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“Are we sure this’ll work?” Adin asks.
I look down at the hospital bed. The seven of us are crammed into the small medbay, and the bulky space suit on the bed makes it feel even smaller than usual. There’s a body in the suit, one of the dead crew or colonists from one of the freezers. I don’t know who, specifically, it is. I don’t ask.
“It should work,” Denish shrugs. “Can never be sure.”
“We’ve sewn one of the kill switches back into the heart,” Lina explains, hands fluttering. She has this habit of moving them around a lot when she’s frustrated or nervous, and they’re practically a blur right now. “A frozen and defrosted cadaver is a far cry from the consistency of living tissue, but it should be a good enough simulation. In the space suit, the implant should react to the electrostatic field in the same way that the ones in us will.”
“Should,” Adin repeats.
“I put fuse between connection points,” Denish adds. “Now, we put in field, and we know if work. When we take out, if implant still work, then field does not help. If implant not work and fuse blow, is very bad – that means field shut it down but activate failsafe and kill us first. But if we cut out implant after, and it not work and fuse is not blown…”
“Then,” the Friend finishes, “that’s a very strong indication that putting ourselves through the electrostatic field will disable the implants without killing us.”
“A strong indication,” Adin repeats.
“Yes. A strong indication.”
Tinera claps her hands together. “Sounds like a plan where nothing can go wrong! So who among us gets the incredibly lucky job of hauling a corpse in and out of a field under the ship, where if we slip we could fall through space forever?”
“Obviously, it should include me,” four of us said at the same time.
The Friend, Denish, Adin and I all looked at each other.
“Look,” I say, “this is a two person job. Logically – ”
“Logically, this friend should be one of them,” the Friend cuts in. “This mission is incredibly dangerous, and we now have another qualified doctor. It’s only logical that – ”
“Yeah, we’re still not going to be indulging your weird cult thing about the value of your life,” I say. “You’re in my clust – my crew, and ‘oh I’ve arbitrarily decided my life is worth less’ isn’t a valid argument.”
“You need to prioritise the lives in this crew somehow.”
“No, I don’t! You don’t like it, wake up someone else. Or elect another leader, I’m sure Tal can figure out how to change crew roles in the system. Anyway. There’s a chance this’ll go to shit, and if it does I want both doctors here and ready to treat us when we come back potentially mangled or whatever. And you’re our best trauma medic anyway. Even if things go well, you or Lina have a job of cutting the implant out of our test subject when we get back, so wearing you out by sending you into space is a bad call anyway.”
“If doctor is too valuable and needed here then you are same, captain,” Denish points out. “You are needed up here to coordinate.”
I shake my head. “Tinera’s second in command, she can coordinate. I should go because I’m the only one here who actually has experience crawling around on the outside of this ship.”
“Counterpoint,” Adin says, “if this works, you’re the only one of us who won’t need to go through that field yourself, at some point. Surely, as many other people as possible should be gaining that experience?”
I shake my head again. “Like you say, that’ll be a concern if this works. But it might not, in which case that’s just added risk for nothing. Anyway, if this works, everyone can do as much out-of-ship training as they want before taking the plunge themselves. In this exercise, we’ll be hauling a corpse around over the vast infinitude of open space.”
“Captain is right,” Denish says. “They and I will go. I am strongest.”
“You’re also the heaviest, by a wide margin,” Adin points out, “as well as our only qualified engineer. Like the doctors, you’re too valuable, and your weight makes it the most dangerous for you if you do slip. Lighter is better.”
“Um,” says Tinera, the lightest in the crew, “I’m not volunteering.”
“As you shouldn’t. We’re going to be hauling a corpse around on tethers and you only have one fully working hand. Anyway, I don’t think you or Tal would have the body strength required to be useful. It has to be me and the captain. Anyway, if someone’s life is at risk, it should be mine. I’m the most easily replaced here, with the least useful skills.”
We all stare at him.
“Adin,” I say, “I agree that the team should be you and me, but please understand that you’re the most indispensable person on this crew.”
“Yeah,” Timera says. “You bake the best bread I’ve ever eaten.”
Adin rolls his eyes. “Ah yes, the critical astronaut skill of baking bread. When are we doing this, captain?”
People who don’t know anything about sociology always say stupid shit like this. I cross my arms. “Adin, do you know why this ship is so unnecessarily huge? Why it’s kitted for an unnecessarily bloated crew of 21, filled with open recreational spaces and even greenhouses, and the rings are spaced out so that the crew have to travel through large parts of the spaceship to live their lives instead of cramping themselves up in one ring? Why the ship’s psychologist is ranked so highly in the command structure? It’s because, on a trip like this, the biggest threat to crew survival isn’t some physical illness or engine problem. It’s social and psychological stressors. Ten years being cramped in a ship like this does things to people’s minds; best case scenario, it makes them inattentive, lacklustre and depressed, liable to make mistakes in their jobs and potentially doom the ship. Worst case… well, we all saw what was left of Captain Reimann. We have significantly more than five years on this thing before we can expect to be in orbit around anything, during which I expect things will keep going wrong, so yes, fresh bread in our long out of date rations is one of the most critical components on this ship. If Denish or Lina or Tal or our Friend died, that would be an absolute tragedy, one that I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure it won’t come to pass. But, when it comes down to the survival of this ship, we have dozens of engineers and doctors and IT specialists that we can wake for duty. You know what those colonists’ profiles doesn’t tell us? Whether they can bake a loaf of bread. So, yes, that is a critical astronaut skill, and you are, by definition, less replaceable than the rest of us. That said: are you ready to come and risk your life in deep space?”
“I’d be more ready if you didn’t phrase it like that.”
“Are you ready to come on a fun company rock climbing trip with our buddy here?” I pat the corpse’s space suit.
“Uh… yeah. Sure.”
After a bit more scuffling with the rest of the crew suggesting different candidates and us all talking ourselves in circles, Adin and I suit up, which introduces a new complication.
“Huh,” Adin says. “This stuff us heavier than it looks.”
Yeah. Adin’s never worn a space suit before.
“This is dangerous,” Denish says, “Captain, I still think that I – ”
“He’ll be fine,” I say. “The first time I wore anything more complicated than an evac suit was the first time I left this ship and I was fine. C’mon, Adin.”
Quite a lot of discussion had gone into where, exactly, we should exit the ship. Exiting up the front, at Pod Launch Ring 1, would mean that the rest of the ship was slightly ‘uphill’ from us due to the deceleration; exiting at the back, at Pod Launch Ring 3, would put the rest of the ship slightly ‘downhill’. Each had their disadvantages; PLR3 meant that there was a slight chance of slipping, stumbling or rolling downhill and into space as we manoeuvred the heavy corpse through the electrostatic field, whereas PLR1 was safer. But PLR1 also meant that when the corpse was hanging straight ‘down’, it would be slightly underneath the edge of the platform we’d be lying on, making it far more dangerous to retrieve. This whole thing was pointless if we didn’t come back with the corpse.
In the end, we went with PLR3. We were used to keeping our footing on sloped surfaces. The weight of the corpse was going to be the hard part; best to make that as easy as possible.
The airlock is too small for all three of us. I go first, descending a familiar ladder onto the familiar surface of the end bulk of the ship’s shield. It’s been awhile since I was out of this ship; how long has it been? It’s been… oh. Months. Wow.
There are some differences. Technically, I’ve never been where I’m now standing; last time I was outside one end of the ship, I was outside PLR1, not PLR3. I can see better, this time; not only am I in a fully functional suit with lights and cameras for once, but since we’re going to be hanging around here to do stuff instead of immediately crawling out onto the thick lattice of bars that supports the shielding of most of the ship (I still can’t believe I did that), the lights are on. I can clearly see the market entrances to the engine casing on the ship, the bright red stripes warning us not to step over the safety rail that we’re planning to step over immediately, the fragile-looking ladder that leads back up to safety.
Also, there’s a floor to stand on now. The last time I’d been outside, the ship hadn’t been spinning, and had instead been an impossibly tall tower stretching high above me into the stars. Today I won’t have to climb anything except the ladder back into the ship, so that’s nice.
I barely get my bearings before Adin is climbing down the ladder to join me. I wave an arm around. “Welcome to space.”
I can’t see Adin’s face inside the reflective helmet, but I can hear the awe in his voice as he gazes over the little safety barrier at the field of stars below us. “Wow, it… it’s…” he stares out, motionless.
“Space sure is pretty, you guys ready to drag a body through it?” Tinera asks from inside the ship.
“We’re ready,” I say. “C’mon, Adin, let’s go get our friend.” I head back toward the airlock, but Adin keeps staring down, through the electrostatic shield, into space.
“Coming.” He steps back, towards me. Stumbles a little on the slope, even though it’s the exact same slope he’s been walking on for months, and he showed no problem with it in the spaceship inside. Freezes, takes a moment to collect himself.
And I realise that it wasn’t awe that I was hearing in his voice.
“Adin,” I say gently. “Are you afraid of heights?”
“No! I mean, I never have been before. I’ve never had a problem on a, a twenty fifth story balcony, or over a pit shaft, or anything. But that’s… that’s all of space! That just goes on forever! And if we fall, then – ”
“If you fall, then your tether will catch you,” I point out gently. “That’s why we make sure to have at least one tether connected at all times.”
“I know, I know.”
The airlock above us opens. The suited body has been tied into the airlock with tethers, so it doesn’t just drop out on top of us; I climb up there and carefully lower it to Adin. Then we carry it over to the little safety barrier. I climb over.
Adin hesitates, then follows. He takes a while to scramble over the barrier, which gives me time to think about whether I should abort the mission and try again with Denish or the Friend. (Technically, Tinera is coordinating this mission, but after I agreed to this team she’s unlikely to protest at this point without my say-so. On a practical level, it’s up to me.)
On the one hand, I don’t want to make Adin do this if he’s scared, and having someone who’s clearly that frightened of the abyss below us helping on this mission is hazardous. On the other… look, I know that some people would scoff at me wanting to protect his pride, but it is actually a serious concern. I’d meant everything I’d said about Adin’s ability to keep morale high on this ship being our greatest survival asset; long-term stress, dissatisfaction, poor or monotonous living conditions, and the constant spectre of failure were far greater threats to us than any short-term health or engineering problem. Adin’s self-perception of being the least important member of the group might not be a problem right now – plenty of people had the ability to handle that kind of thing just fine – but it might be a risk, and it sure as hell would be if it were regularly exacerbated. Dragging him out here and then deciding he wasn’t up to the task and sending him back, witnessed by the whole crew, was dangerous. Was it more dangerous than continuing the job with him?
I have a judgement call to make, and I have the length of time it will take him to climb the barrier to make it.
Adin climbs over the barrier. Clips a new tether to it, unclips his old tether from his suit.
“Okay,” I say. “Let’s get this job done.”
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One thought on “035: MORALE”
Well, at least they’re being smart and testing it on a corpse first!! A good decision is made!
Unless something utterly wild happens, I guess. Hard to imagine how the corpse test dummy could be a bad decision but I’m sure there’s a way.