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By the next morning, everyone’s awake, registered, and well enough to (at Captain Sands’ insistence) attend a morning meeting at our usual picnic table, even though there’s no way we could all fit. (Everyone except Zale and Clover, our two failed revivals who are still on life support. Doctor Tate is in a wheelchair and Sunset looks ready to collapse at any moment, but all five of them are there.

Over pancakes, I survey our growing crew. Thirteen of us now – Denish, sitting awkwardly away from the table to avoid taking up too much space with his massive frame; Tinera, eyeing the newcomers with suspicion disguised well enough that us old timers are probably the only ones to notice it; Adin, looking shy; Tal, barely paying attention; the two doctors, looking like they expect a medical emergency at any moment; Captain Sands, confident and charismatic, ready to give a speech. And the newcomers – doctor Tate, looking exhausted in kes wheelchair; Sam the navigator, glancing from crewmate to crewmate with undisguised curiosity; Sunset the engineer, collapsing immediately into a seat at the table and finger-combing what remains of her freshly clipped hair; Renn the psychologist, with a serious face and a penetrating stare; and our second Public Universal Friend, simply waiting with calm expectation.

And me.

In four years, this group, which should be twenty one people strong by then, will probably feel suffocatingly small. But for now, this feels like an impossible number of people to keep track of. It shouldn’t – my cluster is (was; I have no idea of the state of the Greaves cluster on Earth now) twelve people large, so this should feel like an appropriately sized social unit. But I grew up with my cluster. Half of these people are strangers.

For the moment. Hopefully, that will change soon.

“Alright!” Captain Sands claps his hands together. “We have more than half a crew now! This is exciting.

“You all know the situation. You all understand the task ahead of us. It’s not a task we expected to face, and we’re all performing roles that we didn’t expect to perform. We are colonists, not astronauts. But I have faith in all of you. We left our home knowing that colonising a new planet would not be easy. We knew that there would be unexpected hurdles. It takes courage, and determination, and vision, and perhaps a touch of insanity to get involved in a project like this, so I know that we are all brave, determined, visionary… and yes, perhaps a little insane… people. If we can all work together with a common purpose, then the next four years should just fly by, and we can step forward into our new world.

“We should start by getting to know each other a little. How about everyone tells us who they are, and gives a fact about them? Let’s go by… oh, let’s say, we’ll start with who’s been here the longest and work our way down.”

Weird choice of order, but whatever. I stand up to speak. “My name’s Aspen. I’m the logistics officer and gardener. There’s nothing interesting about me.” I sit down again.

“This Public Universal Friend has been serving as a doctor. It is specialised in trauma treatment and recovery.”

There’s a slight pause while a few of the older crew look at each other. “Um,” Tinera ventures, “who was…?”

“Adin is next,” our Friend reminds her. “Then you, then Denish.”

“Right,” Adin says. He clears his throat. “My name’s Adin, although I guess you know that now, from context. I like to cook.”

“Tinera. And I don’t like to cook.”

“That’s kind of a cheat of a fact.”

Tinera sticks her tongue out at him.

“I am Denish. I have been engineer when we did not have engineers. My fact is that my favourite music is retroascendant sparklecore smash.”

“I’m Tal,” Tal says, “and there’s a wall of densely packed apartment buildings over two hundred stories high on the West coast of Texas, absolute marvel of engineering.”

“How is that a fact about you?” Tinera asks.

“Oh, because their lights are all variably coloured and remote controlled, and this one time I hacked them to play Doom on the side of the buildings.”

Lina swooped in before someone could ask what Doom was and derail the introductions. “I’m Lina,” she says. “I’m an oncologist. My favourite author is Dahni Hess Mi.”

“That brings us to me, then, I think. My name is Keldin Sands, I used to design engines but now I’m your captain. And for anyone wondering how I lost these fingernails, I got my hand caught in a pricklerat trap when I was ten. Next is, ah… Sam, I believe.”

Sam clears their throat. Despite the toll that chronostasis took on their muscles, they seem steady enough as they look around the group and say, “I’m Sam. I’m an astronavigator and amateur folklorist. I’m looking forward to working with you. You really got Doom to run on the lighting system of an apartment building?”

“No, I got it to run on the side of an array of apartment buildings. Doom is designed for two hundred by three twenty pixels, because preneeks didn’t know how to make screens properly, and you can scale it down of course but I wanted as accurate an experience as possible.”

“What about curtains?”

“Oh, yeah, they were annoying. A lot of them were also remote, but some of the residents had clipped theirs shut, so there were a lot of dead pixels. The main problem was actually the size of the windows; Doom was designed for tall pixels and I didn’t correct for that, so on the side of the buildings it was stretched – ”

“What,” I finally ask, “is Doom?”

“It’s an artefact of pre-Neocambrian computer mysticism,” Sam explains. “Pre-Neocambrians believed that something wasn’t truly a ‘computer’ until somebody had played Doom on it.”

“It’s honestly really lucky,” Tal says, “because we’ve lost so much preneek stuff but because Doom is everywhere, we have such great records of it. It can tell us a lot about preneek culture.”

“Like how gloomy it is?” Tinera asks. “who calls their computer consecration ritual ‘Doom’?”

“The late Pre-Neocambrians were fairly forward-minded,” Sam explains. “In… some ways. I mean, the global catastrophe somehow managed to catch them by surprise, but everything about their media suggests that they either feared or celebrated the possibility of computers gaining full awareness and integrating with, or taking over, their society. Folklorists and historians think that by consecrating their computer systems with such a darkly named ritual, they were reminding themselves of the possible dangers they thought computers would one day become.”

“The contents of the program are also really violent,” Tal says. “It’s a little game where you have to shoot a whole bunch of monsters.”

“Presumably symbolising the struggle and humanity’s hoped-for victory should conflict with the machines occur,” Sam agrees, nodding. “It’s a fascinating little ritual.”

Captain Sands clears his throat. “Fascinating. But perhaps we should move on?”

Sunset of Sirius flashes us all a dazzling smile. Despite her current exhaustion, she seems to have weathered chronostasis well – she’s positively chubby under her dark, clear skin, and seems perfectly coordinated. “I’m Sunset,” she says, “and yes, it’s my real name. I’m a fuel technician by trade, but I suppose now I’m going to be an aeronautics engineer. And I once played Doom in Club Senneca.”

“You’ve been to Club Senneca?” Tal asks.

“I won a fashion show in Club Senneca.”

I resolve not to ask what Club Senneca is. Derailing things again won’t –

“What’s Club Senneca?” Lina asks.

“Is cyberlite club in Athelicia,” Denish says wearily. “Very big and famous. My sister used to try to make their drinks at home. Very pretty, but taste awful.”

“The real thing tastes awful too, if that helps,” Sunset says.

“They’re a zeelite club,” Tal simmers. “Not a cyberlite club. Right, Sunset?”

Sunset shrugs. “Cyberlite, zeelite… you see both types there. They’re all good.”

For a ship setting out to build the future, I can’t help reflecting, there sure are a lot of people on it obsessed with the distant past. Maybe I should’ve paid more attention to pre-Neocambrian societies in my own career, outside of studying the Exodus Phenomenon. Being the team sociologist and being the least informed about this stuff is getting embarrassing.

Or maybe it’s just a matter of specialisation. They can talk about their nightclubs and fashion and old computer blessing rituals all they want – when the topic turns to pre-Neocambrian horror media, I’ll be the knowledgable one.

And that’s… that’s definitely a good thing. Yep.

“Doctor Tate?” Sands prompts, clearly eager to keep the introductions moving.

“Uh, hi.” Celi sits up in kes wheelchair. “I’m Celi. I’m a general practitioner in medicine. And, um… I play the xamide.”

“The xamide?” Tinera leans forward excitedly. “I’m a drummer! Two-beat Lunari style.”

“Oh, you can two-beat? You know, if we had a guitarist…” Celi looks around the crew.

“I… know how to play a guitar,” Renn admits, sounding reluctant about it. “I am not good at it.”

“Ship band!” Tal says excitedly.

“Alright, alright.” Captain Sands rubs his temples. “Let’s move this along. Friend?”

The new Friend, looking slightly annoyed at suddenly being the centre of attention, nods sharply. “This Friend… enjoys sewing.” Everyone waits for a little while to see if more information is forthcoming, but apparently that’s it.

“… Alright then. My name is Renn. I’m a developmental behaviourist by trade, with a background in neurobiology and in psychology. I’ll be serving as your psychologist.”

“Neurobiology?” The Friend – our old Friend, the doctor Friend (this is going to get confusing), suddenly perks up. Lina’s paying attention to him, too, and it’s not until I find myself idly rubbing the skin over my own cranial port that I realise what’s got them so interested – who better than a neurobiologist, to weigh in on the issue of the ten per cent survival group? Maybe he can figure out how, specifically, the synnerve overgrowth and AI takeover works. We even have patient on life support in the medbay right now…

“And what’s your fun fact?” Tinera asks.

“Ah. Well. Hmm. I am… exceptionally good at chess?”

Captain Sands nods. “Well, then. Now that we’re all up and about, we should sort out our key priorities in getting this ship in order – ”

“Captain,” Lina says, “half of the crew aren’t fit for duty yet.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that. But when they are fit for duty, they will need to know what that duty is. I’m sure everyone will be well and truly up and about in… let’s say, a week? Doctors?”

Lina and our Friend exchange a glance.

“It’s hard to be certain with chronostasis revival,” the Friend says. “All of these people, including you, should be resting right now.”

“Thank you for your medical advice. If I may ask, how many weeks did you rest before getting to work?”

It glances at me. I half-consciously rub the arm it filled with bone cement as soon as its hands were stable enough.

“We were in an emergency situation,” it points out, “and severely understaffed.”

“Which does explain Dr Greaves’ activities so soon after waking up, I suppose. How long was it before you were doing space walks, Aspen?”

“Well, that was…”

“And the rest of the crew. How long did you wait before doing strenuous, dangerous, and difficult activities?”

We were silent for several seconds. Eventually, Tal piped up, “I never do strenuous activities, if that helps.”

“I’m sure that after one full week of recovery, we can pencil in normal light maintenance tasks for our new crew. Doctor Tate’s skills, especially, are likely to come into play rapidly. I’ll get to work on prioritising tasks with the general goal of getting the Courageous ship-shape as rapidly as possible. For those of you who’ve been around longer and are familiar with the going-on of the ship, what would you say are the most urgent tasks?”

“Um,” I say, avoiding the gaze of the doctors. “I’d feel better if a real navigator took a look at our position and course projections as soon as possible. I mean, there’s no reason to believe that anything’s wrong, but our computer hasn’t been particularly reliable thus far, and given the engine damage early in the flight…”

“I can look over that,” Sam nods. “No problem.”

“And we have to figure out movie night,” Tal says. “We’re kind of on a time crunch for that.”

“Movie night?” Captain Sands asks, frowning.

“Yeah. Every six days, we all get together as a group and watch or listen to or play something together. We have a rotating schedule for whose turn it is to pick something. Right before we woke you, it was Aspen’s pick, so the next movie night is tomorrow, meaning it’s supposed to be Denish’s turn, but now we have all these new people so we need to make a new schedule. I think we should put everyone else after Aspen for the next cycle, so all the old crew do a pick first – that way, they get to see what sort of stuff we normally do before it’s their turn, and everyone has a really long time to pick something. But the real question is, with twice the people, should we do twice the movie nights?”

Sands’ frown deepens. “I’m not sure we’ll have time for such things.”

“Of course we do,” Lina says. “We schedule it during leisure time. Shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Well, yes, but making the crew use their leisure time for specific activities is – ”

“Movie Night sounds great to me,” Celi says.

Renn nods. “As your psychologist, Captain, I must advise that social bonding activities like this are critical to group cohesion. If this crew needs to work together for several years, a regular, compulsory movie night is a good idea.”

“If people want to gather to do leisure activities together, that’s up to you, but I won’t force a compulsory movie night on anyone.”

“Great!” Tal grins. “So, we’ll put everyone else after Aspen for the next round, then?”

“And just remove anyone who doesn’t want to come from the schedule,” Tinera says.

Tal frowns. “Why would anyone not want to come? It’s movie night!”

A Friend (the doctor one) clears its throat. “Captain, are we done here? There’s some scans that we need to run to better estimate recovery times.”

“Yes, yes. Meeting concluded. Everyone get on with… what you’re supposed to be doing.”

As I watch the group disperse, half toward the medbays and half elsewhere, I feel something inside me finally relax.

This group looks like it should work out fine.

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3 thoughts on “055: ICEBREAKER

  1. Aspen, Aspen, Aspen. You cannot even think these sorts of things in the story in which you find yourself. Especially with this particular author pulling the strings, cackling madly all the while.


  2. Well, Tal’s got the spirit of “Can it run DOOM?” even if the context is lost.

    Sands is clearly a workaholic type, which is not a great quality for a leader when they expect everyone else to be workaholics too. He may also be feeling the time crunch. He hasn’t done a very thorough inspection of what needs to be fixed and what can be fixed to bring the number of crew the ship can support up, and the more he revives the tighter the time crunch will be.

    Liked by 1 person

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