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“Oh, no,” the doctor mutters, staring at the computer terminal.
I look up from my coffee. It’s been a full day since we finished purging the air filtration system (or at least the part in out part of the ship) and obsessively sterilising every surface to the doctor’s anti-fungal specifications, we’ve both physically recovered from our various ordeals, and I just want to sit back in the recreation ring and enjoy my thirty-year-expired freeze-dried instant coffee in peace.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, hesitantly.
“Possibly nothing. It’s hard to say without more information.”
“Possibly nothing, or…?”
“Or possibly the entire colony is irrevocably doomed.”
“There it is,” I sigh. I amble over to look over its shoulder. “What’s the issue?”
“The thing we’re both allergic to?”
“Exactly.” It points at the screen. “This is the shortlist of two hundred people you pulled this friend from.”
“The top two hundred most likely to survive revival.”
“Exactly. Look at the sheer number of Arboreans on it.”
I skim the list. There are an awful lot of distinctly Arborean names. “You think there’s a lot of DIVRs there? That’s not weird. It’s already known that the DIVR-32 geneset conveys some resistance to chronostasis damage.”
“Some resistance, yes. All sorts of things convey some resistance or some vulnerability. To have just this one thing have such a big effect, though… this is weird. This is definitely a much greater effect than any tests have shown.” It types a command.
Query: number of currently chronostatic colonists carrying the DIVR-32 geneset; number of currently chronostatic colonists carrying the DIVR-32 geneset AND within the top 200 most likely to survive chronostasis revival.
– 92 chronostatic colonists carry the DIVR-32 geneset. 89 of those colonists are within the top 200 most likely to survive chronostatic revival. Is there anything else I can do for you, doctor? –
The doctor and I look at each other.
“Okay,” I admit. “I’m not much of a stats person, but that’s – ”
“That is not random. And it’s not a small effect.”
“Okay,” I say, “but I don’t see how it’s a problem, necessarily? I mean, a high likelihood of survival is good.”
“It’s not the high likelihood that this friend is worried about.”
Query: provide list, all live chronostatic colonists in descending order of likelihood of surviving revival. Mark carriers of the DIVR-32 geneset with ^^^ .
The computer provides the list. We stare at it.
“The entire top of the list is just DIVRs,” I say, unnecessarily. “All of us are better at surviving than all other people.”
“Except for the three outliers. Who presumably have other confounding conditions.” The doctor bites its lip. “DIVR-32 is the deciding factor.”
“Again, I’m not sure why this spells doom and gloom.”
“Because we already know that the protective effect of DIVR-32 is quite minimal. The viability of DIVRs still drops off over time. It’s not even close to the best protective factor… over the timespan studied. But how many chronostatic studies do you think have lasted thirty five years?”
“Yeah. What this suggests is that the effect of DIVR, which is minimal, is longer term than the other factors. It’s not necessarily that we’re doing well…”
“… but that the others are doing badly,” I finish. “You should check.”
But it’s already typing.
Query: add data to current list: estimated likelihood of surviving chronostatic revival for each colonist, as a percentage.
The doctor scrolls through the list. We stare.
“Well, fuck,” I say.
“… Hmm.” The doctor rubs its chin.
“This is really bad,” I point out.
“But you see something interesting?”
“The jumps.” The doctor points. “See, all the DIVRs up here in the eighty six to ninety nine per cent range, and then just a huge dip with nobody, until we get to sixty five per cent survival.”
“Which we’d expect, right? That just shows you’re right about the long-term effect thing.”
“It does, but look.” It keeps scrolling. “We have what looks, at a glance, to be a pretty normal distribution for all of these names, until we get to thirty seven per cent. Then, another huge dip. The last thousand or so names, at a guess, are at twelve per cent or lower. The first big gap we have an explanation for, but the second?”
“Maybe another genetic factor? A previously unknown vulnerability to chronostasis?”
“Perhaps. The friend will look into it later.”
“More importantly,” I ask, “is this going to get worse? I mean, this is thirty five years worth of damage, so just another five on top of that shouldn’t be too much more of a dip, right?”
“On the contrary. After the prescribed twenty years, we’d expect to see viability in the range that the DIVRs are showing; high eighties and up, except for a few cases of bad luck. We don’t have viability data over time, but this much of a drop suggests that the rate of decay is exponential.”
“It’s not just getting worse; the rate at which it gets worse is also increasing.”
“So we need to start waking them up. Right away.”
It taps the viability statistics. “A lot of them are going to die if we do that.”
“They’re going to die anyway! Waking them now gives them the best chance. I didn’t want to wake anyone too early if I could help it, but if the sleep is this dangerous to them, we don’t have a choice. We should… we should start with the ones with the lowest chances, the ones whose chances are dropping the fastest. Give them the best chance we can.”
“Yes, captain.” The doctor types another command, and frowns. “Hmm.”
“The colonists in the low viability group are all in Chronostasis Rings 1 and 5. The rings closest to the front and back of the ship. Maybe it’s an environmental effect that’s dropped their viability? Some kind of radiation from the engines?”
“Maybe,” I say. “It doesn’t really affect our mission, except that we can’t get into Chronostasis Ring 1. Can you find the colonist in Chronostasis Ring 5 with the lowest viability?”
More typing. “Pterra Collyn, age 26.”
“Great,” I say. “Let’s go.”
Pterra’s chronostasis pod shows all green lights, and the doctor activates the revival process. Pterra lies peaceful and largely motionless as the fluid around her drains away. The doctor deals with the IV lines and, as this is the one medical task at which I’m more experienced than the doctor, I reach behind her head to carefully disconnect the cerebral stimulator.
I detach the cord from the port in her neck, but it doesn’t come free. “Um, doctor?”
“The stimulator’s stuck.”
“Stuck? How can it be stuck?”
“I don’t know, it – ”
Pterra’s eyes fly open.
“She’s supposed to be sedated, right?” I ask, carefully drawing back so as not to jostle the stimulator. “Pterra, don’t move, there’s a – ”
Her entire body jerks and thrashes in the straps. The doctor and I draw back. I consider, briefly, trying to restrain her, but I know it’d do no good. She’s far stronger than me, at least in the throes of her fit.
She sits up suddenly, jerking the cranial stimulator free of her head. No – pulling the entire cranial port free of her head.
A significant amount of brain matter comes with it.
Pterra falls back, and stops moving.
I touch the cranial port in the back of my own skull, verifying that it’s very firmly seated in there. Skin has almost completely grown over it, now that its use is at an end. It’s just a lump on the back of my head now.
I glance at the doctor. It’s pale, lips drawn. It closes its eyes, takes a couple of deep, calming breaths, and opens them again.
“Well,” it says. “We can probably consider that an unsuccessful revival.”
“In your medical opinion, doctor,” I ask, “what in the everloving fuck?”
It shrugs. “Chronostasis revival isn’t this friend’s speciality. It’s never… it hasn’t…” It swallows. “This friend wouldn’t have expected that, but um. We can probably assume that’s a…. rare occurrence. Or we would have been warned before boarding the ship.”
“Taproot and stars, I hope it’s a rare occurrence. Part of her brain was ripped out.”
“You said the stimulator was stuck? Might have been a, a botched surgery? A faulty port?” It swallows again. “This friend will get this cleaned up, captain. Then we can try again.”
I glance from the pale doctor to the mess in the pod. “I’ll help.”
“That’s not necessary. It’s the job of the medical officer.”
“And one of my roles is secondary medical officer. I’ll help.”
Once we get what we can of Pterra Collyn into the freezer, and the rest… disposed of, I honestly don’t feel like trying to revive another person. We’re way down at the bottom of the viability ladder here; a lot of these colonists are probably going to die at our hands before we see any success. But I can’t afford to delay things to nurse my feelings. I’m sharply aware that dawdling around for a month putting off reviving anyone at all, and then even more time before the doctor found this information, has probably cost lives. I should have noticed this viability dropoff on the first day. I should have asked the computer about the colonists first thing. As captain of the ship, their safety is my primary responsibility. I’ve already dawdled too long by not considering this immediately. I’m not going to delay the process further.
So we push on.
How many can we revive? I’m not sure. I know that the ship can support a crew of at least 21, and the systems can probably handle a lot more than that, for safety. When we hit around eighteen or so, I’ll make sure we revive some engineers and logistics officers and soforth, so they can estimate how many more we can safely revive. On the one hand, we need to revive as many as possible; on the other, reviving more than the oxygen systems can handle is a death sentence.
Food, too. I haven’t done a proper inventory of our supplies; I haven’t needed to. Until recently I assumed I was feeding one person instead of twenty one for the last five years of a journey, and I know there’s plenty of extra food for while the colony is being set up. But knowing that this ship’s actually been going for thirty five years, and that we’re about to cram as many revived people into it as possible? Yeah, we needed a proper logistics officer.
But I know we could support at least twenty one. So that’s a place to start.
“Who’s the next most likely to die?”
The doctor checks. “Adin Klees, 32 years old.”
“Okay. Let’s go and meet Adin.”
Adin’s status lights are all green. The doctor starts the revival process.
Adin sleeps as soundly as anyone in chronostasis. Everyone undergoes facial depilation before chronostasis (to avoid complications with the breathing tubes), but Adin strikes me as the kind of guy who probably had a beard, back when that was an option. Tattoos in some geometric design cover his right shoulder and creep partly over his chest, white ink bright in his dark skin. I don’t know if they have any specific meaning. Another tattoo rings his right leg; looks like writing. It’s in the Latin alphabet, which I can’t read (yeah yeah, a sociologist who doesn’t know the Latin alphabet, laugh it up), so I have no idea what it says. Probably some profound quote or something, in such an archaic script, or a family motto, maybe?
I focus on the tattoo while the liquid finishes draining from the pod. It’s better than remembering Pterra sitting up and pulling part of her own brain out.
Once the fluid is mostly gone, the doctor begins work on the IVs. I reach behind Adin’s head for the cerebral stimulator. Holding my breath, I disconnect it. I give it a very gentle tug.
It slides free.
The doctor and I both sigh in relief. But there isn’t much time to celebrate; while the doctor takes Adin’s vitals, I undo his safety restraints.
“His vitals are strong,” the doctor remarks, sounding surprised.
“He’s going to live?” I ask. He’s only our second revival attempt. This is amazingly lucky.
“The post-chronostasis medical tests must be performed before any estimates can be made, and it’s premature to estimate anything before he wakes from anaesthesia. But he’s alive right now, which is more than this friend expected.”
I look down at the man on the stretcher. He is, indeed, breathing on his own. I brush strands of matted hair away from his face.
“Welcome to the crew, Adin,” I say.
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3 thoughts on “017: DEGRADATION”
Aspen got more mouths to feed
Mmmmmmmmm, I am concerned over what exactly went wrong for the first colonist to be awake and have their brain pulled out, I really hop it isn’t a common issue..
I feel like I want them to hold off on these low-viability colonists for as long as possible. If they’re alive and showing good brain function with the syn-nerves in their brains, I’d want to look at other ways of getting it out than “tug”. Worst case, just cut the inputs and live with it attached. Waking people up willy-nilly seems hasty.