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“Dear Lord in heaven,” Tinera mumbles around a mouthful of greenhouse beans, “I forgot what eating real food was like.”
“I didn’t even know you could sautee with moss oil,” Lina says, stabbing a bean with a fork. “But this came out really well.”
“You can sautee with any oil if you’re desperate enough,” Adin says.
Tal grins. “Could you sautee with – ?”
“Any edible oil.”
I have no idea whether the beans came out great, because they could’ve been cooked to a crisp in lard and they’d still be the best thing I could remember eating. Sinking my teeth into actual, identifiable plant material was a special kind of ecstasy that I hadn’t even realised I’d missed.
“You should put a squirt of lemon juice in this next time,” Tinera suggests. “If we have lemons.”
“Ugh, no,” I say at the same time as the Friend says, “You can put that in your share.”
“What’s wrong with lemon?” Tinera asks.
“Our Friend and I are allergic to citrus,” I explain. “It’s genetic.”
“Wait, you two are related?”
“I don’t think so. Atlantica three clusters, but for two transfers from Keen?”
The Friend shakes its head. “Pacifica three clusters, except for the Norn cluster. Did – ?”
“Never heard of them.”
“We’re probably not closely related, Tinera. It’s just a really common allergy among Arboreans.”
“Don’t worry, I’m allergic to citrus too, so I won’t be putting it in anything,” Adin says.
“Yeah. My mum’s Arborean, so that might be why?”
The Friend and I look at each other.
“The friend will go check,” the Friend says, and races off.
Adin stares after it, puzzled. “What’s that about?”
“It’s checking your genetic code to see if you have the DIVR-32 geneset,” I explain. “It’s a geneset that Arboreans went nuts with back during the Genetic Craze because it results in a really resilient circulatory system which is great for resisting low temperatures and pressure changes.”
“And that’s… something everyone wants?” Tinera asks, puzzled.
I shrug. “We live on massive floating forests designed to draw nutrients and purify water from the ocean itself to feed us. The root systems are the most important part. We spend a lot of time diving in and out of cold water, so yeah, it’s pretty important. It also just happens to make carriers allergic to citrus.”
“So why does it suddenly matter if I have these genes?” Adin asks.
“Because we were looking through the colonists’ viability awhile ago and discovered that all the colonists who were really likely to survive revival are DIVRs. Most non-carriers were in the sixty per cent survival range, but no DIVRs were. Nearly all the DIVRS, and only DIVRs, were in the upper range. There’s something specific to the geneset that makes us resistant to whatever caused everyone’s chances of survival to go down.”
“But the whole reason you revived me was because I was in so much danger, having a really low chance of survival.”
I nod. “There were three DIVRs in the ten per cent range. The obvious conclusion is that they probably had some other health condition that dramatically lowered their chances. If you have the geneset, then you’re one of these people, and our Friend wants to know so it can be on the lookout for any surprise health problems from you.”
“Alternately,” Lina says thoughtfully, “there might be two separate things going on. One thing that happened to Chronostasis Rings 1 and 5 that dropped a bunch of people’s viability down to the ten per cent range, which DIVR-32 is not resistant to. And another thing lowering general viability – possibly just the passage of time, even – that DIVR-32 is resistant to. In which case, Adin being a DIVR would be lucky, since it gives us the maximum possible range of subjects to research the phenomenon. The captain and our Friend in the top viability range as DIVRs, Denish and I in the middle as non-DIVRs, and Tinera and Adin in the bottom range, one DIVR and one non-DIVR. Of course, since we can’t access a lot of past records for some reason, we can’t be sure of Tal’s viability, but – ”
“But I’m not in the top category, because I can eat oranges,” Tal cuts in.
“Show-off,” I mutter. Tal sticks kes tongue out at me.
“You do not miss much,” Denish says. “Apples are better than oranges.”
“He’s lying,” Tal says.
“No, oranges are bad,” Denish insists. “This one time, we break new ship, cargo is everywhere, not stored properly. They have this, some kind of cleaning detergent, smells of oranges. Everything else rotten and very big orange smell everywhere from broken containers. Cannot eat oranges since.”
“What do you mean ‘break new ship’?” I ask. “You told me that you’re not a spaceship engineer.”
“Not for fixing, for breaking. Is how I go to jail. My family, we break into ships and take the things inside.”
“That’s why you knew exactly how to break through those airlock doors,” I say.
He shrugs. “Is easy.”
“Wait,” Tinera says. “You’re a space pirate?”
“I not know that word – ”
She repeats herself in Texan.
“Ah. Yes. I am space pirate.”
“Oh. My. God. Captain! Everyone! We’ve got a space pirate!”
Denish shrugs again. “If you go to jail, should be for something cool.”
“I hear that, brother.” Tal raises a palm. Denish, clearly not recognising the gesture, imitates it. Tal slaps kes palm against Denish’s.
“What did you do, Tiny?” Adin asks. “If it’s not too personal, I mean.”
“Oh, not at all. I killed someone.”
An awkward silence.
“Oh,” Adin says. “Like, in self defense, or…?”
“He deserved it, if that’s what you mean.” Tinera eats some more beans.
Adin looks uncomfortable. Before this can turn into an argument, I ask him, “Which Arborea was your mother from?”
“Uh… Atlantica, I think. She didn’t talk about it much. I don’t think she ever went back after her exile.”
“Your mother was exiled?” Denish asks. “What does woman do, to get exiled from Hippie Islands?”
I laugh. “He means her coming-of-age exile. Arboreans are banished from home at seventeen. We’re not allowed to return to either Arborea for two years, and not allowed to return to our home clusters for five. It’s supposed to open our eyes to opportunities outside our communities.”
“You all do this?”
“You can get special dispensation to come home to see dying relatives or whatnot, but otherwise, yeah.”
“And you run off and marry Texans?”
It takes me a minute to remember what the Interlinguan word ‘marry’ means. I shrug. “I went to university for mine, but each to their own.”
The Friend was coming back. “Adin, this friend wants to book you in for a thorough physical all day tomorrow. It wants to run every test we have the resources to run.”
“I have the weird citrus genes?”
“They’re not ‘weird’,” I mumble. “They were an extremely common modification.”
“Anything invented by genetic engineering counts as weird,” Tinera declares.
“Your fingernails were invented by genetic engineering,” I point out.
“My fingernails are normal.”
“And they’re engineered. Everyone used to have Martian fingernails.”
“Thus breaking your rule of the engineered genesets being the weird ones.”
Tinera rolls her eyes good-naturedly, which is her version of conceding defeat, and I toast her with my last forkful of beans. Denish clears his throat.
“Captain, I fix problem with oxygen detectors and run efficiency test yesterday. I think detectors were big part of problem because system works better now. Can support more people now, if we need.”
“Wait, the oxygen detectors were actually broken? That wasn’t just to throw me off track?”
“Of course they were actually broken! You think I go around poking my head into walls for no reason?”
“Fair enough. How many more?”
Denish shrugs. “Is guess. Perhaps two more? But, that is thinking it does not break in new way. May not hold up until end of trip.”
“Still, any breathing room is nice if we need to wake anyone else. Nice work, Denish.”
“By the way, cap,” Tal says, “we combed through the priority rankings for the captain’s position and checked who were Texan convicts.”
“And I was right,” Tinera says. “It’s a group of, like, 400 free people – ”
“486,” Tal says.
“Right, and then 900-ish prisoners – ”
“And then the other free people, then the other prisoners. And the groups are the right ratio for the middle group of prisoners to be site leaders and team leaders.”
“Unlikely to be a coincidence, then. So we can probably assume that only the top 486 have the codes for your – wait, 486? And 952 prisoners? And then my group?”
Tinera grins. “Yep.”
I frown and start doing the math, but Tal predicts my question and answers it before I can. “In terms of your group, which is the only people we can fairly compare you to in the rankings, you were 29th in line for captain.”
“29th? That’s way too high.”
“Out of 514.”
“That… what’s that as a percentage?”
“That can’t possibly be right,” I mumble. Maybe they’d just packed the ship with really bad leaders so we wouldn’t… try to take over the colony, or whatever. I don’t know. There’s no way that in the 514 people I’d actually been ranked against, I was in the top 6%.
Well, it wasn’t like they’d have expected anyone so low on the list to be captain anyway, so maybe the rankings within the group were randomly assigned.
“Well, we know which 486 people not to wake,” I say. “That’s good.”
“And if we’re lucky, maybe a lot of them were in CR 1,” Tinera says.
“I have to check something,” Tal says suddenly, getting up and leaving the table.
“If we can resolve this kill switch thing, we’ll be able to wake anyone on the ship without danger,” the Friend says.
“Be able to, but probably still shouldn’t,” Lina points out. “Those 486 people are people who bought into this system, if Tinera’s hypothesis about the tiers is correct. That kind of person can find other ways to be dangerous.”
“Maybe,” I say. “But people buy into systems without malice all the time. I lived in a complex on Luna with an indentured cleaning staff for a year and never really thought about it, and you all seem to have decided that I’m safe.”
“Were you given the ability to kill the janitor if you didn’t like how the carpets were vacuumed, though?” Tinera asks.
“Well, no. But if I had been, that would’ve been super weird, but I would’ve just deleted the codes or locked away the button or whatever and kept going to work every day. I definitely would’ve thought it was the most fucked up thing ever, probably would’ve done a lot of campaigning against it, but I wouldn’t leave. It’s entirely possible that a lot of those 486 colonists are ordinary people with admin jobs that happen to qualify them for government jobs in whatever New World the deranged idiots who put this together wanted. Some of them are definitely a problem, but we don’t know how many have personalities and priorities that make them actual threats, and how many don’t.”
“If we don’t know, we shouldn’t take unnecessary risks with them,” Lina points out.
“Oh, I agree. Even if – when, I mean – we find out how to disable these implants, we shouldn’t wake anyone from that group any earlier than we have to. I’m just saying that if we suddenly lose all our external sensory equipment and some glitch wipes the Courageous’ course from the AI’s memory, and humanity’s greatest astronavigation expert is 300th in line for captain, waking him isn’t necessarily going to create a new problem.”
“Ugh, don’t even say something like that,” Tinera says. “You’ll jinx it.”
“I don’t think it’s possible to jinx this ship more than it’s already jinxed,” Adin says. “We have the absolute worst luck of all time. So many things have already gone wrong.”
“Possibly,” Lina agrees.
“Possibly? The problems we have – ”
“Could be myriad problems, or could be just one or two untreated ones. I expect that the vast majority of our issues come down to the fact that this ship is thirty five years into its planned twenty year journey. Equipment failures, chronostasis viability, and even Captain Reimann’s psychological break are made much more likely by sheer time. So really, we may simply be ‘unlucky’ in that the rear engine wasn’t working properly and the first crew decided to press on anyway.”
“Hey,” I say, “this might be a stupid question, but have you tried an EMP?”
“What?” Lina asks.
“For the kill switch. It’ll kill you if you take it out, sure, but can’t electronics just be fried with an EMP?”
“That wouldn’t work,” the Friend says. “Why do you think modern implant tech is so expensive? It’s all shielded against magnetics. Otherwise it’d be knocked out by a simple MRI scan, which we took of everyone after chronostasis as part of the health checkup.”
“Oh, well, maybe you’re lucky and it already – ”
“If they weren’t magnetically shielded,” Lina cuts in, “the MRI would also have tried to move them around our bodies, tearing our heart muscles to shreds.”
“… Oh. Okay then.”
“You could knock out the computers on this ship with an EMP,” the Friend explains, “or in the space suits. But not in an implant.”
“Ah. Well, it was an idea.”
“Could not knock out computers,” Denish chimes in. “Most computers yes, but everything in a javelin is shielded. Long trip, strange magnetics, deep space! Not do for some random even to kill all electronics on the ship and colonists to die, would it?”
“Wait,” I say. “An EMP can’t knock out the kill switches, and it also can’t knock out the ship’s electronics? Any of them?”
“Well, I do not know every system. But every system I check so far, important parts at least are shielded from magnets.”
“What about the space suits?”
“Suits? Oh, yes. Also shielded. Why you smile, captain?”
I was smiling. I was smiling wide enough to make my cheeks hurt.
I was remembering my first journey out of the ship; dropping from the airlock, hitting the support bar for the electrostatic shield, and my suit’s electronics going dark.
“An EMP doesn’t work, huh? Well, we have something else on this ship that might.”
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5 thoughts on “034: COMORBIDITY”
Aspen, you are definitely as bad as Derin’s other protagonists.
Ohmygosh this is great writing!! I’ve binged the whole today based on one of your tumblr posts about the fingernails thing and *WOW*! Great intrigue. My guesses for the future: Captain 2 killed exclusively people w/ the killswitch codes or non-convicts in general, and Amy is far, far more intelligent than we’ve been led to believe.
Ahhh I’ve read through all of this in a few days wow! Slipping away wherever I can just to read it! This is like my favorite type of story I didn’t know I wanted, and the writing is just phenomenal. Thank you so much for writing this, I can’t wait for what happens next!
Glad you’re enjoying it! We have a discord, if you like discords.
Wow! I ran across a post of yours on Tumblr and hooooo Boi you did not disappoint! This has been so much fun to read over the last few days! Such a cool mystery going on, and now some of the answers are showing up at last! Thank you for sharing it with us! 💚