Proof of Life, Part 3

3 Aug

April 27, 2121

On her return to Deimos, where Planetary Resources had its asteroid processing headquarters, Hidaya arranged a second face-to-face with Nassor. They played speed chess, in which players must move at the timer, as they awaited each other’s responses.

Over one tightly fought game, they’d agreed on some abort protocols, on energy systems, and on a cover story for her to use at Deimos when ordering the ship upgrades, which were extreme enough to spark unwanted curiosity. Nassor stressed Africa’s goal of  being first to the Kuiper belt, which meant keeping Hidaya’s trip a secret from the Americans and Europeans, many of whom loved nothing so much as a race. Over the second game, the siblings argued about the life support system:

“You deserve the best!” Nassor repeated stubbornly, arms folded over his chest and feet planted in the stance that Hidaya remembered all too well from their childhood together.

She smiled at him with a mixture of love and exasperation, “I know you do, Nassor. And I thank you. But I don’t believe that the new 3-D printers are the best. New is great where backups are available. If this 3-D food printer fails out past Jupiter’s orbit, I’m dead.”

“You can always print new parts for any that fail.”

“I’m more concerned about the programming and the circuits. I also worry about the fact that the raw materials, the substrate, are only good for 30 years. This trip could easily end up taking longer than that.”

Nassor’s arms remained crossed. Hidaya was mildly surprised his lower lip didn’t move out, just a bit. Perhaps he’d finally gotten that gesture under control.

“Besides, Nassor, I enjoy working in the aeroponics section. The full spectrum lighting, the smell of growing things, the way working with plants feels in my hands. All these things are psychologically healthy for space travelers, especially those who won’t make planetfall for a while. Don’t forget the ISS Udokan disaster in 2105. The programming in their ‘new’ model 3-D printer had a virus, planted by a disgruntled Synthotec employee.  The printed food poisoned the three crew members. Before they could make it back to the nearest refueling station, the virus had infected all of their ship’s systems, including the AI, which opened their airlocks and killed them.”

Nassor tossed his head, “I’ll trade you the ISS Udokan disaster of 2105 for the ISS Rio Tinto disaster of 2093. A nasty virus took out that crew, too. But this one came out of one guy’s gut and compromised the life support recycling system! They died slowly as the plants which made their oxygen rotted away, which seems even more gruesome than the deaths aboard the Udokan.” He shuddered violently.

“Yes, but they hadn’t followed proper cleansing protocols before heading out. I never head into space with animal residue in my gut, Nassor. I eat sterile for at least a week before shipping out. You know how careful I am.”

Nassor shifted his weight, which meant she was getting through to him, so she pushed on. “And the further we travel from Earth, the more we need reminders of Earth. The psych evals from the Europa scientists prove that. Weren’t you warning me last time we spoke of the psychological dangers of this trip? I need my gardens, Nassor.”

Wagging one finger at her, Nassor relented, “Very well, Hidaya, but I insist you take a smaller, proven food printer and some substrate for any emergencies.”

“If it will make you feel better, Brother, then okay. You have too much faith in technology, though.”

“So says the captain of an asteroid mining ship?!”

“Who else is in a better position to know just how untrustworthy technology can be?” she retorted, and laughed with him before capturing his queen.


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