010: ALONE

<<First ………. <Prev ………. [Archive] ………. [Map] ………. Next> ………. Last>>

I poke around the system for a full day and a half before I finally find the airlock controls

Okay, so in terms of making this place livable for the next half decade, one task takes obvious priority. Captain Kinoshita died alone. Meaning there was no one to dispose of her body. It is, presumably, still in Storage Ring 6.

Technically, I can ignore this. SR6 is right down the back of the ship, in front of Pod Ring 3 and the aft engine, an engine I won’t have any use for for five years. I have access to three other storage rings as well as the ample materials throughout the rest of the ship. I can just seal the back of the ship off and pretend it doesn’t exist.

I can spend the next five years trying not to think about my predecessor’s corpse rotting away, forgotten and ignored, rooms away. So that by the time we get to our new home and I can wake somebody who might know what kind of rites she wants, there’s nothing but bone.

I prepare to deal with the body.

This one, I know, won’t be as easy as dealing with Leilea. Leilea was laid out on sheets, easy to wrap up and transport; captain Kinoshita will be on the floor and trapped under something heavy. I’m going to have to extract a year-old body from under something I might need to employ machinery to lift, wrap it and freeze it, and probably clean the area. I put on a space suit before heading into Storage Ring 6.

I enter the ring and, despite my own little sealed atmosphere protecting me from having to smell anything, nearly throw up in the suit. Captain Kinoshita isn’t trapped under a crate or something. She is quite visibly smeared along the floor, ceiling, and scattered amongst the protein bars that presumably used to be in the empty crate leaning haphazardly against one wall at an odd angle. I suppose the one advantage is that the remains aren’t particularly wet – I guess a year in a humidity-regulated environment will do that – but they sure do take up a lot of area.

I see what happened here. Captain Kinoshita had unsecured the crate of protein bars to move it, for some reason, and become trapped. She’d remained there, as expected, until I’d woken up, and gone to the front of the ship.

And turned the gravity off. After which this heavy, unsecured crate of protein bars, as well as everything inside or stuck to it, had been violently jostled about the room by the various acceleration forces until gravity was normal again.

I hadn’t known Kinoshita Keiko. I don’t know any more about her than her brief profile in the computer. But I know she deserves a whole lot better than this.

I try not to think too hard about what I’m doing as I clean up what I can. According to her profile, Captain Kinoshita was from terrestrial Japan, and of unspecified religion (which didn’t mean no religion; plenty of religious people didn’t specify in work profiles). I don’t know much about the old pre-Neocambrian world cultures, so Japan’s a bit of a blind spot for me – I have no idea how to most respectfully treat her body. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do in this situation. Unlike with Mx Arc Hess, there’s no practical reason to hold onto this body, but a lot of terrestrial cultures can be a bit weird about space burial. I know my mother certainly wouldn’t want me buried in space.

Some of the colonists will probably know what to do. And we have the freezer space. I wrap up everything I can gather and take it to the nearest freezer.

And hesitate in the doorway, because underneath a shelf of bags of frozen steaks are three other human-sized bundles wrapped in sheets.

Well, that’s… not hugely surprising, I suppose. Four other people died here, and maybe some of them wanted to be buried on the new planet in such a scenario. I don’t go poking around trying to identify the specific corpses; the fabric is frozen to their skin, and besides, I really don’t want to. I lay Captain Kinoshita with her crew and firmly shut the door.

I’m probably not going to eat those steaks.

Okay. Okay. Now I just need to do some mopping… I’m gonna need a ladder to get to the ceiling, oh, but I don’t have any clean water yet, so water filtration system first, then cleaning Storage Ring 6, then air filtration, then…

My right leg gives out, and I sit heavily on the floor. I blink at it in surprise. I’d known I was tiring, but I hadn’t expected that. Probably should have. I’d been working my body pretty hard since I’d woken up, and the computer had told me that some of my muscles were slightly atrophied. I was lucky I’d held up this long.

Sleep. Then all that other stuff.

The Courageous is roughly symmetrical, so Habitation Ring 2 is right next to Storage Ring 6, way down the back of the ship. It’s more utilitarian than its fore counterpart; nobody had painted on any of the walls, and most of the rooms were unoccupied. Judging by the lack of dishes in the kitchen area and copious wrappers in the bins, it looks like Captain Kinoshita had preferred protein bars and snack foods to home cooking. I claim an unoccupied room and pass out immediately.

The next several days are spent on cleaning and maintenance tasks, interspersed with AI-assigned physiotherapy and extensive breaks to read or watch video whenever I feel like it. There are no time critical tasks so I don’t push myself too hard – I take things incredibly slow, in fact. Those first couple of days after waking from chronostasis, I’d pushed myself way too hard without knowing, and for a few days after that I can’t walk without pain. The computer informs me that temporary resilience to severe pain and fatigue is a normal symptom of chronostasis, since it takes the nervous system a couple of days to get back to full activity. Which would have been nice to know in advance, honestly. I’d been out there crawling around relying on my own strength and coordination way more than I should have been.

After four days I get to stop drinking broth and start eating goo, so that’s a plus.

Two weeks in, I hit an exciting milestone. Not only does the AI put me on solid food, but it says that if I’m careful, I’m physically fit enough to start cleaning up the greenhouse rings.

I know how that sounds. ‘Ooh, big surprise, the Arborean loves gardening.’ Well, screw your stereotypes, because I don’t. I remember tending the vast floating forests of my childhood home as an exercise in drudgery, mostly, a duty I owed my community and my planet but didn’t necessarily enjoy. I’m not even any good at gardening, especially not when the roots are in dirt instead of the water I’m used to.

No, the reason I want to get to work in the greenhouses is that I’m running dangerously low on actual important work. The AI still tells me about a million tiny problems, lights that need checking and small sensor errors and occasional cracks or leaks or errors in systems I don’t use, but fixing the K key on a computer terminal I never use and never will ceases to be stimulating work pretty fast. My living spaces are clean, nothing is failing, and the AI is a terrible conversation partner. Some AIs are built to do their best to hold up the illusion of being a person in conversation (not just hobby projects by zeelites and cyberlites, but actual useful AIs built to help combat the psychological rigors of long term loneliness), but the Courageous’ AI isn’t one of them. For a crew of twenty one who would need to rely on each other for an entire decade, a social AI would have been not only unnecessary, but a potential detriment to human-human bonding.

But I’m not part of a crew of twenty one. So. If I can’t keep busy, it’s just… me and the entertainment media in the computer’s memory. I can only distract myself with music and games for so long; I’m getting dangerously close to checking out that weird TechDream music genre my sister always used to try to get me into.

I haven’t fallen that far yet, though. I haven’t stooped to the level of taking sibling music recommendations. Not while I still have a greenhouse to turn to.

The first thing to do is probably to get the bees out of the vents. They’re still contained to the greenhouse rings (the greenhouses and recreation areas have a programmable rain cycle, so their humidity is higher than the rest of the ship; as such, they have a lot of filters and barriers in the vents that the bees have no way of getting through), but I need those vents to be able to, you know, vent air. I have two greenhouses and with access to a frankly absurd amount of personal protective equipment, so it’s no trouble at all to move Greenhouse Ring 1’s errant bees to some extra bee boxes in GR2 and vice versa.

Do I know how to look after bees? No. But they’ve been managing themselves for a year and seem fine, so I’m not worried. Anyway, it’s not a particularly big deal if the bees die. They’re only there to support the plants in the two greenhouse rings, and if they die, I can just grow something that doesn’t require bees. I have a very large collection of seeds to choose from, and it doesn’t particularly matter what I produce. The Courageous has robust mechanical oxygenation systems and plenty of stored food, and if either of those things fail then there’s no way I can support myself on the greenhouse space available anyway. The purpose of the two greenhouse rings is partly scientific and partly to practice important cultivation skills, but mostly, it’s psychological. Humans require regular contact with plants for mental stability. When it came to ensuring the psychological stability of the crew, no expense or weight requirement was spared in designing the javelins; unnecessary space, unnecessarily large crews, unnecessary luxury frozen foods to break up the monotony of dehydrated foods, unnecessary activity variety, were all folded into the core design of the ships and their missions. Two entire rings to provide floral exposure, activity variety and the luxury of occasional fresh-grown vegetables were a small concession compared to some of the other health measures taken.

And Captain Reimann had still broken and potentially doomed the mission, so. Nice try, psychologists and engineers.

I explain to the AI what I want out of gardening and it recommends me some very simple, fairly fast-growing vegetables that tend to be fairly high yield. Real Toddler’s First Garden types of plants; tomatoes, beans, that kind of thing. The greenhouses already have some fruit trees, which I have no intention of removing (hey, free fruit); GR1 is set to a temperate climate, perfect for the vegetables the AI recommends I plant, and GR2 to a tropical climate. After some hemming and hawing, I decide to leave GR2 alone for now. I can set it to temperate and garden in both, but I don’t know what that’ll do to the tropical trees already in there, and honestly, I’ll probably get bored with gardening before I’ve finished setting up GR1 anyway.

First task (well, second task, if you count the bees) is removing the weeds. Not all of them – I’m enough of an Arborean to well remember the dangers of overweeding – but some kind of very thick, leafy vine has grown over everything, crowding out light, choking soil and restricting airflow. I think it might be some variety of kudzu. I have no idea why the previous gardeners would plant such an enthusiastic grower, but here we are.

The fruit trees (none of them are fruiting right now except the lemon, so I can’t tell them apart) stand tall and ancient, bowing under the weight of the vines. I locate some portable power tools and get to work.

Okay, so there is something a little bit nostalgic about crafting trees to maximise quality light and airflow. I can almost hear Shia high in the branches singing, almost see Fir frowning up at the patchy sunlight while ke tries to calculate the optimal branches to prune or train while I completely half-arse my own work on the next tree over. It’s an unhelpful memory, and I pause for a few moments and breathe deep, trying not to sob.

Those people are gone now, I remind myself. Earth is effectively dead to me. We’re headed, permanently, to a solar system sixty five light years away, and while it’s only a few comatose months for us (plus an extra five years for me, now, out of chronostasis), by the time we arrive at our destination, everyone we’d ever known before will be elderly at the latest. The light signal distance between us and earth will be a one hundred and thirty year round trip; real communication between the two (beyond Voyager-style ‘here’s what this other part of humanity is doing’ educational transmissions) will be impossible. I know this. I knew this when I’d signed up. It’s pointless to think back now.

I wait for my breath to steady, and then I get back to work.

<<First ………. <Prev ………. [Archive] ………. [Map] ………. Next> ………. Last>>

3 thoughts on “010: ALONE

  1. Lore! Cleaning! Self-examination and coping mechanisms!

    So Arboreans are like, solarpunk full scale bonsai eco engineering culture, at least in a stereotype sense? And they’ve remained youthful long past normal life expectancy. So… does that mean Aspen is an elf?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s