Ship's log, 23:09, 9 July 2214 Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole Status: Docked and powered down
On a station full of ghosts, I’m feeling a bit left out.
On the surface, everything seems normal. The systems operate the way they’re supposed to. My crew is doing its work, stopping periodically to eat and talk. The lights keep shining, the station’s rings keep turning, and all the status reports have green lights.
But there are things I’m missing. My people react to things I can’t see, as if there’s a glitch in reality. Their expressions turn suddenly sad or angry, and then they tense defensively because they know whatever – whomever – they’re seeing isn’t real.
It doesn’t last long. Their heads turn as if they’re tracking something, their gazes meet a turn in the corridor, and then the weight lifts from their shoulders. Exit, stage left, I suppose, by those players I can’t see. Are the ghosts being chased away by disbelief? Are they not strong enough to stay and insist on their presence? Or do they see the pain they’re inflicting and retreat from it?
Last night, I caught a glimpse of my captain’s expression when he was going into his visitor’s quarters. It wasn’t just sadness: heart-tearing grief stopped him in his tracks as he stared into the room. He shook his head, and I could have sworn there were tears in his eyes as he whispered, “You’re not here.” Then he stepped inside and let the door close behind him.
I gave him his privacy. Whatever he was dealing with in there, it’s his and I have to respect that. But I did monitor his bio-signs, just in case. He was upset for a long time. I think it was his family. Or maybe Danika. Possibly even Dr Cirilli, though I would have expected more guilt mixed in with his pain if it was her; he still blames himself for her death.
There are so many possibilities and that makes me sad for him, too.
I shouldn’t try to guess; it goes nowhere good. And it doesn’t feel fair to ask. Does it really matter who they see, or just that they’re seeing people who aren’t really there?
I can’t help but think of the station commander’s changing attitude. She was distressed at first, and terribly determined, but by the end, she was grateful for the extra time with her dead love. She smiled sadly and warmly, and succumbed to the inevitable. She lay down and died.
Maybe it does matter who it is. Maybe I should ask.
I asked Elliott earlier and that was weird and confusing.
Log recorded: 14:52, 9 July 2214 Location: Port-side Bridge access corridor
(Elliott is in his suit, tipping his helmet up as he squints at the readout hovering above his left forearm. His right hand presses a scanner to a long, welded scar in the wall.)
ELLIOTT: How’re the rest of the integrity checks coming, Starry?
STARRY: (voice only) Most of my sectors are coming back clean. I’m getting some fluctuations from where you are, and Cargo Bay 4.
ELLIOTT: (glances to his left and nods) Yeah, I’m getting some instability here. (He blinks, then frowns at the projected readouts again.) What does Cargo Bay 4 look like?
STARRY: Like an airlock seal might have warped slightly. I’m sending Casper down to have a closer look; I don’t have good sensor coverage in that area right now.
ELLIOTT: (nods again, this time staring intently at the display.)
STARRY: You just saw her again, didn’t you?
STARRY: Danika. You can see her?
ELLIOTT: (lets his gaze slide left) No. Not Danika: you.
STARRY: Me? Are you sure?
ELLIOTT: (scowls and turns to face the wall determinedly) Yeah, I know the difference. Fucking hell, Starry.
STARRY: (confused) But I’m not dead.
ELLIOTT: I know.
ELLIOTT: Just gimme the damn stress readings and shut up.
I don’t understand. I’m right here but he’s seeing my ghost. I’m not dead! But I guess I’m not really alive either. Would I even have a ghost? Why would he see me? How would whatever’s causing this know to make him see me?
The commander said in her log that ‘most’ of the ghosts were of dead people. Most, not all. This isn’t the first time this has happened.
But I haven’t seen any reports of mistaken identity in the logs or people being in two places at once. No obvious incidents of someone on the station being seen as a ghost; I would have expected at least some trouble and accusations if that was the case.
Does that mean that people here are never ghosts? But people who are elsewhere and may or may not be dead, are?
This is weird. The captain is asleep; I can’t ask him. Maybe the doctor can shed some light.
Station comms Location: Med Bay
STARRY: (voice only) Excuse me, doctor?
DR SOCKS: (starts and blinks at the display in front of him, which is hovering patiently in the middle of a medical diagnostic report) Yes, Starry?
STARRY: Do you have any theories behind who people are seeing?
DR SOCKS: I… am not sure what you mean. (His gaze slides to his right, then returns to the display.) It’s supposed to be dead people, isn’t it?
STARRY: The station staff reported that only most of them were dead. And my avatar has been seen but I’m definitely not projecting or glitching.
DR SOCKS: You’re hardly normal, though.
STARRY: Well, no, I guess not…
DR SOCKS: (leans his elbows on his desk and drops his head into his hands) You’re saying that not everyone we see is necessarily dead?
STARRY: That’s right.
DR SOCKS: (rakes his hands through his hair and lifts his head again) Why are you telling me this?
STARRY: I thought it might help us figure out how this is happening, if we can understand what determines who we see. Who you see. Then we might be able to work out where the information about them is coming from and why, and… you don’t think this might be useful?
DR SOCKS: I don’t know. Maybe.
STARRY: You sound tired, doctor. Are you all right?
DR SOCKS: I’m fine. What parameters do you have to define the subjects of the hallucinations?
STARRY: They’re not on board the station, and they’re connected to someone who is here. If you can count me as not being on the station. When was the last time you slept?
DR SOCKS: Last night. So the hallucinations are all of people we know and… miss?
STARRY: What makes you think missing them has something to do with it?
DR SOCKS: You don’t think that Monaghan misses seeing your avatar?
STARRY: I… but he talks to me all the time, and…
DR SOCKS: (lifts an eyebrow and taps fingertips on the surface of his desk.)
I’m right here. Elliott misses me? I don’t know what to do with that. My avatar means that much to him?
I suppose it is how we’ve touched and been… together. Avatars. It would make sense that he would miss that. Even though I’m right here.
STARRY: Oh. I see. Do you think missing someone is all there is to it?
DR SOCKS: (shrugs) No, but it could be a common factor.
STARRY: That suggests fondness and I don’t think that’s universally true. How many people are you seeing right now, other than your patients?
DR SOCKS: (turns his head and stares into the middle distance) Four. What makes you think fondness isn’t an issue?
STARRY: Um… it’s easier if I show you a log I came across earlier.
DR SOCKS: (nods and waves the diagnostic report onto a side projector, out of the way.)
STARRY: (activates the main display in front of him.)
(The log displayed shows a public thoroughfare through the station with a steady flow of people moving along it. A disruption is visible in the far corner of the sensor’s range: a small body is pushing through the lightly-sprinkled traffic. A thin teenaged girl rushes into view, careening off people and looking around with wide-eyed panic. Her breathing is short and sharp, and she slithers to a stop at an intersection.
She glances back over her shoulder and immediately shrieks, lifting an arm as if to fend something away from her face. Her other hand grapples with an object under the flapping hem of her shirt, and the next moment, she’s firing a hand-held weapon back the way she came.
People fall and scrabble, some from surprise, some with burning holes punched right through them. The screaming multiplies and the teenager fires with apparent abandon, without seeming to look at what she’s hitting. A few seconds after the first shot, security pound into view and the sensor’s area fills up with gas. Emergency lights blink blue over the area, calling for medical help.
The log pauses on the moment a SecOff tears the gun from the girl’s hand and punches her in the face.)
DR SOCKS: What was that?
STARRY: She was shooting at a delusion. From the attached reports, she had been sexually assaulted shortly before her family moved to the station. According to her confession, she was shooting at the man who attacked her. She killed seven real people.
DR SOCKS: (runs his hand through his hair again, scowling at the paused log) Is that an isolated incident?
STARRY: It’s hard to say, but I doubt it. You’ve seen as many reports into unnatural deaths as I have – how many do you think were the result of being haunted by someone they didn’t want to see?
DR SOCKS: More than a few. The sheer number of suicides and psychological breaks suggest that these people didn’t want to see some of their ghosts. Fear and guilt drove a lot of them to their deaths. (He glances to his right, his frown hardening.) No, you’re right: fondness has nothing to do with it. Maybe it’s the level of emotional attachment that’s the determining factor, not the quality of the emotion itself.
STARRY: (quietly) Dr Valdimir, who is it that you’re seeing right now?
DR SOCKS: (tears his gaze back to his desk, and then angrily waves the projected log away) No-one. They’re not here.
STARRY: Maybe you should come back to the lounge for a while.
DR SOCKS: I’m fine! I don’t need babysitting.
STARRY: Doctor, everyone on this station thought they were fine, that they could handle it. And I’m still your ship. Let me help you stay fine. You don’t have to do this all on your own.
DR SOCKS: I don’t need your help, Starry. Stay out of it.
STARRY: You’re not even talking to the Lieutenant…
DR SOCKS: I said, stay out of it! I’m not here to shore up your undying need to be useful to us.
STARRY: (quiet for a stunned moment) …that’s not why I…
DR SOCKS: Of course it is. Go stare at someone else. Comms off.
Comms channel terminated
I… that’s not… I don’t…
I don’t know what to say to that. I’m his ship; I’m supposed to want to be useful. He says it like it’s a bad thing. It’s how I’m coded! It’s how I’m a good ship.
I try not to be obnoxious about it. I give them their freedom. I only butt in if I have to. But I have to watch over them; they need an electronic eye right now. Someone with sensors rather than senses has to keep them straight.
And I don’t stare. I don’t have eyelids. I…
He’s just upset. He doesn’t trust me enough yet. And someone there makes him feel bad. He keeps sending the Lieutenant away, so he’s not getting comfort or anything else right now. How can I do anything but worry about him when he’s so obviously struggling?
Dammit, I still want to help him. Maybe I am trying too hard. Maybe I should give them their privacy in this. I’ll just let him cool down and see what happens. And keep an eye on him, because even if he doesn’t like it, I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to give up like the station did.
We know more than we did before. We know that emotional attachment is important. But how does whatever is causing this know who people have strong emotional attachments to? Are they guessing from records? What records? No-one could have predicted I’d bring us here, and there haven’t been any intrusions into my files since I’ve been here.
What’s left? Pulling this stuff directly out of my people’s heads? Elliott’s cerebral implant was hacked once before; could there be a new, more sophisticated way to do that, something we haven’t been able to detect yet? Extracting information through implants? What other option is there? Some kind of telepathy?
I’ll scan for possible implant hacks. There’d be a signal if that was true. Maybe that’s how it’s projecting the delusions, too, using the implants to place the images directly into the brain.
But if all that’s true, why didn’t the station’s personnel pick it up? I guess there’s no harm in looking anyway, right?
I still feel left out of whatever my crew is going through right now. There’s a part of me that wishes I was closer to them. But I don’t know who I’d see. I don’t know who I’d want to see.
No, I’m better off this way. My crew are better off, too; someone needs to keep a handle on what’s real. I just need to find a better way to help them.
Which reminds me: it’s time to turn the personnel distress alerts back on. If anyone gets into trouble on this station, I want everyone to know about it. My people are not going to be corpses dusted off by idiotic drones; we’re smarter than that.
So come on, idiot station AI, let’s make you track people properly again. And let’s get back to refining the life sign detection to give us a proper location. We’re narrowing the signals down to three areas. I’m hoping to be able to track them soon.
And then maybe we’ll see what the survivors of this station have to say about all this.