025: FOX

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“I’ll get the doctor,” Tinera says.

“It’s probably a bit busy now, reviving patients.”

“I’ll find out. But it’s probably the best one to figure out anything from this, right? I mean, we don’t have a proper coroner, but…”

“Yeah. Good point.”

A couple of minutes later, the entire crew is gathered in Engine Ring 1. Well, me and the five others I know, anyway.

“Did you find a new doctor?” I ask the Friend.

“Yes. Her name’s Lilith. She hasn’t woken up.”

“Hasn’t woken up at all? How long – ?”

“Long enough for the anaesthetic to have worn off, doesn’t respond to stimulants, runs flat on all reflex tests. She’s in a coma.”


“Impossible to know. Either she’ll wake up or she won’t.” It climbs onto the elevator platform. Tinera elevates it.

From the floor, none of us have a great view of what it’s doing. We just stand around awkwardly for a few minutes.

“So,” I say to Denish. “Are you feeling alright? Recovering well?”

“Yes, captain.”

Nothing further. Okay. I turn to Tal. “How about you? You hit the airlock door pretty hard right after waking up.”

“Yeah but the doctor says that for a few weeks I need to take it easy and not twist my head like this.” Before I can stop kem, ke twists kes head viciously to one side, winces, and stumbles slightly.

“Don’t do that!”


I make a mental note to check Tal’s psyche profile and run an evaluation. Ke’s obviously got an edge neurotype which explains a lot of kes behaviour, but this kind ofpoor decision making ability and impulse control might be a sign of post-chronostasis brain damage instead. If that’s the case, we need to know.

That, or everyone just does dumb stuff sometimes. Who’s to say.

But this, I realise, is kind of a problem. I can’t to a proper psyche eval on Tal. Actually, Tal might not mind, just because of kes general personality, but I certainly can’t maintain the psychological health of the rest of the crew. None of them are going to give me the kind of information I need for that, because I’m their captain. According to my rankings in the computer, I’m a better psychologist than captain. But for as long as I’m captain, we don’t have a ship psychologist. So we’re going to need to revive a new captain.

Shouldn’t be hard. There are over a thousand candidates.

“Denish,” the doctor calls, “can you come and look at this?”

After a few minutes’ discussion and work together, the doctor and Denish manage to free the arm and bring it down. The doctor lays it on a fuel contained at table height, and brushes some fungus away with one gloved hand.

“Okay, so here’s what we think happened. Reimann pulled a wall panel away, attempting to access something in the ventilation or coolant pump systems. But something went wrong, and he ended up with a shard of metal through his hand, here.” It points one gloved hand to a broken bone in the skeletal palm.

“Is piece of case for air pump,” Denish explains. “He undid hatch while it under pressure, from wrong angle – boom, straight through hand. Jammed into coolant line, too deep to remove.”

“He would have tried to work himself free,” the doctor continues, indicating what’s presumably signs of this on the hand but just looks like a pile of bones to me, “before being driven to more desperate measures.”

“Marks on panel in front of pumps show he try to remove, but they are tricky. Screwed in, for safety. He used axe for other panel, we think; does he have screwdriver? Maybe no, or maybe cannot reach. Cannot remove panel to get space to try to free hand.”

“He probably first attempted to break his elbow, and sever the arm there.” It taps the elbow. “But the screwed panel was in the way, and he wouldn’t be able to get any leverage. He was forced to cut through the upper arm bone, severing a coolant line and cutting open a ventilation line in the process. And then tourniqueted the wound, and presumably headed for Chronostasis Ring 1 for his rampage.”

“And he replace wall panel over his dead arm and broken lines first, for some reason,” Denish adds, shrugging. “I think others not do that, or they would repair lines and take arm.”

I nod. A fox in a trap. “So it wasn’t random self-mutilation. He was trying to sabotage the ship, got himself trapped, and had no other way to free himself. This tells us he was probably acting alone, if there was no one to call for help. And it tells us that he was determined enough to cut off his own arm to get to colonist-slaughtering, rather than wait to be found, freed, and arrested, or whatever.”

“That’s an awkward angle, too,” Tinera says, twisting her own arm forward and lying the edge of her other hand against it to demonstrate. “One-handed, with an axe, no leverage. And he got through bone. That’s desperate, hysterical strength right there.”

“He was about to go on rampage.”

“Yeah, but remember the actual colonists? Pretty shallow cuts, where he missed their necks.”

“He’d probably lost a lot of blood by then,” the doctor says, brushing fungus from the bones and examining them more closely. “Captain, this friend would like to run some analyses on these, if that’s alright?”

“Of course,” I say. “I’d like to make it to our destination with something to bury, or burn, of Captain Reimann, but there’s no reason you can’t analyse it. It’s not going to decompose any more than it already has.” We didn’t have a full body, because I’d ejected that into space with Chronostasis Ring 1, along witha thousand colonists who would never get a burial.

The doctor nods and picks up the bones. “Tal, can you check the computers for something? It might be a little complicated.”

I look at the rest of the crew. Adin, eyeing bits of fungus now littered over the fuel tank as if it’s about to jump up and infect his own bones. Tinera, running a hand over her bald head as if forgetting she doesn’t currently have hair to run it through. Denish, frowning up at the spot where we’d found the arm.

“Well,” I say.

“Well,” Tinera says. “This ship is super fucked up.”

“It really is!” Adin adds. “It’s like, every time we think we’ve figured out how fucked up it is, it somehow becomes more fucked up! That’s all the dead captain pieces, right? We’ve found all the bits of dead captain?” He looks at me, like I’ll know the answer.

“Well, we didn’t do a full autopsy of Reimann in Chronostasis Ring 1, but yeah, I’m sure the doctor would’ve mentioned if he’d been missing any other limbs. However, there’s still… fifteen bodies, I think, of the secondary crew that are unaccounted for. I assume they’re either ejected into space or in one of the freezers I haven’t checked, but…”

Adin groans and puts his head in his hands.

Denish claps his hands together. “So, excitement is over! Back to work, yes? We fix cooling lines!”

Ugh, I’d forgotten we still had to do that. But the sooner the system was fixed, the sooner we could drain and purge everything, and have fully functional and fungus-free air and coolant again. “Ugh,” I say. “Fine.”

“No, no. I am here now, I can do.”

“The doctor doesn’t want you doing – ”

“Bah, our Friend is overprotective. More, our Friend is busy with new puzzle. It check bones, I fix coolant. More efficient than you fix coolant. Second and third engineer, have other tasks, yes? Purge coolant, change all the filters! And Adin, you are senior maintenance! Much cleaning!”

“Hooray,” Adin says, deadpan.

We get to work. Tinera and I go ring by ring, removing air filters for replacement after the system is cleaned. We tiptoe a little awkwardly around the painted surfaces in Habitation Ring 1, and I can’t help but feel kind of bad about the fact that these rooms will soon be inhabited. When the ship is full of colonists, we’ll have to clean out these neat little rooms full of the clothing and trinkets of the dead and replace them with new things used by new people. Unless there’s a skilled and interested artist to maintain them, the flowers on the walls will crumble and peel away, those painted on the floor will be worn away by regular footfalls, and if we’re not careful, even the more stable memorials painted on the doors may succumb to wear and damage. These people signed up to give ten years of their lives to safely guide us to our new homes, and ended up giving their entire lives. And when new people move in to use this space, all that was left of them, except possibly for some bodies in a freezer we haven’t discovered yet, will be slowly destroyed and replaced.

Sad, but necessary. Our responsibility is to the living, not the dead. The best thing we can do to honour that crew is to keep as many of their charges alive as possible.

Soon, Tinera and I are looking down at a pile of smelly, infected disposable filters.

“We should incinerate these,” I say.

“Do we have an incinerator?”

“Yes. In the medbays. I’ll deal with it; you go and see if Denish needs assistance.”

Tinera doesn’t argue. She has her strengths, but a strong stomach isn’t one of them – it’s something common to offworlders, I’ve noticed. Well, the Martians are fine with it, but Lunari and shipdwellers have a really sensitive disgust reflex. I wonder how she’d fare in Arborea Atlantica, scooping up handfuls of slimy water from between the roots of our floating forests and trying to diagnose rhizome infections based on smell alone.

Well, we’re on a ship now, so her instincts are probably more appropriate anyway. This should be a more sterile environment than I’m used to, and wild growth outside of designated greenhouse areas is a sign that something is wrong, so a stronger stomach is nothing to be smug about. I pick up as many filters as I can carry (which isn’t many; they’re not heavy, but they’re bulky) and head for the nearest medbay.

Tal and the Friend are having a conversation as I approach the door.

“I get where you’re coming from, doc,” Tal says. “Obviously, yes, the captain is a massive problem that we need to keep an eye on.”

Hmm. I stop walking.

“I’m just saying,” Tal continues, “I think there’s a bigger problem here.”

“How can anything possibly be bigger? Our lives – ”

“I know, I get it! I’m working on the passcode, but it’s not something that can be bruteforced – I’m trying, but there’s an attempt limit, so it’s simply not going to work? That, yeah, is our biggest problem, but this tampering stuff… there might be another explanation.”

“You’re saying the records weren’t tampered with.”

“I can’t ever say that. I’m saying I haven’t found any evidence that they were. Whoever messed with Amy’s emergency protocols on the airlocks, whatever they did, they didn’t do anything similar to Reimann’s records, but there’s always the chance they did something I won’t find. I’ll keep asking Amy, but I’m not magic.”

Ah. Reimann. That captain problem. I relax a little.

“But have you considered,” Tal continues, “what it means if the records haven’t been tampered with?”

“Of course. He lost his arm in that vent, trying to mess with the coolant system; that’s indisputable. So we have to hope that the records are wrong, because if they’re right… yes, Tal, this friend is well aware of what that means.”

“Are you? Because I’m not. You’re thinking of what this means for the cap, which is the boring question.”

“Our safety is hardly– ”

“The more interesting question is, how? If they’re right, that sucks, but how can they be right? Amy’s not smart enough for this! It’s impossible!”

“So you’re saying they have been tampered with after all.”

“No, I’m saying it’s impossible that they haven’t. Very different thing. I need to look into this a lot more, I need to ask Amy about – oh, hi, Captain.”

“Hi,” I say, walking in. “Just need to incinerate these. What are you guys talking about?”

“A mystery, I think, maybe,” Tal says. “Or maybe not. I need to look into it some more. Doc, I need the medical records of some colonists.”

“You… why?”

“For statistics. It’s important, trust me.”

“How’s our new doctor?” I ask. “Still sleeping?”

The Friend nods. “Comatose, no change. Over there.” It indicates a figure in the far bed, face concealed by a breathing mask.

“She can’t breathe independently?”

“She hasn’t done so yet. There is always a slim hope that she’ll recover, but it’s looking less and less likely. Since Denish and Tal seem determined to not occupy hospital beds like good little patients, though, we can revive a couple more tomorrow.”

I nod as I shove the filters into the incinerator. I make a mental note to get the crew together before then. They all deserve to know in advance that I’m going to ask the doctor to revive us a better captain.

For logical reasons. So I can properly be the psychologist.

The relief I’m feeling at the mere thought of not being in charge of all this any more is just a coincidence.

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6 thoughts on “025: FOX

  1. this is Fantastic. I love it so much. what was happening?? why?? why did the AI. revive one person, and why specifically this one? I love it


  2. This is so good! Every time I think u know what’s going to happen something nuts happens and it’s really keeping me on the edge of my seat!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ok I love this, I binge read the whole thing in 1 day. but could someone PLEASE explain what a Public Universal Friend is supposed to be?


    1. This is the original: the founder of the Quakers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Universal_Friend

      In this work, it’s described as a “service cult” (it’s in an earlier chapter). It’s always more implied than outright explained, which seems realistic, but basically they seem to be like a massively self-sacrificial person who places themselves at the bottom of any importance stack in order to… absolve themselves of the terrible, complex and often hellish problem of existing as a human being in the world, I guess? It reminds me a little of some of the cults in Transmetropolitan, lol.


      1. Oops I am wildly incorrect about them being the founder of the Quakers. That Wiki article is a fantastic read though. I particularly like the part where Sarah Friend falls in lesbians with the P.U.F. and they move in together.


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