Hello to everyone. First I’d like to properly apologise for the long absence. I should have told you guys that I’d going on a hiatus or something when I realised I’d be staying away for more than a couple of days. It was a combination of work, writer’s block and laziness that held me back. I’m now back on track and I hope to release more chapters before the end of the year. Thanks for sticking with me even though that was kind of a dick move from me.
Just a Guy in Space
“How am I still alive?”
Gus woke up to the brightly lit ceiling of the white room he had passed out in. The entire room gave off the same sterile feeling he’d felt in the engineering department. White light glared at him from above as he cracked an eyelid open.
“You are greatly exaggerating. What you went through was certainly strenuous but by no means life-threatening.”
“It was a figure of speech, you douchebag. Why don’t you go kiss a fusion core while you’re at it?”
“I sense hostility in your voice.”
How can he sound so calm?
“Gee, I wonder why? Could it be because you fucking zapped me with twelve million volts every time I slowed down?!” Gus could feel a spark of anger churning in the pit of his stomach.
“I explained all that. It was necessary for your physical examination. Again, what I did was far tamer than what the Coalition scientists tend to do. To them, you are not a sapiant unless you are acknowledged by the Coalition. Having a vetted officer put you through your paces is enough to qualify as an in-depth analysis of your physical abilities.”
Gus pondered that while he rubbed what should have been sore muscles. It does kind of make sense. I mean, assuming I believe him. Still he did sound like a nice guy. But do mountains have feelings? Is he a mountain? Why do I not hurt?
“Hey Trando, how come nothing hurts?”
“When you passed out I took the liberty of using some medical serum on you. The results exceeded my expectations, to be honest.”
“Exceeded? Wait… Did you use me as a fucking lab rat?” Silence greeted Gus’ question. “I swear to God Trando, I’m going to pound your face into a new shape.” So far everyone on board had been very helpful, but it was situations like these that reminded Gus that he was after all just a glorified stowaway. I’m not even considered a citizen in their eyes, I bet…
“Everything worked out in the end. Better learn now what can be used on you than wait until something goes horribly wrong. The data we got was very insightful. It seems your body responds exceedingly well to treatment using the medical serum. The lactic acid build up that was frankly quite alarming was eliminated and your muscles were restored within the span of two hours. The serum does not usually take so little time to work.”
“Two hours? How long was I out?”
“Two hours,” Trando deadpanned.
Gus sat up at that. He experimentally flexed his arms and made a fist. No pain. He got up gingerly, trying to find signs of strain but he felt weirdly refreshed. Like all his joints were oiled up and his muscles were already warmed up and not like he just got done with a two hour nap. He stretched a bit and tested it out. Still no pain. Huh, what do you know, I guess Trando isn’t a super sadist after all. I’ll hold off on the ass-kicking. It’s definitely not because he looks like he could squash me with a sneeze.
“So, no pain. Thanks for that I suppose. Can we dispense with the shocks now that I know I’m gonna heal up after every test?”
“I’m afraid I need the shocks to push you beyond your perceived limits. But I can attenuate them to a degree that you’ll find merely uncomfortable.”
“That’s something.” Gus looked up sharply. “Hey, you said I healed up right? My muscles and everything? Can you give me more details?”
“Certainly. Your muscles had several microfractures that could potentially have caused injuries. The medical serum includes nanites that target damaged sections and repair them using the materials available in the serum.”
“Whoa… You have no idea what that means do you?”
“I… do not think I do, no. Can you explain?”
“Holy shit, where do I begin?” Gus started pacing. “Ok, so when a human exercises past his limit, his muscles start to break down. They get microfractures all over their muscle fibres due to the strain. That sounds really bad, but humans can actually heal that damage. So it takes about, uh… forty-eight Earth hours for that damage to be healed, assuming it’s not too serious. When the muscle fibres heal, they get stronger. At first you don’t notice it, but if you do that often enough, you can get a visible increase in muscle mass that leads to an increase in power generated from those muscles. Basically, the more you train, the stronger you get.”
“Fascinating. Does that happen for every muscle you have? Is that why you have such strange muscles? Fibres bundled together in increasing numbers?”
“Yeah. So, each and every muscle is made up of several muscle tissue bundles. It goes from a huge muscle group to a tiny myofibril.” Talking about his vocation was getting him fired up. Gus started talking faster, the words tumbling out from his mouth almost uncontrollably. “The first to be damaged are those myofibrils but you don’t get stronger from just that. You need to reach a certain threshold for the damage to be significant enough that your body rebuilds the destroyed muscle fibres stronger than before.” He paused at that before resuming his pacing. “As I said, it happens in small increments. If I train diligently for about three months, I might increase my muscle mass by, say, ten to twenty percent, depending on how hard I train. This is just a number I pulled out of my ass, it might not be realistic.”
“Is there an upper limit to that strengthening? Do you perpetually rebuild muscles stronger than before and in ever increasing amounts?” Gus liked to think that Trando sounded surprised at this sudden revelation but in truth all he sounded like was… nonchalant.
“No. There are diminishing returns once you hit a certain point. The tipping point is going beyond what your body can normally sustain in terms of energy expenditure. A guy standing at about one hundred and eighty centimetres can sustain about ninety kilos of mass at about nine percent body fat relatively easily. That means he’s mostly muscle. If you want to, you can go beyond that limit but the energy requirements to sustain that kind of mass is increasingly difficult to maintain. So no, I can’t continually get stronger. At one point, I’ll reach my peak.”
“What if you had a limitless source of energy? You would train constantly with increasing amounts of effort spent and have access to that limitless source of energy. Could it be possible to sustain a linear increase in muscle mass from just that?”
Gus stopped, leaned against a machine and thought about it for a while.
“No, I don’t think that’s feasible. I mean, it would have to fit on the human skeleton. There’s only so much muscle a human can safely sustain. Maybe if you could… I dunno, make the muscles denser, reinforce the bones to be stronger perhaps?” He scrunched his face up in concentration, thinking of the possibilities. “Instead of increasing the amount of muscles you have, increase the quality of the muscle itself? Like, for example, if there was an artificial muscle made of steel fibres, the amount of power it could safely generate in a contraction without tearing would be greater than that of a muscle made of human tissue. But well, that’s all theoretical.”
Wait a minute. Machine? Gus looked around. The room now looked like a gym from back home. How the fuck? “Trando, how come the room looks like something from Earth?”
“I asked AI to display a place dedicated to physical exertion from your homeworld and it showed me quite a lot of holos of places resembling this. It also cross-referenced it with a ‘gym’ that you mention a lot when talking about exercise. This is what I came up with to help get you in the mood for further testing.”
There were racks of free weights, rows of treadmills and bikes, different configurations of benches, racks for deadlifting and squats and even mats placed on the floor around him. “How did all that get here? I was only out for two hours you said,” Gus said with more than a little awe in his voice.
“I had AI synthesise them and transported them here with the help of bots and antigrav loaders.”
Gus was still staring at the equipment. “And what about the materials used? What happens when I’m done?”
“I can just recycle them when their use is over. It will barely put a dent in the supply I have available.”
“I see. I suppose it’s time to get back to those tests? Can you be gentle this time?”
“I can promise you I won’t unnecessarily activate the shock straps.”
“Yeah, I bet.” Gus shrugged. There was no use fretting about it. “So, what’s next?”
“I thought of something resembling combat training but after what you mentioned about muscles, how about some of what you call ‘power lifting’?”
“Sure, why not? I’m curious to see if that serum can really help boost muscle growth.”
* * *
“I’m never doing that again.”
“In all honesty I think you might have overdone it with the weights.”
Gus was laid out next to the bench press setup, wheezing and holding his left bicep. The medical serum was working but too slowly for Gus’ tastes. It was another good five minutes before he felt the sharp pain start to dwindle to a dull throbbing.
“I would say that the maximum amount of weight you can safely bench press is thirty kilos. Your attempt at lifting forty was… unsuccessful to say the least. Still, compared to many species of the Council, that is very impressive. If this isn’t the peak of your abilities, then you could turn out to be a very strong individual once you achieve your potential.”
“Gee thanks, you’ll make me blush.”
“It’s a human thing. I’ll explain later. So what now? Do you want to try that combat simulation you were talking about?”
“Hmmm… I think it’s too early for a combat sim. I need to collate the results I’ve obtained from this round of testing and come up with something appropriate for you. Just based on your reaction time alone, the usual sim would be too easy. Thank you for being such a good participant. I look forward to working with you again.”
“No problem. Hey, you think I’d be able to read through your report when you’re done? I’m curious about my own physical specs.”
“I can probably give you an unclassified version, pending approval from the captain, of course.”
“Coolbeans. Thanks a bunch Trando. Now if you’ll excuse me I have a date with a bed.”