Back when I first started this blog, in 2007, I had an idea for a science fiction story. I still want to write it sometime after I get my doctorate. But I already have a sequel in mind. I wrote the draft of the first two pages tonight to clear my head after doing some research:
The new vintage of Chardonnay-Riesling wasn’t too bad. A bit watery, sweet enough, but certainly too metallic. He liked the slight oily feel though. He kicked back in the chair as Sue smacked her lips after taking a sip.
“So,” she paused, “did everyone finish the book? What did ya think?” A long silence followed before Julia offered up her thoughts. She placed her tablet slowly on the floor where she was sitting Indian style. “I liked it but had a hard time relating.” This was a common issue that Sue wanted to the group to get past. Old literature was beginning to become fashionable again. But all pre-voyage sci-fi was a bit difficult to relate to. “It is clear,” she continued, that these folks had no real time to accept the end, unlike us.”
Ben took another sip and reflected briefly on something his Gramps mentioned. “You know, back a few generations, people used to drink this stuff after it aged in wooden barrels.” All eyes turned to him in surprise. “Really.” They made wooden containers and aged the wine in it. Completely changed the taste. So I have been told.”
Rachel raised her eye brows and exclaimed, “They really had that much wood in those days? How?”
“Well yeah. But it was back on Earth though.” Of course that explained it, she thought. Intrepid had small forests but the trees were no thicker than six or seven inches and were protected. Wood was a precious and expensive luxury.
The conversation drifted back to the book in the club reading list among the eight men and women present and the wine steadily flowed. Some light music was turned on and the lights began to fade out in the commons. It was twilight in the ship’s daily cycle.
Ben walked to the window and looked out into the commons. Under a fruit tree a couple embraced, looked over their shoulders, and stole a kiss. Although he couldn’t hear it from inside the apartment, a stream babbled next to the couple.
Looking up the slope of the interior of the commons, the forest wrapped itself around one-half the way around and another stream flowed. I’m sure the First Gen thought this was mighty bizarre, he mused. After all, the First Gen left early in the mid 21st century and were used to real gravity, not artificial gravity from spinning a spacecraft, or asteroid. Looking upwards to see the ground above you and a body of flowing water had to be utterly unsettling to them. But to those born here, it was all they knew.
“You know,” he interrupted with a too-loud-voice, “that had to be the strangest game of Coriolis Ball. Well, the first time it was ever played, that is.” A couple of uneasy glances were traded among the tipsy clan in the room before the conversation turned back to the gossip of the week. Everyone there had played since they were small children. The spin of the ship would appear to deflect a ball to the side. You got as used to it as you would in the parabolic arc a ball would make going up and then back down. Even the birds and bats got used to it within a few weeks of being fledged.
There was a lot of gossip in hundreds of apartments like this on a Sixer night. Less than 11,000 people was pretty small town especially considering there was no place to go. Well, no place for the next 147 years. And that was a rosy prospect. What if Kepler 244d was too warm or had too small of land masses to live upon? But it certainly was better than the ill-fated Magellan, Ben thought. What an ironic name too. Magellan didn’t survive his voyage around the world and neither did the starship that bore his name. Gramps remembered the news clearly, Ben recalled. He was about ten or eleven when the Earth based relay systems beamed the tragic story which served as a wakeup call to all long duration space flights.
Magellan was the third of the first series of generation starship to leave the Earth in the late 21st century. After the Great Flare that destroyed much of the power grid and crippled the earth’s economy in the 2030’s, serious talk was made to leave Earth in the revelations of the Sun’s doom that followed. No one seriously knew if it could be done. Indeed, only the robotic spacecraft Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, and the older Pioneer craft had ever left the solar system at that time.
Magellan and her sister craft were truly an experiment in manned spaceflight. How anyone could manage to keep a spacecraft made of nothing more that thin aluminum and titanium skin, old style pulse nuclear fission bomb engines, and too much quartz glass was beyond insane. Of course humanity knew that now. But in 2078, 2080, and 2083, the first three of the Viking Class Generational Starships were launched. Two were silent and one, Magellan, confirmed destroyed. Telemetry suggested that the first, Archimedes, was still on route and perhaps only its high gain transmitter was damaged. The second, Galileo, was silent on purpose. Details remained sketchy even after 53 years, but apparently the government was overthrown and a new one imposed. It wasn’t quite a mutiny considering each ship’s inhabitants had a constitutional right to self-govern but after the revolution, the ship went silent. For whatever reasons, all transmissions to it have gone unanswered. But the ship still remains on course to Gilese 115. Why anyone would continue on to the same target after three generations and yet decide to basically stick the middle finger to the rest of humanity was a complete mystery. Certainly a handful of the graduate students in anthropology, governmental affairs, or what have you, were still managing to piece it together although it is hard to imagine with such little data that anyone could get a doctorate with the Galileo as their dissertation.
The Magellan apparently leaked air like a sieve after leaving Neptune’s orbit. Sealants hardened in the vacuum and cold of space and radiation embrittled some of them. Eventually they had to be repaired and replaced and eventually, by Year 45 after launch, a lot of the spare metal plates on board had been used to patch the leaks. The end wasn’t a specular decompression of old, cracked, pressure bulkheads like some of the horror movies of the Second Gen, but rather a sad decay of ship’s components and the ship’s society over time.
Unlike the Intrepid, the smaller Magellan was able to sling past the outer gas giants and burn a lot of fuel and pick up a lot of speed. It made the Oort cloud in 34 years which was considerably faster than any of the other starships that followed. The Oort cloud’s spherical halo of ice balls and future comet nuclei are located 0.7 light years from the Sun. After the Magellan confirmed the existence of the Oort Cloud, which had been long theorized, and confirmed that some of the materials were probably older than the solar system and thus were gravitationally captured objects from older solar systems, the ship’s society settled into the usual Betweeners Mentality, the name given to the quiet plodding along of a civilization in a holding pattern for a long time to come. It usually came in the second generation which typically was after the starships encountered the Oort Cloud. There was no real analog for this quite multigenerational stasis in human history. At least for a while things were stable on the Magellan.
But, and no one knew for sure, some sort of societal breakdown occurred some 15 years later in what the Old Earthers would call “Cabin Fever.” Gramps said maybe the people wore out emotionally like the Magellan did physically. Perhaps leaving the last of those frozen ice balls behind and being completely between the stars had something to do with it. Ben didn’t think so but he didn’t have any better of an idea.
The last transmissions suggested some crop failures and water shortages. Maybe it was like a modern Easter Island, Grandma chimed in. Ben recalled the pictures from primary school of the big statues on the treeless and empty island. Pictures of a society that ate itself alive due to some really bad long-term decisions and then, perhaps at the end, literary ate each other alive. It was the stuff of a Betweener’s nightmare.
The party began to wind down. It was long past nightfall in the commons. Some insects were undoubtedly chirping away as it was ship’s summer season. High above and below, in the surface observatories on the hollowed out asteroid surface, some of the physics and astronomy researchers were probably getting in some good telescope time. Astronomy out in the void was free and unhindered from almost everything.
Couples also found themselves unhindered in the rare times they headed to a surface dome out under the stars. With a blanket and protection, as having children was strictly regulated, they could be the private and emotional lustful animals in a society waiting many years for its mission to begin and its true character to be reawakened. Until then, all the descendants of those that left Earth in those seventeen generational starships decades ago, were just caretakers for the generations yet to be born. Some would be born out among the stars and some to be born on the surface of an alien planet where humanity might get a new chance.