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“Okay,” I say. “Now that we have full access to the ship, we – ”

“We don’t,” Tinera says.

“We… don’t?”

“Nope. Tal. Hey, Tal!”


“Tell the captain about the airlocks.”

“Okay. I can’t open the airlocks.”

I wait a few seconds, but no further explanation seems to be forthcoming. “Yes you can. You opened them to let us get to Denish.”

“Oh yeah, I got those ones open. I just took out that whole part of the emergency decompression protocol, which was stupid, and reset them; no problem. Rebuilding the protocols is the hard part because some idiot scrapped the original programming from the – ”

“But we’re still locked out of the front part of the ship somehow.”

“Yeah, we are. Anyway, some idiot scrapped the original programming from the memory logs which means I can’t just copy-paste, but there are records of safety protocols, like the ones written for the engineers, so I’m rebuilding the emergency systems response from the – ”

“Tal, how come you could get the airlocks open before and not now?”

“What? No. Different airlocks.”

“… What?”

Tal sighs impatiently. “Denish was trapped between two sets of airlocks. The ones between us and him, and the ones between him and the front. The ones between us and him I reset. The other airlocks are behind a captain’s password. I need your password to open them.”

Oh. Right. They’re the airlocks that had been on the other side of CR1, that Captain Reimann had locked.

“It’s not my password. The previous captain locked them.”

“Did you get the password from them?”

“What? No.”

“Oh. This’ll be hard, then. You should’ve gotten the password.”

“How… he… Tal, he went on a rampage, slaughtered a bunch of colonists, and died after cutting his own arm off. This was over two years before I woke up. I never met him.”

“Oh. Did he leave a note?”

“A… note?”

“With the password.”

“Why would he leave a note with the password?”

“It’d be a lot more convenient.”

I rub at my temples and briefly debate the merits of turning around and going back to bed. “Can you get the password?”

“Don’t know. Depends on how well Amy’s protected against brute forcing.”

“Who’s Amy?”

Adin pipes up. “Don’t ask – ”

“The AI. I call all my AIs Amy. Want to know why?”

“They don’t,” Tinera interjects quickly, at the same time that Denish hurriedly says, “The captain does not wish to know why.”

“It’s a good reason though. See, there’s this preneek science fiction story that – ”

“In terms of the topic at hand,” Tinera cuts kem off, “might I suggest we just use Denish’s method here, and take the airlock doors off? Both sides of the ship are pressurised and safe to breathe.”

“Except for the pathogenic mould spores on the other side,” the doctor interjects.

“Yeah, except that. Why not just cut through? I mean, we’ll lose the ability to section off Rec 1 from Storage 2, but in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think that’s going to matter.”

“And the sooner we get that done and put the other medbay back together, the faster we can fill this ship with colonists,” the doctor adds. “Assuming that’s still the intent, Captain?”

“Yeah,” I say. “You have one free bed right now, right?”

“Indeed. And if we fill it with a doctor, we’ll have a doctor per medbay and can safely revive colonists at twice the rate once they’re recovered.”

“Sounds good. Okay. You and I can get a doctor, and Denish can cut thr – ”

“Denish can’t use heavy machinery for a few days,” Tinera says. “I’m the primary assistant engineer, but I can’t use that big drill.” She waves her mangled left hand in explanation.

“Who’s the secondary assistant engineer?”

“You are.”

Oh. Right. I glance at the doctor.

“Adin can assist in reviving another doctor,” the doctor says. “He’s never done it, and if we’re going to be reviving a lot of people, the more of us who are familiar with the technique the better.”

“That… that makes sense,” I say. I know an ad-hoc justification when I hear one. The doctor would just rather not work with me. It doesn’t want to work with a murderer who it watched kill nearly nine hundred people. “Yeah, there’s a lot of engineering tasks to do today, anyway. Once we get through those doors, we need to repair the coolant leak before the front of the ship is livable.”

“Sweet, a game plan!” Tinera dramatically swigs the last of her water, and immediately starts coughing. Denish, unsurprised, pats her on the back.

“Captain,” the doctor says, “if you’re going to be lifting heavy machinery, you arm should be checked first, just to be certain the bone’s healed without any weak points.”

That sounded reasonable, so five minutes later I was in the medbay, letting the doctor position my arm for an X-ray.

After a long, awkward silence, I say, “Well? Are you going to yell at me?”

“What would be the point?” The doctor’s tone is angry, clipped. “The decision can’t be reversed.”

“And yet you’re clearly pissed at me for it, so – ”

“This friend will get over it. Turn your wrist a little this way, please. Yeah, just… yes, that’s right.”

“Well, what would you have done? Would you have just left Denish there to die?”

“Of course not. This friend would have attempted to find another way to save him.”

“And you would’ve failed! There wasn’t time!”

“Then he would have died. Alright, hold still.” The doctor slips behind the radiation shield to run the X-ray. “He would have died, and the colonists of Chronostasis Ring 1, almost a hundred of which we expected to be able to revive, would’ve lived. Are you really going to claim that Denish is worth a hundred people? That you think that was a good choice?”

“I’m the captain, and Denish is my crew! My responsibility – ”

“Is to the colonists we are shepherding to Hylara.”

“Which includes Denish! And you! And me!”

“Yes. It does. It includes all of us, and the colonists in Chronostasis Ring 1.” The doctor moves to the computer terminal to inspect the X-ray. “You’ll forgive this friend if it’s concerned that the person who’s making the decisions around here is willing to sacrifice a hundred of us to spare themselves the discomfort of seeing one die.”

“Do you want to be the captain? Do you want to make the decision next time? We can go to a computer right now and see if there’s a way to promote – ”

“Ideally, there won’t be a next time. And you know that would be highly inappropriate.”

“Oh, would it? Because you’re a Friend? Well, if the propriety of Public Friendship is more important to you than relying on someone who makes such bad leadership decisions, then I guess you’re saying you’d sacrifice those lives for propriety. And you’re telling me that Denish is worth less than that, huh?”

“It’s just that as the person responsible for making such decisions, you have a responsibility to – ”

“Be someone you can sit back and judge, safe in the knowledge that you don’t have to do such things? I know, you have a really stressful job, and you’ll probably have to make a lot of really hard decisions that I won’t even notice. But there’s not much in the way of dilemmas in your line of work, is there? Just accurate judgements, or mistakes. You can be incorrect, anyone is fallible, but not much room to need to make moral decisions.”

“That’s just proof that you know nothing about medicine.”

“You’re probably right. But I stand by my decision.”

“There’s no point in doing anything else, once a decision’s made. Your arm has healed up just fine, by the way. It shouldn’t be dangerous to the bone to use Denish’s drill.”

“Thank you.”

It purses its lips. “This wouldn’t have arisen if Denish had made the sensible decision to save himself instead of the friend in the limited time he had. You could’ve kept your engineer and avoided this whole unpleasant business.”

“It would’ve played out the same. I would have done the same thing to save you.”

“This friend could’ve used the nitrogen in its space suit to kill itself and force your hand.”

I cock my head. “You think you would’ve figured out what I was doing before it was too late? You didn’t figure it out on this side of the airlock, what makes you think you’d have figured it out on that side?”

“If you’d killed all of those people to save this friend, it would never, ever have forgiven you for it.”

“And I wouldn’t have cared.”

We stare at each other coldly for a few seconds.

“What about Tal?” the doctor asks. “Is ke worth only a hundredth of Denish?”


“Ke was one of those colonists. It was sheer chance that the emergency system woke kem before the decompression systems misfired. You abandoned nearly nine hundred Tals, nearly a hundred of which we could have expected to revive, in deep space.”

“That’s not – you can’t compare – ”

I’m cut off by Tal, who walks in, completely ignores both of us, fishes a small notebook out from under one of the beds, and walks back out again. I stare after kem.

“I have to go break through an airlock,” I mumble.

The doctor nods. “Provided revival goes well, there should be a new doctor waiting to meet you when you return. Good luck, captain.”

“You too.”

Between us, Tinera and I manage to wrestle control over the power tools well enough to follow Denish’s directions and cut our way through an airlock, albeit a lot messier than he could. He has the good grace to try to hide his amusement as we cut through the last bolt and Tinera, with a little cheer, shoves the final airlock door out of the way, granting us full access to all remaining rings of the Courageous.

And then she doubles over, coughing.

“Oh yeah,” I say, “sorry, I should’ve warned you. The air in there doesn’t smell great.”

“Did someone die in there?!” she gasps.

“A lot of people, most likely. But that’s the smell of the growth in the air filtration system. Once we fix the leak and purge it, we can open it back up to the rest of the ship and things should be fine.”

We moved through into Habitation Ring 1, and it was Denish’s turn to gasp. “Flowers?”

“I don’t know who the artist was,” I admit. “The AI would probably know.”

“I wonder what happened here,” Tinera murmurs, running her hand along a badly damaged plastic wall.

“Oh. That, uh, that was me. I fell onto it.”

“How did you fall onto a vertical wall and do that?”

“It’s… a long story.”

“Well, you’re absolutely going to have to tell it to me once we’re breathing air that doesn’t smell like a yeast refinery built next to a cracked sewer line in a habitat pod six months behind on air filtration maintenance.”

“Do you know how to repair a coolant leak?” I ask. “I don’t.”

“It can’t be too hard to figure out. Denish?”

He shrugs. “Instructions in computer, I am sure. I need to go to hospital now or get lecture from doctor for working too hard. You two enjoy disgusting job.”

“You’re abandoning us! Traitor!” Tinera gasps.

Denish grins. “Medicine is important! Good luck!”

She turns to me. “You know, as a leader, you should set a good example and do the coolant – ”

“It’s an engineering job,” I point out. “You outrank me in this sphere. Are you really going to force your assistant to do the unsavoury tasks, oh engineer?”

“Yes. Yes I am.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right.”

The panels in the wall between Pod Launch Ring 1 and Engine Ring 1 over the coolant lines are, of course, removable, for situations just like this. It’s easy to locate the little elevator platform in Engine Ring 1 that the computer had told me would lead up to the air and coolant pumps, and the damaged lines in the wall next to them. It’s just a big metal plate to stand on, on some big metal arms that can straighten out to raise it. Very industrial.

I take a screwdriver from my tool belt, wait for Tinera to elevate me, and start popping off wall panels. This requires more physical force than I’m used to using, but isn’t complicated.

“Hey, Tinera? Can I ask you a personal medical question?”

“Is it about the hand?”

“… A little bit?”

“Is it, ‘oh, hey, Tinera, given that synthetic nerves were perfected before you were born, why do you have that hand? Why didn’t you get it chopped off, get the implants, and get a mechanical hand that actually works properly?’ ”

“… Well, I wasn’t going to ask that tactlessly, but…”

“Then no, you may not ask me a personal medical question.”

“Alright then.” So far, the coolant lines look normal, or at least they look how I assume they’re supposed to look. Big undamaged tubes labelled COOLANT every twenty centimetres or so. I pop off another wall panel, lay it carefully on top of the others near my feet, and look behind it.

The automatic step I take backwards nearly has me walking off the elevator platform, I pinwheel my arms wildly for a few seconds before regaining my balance. “Fuck!”

“Everything alright?”

“Um. Well.” I make sure my footing is stable before looking back up. The white bones dangling down beside the coolant lines are almost completely clean of flesh and somewhat coated in inorganic fluids and patches of fungus, but they are unmistakeably bone. I lever my screwdriver under the edge of the wall panel above and pull, hoping to reveal more, but the panel is stuck somehow.

Well, okay then. I take a little torch from my toolbelt and shine it up behind the panel, leaning carefully forward to see what’s up there. I can’t see much through the fungus, but…


“What’s going on?”

“Well, you know the old adage about what a fox does when its leg is caught in a trap?”

“What’s a fox?”

“It’s a pre-Neocambrian animal. A bit like a dog?”

“What’s a dog?”

Oh right. She was from Luna. “Never mind. Point is.” I tug experimentally on the dangling bones. I can’t pull them free. “I think I know why Captain Reimann cut off his arm.”

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5 thoughts on “024: ACCESS

  1. Well, they’re making progress, at least. Aspen and the friend discussing what happened was…. something. I imagine things are gonna be patchy there for a bit. Other than that yeah glad to see the ship being explored, and Reimann’s arm is an interesting development I did not foresee.


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