051: HULL

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The video in question is from the two cameras on Denish’s space suit. I watch him exit the ship through the pod launch ring 3 airlock, wait for the giant lens to be cycled, through, then help Tinera down.

“All good?” Adin asks through the radio.

“All is good. We are ready.”

“Let’s get this done,” Tinera says.

“R-right. Okay, go ahead.”

The emitter is on the aft engine shield cap, and watching the pair open a small door in the shield cap to get out there without having to drop through the electrostatic shield and making their slow, careful way along the shield cap would have been incredibly tense if I didn’t already know that both of them were fine. Instead, my eyes are on the hull, but all I can see is a smooth surface broken up by occasional mechanical devices that, judging from Denish’s reactions, are supposed to be there.

With Tinera’s support, Denish easily unseats the old emitter lens and tosses it away into space, then secures the replacement in place. The system was designed with the knowledge that replacements might need to be done while the ship is in motion, so the process isn’t complicated. They make their way back to the ladder leading to the airlock, and I still can’t see what Tal was bothered about.

“Okay, coming back in,” Tinera says.

“Great.” The relief in Adin’s voice is palpable.

“Wait.” One hand on the ladder, Denish points out across the hull. “What is that?”

I squint at the camera feed. I can’t see anything.

“I don’t see anything,” Adin says.

“Might just be bad light,” Denish mumbles. “Is gone now.” He fiddles with something on his suit, zooms his wrist camera in, and points it out across the hull. The suit cameras are good, but it’s also several rings away; squinting, I can just about make out something small waving about.

“Is that a loose cable?” Adin asks. “That can’t be good.”

“Might be piece of debris,” Denish says. “Is caught on tether anchor, I think.”

“It’s a tether cable,” Tinera says. “Aspen probably left it when they were turning the main engine on. Didn’t they leave a couple of cables scattered around?”

“Not here,” Denish points out. “Aspen moved between middle of ship and front of ship. Did not come to back of ship. That is…” he counts the rings under his breath… “Storage Ring Five, I think. And look, is panel above it loose?”

“I can’t tell,” Adin says. “I don’t see why it would – ”

“That’s not Storage Ring Five,” Tinera says. “It’s Chronostasis Ring Five.”

Everyone is silent for several long seconds. Then Adin speaks up. “There’s something suspicious on the outside of our most suspicious chronostasis ring?”

“Looks like. What should we do?”

“Well… you still have plenty of air left. We’re going to have to check this out, either now or later, and we’re already out here now. Are you two up for having a look, or do you need rest?”

“I can go,” Denish says.

“Right. Tiny, hold position and be ready if a rescue is necessary. ‘Nish, whenever you’re ready.”

Denish is tall enough that the journey along the outside of the ship is paradoxically trivial for him. He can easily reach the safety tether point on the hull of the ship by simply reaching up, so unlike me, he doesn’t wrap a cable around the metal electrostatic grid under his feet and slide along with his arms and legs wrapped around it. He clips himself to the hull above him and simply balances on the metal beams.

It is a tether. In the camera view, it looks normal and undamaged. Denish clips it to his own belt to be looked at more thoroughly inside the ship and takes a look at the hull panel above it.

Several bolts are missing, so one edge of the panel lifts a little away from the ship.

“Is it dangerous?” Adin asks.

“I not think so. I will come with new bolts and fix later. I do not know what is under here.” He runs a hand over an intact bolt, even though there’s no way he can feel the bolt through the space suit gloves. “This was not being taken off. It was being put back on. Some bolts are uneven. Somebody was putting it back on and didn’t finish the last few bolts.”

“One of the first crew’s engineers was lost in space, right?” Adin asks.


“What were they doing?”

“I did not think to check. But now I think we should check.”

“Yeah, I agree.”

“Returning to airlock now.” Denish makes his way back to Tinera. She enters the ship to fetch a small, radiation-proof box, they secure the salvaged tether safely inside, and come back in. There’s nothing else to see here, but I keep watching the footage anyway, right up until Denish starts taking his suit off and the feed dies.

We’d been wondering why chronostasis rings 1 and 5, specifically, had held the people whose brains had been compromised by the AI. We’d assumed, before we understood what was going on, that it was environmental; an effect of being closest to the engines, perhaps, or maybe the shielding at the two ends of the ship was less adequate. CR1 and 5 had been the closest chronostasis rings to the engines, closest to the ends of the electrostatic field.

Only now was I realising that they were also the closest to the two exit points on the ship. Had this engineer tampered with them? Was that our answer?

What could they possibly have done?

I pull up the schematics of the ship, trying to identify what they could have accessed from that panel, but it’s far too complicated for me to understand and the AI is no help. Denish will probably have more luck.

While I’m at the computer, I have a quick peek at our new captain’s file. Nothing too surprising; male, 39 years old, no particularly unusual medical requirements… he’s an astromedianist. Huh. Kind of a weird little religion, but as an Arborean native I’m not really in a position to judge. And he’s from Tarandra.

Huh. Upon reflection, I probably should have guessed that.

Tarandra’s a fascinating nation, from a sociological perspective. It’s built on some fairly outdated notions, but manages to leverage them fairly effectively to be more powerful in the modern world than its size would suggest. Tarandran culture is highly fixated on ‘value’, to the point where they (as a culture, not necessarily as individuals; important sociological difference) tend to boil everything down to its value and ability to generate value in a sort of… abstract currency concept. In Tarandran culture, resources have value, skills have value, time has value, and people have value – all true in every culture, I suppose, but Tarandrans are very emphatic about it. As in, they actually consider their citizens to be valuable based on the value they can produce for their families – not like Texan or Lunari prisoners, Tarandra doesn’t have a for-profit-prison system, but all of their citizens – and the citizens, for the most part, seem fine with this. It’s a very mathematicised concept of familial duty that’s at once both sociologically seductive (because things you can model with mathematics are unfortunately rare in my field) and also baffling.

Like Arborean society, Tarandran society is extremely science-forward, imminently practical, and consists of loose and malleable family structures. Unlike Arborean society, they’re not known for any kind of deep, earthy spiritualism; their national spiritualism is almost universally centred around their value concept. They also have a tendency to rely on a lot of genetic engineering for reproduction; Captain Sands’ natural symmetry and excellent physical build should have tipped me off right away as to his origins.

What does this say about him as a captain? Is he a danger to our ship? To my crew?

A Tarandran is… probably a decent choice for a captain in a situation like this. Their habitual tendency to think in terms of value, resources and potential gains makes them better than average engineers and logisticians, and this is a situation with very limited resources where we probably want our captain to be good at those kinds of things. His mistrust and clear devaluing of the crew, however, is a problem. I’ve been hoping that he’ll soften up and show that he cares about our crew – and I’m sure he does care about them – but if he’s decided (as his actions seem to indicate) that criminals have less ‘value’ than non-criminals, then there’s a very real chance that I might be spending the next four years protecting my crewmates from his value-weighted decisions.

Something to watch out for, I guess. I head for Recreation and Medical Ring 2, interested in what the doctors think about Sands’ revival plan, and as I come out of the airlock it becomes clear that I won’t need to ask. Lina is making her opinion known fairly emphatically.

“Captain, this is an awful idea.”

“Really, doctor? How so?”

“The ship simply isn’t in perfect shape. It – ”

“This ship is never again going to be in ‘perfect’ shape. But the more hands we have, the faster we can get it into decent shape.”

“Waking more people puts more strain on the systems.”

“Leaving the systems unmaintained puts more strain on the systems as well. If you don’t think this ship can be brought into condition to support a full crew, just how do you expect it to support a new colony in four years? We’re going to have to wake all of these people up eventually, and our duty, doctor, is making sure that they have the best support systems available to them when we do. Your previous captain was far too cautious with revivals, and I do understand why – they were untrained at their job, working with even more untrained engineers. But four years is in fact a fairly strict time limit, given the state of this place. Does moving fast now create more danger for us, who are already awake? Yes. Some. But our job is to make sure that the colonists have the best chance when we arrive, not cower in a broken ship trying to look after ourselves.”

“So you’ll wake up some of those colonists and put them in more danger with us.”

“Temporarily. This ship is designed for a crew of twenty one. Once everything is in proper shape, we’ll be safer. In the meantime… call it incentive, to get the ship in proper shape as quickly as possible.”

“This is a terrible decision,” Lina insists.

“I disagree, but I suppose we will find out who’s right soon enough. Prepare for an influx of anything up to seven patients, depending on how lucky we are with revivals.” He spins on his heel and stalks away, giving me a friendly nod as he passes. I watch him go, then turn to Lina.

“Well,” she says, rubbing her temples, “that was a lot quicker than expected. I thought he was going to get the ship in order first.”

“So did I.” I shrug. “I did try to talk him out of it.”

“It is what it is. I’ll get the Friend. We have a lot of preparation to do.”

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One thought on “051: HULL

  1. Okay, so we now have an idea of the values that Sands grew up with. Aspen just needs to convince him that prison labor is incompatible with those beliefs. Maybe focusing on how it creates a society that destroys families by sending the parents to prison? I wonder if anyone has a tragic backstory about that very thing that they can share.

    …what if he thinks the current crew have limited value for running the ship, and he plans to kill them if he can’t support everyone. That would be very bad and very awkward when he realizes he can’t kill them.

    I hope Friend doesn’t end up killing itself when it learns more people will be revived than the ship can currently support. We need some convict voices who Sands can’t easily kill, so it is most useful to the humans onboard alive than dead.

    The hull thing is mysterious. I wonder what’s supposed to be under that panel. And what was that dead engineer doing? I also wonder what those scientists in the ejected lab were doing. Maybe a revived scientist should look into it when a scientist is revived.

    Liked by 1 person

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