28 July 2080 13:20
The ship bucked and buckled. Alarms blared and blazed.
"Silence the alarms," Captain Michael Evans calmly ordered, thinking, Casindra never reported anything like this!
"KILL THE ALARMS", he yelled across the hullabaloo, eyeing the row of red indicators as the cacophony died away, and making a quiet note in his log to have the automatic cutoff activate much more promptly. He watched some of the indicators return to orange, and one even went green as calm returned to the bridge. "Critical systems report," he ordered per regulation. This compound report automatically prioritized individual reports as a function of criticality of system and disruption. Unless the ship was about to blow up, life support and artificial gravity should be top of the list – and indeed the color-coded list that appeared was headed by AGG.
The voice that accompanied this had stilted metallic tones to mark it as a level 1 artificial intelligence belonging to one of the autonomous subsystems. "Artificial gravity nominal, life support nominal, scrubbers at 40%, emergency oxygen enrichment active on Deck 3, hull breach autosealed forward of the port maintenance bay on Deck 3."
The leftmost light was already orange again, and the window above them was showing deck views focused around Deck 3 with the indicated areas of Engineering magnified into view as the system reported on them. ETR was still not showing, and O2 enrichment reserve was a little over 2 hours. "Expected Time to Repair," he queried.
A human voice responded – it took Evans a moment to identify it as belonging to Lt Parker, one of the Life Support Engineering team. "We have evacuated and closed off the forward compartment of Deck 3 and ceased enrichment. AGG Engineer Roberts was the only crewmember in there but got out quickly. He seems fine, but has been sent to Medbay for observation. ETR for restoration of full scrubbing on remaining decks is less than one hour. We have enough spares to simply replace the damaged units on Deck 2. Deck 1 is maintaining at nominal.” Deck 1 was the cargo deck and less critical, but Deck 2 encompassed the main bridge and both medbays, and housed most of the command crew.
Evans could see the damaged scrubbers red coded on his exploded deck view – he couldn’t help smiling at the thought of that bit of ironic terminology. And then he really had something to smile about as the two scrubbers on Deck 2 changed from red to green – the command deck had rightly received priority attention. "Thank you lieutenant, well done! Captain out," he acknowledged formally.
As Evans thumbed off the life support channel, the next light highlighted and the screen reoriented the ship schematic to show engines.
A strident cockney assailed his ears, leaving no doubt that it was Chief Ballard in person. "The forward reflector on the port EM drive is badly crumpled and will take the best part of week to properly repair – I’ve got the bots onto it, but it may not be usable on wormhole exit. Starboard EM, main nuclear thrusters and starboard chemical thrusters are operational. Port steering thrusters will take at least a full shift to fix, let’s say 12 hours. We should have another two days in the wormhole, and I am prioritizing a full assessment of the damaged EM cavity, in the hope that we can have full reverse thrust available by the time we reach normal space.”
Evans had tuned out for a moment has he contemplated the impact of being without one of the two EmDrives. It was not just a matter of doubling the time of their acceleration and deceleration phases, but the need to reconfigure and rebalance the ship. Then something in Ballard’s ongoing report caught his attention: “We could be running it close there, and that’s assuming we don’t get another gamma blast. I've also transferred technicians to support restoration of life support in the cargo deck as I’m concerned about the gen2 cryobeds.”
“Gamma blast?” he interjected.
"All microwave and nanowave sensors were off the scale! The bump was partly a result of the radiation overloading the AGGs – but they are all functioning at nominal now. The damage to the EM cavity seems to be external in nature – the wormhole must have temporarily contracted around the ship. Science has already accessed the logs."
Yes, AGG was the first system to return to green – repairs without artificial gravity generation would have been a real pain. And five days out of the wormhole without reverse thrust… at a differential exit speed of over 500 kilometers a second, that could take them a quarter of a billion kilometers out of position, almost 2AU. "Thank you Chief, you’ve got your work cut out for you and I’ll leave you to it… Captain out!"
Next was cryogenics, in a mellow alto voice with a Welsh lilt: "Bellamy here! The western cryoring isn't looking so good. Seventy-two gen2 beds have failed, along with life support. Emergency resuscitation is ongoing. All cryo and medical shifts have been called in. We seem to be having successful recoveries, but some patients show significant disorientation and suspected brain damage. The first few were taken to medical, but we don't have the capacity for them all. Recommendation is prep for immediate recryo in a spare cryobeds irrespective of their condition. Survival rate for rapid recryo is estimated at 80% based on primate data. Better than that if it can be kept short."
Cryochief Bellamy was a new arrival Evans hadn’t really gotten to know yet, and now he had hard decisions to make based on her report.
Provisioning and life support was on the basis of 16 waking crew for the in-system transits with an overlapping crew of 28 for the wormhole transit. The ship had been provisioned with a 100% overrun margin on its one year voyage, and 10% additional cryobeds, plus those designated for the crew. Moraturi can't handle another 50 let alone 100, Evans concluded.
"Agreed,” Evans replied “Get everyone you can back into cryo. Limit waking treatment to emergency cases and at most half a dozen patients to explore the brain damage. We can't accommodate more than eight extra passengers, and we only have ten medbeds. Engineering reports overscale X-ray exposure, but the bridge crew seems fine and I've heard no reports of radiation sickness."
Chief Medical Officer Parry chimed in out of the black – Evans instantly recalled that the CMO was automatically commed in when lives were at stake. “Can take up to 24 hours for symptoms of radiation syndrome to present, although tests will be able to detect damage earlier. That's one reason why I want to retain cryosubjects from each compartment. Will limit to 10 breathers and will not resuscitate further medical staff. CMO out!"
Ignoring the slight breach of protocol from the busy Chief Medical Officer, Evans continued down through the less critical systems, looking at damages and casualties, talking to the chiefs where clarification or encouragement seemed to be needed.
Sideris had reported on a radiation storm, and there had been disruption of the wormhole. Perhaps it was worth another look at the logs from SS Casindra. Paradisi might not be quite the paradise they were expecting.
29 July 2080 07:00
The noise of someone shuffling around the room woke him. Bill lay with his eyes closed as he took in the unfamiliar sounds and the sharp clean smells surrounding him. Where was he? Who were these people? He could hear a muffled conversation, then a sharp tap of feet as someone left the room.
He felt someone approach and lean over him, then turn away and tap on a pad.
“Mr Robertson! Are you awake? William? Bill? Can you hear me?”, asked a pleasant female voice. He opened his eyes as she moved away and tapped a panel, turning back to catch him looking at her. “Dr Saunders!” she spoke into the panel. “Mr William Robertson is awake! Bed B5!”
He hardly heard the muffled response as he watched the nurse move back to him. “What’s going on? Where am I?”, he asked her. He recognized the hint of fear in his voice, and tried to dial it down, speaking calmly and quietly.
“You’re on the Moraturi, there’s been an accident. What do you remember?”
“The Moraturi?” There was that edge of panic again. What’s Moraturi? A ship? Have I been kidnapped? Come to think of it I have every right to be afraid – angry even… But the nurse didn’t look like a kidnapper…
“Yes, the SS Moraturi – you’ve been in cryosleep!”
“Cryosleep?” The quality of his scintillating conversation was embarrassing him. Here he was talking to an attractive nurse, and he could hardly get one word out edgewise!
Bill was saved further embarrassment by another, more authoritative voice.
“Thank you, Nurse Hughes! I can take it from here.”
Bill turned his head cautiously to see tall man in his mid-thirties. He took in the old-fashioned sportscoat and wireframe glasses, and the pretentious manner that went with them as the guy turned to address him.
“My name is Dr Saunders, and yours is, I believe, William Robertson.”
“Bill!” he managed to sputter out. “Bill Robertson! Where am I? Where’s my family?”
“What do you remember?”
“I remember Mum and Dad coming to get me from school – about a week early. They said they had a surprise for me?”
“And Bill drove us away! Bill, the chauffeur, is also Bill.”
“How old are you Bill?”
“17, I think! Almost 17 maybe? Is it my birthday? I was about to have my 17th birthday. I was going home early for my birthday!”
He was pleased that he was starting to get some of the facts clear. The doctor seemed reasonably happy too, although he was looking down punching something into his pad.
“What was the surprise, Bill? Do you remember what the surprise was? Was it a good one?” Bill was focusing on the frowning doctor and hardly heard the nurse’s questions, responding with questions of his own.
“Where’s my brother, Tom? He’s also turning 17! He’s my twin! He was also in the car! Did we have a car accident? Is he okay?”
Bill switched his attention back to the nurse, both of them ignoring the increasing glare from the doctor. “No, there wasn’t a car accident. And yes, Tom is here in the next bed!” She half turned towards the doctor and asked “Is it okay if I open the curtain so that…”
“Yes, Nurse Hughes. Do open the curtain! And then perhaps you should go check on Tom and the other patients.”
Even as the nurse left, Dr Saunders launched into his interrogation, questioning him hard, trying to get him to remember anything that came after getting into that car, but not telling him a thing. He started working backwards… “What else do you remember about that day? What about the day before? The week before? The month before?” And it all became a big blur.
Once the doctor had gone, Nurse Hughes came back, but Bill’s eyes shifted to the slender gray robotic orderly trundling behind, holding a tray of breakfast. The nurse’s friendly voice brought his attention back to her: “Nothing big for your first meal, just some chocolate milk and some strawberry yoghurt! But before you try to tackle that, doctor said the drip can come out.”
Bill had hardly even noticed the tubes, and watched in some trepidation as the nurse took them out – very quickly and competently, but at the same time continuing to chat reassuringly. “There we go… Now let’s sit you up a bit…”
While he ate, the nurse continued to chatter on pleasantly. “Do you remember me from yesterday, when you first came out of cryo?” Tom hesitated for a moment and shook his head mutely. How could I forget her?
“I’m very disappointed! I’m Eva and we had quite a nice talk. You told me quite a bit about yourself and your brother. You said you wanted to train to be an engineer, a robotics engineer – and your brother, he wants to be an aerospace engineer.”
“Engineers, yes – we want to study engineering. I want to study in Cardiff, and Tom plans to study in Bristol. But cryo? Why were we in cryo?”
“Do you know about Paradisi? The Paradisi System? The Paradisi Project? Reach Corp?”
“My dad’s regional manager for Reach Corp. in the UK. The project they’re working on in Cardiff is about Mars. But I’ve not heard anything about Paradisi!”
“Oh, it’s all been a bit hush hush! Paradisi is a newly discovered system in the Andromeda galaxy, that has three planets capable of supporting life. The wormhole to Paradisi starts from near Jupiter, or at least somewhere in Jupiter’s orbit – do you know what a Lagrange Point is?” Eva paused, but Bill just seemed confused – so she explained.
Bill was already feeling dazed and tried desperately to catch a few relevant facts from the stream of information. There was something about places where the gravitational and centrifugal forces balance out. He enjoyed listening to her voice and watching her face animate as she warmed to her subject. And eventually some of it started to percolate through again.
“SJL4 precedes Jupiter in its orbit around the sun but is hidden from Earth by millions of asteroids both in Jupiter’s orbit and in intermediate orbits – all good camouflage for a top secret base.”
“So that was the surprise! I’m on my way to Jupiter?”
“That was the first part of the surprise I suppose – been there, done that! Or at least you went to Ida which is an asteroid that was pushed out to Jupiter’s orbit, orbiting SJL4 where they’re building the support base for the wormhole. But now you’re in the wormhole and on your way to New Eden. Our mission is to set up the first human settlements on New Eden, the most earth-like of the three planets in the Goldilocks zone – not too hot, not too cold, just right!”
“I’m sure my brother would know about Lagrange places and wormholes, as he’s interested in astronautics… But I thought wormholes were science fiction, or at least purely theoretical. Sorry if I seem a bit dumb, but… could you please explain everything from the beginning.”
Eva took a quick look around the ward. Bill wasn’t sure if she was making sure the other patients didn’t need her, or watching in case Dr Saunders came back and caught her talking to him.
“Around 50 years ago scientists managed to figure out how to create wormholes, and then how to target them and keep them open wide enough and long enough to send down probes that could open a wormhole back – and Solar Horizons directed them to promising systems, looking for a place to colonize as part of a top secret project, the Paradisi Project. Reach Corp at some point became the primary contractor for the project, and later was also responsible for determining and recruiting the specialists required for the precolonization missions. Reach Corp Wales was responsible for the mission, and presumably your dad would have played a part in that.”
“I guess, but he never mentioned Paradisi… What is Paradisi exactly?”
“The name Paradisi is evidently a bible-inspired reference to the promised land, the perfect place for the human race to resettle. It was eventually bestowed on a star in the Andromeda Galaxy, a sun with a planet much like Earth, that they called New Eden.”
“And that’s where we’re going… Has it been scouted out? What is waiting for us there?”
“We sent several unmanned probes, and one manned mission. They reported back in huge detail: there’s already life on New Eden. You’re on SS Moraturi whose mission is to start a colony on New Eden with 500 people – you’re one of them.”
Eva looked to see how Bill reacted to that.
“So I’m on a top-secret mission to colonize another galaxy…”
“This mission is to sow the seeds, literally. Its focus is establishing farming settlements. The next mission, with another 500 or so people, will concentrate on setting up mining colonies, including some other planets and moons and asteroids. The aim is to set up the infrastructure for mass colonization – within a decade there will be a massive 100,000 colonists on a flotilla of 10 huge ships. Reach Corp. is building them, and you might have heard of SS Challenge.”
Bill nodded. “My father has often talked about the Challenge, and I gather it is huge. I recall that it has the prototype of the first ever successful Artificial Gravity Generator, and is designed for exploring the solar system and supporting the lunar and Mars colonies. But I haven’t heard anything about going to Paradisi or New Eden - the talk has all been about Mars.”
“Moraturi has AGG too, a much smaller (but still very expensive) version for a much smaller ship – that’s why you are experiencing normal gravity, actually what we have on Moraturi is about 0.9G, 90% of Earth’s gravity… Except in the gym which is maintained at a full 1G. As for the Solar Foundations project, the bases at Mars are really just a front for the colonization of Paradisi. It’s a huge project but one that’s very much been kept in the family. Your whole family is on board and heading for New Eden – mine will be on the next mission.”
Bill finished his yoghurt and they continued to chat, talking about their families and their backgrounds and their interests and plans. But then he suddenly felt a wave of exhaustion and the nurse helped him lie down – reassuring him that this was only to be expected. They continued talking, but he was finding it hard to keep his eyes open. Then they both became aware that the gently regular beep from Tom’s bed had changed.
“Hold on a tick – looks like your brother’s waking up.”
Bill started to push himself up, only to find Eva’s gently pushing him down and shaking her head. Only when she hopped up did he realize she’d been sitting on his bed, holding his hand as they talked. He watched as she walked across to his brother.
“Mr Robertson! Are you awake? Tom? Tom? Can you hear me?”
Bill smiled as he recognized the same phrasing he’d heard just a couple of hours ago, when Nurse Hughes woke him. Eva, he recalled – testing the feel of her name in his mind. Well Tom, I got to her first.
29 July 2080 09:20
Eva wasn’t really a nurse – well not a human nurse! Well she was human, unlike the robotic aids in the medbays, but she was qualified as a veterinary nurse – animals not people – and had a degree in Zoology and Animal Behavior. Eva had finished up her placement as a large animal vet, and was supposed to complete her veterinary and medical doctorates during the mission – under the tutelage of various professors: the Moraturi cryobeds held the academic faculty of what was effectively a small but flexible technical university. Hopefully the passengers would survive the experience with their memories and skills intact.
Eva was excited at the opportunity she had with this Medbay secondment and the interesting amnesia cases – she had been roped in from Vetbay because of the emergency: scores of cryobeds failing at once plus a stack of people exhibiting dissociation and memory loss on awakening. The Captain had permitted only 10 dementia subjects to be kept awake, and Bill had been one of the first to wake – but when he mentioned his brother Tom, it’d only taken a few taps on a pad to establish that he had also been subject to cryo failure, as had their mother Evalyn – while their father Huw was still in cryo.
Dr Saunders had also been quite pleased with the opportunity to study the amnesia syndrome with identical twins raised in a close family environment. Eva didn’t like the amnesia label though, nor the idea of treating patients as if they were experimental subjects. Her interactions with Bill yesterday and today showed very localized short term memory issues, relatively few holes in long term memory, and a specific inability to remember things from one day to the next – something affecting transfer from working memory to long term memory while at the same time degrading connections in long term memory that were still plastic. But Dr Saunders was not willing to discuss his theories with her, and his heavy handed and unsympathetic approach railed against everything she believed in.
With his squinty eyes, strong lenses and aquiline nose, Saunders resembled a rhinoceros – or perhaps that was more a function of his bedside manner. Dr Saunders didn’t seem to have any particular concern for the well-being of his patients, while Eva had a stack of concerns – but didn’t in any way want to provide fuel for his experiments.
Eva’s conversation with Bill yesterday had been almost identical to the one today – apart from details relating to drips and chocolate milk and strawberry yoghurt, and the personal sharing over the last half hour.
Her conversation with Tom had been similar too, but somehow – despite being identical twins – there wasn’t quite the same rapport. Bill seemed to have fallen straight back to sleep after she headed over to Tom. So much for wanting to see his brother so strongly that she’d thought she might have to physically restrain him – in a sense she did, holding his hand with one hand and resting the other firmly on his torso to discourage him from trying to get up. Much the same technique she used with some of those farm animals she had to deal with!
Tom had a slightly longer memory gap – he remembered the pickup plan as being for “tomorrow” and for him, his birthday was two days off. But he also seemed to have a lot more detail about their last week at school.
It was a while since her physiology of memory course, but she though that memory consolidation was quite quick, and from the birthdate and cryoanesthesia dates she could see there was three days of memory loss for Bill and four for Tom – ignoring the almost seven months they had spent in cryo before the jump through the wormhole gate. Bill had been more centrally located in the cryohold than Tom, who was near the outer wall, although in the same sector. Their mother had been in the adjacent sector. Generally, families were split across the four holds to ensure that a disaster wouldn’t take out whole families in one go – cynically, she half suspected that the loss of diversity was the main factor here, although admittedly they did have genetic samples from everyone on board, including stem cells and gametes. The same rules applied to her animals. Fortunately, none of their cryobeds had been disrupted, and the awake animals seemed to have held up well.
Eva made a note for Dr Saunders, cross-referencing the records of Tom and Bill and noting the difference in their memory deficits and the potential correlation with distance from the hull. She also noted that their father was still in uninterrupted cryo.
She hoped that tomorrow, Bill would remember her. She hadn’t drawn particular attention to the loss of memory of yesterday, although it was pretty obvious, and Tom also had little recollection of yesterday. But that was a fairly typical issue with fast revival, however induced.
Dr Saunders seemed to be quite strong about “no personal interactions or relationships with the patients,” and Eva didn’t want to raise that chestnut, and perhaps get transferred to the other Medbay, or sent back to her Vetbay. Although to be honest, she thought that in the present situation, extensive dialogue with the patients was exactly what was needed for proper assessment and treatment. But he was the psychiatrist…
Eva felt very fortunate to be one of the few to be awake for the passage through the wormhole. She had thought she’d have her head in her medical texts the whole way – but to be actually looking after human patients was a real bonus!