( read the first part of the story HERE )

Consciousness returned before mobility, forcing Emily to feel the horrible cold of the cryo-pod slowly receding. Even in the fuzzy state of post-sleep she knew several weeks had passed on their journey. The feeling of being observed, watched by something out of her own perception still lingered.

Warmth slowly replaced the cold, chasing away the lethargy of sleep. As the pod swivelled to a horizontal position, Emily sat up. Somehow she was surprised to see the curtains in front of her pod still closed. While she changed into a new uniform, she could hear the other pods activating in the rest of the room. Just as before, for a brief moment she was the only waking human in the ship. She drew the curtains aside and put her old uniform in the compartment. Varzhov too was getting up, rubbing his arms with one hand and examining his scraggly beard with the other. Koneko was awake, as evidenced by the tired mumblings from her pod, but her curtains were still closed. Peter’s curtains were also drawn, but no sounds, beyond those of the pod, indicated if he was awake or not. The hum of the on-board electric shavers began filling the silence as curtains were closed again and crew members removed several weeks worth of unwanted hair-growth. Peter was finally up by the time they had finished shaving, and Varzhov begun setting up the table for some breakfast. It weighed almost nothing and folded smartly from a notch in the wall of the living room. As a consequence, it was also rather fragile and any item placed on top would be easy to disturb with even the smallest of shakes or bumps. Yet another annoying issue that was supposedly non-existent in the next generation of DAMUS vessels. Peter emerged from the cryogenics-room as the kettle started to boil, unshaven and wearing the same uniform as when they had started their journey. Varzhov was busy with the coffee and Koneko paid very little attention to anything but the food in front of her, but Emily thought it strange. Like any astronaut worth their salt, Peter normally paid close attention to his personal hygiene.

“Hey Peter, why didn’t you change your uniform?”

It took a moment before Peter reacted. She did not like the look he had for just a second. “Huh, what did you say, Captain?”

“I said, why haven’t you changed your uniform after cryo?”

Peter looked down at himself. The uniform was not dirty or damaged, but clothes worn for weeks of cryo-sleep were always uncomfortable.

“Ah, I forgot,” he reached over the table, grabbing a few slices of bread and some toppings, “I’ll just grab a bite then do that.”

Breakfast proceeded in silence, each crew-member eating and waking up at their own pace. Eventually Peter left briefly to put on a new uniform and shave. Emily and Koneko were discussing some details about their arrival at Mars when he returned, and Emily could not help but notice something in the air changed as he entered the room. Some different smell. She did not have much time to ponder it, as Varzhov called her into the control cabin.

“What’s up, Varzhov?” His display was open, locally switched to manual. Various holo-instruments showed figures and efficiency numbers, telling a crew-member what they would need to know about the status of supplies aboard the vessel.

He pointed to the fuel gauge. “Something is wrong. We have less fuel remaining in the tanks than we should. The figure is only slightly outside the margin of error, but it is outside.”

“So we have more weight on than we should. A leftover spanner or some small rodent stowaway?”

Varzhov pointed to another gauge, the weight sensor. Since it required gravity to function, it was less precise in space, but the display also showed the current force of gravity in effect. “We do have a few Earth-kilograms of excess weight, which might well be the cause of the fuel issue.”

Emily scanned the display again, looking for anything that triggered her mental alarms. “Is it dangerous?” ‘Dangerous’ could mean multiple things. To the mission, or to the crew. Not everything was both.

He leaned back in his seat. “Ultimately no. Even if the current deviation is multiplied 10 times over, we will still have plenty to reach Mars, where they do have emergency supplies.”

“Good to hear, and thanks for telling me. I guess the engineers measured the cargo incorrectly.”

Varzhov turned to a different section on the holo-display, showing the engineer-logs from launch. “They did not. I double-checked the measurements as part of the pre-launch check. They were accurate to the milligram. As were the fuel stores.”

Perplexing indeed. “Could it be some space-rock stuck in the hull?”

Varzhov flipped the display back, pointing to a third instrument with pride of place alongside the fuel gauge. The oxygen stores. “Could be, but that would not explain this; we have more oxygen in the tanks than we should. Some 10 percent more.”

Now that was truly odd. They had nothing on board that should actually add to their oxygen stores, let alone 10 percent of 4 humans worth of the stuff. Briefly she was tempted to say that the engineers had measured that incorrectly as well, but she trusted Varzhov’s pre-launch logs. The measurements were as correct as they could have asked for. “How much does 10 percent mean, considering human consumption?”

A moment passed in silence as Varzhov did some quick calculation using the displays software. “1 month of 1 humans cryo-sleep, give or take a little.”


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