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I move my stuff into Habitation Ring 1 that night, choosing a room as far away from the one where I found Leilea Arc Hess as possible. While I’m moving, I take the time to go through every currently unoccupied room in Habitation Ring 2, checking dresser drawers for false bottoms until… yes! Another handmade notebook, in the same unfamiliar alphabet as the first. This one’s much shorter; Dr Kinoshita was only up the back of the ship with crewmates to psychoanalyse for less than a year. I check the dates and they match up; these are definitely her psychology notes.

A psychologist on a ship (one who’s actually doing their job, unlike me) has a lot of plates in the air. They’re expected to act as analyst, social adviser, third-in-command, personal counsellor for the crew and, should the situation require one, psychologist. With Renn aboard I’m still the assistant psychologist, and since he’s actually doing his job I might ironically have more psychology work now, assuming he insists I do mine. Anyway, he’s probably starting a notebook like this, too, about us.

I don’t care about that. If I need to know what my living crewmates are going through, I’ll ask them directly.

But only Keiko Kinoshita can tell me about the dead.

Which leads to another conversation that we need to have. Because I can’t go around looking into this behind Captain Sands’ back. It’s far too risky. We need to talk about letting Captain Sands and the new crew know about the brain-hijacking AI.

If I want to talk to the ‘old crew’ as a group, this is the safest time to do it. All the new people are still under observation in the medbays, including Captain Sands, and he has less reason to be paranoid now that he’s got all his new crew members to stop him from feeling surrounded by criminals. I’m moving my stuff from one habitation ring to the other, so this is probably the last time I’ll have a good reason to be hanging around Habitation Ring 1 that isn’t being there specifically to talk to people. And it’s a conversation that we can’t keep putting off.

I hang around until people start showing up to go to bed. Soon, Tinera, Adin, Denish and Tal are gathered around me – the doctors are still in the medbays, but they could be there for hours. Someone will just have to fill them in later.

“We need to talk about the ten per cent survival group,” I start.

“Is this about that sixty nine per cent guy having a compromised port?” Tal asks.

“Him, and the damaged hull panel on Chronostasis Ring 5, and everything else. But mostly, it’s about how keeping all this to ourselves is going to get dangerous. We need to tell Captain Sands.”

“And if he goes all Reimann?” Tinera asks.

“I don’t think he will. I think he can handle it.”

“New crew members might,” Denish points out.

“Even if a new crew member does become irrational, everyone else on the ship can handle it. We’ll probably be getting new crew members for a while; we can’t keep putting off sharing this information because there’s still someone around who we don’t know well enough to predict. The fact is this – we all agreed not to tell Captain Sands when he woke up, because we didn’t know how he’d react and we were already hitting him with a lot of information at once. But he’s adjusted now, he’s putting the ship back together. If we don’t tell him, it’s because we don’t trust him.”

“I don’t trust him,” Tinera says. “He woke a bunch of new people up and then secluded us on purpose because he wants to create a two-tier system and he needs more little bullies on his side to do it. You do realise that, right?”

“Yes, his sentiments on that aren’t ideal,” I agree. “But that doesn’t really affect whether we should – ”

“Yeah. It does. He’s a stubborn arse who judges people for facile reasons, decides he knows how to handle them, and won’t listen to anyone else. He’s exactly the sort of person who, if you say ‘oh, these colonists here are essentially dead and also our AI is super broken and feeding off their brainpower’, would grab a fucking axe and try to solve the situation, and then the AI would retaliate, and if we all die in some stupid war with the systems managing our life support then I don’t think the next crew is going to be able to fix things up again. You’ve seen the rash kinds of decisions he makes. Look how quickly he jumped on reviving so many people.”

“Being fair,” Denish says, “we all make rash decisions. When we woke up, I say immediately, oh, I have genius plan for Chronostasis Ring 1, and that turned out very badly. Even if my plan had worked, it would mean having one hundred colonists awake! Terrible idea! I wanted to revive so many people! And our doctors are so, so protective of anybody with even a little hurt, far more than we need. And you, Tiny, always very aggressive right away, like Sands. And Aspen – only reason all of us were revived is because Aspen broke all of their bones and needed doctor.”

“Three bones,” I correct him. “I broke three bones.”

“And you say it like nothing! My point! Stressful situation, we are all rash sometimes, but we did not do like Reimann. I think Captain Sands is the same.”

“I think,” Adin says thoughtfully, “that the captain was probably just scared by the prospect of being surrounded by a bunch of people he didn’t trust, and that’s why he wanted to hurry along the revival process. It was a moment of panic.”

“And you think he won’t panic if we tell him about the broken brain stealing computer?!” Tinera asks.

“No. I think he’s more secure in his command now and he’ll react with more restraint. Order investigations into the phenomenon. With our new crew, who contains a new doctor and an astrophysicist and two engineers, including himself – y’know, the kind of minds we need on this. And, critically, Aspen’s right – if we don’t tell him now, it’s going to look like we don’t trust him, which – ”

“I don’t.”

“That doesn’t matter! Because we need him to trust us. He’s going to find out about this eventually; can you imagine his reaction if he realises we were hiding it from him? Especially since he plans on reviving more crew, and if we have to pull another person out of Chronostasis Ring 5 and they have another unstable cranial port… well, I just think it’s better to make sure he knows not to do that in advance.”

“Tal,” I say. “What do you think?”

“I think… that we don’t know much about how Amy thinks, specifically, and that could kill us. And we don’t know much about why Zale had a bad cranial port even though they weren’t a ten per center, and that could kill more colonists if we don’t know how much danger they’re in or what’s going on. And we don’t know what was tampered with under the hull of the chronostasis ring, which leads into the other two things and suggests there might be dangers left over from the crew 1 people still in chronostasis if there was some kind of weird brain hijacking conspiracy or experiment or something, and we can’t get some systems of this ship working right because we don’t know Reimann’s password and statistically it’ll take me one hundred and seventy three years to brute-force it with the lockout after limited attempts, and we don’t know why the bodies in Chronostasis Ring 1 didn’t decay like they were supposed to. I woke up and came out of that ring alive but nobody else did. Of all the things we don’t know on this ship, not knowing if Sands is gonna do something stupid is the thing least likely to kill us. We have more people to help figure this all out now, so why would we not do that? If Sands does something, stupid Denish can just overpower him. Denish can’t overpower Amy.”

“Sands has cronies now,” Tinera warns.

“Nah, he doesn’t. Sunset and Sam are cool. Sunset’s got preneek fingernails, I’m sure you saw, and she knows so much cool zeelite nail art. And Sam knows so many preneek stories – did you know they once went and saw the actual Doom blanket in person?”

“What in the stars is a ‘Doom bla – ’”

“Tal’s right,” I cut in, before we’re pulled on another irrelevant tangent. “I don’t think Sands has informed the new crew about the convict situation yet, and if he’s hoping for ‘cronies’, as Tinera puts it, I don’t think telling them about it will get his wish. They all seem pretty eager to integrate into the existing crew.” Thanks largely to Tal’s insistence on movie night and apparently irresistable charm to people obsessed with the pre-Neocambrian era. I admit, I certainly hadn’t predicted Tal of all people somehow becoming our social lynchpin, but whatever works.

Denish nods. “Renn seems very sensible also. And I do not think a Public Universal Friend would stand for anything that endangers the ship. I did not get to speak much to Celi, but if ke is as sick as the doctors say, ke wouldn’t pose any kind of physical threat anyway.”

“… Fine,” Tinera says. “I guess working behind their backs isn’t really doable, and hiding this is probably more dangerous.”

I nod. “Someone needs to consult Lina and our Friend on this. If we all agree, well, I guess someone needs to talk to Sands. Oh, and also, you guys might find this interesting.” I pull out the handmade notebooks. “Does anyone here read Japanese?”

Nobody says they do. They just stare at the books.

“What are they?” Denish asks.

I can’t help but grin. “Well, I can’t read them to be certain, but. So far as I can make out, these are the case notes taken by Senior Psychologist Keiko Kinoshita.” I separate the books. “This one is from the revival of crew 2, up to Reimann’s breakdown. And this one is from the back of the ship after the breakdown, where she was stranded with the scientists.”

More staring, this time with more awe.

“How long have you been holding onto those?” Tinera breathes.

“I found the first one a couple of days ago. The second one about an hour ago. If one of our new crewmates reads Japanese, we can read them. If not, I’m sure the AI can read the language. And then…”

“Then we’ll have the answer to so many questions,” Adin says.

“Yeah.” I tuck the books away. “Right after we talk to Captain Sands.”

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Despite Sands making it clear that Movie Night is in no way compulsory, almost everyone shows up. The only one absent is Celi Tate, the new doctor, and our existing doctors explain that ke’s under sedation in the medbay, dealing with complications from chronostasis that they refuse to elaborate on for patient privacy reasons.

This information does not put anyone in much of a Movie Night mood. Despite Tal explaining the gambler’s fallacy to everyone again and the doctors insisting that the revival chance estimates are inherently unreliable because the AI doesn’t have the data to predict such things with perfect accuracy so revival chances might be higher than it looks, it still feels incredibly lucky that we got five successful revivals out of an attempted seven. The idea that Celi’s revival might not be so successful just feels worryingly likely. There’s been too much good luck otherwise.

We get through a few songs on the collection that Denish wants to introduce us to, but nobody can really focus. That’s kind of disappointing for our first Movie Night with the new crew, but what can you do? (Anyway, Captain Sands is determined to pull us up to a full crew of 21, so the real first Full Crew Movie Night will be when we have that many awake, and with the limited hospital beds available that’ll take another couple of revival cycles at least. Probably longer, if the doctors insist on continuing to keep failed revivals on life support, like Zale and Clover.) Eventually, everyone just kind of gets distracted and splinters off in their own little groups to do other things. But while Lina occasionally ducks into the medbay to check on Celi, nobody, I notice, seems to want to actually leave Recreation and Medical Ring 1.

Captain Sands approaches me. “Aspen. Did you get the new room assignments?”

“Huh? Yeah. I’ll move my stuff into the other habitation ring later.”

“There’s no hurry. The rest of us in that ring are all still in the medbays. Just, whenever you’re ready.”


“You’re not a fan of the change? A bit shy with the new crewmates?”

“No, it’s just… well, my first memories of Habitation Ring 1 involve nearly dying and having to dispose of the month-old corpse of a crew member.”

“You should probably talk to Renn about that. It’s not a good idea to let trauma fester.”

“If I talked to Renn about everything unpleasant I’d seen on this ship, he’d never have any time to see to the rest of the crew.”

“He’ll make time. Don’t be afraid to use the resources available to you. Your crewmates have their jobs to do and you can expect them to do them. Did you complete that supply check today?”

“Yeah. The hardware’s all there. Any particular reason for the urgency?”

“Oh, it wasn’t urgent. It’s stuff for when we land in four years. If it was damaged or missing, we’d need that time to come up with replacements, but it’s not, so the engineers can focus on the ship’s systems instead. If you’ll excuse me, I need to check on Doctor Tate.”

“I’m pretty sure ke’s sleeping.”

“Lina’s not. I need to know kes chances of survival and recovery to predict how long restaffing this ship is going to take and whether we need to focus on more doctors in the next round.” He walks off, presumably to pester Lina into revealing private medical information. Which I should probably be wary of, but I’ve certainly seen a lot of scans I probably shouldn’t have when helping Lina and the Friend, and those who tend stinkmoss shouldn’t wrinkle their noses at others.

I glance around at the rest of the crew. Sunset has found some kind of silver jumpsuit in storage that matches the outrageous miniskirt that Tal is wearing, and ke’s painting her nails the same horribly garish purple as kes lips – great, we’ve got another one. I make a mental note to check that there aren’t any absurd high heels or anything that looks like a bulky raygun in storage, and if there are, to hide them before the pair can find them. Tinera appears to be in some sort of deep discussion with Renn; he’s probably pulled her into an emotional discussion to get a psychological baseline. She doesn’t look pissed off by it, which is a testament to his skill I suppose. Adin, Denish and Sam are playing some sort of finger game together Our old Public Universal Friend is absent, probably helping Lina, and the new one is cleaning the picnic table where we eat breakfast.

I have to admit, I’m burning with curiosity about the new Friend. I never got to know any Friends on Earth (they always creeped me out), but now that I know ours so well, I just have to know if this one is similar. Is that weird? It might be weird. It’s probably weird.

I always carry a cleaning rag on me these days. I pull it from my wrap and go to help with the table. The Friend glances up at me, gives me a little nod, and moves to make space. Then it focuses back on what it’s doing.


“Hi,” I say.

“Hello,” it says.

We work in silence for a couple of seconds.

“How are you feeling?” I ask.

“This Friend appears to be recovering from chronostasis well, and should be capable of normal duties within the next few days,” it says.

Right. Yeah, see, this is the level of conversation I normally expect from Public Universal Friends. Maybe our doctor is a fluke.

“I hope Celi’s okay,” I try.


“Are you worried about kem?”

“Would you like this friend to go and inquire about their health for you?”

“N-no, I didn’t… it’s fine.”

The Friend nods. The table is clean. It walks away, probably off to some other task.

Alright then. So far as social cohesion on the crew goes, that might be –

“I still can’t believe someone would to that to themself.”

I jump at the sound of Tinera’s voice behind me. “Do what?”

She sighs impatiently. “What do you mean, do what? Mutilate their own brain, obviously.”

Oh, right. That. “Yeah, they’re… they’re a weird bunch.”

Tinera lowers her voice to almost a whisper, practically hissing in my face. “A weird bunch? They’re Lyson victims! And they don’t seem to care, which is probably because of the brain damage!”

“No, it’s a voluntary procedure. Meaning they didn’t care beforehand either. But you know the autonomy creed, Tiny. Freedom of bod – ”

“Body and soul, yes, I know, but they’re obviously not capable of making that decision or they wouldn’t do it! Why aren’t you pissed off about this?”

“Uh, probably because I didn’t learn about it a day ago?”

“Oh, so if you’re used to the information, that makes it okay.”

“Tiny, what do you think getting upset about it is going to accomplish? Is it creepy? Yes. Is it wrong? Yes. Do I think it would be better if Friends weren’t allowed to subject each other to Lyson projects in their weird little service cult? Obviously. But the fact is, they have. We have six Public Universal Friends aboard this ship, two of them conscious, and the damage has been done. Its not like their brains can be healed again. There’s no potential recruits running around, so far as I can tell, and even if there were, initiation takes years and our friends do not have access to the equipment and materials for the Lyson process anyway, which means they’re not any kind of danger to anyone else. If they can’t be healed and they can’t hurt anyone else, what exactly are you trying to accomplish, other than trying to make them regret a decision they can’t change now?”

“Jesus, Aspen, sometimes people can be pissed about things they can’t change.”

“What’s the point in that?”

“Ugh, you’re impossible.” She storms off.

“Is everything alright with her?” Adin asks, sidling over.

I shrug. I have no idea if Adin knows about Friend rituals, and the last thing I want is to have to handle two crew members who – wait, no, that’s not my job any more! “No matter how the vine wants it, you can’t call the sun,” I say.

“Is that another one of your Arborean sayings?”

“Sorry. We do have kind of a lot of them, don’t we? I don’t mean to be all… you know.”

“I know?”


He shrugs. “Why not? I’ve never bothered to try not to be Texan. Anyway, it reminds me of the stuff my mum used to say.”

“Right. Your mother was Arborean.”

“Yeah. She had this really good one one about personal responsibility, um… something about planting seeds and how they grow, or something?”

“May the seeds we tend grow to shelter us.”

“Yeah, that one! It – ” he catches my expression. “You don’t like that one?”

I sit down at the bench. “It’s fine. It’s a really popular one, kind of a central moral. It… it was Acacia’s favourite saying, too.”


“My sister.”

“You miss her?”

“She’s dead.” I say it a lot harsher than I mean to. I try to soften my tone. “I mean, she died before the javelins launched.” I’d signed up for the Javelin Program six days after the funeral, in fact. But there’s no need to get into that.

“I’m really sorry to hear that.”

“It makes no difference. Everyone’s dead to us now anyway. The seeds we tended didn’t grow to shelter us, because we abandoned them.” Probably for the best; I’d tended some pretty rotten ‘seeds’.”

“That’s a pretty myopic view. We’re tending more seeds now, on this ship, with each other. They can grow to shelter us.”

“Yeah. Good point.”

“You say that a lot, you know; about the past being behind us and something we shouldn’t worry about any more. Do you regret leaving Earth?”

Everyone has past regret on the brain lately. Maybe Adin had had a similar conversation with Renn to mine. “No.”

“So is it a happy thing, then?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, I… when I signed up to this whole spaceship thing, it’s not something I had a huge amount of choice in, obviously. But I was kind of relieved, one specific way. Because I knew my daughter wouldn’t have to deal with me any more. She was… I mean, I loved her, obviously, but I don’t think either of us made each others’ lives easier. She’d come and visit me and it was really obvious that she was ashamed of me, she didn’t want to, and when I got press-ganged into this program it was like… well, obviously I don’t want to abandon her, what kind of parent would want that, but it’s not like I had any choice, and now she could live a long full life without me and I could live my life and nothing bad needed to happen to anyone so there’s nothing to actually mourn, and we could…” he glances up, apparently noticing for the first time that I’m staring at him with my mouth literally hanging open. “Hey, it’s not like that! I love her, and I hope beyond anything that she had a long and happy life when I wasn’t there to hold her back! I just – ”

“You don’t have a daughter.”


“I checked your profile before we revived you. Nobody on this crew has children.”

“Well, not legally.”

“What do you mean, not legally?”

“I mean that sometimes, if you’re going to jail for a really long time, it’s best that innocent little kids aren’t associated with you any more on any legal paperwork. Her foster parents adopted her when she was three.”

“That must have been hard for you.”

“I considered killing myself. But it doesn’t matter. It’s what was best for her. Her parents made her keep coming to visit me, but they should’ve just let her forget me. And now, with her entire life in the past and without me there to fuck it up, I can have some peace on that front. I like to imagine that she lived a really happy life, that she grew old and comfortable with a bunch of grandkids who all loved and appreciated her. What about you? What lives did your family live, do you think?”

I shrug. “Fir probably went on to design some really cool new kind of engine. Ke was part of the design team for creating the engines on the javelins, so ke had the skills. I bet Rose and Gooseberry founded an entire new edge cluster, and would’ve dragged Ash along with them probably, and my mother… probably spent every day until her death trying to keep the kids out of trouble.”

“Was she happy doing it?”

“Yeah. She was always happiest trying to keep us out of trouble.”

That isn’t even close to my entire cluster, but Adin probably doesn’t know how big Arborean clusters are. He doesn’t push for more, at any rate. “Why did you join the Javelin Program?”


“Sorry. You don’t have to answer. I, I know it’s personal, it’s just… I mean, we always kind of knew why everyone else was here. Except you.”

“Or all the new people.”

“Well, yeah, but they’re new people.”

“Anyway, you do know why I’m here. I got swept up by the Exodus Phenomenon.”

“That’s it.”


“You were hanging out planting grass or singing to trees or whatever with your family, and suddenly the travel but bit you and you realised you had to jump on a spaceship to a distant exoplanet.”

I shrug. “It’s a powerful force. Clearly I’m not immune. Since our first steps out of Africa – ”

“Humans have been possessed with a natural urge to go further, explore more, and settle in the most distant corners of their environment that they can possibly reach.” He nods.

I blink at him in surprise. The quote he just finished is the opening line of my third book. “You read my book.”

“I read all of them.”

“When we met, you had no idea who I was.”

“I hadn’t read them then. But they’re all in the ship’s computer.”

“You read all of my books on the Courageous?”



“Why not?”

“Well, uh… what did you think?”

He shrugs. “I’m not a sociologist.”

“Right, but what did you think?”

“I think you’re wrong.”

“… What?”

“About the Exodus Phenomenon. I don’t think it’s a thing.”

I bury the surge of irritation that wells up within me at his words. This is my life’s work, and this random guy, who’s not a sociologist, who probably didn’t even go to university, has just decided it’s all bunk? What does he know? I bury that irritation, because I’m a scientist, I work on data, not feelings and ego. And I’m very calm when I say, “Well, something made our species spread out and dominate the whole planet and beyond.”

“Yeah,” Adin says. “Overpopulation. Famine. Ice ages. Threat of war. Cultural oppression. Needing alternate trade routes when old ones get broken, or needing to travel across the ocean to get a better look at some planets for an eclipse, or hearing rumours that there’s gold or spice somewhere and wanting to get rich. Obviously humans have spread out over time, I just don’t think it’s evidence of some innate instinct that makes people all pick up and migrate.”

“You don’t think people expand and explore for the innate joy of discovery?”

“Individual explorers? Sure. Some people like to move around and see new stuff. Entire nations? No. People move for all kinds of reasons, but there are reasons.”

“I always think of you as the nice guy on the crew, but you’re really pessimistic about human nature.”

Adin grins. “I can be both.”

“How do you explain the Javelin Program, then? I know you were kind of forced to be here, but the program itself is the concerted effort of millions of people wanting to stretch out further into the galaxy, and a lot of them threw their old lives away just to be able to do it.”

“We already have an explanation for that. Some rich guys wanted to start their own little space kingdoms or whatever. That’s why all us convicts are here.”

“Sure, the Courageous was hijacked by this Dor Delphin guy, but what about the others? We have no reason to believe they’re all like our ship.”

“We have no reason to believe they aren’t. There’s a lot of rich stupid people out there.”

That thought is so depressing. “I don’t think that theory holds any water.”

“Too cynical for your taste?”

“No, it just doesn’t make sense. It’s too stupid, even for rich idiots, and nobody can stay that stupid all the way through the planning process. No matter how rich someone is, they can build a much safer and more comfortable life for themselves on or near Earth than in space. Sure, there’s no one to tell him what to do out here, but there’s also no planet full of oxygen. No way to import luxuries. Extremely limited supplies, and the constant threat of death. If Dor Delphin wanted to be some kind of space kind, he’d have better luck buying an asteroid near Earth, putting a space station on it, and paying desperate workers enough money that they’d let him be a dick to them. There’s no luxury in colonisation; that alone can’t be the reason that any one would come out here. And it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever for it to be the planned fate for the whole Javelin Program; it involves too many people who never got on the ships.”

“So you think it comes down to a mysterious group instinct to explore and create new tribes.”

“Well, yeah. That’s literally what we’re doing. And it worked on me.”

Adin grins. “Well, you probably know better than me. I don’t know much about this kind of thing, and you are the Aspen Greaves.”

I grin back, although being called that still annoys me. It feels different than it used to, though. It used to annoy me because it meant people wanted to ask me about my old life, my books or whatever. It felt different now, and after talking with Renn yesterday, I’m starting to realise why.

It’s because every time somebody calls me Aspen Greaves, the ‘Greaves’ part feels more and more like a lie.

I don’t have a family any more.

None of us do.

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I’m checking our various hardware supplies on a terminal in Network and Engineering Ring 1 later that day when our new psychologist walks in.

“It’s Aspen, right?”

“Sure is. How are you doing, Renn?”

His grimace makes his perfectly symmetrical cheekbones stand out even more prominently. “Well enough, given the circumstances we’re in. The captain says that you – ”

I brace myself for more questions about my stupid books.

“ – were the ship’s previous captain.”

“Oh.” I relax. “Yeah, for about a year.”

“How was that?”

“Oh, you know. Waking up unexpectedly on a broken ship with a couple of mysterious corpses and a lot more mysteriously missing people, fifteen years after your projected landing date with no help and no information. Just a totally normal experience.” Sam had used the ship’s external sensory equipment to physically chart our location with relation to the stars and manually calculate our course, and their answer agreed with the AI, ‘given the expected margin of error for human measurements taken this close to the speed of light,’ so at least we know we’re on a course to Hylara and not just drifting aimlessly through space.

“At least you managed to get everything in order. Relieved to be out of command?”

“Very much so.”

“Although you’re still in command, I suppose, being the logistics officer.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. This was supposed to be Tinera’s job. And she was good at it.”

Renn looks a little surprised at that. “You didn’t want the position?”

“Captain Sands was pretty insistent about it. I still don’t completely understand why.”

“Ah, well, he is Tarandran.”

“Like you.”


“Is there some Tarandran culture quirk I’m not aware of here? Like some anti-Lunar bias or something?”

“Nothing of the sort. It’s just the way he’s used to command structures working. In Tarandran culture, it’s normal for the same structure of seniority to apply to both command power and inheritance. A second in command isn’t just the person with the second highest authority, it’s also the person who automatically inherits the first in command’s position if the first can’t do it.”

“But they’re different skill sets! It’s part of a second’s duty to take command in a crisis situation, but that’s different to being a captain.”

“Not in our culture. Of course, in practice, when a leader dies or retired unexpectedly there’s often infighting, and some families use elections, but in your captain’s experience that is how being a second in command is supposed to work.”

“Well, if he’s expecting me to do his job for him, he’s in for a shock. I’m done captaining. It’s his problem now.”

Renn chuckles. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about unless he’s suddenly badly injured. How does Tinera feel about the decision?”

“We haven’t really talked about it. I hope she’s not mad at me over it.”

“She strikes me as the sort of person who, if she was angry at you, you would know it.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. She doesn’t exactly hide her opinions.”

“It’s a stressful situation. We’re all so far away from home.”


“Do you miss it? Home?”

“Do you?”

He smiles. “I asked you first.”

For half a second, I consider being difficult. But after wanting a crew psychologist for so long, it’d be kind of petty for me to deny him the baseline information he needs to actually do his job. So instead, I shrug. “Does it matter? We left our old lives behind forever when we signed up for this. We’re never going back.”

“We all carry our past with us.”

“I’m not sure that our pasts would agree. We’re too far separated in both time and space for it to matter any more. Not only is communicating with home physically impossible – even if we had the equipment, which is impossible to set up on the ship, it’d take, what, a hundred and twenty years to send a message and receive a reply? We’d all be long dead – but we can’t ignore time dilation either. If the Greaves cluster still exists, every member of it is someone I’ve never met before – my family have all died of old age. The same is true of the Sunn family.”

“And yet you still carry their name, at least in the computer systems.”

I shrug. “The way these ships are set up, you have to have a surname. I was a member of the Greaves cluster when I registered. What would I even change it to, at this point? Foreigners have always called me Aspen Greaves.”

“You were born into the Greaves cluster, then?”

“Yeah. Were you born a Sunn?”

He shakes his head. “They’re my sixth family.”

“Sixth?!” That seems excessive. Tarandrans do trade around family members more than most cultures, where changes are usually a matter of marriage or adoption, but still. Children below eighteen generally don’t swap families, and Renn was 40 when he went into chronostasis, meaning he had a new family every five and a half years on average for his adult life. I’ve known one or two drifters in my time, people who swap clusters fairly regularly, but it just sounds unstable to me.

Renn shrugs. “My skills were in high demand. It must have been difficult, leaving your home behind.”

“I spent most of my time away from home anyway. I had a lot of jobs of three or four months in various universities. It’s important for a sociologist to travel widely.”

“And the last year on this ship. Is this the longest you’ve been away from home?”

“No.” We’re still thirteen days shy of that particular milestone. In thirteen days, I will have spent longer awake on the Courageous than I did travelling to and living on Luna. That’ll be the longest I’ve ever been away from home. (Yes, I’m keeping track – so what?) “Most of the crew here have had one family their whole lives, I’m pretty sure. That’s how most cultures work. Everyone seems to be handling it okay.”

“Did you all talk it over much, before we woke up?”

“It doesn’t tend to come up. Like I said, we all left our past behind when we signed up. All we have is each other and a future now.”

“And may we build a good one together. I’ll let you get back to work, then.” Renn gets up.

“Do you need help navigating the spaceship?”

“It’s a giant tube. I’m sure I can figure it out.”

“Have a good day, then.”

“You, too.” He wanders off, probably to corner some other poor crew member and ask them invasive personal questions. At least he’s being proactive about his job, I suppose. I never really did it when it was my job. I’m not sure why he thinks bringing up people’s pasts is a good idea, though. Why did he even get on this ship if he was so attached to his?

I’m not being fair. The Exodus Phenomenon can strike anyone, presumably. Obviously some people are going to have regrets. It’s bad luck if our psychologist is among them, though. The last thing we want right now is anybody encouraging people to look back, when forward is the only direction we can go. I never had a problem with my crew when I was captain, but my crew was full of people who had nothing to go back to. These new people probably do – or did, before the time dilation and chronostasis. Maybe that’s what Renn’s looking for; maybe he doesn’t regret, he’s just getting a head of the curve before we have any breakdowns in the crew.

Well, I’m neither the captain nor the psychologist any more. So it’s not my problem. My problem is that Storage Ring 6 is still a complete mess after Captain Kinoshita released the clamps on some crates and died under one, and then I messed with the gravity for several hours, so while the ship’s records say there should be a bunch of spare oxygen equipment in there, I have no idea if it’s been thrown around and potentially broken or not. And the AI is keeping its camera data to itself due to a mixture of the pro-privacy psych team who helped design it, possibly some of Reimann’s meddling, and the fact that it’s an obstructive brat. Which means that I’m going to have to physically walk down to the other end of the ship and read actual physical serial numbers off crates until I find the right one, like some kind of caveman.

The crates have chips in them that the computer can read, of course. But all the AI will tell me is the specific location that the crate is supposed to be in, and that it’s definitely in Storage Ring 6. So, not helpful. If it’s not in its designated spot, there’s probably a handheld device somewhere that’ll hone in on the chip for me.

For now, I groan to myself, get up, and trudge to the next ring, Chronostasis Ring 2. I know that the chronostasis rings are spaced out so that damage to any one part of the ship will kill as few colonists as possible, but it still feels like they’re placed specifically to force the crew to walk through them as often as possible. Maybe it’s supposed to remind us of our duty or something. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. There are clean paths through the dust in most of the rings now, swept between the most-used airlocks through each ring. (Keeping every entire ring completely free of dust would be a waste of time.) Walking through them no longer reminds me of some pre-Neocambrian crypt from a bad horror movie; now, it just reminds me of all the people I’ve watched die in these rooms, sometimes in my very arms.

I’m halfway across Chronostasis Ring 2 before I remember that this was my chronostasis ring. I stop walking. I walk through this ring almost every day, for one reason or another, and never really think about it, but… I spent thirty five years in here, sleeping in one of these long rows. Longer from the perspective of Earth – I don’t know how long, not even Tal can calculate it with the scant data we have, but it could be as long as a century. In one of these simple, solid boxes, supported by a series of pumps and monitors under its attached terminal.

I lay a hand on the nearest chronostasis pod. I remember how quickly and easily Denish, with a simple tool from his belt, can remove a panel under the terminal and sever the power to one of these things. I remember the pods mangled by Reimann’s axe as he cut the lines to force emergency revival after emergency revival, triggering the pods to open so he could destroy the brains that the broken AI had hijacked.

It’s a process that takes a handful of seconds. How long is that on Earth, at our current speed? Minutes? An hour?

How long is it to the colonist still in chronostasis? It’d be pretty much instant, right?

I turn from the swept and well-trodden path and walk through the dust. I stop at my own chronostasis pod. The little cubby that held my warm blanket and wake-up drink is still open; I never closed it, and of course nobody else has been through here to clean up. The pod itself is closed, the dust on it thinner than that on the floor but still very much present. Even a filtered, contained environment devoid of biological activity will gather dust over the course of a year if people are constantly walking through it.

I open the pod. It opens easily, of course; it’s long deactivated, and has no colonist to securely lock in. The various tubes I pulled from my body are still in there. A couple of them have a little blood on them, but it looks like their removal was all around pretty neat, given my condition at the time. The remnants of chronostasis fluid have long since dried up, leaving a thin layer of faint blue powder caked on the bottom of the pod. It flakes away easily when I rub it.

The powder bothers me, for some reason. It seems wrong. I’m not sure why – it’s pretty much how I’d expect chronostasis fluid to dry, and the deactivated pod isn’t completely sealed from the air so it makes perfect sense that the remaining dregs have long since evaporated. It niggles at me, though. I try to put it out of my mind.

The pod looks too small to hold me, somehow, with all of those tubes and things in it. I have a sudden urge to climb into it, to try to figure out how exactly I fit in there so easily for so many years. I resist it, of course. I’m supposed to be working right now.

Right. Yes. Working. I head to Storage Ring 6, and find the crate still secured in the spot it’s supposed to be. The crate’s fine.

Everything’s fine.

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By the next morning, everyone’s awake, registered, and well enough to (at Captain Sands’ insistence) attend a morning meeting at our usual picnic table, even though there’s no way we could all fit. (Everyone except Zale and Clover, our two failed revivals who are still on life support. Doctor Tate is in a wheelchair and Sunset looks ready to collapse at any moment, but all five of them are there.

Over pancakes, I survey our growing crew. Thirteen of us now – Denish, sitting awkwardly away from the table to avoid taking up too much space with his massive frame; Tinera, eyeing the newcomers with suspicion disguised well enough that us old timers are probably the only ones to notice it; Adin, looking shy; Tal, barely paying attention; the two doctors, looking like they expect a medical emergency at any moment; Captain Sands, confident and charismatic, ready to give a speech. And the newcomers – doctor Tate, looking exhausted in kes wheelchair; Sam the navigator, glancing from crewmate to crewmate with undisguised curiosity; Sunset the engineer, collapsing immediately into a seat at the table and finger-combing what remains of her freshly clipped hair; Renn the psychologist, with a serious face and a penetrating stare; and our second Public Universal Friend, simply waiting with calm expectation.

And me.

In four years, this group, which should be twenty one people strong by then, will probably feel suffocatingly small. But for now, this feels like an impossible number of people to keep track of. It shouldn’t – my cluster is (was; I have no idea of the state of the Greaves cluster on Earth now) twelve people large, so this should feel like an appropriately sized social unit. But I grew up with my cluster. Half of these people are strangers.

For the moment. Hopefully, that will change soon.

“Alright!” Captain Sands claps his hands together. “We have more than half a crew now! This is exciting.

“You all know the situation. You all understand the task ahead of us. It’s not a task we expected to face, and we’re all performing roles that we didn’t expect to perform. We are colonists, not astronauts. But I have faith in all of you. We left our home knowing that colonising a new planet would not be easy. We knew that there would be unexpected hurdles. It takes courage, and determination, and vision, and perhaps a touch of insanity to get involved in a project like this, so I know that we are all brave, determined, visionary… and yes, perhaps a little insane… people. If we can all work together with a common purpose, then the next four years should just fly by, and we can step forward into our new world.

“We should start by getting to know each other a little. How about everyone tells us who they are, and gives a fact about them? Let’s go by… oh, let’s say, we’ll start with who’s been here the longest and work our way down.”

Weird choice of order, but whatever. I stand up to speak. “My name’s Aspen. I’m the logistics officer and gardener. There’s nothing interesting about me.” I sit down again.

“This Public Universal Friend has been serving as a doctor. It is specialised in trauma treatment and recovery.”

There’s a slight pause while a few of the older crew look at each other. “Um,” Tinera ventures, “who was…?”

“Adin is next,” our Friend reminds her. “Then you, then Denish.”

“Right,” Adin says. He clears his throat. “My name’s Adin, although I guess you know that now, from context. I like to cook.”

“Tinera. And I don’t like to cook.”

“That’s kind of a cheat of a fact.”

Tinera sticks her tongue out at him.

“I am Denish. I have been engineer when we did not have engineers. My fact is that my favourite music is retroascendant sparklecore smash.”

“I’m Tal,” Tal says, “and there’s a wall of densely packed apartment buildings over two hundred stories high on the West coast of Texas, absolute marvel of engineering.”

“How is that a fact about you?” Tinera asks.

“Oh, because their lights are all variably coloured and remote controlled, and this one time I hacked them to play Doom on the side of the buildings.”

Lina swooped in before someone could ask what Doom was and derail the introductions. “I’m Lina,” she says. “I’m an oncologist. My favourite author is Dahni Hess Mi.”

“That brings us to me, then, I think. My name is Keldin Sands, I used to design engines but now I’m your captain. And for anyone wondering how I lost these fingernails, I got my hand caught in a pricklerat trap when I was ten. Next is, ah… Sam, I believe.”

Sam clears their throat. Despite the toll that chronostasis took on their muscles, they seem steady enough as they look around the group and say, “I’m Sam. I’m an astronavigator and amateur folklorist. I’m looking forward to working with you. You really got Doom to run on the lighting system of an apartment building?”

“No, I got it to run on the side of an array of apartment buildings. Doom is designed for two hundred by three twenty pixels, because preneeks didn’t know how to make screens properly, and you can scale it down of course but I wanted as accurate an experience as possible.”

“What about curtains?”

“Oh, yeah, they were annoying. A lot of them were also remote, but some of the residents had clipped theirs shut, so there were a lot of dead pixels. The main problem was actually the size of the windows; Doom was designed for tall pixels and I didn’t correct for that, so on the side of the buildings it was stretched – ”

“What,” I finally ask, “is Doom?”

“It’s an artefact of pre-Neocambrian computer mysticism,” Sam explains. “Pre-Neocambrians believed that something wasn’t truly a ‘computer’ until somebody had played Doom on it.”

“It’s honestly really lucky,” Tal says, “because we’ve lost so much preneek stuff but because Doom is everywhere, we have such great records of it. It can tell us a lot about preneek culture.”

“Like how gloomy it is?” Tinera asks. “who calls their computer consecration ritual ‘Doom’?”

“The late Pre-Neocambrians were fairly forward-minded,” Sam explains. “In… some ways. I mean, the global catastrophe somehow managed to catch them by surprise, but everything about their media suggests that they either feared or celebrated the possibility of computers gaining full awareness and integrating with, or taking over, their society. Folklorists and historians think that by consecrating their computer systems with such a darkly named ritual, they were reminding themselves of the possible dangers they thought computers would one day become.”

“The contents of the program are also really violent,” Tal says. “It’s a little game where you have to shoot a whole bunch of monsters.”

“Presumably symbolising the struggle and humanity’s hoped-for victory should conflict with the machines occur,” Sam agrees, nodding. “It’s a fascinating little ritual.”

Captain Sands clears his throat. “Fascinating. But perhaps we should move on?”

Sunset of Sirius flashes us all a dazzling smile. Despite her current exhaustion, she seems to have weathered chronostasis well – she’s positively chubby under her dark, clear skin, and seems perfectly coordinated. “I’m Sunset,” she says, “and yes, it’s my real name. I’m a fuel technician by trade, but I suppose now I’m going to be an aeronautics engineer. And I once played Doom in Club Senneca.”

“You’ve been to Club Senneca?” Tal asks.

“I won a fashion show in Club Senneca.”

I resolve not to ask what Club Senneca is. Derailing things again won’t –

“What’s Club Senneca?” Lina asks.

“Is cyberlite club in Athelicia,” Denish says wearily. “Very big and famous. My sister used to try to make their drinks at home. Very pretty, but taste awful.”

“The real thing tastes awful too, if that helps,” Sunset says.

“They’re a zeelite club,” Tal simmers. “Not a cyberlite club. Right, Sunset?”

Sunset shrugs. “Cyberlite, zeelite… you see both types there. They’re all good.”

For a ship setting out to build the future, I can’t help reflecting, there sure are a lot of people on it obsessed with the distant past. Maybe I should’ve paid more attention to pre-Neocambrian societies in my own career, outside of studying the Exodus Phenomenon. Being the team sociologist and being the least informed about this stuff is getting embarrassing.

Or maybe it’s just a matter of specialisation. They can talk about their nightclubs and fashion and old computer blessing rituals all they want – when the topic turns to pre-Neocambrian horror media, I’ll be the knowledgable one.

And that’s… that’s definitely a good thing. Yep.

“Doctor Tate?” Sands prompts, clearly eager to keep the introductions moving.

“Uh, hi.” Celi sits up in kes wheelchair. “I’m Celi. I’m a general practitioner in medicine. And, um… I play the xamide.”

“The xamide?” Tinera leans forward excitedly. “I’m a drummer! Two-beat Lunari style.”

“Oh, you can two-beat? You know, if we had a guitarist…” Celi looks around the crew.

“I… know how to play a guitar,” Renn admits, sounding reluctant about it. “I am not good at it.”

“Ship band!” Tal says excitedly.

“Alright, alright.” Captain Sands rubs his temples. “Let’s move this along. Friend?”

The new Friend, looking slightly annoyed at suddenly being the centre of attention, nods sharply. “This Friend… enjoys sewing.” Everyone waits for a little while to see if more information is forthcoming, but apparently that’s it.

“… Alright then. My name is Renn. I’m a developmental behaviourist by trade, with a background in neurobiology and in psychology. I’ll be serving as your psychologist.”

“Neurobiology?” The Friend – our old Friend, the doctor Friend (this is going to get confusing), suddenly perks up. Lina’s paying attention to him, too, and it’s not until I find myself idly rubbing the skin over my own cranial port that I realise what’s got them so interested – who better than a neurobiologist, to weigh in on the issue of the ten per cent survival group? Maybe he can figure out how, specifically, the synnerve overgrowth and AI takeover works. We even have patient on life support in the medbay right now…

“And what’s your fun fact?” Tinera asks.

“Ah. Well. Hmm. I am… exceptionally good at chess?”

Captain Sands nods. “Well, then. Now that we’re all up and about, we should sort out our key priorities in getting this ship in order – ”

“Captain,” Lina says, “half of the crew aren’t fit for duty yet.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that. But when they are fit for duty, they will need to know what that duty is. I’m sure everyone will be well and truly up and about in… let’s say, a week? Doctors?”

Lina and our Friend exchange a glance.

“It’s hard to be certain with chronostasis revival,” the Friend says. “All of these people, including you, should be resting right now.”

“Thank you for your medical advice. If I may ask, how many weeks did you rest before getting to work?”

It glances at me. I half-consciously rub the arm it filled with bone cement as soon as its hands were stable enough.

“We were in an emergency situation,” it points out, “and severely understaffed.”

“Which does explain Dr Greaves’ activities so soon after waking up, I suppose. How long was it before you were doing space walks, Aspen?”

“Well, that was…”

“And the rest of the crew. How long did you wait before doing strenuous, dangerous, and difficult activities?”

We were silent for several seconds. Eventually, Tal piped up, “I never do strenuous activities, if that helps.”

“I’m sure that after one full week of recovery, we can pencil in normal light maintenance tasks for our new crew. Doctor Tate’s skills, especially, are likely to come into play rapidly. I’ll get to work on prioritising tasks with the general goal of getting the Courageous ship-shape as rapidly as possible. For those of you who’ve been around longer and are familiar with the going-on of the ship, what would you say are the most urgent tasks?”

“Um,” I say, avoiding the gaze of the doctors. “I’d feel better if a real navigator took a look at our position and course projections as soon as possible. I mean, there’s no reason to believe that anything’s wrong, but our computer hasn’t been particularly reliable thus far, and given the engine damage early in the flight…”

“I can look over that,” Sam nods. “No problem.”

“And we have to figure out movie night,” Tal says. “We’re kind of on a time crunch for that.”

“Movie night?” Captain Sands asks, frowning.

“Yeah. Every six days, we all get together as a group and watch or listen to or play something together. We have a rotating schedule for whose turn it is to pick something. Right before we woke you, it was Aspen’s pick, so the next movie night is tomorrow, meaning it’s supposed to be Denish’s turn, but now we have all these new people so we need to make a new schedule. I think we should put everyone else after Aspen for the next cycle, so all the old crew do a pick first – that way, they get to see what sort of stuff we normally do before it’s their turn, and everyone has a really long time to pick something. But the real question is, with twice the people, should we do twice the movie nights?”

Sands’ frown deepens. “I’m not sure we’ll have time for such things.”

“Of course we do,” Lina says. “We schedule it during leisure time. Shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Well, yes, but making the crew use their leisure time for specific activities is – ”

“Movie Night sounds great to me,” Celi says.

Renn nods. “As your psychologist, Captain, I must advise that social bonding activities like this are critical to group cohesion. If this crew needs to work together for several years, a regular, compulsory movie night is a good idea.”

“If people want to gather to do leisure activities together, that’s up to you, but I won’t force a compulsory movie night on anyone.”

“Great!” Tal grins. “So, we’ll put everyone else after Aspen for the next round, then?”

“And just remove anyone who doesn’t want to come from the schedule,” Tinera says.

Tal frowns. “Why would anyone not want to come? It’s movie night!”

A Friend (the doctor one) clears its throat. “Captain, are we done here? There’s some scans that we need to run to better estimate recovery times.”

“Yes, yes. Meeting concluded. Everyone get on with… what you’re supposed to be doing.”

As I watch the group disperse, half toward the medbays and half elsewhere, I feel something inside me finally relax.

This group looks like it should work out fine.

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Sunset moves in her bed, and the Friend quickly shoos us all out. “Go and inform the captain,” it says, which… okay, yes fair, he should be informed, but I still can’t help but feel annoyed. If I was still captain, I – well, if I was still captain, we wouldn’t have two medbays full of newly revived colonists. So it’s moot, I suppose.

Captain Sands is in Lina’s medbay, talking to Sam, our new astronavigator, who apparently woke up while we were arguing about brain damage. He rushes off to meet Sunset, and I retreat before Lina can chase me out again. I suppose I should just stay out of the medbays and let the doctors do tehir jobs; I don’t need to meet every new crewmember when they wake up. That’s not my job any more. I’m not the captain of the Courageous any more.

Which is fine. Good, even. That’s what I wanted. No complaints here.

I’ve finished my work for the day, so I go and see if anyone else needs help. Adin is in Habitation Ring 1, cleaning the rooms. I have to gather myself a bit before walking in – being in Habitation Ring 1 always makes me feel a bit weird. The crumbling painted flowers on the walls are a reminder of lives lived here, all ending in death.

“What are you up to?” I ask, as if it’s not obvious.

“Cleaning,” Adin says vaguely, walking into a room with an armload of sheets. (He’s making the beds? Why?) “Captain Sands wants half the crew in here, now that there’s so many of us.”

Oh. That’s why. Still doesn’t make sense. “Why? Each habitation ring can house a full 21 with room to spare. There’s no reason to split the crew up.”

Adin’s voice is muffled by the wall between us. “That’s what I said. But the captain said, ‘If we’ve got such a big ship, we might as well use it,’ and you know what he’s like.”

“Yeah. I know what he’s like.”

He peeks around the door to hand me a slip of paper. “You’ll love how he’s split us up.”

“He assigned us rooms?” I grouse, glancing at the paper. “What is he, my moth – ?” I stare. “Ah.”


Sands’ room assignments are pretty simple. He’s just dumped all the new people in Habitation Ring 1, the ring that Adin is currently cleaning, and left most of the others in Habitation Ring 2. Him and me, though, need to move up to Habitation Ring 1, with the newcomers. It kind of makes sense, when you think about it – keep the groups relatively even, and put the first and second in command close at hand for all the newcomers who are most likely to have questions and need guidance.

It also means he’s segregating the convicts from the rest of the crew. That’s not particularly surprising, but it’s also not ideal.

“You look worried,” Adin says.

“Ideally, a crew needs to grow and bond and care for each other. Separating us into two groups like this isn’t helpful. I mean, everyone will still interact doing work and soforth, but this could be dangerous. Captain Sands is a very smart man, and I’m sure he’s an excellent captain, but he’s a little… well…”

“Stubborn?” Adin offers. “Controlling? So committed to the idea that he knows better than everyone else that he has to literally collapse vomiting on the floor to concede that he should listen to his doctor? Blatantly disrespectful and condescendingly friendly to other people, confident that his native charisma will carry him through any – ”

“Judgemental,” I say. “I’m worried that this isn’t going to get any better. If I can’t convince him to properly value everyone on the ship, then – ”

“You can’t,” Adin says. “I wouldn’t worry about trying.”

“He doesn’t know you very well. And if he does this, he might not get to know you better, and neither will the new crew, and –”

“It won’t make a difference. For him, I mean. Chances are the new crew you picked are great people, but… Aspen, have you been to prison?”

“What? No.”

“Any criminal record at all?”

“No! I mean, some boating violations, but – ”

“Anything ‘unsavoury’?”

“No, just things like speeding.”

“Yeah, I thought so. Look, none of us are thrilled about what’s happening now, but none of it is as bad as you seem to think, and there’s not much you can do about it anyway. Sands is the kind of person he is, and the rest of us are used to dealing with guys like him. With the kill switches disabled, he’s not particularly dangerous, and despite Tinera’s paranoia, there’s nothing he’s likely to do to us that’s worse or more dangerous than prison. Given the sheer space, resources, and lack of work to do here, he’d have to be actively and very specifically sadistic for it to even be possible to make things bad by our standards. You don’t need to worry about us, Aspen.”

“You having bad past experiences doesn’t excuse his behaviour.”

“To be fair, he hasn’t even done anything yet. He probably won’t. It’s a big ship and it’s fairly safe. Everything should be fine.”

“You’re probably right,” I say, and I try my best to sound like I believe it. I don’t have much faith in ‘everything should be fine’ or ‘someone probably won’t do something bad’. Shia had thought that the threats to her were overblown and that everything would probably be – no. I had thought that. I had thought that the threats were overblown and that Shia would be fine. And I’d been wrong.

I wasn’t going to be wrong again. Not with my crew.

For now, I help Adin ready Habitation Ring 1. We clean rooms and change sheets and pack the previous crew’s scant personal possessions carefully into little boxes to put into storage. I’m not sure what will happen to the random hairclips and photos, but incinerating them seems wrong. Maybe Hylara will have a museum for this trip, and they can go in there. When I walk past Leilea Arc Hess’ room without even looking at it, Adin says nothing, and cleans it himself.

We replaced the doors with the memorials painted on them some time ago, so I can’t even guess as to who most of the rooms belonged to, not that I’d even recognise most of the names or faces. Is it wrong that I never took the time to properly learn about each of our predecessors, to properly mourn and memorialise them? Is that something I should have felt obligated to do? I’m in one of the rooms where the door was never replaced when, emptying a dresser of spare uniforms, I find it.

It’s a complete accident that I find it. At some point in the past, something jolted everything in the room around’ probably me messing with gravity the first time I was in here. If it hadn’t, I never would have noticed the false bottom of the drawer, shifted slightly out of place. Hands trembling, I pry it up.

There’s a thick notebook underneath. Handbound, without a cover; just a stack of about 200 sheets of paper sewn together on the left – no, on the right side. I think? It’s difficult to be sure, since I can’t read the foreign alphabet on the cover. It looks vaguely like Martian, to my completely untrained eye, meaning it’s probably from either Mars or a country in the general vicinity of Korea.

I flip through the pages and realise that, yes, I was right about the orientation; the little book is written ‘backwards’, compared to what I expect. This isn’t surprising; several nations, including most Koreazone nations, make books this way. The notebook is about three quarters full, each page featuring a very short title and something that I infer from the layout to be a date. Decoding the numeric system is easy; it’s base ten, like most pre-Neocambrian numeric systems are, and it quickly becomes obvious that the ‘date’ is just a straight number, starting with and apparently random large number and ticking up, occasionally several pages in a row with the same number, more often skipping a week or two at a time. Obvious conclusion: the pages are dated by mission day.

The titles, too, are repetitive. I can’t read the complex characters, but I see them repeated many times. I count them; twenty unique titles, some repeated far more frequently than others.

I know what this is. Excited, I flip to the last written page and translate the mission day at the top. Day 11821, exactly what I expect to see. I check the date on the first page; day 7306.

I’m not great with numbers, but a few dates have been burned into my brain by this point. Day 7300 was when the first crew were replaced by the second crew. Day 11822 was when Captain Reimann attacked Chronostasis Ring 1, stranding most of the crew at the front of the ship and a few at the back.

So. Here was a journal written by somebody either Martian or Koreazone, from the second crew, who was stranded at the back of the ship following Reimann’s rampage, with the notes listed under twenty unique titles – the number of crew members aside form the writer. The titles are names. The book was hidden, not in a suspiciously serious way like you’d expect from a terrorist’s notes or anything, but in a proprietary way, an attempt to maintain expected secrecy and privacy amongst a trusted crew. The language could easily be Japanese – I don’t know enough to distinguish it from Martian.

These are Senior Psychologist Dr Kinoshita Keiko’s case files. Captain Reimann’s mental decline is detailed in here.

And I can’t read a single word of it.

I pocket the notebook, grateful once again that my coworker’s sensibilities have gotten me into the habit of wearing clothes all the time and that Arborean robes favour large, bulky pockets. The computer can read this, right? It must have writing recognition software that can handle Kinoshita’s handwriting, and it probably contains all major Earth languages, or at the very least the native languages of the two crews for ease of communication. Already, my mind is skipping ahead to something far more exciting than what’s in these pages – knowing what was going on with Reimann would be interesting, of course, but we’ve probably deduced most of that already. What I’m wondering is, did Dr Kinoshita keep doing her psychology job when she was stranded in the back of the ship with the scientists and acting as their captain? Did she keep case notes there, hidden in the same way?

Is there, hidden away in a drawer in one of the rooms in Habitation Ring 2, in one of the rooms that we’ve been sleeping in or around for a year none the wiser, a notebook detailing what actually happened back there after Reimann? That explained why Captain Kinoshita hadn’t revived a new crew, why no attempt at contact between the two crew groups seemed to have been made, why the scientists were performing experiments dangerous enough to kill them when they were, to the best of their knowledge, all that remained to shepherd the colonists safely to Hylara?

Is there a notebook back there that makes everything make sense?

Of course, investigating any of this left one problem: the new crew. We’d agreed not to tell Sands about the ten per cent colonists right away, until we had a feel for him; the last thing we wanted was another Reimann situation. But with this notebook, and the CR5 hull panel, and Zale not being in the ten per cent group… well, this was starting to feel less like ‘not distracting the new captain with irrelevant information’ and more actively seditious. If this was relevant enough to go around investigating, and we decided to actively conceal it from the captain, that’s playing with fire. And fire is incredibly dangerous on a spaceship.

Not that I’m completely against playing with fire, necessarily. We’re already feigning ignorance a little bit on the whole convict thing, but that’s just basic diplomacy. If we’re going to be actively concealing our own activities and research efforts from the captain, we need to be clear and up front with ourselves that that’s what we’re doing. Are we traitors or not? Because if we keep looking into this behind his back, then when he finds out – and he has to, eventually – he’s going to decide that we are.

And when it comes down to it, the truth of the matter is this – functioning as a crew and getting this ship to its destination is important. Satisfying our curiosity about the lives of the dead and permanently comatose isn’t. Maybe after everything settles down and the crew are all properly integrated, we can bring this up with Captain Sands, and investigate it. But not like this. The risk is too high.

This mystery is going to have to wait.

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The first of our new crewmates to wake is the doctor, Celi Tate. The doctors are insistent about kem not being crowded, so it’s a few hours before I’m allowed to see kem. Ke blinks up at me from the hospital bed.

“Captain Sands says you’re famous,” is the first thing ke says to me.

I roll my eyes. “I’m not. How are you feeling?”

“The doctors say I’m recovering well. Can’t wait to get to work.”

“The captain explained the situation to you?”

“Yeah.” Ke grimaces. “I suppose something was bound to go wrong with a project like this. Nothing to do but hold it together for the rest of the journey, I suppose.”

“Alright,” Lina announces, bustling in, “Celi needs rest. Aspen, anything else you want to discuss is going to have to wait.”

“Ke looks fine,” I protest. “I just – ”

“Ke’s exhausted. And we’re going to have more crew members wanting to come and gawk at the new crewmate later. Ke needs rest.”

Reluctantly, I turn to leave.

“You should go and find Tal or something,” Lina suggests.


She shrugs in affected indifference. “You know. If you need something to do.”

Tal? Why do I need Tal?

According to the computer, Tal’s in Laboratory Ring 2, for some reason. Ke’s putting away some radiation safety shielding as I enter.

“Aspen! Good timing. Want to hear the news?”

“The… news?”

“Yeah. So, I measured the radioactivity of that tether that Denish found, right. Space radiation, gets in unprotected equipment over time, you can back-calculate the exposure time by… you know how space works. Now, the numbers are a little janky since it’s a long time at near-lightspeed and I had to do a bit of estimating on initial acceleration with the dodgy aft engine and all that, but it looks like the tether was probably out in space for somewhere around five to six thousand days.”

“And when did that engineer die in space?”

“Day 7288.”

I do some quick math. “Just under 6100 days ago. That’s pretty close.”

“Yeah. I think it’s probably his. But there’s no way to be sure. Anyway, the records say that Rynn-Hatson was killed repairing a thruster, and there aren’t any thrusters near that disturbed panel. Amy doesn’t have any record of any external work being done on CR 5, but with her it’s kind of hard to know if that means the work wasn’t logged, or if she’s just lying. It might not be his, in which case all this musing is pointless, but…”

“I don’t think it matters that much either way,” I point out. “Somebody tampered with that panel at some point and didn’t log the work. They didn’t replace it properly. And now the AI is taking over brains in that ring, and only that ring. Whether that engineer is guilty or not, whether we’ve got the timeline right or not, whatever was done there is probably the answer to our questions.”

“Or maybe it’s something different and Amy just stuck to rings 1 and 5 for other reasons.”

“Other reasons?”

Ke shrugs. “If some of the first crew really were involved – whether it’s Rynn-Hatson or not – then they wouldn’t want Amy jacking brains in rings they’re going to sleep in, would they? Maybe they programmed something so she wouldn’t target the rings they’re in.”

“Huh. Maybe. Hey, Tal?”


“What do you think about Zale?”


“The engineer we tried to revive in CR 5 yesterday.”

“Ugh, him. That was so weird.”

“Well, yes, that’s one word for it.”

“Lina checked his skull and says he definitely has the same thing as the ten per centers. But Amy put his chance of survival at sixty nine per cent, so…”

“So maybe we were wrong about her taking brains being what puts people in the ten per cent group?”

“I doubt it. All the other ten per centers we tried were like that, and nobody else. It’s too big of a coincidence.”

“Okay, but ‘all the others’ is just a few people, and besides that… no they weren’t. Tinera and Adin were ten per centers, and I know you think the AI was lying about their chances, but…”

“I don’t think, I know. I ran the math on the people you revived; getting both of them awake was way, way too lucky, and yeah, law of small numbers and all that, but Adin’s a DIVR and there was only one ten per cent DIVR and it wasn’t him. Remember that? I did a whole cool big speech about it?”

“Right, of course. So the AI is… lying about revival chances… in the opposite direction, this time? Pretending they’re higher than they are? Why? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“No idea. I’ll ask her when I get the chance, but she’s not exactly helpful. Maybe she’s lying. Or maybe it takes some time for the stats she’s monitoring to drop and register a ten per cent survival chance, maybe that number doesn’t come directly from her invading people’s brains with synnerves. Or maybe people dropped to ten per cent for completely different reasons, and she picked those specific brains to hijack so she wouldn’t be killing healthy colonists, but now she’s running out and dipping into other heads. Could be all kinds of reasons.”

“Yeah, see… at least two of those explanations imply that it’s taking over more brains. Which is not a good thing.”

“Yeah, well, we did launch most of her stolen brains into space last year.”

“Yeah, I… I suppose we did.” That doesn’t seem like a justifiable excuse to steal more to me, but I’m not a broken AI so what do I know. “Are we… safe, with the AI?”

Tal snorts. “No, of course not. I’ve plugged up all the dangers with her that we’ve found so far, but there’s always something new to knock us over the head, isn’t there? Next we’ll find out this ship was designed to self destruct or something.”

“Why would the ship – ?”

“Why anything?! I did not sign up for this! I mean, technically I did sign up for basically anything that could happen to the ship, according to the contract, and it’s not like I’d have had a choice even if I did know, I mean I was hardly going to not sign the contract, so it’s immaterial I guess. But I’m annoyed anyway.”

“I too am annoyed about the constant threat of death hanging over us from multiple angles, the largely pointless and still very mysterious deaths of our predecessors, and how vast a departure this is from what we were promised. Yes, very annoyed.”

“See, I knew you’d get it! I gotta go. The password freeze locks on Reimann’s password just timed out for today so I’m gonna go make five guesses at it. Wish me luck!”

“Uh, good luck.”

“Yeah!” Tal raises kes palm in one of kes favourite pre-Neocambrian gestures. I slap it with my own. “Yeah!” ke repeats, and departs.

Well, okay. That was somehow a lot and nothing at all at the same time. Have I left Celi alone for long enough yet? Will Lina get mad at me if I go back?

Probably. But, I can go check on the other medbay. The two doctors evened out the patients between the two medbays, so the other medbay has one person on life support and three who might still wake up. I head over.

The Friend is drawing blood from Renn’s arm, while Denish, acting as its assistant, looks through something at the computer terminal. Tinera has her arms draped over Denish’s shoulders, and doesn’t appear to be doing anything productive. The Friend looks up as I enter and rolls its eyes. “What’s with this crew always wanting to be in the medbay?”

“Just wanted to see if you need any help,” I explain, not bothering to hide how I’m scanning the sleeping crewmates’ faces for any sign of consciousness.

“We don’t need help, nobody’s woken up yet, and yes, the crew will be informed the instant somebody does. There’s a – ”

“Doctor, something is wrong with scan.”


“Yes. Is different to others.”

The Friend heads over, glances at the screen, and relaxes. “That’s normal. Nothing to worry about.”

“The other scans definitely don’t look like this,” Tinara says doubtfully. “Mine doesn’t look like this.”

“You’re not a Universal Friend.”

Ah. I look at the screen myself. It’s been a long time since my university study on the Friends, but PUF 3’s brain scan looks essentially how I expect.

“Friends have different brains?” Denish asks, baffled. “I thought anybody could be Friend.”

“Anyone can become a Public Universal Friend, provided they pass the trials and are accepted,” the Friend explains. “What you’re seeing is the results of initiation. It’s harmless and nothing to worry about.”

Denish still looks a little confused, but behind him, Tinera stiffens. I brace myself. She’s reaching the same revelation I did when I learned this, and it’s a bit of a shock to –

“This is brain damage,” she says quietly.

“That’s one way to describe it, if you must.”

“If I – it’s not one way to describe it, it’s what it is! That ceremony damaged you brain! And you’re just okay with that?”

“Tinera,” I break in gently. “That’s… that’s the entire point of the ceremony.”


The Friend nods. “Enacting the duties of a Public Universal Friend requires – ”

“This is a Lyson Project.”

She’s not technically wrong. Anastasia Lyson was a behavioural scientist and neurobiologist whose incredibly detailed work on physical brain development and its links to behaviour and mental capacity had created a brief trend of ‘neuropsychological treatment’ for various mental illnesses that quickly and very predictably careened out of control. Much how a nation in which convicts generate profit encourages the creation of more convicts, a situation where mental illness can be used as an excuse to change somebody’s brain to make them more obedient, or satisfied, or specialised in specific tasks is…

Well. Lyson projects were outlawed in every nation I know of within fifteen years of Lyson releasing her work, as part of the establishment of (and a big part of the impetus to create) the Autonomy Accords. These days, any kind of neurosurgery with the intent of altering behaviour or limiting perception is strictly controlled for specific, extreme cases, such as serious cases of mental illness that greatly impact quality of life where the patient themselves pushes for the surgery. Or a certain worldwide cult that’s garnered worldwide respect for the general usefulness and helpfulness of its members.

Look, I’m not seeing I agree with it. The whole voluntary brain damage thing is the main reason the Public Universal Friends freak me out. But it’s also not any of my business what adults of sound mind freely choose to do with their body or brain.

“It’s not a Lyson Project,” the Friend says in the weary tone of somebody who’s had this discussion too many times before. “Friends voluntarily – ”

“What, like we voluntarily got on this spaceship?” Tinera fires back, causing the Friend to flinch. “Friend, there were fucking – there were Servitor Wars about this! Armies of brain damaged soldiers aimed at each other and set loose! There were factories full of – if that shit hadn’t been outlawed, can you imagine what any of us would be like right now? I mean, Texas might be fine, but I was jailed on Luna! Can you imagine for one second that they wouldn’t have surgeons going through their prisons with a list of what they wanted each prisoner to lose? There were children, little kids, who – kids who were ‘difficult’, who had families who wanted easier ones, and kids raised for labour and tailor-cut to – ”

“There are no children among the Public Universal Friends,” the Friend says firmly.

“That’s not the point!”

“Isn’t it? Is your whole point not that using brain surgery to involuntarily force people to be something they don’t want to be is immoral? Because this friend agrees with you, completely. The Lyson Projects were a horrifying stain on human history, and we don’t do that. Becoming a Friend takes years of hard work and vetting; it’s not a decision anyone can make on a whim and it’s not a decision that we force or coerce out of people. Someone needs to demonstrate their total commitment to the cause long before the Initiation is even a consideration; it takes giving up everything you have and everything you are in dedication to the cause. Nobody who isn’t sure would ever – ”

“If someone gives up everything they have and everything they are, it sounds to me like they’ve been pulled into a situation where they have no outside support system and can’t say ‘no’.”

“It’s not like that.”

“Isn’t it? You sure?”

“Yes. The Friends are dedicated adults of sound mind who – ”

“You’re not of sound mind. By definition. Because nobody of sound mind would do that to themselves.”

“You don’t understand these Friends’ choice, so it’s invalid? Is that it?”

“Your ‘choice’ is literally to induce brain damage in a healthy brain, so yeah!”

“What about your hand? Your ear? They’re both badly damaged. That hand aches, doesn’t it? Especially with pressure and temperature changes. And yet you’ve chosen not to fix them. Does that mean you’re not of sound mind, and shouldn’t make your own decisions?”

“That’s different!”


“Because I don’t think with my hand or ear! And you do think with your brain! How could you even – ourselves are all we have! Our minds are all we have! Why would anybody give that up?”

“Because our minds are not all we have, Tinera. All we have is each other. You and this friend and everyone else on this ship will be dead soon enough, and when we are, what we built will live on in other humans. Ourselves are all we have to work with, yes, but they are not what we build.”

“Oh, don’t give me that ‘end justifies the means’ bullshit. That road has led to hell far too many times.”

Denish clears his throat. “Friend, I have personal question?”

“Sure, why not?”

“What is… what does brain damage do? You do not seem… damaged.”

“It mostly targets areas of the brain responsible for individualism and social bonding. It’s designed to make us drastically less selfish.”

“How can target individualism? Is individual!” Denish asks, at the same time as Tinera asks, “How can killing social bonding make someone less selfish?”

“It’s actually really easy to damage individualism in the brain,” the Friend shrugs. “Many sufferers of strokes find that they lose the ability to conceive of themselves as an individual while the stroke is happening. A wide variety of narcotics can achieve the same effect. With persistence, people can learn to temporarily disable it with meditation alone. What’s done to the Friends isn’t so extreme; a Friend would be unable to function without being able to retain a sense of being an individual. But the ability is… dampened. Friends think in collective terms faster than individual terms.”

“I still don’t see how not having social bonds can make someone less selfish,” Tinera says.

The Friend looks pretty tired of explaining itself, so I step in. “Friends don’t have in-groups,” I explain. “They don’t have friends or family. It would interfere with their cause far too much.”

“They’re literally called ‘friends’.”

“No, they are called public universal friends. If you saw Denish and a stranger in danger and could only save one, you’d go for Denish, right? But Friends can’t afford to think like that.”

“So they give themselves brain damage?!”

“Our movement started when the world was dying,” the Friend says. “Our predecessors saw the world dissolving into petty conflicts of groups of people fighting for their own survival to the overall detriment of everyone, and knew that that wasn’t going to work. There are two reasons you don’t hear about the Public Universal Friends until after Lyson’s research was released – first, we weren’t called that yet, and second, the movement was impossible. It was almost immediately saturated with bad actors, capitalising on the good name for personal gain, and well-meaning actors who still got caught up in their own personal struggles because that is what humans do. More dangerous were the actually committed, because many of them found themselves committed to the group, to keeping the movement going and its members protected, and at that point, you’re just another nation struggling for influence. It wasn’t until after Lyson’s research that turning ourselves into something even capable of helping humanity was possible. Thus the second Public Universal Friend was born.

“It took inspiration from the first – a youngster from the Nameless Nation, who was struck with a terrible fever that, according to the story, killed them, and made space for a new spirit, the Public Universal Friend, to fulfill their god’s holy mission. There’s no place for gods and preachers in the movement, but it immediately became obvious that a death of our old lives and transformation into something more suitable for the task was a necessity. You call it damage; Friends call it transformation. A snake is not damaged by its lack of hands, a bee is not damaged by its inability to count. These Friends are not damaged by being different to you, either.”

“Sounds like bullshit to me,” Tinera says.

“And that’s why you’re not a Public Universal Friend,” the Friend shrugs. “Either way, that brain scan is nothing to be concerned about.”

“Not unexpected, you mean,” Tinera mumbles. “I still think there’s plenty to be concerned – ”

She’s cut off by sudden movement on the other side of the room.

One of the new crew is waking up.

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All eight of us crowd around the chronostasis pod. It doesn’t take the entire crew to revive someone; we could work a lot faster if we split off into groups of three, but no one, event he captain, has suggested doing that. It’s not like we’re on a time limit. And sure. If something goes wrong, having so many extra people around won’t actually help, but… here we are.

“Sam Sareff,” the Public Universal Friend reads off the pod terminal. “Thirty three years old, astronavigator. No health complications relevant to revival, no DIVR-32 geneset. Chances of successful revival… sixty five per cent.”

Captain Sands nods. “Begin the process, doctor.”

It’s not long before the revival alarm sounds and the pod opens. Most of us move back to allow the doctors to work; the Texan non-doctors all awkwardly avert their eyes. Sam looks unhealthily thin under all the wires and tubes, the drugs apparently insufficient to maintain their fat and muscle mass during chronostasis. We wait with bated breath as Lina disconnects the cerebral stimulator. It comes out easily, as expected. The doctors get to removing the lines and, when the Friend pulls the oxygen mask mask from Sam’s throat, they breathe on their own and I start breathing again, too.

The doctors lift them onto the stretcher and clip a monitor to their finger. “Regular pulse, expected blood oxygen,” Lina reports.

“So it’s successful?” the captain asks.

“We won’t know for certain until they wake up. Even then, there’s a risk period of several days where organ failure is a possibility. But they’re alive right now, yes.”

The doctors wheel the patient away, leaving the rest of us just kind of standing around awkwardly in Chronostasis Ring 3. We’re not going to revive anyone else without doctors, obviously, but nobody really wants to leave.

Denish clears his throat awkwardly. “Who will be next?”

“Our only other target in this ring is one of the engineers,” Captain Sands says. “Sunset of Sirius.”

“Sunset?” Tinera asks.

The captain shrugs.

Lina returns after about five minutes to help us revive, ah, Sunset. The engineer’s finger and toenails are well overgrown – old nails, Martian nails – but she otherwise looks like she’s simply sleeping. Large holes line her earlobes, the kinds pierced and stretched deliberately for decorative purposes. Free from jewellery for the moment, of course. Some of her hair had tangled in them; Lina carefully avoids it while she disconnects Sunset from the pod, loads her onto a stretcher, and wheels her out.

Captain Sands claps his hands together. “Alright, everyone. Somehow I doubt either doctor is going to want a third patient until they’ve run all the tests for those two, so, thirty minute break. No lurking around chronostasis rings waiting and stressing yourselves out; go and do something else. Check supplies, clean floors, read a book. Then we’ll revive the doctors.”

“Two successful revivals in the sixty per cent range,” I say, voicing what I’m pretty sure we’re all thinking. “We’re probably due a failure.”

“No, that’s a fallacy,” Tal pipes up. “The successful revival of those two doesn’t affect the chances of the next revival in any way. Besides, Amy’s revival predictions are unreliable, and also we don’t know if those revivals were successful; the chances of them never waking up due to brain damage or even post-chronostasis organ failure are still – ”

“I know, Tal. I’m just saying that we feel lucky so far, which makes me nervous.”

“Oh. I have a solution for that.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. Computer games. Come on.”

Tal wants to play some kind of base management thing, but I talk kem down to Atlantean Checkers. My negotiation is wasted, because ke still soundly kicks my arse, no matter how unsportsmanlike I am at cheesing the doublestrike rule.

Reviving the first doctor takes us to Chronostasis Ring 5. The Friend is still in the medbay supervising the two new patients, Adin steps forward to help Lina with the patient.

“Zale Hemmorin,” Lina reads from the pod terminal. “Age 22. Revival chance, sixty nine per cent.”

“Nice,” Adin says. I shoot him a curious look. “That’s a really high chance,” he clarifies. “You know, for a non-DIVR.”

“Starting revival process,” Lina announces. The rest of us shuffle back to let Lina and Adin work. As the chronostasis fluid drains away, Adin starts pulling lines from Zale’s body, and Lina reaches for the cerebral stimulator.

The blood drains from her face faster than somebody enduring a high-acceleration orbital launch. “Stimulator’s stuck.”

“How can the stimulator be stuck?!” Captain Sands asks, but the rest of us are already moving. Tal runs to get the Friend just as Zale begins to convulse. I dart forward to help Adin hold the head still and prevent Zale from tearing his cranial port out while Denish, always prepared with his tool belt, draws something to hack into the base of the chronostasis pod and cut the power. He doesn’t look up as Tinera pulls a pair of bolt cutters from his belt and cuts the lead leading to the cerebral stimulator. Zale immediately goes slack; we disconnect the remaining lines (roughly, speed is more important than delicacy), and then drag Zale out onto the floor, where Lina immediately begins CPR.

The rest of us step back to give her space. We already know it won’t work. It didn’t work for Ro Da-Bin. But she continues chest compressions while Captain Sands kneels down to breathe for Zale, and the pair keep his blood oxygenated and moving until Tal returns with the Friend and a portable respirator system. The Friend jams the respirator tube down his throat, disinfect the spot under his sternum and carefully slide the needle of the cardiac stimulator into his chest right there on the floor with the placid expression of a trauma doctor who’s done this before, and not even Tal says that it’s pointless. Even though it’s pointless.

It’s not fair, this time.

Zale Hemorin wasn’t in the ten per cent revival group. There’s not supposed to be anything wrong with his cranial port. Sure, he had a thirty one per cent chance of dying during revival, but not like this. This isn’t supposed to happen.

Something’s wrong with our ‘computer-hijacked brains’ theory.

“That was an excellent emergency response, crew,” Captain Sands says as the Friend wheels the patient away.

“We’ve lost a lot of people during revival.” Tinera grimaces at the blood streaked over the floor and chronostasis pod, evidence of our rough and rushed removal of Zale’s input and output lines. “Excuse me, I need to go throw up now.”

“Are there any more in Chronostasis Ring 5?” I ask.

Captain Sands shakes his head. “Rings 2 and 4 for the others.”

The rest of us all relax slightly. Maybe we were wrong about the ten per cent category, but so far everyone with a bad cranial port has been in rings 1 and 5, so maybe… well, no, that doesn’t mean anything; we’ve only encountered a few with ports like that. We assumed they were all in 1 and 5 because the ten per cent revival category were in 1 and 5, but Zale had a sixty nine per cent chance and still had a stuck cranial port, so…

We can puzzle all that out later. We already have a list of candidates, so unless I want to halt everything and explain the whole brain-hijacking computer thing to Captain Sands here and now (which strikes me as a phenomenally bad idea), they’re either revivable or they’re not. The question of how we could’ve been so wrong about Zale can wait, whether or not it happens again.

I really, really hope it doesn’t happen again.

“Hopefully we have more luck with the other doctor,” Captain Sands says. “Chronostasis ring 2, everyone.”

Lina brings a portable respirator with her this time, just in case of another failed revival, but it isn’t necessary; she wheels the correctly revived sleeping doctor to the medbay and returns to revive the other patient in Chronostasis Ring 2, the Public Universal Friend Three.

This is the potential crew member I’m most curious about. Physically, it couldn’t be more different than the Friend I already know; it’s small, dwarfed by its own chronostasis pod, with coal-dark skin and hair as tightly curled as Tal’s, the kind of hair that people wear in afros or twist into locks. The scars along the back of its jaw on either side of its head are too neat and too symmetrical to be accidental; some kind of long-healed surgery. It’s easily lifted onto the stretcher.

“How’s our medbay capacity?” Captain Sands asks.

“We put Zale in the other medbay,” Lina says, “so there’s room for this one in our other Friend’s medbay. But then they’ll be at capacity for that medbay.”

“So if the next revival goes off without a hitch, there’ll be a delay before number seven because you’ll need to supervise them.”


“Alright. We’ll do the last engineer next, then.”

Clover Dais, the engineer, is a DIVR, so we’re sort of surprised when ke doesn’t start breathing after kes oxygen mask is removed. (We shouldn’t be, of course; even DIVRs have almost a one in five chance of dying.) Without a stuck cerebral stimulator and with a portable life support system on hand, getting kem on life support is much easier than with Zale, although it’s obvious that this kind of field work isn’t Lina’s area of expertise; she bites her lip as she forces the needle of the cardiac stimulator into kes chest and looks somewhat surprised when it works. Clover doesn’t require any more supervision than Zale once on proper life support in the medbay, so Lina is able to come back to revive our last new crewmate.

Renn Sunn. The psychologist. My replacement.

Well, that’s not an entirely fair statement. I haven’t exactly done much work as the ship’s psychologist; most of my work so far has been as the captain and head gardener; I’m already replaced as the former and probably still hold the title of the latter. But having an actual psychologist that isn’t me is going to be a huge relief.

I hope he survives.

Dr Sunn is a tall man with prominent, angular cheekbones and skin like polished oak. I’d have called him pale, if the Public Universal Friend’s skintone hadn’t permanently altered my idea of what pale skin looks like. He has a natural beauty and symmetry similar to that of our captain, the kind common to Tarandrans. Although unlike the captain, he has a full complement of fingernails. Like Tinera, he had his head depilated at some point, and there’s no stasis-grown hair to complicate the removal of his cerebral stimulator and breathing mask. I’m almost expecting something new and horrible to happen, like the ship will save some dramatic, disastrous change in our situation for the very last patient, but he’s removed from the pod and wheeled out to the medbay without trouble.

Five survivors, assuming all goes well. We were lucky. Or one could way we were unlucky, as more crew might be a threat to my existing crewmates, but Captain Sands is going to fill the ship regardless, so less deaths can only be a good thing. A new astronavigator, an engineer, another Public Universal Friend, a doctor, and a psychologist. Captain Sands is right about one thing – it should make the ship easier to run.

“Which two of you have the most medical experience?” Sands asks. The five of us (the two doctors already gone) look at each other.

“I do much first aid,” Denish eventually ventures.

“Great. Anyone else?”

“Um,” Adin says. “I know some biological theory. But I don’t have much practical – ”

“Good enough, You two are Lina and the Friend’s medical assistants until our new crewmates are ready to be up and about. Aspen, parcel out Denish and Adin’s normal duties among us non-doctors, I want the medbays to be their primary focus.”

“Yessir.”  I take that opening to leave, but there’s no way I’m going to be able to focus on the job I’ve just been assigned. I had thought we’d had this place mostly figured out, but since the cooling system failed and we woke Sands, there’s just been more uncertainty. Why was a hull panel disturbed on Chronostasis Ring 5? If it was our spaceburied engineer, what did he do? Is there anything we can do for our two ‘dead’ crew members, beyond letting the machines keep their bodies alive indefinitely? Most worryingly, how does somebody with a revival chance of sixty nine per cent have a structurally compromised cranial port? Is our entire hypothesis on the ten per cent revival group wrong?

What is going on?

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051: HULL

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The video in question is from the two cameras on Denish’s space suit. I watch him exit the ship through the pod launch ring 3 airlock, wait for the giant lens to be cycled, through, then help Tinera down.

“All good?” Adin asks through the radio.

“All is good. We are ready.”

“Let’s get this done,” Tinera says.

“R-right. Okay, go ahead.”

The emitter is on the aft engine shield cap, and watching the pair open a small door in the shield cap to get out there without having to drop through the electrostatic shield and making their slow, careful way along the shield cap would have been incredibly tense if I didn’t already know that both of them were fine. Instead, my eyes are on the hull, but all I can see is a smooth surface broken up by occasional mechanical devices that, judging from Denish’s reactions, are supposed to be there.

With Tinera’s support, Denish easily unseats the old emitter lens and tosses it away into space, then secures the replacement in place. The system was designed with the knowledge that replacements might need to be done while the ship is in motion, so the process isn’t complicated. They make their way back to the ladder leading to the airlock, and I still can’t see what Tal was bothered about.

“Okay, coming back in,” Tinera says.

“Great.” The relief in Adin’s voice is palpable.

“Wait.” One hand on the ladder, Denish points out across the hull. “What is that?”

I squint at the camera feed. I can’t see anything.

“I don’t see anything,” Adin says.

“Might just be bad light,” Denish mumbles. “Is gone now.” He fiddles with something on his suit, zooms his wrist camera in, and points it out across the hull. The suit cameras are good, but it’s also several rings away; squinting, I can just about make out something small waving about.

“Is that a loose cable?” Adin asks. “That can’t be good.”

“Might be piece of debris,” Denish says. “Is caught on tether anchor, I think.”

“It’s a tether cable,” Tinera says. “Aspen probably left it when they were turning the main engine on. Didn’t they leave a couple of cables scattered around?”

“Not here,” Denish points out. “Aspen moved between middle of ship and front of ship. Did not come to back of ship. That is…” he counts the rings under his breath… “Storage Ring Five, I think. And look, is panel above it loose?”

“I can’t tell,” Adin says. “I don’t see why it would – ”

“That’s not Storage Ring Five,” Tinera says. “It’s Chronostasis Ring Five.”

Everyone is silent for several long seconds. Then Adin speaks up. “There’s something suspicious on the outside of our most suspicious chronostasis ring?”

“Looks like. What should we do?”

“Well… you still have plenty of air left. We’re going to have to check this out, either now or later, and we’re already out here now. Are you two up for having a look, or do you need rest?”

“I can go,” Denish says.

“Right. Tiny, hold position and be ready if a rescue is necessary. ‘Nish, whenever you’re ready.”

Denish is tall enough that the journey along the outside of the ship is paradoxically trivial for him. He can easily reach the safety tether point on the hull of the ship by simply reaching up, so unlike me, he doesn’t wrap a cable around the metal electrostatic grid under his feet and slide along with his arms and legs wrapped around it. He clips himself to the hull above him and simply balances on the metal beams.

It is a tether. In the camera view, it looks normal and undamaged. Denish clips it to his own belt to be looked at more thoroughly inside the ship and takes a look at the hull panel above it.

Several bolts are missing, so one edge of the panel lifts a little away from the ship.

“Is it dangerous?” Adin asks.

“I not think so. I will come with new bolts and fix later. I do not know what is under here.” He runs a hand over an intact bolt, even though there’s no way he can feel the bolt through the space suit gloves. “This was not being taken off. It was being put back on. Some bolts are uneven. Somebody was putting it back on and didn’t finish the last few bolts.”

“One of the first crew’s engineers was lost in space, right?” Adin asks.


“What were they doing?”

“I did not think to check. But now I think we should check.”

“Yeah, I agree.”

“Returning to airlock now.” Denish makes his way back to Tinera. She enters the ship to fetch a small, radiation-proof box, they secure the salvaged tether safely inside, and come back in. There’s nothing else to see here, but I keep watching the footage anyway, right up until Denish starts taking his suit off and the feed dies.

We’d been wondering why chronostasis rings 1 and 5, specifically, had held the people whose brains had been compromised by the AI. We’d assumed, before we understood what was going on, that it was environmental; an effect of being closest to the engines, perhaps, or maybe the shielding at the two ends of the ship was less adequate. CR1 and 5 had been the closest chronostasis rings to the engines, closest to the ends of the electrostatic field.

Only now was I realising that they were also the closest to the two exit points on the ship. Had this engineer tampered with them? Was that our answer?

What could they possibly have done?

I pull up the schematics of the ship, trying to identify what they could have accessed from that panel, but it’s far too complicated for me to understand and the AI is no help. Denish will probably have more luck.

While I’m at the computer, I have a quick peek at our new captain’s file. Nothing too surprising; male, 39 years old, no particularly unusual medical requirements… he’s an astromedianist. Huh. Kind of a weird little religion, but as an Arborean native I’m not really in a position to judge. And he’s from Tarandra.

Huh. Upon reflection, I probably should have guessed that.

Tarandra’s a fascinating nation, from a sociological perspective. It’s built on some fairly outdated notions, but manages to leverage them fairly effectively to be more powerful in the modern world than its size would suggest. Tarandran culture is highly fixated on ‘value’, to the point where they (as a culture, not necessarily as individuals; important sociological difference) tend to boil everything down to its value and ability to generate value in a sort of… abstract currency concept. In Tarandran culture, resources have value, skills have value, time has value, and people have value – all true in every culture, I suppose, but Tarandrans are very emphatic about it. As in, they actually consider their citizens to be valuable based on the value they can produce for their families – not like Texan or Lunari prisoners, Tarandra doesn’t have a for-profit-prison system, but all of their citizens – and the citizens, for the most part, seem fine with this. It’s a very mathematicised concept of familial duty that’s at once both sociologically seductive (because things you can model with mathematics are unfortunately rare in my field) and also baffling.

Like Arborean society, Tarandran society is extremely science-forward, imminently practical, and consists of loose and malleable family structures. Unlike Arborean society, they’re not known for any kind of deep, earthy spiritualism; their national spiritualism is almost universally centred around their value concept. They also have a tendency to rely on a lot of genetic engineering for reproduction; Captain Sands’ natural symmetry and excellent physical build should have tipped me off right away as to his origins.

What does this say about him as a captain? Is he a danger to our ship? To my crew?

A Tarandran is… probably a decent choice for a captain in a situation like this. Their habitual tendency to think in terms of value, resources and potential gains makes them better than average engineers and logisticians, and this is a situation with very limited resources where we probably want our captain to be good at those kinds of things. His mistrust and clear devaluing of the crew, however, is a problem. I’ve been hoping that he’ll soften up and show that he cares about our crew – and I’m sure he does care about them – but if he’s decided (as his actions seem to indicate) that criminals have less ‘value’ than non-criminals, then there’s a very real chance that I might be spending the next four years protecting my crewmates from his value-weighted decisions.

Something to watch out for, I guess. I head for Recreation and Medical Ring 2, interested in what the doctors think about Sands’ revival plan, and as I come out of the airlock it becomes clear that I won’t need to ask. Lina is making her opinion known fairly emphatically.

“Captain, this is an awful idea.”

“Really, doctor? How so?”

“The ship simply isn’t in perfect shape. It – ”

“This ship is never again going to be in ‘perfect’ shape. But the more hands we have, the faster we can get it into decent shape.”

“Waking more people puts more strain on the systems.”

“Leaving the systems unmaintained puts more strain on the systems as well. If you don’t think this ship can be brought into condition to support a full crew, just how do you expect it to support a new colony in four years? We’re going to have to wake all of these people up eventually, and our duty, doctor, is making sure that they have the best support systems available to them when we do. Your previous captain was far too cautious with revivals, and I do understand why – they were untrained at their job, working with even more untrained engineers. But four years is in fact a fairly strict time limit, given the state of this place. Does moving fast now create more danger for us, who are already awake? Yes. Some. But our job is to make sure that the colonists have the best chance when we arrive, not cower in a broken ship trying to look after ourselves.”

“So you’ll wake up some of those colonists and put them in more danger with us.”

“Temporarily. This ship is designed for a crew of twenty one. Once everything is in proper shape, we’ll be safer. In the meantime… call it incentive, to get the ship in proper shape as quickly as possible.”

“This is a terrible decision,” Lina insists.

“I disagree, but I suppose we will find out who’s right soon enough. Prepare for an influx of anything up to seven patients, depending on how lucky we are with revivals.” He spins on his heel and stalks away, giving me a friendly nod as he passes. I watch him go, then turn to Lina.

“Well,” she says, rubbing her temples, “that was a lot quicker than expected. I thought he was going to get the ship in order first.”

“So did I.” I shrug. “I did try to talk him out of it.”

“It is what it is. I’ll get the Friend. We have a lot of preparation to do.”

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“Well, this isn’t great,” Lina says as we pluck beans for dinner. It’s less than ten minutes after my meeting with Captain Sands, and the two of us are alone in Greenhouse Ring 1 – the captain had said not to tell the rest of the crew that he and I were onto their criminal pasts, so I can’t exactly risk calling a big meeting or bringing it up over breakfast. But Lina will make sure that everyone else knows.

“I’m not sure what we can do about it, really,” I shrug. “I mean… we need a functional ship. And it would be ideal to have a fully staffed crew. I suppose the question is how reasonable he’s going to be.”

“When you found out about the kill switches, you were shocked and appalled. He knows about them and considers them a useful tool.”

“Yeah,” I sigh. “Yeah, it’s… it’s not ideal. We definitely can’t let him know they’ve been deactivated. Any ideas for how to mitigate the dangers here?”

“Beyond the obviously terrible idea of sabotaging the ship repairs, you mean?”

“Yeah, let’s… let’s not go down that route. That could only end badly.”

“Hmm. Well, he trusts you. And you’re the ship’s psychologist. He’ll probably want your input when it becomes time to revive people.”

“I have extremely limited information on the colonists. We don’t get full psych profiles or anything; I can’t predict their temperaments.”

“You can probably make good estimates on who’s actual prison guards and soforth, though. And you can use the leadership prioritisation rankings to know who’s a free person on board with this whole thing, and who wasn’t told, like you.”

“People in my group are less likely to be dangerous.” I nod. “Alright. You tell the others what’s going on and make sure nobody does anything stupid. For now, I guess we have to concentrate on getting this ship in good condition, and mitigating any dangers we can as they come up.” I let my shoulders sag in relief over the fact that it would be Lina’s job, not mine, to explain current events to Tinera. If I had to explain to her that Sands had given me her job specifically because he didn’t trust her or the other criminals with any kind of power, I wasn’t confident that I’d be able to talk her out of marching right up to him and starting a fight.

We finish the harvest and haul it to Adin’s tiny kitchen for him to deal with later, once he’s finished directing the engineers outside. I try not to think too hard about that mission. I have no idea what Adin’s like as a mission coordinator, but Tinera picked him over Tal and both of the doctors, so she must think he’s good. And she and Denish are both perfectly capable outside the ship, as much as anyone can be. There’s no specific reason to be concerned, except that the mission itself is inherently dangerous.

And in light of my conversation with Captain Sands, I can’t help but wonder if that’s why he’d wanted it done now, while he was still recovering and couldn’t go out. If he’d kept me out of it because it was dangerous. Did he view the convict crew members as inherently more disposeable?

Possibly. Something to keep an eye on.

Lina heads off to run some tests on Captain Sands, and I return o the garden. The garden doesn’t need any more work, but it feels wrong to go watch a movie or read a book or something while my crewmates are outside the ship risking their lives, so I prowl around Greenhouse Ring 2 looking for stray dandelions.

I jump when I hear the airlock open behind me, but it’s just Tal. “Hey, Aspen. The coolant lens thing is done.”

“Everyone okay?”

“Huh? Yeah. Of course. Lina says we’re not supposed t look like we’re planning stuff and freak the captain out, so I just came down here to give you this.” Ke comes toward me with a pen.

“The last time you guys tried not to look like you were planning stuff, I could definitely tell you were planning stuff, and it definitely did freak me – what are you doing?”

Tal doesn’t answer. Ke just grabs my wrist and scrawls a string of numbers on the inside of my arm. I blink at them.

“What is this?”

“Name of a video file. They saw something super weird out on the hull. Don’t watch it around the captain unless you want to have to explain a bunch of stuff to him. ‘Bye.”

“What do you mean they saw something weird on the hull?! What constitutes weird? Tal, what is this?”

But ke’s already closing the airlock.

Trying not to freak out in any visible way, I head straight for Network and Engineering Ring 1 – Sands prefers to use the back-of-ship facilities, so if I use the foremost network ring computers I probably won’t run into him.

Of course, I’m barely out of the greenhouse ring when I run into him. “Aspen! Do you have a minute?”

I glance at the numbers on my arm. “Uh… for what?”

“I’m putting together a list of replacement crew to revive. I want your opinion as a sociologist.”

“You’re reviving people already?”

“Well, not right this moment. We should probably start tomorrow. I think we should revive seven – that way, even if they all miraculously survive, them plus me won’t overwhelm the two medbays. Presumably they won’t all survive, so we’ll see who do, give them a few days to adapt and heal, and take their reactions and personalities into account when reviving people to fill the gaps.”

“Captain, the ship’s not in good shape. Surely you should finish all inspections and repairs first?”

“Why? More crew can help do that faster. The coolant and electricity systems are all in good shape now, or at least good enough shape for a full crew for the short time we have left, and anything else that breaks doesn’t really matter; we have the supplies to give us time to repair water or air or lighting.”

“And what if we can’t? What if something’s degraded to the point where it can’t support twenty one people? You at least need to check and inspect and – ”

“Aspen, this is an interstellar spaceship. It was known before launch that anything might need replacing. There are materials aboard for that sort of thing. I know that until now, you haven’t had any real engineers, so you’ve been limited in the sort of maintenance that you can do, but we don’t need to worry about that any more. Everything that’s currently limiting the crew size can be repaired or replaced, with time.”

Well, if this is happening, I should at least do as I’d promised Lina. If I fob him off now, he’ll probably just make the selections without me. I follow reluctantly.

“What’s on your arm?”

“Oh. Crop tallies.”

“That’s one problem, I guess – the bigger the crew, the less fresh veggies for each of us!”

We make our way to Network and Engineering Ring 1, where Sands already has his shortlist up on a computer. There’s something weird on the hull of our ship, but I have to deal with this first, I guess.

Twelve names. Two I recognise from the shortlist we pulled Sands from, so it looks like he’s getting us a full complement of proper engineers. There’s another Public Universal Friend on the list, too, which has the potential to get confusing. Friends still creep me out. I’m used to dealing with ours, but I’m not sure what they’re like in groups.

The first thing I check is their revival viability – one DIVR, ten in the sixty per cent range, one with a revival chance of twelve per cent.

I tap the name. “He’s going to die if we wake him up.”

“He has a twelve per cent chance of survival,” Sands points out. “And we’re going to have to wake him up eventually. That chance isn’t going to increase.”

“Hmm.” Sands doesn’t know, of course, that the low viability group’s brains are compromised by the AI, that they’ll never wake up. His point still stands, I suppose, in that they’re dead whether we stop their hearts now or in four years’ time, but it still feels worse, killing someone for certain rather than just risking their lives, even if it’s inevitable. If dreaming is all they have left… are they aware, in there, in the computer’s dreams? Is it a normal sleep to them? I don’t remember dreaming in chronostasis; I don’t remember being aware at all while the cerebral stimulator kept my brain healthy for the journey. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I wasn’t. I could have forgotten. People forget dreams all the time. If we kill this man, are we stealing four years from him or not?

Should we do it anyway?

It feels awful to think about, but… if we do want to keep the number of revived crew as low as possible, he’s essentially a freebie. For a few days, at least, until Sands decides to revive more.

No, it’s a bad idea. If we’re going to end up with a full crew anyway, me trying to slow things down is a waste of time. Better to focus on the people who’ll be my crewmates.

Next, I check how high they’re prioritised for all crew positions. As I’d expected, they all rank relatively high in at least one position – the engineers rank high as engineers, there’s a scientist, and ooh, a real psychologist – except for the Public Universal Friend. (Our Friend happens to be an accomplished doctor, but as a general rule, Friends are strongly averse to positions of authority – I have no doubt that if we had more crew with medical training, our Friend would request someone else be listed as medical officer and would act as their assistant.) I pretend to ponder their most prioritised rankings, but really, I’m checking how high they’re prioritised as a replacement captain.

According to Tinera’s model, anyone ranked 1-486 in priority for captaincy is part of Sands’ convict-state leadership group. Anyone ranked 1438-1952 is part of my civilian group. Leaders are dangerous – assuming that Sands won’t want to wake any more convicts, our best bet is to have as many civilians as possible.

Nobody on Sands’ list is higher in priority for captaincy than his own position (29th). This doesn’t surprise me. Eight of his choices are in the leadership group and four in the civilian group, so I need to make as strong an argument as possible for those civilians.

Said civilians include Public Universal Friend Six, one of the engineers, an astronavigator, and the scientist.

“Well, the engineers are a gimme,” I shrug. “We need real engineers.”

“Agreed,” Sands nods.

“As for the others…” I don’t want to make it too obvious what I’m doing, so I let myself skim the rest of the names. “A real psychologist would be nice.”

Sands raises an eyebrow. “As opposed to you?”

“I’m a sociologist. It’s a different job. I’m not trained to handle this sort of thing.” I look up some more information on Sands’ chosen psychologist, Ren Sunn. From Torandra, no religion, specialises in behavioural development. Well, okay, that isn’t the most applicable field, but it’s certainly closer to it than anyone else on the ship. “Why the Public Universal Friend?” I ask.

“They’re generally very useful,” Sands shrugs. “There’s a lot of general work to be done on a fully staffed ship and I don’t think we should be relying on the convicts entirely for it.”

“That makes sense.” It doesn’t, really, but whatever pads our crew out with civilians. I’m not sure how useful the other Friend will be, nor the scientist. But the astronavigator… “We’ll need an astronavigator. Not right away, but they’ll be vital in four years.”

“Yes, they’re not urgent. Perhaps we should hold off on that one…”

“N-no, we should wake them up. We’re already on an altered course, I’d feel a lot better with their eyes on things. And they probably have mathematics and IT knowledge… ” I bring up the navigator’s information. Sam Sareff, from Texas… ah, yes. Infoprocessing background. “I mean, I like Tal, but…”

“Some IT backup would be good, yes. Alright; the two engineers, the psych, the Friend and the navigator. We have two more spaces for the first revival round.”

Three of those people are in my civilian group, two in the potentially dangerous ‘kill codes’ leadership group. Two spaces left to fill, and one civilian left to take up a space… but they’re a scientist. I’m not sure I can convince Sands of the necessity of a laboratory scientist when we’ve already got a full complement of doctors and engineers.

Of course, depending on what’s out on the hull, we might need a scientist. Knowing my luck, the best choice will be whatever one I don’t make.

I look over the other options. Gardeners – unnecessary. Logistics officer – dangerous. More doctors…

“You’ve got new doctors here?”

“I’d rather not rely on Lina and the Friend for something this critical, if it can be avoided.”

“They’re perfectly good doctors! I don’t think a cancer doctor and a servant to all humanity is going to kill us in our sleep.”

“Don’t let their line of work fool you. The world is full of killer doctors.”

I nod. “We should do it, then. Revive the doctors.”

“You think?”

I nod again. “When we were reviving people, our capacity was limited by access to doctors. It’s supposed to be two doctors for a medbay. If we’re using both medbays, why not double the doctors? We’re about to have a lot of people who all need medical care.”

“The two doctors, then. Great choice.” Captain Sands claps me companionably on the shoulder. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” I get out of there and head to the other network ring, where I can watch Tal’s video in peace.

What did ke mean, there’s something weird on our hull?!

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“Alright,” Captain Sands announces, wiping coolant off his arm with a rag as he strolls into Recreation and Medical Ring 1, “the coolant system’s as fixed as it can get. Tal, go turn on the oxygen.”

Tal shoves one last piece of pancake into kes mouth, leaps up, and dashes for the medbay to access the terminal. I try not to get too excited. After collapsing, the captain took the advice of the doctors a lot more seriously and begrudgingly remained under observation until they pronounced him fit for duty less than twenty four hours ago. We’re all feeling a little nervous from living on canned air for so long, but it’s entirely possible that he might not be completely alert yet, so I try not to put too much faith in his repair abilities until the oxygenation system is actually functioning again without stressing the coolant system.

Captain Sands certainly looks more like a captain than I ever did. The perfect symmetry of his face extends to his entire body, barring a couple of small scars and missing fingernails, and he carries himself with confidence. His well-defined musculature survived chronostasis, and fills out his captain’s uniform – something I’d never bothered to search storage for for myself – nicely. His confidence bleeds over – when he walks into the room, it’s hard not to feel confident that we will indeed reach Hylara alive. Probably.

He sits down heavily at the picnic table and grabs a pancake. “You guys made these using the ship’s stores?”

Tal shrugs shyly. “Flour keeps really well so long as you keep oxygen and water out of it.”

“Still. Thirty five years. These are good! And that can’t be real butter, can it?”

“It’s an oil extract from some algae cultures we’ve got growing in Lab 2,” Lina explains. “We’ve got the consistency right, but the taste is still a bit – ”

“Tastes perfect to me. The honey’s from our bees, I assume?”


“Fantastic. Seems strange, doesn’t it, to be confined to a ship more than sixty light years from Earth and be eating better than many people back home?”

I shrug noncommittally. I’d never had any problem putting food in the cookpit back home, but that might not be true for the rest of the crew. Food shortages weren’t uncommon on Luna, at least; I had no idea about Texas.

Tal heads back to the table. “Oxygen’s on.”

“It’s working?” Captain Sands asks.


I listen carefully, but nothing sounds any different. I can’t hear any new machinery. But then, why would I? I’d never heard anything before the oxygenator broke, either.

“Great.” The captain finishes his pancake. “The cooling system is running at about sixty per cent efficiency. I replaced most of the hardware and that’s about as good as the internals can do. I think the external emitter lens is damaged; general wear and tear, I expect.”

That makes sense. There are a limited number of ways to radiate heat from an object in space. Either you have to collect heat in matter and vent the hot matter, or you have to vent it as light. Obviously, the second method is preferred, and was used for the javelin mission. But it does mean you need an external component to actually emit the light, or at least a component with an external lens. Thirty five years into a twenty year mission of being blasted with random space particles and near-lightspeed? Yeah, that lens is probably not in great shape.

“I’d go out and change it,” the captain says, “but somehow I don’t think the doctors want me out there just yet.” He glances at Lina and the Friend, who both shake their heads. “Yeah, I figured. Any of you guys been on the outside of the ship before?”

“We all have,” I say reluctantly, “but I have the most experience.” I’d better not die doing this.

“Nope, I need you for another job today, Aspen. Who’s second most experienced?”

“I will go,” Denish says.

“Nuh-uh.” Tinera shakes her head. “We’ve talked about this, ‘Nish. You’re way too big to be crawling around on the outside of a spinning ship.”

Denish swats her arm affectionately. “You are overprotective! Lens is this big.” He holds his hands about a metre and a half apart. “Will you carry it? With small arms, one good hand? Anyway, safety line can hold me just fine. We already checked.”

“Ugh, fine.”

“I’ll be his backup,” the Friend volunteers.

“That’s a no go.” Captain Sands shakes his head. “I don’t want doctors running around doing unnecessarily dangerous things. You two are too critical in your actual jobs, which don’t involve this kind of thing.”

Tinera narrows her eyes and glances around the table. I can see her dilemma; obviously, she can’t send Denish out alone, but Sands has accidentally vetoed every suitable assistant. If he himself, the head engineer, can’t do it, and I can’t do it, and neither of the doctors can do it… her eyes flick between Tal and Adin. Both more of a danger outside the ship than a help.

“We wait for Aspen,” Denish says decisively.

“Aspen’s not even an engineer any more,” Captain Sands points out. “I’m sure the entire ship doesn’t need to grind to a halt just because Aspen’s not available.”

“I’ll be Nish’s backup,” Tinera says decisively. “Adin, you’re monitoring and coordinating this mission.”

“Fantastic.” Captain Sands claps his hands together. “Aspen, can I see you a for a moment?”

I follow the captain away from the breakfast table and… into the next ring. Oh, so this is a properly private conversation then. Okay.

No sooner has the airlock closed behind us than he spins around and flashes me a smile. “You didn’t tell me that you were Aspen Greaves.”

I scowl at him. “This is what you pulled me away for? Does it matter?”

“Does it matter? Of course! I’m a huge fan. I’ve read all of your books; they inspired me to join the Javelin Program.”

“Well, if you managed to smuggle any aboard, I’ll happily sign them for you.”

“The data should be in the computers; I’ll print them out when we land and hold you to that. What’s your opinion of Tinera Li Null as a logistics officer?”

“Uh. What?”

“Tinera Li Null. Logistics officer. What’s your opinion of her abilities in this role?”

“Um. Fine? I mean, it’s a small crew and we don’t move supplies around much, so I don’t know how difficult a job that is – I think she spends more time working as an assistant engineer, all told. But she’s never made any noticeable mistakes with logistics.”

“Let me clarify the question. What’s your opinion of Tinera Li Null as a logistics officer, knowing that that makes her second in command?”

“Oh, that. She’s fantastic at that.”


“Absolutely. Tinera has an excellent head in a crisis. She hasn’t had to take command all that much – it’s not usually necessary day-to-day, being such a small crew – but when she is in command, she’s been great. She keeps a cool head, listens to her crew, and coordinates everyone perfectly. I can say with full confidence that Adin would almost definitely had died in space if it wasn’t for her the last time she was in command.”

“Interesting. So, no complaints about her leadership?”

“None as a second in command, or a crisis leader, no. If you mean leadership in general, I’d say she’s a bit… aggressive, and overly decisive.”

“How so?”

“Her first response to any kind of threat is to try to eliminate it as completely and directly as possible. Which is fine for a crisis situation, but in a long-term leader, I’m more confident in people more inclined to nuance. And she makes decisions very quickly, usually as soon as she has all relevant information, and doesn’t second-guess them without reason. She has no time or interest in reflection or regret for past decisions; if the decision can’t be unmade, she sees no point in discussing or dissecting it, just calls it a sunk cost and moves on. Which I don’t imagine is great for personal growth. Excellent second-in-command, though. If you need someone to back you up, someone to help coordinate things that are too big for you to handle, someone to be ready to make decisions when you can’t in an emergency, you want Tinera.”

“She outranks you now, you realise.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Does that bother you?”

“No. Should it?”

“It doesn’t bother you that the woman you described as overly aggressive and incapable of self reflection can give you orders?”

“That’s not what I said about her. And no, it doesn’t. The last time she gave me orders, it saved Adin’s life.”

“Hmm. Well, regardless. I called you here to inform you that you’re getting a promotion. You’re our new logistics officer.”

“But… the computer assigned…”

“The computer assigns roles based on preprogrammed priorities. I’m the captain; I can change them. You just told me that logistics is a really easy job with such a small crew, and I’d much rather you as a second in command than her, so here we are. We’ll change it in the system after we announce it to the rest of the crew. Congratulations, Logistics Officer Greaves.”

“But… why?”

He purses his lips. “I don’t want to frighten you, but you’re actually in quite a bit of danger. You have been since you started reviving crew members.”

“I’m in danger.”

“We both are. I know you made the best possible decisions you could in the circumstances, and frankly it’s amazing that you managed to hold everything together for this long, but there’s some information that you might not be aware of. You’re a sociologist; you understand how complicated and labour-intensive expanding into new land and rendering it fit for humans is, yes?”

“I suppose so. The entire premise of Arborea was – ”

“Yes, yes, but your ancestors had it on easy mode. A whole lot of brilliant scientists, a singular goal – very admirable. But they grew their lands from the safety of their own parent nations, or vast ships maintained by other nations, drawing in resources as they needed; they had a lot to work with and a small population to look after. They had home bases, is what I’m saying. Support outside the land they’re building. We’re going to terraform a plant with no backup – just what we have on this ship. And we’re going to need to work quickly. As such, the javelin program relied on more traditional strategies. Like Luna.”

“Convict labour.”

“Exactly. Aspen, I’m sorry to inform you that Tinera Li Null, your superior officer until we get to a computer terminal to change that, is a murderer.”

“Uh. Okay.”

“You must be in shock. I get that. When you’ve grown close to someone for so long, learned to rely on them, it’s a shock to hear. But I’m afraid it’s true – committed, tried, convicted. Killed a boy with a kitchen knife. You said she’s aggressive; has she ever threatened you? Ever posed any kind of danger?”

“No! No, she’s never done anything like that.” She had been completely ready to kill me if I posed a danger back when she thought I had the codes to her kill switch, but that’s different. That’s self defense.

“Good, so she’s playing nice for now. What about the others?”

“What about them?”

“Aspen, I don’t want to startle you, but you were remarkably unlucky in reviving crewmates. Apart from us, this entire crew is hardened criminals.”

That hadn’t been luck. Well, some of it had, but mostly it had been the Friend, trying to keep the number of people able to kill other crew members at will as low as possible, and making revival decisions accordingly.

“How do you know that?” I ask. “I mean, I checked everyone’s files when I was captain, and that information wasn’t available to me.”

“The information’s privileged to the logistics officer for some reason, but there’s ways around that. It’s a stupid restriction anyway. Surely the captain should know everything possible about his crew and the colonists in his care?”

“Well, the Big Data Problem – ”

“Yes, yes; too much information is too easily misinterpreted and results in biases and bad decisions. But surely a lack of information is more dangerous – look at the situation it put you in, surrounding yourself with murderers and rapists and soforth.”

“Wait, there are rapists on the crew?!”

“… Well, no, there aren’t. But there could have been! And there are several murderers, which is worse. The point is, anyone put in charge of a spaceship like this should be someone smart enough to make good decisions with good information, right? If they’re prone to Big data fallacies, then why put them in charge in the first place? And yes, I know neither of us were chosen for this job, but we weren’t ever expected to take charge; the information should be available because it should have been available to the proper captains, Kae Jin and Reimann. It’s the principle of the matter. Anyway, the point is, we’re surrounded by criminals. Have they hurt you? Threatened you? Tried to take anything from you?”

“There’s nothing to take,” I point out. “It’s a spaceship. And no, everyone’s stepped up and gone above and beyond both on and off duty.”

“Good, so they’re trying to play nice for as long as possible. That’s good. It gives us time to work with.”

“Time to do what?”

“Time to get this ship back in order. Once I’ve finished repairing and upgrading all systems, we’ll be able to support a full-size crew again. We can wake trustworthy, competent people, and that’ll make us a lot safer.”

Ten minutes ago, I would’ve been thrilled at the idea of finally having a full crew. But from this angle… “What are you going to do to the current crew?”

“What do you mean? I’m not going to do anything to them. On a fully staffed crew they’ll be outnumbered. There’s precautions – kill switches – that mean that convicts can be removed as a threat if they become a threat, but with six of them and two of us, they could overpower us and take over the ship if they get antsy. With six of them and fifteen trustworthy crew, they’re far more likely to behave themselves. If they do their jobs and don’t cause trouble, everything will be fine. But first, we need the ship in working order, so until that’s up and running, play along. Don’t let them realise that you know what they are.”

“I think you might be overreacting. The crew have been exemplary, and we all have mistakes in our past that we regret – ”

“If they were the type to regret their crimes, they wouldn’t have committed them in the first place. You yourself said that Tinera’s incapable of growth or change.”

“That’s not what I said!”

“Well, regardless. If they do want to be good people, then we’re doing them a favour by making it as hard as possible for them to relapse. If they don’t, we need to protect ourselves. I know they’re your friends, and that’s a good thing. If they like you, you’re a lot safer than if they don’t. Just… be careful. And Aspen… I’m sorry you had to find out this way.” Captain Sands claps a hand companionably on my shoulder. “Now, let’s get to a computer terminal and get you properly promoted to second in command.”

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