>>>>>>>>>>>>> SYSTEM LOG
>>> EVENT: AWK #39874 Prof. Annamarie Manning
>>> MISSION YEAR 500:01:27
>>> CAUSE: ASSIGNED SCHEDULING
>>>>>>>>>>>>> CREW LOG
I knew when I signed on to this mission that I’d be giving up a lot, and I knew I’d be experiencing things nobody else had ever experienced. Knowing it isn’t at all the same as being ready for it.
It has been five hundred years since my last log entry.
Five hundred years!
I knew it would be five centuries when I went to sleep, but now, standing here, all that time gone in an instant!
I’ve been over the crew logs for the last few centuries, and I’m starting to understand why they wanted my crew on board. This journey could last centuries, maybe even thousands of years. Who better to document the history of the people living aboard than anthropologists and historians?
I only wish we could wake up more often, see the lives of these people in more depth and detail, but that’s not the mission. We trade the detail for the long view, a view unprecedented in all of human history. Imagine if we’d had living witnesses with accounts of events surrounding the birth of Christ 2,100 years ago! Or 2,600 years ago, I suppose. Even so, I do envy those whose schedules allow them to wake up more frequently.
Enough of this journaling already. I’ve been asleep since launch, and the journals of those who have already been awakened are fascinating; I have to go see what the natives have been up to while I slept!
Annamarie shut down the logging system with a quick gesture and grabbed a pack from beside the work surface. She had taken the time to prepare supplies for her work before sitting down to record the required logs; she hadn’t wanted to have to waste any time when she was done.
She was out the door in moments. It felt like she’d been in these corridors just yesterday. There was no visible sign of the centuries that had passed. There was nothing definable at all that she could point at to say precisely why the ship felt different, but it did. It felt … older, somehow. But it was a reassuring kind of older, old with the solidity of a mountain.
It was a short journey. Her temporary quarters were located near the preserve, and two minutes later she had reached the first observation post.
It was a small control room that opened onto several additional rooms. She passed straight through to the observation room itself; a large, semi-circular room with a vast curved-glass window that looked out on a stunning view of the preserve. Her breath caught in her throat.
Five centuries had been kind to the Preserve. Gone were the neat rows of stick-like sapling trees she remembered. In their place was a tangled jungle, wild and untamed, untouched by any hint of symmetry. She gazed down over the wilds that covered dozens of square kilometers until they were lost to the vast distance and the gentle curve of the ship.
“Nothing,” she muttered to herself absently. No trace of the inhabitants. She wasn’t surprised; they certainly had better things to do than to hang out conveniently by the control rooms in case someone happened to stop in.
She sighed, disappointed in spite of herself, and started going through the more detailed logs of the last five centuries. She had a lot of catching up to do before initiating contact.
She was just glancing at a maintenance report detailing repairs to one of the ship’s artificial sun surrogates when the faint sound of hurried footsteps reached her, accompanied by a loud yawn. She glanced back toward the outpost entrance, puzzled, just as her intern Jenna rushed in. Former intern, she corrected herself.
“Jenna? I didn’t know you’d be waking up this early!”
“Same time as you. Hi Doc! It’s been centuries!”
“Don’t you ‘Doc’ me, Jenna. We’re colleagues now, call me Anne.” She grinned as she said it. She had recommended Jenna for the position on the crew.
Jenna grinned back, but Anna could see something in the younger woman’s eyes, an underlying tension that she’d never seen before. “What is it?”
She blinked in confusion. “What is what?”
“C’mon, something’s bothering you. What is it? Out with it.”
“No, nothing’s—well, I guess … it’s just a little creepy here, isn’t it? It’s not like I expected. The ship feels different somehow.”
“Well,” she said, glancing back over her shoulder, “the preserve has certainly grown a lot while we were out.”
“No, it’s not that. Or that’s part of it, but—ah, it’s nothing. Maybe it’s this whole being five hundred years out of time thing. It’s sort of weirding me out.”
“Let’s check on the natives then. The reports I woke up to make it sound like they’ve been busy for the last few centuries; there’s lots to catch up on. Should take your mind off it.”
“Okay. It’s not a big deal, but yeah.” She stopped speaking a moment, peering behind Anne out the large window to the preserve beyond. “I don’t see anything from here, do you know where they’re living?”
“I was just about to check on that when you showed up. Let’s check the logs.”
They set about scanning the combined records of the computers and those who had periodically awakened to check on the inhabitants before them, as well as records left by the inhabitants themselves. “Complacent, aren’t they,” Jenna commented dryly. “It’s been 15 years since any of them logged anything at all, and almost a century since they kept the standard reporting schedules correctly.”
“That’s part of why we’re here, to keep them on track when they start to go off.” Within half an hour they had a pretty decent idea of where the central settlement of the inhabitants was most likely to be located and had retrieved a routing solution from the ship’s internal crew navigation system. Anna updated the location data to a couple of tablets. While they worked, an almost unnoticed hum of activity was creeping back to life, casting away the feeling of ancient abandonment that had so spooked Jenna.
Distant sounds of equipment in use carried down the corridors, mingling with the sounds of voices long unused. “Sounds like the rest of the crew are up.”
The mission planners back home and studied the problems of long-term space flight and confinement for many years before this mission had been put together. They knew that the potential psychological cost to be paid by the crew would be very high, and so they’d gone to great lengths to make the ship not just bearable, but actually pleasant to be on. Everything they could think of had been considered, from the colors of the walls, to the diversity of the interior environments, to the almost inaudible but omnipresent background noises that suggested they lived in a larger, more open world than they really did.
One small part of all that planning had gone into crew rotations. Crew who were awakened would be active for a service term of a few months at a time, and 80% of those awakened along with them would be the same from shift to shift, while the other 20% would be new to that larger group, or at least relatively unfamiliar later in the mission when the time came that everyone had served with everyone else at least once. With tens of thousands among the “sleeper” crew, it would be a while before anyone met everyone.
The idea was to preserve a feeling of familiarity alongside something of the unknown. Familiarity can be a great comfort, but taken too far, it leads to boredom, and then a whole host of psychological problems.
Anna took the lead and ushered Jenna through one of the side doors into the Walks. The Walks were a series of open-sided corridors that lined the edges of the preserve. “Aren’t we going to ride?”
“Are you kidding me? Just look at this place! I think we can walk for a while, at least until the next station, get a closer look at what’s happened while we were out.”
They weren’t the only ones to have that same idea. It took them the better part of an hour to walk to the next exit point, and they passed a number of other newly awakened crew, a few legitimately working in the area, most taking flimsy excuses to enjoy the view as they went from one part of the ship to another. Neither of them recognized anyone, but everyone they passed with a smile, and Anna noticed Jenna’s tension draining somewhat.
The preserve itself was breathtaking just in the vast engineering prowess that had been required to recreate such an enormous natural space in a man-made ship, let alone the beauty of seeing it after centuries. The trees were old and wild, rising majestically out of the woods, branches straining towards the artificial track-sun far overhead. It looked like an impressively large space until you saw the tiny little specks shooting around overhead and realized they were birds, some of them large birds of prey, and the colossal scale of the place began to dawn on them.
“And this is just one of them,” Jenna whispered. There were four in total, two up top where they were, and two down below, “under” the ship. “It didn’t look so huge when we saw it before,” she said, almost reverently.
Anna could only nod her head in reply.
It took them twenty minutes to make their way to the station, a walk that covered the barest fraction of the perimeter of the preserve. When they arrived, the transit hub was buzzing with activity, staff and crew mingling and bustling about, hurrying from one place to the next, many still opting for the slower scenic route. The last of the tension drained from Jenna’s frame, and she practically danced her way toward the waiting platform for the train line that would take them nearer their goal. She had to admit that she felt better too, being among people again.
She joined Jenna just as the small open-air train pulled in, disgorging passengers. They stepped aboard and Anna pulled her tablet out, flicking through displays of the data she’d pulled up in the control room. “Wow, they really have moved around a lot. They’re nowhere near where their initial settlement was placed! According to these reports, they’ve pulled up roots and moved their whole village four times in the last five centuries.” She had to speak up as people climbed aboard beside them, filling most of the available seats. “And there’s more than one of them,” Jenna said, a note of surprise in her voice. “According to Dr. Rodriguez, the village divided a little less than three hundred years ago.”
“What?” she asked, surprised, and started flicking through her own displays.
“Yeah,” Jenna confirmed as the train began pulling out of the station. “Sounds like there was some sort of disagreement between the villagers, but there’s nothing that says what they disagreed on. A small group of them broke off from the main village, and …” Jenna’s face crinkled with concentration as she flicked through reports. “There’s barely a mention of them after that. Why wouldn’t anyone have kept track of something like this?”
Anna hadn’t had any more luck. “I don’t know,” she admitted. The train passed into its main transit tunnel, windowed on one side with a breathtaking but suddenly mysterious-feeling view of the preserve. “We’re going to have to find out.”