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“We’re in space! I’m not cutting a hole in his space suit!”
“He’ll die if you don’t.”
“Aspen, please.” The Friend’s voice is gentle. “This plan isn’t great, but we don’t have time to come up with a better one, and we probably don’t have time to explain.”
Well, if the doctor’s okay with it. I open the shears and put the end to Adin’s elbow, pinching the cloth.
“Only a small hole,” Tinera tells me. “Two to four centimetres should suffice.”
That sounds like a pretty fucking big hole to have in a space suit, but whatever. I snip. Air starts to pour out immediately; I can see it as a blue, glowing stream in the electrostatic shield. It takes me about half a second to cut the hole, and Tinera immediately says, “Now take the transparent plastic off the patch and put it over the hole. Make sure the valve is over the hole.”
Oh, okay, I’m making on-the-fly modifications to a space suit while it’s being worn. Sounds like a stupid thing to do but I don’t have time to argue; the decompression alone is bad for Adin. I slap it in place and hold it down.
Air keeps hissing out through the plastic valve. (Well, I assume it’s hissing. I can’t hear it.)
“Um,” I say, “air’s still – ”
“It’s supposed to,” Tinera assures me. “Just wait.”
Time passes. Long, slow, interminable time, while Adin’s air supply runs lower.
“Now close the valve.”
It’s not hard to work out how to do that. I just twist a little plastic ring around the bigger circle of plastic.
“Okay,” Tinera says. “Denish is going to hand you a second valve to do the other arm. Very important – make sure you put it on the other arm.”
The second patch that Denish hands me looks a bit different. The bulky plastic valve is orange in colour, and has threading, like something could be attached to it. I don’t waste time speculating about that; I just cut and patch.
Then Denish hands me a small gas tank with a short gas line and a little attachable nozzle.
“Attach the nozzle to the orange valve, then turn on the gas,” Tinera tells me.
I get to work attaching the tank. “What is this?” I ask.
I freeze. My hands tremble. I remember captain Kinoshita Keiko, pinned and choosing to die via nitrogen asphyxiation over the more painful option of dehydration. I remember finding her remains, smeared all over Storage Ring 6.
“Keep attaching the nozzle, Aspen.”
“What? No! This’ll kill him!”
“Not doing this will kill him. Hesitation will kill him. I have two doctors and an engineer assuring me that this is the best possible plan of action, so if you have protests, leave them until afterward. You put me in charge of this and you have your fucking orders. Attach the nozzle.”
My hands almost seem to move of their own accord, without input from me. They attach the nozzle. They start the gas flowing. I stare dumbly at Adin. Adin does not move.
“Good work.” There’s audible relief in Tinera’s voice. Only then do I realise how stressed she must have been under her calm demeanour. “You now have a few minutes before we can continue. You’ll want to scootch a bit further out, onto the other side of Adin; once he lets go, you’ll need to help manoeuvre him so that Denish can safely pull him up.”
I move as instructed and rearrange my tethers. “So that’s the plan? Knock him unconscious so he’ll let go and we can haul him up before anything else can kill him?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“You realise that he’ll start dying immediately, right?”
“Incorrect,” Lina says. “Remember, Adin’s a DIVR. He’s significantly more resistant to pressure changes than most people, so that ad-hoc space suit adjustment isn’t ideal, but won’t hurt him as much as it would’ve hurt us non-DIVRs. And he has an extended emergency anoxic reflex response.”
“A what?” I ask.
The Friend cuts in. “We can survive anoxic unconsciousness without brain damage for three times as long as most people. You will have about nine minutes to get Adin back on oxygen before permanent damage is a serious concern. Even longer before worrying about death, but let’s try to stick to the nine minutes, okay?”
The area around the white valve I installed, the one not attached to a tank, glows blue with escaping gas. I’m not worried about this; now that I understand the plan, I figure that this is probably a pressure valve. When it’s open, it’s open; when it’s closed, it’ll open under a certain air pressure, presumably one atmosphere. The nitrogen is flushing the remaining oxygen out of his suit through that valve.
The Friend joins us outside while we wait. Four people outside the ship is way too many, but I don’t argue. Whatever it takes to get Adin inside as quickly as possible is the correct amount.
Being practically on top of him, I’m the first to notice when his arms begin to relax. I shout a warning and begin to pry them open while Denish works on the legs. Adin drops, but falls less than half a metre, since I tethered him to the beam; with assistance from me and the Friend to keep balance, Denish is able to haul Adin up by one of his tethers. (We’re somewhat less careful with protecting him from bumps and bruises than we should be. Time is of the essence.) As soon as he’s on the ledge, the Friend removes the nitrogen tank and replaces it with another, presumably containing some oxygen. We work quickly to get Adin up into the airlock, where Lina is ready to receive him on the other side. (I can’t help but notice that the back of his space suit, all white and new when we exited the ship, looks burned, somehow. I shudder. Whatever being outside the shield did to it, I’m glad that the crew came up with a way to get him out before the outside space killed him.)
Then we take our time hauling up the body still hanging down from the ship. This operation isn’t urgent, and we’re as safe and careful about it as we can be. Partway through, Lina informs us on the comms that Adin is conscious and there’s no immediately obvious damage beyond scratches and bruises, so we’re all feeling pretty jovial as we make our way back into the ship. (The condition of the body’s suit, dangling outside the ship’s shielding for so long, is an absolute mess. I try not to look at it.)
“On the plus side,” I say to Adin as we all pack into the medbay, “even if this shield turns out to be a good way to deactivate the kill switches, at last you don’t have to go out there again.”
“Also, the shield didn’t set it off and fry his heart,” Tal points out.
“Yep, that’s also a plus side,” Adin says weakly.
“Another plus side,” Lina says, “you were already scheduled for an extremely thorough physical tomorrow, so assessing your injuries for this fits in nicely with your existing schedule. You have several pulled muscles in your legs, shoulders and back, by the way, and you artificial foot’s completely shot. We have replacements in storage, fortunately.”
“Yeah, I’m going to get you some more painkillers.”
I didn’t even know Adin had an artificial foot. He’d had two feet in chronostasis; it must be the cheap under-the-skin kind of prosthetic. “Are you okay?” I ask him.
“I’m just fine, Captain.” He smiles weakly.
A lie, of course. A polite lie. There’s simply no way that anybody could be ‘just fine’ after all of that. I remember the burned condition of the back of his suit. I remember the way the electrostatic shield cramps up muscles. I imagine, for a moment, being terrified of falling into the vast expanse of space below me as I hang onto that beam with all my strength, half of me cramping in the shield and the other being bombarded by particles in space. Unable to really see anything through the metal beam in front of my face, unable to feel much through the suit, unable to hear anything with my radio dead; lights and cameras dead, suit status displays dead, even the air pumps silent. Nothing but pain and silence for long minutes, with no idea if my crew can even save me; a situation only interrupted by somebody cutting holes in my space suit…
Yeah, he’s not fine.
“I’m sorry,” he continues. “That was stupid of me, jumping forward like that. I… I didn’t think…”
And he thinks it’s his fault, when it’s clearly mine.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” I tell him firmly. “You saw I was falling and you saved me.” Technically not true; I’d have been able to right myself just fine. But that had been his intention, and it’s unlikely that he’s ever going to figure out on his own that it had been unnecessary, so I won’t tell him. The situation wasn’t his fault; it was mine. I’d picked him to go out there with me. I’d pressed forward when I’d learned that he’d never been in space or even used a space suit before, even though experience in space was the entire reason I was going. I’d pressed forward when he’d been afraid of the drop to a clearly debilitating degree. I’d pressed forward when fear had caused him to zone out and hesitate on the ledge. I’d slid out onto that beam myself to pull up the body’s torso and hadn’t taken into account the shifting weight, causing me to lose my balance and him to dash forward and ‘save’ me. I’d made bad decision after bad decision, and the rest of the crew had had to pull together to rescue him from my mistakes.
But what had I expected, really? That I could turn my back on Earth and I’d suddenly become a better, more competent person? That I could really run away into deep space and forever live in the fantasy that I was no longer the person that Shia –
No. I’m not going to do this. Fear and doubt and self-recrimination are dangerous habits to indulge. Conditional, temporary lows are normal, but if I accepted that Adin’s low sense of self worth was a hazard then I had to accept that the ship’s captain indulging the same habits was ten times more dangerous.
I’d fucked up today. I’d fucked up badly, and that sucks, and I’m going to have to learn from it. But for as long as this crew holds to the notion that I should be in charge, I have a responsibility not to throw self pity parties about being inadequate. Whether or not I’m inadequate is completely irrelevant because it’s the job I’m doing, apparently, so I’m just going to have to suck it up and be adequate.
I consider apologising to Adin for fucking up, but ‘sorry, I should have seen that you were incapable of this and pulled the plug’ is unlikely to achieve anything positive, so I just give him a supportive clap on the shoulder. He winces.
“Feel better soon,” I say. “If you’re bedridden for too long, Tinera will hunt you down to demand good food.”
“I definitely will,” Tinera agrees. “Cap, can we talk for a sec?”
“Of course.” I follow her out of the room.
“Are you okay?” she asks me, as soon as we’re alone.
“Am I okay?” I blink at her. “Uh, yeah. Nothing happened to me.”
“Right. You just seemed pretty stressed out there. Putting the valves in and all.”
“Um, yeah. I’m sure we all were. It was a stressful situation.”
“You saved his life.”
“No, you saved his life. I just held the scissors. How did you come up with that plan so fast?”
“I didn’t come up with anything. The doctors knew what to do, and Nish knew how to do it. I just coordinated.”
“You were really calm and on the point about it.”
Tinera laughs. “Aspen. I’m a Lunari convict miner.”
“So do you really think this is my first time?”
Fair point. On Luna, convict lives were cheap and mines had steep quotas. I wonder, not for the first time, just how Tinera had lost her ear and mangled her hand.
“You’re okay, though?” she presses.
“Yeah. I just need to decompress with a good book and then sleep for a million years.”
She holds up two entwined fingers. “You wanna nosoke?”
I gape at her. I’m not surprised by the proposal, exactly – one of my favourite things about my year on Luna was how refreshingly direct people were were about propositioning casual sex. It’s a common factor in formal pair-bonding cultures; when the lines between different kinds of relationships are so clear and mutually understood, it’s easy to be clear about violating them. Whereas in my own culture, the poster culture for flexible family structures, having sex with someone outside your own cluster outside a festival time was often approached with the tiresome and meticulous thoroughness of a business merger to make sure that everyone was on the same page.
No, a cute Lunari girl asking me if I wanted to have no-strings-attached sex with her isn’t particularly surprising. What’s surprising is that she’s doing it right now. After everything that just happened.
“Um,” I say. “Not right now.”
She nods. “Is that a ‘try again later’ not right now or a ‘I’m not interested and I’m being polite about it’ not right now?”
“It’s the former.”
She nods again, takes one of my hands, and ghosts her lips over my knuckles. “Understood, captain.”
I stare after her as she leaves. So Tinera’s an adrenaline junkie. That’s… not remotely surprising, actually.
Anyway. Back to work. I help Denish carry the suited body to the other medbay (the one that the doctors have been using for dissections instead of live patients) and head back to check on Adin one more time. The doctors are running tests when I get there; he’s got some electrodes on his chest and a little cup of radioactive tracer fluid in one hand. The Friend prepares a needle of something while Lina reads something at the computer terminal. Adin gives me a little wave as I enter, but I’m otherwise ignored.
“You took these X-rays right after he woke up?” Lina is asking as I walk in.
“Yes, within the hour.”
“Hmm. Good bone density for chronostasis.”
“Indeed! Some people have all the luck.”
“I remember, I came out a complete wreck. Recovery was – ” Lina stops talking. Stares at the screen. In a rather more strangled voice, she says, “Uh, Friend? Can you come and look at this?”
“Hmm?” The Friend puts its needles down and comes over.
I do too. I probably shouldn’t, medical privacy and all. But I do. Lina’s looking at an outline of a body, presumably Adin’s, lying flat, and covered with an image of stark white lines radiating out from the base of its skull. They spread through the brain, down through the torso, and some distance down the limbs.
It’s an image of the synnerves built by the cerebral stimulator during chronostasis. It’s a system designed to provide some minimal necessary movement and, more importantly, stimulate the brain, during the three month (or more like five month, given our extended travel time) induced coma, so we could wake up without serious risk of brain damage. It looks pretty much like mine, but Lina stares at it with wide eyes, her face bloodless. I frown at the image, trying to see what she’s seeing – has a synnerve grown somewhere dangerous or something? Maybe that’s the cause of Adin’s low chances of waking up, even though he has the DIVR-32 geneset?
The Friend seems as puzzled as I am. “What, specifically, am I looking for?” it asks.
“This is the synnerve scan you took after he woke up?”
“Yes. What about it?”
Lina glances at the Friend. Then at me.
I shrug. “It looks basically like mine.”
Lina looks at the friend again. “Do they all look like this?”
“Yes? This friend isn’t specifically sure what the problem is, so it can’t answer that with any – ”
“Have you ever worked with synnerves before?”
“Ah, no. This friend worked in trauma response. A lot of its patients had or needed implants, but it wasn’t this friend’s field.”
Lina nods. She taps the screen. “Something is very, very wrong here. This… this is absolutely not what the synnerve system created by a cerebral stimulator should look like.”
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6 thoughts on “037: MODIFY”
I’m super glad Adin is alive! But I wonder what new nonsense is going on now.
Chaotic bad or chaotic good?
I wanted to sleep tonight, Derin!
That’s like eating the last chocolate in the box at 2am and there’s no grocery store open anymore!
One is never enough, it just *wets the appetite*!
I HAD been suspicious about that weird nerve growth! (Insert vindication.gif)
I find it almost weird that neither the Friend nor Aspen had given it much thought, since it gave off such creepy badwrong vibes to me – but then again, culturally they seem rather different from us 21st-century peons, and augmentations, gene mods and the like have been established to be common for them – so they probably have different standards for what reads as creepy/weird on a gut level.
Now that someone has FINALLY noticed it, I cannot wait to hear more about it!!! It’s been more than 30 chapters, this mystery has been eating away at me… Is this just a result from the longer-than-expected cryosleep? Or was something weird about the synnerve system from the start? (See also, the port installation weirdness.) And could this be the answer (or part of the answer anyway) for the reduced survival chances of those without the citrus-allergy gene?
Ahhhh I’m so in love with these mysteries!!! Every piece of the puzzle just opens more questions…
I appreciate the brief respite between the near death and the newest enigma. Tinera is fun
*chefs kiss* Thank you Derin for supplying us with these amazing stories, this is the first one in a while where I actively check to see when the next update arrives. Think i read the first 34 chapters in an hour, this is like crack for my brain.
Thanks for reading!