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I follow Captain Sands into Storage Ring 2. He leads us a little away from the path between airlocks, to a spot where nobody’s likely to interrupt us accidentally while moving about the ship, and fixes me with one of his usual easy smiles. “Aspen”

“Yes, captain?”

“You don’t like me, do you?”

I blink. This is not where I’d thought this meeting would be going. “Sir?”

“It’s fine, you don’t have to lie to me. It’s not a job requirement to like your superior officer. If I’d been expected to like everyone in charge of any project I was on I’d never have gotten anywhere. But this is a small crew and a relatively small space that we’re going to be sharing for at least the next four years, and there’s some sort of disconnect in the command structure here, and if we’re going to successfully get this colony set up we need to be sure that everybody is on the same page.”

“I do like you, actually. You seem like a nice person, and you’re good at making sure everyone feels important and capable, which is a leadership quality I never really got the knack of. And I’m pretty relieved not to be captain any more.”

“You were pretty upset with me yesterday when I proposed the Chronostasis Ring 5 revival plan.”

“Yeah, because it’s a stupid plan. It’s a stupid plan, and if Celi can’t figure out how to differentiate the saveable colonists from the unsaveable ones, it’s going to get people – colonists and crew – killed.”

“If it comes to it, I won’t be as quick as you to eject the people under our care into space, Aspen.”

“Yeah, that doesn’t make me feel any better. You always run headlong into dangerous stuff just assuming that everything’s going to go perfectly, and the lives of everyone else are dependent on your being right. But everything’s not always going to go perfectly.”

“So I should sit around too scared to get anything done, until the cooling system breaks and the ship’s oxygen supply shuts off?”

I narrow my eyes.

Captain Sands raises his hands. “I didn’t mean… I’m not trying to start a fight with you. I just meant to point out that some level of action is necessary, and in the vast majority of cases, sooner is better than later. I know it looks to you like I might move too fast without consideration for the consequences, and that’s my fault; I’m not used to explaining my decisions to people. But I’m an engineer, Aspen. The effect of interacting systems upon each other and the consequences of failure of parts of those systems is my job. Just because I haven’t wasted time extensively discussing every negative outcome out loud doesn’t mean I haven’t considered them. Is that what the tension is here? You don’t trust my competence in making decisions as captain? Because if that’s all it is, then great – that problem is imminently solveable. If you need me to explain my decisions in more detail, then fine. I can do that.”

“Will you listen to the advice of your crew in making those decisions?”

“Of course. I just did that. I delayed our latest project and gave Celi the go-ahead for her research, did I not?”

“You didn’t listen to Tal and the Friend and I before that.”

“You didn’t have an actionable plan before that. You were unhappy with the plan and with my crew selection, but couldn’t suggest anything better. Those colonists do need to be rescued, and they need to be rescued soon. Some risk will be posed to the rescue team, but – ”

“That there is my problem with all of this. You’re treating my crewmates as disposeable assets.”

They are disposeable assets. So are you, and so am I. We knew that when we signed up for this program – that it would be dangerous, and there would be losses, and our primary goal was to build a stable and thriving colony. The fact that we woke up before reaching the planet doesn’t change any of that. You seem to be under the impression that I don’t value the lives of this crew – that’s absolutely not true. But I value the lives of the colonists who are still in chronostasis as well. Here’s where I think most of our disagreements lie; you’re not used to managing big projects involving thousands of people, and you’re too emotionally involved. Don’t look at me like that – it’s a big asset. Only somebody like you could have commanded the loyalty of a bunch of aggressive convicts on a broken ship for an entire year. If I were in your position, there’s no way I could have maintained control, but somehow you held onto their trust through it all. It’s become clear to me in my brief stint as captain on this ship that not only are this crew completely untrained as astronauts, as am I, but they’re also largely untrained in acting within a proper command structure at all. They depend on emotion and social ties in a way that I’m simply not very practiced at accounting for yet. I need your skills, Aspen; I need your heart. Why do you think I wanted you as my second in command?”

“You made me the logistics officer because you don’t trust Tinera.”

“Ha! You not being a convicted murderer certainly helped, but we have a relatively full ship now and I still want you. You’re the only person on this ship who’s proven your mettle in this way, who’s actually demonstrated their ability to maintain group harmony in this specific situation. But, I think that that same heart that gives you the ability to do that hampers your ability to make or trust logical decisions when it comes to human lives. I think, if you were put in a situation where you had to assess the relative value of different crewmates to the task of completing this mission, and assess the acceptable level of risk for them accordingly, you’d be incapable of doing it. Because our competencies here are so different, our decisions may baffle each other, but both of our skill sets are absolutely vital to this mission’s success. So we need to learn to trust each other to make the right decisions within each other’s areas of competency.”

“And for that, we need to be open and honest and put all of our cards on the table?”


I cross my arms. “Okay. Let’s get at my primary concern, then. Let’s imagine that, hypothetically, all the new crew members were fully recovered from chronostasis and the doctors gave them the all-clear for full duty. What team would you pick to send into Chronostasis Ring 5?”

“There’s nothing wrong with the team I’ve already picked.”

“You wouldn’t send Celi instead of Lina? Lina’s an oncologist, Celi’s a general practitioner. Sounds more relevant for chronostasis revival.”

“True, but neither field is particularly relevant, and both Lina and our Friend have a lot of experience at this by now. Celi has no experience at chronostasis revival.”

“And you’d still send Denish? If you want an engineer, you have two real actual engineers now.”

“Yes, but I’m a designer – a theorist. And Sunset is primarily a fuel technician. Denish may not be so qualified for actual engineering, but he’s a cutter. Cutting in and out of systems, stabilising them when they go critical, working in different environments and air pressures, are all part of his job. He’s best equipped to deal with any problems that arise.”

Seems strange that my crewmates, who just weren’t good enough when the captain needed reasons to wake more, are suddenly the most competent available when something dangerous comes up. “And Tinera? You’ve already said you don’t trust her in command – that’s why you gave me her job. Surely, for something like this, you or I should go?”

“I’d put you in charge coordinating the mission. But you’ve recommended her as being good in a crisis. If there’s no emergency situation, she’d be taking orders from you, but if one arises, having her quick mind on the scene is ideal. Other crew members might be a better choice for such a thing, but we don’t know yet. We haven’t been working with them long enough to judge their competence.”

“So it’s coincidence that your picks for dangerous work are all from the old crew.”

“There’s no coincidence about it. The people who have done a lot of chronostasis revivals are best equipped to do chronostasis revivals. But this is what I mean about your emotional involvement – you’ve spent a year working hard to keep these specific people alive and happy. Of course you’re overprotective of them.”

“I’m not overprotective. You’re overly dismissive. You want to take risks with their lives that – ”

“Every day on this ship is a risk with all of our lives, Aspen! You know that! And we signed up for that. We all joined this program because we believed in a future among the stars – ”

“They didn’t. They were coerced.”

Captain Sands rolls his eyes. “Excuse me for not bleeding with compassion for people reaping the consequences of their own actions. You know as well as I do that this ship is infinitely safer and more comfortable than the jail sentences they earned for themselves with their own choices.”

“So you do think their lives are worth less?”

“That’s not what I said.”

“How many criminals versus non-criminals are in Chronostasis Ring 5?”

“598 criminals, 149 non-criminals,” the captain answers promptly. “Not counting the 244 who are in the ten per cent survival range and weren’t worth tallying, or the 9 dead. So if you were worried that I’m planning to throw your friends’ lives away to save a ring full of non-criminals – ”

“No, I assume that the 80-20 ratio holds for all the chronostasis rings. The ship’s designed so that losing any one ring shouldn’t doom the mission, so putting all the non-criminals together would be stupid. I was just interested in seeing if you knew the answer, because I can’t think of too many reasons you’d want to look that up in advance. Except, I guess, when you were deciding how to prioritise revivals.”

“Yes, Aspen, while it would be ideal to revive everyone I would obviously prioritise reviving people who are the least likely to cause problems on this ship. I don’t understand how that could be remotely objectionable. We need order, obedience and responsibility on a spaceship and we have limited space, of course the people who haven’t ended up with a life sentence in prison are better choices for the safety of the ship. That’s basic practicality for getting as many people to our destination alive as possible; it doesn’t mean I don’t respect or value your friends, who are already awake and my problem.”

“Why the separate rooms, then? Why’d you split the crew into two habitation zones?”

“Well, I thought that should be obvious. There’s no sense in not using the space – ”

“Then why split them like – ”

“And obviously we want as little drama and conflict in the crew as possible.”

“Drama and conflict? Everyone’s getting along great!”

“They are. For now. When interacting in view of other people who could intervene if something went wrong. But Aspen, all of the old crew except you, as well as they’ve done keeping this ship going over the past year, all struggle with theft and violent urges so badly that they’ve ended up with life sentences over it. Having these people where you sleep and store your personal possessions is a disaster waiting to happen. Now, clearly, you’ve all managed to handle each other just fine so far, and again I admire your ability to hold your own against them, but with this much space there is simply no reason to subject these new innocent crew to that kind of risk. I want the crew to get along, and the best way to ensure that happens is to keep the high-risk ones out of the personal space of the others.”

“Have you told the newcomers that the others are criminals yet?”

“No. I’d rather not create problems. Best they all try to get along first. Dr Sunn knows, of course. I don’t know what the others know.”

“Sam, the Friend, and Sunset probably don’t know,” I say, “unless someone else has told them. Celi probably suspects that a lot of us are convicts.”

“What makes you say that?”

I shrug. “Ke’s from the leader group. The others are from the civilian group.”

“The what?”

“It’s not entirely solid, but we have a hypothesis that you can predict from someone’s priority for captaincy whether or not they knew in advance that they were getting on a convict ship. Based on that, Celi probably knew, like you, and can deduce that there’s an eighty per cent chance of anyone being a convict. But the others are probably like me, and had no idea that this was a convict ship when they got on.”

“Hmm. Interesting. I’ll keep that in mind. Anyway, I have a temporary solution for our little value conflict.”


Captain Sands nods. “From now on, Aspen, you’re in charge of team allocation. For most day-to-day tasks people already know their roles, but if anything requires a captain to allocate a team, you do it. Then I can’t sneakily get the convict crew killed behind your back or something.”

“I wasn’t suggesting you were going to deliberately get them kill – fine. Can I switch up the dormitory arrangements?”

“No. They’re arranged as they are for good reason.”

“Can I pick the team for the Chronostasis Ring 5 mass revival?”


“And what if I put you on it?”

“Then I’ll go on it. We have the same goals here, Aspen. If this is what it takes to trust each other, then fine.”

“… Alright.”

“Great!” He shoots me another of his charming grins. “And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to see a living psychologist about deciphering the case notes of a dead psychologist. I’ll see you tonight, I suppose, since we’re all discharged from medical now and our oh-so-protective doctors will let us use our actual bedrooms.” He walks out of the ring. I stare after him.

Then I go to see if there’s anything I can do for Celi. The more headway we make on figuring out this brain hijacking thing over the next two weeks, the safer we’ll all be.

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3 thoughts on “061: NEGOTIATION

  1. Sands continues to see the old crew as convicts first and people second. “all struggle with theft and violent urges so badly that they’ve ended up with life sentences over it.” In his mind, being a convict is a irredeemable, irrefutable, and defining quality of 80% of the people on this ship. He continues to describe them as “aggressive” and “violent” even tho no one has done anything to earn that description since he woke up.

    Telling him that Celi likely knows is probably a bad idea. It depends on if Celi is suddenly colder with the old crew than ke used to be. I think it’s more important than ever to figure out what the new crew’s opinion on convict labor is because that will come to a head soon.

    The difference in leadership styles between Aspen and Sands is something I moreso attribute to who they are succeeding.

    Sands is succeeding Aspen, who took a very cautious approach and did well with what they were given and developed a very close bond with their crew, but they lacked the expertise and information to make significant headway in dealing with problems. Sands is understandably frustrated by what he sees as a lack of action on the previous captain’s part.

    Meanwhile, Aspen succeeded Reimann, who went crazy, killed people, battled the AI, lost, and caused an entire Ring to be a lost cause and caused the eventual deaths of his entire crew. Aspen is dealing with the landmines that Reimann placed (Chronostasis Ring 1) and has always been mindful to not make the same mistakes. Avoiding another Reimann is their chief concern, and is understandably frustrated that it isn’t Sands’ chief concern as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, Sands is not wrong about a lot of the big-picture calculus, and that Aspen is very cautious with the crew’s lives. And – he continues to have a very privileged worldview, where individual choices are everything and there are no structural inequalities or systemic failures that funnel people into poverty or crime to survive.


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