Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hex - Chapter 1 - "Out"

Out

Everyone had hoped that at this point we’d be traveling as fast as light. Or faster.
That’s what I gather from reading books.
They expected that things would just go on forever in the way they always had.
For sure, they didn’t expect to be in a situation where abandoning the planet was a very strong possibility.
Back on Earth, back in the past, they didn’t think that a small portion of their population would have to be hurtled as fast as we could send them (Roughly a quarter of the speed of light - not slow by anyone’s standards but at this rate you’d be surprised how long it takes you to get anywhere in the galaxy) towards the nearest habitable planet. But here we are, all the same.
Of course, I’m gathering all this information from books I read a long time ago and from the scrambled bits of info our computer is willing to divulge. I’ve never been to Earth nor has anyone else on board this ship. Many people on board have a fairly justified doubt as to whether or not the Earth even exists or not and for that matter if our destination planet - Espar XIV - exists either.
Who can blame them? For all I know they’re right. Maybe this thing that we’re told is a spaceship of some kind is all there really is and the things we’re told are burning balls of gas surrounded by spinning rocks they call planets are nothing more than distant sparks.
Or maybe other spaceships.
Or maybe nothing.
Or maybe what we think is happening is just a poor translation from the computer’s logs.
Maybe we’re all hurtling into the middle of a gigantic star to be burned alive.
Maybe.
Well, in spite of my doubts at times I believe in the Earth. I see no reason why the books and the computer would lie or what benefit someone would have to create such elaborate hoaxes.

So, as far as I can gather, we are heading towards Espar XIV which, it is said, is the nearest habitable planet to the Earth. A relatively short 106 light years away. A journey which could end up taking us the best part of 500 years going at top speed.

Sometimes it’s amazing to me that the people who left Earth on this ship knew they weren’t going to see the end of it’s glorious journey. Sometimes it’s amazing even that no-one now and for a few generations to come, is going to see either the start or the end. Sometimes though, it makes perfect sense. The Earth must have been pretty far fucked up for people to be willing to, in a sense, sacrifice themselves for the sake of the remote chance that a colony can be established on some distant planet.

Crazy. Crazy is what people get when desperation, need and anxiety all fumble at each other and fight for dominance.

As far as I can tell we’re about three quarters of the way through our epic journey but it’s hard to tell.

It seems that up until quite recently things were going okay though. The spaceship is designed to be a moving city with all the conveniences and productions and foods and everything that they apparently have on cities on Earth. A spaceship capable of sustaining a population of about 10,000 people with room for it to grow to as much as 30,000, if needed. Complete with full medical wing, schooling system, security services and of course ample storage room for the many machines and gadgets designed to help terraform our new planet, once we reach there. Everything was going well, we think, right up until the point that a rogue disease sprang up from who knows where. The disease was a sophisticated virus that attacked fully formed beings only and quickly wiped out all of the adult population. The logs say that the oldest crew member at this point was 16 and the number of personnel had dropped to around 3000. A disaster by anyone’s standards. The computer did it’s best to quarantine the survivors and eradicate the virus before they became adults and presumably fell victim to the virus too and it looked like it succeeded but in just a single generation the virus re-emerged and wiped out half of the remaining crew leaving a 12 year old girl as the eldest crew member and a meager population of 500 or so below her. The computer once again made attempts to eradicate the virus and this time, it seems, it succeeded (Though, that’s what it thought last time). So here we are, a little down the road from there, many of the survivors of the second plague are still among us, in their late twenties to thirties by now - though the life expectancy at this point is somewhere around 29. Whether this is something to do with the virus or purely down to our limited ability to utilize the fairly sophisticated equipments and remedies in the Medical Deck isn’t too clear but certainly no traces of any virus remain. Not a one, which is the way it ought to be. How could a virus strike a ship that was heavily disinfected and screened that hadn’t had contact with any living being not on it’s crew in nearly 300 years? Hard to tell. Impossibly without the computer running at full capacity.

Regardless, here we are. A ship of humans all self-educated. Many of us have gathered a lot of information from the computer’s databases on what the ship is and what we’re doing etc. but many more chose a life of ignorance and of decent. Still others faction away in their own ways. All groups dominating their own little areas of the ship and rarely if ever, interacting with anyone from a different group.

I am thankfully part of one of the more enlightened groups, at least I like to think we are.

At the moment I’m standing around in my usual location in the control deck. I’m always here or occasionally in the observation suite - I really don’t see the need to be anywhere else in the ship. In fact, I literally can’t recall the last time I was anywhere else. My mind is so wrapped up in the workings of this ship and our eventual goal… well, I guess there are just more important things to do than wandering the ship.  These two rooms are the only two rooms where the computer mainframe can be accessed and it’s always useful to have that available to you.

In the control deck with me just now are Adam and Samantha both similar to me in many respects in that they crave knowledge and are constantly trying to figure out what went wrong with the ships computer and crew so many years ago. You see, the computer is supposed to have some degree of Artificial Intelligence and it clearly did at some point - making decisions on behalf of the crew and interacting and teaching them any new developments. Pretty vital when most of this mission is a dive into the unknown where a logical analyzing mind would be extraordinarily useful however as long as anyone can remember, and probably long before, the computer has been essentially primitive. A wealth of knowledge that is only accessibly manually. Still extremely useful, which is why I never stray far from it’s vaults of information, but undoubtedly less useful than a fully functioning AI computer like we’re supposed to have would be.

Evidently at some point it must have shut off it’s AI capabilities, possibly in a fit of madness or shame for what happened to the crew. We know it did this to itself because the  Orb that is present in all AI machines is still in tact and destroying or removing that would be the only way that any outside influence could switch off the AI function. My own view is that the computer felt so ashamed that it was unable to really protect the crew that it decided it was no longer viable and out of sadness turned itself off. For some reason I think about the computer a lot and feel an overwhelming sadness when I think about it’s life ending. Very sad. When I talk about the computer’s mind needing restored it seems to make Adam and Samantha feel uncomfortable, though. Much as they are fairly set in trying to work out what went wrong with the computer and indeed the ship, the thought of the computer’s AI at times disturbs them and other times simply bores them. Well, it’s just as well I give a crap, I suppose, because I seem to be the only one truly capable of digging information out of these ancient circuits and it must be due to my overall dedication to the life of the computer.

“How far along are we, Hex?”, Adam is speaking to me

“We’re around 75 light years from Earth I suppose. Another 36 light years and change before we reach Espar XIV.”, I estimate.

Adam is a fairly tall blonde individual and in spite of being only 19 has a full beard and long whisps of hair down past his shoulders. It may be purely from laziness but it gives him an air of wisdom far beyond his age. He is, at the moment, flicking through some computer paper that he has evidently printed off somewhere else in the ship. He has, of course, asked me how far we are in our journey many time but sometimes he asks me simple things like that over and over again as if to check that I’m still paying attention.

“75 Light years. So the ships been traveling in space for what… 300 years or more?”, he asks

“Yes, roughly. I’m not 100% sure on the time frame but judging by the stars around us and what I can gather about astronomy… or what I can remember…”, I start to fade in my thoughts

“I seem to remember you mentioning messages from Earth you dug up from the first or second generation. Do you remember that?”, it seems like he’s asking very matter of factly but I can tell he’s getting at something.

“Yes. Trivial messages though. Status reports back and forth, that kind of thing.”

“And why do you suppose they stopped coming?”

“I suppose,”, I start to ponder “I suppose that after we got a decent distance from the Earth the messages would take longer and longer to reach us - since they would travel at light speed. Eventually the reports would be so faded and altogether irrelevant by the time they reached us that they probably stopped. Any messages for loved ones would also cease of course, since by the time generation one died out no-one from the ship would have any real connection to people on Earth.”

“Right. So, the Earth wouldn’t really have any reason to contact us anymore?”

“Correct. I think the reports state that when we’re within a hundred years of landing the computer will send a signal back to Earth so it reaches it a little be3fore we land. Beyond that there should be no reason for contact.”

“Right, right…”, he sighs and looks down at his print outs

“Why? Is something wrong.”, I ask

“No. I don’t think so. It’s just that we received a message earlier today. I haven’t had a chance to decipher it at all yet but it looks like it’s from Earth. Of course, it could be anything. Probably nothing, false alarm, you know.”, he seems to say this as if he hopes it’s nothing

“But where did it come in? I’ve been here in the control deck all day. This is where all messages are supposed to route through?”, for some reason this fact gives me a distinct feeling of anger towards whoever sent the message to the wrong place

“It was sent deliberately to the Officers’ sleeping quarters for some reason, Hex. Like I say, it’s probably just some freak signal but if it is from Earth they obviously wanted someone to see it right away.”

“Right away?”, I laugh slightly “If that signal came from Earth it would have to have been sent about 70 years ago”

“Yes, I suppose so”, he laughs a little too “Well, like I say - probably nothing”

He wanders out studying the print outs intently leaving Samantha and I in the room. Samantha is sitting on the floor reading through some fiction novels she’s gathered.
Strange, I think, as Adam leaves. He’s studying those print outs very closely for someone who really thinks they’re nothing. A thought comes to mind, and I’m not sure why, but if the signal is from Earth and was sent 70 years ago as I calculated then that means it was sent probably only 20 years or so before the first virus hit. Is there a connection? It seems unlikely but I suppose once Adam translates the print outs we’ll find out if it’s anything we absolutely have to know or not.

For now I’ll just continue sit and enjoy the company, albeit quiet and withdrawn, that Samantha provides as she idly flips through her novel. Samantha never seems to look at me, even when she’s talking to me, she just speaks out into the room as if it didn’t matter where I was standing. It’s a funny way to be but it’s obvious to me that she’s just sop wrapped up in her books most of the time that she doesn’t even want to shift her gaze away for a moment - fearing she may lose her space.

Of course, she looks up for Adam.

I wonder, but can’t bring myself to ask, if she and Adam are an item. I hope so. They’d make a lovely couple.

I find myself lost in thought and before I know it Samantha’s gone and it’s night time. I must have fallen asleep again.