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

I lie back and stare at the ceiling, deep in thought. Tinera stops nibbling on my collarbone and pulls herself up onto her hands to glare down at me. “You’re working.”

“What? No, I’m here with you.”

“You’re working here.” She taps my skull.

“There’s a lot going on! People are waiting on me to make decisions, and the complications – ”

“Uuuugh you’re such a nerd.” She drops herself back down and lies her head on my chest. “What are you thinking about?”

“Reviving more crew.”

“Oh. That.”

“It’s a complicated decision.”

“It’s not complicated, it’s simple. It’s just difficult. But simple. We have limited crew space but we need more personnel to move forward. You want a psychologist because we’ve all already met our quotas of untreated stress and trauma and we still have another five years or longer before we even get to the planet and begin our real jobs, and doing that unsupported is a recipe for disaster. Denish wants an engineer who actually knows about this kind of spaceship, which could pay off massively if they’re able to increase our crew capacity, our Friend wants a scientist to help tackle the weird bone thing and various other minor mysteries which, again, could pay off massively if they find anything, and Lina wants a previous crew member in the sixty per cent viability range so she can see that their synnerves look like, because that will allow her to either tentatively confirm or rule out time as the factor in that little issue, and if they do have normal synnerves then she can rule them out as the cause of the viability dropoff. Which may or may not be a huge deal. You can get a twofer if you revive a previous crew member who fits one of the other bills, but all the engineers from the first crew are dead, meaning it’s between a scientist and the psychologist.”

“And the crew 1 psychologist is in the ten per cent category,” I say. “I checked.”

“Oh, not great. Then again, you’ve got two living ten per centers on the crew already. None of that is complicated, but the issue is that you have no way of knowing which revival will pay of until after you’ve done it. A psychologist is a reliable choice, but doesn’t really move us forward. An engineer is theoretically the most important, since they might be able to increase our overall crew capacity, but if they can’t then that’s the biggest waste of all, because we already have a good engineer and we don’t have a psychologist or scientist yet. The scientist is the best choice if they’re able to provide insight into the bone and synnerve mysteries, but if that’s an impossible task, then having a scientist is less useful in general than a psychologist or engineer. And, of course, you’re still worried that if we reach capacity and decide it’d be really useful to have someone else, our Friend might do something drastic to itself to free up a space.”

“Yep,” I say. “That’s the long and short of it.”


“What do you think?”

“Fucked if I know. It’s not my job to make hard decisions.”

“You’re my second in command. It is your job.”

“The computer chose badly, then. I’m gonna go find some breakfast.”

“It’s five in the morning!”

“We’re in deep space and don’t have a sun. The time of day is a social construct.” She pushes herself up. “And I’m hungry.” She pads over to the door.

“Put some clothes on!” I call after her as she closes the door. “You might meet a Texan!”

“It’s five in the morning, everyone’s asleep! I’m not gonna meet a Texan! Oh, hi, Tal.”

“Tiny, why aren’t you wearing pants? Also, have you seen the captain?”

“It’s five in the morning. The captain’s probably still asleep.”

“Oh. Alright. I’ll see if I can get more details over the next couple of hours, then. If you see them, tell them that the doc’s found something on the CR1 footage.”

I haul myself out of bed and rush to the door, tripping on a sheet and practically falling through it. “Found something? Found what?”

Tal shields kes eyes. “Can you put pants on?”

I grumble and hurriedly tie the sheet around myself in an Arborean wrap. “There. Found what?”

“You’d better come and look.”

I come and look.

The Friend is in the spare medbay, the one it uses for dissections and autopsies, grinning at the computer screen. It looks up as we enter, eyes sparkling. In the months we’ve spent together, this is the first time I’ve seen it truly excited. “Aspen. Come and look at this.”

I weave my way around Tinera (who Tal is resolutely refusing to look at for reasons of nudity) to look at the screen. It is, as expected, footage from the Friend’s suit in Chronostasis Ring 1. I expect it to show Captain Reimann, but it’s from earlier than that; on the screen the Friend is inspecting the slaughtered colonists.

Next to me, Tinera turns faintly green. “Do I need to be here?”

The Friend shakes its head distractedly. She leaves. I lean closer to the screen. “What am I looking at?” I ask.

“You remember this bit? Let me turn the sound up.” On screen, the Friend examines a body. Tinera remarks that the wounds on its shoulders and chest, missed attempts at decapitation, are pretty shallow. There’s a brief discussion about how Reimann was probably weak from blood loss and exhaustion at that point.

“Yeah, I remember,” I say.

“Right. So, look at this.” The doctor skips to an earlier point in the footage. On the screen, it’s inspecting a severed head. A deep crack nearly splits the skull in two. The viciousness of the strike has shifted the bones enough to crack the back of the skull and let the cranial port fall out.

“So maybe he had a better angle on the – wait.” The cranal port had fallen out. “Were they all like this?”

The Friend grins wider. “All unexpectedly deep strikes? All with detached cranial ports? Yeah. Every head that shows up on camera is like that.”

“They had unusually weak skulls,” I breathe. “And easily dislodged cranial ports. He was targeting people with the port problem you’ve been looking into.”

“Probably,” the Friend agrees. “It’s possible that it’s a coincidence, that this problem is just endemic to Chronostsass Ring 1 for some reason. But Tal’s from that ring, and kes skull is fine. It’s very, very likely that this was targeted. Reimann knew about this problem, or at least something correlated with it, and for some reason made the decision to kill everyone with it.”

“By himself. So the crew didn’t agree. Either he chose not to tell them, or they didn’t think the colonists should be slaughtered. Either way, whatever he found was a big enough problem to make him do this, but not a big enough problem that he expected crew support in doing this. What kind of situation could that even be?”

“No idea. But… he found it out. He could tell who had fragile skulls before opening the chronostasis pods. Meaning there is a common characteristic between the people suffering from this. A characteristic that’s discoverable from the information on the ship. We don’t know what the common element or cause of this is, but it exists and it can be found.”

“That’s… that’s great,” I say. “That’s great news. But the fact that it’s something Reimann thought worth breaking the ship and killing himself over. Which is not encouraging.”

“It might be,” the Friend agrees. “Or, this might be more of his ‘sabotage’, another action he took trying to reach some other goal. This is just the point in his plan where he died.”

“I don’t see what the point of this would be, either way. We haven’t managed to wake anyone with this condition up without them dying immediately.”

“Which is interesting in itself, isn’t it? The fact that he thought this was necessary means that he, at least, thought they had a chance of waking up. Doesn’t it?”

“Meaning he either didn’t know any better, which is possible since his crew never revived anyone to our knowledge, or…”

“Or they had a method of waking them up successfully.”

I nod. If there’s a way to safely diagnose this bone thing, and a way to safely wake up the colonists with it, then we need to know both of those things. Colonist lives depend on it. Our current ‘open up the pods and hope the person inside has an intact skull’ system was getting people killed. And if Reimann had a good reason to throw his life away trying to rid the ship of these colonists… well, we need to know about that, too.

Tal suddenly points at one of the pods on the screen. “That’s Daisy Dukes.”

“What?” I ask.

“Pod 1-092. I skimmed the colonist manifest awhile ago and remembered because of the silly name. See, in preneek times, ‘daisy dukes’ were a type of clothing.”

“Dukes… Dukes…” I rub my chin. “Might be a side-cousin of mine. I think one of my parents was from the Dukes cluster.”

“Sorry about your side-cousin,” the Friend says.

“I didn’t know them.”

“They were in the ten per cent viability group, if that helps. So their chances of survival were already pretty low.”

“How can you know that?” Tal asks. “I’ve been trying to look up the past viability of dead crewmates and Amy just pretends not to know what I’m talking about.”

“They were one of the three DIVRs in the low viability group. This friend remembers the silly name back from when we were – ”

“You’re sure?” Tal asks, insistent. “Daisy Dukes was a DIVR?”

“Y-yeah, I saw – what?”

Tal giggles hysterically. “Oooh, I’ve got you now, Amy!” ke declares. “There’s no worming your way out of this one!” Ke dashes out of the room without further explanation.

“Should we… be worried about that?” I ask the Friend.

It shrugs. “If our IT specialist has gone Full Supervillian, what exactly can we do about it?”

“Fair. Okay, let’s see if we can learn anything else from this footage.”

“It must be something in the biofeedback,” the Friend murmurs as we watch. “He must have found some kind of measured marker that tells him which colonists are suffering from the bone problem.”

“We already know the system doesn’t measure bone density or port integrity,” I point out.

“No, but there must be other effects. Synnerves are grown to send signals into the body and also to receive them for biometrics. If whatever’s causing this also causes, I don’t know, a slightly different heartbeat or blood oxygen level or body temperature or something, and if Reimann knew what to look for…”

“Hmm. Maybe.”

We scrutinise the footage for a while longer, but don’t find anything new. Before we know it, it’s breakfast time.

“The crew will probably have some ideas on what this means,” I say.

“This friend hopes so,” the Friend says, “because it’s stumped.”

We’re the last to arrive for breakfast, so we don’t have to wait for anyone new before launching into our story. The crew listen patiently.

“So is this fragile skull group something we need to worry about?” Tinera asks. “I mean, was Reimann right to…” she makes an axe cutting gesture.

Adin leans away from her. “Don’t… don’t do anything drastic, okay? We don’t know what’s going on, so don’t just start killing people.”

“Why would I… just because I killed one guy doesn’t mean I’m going to go all axe murderer!”

“Okay, I just… just making sure. I mean, you said it wasn’t self-defense, so – ”

“It’s also none of your business!”

“And a while ago you were talking about killing the captain.”

“Only in self defense if they tried to kill us first!”

“Well, I – ”

Lina cuts in before this could get out of hand. “How do you guys think he identified who to kill?” she asks hurriedly. “There must be some kind of biometric…”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Tal says. “He probably did the same thing that the cap and Friend did, first thing.”

“What same thing?” I ask.

“You know. Ask Amy for a list of colonists by revival viability. Can’t be certain at this stage, but I’m about ninety nine per cent sure that this whole cranial port thing is just the low viability category.”

“No, it’s not,” Tinera says. “We checked that, remember? Adin and I are both from the ten per cent viability category and our skulls are fine.”

Tal shakes kes head. “Nope. You’re not from any ten per cent viability category.”

“Um, yes, they are,” I say.

“No. They’re not. Because there is no ten per cent category. It doesn’t exist.”

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

7 thoughts on “041: TARGET

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