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I’m checking our various hardware supplies on a terminal in Network and Engineering Ring 1 later that day when our new psychologist walks in.

“It’s Aspen, right?”

“Sure is. How are you doing, Renn?”

His grimace makes his perfectly symmetrical cheekbones stand out even more prominently. “Well enough, given the circumstances we’re in. The captain says that you – ”

I brace myself for more questions about my stupid books.

“ – were the ship’s previous captain.”

“Oh.” I relax. “Yeah, for about a year.”

“How was that?”

“Oh, you know. Waking up unexpectedly on a broken ship with a couple of mysterious corpses and a lot more mysteriously missing people, fifteen years after your projected landing date with no help and no information. Just a totally normal experience.” Sam had used the ship’s external sensory equipment to physically chart our location with relation to the stars and manually calculate our course, and their answer agreed with the AI, ‘given the expected margin of error for human measurements taken this close to the speed of light,’ so at least we know we’re on a course to Hylara and not just drifting aimlessly through space.

“At least you managed to get everything in order. Relieved to be out of command?”

“Very much so.”

“Although you’re still in command, I suppose, being the logistics officer.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. This was supposed to be Tinera’s job. And she was good at it.”

Renn looks a little surprised at that. “You didn’t want the position?”

“Captain Sands was pretty insistent about it. I still don’t completely understand why.”

“Ah, well, he is Tarandran.”

“Like you.”


“Is there some Tarandran culture quirk I’m not aware of here? Like some anti-Lunar bias or something?”

“Nothing of the sort. It’s just the way he’s used to command structures working. In Tarandran culture, it’s normal for the same structure of seniority to apply to both command power and inheritance. A second in command isn’t just the person with the second highest authority, it’s also the person who automatically inherits the first in command’s position if the first can’t do it.”

“But they’re different skill sets! It’s part of a second’s duty to take command in a crisis situation, but that’s different to being a captain.”

“Not in our culture. Of course, in practice, when a leader dies or retired unexpectedly there’s often infighting, and some families use elections, but in your captain’s experience that is how being a second in command is supposed to work.”

“Well, if he’s expecting me to do his job for him, he’s in for a shock. I’m done captaining. It’s his problem now.”

Renn chuckles. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about unless he’s suddenly badly injured. How does Tinera feel about the decision?”

“We haven’t really talked about it. I hope she’s not mad at me over it.”

“She strikes me as the sort of person who, if she was angry at you, you would know it.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. She doesn’t exactly hide her opinions.”

“It’s a stressful situation. We’re all so far away from home.”


“Do you miss it? Home?”

“Do you?”

He smiles. “I asked you first.”

For half a second, I consider being difficult. But after wanting a crew psychologist for so long, it’d be kind of petty for me to deny him the baseline information he needs to actually do his job. So instead, I shrug. “Does it matter? We left our old lives behind forever when we signed up for this. We’re never going back.”

“We all carry our past with us.”

“I’m not sure that our pasts would agree. We’re too far separated in both time and space for it to matter any more. Not only is communicating with home physically impossible – even if we had the equipment, which is impossible to set up on the ship, it’d take, what, a hundred and twenty years to send a message and receive a reply? We’d all be long dead – but we can’t ignore time dilation either. If the Greaves cluster still exists, every member of it is someone I’ve never met before – my family have all died of old age. The same is true of the Sunn family.”

“And yet you still carry their name, at least in the computer systems.”

I shrug. “The way these ships are set up, you have to have a surname. I was a member of the Greaves cluster when I registered. What would I even change it to, at this point? Foreigners have always called me Aspen Greaves.”

“You were born into the Greaves cluster, then?”

“Yeah. Were you born a Sunn?”

He shakes his head. “They’re my sixth family.”

“Sixth?!” That seems excessive. Tarandrans do trade around family members more than most cultures, where changes are usually a matter of marriage or adoption, but still. Children below eighteen generally don’t swap families, and Renn was 40 when he went into chronostasis, meaning he had a new family every five and a half years on average for his adult life. I’ve known one or two drifters in my time, people who swap clusters fairly regularly, but it just sounds unstable to me.

Renn shrugs. “My skills were in high demand. It must have been difficult, leaving your home behind.”

“I spent most of my time away from home anyway. I had a lot of jobs of three or four months in various universities. It’s important for a sociologist to travel widely.”

“And the last year on this ship. Is this the longest you’ve been away from home?”

“No.” We’re still thirteen days shy of that particular milestone. In thirteen days, I will have spent longer awake on the Courageous than I did travelling to and living on Luna. That’ll be the longest I’ve ever been away from home. (Yes, I’m keeping track – so what?) “Most of the crew here have had one family their whole lives, I’m pretty sure. That’s how most cultures work. Everyone seems to be handling it okay.”

“Did you all talk it over much, before we woke up?”

“It doesn’t tend to come up. Like I said, we all left our past behind when we signed up. All we have is each other and a future now.”

“And may we build a good one together. I’ll let you get back to work, then.” Renn gets up.

“Do you need help navigating the spaceship?”

“It’s a giant tube. I’m sure I can figure it out.”

“Have a good day, then.”

“You, too.” He wanders off, probably to corner some other poor crew member and ask them invasive personal questions. At least he’s being proactive about his job, I suppose. I never really did it when it was my job. I’m not sure why he thinks bringing up people’s pasts is a good idea, though. Why did he even get on this ship if he was so attached to his?

I’m not being fair. The Exodus Phenomenon can strike anyone, presumably. Obviously some people are going to have regrets. It’s bad luck if our psychologist is among them, though. The last thing we want right now is anybody encouraging people to look back, when forward is the only direction we can go. I never had a problem with my crew when I was captain, but my crew was full of people who had nothing to go back to. These new people probably do – or did, before the time dilation and chronostasis. Maybe that’s what Renn’s looking for; maybe he doesn’t regret, he’s just getting a head of the curve before we have any breakdowns in the crew.

Well, I’m neither the captain nor the psychologist any more. So it’s not my problem. My problem is that Storage Ring 6 is still a complete mess after Captain Kinoshita released the clamps on some crates and died under one, and then I messed with the gravity for several hours, so while the ship’s records say there should be a bunch of spare oxygen equipment in there, I have no idea if it’s been thrown around and potentially broken or not. And the AI is keeping its camera data to itself due to a mixture of the pro-privacy psych team who helped design it, possibly some of Reimann’s meddling, and the fact that it’s an obstructive brat. Which means that I’m going to have to physically walk down to the other end of the ship and read actual physical serial numbers off crates until I find the right one, like some kind of caveman.

The crates have chips in them that the computer can read, of course. But all the AI will tell me is the specific location that the crate is supposed to be in, and that it’s definitely in Storage Ring 6. So, not helpful. If it’s not in its designated spot, there’s probably a handheld device somewhere that’ll hone in on the chip for me.

For now, I groan to myself, get up, and trudge to the next ring, Chronostasis Ring 2. I know that the chronostasis rings are spaced out so that damage to any one part of the ship will kill as few colonists as possible, but it still feels like they’re placed specifically to force the crew to walk through them as often as possible. Maybe it’s supposed to remind us of our duty or something. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. There are clean paths through the dust in most of the rings now, swept between the most-used airlocks through each ring. (Keeping every entire ring completely free of dust would be a waste of time.) Walking through them no longer reminds me of some pre-Neocambrian crypt from a bad horror movie; now, it just reminds me of all the people I’ve watched die in these rooms, sometimes in my very arms.

I’m halfway across Chronostasis Ring 2 before I remember that this was my chronostasis ring. I stop walking. I walk through this ring almost every day, for one reason or another, and never really think about it, but… I spent thirty five years in here, sleeping in one of these long rows. Longer from the perspective of Earth – I don’t know how long, not even Tal can calculate it with the scant data we have, but it could be as long as a century. In one of these simple, solid boxes, supported by a series of pumps and monitors under its attached terminal.

I lay a hand on the nearest chronostasis pod. I remember how quickly and easily Denish, with a simple tool from his belt, can remove a panel under the terminal and sever the power to one of these things. I remember the pods mangled by Reimann’s axe as he cut the lines to force emergency revival after emergency revival, triggering the pods to open so he could destroy the brains that the broken AI had hijacked.

It’s a process that takes a handful of seconds. How long is that on Earth, at our current speed? Minutes? An hour?

How long is it to the colonist still in chronostasis? It’d be pretty much instant, right?

I turn from the swept and well-trodden path and walk through the dust. I stop at my own chronostasis pod. The little cubby that held my warm blanket and wake-up drink is still open; I never closed it, and of course nobody else has been through here to clean up. The pod itself is closed, the dust on it thinner than that on the floor but still very much present. Even a filtered, contained environment devoid of biological activity will gather dust over the course of a year if people are constantly walking through it.

I open the pod. It opens easily, of course; it’s long deactivated, and has no colonist to securely lock in. The various tubes I pulled from my body are still in there. A couple of them have a little blood on them, but it looks like their removal was all around pretty neat, given my condition at the time. The remnants of chronostasis fluid have long since dried up, leaving a thin layer of faint blue powder caked on the bottom of the pod. It flakes away easily when I rub it.

The powder bothers me, for some reason. It seems wrong. I’m not sure why – it’s pretty much how I’d expect chronostasis fluid to dry, and the deactivated pod isn’t completely sealed from the air so it makes perfect sense that the remaining dregs have long since evaporated. It niggles at me, though. I try to put it out of my mind.

The pod looks too small to hold me, somehow, with all of those tubes and things in it. I have a sudden urge to climb into it, to try to figure out how exactly I fit in there so easily for so many years. I resist it, of course. I’m supposed to be working right now.

Right. Yes. Working. I head to Storage Ring 6, and find the crate still secured in the spot it’s supposed to be. The crate’s fine.

Everything’s fine.

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One thought on “056: HISTORY

  1. Renn shrugs. “My skills were in high demand.”

    This line gets me because while I’m probably missing some cultural context on “what constitutes a family” and “the process of leaving and joining one,” the wording just makes Renn sound like a big whore. Did he sign up to get away from his exes? What is the context? And the casual way he said it?? It keeps me up at night.

    Liked by 1 person

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