01 Jun

The dance

Ship's log, 12:00, 1 February 2214
Location: Positional orbit around Gienah Sol
Status: Stationary


It took a little longer than an hour, but I’m hooked up to mid-deck and I’ve made sure that they’re not running any more diagnostics on the drive. There’s so much information there that I’ve barely had time to catalogue it all; I’ll have to do that later. Right now, the half-faced Lieutenant has everyone at their posts, and his mercs have pulled back from their looming stances to be out of the way again. Surreptitiously, they’re all holding onto or leaning on something, in case there’s another shudder and surge.


HALF-FACE: (on the Bridge) Okay, are we ready this time?


Aw, he gets testy when he’s nervous. And a muscle on the flesh side of his jaw keeps twitching. I don’t blame him, trying to handle a ship with a drive that might just kill us all. Even before we Step.


STARRY: I believe so. All systems are green.

CAPT: (from the engineering console on the Bridge) Ebling, Wong, confirm please.

EBLING: Yes, it’s all green here. The drive is good to go.

HALF-FACE: All right. Let’s try it again, shall we?

STARRY: Lang Lang, navigation data’s with you for corroboration.

LANG LANG CARTIER: Analysing. Looks good.

STARRY: Okay, approaching Gienah Sol.


Star Step drive initialising.
Filaments extending.


Here we go. No red warnings this time, no unhappy twitches in the power flows. My filaments are peeling out from my hull, starting at the tips down by my tail and unfurling towards their base couplings around the circuit of my nosecone. They’re sensitive, tasting the star I’m approaching. The data that flows down them is dizzying, funneling into the stores on mid-deck.


Filaments charging.


The star’s gravitational fluctuations are a problem. It’s bubbling and burping, far more than I’m used to.


STARRY: We’re at Step distance now. Holding position.

HALF-FACE: How long before we can Step?

STARRY: The filaments are charging. The instability of the star could overload them, so I’m backing them off a bit.

CAPT: How long can we hold this position?

STARRY: An hour before the heat reflectors reach maximum capacity; less if these flares keep up.

CAPT: Will we have full charge before then?

STARRY: Shouldn’t take that long. Ten to fifteen minutes for full charge.

CAPT: Can we speed up the process at all?

WONG: (from mid-deck) Not without burning out the filaments.

STARRY: I’m keeping a close eye on it. I’ll update you if there’s a problem.


Filaments extended.
Filament charging: 15% complete.


This is going to take forever. It doesn’t help that I’m struggling to balance them. As much as I hate to admit it, Wong was right: we should have taken more time to calibrate the filaments. The Lieutenant is already pissed at being delayed this long; we should have Stepped out of here a week ago. Welcome to my world, pirate with half a face. Nothing is as quick as we would like. So much for being a faster form of travel than FTL, huh?

Despite all of the delays, I haven’t had time to prepare the countermeasures that Elliott and I planned. I’m still hurtling towards my new masters, whoever they are, with no chance of taking a left turn that might save my crew. There’s never enough time. If only there was a way to get more.

I’m an idiot. I’m packed full of state-of-the-art processors, and I’m still a steel-plated moron. I’m about to step outside space and time. I know what to do: I can make time. I just need to adjust my calculations slightly, and… I think this just might work.

Another solar flare. Dodging to the side for this one; I don’t want to get pushed out from Step range, or let that spurt of plasma caress my newly-heat-protected hull. I’d like to stay in one piece for this one trip, please. I’d like for Elliott not to have to run around repairing me for a change. He’s got other things to do.

If I extend my sensors, I can see those flares building under the sun’s surface. Another one under me – slip to the left and let it extend past my wingtip. Actually, if I fly a slow orbit around the sun, it’ll be easier to avoid them and I can stay at optimal Step distance at the same time. It’s like weaving through valleys, except that the mountains are rising around me as I fly. More like flying across an ocean in the middle of a hurricane.

Okay, this is fun. I’m trailing filaments like whiskers, swerving like a lunatic. Wheeeee.


CAPT: Starry, what are you doing?

STARRY: …flying?

CAPT: You’re supposed to be in Step position.

STARRY: The star’s too unstable. I’m orbiting while the filaments charge. Keeping to the least volatile areas.

HALF-FACE: (to Captain Warwick) Does she always do things on her own?

CAPT: When she’s sure it’s the right thing to do.

HALF-FACE: (frowning) How often is she wrong?

CAPT: (eyeing the pirate) Actually, almost never.

HALF-FACE: (smiling crookedly, the metal side of his face joining in stiffly) Doesn’t that piss you off?

CAPT: (returning his attention to his console) Only when she does it without telling me.

STARRY: You guys are subtle like a bat to the face. I’m right here, y’know.

CAPT: (smiles to himself but says nothing.)

HALF-FACE: (eyes the captain, then snorts and returns his gaze to the main holo-tank, which shows the star turning slowly beneath them.)

STARRY: Fine, you guys wanna see what I’m doing, try this.

(The nav display in the holo-tank zooms in on the little representation of the Starwalker. The hologram expands to fill the front half of the Bridge, overlaying the walls until they dissolve, giving way to the view outside. Sensor data feeds directly into the projection, showing the scenery as she flies: the roiling surface of the star below them and the spurting flares that erupt on either side of the ship’s path. The perspective tilts as the ship swerves and weaves, rises and dips. A flare rises before them, and they’re heading straight for it. The Lieutenant tightens his grip on his chair, and the plasma spurt swells into a loop extending out from the star’s surface. The Starwalker dives into the loop, missing the hot lick of the flare by mere kilometres. A merry sound leaks out of the Bridge speakers.)

HALF-FACE: …are you giggling?

STARRY: This is fun! I haven’t flown like this in ages.


Filaments charging: 70% complete.


HALF-FACE: You call this fun?

CAPT: (to the Lieutenant) Danika was our pilot. She lived for this kind of thing.

HALF-FACE: You really inherited that kind of thing from her?

STARRY: If I was just a ship, I’d think that putting a new scent into the environmentals was fun.

HALF-FACE: (watching the display with a note of discomfort) I’m thinking that would be preferable.

STARRY: Y’know, I’m thinking that ‘eau de sewerage’ would be good to try next, what do you think?

CAPT: No need to punish all of us, Starry.

STARRY: I can isolate a single cabin….

HALF-FACE: Okay, okay. Keep flying.


If I had my avatar out, I’d be grinning like an idiot right now. I never thought that I’d be able to tease a pirate – especially not the one in charge of me (nominally, at least) – but apparently I can with this one. He’s… he’s not as bad as I thought.


Filaments charging: 95% complete.


STARRY: Almost ready to Step! Everyone ready? Better strap in – inertial dampening will go offline soon.

CAPT: Can you find us a stable position for the Step?

STARRY: Searching now. Stand by.


They’re all fastening their safety harnesses. Down in Engineering, Elliott is clomping around in his mag-boots, but I don’t like that. All they do is keep his feet from slipping around. If I have to manoeuvre sharply, he could snap a leg.


ELLIOTT: (in Engineering, checking over the data, checking the stability of the systems) Starry, watch your temperature.

STARRY: I’m keeping an eye on it. We’re about to Step.

ELLIOTT: (frowning) Okay. Don’t wait too long.

WALDO: (trundles up behind Elliott with a harness in his hands and pokes him in the leg lightly with a free hand.)

ELLIOTT: (glances down) No, it’s all right.

WALDO: (lowers his shoulders and tilts his head as he looks up at Elliott. He lifts the safety harness towards the engineer meaningfully.)

ELLIOTT: Seriously, I hate those things. I’ll be fine.

WALDO: (drops his head and hands. The harness clatters on the floor sadly.)

ELLIOTT: Oh, stop it.

STARRY: Please, Elliott? It’ll stop me worrying about you.

ELLIOTT: But it’s uncomfortable! And it chafes.

STARRY: For me?

ELLIOTT: (huffs and turns around, then stops.)

WALDO and CASPER: (both looking up at him, holding the harness open for him between them, ready for him to step into.)

ELLIOTT: (frowns at Casper) Where the hell did you come from?

CASPER: (points one of his four hands back towards the engine bay.)

ELLIOTT: (glaring at the sneaky drone) I’m putting a bell on you.

CASPER: (tilts his head, making his position a perfect mirror of Waldo’s.)

ELLIOTT: (muttering as he takes the harness from them) You’re all against me.


He loves it really. The harness will protect him in case it gets too rough. I’ll switch the safety suppressants on in there too, to stop loose tools and components from flying around the room.

Okay, everyone’s ready. I’m in position above a stable part of the star.


STARRY: All systems green. Initialising the Step.


Step initialised.
Portal opening.


The filaments are weaving, dancing around each other in patterns I can barely comprehend. The drive on mid-deck is bright and humming, churning through the data, feeding to and from the filaments, and… it’s beautiful. It’s a dance, and down there in that drive, that’s where the music is. I couldn’t hear it before. Now, I can feel it dip and swell, drawing all the different orchestral parts in, brightening the well of gravity into a single point that blossoms out and out, widening to encompass us all and invite us to step in time, swirl around the dancefloor until it steals my breath away. I’m giddy – all I can see is spirals in the black, so bright and beautiful.


Portal open.


There it is. It’s bigger than the last time, ragged around the edges. The dance flailed more than the last time – I’m lacking in grace. Flat-footed, but in time enough to pull it off.

I think a full battleship could fly through that portal.


Inertial dampeners offline.
Failsafes disabled.
Emergency protocols disabled.


It’s all right, this is normal. This is nothing to worry about. I’m just violating the laws of physics, bending time and space to my will and stepping outside of both of them. It’s all right.

This is what I was built for.

Through I go. It’s like a sluice gate coming down – the music is gone. There’s the great column of the star’s path beside me, curving up and around in the busy blackness of the world outside itself. All around me, there are flickers of movement – my sensors pick it up and slide off, bewildered by so much data being thrown around. An explosion – it’s gone again. The battle. A ship, hovering. I think I see myself. No, it’s gone.

I am everywhere and nowhere. This is my history, laid before me, all at once.

I’m not supposed to be looking at that. Data is like water and my hands are too small – I can’t hold it all. More keeps coming and pushing off what I had a slippery grip on.

Focus, Starry. Focus on the starpaths. Focus on the map. Find the Home system. Find the place where the human race started, the nexus of all those lines: FTL corridors and slow, dirty sublight flight paths. Find our Sol, the one that we grew up under.

We. As if I’m still one of them. I am anything but human now, but there’s a part of me that still thinks of it as my starting place. I was built out at Feras, a thousand light years from it. I’ve never been there before. Danika wasn’t born there, didn’t live there. So why does it feel like coming home?

Too many distractions. Focus, or I’ll end up like the Beholder, unmade from the outside. There is nothing here, and it will make nothing of me too if I’m not careful. Concentrate on the map.

There. There is it. I have it. Just a heartbeat and we’re there, hovering by its beautiful golden thread. Check the nav data, adjust to the right spot. Here and now is where I want to be.

It’s time to dance again, time to weave that gravitational magic that punctures space. It has a different tone this time, drawing more heavily upon the charge the filaments carry. They can’t quite feel the star’s gravity but they know it’s there. They’re teasing it through, sucking it from that side of the veil to this, grabbing hold and widening it into a gap. The gap yawns, and it spits, not swallows.


Portal open.
Inertial dampeners offline.
Failsafes disabled.
Emergency protocols disabled.


Out I go, back into space. Somewhere, a silent clock starts to tick again, and a sudden lack of sensory data washes over my hull like cool air. I take a deep breath and it grounds me. I am stable, lit from one side by the great ball of Earth’s sun.


Portal closing.
Inertial dampeners online.
Failsafes engaged.
Emergency protocols enabled.


STARRY: Step complete. Moving out to safe orbit distance around Home Sol.

CAPT: Lang Lang, confirm navigation data and position, please.

LANG LANG: Processing, captain.

HALF-FACE: (frowning) He’s not–

STARRY: She’s not doing it on purpose.

LANG LANG: (too busy poring through the data to notice anyone talking about her.)

STARRY: All systems green. You can all stand down now. Safety harnesses no longer required.

ELLIOTT: (in Engineering, to himself) Oh, thank god for that. (He strips the harness off and drops it on the floor. Waldo whirrs up behind him and picks it up, checking it over as he goes to put it away. Elliott ignores the drone, returning to his work and monitoring the systems after the Step.)


Here we are. Home system, just like the pirate asked. Time to get my boys to work before they figure out what I’ve done.

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14 Responses to “The dance”

  1. Eduardo Says:

    How many years in the past? One hundred?

  2. mjkj Says:

    Wow 🙂

    That was a great dance 😀

    I really liked it. *hugs* thanks for sharing 😀


  3. Targetdrone Says:

    hehe… to echo eduardo’s comment…. what time is it again ? 😉

    hopefully starry soon can get a hand on the pirates aboard her ….

  4. mjkj Says:

    I sure hope they do not really tell those pirates that time travel is possible…


  5. Retsof Says:

    Gah, you and you cliffhangers!

  6. Melanie Says:

    Eduardo & Targetdrone – that is the question! I’ll give you a clue: the gap is biblical. Tune in next week!

    mjkj – Yay! Glad you liked. 😀 You’re welcome! *hugs*

    Retsof – ahahahahaha. 😀

  7. Antonious Says:

    Ok, biblical, I vote birth of Christ.

  8. Targetdrone Says:

    hehe.. when you go biblical, id vote for day 4 or 5 of creation …. quite peaceful and a lot less anoying people around :p

  9. Retsof Says:

    Hm… I’m trying to think what biblical passage could be twisted into a space ship… and failing miserably. Maybe it just means they’ll get to see some interesting bits of history.

  10. brightlilim Says:

    Nice! Starry would make a good lawyer; finding sufficient holes in the pirates’ demands to allow her to do everything that was asked of her, without the end result they were actually after!

    Of course, it might still end badly, but I doubt they would want to take over a pre-industrial era Earth – not enough goodies for them – so probably no worries on that front.

    (Melanie, nice twist that! I didn’t see it coming.)

  11. Blik Says:

    Biblical? It’ll be a millennium, then.

    Pulling a fast one on the pirates is going to be tricky unless Starry can silence Lang Lang…

    I’m still failing to see the point of it all. I mean, the pirates can order Starry back to the Present, they have all manner of leverage to choose from. If everything doesn’t go EXACTLY as planned, Elliott might die.

    Oh! Biblical!? Surely our Starwalker isn’t about to become the Star of Bethlehem…?

  12. mjkj Says:

    I agree, the star of Bethlehem is the easiest to be for Starry…

    Or maybe … is Starry causing the great flood?

    Well, at least they will have enough time for repairs…


  13. brightlilim Says:

    Well, it would depend on whether Starry can lie, or more importantly, if the pirates believe her. She can simply tell them that she doesn’t know how to get back, that they will need to run probes, etc. to get enough information to get back.

    It may give her, and her crew, enough time to regain control from the pirates. After all, without backup from other ships, the pirates are much more restricted in what they can do.

    It might also give her time to directly combat the pirates – anaesthetic gas pumped into the bridge, gravity manipulation, etc. There are potentially many weapons she can use.

    She might even just co-opt them into some grand struggle for survival; not much point playing Cowboys and Indians if both sides lose as a result.

  14. Melanie Says:

    Brightlilim – thanks! Glad you liked it. 😀

    Star of Bethlehem… that would be awesome. Not what I had in mind, but definitely very cool!

    You guys have such awesome ideas! 🙂 I shall try not to disappoint. Though, now I think about it, ‘Starry through the ages’ could be so amusing…. 😉