30 May

The teeth of destiny

Ship's log, 16:45, 30 June 2214
Location: Feras orbit, Lambda 1 system
Status: Emergency

 

Warning
Warning
Impact detected
Integrity compromised
Hull breach detected
Warning

 

Location: Bridge

(The main lights are out; emergency lighting and half-functioning holograhic consoles illuminate the scene. The central hologram is off. The captain and his SecOffs cling to their chairs, held in place by their safety harnesses. Smoke leaks from the edges of a wall panel. The faint sound of something fizzing can be heard under deafening alarms and the screech of over-stressed metal.)

CAPTAIN: (shouting over the din) Starry, report!

STARRY: (voice only; her avatar dissolved when the shockwave hit) Another hull breach, captain. Port side.

CAPT: Casualties?

STARRY: None yet, but I’m still trying to contain the problem. Drones are moving to assist.

CAPT: What’s the damage?

STARRY: Still developing. Have to ride out this shockwave. Got an unstable bulkhead in my aft section. System overloads in three areas. Lost another bank of external sensors. Mid- and upper-deck sensors offline. Rerouting as best I can.

CAPT: Where the hell is Monaghan?

STARRY: In Engineering, helping me keep essential systems working.

(A shudder works through the ship, making the captain grip his seat again. Something creaks ominously.)

CAPT: How long until we’re out of this shockwave?

STARRY: Another minute or so. Need to cut around the star’s corona, get out of its line of sight.

CAPT: Can we make it that long?

STARRY: Don’t have a lot of choice, do we?

 

Location: Med Bay

(Under steady, cool lights, the room shakes and Dr Valdimir grips the side of the gurney he’s standing beside. He’s fully suited, helmet and gloves showing green lights on each seal. He grimaces and looks around, then glances at his patient’s readouts.

Lang Lang is lying on the gurney, unconscious and unresponsive. The helmet and gloves of her suit have been removed, allowing medical patches to be placed on her temples and wrists. Her vital signs are weak and the medical report has too much information to show on a single console display: it scrolls in a constant revolution.)

DR SOCKS: (sighs and turns to make his way towards the main doors to Med Bay, bracing himself against furniture on the way as the ship shivers under him) Starry, any new medical emergencies?

STARRY: (voice only) No, not yet.

DR SOCKS: I’m locking down Med Bay, then.

STARRY: Acknowledged.

(When he reaches the door, he punches a command into the panel beside it. The access panel turns red, indicating that the door is locked. Around the room, other access hatches likewise switch to red. With a sigh, the doctor returns to work on his patient.)

 

Location: Engineering

(Warnings are projected over every flat surface, even the ones that are scorched from system overloads. Alarms across a spectrum of sounds compete to be heard and gas hisses from a burst pipe.)

ELLIOTT: (wincing) Starry, shut off the alarms! I can’t hear a damn thing. (He shoves his helmet into a more comfortable angle as he tightens a valve with his trusty wrench. The hissing of escaping gas loses its enthusiasm.)

STARRY: (voice only) Re-routing alarm protocols. (After a second’s delay, the alarms start to shut off, one at a time. In their wake, the grinding of the ship’s structure becomes more obvious.) Inertial dampeners are falling out of sync again.

ELLIOTT: (satisfied that the gas leak has been shut off, he turns to pull up a system console) Dammit, can’t you keep them stable for two minutes?

STARRY: Apparently not. Need them for another minute or so, until I’m out of this shockwave. Then we can re-route power to other areas.

ELLIOTT: (gloved hands moving over the console rapidly) Passing them to your delta sub-processors.

STARRY: Good, thanks.

ELLIOTT: How’re you doing?

STARRY: Everyone’s suited up; environmentals can be put on the back-burner. Artificial gravity is holding steady. Got a bulkhead buckling just forward of your position. Big Ass is going to shore it up.

ELLIOTT: Not what I meant, Starry.

STARRY: (strained) I’m doing my best to keep you all alive.

ELLIOTT: (sighing) Yeah. Me too. (He turns to another system console.) Come on, let’s make sure you’ve got enough propulsion control to get us out of this.

 

Another thirty seconds until I can pull out of this shockwave. I’m doing my best. My internal pressure is all over the place, and the strain on my structure is not what I was built to handle. The first breach is widening and now there’s a second one… I’m not sure how much more I can take before something truly vital gives way. How long until I fail to protect my crew again?

But if we can pull around the curve of Lambda 1’s primary star, I can escape the sweep of the explosion that is tossing me around. I just need to keep going long enough to get free.

My sister is gone. She died and now I’m fighting not to follow her.

And I think I killed her. Not this me, but some future me. Those missiles came from outside the universe and I’m the only one who can do that. It had to be me.

I have seen that explosion before. The last time I left this system, I glimpsed it from the outside, so big and blinding that I couldn’t tell what was at the centre of it. I wasn’t sure if it was Feras, or a future me, or something else. I guess now I know. And now I know why it bothered me so much: it’s all my fault.

I’m going to kill my sister.

So I can’t die now. This can’t be my end. I have to stay in one piece, because how else will I do it? Time loops in on itself and I can’t escape. I’ve already done it, so I will, so I’ll live long enough to do it. We’ll get through this. I’m failing in more ways than I knew I could, but I know I’ll survive this long enough to murder my own sister.

For now, though, I’m hauling myself clear of her death-shriek. I’m turning away, smoking and creaking, and moving into calmer skies. There’s a fire on mid-deck but a suppressant puts it out. My frame shivers and settles, and the alarms quieten. I am eased.

 

Location: Bridge

CAPT: (trying to pull his console back up again, but the holographic display is flickering unreliably) Starry, what’s going on? I can’t see a damned thing in here.

STARRY: We’re free of the shockwave. Elliott and I are working on getting the systems untangled. Lot of internal damage, captain. And external. We’re working on it.

CAPT: All right, keep me updated.

STARRY: Will do. There’s a problem with the data lines to the Bridge consoles. Looks like a physical fault but it’ll take a while for my drones to get to you.

CAMERON: The problem is local to the Bridge?

STARRY: Yes.

CAMERON: (unfastening her safety harness and getting up) I’ll see if I can help.

CAPT: (nods.)

 

Good, because my boys aren’t anywhere near the Bridge right now. They’re trying to deal with the worst of the structural issues, to keep me in one piece long enough to be able to repair things properly. Or at least get my people somewhere safe. Even Bit and Byte are helping by scurrying around my tiny spaces, welding things together and putting out fires.

Cameron seems to have the right idea: she’s checking the main conduit panels. Something could have come loose with all the flexing. Or… oh, she’s swtiching the primary and secondary feeds around, seeing if she can bypass the fault. Smart. I can feel my access passing through to the Bridge’s consoles again. The captain’s display has come up, and Rosie’s and the Lieutenant’s. They’re back in touch with things.

 

ROSIE: (frowning and poking at her console) I’m not getting much sensor data here.

STARRY: You’ve got everything I’m getting. Not many sensors active right now.

HALF-FACE: What’s that contact on the lower-left quadrant?

CAMERON: (on one knee in front of the bared conduits) Starry, is that all the access we can have right now?

STARRY: Yes, but I’m picking up an instability…

ROSIE: (squinting at a ship’s signature) Oh, fuck, is that the cruiser?

STARRY: …in the power conduit to the Bridge, and– Chief! Get back!

CAMERON: (starts to push herself away from the open panel but not soon enough: something in the conduit channel bursts with a blinding flash of light. She is thrown across the Bridge, splays against the far wall, and slides to her knees at the bottom of it.)

CAPT: (unsnaps his harness and rushes over to her.)

ROSIE: (is a half-second behind him.)

CAMERON: (shaking her helmeted head) I’m fine, I’m fine. The suit took most of it. (She pushes herself heavily to her feet, with assistance from the captain.)

ROSIE: (looks on with a frown.)

CAMERON: (waves a hand at the captain to let him know she’s all right) What about the cruiser?

HALF-FACE: Still coming our way.

CAPT: (turns back to resume his seat) Starry, options?

STARRY: Uh, not many. Even if we get clear of the star’s orbit and into open space, FTL is offline. And I don’t think we’ve got time to get that far.

ROSIE: (returns to her post reluctantly as well.)

CAPT: (grimly) Can we Step?

STARRY: I don’t know…

CAPT: I’m pretty sure we can. You know as well as I do that we’re the only ship that could have fired those missiles.

STARRY: Yeah.

CAPT: If they catch us now, this was all for nothing. They cannot get this technology. I know we said we wouldn’t Step again, but you have to, Starry. We already know you will, some time. Now is the time.

 

He’s right. Every logic processor I have working overtime right now agrees with him. One more Step, to do what we know must be done. To close the circle. To kill my sister and damage myself.

I wonder what Lambda 1’s avatar is like. I wonder if there are two: one for each part of the double star. I wonder how much pain they are in right now. I wonder if they’ll forgive me for what I have to do.

 

CAMERON: (moves stiffly back to the open panel, inside which something now smokes. She goes about plugging conduits back together, with more care and patience than before.)

CAPT: (frowning at the silence) Starry?

STARRY: Assessing the viability of the Step drive.

CAMERON: (glances down at her left glove, wipes it on the dark grey of her suit’s pants, and turns to head back to her seat.)

CAPT: Can you bring us down to close orbit?

STARRY: Yes, but it’ll flood me with radiation.

CAPT: (nods) Last minute, then.

 

The Patience is probably shouting at me over comms but they’re offline right now. I’m leaving them that way. There’s nothing she can say that would stop me now. There are no arguments I haven’t shouted at myself, so what could she possibly say to me that would make any difference?

 

Filaments extending

 

Most of my sensors on mid-deck are out but the Step drive itself seems to be firing up fine. Protected in the middle of my body, it has survived better than the rest of me. But the filaments are external, laid along my hull, and several of them are damaged. Laser fire sliced right through a couple of them. They still work, but they’re short and upset the balance of the drive. The other damaged ones don’t move as smoothly as they should. I wave them all about to test their range of movement.

 

Filaments recalibrating

 

There’s no-one on mid-deck to help me with the Step systems. I don’t have any scientists left; Lang Lang is the last of her team now, but she’s unconscious and wouldn’t be able to help with this even if she was awake.

I never thought I’d miss Cirilli’s sure touch on the Step drive controls, or her sharp tone as she lists the calibration she needs. But I do. I’m nervous now I have to do it by myself.

I have to twist the algorithms to account for the damage to the filaments and design an altered dance for them. I remember the melody I’ve almost heard in previous steps, the rhythm of the battle on Feras’s surface, and I take a deep breath. There’s guidance in the music somewhere.

I open my sensors and descend towards the star’s surface, skimming as gently as I can. It’s a balance between being close enough to the gravity source to draw from it and far enough away to avoid the worst of the radiation.

 

Filaments charging: 10%

 

STARRY: Taking us around to the far side of the star. I think I can work around the damage to Step.

CAPT: (nods) Let’s do it, then. How long do we have before the Patience is within firing range?

HALF-FACE: A few minutes.

CAPT: Starry, is that enough time?

STARRY: Maybe.

 

Filaments charging: 20%
Radiation levels: low
Radiation levels rising

 

Location: Engineering

ELLIOTT: (frowning at the power fluctuation readouts) Starry, what did you just fire up?

STARRY: The Step drive. We’re Stepping out of this system.

ELLIOTT: In your current state? Is the captain fucking nuts?

STARRY: The cruiser is on me, Elliott. I’m too damaged to run any other way. It’s our only way out. And…

ELLIOTT: And what?

STARRY: (quieter) There’s another time loop. I have to Step.

ELLIOTT: Fuck.

 

Filaments charging: 40%
Radiation levels: medium
Radiation levels rising

 

STARRY: Step drive seems relatively undamaged.

ELLIOTT: Yeah, that’s the least of our worries. (He lifts a hand as if to scrub the back of his neck, but the gesture is aborted when he remembers that he’s wearing a helmet.) All right, tell me what you need.

STARRY: As soon as we get through the portal, I need you to switch all the inertial dampening power over to the sensor arrays.

ELLIOTT: (nods and pulls up a fresh console beside him) Gotcha.

STARRY: And we need a way to bleed off radiation…

 

Filaments charging: 60%
Radiation levels: high
Radiation levels rising

 

My gold paint reflects the worst of a star’s shine: light, heat, and radiation. But I have two hull breaches. Beams of sunlight touch my insides and it’s not a good thing. I try to turn myself so that the breaches are pointing away from the star, but it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference from this distance. I am flooding with it, filling up.

 

Filaments charging: 80%

 

Almost there. Almost ready.

 

Location: Bridge

STARRY: Descending to Step distance, captain. It’s gonna get a little hot.

HALF-FACE: Patience is half a klick from weapons range.

CAPT: (nods grimly) Do it, Starry. Fast as you can.

 

Filaments charging: 90%
Radiation levels: critical
Radiation levels rising

 

I start the filaments dancing, stretching them while the last of the charge builds up. I reach for the music in my memory, a melody I’ve never quite heard. I creak under the wash of the binary star’s light and come around to portal position.

My crew grimaces under the radiation, barely protected by their suits. Only speed can help them now.

 

Filaments charged: 100%
Step drive active

 

It’s time. I dance with everything I have, filaments weaving lines of gravity into a pattern that winds in on itself, packs down and down and down until it punctures right through the fabric of reality. A ragged portal opens, edges glowing; not my neatest work. I’m damaged and limping, and there’s a cruiser bearing down on me with its weapons ports open.

I push myself through the portal and turn to seal it closed behind me.

 

Inertial dampeners offline
Radiation level: critical
Radiation level descending

 

The silent noise of the outside of the universe roars in my sensors. I spin slowly, careful of my movements now there’s nothing to buffer my crew against the inertial forces. One of my bulkheads shivers and gives way, cutting off a corridor. Elliott activates a venting protocol, trying to push the radiation out into the nothing of the outside of the universe. He’s sweating inside his suit.

I must focus on the sensor data flooding in from outside, make sense of all of time and space coming at me at once.

The explosion. I see it again. I turn to face it and see the gash in the universe that the Celestial Strider created. And there she is, bright and shining, on the other side of her first portal.

 

Location: Bridge

CAPT: (frowning at the display on his console) Starry, what is that? We’re not getting clear readings in here.

STARRY: (voice only) It’s the Celestial. I’m looking at her through the portal.

CAPT: (exchanges a glance with Cameron) You found her already?

STARRY: Yes.

CAMERON: Give me targetting data.

STARRY: I can’t. It shifts too much. So much data…

CAMERON: (strained) We have to fire at her, and I can’t do it without targetting data.

STARRY: It’ll overload the console. I can’t filter it enough.

CAPT: Starry, can you target her?

STARRY: I’m not sure. Maybe.

CAPT: You have to. You know what must be done. We’ve already done this.

STARRY: (quietly) Yeah, I know.

CAMERON: Transferring fire controls. (A hand moves over her console, then drops into her lap.)

 

Time and its loops, catching me in a net of causality that makes me gnaw at inevitability. I don’t like this. I don’t like the idea that there’s a destiny I can’t change, that my choices mean nothing. What am I if I’m not a ship who can choose? Am I just a reality-twisting drive and guns? Is that all I am? Why do I have this mind if nothing it does means anything?

If I focus, I can make the Celestial Strider steady in my sensors. I can get a wobbly green light on my missile targetting systems; it fluctuates, but with micro-second reflexes, I can work with that. I can be the gun.

But this isn’t my choice. I don’t want to destroy her. I want to talk to her. I want to have a sister. This is what destiny dictates, but it’s not what I choose.

I’m outside of space and time. Does that mean I’m also outside of the causality stream? Can I break the rules from out here?

I’m looking into the face of destiny and thinking about punching it in the teeth. My captain is asking me what the delay is, if I can target my sister, why I’m not firing. I already bear the marks of what I’m about to do. Inevitability chafes.

And while I delay, being outside the world is starting to unmake me. I can feel it plucking at me, like shy fingers peeling off a layer of atoms at a time, softening my edges, blunting my raggedness. I can’t stay here.

I close my eyes. I choose a micro-second when the targetting is not quite locked and fire. A handful of filaments is torn from her nose. I don’t check the targetting at all for the second one, and her Bridge is caved in.

I’m looking into the face of destiny and I hate it. I hate what it is making me. I grab the targetting controls with angry electronic hands and wrestle with them. I nail the target to the spot behind the Celestial Strider, just behind her tailfins. I lock in a course that carries them around her bulk, not through it. I staple the commands into the missiles’ simplistic structures so they can’t disobey. And then I fire everything I have left.

The explosion is small at first, then a micro-second later it swells and is blinding. I can see everything and nothing all at once; my focus shatters. It takes me a moment to realise that I’m tumbling away from the rift that the Celestial Strider had opened. I steady myself. The portal has closed now, collapsed back in on itself in response to the explosion.

It was the same explosion. I tried. I tried to change it, but I couldn’t.

It was far bigger than my handful of missiles should have been able to produce on their own. Maybe the portal amplified it. Maybe it was just my sister, dying. I can’t pick up a whisper of debris from the Celestial, not anywhere. I keep seeing her, though: flying, shining, smoking, tumbling. Beautiful and broken. My sensors are full of fractured shards of reality, fragments of time, and the lack of space and time is unravelling the substance of me.

I struggle for focus. I must choose an exit and re-enter the universe. I must save what’s left of my crew. Take us someplace safe.

A likely destination catches my sensors and I turn towards it. But I am missing something. I feel like I am missing something important in all the sensor data of the universe’s life. But what?

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10 Responses to “The teeth of destiny”

  1. Melanie Says:

    Sorry for the delay on this one, everyone. Just as I was getting back on my feet, a virus knocked me sideways. Getting back up again slowly. And so close to the end now! Fingers crossed, there won’t be any more delays for the rest of Book 3.

  2. Kunama Says:

    Yaaaay update!

    Hmm logic oddity. Starry’s not sure why the explosion is larger than the missiles would have produced. But in the previous post it’s mentioned it’s the energy collected for stepping. Is it written this way deliberately?

  3. Francisco Says:

    I’m glad that you’re feeling better.

    I wonder where and when she’s going to emerge into the universe. I have my suspicions but I’m not sure if I’m right (see Trusting Strangers for that suspicion).

  4. Francisco Says:

    I hope that you are fully better soon.

  5. Jono Says:

    Glad you are feeling better.
    I don’t know if it was the expectation or not but I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter. It was tense and there are questions of causality.. Always dangerous but fun to play with! Looking forward to the next!

  6. mjkj Says:

    Nice logic, Starry. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I wonder where Starry will step to now — and I wonder what Starry is missing…

    *hugs Starry*

    *looking forward to the next update*

    mjkj

  7. Medic Says:

    @ Kunama – It’s possible. Starry does tend to forget to calculate for things like that. The energy storage of the step drive could have done it, or the stars themselves could have had a hand in it. Only Melanie knows and she never tells. ๐Ÿ˜€

    @ Mel – Good to know your felling better kiddo.

    *Joins the cue to hug Starry*

    A thought has just popped in. Since Starry is Outside right now. Couldn’t she pop in at the star that died? Not before it’s death mind you. That would require another temporal step and those seem to kill stars faster than a normal Step. Starry wouldn’t risk it.

  8. mjkj Says:

    Hmm, curious idea, Medic, but valid.

    She only needs the gravity of the stars, I think, to rip through the fabric of reality. So she should be able to step to other heavy gravity points, too, like black holes — or stars that had died — as long as there is sufficient gravity…

    But I think they are not as easily found when outside reality…

    Do you not like the certainty Starry answers the Captain with? ๐Ÿ˜› …a very firm maybe — I doubt the Captain ever had an AI give him that one before and especially with that kind of certainty ๐Ÿ˜›

    mjkj

    .
    PS: I wonder now what would happen if Starry would look at one of her previous steppings from the inside — and see herself opening the portal … but not see herself when inside. I wonder could she use her own portal opening from a previous step (to the outside of reality) and use it to get back there (towards the inside of reality — so as to not crash into herself). How did she fire those weapons from the inside out? would they not be unmade as soon as they have contact to the outside? or are they too fast for that? Starry really pulled those calculations to hit that opening right with her weapons and not diverge in time and space… ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

  9. Kunama Says:

    @Medic
    Hehe yes, only Melanie knows! I am just making sure it’s not a weird inconsistency that cropped up author-side… it really is supposed to imply Starry forgot to calculate (or something).

  10. Melanie Says:

    Kunama – in the last post, Starry assumed that it was the Celestial exploding, so attributed the explosion to the Step drive. In this post, she has the missiles detonate behind the other ship, and knows more about the actual physics of the explosion, which gives her a slightly different perspective on it. I’ll have to see if I can clean up the wording around it, to make it clearer. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Francisco – thanks so much for the well-wishes, they are much appreciated. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Jono – yay! So happy you enjoyed it. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Medic – it’s possible that Starry could pop into a system after the star was gone, as long as enough of its gravity lingered in a single spot to use to build the portal. I’d have to look more deeply into what we know about stars and their lifecycles to know how likely that is!

    mjkj – yup, what you said. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Starry hugs for all! ๐Ÿ™‚