06 Feb

Try or regret

Ship's log, 15:04, 22 July 2214
Location: Near Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole
Status: Docked, powered down

 

I’m almost ready to go get my sister. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t excited.

And scared. The captain is nervous about how the crew of the Celestial Strider is going to react to us, and what they might do once we’re within reach.

He’s not wrong to be cautious. They have so many reasons to be angry with us, to exact some kind of revenge upon us. They might have known some of the people we killed at Feras, those who worked on the project or who tried to defend it all from us. We attacked the Strider directly, too, and I know they lost a couple of their crew. And now, three weeks stuck on the edge of a black hole, hanging on by chipped fingernails and fighting not to get sucked in, all the while surrounded by ghosts plucked out of their own minds, because of the things we did.

Yes, they have plenty of reasons to be angry with us. And one they don’t even know about: they don’t know that they’ve been talking to me all this time. They might have seen me flying around the system, but they don’t know that we’re in control of the station. The Starwalker and her crew, the reason for everything bad that has happened to them, has been chatting with them. I’ve been the voice across the vacuum, promising them rescue and hope. I’ve been lying to them all this time.

The captain is right: it’s crazy to free them. They will attack us. Why wouldn’t they? I would, if it was me in their place and they were here.

At the same time, I don’t want to leave them out there to die. They slipped a few hundred klicks closer to the event horizon of the black hole last night. They have almost run out of workarounds they can do on their systems; they can’t last out there much longer. If we don’t help them, they’ll be lost, and it’ll be doubly our fault.

Elliott is grouchy with me about this, too. The captain I expected, and I can just about deal with him being tense with me, but I wasn’t prepared to battle Elliiott about it as well.

He’s upset for different reasons, though. Elliott built the tug harness into me, anchoring it to my core bulkheads near my rear cargo holds. He muttered almost the whole time about the stresses on my frame and what it might all do to me. He just got done running me through integrity checks and now I’m going to put strain on myself that I’m not built to handle. But only one of the station’s tugs is operational and it can’t get as close to the black hole as I can. It won’t be able to reach them.

As it is, I’m not sure about my ability to get really close to the black hole. I haven’t run up the Step drive since we got into this system and there are still a few warnings being reported on the latent diagnostics. I think parts of it are worse for wear. I’ll have to be careful about this.

Careful, but I won’t turn away. I can’t. We’re their last chance. I knew as soon as I fired those missiles at them that it was a mistake. I’d have taken them back if I could. I can’t, though. I can’t give them the lives of their lost crew back, or the last three weeks. But I can pull them out of the hole they’re in and give them a chance.

Who knows, maybe once we explain to them everything that has happened to us, why we attacked Feras, they’ll understand. They might even forgive us. They might want to help us.

A ship can hope, right?

The captain is spending a lot of time with the doctor over in the station’s Med Bay, discussing how we might talk to this black hole’s avatar. And weapons, weirdly enough. I’ve been leaving them to it, with plenty inside my own hull to worry about. The captain has things in hand; he’ll tell me what he needs me to do.

 

Location: Bridge

ELLIOTT: Starry? (He shoves his favourite scanner back into its sheath on his toolbelt and bends to pick up the panel resting near his foot, so that he can slide it back into place on the wall in front of him.)

STARRY: (avatar resolving behind his right shoulder) Yes? Did you find it?

ELLIOTT: Not a fucking thing.

STARRY: What?

ELLIOTT: (leaning on the lower right corner of the panel until it clicks) There’s nothing there. The systems are clean. I told you, I went over them a dozen times after I relaid all the cables. Diagnostics are clear. Hands-on scans are just fine.

STARRY: But…

ELLIOTT: (turning to face her) There’s nothing there. You sure the sensors were acting up?

STARRY: Yes. Though now that I review the logs, they seem fine. There’s just a little blur where…

ELLIOTT: (huffs and scruffs a hand over his hair) Where what?

STARRY: (blinks at him) Nothing, I guess. Must have been a burp in the feed or something.

ELLIOTT: Run diagnostics over your sensor relays again. If there’s a fault somewhere, that should flush it out.

STARRY: Okay, diagnostics running.

ELLIOTT: (re-settles his toolbelt on his hips and heads to the Bridge exit) What did you see, anyway?

STARRY: (walking alongside him) I don’t know. It was just a glitch.

 

Dammit. I could have sworn that… no, it was just a data burp. If Elliott can’t find anything there, there’s nothing to find. And the sensor log doesn’t show what I thought I saw in the feed, which is impossible. Just a blur, a little spot of data corruption.

There’s probably a gremlin somewhere in my systems, snacking on shards of sensor data and wearing my bits as a blanket. Little bastard, I hope we squish you soon. I’m gonna program one of my security dog-programs to sniff you out. Then we’ll see who’s nibbling on whom.

 

ELLIOTT: So, can I get back to real problems now?

STARRY: Yeah. Sorry to waste your time.

ELLIOTT: Oh yeah, no problem, I ain’t got anything better to do.

STARRY: (heads droops.)

ELLIOTT: (glances at her) Oh, don’t look like that.

STARRY: At least it wasn’t anything serious, right?

ELLIOTT: Yeah. I’m gonna go back to those tow-line anchors now.

STARRY: Okay. Will you come see me later? When you’re done?

ELLIOTT: (glances at her again, with a twitch of a smile this time) Yeah, all right.

STARRY: (smiles with relief, then she stops dead and blinks.)

ELLIOTT: (halts as well, turning to look at her with a frown) What is it?

STARRY: What? (She focuses on him again.)

ELLIOTT: You’ve got that face on.

STARRY: What face?

ELLIOTT: The ‘I just heard something disturbing’ face.

STARRY: Oh. Uh, yeah. The Strider is hailing the station. They’re… they’re slipping again.

ELLIOTT: (frowning) Bad?

STARRY: (head tilting as if she’s listening to something outside of his hearing range) I’m still gathering details… but… (Her head lifts abruptly.) I’m calling the captain.

ELLIOTT: Are they falling in?

STARRY: (nods, her face full of worry) Yeah. They can’t maintain position any more. If we’re gonna go get them, we have to do it now.

ELLIOTT: What? Starry, we ain’t ready. I haven’t done with the anchors yet.

STARRY: Then you’d better finish in the time it takes me to reach them, because if we don’t go now, we’re not gonna need those anchors at all.

ELLIOTT: (running off down the corridor) Fuck.

 

I’m having the same conversation with the captain. The black hole’s inexorable gravity has forced our hand: it’s now or never. It’s rescue or murder. It’s try or regret.

 

Undocking release granted
Umbilicals disconnecting

 

Station comms
Location: Med Bay

CAPTAIN: …not ready.

STARRY: (voice only) I’m aware of that, captain. But we have to be ready enough, or they’re gone.

CAPT: Starry…

 

Umbilicals released
Docking clamps released
Manoeuvring thrusters online
Sublight engines online
FTL drive online
Weapons systems online

 

STARRY: Are you ordering me not to go?

CAPT: (hesitates, then sighs) No. Go, do what you can. But I am ordering you to come back, whatever it takes.

STARRY: Aye aye, captain.

CAPT: Even if you have to leave them. You’re not to sacrifice yourself, do you understand?

STARRY: I copy you, sir. I’ll do my best.

CAPT: You’ve already undocked, haven’t you?

STARRY: Pushing out to full burn distance now.

CAPT: Good luck, Starry. Fly safe.

STARRY: As safe as I can when my destination is a black hole, sir.

CAPT: Just come back. Doctor, it looks like our timetable got moved up. How long until you can be ready?

 

Another couple of seconds until I’m far enough away from the docking ring to punch to full sublight. Mustn’t burn the station behind me. Patience… but they’re so scared. I transferred their comm connection from the station to my own systems, and they’re in a bad way. I can hear the ship fizzing in the background, the crackle of flames and the hiss of the suppressants. She groans, trying so hard to hold on.

 

External comms

STARRY: You need to hold out as long as you can, Strider. Rescue ship dispatched and on its way to you now.

CELESTIAL STRIDER #1: (male voice) Tell it to hurry up!

STARRY: It’s going as fast as its sublights will burn.

STRIDER #1: We’ve got casualties….

STRIDER #2: (female voice) The port-side wing sublight blew out. That whole side’s fucked. No way we can hold position now.

STARRY: Acknowledged, Strider. We need you to slow your descent as much as you can. Give us time to get to you.

STRIDER #2: (angrily) What the fuck do you think we’re doing here?

STARRY: We’re on the way, we’ll be there in a few minutes.

 

A few minutes. Even at full sublight, it’s going to take me a while to get to them. Half an hour, maybe. I can’t risk the engines; if I over-tax them now, I might not have enough left to pull them free.

Hold on, Strider. Just hold on…

 

Location: Cargo bay access corridor

ELLIOTT: (standing near the door to Cargo Bay 4) Uh, Starry?

STARRY: (voice only) We’re on our way to the Strider now, Elliott.

ELLIOTT: Yeah, that’s nice, but did you check before you sealed the airlocks?

STARRY: Check what?

ELLIOTT: For that. (He gestures at the spot in front of him.)

SARA: (stares up at him with wide eyes, hugging her stuffed whale to her chest.)

STARRY: Uh… no?

ELLIOTT: For fuck’s sake, Starry!

STARRY: Elliott, the kid…

ELLIOTT: Is here! She shouldn’t be here!

SARA: (lower lip starting to tremble.)

ELLIOTT: (scowls at her) Don’t start that. I know you’re too stupid to know what’s going on here.

SARA: (tucks her chin down behind her whale.)

STARRY: There’s no time to take her back. We just have to not mess this up. I’m sending Casper down to keep an eye on her.

ELLIOTT: (huffs) Just keep her out of my way, all right?

 

Shit. She has been wandering on and off me for a few days now; I guess I lost track. Didn’t even scan for her.

The captain’s going to kill me. He’s going to staple ‘check your manifest’ protocols all over my docking controls. I wouldn’t blame him. I should be better at it than this.

 

SARA: (turns to watch Elliott hurry aft down the corridor, peeking over the top of her whale and sniffing. Then she blinks and lifts her head to look in the opposite direction, distracted.) Whale? Whale! (She toddles towards the forward part of the ship.)

 

Of course she knows where we’re going. Why wouldn’t she? And I’ve got blurs on three decks. Of course it chooses now to happen again.

Because this rescue mission isn’t going to be difficult enough, what’s a few more complications?

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11 Responses to “Try or regret”

  1. Zjoske Says:

    Starry to the rescue!!
    I wonder if having Sara on board will give them extra insights into the ghosts.

  2. Marcus Says:

    Fingers crossed for a mostly drama free rescue for the other ship. Maybe getting closer with let them speak with Sara’s Whale.

  3. Francisco Says:

    I wonder how the crew of the Celestial Strider would react when they realise who is rescuing them.

  4. Marque Says:

    What a way to welcome in the new year thank you Mel. I have not had a chance to catch-up until today and all I can say is …awesome!
    Looks as if Sara going to have a whale of a time. I reckon Sara is the communications key myself ???

  5. TypoMan Says:

    “And scared. The captain is nervous about how the crew of the Celestial Strider is going to react to us, and what they might do once we’re withing reach.”

    Within.

    Sorry, I don’t normally make typo reports, but that one bothers me.

    By the way, nice novel.

  6. thomas Says:

    Francisco, I think you have it right. I think seeing the rescue crew is a baby and a very grouchy mechanic will set then back a few steps. I know it would surprise me.

    Melanie, so Sara is the chosen Moby ambassador. Makes sense to me, especially since she is carrying her credentials. I wish Elliott wasn’t so mean her. I don’t think being smart is really the issue but being in-touch with the environment/situation is more important. Obviously, Sara knows Starry is important to contacting Moby, so this is where she belongs.

    Great chapter Melanie. Thanks

  7. Cheery Says:

    Hmm, those glitches wouldn’t be the black hole finally getting through to Starry would they?

  8. Francisco Says:

    Thomas,

    I was thinking more along the lines of the ship that fired on them.

  9. Shantien Says:

    Cliffhanger! Now I’m anticipating the next update even more! HOW are they going to reach the Strider before she slips into the black hole?!

    Wondering what those blips in Starry’s feed are, and if they’ll cause problems, or if it’s going to be useful input from the black hole entity. And if we’re going to see a space-whale!

    I’m hoping that things are going considerably better for you than they were. Hugs.

  10. Medic Says:

    @Shantien
    The usual method is a one shot pass, with no chance of a second. Mel, on the other hand, has this crazy habit of throwing a twist in there and laughing at us as we go, “uh. duh. I didn’t expect that.” But that is why we love her work. She tell’s a grate story.

    My thoughts on this rescue: With the Strider now taking damage, STRIDER #2: (female voice) The port-side wing sublight blew out. That whole side’s fucked. No way we can hold position now., that means less mass for Starry to lift. However, and someone will have to fact check me on this one, the effects of a gravity well increase at an exponential rate as you get closer to the center (This is why mass, not weight, is used in science circles. Weight changes with gravity, mass does not). The process of lifting will cause more damage to Strider (possibly loosing both wings?)
    Aaaannd I’ll stop there before I end up writing my own chapter. I don’t have Melanie’s ability with story telling and it would read like the script for Star Trek:TNG. All techno babble and no real story.

  11. Melanie Says:

    Zjoske / Marcus / Francisco – thanks for comments! All I can say is: ahahahahaha. 😀

    Marque – thanks to you, too! Glad you’re enjoying it.

    TypoMan – whoops! Thanks for that, I’ve fixed it up now. Also, welcome! Happy to hear you’re enjoying the story. 🙂

    thomas – Elliott is not great with kids. He’s used to small, annoying things he can smack around with a spanner if they misbehave (poor Bit and Byte). Don’t worry, he wouldn’t do that to Sara, though! It does mean that he’s at a loss to know what he should do, though. 😉

    Cheery – entirely possible, but I really can’t confirm or deny just yet…

    Shantien – thanks so much. Bit of a battle at the moment, but making progress. One step at a time. 🙂

    Medic – you’re not a million miles off target… though hopefully there’s not too much techno-babble in the next post.