21 Jan

What’s missing

Ship’s log, 20:53, 5 October 2214
Location: Approaching standard orbit distance from the Cerces black hole horizon
Status: Orbiting

 

Location: Bridge

STARRY: Another anomaly, captain.

(In the centre of the room, a light blooms in the holographic schematic of the ship, indicating the location of the gravity fluctuation. It is near the bulkhead between Engineering and mid-deck.)

CAPTAIN: Damage?

STARRY: A few bent tools that Elliott’s going to swear about when he sees them. Bulkheads are under pressure but holding.

CAPT: (nods) Still getting stronger?

STARRY: The anomalies are increasing in intensity by about 5% each time, give or take a percentile.

CAPT: (nods and leans forward to frown at the holographic representation) Do we have enough data to predict the centre of this spiral? What’s it homing in on?

LANG LANG: (hands working feverishly at her console) The spiral isn’t regular enough to pinpoint a centre, but there’s enough data for a range…

(An orange bubble blooms in the hologram of the Starwalker, covering a starboard-side portion of mid-deck and the crew quarters above.)

CAPT: Starry, what parts of the Step drive does that cover?

STARRY: Some of the key controls. The starboard-side filament guidance is in there, and data storage.

CAPT: What doesn’t it cover?

STARRY: Main algorithm programming and processing is aft of the bubble. The rest of the filament guidance centres. It covers maybe a third of the essential Step drive components, but nothing that couldn’t be replaced if we needed to. You think this is about the drive?

CAPT: I don’t like that whatever this is appears to be circling our super-secret star-warping engine. Especially when we used it on our big black friend out there.

STARRY: (nods, looking at the hologram with a frown) I’ll make a list of everything inside that area.

 

I’m liking this less and less. Apart from mid-deck, it’s touching on a handful of crew quarters. Specifically, those holding the Strider’s people.

So it might be Cerces looking to damage the drive that tore a hole in him a few weeks ago. Or it could be one of our guests trying to break open a locked door. Or it could be Cerces trying to convert one of our guests into an avatar for his consciousness.

He said that he needed a ‘conditioned mind’ for that. The Strider SecOff Kinski would count: he reacted like Lang Lang and Cameron did when we tried to leave the system. He’s on the shortlist.

Does Cerces understand enough about us to know that Kinski isn’t one of ‘my’ people? Though that’s not what I meant when I refused the black hole’s request; I meant that he couldn’t have any of them. Kinski might not be one of my crew but his life – and body – is hardly mine to give away.

Checking inside Kinski’s quarters, he doesn’t seem particularly affected by what’s happening. In fact, he’s asleep, harnessed securely in his bunk.

His Chief of Security, Riede, is sharing the quarters with him. Riede is doing some zero-G manoeuvres, keeping his body moving while there’s no gravity. Which is a bit weird, considering that people only tend to do that in long stretches of zero-G. The gravity has been off barely half an hour and he’s already acting like it has been a couple of days.

They have been shut up in those rooms for a while now. Maybe they’re getting restless and stir-crazy.

I don’t have time to worry about that right now. I’ll talk to the captain about it later.

 

(The starboard Bridge door swishes open and Casper trundles in, carrying a squirming bundle. Sara is struggling against his metal arms, sobbing and hiccuping as she tries to get free, tears streaking down her face.)

 

Oh, great. The kid is upset. That’s bound to make this go well.

 

CAPT: (turns at the sounds of a small person straining) Starry, what did you do to get her out of the ducts?

STARRY: Nothing! She isn’t hurt. She was fine until Casper took her away from the duct. She just wants to go back in.

CAPT: (clears the frown from his face and holds his hands out for the child with a warm smile) Hello, Sara.

CASPER: (shifts his grip on the tiny wriggler and holds her out for the captain to take.)

SARA: (looks up at the sound of her name, and her face crumples when she recognises the captain) Kitty.

CAPT: (lifts her into his lap) You were looking for the kittens?

SARA: (nods and sniffs, cuddling into the captain’s chest for comfort.)

 

Goddamn kittens. I had a nice little portion of the cargo bay set up for them, with blankets and scraps of fabric turned into toys (my drones had fun making those), and bowls for water and food. The cats disappeared within an hour of getting on board and haven’t been back in sensor range since. Probably off playing with the dustbunnies in my ducts. Or eating them.

The only one of the station’s cats I have seen on-sensor lately is mother-cat, who is looking suspiciously fat.

 

CAPT: (strokes her hair) You can go find them later. Starry will help you.

SARA: (sniffs again wetly and rubs a fist in her eye.)

CAPT: Sara, honey, do you know what the big whale is up to today?

SARA: (mumbling into the front of his jacket) Kitty.

CAPT: I know you want to see the kitties. I need to know about Cerces. The whale. Is he doing something?

SARA: Kitty!

CAPT: Not right now, honey. Is the whale playing a game?

SARA: (looks puzzled for a moment, then nods reluctantly) Hide sick.

CAPT: (tilts his head to try to see her face better) What was that?

STARRY: (watching the little one curiously) Do you mean ‘hide and seek’?

SARA: (nods.)

CAPT: Who is he playing hide and seek with? You?

SARA: (shakes her head.)

CAPT: Is he doing it on board the ship with us?

SARA: (sniffs and turns her face in against the captain’s chest. Then she abruptly twists and wriggles, pushing away from him.)

CAPT: (swings her around so she can hold onto the arm of his chair and nods at the ship’s avatar.)

 

That means he wants me to let her run around but keep her within the room. So I’ll lock the doors to her and tell Casper not to catch her up again.

She’s trying to get away from Casper anyway, ducking around the other side of the captain’s chair. The zero-G seems to be confusing her; I don’t think she has ever had to deal with it before. She’s seems very determined to get to the door they came in by but can’t figure out how.

Something’s off about her behaviour in the exchange with the captain. I think she’s telling us more than we realise, maybe even more than she realises.

I need to go back over the logs and see what it is I’m missing.

 

CAMERON: Captain, I think we have a problem.

CAPT: Report, Chief.

SARA: (reaches towards the Bridge door but seems nonplussed about how to get there without gravity. Her feet kick at the air and she starts to drift.)

CAMERON: I’m having trouble tracking one of our guests. Starry, where’s the Strider’s engineer, April Dineen?

STARRY: In her quarters.

CAMERON: Are you sure?

STARRY: I… that’s why my sensors say. Why?

CAMERON: I’ve got an extra life sign in the aft crew corridor, and a blip on the room she was in.

STARRY: (frowns) Running diagnostics.

 

A blip, she says. What sort of blip? I… there. When most of my systems were disabled, there was a spike in Dineen’s room. The entertainment systems went down along with all my major functionality, like environmentals. At the moment when they should have had the least running in that room, there was a sudden pull on my power.

The blip was after my initial checks on the Strider crew, and it coincides with a gravity fluctuation in middle portion of the crew corridor. She would have been able to feel it from her room. That can’t be a coincidence.

Sensors in the area have been disrupted. Very cleverly; I can tell only by detailed analysis. Just for a few seconds, there was something strange. Long enough for…

My major system were offline, including weapons and other related security. I was so busy dealing with the fluctuation that I wasn’t watching closely enough. Like, to spot if a door might have been jimmied open.

My sensors show that Dineen and Tasha, the Strider’s pilot, are watching a vid, harnessed loosely into armchairs. But they had a few seconds of cover, long enough to force the door and slip out. Life sign tracking shows only one person in that room now.

If anyone could fool my sensors and slip away, it would be an engineer. Dineen has masked herself, somehow.

 

STARRY: Chief Cameron is right. At least one of our guests is loose.

CAPT: (presses his lips together grimly and nods to the Chief.)

CAMERON: Brasco, Lieutenant, go deal with it.

CAPT: Starry, trip the collar.

ROSIE and HALF-FACE: (release their harnesses and push off towards the portside Bridge door.)

STARRY: I can send the signal but she’s masking herself from my sensors somehow. I don’t show anyone in that corridor. I won’t know if it works.

CAPT: Send the signal anyway. In fact, send it to all of them. I want them disabled before she has a chance to do more.

(The portside door swishes open, letting the two SecOffs out, and closes quickly behind them.)

SARA: (watches the two SecOffs with fascination, then tries to copy them, pushing off the captain’s chair. She squeaks as she floats through the air, tumbling awkwardly.)

 

All of them. All of them?

Shit.

 

STARRY: (stiffly) Signal sent, sir.

 

In a terrible concert, the Strider’s people go rigid, gasping with pain, and then go limp. They drift in zero-G, nudging the straps of harnesses or bumping into a wall. I feel awful but they’re no danger to us for now. Not the ones I know I could reach.

That leaves only Dineen. The ‘her’ I can see in the quarters is still watching the vid, unaffected. How did she do this? I’ve checked and rechecked my systems, and I haven’t been compromised. She didn’t get into me. My diagnostics are clean.

An external factor, then? Some device that would interfere with my sensors. Something that would make me see her in the quarters, and mask where she is right now. Something she had with her? But they were all searched when they were first brought into our custody. How did we miss this?

I’ll ask Elliott; he’ll be able to help. And he’ll be glad of a distraction while we battle with this anomaly problem. While he’s doing that, I’ll keep looking for what’s missing. The things I can’t see, the blip of something out of place.

 

SARA: (bounces off the bulkhead next to the Bridge door and grabs at the safety handle with both hands before she can drift away again. Small socked feet kick at the air.)

 

What’s not there. What’s missing.

 

STARRY: Captain, her whale.

CAPT: What about him?

STARRY: Not Cerces. Her stuffed whale.

CAPT: (turns to look at the child. She doesn’t have the whale under an arm or gripped in one hand.)

SARA: (steadier now, she holds the handle with one hand and pushes at the door with the other, which rotates her away from the panel in a way she struggles to counter. She makes little straining noises as she battles with the zero-G.)

CAPT: Did it get left in the ducts?

STARRY: No, my boys didn’t see it. Scanning… it’s in her quarters. She left it behind when she went looking for the kittens.

CAPT: (glancing at the avatar) You think this is important?

STARRY: I think she hasn’t been out of sight of that toy since we met her. This thing with the kittens, I think it’s more than just a kid wanting to pet something soft and cute.

CAPT: (releases his harness and pushes himself towards the door the child is trying and failing to open.)

SARA: (kicks at the door, and sees the captain coming towards her on the rebound) Open!

CAPT: (catches the handle with one hand and steadies the child with the other. He comes to a stop with a foot on the wall) Sara, honey, why are you looking for the kittens?

SARA: Kitty! Kitty kitty.

CAPT: Why do you want to see them?

SARA: (now that the captain has steadied her, she pushes at the door again) Hide sick.

CAPT: Starry, where are the kittens?

STARRY: They’re not on sensors. My boys are looking now. But…

CAPT: (lifts an eyebrow at her.)

STARRY: …we found Sara not far from the area at the middle of the spiral. If they’re not inside it, they’re close.

CAMERON: It makes sense. Cerces is looking for an alternate solution to the avatar problem.

(Everyone turns to stare at the Chief.)

 

A cat? Cerces said he needed a body and a conditioned, clean mind. The kittens were born under his influence, just like Sara.

And there was something missing in what he said. Something important.

 

STARRY: (eyes widening) He never said he needed a human body.

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8 Responses to “What’s missing”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Wow, I like that version much better 😀

    Though what is that dineen up to? 😕

  2. Targetdrone Says:

    omg… i just can picture it… cute kitten and avatar of a black hole all rolled into a terrifying cute package 😛

    what’s not to love? :p

  3. Marcus Says:

    Even after a three days reread through of the story during the break I did not click on the cats being possible avatars. A delightful twist, I think.

    Kittens are already cute and terrifying, giving one a black holes powers just makes it worse, lol

  4. Mike Says:

    LOL Awesome twist, cats use to be worshiped and here’s another reason :p

  5. Osolodo Says:

    Cerces’ avatar is going to have some great potential.

    Cat (sleeping on warm things)
    +
    Black hole (gravity)
    =
    Black hole cat (sleeping on ceiling next to the light)

  6. thomas Says:

    I wonder how the Captain will respond to a hyper Kitty telling him where to go.

    Hyper: Captain, we need to check 5h14m32.3s Dec: -8°12’05.9″, 18h36m56.3s Dec: +38°47’01.9″, 20h41m25.9s Dec: +45°16’49.2″, ra=10.625 deg, dec=41.2, 5h16m41.4s Dec: +45°59’52.4″, …

    Captain: Slowdown Hyper. Just one star at a time.

    Hyper: No time. Got to get moving! Someone get me more coffee.

    Captain: Belay that order. In fact, no more coffee for Hyper.

    Hyper: (Kitty fluffs up with a very menacing look on his face.) Grrr! Are you really sure you want to override my request for coffee Captain?

  7. Syphax Says:

    Is he going to possess all the kittens so they form some adorable hive mind? Will the kitten(s) age as avatar(s) or stay fluffy and adorable forever. There are the things we need to know!

  8. Melanie Says:

    I love you guys. 😀

    mjkj – Yay! Glad you like it. 😀 Also, very good question.

    Targetdrone – So true!

    Important question: would it shed? Or would it simply absorb shed fur and become even denser kitty?

    Marcus – I do try. 😀

    Mike – Hee, I hadn’t thought of that! Like a cat needs any more reasons to feel superior to us. 😉

    Osolodo – Ahahaha, yes. Or calmly sitting on the wall just out of reach, licking himself while Sara bounces and bounces and tries to grab him.

    thomas – I love it! Though… would he go menacing, or cute sad face with the bigeyes? And will the captain ask Elliott to put water squirters on all the drones?

    Syphax – Oh, that’s terrifying. Coordinated kitten storm? Ahhhh.

    Though, of course, that’s supposing that a black hole is capable of herding several cats at the same time. That might violate the laws of cat-physics. (You know they don’t subscribe to our puny physics.)