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We have a crew of six, now. Five of us are in the safety of the back three quarters of the ship, with a nice livable atmosphere. Denish is locked in Chronostasis Ring 1 and Recreation and Medical Ring 1. He’s between two sets of locked airlocks that I can’t open. We have comms for as long as the power in his space suit lasts, which is going to be a lot longer than his air supply, so no problems there.

Tal might be able to get the airlocks open, but Tal is unconscious as a result of being thrown violently against an airlock door. The doctor came out of that scuffle with only bruises and a damaged wrist (possibly a fracture), and is in the medbay tending to Tal. Leaving me, Tinera, and Adin to figure out how to get Denish to safety.

We all stare at computer terminals in NAER1, and think.

“We pull the one ring back trick again,” Tinera suggests. “Get the big drill into Greenhouse Ring 1, break through the locked doors – ”

“If we do that, the doors at the back of GR1 will probably just emergency lock,” Adin points out. “Then we’ve lost another ring and haven’t saved Denish. Anyway, can any of us even bust through an airlock like that?”

“Nish has comms, he can talk us through it.”

“It’s too risky,” I say, “given that we’re on a time limit.” I turn on the computer’s microphone. “Denish, how much air is in your suit?”

“Ah… about six hours and fifteen minutes, captain.”

“Okay, we can work with that. Breath slow and deep, though. Don’t use more energy than you have to. The more time we have, the better this will go.”

“Yes, captain.”

“There’s no need to be scared. We’re going to get you in here, we’re just discussing the most efficient options.”

“Yes, captain.”

“Be advised that I’m depressurising your rings. Check the seals on your suit.”

I start the depressurisation procedure. Six hours isn’t ideal, honestly. I need nearly seven for my plan.

Oh yes, I have a plan. I saw immediately what needed to be done. But I’m really, really hoping that Tinera and Adin can come up with something better, which is why I haven’t explained my plan to them. That and… well.

I’m the captain. Hard choices are my responsibility. They shouldn’t have to bear any guilt for this, for what I intend to do. They can hate me for it instead.

“Why are you depressurising?” Tinera asks.

“Because we’re on a time crunch and as we just discussed, getting through inside the ship isn’t an option,” I lie. “However we do this, it’s probably going to involve the vacuum of space, and there’s no point waiting an extra half hour later for decompression when we can do it now. I need you to go to the medbay and ask the doctor about how to extend Denish’s oxygen supply. Find out how much he can safely reduce his oxygen intake to stretch resources. We need as much time as possible, understand?”

“Yes, captain.” Tinera races off.

“Any external airlocks we can use?” Adin asks.

“Not in the rings he has access to.”

“Dammit. Well, when it’s depressurised, we can use Denish’s tools to cut through the hull of the ship, maybe? It’s a long shot, time-wise, but if we can find a spot without important pipes or whatever, we can stand on top of the ship and drill down into – ”

“Drill up,” I correct him.

“If we’re on the top – ”

“Where is the top of the ship, Adin? Which direction?”

He goes to point up, then hesitates. “Oh.”

I nod. “With the rotation, ‘up’ is the middle of the ship. If you’re outside, and spinning with the ship, you’re below it. I don’t think even Denish could lift those tools above his head to work, let alone any of us.”

“And there’d be nothing to stand on.”

“Oh, I think you’d be able to stand on the radiation shielding. The support bars can take a fair bit of weight.”

“How do you know that?”

“I’ve been in a position similar to this before. But let me tell you, you don’t want to be crawling around outside the ship if you can help it.”

I watch the room pressure tick down, and muse on what we can do if we don’t have enough time to pull this off. If Denish is still in there in six and a quarter hours, he’ll have to take the helmet off or die. How long could he survive if he were trapped in those two rings?

Probably a reasonable amount of time, come to think of it. The trick would be finding and patching whatever’s leaking into the air in there. There’s not much in the way of materials in the rings he’s in – we removed most of the useful stuff before trying this little operation. If he couldn’t patch the CR1 leak, wherever it is, he’d probably die; and let’s be honest, the chances of him being able to do that, no matter how good an engineer he is, are practically nonexistent. He just doesn’t have any materials. But what if he could?

If he could, he’d have air. We could open the vents to the rest of the ship. And he’d have water – there were one thousand emergency chronostasis revival kits in CR1, each containing about 250 millilitres of saline for drinking upon revival. That’s 250 litres, and Denish is an engineer. I’m sure he could find some way to rig up a distillery. As for food… well. If worst came to worst. Denish had access to the nutrient fluid of nearly nine hundred sleeping colonists. And the fresh meat of nearly nine hundred sleeping colonists. If it came to that, would we be able to talk him into actually taking the necessary steps for survival, once he became hungry enough? Or would he use his nitrogen supply to take Keiko Kinoshita’s way out?

It won’t come to that, though. I’ll make absolutely sure it won’t come to that. And all of the guilt for this little scenario will rest squarely on my shoulders.

“Denish,” the doctor calls over the comms, “You need to drop your oxygen intake to extend your supply. You’ll feel drowsy, but you’ll be fine. Okay? Find your air supply controls and type this in…”

The doctor buys Denish another twenty five minutes of air. It’s not quite as much as I need for my plan, but it’s going to have to be close enough. I eye the air pressure reading nervously, willing it to drop faster.

Then I realise that there’s something I should have asked Denish to do before making him drowsy. Dammit.

“Denish, do you see the swing hanging from that tree? The one we left for luck?”

“Yes, captain.”

“You need some of the rope from it. Can you untie it?”

He makes his way over to the swing, slowly and shakily. He’s on low oxygen and dragging a heavy space suit with him. He paws clumsily at the knotted rope, but there’s just no way to get purchase through the thick gloves.

“Do you have something to cut it with?”

“Yes! Cutting tool still on belt.” He produced the tool, and cuts the rope from one side of the swing.”

“Great work. Now, I need to you tie yourself to the tree. Can you do that? Tie yourself down, but don’t go to sleep.”

“Yes, captain.”

Man, I wish I could sleep. It’s been such a long day of bouts of high stress interspersed with physical labour, and next to no downtime. But I can’t. Not for at least six and a half more hours. My actual job here isn’t much more than inputting a few computer commands at the right times, but I’m sure as starlight not taking a nap in the middle.

“You have a plan,” Adin accuses me. “You’re doing something.”


“What are you doing?”

“Saving our engineer.” I glance at the pressure reading; near vacuum. “Doctor, make sure that your unconscious patient is secured to their bed or something. Everyone, hold onto something. I’m about to do something that may or may not cause some disturbance, I’m not sure.”

Ignoring the litany of “What are you doing?!”, I lean forward and type something into the computer.

Eject Chronostasis Ring 1.

– Chronostasis Ring 1 requires captain’s authorisation for ejection. Are you sure that you want to eject Chronostasis Ring 1, captain Greaves? –


– Ejecting Chronostasis Ring 1 in 30 seconds. To abort procedure, type anything into this terminal within 30 seconds. –

I sit back and watch the counter tick down.

A new alarm starts to blare. The ship shudders.

“Captain, what the hell – ?”

“Chronostasis Ring 1 is being ejected,” I announce. “The process will take six hours. There might be turbulence.” Then I shut off my comms. They can protest to each other, if they like. The sequence has already started, and almost nine hundred of our charges are being ejected into space.

Denish’s chances of being able to find and patch the atmospheric leak in CR1 were infinitesimally small, and it would have been a waste of vitally precious time to tell him to try. But removing the contaminating leak altogether was very simple. It was just a matter of doing what the computer had advised me to to the very day I’d woken up.

In about six hours, the ship will be whole again, minus one chronostasis ring. We can repressurise Denish’s ring and have him take off his suit, and then we have all the time in the world to get the airlocks open. It takes a few days for someone to die of dehydration, but that won’t be a factor – with an intact ship full of safe air, the airlocks are no problem. All evidence suggests that whatever falsely tripped the decompression alarm was probably the contamination leaking into CR1, so with the air clean, maybe we’ll get lucky and the airlocks will unlock themselves; if not, Tal might be able to get them open. And if Tal isn’t able to, or isn’t recovered in time, well, there’s always removing the doors with power tools again. With CR1 gone, that shouldn’t create any more complicated emergencies. And it would mean slightly easier access between the greenhouse and recreation area, so, bonus.

For the moment, nothing particularly dramatic is happening on Denish’s cams. The ring he’s in is still part of the ship, and while the one next to it will probably start moving about dramatically and technically exposing him to the vacuum of space at any moment, his only view of the whole thing will be through a breached airlock all the way over the other side of the ring.

“Still alright there, Denish?” I ask.

“Still here, captain.”

“Breathe slow and stay awake. I’m handing comms over to Adin.” I turn to Adin. “Keep talking to him. Keep him awake. If he drifts off, do everything you can to wake him up. He’s tired and drowsy on this oxygen, but he absolutely must be awake in six and a half hours to take his helmet off, and if he drifts off in the meantime I don’t know how easy it’ll be to wake him again. Alright?”

“I’ll do my best, captain.”

I want a nap, which is ridiculous, because of all the people on this ship I’m way down the bottom in terms of ‘amount of work done today’, and I’ve had the longest to recover from chronostasis. It’s amazing that everyone else is even on their feet. I head for the medbay to check on our new crewmate.

As I walk in, Tinera throws her arms around me and gives me a brief squeeze. “Captain! You saved him!”

“We’re not out of the marsh yet,” I tell her. “Wait another six and a half hours to celebrate.”

“You just killed nearly nine hundred people to save one,” the doctor snaps at me, glaring. “Even given the low revival viability, that’s still nearly one hundred successful – ”

“And if you hold off yelling at me until we’ve gotten Denish safely back, you’ll have the preparation and information to make my inevitable dressing-down as devastatingly thorough and complete as possible. For now, I’m here to check on you and Tal. How’s your arm?”

“There’s been ni time to X-ray it yet. Probably just a fracture. This friend will deal with it after it’s finished Tal’s post-chronostasis assessments.”

I look over to the newcomer, lying peacefully in bed, eyes closed. “Ke’s still unconscious? It’s been half an hour. Should we be worried about brain injury?”

“Possibly, but all reflex tests show that this is a natural sleep. Ke has woken up since the airlock but went under again; it’s most likely just an adrenaline crash and post-chronostasis exhaustion. If you need, ke can be woken – ”

“No. We won’t need kes help for at least six and a half hours. Just do whatever’s in your best medical judgement.” I lean over to get a better look at our new crewmate.

Ah. They’re a zeelite.

How can I tell such a thing, you might be wondering? No matter how good a sociologist I may be, how can I take one look at an unclothed, jewellery-free, unconscious person, and immediately think ‘ah, here is somebody who is obsessed with the pre-Neocambrian retrofuturistic ray-gun-and-silver-bodysuit aesthetic of an optimistic space future that never came to pass’?

Well, the tattoos are a clue.

Tal’s lips are tattooed purple. Vivid purple, standing out brightly against kes medium brown skin. Over kes left eye is tattooed a teal lightning bolt coming to a point halfway down kes cheek, with a white ‘shadow’ tattooed down the inner side. When kes tight black curls are properly styled rather than a matted, post-chronostatic mess, and paired with a silver jumpsuit and impractically high heels, I’m sure the combo looks amazing, at least to other zeelites.

I shouldn’t be judgemental. We all go through fashion phases. But I never tattooed my lips purple.

Terrible fashion choices aside, we have an IT specialist, and the doctor seems confident in kes recovery. We’re a crew of six, now.

And if we can get Denish back into a safe atmosphere, we can keep it that way.

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2 thoughts on “022: SACRIFICE

  1. I was hoping this wouldn’t come to pass, but the more problems that arose the more it seemed like this was the only way out. Sure, in theory, this costs around 100 potential saved lives, but as of now they can’t exactly afford to lose any of the active crew, and who knows if they would have even been capable of pulling off the revivals in any other way? They tried everything in their power to save as many of these colonists as possible, but they didn’t know what was wrong with CR1, they couldn’t have foreseen things going the way they did, and it seems as if now saving the CR1 colonists may very well be impossible. I hate to say it, but I do believe Aspen made the best choice possible, given the scenario. Hopefully, all goes well, and we can get Denish back safe and sound.


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