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I’ve done a lot of jobs on this spaceship. Technically, I’ve done all the jobs on this spaceship. I’ve been pretty bad at most of them. I’m an okay gardener, but I broke several bones playing engineer, avoided being the psychologist as much as possible, and probably wasn’t that great a captain.

As logistics officer, I’m also the second in command, and part of that job is backing up the captain, enacting his wishes when he isn’t around, and generally trying to keep the running of the ship smooth and consistent.

I’m terrible at it.

“So the ship’s AI is broken and dangerous?” the new Public Universal Friend (not the doctor; ugh, I wish they’d let themselves have different names) asks as we pick spinach leaves to add to dinner later on.

“It works… mostly fine. The captain will probably explain in detail when he briefs everyone, but it does try to do its job and keep everyone safe, it’s just somewhat unstable. It only does something life-threateningly dangerous for the crew in self defense.”

“Self defense?”

“It’s a critical component of the ship. It works to preserve critical components of the ship. After all, its primary job is to get as many colonists as possible to Hylara as safely as possible. There have been… situations, where crew members have acted in ways to sabotage the AI or other ship systems either deliberately or accidentally, and it’s taken drastic and deadly action. Crew members are more replaceable than the ship is.”

“Is that what caused the second crew disaster?”

“We’re still not sure on all the details with that. We should probably wait for the captain to explain. I just wanted to warn you about the AI since you’re assisting in that computer cable replacement later, and it’s a hazard you guys should be aware of if you’re working directly with computer hardware. Make sure the AI knows you’re not doing anything harmful first.”

“Noted. Thank you.” It takes the baskets of spinach and heads for Adin’s little kitchen area.

I give the immediate area around me a quick once-over for any growth I need to be worried about. There’s quite a bit of unproductive, possibly hampering undergrowth, but nothing that needs my attention. I find that foreigners frequently get the wrong idea about ‘weeds’, simplifying a managed area into ‘good plants’ and ‘bad plants’, and overweed as a result. Ecology isn’t that simple. Some level of ‘bad’ growth is necessary; sometimes you have to accept things that are a little bit toxic or drain too many nutrients or choke out the plants you actually want, and respect what they do add to the ecosystem. The trick is appropriate management. If you can keep things in balance, you rarely need to kill a plant at all.

It’s important to keep things in balance. If you lose control of the system to the point where ‘weeds’ become an unrecoverable danger to the plants you want to protect, a merciless uprooting campaign does become necessary. But it’s largely the gardener’s fault for letting things get that far.

I dither around a bit reading a random horror novel I found in the computer’s copious Earth data (it’s not a very good novel) until it’s time for a crew meeting. I wander into Recreation and Medical Ring 1 to see that most of the crew is already there, and the two Public Universal Friends are building a second picnic table together. I guess the engineers must be wasting their time on nonsense like maintaining the systems keeping us alive, leaving the Friends to do critical work like expanding the seating area.

Come to think of it, how did the original two crews get by with just one picnic table in the Recreation Ring? They probably communed and ate elsewhere. Their Habitation Ring, or maybe their Network and Engineering Ring, where all the computers were. Or maybe they worked and ate in smaller groups, taking cyclical shifts – seems like a bit of a waste when you only have twenty other people in your life to socialise with, but I’m not a trained astronaut. An affinity for small social groups and a long-term repetitive lifestyle was probably something the original crews were selected for.

The two Friends aren’t participating in the sporadic conversations among the rest of the crew. They’re not even talking to each other as they work. Tal and Sunset are in deep discussion over something (hairstyles, I think, judging by their body language). Tinera’s found a set of Lunari Checkers somewhere and seems to be teaching Denish, Renn and Lina how to play, while Adin listens to Sam explain something (I can’t tell what). We’re still missing Celi (I have no idea if ke is still confined to the medbay; kidney failure sounds pretty serious to me) and Captain Sands, but everyone else looks pretty upbeat and animated. Sunset is out of her wheelchair and the new crew all look to be almost recovered from chronostasis. (To my eye, anyway. I’m sure the doctors will insist that anyone with a bit of muscle atrophy in their thumb of whatever is Still Recovering and in need of Strict Medical Observation, but it’s hard to blame them for their caution.)

Celi does arrive for the meeting, looking a little sleepy and leaning on Captain Sands for support, and the people at the bench immediately make room for kem. Captain Sands surveys the crew with a smile, and everyone instantly stops what they’re doing to pay attention.

“Crew of the Courageous!” he announces. “Everything seems to be going well. I’m happy to report, as chief engineer, that the critical systems of the ship are now mostly stable. A lot of work needs to be done on replacing some f the more worn-out equipment and we may need to adapt some surface equipment for minor processes, but on the whole, there is no reason why this ship won’t soon be able to support a full crew of twenty one. Lina, where are we on crew health and recovery?”

“I can, at this stage, clear everyone from full medical observation in the medbay – with the exception of our two revivals on life support, of course. I’ll draw up a schedule for ongoing medical check-ins with our new revivals for the next two weeks, and to be honest we should be doing more regular checkups with the old crew too. I can’t clear Doctor Tate for anything more than light assistive duty and want daily checkups with kem for the foreseeable future. I must also caution against any strenuous activity for the recent revivals, or anything that involves oxygen restriction or any other undue physiological stress – no work outside the ship, no heavy lifting without the use of lifters, nothing that involves air pressure changes.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem. So. We’re on course, our supplies of most things are fine, the ship is well on the way to repair, and our crew is mostly up and about. This is all great news. However, I’ve recently become aware of another danger – not to ourselves, but to the colonists in our care.”

I tense up. This is the moment – he’s about to announce his plan that could get my crewmates killed. And he’s going to do it, I suspect, without giving the rest of the crew enough information to realise how dangerous it is. With the seeds I’ve already planted informing the new Friend of the AI’s instability (which, presumably, it would have warned the people it assisted in the cable swap about), I need to question this plan in a way that gets the crew on my side and gets him to scrap it, and I need to do it in a way that doesn’t make an enemy of the captain. If I’m going to keep protecting my crew, I need the captain to keep trusting me.

This is going to be difficult.

“There is an ongoing risk to the colonists in Chronostasis Ring 5,” he explains. “We’re not certain of the details, but there’s a significant viability dropoff over time in that ring specifically. Given our supply reserves and that this ship should be fully functional very soon, I’m going to expand our crew to twenty one immediately, sourcing new crew exclusively from Chronostasis Ri – ”

“This is about the brain-hijacking computer, isn’t it?” Celi asks.

After a moment of stunned silence, Captain Sands whips his accusatory gaze around to me. But I never said anything to the newcomers about that particular problem, and my own confusion must be clearly written on my face, because he then turns to Tal, who looks back at him blankly.

“Yes, Captain?”

“Tal, critical information can be shared in a more complete and organised manner if you wait for it to be announced through official channels. Otherwise, we’re at risk of problems created by rumours and misinformation.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Then why – ?”

One of the Friends – the new one – clears its throat. “Apologies, captain. This friend was not aware that such information was secret. It seemed pertinent to the crew’s welfare and immediate tasks.”

“How did you find out?”

“This friend was made aware of some computer instability in advance of doing some computer repairs and asked that friend for details.” It gestures to the other Friend, the doctor, who shrugs.

Captain Sands hides his annoyance at this revelation quite well. It’s clear to me that he wanted to get this rescue operation done without freaking everybody out about the brain-stealing computer and without the rest of the crew fully realising the danger of the plan, but ‘you shouldn’t give crewmates information pertinent to their survival on this ship’ is certainly not a good look, so he says nothing. “Alright. Yes, Celi, they’re at risk of the AI overgrowing synnerves in their cerebral stimulators to make use of their brains, which is effectively a death sentence. As such, we must rescue as many as possible before that can happen to them.”

“How would we tell them apart?” Celi asks.

Renn nods. “Based on the information I have received, it was Captain Reimann separating compromised brains from the AI that caused the sequence of events that eventually killed off the previous crew. Have I misunderstood?”

“And the hypothesis that those in Chronostasis Ring 5 are at risk is based on the fact that the crew were unable to tell that Zale Hemmorin’s cranial port was compromised,” the new Friend puts in. “We know that either they cannot currently be distinguished, or if they can and Zale was a fluke, there is no need to suspect further danger to the others.”

“I actually have a plan for that,” Celi says. “We know that this process eventually leads to drastic changes in the biofeedback data that the AI uses, because it eventually drops its revival estimates to ten per cent, right? And the hypothesis is that while Zale’s port was clearly compromised, those biofeedback changes hadn’t taken place yet – but there must be some biofeedback changes. We have three doctors, a supercomputer, and several crew members with at least some experience in information analysis. So why don’t we look at the raw biofeedback data and try to find a marker ourselves? There should be a minority of people with some unusual biofeedback data that’s restricted exclusively to Chronostasis Ring 5. If we can find something like that, we have a much better chance of successfully reviving people without ripping anyone’s brains out or instigating a dangerous reaction from the AI.”

“Leaving the colonists longer to do research generates more risk,” Captain Sands points out.

“Not as much as going in blind does,” Tinera says. “Celi’s right. Reimann’s crew were trained and selected for this and in possession of a fully functional spaceship, and fucking with the hijacked brains got them all killed. You expect us to function any better?”

Captain Sands opens his mouth to reply, but then stops as a thought seems to strike him. He thinks deeply to himself for a moment, gathers himself, and looks around at the crew.

He nods. “Good points, everyone. Time is of the essence, but going in completely blind is a mistake. The rescue plan is delayed by two weeks. In two weeks, we go ahead based on whatever information we have.”

“Two weeks isn’t long enough for a project like this!” Lina protests.

“Well, you’ll have to work fast, then. You’re all exceptional people, I know you can do it. It’s Celi’s plan so ke’s in charge. Celi, you have the authority to pull in anybody you need for whatever task you need, so long as you’re not pulling them away from something critical to the ship. Renn, in about an hour I want to talk to you about a project; come prepared with information about the computer’s translation abilites from Japanese. Yes, you heard me correctly, and yes this is relevant to your field. Aspen, I’d like to see you right now, if you’re not busy.”

The captain stalks off, clearly doing his best not to look upset. I make a mental note to learn more about Tarandran culture and command structure; being overruled by his crew seems to have upset him more than I’d predicted. And judging by his reaction, I don’t think I’d have been able to talk him down myself with the scan preparations I’d made. It was a good thing that the crew had their information from the friends and that Celi had had a plan ready.

I sneak a glance at our doctor Friend. It gives me a wink.

Then I head out for my not particularly desireable meeting with the Captain.

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One thought on “060: INFORMATION

  1. Aspen did nothing wrong here. They informed the Friend of information it would benefit from knowing, and once the captain was told there was no reason for the old crew to not share the information about the AI with the new crew.

    Like, Sands knows that there’s no way for him to reprimand Aspen for anything without seeming like a dick. He must be very unhappy that the new crew and the old crew are getting along great and the civilians are treating the convicts like people.

    Meanwhile, Aspen must be very happy that they didn’t need to try to convince the captain themselves, especially since the captain is determined not to listen to them.

    Liked by 1 person

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