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There’s a problem with the Javelin Program.
Well, there are probably numerous problems with the Javelin Program. I imagine that constructing several dozen interstellar spaceships, packing them with static humans and launching them in the direction of any remotely viable exoplanet within detection range comes with all kinds of physical, medical and engineering challenges. But I’m not an engineer, so the problem that’s glaringly obvious to me (and apparently not to the Powers That Be) comes down to three points:
1) The sorts of people you wanted to send to colonise far-off planets previously unreachable by humankind possessed fairly specific skills, priorities and personality types.
2) The sorts of people likely to volunteer to be drugged and packed in a long metal tube made by the lowest bidder and sent across the void of space to the inhospitable unknown with no hope of ever seeing home again possessed fairly specific skills, priorities and personality types.
3) The crossover between these two groups is vanishingly small.
‘Oh, but Aspen,’ I hear you protest, ‘that’s what screening processes are for. Surely, with the sheer volume of people willing to volunteer with such a mission, the Powers That Be have their pick of competent, qualified candidates, even if they have to pick through the chaff for them?’
Well, let me tell you something about how rigorously Javelin candidates were screened, how high their standards. All you really need to know about the process is that they let me aboard. Without question.
Yeah, we’re in trouble.
I knew all of this when I let the doctors sedate me for chronostasis, which just proves that I’m an idiot and damns the screening process further. I knew that the next time I opened my eyes would be when it was time to leave the care of the trained, dedicated crew carefully selected to shepherd us over lightyears of empty void and be thrown instead upon the mercies of, well, of other people like me.
But as I wake from stasis, I can already tell that something is wrong. The insistent beeping of the reanimation alarm rings in my ears and I’m already shivering from the chill of the stasis fluid still clinging to my body. The safety restraints have disengaged, the breathing tubes feel stiff and uncomfortable in my nose, and only one thing is on my mind: where are the doctors?
There should be people here to remove me from the equipment before I woke. I should be in a hospital bed, or on a stretcher, with the sounds of people all around me.
Here, there’s only the sound of the reanimation alarm. What the hell is going on?
Fortunately, we’ve been trained on how to self-revive, in the case of a mass evacuation or a similar emergency. I don’t hear any evacuation alarms, but the fastest way to figure out what’s going on is to get out of the stasis tank, so. I carefully reach around to the port at base of my skull (my muscles scream at every movement, an effect of the chronostasis) and disconnect the cerebral stimulator. That delicate process out of the way, I set about disconnecting the various other tubes attached to my body, working by feel. I haven’t opened my eyes yet. I know that the light is going to hurt when I do. I don’t remove the actual IV lines, just take the needles out; the ship’s doctor can pull the lines out later.
Pulling the breathing tubes from my nose, I gag at the unexpected smell of old blood and rot. That’s… probably not great. For a moment I wonder what could be rotting on the ship, before I realise that that’s a stupid question; even in the event of a major accident, everything would’ve been thoroughly cleaned up before the scent reached me in this stasis ring. If that was impossible, the area in question would’ve been isolated from the air cycling system. The smell in my sinuses isn’t coming from the air, it’s coming from my sinuses.
In chronostasis, all cellular processes, including healing, are dramatically slowed. The breathing tubes must have scratched up the inside of my nose when inserted, allowing blood to pool and break down in my sinuses. Gross.
What bothers me most is the rot. I hope that doesn’t mean infection, or dead tissue. Chronostasis should slow any infection at the same rate it slows healing, but maybe I was unlucky. I suppose the doctors can worry about that.
I can’t put it off any longer. I sit up, wait a moment for the movement to stop hurting, grit my teeth, and open my eyes.
It… doesn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. There’s almost no light in the chamber. The indicator lights on the stasis chambers around me provide barely enough illumination to make out the shape of the chambers themselves, and a dim red glow to my right somewhere indicates the exit, but the main lighting is off.
No alarms. No people. No lights.
I struggle out of the chamber and check my body for any input or output lines I might have missed. I’m naked, wet, and cold, but appear to be in one piece, apart from the array of sores and bruises that one expects from chronostasis. My stasis chamber is just a big box, maybe the size of a single bed, now full of discarded lines and restraints all still wet with stasis fluid, and at the head of it is a drawer. I open the drawer and pull out the heated blanket, which I throw around my shoulders, and a little bottle of saline and glucose. At least it’s mostly saline and glucose, I think. All I know for sure is that we’re supposed to drink it immediately upon revival. I take a sip and screw my face up at the taste.
Okay. So. First steps?
Really I should go and find the crew. Figure out why I’d been revived, and why no one was here to meet me. The sight of all of those other stasis chambers, all closed up and concealing their presumably very static cargo, bothers me. This clearly isn’t an evacuation. Why am I awake?
Maybe it’s a computer glitch. Maybe when I walk out of here, the crew will be just as surprised as I am. That’d be a fun encounter.
There were legitimate reasons to wake up a single colonist. The Courageous, my javelin, has two crews of twenty one people, each supposed to do ten year shifts. If any crew member is killed or otherwise unable to perform their duties, they could be replaced from one of the other team. In the extremely unlikely event that all qualified members of all teams are unavailable – let’s say, for example, all of the doctors die – they’ll be replaced by a revived colonist. We’d all taken aptitude and temperament tests before stasis to figure out our specific places in the chain of succession for each role on the ship.
They’d told me my results before putting me under. Of all the roles, the one that I’m highest on the list for was ship psychologist. I’m one hundred and seventy sixth. With the two crew psychologists, that means that at least one hundred and seventy seven of the right people have to die for me to be revived for ship duty. More, if I’ve been revived for a non-psychology role.
So, yeah, it probably isn’t that. And also, I just couldn’t let this point go, if I were being revived for duty, the doctor should have revived me in the medbay. Where is everyone?
I finish my drink (rinsing my mouth didn’t lessen the disgusting smell in my sinuses like I’d hoped it would), pull my rapidly cooling blanket tighter around my shoulders, and glance around in the hope that some solution to the mystery might present itself. The room looks like a tomb full of metal and plastic sarcophagi laid out in ordered rows, each with a little screen at the head like a memorial plaque. Mine now reads REVIVE SUCCESSFUL, the row of status lights below all green, which just means that I was alive when disconnected from the system and that if I die now then it’s someone else’s problem. So I should probably go and find someone else, so it can be their problem instead of mine.
I don’t know the specific layout of the Courageous. Under normal circumstances, I was only expected to be on board long enough for a basic health checkup and to climb into a landing pod. But it’s pretty damned hard to get lost on a javelin. The ships are just long tubes sectioned off into several rings, each ring with a specific purpose. They’re sectioned this way so that if there’s some critical failure in some part of the ship, that ring can be removed and the two good sections reattached to each other. The ship flies through space in a straight line like, well, like a javelin, and spins on its central axis to provide inertial gravity, sticking my feet to the wall like clothes in a dryer. All this means that there are only two directions to go, if one doesn’t want to walk in a big circle – towards the front of the ship, or towards the back. All the navigation and control stuff is most likely, I figure, at the front of the ship, so that’s where I need to go. That’s where the crew probably are, right?
I… don’t know which way the front of the ship is.
Fifty-fifty chance, right? A dim red light indicates the nearest exit; I head over. There’s no locks or security verification or anything at the door. The twenty one people who were supposed to be awake were presumably well trained and knew where they should and shouldn’t be, so putting locks on everything would just waste everyone’s time.
I go to open the door, and hesitate, struck suddenly by a horrible thought. This door should, in theory, lead to an airlock, which should lead to the next ring. But.
What if it doesn’t?
I woke up alone, in a revive chamber with the lights off, no evacuation alarm, and everyone else still asleep. That doesn’t make sense. Unless… unless there’s no crew here, no power for full lighting. Unless I’m not on the Courageous any more.
A javelin can ditch rings with critical problems, to preserve the rest of the ship. What if that had happened here? What if my stasis ring had had to be discarded? It would certainly explain my circumstances. There might have been a problem with my stasis chamber that caused the system to wake me up as an emergency measure, or it might simply be running out of battery power, abandoned in space, and be dropping the chronostasis fields on the chambers one by one. I was just unlucky enough to be the first.
Or maybe I wasn’t the first. Maybe that rotten smell isn’t in my own nose at all.
Panicking a bit now, I slam my hand against the door button. It opens immediately. I take this as a good sign; it didn’t need to pressurise, and if it was left at the same pressure as the inside of my ring, then that probably means that the other side is attached to another pressurised ring, right? If we were floating in space, the airlock would be depressurised, right? (Are external airlocks usually kept at the pressure of the inside of a ship or the vaccuum outside? This wasn’t covered in my emergency training.) The inside of the airlock is plain except for a basic status panel; I rush over to have a look. Seals intact, air quality acceptable, airlock pressure 1 atmosphere, aft ring pressure 1 atmosphere, fore ring pressure… 1 atmosphere.
I almost fall to my knees in relief. The rooms on both sides of the airlock are pressurised. I’m not just out in the void of space.
I mean, I am out in the void of space, but I’m in a proper spaceship. Which is… not as great as being on a planet, but y’know, I’ll take it.
I push the button to open the other side of the airlock. The door behind me automatically closes, which strikes me as something that’s going to get annoying if I have to travel between rings a lot (we can’t just leave the doors open?), but safety is important, I guess.
The lighting in the next ring isn’t any better. Is the whole ship on emergency power? In the red light cast by the emergency light above the airlock, I can make out some computer terminals against the wall, near the airlock. Probably for monitoring the stasis ring without actually having to go in there. The terminal is an ancient design, for obvious maintenance reasons; the smooth, touch-sensitive surfaces and light fields I’m used to are replaced with actual, physical keys. I tap a random key on the nearest one and the screen lights up.
-Hello, crewmember! I’m having difficulty IDing you. Could you tell me who I’m talking to?-
Oh, the ship system is friendly. I’m sure that won’t get annoying fast. I type,
– Hello, Aspen! Could you hold your chip to a reader for verification and a data update? –
Reader? What reader?
– There is a metal plate on the wall to the right of this terminal. I can read your location from a distance and compare to my files, but direct reading/writing to your chip requires proximity. Please place your right forearm to the plate. –
I know where in my arm the chip is. They’d implanted it a week before sedation, so that the wound could heal properly before going into chronostasis. I press my arm to the rectangle of metal on the wall, and the computer beeps at me.
– Chip and system information updated! Crew member verified. –
The lights come on, sudden and blinding. I suppose they’re set up to light inhabited areas, and now that the computer’s flagged me as a crew member, I qualify for the privilege of being able to see.
– Permissions and protocols unlocked. Welcome aboard, Captain Greaves! How can I help you today? –
I stare at the screen. My blood runs cold.
There’s a mistake. Can you check my rank again?
– Highest rank occupied by Aspen Greaves: captain of the Javelin Courageous. Can I look up anything else for you, captain? –
Everyone aboard the ship had had to take temperament and aptitude tests to determine our relevant capacity for fulfilling all of the roles on the ship, and were ranked as emergency personnel accordingly. As I’ve said, I rank highest as a ship psychologist, a role I’m 178th in line for, including the crew.
I’m 1,467th in line for the role of captain. And frankly, I think that’s too high.
What’s going on here?
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6 thoughts on “001: JAVELIN”
Okay, so clearly either there are some people who would make far far better psychologists than captains, or something really bad happened to a whole lot of people all at once
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Well that seems… less than ideal.
And I can already tell that Aspen is a lot better at thinking things through than Kayden. Not that that’s, y’know, particularly hard.
It’s amazing what not being fifteen will do to you in that regard
Agh no i should have waited till the first few chapters were out…
Here we have the tried and true setup for the space isolation sci-fi subgenre, and like anything from that particular subgenre the questions are already piling up. Did a GRB hit half the ship? Somebody forgot about botulism when canning the food, and everyone it revives dies and gets turned into nutrient paste? Maybe the computer got bored and decided to rerank everyone on the manifest in terms of practical ability for each role? Are we even on the right heading anymore, or is the story name yet another red herring from the shifty fisherman that is our author?
Most importantly though, does Aspen get Captain-level pay now? What’s the health plan like? Dental? These questions are important to ask when getting a new job, Aspen!
Aspen can befriend the system as a treat
I’m excited to see how this goes! I just read through your short story collection and they were exactly my flavor of little bit messed up, so I’m looking foward to a longer form story! Bit worried about Aspen’s nostrils rotting. And also that the original crew is either dead or are chronostasised, since I’m hoping that Aspen’s newfound Captain rank is due to 1000+ people still being out of it rather then dead