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The doctors shoo us all out of the room pretty quickly so they can run tests. About an hour later, I’m let back in alone. Keldin is significantly more awake, sitting up in bed and sipping some of that disgusting protein broth that we all had to drink after chronostasis.
“You didn’t tell me you were the captain,” he says as I walk in.
“I’m not,” I say. “I mean, I won’t be soon. Once you’re in the system, you’ll be captain.”
His expression tells me that this is probably something I should’ve said up front, rather than as a casual aside an hour later. Well, live and learn, I guess.
“Wait,” he says. “If I’m higher priority as captain, why were you revived to be captain?”
“That’s… really complicated.” I sit on the bed next to his and gather my thoughts. Before reviving Keldin, we’d spoken as a group about how much we specifically wanted to tell him. We’d agreed to keep the fact that the crew’s kill switches are disabled a secret, and there’s no need to tell him that everyone else was a convict unless it happens to become relevant. I know from experience that the captain didn’t have access to that information in their profiles, so if we’re lucky, he might never learn, and some potential unpleasantness can be avoided.
It would probably be fine. We don’t even know this guy; there’s no reason to assume he’s a bad person. But, well. He’s really high on that priority list for the captaincy.
We’d also decided not to tell him about the whole ‘computer invading colonists’ brains and preventing them from surviving revival’ thing just yet. Not until we have a better measure for how he’ll react. We don’t want another Captain Reimann.
“About four or five years ago, Captain Reimann – the second shift captain of the ship – suffered a psychotic break and attacked the ship. The fallout of the incident resulted in the entire crew dying off. We’re still not really sure how most of them died; the AI’s records are spotty due to structural damage in the ship.”
“Reimann caused significant damage to Chronostasis Ring 1, cutting off crew and computer access to the front half of the ship. After the crew died, the ship remained unmanned for awhile, but the AI eventually revived me because it couldn’t turn the engines on. Chronostasis Ring 1 was damaged beyond salvation, but it needed captain’s authorisation to eject it.” I consider explaining the whole song and dance of trying to preserve the ring, only to have to eject it later, but that’s not important right now. “I wasn’t revived to lead a crew, I was revived to accomplish this specific task. I’m not sure what exactly went into the calculation, but the AI says that my high chances of survival and fast recovery from chronostasis were a major factor.”
“But you do have a crew.”
“I can’t maintain a ship by myself. A lot of stuff had broken while the ship wasn’t receiving maintenance, and the longer things go without maintenance, the more they’re getting damaged. We don’t have a full crew because we’re not sure that the systems are capable of maintaining an environment for 21 people for that length of time. We need a qualified engineer who’s as familiar as possible with javelin ship systems specifically.”
“Why didn’t you revive an engineer from the first crew?”
“They’re all dead.”
“Dead?! Just how many crew members have died on duty in this ship?”
“Well, only one of the first crew engineers died on duty, if that helps. The other two died in chronostasis. You’re the closest thing we have to a trained javelin engineer.”
Keldin mutters something under his breath, presumably a curse, in a language I don’t understand. It doesn’t sound anything like Texan, I note with interest. “Why did the computer revive you instead of the primary crew captain?” he asks. “Is she also dead?”
“Captain Kae Jin is alive, so far as I know. I’m not really sure why I was chosen over the primary crew. Possibly the crew had no DIVRs.”
Right. That. “The revival viability of the colonists is unexpectedly very low. Lucky people with a particular genetic makeup, like myself, have a chance of successful revival in the eighty to ninety per cent range, but – ”
“Eighty per cent is lucky? It should be ninety nine per cent!”
“Well, it isn’t.”
“What were my chances of surviving?”
“Sixty two per cent.”
The blood drains from his face. He looks down and sips his drink. After a few seconds of silence, he continues. “Why is the chance of revival so low?”
“We’re not sure,” I half-lie. “Best theory is that it’s a time issue. The DIVR-32 geneset provides a small amount of resistance to problems common to long-term chronostasis; we think that it might have protected those of us who carry it for longer, as viability dropped for – ”
“But we’ve only been in chronostasis for sixteen years,” Keldin points out. “That is a really long time, sure, but the biologists’ projections could have been this far off.”
“You’ve been asleep for thirty six years.”
The cup of broth slips from his fingers and splashes across the floor. We ignore it.
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
I shrug. “There was a problem with the aft engine. The first crew weren’t getting the acceleration they expected. Tal – our computer guy – tells me that it’s a time dilation issue. Ke tried to explain the math to me, but… well, as I understand it, it took us far longer to get near the speed of light than it should have, so our journey is taking a fair bit longer from Earth’s point of view, and twice as long from ours. The fore engine is fine; currently, we’re at the expected location and velocity, and decelerating at the expected rate. Getting to this point just took a lot longer than it should have.”
“So our equipment designed for a twenty year journey is thirty six years into a forty year journey.”
“Plus the time it’ll take to get into orbit and set up a geontal base.”
“Right.” He swings his legs over the side of the bed and slowly get to his feet, showing no concern over his lack of clothes; another indication that he isn’t Texan. I really should have checked his nationality before all this; knowing where someone is from makes it a lot easier to know how to establish a good relationship with them. I’ll have to check it later.
For now, he stumbles forward, and I catch him. He swears under his breath.
“I should be fine. Why am I so weak?”
“You’ve been asleep for three and a half decades.”
“The drugs are supposed to preserve muscle mass!”
“They don’t always work perfectly. You had a less than two third chance of even surviving, remember? Besides, a lot of strength is down to coordination, and the drugs don’t do shit for that. You should get back into bed.”
“I’ve got a job to do.”
“And it’ll still be there when you’ve recovered.”
“You said I’m the captain, right?”
“… Well, yes, you will be once you’re registered in the system, but – ”
“Then I should get registered.” He brushes past me and heads for the door.
I consider my options. The obvious way forward is to remind him that I’m currently the captain and order him back to bed. That might work. But even if it does, I don’t want to start a rank-based pissing contest with someone if I don’t know how they’ll take it. I really should call for one of the doctors and let them handle it – they left us alone in the medbay out of courtesy, but there’s no way they’re not within easy reach in case something goes wrong with Keldin – but again, I don’t want to potentially set up a bad relationship.
Force is completely out, of course. I could overpower Keldin if I had to – I’m not particularly strong, but I didn’t just wake up from a thirty six year nap either – but that was physically and socially dangerous. Really, my choices are to pull rank, get a doctor to pull rank, or let Keldin be stubborn.
I follow him out of the room. If he’s going to be an idiot, someone should be there in case his drowsiness and lack of coordination get him hurt.
Keldin walks through the ship with the air of someone who knows where they’re going, which I should’ve expected – his familiarity with javelin ships was the whole reason we’d chosen him, after all. He quickly locates the ID chip writer near the airlock and lays his forearm across it without needing to be told how. And… that’s that, I suppose. New engineer. And new captain.
I’m not in charge any more. It’s an odd feeling. For the first time since I woke up, the Courageous is Somebody Else’s Problem. Keldin and Tinera outrank me (unless the role reshuffle has given me Tinera’s job of logistics officer, which is very unlikely). I’m almost definitely still the ship’s psychologist, third in the chain of command, but I’ll have to check later to be sure. The important thing is that I’m not the captain any more.
Captain Sands turns away from the wall to fix me with a confident, if slightly shaky, grin. “There we go,” he says. “Now, the coolant sys – ”
And then he collapses to his knees and throws up all over the floor.
I run to get the doctors. The Friend is, as expected, very easy to locate, and easily transports our suddenly very groggy captain back to bed.
“Is he going to be alright?” I ask.
“He won’t have done himself any harm, provided he didn’t damage his knees when he fell.” It slips an IV line in his arm and hooks up a bag of saline. (I suspect this is more to keep him in bed than any actual need for hydration.) “How are you feeling, captain?”
Captain Sands doesn’t answer. He’s asleep.
“Should we be worried about that?” I ask.
“No, the others did it too. This is why it’s best for people not to go walking about until the sedatives are completely out of their system and chronostasis recovery has begun.” It clamps a monitor to his finger. “Of course, we should be used to dealing with stubborn captains with no regard for their own health by now.”
“That’s not fair.”
“How long did you give yourself to recover before you started crawling around on the outside of the ship?”
“… That doesn’t count.” I leave the Friend to its work and wander off to do mine. I’ve been neglecting Greenhouse Ring 2 lately; I should probably do something about that.
Greenhouse 2 has a dandelion infestation. Well, I say ‘infestation’; I put them in there. They’re the XV1198-C variant of the Hwaseonge Hnmang dandelion, one of the few high-performance genetically engineered environmental control plants that owe absolutely none of their development to Arborea. TheHnmang variants were developed by the ancestors of the Martians, in the early days of the Neocambrian Age before Arborea even existed, in Korea. Their purpose, which they excel at, is to very rapidly colonise dead soil, creating an appropriate growing structure with their fast-growing hard roots and greatly encouraging the proiliferation of plant-supporting microorganisms. They were vital to the colonisation of Mars and Luna, used extensively in combatting desertification on Earth, and of course every single variant had been brought on every javelin ship, right next to the Arborian desalination and heavy metal removing plants. When we’d decided to change Greenhouse Ring 2 to a temperate climate, conditioning the soil with dandelions was obviously the most time-efficient thing to do.
But using Hnmang dandelions comes with a tradeoff – they’re really, really hard to get rid of. We don’t have any poisons that would target them universally and not our food plants, and it isn’t a good idea to go spraying poisons inside a spaceship anyway, which means either putting up with the infestation or slowly ripping them out by hand until they stop coming up. (And dandelions always keep coming up.) For regular dandelions, this wouldn’t be a problem, but these are specifically designed to get the soil into a certain state – now that everything was established, their continued presence had a slight stunting effect on the other plants. Generally, I ignored them – there was no need for the greenhouses to operate at peak efficiency – but I might as well clean up and make the place look a bit more maintained, what with the new captain and all.
Weeding is a monotonous job that doesn’t require much focus. I think about Keiko Kinoshita as I work. The third of five captains of the javelin Courageous – that’s far too many captains. She had found herself alone here, and she hadn’t, so far as I could tell, tried to make contact with the front of the ship to see if anyone was there. She hadn’t, as protocol dictated she should, woken a reserve crew. Faced with the possibility that she might die and leave the ship uncrewed, she’d chosen not to give the ship a new crew, but instead given the AI the power to safely pilot an unmanned ship.
And it had worked, for a while. But she’d missed something. The AI couldn’t reach the fore engine past Chronostasis Ring 1, and the aft engine was too damaged to have the thrust required for deceleration. Captain Kinoshita hadn’t ejected CR1, and had neglected to give the AI the ability to do it itself, so when it came time to turn the engine on, the AI needed human assistance. And it had woken me.
Not Captain Sienna Kae Jin, still in chronostasis. Not any of the other living members of the first crew, all trained astronauts who knew how to live in space. Not an engineer or a doctor or a captain with a new crew – just one single person, with a basic competency in most general skills, a decent head for improvisation, and a great capacity for post-chronostasis recovery. I hadn’t been as clumsy as the Friend upon waking, hadn’t been confined to my bed like the others; I hadn’t thought much of it at the time, figuring that everyone was recovering okay and the Friend was just being overcautious about bed rest, but I hadn’t come close to responding to overexertion the way Captain Sands had. If that was an expected result of walking around post-chronostasis, I really had been in exceptionally good condition. Which is, of course, the main reason I was picked.
I was picked on the basis of being somebody who had the best chance of getting the engines on as quickly as possible, accounting for the possibility that they would refuse to eject Chronostasis Ring 1 right away. I wasn’t picked for my long-term survival skills.
I pull up a dandelion. A worm is caught in its roots. They still creep me out a little, even after all this time; a childhood of Arborean gardening accustomed me to different animal symbiotes for plants. But I’m not in Arborea any more. I brush the worm off, back into the soil.
A spaceship is easier to run without a crew. The systems around us are old, breaking down, and while they do of course fare far better with regular maintenance, many of them only run at all for the purposes of the crew. An uncrewed ship, even with surviving greenhouses, needs minimal lights. It needs minimal oxygen cycling, minimal filtration, no constantly operating doors or computer terminals. The cooling needs are about ninety per cent lower. When you think about it, on a ship, a crew is a pretty serious burden. Right up until something needs doing that the AI can’t do itself.
I shake the soil from the dandelion in my hand.
“How long did you expect me to survive after doing my job, Amy?” I ask.
But of course the AI can’t answer me. Its ability to understand verbal speech was locked away by a previous messy, irrational captain, who made silly decisions and put strain on the ship’s systems and broke things.
I toss the dandelion onto my growing pile of weeds and bend down to pull up another one.
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5 thoughts on “048: ADAPTATION”
Oooh the power dynamics might be tricky with this line of thinking… Very excited to see where it will go 👀
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Im also really curious if those dandelions are edible,,,, but for another time haha
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Tbh I’ll believe he’s the captain when we actually *see* the ship acknowledging it, not when Aspen just assumes it. Since everything else is going wrong
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“I really should have checked his nationality before all this”
Yeah, you really should have. Building a psychological profile of the guy based on the ship’s information would be really useful for determining his attitudes towards prison slave labor.
I cannot wait for them to tell him about the AI thing. “Hey, you were part of the design team. Do you happen to know anything about plans to use sleeping colonists brains in the AI’s decision making? Cause it’s doing that and it’s making the fake nerves so invasive they can crack bone and some colonists have 0% chance of survival because of it.”
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I can just imagine after he find out, he suddenly starts glaring menacingly and whispers “Robbie” and then goes to wake someone up and starts yelling at them.