Ship's log, 06:35, 16 July 2214 Location: Sarabande Station, near the Cerces black hole Status: Docked and powered down
Yesterday was a full day. The Lieutenant had limited success down in the bowels of the station. We now have eyes on another survivor of the station, but he has hardly survived intact. Dr Valdimir will have to determine just how much of Brenn Haitom is still with us. That’s a task for another day, however.
Back in the Visitor’s Lounge, Lang Lang’s party went on well into the night and everyone got involved, even the Lieutenant after he returned from the brig. There was drinking and I turned the music up until they were singing. Sara chased coloured lights and balloons, danced with all the boys (the girls were either disinclined or unable to dance), and fell asleep on one of the deep windowsills using her stuffed whale as a pillow.
It was strange to watch the party through the filter of my sensors. I got the feeling that the room was fuller than I knew, as if there were more voices singing along than I could hear and more bodies dancing than I could see. Sometimes Elliott would glance in a certain direction and frown, before he turned back to the others and took another drink. Or the captain would smile with an unexpected trace of sadness. Dr Valdimir allowed the Lieutenant to sit next to him but slid out from under any casually affectionate touches, as if there was someone present that he didn’t want to witness it.
Coupled with the crazy man being fed to me through my remote sensor, it was a strained kind of party. But at least Lang Lang felt welcomed back and my crew had a reason to try to unwind. The past few weeks have been hard on all of us and there’s only so long we can go on under pressure.
I’m beginning to understand why things here on the station unravelled. The ghosts are a force that doesn’t let up, not for a moment, not even when we know that they’re ghosts. This whale, this presence that resonates at and through us, is always there, always pushing, always projecting. I have to wonder what the dreams of my people are like.
We have only been here for a couple of weeks. I can’t imagine going for months like this.
When things were winding down last night, as the alcohol’s buzz was starting to fade and bodies were tending towards slumber, talk turned to our whale. Musing in that way that people do while they nurse those last, burning drinks.
Station sensor feed Recording: 01:17, 16 July 2214 Location: Visitor's Lounge
(The lights are low, only a few of them active and shifting through muted blues and purples. The beams reflect off the glossy, twisting strips dangling from the ceiling and splash against the walls, creating a soft, watery atmosphere. There’s music playing but it’s quiet, providing background noise for the gathering now.
The crew are all seated around a single large, round table, lounging back in comfortable chairs. Most of them have a glass in front of them with an inch of amber liquid in the bottom. Lang Lang has her cast-bound foot up on a chair. Elliott has his head pillowed on his arms on the table. Sara is still asleep on her window-side ledge a few metres away from the table.)
ROSIE: (leaning back in her chair and stretching her arms out to the sides) So we’re really no closer to figuring this shit out, are we?
DR SOCKS: (lifting an eyebrow in Rosie’s direction) Which shit would that be?
ROSIE: (waves a hand around vaguely. She would have hit Elliott in the head if he had been sitting up.) The ghost shit. The thing that’s crawling into our heads and makin’ itself at home. That shit.
HALF-FACE: The kid’s whale.
ROSIE: Yeah, what does that even mean? What the hell is this space whale she keeps going on about?
CAPTAIN: It’s possibly the black hole’s avatar.
ELLIOTT: (sits up, frowning and rubbing at his eyes.)
LANG LANG: (eyes widening) Like Kess?
ROSIE: But she was a star. Does every fucking thing have a creepy avatar now?
LANG LANG: The black hole was a star, once.
HALF-FACE: So do we think that the whale is the ghost of the star’s avatar?
ELLIOTT: Great, a ghost out there making ghosts in here?
(There’s a general grumbling murmur around the table.)
CAPT: Well, here’s what we know. (The rest of the table quietens and looks to him. He counts the points on his fingers.) The black hole seems to be the source of the phenomenon. We know that avatars for stars exist, and that black holes are part of their life cycle.
LANG LANG: So the star might not be dead. As far as the star is concerned. Just different, like a butterfly.
DR SOCKS: (nods) Their existence have phases, but what they might mean is… unexplored. We don’t know what would constitute death for a star. Nor if they’re alive the way we understand it. We can’t even detect what’s going on inside that black hole.
ELLIOTT: So it could be just a regular avatar. Fucking with us.
CAPT: It’s hard to know what its motives are at this point. It doesn’t seem to be malevolent, but at the same time, it’s not particularly benevolent either.
LANG LANG: (nods.)
ELLIOTT: Where’s Kess when you need to ask an avatar what the fuck is going on?
ROSIE: (frowning) Yeah.
CAPT: (nods with understanding) I think she’s a little busy right now.
ELLIOTT: (rolls his eyes) It was rhetorical.
DR SOCKS: (to the Lieutenant beside him) What did our friend in the brig have to say about it all?
HALF-FACE: (shrugs) He was mostly rambling. I don’t think we should read too much into it. But…
HALF-FACE: Well, he wasn’t exactly reacting positively to the subject of the ghosts.
ROSIE: But he’s bugfuck nuts, right?
DR SOCKS: In lieu of an actual diagnosis, I suppose we can go with that.
ROSIE: So why do we give a shit about what he thinks?
CAPT: Every little bit of information helps.
WALDO: (trundles up to the table with a tray of mugs held in two of his hands. The other two hands pluck mugs off the tray and start to place a drink in front of each person at the table.)
LANG LANG: And we’re still trying to work out what it wants?
CAPT: (nods, picking up the mug that has appeared in front of him and sniffing it curiously) The projections don’t seem to be able to tell us, and they don’t seem to have a discernable purpose.
ELLIOTT: Fucking with us.
LANG LANG: (sipping at her mug) Is this cocoa?
HALF-FACE: Little Sara seems to have a special connection with it all.
DR SOCKS: (nods) Scans of her brain reveal some amplified activity. Growing up under the influence of this whale has affected her.
ROSIE: That’s messed up.
ELLIOTT: So because she’s all huggy with it, should we assume it’s not out to get us?
DR SOCKS: (shrugs) If you grow up with wolves, you might be huggy with them, too. Doesn’t make them not wolves.
ELLIOTT: (frowning) That’s fucked up. (He picks up his mug.) Thanks, Starry.
STARRY: (voice only) You’re welcome.
CAPT: Lang Lang, you’ve had an unusual connection with the avatar. What’s your impression?
LANG LANG: (licking her lips thoughtfully) That’s it’s trying to communicate with us.
ROSIE: And what, messing around in our heads is its way of doing that?
DR SOCKS: Sure, why not?
ROSIE: Well, it’s not very good at it.
CAPT: Starry, you’ve been very quiet. What’s your view?
STARRY: I’m still processing data, but… maybe the form of the avatar is a clue. I mean, Kess was mostly human, right? But she can’t have always been that way, because there haven’t always been humans. So if she took a human form to be able to communicate more easily with her people…
ELLIOTT: (frowning) Then the black hole’s avatar is a whale because that’s what its people were like?
STARRY: Or whale-like, or whale-equivalent. And maybe it’s messing with your heads because that’s how its people communicated.
ROSIE: What’s the point of the ghosts, then? We know they can’t tell us what it’s thinking; we’ve asked.
CAPT: (considering the cocoa dregs at the bottom of his mug) Trying to decipher our way of communicating, perhaps.
DR SOCKS: So this is a language issue?
STARRY: How easy do you think it would be to understand an alien language? It would explain why the phenomenon has been accelerating its onset over time. It’s learning how to interact with human brains. And it explains why the two people it has been able to communicate with most have been the two people who were pretty much trapped in their own heads, unable to speak.
LANG LANG: (blinks.)
CAPT: It’s looking for a psychic response?
DR SOCKS: Our brains aren’t exactly built for that.
CAPT: Starry, did the station investigate anything in this area?
STARRY: Psychic phenomena? Not really, though I’ve come across a few theories on the subject in the logs. Same with aliens: it was brought up but didn’t go anywhere. They didn’t have any data to pursue it.
HALF-FACE: And they didn’t know about the star avatars.
STARRY: Some parties believed it was linked to the black hole, but it’s very hard to get any data out of one of those.
CAPT: (leans forward, resting his weight on his forearms on the tabletop) Starry, with your gravity manipulation capabilities, how close do you think you could get to it?
STARRY: To Cerces? I… I don’t know. Closer than most, I suppose. Not exactly keen to dip a fin into the event horizon, though.
ELLIOTT: (to the captain) Hey, I’m not even done putting her ass back together again.
ROSIE: (tilts her head at the engineer) Yeah, how come that’s taking so long, anyway?
ELLIOTT: Fuck off, Brasco.
CAPT: (sits up and holds up a hand) I’m not planning to order her into the black hole’s grasp. Just understanding her capabilities. No-one wants to see her damaged again.
ELLIOTT: (subsides over his mug.)
CAPT: Doctor, do you have any ideas about how we might open up avenues of communication?
DR SOCKS: (eyeing the captain sideways) A couple of things spring to mind. I’ll need to work out a few details first.
CAPT: (nods) Do that.
ROSIE: (looking from the captain to the doctor and back again) Uh… shouldn’t we be asking a really basic question first?
CAPT: What question is that, Brasco?
ROSIE: Whether we actually want to communicate with this thing. Who knows what the hell a psychic whale wants. It’s already messing with our brains, and you want to open up the door for it to do more of that?
ELLIOTT: (scowls into his mug, licking cocoa off his top lip.)
CAPT: It’s a good question. The longer we stay here, the longer we’re subject to its influence. Do you think we should stop trying to stop it?
HALF-FACE: We will be leaving soon. Once Starry is repaired, right?
STARRY: And once we’ve pulled the Celestial out of where it’s stuck.
ROSIE: Are we still planning to do that?
STARRY: What are you–
CAPT: (holds up a hand) We haven’t changed our mind about that. Yes, we’ll tow the Celestial Strider free before we leave the system. But don’t you want to find out what all this is for? Don’t you want to make a difference here?
(Silence falls around the table as the crew all individually consider the captain’s question, staring at their drink or off into the air.)
LANG LANG: It’s the right thing to do.
STARRY: (quietly) It would be nice to fix something we didn’t break.
ELLIOTT: We’re probably the only ones who could do something about this. There’s a reason why the station personnel never got close to it.
HALF-FACE: It’s not like anyone would believe us if we told them, too.
CAPT: And that’s why we should push on. It’s why we will.
It was never a question for my captain; we found a problem and we’ll fix it, as best we can. This crew is more than a ship and a Step drive. We can do more than that, together. Now that the project that built me is gone, we have to be able to do more than that.
Well, my crew can. They’re smart people, and the captain is looking to Dr Valdimir for ideas because he’s smarter than most. I’ll have to work hard to be useful to them, though at this point it’s hard to know what to prepare myself for. Except be ready to adapt when they need something from me. That’s what being a good ship means now.
Of all of the theories about what’s happening here, ours is among the craziest. The soul of what was once a star is trying to get us on the comms. We have to figure out how to get the avatar of a black hole to stop playing with the brains of the humans within its range and teach it how to talk to us nicely. Psychically.
I suppose that even lunatic theories are right sometimes.