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I think the crew are hiding something.

And I know how that sounds, okay? I know. I’m very well aware that paranoia is an extremely common symptom of all kinds of stress-induced mental illnesses. I know that there are all kinds of things on this ship that can very, very easily cause paranoia in the human mind. I know, and as the psychologist I’ve been screening the others for it, or at least I would if they would be honest with me which they never are. I’m supposed to be relying on the assistant psychologist, who is Lina now according to the ship, but I can’t exactly do that, can I? Because then she’d know that I know that she’s hiding something.

I know the effects of living in a confined space. I know the effects of living with a severely restricted social group and no outside contact. I know that some kinds of malnutrition or food poisoning, both risks with our severely out-of-date food stocks and only minimal garden produce as of yet, can cause hallucinations and paranoia and emotional instability and all that. I know that our air filtration and purification systems are definitely not up to code, and there are all kinds of chemicals that can leak into the air that cause those same things. I know that some engines when attached to ships of certain sizes or shapes can cause undetectable sounds that influence the minds of some people. I know that the lighting systems on the ship, as much as we try to emulate a normal Earth day, are artificial, and are different to the light my mind is conditioned to expect (although I never had any problem with the artificial lighting on Luna). I know that chronostasis can have all sorts of long-term nervous, hormonal, and metabolic effects that can affect one’s frame of mind.

I know that my predecessor lead this ship just fine for over ten years before somethingmust have gone wrong for him and he suddenly decided to sabotage it and slaughter a bunch of static colonists with an axe.

But I’m not paranoid. They’re hiding something.

It’s been nearly two months since we woke Lina, and the ship is in generally good shape. The Friend accepted last week that Lilith won’t be waking up and took her off life support, freeing up all the medbay beds. Nothing critical to human life has broken in weeks, Lina’s almost at full strength, we have more medical assistance than we need for once, and except for the occasional Big Maintenance Day, we’re all on a much more sane four-hour workday, which has done wonders for everyone’s mood. Tomorrow, we’ll be harvesting lettuces and fast-growing legumes from the greenhouses, adding some much-anticipated fresh food to everyone’s diets; people have been looking forward to it so much that it was unanimously agreed to put security cameras in the greenhouses, of all places, so that people wouldn’t be tempted to sneak a snack and strip the plants before the official harvest. Lina and the Friend have used their free time between dealing with injuries to set up a moss oil farm so we have actual oil products now, and Adin has gotten really good at baking. The window boxes in both Habitation Rings flourish with herbs, and he’s been experimenting with different herb breads.

And yet, several times now I’ve walked in on tense, muttered conversations that are immediately replaced with lighthearted smiles when I enter. Not unusual; in a small group, there’s going to be personal drama, and nobody wants the captain to be privy to the sordid details of who slept with who and who stole whose favourite coffee cup. But if there was that kind of personal drama, I would’ve seen it elsewhere; someone would complain where I could hear it, someone would be gossiping. I’ve started keeping a tally, and so far I’ve walking in on everyone either arguing or intensely discussing something with every other person, at least once, and I’ve heard and seen nothing about it. Whatever the drama is, they’re deliberately keeping it from me.

Which is ridiculous. That’s a ridiculous thing to worry about. What kind of Evil Sinister Plan could they even have? We’re stuck on a ship for the next five years; we all have the same overall goal of reaching our destination alive with our cargo of colonists and colony supplies. There’s nothing to gain from scheming! If they were anti-expansionists and wanted to sabotage the ship, they’d have done that months ago. Tal figured out how to delete the emergency protocols of the airlocks within minutes of waking up, while concussed; Denish is constantly maintaining critical ship systems. Either of those could ensure our ship never got to its destination, if they wanted. If they had some sinister plot to kill me… again, any of them could do that. Denish and Tal could use their knowledge of the systems, Lina and the Friend are responsible for my healthcare, Adin prepares most of our food, and Tinera probably wouldn’t hesitate to cut my throat in my sleep if she had to, so long as she could leave before having to see too much blood. If there was some big evil conspiracy to kill me or scuttle the ship, it would have been over long before I had a chance to notice anything.

Even a mutiny doesn’t make sense. I suggested waking a new captain and everyone else was against it. If they wanted one of them to be in charge… well, they wouldn’t need secrecy for that. There’s six of them and one of me. They wouldn’t even need to use force; they could just start ignoring my orders and obeying someone else, and what would I be able to do about it?

I hope it is a mutiny. I hope they do it soon. I don’t want me as captain either.

Realistically, though, the concept of any kind of conspiracy just doesn’t make sense. If they were unhappy enough with my leadership to mutiny, several of them would have said it to my face by now. And the other options… well, this isn’t some preassembled crew. Maybe whatever happened with Reimann involved dealing with proper sabotage, either as the sabateur or defender, I don’t know, but these people had no opportunity to organise before leaving Earth, because they had no idea they’d be woken. The computer chose to wake me because I was the most likely to survive and recover from revival; I chose to wake the Friend because of its credentials and high chance of survival. Denish was woken by me for his engineering skills; Adin and Tinera just happened to be the lowest viability colonists to survive waking up (my plan). None of us chose Tal. This group has nothing in common, beyond being considered eligible for the Javelin Program; there’s no reason that they should share any goals or perspectives that are opposed to mine specifically. Some kind of sinister conspiracy doesn’t make sense.

More likely, they just don’t like me. Maybe they’re just maintaining emotional distance and I’m misreading, seeing conspiracy where it doesn’t exist.

Or maybe they are hiding something, but for compassionate reasons. Maybe… maybe they have access to information that they think might hurt me. Personal information. About my cluster, my mother… my siblings, maybe? My sister Shia had died before I’d signed up for the program, but if they know something painful about my tyber, Fir… no, that doesn’t explain the fervent disagreements. Still, it makes more sense than anything else.

But the idea that there isn’t some kind of conspiracy is worse, when you think about it. That means that I really might be suffering from paranoia. Does the fact that I can dismiss my suspicions mean I’m fine, or can paranoid people do that? See, this is why we need a proper psychologist. One who isn’t hiding something, so I can talk to them. Anyway, if I am getting paranoid, that’s a serious problem. That kind of thing is massively detrimental in a captain. It puts the safety of my crew at risk.

Worse: whatever’s affecting me might also be affecting them. Maybe that’s why they’re sneaking around. If we’re all thinking like this, that’s a disaster waiting to happen.

Is this what happened to Reimann? Is this why the majority of his crew, locked up the front of the ship with access to plenty of supplies to last them the whole journey, died off one by one, taking the time to paint memorials of each other on the doors but for some reason never cleaning the infected cooling and ventilation systems? Is this why Captain Kinoshita and the janitor and the scientists, locked in the back three quarters of the ship and probably believing themselves the only survivors, didn’t revive new crewmates from the five chronostasis rings they had access to?

I should keep an eye on them. If I can observe paranoid behaviour, put it together with what I suspect in myself, then I can make a case to the others that there’s a problem and we can work towards a solution. That’s a reasonable, constructive thing to do. Yeah, I can figure out what they’re hiding from me without having to resort to silly theories about sinister conspiracies. This was for their own good. I can be a good captain.

I find a computer terminal and check where they all are now. Adin is in a greenhouse. Tal and Lina are in one of the network and engineering rings, the rings with the most computer terminals in them; they’re probably playing computer games or something. The Friend is in the kitchen. Denish and Tinera are in Engine Ring 1.


Engine Rings 1 and 2 are the rings at either end of the ship. They contain the back halves of the main thrusters, and are a place where the engineers can access the fuel pumps and pipes and things in an oxygenated environment without having to go outside. They’re also the rings that all the bulky shielding at either end of the ship is mounted to. I’ve only ever been in Engine Ring 1 once, to deal with the coolant leak; it’s where we found Captain Reimann’s arm bones. With the engine on and the coolant system working, there’s not really any reason to go in there.

Now, a paranoid person, one who isn’t fit for command, might be suspicious about this. Such a person might wonder why, in a ship full of well-equipped work and recreational areas, these two (who were hiding something) would go all the way to the barely-used front of the ship and linger in the one ring that nobody was going to walk through. Such a person might even wonder why the guy who had discovered that a broken engine was the cause of our extended trip and all the troubles we’d faced would be hanging around the working engine and not telling their captain about it.

But I can’t afford to be that kind of person, so I take a deep breath and tell myself to stop being so fucking stupid. There’s nothing weird about the senior engineer and the primary assistant engineer being in an Engine Ring. They were probably working. Yes, it was a little weird that they hadn’t informed the captain if there was an engineering problem, or enlisted my help as the secondary assistant engineer, but so what? Maybe they were making some small repair, or running diagnostics on some system in there that I didn’t know about. Denish was forever doing little maintenance jobs, and only told me if they were a likely problem, or if he needed my help.

They might not even be working. There were perfectly understandable reasons why two adults with a lot of spare time on their hands, both originating from primarily pair-bonding cultures, would want to hang out in the part of the ship least likely to be trafficked by anything else. Tinera has been flirting less and less subtlely with Denish over the past couple of months; maybe that’s going somewhere. Mostly the crew uses the uninhabited Habitation Ring 1 if they want that kind of privacy, but there’s no accounting for taste. Anyway, if they want privacy, they should have privacy. Nothing suspicious about privacy.

So I wait until Tinera has left the ring before I drop by. Just to check up on the engines. Make sure nothing looks obviously tampered with. Maybe find out why Denish is still hanging around in there – not because I’m suspicious or anything, the man’s probably doing his job, but just to see if he needs my help as an assistant engineer.

I walk into Engine Ring 1 to a scene that I don’t expect.

Two laboratory tables have been moved into the ring. They’re covered with some glassware and various probes. Some I recognise, like the pH probe, and some I don’t. A microscope sits in one corner. There’s a rack of test tubes; some are filled with a blue fluid that I instantly recognise as coolant.

Oh, this makes sense! Denish has been keeping an eye on the coolant, probably worrying about recontamination or further leaks, and doesn’t want to have to lug samples all the way down to the laboratory ring all the time. He’s just being dutiful, and here I was being unfairly suspicious of him. He’s probably monitoring other stuff from here, too, with this other equipment; as I look around, I see him messing around behind a removed wall panel with some machine I’m unfamiliar with.

“Hi, Denish,” I say.

He jumps, hits his head on the wall, and swears. “Hello, Captain,” he calls, head still in the wall. “I can help with something?”

“Actually, I wanted to see if you need any help. What’s that you’re messing with?”

“Oxygen system. It not hearing some detectors properly. Not problem now, but I fix before it is big problem. Is one-person job, though.”

I know when I’m being politely told to fuck off. “Okay, good luck.”

And then I catch sight of something on one of the lab tables. It’s a small device, about the size of a broad bean when assembled, although it’s in pieces at the moment. I can tell how big it is assembled because the tiny white and blue plastic case sits to one side, a couple of thin wires leading from metal connectors within to a small pile of unidentifiable electronics laid out carefully on a mat. Some of the tiny pieces have been pinned to the mat with very small staples, and little labels written next to them in Texan. The whole project is surrounded by hastily scrawled mathematical calculations devoid of context.

“Hey,” I ask, “what’s this?”

Denish must have caught my tone, because he pulls himself back from the wall and practically launches himself across the room. “Oh, that? Is piece of oxygen system! Is for detectors, see; some are broken, I need to learn how. Am not spaceship scientist, but systems need one! I learn fast.”

“Good work, Denish,” I say, and leave the room. There’s no sense on me pressing for more information. He’d only keep lying, and if I push him too far, he’ll realise that I know he’s lying.

I have no idea what that deconstructed device is. But I’m certain it’s not part of the ship’s oxygen detection system. I know this, because I recognise the casing. I’ve seen it before.

I saw it two months ago, in Laboratory Ring 1, hooked up to Tal’s computer and covered in Da-bin’s blood.

What the fuck is going on?

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5 thoughts on “031: CONSPIRACY

  1. Is this where the crew makes less wise decisions than the teenagers?~ It’s such a joy to keep up with both your series, I love them!


  2. aa I just read this story last week and am completely enthralled in the narrative. Read the whole thing multiple times, and I don’t usually reread anything ever! It’s just that good though!
    The psychology of Aspen Greaves is a fun ride, love (and hate) where you’re going with this… it was so nice that there were more awake people to keep Aspen company, but then as captain they don’t get to really be friends it seems 😦
    Also I love the way you do worldbuilding in organic little bits like “republic of Texas” “a sane, 4 hour work-day” “primarily pair-bonding culture” “nudity taboo” it’s just enough information to extrapolate from and build a picture of the world from. It makes me realllyy want to know more about this future, even though the wider world is really aside to the main plot here 😛
    Looking forward to whatever comes next!


  3. I have the same question, Aspen. I hope the author is kind enough to let us both in on this soon because I may just explode from the frustration of not-knowing soon if I don’t get the information.


  4. Hmm. If the ship records might or might not have been tampered with, no one else can be sure that Aspen’s account of how they woke up is accurate.


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