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The condenser is a large rectangular block about twice the size of me, lying flat against the outer wall of the pressure vessel above. It’s the same non-reflective grey-white as the wall to which it’s bolted, and several black tubes lead into it, all along its length. I don’t really understand how it works and I don’t need to, but I did study pictures of it to prepare for this mission, so Richard Rynn-Hatson’s alterations are obvious.

The connection between the condenser and the wall of the ship, the pipe through which it feeds its newly reassembled chronostasis fluid, is about as wide as the arm of my space suit. And the output is supposed to connect directly to the ship. Instead, something’s been inserted in there, a small metal something that shines in jarring contrast to its matte environment. It’s bright silver, the width of the pipe it interrupts, and about a hands-breadth thick.

I have absolutely no idea what it is. I only know that it doesn’t make sense.

The chronostasis fluid is regularly cycled and purified, meaning that whatever is being added is removed. So it’s being re-added after the condenser and being piped back out to the eighty-plus chronostasis pods that this condenser services; fine. Except that this has been going on for years; the sheer volume of fluorescent matter that’s been added to the chronostasis pods over the years cannot possibly fit in this little box. So how does it work?

“Aspen, try to get a better look at the box,” Tinera instructs me. “I’m being told that we have no idea what it is but there must be a recovery and recycling mechanism in there somewhere. Look for a tube or something, probably leading to one of the distillation pipes.”

With Denish supporting my legs, I lift myself higher until I’m sitting on the hull panel next to the opened one. It’s tight in here; the helmet of my space suit bumps against the wall above. But I’m able to snake my arm around the condenser connection point to get a camera view of every side of Rynn-Hatson’s added box. There are no tubes or anything leading off anywhere; it connects the condenser to the ship. That’s it.

“Okay,” Tinera says. “Uh. The condenser itself must have been tampered with, then, to recondense the additive as well. I’m being told the possibility of that is difficult to determine without knowing precisely what was ad – sorry what? Okay, yeah. We don’t have any better theories. I’m going to need you to crawl around a bit and check all the bolts and stuff on the condenser casing, looking for anything that looks like it’s been removed.”

“Should be my job,” Denish grumbles.

“Listen, big guy, it’s way safer to have you there spotting Aspen in case they fall. If you fell, do you think Aspen would be able to catch you? No way. You’re on support, Aspen guides the camera.”

“I don’t see why we don’t have – ugh! – little robots to do this, or something,” I grunt as I scramble around the confined space, trying not to break anything. There are tubes and random protrusions everywhere and my ability to feel anything through the space suit is basically nil, so it’s a slow, careful process. I nearly fall out twice, but I get it done, capturing careful, close-up footage of every single bolt on the condenser. Any little scratches or burns line up perfectly; these bolts haven’t been moved for a long, long time.

Tinera lets out a long breath. “Okay, then.”

“Brains trust got any thoughts on this?” I ask.

“Well, there’s an hypothesis, but you’re going to hate it.”

“Sounds promising.”

“Rynn-Hatson died during this tamper. It might not be finished.”

“Well, it’s clearly a functional tamper, since the chronostasis pods in CR5 – ”

“This condenser services eighty three chronostasis pods. There’s over nine hundred others.”

“Ah. You think he might’ve succeeded in tampering with some or most of the others, then died at this one.”


“So that means – ”

“That means we need you two to check out another condenser. Get down so Denish can put the panel back.”

I swear quietly under my breath and let Denish lower me back down to the electrostatic shield supports. Then we head out to another panel, guided by Captain Sands, and remove that, and I have to climb up again. The next condenser is tampered with in the same way – small metal box added at the point that the liquid returns to the ship, with no leads or tubes or anything going into it – and the condenser itself, we learn after a lot more arduous crawling about, appears undisturbed.

Then Tinera makes me check two more. Same thing.

Crawling into, out of, and generally around confined spaces full of important machinery in a big heavy space suit is surprisingly exhausting work. I’m ready to collapse by the time we’re done.

“Should I unbolt one of these so we can analyse it?” I ask in the last one, hoping the answer is ‘no’.”

“No,” Tinera says. “Brains Trust in here is worried that whatever it is might be life-sustaining for the pods it’s servicing. We can come back for one at a later date if it’s safe enough.”

“That can be someone else’s mission,” I mumble as Denish lowers me back down for the last time and we trudge, finally, back to the airlock. I can barely get myself back up the ladder. The airlock depressurises, the inner door opens, and Adin, with surprising strength, hauls me into Pod Launch Ring 3. Sunset and a Public Universal Friend (the doctor one) are there, of course, ready for if we’d needed rescue, and so is Captain Sands. He gives Adin a hard look, then turns his attention to me as Denish cycles through the airlock.

“Good work, Aspen,” he says.

I pull my helmet off. “Literally all I did was point a camera at stuff. Did we learn anything?”

“Well, we… greatly narrowed down our possible theories as to how the system was tampered with.”

“To what?”

“To… nothing. We now have no possible theories.”

“Well, it’s a step up from having a bunch of wrong theories, I suppose.”

“It’ll be something super obvious,” Adin says. His eyes don’t waver from the airlock containing Denish. “It’ll be obvious and we’ll all feel stupid for not noticing beforehand.”

I finish taking my suit off, the airlock opens, Adin helps Denish up. Sunset and Denish leave, but I sit on the floor for a minute.

“You alright?” the Friend asks me.

“Yep. Just tired.”

“Adin,” Captain Sands says, “can I see you a moment?”

There’s a confrontational sort of edge in his voice that gets my attention. I’m not the only one; Adin looks apprehensive, and the Friend steps closer to him.

“Um. Sure, captain. What’s up?”

“It’s a private matter,” Captain sands says, glancing at the Friend and then at me.

“A private matter about what?” Adin asks.

“A… medical matter.”

I have no idea what that means, but Adin apparently does. His eyes widen and he steps back.

The Friend puts a hand on his shoulder. “This Friend is Adin’s doctor,” it says firmly. “His medical details are between us.”

Captain Sands glances at me. I don’t get up. If Adin wants me to leave, I will, but whatever’s going on here looks like it might get ugly.

“Fine,” Sands says. “If that’s how you want to play it. Adin, come here and give me a better look at your eyes.”

“I don’t…”

“I just gave you an order, crewmate.”

Adin steps forward. Sands tips his chin up, stares into his eyes for a few seconds, and then steps back, nodding. “You’re neurostimming, aren’t you?”

Adin crosses his arms. “That’s none of your business.”

“It’s my business if my crew are taking illegal drugs on my ship! You realise your little druggie habits are putting this entire crew and this colony at risk, right?”

The Friend clears its throat. “Adin’s medication schedule really isn’t any of your business, Captain, since this doesn’t affect the running of the ship, but for your information this Friend did his bloodwork yesterday and can confirm that he is not on anything that hasn’t been prescribed to him.”

“You’ve been feeding him illegal stims?”

“Illegal where? This isn’t Tarandra, Captain. In much of the world, and on this ship, neurostimulators are the standard treatment for neurostimulator addiction damage.”

“On this ship, huh? Says who?”

“Says this doctor.”

“You’re not the doctor any more, though, are you? The senior medical officer is Celi Tate and the secondary officer is Lina Chisolm. You’re just helping out because we’re short-handed with Celi’s chronostasis complications. And as the captain, I’m saying no – that stuff wrecks your brain, impairs your judgement, and I won’t have it endangering my crew.”

“Adin’s dosing schedule is minimal and harmless. It’s to counteract the nerve damage received from previous neurostimulator addiction, there’s no dangerous side – ”

“No side effects? So he’s not currently sitting there all twitchy-eyed and itchy-brained with fucking temporary super strength that’s going to fuck up his joints and muscles tomorrow? You know those things screw with your judgement and risk assessment, right? I just watched him pull a guy three times his size and currently wearing a space suit out of an airlock in the floor and you’re saying he’s normal?”

“Normally, Adin would take an off duty day to take his medication. You’re the one who’s micromanaging work schedules to the point of making that impossible.”

“That, Friend, is called efficiency. Having a schedule. Getting work done. We’re not going to halt the ship every time a druggie needs his fix. Someone can be weaned off neurostimulators in three weeks, yes?”

The Friend purses its lips. “Technically yes, but it’s a very uncomfortable and slightly dangerous process – ”

“You’ve got a medical facility. Figure it out. Three weeks.”

“Captain, there’s no better treatment for the ongoing addictions damage – ”

“He knew about the risks of addiction when he got himself addicted in the first place. If he wanted to be coddled, he should’ve stayed on Earth. We have a job to do and there’s no room to screw around coddling other people’s bad choices. Three weeks to get him off the neurostims. We’re not using that shit on my ship.”

The Friend glares at him, but gives a sharp nod before storming off. Adin quickly follows. Captain Sands glances at me. “Did you know he was an addict?”

I shake my head. “I’d sort of picked up that he used to sell them. I had no idea that he ever took them himself.”

“It’s not surprising. A lot of dealers do. It takes a certain combination of stupidity and lack of impulse control to end up in that line of work in the first place. You really never noticed he was on them? I assume that Friend has been secretly dosing him since he woke up.”

I shrug. “I never micromanaged my crew’s schedules. He took occasional days to himself and I didn’t think anything of it since the work was all getting done. Why are you micromanaging their schedules? I didn’t know you were doing that. You’ve never done that with me.”

“I can trust you to be responsible and do your job,” the captain says, like it’s obvious. “Anyway, good work with the condenser inspections.”

I watch him leave and add everything that just happened to my mental ‘red flags for convict crew treatment’ list.

I get up and stretch. All that work, to make a puzzle more nonsensical and confusing. At least it’s the engineers’ problem and not mine – I have no idea how the tiny boxes that Rynn-Hatson installed after the condensers could possibly still be putting anything fluorescent in the chronostasis pods. The volumes just don’t make sense.

Not that I’m well schooled in anything to do with filtration or purification. We used to have to manually filter seawater in Arborea sometimes, if there were particularly stubborn contaminants, and it was always such a pain. Fortunately it was rare; most contaminants could be handled by just running them through the existing –

Hmm. That… might possibly check out, actually. I run off to find Lina.

I think I might know what Richard Rynn-Hatson did.

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2 thoughts on “064: SABOTAGE

  1. Dear god, fuck Sands. I think I get his problem now, in a way I didn’t before: he’s the sort of person who’s never considered the outside factors that lead people to do things like drugs and crime, so he chalks everything up to moral failing, which means he’s looking at the convict crew as evil or stupid rather than just… people who ended up in bad situations and made what seemed like the best choices at the time. Which is irritating, because I WANT him to put two and two together and realize he’s wrong, but I don’t have any idea what could spur him into making the connection that the only thing separating him from the convict crew is better circumstances. Maybe if he learned more about how the convicts ended up where they did, but I don’t want to force them to spill their life stories to this asshole just for the chance he’ll realize they’re people just like him and Aspen.
    (I miss Captain Aspen. Say what you will about him being passive, at least he never went all holier-than-thou on the convict crew and saw everyone in the crew as equal.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m noticing a pattern. If Sands gets an idea about something, he will blow ahead and ignore any objections from a single person regardless of their points or if they have more knowledge and expertise on the subject than him does. He’ll only cave if those objections are made by multiple people, even if they’re the exact same objections.

    He’s going to need 2 or maybe all the doctors telling him that Adin needs to take a few days off sometimes to microdose. Poor guy.

    Liked by 1 person

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