18 Sep

Uncontainable

Ship's log, 18:31, 7 July 2214
Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole
Status: Docked and powered down

 

It’s time to show them what I’ve got on the thing that ails this station. I have the logs I need queued up in Sarabande’s systems; no need to stream them from my circuits when they can come straight from the source. Let the station do her own legwork.

For some reason, I’m nervous about this. I can’t truly say why. I suppose that once it’s known, it’s more real.

 

Station sensors: live feed
Location: Visitor lounge

CAPTAIN: (folding his arms over his chest) All right, Starry, show us what you’ve got.

STARRY: Aye aye, captain. I have located several logs surrounding an attempt to quarantine the station. Whatever was happening here, they tried to contain it.

CAPT: (frowning) You don’t know what was happening here?

STARRY: No, it’s… look, it’s easier if I show you.

CAPT: (nods.)

(In a rough circle around a table in the middle of the lounge, the Starwalker’s crew exchange grim glances. The air above the table shimmers to life as the station’s holographic projectors come online.)

 

Station Commander's log, 20:24, 3 March 2213
Log location: Station Commander's quarters
Mode: video

(It’s the same perspective as the other logs: the commander’s desk and the awards on the wall, but this time the commander is on her feet. She’s pacing back and forth behind the chair, constrained by the log’s sensor range: three steps, spin, three steps. She looks like she’s at the end of a long day, with her hair escaping from its bun in wisps and the throat of her uniform unbuttoned.)

COMMANDER NEERU MATTHIAS: This is Commander Matthias, reporting on the quarantine of Sarabande Station. We took the decision an hour ago and all standard quarantine measures are in place. Full docking lockdown, no-one is stepping on or off this station. Any ships that arrive will be turned away, though we don’t get many out this way. We’ve sent beacons out to the FTL corridor to warn off any incoming ships.

We had one inbound ship when the quarantine came down, and it has agreed to stay for as long as their supplies hold out: the Albatross. They’ll help us to monitor the quarantine.

(She pauses in her pacing to run a hand over her hair, her head drooping.)

There has been panic already. A riot in the docking ring where personnel had been trying to barter their way onto ships to leave the station. (She starts pacing again.) They didn’t react well to their escape route being cut off. There were four dead and sixteen injured before the suppression measures kicked in. Security personnel are still processing those involved.

We don’t have a choice at this stage. We have to contain this condition somehow. We haven’t been able to locate a pathogen or means of transmission, but just because we can’t figure it out doesn’t mean it’s not there. We have to try.

(She sighs heavily, turning to grip the back of the chair in both hands.)

That leaves us in here, fighting something we can’t see or smell or touch.

(Her gaze lifts to look directly into the sensor.)

It’s just us and the ghosts now.

 

Station Commander's log, 08:15, 22 March 2213
Log location: Station Commander's quarters
Mode: video

(The commander is sitting at her desk this time, looking pale under her Asian skin-tone. Her hands are wrapped around a steaming mug, holding onto it as if it’s an anchor.)

COMMANDER NEERU MATTHIAS: We just received word from the Albatross. The quarantine isn’t working. Their people are showing signs of the condition and they have never docked with us. Whatever is causing this condition can cross the vacuum of space, it seems.

Worse, it seems to be accelerating. They have been here a little over two weeks and already the hallucinations have started. That time has nearly halved compared to the last ship that docked here. We’ve been seeing a steady decrease in the time for symptoms to appear, but this is the largest jump yet.

Igguldon, our communications engineer, believes that we might have transmitted the condition to the Albatross. He is exploring technological angles. It sounds crazy – viruses and physical conditions can’t be transmitted across comm channels. Can they?

(She sighs heavily and stares into her cup. The steam curls in front of her face, nonplussed.)

Right now, I’m willing to explore any avenue we can find, even the unlikely ones. We’ve already looked everywhere else.

(She glances up at something outside of the log’s sensor range. A smile flutters sadly around her lips and her voice drops to a murmur.)

Though I’m not even sure if we should keep looking.

(Seeming to remember the log again, her attention returns to the desk.)

We’re sending a beacon home to Desai Valla to see if they can help. Waiting on word. Commander out.

 

Station sensors: live feed
Location: Visitor lounge

(There’s silence in the lounge for a moment.)

CAPT: (smoothing a hand over the length of his hair thoughtfully) That’s it, Starry? Who is Desai Valla?

STARRY: That’s the main quarantine information. There are other references to it, but they only mention that they should do it before it’s too late or that it failed. Nothing of use to us. Desai Valla is the corporation that owns the station.

CAPT: Did the company respond?

STARRY: Yes, to close the system off.

DR SOCKS: They abandoned their investment just like that?

STARRY: From what I can tell, the commander had been in regular contact with them. They sent in a contagious disease unit when it was first noticed.

CAPT: What did they find?

STARRY: No useful results, though they did rule out all the usual methods of contagion: bacteria, virus, microbes, spores. They even checked for a malicious nanobot infestation. That was before the unit’s members caught the condition and died.

DR SOCKS: How did they die?

STARRY: Two suicides, one accidental death, and one was shot. The commander mentions it in one of her logs.

(The crew look at each other grimly.)

ROSIE: (shifting on her stool uncomfortably) What the hell did she mean when she said it was just them and the ghosts?

STARRY: That caught my attention, too. I’ve searched for references to ghosts and there are a lot more than you’d expect. I cross-referenced it with the term ‘condition’ that the commander seems to use a lot, and I found a log that should shed some light.

 

Station Commander's log, 13:00, 16 December 2212
Log location: Station Commander's quarters
Mode: video

(The commander is seated at her desk, her hands folded calmly before her. She’s neat and clean, not a hair out of place in its glossy sweep back to the bun at the nape of her neck.)

COMMANDER NEERU MATTHIAS: The investigation into the strangers on the station continues. We have tried scanning them, containing them in certain sectors of the station, even locking them in the brig cells. Nothing works: the scans tell us nothing and they have no problems evading containment. We can’t monitor them through the sensor logs, because they simply don’t show up, so we can’t tell how they’re escaping our efforts to contain them.

My SecOffs have even tried talking to them, but the visitors can’t explain their own presence. They’re just here, and by all accounts, happy to be here.

There has been a lot of talk of ghosts. It has sparked some religious hysteria; Station Security is keeping an eye on that in case it gets out of hand. I didn’t believe any of it at first, but… (Her head shakes slowly.) We can see and hear and touch them, but they’re not really here.

We suspected a glitch in the station’s systems, something going on with the holographic projectors. The technicians have been over the systems five times and found nothing. The entire holographic subsystem was disabled for three hours and our visitor population showed nothing except confusion about the problem with the system interfaces. Besides, we can touch them. Full tactile feedback that can’t happen with holograms.

Except for the poor girl who leapt off a balcony over the entertainment district this morning. The sensor logs show her calling for someone to catch her and, from the look on her face, she fully expected to be safe. Until she hit the decking and broke her neck. Witness reports are mixed, most of them saying that there was someone egging her on, but whoever she thought was there clearly wasn’t real enough to save her. Tactile feedback doesn’t make them corporeal, apparently.

I don’t think this is going to be the only incident of this kind.

(She sighs.)

The identities of our visitors are causing the most upset. This is what’s throwing all of our theories into confusion. At first, we thought they were random people, but they’re not. Every one of them is known by someone on this station. Far too many of them for this to be some kind of system glitch or a malicious prank. They’re mothers and fathers and old friends. Lovers and enemies.

Most of them are dead. Ghosts. But that’s ridiculous.

The Chief Medical Officer is looking into possible psychological factors. He’s dubious about this being a medical problem because of the shared nature of the ghost visitors: we can all see them, talk to them. They don’t just appear to the person who knew them, which is why it took a while to pin down the personal nature of their identities. Shared hallucinations on this scale and complexity are not possible, according to the medical report.

Even the scientists of our research teams agree. They’ve been looking for other explanations, alternate scientific phenomena, but they’re coming up empty as well.

The medical symptoms of this problem are mounting, mostly injuries so far. There have been a couple of suspicious suicides. The station psychologist is warning of the mental toll of this situation. It all comes back to the people.

There has to be something medical behind it; there’s no other explanation. A condition that is causing these… manifestations. It’s not like anything in our files.

I have sent requests for aid to Headquarters; hopefully the executive will send us something soon.

 

Station sensors: live feed
Location: Visitor lounge

ROSIE: (blinking) So… they really were seeing ghosts?

DR SOCKS: There’s no evidence of any actual supernatural phenomenon.

ROSIE: But they were seeing something. And ghosts aren’t supposed to be able to be captured by recordings, right?

DR SOCKS: I think you mean vampires.

ROSIE: (glares at the doctor.)

DR SOCKS: (calmly) Vampires are just as feasible as ghosts at this point. They’re equally ridic–

HALF-FACE: (interrupting with a pointed look at the doctor) That everyone was seeing the same things explains all the empty tables.

ROSIE: (looks around, puzzled. Almost all of the tables in the lounge are empty.)

HALF-FACE: In the log of the meal. Most of the seats were empty on the sensors.

ROSIE: Because they all thought those seats were occupied?

HALF-FACE: (nods) And everyone saw the food, too.

ROSIE: Oh, this is so fucked up.

CAPT: Doctor?

DR SOCKS: (turns to the captain) Oh, the commander was right about the unlikeliness of a shared hallucination on that scale. Did they ever look into projections outside of the spectrum that the sensors can pick up?

STARRY: I haven’t found anything like that yet, though the sensors pick up far wider spectrums than human senses can. The commander mentioned the research teams looked into it, so I’ll start a search, but it’ll take time to get through the security around the research sector.

CAPT: Can you run full diagnostics on the station’s systems, too?

STARRY: Sure, but… what about how it affected a ship that never docked here?

CAPT: Were there any results from the investigation into the comms channel transmission theory?

STARRY: None that are logically filed. I’ll start another search, but…

CAPT: Not enough processing power?

ELLIOTT: (tenses, scowling at the captain.)

STARRY: I’m using the station to do the work, just managing it from my end. No, it’s just the name she mentioned: Iggulden.

CAPT: What about it?

STARRY: He’s the current acting commander.

CAPT: (blinking) He’s still alive.

STARRY: Might be quicker to find him and ask.

ROSIE: Yeah, because we’ve had so much luck finding people on this station so far. All I’ve had to far is glimpses – they keep running off!

CAPT: (looks queryingly at the doctor.)

DR SOCKS: (shrugs) I don’t know.

ROSIE: (looks between the captain and the medic) Know what?

CAPT: (grimly) If they were real.

ROSIE: What? But… didn’t she say that it took longer than that?

DR SOCKS: She also said that it was accelerating. And that was last year.

ROSIE: Fuck me.

CAPT: Who has seen someone on this station? Other than the people in this room?

(The response is sluggish, but hands lift slowly. Rosie first, then the Lieutenant. The captain is next, and finally Dr Valdimir, looking grumpy about it.)

CAPT: (looks to the only one without a hand up) Monaghan?

ELLIOTT: (shrugs) I’ve been busy. Only person I’ve seen is Starry.

STARRY: Uh… you saw me?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, sure, while I was repairing your port-side bulkhead this morning. (He blinks.) Are your holographic projectors still offline?

STARRY: Yeah. I don’t have the resources for my avatar right now.

ELLIOT: (lifts his hand) Fuck.

CAPT: (nods and the hands lower around the room) Starry?

STARRY: If you’re asking if I can check the sensor logs to see if any of the sightings were real… yes, I can do that, but it’s going to take time. I’ll need timestamps and locations. All I can tell you for sure right now is that the station is picking up twelve resident life forms and all of you.

(She sighs.) I’ll run another search, see if I can narrow down on where those life forms are. These systems are horrible to navigate. And this AI is really stupid.

CAPT: In the meantime, can you keep tabs on all of us?

STARRY: All of… no. Captain, I don’t have the resources for constant sensor feed monitoring.

ELLIOTT: (still scowling) Last time she tried, she fried a chunk of her hardware. She doesn’t have that much left.

STARRY: If you stay together in groups, and come back here to the lounge to eat, then I can try, but you’re going to have to be careful. You can always call me if you want me to… check.

CAPT: That’ll have to do until we can get you back up to full power. Monaghan, stay on what you’re doing; getting Starry back up and running has to be your focus. Valdimir, I want you to go through the medical files and see what you can make of this ‘condition’. See if you can find anything we can use to finish what they started here to tackle this. Stick to the Med Bay where Starry can keep tabs on you.

Brasco, Laurence, I want you to help Starry to go through the sensor feeds from here and find those life forms. Random searching isn’t working; let’s try a targetted approach now that we have access. Only go out when we’ve got a location on someone. Priority is to find the acting commander.

I’ll stay here and go through the other logs for more information on this thing. Starry, you know what you need to do.

(He looks around the room, from one face to the next.)

We have an idea about what we’re facing here. Be careful. If you’re heading out of the lounge, check with Starry if anything seems off. Or if you meet anyone. Come back here for all meals. Got it?

STARRY/ROSIE/HALF-FACE/ELLIOTT/DR SOCKS: (raggedly) Yes, sir.

CAPT: Good. Let’s go.

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12 Responses to “Uncontainable”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Oh, they have an idea? Ah, ok, you mean they know to expect ghosts…

    *hopes the best for all and hugs Starry*

    So, Elliott saw Danika then, not Starry.

    mjkj

  2. Francisco Says:

    This update reminds me of the Russian film Solaris (1972) (which is a lot better than the American remake).

  3. Medic Says:

    I’m wondering. Could Celeste (Starry’s sister) be responsible? The black-hole could be distorting their transmission somehow, or the rip in time/space that Celeste came through could be acting weird inside the event horizon of the black-hole.

    GAAAAAA! Mel, your doing it to me again! ๐Ÿ˜›

    @Francisco Is there an English sub of that? I’ve only seen the remake (didn’t know it was one tbh). I don’t speak Russian.

  4. Francisco Says:

    It was broadcast in Britain with English subtitles.

  5. thomas Says:

    I think Celeste was the first ghost anyone saw. So far, she is the only ghost Starry has seen too but I donโ€™t think her crew realizes that yet. I wonder if Starryโ€™s human side is able to see ghost but her AI side is as blind to them as the station AI.

    Francisco, you are right there are some similarities to Solaris. Thanks for reminding us about that movie. Iโ€™ll have to download it and watch it again.

  6. thomas Says:

    Solaris [1972] 1080p Rus + Eng subs on Pirate Bay

  7. Francisco Says:

    It’s also available through Amazon (UK), Amazon (US) and, no doubt, other outlets.

  8. gjh42 Says:

    I first found Starwalker just after book 1 ended, read it in one sitting and bookmarked it. Came back a couple weeks ago and found two and a half new books to devour:) I love the story, and the writing style really works.

    I do have a continuity quibble, though. When they retook the ship from the pirates, Byte was destroyed by the daisycutter, and Bit reassembled him. Byte then hung on Elliott constantly. Recently, it has switched to Bit hanging on Elliott.

  9. Kunama Says:

    I feel like I have enough bits to piece the mystery together a little. Except I can’t. Rargh.

  10. Lokira_San Says:

    What I’m wondering is, similar to the avatar of the star the Earth orbits around, do Black Holes have an avatar (what with them being former stars and all). Or are they the ghosts of these stars?

  11. Zjoske Says:

    I’ve discovered this site last friday, and i’ve been spending all my free time (and most of my nights) to catch up on the first 3 books and the start of book 4. I can just say: Awesome!! I love it!!
    moremoremoremoremoremore….

    Looking forward to how they unravel this mystery, it must be related to the black hole and star stepping in some way. Wasn’t the first step also about a year ago, the same time as they start seeing the ghosts?

    And same as gjh, I also thought that it was Byte who was destroyed by the daisycutter, but Bit seems to be on Eliots shoulder these days.

  12. Melanie Says:

    Sorry everyone! Finally getting around to catching up on comments.

    mjkj – yeah, they know the ghosts are ghosts. So they can be a little prepared for stuff. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Francisco – Ooo, I really need to see that movie. Either of them. ๐Ÿ™‚ The trailers for the American version did strike a chord with me, though…

    Medic – ahahahaha, you’re welcome?

    thomas – interesting idea, I like it!

    gjh42 – hi and welcome! ๐Ÿ™‚ So happy to hear you’re enjoying the story.
    Uh, whoops, that’s probably me getting them tangled up as I’m writing. You’re completely right!

    Kunama – soooooon. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Lokira_San – such good questions. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Zjoske – hi and welcome! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m thrilled you like the story. Lots more coming, I promise.
    Yeah, bad writer, no cookie. I’ll fix it going forward!