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I’m still reluctant to go opening more doors than I absolutely have to. I’m almost certain that there’s at least one corpse on this ship, and possibly as many as twenty one. I look through the two bedrooms with open doors but don’t find any scissors, or anything, really. The rooms clearly were used at some point but now they’re all packed up, even the beds are stripped. Maybe crewmates had changed rooms, or they were used by the first shift and not the second. There are twenty one bedrooms in the ring, so in theory they should all have been occupied, but it ‘s not like I’m in a position to rely on a standard number of crew. Or maybe a couple of crew members had just been antisocial and had decided to live in Habitation Ring 2 at the other end of the ship. The AI probably knows.

Of the nineteen bedroom doors that are closed, fourteen have portraits painted on them. The plastic beneath the paint has been carefully treated to prevent peeling, so the pictures are in better condition than the flowers on the walls. That’s cute, I guess; instead of putting nameplates or something on the doors, the crew just had their resident artist paint them on. It must have taken a long time.

Except… the painting style isn’t the same in all of them. I’m no artist, but even I can tell that nine of the portraits are nicely done, looking almost like photographs, whereas the other five are significantly sloppier. Drawn with care, probably, but not as much skill. So the artist got through nine doors, and then… retired? And their replacement did a further five before getting tired of it? That doesn’t seem right, not amidst the painted nursery around me.

Unless they had died.

These aren’t cute little placards. These are memorials. The artist was the tenth to die, or at least, had time to paint nine of the memorials before succumbing. Their replacement must have been the fifteenth to die. Okay. So they weren’t all killed off at once; they succumbed to something slowly. That’s… that’s good to know.

This also means that, if fifteen had time to be memorialised, their bodies were probably… dealt with. Those doors are safe to open. Also good to know.

I open the nearest door, adorned with the image of a middle-aged woman with dark skin and cheerful eyes. The room behind the door is neat, the bed made and personal effects… well, cluttered on the floor around the desk, mostly, but that’s probably a result of me turning the engines on. Tacked to the wall behind the desk is a photograph.

I stare. Colonists weren’t allowed to bring any personal effects or mementos; something about needing to focus on the future, and ties to a planet we’d never have anything to do with again holding us back. Personally, I think that’s bullshit. Human history is full of mass migrations and establishing new colonies where the migrants were perfectly aware that they’d never see home again, and mementos never held any of them back. I think the organisers just didn’t want to have to deal with weight allowances for four thousand people’s random junk.

Apparently, the crew weren’t subject to the same rules as us, because this woman had a photograph. A younger version of herself in an old-fashioned flight suit crouches, grinning, next to a similarly dressed man. Both have a hand on the shoulder of a toddler wearing the simple tunic and chunky earrings of… Capricorn Plateau, I think? Space elevator anchor colonies really aren’t my speciality… and clutching a model spaceship in their chunky hands. A giant star poster in the background suggests that they might be at a museum.

This photo doesn’t make any sense. Firstly, the man has a beard, so he probably doesn’t get much use out of that flight suit; most career astronauts are depilated for obvious practical reasons as well as, y’know, basic fashion and hygiene. But second… a kid. She had a kid. There were no children in the Javelin Program; chronostasis was too unsafe for them. Who leaves their kid behind to pilot a ship to a star sixty five light years away? Did the child die, perhaps? Did – ?

Then I notice just how old the flight suits are, and everything clicks into place. This isn’t a photo of an astronaut with her child and partner (or brother, maybe? Hard to guess from a photograph). This is a childhood photo of an astronaut with her parents. They’re probably dead now.

I mean, they were probably dead when we launched. They’re definitely dead now. We have five years to go on the journey, meaning we’ve been in space for fifteen, so if you factor in time dilation then… well, I don’t know how to actually calculate that, but we’re definitely well past the halfway point of forty years, Earth time. Her parents look maybe thirty-ish years older than her, so if she left when she was fifteen years younger than she looked on the door, they’re probably older than one hundred. So… possibly still alive, I suppose. But probably not.

My parents are probably dead, too. And Fir… well. I was the youngest child in the family now, by a long shot.

That’s… weird to contemplate.

I find a pair of scissors in the desk drawer. After roughly chopping off my hair (I don’t bother to be too neat about it, it’s not like anyone else is going to see it any time soon), I carefully clean them and return them to the drawer, exactly where I found them.

I don’t want to be here any more. I don’t want to stand among these people’s memories in a world that isn’t mine. I want to go back to the rest of the ship, drink a gross post-chronostasis nutrient broth, find a new sterile room in a probably untouched Habitation Ring 2, and get to work getting this ship back in shape for its crew of one. But now that the urgent task of activating the engine is taken care of, even I’m not stupid enough to go back outside the ship when I’m sore and tired and hungry. I’m no longer on a time limit, and the journey back is going to be not only uphill, but twice as long. The whole reason I couldn’t abort the journey here after I realised how dangerous it was was because I couldn’t safely get back into Pod Launch Ring 2; to get back into the other half of the ship, I’ll need a ladder up. Meaning I need to go to the engine all the way at the other end of the ship and enter Pod Launch Ring 3. I need to be in better physical shape for that.

I do a few experimental stretches. My strength isn’t fantastic, I’m definitely very unfit, but chronostasis has left me with better muscle tone and coordination than I’d expected. Drugs are used to maintain muscle during chronostasis and drastically slow down atrophy, but there’s only so much that it’s physically possible to do with drugs; the muscles ‘know’ their appropriate length, tone and how much force to use through continual practice, and there’s no way to simulate that. I could’ve woken up with a tone and flexibility so far from what I was used to that it would take days to learn to walk properly again. I hadn’t. I’m lucky, I suppose.

Or really, really unlucky. If I hadn’t weathered so well, the computer would’ve woken somebody else. I’d be safely static right now.

I rifle around in Storage Bay 1 for nutrient powder and bottled water (there’s no way I’m drinking what’s in the water systems right now) and make myself up another disgusting post-chronostasis ‘meal’. It’s not hard to find; this ship is equipped to revive five thousand colonists at its destination, so I’m not exactly worried about supply shortages. I have no idea what the broth-to-solid-food timeline actually looks like, but the AI will know. I tiptoe quietly past the closed bedroom doors, throw myself down on the bare mattress in an unused room, and pass out immediately.

I wake up with a headache. Probably not the best condition to traverse the ship in, but my muscles seem fine, and it’s not like the trip requires much thought. I find some painkillers in Storage Bay 1 while looking for new underclothes for the space suit (my old ones are stained with blood and chronostasis fluid and I’d really rather not put them back on a clean body) and prepare for the trip.

I make sure I’m extra prepared for the trip. The electronics on my space suit are fried from the trip over, and I don’t fancy doing the journey in the dark again, so I find a torch in storage, turn it on, and tape it to the top of my helmet. Genius.

Anyway. Here’s the thing about crawling up a slight slope.

It’s a lot harder than you think it’s going to be.

The force caused by the fore engines wasn’t a huge chore to walk against. People walk up and down hills all the time. But crawling up a mostly smooth beam where one slip could mean death? Much harder. And space suits are heavy.

I’m barely a few metres along the beam before my arms and legs begin to protest. The light on top of my helmet isn’t as helpful as I’d hoped; sure, I can see the beam now, but all that does is demonstrate just how far I have to go. The beam disappears off into the distance in front of me, stretching far further than the light can reach. And there was just no way that I can make it. I tell myself that the weariness in my arms and legs is just the electrostatic shield cramping them up, but I know it’s more than that. I’m not going to be able to make it all the way across the ship. I’ll just die out here if I try.

I crawl back to enter the front of the ship again. Even climbing the short ladder to the airlock is a huge chore.

If that defective chronostasis ring wasn’t in the way, I could just walk back inside the ship. Is it even possible to disengage it from this side, without the AI’s help? I’m not going to do that, of course; there’s no way I’d do that. I’ll find some other way to get back to the other part of the ship. I just want to know if it’s possible.

I poke around on the computer terminal a bit. The more complicated functions are unusable without AI assistance, at least for me. I can’t even find the status menus for the rings, let alone the commands to disengage one. If I was an actual engineer or a navigator or a computer anything I could probably figure it out, but I’m not, and I can’t. This is what the AI is for.

So, that option is completely off the table. I relax a bit. It’s good to not have the easy solution there to distract me while I think. Not that I would have done it, of course. But.

I do find a lot of electronic entertainment on the computer system. Books, video, audio. Some games. Nice to know I’ll have some entertainment on my long journey, but I can’t be distracted right now.

I need to figure out how to get back to the AI.

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5 thoughts on “006: RECOVERY

  1. I am worried about the defective chronostasis ring. The fact that power and life support are making it here, that engines are getting fuel in the right mixes, implies that there’s still major lifeline connections to this end of the ship. So why does the ship AI say it has no connection, just because a damaged ring is between it and the aft engine? How in the world would ejecting a part of the ship reestablish that connection? For that matter, how can the AI detect that the CR1 has no atmo, the exact number of living colonists, and specify mechanical and electrical failures as the cause, yet it cannot contact undamaged sections of a clearly modular ship because of those failures?

    Were this any other author, I’d hesitantly accept the AI as clearly evil and move on. I may be overthinking it, even. But if we assume the AI believes what it’s saying, that it isn’t hostile, and that the engineers who built this much redundancy into the ship would make a mistake like routing the ship AI network through anything less than the most vital points of the core ship resource supply line? Something tells me sabotage is the answer, and that someone didn’t want this ship to make orbit.

    Considering the ominous deductions about the crew’s fate this chapter, I’m not even sure that’s the wrong decision.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. this AI has too much power, as in, it is NEEDED for too many important thing, this is prone to go bad.

    I don’t think it is evil, but I believe it can be too focused on a goel that isn’t to keep people alive.


  3. I’m thinking disease of some kind, but how would that tie in to the state of Chronostasis Ring 1? On one hand it’d be quite narrative if the two events are linked, on the other, the ship being crewless for years before something goes wrong and the AI wakes Aspen up makes the whole thing that much more … lonely? isolated? Interested to find out.


  4. One of my favorite things is reading other peoples comments and watching them put together things I haven’t been, things seem weird, no one cleaned up a spilled drink but there was time to paint memorials for everyone? I want to see what’s going on in the broken chronostasis ring, I agree with everyone else that the way some things are able to get past it but not others is a bit weird, but I guess maybe there are more basic redundant computer systems in individual rings that control fuel mixtures and the like? We’ll see I guess!


  5. My logic for ejecting that bit of the ship was that it would reattach to the rest of the ship afterwards, thus being able to connect directly without a broken bit in the way, but I agree with everything else, I really want to see the inside of this broken ring, who knows, maybe that where the bodies we haven’t seen yet are


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