Monday, September 20, 2010

"Goetia," Patience, pt. 1, 488 words

Being out in space requires re-discovering the fine art of patience. For Sitri the Prince, Master of Sixty Legions (legal name: Adeline Valentine; born 2036 CE at the bottom of Earth's gravity well; legally emancipated 2052 CE; began employment at StarGen Aerospace 2053 CE; further profile access DENIED), it means relearning sanity. It means being a good fourteen light-minutes from Earth at the best of times, and half a light-hour away at the worst (not to mention the huge burning ball of radiation that's directly between Sitri and Earth at those moments, fouling transmissions and forcing them to bounce the long way around).

Now, out amongst the rocks for several months – by dirtside reckoning – Sitri feels just about ready to step out the airlock. Or she would, if there was one. The Joyeuse (today's nickname: Tin Can; yesterday's: The Sit-and-Spin; tomorrow's: The Sanity Box) is sealed tight to prevent accidents.

There're a few pressure suits in case of hull breach, but the Joyeuse was built with a design philosophy geared toward minimizing human error, and that every point of articulation on a device is a point of weakness. Nothing is meant to be human-serviced, not out in vacuum; any problem is fixed with a swarm of repair bots that hide just under the outer hull and inside the bulkheads. In theory, Sitri can take control of them, but the swarm interface requires dividing her attention too many ways to be useful. Meanwhile, the entryway was sealed with a flash weld using a fast-burning electrically charged sealing putty, and can only be opened with a cutting torch.

In all, the ship violates a staggering number of safety regs, but OSHA and other safety agencies have no pull outside atmosphere. There's a waiver stored in no less than four different media, including a very secure paper copy with Sitri's signature (Adeline Valentine rendered in the shaky, angular script of someone who has used a pen maybe twice before in her life) and several digital versions all backed by her biometrics, that declares the undersigned, heretofore referred to as the Employee, understands and agrees that StarGen Aerospace, Incorporated can in no way be held responsible for injury or illness sustained by the Employee while serving the agreed upon contracted service period, et cetera, et cetera.

She's sure she's probably misremembering a lot of the precise phrasing, buried in legalese, but the gist of it is that she has no recourse if she comes out of the mission with three different kinds of cancer and no use of her legs, such rights signed away because she wouldn't be able to get away from near-Earth orbit otherwise. And StarGen is one of the more progressive of the system-exploration corporations that still uses live humans on their ships instead of weak-AI assisted telepresence. At least they make an effort to keep their crewpeople healthy and sane in case they want to re-up.

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