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“Well, this isn’t great,” Lina says as we pluck beans for dinner. It’s less than ten minutes after my meeting with Captain Sands, and the two of us are alone in Greenhouse Ring 1 – the captain had said not to tell the rest of the crew that he and I were onto their criminal pasts, so I can’t exactly risk calling a big meeting or bringing it up over breakfast. But Lina will make sure that everyone else knows.

“I’m not sure what we can do about it, really,” I shrug. “I mean… we need a functional ship. And it would be ideal to have a fully staffed crew. I suppose the question is how reasonable he’s going to be.”

“When you found out about the kill switches, you were shocked and appalled. He knows about them and considers them a useful tool.”

“Yeah,” I sigh. “Yeah, it’s… it’s not ideal. We definitely can’t let him know they’ve been deactivated. Any ideas for how to mitigate the dangers here?”

“Beyond the obviously terrible idea of sabotaging the ship repairs, you mean?”

“Yeah, let’s… let’s not go down that route. That could only end badly.”

“Hmm. Well, he trusts you. And you’re the ship’s psychologist. He’ll probably want your input when it becomes time to revive people.”

“I have extremely limited information on the colonists. We don’t get full psych profiles or anything; I can’t predict their temperaments.”

“You can probably make good estimates on who’s actual prison guards and soforth, though. And you can use the leadership prioritisation rankings to know who’s a free person on board with this whole thing, and who wasn’t told, like you.”

“People in my group are less likely to be dangerous.” I nod. “Alright. You tell the others what’s going on and make sure nobody does anything stupid. For now, I guess we have to concentrate on getting this ship in good condition, and mitigating any dangers we can as they come up.” I let my shoulders sag in relief over the fact that it would be Lina’s job, not mine, to explain current events to Tinera. If I had to explain to her that Sands had given me her job specifically because he didn’t trust her or the other criminals with any kind of power, I wasn’t confident that I’d be able to talk her out of marching right up to him and starting a fight.

We finish the harvest and haul it to Adin’s tiny kitchen for him to deal with later, once he’s finished directing the engineers outside. I try not to think too hard about that mission. I have no idea what Adin’s like as a mission coordinator, but Tinera picked him over Tal and both of the doctors, so she must think he’s good. And she and Denish are both perfectly capable outside the ship, as much as anyone can be. There’s no specific reason to be concerned, except that the mission itself is inherently dangerous.

And in light of my conversation with Captain Sands, I can’t help but wonder if that’s why he’d wanted it done now, while he was still recovering and couldn’t go out. If he’d kept me out of it because it was dangerous. Did he view the convict crew members as inherently more disposeable?

Possibly. Something to keep an eye on.

Lina heads off to run some tests on Captain Sands, and I return o the garden. The garden doesn’t need any more work, but it feels wrong to go watch a movie or read a book or something while my crewmates are outside the ship risking their lives, so I prowl around Greenhouse Ring 2 looking for stray dandelions.

I jump when I hear the airlock open behind me, but it’s just Tal. “Hey, Aspen. The coolant lens thing is done.”

“Everyone okay?”

“Huh? Yeah. Of course. Lina says we’re not supposed t look like we’re planning stuff and freak the captain out, so I just came down here to give you this.” Ke comes toward me with a pen.

“The last time you guys tried not to look like you were planning stuff, I could definitely tell you were planning stuff, and it definitely did freak me – what are you doing?”

Tal doesn’t answer. Ke just grabs my wrist and scrawls a string of numbers on the inside of my arm. I blink at them.

“What is this?”

“Name of a video file. They saw something super weird out on the hull. Don’t watch it around the captain unless you want to have to explain a bunch of stuff to him. ‘Bye.”

“What do you mean they saw something weird on the hull?! What constitutes weird? Tal, what is this?”

But ke’s already closing the airlock.

Trying not to freak out in any visible way, I head straight for Network and Engineering Ring 1 – Sands prefers to use the back-of-ship facilities, so if I use the foremost network ring computers I probably won’t run into him.

Of course, I’m barely out of the greenhouse ring when I run into him. “Aspen! Do you have a minute?”

I glance at the numbers on my arm. “Uh… for what?”

“I’m putting together a list of replacement crew to revive. I want your opinion as a sociologist.”

“You’re reviving people already?”

“Well, not right this moment. We should probably start tomorrow. I think we should revive seven – that way, even if they all miraculously survive, them plus me won’t overwhelm the two medbays. Presumably they won’t all survive, so we’ll see who do, give them a few days to adapt and heal, and take their reactions and personalities into account when reviving people to fill the gaps.”

“Captain, the ship’s not in good shape. Surely you should finish all inspections and repairs first?”

“Why? More crew can help do that faster. The coolant and electricity systems are all in good shape now, or at least good enough shape for a full crew for the short time we have left, and anything else that breaks doesn’t really matter; we have the supplies to give us time to repair water or air or lighting.”

“And what if we can’t? What if something’s degraded to the point where it can’t support twenty one people? You at least need to check and inspect and – ”

“Aspen, this is an interstellar spaceship. It was known before launch that anything might need replacing. There are materials aboard for that sort of thing. I know that until now, you haven’t had any real engineers, so you’ve been limited in the sort of maintenance that you can do, but we don’t need to worry about that any more. Everything that’s currently limiting the crew size can be repaired or replaced, with time.”

Well, if this is happening, I should at least do as I’d promised Lina. If I fob him off now, he’ll probably just make the selections without me. I follow reluctantly.

“What’s on your arm?”

“Oh. Crop tallies.”

“That’s one problem, I guess – the bigger the crew, the less fresh veggies for each of us!”

We make our way to Network and Engineering Ring 1, where Sands already has his shortlist up on a computer. There’s something weird on the hull of our ship, but I have to deal with this first, I guess.

Twelve names. Two I recognise from the shortlist we pulled Sands from, so it looks like he’s getting us a full complement of proper engineers. There’s another Public Universal Friend on the list, too, which has the potential to get confusing. Friends still creep me out. I’m used to dealing with ours, but I’m not sure what they’re like in groups.

The first thing I check is their revival viability – one DIVR, ten in the sixty per cent range, one with a revival chance of twelve per cent.

I tap the name. “He’s going to die if we wake him up.”

“He has a twelve per cent chance of survival,” Sands points out. “And we’re going to have to wake him up eventually. That chance isn’t going to increase.”

“Hmm.” Sands doesn’t know, of course, that the low viability group’s brains are compromised by the AI, that they’ll never wake up. His point still stands, I suppose, in that they’re dead whether we stop their hearts now or in four years’ time, but it still feels worse, killing someone for certain rather than just risking their lives, even if it’s inevitable. If dreaming is all they have left… are they aware, in there, in the computer’s dreams? Is it a normal sleep to them? I don’t remember dreaming in chronostasis; I don’t remember being aware at all while the cerebral stimulator kept my brain healthy for the journey. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I wasn’t. I could have forgotten. People forget dreams all the time. If we kill this man, are we stealing four years from him or not?

Should we do it anyway?

It feels awful to think about, but… if we do want to keep the number of revived crew as low as possible, he’s essentially a freebie. For a few days, at least, until Sands decides to revive more.

No, it’s a bad idea. If we’re going to end up with a full crew anyway, me trying to slow things down is a waste of time. Better to focus on the people who’ll be my crewmates.

Next, I check how high they’re prioritised for all crew positions. As I’d expected, they all rank relatively high in at least one position – the engineers rank high as engineers, there’s a scientist, and ooh, a real psychologist – except for the Public Universal Friend. (Our Friend happens to be an accomplished doctor, but as a general rule, Friends are strongly averse to positions of authority – I have no doubt that if we had more crew with medical training, our Friend would request someone else be listed as medical officer and would act as their assistant.) I pretend to ponder their most prioritised rankings, but really, I’m checking how high they’re prioritised as a replacement captain.

According to Tinera’s model, anyone ranked 1-486 in priority for captaincy is part of Sands’ convict-state leadership group. Anyone ranked 1438-1952 is part of my civilian group. Leaders are dangerous – assuming that Sands won’t want to wake any more convicts, our best bet is to have as many civilians as possible.

Nobody on Sands’ list is higher in priority for captaincy than his own position (29th). This doesn’t surprise me. Eight of his choices are in the leadership group and four in the civilian group, so I need to make as strong an argument as possible for those civilians.

Said civilians include Public Universal Friend Six, one of the engineers, an astronavigator, and the scientist.

“Well, the engineers are a gimme,” I shrug. “We need real engineers.”

“Agreed,” Sands nods.

“As for the others…” I don’t want to make it too obvious what I’m doing, so I let myself skim the rest of the names. “A real psychologist would be nice.”

Sands raises an eyebrow. “As opposed to you?”

“I’m a sociologist. It’s a different job. I’m not trained to handle this sort of thing.” I look up some more information on Sands’ chosen psychologist, Ren Sunn. From Torandra, no religion, specialises in behavioural development. Well, okay, that isn’t the most applicable field, but it’s certainly closer to it than anyone else on the ship. “Why the Public Universal Friend?” I ask.

“They’re generally very useful,” Sands shrugs. “There’s a lot of general work to be done on a fully staffed ship and I don’t think we should be relying on the convicts entirely for it.”

“That makes sense.” It doesn’t, really, but whatever pads our crew out with civilians. I’m not sure how useful the other Friend will be, nor the scientist. But the astronavigator… “We’ll need an astronavigator. Not right away, but they’ll be vital in four years.”

“Yes, they’re not urgent. Perhaps we should hold off on that one…”

“N-no, we should wake them up. We’re already on an altered course, I’d feel a lot better with their eyes on things. And they probably have mathematics and IT knowledge… ” I bring up the navigator’s information. Sam Sareff, from Texas… ah, yes. Infoprocessing background. “I mean, I like Tal, but…”

“Some IT backup would be good, yes. Alright; the two engineers, the psych, the Friend and the navigator. We have two more spaces for the first revival round.”

Three of those people are in my civilian group, two in the potentially dangerous ‘kill codes’ leadership group. Two spaces left to fill, and one civilian left to take up a space… but they’re a scientist. I’m not sure I can convince Sands of the necessity of a laboratory scientist when we’ve already got a full complement of doctors and engineers.

Of course, depending on what’s out on the hull, we might need a scientist. Knowing my luck, the best choice will be whatever one I don’t make.

I look over the other options. Gardeners – unnecessary. Logistics officer – dangerous. More doctors…

“You’ve got new doctors here?”

“I’d rather not rely on Lina and the Friend for something this critical, if it can be avoided.”

“They’re perfectly good doctors! I don’t think a cancer doctor and a servant to all humanity is going to kill us in our sleep.”

“Don’t let their line of work fool you. The world is full of killer doctors.”

I nod. “We should do it, then. Revive the doctors.”

“You think?”

I nod again. “When we were reviving people, our capacity was limited by access to doctors. It’s supposed to be two doctors for a medbay. If we’re using both medbays, why not double the doctors? We’re about to have a lot of people who all need medical care.”

“The two doctors, then. Great choice.” Captain Sands claps me companionably on the shoulder. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” I get out of there and head to the other network ring, where I can watch Tal’s video in peace.

What did ke mean, there’s something weird on our hull?!

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5 thoughts on “050: SELECTION

  1. HEY HEY THIS IS RUDE THE SUSPENSE WITH SANDS (funny to see him referred to as Captain Sands) IS ONGOING BUT THE HULL???? HELLO???


  2. Seriously Sands, you want to herd a bunch of elephants over a bridge BEFORE you determine its carrying capacity? For shame. And you call yourself an engineer.

    I think they should revive the 12% guy first. To scare Sands a little. Just a bit. Make him realize there’s other things to worry about than convicts.

    I wonder how many people in the kill codes group are technically already dead. Is the living prisoners to kill coders ratio high enough that kill coders might be a bit too outnumbered to be comfortable?


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