09 Apr

The scientist’s tale

Ship's log, 21:19, 15 September 2214
Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole
Status: Docked, powered down

 

This morning, my captain went down nice and early to pick up where he left off with the Celestial Strider‘s crew. It was time to talk about why we attacked Feras and, ultimately, them.

Lang Lang went along to join in; her leg has almost completely healed now, so she’s much more mobile than before. I wondered why she chose to come along, but it soon became apparent that she had a part to tell in this story of ours.

 

Station sensor feed recording: 10:22, 15 September 2214
Location: Visitor's Lounge B

NEROZINA: (sitting up straighter) Dr Cirilli destroyed her own lab? I don’t believe it.

LANG LANG: (quietly but firmly) She did. I was there.

NEROZINA: You helped?

LANG LANG: (glancing at the captain) Yes. I… I couldn’t stop what happened, couldn’t get her out.

WARSI: Wait, are you telling us that Dr Cirilli is dead?

LANG LANG: (looks at the floor.)

CAPTAIN: (nodding) She was lost during the attack.

NEROZINA: She’s gone? Really gone?

The atmosphere in the room was a muddle. Solemnity from my captain and Lang Lang, my SecOffs gave little away, and the doctor looked coolly unmoved. Most of the Strider‘s crew was in shock, trying to figure out how to react at first. I hadn’t realised that they had no way of knowing about the price we paid at Feras.

I don’t know how many of them could have known Cirilli, especially as she had been on board me for two years and this crew seemed very newly put together. Tash was the most obviously distressed by the news. Nerozina is the only one of her crew likely to know Cirilli much at all, and her expression flickered between shock, disgust, horror, disbelief, and what I suspect was a flash of glee. I can’t help but wonder what might have prompted those particular reactions but it wasn’t the time to ask. I doubt I would have got a straight answer anyway.

 

WARSI: What happened?

LANG LANG: (quietly) It was her choice. She wanted to go with her project.

ROSIE: (from her position flanking the exit) What?

CAPT: She did?

LANG LANG: (nods.)

NEROZINA: Why would she do something like that?

LANG LANG: (gives Nerozina a long, troubled look.)

CAPT: (to Lang Lang) You don’t have to.

LANG LANG: (nods at the captain) I know. It’s all right. You should all know what happened on Feras. There just hasn’t been a good time to tell you.

CAPT: (squeezes her shoulder and retreats a step to give her the floor.)

LANG LANG: (looks at the Strider‘s crew through the blue energy curtain) Dr Cirilli and I went to Feras to destroy the lab and all of the project’s data. The data part of it was surprisingly easy; we uploaded the virus at every terminal we managed to spend a few seconds at. I was so nervous, I was sure we’d be caught, but no-one suspected anything. Dr Cirilli blustered through every checkpoint and security gate, with the drone and everything. No-one tried to stop us getting in.

Once we got into the lab, though, something changed. Dr Cirilli was different: she was suddenly on edge. She ordered everyone else out before they were done welcoming her back. I didn’t think they’d go, but they did. Then she started to rig the equipment with the charges we’d brought, like we had planned. I tried to help her, though I’m not so good at that kind of thing.

And then she… (her voice trembles) she asked me to take Wide Load – that’s the drone that helped us get the explosives into the lab – she asked me to take him out to fetch more cabling, so she could finish rigging it up.

(She turns to the captain.) I should have known that it wasn’t right. It wasn’t part of the plan. I knew as soon as the door closed behind me that something was wrong.

CAPT: (softly) She locked herself in there on purpose.

He didn’t even phrase it as a question. I think he had suspected since it happened; I think he knew that she had gone to Feras with no intention of returning. I think we all knew that, in our hearts. No-one had wanted to admit it, though, as if that would make it less true.

Lang Lang took away our comfortable doubt with that soft voice of hers, all apology and blurred with barely-held tears.

 

LANG LANG: (nodding and swallowing) It wasn’t an accident. Nothing went wrong; it all happened how she wanted it to. She told me as much. I tried to get back in, I did, but…

CAPT: She had all the master codes to the lab.

LANG LANG: Yes. She wouldn’t listen to me, and I tried, I really did. I wanted her to come with me. She said it was too important to trust to a remote detonator. She said she was sorry. She wanted me to tell you that she was sorry for all of it. (Lang Lang swallows again.)

She said it was the only answer for her; the project was her life and her life was over. She said it was all for the best. And that… she hoped we could forgive her, one day.

CAPT: (head bows, and his long hair sifts forward to cast shadow over his face.)

Oh captain, my captain. It’s moments like that that make me wish I could cry, or hold my people, or do anything to express the sorrow that claws emptily at my insides, like my cargo bays have been left exposed to the vacuum.

It took me a moment to notice what the Strider‘s crew were doing. Tash was wiping at her cheeks and Dineen was staring fixedly at the floor between her boots. Kinski had his head bowed as well, while Riede was watching my people intently, weighing our reactions. His expression was reserved, though, and his lips were pressed together grimly, as if he was holding something back. Warsi was solemn but quiet, and Nerozina’s mouth had fallen open in shock.

 

NEROZINA: But… to destroy a project like this, all that research, the breakthroughs we’ve made…

STARRY: (voice only, gently) She believed that it was the best thing for us to do. Such a thing as the Step drive shouldn’t be out in the universe. The potential for damage is so great. Look at what we’ve already done: killed a star; caused a mass evacuation from Earth.

TASH: They’re calling it the Fall of Earth. They’re saying we can’t go back.

STARRY: And we weren’t even trying. Can you imagine what someone could do with it if they set out to cause trouble? And that’s not even counting the implications of paradoxes and violating the laws of space-time. Destroying it is the right thing to do.

WARSI: Do you truly believe you can destroy all of it? Put the genie back in the bottle?

STARRY: We have to try. We’ve destroyed every bit of it we know about.

WARSI: (frowning) What about the Strider?

STARRY: (hesitates.)

CAPT: (nods without looking up.)

STARRY: My Engineer is stripping the Step drive out of her now.

RIEDE: WHAT?

WARSI: (hotly) If you’re so determined to wreck my ship, why did you pull us out of the black hole at all?

STARRY: Because the Strider is my sister.

DINEEN: What does that matter?

STARRY: I… it just does. She’s… she’s my sister.

DINEEN: But you’re not the same, are you? I mean, her AI…

STARRY: It’s not like me, no.

DINEEN: (falls quiet, puzzling that over.)

CAPT: (lifting his head again, his expression clear) Our intention wasn’t to kill anyone.

RIEDE: That didn’t stop you firing on us.

CAPT: We couldn’t risk your ship getting away. We did what we had to to make sure the ship was destroyed. What that meant changed when we realised you’d managed to follow us here.

WARSI: And now?

CAPT: We’re committed to this. Good people lost their lives for this: yours and ours. We want you to understand why we’re doing this, but your disagreement won’t stop us from doing what we need to. That’s why you’re in there. We don’t want to hurt you but we have to do what we have to do.

STARRY: It’s the only way we have a chance of putting the genie back in the bottle. There are reasons why this project is illegal, and they have nothing to do with commercial interests.

RIEDE: What are you talking about? This project isn’t illegal.

CAPT: Yes, it is. Sanctions and legal blocks are in place to prevent research into this technology, but Is-Tech ignored them and progressed the project anyway. It’s why we had to flee the JOP, and it’s why Is-Tech disowned us when we started to attract too much attention.

ROSIE: (muttering) Fuckers.

NEROZINA: And Dr Cirilli knew this?

CAPT: She was assured that the appropriate permissions would be in place by the time the product became commercially viable. For forty years. They still haven’t been granted.

WARSI: (frowns) Perhaps that’s what our final briefing was going to be about. (To Captain Warwick,) We had to scrub the briefing and launch early.

CAPT: Because of the attack.

RIEDE: (frowning) Do you have any proof of this?

STARRY: Yes, I have a log of the company lawyer admitting it.

That shut up the SecOff. He closed his mouth and scowled the whole way through the log, but he didn’t challenge its veracity when it had finished. He went quiet, like he was absorbing everything we’d told him with a hefty dose of salt. The rest of the crew exhibited signs of discomfort at the idea. It does shine a new light on the situation; it’s not like we were trying to steal the project, or destroying it out of spite.

Now that I think about it, we were upholding the law when we attacked Feras. I’m not sure the Judiciary would see it that way but it’s true. Maybe we should have led this explanation with that.

It’s still hard to see it as righteous, knowing what it cost us.

I keep imagining Cirilli’s face behind the frosted glass door, ice in her voice as she ordered Wide Load to take Lang Lang to an emergency exit. I can almost see the white of her knuckles as she gripped the trigger. She was always so sure of her work. Now we know that she was equally sure about the end of it.

I know that Lang Lang would have fought it, tried to talk her superior down, tried to figure out how to get into the lab, even though she doesn’t have the technical expertise for it. And Wide Load would have scanned the situation, detected the detonator in Cirilli’s hand, and calculated that he didn’t have time to cut through the door to stop her. So he would have picked up my little navigator and taken her to an airlock. Made her put a suit on. Held her close when the airlock expelled them out into the black, to keep her safe. He protected who he could. He brought one of my people home.

I still miss him.

I wonder if I’ll have Cirilli’s strength when it comes down to it. When my people are safe and it’s time to ask: what about the piece of the project that is me? What happens if I’m the genie that won’t go back into the bottle?

I’ll do what’s right. I have to. But not yet, because there’s still so much to do. I’m the only way out of this system now. Elliott has boxed the Strider‘s AI so that it doesn’t interfere with what he needs to do. He’s pulling the Step drive out of my sister’s body and sending all the parts into one of my cargo bays for storage. I think he means to repair me with those parts.

I’m not sure what the captain means to do with the rest of the ship. I’m a little afraid to ask. She’s my sister. She’s more than just spare parts for me. Isn’t she?

But as for her people, we’re letting them talk about everything we’ve told them so far. It’s a lot to take on: they know our story now and how we all ended up here. They’re figuring out what questions they need to ask next.

We haven’t even got to the most unbelievable part yet.

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14 Responses to “The scientist’s tale”

  1. Medic Says:

    One thing that has me:

    CAPT: Yes, it is. Sanctions and legal blocks are in place to prevent research into this technology, but Is-Tech ignored them and progressed the project anyway. It’s why we had to flee the JOP, and it’s why Is-Tech disowned us when we started to attract too much attention.

    That implies that someone, and I think of Kess, wanted to make any drive research that used the stars illegal. And, it was set up long before the Step Program began. To me that implies multiple things, the government knows about it already(?), star Avatars and their followers are active in politics, or someone Stepped waaaaay back in time just to make sure things were set up this way.

    There is more, but the other scenarios are a bit wonky. I do not think that it’s Starry that did the time step.

    *Hugs Lang Lang* Poor kiddo. I hope she’ll recover emotionally from this (Crilli’s suicide).
    *Hugs Starry* No other version of herself. Just a stupid AI in her sister.

    Ooooo, idea! Would it be possible for Starry to try and make that AI like her (with Elliot’s help) and thus it would become their daughter? I know, now I’m being silly, but still, it’s probable. Maybe. Or, maybe not.

  2. Medic Says:

    Ohh, yeah. Thanks mjkj for the vote link. If I did it right, then all I have to do is click on my name to vote again (if nothing else at least it’s saved there). So thanks again for the link.

    Sorry for the muli-post everyone. I’m getting forgetful in my old age… πŸ˜›

  3. Syphax Says:

    @ Medic. Kess’s log explicitly said she kept the project illegal, since she’s been around since before the rise of mankind. She started when Starry first stepped through her 40 years in the past, and Cirilli began work on the project. And I got the sense from that update that the governments and bureaucracies didn’t exactly know who they were dealing with.

    So what’s the most unbelievable part? They’ve already pointed out Starry. Is it the four dimensional space whale? I bet it’s the four dimensional space whale.

  4. thomas Says:

    Starry’s ending statement reminds me of the US idiom about an elephant sitting in the middle of the room: something obvious that everyone ignores because no one knows what to do with it. Stranded at Sarabande might be the crews’ elephant, but for Starry, I really doubt it. Thanks Mean Melanie! What a starry cliffhanger!

    @Medic, the latter. I think Starry needs help from Kess with Moby. As Syphax says, Kess gave us a hint of this. I do not think Kess can visit other stars, but she should be able to help with directing the government and help the crew get away from Moby’s ghosts.

    Melanie, thanks for a great chapter.

  5. Allan Says:

    Delighted to find a new chapter. One little grammar check though:

    CAPT: She has all the master codes to the lab.

    Should that not read

    CAPT: She had all the master codes to the lab.

    past tense?

  6. Melanie Says:

    Medic – you and Syphax are correct: Kess was behind the measures to stop the research. Her name (and the company she uses to do the legwork for her) is known, but they may or may not know who or what she is.

    I’m not sure about revamping the Strider’s AI to make her a proper sister. Whose mind would she use? Would she copy herself? All good questions.

    Thanks for the votes! So very appreciated, everyone. Starwalker’s hanging in on the top 10, and topwebfiction is still the biggest sources of clicks through to here. πŸ™‚

    Syphax – yup, all true. πŸ™‚ Though I’ll make no comment on your guesses about what’s next. You’ll have to tune in next week.

    thomas – you’re welcome! I do try with the cliffhangers. Gotta keep you coming back. πŸ˜‰ It is the elephant in the room, or the ghosts? Next week will reveal all… or at least some more.

  7. Melanie Says:

    Allan – hi and welcome! Yup, you’re absolutely right. Fixed that up. πŸ™‚ Thanks!

  8. mjkj Says:

    Yeah, I miss Wide Load also *hugs Starry*

    I hope they can find him somewhere later on and retrieve him.

    Indeed, poor Lang Lang – I hope she will get some counselling, too.

  9. Francisco Says:

    @thomas:
    I’ve been thinking about Kess for a while. I think that, whilst she probably can’t leave the Sol system in person, the stars do talk to one another. I keep wondering if they could get a message through to Kess, she could have a word with Cerces to get him/her to use human forms of communication.

    Of course, as (s)he’s a black hole, the answer she may get is, “I’m not going to listen to a whippersnapper like you.”

  10. thomas Says:

    Francisco – I think the stars could put peer pressure on other stars and I agree with you it would not work with Cerces but for different reasons. First, Cerces is essentially dead which is why we have ghosts running amuck; his only reference point is memories. Second, a star’s avatar takes on the image of a sentient being from their solar system, and apparently, whales were the sentient beings from before Cerces went dark; even if he wanted to comply, he has no reference point. Third, I think Kess has her hands full trying to deal with her solar system.

    This might sound like I am contracting my previous statements but keep in mind that some of them were wishful rather than based on where Melanie is taking us. I really do wish the crew could get help with Cerces and the best source for help, IMO, is a sort-of friendly star like Kess. Unfortunate, if Kess were able to do anything for Starry, and her crew, it would be just to advise them. Advise might not even be welcome because they need help controlling something uncontrollable. However, since Cerces still has a consciousness, someone – Sara?, Nutsoid?, Caveman? – might have a way to communicate.

  11. Medic Says:

    I’m not sure what you think I meant when I said, “long before the Step program began.” I was referring to when the time when humans were first running out among the stars. BEFROE the 40 year time step that started the Step program.

    Although, another thought occurred to me. Not every star may be intelligent. In the same way that not every human in intelligent. Or even not intelligent in a way that humans would recognise. Kess could even be the “black sheep” of her family.
    Dang it Mel, you’re doing it to me again….

  12. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – sadly, Wide Load was exploded. Not much of him left to recover. πŸ™ More on this subject is coming up soon in the story.

    Francisco – hee, the crotchety old black hole isn’t gonna listen to that bright young thing? I love it.

    thomas – yeah, no doubt Kess is rather busy with the fallout of Starry’s last visit. I love your ideas, though.

    Medic – given that a star’s ‘life cycle’ is pretty vast, the status of its consciousness / intelligence might vary depending on what stage its in. What might be the intelligence of an infantile star? Is Cerces clinging to form and life beyond its proper time (and sucking as a result)? Do stars really wink, and if they do, are they winking at you?

    As for Kess being the black sheep… partly, yes. She’s also part paragon of her people. So celestial opinions about her are likely to vary. One of these days, I’ll get around to writing more of her (back)story.

    And, er, sorry? Pff, nah, I’m totally not sorry. πŸ˜‰

  13. Osolodo Says:

    On the subject of Starry’s sister, if her personality is partly how her inherited memories are connected could a unique individual be created by “shuffling the deck”. (I think about AI a bit too much)

    Also, I consider making a spaceship sound cute is a significant literary achievement. πŸ™‚

  14. Melanie Says:

    Osolodo – hi and welcome! Thanks for commenting. πŸ™‚
    It’s okay, I think we all think about AI a lot here (there’s no such thing as ‘too much’). I’m glad you like my Starry!

    Slight delay in this week’s posts, everyone. Apologies! It’s almost ready, will go up in a few hours.