<<First ………. <Prev ………. [Archive] ………. [Map] ………. Next> ………. Last>>

Four of us – me, the Friend, Lina, and Tal – stroll toward Recreation and Medical Ring 2 at a leisurely pace while Tinera runs off to find the boys. I’m not sure why we need the entire crew for this, but apparently my ignorance on the whole Texan prisoner thing is a big deal for some reason, so whatever.

“So this means I have less work to do, right?” Tal asks.

“Less urgency, certainly,” the Friend says. “We’ll still need a solution, but we have five years of breathing room.”

“Great, I can concentrate on Amy.”

“You do that.”

I don’t bother to ask what they’re talking about. I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough.

When we get to the medbay, the Friend pulls up an image on the terminal and waves me over. “This is this friend’s X-ray from right after it woke up from chronostasis.” It zooms on on the chest of the skeleton. “See anything strange?”

I squint. “Uh… no? What am I looking at?”

It taps the screen. “Right here.”

Ah. A tiny, dense… something, near the heart. I would’ve just thought it was noise, or some old shard of broken bone, or something, but I wasn’t a doctor. “What is it?”

“That,” Tinera announces, striding in with Denish and Adin in her wake, “is a good ole Kill Switch.” She pauses, and glances at the Friend. “You are showing our captain the kill switch, right?”


“The what?!” I ask.

“I’m sure you know how pacemakers work. This is the opposite. If activated, that device will discharge a current to destroy my sinoatrial node, removing my heart’s ability to beat. This device was implanted, and its action explained to me, about two months before chronostasis. We all have one. Every crew member except you.”

I stare at the X-ray. Bile rises in my throat. “This is so they can keep control of four thousand angry prisoners with limited resources.”


“They intended to turn you into slave labour for the new colony.”

“What do you mean, ‘turn us into’?” Tinera asks. “How do you think a for-profit penal system works?”

I turn away from the screen, feeling sick. But that just means looking at my crewmates, each with this leash on their hearts. They look back, a slight wariness in all of their eyes. And then it hits me.

“This system only works if someone can activate these things,” I point out. “Meaning that among the other thousand colonists are enough people to keep control of four thousand prisoners, who signed up to do exactly that. People who want to be in control of a new planet, and intended to use you to do it.” I meet the Friend’s eyes. “And you thought I was one of them.”

“In our defense, we were working with very limited information,” the Friend says.

“I thought every non-prisoner had codes,” Denish agrees.

“Also,” Tinera says, “I know you don’t like to think abut this too hard, but… you’re Aspen Greaves.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” I ask.

“Oh, come on. ‘Exodus Phenomenon’ Aspen Greaves, wrote four famous books that are essentially ad campaigns for the Javelin Program – ”

“They are not! I never advert – I never said the Exodus Phenomenon was a good thing, just that it exists!”

“Okay, sure, whatever, but can you blame the doc – or any of us – for seeing you on the ship and assuming you were involved? After all that ‘let’s all go to space’ work with interviews and stuff – ”

“I never endorsed – ”

“ – and then we’re all forced onto the ship like, ‘surprise! You’re the labour force for the new colony, do what you’re told or die!’, and then we’re woken up early by one singular non-convict, and it’s Aspen fucking Greaves, and they’re the captain? Of course we assumed you were in on the whole thing.”

“Well, I’m not,” I snap. “It’s fucking disgusting. Can they be removed?”

“Safely?” the Friend asks. “Technically, no. But – ”

“There’s always a loophole,” Tal cuts in.

“Exactly. So we have hope.”

“Oh! That’s what you took out of Da-bin. What Tal pulled the data off, and Denish has been deconstructing. I assume you’ve gone back and taken them from the other corpses by now, too, so you must have a few to work with. You’re trying to figure out how to disable or remove them.”

The doctor’s eyes widen. “Ah, you know about that.”

“How could I fucking not? Next time you guys try to hide something from me, could you please put more effort in? You were all being super suspicious and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what you could possibly be conspiring to do within the confines of a javelin ship in deep space. It was driving me nuts.”

“Sure, we’ll make sure to be better liars next time,” Tinera says.

“That’s all I ask.”

“I for one am very relieved, captain,” Adin says. “I was really worried for you.”

“Worried for… me?”

“There’s no need for any of that,” the Friend says, raising its hands in a conciliatory manner. “Aspen was never in any actual danger.”

“Of course not!” Denish claps one hand on my back. “I say from the start, captain would not hurt us. Would not let us turn off kill switch if they knew, perhaps, but would not hurt us. Is no danger to us so we are no danger to captain.”

I don’t like where this conversation is going. That must show on my face, because the Friend smiles reassuringly at me. “Nobody was going to kill you.”

“I would’ve,” Tinera says. “If you tried to kill one of us I’d have gotten you first.”

“That was never going to be necessary,” the Friend insists, exasperated. “If it came to it, this friend could simply have amputated their arm.”

“Wouldn’t have worked,” Tal says, “because of Reimann.”

“We can’t confirm that,” Adin says, “until you’re sure about whether there was tampering.”

“I can never be sure, but something’s weird with Amy’s – ”

“You were going to cut off my arm?!” I asked.

“Only if we thought you might kill someone,” Adin says quickly.

“And even that wouldn’t be necessary if we got a chance to sedate you,” Lina says. “If you were unconscious we could just saw a little section of bone out, about so big,” she holds her fingers a few centimetres apart, “and replace it. It’s a quick heal.”

“For the ID chip,” Denish explains. “You remember? Before we launch, doctors put ID chip in bone of our arms.” He taps his own arm to indicate the spot. “Computer knows who and where you are because of chip. If you try to kill someone, we take chip and flush it into space; computer not listen to you any more, is okay! We can just lock you in a ring, everyone safe. But it would not matter anyway, I tell everyone many times, because you would not kill somebody. You saved my life already!”

‘You would not kill somebody’ is an objectively false statement, but no point correcting that right now. “Is this why you guys were all so resistant to the idea of getting a new captain? You didn’t want two points of danger to worry about?”

The crew nod.

“We find out quickly,” Denish explains, “that you are not big bully, and you are not very dangerous. But we know nothing about others. New captain would be – ” he says something in Texan.

“An unknown quantity.” Tinera nods. “A chance to end up with some arsehole with a happy trigger finger. Or, even worse, an incompetent bully. You wouldn’t believe how many friends I’ve lost to TLs who weren’t vicious, but just power-hungry idiots making stupid decisions because they couldn’t take input from more knowledgeable team members.”

That makes sense. “Okay, so are we any closer to being able to disable or remove these implants? I assume they can’t just be cut out in a simple surgery, or our Friend here would’ve revived a surgeon to do that.”

“You want to help?” the Friend asks. Not surprised, just confirming.

“Obviously I want to help! I mean, I don’t know if I can, I don’t have any relevant skills here, but this seems like a kind of important thing to deal with! You guys are right in that we can’t risk rousing anyone with the kill codes while these things are in you – honestly it’s sheer luck that the revivals I’ve picked have all been you guys, and I imagine that that restriction had really limited the Friend’s choices. We don’t know what kinds of experts we’ll need to deal with what future crises; we need as big a pool of revival candidates as possible, and that means dealing with this. And we’re going to have to wake up a qualified team to get this ship in orbit in five years and start waking colonists; if we can’t disable these things then we’re going to be starting a brand new slavery-based society controlled by a handful of sociopaths with kill codes, and I don’t think any of us want that to happen.” Also, the force of my sister’s ‘I told you the Javelin Project is a bad idea’ would transcend time and space to carry across the stars and kill me dead.

The doctor nods. “Well, to answer your question, open heart surgery is dangerous at the best of times, so even if the implants could simply be removed, we’d still lose a lot of colonists trying to do it with the very limited medical facilities on this ship. Many might consider it worth the risk anyway if we could find a decent surgeon, but no; the device will discharge if tampered with. We’ve got Denish trying to find a way to physically disable them, and Tal combing through the code, but no luck so far.”

“Right,” I say. I tap my lip thoughtfully. I wish I’d known about this earlier; it’s sheer luck that I never revived one of the fourteen hundred people who –

Actually, hang on. “I was 1,467th in line to be captain. That puts me below nearly five hundred convicts. With this kill switch system, how does that work?”

“That was actually a bit of a relief, knowing you were a civilian,” Tinera says.

“What do you mean?”

“Okay, so… this is just a guess, but what we figure is going on here is, in a properly working ship only the first few backups of each position actually matter. If your ship chews through more than half a dozen backup captains, then whatever’s happening there the ship’s probably fucked, right? Anyway, we poked around, and we think that the priority system for captain is actually just the authority system for the colony, which is… okay, so you lived on Luna, right? You know how the prison system works?”

“Vaguely,” I say. “I mean, I know they have a penal labour force, but I was never really involved in any of that.”

“Okay well, there’s a tiered authority system. Up the top, you’ve got the dudes in charge, the prison workers and guards and all that, with their own ranks and authority and stuff; from a prisoner’s perspective their ranks don’t matter much, they’re all in charge of us. Under them are the site leaders, who are all total arseholes. These are prisoners put in charge of managing other prisoners. They’re each responsible for four team leaders, and each team leader is responsible for four other prisoners. So in the authority system it’s, prison employee, then site leaders, then team leaders. This is where the authority ends, but if you wanted to keep extrapolating to a bigger population, civilians would be under that – they’re outside the system, no authority but also beholden to no one – and then the rest of us. So if we’re right about them using this kind of leadership system, then yeah, there’d be a lot of prisoners above you in the order; the site leaders and team leaders. Which for four thousand prisoners, would be… uh…”

“952 prisoners,” Tal says. “Or 953, depending on how they deal with the remainder.”

“Right. And then the civilians. Technically, civvies have more power than SLs or TLs because like, while neither is technically supposed to be able to tell the other what to do, if there’s an altercation between any civilian and any prisoner the law’s going to automatically take the civvie’s side. But that’s how the tiers look because technically civvies are outside the system.”

“I see. So… I’m a civilian, and as we’re all now aware, I didn’t know anything about this kill switch system.”

“Yeah, sorry again about that,” the doctor says.

I wave the apology away. It was a reasonable fear for them to have, when you think about it. “My point is, we can use this knowledge to our advantage.”

“We can?”

I nod. “We can probably assume that the other civilians don’t know either. Or at the very least, they don’t have access to the kill switches. What about these site leaders and team leaders, would they be able to kill?”

“Definitely not,” Tinera says. “They’d have other methods of discipline, and would report anything kill-worthy to their handlers.”

“And their authority is essentially meaningless here, because the rest of us can just tell them to fuck off. They don’t have weapons and there are seven of us. So, the only people we really need to be careful not to revive are the people higher in the captain reserve ranking system than the site leaders. Who has clearance to see the criminal history of the colonists?”

“Logistics,” Denish says, indicating Tinera with a couple of flicked fingers. “Also Tal.”

“Why does IT have that clearance?” I ask.

“IT does not. Tal can see.”

“It’s not a very secure system,” Tal says.

“Uh. Right. Well, Tinera, and Tal I guess, if you can see both someone’s prisoner status and list them in priority order for the captain’s position, then – ”

“Then we can see exactly how many people are likely to have the kill codes, and who they are!” Lina grins. “So we know who’s safe to resurrect. Even the site and team leaders should be safe, since you don’t have the kill codes either.”

“They’re probably arseholes though,” Tinera points out.

“That might be the case,” I say, “but if we reach the point where we need to revive a particular specialist, we’ll want as wide a candidate pool as possible. Including the arseholes.”

“Yeah, I know,” Tinera grumbles. “C’mon, Tal, let’s make an arsehole list.”

“Okay, but we’re having a rematch after. Computer games aren’t any fun to win if you guys just walk away from your computers halfway through.”

<<First ………. <Prev ………. [Archive] ………. [Map] ………. Next> ………. Last>>

6 thoughts on “033: PREDICAMENT

  1. I stumbled onto this by accident through Tumblr and was immediately hooked. I’ve forgone sleep – which I’ll absolutely pay for later at work – but it was worth it to binge read all of this at once.


    1. I am in EXACTLY the same situation lol, I chewed through everything published so far in one night and then go sad when I realized there wasn’t more yet! Super excited to see where it goes!!


  2. Haha I KNEW there was corrupt nasty shit going on! Glad that’s been cleared up.

    This is very on-brand and I think I understand why our dear previous captain lost it (amputates his arm, computer no longer listens to him, tries to kill a bunch of people manually because he is an evil corrupt bastard).


    1. Ohhh… he *was* trying to fix the coolant, not sabotage it – and then –
      there might still be another step but I think we’re close to all of it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s