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Feb 05, 2023 2:59 PM
Merrin working in Exception Handling

It's almost completely dark save for the occasional streaks of lightning across a stormy sky. The waves would be at least three times Merrin's height if she were standing upright, which she is super not doing right now. 

She is, instead, ducking under the water, which is cold but not that close to freezing, and it wouldn't bother her anyway because she's wearing a wetsuit.

(Which doubles as a surprisingly convincing aquatic-phase Sparashki cosplay, since apparently certain inside jokes never die.) 



She's been vaguely on call for the last five hours; storms are high risk, prediction markets were saying it was likely something would go wrong, and policy markets bid for Merrin over the alternatives, largely because her particular Exception Handling training path has focused so heavily on operating alone or in a small group, for potentially long periods, without much backup. For a speculative investment, it's a lot cheaper to have a small team preemptively on call than a larger one. 

(What Merrin is currently unaware of is that it is, actually, quite expensive to bid for Merrin's time. She has no idea how expensive because she totally took the ill-advised advice and has not looked at her own finances since she accepted the role.) 

Even at the point when she was frantically summoned on an emergency helicopter an entire forty-five minutes ago for some sort of small boat related Problem, Merrin didn't really expect she would actually have to do all that much. Even then, unspecified problem doesn't mean 'something that needs Merrin's level of training to handle' - there are other ships in this general patch of ocean, cargo or scientific research vessels, big enough not to be themselves at risk and also big enough to have their own resources to contribute. In fact, one of them, started detouring their-way as soon as the Problem was officially reported - it's still almost 30 miles away, but could have adequately handled 'damaged small boat without power or steering plus exposure-related injuries.' 

Usually when the emergency-forecasting prediction markets give a 5% chance of "something happening where it's worth a lot of money to have Merrin, specifically, on the response team", the thing doesn't in fact happen, as a basic premise of how probabilities work.

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But this is apparently the 1 in 20 scenario (...1 in 32, actually, per the initial odds she actually saw) where enough things went wrong in a row and enough safety precautions did fail that Merrin is INCREDIBLY glad she was within range! 

Because! Now Merrin is in fact frantically swimming through a storm-tossed ocean! at local time past midnight! trying to follow the stupid location-transponder signal through her earbuds and hone in on the one (1) final person from the capsized boat that she hasn't yet tracked down and pulled to safety! 


Merrin has at this point been working for Exception Handling for about 2.5 years. She is vastly better at, well, almost everything, than she was back when they recruited her! Superheated toilet paper, she was so bad at things then.

Fortunately, Exception Handling also has access to the best training sims - seriously, they're incredible - and they're investing in her, which means that she gets a lot of support for particular areas she struggles with? ...Like math. It's always math. 


Conveniently, swimming through a stormy ocean looking for a drowning person does not require ANY math! It mostly just requires being really good at swimming, and Merrin has had that one covered since she was ten! Though of course the powered wetsuit is helping a lot, as is all the navigation assistance.

(She's not in any particular personal danger. There are no obstacles nearby to whack her in the head, she has a sealed helmet with an independent oxygen supply, and she's thoroughly protected from the cold - though it's not even that cold, the local ocean temperature is 11 C and Merrin has, in fact, totally trained swimming without a wetsuit in water that cold. Maybe mostly just to prove she could.) 


....Locator-signal is clarifying and it's that way! Less than 150m! Clearly the casualty is not, like they're supposed to be, still tethered to the boat like everyone else was, but she can stop worrying about the (extremely unlikely) contingency where they somehow got separated from their flotation device, or the transponder failed entirely, and she has to resort to finding them visually or using the sonar system in her helmet. 


(There is clearly some other problem, because the signal is coming from an angle that is partly down, which means the flotation device is not, well, floating.)


At least four separate contingencies already didn't work as planned in order for Merrin to end up here at all, but at least she is not now in the 1-in-10,000,000 failure mode world. That really should only happen in sims. (It's happened before in the history of Civilization, of course, and it's planned for.)


Some unusually high-risk decisions were made leading up to anything going wrong at all. Very unusually high risk. Merrin has questions about this! Taking a personal boat, a small personal boat (one that unlike most cargo, transport, or research vessels in regulated shipping-lane areas, hadn't pre-registered a route or even been following a very predictable route) out in a STORM like THIS is superheated insane by the standards of normal dath ilanis. And their personal equipment is apparently on the older side; the latest-generation flotation device transmitters are a lot more robust to electrical-storm interference and Merrin wouldn't have needed to spend fifteen seconds getting a clear enough signal to follow. 

(People do sometimes make risky choices, of course, because people vary in what risks they personally consider acceptable, and Civilization is not generally in the business of telling people - well, adults, at least - that it's illegal to make fully-informed decisions that only put themselves at risk. Civilization doesn't want people wandering around in the wilderness completely unwatched, where they might bioengineer a viral pandemic or truekill people, but the options for causing harm while out in the deep ocean forty miles from the nearest human being are limited, and a location transponder is enough surveillance to go on.)

On her way here, she was expecting to find five people tethered to their capsized boat, hypothermic and possibly with traumatic injuries, but probably still conscious, and if not at least still at the surface thanks to their safety equipment; it takes longer than that to die of exposure, even in water this cold. And the initial report claimed 70% odds of getting their boat right side up and bailed out before help got there, if nothing else went wrong. 

Clearly something else, more likely several somethings, went very very wrong, because what she actually found on arrival was the smashed wreckage of a boat, one unconscious person still safely at the surface and with their flotation device keeping their face out of the water, three people technically conscious, staying calm and doing all the right things, but already hypothermic enough to be pretty out of it, and the extremely unpleasant revelation of one additional person MISSING. This is the point - actually, seven minutes earlier, when one of the other casualties managed to get out a VERY VERY PANICKED radio update - when the priority level and resource investment rose sharply. There is a lot of backup on its way, if Merrin can't figure this out on her own, but Merrin and her team, having been on route already, were closest - it's exactly the sort of situation she's specced for - and backup is not here yet.

The other four casualties are now safely in the medicopter with the other medtechs. All of whom have the basic water-rescue training and wetsuits and could safely join Merrin in the water - you don't send people out for a water rescue without that - and will come after her, if she needs help, but they don't have the fancy high-tech powered wetsuit and wouldn't be able to keep up now that she apparently has to go on a CHASE for one of the casualties. 


Fortunately, in her specialized wetsuit, Merrin can move so fast


...Going underwater, along with this degree of nearby electrical storm, might result in losing comms signal to the medicopter that should still be - somewhere nearby, Merrin super does not have visual contact right now. It probably won't, their systems on both sides are very over-engineered, and also they basically predict exactly what Merrin is going to do next, but she'll still warn them. 

Signal located (they'll know that, of course, they have a receiver as well) but close, attempted retrieval sub-100 seconds - pickup same location, she subvocalizes into her microphone. 

Backup is on its way. (Unlike in a lot of the sims Merrin does, where backup might not be on its way - though Exception Handling makes sure to arrange enough actually-realistic-levels-of-backup sims that she has the right habits for those.) They're not actually at risk of just losing someone in the ocean, even in a situation this far outside the normal, that would be a True Death - there's a diverted submarine on its way, with a far more powerful sensor suite to pick up the locator transmission as well as active scanning capabilities. But there's a lot of ocean, and last update the submarine was twenty minutes away. It's probably hurrying now that Merrin's team has flagged the change in circumstances, but it could also be delayed by the storm - and there's a huge difference between seven minutes and twenty-seven minutes. The latter is almost certainly immediate cryo.

She swims. 


Down is somehow EVEN DARKER than the surface, where it was already really dark! 

To be clear, this is not bothering Merrin because she isn't comfortable swimming in the dark. She swims in the dark for fun. It's bothering her because, from her current distance, the locator-signal is only precise to 1-2m when dealing with the interference of '10m underwater' on top of 'electrical storm', and she doesn't really want to keep swimming a repetitive search-pattern until she bumps into the person by accident. 

(She has a timer running. 90 seconds left on it. If she doesn't surface by then, it doesn't mean she personally is in trouble - that's unlikely - but it will be taken and understood as a signal that they should really strongly prioritize getting someone else in with her. No one else on her medicopter is fitted for a powered wetsuit - they're customized to the person - or trained on it, but there's probably someone on the way already, another storm-safe helicopter was dispatched to borrow on of the medtechs from a ship ten miles away who at least has the more basic water-rescue training, so that's now...five minutes out, probably?)  


She has a really bright headlamp mounted on the protective helmet that goes with her wetsuit. Usually Merrin doesn't like it - in most water scenarios, the water is cloudy or silty and extra light makes it glow even more confusingly - but right now, in the deep ocean and when she's looking for 'body, Y/N' rather than trying to do something fiddly with underwater equipment, it's straightforwardly useful. 

(She makes sure to aim it downward. If she pointed it upward, in theory she would have to flicker it in a specific pattern to signal that she is personally in danger and needs help, but Merrin does not super trust storm-tossed-ocean diffraction patterns, and if she accidentally summons help when she doesn't need it, it'll be a waste of resources. And also mortifying.) 

She aims the headlamp down, and flicks it on. 


Oh good there he is! The water is choppy enough that Merrin can't make out any detail, but there's definitely a roughly person-sized dark spot. 


Also that sure is a current! Fortunately Merrin is faster than currents! ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOM this is great Merrin loves her job she would be having so much fun if this were a sim.

(She is on some level having fun anyway and only feels slightly bad about it.) 


...When she gets closer, it's immediately obvious what went wrong. He's still tethered to part of the boat - a large chunk of the deck, it looks like, jostled loose by hours of crashing force - and the metal, torn loose from the foam filling that keeps even a capsized and water-filled hull at the surface, is sinking. Not fast, the personal flotation devices have a lot of buoyancy, but sinking. 

Merrin's wetsuit has more than enough propulsive power to compensate for the extra weight, but she makes a rapid judgement call that she doesn't actually have a good reason to want to haul along some boat wreckage. The utility would be mostly just 'the boat manufacturer can examine how it came loose and adjust their manufacturing processes to prevent that' but they can just try to replicate the accident instead. Merrin is not going to try to get a piece of metal almost as big as she is up to the medicopter just for manufacturing quality-control data. 

She stabilizes herself relative to the patient - twenty meters down, the waves are knocking her around much less - and flips out her knife from its wrist sheath, and, with some significant effort (they do not make tethers that can snap by accident even under a lot of force) saws through the cord. 

[Got him] she subvocalizes to her microphone. [Ascending now]

The super-bright directional light setting is no longer the one she wants; Merrin toggles it to the omnidirectional flashing green pattern that means 'no unanticipated problems, objective successful, please come pick me up now'. She gets a firm grip on the unconscious man (trying not to jostle him any more than necessary in case of injuries but she does have to move fast, and if he has a really serious spinal injury it's almost certainly going to be cryo next anyway), covers his mouth and nose with one hand so she won't get any more water into his lungs than is already there, and orients toward the surface entirely on proprioception, because she certainly can't determine visually which way is up. 


Wow these waves are terrible! It's a good thing Merrin's helmet means that she doesn't actually need her face above water to breathe, because with both of her arms occupied in securing the man, she is basically entirely underwater.

[Pickup incoming?] she mutters into her microphone. [Time-elapsed?]

By which she means 'that the patient was suspected to be underwater'. 


[Eleven minutes] The voice belongs to Vellis, who sounds really distracted, and maybe distressed. [Harness dropping now. Patient status?] 


[...Pulse absent - I think, hard to tell, stupid flaming waves! No obvious bleeding. Tethered to sinking wreckage twenty meters down. ....Something wrong?]


There is a carefully-timed pause, while Vellis tries to decide how much to tell Merrin about the incredibly unsuspected advance directive information that came up as soon as they had, by process of elimination, figured out which name went with this casualty, and then only after putting in a situation update - it hadn't come up at all before then - received some extremely unexpected information on the patient's medical advance directive - and, separately, insurance situation.

On the one hand, Merrin might appreciate some warning; on the other hand, it isn't actually going to change any of her priorities for the next ninety seconds, and she doesn't need the distraction. 

[...Special conditions] he settles on. [Just get up here] 


Oh great! Perfect!!! What additional incredibly-unlikely factor is about to show up in her life?! 

Despite his flotation device providing buoyancy, Merrin is having a time keeping the patient in a stable face-up position at the surface while also being able to see anything whatsoever, but the descending harness, also flashing green, is hard to miss. The harness fastener is magnetic and should latch directly onto her suit if she lines herself up right, and there are straps to secure the patient, which Merrin is going to take the time to use even though with the powered suit she should be able to hold onto him for a less-than-25m ascent. There's a lot of crosswind, and it would be so embarrassing, not to mention really bad for the patient's odds of surviving this, if she dropped him and had to go down again. 

The waves are throwing her around enough that it takes almost twenty seconds to actually align herself with the magnetic clip. (It would be easier five meters down, with less chop, but she is absolutely not letting go of the patient or pulling him under with her just to save ten seconds. 

Straps on. (Another forty-five seconds.) 



They reel her up. It's very windy. The helicopter has quite a lot of stabilization tech, but it's still going to be a turbulent ride until they get higher or out of the intensely stormy region. 


This would probably have stressed Merrin out if she hadn't done, like, 20 sims in vaguely similar conditions, including in much colder arctic-circle-region waters.

(If the patient were conscious, and thus unlikely to go straight for cryo by default but likely to care about the debilitating injuries, they would have gotten him on a backboard for the ascent to avoid the additional jostling. Given that he's not, the delay wasn't judged worth it.) 

It's another thirty seconds to the medicopter, and then she's through into the small receiving-bay area and two of the other techs are there to offer their helping arms and mechanical patient-lifting equipment, and wow something is really wrong they look so upset. 

Merrin doesn't bother to flip back her helmet facepiece; her hands are busy, anyway. [What?] she says into the microphone. 


Nobody answers right away; now that the floor-hatch is closed, cutting off the roar of wind, they're getting the patient secured and unhooking her harness. 

[Just come see] Vellis says after a moment. It would be a really awkward time for Merrin to wonder if they were trolling her with the claim. 


....Wow. Okay then. Merrin is already making the predictable update that she's going to absolutely hate it, whatever 'it' is. 

Aaaaaaand through the automatic door into the main area of the medicopter, where the two level-4 medtechs are treating the unconscious patient and the third is with the other three, who are now heated-electric-blanket burritos with facemasks dispensing oxygen heated to 43 C, but otherwise all look okay.

They've got the Complicated Patient Area (it's not actually its own room, though the interior of the medicopter can be divvied up into cubicles with plastic sheets that unreel from ceiling slots) prepped for her, and the screens are on. 

Okay. So what exactly are the special conditions, this is the most obvious reason for everyone to look so stressed. 


Patient's insurance status: Not insured. (This is rare but not completely unheard of, it comes up in sims sometimes, and it's sort of less surprising for someone who cannot possibly get reasonably-priced insurance thanks to their risky boat-related life choices.) 

...Except that in this case, the prediction markets are privately funded (????) and Merrin has seem numbers that high exactly once. 




Medical advance directive: very sparse, does not explicitly offer an opinion on what recovery outcomes he would find acceptable, does not express an opinion on what treatments he would or wouldn't want if he were incapacitated and unable to provide consent at the time. 

Except for one specification: the patient DOES NOT CONSENT TO CRYOPRESERVATION. Definitely not under any circumstances. Don't even think about it. 




You know that completely explains why everyone looks so upset!!!!!!!!!! 


Also. What??? What the superheated nuclear waste, why??????? WHO DOES THAT???? Especially who does that and also personally drops like a million labor-hours on his medical outcomes????? Honestly that part is really confusing by itself! How does this guy have that kind of money and also spend his time in a tiny not-necessarily-well-maintained personal boat way out in the middle of nowhere??? There is a series of life choices here that makes no sense! Individually make no sense and especially don't make sense in combination! 


This is actually a really bad time to be having a complete internal meltdown! 

Merrin is having a hard time not doing that because, for once, a thing is happening to her in real life that hasn't ever been thrown at her even in sims. 



(Medical Exception Handling does cover this sort of situation in sims. But it's not something they would usually throw at a 23-year-old level-5 medtech with less than three years of Exception Handling experience. And while they've definitely pushed the limits of Merrin's physical and cognitive endurance, they're being a lot more careful about testing the limits of her emotional resilience. It would lose some investors quite a lot of money, at this point, if Merrin decided to leave the job, and she's enough of a psychological outlier that it's harder to predict how much that would take.) 

(There are probably going to be some words exchanged on this topic later.) 


Merrin sure does seem kind of frozen. They cannot blame her at all; it's sort of on them, for letting her find out like this.

Merrin has some relevant certs that no one else here does, and at least ten times as much sim time on a number of the basic ones.

Her team is selected for endurance in the sense that they can all reliably manage six hours before hitting substantial performance degradation, if they're starting out well-rested, and they won't literally fall over if they have to keep doing basic support tasks for longer than that. But Merrin can do sixteen hours of anything that's sufficiently within her comfort zone, and a lot more things are within her comfort zone than was the case when she was recruited. The usual setup is for her to be the lead opper on whatever's the most complicated, weird, or likeliest to be a long-haul situation, and everyone else is there for support and to take the less complicated casualties in multi-casualty events like this one. 

They're pretty sure Merrin will pull herself together once a treatment plan comes up, especially if it's a blatantly her-requiring plan, and maybe sooner. She doesn't freeze very often. In the meantime, they can get basic supportive treatments set up and start dumping sensor data back to home base, in hopes of getting some sort of plan sooner

Merrin's initial guess was right, unsurprisingly; no spontaneous pulse, though there are still flickers of electrical activity on the ECG reading. 


THE KEEPER PROMISED HER THIS WOULDN'T HAPPEN all right fine Rittaen made a prediction that in expectation that her decision on whether or not to leave Harkanam would not be counterfactually responsible for preventing a True Death or not. Which is, you know, not even ruled out by this bizarre event that SHE TOO WOULD NOT HAVE PREDICTED, since someone else could have been here in her place - 

(- it's genuinely less likely, though, probably - not just because Merrin works in a small team, but because long periods on-call don't burn her out much at all, if nothing had happened here but something else had come up in 300 miles ten hours from now she would still have been ready to go, and the only way they got here maybe even sort of possibly in time is because she was already in range -) 

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahokay she's fine she can do this she is entirely capable of doing whatever is needed here - the hypothetical possibility of not being prepared for this is much more a SCREAMING PIT OF HORROR than usual but it doesn't matter because she is prepared - 


Well. What do they have so far on the patient. 

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