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The journey down is very, very slow, and gives me plenty of time to get flat and spread my weight out as much as possible. I hit the wall on my hands and feet and immediately spread flat; it buckles dangerously under my weight, but doesn’t collapse. I lay still and breathe for a minute.

To my immediate right is the former floor, a vertical plastic surface painted with faded flowers. Some distance away to my left is a vertical surface littered with lights and vents; the former ceiling. I crawl to the edge of the wall I’m lying on, which wobbles alarmingly as I move but holds firm, and look down.

Below me is a row of now-sideways doors in a vertical wall, leading to the bedrooms. The planter boxes outside the rooms are secured to the floor, like all the furniture, and rain old, dry soil gently down to the airlock below.

It’s a long drop. Long enough to make me wonder what my terminal velocity is in this gravity. (Does terminal velocity even apply, if it’s not really gravity? It’s… it’s an air resistance thing, isn’t it? Or is it… ugh, the AI should have woken a physicist for this.) I have no idea whether dropping the whole way down will injure me or not, but the planter boxes outside each room… can they take my weight? They’d have to be able to, right?

I slide my legs over the side of my platform, so that I’m sitting up, looking down at the narrow edge of a planter bow a couple of metres below. I should be able to get my feet on it pretty easily. I slide off the edge and drop, very slowly, towards the box.

My feet connect!

And then I bounce right back up again, out and away from the wall, into the vast space of the walking path. I’d tried to land with way too much force, expecting to cushion my full weight in Earth-like gravity, and launching myself back away from the box. And now I’m falling the full width of the ring, ready to land badly and injure myself on the airlock below in the stupidest way possible.

The fall is slow, so I have a lot of time to feel incredibly stupid as the bedrooms rush up past me. Maybe I’ll be light enough when I land that I won’t hurt myself. But I can’t count on it.

I’m still moving sideways a little as I fall, of course, and soon find myself on the other side of the walking path. There are planter boxes outside the rooms on this side, too; I grab wildly for one and manage to get a grip. The impact with the box hurts more than I expected it to. Gritting my teeth, I focus on not letting go for a few seconds, then look down.

Okay, I’m about halfway down. That’s not bad. I drop from planter box to planter box until my feet hit solid ground (well, solid airlock).

There. No problem at all.

Traversing Storage Ring 1 is no issue; it’s full of crates with carry handles and tether points. Pod Launch Ring 1 is a bit more of a struggle; the space suit I’d left in there is down on the new floor (previously the opposite wall), and the landing pods are stationed an annoying distance apart from one another. I have to drop down, bit by bit, get the space suit on, and use my tethers to help me climb back up to the airlock leading outside. Climbing is significantly harder in the space suit, but I get it done.

Outside, I immediately clip a tether to the tether point outside the airlock and take stock of the situation.

I’m standing on a narrow metal walkway that is usually a ladder leading to the airlock. Before me stretches the huge curved metal wall of a vast tower, stretching farther than my feeble helmet light can reach, up into the stars. (Light is… strange, in space. Harsher and sharper, but worse at illuminating anything outside a narrow area.) Behind me stretches another wall (the ship’s shielding), but it only reaches about three times my height before becoming a network of large metal beams. I don’t see any obvious way to reach the beams, nor do I fancy my chances trying to climb them if it means scaling a vertical surface with my arms and legs in the muscle-cramping electrostatic shield.

I’m going to have to climb the tower itself.

Looking around, I can make out a couple of rotational thrusters, high above. They’re off right now and don’t really matter to me. What does matter, though, is that the presence of engines up there means the possibility of them needing service, meaning… yes. Looking around, I can see several tether points on the hull.

I jump, just to see how high I can go. My tether snaps taut when I still have quite a bit of momentum, so that probably wasn’t a great experiment, but it holds. What’s important is that I can easily reach a tether point above me.

Okay. I can do this.

This is so much easier, so far from the electrostatic shield. Still, launching myself from tether point to tether point quickly becomes hard work, especially since it takes a lot of practice to get the aim right and there’s a lot of backtracking to unhook previous tethers from the ship. I take it slow, crawling my way up the ship like an ant up an obelisk, pausing and hanging from my tether to rest whenever I need to. My only real worry is the flashlight taped to my helmet going out; trying to do this in the dark, to guess where the next tether point is, would be a nightmare.

I just need to get to Pod Launch Ring 2, climb inside, and go and tell the computer to get the ship rotating again. It’ll be easier than turning the rotation off, since the AI can help. The AI can probably handle the whole thing itself; it kept the ship running fine while everyone was dead or asleep. If it thinks we need gravity, it…


A small amount of time without gravity is okay, but too long without gravity might be bad for the chronostasis patients. I don’t know exactly what effect long-term lack of gravity has on someone in chronostasis, but lack of gravity isn’t good for humans in general and they’re far more vulnerable than an awake person is.

The AI is therefore likely to prefer the gravity to be on.

The AI has no way of knowing where I am, or why the gravity is off. It might be smart enough to deduce that I had a good reason to turn it off. It might even be smart enough to determine that I’m out on the hull. But it might not.

The AI could turn the gravity back on at any time.

I climb faster.

I push my muscles harder, take less breaks. I don’t want to event think about what would happen to me if the ship started spinning again while I was on the hull. (I know what would happen; I’d be flung off into space. If I was lucky I’d hit an electrostatic field beam at high speed and die quickly; if I was unlucky, I’d pass through the field, destroying the light on my helmet, my tether would snap, and I’d drift through the dark vacuum of space until my oxygen ran out. I know what would happen, but I don’t want to think about it.) I’m a gasping, exhausted mess of trembling muscles by the time I pull myself into the Pod Launch Ring 2 airlock, but I’m still on the ship and I still have light. I pull the airlock closed, tell it to pressurise, and slump to the floor to catch my breath.

Well, the wall. It’s a floor for now.

Taproot and stars, I can’t believe I pulled that off. The airlock panel lights up green to tell me that it’s pressurised and I let myself into Pod Launch Ring 2.

If the AI had voice recognition capabilities, like any AI should in this day and age, I could tell it to get the ship spinning again and let it figure it out. But instead, I need to get to a terminal and punch commands into a keyboard like a fucking caveman, so I drop down to the nearest horizontal surface (the side of a landing pod), wriggle out of the space suit, and go looking for a terminal.

Getting the ship spinning again is easy. I tell the AI what I want, and it does it.

So. That’s… my checklist for the next five years completed. Now it’s just a matter of getting this place livable for me, I guess. In the meantime, I’d really love to know what the fuck is going on.

I use the terminal in the medbay. That seems like the best place to be, overall. I adjust it level and get to work.

Are the engines working correctly? Are we on course?

– Extrapolation from accelerometer data suggests correct course. Online navigational systems are unavailable due to electrical and mechanical disturbances within Chronostasis Ring 1. –

What happened to the second crew of the Courageous?

– Please specify the question. Are you asking for the current status of the second crew of the Courageous? –


– No members of the second crew are currently detected as being mobile on the ship or in chronostasis. Limited information exists on the most recent activities of some members of the crew. Would you like to see a list of causes of death for the confirmed dead of the crew? –


– Five members of the second crew are confirmed dead. Captain Joshua Reimann died on day 11826 of infection as the result of severe untreated wounds after self-mutilation. Secondary assistant science officer Claire Rynn-Hatson died on day 12104 due to blunt force trauma during a laboratory accident. Primary assistant science officer Mohammed Aziz died on day 12122 due to poisoning via chemical exposure in the aftermath of a laboratory accident. Senior Maintenance Officer Ash Dornae died on day 12127 due to poisoning via chemical exposure in the aftermath of a laboratory accident. Captain Kinoshita Keiko died on day 12400 via nitrogen asphyxiation. –

Okay, a lot to work with there. First, wow, that was an international crew. From the names alone, I’d guess that those five people came from at least four different locations. Second, having a record of so few deaths pretty much confirms that most of the crew died trapped up the front of the ship after the AI lost contact, which means I still have no idea what happened up there. Third… self-mutilation??

Elaborate on how the Captain Reimann became injured.

– Captain Joshua Reimann exhibited increasing bouts of paranoia for several weeks, as noted by the psychology team, before suffering from a psychotic break on day 11822, procuring an axe, and proceeding to destroy several ship components. He removed his own right arm during the rampage but was prevented from scuttling the ship. Four days later, he was killed by an infection originating from the amputation site. The specific infectious agents present were not identified, but likely to be naturally occurring bacteria in the ship’s environment or on the blade. –

I make a mental note to look through Captain Reimann’s psychological history later. If his break was triggered by some stressor on the ship, I need to be aware of it.

The three who died due to a lab accident. Was it the same lab accident?

– Yes. Claire Rynn-Hatson died during the accident. Mohammed Aziz and Ash Dornae received chemical exposure in their attempt to render assistance, which later proved fatal. –

What chemical? What was the experiment?

I blink at the several pages of complex chemical explanation without understanding a word of it. Okay, that’s my fault.

Are the chemicals that killed them still present on the ship?

– Exposure was limited to Laboratory Ring 1, which was jettisoned immediately following the event. The chemicals can be synthesised in Laboratory Ring 2 from chemicals currently in secure storage, if required. –

Yeah, I… won’t be doing that.

What were the circumstances of Captain Kinoshita’s nitrogen asphyxiation?

Captain Kinoshita became trapped under a heavy crate in Storage Ring 6. She was unable to free herself. After two days, she was able to drag over a space suit and use its atmospheric regulation systems to asphyxiate herself. –

Suicide to avoid a more painful certain death. Grim.

When did the damage that prevents you seeing further than CR1 occur?

– The electrical systems in Chronostasis Ring 1 were damaged on day 11822. –

By Reimann?

– Yes. –

What day is it now?

– It is day 12773. –

Okay. So, Captain Reimann buckled under the stress, or fell victim to some latent psychological condition, or got poisoned by something, or… something, and started trying to destroy the ship. The two assistant scientists, a janitor, and… hmm…

What was Captain Kinoshita’s rank prior to Reimann’s psychotic break?

– Kinoshita Keiko was the secondary crew’s senior psychologist. –

… and the psychologist were able to subdue him, but he’d done enough damage to Chronostasis Ring 1 to cut off both their access and AI access to the front of the ship, stranding the rest of the crew up there. A few days later, Captain Reimann succumbed to infection, and Dr Kinoshita became captain. For whatever reason, she didn’t authorise the jettisonning of CR1, nor did the two separated groups of crews traverse the hull as I’d done; the four who’d subdued Reimann remained in the main area of the ship behind CR1. About nine months later, the scientists and janitor died in a lab accident, leaving the captain all alone. She survived on her own for over a year, until an accident where she became trapped, and there was no one to help her.

She probably thought she was all alone. She wouldn’t have known that on the other side of CR1, somebody else was surviving on their own too, waiting to turn the engines on.

There’s nobody alive up the front of the ship, by the way. I did discover one body.

– Thank you for this information, it has been logged. –

They had medium brown skin and no hair. Do you know who that might have been?

– Based on crew medical records, that was most likely either logistics officer Lien of Cassius, or primary assistant engineer Leilea Arc Hess. –

There’d been that coffee cup next to the terminal. “Lea’s happy juice.”

I think it was Leilea Arc Hess.

– Thank you for this information, it has been logged. –

Based on the calendar on Arc Hess’ wall, they’d probably survived around a year, too. Two people on this ship had managed about a year, all alone.

I have to do five.

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6 thoughts on “009: ASCEND

  1. Well, that’s our answers sorted. Definitely not suspicious that an advanced medical science that can assess a person’s physical state in minutes using scanners alone has no idea what kind of infection could kill a man in four days; considering the psychotic break beforehand, my best guess is prions. Prions would also be a good candidate for the wasting disease that seems to have taken the aft crew, since they’re so simple and relatively hard to guard against medically.

    I guess all that speculation I had about systems redundancy could be pointless. If the launch captain was responsible for the sabotage, it’s entirely possible he could have known where to target to take out the entire AI network upstream of a given area. Of course, if he was rational enough to target those spots and thought the AI was a threat, why not target a more central node? Maybe the AI was only targeted to prevent it from interfering in the destruction of CR1, and the damage was calculated to encourage the ring’s jettison?

    Most importantly, what kind of crew decides to stay isolated in the front end of the ship when there’s no computer support there, and way less overall resources? Even if all they knew was that their captain had gone all axe murderer before the CR1 locked down and they assumed the worst of the fates of the missing crew, they could have done what Aspen did and mounted a mutiny through the airlocks. This is why everyone should have just been robots -_-


  2. AI baby ❤ Derin, you won't guess what I want the AI as-

    "The AI could turn the gravity back on at any time.
    I climb faster."
    – poor Aspen

    Aspen needs more problems!


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