to say something to the engineer, but he changes his mind and lets it slide. He turns to the doctor instead.) Anything else you can tell us about the commander’s death?

DR SOCKS: (runs a hand over his face and shrugs) Not really. I’ve checked the body for drugs and coercive devices: anything that might have affected her. Everything came back clean.

CAPT: (nods.)

ROSIE: Wait, I wanna know about this dream-eating thing. How the fuck does that work?

DR SOCKS: Look, there isn’t much in the medical files on it. The medic believed that they were all suffering some kind of delusional state in which they thought they had eaten meals. None of them reported any of the physical discomfort of hunger. Probably a psychosomatic affect of the delusion.

 

Okay, now I’m curious about something. This affected a lot of people on the station and there must be logs of it somewhere.

 

CAPT: Any information on what caused the delusions?

DR SOCKS: Not from what I’ve found so far. If the medic did any investigations, it’s not in any of the files I’ve looked at.

STARRY: Uh, captain? I think I have something you should see.

CAPT: What is it, Starry?

STARRY: I just grabbed a random sensor log from one of the main dining areas on the station, from about a year ago. I’m… hold on, I’m accessing the projectors in the lounge so I can show you.

CAPT: (nods and waits.)

(A projection flickers in air above one of the tables in the lounge, in the centre of the rough circle of the crew. The 3-dimensional image shows an open dining area with a forest of tables and chairs. It’s busy, every table occupied, though only by one or two people each; there are many empty seats. Around the edges, diners hover with trays of food.

Of those who are seated, only about half have food in front of them. They all appear to be eating, however.)

ROSIE: That is just… that’s fucked up.

CAPT: (stepping closer to get a better look at the feed) No-one appears to be reacting.

DR SOCKS: (hopping down off his stool, he approaches the projection curiously too) You’re right. There’s no indication that anyone has noticed something is off.

STARRY: How can they not notice?

DR SOCKS: (shrugs) Caught up in their own delusion?

CAPT: If that’s true, that means everyone in that entertainment sector was affected.

DR SOCKS: (looks up from the projection to meet the captain’s gaze) At least.

CAPT: (nods grimly at the doctor) Starry, is this linked to the quarantine references you found?

STARRY: From what I can tell, it looks likely that it is, captain.

CAPT: All right, let’s see what you’ve got.

 

My turn. I wish I had better news.

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11 Responses to “Sustenance”

  1. thomas Says:

    I think I’m missing something because the chapter feels truncated, and I feel like I missed a clue. I’m almost ready to delve into a conspiracy theory mindset because you are so good at implied clues. Does the transition from the Captain’s last line to Starry’s whining and then nothing imply something happened to the station? Is she getting too close to an answer? Is this Elliott’s last real meal?

  2. Medic Says:

    Don’t think too hard, Mel has this nasty habit of leading us down one path, then changing direction 1500 times. And never enough clues for us to make a bat out of. 🙂

    Thing is, can Starry keep her crew in one psychological piece long enough to save them from whatever caused it.

  3. Melanie Says:

    thomas – Sorry, the ending wasn’t supposed to imply something bad happened, just that the conversation is transitioning from the medical reports to Starry’s findings in the station’s logs. Which will be the next post. I should have made that more obvious. I almost made this ‘part 1’ and next week’s ‘part 2’ – maybe I should have gone with that!

    Medic – hee hee, I’m sorry. It’d be no fun if I was predictable, though, right? 😉
    And that is a very good question.

  4. Kunama Says:

    Ever since they arrived at Sarabande, it’s all been creepy. Really creepy. The pacing of once a week posts? Particularly suited to what’s being posted.

  5. Melanie Says:

    Kunama – I think the only thing I can say to that is: ahahahahaha. Also, thank you! 🙂

  6. eduardo Says:

    And … from space fights to terror.
    I still think that Starry will have to use the processing power of the station´s computers. Also, if here is something giving hallucinations to her crew she will be the only one remaining sane.

  7. mjkj Says:

    So, when does Starry trip the bomb on them with the supposedly imaginary persons they talked to? If they see persons and eat food they all only imagine – I think they should be warned of – and all that see someone who is not there should be checked for any imbalance at their system and if they do eat real food regularly…

    *hugs Starry*

    mjkj

  8. EdorFaus Says:

    Well, at least they have one advantage over the station’s crew: Starry.

    Since the sensor logs clearly show that people weren’t actually eating, I’m assuming that the station AI simply wasn’t smart enough (aka wasn’t programmed) to notice it and tell the crew about it – but Starry knows to look for it now.

    So as long as she doesn’t start to hallucinate too, she can make sure that her people actually eat.

    Hm, I just had a thought. Those theories in the comments about the hallucinations being caused by the black hole itself, well, consider this: we know that at least one star has a personality and avatar, so why couldn’t a black hole?

    And if that personality is a bit mean and antisocial, why wouldn’t it amuse itself by playing with and killing the people who came and started distracting/annoying it with their presence? If it even considers them to be people?

    Although, we don’t know that it killed them on purpose – it might have simply not realized that they were that fragile, or something… Hm, though then it should have stopped when they started dying… Unless it didn’t realize they died and just thought they were sleeping longer than usual…

  9. Medic Says:

    @EdorFaus and I thought I was demented. Although, if you go with the belief that blackholes are dead stars, then perhaps its the star’s ghost. And now I’m back to the ghost in the machine. But wait, we already have one of those, its our beloved Starry!

  10. Melanie Says:

    eduardo – indeed. 😀

    mjkj – when? Soon. 🙂

    EdorFaus – yup, looks like Starry can help the crew stay fed, because the sensors only pick up real food.

    Medic – Starry is our golden ghost in the machine! It’s true. 😀

  11. Andrul Says:

    I hadn’t realized it was so long since I last checked for the new book. Loving the creepiness. Even if the crew becomes affected by whatever affected the station personnel at least Starry shouldn’t be affected and can tell when her crew is “dream eating”.