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With all our recently acquired information and the full help of a more widely experienced crew than we’re used to, investigation on the brain hijacking phenomenon progresses rapidly. Lina’s further scans for luminescence give her the results she expects; whatever the fluorescent chemical is, it’s in the chronostasis fluid of CR5 and, presumably, the long-ejected CR1. Apparently, attempting to purify the chemical for analysis is much easier if she can take it from the actual fluid rather than trying to extract it from keratin, but she’s still not confident in her ability to identify or analyse it. Asking Captain Sands for permission to revive a molecular chemist is met with a conditional “you can revive one if you can find one in CR5”, but even for this, none of us want to start reviving anyone in CR5 until we have as much information as possible.

Besides, at this stage, figuring out what precisely has happened to the colonists in CR5 is far less important than figuring out how to distinguish the uncompromised ones from the compromised ones before triggering revival. Tal is, predictably, unable to get much in the way of past recorded data out of the AI (sometimes I want nothing more than to somehow figure out what delusional colonist brains make it think that constant secrecy is the safest practice and go Reimann on them), but is able to gain access to some biometric data on a Chronostasis Rings 2 and 3. Kes mathematical genius and Sam’s infoprocessing background are put to use helping Celi decipher a baseline to compare CR5 biometrics to when they get them, while our engineers Captain Sands, Sunset and Denish focus their energies on studying the chronostasis pods and cerebral stimulators. The freezer hasn’t been the best preserving environment for our dead subjects (when we froze them, we hadn’t expected to need them for science), but there are plenty of empty chronostasis pods to take apart and make sure they’re exactly like the blueprints say they should be (they are).

Meanwhile, Renn devotes his energies to translating Captain Kinoshita’s case notes, leaving me, Tinera, Adin and the two Public Universal Friends to actually run the sunbleaching ship.

With every new revelation, I do feel a little guilty. Could we have made this progress a year ago, if we’d really thrown ourselves into it like this? Maybe not; a lot of what we’re learning is based on completely new information. I had no control over the timing for discovering Zale, or the tampered-with panel on CR5, or Captain Kinoshita’s journals. But I’d also denied Lina’s requests for more revived test subjects and Denish’s request for qualified engineers for months, out of fear of upsetting our stability and creating more problems. Maybe this was what Captain Sands meant about me getting too emotionally involved to make proper proactive decisions; being reactive might promote short-term stability, but it’s hardly useful for progress. Being reactive only pushes you forward when something goes wrong.

Anyway, three days after Sands gives his two-week deadline, I’m forced into a proactive decision. For engineering reasons I’m not entirely clear on, a fair number of chronostasis systems are accessible from outside the ship if one removes the right hull panels, so the information that one of the engineers had been tampering with such panels doesn’t give a lot of answers on its own. However, with the information that the chronostasis fluid specifically had been tampered with, the engineers want a detailed inspection of the parts of the chronostasis fluid filtration system accessible under the tampered-with panel. If we can see specifically what had been done, we might get a better idea of what was going on.

And it’s my job to pick crew for these kinds of missions now.

“Okay,” I say, looking around at the crew scattered among the terminals in Network and Engineering Ring 1, “I know a fair bit about our old crew, but among our newcomers, who has any experience working in space?”

Sunset raises her hand timidly. “Um. I’ve done basic voidwork. If that counts.”

I nod. I’d been expecting that answer. ‘ – of Sirius’ is a Cancer or Capricorn Plateau name, indicating someone from one of the space elevator service colonies, and while most citizens of the plateau weren’t astronauts or full-time voidworkers (as they called their spaceside servicepeople), it was normal for everyone to do a little bit of work in space. Good job for a young adult, builds character, all that stuff.

The rest of our crew are from far more grounded nations, and I have fewer hopes for them. But Renn flutters a few fingers to get my attention. “I’ve not done extensive extravehicular work, but I’ve travelled to Luna a fair amount, so I’m familiar with space suit operation and basic emergency protocols.”

“As am I,” Captain Sands says.

I nod again, trying not to let my heart sink. Basic suit operation is good! That’s all the experience I’d had when I woke up on the Courageous, too, and I’d done spacework just fine. I mean, I’d nearly died a few times, but I hadn’t fully died, so. Good enough.

Still, no reason to create unnecessary risk. “Denish will go and look, I’ll be his assistant. Tinera will coordinate from inside; I want Lina and Sands with her to advise as necessary. Sunset and a Public Universal Friend, the doctor one, should standby as a rescue team if something goes wrong.”

Renn bristles. “The captain and the third in command are sitting right here and you want the mission coordinated by an assistant maintenance officer?”


He turns to the captain. “Captain, I must – ”

“It’s the Logistics Officer’s call,” Captain Sands says calmly.

“Do you have any experience coordinating missions in a vacuum, Dr Sunn?” I ask.

“No, but – ”

“Tinera does, both on Luna and on the Courageous. She’s coordinated us and saved lives before. The head psychologist is third in command because crew psychology and social stability is so vitally important in day-to-day activities, but for this job, neither you nor Captain Sands are qualified. Anyway, both you and the captain have your jobs because the ship’s priority algorithm put you there, and the ship’s priority algorithm put Tinera as Logistics Officer, so if you have faith in the system that makes you third in command, you have faith in the system that wants her to outrank you. Anyone else have objections to the team selection?”

Nobody did.

“Alright. When’s go-time, captain?”

“Let’s make sure we’re prepared. We’ll start the mission in two hours.”

So, two hours later, I suit up and climb down the ladder from an external airlock in Pod Launch Ring 3.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been outside the ship, and last time I was here, Adin nearly died. So stepping out of the ship once more doesn’t feel great. But Denish is a steady and far more confident presence next to me, and Tinera a reassuring voice in my ear. I remind myself that although I might be a bit unpracticed at this, they’re not. Denish is a pirate who used to illegally cut up ships for a living. Tinera spent years working in small teams doing dangerous mining work on Luna. There’s no reason to expect problems, and if we have any, this team can handle them.

“Alright,” Tinera says. “We ready to deal with this situation?”

“Yes!” Denish puts a supportive hand on my shoulder. “We are ready.”

I nod, although no one can see it. “Ready when you are, Tiny.”

“Alright. Head out when you’re ready.”

The situation, as the engineers had spent the last two hours explaining to me, is this:

The chronostasis rings are, for obvious reasons, the most carefully engineered rings on the ship. They are full of backups and redundant systems; emergency batteries in case of power failure, a backup coolant system with tiny emitters, all sorts of things that have external components mostly shielded by the hull. But the one that concerns us is, of course, the chronostasis fluid filtration system.

Chronostasis is, it turns out, far more complicated than I’d ever really given it credit for. I mean, obviously it’s complicated – a physical field that can slow down time to the point of condensing twenty years into three months is something that previous generations would’ve laughed off as impossible. But that technology alone was surprisingly useless outside of performing complicated physics experiments – most things that could benefit from such an effect could be far more safely and easily preserved via refrigeration. There were good reasons that all of our embryos and such were in the cryofreezers.

Using chronostasis to preserve people involved the development of a whole host of other technologies that had nothing at all to do with the time dilation effect. Maintaining a person in decent condition through months of induced coma with no human intervention is no easy feat. There’s maintaining the condition of the body and brain, for which we have the cerebral stimulators and muscle maintenance drugs and soforth. There’s the simple mechanical problem of making sure a patient submerged in liquid doesn’t aspirate the chronostasis fluid around their breathing tubes, or develop bleeding around their IV ports, the first time the ship experiences a jolt – some remarkably complicated engineering had to go into some very simple-looking ports and tubing for that.

But one thing I’d never even considered was skin.

Human bodies make skin. You can’t really stop them without causing a whole lot of problems. They make skin and nails and hair and various mucuses on various soft tissues. For a normal comatose patient, this isn’t a problem; dead skin is dry and flakes away fairly easily, and regular sponge bathing can keep a patient clean enough to avoid complications. For someone suspended in liquid for months at a time, inaccessible to human attendants, skin is a much more significant problem. Everyone comes out of chronostasis a bit scrungy, carrying several more layers of dead skin than they strictly need, but this is a drop in the chronostasis pod compared to how much skin someone will build and shed in chronostasis. Chronostasis patients are cleaned sonically within their fluid, but this just results in filling the chronostasis fluid with dead skin cells.

And chronostasis fluid needs to stay fairly clean to properly conduct the chronostasis field.

Because of the skin problem, it doesn’t matter how carefully designed your patient’s output lines are; the fluid is going to get filled with gunk. So it needs to be regularly changed. Some facilities simply do that, pumping out the old fluid and adding new, but for a twenty-year spaceship journey that’s simply not practical. The amount of spare chronostasis fluid we’d need would add several new rings to the size of the ship just for chronostasis fluid storage. The other option is to filter, purify, and recycle the chronostasis fluid.

A normal filter system had been considered for the javelin missions, but rejected as impractical. With five thousand chronostasis pods and a crew of only twenty one, anything with fine, purely physical filters would mean that several people would be busy full-time just changing the filters for all the pods. Fortunately, there are other ways to purify liquids, methods used in industry since pre-Neocambrian times.

Namely, distillation. Boil the liquids, separate them by boiling point, pick up and recompress the ones you want to keep and push them back through the system.

Problem: several of the components of chronostasis fluid are heat-sensitive, and destroyed by the temperatures required to boil them. The usual solution to such problems is to reduce the pressure; the lower the pressure, the lower the boiling point. So chronostasis fluid could be pushed through a couple of large, self-cleaning filters to remove debris, distilled under a vacuum, and reconstituted, leaving all contaminants behind. This method of recycling chronostasis fluid had been perfected back on earth with minimal fluid loss, but it does require massive, bulky vacuum chambers that would take up large amounts of space on the javelins if built.

But of course, the thing about space travel is that you’re moving through one giant vacuum chamber that you can use for free.

So there are large distillation tubes of evaporated chronostasis fluid wrapped around each chronostasis chamber, outside the pressure vessel and protected under the hull plating. They wrap around the ship and end at periodically placed condensers, where the vapours are collected, liquefied and pumped back into the ship. Each condenser reconstitutes the fluid for about 80-85 chronostasis pods.

And judging by the position of the tampered hull panel, and the knowledge that it’s the chronostasis fluid that’s contaminated, the engineers are pretty sure that one of these condensers was Richard Rynn-Hatson’s target.

We step out onto the metal bars that support the electrostatic shield. Denish is tall enough that he can reach the hull above us easily to clip tethers to the anchor points up there. Balancing on the beams is a bit nerve-wracking, but it’s certainly a faster mode of transportation than looping a tether around them and crawling along them like I used to. Denish’s shipcutting experience is obvious in the way he easily unbolts the hull panel in question, slides it aside (they’re designed to be able to be moved out of the way without removing them completely from the hull, for obvious reasons) and takes a look.

The compressor isn’t particularly visible from our position on the metal lattice. There’s a bunch of large black tubes, presumably carrying chronostasis fluid vapour, in the way. Denish shoves his arm among the tubes, trying to get a good look with his wrist cam, and swears in Texan.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Is too high up to see properly,” he grumbles. “Will need to climb.”

“That’s a negative, ‘Nish,” Tinera says. “Your predecessor died doing that, remember.”

“Predecessor did not secure safety tether properly. Stupid mistake. I can – ”

“Uh, Denish?” I cut in. “How much can you lift?”


“Would you be able to lift me?”

“In space suit? Yes.”

“Yeah, go for it,” Tinera says. “If you’ve got safe enough footing. Double-check your tethers.”

“I always double check tethers,” Denish grumbles, pausing to double check the tethers. “Ready, Aspen?”

“Yes, but come to think of it, since we’re on these metal beams your footing might not actually be stable eno – woah!” I’m lifted into the air, and immediately grab at the edge of the nearest bolted-down panel to keep us both stable. With Denish below me, the panel is about waist high, and all around me are black distillation tubes and occasional random machinery in the wall above. Lighting is very limited in here; light doesn’t spread and bounce properly in space, and my feeble suit lights can’t do much against the tubing, leaving impenetrable shadows everywhere that male it hard to tell what exactly I’m looking at.

“Alright, Aspen,” Tinera says in my ear. “You want… what’s that? Alright. You want that tube in front of you with the white line on it. It should lead into the condenser, and whatever he’s done should be there.”

I reach forward half-blindly with my arm camera, following the tube until the camera catches sight of the bulky machine into which the tube leads.

I stare at the camera feed, confused. After several seconds of silence, Captain Sands comes on the radio.

“What the fuck is that?”

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5 thoughts on “063: INVESTIGATE

  1. I’ll be honest I don’t understand anything sciency that’s going on here but the story is so fun and interesting and it’s just getting more and more exciting!!


  2. Distillation! I know what that is!

    It’s odd seeing Renn question putting Tinera in charge when he knows that Tinera is supposed to be the logistics officer and was the logistics officer under Aspen’s command. Renn claimed the Captain’s choice to put Aspen as the Logistics Officer has to do with the Tarandran culture’s views on seniority, but we already know why Sands did that (Tinera is a convict), so Renn probably holds that belief more strongly than Sands does. (That, or Renn knows the old crew is full of convicts and has similar views on convict labor as Sands. That would be bad, especially since they’re the psychologist.)

    “What the fuck is that?” That’s not something you want to hear your head engineer say.


  3. Somehow you always leave me with a cliffhanger I’m wildly impatient about even when there’s so much juicy information getting revealed


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