013: FALL

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If I do need to go to the front of the ship, I can’t do it yet. Turning off the gravity while the thermal cycler is running shouldn’t affect anything (all the liquids in there are sealed), but I’d rather not risk it. The AI seems to think that identifying the mould will help with sterilisation procedures anyway, and I’ll need to sterilise all the ventilation shafts in front of the ship as well as back here or things growing in the shafts will just recontaminate –

Wait. There’s a much simpler solution to this.

Aside from damage to the ventilation system and the growth in there, is the coolant leak dangerous in any other way, or likely to damage any other systems?

– No. The leak is small. It has a minor effect on coolant pressure, but the water reclamation systems of the Courageous are more than sufficient to replace the coolant loss at the current rate. –

Is the leak likely to get worse over time?

– Not significantly. –

Then please shut off the ventilation valves for Chronostasis Ring 1 and all aft rings. Isolate them from the system.

– The ventilation valves are locked open across the whole ship on captain’s orders. Would you like to override the lock, Captain Greaves? –

Yes, override it.

– Please provide the override password. –

This again?!

Did Captain Reimann lock them open when he had his psychotic break?

– Yes. –

He locked the Chronostasis Ring 1 airlocks on both sides, locked the air vents open, went ham with an axe and removed his own arm, and died a few days later?

– Correct. –

What else did he break?!

– My knowledge of the details of this event are incomplete as my visual range and visual resolution capabilities are extremely limited. Would you like to see a full account of all objects and systems that I know, or suspect to the point of reasonable doubt, were damaged by Captain Reimann on Day 11822? –

I don’t care about a list of damaged coffee cups.

No. Are you password-locked out of any other systems?

– My speaking and language recognition functions are disabled and password locked. –

Captain Reimann didn’t want the AI listening in on him. Interesting. Did that mean…?

When were those functions disabled?

– On day 11796. –

Almost a month before Reimann’s ‘break’. This was premeditated. A boiling mutiny attempt that spilled over over the course of several days, that the captain was trying to contain? Or perhaps he was a sabateur the whole time? Or maybe it was just the result of building paranoia due to various stressors on the ship. People develop paranoia surprisingly easily.

Or maybe I’m thinking about this wrong. He had the highest rank on the ship; the only reason to add a password would be to be able to grant others of lower rank the authority to undo the locks, by giving them the password. Hmm.

A problem for another day. I don’t have a means of finding out Reimann’s passwords, so I’ll have to work around the locked systems. I’d really, really like to do that without having to leave the ship again.

Show me a map of the ship’s ventilation system.

The Courageous is, of course, just a long cylinder. Beneath the shielding, it’s just a long line of rings spinning to pull everything ‘down’ to the outside of the ring. ‘Up’ is towards the middle of the ship. Above me is a ceiling with air vents and lights and soforth, and above that is the central axis of the ship, its ‘spinal column’ and most of its vital systems. A long tube down the middle of the ship full of power lines, structural actuators, and all the pumps and flow lines it takes to keep a ship livable. Including ventilation ducts.

The ship is highly modular, designed so that systems could disconnect from each other, have a ring ejected, and then reconnect. Which… hmm, that might work.

Would ejecting PLR1 fix the coolant leak? That’s where the leak is, so we could eject it and sterilise the ducts with heat or gas from here without having to bypass CR1’s locked airlocks, right?

– System line damage in CR1 prevents me from accessing the fore of the ship beyond it. I cannot initiate the ejection of Pod Launch Ring 1 until connection is reestablished. –

And I’m no engineer. Whatever Captain Reimann did to those cables and connections (hacked them up with an axe, probably), they’re beyond my ability to fix. The easiest way to give the computer access to the front of the ship again is, of course, to eject Chronostasis Ring 1. Get a fully functioning ship by just tossing the locked airlocks and damaged connections into space. And with it, a fifth of the colonists. No.

Option 2: I’m no engineer. But several of the static colonists probably are. I can save the CR1 colonists from death in space by rousing one single colonist and enlisting their help. I don’t want to (I do want to), but I might have no choice.

I think for a moment and come up with option 3, the simple and obvious one. The computer is locked out of closing the vents and making an airtight seal between CR1 and the parts of the ship I actually live in. The computer can’t block air from drifting in from the front of the ship, carrying mould spores and moisture.

But I can.

I may be no engineer, but I do have two hands and a whole lot of random stuff. It’s just a matter of blocking a pipe. Getting the airtight seal will be the hardest part, but I have all the time in the world and, presumably, a large volume of many types of sealant in storage.

The job is more difficult than it sounds. Obviously, an interstellar spaceship was designed so that the entire ventilation system can’t be compromised by blocking a single pipe. There are four shafts, each a quarter of the way around the ring, that I’ll need to block. They have air flow between each other, too; usually I’d be able to isolate that, but Captain Reimann and his little passwords have those well and truly frozen open, so it’s just an airflow free-for-all up there. I’m going to have to get up to all four shafts in the ceiling of Recreation and Medical Ring 1 (the foremost ring I have access to, right behind Chronostasis Ring 1), block them all, and devise some way to test for air leaks. (Which shouldn’t be hard. I’m no rocket scientist, but it’s not exactly rocket science, so.)

I spend some more time studying the map to make sure that my plan actually makes sense and isn’t missing anything obvious, and a thought occurs to me.

You said that all the valves and stuff in the ventilation system are locked open?

– That is correct. –

But Chronostasis Ring 1 has no atmosphere. And the greenhouses have higher humidity than the rest of the ship. How can we be freely sharing air with those rings?

– We are not. When the compromised atmosphere of Chronostasis Ring 1 was detected, the emergency pressure override sealed the vents leading to that specific ring. Emergency pressure locks take precedence over the captain’s override level. –

– I do not have control over the valves in the shafts, but I can still control the actual vents. I simply close the ventilation vents in the greenhouses during ran cycles and high humidity cycles. This process was complicated by the bees in the vents, which left some airflow and necessitated a far greater air dehumidification in the other rings, but since they have been moved, the process is once again acceptably efficient. –

So all the other valves and stuff are locked behind Reimann’s override, but the ones leading to the compromised area of the ship are free?!

– They are not. The override is still in place. They are now locked in the ‘closed’ position instead. –

Well. Okay. None of this is information that helps me right now, so I go to get a ladder and some tools.

I spend some time puzzling out just what to block the vent with. I have various fillers and plastics and plasters on hand for the colony, but thermal expansion in the vent is, theoretically, an issue. The AI says that the vents aren’t expected to expand or contract very much, but they will a little with small temperature changes, and if I block them with something that doesn’t move at the same rate, that could mean problems. I waste a lot of time looking up the properties of various materials, and then asking the AI to explain what all the numbers mean, before just deciding to wrap some pillows in several layers of plastic and gluing them in place. Either that’ll work, or it won’t. We’ll see.

Fortunately, the ducts are relatively accessible for cleaning and maintenance. I don’t have to go crawling around inside any shafts or outside the ship, and I don’t have to cut into anything. I sling a backpack of pillow plugs over my shoulder, check that I’ve got enough glue, and climb the ladder up to the ceiling four metres away.

Yeah, four metres. The ceilings in this place are ridiculously high. If people need to live in a confined space for years at a time, it’s beneficial you make it feel as unconfined as possible, and one of the ways to do that is a lot of vertical space. It’s a long ladder climb.

Which makes it especially unfortunate when, while trying to shove a pillow into place, I misplace a foot and fall off the ladder.

I try to hold onto the vent opening for a second, but lose my grip almost immediately. I try to get my limbs under myself but roll as I hit the ground, and soon I’m lying flat on my back, staring upward at a vent half-stuffed with pillows.

Okay. Okay. Don’t panic. It was a really high fall, but I’m not dead, and I’m close to the medbay. There’s pain everywhere, which makes it impossible to know how badly I’m hurt. Maybe I’m incredibly lucky. Maybe I’m mostly fine. Four metres is just like a fall off a roof. Plenty of people survive those. With assistance. And proper doctors.

I move my legs. They move! I can move!

I move my arms. My right arm jolts with pain so severe that I almost pass out. My left arm hurts, but I can use it.

Now the hard part. If I’ve broken my neck or back, this is massively dangerous, but it needs to be done.

I roll over and sit up.

The pain in my side, which is already spiking with every breath, triples as I shift my weight. I take a moment to focus on my breathing, making sure it’s not obstructed or, worse, wet. If I’m bleeding into my lungs, I have no idea what I’ll do. Just die, probably.

I go to stand, then collapse immediately as dizziness overtakes me. I try again, slower this time, and my right ankle gives out the moment I put weight on it.

Fine, body; be that way. I crawl on one hand and one and a half legs to the medbay, coughing up no blood on the way, which is a fantastic sign. Slowly, I struggle through the process of taking X-rays.

It’s just breaks, sprains and bruises. I cry in relief, and then stop because sobbing hurts my three broken ribs. In addition to those, my right arm is broken in two places and my right ankle sprained. All the bone pieces are still where they’re supposed to be, so it’s a simple matter to wrap everything up and take the painkillers and anti-swelling medication recommended by the AI.

The AI also informs me that we have bone cement, which would save me the need to have to splint and strap things for weeks while the bones heal themselves. I inform the AI that I’m not a doctor and I’m not going to jam those giant fuckoff needles into myself and fill my own body with medical cement. It informs me that with my DNA, my bones will take slightly longer to heal than average, and that much of the ventilation work cannot be completed until I’m healed. I inform it that it can fuck off.

I take a painkiller-assisted nap until it’s time to move the mould DNA into the sequencer, then a painkiller-assisted nap until the sequencing is done. Since the sequencing takes nine hours, this is an impressive feat. The computer needs more time for analysis, although the AI is careful to inform me that breathing a large volume of fungal spores of any kind is generally considered bad for one’s health, no matter the DNA analysis result.

I’m so pissed at myself that I managed the far more dangerous mission of leaving the ship to turn the engines on, then coming back while the engines were on, without hurting myself in any important way, and then managed to break multiple bones shoving a pillow into a vent. I mean, really?!

Leilea, over the other side of Chronostasis Ring 1, had survived on their own for a long time. Everything I’d seen, from their lack of personal effects to the general cleanliness of their living space, had suggested that they were disciplined and determined. And something had gotten them. They’d died alone.

Keiko had maintained things on this side of the divide for about nine months, on her own, before some clumsy bit of bad luck – much like what I’d just suffered – had killed her. She had died because there’d been nobody to help her.

I glance back up at the vent. I could have died. I hadn’t been hurt in any way that couldn’t heal, but I could have died. I’d done so many things since waking up that could have killed me.

How long is my luck going to last?

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