<<First ………. <Prev ………. [Archive] ………. [Map] ………. Next> ………. Last>>

“Aspen!” Tal calls from behind the computer terminal as I enter the medbay. “Come check this out!”

I head over. Tal has one of kes own x-ray scans up on the screen. Ke’s standing in the image, arms raised slightly. Ke skips to the next image; another x-ray, with legs slightly wider apart and arms raised higher. Ke switches back and forth rapidly between the two images.

“Skeleton dance,” ke explains.

“R-right. Is… is that what you wanted to show me?”

“Nope! I’m radioactive.”

“Bioluminescent,” Lina calls from somewhere amongst all the scanning equipment. “Ke’s bioluminescent.”

“Oh. Is this another zeelite fashion mod, like…” I gesture at kes garish face tattoos.

“No, but it is cool. Look.” Ke brings up another image, and I can’t immediately understand what I’m looking at. The image is mostly dark, with ten very faint white shapes of slightly different sizes; mostly oval, but with flattened, fairly uneven tops. The only thing particularly clear in the image is a bright blue horizontal stripe, slightly curved, on each oval.

I squint at the image. It’s the placement that gives it away; they’re laid out like they’re at the ends of the fingers of two spread hands. Fingernails. Tal’s fingernails, each with a strip of blue in them.

“What does this mean?” I mumble.

“Well, it’s hard to be certain,” Lina says, walking into the room proper with a couple of little sample jars full of powder, “but the specific frequency of the glow and the light we had to use to stimulate it suggests it’s probably bf-27. Can’t be sure, of course; it’s fairly degraded, we had to turn the sensitivity way up to get a reading. And isolating it from the keratin for analysis is just about impossible without destroying it. We need a professional scientist on this team.”

“My biology knowledge is mostly confined to Arborean ecology,” I confess. “What’s bf-27.”

“It’s a flourescent tagging protein commonly used in genetic engineering.”

“Somebody’s secretly genetically engineered Tal?!”

“No, no! I mean, I’d like to run your DNA again, Tal, if you don’t mind, just to check for differences from what’s on file, but what we’re seeing here doesn’t suggest that at all.”

I relax. Genetic engineering is hardly uncommon – nobody’s running around with an entirely un-engineered geneset these days, except possibly some Martians – but non-consensual genetic engineering is equivalent to brain-damaging Lyson projects in terms of unethical behaviour. That leads to bad places. We have an entire humanity-wide resolution for it.

“Then what’s going on?” I ask.

“I hope to find out very soon. Tal, I just sent through the KERA-1 images.”

Tal nods and taps at the terminal. The screen divides into four images, labelled DBR-1, DBR-2, SS-1 and SS-2. DBR-2 shows a glowing blue powder, DBR-1 a powder with a far fainter glow, and both SS images look black, until I notice the very faint white glow of masses that, judging by the other two images, are also powder. Lina comes around behind us and frowns at the image.

“Hmm,” is all she says.

“What is it?” I ask. “What are we looking at?”

“Tal, can you bring up yours again?”

Ke does. Lina frowns harder.

“Alright, the KERA-1 images.”

Ke goes back.

“Hmm,” Lina says again.

“Lina. What are we looking at?”

“Well. The thing about body tissues is that they can usually be divided into one of two categories – you get long-term tissues, which are formed and last for years with very little modification. Bones and nerves are tissues like these. And then you get tissues with a much faster turnover, like blood and skin. You follow?”


“Right, so. The body will absorb what’s in its environment, and if you want to look at long-term environmental changes, you can check bones for hints, but they’re slow enough that they don’t do much for shorter term stuff. Short-term changes, you can find in the blood and skin, but that evidence usually fades quickly. So what if you want to look for medium-term changes – things that were short-lived, but enough in the past that they’re all but purged from blood and skin, you need something that grows rapidly, but also sticks around for a long time. Specifically, skin or hair. Tal, can you bring up the other nails? Right. Here’s an image of my nails – clean, as you can see. No glow. I also have both of the Friends’ – see, just the faint glow of keratin. But Tal’s has blue flourescence, just a narrow stripe of it.”

“Which means what, exactly?”

“Well, not everyone’s fingernails grow at exactly the same rate, but this stripe looks like about six months of growth, from around about a year ago.”

My eyes widen. “Chronostasis.”

Lina nods. “We were all on tubed nutrients and recycled water and soforth for about six months’ worth of experienced time. In that time, Tal was given something we weren’t.”

“Tal’s from Chronostasis Ring 1,” I murmur.

“Exactly. Now, Tal, the new images? Thank you. You’ll remember, Aspen, that we’ve awakened two people so far with the KERA-1 geneset.”

“Preneek nails!” Tal grins. “So cool.”

“Uh, yes. So-called ‘pre-Neocambrian’ fingernails. Much thinner and more fragile than normal fingernails, but they also grow much faster. We have Da-Bin, from Chronostasis Ring 5, who had a compromised cranial port.” She indicated the DBR-1 and DBR-2 samples. “And Sunset of Sirius, from Chronostasis Ring 3.” She indicates the SS-1 and SS-2 samples.

“These are their fingernails, all ground up?” I ask. I can’t help wrinkling my nose.

Lina nods. “As you know, they were severely overgrown in chronostasis and we had to trim them after. This is part of normal maintenance for KERA-1 fingernails. I held onto them in anticipation of this kind of analysis.”

“You’ve been wanting to look into this viability thing for awhile.”


“And Sunset’s are clean, but Da-Bin’s have the same glow as Tal’s. So that’s pretty conclusive, right?”

“I’d like to run the others to be certain. Adin and Tinera are both from CR5 as well, and of course there’s poor Pterra and Kevin in the freezer. Pterra, you might recall, had an unstable port like Da-Bin, and Kevin was simply a normal revival failure. If they all show nails like Tal’s, and the rest of the crew are clear, that would be very strong evidence that the occupants of CR1 and CR5 were fed something different in chronostasis. Or that radiation from the engines corrupted something they were fed or something, I don’t know. But the engineers have analysed the ship’s blueprints and assure me that if you remove part of the outer hull of a chronostasis ring, you can access the recyclant tubing for some of the materials used.”

“You think Richard Rynn-Hatson put something in their food.”

“It’s a theory. We’ll know more after further analysis.” She squints again at the powdered fingernail results, like they’ve personally insulted her.

“What’s the problem?” I ask.

“Probably sample contamination. I mustn’t have been careful enough in preparation. These specific results… aren’t as conclusive as I’d like, but if the other fingernail experiments show up properly and the hair of the people in the freezer shows the same pattern, we can call it sample contamination.” She points to DBR-2, the sample with a faint blue glow. “That shouldn’t be glowing.”

“It’s Ro Da-Bin’s fingernail, right? From CR5?”

“Yes, but it’s from the tip. DBR-1 ans SS-1 are from the ends of the fingernails, parts that would already have grown before chronostasis. A perfect result here would be only seeing a glow in DBR-2. The faint glow in DBR-1 is simply unexplainable. Except by contamination, of course. Which is a very common problem in this kind of work.”

“Preneek fingernails are pretty weird,” Tal says sagely.

I glance at Tal’s fingernails. Under the normal light of the medbay, they don’t fluoresce at all. They look like completely normal fingernails; thick, black, shiny caps on the back of each finger. Like my fingernails.

Well, they’re in better condition than my fingernails. Mine are dull and worn, the result of fairly consistent manual labour. The soil of the greenhouse rings, the solvents we use to clean the ship, and the occasional dings and scrapes of random engineering tasks have left them chipped and missing most of their shiny protective wax coating. Apart from occasional cleaning, most of Tal’s duties involve working at computers; kes fingernails are manually filed back and almost flawlessly shiny. (I really should take better care of mine. Wax them, at least.)

“You haven’t run hair samples yet?” I ask Lina.

“No. Why?”

“Just… just a thought. Do you have any spare sample jars?”

“Oh, yeah. A whole shelf of them.” She indicates a cupboard. I grab two, and head off for Chronostasis Ring 2. My chronostasis ring.

“Hey!” Lina calls after me. “You’re here for scans!”

“I’ll be back soon!” I call back. I’m remembering something, something weird, and if I’m right, it… well, honestly, it’s something that Lina will figure out as soon as she scans the hair samples anyway, probably. But best to sort it out as early as possible.

I head for my own chronostasis pod. I open it. Something about it had bothered me, last time I was here, and it wasn’t just that it had been the place I’d slept so long and nearly died in.

Blue powder still coeats the bottom, the remains of long-dried chronostasis fluid. Trying not to touch it with my fingers, I scrape some of the powder into a sample jar.

Then I head for Chronostasis Ring 5.

I know now why the dried fluid in my pod bothered me so much last time. I know why I hadn’t expected it to look like that. It’s because I’d seen old, dried-out chronostasis fluid before – on the Public Universal Friend’s camera feeds when it and Denish were in Chronostasis Ring 1. And it hadn’t been dry and powdery. It had been thick, and dark, and still wet, even after so much time.

If the colonists in rings 1 and 5 were being fed something different to the rest of us, something with this flourescent protein in it, then it should show up in their hair and nails that grew while they were consuming it. But Ro Da-Bin’s nail tips wouldn’t have any. But what if it was in the chronostasis fluid itself? Someone in stasis was going to ingest a small amount of fluid (indeed, keeping the fluid out of the lungs long-term had been a major engineering challenge when it came to building the oxygen masks). And the fragile, exposed keratin of hair – and of the fingernails of those with the KERA-1 geneset – would be stained by it, too.

I head for the nearest pod in CR5 that’s been open for over a year – I don’t even check whose it is – and scoop out some of the thick, gooey substance still clinging to the bottom. It’s been open almost as long as mine, take a week or two, but the fluid down there is tacky, drying more like an oil paint. Again, I try not to get anything I’ve touched with my fingers into the sample jar, and curse myself for not bringing gloves.

Then I take the samples back to Lina and explain my reasoning. She makes me do the scans I came there for before she’ll analyse the chronostasis fluids, but when she gets around to them, I hear her gasp.

The powder from my pod is totally invisible in the scan. The goo from the CR5 pod glows a clear, bright blue.

Lina’s facial expression is outright predatory. “Well, well, well. This is certainly a start.”

<<First ………. <Prev ………. [Archive] ………. [Map] ………. Next> ………. Last>>

2 thoughts on “062: LUMINSCENCE

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s