044: EARTH

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I wait for the other shoe to drop. I wait for us to discover some new horrible thing about the stage 2 patients, or for the AI to try to kill us all over something stupid, or for someone to develop some deadly health complication as a result of the synnerves in our bodies. It… doesn’t happen.

There’s no reason, I suppose, to expect anything sinister to happen. We’ve been living with this AI for months and while I don’t trust it to make good decisions about our lives (it did nearly kill Denish that one time by forcibly evacuating CR1, only to then be unable to stop me from ejecting the ring full of dreaming colonists it was trying to protect, so… a step backward for everyone involved there), it’s mostly doing its job competently.

I’m not happy about it, mind you. Not only does the very idea that this thing is preying on my colonists, who I’m supposed to be guiding safely to their new home, give me the urge to start cutting it off from its supply Reimann-style, but there’s a reason that AIs are made to be limited in scope. It’s because they’re fucking stupid, and making them ‘smarter’ makes them more dangerously stupid, it allows them to make more mistakes at a faster rate. AIs are terrible at adapting to scenarios that they weren’t specifically programmed or trained for and their lack of true understanding means that they tend to be really bad at recognising a mistake and self-correcting, and whatever the lofty dreams of whoever set this up were, I don’t think enhancing its processing capabilities through giving it literal dream logic can result in better decision-making.

But it’s had these capabilities for years, and it hasn’t killed us yet. So.

I guess this is just… the state of the ship. And we just have to deal with that.

Still, the issue weighs on my mind for months, no matter how life just goes on as normal, and I’m not the only one. We finally organise a day to replace the painted memorial doors in Habitation Ring 1 so that we can use the space without endangering them, and as Adin holds a door steady for me while I unscrew the hinges, he suddenly asks, “We are going to Hylara, right?”

I stop screwing and look up. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, this whole synnerve computer brain thing. That’s not an accident. Somebody used us as a fucked up medical experiment, right? So… why would they send that to another planet? Why not keep it where you can actually see the results? How do we know we’re not just near Earth?”

“No, we go to Hylara,” Denish says from the next door over. “Remember when we go outside to turn off kill switch? No sun close by. We are well out of solar system. Also, I look at stars – very significant…” He says something in Texan. “The colours of stars, they show that we are going very very fast.”

“Right,” Adin says, “but they could’ve just sent us out into space and back.”

“No. Big waste of resources, big waste of fuel, very very big waste of time. Going fast means big time dilation. Forty years for us, in at least a century for them, probably much longer. If you do forty year experiment, why make it take a century? Why spend money on big fancy spaceship? Easier to do in secret bunker on Earth!”

“Yeah,” I say, “and that’s not getting into the marketing of the Javelin Program in the first place. All that publicity, all that investment, for a space lab? To do something you could do on Earth? No.”

“I think what we’re looking at here,” Tinera cuts in from her position unscrewing Denish’s door, “is more of a hijack. Let’s look at what we’ve got so far. Humanity discovers a bunch of exoplanets that look pretty habitable, gets super excited. Some people are like, ‘hey, let’s traverse the galaxy’ – ”

“The Exodus Phenomenon,” I say.

“Sure, if you believe in that kind of stuff, and some rich bastard sees a chance to become a space king and uses grandaddy’s money to essentially buy himself the Courageous. Maybe rich bastards do this for all the javelins, I don’t know. It certainly makes more sense than humanity actually working together for the sake of exploration and advancement. So rich guys have already hijacked the project, and they’re getting together their science teams and their computer specialists and whatever else hey need to live a halfway comfortable life in their new colonies, and some nutso scientist is like, ‘oh, I see you have a twenty year chronostatic timeline with five thousand people, that’s a massive number of chronostatic people for a ridiculously long time. I’ve got an experiment that needs that,’ and gets themselves aboard and does whatever fucked up nonsense they had to do to get this to work. Sure, they’ll be in a new colony when their experiment is complete, but if they’re trying to build actually intelligent computers, and if they were happy to be a colonist anyway…”

“This is getting ridiculous,” Adin mutters. “By the time we actually get to Hylara, we’re going to be five layers deep in the colonial plans of various dead and sleeping people.”

“Look on the bright side,” Tinera says. “When they all wake up and have to deal with each other, we get to watch the show. This door’s safely off now, ‘Nish.”


“I’m still not sure how we’re going to disable thousands of kill switches before waking up anyone with the codes for them,” I say. “It’ll have to be done while the ship’s shielding is still up… it’s going to be a logistical nightmare.”

“Maybe we can rig up a smaller version or something,” Tinera suggests. “Denish, can that be done?”

“I do not know. I am not spaceship scientist. I know breaking shield to steal, not building them. Doctor?”

Lina, who had just walked into the ring, looks up. “Hmm?”

“Is there a way to make small, local form of ship’s shield? Perhaps with radiation and scanning equipment in medbay? For the hearts of colonists.”

“Uh… I have no idea. I mean, I doubt it.”

“Probably for the best,” Adin says. “I mean, I don’t like the kill switch thing any more than the rest of you guys, but waking up thousands of rapists and murderers and, I don’t know, cannibals or whatever, and having no way to control their behaviour at all, might be – ”

“Whoah, hang on a second,” Tinera says, “are you suggesting that we keep these people on kill switches? As a matter of policy? We’re safe so fuck those other guys, right?”

“No! I’m just saying that we should take things slow, establish a rule of law and do individual threat assessments of people before we – ”

“Establish a rule of law while their necks are still in the noose, yeah, that’s gonna be an equitable and democratic meeting. And who the fuck are you to decide whether someone’s enough of a threat to deserve keeping their kill switch?”

“Not me! A proper court!”

“Staffed by who?? The arseholes who dragged us out here to be their labour force?”


“Other convicts, then; the ones you apparently don’t trust?”

“No! What about people like Aspen?”

“Hey, leave me out of this,” I say.

“I’m just saying, we shouldn’t just wake everyone up with no thought and no way to establish ord –”

“They’re colonists! That’s how things are meant to go!”

“We don’t know what these people have done!”

Tinera glares at him.

He swallows. “I’m, I’m just saying, we should actually look at the crimes and histories and mitigating circumstances of – ”

“Oh, here it comes. Do you think I’m a threat to you, Adin?”

“N-no. I mean, you’ve saved my life and all. I just… well…”

“Yes, Adin? Do you have a question for me?”

“It was actually self-defense, right? That guy you killed?”

The silence stretches for several seconds, before Tinera says, “No. it wasn’t. I wasn’t in any danger.”

“A.. a friend, or a family member or…”

“Nobody was in danger. I killed him because he deserved it.”

“Right, right! So there was a mitigating circumstance, right? Like, he was a really abusive boyfriend or something. It wasn’t really murder, it – ”

“Why do you care so much about this?”

“Why do I care whether my superior officer is a murderer?!

“And what about the people you’ve killed?”

“I never… I haven’t…”

“No?” Tinera gets up off the floor and strides over to him. Adin, despite being a full head taller than her, flinches back. “You think I don’t recognise your type? Snivelling, shrinking, polite little boys doing what they have to, but being nice about it… you think I don’t know those kinds of tattoos? I know what kinds of lines of work people like you go to prison for, and if you never killed anyone, that just means you were too pathetically bad at your job to be successfully enough for there to have been casualities. You were… hmm. My guess is drugs? Probably one of the neurostims, given what little I know of your lifestyle.”

“Neurostims don’t – ”

“You know they hook as many kids as they can, right?”

“I never sold anything to kids!”

“You had other dealers? Did they sell to kids?”

“I don’t know what other people did, but I – ”

“Not your problem once it leaves your hands, right? Why would you need to ask questions? Adin, if there’s no blood on your hands, that just means you were too shitty at your job to have enough customers to kill any.”

“Unlike you, I wouldn’t know about killing peop – ”

“Enough!” I shout. “Both of you. Stop. I don’t ever want to hear this topic being raised again.” I get up and dust off my knees. “Earth is lost to us. The good parts and the bad parts. I don’t care about the circumstances under which Tinera killed that guy. I don’t care what dangerous substances Adin sold to who. It doesn’t fucking matter any more. Everyone on Earth you could possibly have killed or not killed is dead anyway by now. Whoever you used to be, now you’re crew. Fucking act like it. We got on this ship because we needed a fresh start – ”

“I got on this ship because they threatened to send me back to Luna if I didn’t,” Tinera says. “And I thought you got on because your Exodus effect got you?”

“Y-yes. I did. Look, it doesn’t matter. The point is, whatever either of you did on Earth, I don’t care, and neither should you. If there was blood on your hands, it’s long washed off now. Besides, I’ve gotten to know both of you pretty well by now, and I find it pretty hard to believe that you’re guilty of anything truly bad in the first place. Whatever happened with either of you, I’m sure you made the best decisions that you could. I don’t think any of those people’s blood is on your hands.”

“Acacia Greaves’ blood isn’t on your hands either, Captain,” Lina says quietly from behind me.

I spin to face her. “Shut up. What the fuck do you know about that? Did you know Shia? At all?”

“No, I – ”

“Well you sure as fuck didn’t know me. And you were in prison at the time. So whatever version of the story you heard, whatever you think you fucking know, you don’t. Shut up.”

“I know you now. And your sister – ”

“Don’t. Don’t fucking talk about Shia to me. She’s dead. Same as everyone else any of us knew on Earth. It doesn’t matter any more, and I don’t want to talk about it.” I storm out of the room, leaving the others to finish with replacing the doors. I have other stuff to do, anyway. Important captain stuff.

This ship is going to be the death of me.

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