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The crew gather in the medbay once more. Only half of us have done much actual physical labour today, but weariness shows on everyone’s faces. It’s clear that we’re all quite sick of random crises blindsiding us. Adin’s eyes are slightly glassy from whatever painkillers the doctors have given him; Lina’s hands flutter like spooked butterflies. Tinera slumps, sitting on the end of an unoccupied hospital bed, head resting on a stoic-faced Denish’s shoulder, while Tal lingers in the doorway, clearly wanting to leave. The Friend’s expression looks as blank as I feel while Lina, flicking from image to image of synnerve scans on the terminal as if enough analysis will somehow make them look normal, attempts to explain the situation.

“Synnerve growth from a cerebral stimulator is a bit more dangerous than the grafts we make for implants, because it’s less controlled. But it’s generally not worried about, because the growth is fairly small. While there is a very slight chance that a synnerve could grow into something important, it’s extremely rare. What should happen is that you should get a couple of nerves growing through the torso, and into the upper arms. Nothing past the elbows, nothing past the hips. And you definitely shouldn’t see this kind of mass in the brain. There should be more nerves there, sure; but the image shouldn’t be white.”

“It from extended time?” asks Denish. “We are only meant to sleep for twenty years. We have slept for thirty five.”

“Maybe. Probably. It’s hard to be sure, but yeah, that’s the most likely explanation.”

“I assume this is what’s caused our viability drop off?” I ask. “DIVRs are just resistant to the effects due to one of the phenotypic quirks of the geneset?”

“Maybe,” Lina says. “But that seems like a pretty neat answer. I’m always suspicious of neat answers in medicine.”

“Also, Adin’s a DIVR,” the Friend points out, “and he was in the ten per cent viability group, so – ”

“This can’t be the cause of ten per cent viability,” Tal cuts in, “not if it’s because we were under too long. Because that engineer from the first crew was in ten per cent viability after just fifteen years.”

“And all the ten per cent viabilities were in the back and front chronostasis rings,” the Friend points out.

“It might be the cause of the general viability dropoff, though,” Lina says. “And the ten per cent group was caused by some event during the second crew’s shift.”

Without saying anything, Tal leaves the room. Nobody tries to stop kem for an explanation.

Tinera asks, “Are any of the first crew still alive and in chronostasis, and not in the ten per cent viability group?”

Lina taps at the terminal for a bit. “Yes. Some of them.”

We all exchange looks. I know we’re all thinking the same thing. We could learn a fair bit about this situation with a time comparison – compare someone who’s been under for fifteen years to someone who’s been under for thirty five years. Then we’d know if the synnerve growth was due to time, or something new to worry about. We’d just need to wake up a crew member. Give them the radioactive tracer. Scan them.

Add another person to the crew. Condemn another person to five more years on this ship, instead of waking up in the colony like they’d agreed.

“If it is a time factor, then the viability will continue to drop, so it’s in people’s best interests for us to wake – ”

“It isn’t,” the Friend interrupts. “We’ve been monitoring viability of a handful of the colonists as a benchmark, like you asked. Over the past few months, there’s been no drop. If time still is a factor, it’s a very slow one.”

I nod. Not justification to go back to my ‘wake as many people as possible’ plan then, not on a ship that can support so few. But I make a mental note to check later whether the first crew’s captain or psychologist is alive. We’ll need to fill one of the roles eventually, and who’s more qualified than the people actually chosen to fulfil them?

“Counterpoint,” Tinera speaks up. “We should rouse one of the crew and test them for this whether we think time is a risk or not, because not only would it give us good information, but they might actually know what the fuck is going on and how to be an astronaut. Which is more than any of us can say.”

“And there are a couple of critical roles that still do need filling,” the Friend says reluctantly. “It would be nice to have a real scientist.”

“Or a psychologist,” I pipe up. “I cannot overstate the dangers of long-term untreated stress or trauma in a situation like this.”

“Yeah, we all saw Reimann,” Tinera agrees. “But a scientist and a psychologist would bring the crew up to nine, which…” she looks at Denish, who shrugs.

“I still think that might be maximum ship will be able to support in five years. Nine to twelve people. But, might be wrong. More or less. Still only a guess.”

“We don’t have any crew engineers left,” I say slowly, “but this is a colony ship for settling a new planet. There must be engineers that specialise in cooling systems and oxygen systems and air and water purification. Those will be critical for the colony. Maybe one of those could improve our estimates.”

“So… we are waking up someone else?” Tinera asks.

“Not right now. After we determine if the shield knocked out the cadaver’s kill switch, and get everyone through the shield if it did, then we should come back to this, I think. But making sure that nobody can hold your lives over you is going to be kind of important before we start waking more people. It’ll massively expand our options.”

Nobody argues with that. I think we’re all thinking the same thing: waking more people will probably create even more new, confusing problems. We’re tired.

People start to wander off as the discussion peters out. I rub the bump on the back of my skull where the cranial port still sits under my skin. I rub the palm of my hand where, I’d learned the first time I’d seen my own synnerve scan, one of the synthetic nerves had grown to. I generally try not to think much about the network in my body, a leftover system from an old medical procedure, sort of a big scar, but knowing that it was never meant to be this invasive…

Well, it’s not doing anything now, and there’s no way to remove it. No sense in thinking about it.

I run into Tal in NAER2, on the computer in the cubicle ke has claimed by hanging up a bunch of shiny junk and putting in faux neon lighting. (Honestly, some old tech was useful and I know everyone does the best they can with what they have, but why anyone ever thought neon lighting was a good idea, and why the zeelites seem to agree, I’ll never understand.) Ke’s typing furiously and doesn’t look up as I enter. I head for a cubicle of my own.

“Hey, captain?”

I jump. Apparently Tal is currently aware of the world around kem. It’s not always easy to tell. “Yeah?”

“You woke up Adin right before Tinera, right?”

“Um…” I try to think back. “Yeah, I think so?”

“And how many colonists died between them?”

“I don’t… um. Just the one, I… I think. I might be wrong. Doesn’t the computer have this stuff?”

“Yeah, I’m just checking.” Tal scowls at the screen.

“You think the computer’s records are wrong?”

“Hard to say. Amy won’t share most of them. I can look up, say, how many colonists are currently asleep in CR4 and what their names are. I can look up how many DIVR colonists are currently in the ten per cent viability group. I can’t look up how many DIVR colonists were in the ten per cent viability group before you woke Adin, or before you jettisoned CR1, even though those records have to exist because there’s just no reason to make a computer that wouldn’t keep a record of previous enquiries!”

“Ah… this is the thing where Reimann locked its logs?”

“Maybe, but these logs were made years after his death, which means it’s a process that’s still running, which means that I should be able to find what’s happening and fix it. Amy’s not prompting me for passwords or telling me I don’t have access to something, she’s just being cagey. But yeah, those are what she’s giving me for Adin and Tiny’s revival, so at least the information is accurate.”

“You… thought it wouldn’t be?”

“It doesn’t make sense.”

“What do you mean, it doesn’t make sense? How?”

“Math. Oh! What if I – ” Tal leans forward and starts typing faster.


No response.

Should I try to grab kes attention and demand more of an explanation? No, probably not. If it becomes important, ke’ll tell me, and trying to force a conversation when Tal wants to be paying attention to something else would just result in disjointed non-sequitors and badly explained fragments of advanced math. It’s like opening the oven to see how a souffle is cooking. You just leave it alone until it’s done, or you end up with a mess.

I sit down to read a book off a computer. There aren’t any paper books on the ship; we have plenty of raw paper that can be printed into books, if desired, but since it wasn’t possible to know exactly what each colony would need, we weren’t given actual complete books. The paper might be critically needed for some other purpose once we landed, and we had the books in the computer, after all. I glance back at Tal’s decorated little cubicle and concede, privately, that maybe some zeelite stuff would be cool, like those tiny computer screens that people used to carry around to read as many books as they wanted. (Or was that a cyberlite thing? The two subcultures were pretty serious about the difference but it was all ‘romanticising dead tech and painting over the problems in their source pre-Neocambrian cultures’ to me.) I mean, obviously, I get why those tiny portable personal devices were a bad idea and why we don’t use that kind of junk any more, but I’d be willing to overlook the social ramifications for the opportunity to just lie back on my own bed and read a book right now.

I load one up, and find I can’t focus. I go out to work in the greenhouses instead. More lemons are ripening; I leave them for one of the non-DIVRs to deal with, and turn my attention to the ground cover.

Here I am, gardening again. I’ve always been a bit of a scoutbird, as my mother put it; forever bouncing away from home and then coming back to my cluster with something new. I spent my coming of age exile in university and lived a whole new kind of life where the ground was universally sterile and dry and where residences stayed intact for more than a decade, and then I came home and did gardening. I completed my doctorate, came home and did gardening. Spent a year on Luna as a teacher, building my career and writing my second book, came back to a world of gardening. Flitted in and out, on book tours and publicity appearances, always to come home and turn my hands back to the gardens.

And here I am, flying away from home one final time. Fifty or sixty lightyears away, separated from the world I know by… fifty years? A hundred? Enough to put my old life out of reach in time as well as distance.


It isn’t like an Arborean garden, of course; my fingers dig into gritty earth rather than slimy water and thick rootbeds as I pull unwanted plants from their homes, and concerns of balance and bouyancy are replaced with concerns of hydration and drainage, but I know perfectly well how to handle dirt gardens, too, and it’s familiar enough that the general tediousness of the job is made more tolerable (or perhaps less tolerable) by nostalgia. Suno, one of my parents, had been a foreigner before joining our cluster, and had brought dirt gardens with him, so it’s not my first time growing vegetables in this way. I try not to think about his big, strong hands guiding my tiny ones to carefully prune tomatoes as I work.

I don’t need to think about that. I don’t have a cluster any more.

I have a crew now. And it’s the future that’s important.

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4 thoughts on “038: NERVES

  1. Really enjoy Tal as an addition to the crew, and hoping to see some more Amy interactions. (Really intrigued by what is going on with her though, Tal seems to be onto something however I’m yet to buy into the “evil AI” trope.) Also feel like Aspen has been pushing themself too hard lately, even if it’s subtle it seems to me the pressure of being captain and something from their life back on Arborea are slowly eating at them. Hope the crew like, prints them a paperback if things get too bad. Excited to get to know Lina better as well. Thank you Derin! 😀


  2. baby, I have a medically inadvisable number of synthnerves growing through my body and you’re getting on every single one


  3. God damn this is extremely fun. I can’t wait to read more! I’m also absolutely fascinated with the hints at what current human culture is like; I want to know everything about it. Sidenote, I’m reading this on my phone in bed and I laughed out loud at that part about no one having little portable screens anymore.


  4. Oooo we’re getting more and more tiny pieces! I can’t wait to see how they all convey together:) excellent work, as usual! ❤


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