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All six of us gather around Da-bin’s chronostasis pod. I’m not sure why, but everyone insisted on being there, despite the doctor’s warnings that there was a ninety one per cent chance that we were about to watch somebody die.
“Okay,” I say. “Start the process.”
The doctor sets its equipment bag down and swipes a finger across the controls, and the pumps whirr to life. The pod opens.
Da-Bin looks fairly average for a Martian. She’s very pale, although not as pale as the Friend, without much curl to her matted hair. She looks to be small, about Tinera’s height perhaps, although significantly stockier once she recovers from chronostasis if her shoulder width is anything to go by.
And, of course, there are the fingers and toes.
Tinera gasps, and steps back. “What’s wrong with her fingernails?!”
Da-bin’s fingernails and toenails are very, very long. They extend well past her digits, and curl over slightly. It’s what I’d expected to see, but Tinera, apparently, hadn’t.
“You not see pre-Neocambrian fingers before, Tiny?” Denish asks, amused.
“Tinera’s from Luna,” I remind him. “The KERA-1 geneset is practically extinct there. Tinera, almost all Martians, and about three per cent of Earthlings, have nails like this. It’s how nails used to grow for everyone before the Genetic Craze.”
“How can she do anything with her hands?”
“Oh, no; they’re usually kept shorter. They’re very easy to trim; see how thin they are? Her nails would’ve been about the length of yours when she went into chronostasis; they just grow very, very fast. They can be trimmed back down in the medbay, or she can do them herself when she wakes.”
“Preneek nails are the best,” Tal says. “I’m so jealous. My cousin, he used to have a nail salon that specialised in preneeks – see how thin they are? You can just glue an entirely fake fingernail right on top and no one can tell. He used to do a huge trade in fake nails, and Talia Zirconium, she’s this really cool zeelite model with KERA-1 who brought back the shiny miniskirt craze almost single handedly, she’d come in every two weeks for a new – ”
I tune kem out, because I’m busy reaching behind Da-bin’s head for the cerebral stimulator. I find it, and go to release it. My heart skips a beat.
I meet the doctor’s eyes. “It’s stuck.”
“Hold her head still,” the doctor says immediately, opening its equipment bag. “When she starts thrashing, don’t let her pull on the cord. Broken bones don’t matter, just keep the skull immobile. Denish, find a way to cut the power to this pod. However you can.”
Have you ever tried to hold down someone who’s having a fit? It’s generally not recommended, for both your safety and theirs. It’s also really, really hard. The spasms that wracked Da-bin’s body had no regard for trivial things like ‘the safe amount of force a human muscle can apply’ as they thrashed her body around; it was only with Adin, Tinera and Tal’s help that I was able to stop her from jerking forward and tearing the port (and attached brain matter) free of her skull. Meanwhile, Denish was jimmying a panel off the side of the pod with a tool from his belt, and the Friend was withdrawing something from its bag.
“Adin, move your arm!” the doctor calls, and slams something into Da-bin’s thigh, where Adin’s hand had been moments before. It’s an emergency medication needle, like the kind that people carry to treat anaphylactic shock, but judging from the bright blue colour, I assume it contains something else.
Somewhere beneath us is the sound of an electric zap, and Texan swearing. “Electricity is off!”
“Sever the lead of the cerebral stimulator,” the Friend says. “Then we can get her safely out of the pod and I can try to remove it in surgery.”
Whether from the medication or the power cut, Da-bin has gone limp, so we get out of Denish’s way while he severs the cord leading to her head with a pair of motorised cutters from his belt. The doctor removes Da-bin’s breathing tubes while he works, and Tinera, Adin and I, catching on to the process, start pulling out IV tubes. The moment Da-bin is free from leads and restraints, the Friend moves her to the floor and begins chest compressions. Tinera, one hand carefully holding the cerebral stimulator stable in its port, handles the breathing.
“This won’t work,” Tal says. “If she doesn’t start breathing upon revival, that means that the synnerves have – ”
“Shut up, Tal,” I say.
But ke’s right. The doctor gives up after about five minutes without Da-bin’s heart starting again, swearing quietly. “Captain, this friend would like to inspect the cerebral stimulator port before we move her to the freezer. This is the third colonist like this; if it’s an ongoing issue, we need to know what’s happening so we can figure out how to deal with it.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” I say. “Of course, this means that all three of out medbay beds are full. Until you’ve finished the autopsy, or Lina’s recovered enough to work, or Lilith either wakes from her coma or… doesn’t, we don’t have space to revive anyone else.”
“Is no problem,” Denish shrugs, “because time is not factor, yes? We know from first crew. Chances of waking low because of something that happened when we were asleep. Not time. So, is safe to leave asleep.”
“We don’t know that for sure,” I say. “There’s still a chance that they’re losing viability over time.”
“Yes, probably. But bigger question – is more dangerous to be asleep, or awake? With sleeping lady, we have eight people not in stasis. I assume you want to wake secondary assistant engineer from first crew; that is nine people. More people not in stasis is harder for ship to support. Maybe that is why second crew did not wake up replacements?”
“Also,” Adin cut in, “we might need someone specific in the future. Like right now, how we want an engineer who knows the ship’s systems? Maybe later we’ll need a, a fuel specialist, or a DNA specialist, or, I dunno, we’ll meet aliens or something and need a linguist. We can’t know who we’ll need. If we fill up the ship to capacity first…”
I look around at the rest of the crew. They’re nodding in agreement, except for Tal, who’s examining the cerebral cord that Denish cut and doesn’t seem to be paying any attention to the conversation. The boys do have a point – if the colonists aren’t quickly losing viability, then waking them could very well be more dangerous than leaving them in stasis. And we might need specific specialists; we should keep room for them, if we can. At least until we’ve got the ship in good working order, or as close to good working order as we can manage.
“Alright,” I say. “You’re right, we should put the mass revival project on hold for now. But Friend? I want you and Lina to keep an eye on the viability of the chronostatic colonists over time. If it is still dropping significantly, we’re revisiting this plan. And I still want us focused on maximising the capacity of this ship, just in case.”
“All three of the people with the badly installed ports were in the low viability category, right?” Tinera asks. “Do you think, maybe…?”
I shake my head. “This isn’t what’s causing the low viability. You and Adin were in that category too, as well as a couple of other people we lost between you, whose cerebral ports were fine. I’m sure the dodgy ports don’t help, but that’s not the factor we’re looking for.”
“Also,” the Friend points out, loading Da-bin’s body onto the stretcher, “all of our low viability candidates are from the front and back chronostasis rings. What are the chances that everyone who went to whoever put in the bad ports ended up in the same two, symmetrically opposed rings?”
“Can we track where people got ports done?” Denish asks. “If we find everyone who went to same doctor or company, we know who has bad ports.”
“Not that this friend knows of. Tal?”
“Is there a way for the computer to tell us where colonists got their cerebral stimulator ports installed?”
“I’ll look into it, doc.”
“Maybe I’m way off base here,” Adin cuts in, “not being a doctor or a computer guy or anything, but… does the computer system even know about the dodgy ports?”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“I mean, it’s not magic. It calculates survival odds based on the data it measures, right? Biometrics and stuff? Is there anywhere in that code that factors in a badly installed stimulator port? Does it have any way of knowing?”
“Good point,” the Friend says. “The revival chances we’re told probably don’t include faulty hardware. It’s likely that Da-bin’s chances were much lower than nine per cent, with the bad port installation, and the computer had no way of knowing.”
“How widespread do we expect this problem to be?” I ask.
“Seventeen and a half per cent,” Tal answers immediately. I look at kem in surprise. Ke rolls kes eyes. “So far, seventeen people have been roused. Us eight survivors, including coma lady, and nine dead. Three have bad ports; that’s seventeen point six five per cent.” Ke thinks for a moment. “Assuming an even distribution of bad ports and ignoring the normal errors with small sample populations, of course. Seventeen out of five thousand is an absurdly small sample size. Also, you and the doc were woken because you had a high chance of surviving, and Tinera and Adin were woken because they had a low chance, and we don’t know my chances but I was from a ring with hundreds of ten per centers, so if there is an effect on viability that’s gonna screw up the numbers. Which there could be, because, yeah, the system might not be able to detect the bad ports, but if the bad ports affect the biometrics…”
“But based on what we have,” I cut in, “a little under one fifth might have these?”
“Yeah, which would be around seven hundred colonists, less if a lot of our remaining four thousand have died; I haven’t checked. But again, this estimate is really bad, it’s based on a very small number.”
“Well, if you can find out who installed their ports, we can get a better one.”
“If it’s there, it’s probably info that only you or the doc can access. But I can try to find out if it’s there.”
I head off for the greenhouses, feeling kind of awkward. Somehow, everyone on the ship is incredibly busy except for me. Our Friend, Denish, and Tal all have long lists of important tasks, meaning that Tinera’s pulling logistics for everyone at once and Adin has no help in janitorial work for the whole ship, while I have… some weeding to do. Well, realistically, I’ll be acting as Adin’s assistant once I’ve finished in the greenhouses, but still, the fact that my to-do list is comparatively tiny feels wrong, especially since I’m making the decisions. It feels like cheating.
I can’t even do my own jobs properly, since I can’t really be captain and psychologist at the same time, but it seems a bit silly to revive a proper psychologist now that we know how small the ship’s capacity is. We’ll just have to make do. I race through my work, and rush off to help Adin.
I find him in Network and Engineering Ring 1, broom in his hands, having a furious argument with Denish, who’s under a desk messing with a computer terminal. They’re speaking Texan so I have no idea what the argument is actually about, but they both sure have strong opinions on it. Adin spots me before I can quietly retreat, and hoists a smile on his face. “Captain! What can we do for you?”
Denish stops ranting mid-sentence. “Captain!” He peeks his head out from under the desk. “All is okay?”
“Everything’s fine. Is everything okay with you two?”
“Yeah, it’s not important,” Adin says, ignoring Denish muttering something darkly in Texan. “What’s up?”
“I cam to see if you needed help with anything, actually,” I say. “The greenhouses are in order and it’s a big ship.”
“Oh! Actually yeah, we need to get the clean air filters put back in today. Tinera was going to do it, but she’s playing doctor while the doc does the autopsy, so…”
“It seems that half my life is changing air filters. On it.” As I leave, I hear their bickering start up again.
Whatever they’re angry about, I hope it doesn’t affect the rest of the ship.
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