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Picking someone to revive shouldn’t be too difficult a task, really. There are three main requirements – they need a decent chance of surviving revival with little help (because I’m no doctor), they need to be better than me at doing this (not hard), and they need to be someone I won’t hate enough to want to murder within a week (and vice versa). I’d been woken by the computer because I was a decent all-rounder who was likely to survive and recover revival easily, but we didn’t need a second all-rounder. We needed a doctor, or an engineer. Or an IT specialist, maybe, who might be able to get past Reimann’s passwords.

Ideally, all three. But I’m not going to go reviving three people in a fit of accident-induced panic. I’ll get myself a crewmate, and if we later decide we need more, we can get more. These people signed up for a colony, not a ship, and I’m not forcing ship life on any more of them than necessary.

I have the computer order the shortlist of two hundred in order of their position in line for ship’s doctor, take note of the top three names, then do the same for the engineer and computer technician roles. That should give me a list of nine specialists – in fact it gives me eight, because Truvu Hess Noom shows up on the engineer and IT lists. I skim my list.

– Public Universal Friend 2, – , All Nations, doctor (9th) –

– Talia LeRoe, female, Republic of Texas, doctor (186th) –

– Kip of Sirius, male, Capricorn Plateau, doctor (517th) –

– Lily Tain, male, Arborea Atlantica, engineer (101st) –

– Truvu Hess Noom, brennan, Luna, engineer (283rd), computer technician (1,487th) –

– Park Darae, female, Martian, engineer (417th) –

– Lavender Stenn, – , Republic of Texas, computer technician (247th) –

– Hazel Kin, male, Arborea Pacifica, computer technician (946th) –

Hmm. Less Texans than I would have expected, since the ship was so overwhelmingly Texan, but then it’s possible that people with engineering and medical training were less likely to end up in prison. More Arboreans than expected – well, only two actually listed their place of birth as Arborean, but ‘Lavender’ was a name you didn’t see too much in land nations these days and ‘Darae’ could go either way (maybe her parents were just really traditional?). So, somewhere between twenty five and fifty per cent of the list… hard to draw any conclusions there, from such a small sample. Anyway. Not the point.

And the Public Universal Friend was ninth in line as the ship’s doctor? Really? That had to mean that it had medical training. Maybe I’m a bigot, but it had honestly never occurred to me that a Friend might be a doctor. How would that even work?

The Public Universal Friends… creep me out, to be honest. They always have. I mean, each to their own, Freedom Of Body And Mind, but there’s simply no way their whole philosophy isn’t indicative of some kind of mental illness, right? I don’t understand how anybody can function as a human being under such a complete denial of self.

I’d looked into them a bit, once; done some reports in uni, you know how it is. I’d once stayed up two nights in a row to write a six thousand word essay on the original Public Universal Friend from pre-Neocambrian times from which they draw their inspiration. All it had told me was that they had absolutely nothing in common with their namesake, and it hadn’t helped me understand them, even a little.

But… my own feelings aside, the Friend is a good choice for a crewmate. It’s a doctor, which is certainly a bonus, and according to the priority rankings a far more accomplished doctor than any of the other candidates are in the specialities I’d ranked them for. And it’s far more likely to take well, emotionally, to being revived early. Friends are of use; that’s the core of their philosophy. It would have come aboard this ship because it felt that it was needed here. Expecting to be of use in the colony, presumably, but it will understand being awoken early. The others… well, presumably they would understand, too, but they’d probably be upset and resentful about it.

And, honestly? I feel a whole lot less guilty about awakening the Friend, knowing that it would agree with me on this.

The Friend is in Chronostasis Ring 2. My ring. I double-check that I’m about to revive the correct Friend (there are six aboard, and boy would it be embarrassing to revive some librarian or something by mistake) and head out.

When entering a ring of chronostasis pods, it’s important to take care to tell yourself it looks like something other than a graveyard. If you don’t do this, you’ll be struck by how much it looks like a graveyard. The pods aren’t efficiently stacked on top of each other in big banks like one might expect; because space isn’t a concern and it’s important for colonists to be able to get out of their own pods if necessary (can you imagine if I’d had to drop, half-paralysed, out of a drawer two metres off the ground?), each pod is sealed to the floor with plenty of walking space around it. They’re each about the size of a single bed, with a higher compartment for emergency waking supplies, displaying status panels and lights. Like…

Not like a large coffin and headstone in a mausoleum. Like something else.

The comparison is stupid, anyway. Who even had mausoleums these days? Who wastes a perfectly good corpse by isolating it from the earth for as long as possible? Sure, freezing is a common temporary method of dealing with the deceased, but it’s understood that it’s temporary. The idea of permanently encasing the dead in stone and trapping them under gaudy memorials is barbaric.

So the fact that the rows of pods remind me of anything dead says more about my terrible taste in tacky media about pre-Neocambrian societies than anything. I pull myself together, take a second to rest my sprained ankle (I really should be using a crutch), and go looking for the Public Universal Friend 2’s coffin.

Well, I should just think of it as the Public Universal Friend, I suppose. The Friends will consent to being differentiated like that when there’s a practical need to do so (such as being six people with very different physical and mental capabilities all going into chronostasis), but it’s generally considered rude to differentiate them unnecessarily. Or so I’ve heard. I suppose I’ll find out pretty quickly whether my behaviour is considered arsehole behaviour or not.

The Friend’s coffin – um, chronostasis pod – is in good condition, all status lights showing green. I trigger the revival process.

There’s a beep as the chronostasis field shuts down, a whirr as the tank begins to drain. The lid of the pod unlocks; I grit my teeth against the inevitable rib pain and shove it open one-armed. Before the sticky blue fluid is even completely drained, I reach behind its head to carefully disconnect the cerebral stimulator. This is the most important step in exiting chronostasis; that neck port is connected directly to the synthetic nerves that grow through a chronostatic patient’s body to stop them from suffering serious brain and organ damage during their induced coma. I absolutely don’t want to jar it.

Once it’s free, I carefully disentangle my fingers from the mass of hair that grew during chronostasis and get to the less critical work of disconnecting the IV lines. The Friend sleeps peacefully throughout this process; unlike my rather jarring emergency awakening (which involved a not inconsiderable amount of synthetic adrenaline), a standard awakening involved the colonist being sedated. What I’m supposed to do is disconnect everything, carry the Friend to the medbay, and begin medical scans while waiting for it to wake up. Obviously, in my current condition, there’s no way I can do that. So I leave the breathing tubes in place, cover it with the blanket from its emergency wakeup kit, and wait.

The Friend looks around forty years old, although it’s not always easy to tell given the lives that some people lead. Its skin is very pale, almost pink instead of brown in some places, and a pattern of light scars trace across the back of its right arm. They don’t look serious, and I know from its medical files that it has full mobility on both arms, so they’re probably nothing to worry about. The tangle of hair on its head, grown while it was sleeping in chronostasis, is the colour of dark red clay – high iron in the hair follicles, a condition found in some small minority in any terrestrial location, but a lot more common in Arborea Pacifica, almost two whole per cent of the population. Might be Arborean (although Public Universal Friends, of course, have no nation. But you know what I mean). The wait for it to wake up feels like forever, but I don’t leave. I don’t want my new crewmate to wake up alone.

Is this a good idea?

Irrelevant. It’s the only idea. I can’t do this alone, the Friend is a good choice, and even if it was a bad idea, the decision’s been made. Nowhere to go but forward.

Its eyes flutter open. It blinks at me, uncomprehending.

“Hi,” I say. “Everything’s fine.”

It blinks at me again. Raises a hand to paw at the oxygen mask, clumsily. I realise just how much the emergency adrenaline helped me at this stage; I was up and out of the pod within a minute. The Friend, still shaking off the sedatives, seems to barely be able to control its own hands.

“Let me help,” I say, and carefully remove the mask. Its breath hitches in pain as I pull the tubes out of its nose, but it seems fine. I open its post-revival drink and hand it over. “Can you stand?” I ask.

The Friend takes several swigs of the drink and grimaces. “Probably not,” it says in some combined accent that I can’t place. “Everything’s a bit… this friend’s pretty dizzy. What’s going on? Are we there?” It looks around the chronostasis ring in confusion. I can guess why; I, too, wondered why I wasn’t waking up in the medbay.

No sense in drawing out bad news. “We’re about five years from our destination. You’ve been woken to fill a role on the ship.”

It glances at my arm. “You need a doctor.”

“Yes. I would’ve carried you to the medbay for this, but…” I gesture to said broken arm.

“Where’s the rest of the crew?”

Wow, the Friend’s quick. “Dead. Just me.”

“What happened?”

“I’m still trying to figure that out myself. It’s… there’s a lot. I think we should get you on your feet before we get into specifics.”

“And get that arm cemented. It is broken, yes?”


“Any other injuries? Your breathing is shallow.”

Huh, we’re getting right to it, then. This kind of proactivity is probably going to be really useful. “There are X rays in the medbay, when we manage to get that far. I’m Aspen, by the way.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Aspen. What’s your role on the ship?”

“Um… everything, I guess, until we get you registered as crew. I’m sure there’ll be a reorganisation after that.”

The Friend nods. “Captain Aspen, this body seems ready to stand now.”

I open my mouth to correct it – there’s an equal chance that it will be captain, in a few minutes – before realising that it’s correct. Friends tend to refuse leadership positions except in very specific circumstances. It would be listed right at the bottom of the list of potential captains based on that alone.

With my somewhat unstable help, the Friend clambers out of the pod and takes a few shaky steps. It seems stable enough, so we slowly make our way to the medbay. Our new doctor registers its chip in the system and tell me to go to bed, under doctor’s orders, while it sleeps off the remainder of the sedatives. “This friend won’t be injecting anything into your bones until these hands are functioning correctly,” it tells me sternly.

No argument here. I’m unconscious before it finishes speaking. For the first time since waking up, I slip into sleep calmly and easily.

I have backup now.

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4 thoughts on “015: FRIEND

  1. Awwwwwe, I like the Friend already. I wonder how long it will take Aspen to stop thinking of ‘the Friend,’ and start mentally refering to them as ‘my friend.’ Bet the first time she slips up introducing ‘her friend’ hits her like a bus.

    I also think the concept of the Public Universal Friend is very intriguing. I’m guessing they are like a varient of monks? And they strive to achieve the purest form of “selflessness” both through selfless actions and as a state of being without any sense of “self.” The question I have is, is one version of “selflessness” a means to better achieve the other? Are both meanings inherently equal to them, or is one the ‘goal’ and the other the ‘method’?


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