Actions

Work Header

Walk the Stars

Work Text:

Starship Skyfall, Callsign MI6
Pilot James Bond, Callsign 007
Personal Log

Day 2238

I saw a new type of predator today.

It caught me in drift around a gas giant, where I was waiting for the Gerrity radiation charge to fall back under critical levels so that I could jump.

Quiet system, quiet star with just a few sleepy gas giants out near the fringe. I haven’t seen predator packs for five jumps now, and it’s a mercy that they seem sparser out in these quadrants.

This one came on me without warning.

None of the alerts sounded. My instruments didn’t register it at all, nor any ship within three clicks.

I wonder if it was a native of the gas giant.

I wonder if it was harmless.

I only saw it when it came in sight of the bridge. It floated up, hovering just ahead of my shields. The velocity of orbit should have crushed it against my bridge like an insect. Instead, somehow, it dangled before me.

It had long, pale limbs and a humanoid ribcage. Gauzy galaxies swathed its body, fluttering in the wind of our velocity like a fabric sewn of soap bubbles. It wore silvery hoops like a necklace and belt, and more around wrists and ankles. Its head was uncovered; I saw a long face, a shallow nose, wide dark eyes, and a dark, tangling crest like hair.

The creature was more human than any predator I’d seen before, but so very alien. I don’t think it would be much taller than I am, but it was stick thin, too thin for a living human.

I’m not at all sure it was real.

I saw it, and it was beautiful, but my instruments say there was nothing. No ship, no creature, no sign of life in that system.

It reached toward me, as if it were looking for me, as if it had known somehow to come to the glass where we could see each other without the lies and interference of the instruments that guide my ship.

I want to believe that it was as native of the planet. Something peaceful and gentle, a curious sprite come tapping at my window. I like that better than believing that it was like the rest.

The instant I saw it, I primed the ship to jump. Pretty though it was, I can’t risk predators getting into my ship.

Now I’m clear in a new system, and the Gerrity radiation charge is still high, and I know I won’t see it again. So it’s safe to wonder about it and the beauty of its clothing. It came from some manner of civilization, or else it wouldn’t have clothing and jewelry to wear.

Once, our race might have sought out a civilization like that. We could have spoken to them, learned from them.

But of all the species we’ve discovered throughout the universe, the one thing we have learned is that every last one of them will track us down and devour all life in their path.

It wasn’t human: therefore, it was a predator.

Still, it was nice to see something that was as surprised by me as I was by it.

And it was beautiful.

~

Starship Skyfall, Callsign MI6
Pilot James Bond, Callsign 007
Personal Log

Day 2243

I have one day to find a new planet with an adequate atmosphere before the radiation cracks the shields and kills me, and it’ll be six hours yet before the next jump.

Kills us. It would kill us.

It is still us, isn’t it?

M and Tanner, Moneypenny, Alec--

They’re still with me, same as ever. I’m not mad, not yet.

They sleep on, safe in their cold little bubbles. Rows upon rows of my friends and my fellow pilots. Every day I think about waking them up. Maybe just one or two, to help me run the ship, to keep me from going insane.

I have to remember the numbers. We’ll never make it to sanctuary if we run out of resources, and the resources only allow for one pilot awake at a time.

If any of them wake, they won’t sleep again, and we’ll all die.

I’m afraid that if I don’t keep reminding myself, I’ll forget.

I can’t forget the numbers. I can’t forget that they’re alive. I can’t forget that I’m going insane.

I’m going to jump.

No. Can’t jump.

Six hours.

Six hours.

Six years.

~

Starship Skyfall, Callsign MI6
Pilot James Bond, Callsign 007
Personal Log

Day 2248

It followed me.

It followed me.

I’d found a planet with a thick atmosphere. Bloody toxic for humans, but safe for the ship. I don’t need to go outside. Not on this planet and not for another week or two, at the very least. All I need is a quiet spot where the ship can sit while the radiation charge meter ticks down out of the red zone.

I feel like the flaw in my shields is getting worse. I should be able to go months or years without worrying about that radiation buildup.

Bad luck on bad luck on more and more bad luck.

I remember the predators who came.

I remember the pilot training, and the protocol. After one year on the bridge, I strap myself into a pod and let the computer put me to sleep, and then it will wake the next pilot to take their year on the bridge.

I remember that the predators damaged our systems. It must be because of them that the mechanism is flawed. The system can’t put me to sleep. And if anyone else awakes, they’ll be stuck with me, slowly going insane.

I’ll be 82 when we reach Sanctuary, at this rate.

It’s been six years. I don’t know how I’ll last another six and thirty.

The predator. It came to find me.

Did it come to find me?

Still no sign of it on the scanners. No proof that the damn thing is real. And at this point, I don’t know what proof I’d need, to believe that it isn’t a hallucination of my desperate mind. I doubt the proof of my eyes and my hands, because I know a mind can lie.

It isn’t the believing in hallucinations that worries me. It’s what will happen when I stop believing in things that aren’t hallucinations.

If I die, the ship will wake up a new pilot. But there are few enough of us left. We can’t endure the loss of a pilot every six years. I have to hold out a little longer. A few more years. Another decade or three.

The atmosphere was thick and red with dust and the light of this system’s star. I watched it, because it was something new to watch. Something other than stars in the void. No life on the planet, only dust and endless dunes. With my luck, the dust would clog my vents, and once I was off-world I’d have to take a walk on the hull to clear them out.

But at least the radiation was ticking down, day by day. Orange to yellow, until it was nudging against the green. The longer I could stay, the better. Better for the ship, and better for my sanity.

I liked the sand, because it let me think of the Sahara back home, and I could fill my mind with stories that I had read and stories that I hadn’t.

That was when my airlock opened.

The outer lock is manual, but the inner lock needs a code. So when my computer flashed up a notice about an incorrect code entered on one of the lower airlocks, I thought it was a glitch. I dismissed the notice, and it repeated it.

When I went to look, the predator was waiting for me.

It was inside my airlock, in a cloud of the red haze, and it was inspecting the construction of my ship. When I approached, it turned. Intelligent, inhuman dark eyes focused on me through the reinforced glass of the inner lock.

It reached out and pressed a hand against the glass. Those fingers were like branches--long and thin, and far too fragile. Each one was tipped with a glinting silver claw.

The predator had followed me.

Our ships are designed so that they can’t be followed. When we realized the danger, we scattered. Colonies were built and the coordinates destroyed. Communication between colonies was cut off. Our directive as a species is to spread, to multiply, and to survive, so that each time we lose a colony, another will still be out among the stars. It gives us hope to know that somewhere out there, humanity is carrying on.

My colonies, which have nothing but staticy old databanks on the Earth that was home countless centuries, survived because our ships have jump drives. We don’t fly through space. We spark from place to place and randomize our course enough along that no sentient creature can pursue.

Roving predator packs through space are still a danger, but space is vast, and if they can’t follow us, they can’t ambush us.

But somehow, impossibly, this thing just had.

Any hope I had that it was a harmless inhabitant of the gas giant vanished.

This thing had hunted me across the light years of my last three jumps. Somehow, impossibly, it had tracked me down. If it got inside, it would crack open the pods and devour the humans within. That was what predators did.

I had to kill it, but I couldn’t dare risk letting it inside the ship.

Running to the bridge, I started up the jump engine and prepared a course. The outer airlock door was open. I needed it to stay that way.

When the ship jumped, the pressure would suck the predator out of the airlock. It could survive in two different planetary atmospheres, but I could hope it couldn’t survive in space.

We jumped, and I turned on the normal thrusters, in order to get away from the spot while I waited for my jump engines to recharge again.

It might have been a coincidence. Maybe these creatures just inhabit this quadrant of space, and they look enough alike that I couldn’t tell this one apart from the former.

I’ve never had much luck with coincidence.

~

Starship Skyfall, Callsign MI6
Pilot James Bond, Callsign 007
Personal Log

Day 2249

No sign of it since the jump.

I walked around from another airlock and shut the door. The ship is mine again. No lovely predators lurking on the wings. Just myself and the rows upon rows upon rows of my sleeping shipmates.

This makes me a little regretful. It didn’t attack the ship, like predators usually would. It seemed only curious. But maybe it merely didn’t have the claws to tear through the hull, and it was waiting for me to let down my guard and let it inside.

I cannot take that risk. I will not take that risk.

Even if I would be grateful for the company.

~

Starship Skyfall, Callsign MI6
Pilot James Bond, Callsign 007
Personal Log

Day 2252

The air converters are acting up again. Damn things just don’t like staying repaired. I’ve been listening to Old Earth radio plays while I work. Never mind that I know all the scripts by heart. I like listening to them. I like pretending that I’m with them, on the deck of their ship, laughing at their jokes and responding back with my own in-jokes, the ones I’ve developed with them over the years.

How can I tell when I’m insane? That’s what I wonder most. If psychosis is believing that unreal things are real or that real things are unreal, then how can I tell when I’m the only one here to confirm my judgement?

I’m concerned that I started telling the characters in the radio play about the predator I found.

They weren’t interested in what I had to say.

They never are.

~

Starship Skyfall, Callsign MI6
Pilot James Bond, Callsign 007
Personal Log

Day 2264

Two weeks. No sign of my friend.

I continue to hope I was right about the coincidence. Just two locals in the quadrant, both of them curious. For the sake of my friends and passengers, I hope I was right.

For my sake, I hope I was wrong.

I want to see my friend’s lovely face again. I want to know how his clothing sweeps around him like stars. I want to know why he chose those silver rings for his ornamentation. I want to know if his people have language.

I want to know if he’s lonely.

~

Starship Skyfall, Callsign MI6
Pilot James Bond, Callsign 007
Personal Log

Day 2277

This time, my stalker found me planetside.

It was a planet that barely deserved the name, with a thin atmosphere and no water. But the mix of gases in the atmosphere was enough that I could walk outside with nothing but a breather. So I made myself a lonely little campsite where I could watch the horizon while I waited for the radiation meter to tick its way back down.

I brought a book, and it was almost pleasant. Just me and the lonely meteor scars that passed for scenery.

It was cold within the crater where I’d set the ship, but I strapped a couple of heater pads within my clothing to keep down the shivers.

Barely an hour after I’d set down, my friend appeared at the edge of the crater and dropped into the rocky basin. I was on my feet with my gun at the ready, but he didn’t seem to take notice of it.

He walked up, pace becoming a little slower and more wary as he got closer.

“Stay back,” I warned him, my voice crisping through the filter of the breather.

“Tah bakk,” he repeated to me. His voice was clear and sweet as spring water, although the words were warped in his mouth. He took another step forward.

“Who are you? What are you?”

“Hoo whuu roo?”

That expressionless face didn’t change, and I found myself backing away as he continued to approach.

I didn’t shoot him. I didn’t want to shoot him. If I shoot him, I’ll be alone.

But if I don’t shoot him, he’ll crack open my ship and devour my friends.

Maybe he’ll save me for last.

Maybe he’s planning to eat me first.

I fired, grazing his shoulder.

He shrieked and stopped. The starry gauze by his shoulder exploded out in a bloom of threads and glimmers, furling around themselves in angry little tangles while black ichor seeped from his wound.

He clasped his shoulder with defensive fingers. I think he was in pain. His gaze was unreadable.

I hurt him. I can hurt him.

And if I see him again, I’ll know him by the scar and his reaction to my gun. I’ll know whether he is a coincidence or if he really is stalking me.

He stayed where he is as I backpedaled inside the ship and locked him out. I could see him still standing there, alone and very pale against the brown rock of the world, as I started the engines and jumped away.

~

Starship Skyfall, Callsign MI6
Pilot James Bond, Callsign 007
Personal Log

Day 2286

Today he showed up on the glass of my bridge while we were hovering in space between jumps.

No ship, no planet, no explanation. No variation on my instruments. He isn’t possible. I don’t think he’s real.

He dangled over the top of my bridge’s window, and tapped politely on the glass. There was a little black-stained tangle of threads on his shoulder.

My impossible stalker.

I stood and crossed the bridge to stand in front of the glass. I don’t think he could break it. He was still waiting for me to let him inside, the same as he had been since we first met.

His hand flattened against the glass, and his lips parted. A plea?

I reached up, touching the cool glass between us.

We stayed like that, with only the glass separating us, for I don’t know how long. After some time, he rested his head on his arm. Curled against the top of my ship like a kitten on a pillow, he watched me with infinite patience.

When at last my hand wearied and I took it away, he sat up and rapped pleadingly at the glass. I ignored him, as I prepared the ship for the next jump.

He seems so harmless. Sweet and gentle.

How many times have we thought that before? This race, this civilization, will be different. This time, they will be friends and not predators.

They never are.

~

Starship Skyfall, Callsign MI6
Pilot James Bond, Callsign 007
Personal Log

Day 2288

Another planet, another atmosphere. This one is breathable.

It’s no good for settling. Too much of the surface is covered in water. There’s not enough land for us to farm. Sanctuary’s still our best hope.

But there’s enough land to leave the ship floating while I make camp on a little rocky ledge. Tempting to go for a swim, but I don’t know enough about the creatures that live in the water here, and it is cold.

--He’s here.

He just appeared, in a sparkle of white light, and now he’s hovering above the water near me.

He can see my gun. He knows what that means, and he is keeping his distance.

He’s between me and the ship.

What are you?

Whataryou.

Where are you from? What do you want? Are there others like you?

Arr... arrthrs ly kyoo?

Kyoo?

What do you want from me?

Kyoo?

Q?

Q?

Is that your name? Q?

Q.

It’s moving its hands to its face instead of protecting its shoulder.

Q.

Bond. I’m Pilot James Bond.

Bondt.

You’re not going to let me get back to my ship, are you?

Bondt.

Alright, Q. Have a seat. Can I offer you a drink?

Q. Bondt.

Yes. That’s us. Q, Bond.

I’m going to lower my gun. It’s creeping up onto the rock, but I think it still intends to keep its distance.

Right. Where are you from? What do you want?

It just took off one of the silver rings around its wrist and tossed it to me. A gift? I can’t accept this. I’m tossing it back.

The metal was cool, and almost soft.

He’s trying again, tossing the little ring to me. It’s too small for my wrist, too big for my fingers, and of course I can’t trust him.

I have a better idea.

Picking up the little ring, I consider it for a moment and then fling it as far as I can in the opposite direction from my ship.

He makes a sharp cry, like a bird, and bolts after it.

I’m heading back to my ship.

~

Starship Skyfall, Callsign MI6
Pilot James Bond, Callsign 007
Personal Log

Day 2288

That skinny little monster stalled my ship.

He’s getting better at catching up with me. He’s getting faster.

He was waiting for me. This planet has a safe enough atmosphere that I thought I could afford to take a walk while the radiation charge ticked back down. But as I brought the ship down and found a landing site, he was standing there.

Heedless of the dust billowing out around my landing site, he stood on the rocks waiting for me.

My instruments aren’t responding, and he’s down there in my airlock again. Does he have some new plan this time? How the hell did he stall my ship?

When I saw him, I reversed immediately. The charge is still low enough that I can risk a few more days, long enough to find another planet. But when my thrusters started to reverse, he reached out toward me, and my engine stalled. The whole ship dropped onto the planet’s gravity with a force that might have cracked the hull.

My instruments won’t respond. Why the fuck won’t you respond?

No. No, no.

No, don’t tell me that.

Don’t tell me he figured out how to hack my airlock.

Don’t tell me he’s on my ship. Don’t tell me he’s heading toward the passengers.

Don’t tell me I’ll have to kill him.

~

Starship Skyfall, Callsign MI6
Pilot James Bond, Callsign 007
Personal Log

Day 2288, Second Log

I grabbed my gun on my way down through the ship. If he was a predator, then I didn’t have long. It was only a mercy that he was alone.

Alone, and powerful enough to ground my ship with a gesture.

I found him gazing into one of the pods. It was shut and undisturbed. He had touched nothing.

When I entered, he looked from me to my gun, and then he clasped his shoulder. He looked pitiful. Harmless.

The creature who had just grounded my ship. I didn’t know if it could be repaired.

I ordered him to get away from the pod, and gestured toward the exit.

His eyes never left my face, but he turned and obeyed me, drifting toward the door.

I wasn’t sure what I planned to do with him. My best idea involved throwing him in the brig, but that seemed exceedingly futile considering how expertly he was managing to hack my systems.

We paused in the vestibule, where the main computer terminal for the cargo wing was. The silver rings around his neck and wrists started spinning.

I ordered him to stop whatever he was doing, but he ignored me and approached the computer.

And then he went into some sort of trance.

As far as I know, he’s still there. He’s been there for hours.

The hull is cracked. The split in it is massive, almost twenty feet vertical. It’ll take me months to repair. I can’t find the energy to get started, not until I sort out what to do about my guest.

~

Starship Skyfall, Callsign MI6
Pilot James Bond, Callsign 007
Personal Log

Day 2289

Q sat in front of the computer for hours.

When he finally broke his trance, he wandered up to the bridge to find me.

He called me James.

And then he told me he was my wife.

When we got the language sorted out, he managed to explain that he comes from a race of interstellar travelers, whose level of technology permits them to explore freely across the galaxies. They’re long-lived and very solitary by nature, except that they ability to seek out their... soulmate, I think would be the right term.

He says I’m his soulmate.

I didn’t believe him, of course. I’m still not sure I believe him.

But then he took my hand.

The world went white. When it resettled, we were standing on a grassy plain. The air was pure and sweet, the sky was blue, and in the distance a herd of large, grazing animals lazed in the sunlight.

I thought I was hallucinating. When I asked him where we were, he told me,

Sanctuary.

His technology allowed him to interface with our computer systems. He’d hacked into them and accessed language, history, records, and destination.

His technology also allows him to teleport, as he’d repeatedly demonstrated.

He’s with M now, helping to wake the crew and transport gear to Sanctuary. It seems he can make about twenty round trips a day before it wears on him. It will be months before we’re done with the transport, but at least we can get started with our foothold on Sanctuary.

Maybe his race even has defenses we can use against the predators, so that we won’t have to scatter again.

M asked me to make one final log as pilot, explaining what happened and resolving my last duties.

There’s still plenty of work to do, both here and on Sanctuary. But we have Q now, and even my bitter old heart is starting to feel a bit of hope.

When Q becomes too ragged to safely continue today, he’ll come find me. Last night, he slept in my bunk, curled up at my side like a kitten. He sleeps longer than humans, but he’s sweet and gentle, and I’m beginning to trust him. I’m beginning to like him.

There you are, Q. How are you feeling?

Tired.

Come here, I’ll hold you. You’ve done well. You can rest.

We’re together now.