Something Goes Wrong in Space (Idea) Part II
Last report on Something Goes Wrong in Space:
Here follows a non-chronological account of what goes wrong in space. And how.
Developed by me and Drakekin.
The Point of No Return (Incident T0)
This is the first scene. We start with a slow scene where the ISV Alhambra releases all the pods layer by layer, expertly navigating them through the fine mesh of the honeycomb framework. Our surviving characters are rather solemn, trained not to panic (as the ones who didn’t catch this training have all, ah, panicked and died).
Something humanoid but toadlike floats toward the giant dish, at the centre of which our characters are sitting, watching through thick crystal. Someone squeezes someone else’s shoulder as the thing bumps into the dish with a creaking, clanging sound that is heard through the metal. It climbs down a railing a long way, into the air chamber and closes the door, pressurises the chamber, and goes inside. This is Danetage. Ze deflates into a more human shape, with machinelike sounds, and quickly is presented with hir non-spacesuit and then hugged.
[number of crew awake: 41; sleeping: 220; dead: 419]
Danetage gets hugged, and then scooted off to an ‘interview’ with Solvieg. They’re in the climate controlled area to let Danetage feel as safe as possible; it is unpleasant for Sol, but she does not let that show. Not all of the conversation is shown: some of the time the camera is more focused on the despair of the crew and how they stare at the ‘fish skeleton’ their ship has become. (People shudder at that phrase.) Sometimes the dialogue of the Sol/Danetage conversation is muffled or muted to show the disorientation of the crew and machines. The gist of the conversation is that something went wrong, and if you people at the bridge hadn’t sodded up this wouldn’t be happening.
(Crewmembers who are still in space, die. All the ejections of pods crush them, some flung out into space, others crushed by two different pods, etc.)
The android ambassador ask how they can be of assistance. They are ignored. Kiloyield talks to them about nothingness, which gets grim.
Someone still thinks they can save most of the pods by radio-controlling them to steer toward the planet, and land in the sea (if the planet has a sea, which it might).
[number of crew awake: 37; sleeping: 220; dead: 423]
Wvera goes back to listening to the ansible and becomes worried it might be infected by That-Which-Speaks. She tries to discuss this with Irving, who is distraught by the fact that they have no radio with Antruth or Danetage, and also the report that the sunsail covering the hole in the deflector isn’t holding still – it’s doing what sunsails do, which is to move. He’s telling some engineers to put the deflector dish to spin to minimise the damage to the superstructure by having sunlight only pass every now and then. It is revealed, however, that he pseudo-remembers That-Which-Speaks’ voice.
Antruth and Danetage arrive at the level of the ship where the cargo spire main control node is. Danetage, while ze still has usable vocal cords and isn’t all blowfished up, asks if Antruth shouldn’t turn the radio on. But it’s a simple thing we’re doing and we don’t need more of that douchetrucks’ ‘jokes’, says Antruth. Danetage puffs up.
They start manually ejecting and restructuring pods to get into the ship. Eventually they are inside and have a double airtight seal and Antruth turns on an atmosphere pod and leaves the spacesuit. They have to keep tetrising the pods in order to move toward the shutting-off-node, which they are aware might have turned into something else once they get there, given the reshuffling of the computer.
As they’re walking through the honeycombs and finding the computer, Danetage – half deflated to speak and manoeuvre – freaks out about it being a brain. Antruth just wants to get this over with. But they’re people! Not more than, say, a fish is. Fish don’t feel pain, ‘Tage. Shuts it down slowly. The ship is still under the impression that they have arrived and it should unload, because Antruth’s radio was off since the joke that was in poor taste, and the bridge can’t control anything blindly. Antruth gets sucked out into vacuum and dies. Danetage finds the airtank and sucks some air from it, inflating hirself, thinking fuckfuckfuck.
[number of crew awake: 43; sleeping: 220; dead: 417]
They are still talking about different ways they might conceivably save all those pods, but the options are getting more ridiculous and no-one seems willing to start doing anything. “Let’s shoot little nanocarbotube-grapple hooks at all the things we can reach…”
Some people manage to make their way back to the bridge, by luck or ingeniousness.
The atmosphere has gone down the shitter. Irving and Kiloyield try to convince Clokstamm (who is busy dealing with people who need medical attention) to give them bodymods to survive in a vaccuum. Clokstamm is dismissive.
Irving goes away and tries to talk to Wvera about the ansible, but she’s locked herself in the ansible room and tells him to go away and fetch someone else, as her radio’s jammed somehow and she can’t talk to anyone else on the ship.
The engine fires again and they hear the horrible crunching metal-travelled noise of the fine mesh accordioning together.
[number of crew awake: 35; sleeping: 220; dead: 425]
When they load Antruth and Danetage into the lift, and some corpses get a space viking funeral, Antruth and Danetage feel like they’re in just another coffin. Wvera does the priestly stuff related to the funerals. Before Antruth and Danetage set out toward the computer shutdown central, there is a little fight about how the fuck Irving could have survived, in which some angry words are said – calling Antruth a spider, calling Irving someone who Listens and will doom us all.
The people at the bridge are fighting a bit still when they go away, but Sol is handling it. Explaining survivor’s guilt and so. The mood lightens up considerably and they smile a bit, even. Some humour is attempted. They’re talking with Antruth over the radio, and Irving makes that joke about Space Odyssey 2001 and then there’s radio silence and some freaking out.
[number of crew awake: 47; sleeping: 220; dead: 413]
The engine fires again, and one of the special tasks crew report that there’s a semiotic virus that has infected a lot of the brain imprints in the crew sections. The readings are all off. They revert, and revert again, but the virus is retroactive. They are wiped, and a bunch of people are sent out to collect the yearly backup copies from one of the safe storage pods before it floats away completely. This is due to the crew mentality, that crew looks after crew. A stray, mostly invisible, reflector dish (having come loose from the main dish) hits one of them and cracks the barrels and spills their jet fuel, the crew looks away when the inevitable happens.
They can still access the original backups. The very first versions. Just need to figure out which pod they were in, access it wirelessly, and mass download.
Kiloyield Ob proposes that they open the skull of an android ambassador, because if he was one of the other crew he would put his crewmates’ personalities and memories into the androids. He, of course, would be very thorough in deleting them, but maybe other people are less – he will shut up now.
[number of crew awake: 31; sleeping: 178; dead: 471]
The ship computer vents one of the crew stasis chambers, giving them undignified space funerals without ice cannons. The sleeping crew members of other rotations are killed – out of nine sets of stasised crews, what amounts to three crews survive. The current crew manage to stop it venting their living quarters by shutting down the main link between the command pod network and the damaged cargo spire network.
Robots and crew gather back the frozen and melted crew that has died all around the ship, reports of singular deaths keep coming in. Struck by micrometeor. Sunsickness (the longing, whilst in space, to swim out to where the sunlight is). Spontaneous nudism. Life support systems failure. Psych counsellor can’t possibly talk to everybody at once, but tries.
The bodies that are here are packed tight into pods and ice-cannoned out for proper space funerals.
The rebooting plan is set to work: Antruth and Danetage volunteer.
[number of crew awake: 49; sleeping: 220; dead: 411]
The whalesong of the accordioning is still going on, and the blast of the jet explosion is inaudible. With their tiny thrusters, manoeuvring the dish away from where the engine will crash into it is taking time and they can’t tell how long it will take. Sometimes it gets stuck a while and takes the engine alone with it in the spin. They unfurl the sunsails and expand the wings on one side but not the other, so they will tilt faster. However, due to Irving’s telling them to set it to spin, earlier, the unfurled bit of sunsail has to move counter to the spin, which complicates things.
Someone or someones is set to watch the frozen crew to make sure the virus doesn’t resurface. They calm themselves by pointing out that they have the sleeping crews’ tags, they can get the Interstellar Capital to send them the brain scans of the crew, once they get to the planet.
Kiloyield talks at Irving about Wvera, and starts trying to develop a counter-virus to the That-Which-Speaks one. By experimenting on the ambassadors. Irving is not forthcoming with information. Kiloyield guesses that Irving is infected, kisses him once and tells him of the backup-ansible that they had all kept secret from him. It’s in the engine room.
The superstructure snaps with a horrible, colossal sound, and the whalesong stops for a moment. There is silence on the ship.
[number of crew awake: 30; sleeping: 173; dead: 477]
Kiloyield returns from space, steps out of the airlock chamber. People thought he was dead. He calls for androids and tries to tell them horrible existential-crisis-inducing things, but it turns out they’ve been wiped. Some crew-members confront Solvieg about this. It turns out that the wipes didn’t entirely take: after a little conversation with Kiloyield, he finds a way to awaken echoes of memories of past initialisations.
Cue existential anguish.
The brainstorm team decides that alright, we should reboot the computer as a low-ranking officer and then pray.
[number of crew awake: 56; sleeping: 612; dead: 12]
There is silence, and then there is whalesong again. Manoeuvring away away away, detaching the dish from the accordion with precise thrusters, having it scrape more whalesonglike against the back of the dish, using some remote-controlled pods with their 10 seconds of thrust each to move the engine. Some of the crewmembers are still melted against things, and some of them get scraped off from the back of the dish by the pillar’s superstructure.
Inside the ship, tension is rising. Irving is nowhere to be found. Kiloyield runs out of android ambassadors to test the semiotic virus on, so they now have a room full of That-Which-Speaks-infected androids. He apologizes.
They discuss various manners in which they could escape. They all seem like suicide.
Plan 1: taking a chance that the planet ansible is not corrupted and just getting into the pods and landing in the ocean (if there is an ocean). This plan includes remote-controlling all the other pods as well, pushing them into trajectories that have a 20% chance of landing on the planet. With a matter replicator, they should be able to survive.
Plan 2: just keeping doing this and hope they can get away from the firing engine.
Plan 3: talk to the ansible but quicker. This way is way less secure, and it is estimated that Speech is heard 30% more often if you do this. Also, they ponder, someone needs to talk to Wvera.
Plan 4: actual suicide.
Plan 5: go over there, reattach things, and talk to the engine, to convince it to be reasonable and not kill them. Upon looking at this plan, they realize that Irving’s out there in a spacesuit, trying to get to the engine room.
Someone manages to access the backups, accidentally installs them in their own head. Feeds them into the right place and dies.
[number of crew awake: 29; sleeping: 173; dead: 478]
Automatic venting and ejecting procedure of cargo pods is halted at the 3.5% mark, thankfully. The ship computer comes back online from reshuffling but several of the new sectors have been damaged by heat. The ship begins, again, venting and ejecting sections of the auxiliary storage on the control section. Most of the crew remember their training and are being pragmatic, though some who didn’t pay as much notice, start panicking.
Disengaging of ejection controls is begun, and a brainstorm is held, of ways to fix the computer. Conversation with the computer begins, but the computer has assigned itself top-ranking officer and doesn’t listen to the humans that well. Ideas proposed: convince it it’s a different ship. Convince it the ship’s meant to look like this. Convince the ship it’s a person. Kill the computer and ride manually the next three-and-some-years.
The airlock chamber makes unexpected noises.
[number of crew awake: 57; sleeping: 612; dead: 11]
As they realize that Irving’s in the engine room, and also that this is Kiloyield’s fault, Clokstamm goes to talk to Wvera and Danetage goes to talk to Irving. The pods are still clouded around the ship, blocking out the stars, making a corridor between the bridge and the engine. Ze uses them to skip between places, as their thrusters are adjustable from the outside.
Solvieg is off to perform her duties as psychologist to the quick-thawed people – one crew’s worth – that they are unfreezing. Because these people might have ideas.
Kiloyield gets to guard the androids, which everyone realizes is a bad idea but there’s just not much more to do. Someone needs to guard them; they are disassembling one of them to make ansiblets.
The conversation between Clokstamm and Wvera is sad.
[number of crew awake: 97; sleeping: 105; dead: 478]
Lasting structural damage to the deflector dish shows in the form of damaged radiator towers. Engine fires and a radiator tower falls. All available human technicians and engineers are sent there to prevent the catastrophe of an exploding radiator tower. It is shown after just a little while though that they need an emergency flush – theoretically killing everyone working in that area but saving the ship.
Irving survives, however, ‘unscathed’ as he is. He wrecks a cooling pipe and points it straight at himself, temporarily deep-freezing him as the phase-liquid superheats itself using his body temperature. The only vacuum-adapted engineer left hauls him in again and lo, miraculously he awakens, hawking and spittering. This is hinting at the fact that Irving is still somewhat Listening. Still under That-Which-Speak’s influence. His brain has been boiled and he covers his scars and he functions like he did before.
Radiator towers start self-repairing. The cargo spire is no longer in danger of additional damage. Automatic venting shuts down.
[number of crew awake: 58; sleeping: 612; dead: 10]
The conversation between Clokstamm and Wvera ends in them deciding that they should just destroy the ansible and reload an old imprint into Wvera’s skull. Clokstamm has opened the red box which includes the secret instructions on what to do if infected by That-Which-Speaks.
Solvieg talking to the newly-woken crew and trying to get them to remember their isyeye (bonding-session), at least. Some of them don’t make it, their brains being too damaged by the quick-thaw, and she discretely puts them back in their coffins without the others noticing.
One of them, who at first seemed to suffer from sun-sickness but is actually Listening, tells about a failed isyeye which ended with the murder of an officer, and that their crew only passed the psych-exam because they all held together by guilt and nothing else. This scares Solvieg, and she puts this person back in the coffin.
[number of crew awake: 80; sleeping: 106; dead: 494]
Robots put the solar sail in place, shading the warped part. Other vacuum-adapted engineer’s reports start coming in – the tiny panels have been hitting the ship all over. A mission to the engine block, to see if there is any damage there, is started.
The ship’s counsellor 0-3, Solvieg Beodeen, hears a noise she recognizes, which is inaudible enough to the rest of the crew in the hustle and bustle going on all over. She discovers that the android ambassadors have not been turned off by the previous crew and that since no-one’s called for them, they’ve gone into hiding to not disturb the humans. But they can’t help having conversations. They are approaching sapience.
Solvieg wipes the androids and reinitialises them. One android called Reese, still in hiding, escapes out onto one of the outside lifts and heads for the engine block. Kiloyield Ob, the ship’s philosopher 0-3, is on this lift sleeping. The android wakes him up and asks existential questions. He replies with his theory about interlacing universes: That-Which-Speaks could be a lot of things, but what if it is another world trying to contact us? Who are we to deny it? This seriously scares the android (which confuses Kiloyield).
Kiloyield sighs, as he can’t deal with people who freak out. He dons a spacesuit and disemelevators into space, climbing back to the bridge via a ladder, and filling the lift with vacuum.
The android can survive in vacuum but its skin goes blue and it gets some brain damage. It startles the technicians in the engine room. A fight ensues and the engine is accidentally set off. Technicians and android die.
[number of crew awake: 65; sleeping: 612; dead: 3]
Solvieg ‘approves’ some of the quickthaws and not others.
The conversation between Irving and Danetage, as Irving loots the blasted engine room (its walls are scorched and it has corpses in it, for it is made to last nuclear fire and also made to compress when the engine fires. The firing is only done automatically or remotely. Irving wants to find the damn back-up ansible which Kiloyield lied to him about. Danetage speaks about the Skeletal Fish, which came back after being Spoken To, mangled and with large chunks missing, engine pointing in the wrong direction compared to where it was moving, with half the tech on the ship having been turned into ansiblets.
Ze reveals that ze knows that Irving was on that ship, and that he was Spoken To. Only, ze doesn’t think that Irving actually ever was cured – reimprinting doesn’t work. He tells hir ze’s right.
[number of crew awake: 70; sleeping: 116; dead: 494]
A spare solar shade is brought close to the bridge by robots. Technicians and engineers start programming a robot to travel with and unfold the sail at exactly the right spot.
A closer look at the steaming-hot venting area is permitted, and damage turns out to be worse than expected. The computer has lost a few major nodes and the humans aboard have to let it reroute internal functionality. This means it will be offline for a while, rendering the ansible useless. Wvera, ansible communicator 0-3, protests but concedes.
She makes sure everybody knows that without the ansible they cannot communicate with their target planet, as it has just moved behind the sun and they don’t have anything else that can send information through a star. Work begins on putting the solar sail in place.
[number of crew awake: 68; sleeping: 612; dead: 0]
There’s a fight between Irving and Danetage in the engine room, which Irving wins.
Wvera is re-imprinted and taken out of the ansible room, according to the red box’s instructions. They go back down to the room where Kiloyield is. He tells them he’s totally proud of having not opened that door at all and then Wvera pushes him away and opens it directly.
It explodes in her face.
“Okay I did open it, and rig it.” Kiloyield explains how he heard the conversation and fight between Danetage and Irving, and also that he knows what is in the red box due to having been part of the team of philosophers that wrote down what is on it. He is older than he looks.
Clokstamm and he are now the only ones from the “main cast” left on the bridge. They don’t know what has happened in the engine room, because during the fight, the radio was turned off. And then Solvieg comes back with a bunch of traumatized other crew.
[number of crew awake: 69; sleeping: 116; dead: 495]
Incident T-negative-9, 3 Months after Impact
The androids hear a beep and go into hiding. Crew rotation 3, consisting of 68 people, are woken from stasis for the six-monthly maintenance tour. Routine vacuum-adapted inspectors (engineers 14-3 – 17-3) are sent out and one of them, Danetage, discovers that part of the cargo superstructure has warped in the approaching sunlight. Pods in the affected area are being vented or ejected automatically. If the ship loses more than 5% of its mass like this, it will be damaged the next time it fires the pulse engine.
Not firing the engine is out of the question. No-one is staying on this ship a second longer than they need to. Repairing the dish is also impossible, due to the robots having already failed that, and humans being fried toast if they attempt to go there.
Irving Duzzah, technician 4-3 dealing in a not-affected area of the deflector dish, suggests putting a spare solar sail on the dish for the time being, to shade and prevent further damage. This is voted a good idea. One is fetched from the spare-parts section by robots.
[number of crew awake: 68; sleeping: 612; dead: 0]
Short sequence as the other crew is told what has happened here. The technicians start working on a way to somehow turn off the engine remotely (not remotely possible), or delay it or something. They are working for their lives’ worth. Some people take comfort in the androids; no-one tells them why they are smoke-damaged or newly-reset, and most seem not to care. Some opt out of living like this and shoot themselves out of the bridge in ice cannons.
One by one, the quick-thawed technicians give up. Someone asks what started all this.
[number of crew awake: 61; sleeping: 116; dead: 503]
Incident T-negative-10, ETA-4 Years
A metre-wide meteor hits the ISV Alhambra’s deflection dish, ripping a one-and-a-half-metres-wide hole in it, destroying some of the reflector panels. A robot is alerted and wakes up on the backside of the dish. It grabs a temporary replacement panel and slides up, quickly shifting through one of the panels by making it flip. A lot of the panels are reflecting toward the robot: they are melting and attempting to vaporize another meteor. These attempts superheat the atmosphere around the ship, and fries the robot’s circuits just a little bit. The robot manoeuvres the panel into place and flips back to the backside.
The replacement panel inadvertently causes some more damage and falls through the hole – now larger. It flies backwards slowly, flipping like a coin, only visible half the time due to the starlight it reflects. (The starlight shines through the hole in the dish.) The replacement panel eventually hits the cargo spire, doing some damage to the superstructure and exposing the underlying skeleton to sunlight.
The robot keeps doing maintenance by flipping through the panels and adding ever smaller replacement panels to the nonexistent panel.
Androids on the ship wake up and have inane conversations and go back to sleep.
[number of crew awake: 0; sleeping: 680; dead: 0]
The end is near. Last-minute efforts amount to nothing, as the unreasonable Irving aims the engine using remote-controlled pods. Danetage’s body is sent as a missile – ze floats in space toward the bridge without being blowfished up. They have no radio contact with Irving whatsoever.
Someone says something poetic about constellations.
The engine shoots out the nuke and it fires; the end.
[number of crew awake: ??; sleeping: ??; dead: ??]