Technician Qamaq North
To be unbending is to be lost
To be unyielding is to be left
To be inflexible is to be unguided
To be uncompromising is to be as death
We must be firm yet observant
We must be resilient yet adaptable
We must shape our ways to the land that holds us
In this way we will survive these days forward
— Alapaa Tauna, 2473-2562, Core Captain of the 234th Brigade, before the battle of Systems 7, 12 and 14, circa 2541, When the Land Guides You to Your Place: Tales of an Out-of-Place Inuk
Qamaq peered out of the window into the deep black. The stars: whites, yellows and reds. Pin-pricks in the distance. She inspected the void for something that would show her where they were. Where she was. Well, where they all were. She was the only Inuk awake on a ship of a hundred thousand stasis pods filled with all walks and manner of Inuit on their way to —
Well, nowhere right now.
The FTL drive dropped out and they drifted in this empty space between everything.
“Most people cannot fathom the distances between solar systems. I wish I could bring a numbers person out here. Just once.” She rubbed her tattooed face with her short stubby fingers. Her fingers displayed the three short lines of Sedna while her biceps displayed her traditional family tattoos of whale flukes under her white tank top. Her brow furrowed in worry.
“That does not compute. The distance parameters are incomplete. Error 385.12.8. Please restate.”
“Tau-i, Deese. Shut it, ya bag-o-bolts.”
“A heavy cargo cruiser DSX-FTL is not a bag-o-bolts.”
“How’s it that you understand insults but not a jibe.”
“You did not program me that way.”
“Gah! It’s always my fault. I didn’t program you but I can shut you down, ya know. Run on manual for a couple-a.” Qamaq’s brown face crinkled, breaking into a smile.
“That would not be prudent. You will lose cargo.”
“Mayn’t.” Qamaq took the hair tie off her wrist and pulled her long black hair back into a bun.
“There is a coolant leak on level four. I have been making adjustments to the mixture to keep the leak to a minimum. Will you be taking over the job?”
Qamaq exasperatedly rolled her eyes. “Whatever, smug Deese.”
“Only for you, my Captain.”
“Oh, You flatter me, Deese. I’m not the captain. I’m … I don’t know what. I’m Technician Qamaq North. I fix things. Right now we need a way out of this mess. Nearest habital planet?”
“Habitable. 400 light years. South OCM.”
“Can you be specific?”
“Yes. 423.56.876 with us as origin point.”
“Okay. 400 years thataway.”
“No. 687 years of stasis sleep.”
“Dammit, Deese! Why’re we way the hell out here? Are we that far off course?”
“We are. That is why I woke you. You are next in line for the job.”
Qamaq took that in with a soft grunt. “And the Captain? Where they at?”
“You are the captain, Qamaq. Except …”
“Except? What do you mean ‘except?’ There’s never an ‘except’. Why would you do me like that?”
“I have missing time. 78.345 hours ship time. Four shifts ago. It is … troubling.”
“So. A hundred and fifty years ago, at shift change, you had some sort of malfunction …?”
“I do not … malfunction. I am aware of all of my processes at all times.”
“Are you trying to intimate that you turned off?”
“That is not possible.”
“I know it isn’t possible. Unless …” Qamaq crossed the small room that housed the command centre to reach for a book labelled Tauna Astra Logbook on the tiny shelf that also held Telemetry for Braking, DSX-FTL Maintenance Volume 765: Computers and Computation, Using 39th-Century Social Programs in the 5600s and Beyond, Back of the Hand Navigation When You’re Lost: A Treatise on Wayfinding,and a dog-eared copy of When the Land Guides You to Your Place: Tales of an Out-of-Place Inuk. She ran her hands across the books lovingly.
“Qamaq, why do you insist on archaic forms of communication? Books have no place —’’
“Deese, you’ve been compromised. How can I trust? I don’t have time to look through and see where — if — you’ve been … redirected.” She selected the logbook and crossed the room to the observation chair. Okay, the captain’s chair. Thumbing through it, Qamaq searched for notes on what happened. “Here. It says: On the twelfth sleep, crewman Rogers was found dead in his bed. We had to reboot Tauna Astra. There were some discrepancies with the life support. Taliah and Markal got married. She went into stasis pregnant. There’s no planet where we want to go. The whole system’s an asteroid field spiralling into the sun. Had to shift targets while Tauna Astra was being rebooted. Will enter coordinates when she’s up again. The Tauna’ll calculate the probability of surviving a new trail. It’s signed Ani Maug Aata Rogers. So that explains four shifts ago. It doesn’t explain where the officers are.”
“We ran into rogue debris.”
“Yes. Rogue debris. Debris that should not have been there. I have calculated 98.97% of the objects along our trajectory from origin to destination. This debris does not belong.”
“Has anyone actually gone out to look?”
“No one has been awake. You were the first wakened, Qamaq.”
“Deese? How many cycles has the crew remained asleep for?”
“I calculate that I have missed three sleeps. There was a warning script that alerted me. I cannot see or reach any officer stasis pod.”
“So what you’re actually saying is that I need to see if they’re alive.”
“I would suggest you use a suit. There may not be atmosphere in that part of the ship.”
With one last gaze out into the deep black, Qamaq headed out of the room into a short hallway lined with lockers filled with suits, rebreathers, and all manner of repair gear and different kits. Pulling out a suit from a locker labelled ‘23,’ she grunted while pulling it up her legs.
“Qamaq? Your heart rate is elevated.”
“My heart rate’s elevated because these suits are made for sticks and I’m decidedly not a stick. More of a boulder?” With a final shrug, all that was left was a zip-up. She stuffed her belly into the suit, fighting the zipper all the way.
“I recommend that you set your stasis mixture two ticks lower when you go back into stasis.”
“Whatever, Deese. Wake up the next two technicians. I’ll need help.” She grabbed Technician Door and Oxy Kit 4X, a second rebreather, and left to find out what happened to the officers.
Qamaq stared at the void. The emptiness didn’t belong. The officers’ stasis pods were gone. Most of them. Three pods drifted about, thumping ragged walls exposed to space.
It will be hard to get them anchored down. A forcefield hummed with power in the hole that was supposed to be a door.
“Qamaq, I have cycled two technicians. They will be ready in two hours.”
“Thank you, Deese. Is there a way to restore gravity to Stasis Room B? The stasis pods that are left are no longer tethered. The wall beyond eight metres is gone.”
“There is not a way I can reach Stasis Room B. You will have to close the alcove to Stasis Room B and depressurize it in order to reach the room without moving the stasis pods. Please tether yourself after you enter Stasis Room B. I would hate to lose you so soon after making your acquaintance.”
“No other way?”
“If we were to pull into a port it might be easy.”
“Very funny, Deese.” Qamaq did as Deese suggested. She closed the alcove, turned on her rebreather, grasped the kit and hit the button to depressurize the room. A slow hiss turned into a metallic whoosh.
“Please drop the forcefield, Deese.”
The hum stopped as the field dropped and Qamaq drifted into Stasis Room B. She worked quickly. First tethering herself, spooling out to the three pods, then anchoring them directly down from where they floated, before moving them, one at a time, closer to the door.
“Deese, are there any other pods along the Tauna Astra? Anything that might be classified as debris but big enough to be a stasis pod?” She stared out over the pods into the black void.
“Qamaq, there are two possibilities but they are too far for your tether to reach.”
“How would I reach them? Where are they?”
“There is one by the engines. You can reach it by going through hatch 439 and tethering twice. There is a good probability that it is part of the rogue debris. Tethering twice is dangerous. You will not have the protection of the hull.”
“And the second?”
“You will not reach it. It is in our gravity well. Ten kilometres past our engine plume. I recommend not retrieving it, as it may also be debris.”
“You could be right but without eyes we cannot know. I can rig up a service robot and send it out, if you’re out of probes.”
“Of twenty-five probes, I now have …” Deese went silent for a moment. ”I have five probes left. My records say I have used seven.”
“More rogue debris?”
“Checking. Checking. Qamaq, I cannot find record of the missing nine probes.”
“Are they in storage?”
“They are not in storage. The probe hangar does not appear on my map.”
There was a long silence before Qamaq’s suit pinged lightly. A soft, pleasant female voice said, “Your oxygen level is at ten percent. Please make your way to the nearest airlock for recharge.” Qamaq turned and rubbed the plate on the first pod.
“This one’s J. Piugta II.” She unanchored the pods and tied them to each other. “Please dial down gravity in the alcove to point one zero ship’s gravity, Deese.”
“Gravity is down point one zero, Qamaq. Please make haste.”
Qamaq pulled the pods into the alcove. They just fit, jostling on their journey to the floor. “Are any of them alive?”
“I cannot tell, from here. You will have to connect them to the nearest network. I suggest using the pod wagon.”
Qamaq glanced up. The pod wagon was where it always was, clipped into the ceiling and out of the way. She pulled and it drifted downward. Slipping the sled under the pods was easy.
“The sled will only take two pods safely,” Deese chimed in helpfully.
“I’ve stacked them. I don’t want to have to come back.”
“That is not advisable. If one should fall, it could crush you. Your oxygen level is at five percent. Please make your way to the nearest airlock for recharge.”
“Yeah, I get it.” Qamaq stacked them two parallel and one crosswise. “Please resume gravity in the alcove to Stasis Room B.”
The sled and the stasis pods settled as the gravity increased. “Thank you, Deese. Where’s the closest place I can hook these up for diagnostics?”
“Med Bay 4. One thousand metres forward through two airlocks and an elevator down three levels.”
“So, you’re gonna make me move all this through half the ship? Alone?”
“Wait three point one nine hours. The technicians are almost finished cycling through and will soon be needing liquids.”
“They can get their own liquids. I’m not the maid. After I get these to the nearest airlock, I’ll go check on them. Resume forcefield so I can get out of here.”
Deese raised the forcefield again and Qamaq repressurized the alcove just as her suit said, “Your oxygen level is at three percent. Please make your way to the nearest airlock for recharge.”
Qamaq popped her rebreather off and took a few deep breaths of the tinny recycled air in the ship. Qamaq plugged in the second rebreather to recharge her suit oxygen. Three percent was too close. Qamaq was a JIC person. Always packed a second whatever. Just In Case. This was one of the times she needed the rebreather. “Pushy suit.”
With an exasperated huff she began to wrestle the pods to the next airlock. “Deese? Have you calculated where that ‘rogue debris’ came from? What about a better fix of where we are in relation to the origin point?”
“I have not. Calculations will be completed in two minutes.”
“Quyana, Deese. I’ll wait.”
“Qamaq? Our origin point is … we are off course. Our first end point is no longer.”
“I got that from the logbook.”
“It seems as if there was a miscalculation.”
“What do you mean? No wait. Lets get everyone gathered first and then we can go over where we are and where we’re going.”
“Yes, Captain Qamaq.”
Qamaq gave a wry grin at the last comment. “More captain nonsense, I’ll reboot you.”
“That is not possible, Qamaq.”
“It is quite possible. I have the proof my predecessors did. You, yourself, have missing time. We will table the discussion, Deese. How’re the rest of the pod compartments? Can you check the rest of the ship? What’re we looking at?”
“Yes, Captain. I am sorry, Qamaq. I cannot comply. I do not have connection with all of the ship.”
Qamaq wrestled the pods down the hallway. Not wrestled. More of a clumsy push. Twice she was almost between the pods and the wall before she remembered. In danger of a crush injury. With zero survivability.
“Please give me point zero five gravity along the way.”
“Along what way, Qamaq?”
“Between here and Med Bay 4.” She wiped the sweat off her brow with her forearm. She didn’t have time for this.
“You are aware, Qamaq, that the ship’s resources are not to be used frivolously. Ship’s manual subsection 469, part 72.12 says all personnel are subject to the ship’s gravity at all times to keep your processes working and bones from becoming brittle.”
“Is there a case for emergency situations?”
“Yes. Part 184.34 says this can be superseded in an emergency.”
“Doesn’t this constitute an emergency? I’m busting my hump for these pods and I don’t know if it’ll be for good.”
“Qamaq. I don’t understand. Please restate.”
“This is an emergency. Please, lower the gravity to point zero five.”
“As you wish, Qamaq.”
The pods did a slow motion jostle as the gravity released them. Qamaq gently pushed them in the direction of the first airlock.
When she arrived at Med Bay 4, The first thing Qamaq did was sit down in the suit-charging dock to bring the charging port on the back of her suit level with the dock. She backed in until she heard the satisfying click. Her suit battery began to recharge.
Curiosity made her fidget until she could no longer contain herself. She stripped the suit off and left it hanging in the recharger without her. Anticipation was now what made her hands sweaty as she pushed the first pod into the first med bay.
“Deese? What’s the first thing I need to do for these people?”
“To activate the pods you will need a number four port and a number twelve cord. Please find them in the medical supplies cabinet designation 5, Pod Rescue. This is the first step.”
“Thank you, ya cargo wagon.”
“Please refrain from insulting the ship and cargo.” Qamaq didn’t say anything but saluted and answered with a dry chuckle. She did as she was told and hooked up the first pod, an A. S. Lemur.
The display booted up slowly. A thousand error messages. Clearing them only took a minute. Hoses dropped from the ceiling.
“Please attach the hoses to the right receptacles. Green to green. Yellow to yellow —”
“Purple to purple. I got it. Self-explanatory. Have the technicians gotten to their electrolyte drinks yet?”
“They have not. Shall I prompt them?”
“A ship after my own heart. Yes, please, Deese.”
“Prompting technicians now.”
“Tubes attached. What next?”
“Please wait while I flush the fluids from the tank.”
“Or, alternatively, I could start the others and come back to this one.”
“That is an acceptable course of action, Qamaq.”
The fluid began to drain from the pod as Qamaq started on the second pod, the J. Piugta II, and third pod, a P. Riley, popping back and forth between them until the fluids began to drain from them as well.
“J. Piugta II is not well. I am reading half the mass. Please be prepared.”
Qamaq ran to the centre pod trying to discern why it only had half the mass. Since pods were made to be impervious to the void outside the ship, there wasn’t a window. There also weren’t any oils or scorching.
“How long to wake?”
“J. Piugta II pod opens in 90 seconds. J. Piugta II will wake in five minutes.” Qamaq grimaced.
“So after alarming me, the only thing we can do is wait? Deese, you really are a card.”
“I do not understand the reference. Please explain.”
“Something my ancestors used to say.”
“Please be more specific.”
“Nevermind. It doesn’t matter.”
“J. Piugta II pod is one minute to opening.”
To Qamaq the silence stretched on a long time before the hiss of the pod opening became apparent. Qamaq wasn’t sure if she was prepared to see what was in the Piugta pod but couldn’t help but hop from one foot to the other. The pod door lifted all the way open and Qamaq peered in.
At first there didn’t seem to be anything in the pod just a brown blob swirling in what was left of the fluid. Then Qamaq was whooping and dancing. Excitedly she pointed at the pod. “It’s a dog! It’s a dog!”
“Canines are not allowed on the ship.”
“Someone got around it! Deese, search for J. Piugta II. Who are they and what was their job?”
“One moment. Searching … J. Piugta II was the wife of the second crew’s psychologist. One moment.”
“Come on! Don’t keep me in suspense, Deese!”
“I have conflicting databases. J. Piugta II had a wife. Wife passed planetside shortly before liftoff. His canine was to be destroyed by port authorities. Perhaps some crew member helped. It is the size of the canine. Forty pounds or eighteen kilos … Qamaq? Please be aware that these pods are not designed for canines.”
“Okay, but I can be excited that the first living thing I see in a long time will be a dog.”
A soft ping sounded from the pod. Qamaq read it in a wavering voice. “Please check occupant. Please administer shock pads now.” Qamaq whipped around, glancing frantically around the room. “Where? Where do I administer shock pads? Where are the shock pads?”
“They are in the drawer behind you. Drawer 4C-13. Inside, they are labelled Shock Pad A and Shock Pad B. Place one on the underbelly and one on the side. Press the white fingerprint.”
Qamaq ripped the drawers open until she found the one labelled 4C-13 and grabbed the red pads with a white fingerprint. She practically threw herself into the pod and placed the pads as directed. Pressing the fingerprint did nothing. She raced to grab a second pair with the same results. Then she held them in place while she pushed the print. She felt a little tingle in her arms when the dog jerked. Six more times and she gave up. It wasn’t to be.
Even when Qamaq pushed at it afterward, there wasn’t a flicker of movement. Dejected, she moved to the next pod. The person, and this was a person, didn’t move. She tried the pads again but no movement ensued.
“Why aren’t they reanimating? The pods aren’t damaged.” Qamaq’s voice hitched. She wondered if her technicians were in as bad of shape.
“Qamaq, I am sorry. They may have sustained more damage than we thought.”
In the third pod, there was movement. Qamaq retrieved more pads just in case. The movement became purposeful and then the person opened their eyes. Pretty honey-coloured eyes. Honey-coloured eyes with cataracts.
Kavelina Torres is an Inupiaq and Yup’ik from the wild tundras of Alaska. Her ancestors speak to her nightly, whispering in her ear the stories of the future. She lives on the traditional lands of the Tanana Peoples near the Troth Yedda Meeting Place.