Title: Vignette: The Academy: Artificial Space
Some experiments could only be done in zero gravity.
Most of the documented effects of zero-g on biological experiments were child’s play at this point, long ago sourced and verified back when humanity had only been able to send tiny little shuttles into orbit around Old Earth. The basics, like extreme virulence in bacteria and larger, stronger protein growths in bioreactors were so well known as to be ignored for their baseness. Science had incorporated the techniques into canon, and then with the advent of artificial gravity had no need to look for ways around those effects because it just wasn’t an issue any longer.
But Ten wanted to experiment with a new type of biological thin film that might be useful as an implant for a natural, a kind of second skin that would carry a different strain of Regen—ze eyed the container from Admiral Liang yearningly, but decided not to open it yet, not before the delivery mechanism could be proven—and deliver it on a regulated basis. Of course this sort of thing had been done before, of course it had, Ten wasn’t going to reinvent the damn wheel if ze didn’t have to, but there were no stores of thin films on board the ship and it wasn’t all that difficult to grow a protein matrix, especially in zero-g, and it wasn’t like ze had much to do anyway because Grennson’s dads had invited all of them to learn some weirdo martial art and naturally, naturally everyone had jumped on that chance except for Ten, who didn’t need to occupy hir body in order to be happy in hir surroundings. All ze needed was hir lab equipment and a proper hypothesis to test out, and if Cody wanted to spent his mornings kiyaa-ing and hitting people, well, Ten would get some work done.
Ze had to do it in starts, because it wasn’t advisable to keep the gravity off in this small section of the ship all the time, especially when other people were around. Ten had broken into the guts of the room’s control panel and deactivated the alarm, then done a little tinkering and—voila! Perfect and highly specific zero-g circumstances, and no one had figured it out the past two days and there was no discernible change in the power draw, so overall ze was pretty pleased with hirself.
At least, Ten was pleased with hirself until the system ze was using to transfer the mild acid that was thinning the biofilms in their gently-spinning centrifuge suddenly failed. It was ludicrous, nothing ze could have foreseen, that the joint would come apart like that especially after ze’d used the molecular zipper to—
Oh right, Ten thought to hirself as ze watched little globs of acid spill out the joint between the pump and centrifuge. I forgot the molecular zipper. Which was a ridiculous oversight, not the sort of thing ze would generally forget but ze hadn’t had time to write down hir steps for this particular phase of the experiment and ze hadn’t been sleeping very well either, not with Cody being housed in another room for the first time in an entire year, which apparently was bothering hir more than it was him, if his excitement about going and playing with joint locks this morning was any indication.
Ten frowned and shut off the pump, and the flow of acid slowed. Fine. It was a bit of a mess but nothing ze couldn’t handle, ze just had to reattach the tube and—
A floating bubble of acid burst across the back of Ten’s hand, and the sudden pain halted hir in hir tracks, an unconscious rictus of fear twisting hir mouth. Ze stared at hir hand, and it wasn’t a splash of red that ze saw, it was bone and tendon, and hir fingers curling in on themselves, and ze heard someone screaming and another person yelling, and it was all pain pain painpainpain…
Coming out of the fog of…memory? A nightmare? Whatever it was, it was hard, but Ten managed it for Cody’s sake. “Mmm?” ze hummed, the only sound hir vocal cords would make at first. “Mm…wai…don’t, hang on, don’t come in here!” Vision filtered back in, and now hir hand was purple, and the air was filled with tiny globs of yellowish acid. The door to the hall was open, and there was Cody in an old dobak he’d borrowed from Jason, the plain black fabric so worn it was grey now. There was gravity in the hall, but none in the bedroom, and glistening dots of acid splashed to the ground as they reached the barrier. “Don’t come in here,” Ten reiterated. “If this stuff gets in your eyes it could blind you.”
“Couldn’t it blind you?” Cody demanded, his voice somewhere between angry and aghast.
Ten rolled hir eyes. “Which one of us can use Regen, again? Oh that’s right, me, I can use it, so—” Another lobe of acid hit hir exposed neck, and ze winced. “Just…just leave, I can handle this, I just have to get to the control panel.” Which was…on the other side of the room. Brilliant.
Cody grimaced, then abruptly shut the door. Ten blinked. Ze hadn’t expected it to be that easy. It was almost disappointing. Well, no it was definitely disappointing, but ze couldn’t exactly complain about Cody following hir directions for once, even if it would have been nice if he’d…
The door opened again just moments later and Cody came back in, closing the door after himself. He was wearing his full hovercycle gear, including his helmet and gloves. “That was fast,” Ten remarked. “You must have run.”
“Shut up,” Cody said tersely. He made his way over to the control panel, acid splashing fruitlessly against his protective equipment. “Just…what do I need to do here?”
Well…for the sake of covering hir tracks, it would be best to decouple the veering nodes one at a time, doubling back with a scrubber over each one so there was no trace of gravitational anomaly, but that would take more talking than Ten was feeling up to right now. Ze’d have to take hir chances with Jason Kim. “See the thingy stuck to the big blinking cable? Unhook it.” Cody did so, and a second later everything that had been floating, which was only what Ten had intended to be able to float with the exception of the acid, crashed to the ground. The centrifuge was fortunately tethered to the ceiling, so the biofilms didn’t spill everywhere, but there was more than enough mess thanks to the leaky joint.
Cody took his helmet off and came over to the bed, where Ten was still bouncing a bit from the firmness of hir fall. “Are you okay?” he demanded, eyes wide and hands reaching. He didn’t touch though, which was thoughtful since his gloves were smeared with acid and Ten didn’t need any more of that on hir body, thanks so much.
“I’m…yes, of course, why wouldn’t I be okay?” Ten asked, but ze knew hir rebuke wasn’t up to snuff when Cody kept hovering. “I just need to get cleaned up. A shower will take care of the acid, it’s not that strong, and then I’ll get back out here and handle the rest of the bedroom.”
“I’ll take care of that,” Cody said. “You go bathe.”
“Be careful,” Ten warned him, “the pH isn’t that extreme but it will still give you trouble if you—”
“Go get in the damn shower, Ten!”
“Fine,” Ten huffed, getting off the bed and cradling hir hand close to hir chest with as much dignity as ze could muster, which wasn’t as much as ze would have liked. Stupid hand, stupid…head, stupid acid and stupid, stupid mistakes, it was the sort of thing Ten hadn’t had to deal with for years, ze was hardly…it was really…
“Ten.” Cody stepped close and urged Ten toward the tiny bathroom. “Go on. It’s okay, I’ll be right here if you need me.”
I don’t need you, Ten wanted to say, but the lie—the blatant, blatant lie—stuck in hir throat and ze ended up not saying anything, just getting into the shower. Ze stripped down and left hir clothes on the floor as ze scrubbed hir skin, the soap automatically correcting hir skin's acidity. The burning went away almost instantly and the worst spot, on the back of hir hand, was really the only one that needed attention once ze was rinsed off. Regardless, Ten stayed in the shower longer than ze strictly needed to, trying to follow the vision that had struck hir so vividly earlier.
Ten didn’t remember much about hir parents: they were scientists, they were explorers, and they had left hir behind without a word when they left Solaydor. Ten stared at hir hands for a long time, trying to get the crispness of that vision back, the way hir hands had curled into unwilling fists, the heat and change in color—mottled white and red, so strange, and the way the flesh had just melted away on top, leaving such a grisly view behind. Screaming…high pitched but not hir own, a woman’s…and the yelling…maybe it had been hir parents? Some kind of accident, some way Ten had been injured?
Or maybe it wasn’t a memory at all, just another twist of Ten’s admittedly twisty brain.
“Ten?” The bathroom door opened and Cody stepped inside. He was in casual clothes now, and his arms were bare. “I cleaned your room up, I’m pretty sure I got all of the acid. There wasn’t actually that much, and the walls will actually tell you where something corrosive is going on, so…yeah. Um, are you clean yet? Do you need the medbay?”
“You need to sleep with me,” Ten blurted, then soldiered on once ze realized it would do hir no good to waste time being mortified. “I don’t mean we need to have sex, except we really, really do and I’m going to combust if we don’t actually do that soon,” damn Grennson and his over-watchful parents anyway, “ but I need you to sleep in the same room with me. I can’t concentrate the way I should without you, and honestly what happened out there was almost as much your responsibility as it was mine, because how am I supposed to remember the little things when I’m so tired I can barely see, and I know I’d sleep a lot better if I could have you…here. With me.” Ze waited silently, shifting from foot to foot on the wet floor of the shower and wanting to let hir eyes wander, but not quite able to look away from Cody’s stupid brown eyes and his crazy yellow curls and the way a small, slow smile spread across his face.
“You could just have said that you missed me,” Cody said, his smile becoming a grin. “You didn’t have to make your room into a death trap to get the point across.”
“It was hardly a death trap, I would have taken care of everything in good time, I was just…I just…you know what, nevermind, stay in your own room, it’s not like I need you to function, I can handle things just fine—”
“I get nightmares without you,” Cody said quietly. “Mostly about the bike blowing up, but some of them are of Pam, only instead of choking me to death she’s choking you. Sometimes Grennson.”
“Oh.” Well, that wasn’t exactly good, but there was something darkly gratifying about being a balm against a person’s demons. “So, it’s…mutual?”
“It’s always been mutual.” They stared at each other for a moment before Cody said, “I can leave most of my stuff in the other room, but I’ll move some clothes into your storage, if you’ve left any space at all.”
“Far right corner, there’s at least five inches of free shelf,” Ten said automatically. These rooms were even smaller than the one they'd shared at the Academy, but Ten wasn't going to let that stop hir now. Space was an artificial construct of quantum physics anyway. “I was going to use it for my mini-titration kit, but I guess that can wait to be unpacked until we get to Perelan.”
“How generous,” Cody said dryly, but he was still smiling when he left, and once Ten got out of the shower and started to towel off, ze was a little surprised to see a matching smile still visible on hir own face. Huh. Ridiculous, but hard to keep from happening when ze didn’t even realize it was happening.
“Ten.” The room’s comm suddenly spoke with Jason’s voice. “When you’re done in the shower, meet me in the bridge so we can talk about ship safety protocols while flying through space.”
Ten rolled hir eyes. “Well, shit.”
“My thoughts exactly, Ten. Get out here.”
“I’m coming!” And ze was…once ze made sure Cody found those five inches. Ze wanted him to feel welcome, after all.