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Everything about this situation makes less and less sense. Why would Denish be deconstructing a device from Da-bin’s body? And why would he lie about it? The idea that the device is from her body isn’t hard to accept; lots of people have implants. I’d assumed, when I saw Tal analysing it for the Friend, that it probably recorded some kind of biometric data; perhaps it’s a pacemaker or hormone regulator or nervous stimulator of some kind, and the Friend had wanted to know what had been happening in Da-bin’s body while she was in chronostasis. That isn’t particularly notable or surprising. But Denish pulling it apart? Out here, in a little laboratory he’d set up where nobody was likely to come across it (without telling me, the captain) instead of our perfectly good laboratory ring? And then lying to me about it? That’s nonsensical. Even if Denish’s skills are relevant to unravelling what had happened to the static colonists, it makes no sense that the crew would work secretly to do that.
Other option: I was mistaken. I’d seen Da-bin’s implant for barely a few seconds before the Friend had intervened and lead me off to a lab table, and that had been two months ago. Small white plastic devices can look similar. The blue stripes seemed distinctive, but what do I know of implants or oxygen detectors? Maybe the detectors that Denish is working with just happen to also be small, blue and white, plastic-encased devices. If anything, the fact that I can remember Da-bin’s random implant so clearly, and that I was so certain that they were the same thing when I looked at Denish’s bench, indicates that I probably am wrong. Human memory doesn’t work that clearly. But paranoia can.
But let’s assume I’m not wrong. The crew is hiding something from me, and it involves this implant, and, and…
I don’t know. Again, it doesn’t matter. I can’t stop them from doing whatever they want anyway.
I need a psychologist. A real psychologist. A psychiatrist, ideally. One of the colonists has to be one, right? I’m not going to go waking people up without consulting the crew, but I should at least check the options.
I head for Network and Engineering Ring 2. Half the crew are there, all in their own little cubicles, playing some kind of computer game together. I don’t recognise it (never really been into computer games), but it’s one of those ones where you build a town and gather resources to make armies to kill each other. Adin and Denish are absent, but the others all mumble distracted greetings as I enter, not daring to look away from their screens.
I find a computer of my own and prepare to talk to the AI.
Are there any qualified psychiatrists in chronostasis?
– There are fourteen qualified psychiatrists in chronostasis. –
The computer does. I stare at the names, unseeing. Just more meaningless names of more people sleeping on this ship. I remember when I first played detective with this colony, looking through their identities and histories like I could figure out the dynamic of the society that they were going to create, like I could do my job as a sociologist; turns out I can’t even predict the dynamics of my own crew. But then, the world I’d worked so hard to understand, I’d left behind, hadn’t I? The Exodus Phenomenon had gotten me as well as it had gotten the four colonists playing computer games with each other in the cubicles next to me, and maybe gotten Denish (I still wasn’t sure if he was a convict or not; Adin quite probably was, and had presumably been forced to come). And now we were off being new, different people.
Ha, I remembered being blindsided by the knowledge that this was a convict ship. It’s a bit much to get thrown at you out of nowhere. Had the two proper crews of the Courageous known?
Actually, that’s… a really good question. Had Captain Reimann known? Reimann had been from the Republic of Texas. There’s a pretty severe anti-convict sentiment among the privileged classes in Texas. Reimann had, so far as I could tell, faithfully and competently served this ship for over a decade, shepherding these colonists to a new home in conditions harsher than he’d expected on a work shift twice as long as he’d been promised. And then, one day, he started killing them.
“Tal?” I ask. “I have some questions for you later, when you’re not busy.”
“I’m not busy now.” I can’t physically see Tal in the next cubicle over, but kes typing doesn’t even pause. “What do you need?”
“It’s not urgent; if you need to concentrate – ”
“On this? This is just math,” Ke says as Tinera swears loudly and marches out of her cubicle. “What’s up?”
“Do you remember when we went into Chronostasis Ring 1?”
“Well, no, because I was in chronostasis for most of it, but I remember that it happened.”
“Right… so, the video feeds that the space suits took. Are they recorded somewhere that you can access? I know the AI’s fiddly about what data you can access.”
“I can have a look. You need the feed right now?”
“No. Later is fine.”
“Any feed in particular?”
“I need the Public Universal Friend’s camera feed.”
“Why?” the Friend asks.
“I want to see if we can see the ID numbers on the coffins. I want to know who, specifically, Reimann killed.”
“Why?” Tinera asks, bluntly. “Everyone in CR1 is dead now anyway. Except Tal I guess.”
“And don’t you lot wish otherwise,” Tal says triumphantly as Lina grunts in frustration.
“That took me ten minutes to build!”
“And now it’s kindle. Upgrade your archers next time.”
“I want to find out why Reimann did what he did, if I can. It seems strange to spend over a decade doing his job and then sabotage the ship; if he was a saboteur, why not scuttle it right after recovering from chronostasis? I want to know if he was targeting specific colonists. Or specific types of colonists.”
“Specific types?” Tinera asks. “Like he was super nationalist or hated some religion a lot or something?”
I shake my head. “National or religious diversity among your colonists isn’t something you’re surprised by twelve years into your shift. Anyway, this ship’s far less diverse than you’d expect in that regard, for one specific reason. Which I think might be the problem.” I bite my lip. “I never really brought this up, because it’s never really been relevant, but shortly after I woke from chronostasis, I had a look at the colonist records. It turns out – and I don’t know why, before you ask – that eighty per cent of the colonists this ship left with were convicts from the Republic of Texas.”
Tinera stares at me, mouth open. Lina and the Friend stand up to stare at me over the cubicle dividers.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” I snap. I really hope none of them are going to be weird about this; if me telling them this means that someone’s going to give Adin or Denish a hard time… “Sometimes people go to jail. They were still considered eligible for the program so I’m sure it’s fine. But in the absence of any other obvious motivation, I’m thinking… maybe Reimann had a different opinion.”
They keep staring.
“Let me just make sure I fully understand what you’re saying,” Lina says. “You think that Captain Reimann, the second captain of the Courageous, did not know that this was a convict ship, and then found out twelve years into his shift and started killing convicts?”
“That’s my hypothesis,” I say.
“And, um. Just checking.” Tinera looks to be trying not to laugh – what’s so funny? “When did you learn about this?”
“Uh… a day or two before waking the Friend, I think?”
“And then you woke this friend to deal with your wounds,” the Friend says.
“Why this friend specifically?”
“Because you were the most qualified doctor who was the most likely to survive. We’ve been through this.”
“I just won, by the way,” Tal calls. “That’ll happen if you guys walk away from your computers.”
Everyone ignores kem. They stare at me, and then Tinera and Lina turn to stare at the Friend, who puts its head in its hands.
“Captain Greaves,” it says, “this friend owes you an apology. It has made some rather erroneous and uncharitable assumptions.”
“What do you me – ?”
“No, don’t apologise,” Tinera says, “this is the funniest thing ever. Captain, you’ve gotta tell the boys about this.”
“About us being a convict ship. We have to find them right now. I want to see the looks on their faces.” She grabs my hand and tries to pull me out of the cubicle.
I pull back. “What? No! Tinera, they’re Texan!”
“So did you ever think that they might be Texan prisoners? I think Adin is, at least! I’m not going to put them on the spot like that, don’t be ridiculous! We left our old lives behind when we got on this ship, we don’t need to make them all awkward about this!”
Tinera starts laughing. She lets me go to cover her mouth as she unsuccessfully fights back a fit of giggles.
“What is so funny?!”
The Friend clears its throat. “Captain Greaves, if it’ll save you the trouble, this friend can confirm that yes, both Adin and Denish are in the Texan penal system.”
“Oh. Well, that doesn’t – wait, how do you know that?”
“This friend scanned them after chronostasis.”
“I don’t… how would that tell you anything?”
The Friend and Lina exchange a glance.
“Captain,” Lina says gently, “every member of this crew is a Texan convict except for you.”
“That… that can’t possibly be right.”
“She’s correct,” the Friend says. “We’re all, technically speaking, legally incarcerated under the Settlement of Hylara. Exported from the Republic of Texas.”
“But… you’re a Public Universal Friend!”
“Hear that, doc?” Tinera grins. “Apparently, Friends are immune to crimes.”
“I mean, isn’t doing good and serving humanity your entire deal?”
“You would be truly amazed just how often ‘serving humanity’ and ‘obeying the law’ are, in fact, diametrically opposed concepts.”
“Okay, but… all of you? Tal can’t be… actually, no, I can totally picture Tal as some kind of cybercriminal.”
“I was the fucking best cybercriminal,” Tal calls from kes cubicle. “And don’t you forget it.”
“But… Tinera, you’re Lunari. I always kind of got the impression that you’d never been to Earth. How…?”
“Oh, I’ve been to Earth. But only inside the prison parts.”
“How does that work?”
Tinera rolls her eyes. “Well, Aspen, when two prison systems love each other very much, they have big long conversations that bare their souls to each other. And the Lunar prison system might say, ‘Oh, Texas, I’m having such a hard time. There’s a minor oxygen crisis and I just have too many lungs to fill. I think I’ll round up all my least able-bodied prisoners and send them off on extremely dangerous exploratory mining missions, to find some new resources and cut the numbers down.’ And the Texan prison system might reply with something like, ‘Oh, Luna my love, I sympathise. I have the opposite problem – the senate reformed our law enforcement culpability laws in a way that makes it so much harder to plant drugs on innocent kids, and in combination with the latest ‘flu sweeping through our overcrowded prisons, we just don’t have enough bodies to staff the factories any more.’ And then the Lunar system would say, ‘Say, Texas, I have an idea. If you can pay me more per prisoner than I’d estimate we’d make from their suicide missions, I could send them to you instead.’ And then the two prison systems, who are very much in love, do a very special hug called a mass prisoner transfer, and – ”
“Okay, okay; I get it. You know, I did think it was strange how many of you could speak Texan. But I still don’t know how scanning us tells you whether we’re convicts or not, doctor.”
Tinera’s grin grew. “You hear that, doc? The captain doesn’t know.”
“Yes, yes; that’s becoming suite clear,” the Friend says wearily. “This friend had limited information and jumped to some wrong conclusions. It’s not like you thought any differently, Tinera.”
“You were the most worried of all of us,” Lina adds.
They have been hiding something from me! I knew it! Who’s paranoid now, huh?
“What are you guys talking about?” I ask.
“Come on, captain,” the doctor says. “We’ll show you.”
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2 thoughts on “032: CONVICTION”
Ah yes, the power of communication
How dare you end this chapter like that I cannot know peace until I know what theyre showing to Aspen!!!!