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“He died in here?” I ask. “That can’t… I mean, the computer said he succumbed to his infection a few days after his rampage.”

“Did it say where?” the doctor asks. “It looks like he was trapped in here. He wouldn’t have been able to seek treatment.” The body is face down on the pod; the doctor turns it to inspect the face. “Eyes intact,” it murmurs. “This is extraordinarily odd.”

“How?” Tinera asks. “It’s a corpse.”

“It’s a two and a half year old corpse,” the doctor points out. “Squeamish people should look away right now.” It rolls Captain Reimann onto his back on the floor, picks up his axe, and uses the hooked edge as an impromptu scalpel, sinking it into his belly. I quickly look away.

“What are you hoping to find?” I ask, grateful that the doctor’s space suit and the very low air pressure renders this operation silent.

“Just looking for… hmm. Yes, putrefaction. I’ll need to check one of the others for confirmation.”

“This really isn’t a respectful way to treat bodies,” Adin says, sounding nauseous.

“This friend recommends that you don’t look. It will tell you when it’s done.” Less than a minute later, the doctor says, “Alright. We’re done.”

I look back to the computer. The doctor’s cameras are pointed at some nice, clean, intact chronostasis pods, with their presumably live colonists presumably sleeping peacefully.

“What did you find?” I ask.

“Well, this friend is neither an archaeologist nor a coroner, so this is guesswork, but based on the putrefaction of the guts versus visible tissues, it would say that there’s an external preservative effect of some kind going on here.”

“A what?” Tinera asks.

“Some effect here is preserving the outside of the bodies. Probably by killing anything on the surface. It’s not something that we see all that often.”

“Do you know what it is?” I ask.

“It could be any number of things. Radiation is the usual culprit. In this case, my guess is the air. We know there’s something that was in the air here; something’s leaking into the room. Based on this, I’d guess it’s something non-caustic and extremely toxic.”

“Any guesses as to what?”

“No. This friend is not a chemist. It has absolutely no idea what it could be, but when we start waking people, we need to be really, really careful with the oxygen mask. Of course you’re pressurising with normal atmospheric gases, but whatever leaked in here is probably still leaking.”

“Atmosphere’s at twenty two per cent,” I report.

“Understood. Do you need anything else from these bodies? I’d like to get Denish to a less dramatic part of the ring. And myself, to be honest.”

“Go ahead,” I say. “You two have an unpleasant enough task ahead of you already.” A lot of colonists are going to die during revival today. “Actually, maybe you should bring him back here while we finish pressurising. No need to hang around in there for the next forty minutes.”

The doctor signals Denish to turn his comms back on. He does. “Yes, captain?”

“I think you two should come back in here while the ring pressurises,” I tell him. “It’s going to be a long wait doing nothing otherwise.”

“I am fine,” he insists. “I can wait.”

Oh, so now I have to worry about his pride. He’s probably been stewing over his own reaction to the scene compared to the doctor’s. He doesn’t want to be coddled. I think for a moment.

“I’m sure you can, but you’re going to be transporting patients in distress through there soon enough and I don’t want any power tools in their way. And there’s no point in sitting around wasting the suit’s oxygen while this happens. I want you two to get the tools back into the livable part of the ship, then go and get fresh oxygen and take a rest, maybe drink some water, while Adin, Tinera and I put them away and make sure the way to the makeshift medbay is completely clear. You guys have a long shift of reviving colonists ahead of you and I want you hydrated, rested and with fresh oxygen, ready for work.”

“Yes, captain,” Denish says, much more enthusiastically. While the doctor collects the unnecessary air tents, he shoulders his massive industrial drill.

While they cycle through the airlock, I rush to Greenhouse Ring 1 to meet them. Adin and Tinera are, of course, still waiting there. I take Tinera aside.

“Hey,” I say. “Do you reckon you could pester Denish into eating some chocolate or something?”


“Or drinking coffee. Or whatever he likes to drink. Just get him to ingest something comforting before he goes back into – ah, here they are. Supplies incoming. Can someone help me take this drill?”

The break isn’t just for Denish’s benefit. I really do want an uncluttered path and the rescuers to have fresh oxygen, and I think we could all use some decompression time before heading into a high-pressure task. I know I could.

Because holy shit.

He’d just started slaughtering colonists in their sleep. I’m just a random substitute captain, and even I can only feel deep, visceral disgust at the idea. Shepherding them safely to their destination was his main job, and he killed over a hundred of them, probably. Not lost them when they failed to revive. Slaughtered them. With an axe.

Wow, the vetting process for getting on this ship really was garbage.

I watch the air pressure in RAMR1 and CR1 tick slowly up. I let the crew know when it nears 1 atmosphere, and the doctor and a much more composed Denish meet me in Greenhouse Ring 1.

I look the doctor up and down. It’s in scrubs, a little bag of disposable gloves clipped to its belt. No space suit, although a breathing mask is strapped to its face, attached to an air tank on its back.

“Ah,” I say. “You’re going to need your hands for this.”

It nods. “This friend was expecting to have to keep getting in and out of suits in the pressure tent, but if the whole room is pressurised, then this is much better.” It flicks a few fingers at Denish, fully suited. “The assistant here has the comms. And there’s no sense exposing more people to whatever’s leaking into the air in there than necessary.”

I nod. “Wear eye protection. We want that air touching as little of you as possible.”

“Yes, captain.”

And with that, we get back to work.

I only have Denish’s cameras to work with now and he’s busy setting up the stretcher, so I don’t see a whole lot as the doctor opens a chronostasis pod, and waits for the fluid to drain. It reaches down behind the colonist’s head. Pauses.

The doctor says something, but between the bulk of its own oxygen mask and Denish’s helmet, I can’t make it out. I can guess, though.

“Is the stimulator stuck?” I ask.

Denish moves closer, but before he can show me anything clearly, the doctor leaps back, startled. The colonist jerks and flails in their restraints and, after a moment, lies still. Just like with Pterra, their flailing has torn their cranial port free of their skull, and with it, quite a lot of brain matter.

“Fuck,” I say.

“Fuck indeed, captain,” Denish says shakily. “What is happened? Why…?”

“Not sure. We’ve seen it before. Working hypothesis is that some of these ports weren’t very well installed. Okay, let’s try again.”

Dinesh signals something to the doctor, who nods, and moves to open the next pod.

But before it can, an alarm blares through the ship. A harsh, repetitive beep that I place immediately.

It’s the sound of an emergency chronostasis revival.

“Now?!” Tinera asks over the comms. “Why now?!”

“Captain,” Adin says, “if that’s in CR1, the air – ”

“Checking,” I say, already typing the query into the computer. “Fuck, it is in CR1. Doctor, Denish, you need to find Pod 1-477 right now.”

The doctor, of course, can’t hear me, but Denish gestures for it to follow him, checks the ID number on the nearest pod, and heads off at a run. I try to remember how long it took me to wake up, how long it was before I was clawing the oxygen tubes out of my nose and breathing the air of Chronostasis Ring 2. We don’t know specifically what’s leaking into the CR1 air, or how fast it is, or how dangerous it is to breathe, but given how thoroughly it seems to have killed off any decay microorganisms that came in contact with it I don’t want to take any chances.

Denish is moving quite fast with no regard for the view of his suit’s cameras, so I don’t see a whole lot as he drops to his knees next to an open chronostasis pod and starts interfering with the person inside. I see flailing limbs – not flailing in a fit or the throes of death, like the previous colonist, but probably flailing because their owner is being unexpectedly manhandled by an extremely large man in a space suit – and glimpses of one oxygen mask being replaced with another, but not much else.

The occupant seems to quickly get it through their adrenaline-addled brain that they’re being assisted, and stops resisting as the doctor drops into place opposite Denish and begins disconnecting lines. Denish goes back for the stretcher.

There’s not much I can do for the minute or two this takes as Denish’s suit cameras go with him, so I take the time to look up the pod’s occupant. Tal Smithson is twenty two years old and – oh. Wow. Second in line as a computer technician backup. We lucked into the second best IT specialist on the ship. I hope ke survives.

I mean, obviously I’d hope any roused colonist survives. But I really hope Tal survives.

When Denish gets back, Tal’s standing on shaky feet, the doctor wrapping kes emergency blanket around kes shoulders. Despite this clear evidence that ke can stand and, presumably, walk, Denish lays kem on the stretcher anyway. Probably a good call – just because Tal can walk doesn’t mean having kem carry around a heavy air tank is a great idea. This is much neater.

“Tinera, Adin, you’ve got a patient incoming,” I warn them, even though they have access to the same comms that I do. “You ready?”

“Always ready, captain,” Adin reports.

And that’s when another, much louder, much more grating alarm starts to sound. One I don’t recognise.

“Decompress alarm!” Tinera exclaims. “Nish, doc, get out of there right now!”

Oh, shit. Oh, shit, shit, shit. I shouldn’t have repressurised the rooms; I should have trusted the computer about the CR1 breach. Now my stupid decision to make things easier was going to get half of my crew killed.

Denish and the doctor grab the stretcher and bolt for the breached airlock between CR1 and RAMR1. They cross through with no problem; the airlock has no doors. They keep running for the airlock leading to Greenhouse Ring 1, for safety.

I check the air pressure in CR1 and RAMR1. Still at one hundred per cent, according to the computer, but the alarm is still blaring.

“Airlocks are closing!” Adin warns, and I can see that he’s right. The airlock ahead is clearly visible in Denish’s cameras; it’s still open on their side, from where they entered, but now it’s flashing a bunch of red lights and the doors are beginning, slowly, to close.

“Run!” I yell, as if they’re not already doing that. This doesn’t make any sense as an emergency procedure. The whole point of an airlock is to allow passage between areas of differing air pressure or atmosphere! Why would the airlock become inoperable at a time like this?! What’s going on?!

I check the atmospheric pressure again; still 100%, despite the alarm. Something is seriously messed up with the emergency protocols on this ship. Plus side, we now have an IT specialist to figure that out. Minus side; ke, along with our doctor and engineer, will probably die before ke has a chance to do that.

The airlock door continues to close. Denish bodily lifts the doctor, dumps it on the stretcher on top of Tal, and then shoves the stretcher with all of his might at the closing airlock. It rolls inside with just barely enough room to do so, the closing door catching and buckling the very back of the light aluminium frame, and slams against the opposite closed door, throwing both Tal and the doctor into it. For half a second, I’m worried that the airlock is going to start automatically depressurising with the two unsuited crew inside (the systems are fucked up enough that this wouldn’t surprise me), but fortunately the systems seem to recognise that Greenhouse Ring 1 is at full pressure and open the doors.

While Tinera and Adin deal with whatever injuries being physically slammed into an airlock door might have left their crewmates with, I check the status of the airlocks. All four airlocks between Greenhouse Ring 1 and Recreation and Medical Ring 1 are locked, and I can’t get them open. I check Denish’s cams. He’s safe from decompression, in his space suit, but he’s grabbed onto the big tree in the recreation ring, the one with the swing attached. Probably afraid of being sucked out into space like in the movies.

“Denish. Status?”

“All good for now, captain,” he says, clearly fighting to keep a tremble out of his voice.

“Hang tight. We’re going to keep it that way.”

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5 thoughts on “021: EVACUATE

  1. Oh shit, things have gone horribly wrong already! This chapter really piques my interest into how the ship’s safety systems even work. I mean, really, like Aspen said, the airlocks aren’t being used as proper airlocks here, which is super weird. Ship systems are simultaneously reviving colonists in dangerous parts of the ship, and then locking them there in that part of the ship? It makes no logical sense, but maybe that’s just me. Tal’s revival especially interests me because, why is this automatic emergency revival taking place? It doesn’t really make much logical sense, nobody was emergency revived in CR1 at all before now, it’s incredibly convenient timing that this happened right about now. Is it a malfunction? I mean, certainly it can’t be because of the closing airlocks atmosphere emergency thing going on, otherwise ke wouldn’t be the only one revived, it would’ve tried to trigger more revivals. So if it’s not an evacuation of CR1 completely, just what exactly IS going on? Has the ship realized a tech problem it suddenly thinks it needs someone like Tal to solve? What’s the deal with all of this mystery? You’ve got me hooked on this Derin, can’t wait to see where this goes next week.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. DERIN GIVE THEM A BREAK or not, I’m fine either way. But like, it was already not only a high-risk task but also one where they would see a lot of deads already, but NOOOO not enough, there had to be a MASSACRE, and a EMERGENCY REVIVAL, and of course, THE FUCKING PLACE DEPRESSURING. They should rest for a lot of time after that, but of course they won’t, will them?

    Unrelated but this is the first time I read a fic where someone uses neopronouns, i had to re-read some paragraphs a few times to get them right but I’ll get used to it in no time.


  3. This chapter was unbelievably tense like nothing before. My heart rate has spiked! You’ve always been really good at keeping us guessing which way things will go, but this actually scared me. Nice job! o7


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