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“Alright,” Captain Sands announces, wiping coolant off his arm with a rag as he strolls into Recreation and Medical Ring 1, “the coolant system’s as fixed as it can get. Tal, go turn on the oxygen.”

Tal shoves one last piece of pancake into kes mouth, leaps up, and dashes for the medbay to access the terminal. I try not to get too excited. After collapsing, the captain took the advice of the doctors a lot more seriously and begrudgingly remained under observation until they pronounced him fit for duty less than twenty four hours ago. We’re all feeling a little nervous from living on canned air for so long, but it’s entirely possible that he might not be completely alert yet, so I try not to put too much faith in his repair abilities until the oxygenation system is actually functioning again without stressing the coolant system.

Captain Sands certainly looks more like a captain than I ever did. The perfect symmetry of his face extends to his entire body, barring a couple of small scars and missing fingernails, and he carries himself with confidence. His well-defined musculature survived chronostasis, and fills out his captain’s uniform – something I’d never bothered to search storage for for myself – nicely. His confidence bleeds over – when he walks into the room, it’s hard not to feel confident that we will indeed reach Hylara alive. Probably.

He sits down heavily at the picnic table and grabs a pancake. “You guys made these using the ship’s stores?”

Tal shrugs shyly. “Flour keeps really well so long as you keep oxygen and water out of it.”

“Still. Thirty five years. These are good! And that can’t be real butter, can it?”

“It’s an oil extract from some algae cultures we’ve got growing in Lab 2,” Lina explains. “We’ve got the consistency right, but the taste is still a bit – ”

“Tastes perfect to me. The honey’s from our bees, I assume?”


“Fantastic. Seems strange, doesn’t it, to be confined to a ship more than sixty light years from Earth and be eating better than many people back home?”

I shrug noncommittally. I’d never had any problem putting food in the cookpit back home, but that might not be true for the rest of the crew. Food shortages weren’t uncommon on Luna, at least; I had no idea about Texas.

Tal heads back to the table. “Oxygen’s on.”

“It’s working?” Captain Sands asks.


I listen carefully, but nothing sounds any different. I can’t hear any new machinery. But then, why would I? I’d never heard anything before the oxygenator broke, either.

“Great.” The captain finishes his pancake. “The cooling system is running at about sixty per cent efficiency. I replaced most of the hardware and that’s about as good as the internals can do. I think the external emitter lens is damaged; general wear and tear, I expect.”

That makes sense. There are a limited number of ways to radiate heat from an object in space. Either you have to collect heat in matter and vent the hot matter, or you have to vent it as light. Obviously, the second method is preferred, and was used for the javelin mission. But it does mean you need an external component to actually emit the light, or at least a component with an external lens. Thirty five years into a twenty year mission of being blasted with random space particles and near-lightspeed? Yeah, that lens is probably not in great shape.

“I’d go out and change it,” the captain says, “but somehow I don’t think the doctors want me out there just yet.” He glances at Lina and the Friend, who both shake their heads. “Yeah, I figured. Any of you guys been on the outside of the ship before?”

“We all have,” I say reluctantly, “but I have the most experience.” I’d better not die doing this.

“Nope, I need you for another job today, Aspen. Who’s second most experienced?”

“I will go,” Denish says.

“Nuh-uh.” Tinera shakes her head. “We’ve talked about this, ‘Nish. You’re way too big to be crawling around on the outside of a spinning ship.”

Denish swats her arm affectionately. “You are overprotective! Lens is this big.” He holds his hands about a metre and a half apart. “Will you carry it? With small arms, one good hand? Anyway, safety line can hold me just fine. We already checked.”

“Ugh, fine.”

“I’ll be his backup,” the Friend volunteers.

“That’s a no go.” Captain Sands shakes his head. “I don’t want doctors running around doing unnecessarily dangerous things. You two are too critical in your actual jobs, which don’t involve this kind of thing.”

Tinera narrows her eyes and glances around the table. I can see her dilemma; obviously, she can’t send Denish out alone, but Sands has accidentally vetoed every suitable assistant. If he himself, the head engineer, can’t do it, and I can’t do it, and neither of the doctors can do it… her eyes flick between Tal and Adin. Both more of a danger outside the ship than a help.

“We wait for Aspen,” Denish says decisively.

“Aspen’s not even an engineer any more,” Captain Sands points out. “I’m sure the entire ship doesn’t need to grind to a halt just because Aspen’s not available.”

“I’ll be Nish’s backup,” Tinera says decisively. “Adin, you’re monitoring and coordinating this mission.”

“Fantastic.” Captain Sands claps his hands together. “Aspen, can I see you a for a moment?”

I follow the captain away from the breakfast table and… into the next ring. Oh, so this is a properly private conversation then. Okay.

No sooner has the airlock closed behind us than he spins around and flashes me a smile. “You didn’t tell me that you were Aspen Greaves.”

I scowl at him. “This is what you pulled me away for? Does it matter?”

“Does it matter? Of course! I’m a huge fan. I’ve read all of your books; they inspired me to join the Javelin Program.”

“Well, if you managed to smuggle any aboard, I’ll happily sign them for you.”

“The data should be in the computers; I’ll print them out when we land and hold you to that. What’s your opinion of Tinera Li Null as a logistics officer?”

“Uh. What?”

“Tinera Li Null. Logistics officer. What’s your opinion of her abilities in this role?”

“Um. Fine? I mean, it’s a small crew and we don’t move supplies around much, so I don’t know how difficult a job that is – I think she spends more time working as an assistant engineer, all told. But she’s never made any noticeable mistakes with logistics.”

“Let me clarify the question. What’s your opinion of Tinera Li Null as a logistics officer, knowing that that makes her second in command?”

“Oh, that. She’s fantastic at that.”


“Absolutely. Tinera has an excellent head in a crisis. She hasn’t had to take command all that much – it’s not usually necessary day-to-day, being such a small crew – but when she is in command, she’s been great. She keeps a cool head, listens to her crew, and coordinates everyone perfectly. I can say with full confidence that Adin would almost definitely had died in space if it wasn’t for her the last time she was in command.”

“Interesting. So, no complaints about her leadership?”

“None as a second in command, or a crisis leader, no. If you mean leadership in general, I’d say she’s a bit… aggressive, and overly decisive.”

“How so?”

“Her first response to any kind of threat is to try to eliminate it as completely and directly as possible. Which is fine for a crisis situation, but in a long-term leader, I’m more confident in people more inclined to nuance. And she makes decisions very quickly, usually as soon as she has all relevant information, and doesn’t second-guess them without reason. She has no time or interest in reflection or regret for past decisions; if the decision can’t be unmade, she sees no point in discussing or dissecting it, just calls it a sunk cost and moves on. Which I don’t imagine is great for personal growth. Excellent second-in-command, though. If you need someone to back you up, someone to help coordinate things that are too big for you to handle, someone to be ready to make decisions when you can’t in an emergency, you want Tinera.”

“She outranks you now, you realise.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Does that bother you?”

“No. Should it?”

“It doesn’t bother you that the woman you described as overly aggressive and incapable of self reflection can give you orders?”

“That’s not what I said about her. And no, it doesn’t. The last time she gave me orders, it saved Adin’s life.”

“Hmm. Well, regardless. I called you here to inform you that you’re getting a promotion. You’re our new logistics officer.”

“But… the computer assigned…”

“The computer assigns roles based on preprogrammed priorities. I’m the captain; I can change them. You just told me that logistics is a really easy job with such a small crew, and I’d much rather you as a second in command than her, so here we are. We’ll change it in the system after we announce it to the rest of the crew. Congratulations, Logistics Officer Greaves.”

“But… why?”

He purses his lips. “I don’t want to frighten you, but you’re actually in quite a bit of danger. You have been since you started reviving crew members.”

“I’m in danger.”

“We both are. I know you made the best possible decisions you could in the circumstances, and frankly it’s amazing that you managed to hold everything together for this long, but there’s some information that you might not be aware of. You’re a sociologist; you understand how complicated and labour-intensive expanding into new land and rendering it fit for humans is, yes?”

“I suppose so. The entire premise of Arborea was – ”

“Yes, yes, but your ancestors had it on easy mode. A whole lot of brilliant scientists, a singular goal – very admirable. But they grew their lands from the safety of their own parent nations, or vast ships maintained by other nations, drawing in resources as they needed; they had a lot to work with and a small population to look after. They had home bases, is what I’m saying. Support outside the land they’re building. We’re going to terraform a plant with no backup – just what we have on this ship. And we’re going to need to work quickly. As such, the javelin program relied on more traditional strategies. Like Luna.”

“Convict labour.”

“Exactly. Aspen, I’m sorry to inform you that Tinera Li Null, your superior officer until we get to a computer terminal to change that, is a murderer.”

“Uh. Okay.”

“You must be in shock. I get that. When you’ve grown close to someone for so long, learned to rely on them, it’s a shock to hear. But I’m afraid it’s true – committed, tried, convicted. Killed a boy with a kitchen knife. You said she’s aggressive; has she ever threatened you? Ever posed any kind of danger?”

“No! No, she’s never done anything like that.” She had been completely ready to kill me if I posed a danger back when she thought I had the codes to her kill switch, but that’s different. That’s self defense.

“Good, so she’s playing nice for now. What about the others?”

“What about them?”

“Aspen, I don’t want to startle you, but you were remarkably unlucky in reviving crewmates. Apart from us, this entire crew is hardened criminals.”

That hadn’t been luck. Well, some of it had, but mostly it had been the Friend, trying to keep the number of people able to kill other crew members at will as low as possible, and making revival decisions accordingly.

“How do you know that?” I ask. “I mean, I checked everyone’s files when I was captain, and that information wasn’t available to me.”

“The information’s privileged to the logistics officer for some reason, but there’s ways around that. It’s a stupid restriction anyway. Surely the captain should know everything possible about his crew and the colonists in his care?”

“Well, the Big Data Problem – ”

“Yes, yes; too much information is too easily misinterpreted and results in biases and bad decisions. But surely a lack of information is more dangerous – look at the situation it put you in, surrounding yourself with murderers and rapists and soforth.”

“Wait, there are rapists on the crew?!”

“… Well, no, there aren’t. But there could have been! And there are several murderers, which is worse. The point is, anyone put in charge of a spaceship like this should be someone smart enough to make good decisions with good information, right? If they’re prone to Big data fallacies, then why put them in charge in the first place? And yes, I know neither of us were chosen for this job, but we weren’t ever expected to take charge; the information should be available because it should have been available to the proper captains, Kae Jin and Reimann. It’s the principle of the matter. Anyway, the point is, we’re surrounded by criminals. Have they hurt you? Threatened you? Tried to take anything from you?”

“There’s nothing to take,” I point out. “It’s a spaceship. And no, everyone’s stepped up and gone above and beyond both on and off duty.”

“Good, so they’re trying to play nice for as long as possible. That’s good. It gives us time to work with.”

“Time to do what?”

“Time to get this ship back in order. Once I’ve finished repairing and upgrading all systems, we’ll be able to support a full-size crew again. We can wake trustworthy, competent people, and that’ll make us a lot safer.”

Ten minutes ago, I would’ve been thrilled at the idea of finally having a full crew. But from this angle… “What are you going to do to the current crew?”

“What do you mean? I’m not going to do anything to them. On a fully staffed crew they’ll be outnumbered. There’s precautions – kill switches – that mean that convicts can be removed as a threat if they become a threat, but with six of them and two of us, they could overpower us and take over the ship if they get antsy. With six of them and fifteen trustworthy crew, they’re far more likely to behave themselves. If they do their jobs and don’t cause trouble, everything will be fine. But first, we need the ship in working order, so until that’s up and running, play along. Don’t let them realise that you know what they are.”

“I think you might be overreacting. The crew have been exemplary, and we all have mistakes in our past that we regret – ”

“If they were the type to regret their crimes, they wouldn’t have committed them in the first place. You yourself said that Tinera’s incapable of growth or change.”

“That’s not what I said!”

“Well, regardless. If they do want to be good people, then we’re doing them a favour by making it as hard as possible for them to relapse. If they don’t, we need to protect ourselves. I know they’re your friends, and that’s a good thing. If they like you, you’re a lot safer than if they don’t. Just… be careful. And Aspen… I’m sorry you had to find out this way.” Captain Sands claps a hand companionably on my shoulder. “Now, let’s get to a computer terminal and get you properly promoted to second in command.”

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11 thoughts on “049: SAFETY

    1. THERE IT IS. YEAP. YEAAAAAPPPPP. OURURURGH. “What so you woke me up to fix your problem and then youre gonna kill me?” is probably this guys next line… What a gross guy. Casual defense of slavery (“convict labor”),
      being judge, jury, and executioner, twisting the words of someone hes a “big fan of”… Also like computer terminal names mean anything on a ship where hes outnumbered and a small crew whos been working together for a while… But oh this guy sure must be used to having authority… Excellent writing! He makes my skin crawl!!!!


      1. He’s not listening to Aspen, he’s listening for validation of his preconceptions. He’s not intentionally twisting Aspen’s words, he’s just not interested in taking in new information and actually changing his mind.


  1. and I thought he was doing well, all things considered… well, hope something changes his mind at some point, he seems decent enough besides the whole, um, convict labour thing (not that we’ve been introduced to him long at all)


  2. Oh and the “companionable hand” as if Aspen didnt just get shot down as any type of second in command and had all points ignored. Gross gross gross!!! Still great writing fhdksks aaaarugh this is such a high point of tension now. ASPEN WHAT NOW (sorry youre captain again whoooops)


  3. Oooh i hate him
    I get where he is coming from, but maybe actually listen to what is said to you by the person you want as a your second-in-command ???
    Also, he was obviously very aware of the whole convict labour AND kill switches and was absolutely fine that. Kill switches are definitely about a million step too far. Dehumanizing, death threats and forced labour packaged as one.

    Oh don’t worry, as long as people do their jobs, he won’t hurt them. Not that job, no. Yes, that’s the one they’re most qualified for, but he doesn’t trust them, so not that job. Wouldn’t want your forced labour force to have any kind of say into what they do or any kind of say into decision making.


  4. Feel like the new captain should die, actually. He doesn’t even need to go crazy like Reimann, they can just speedrun previous Captain deaths – cut off his arm and rub some dirt in it to encourage a speedy infection, or crush him with a box. If it’s too much effort, they can go straight to punting him out into space.


  5. Oh no… I really hate this guy now. I wonder if there’s a reason that the captain couldn’t view the prisoner status of the crew members, and if Amy had something to do with that. Maybe Reimann also had the kill codes, and he started killing colonists that the AI was using in order to prevent it from removing more authority from the captain.


  6. Oh no. That psychological profile would’ve been really helpful before waking him up.

    It was mentioned that Aspen was in the top 6% of picks for captain among civilians. I bet this guy is much lower on the list.

    That’s not what they said. They said she’s a “what’s done is done” kind of person who doesn’t easily fall for sunk cost fallacies.

    So I see 3 ways out of this that don’t involve killing this guy or removing his arm chip:

    1. Convince him prison labor is wrong. Crime is often caused by poverty and lack of access to job opportunities, and the crew are not actually bad people. After all, no one is a static being and just because you did something bad in the past doesn’t mean you’re a bad person forever. Also, prison labor sets a bad precedent. It will incentivize the new society to maintain a steady supply of convicts for cheap labor, so it won’t want to do anything that might lower the crime rate or lower the rate of repeat offenders. This ensures the standard of living for most people is much lower than what it could be with the resources available to the society.

    2. Revoke his access to demographic data and populate the crew with only convicts. They might be able to blame the revoke on the AI, but he’ll probably know it was Tal immediately.

    3. Look at the civilian population and build profiles to gauge how likely each person will be against prison labor. Aspen only recommends those people. Once the crew are filled and informed about the kill switches, hope that the majority will think it’s fucked up and will want to disable them as they wake the colonists up. Hopefully Sands will relent to the majority.


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