The Ship of the Unforgotten - Chapter 4

Camp NaNoWriMo

Dann had managed to swing one leg out of the pod just enough for his muscles to give out and leave him awkwardly jammed inside when Rose arrived. She was a state of the art android who served as Rose the ship AI’s physical incarnation. Or at least, Dann thought, she’d been state of the art 500 years ago. She was literally an antique by now!

“Good morning, Pvt. Chambers! Let me help you up.” Rose the android had far more personality than Rose the ship computer. It helped her get along with the crew better. Or it usually helped her get along with the crew better.

“Um, Rose … I just learned that almost three thousand of our shipmates have been dead beside me for 20 years. I’m not thinkin’ it’s such a great morning.”

“That’s true, Pvt. Chambers, but you are still alive, and in just a moment I’ll get you unhooked from the pod.” She was a humanoid android, with a reasonably expressive face that was smiling as she said it. He’d had only minimal contact with her before; the smile looked a little weird to him with her matte metallic “skin.”

“Thank you, Rose. Do you—OW!” Rose began stripping the needles from his arms, legs and torso with great efficiency but not much bedside manner. “Watch out! That’s my skin! OW!”

“I’m sorry, Pvt. Chambers, normally this type of work is outside of my regular duties.”

“Ahhh, that stings!” With Rose’s help, he got himself on his feet. The room was eerie in the near dark. “Lights,” he said, and the main lighting turned on.

“Do you know where the survivors are, Rose?” Dann looked around at the other pods in the room. They were still sealed against the centuries, and whatever had gone wrong with the systems had not interrupted the freezing. The glass on each was frosted, the contents unseen.

“I don’t know for sure that there are any other survivors, Pvt. Chambers.”

“Well how about then possible survivors?”

“The possible survivors are in various locations around the ship, Pvt. Chambers. I can list them for you if you’d like.”

“I’ll never remember all that! Where’s the nearest one?” The ship was huge. In addition to all the drive systems and computer cores one would expect, and the cryo-pod bays necessary for the crew, it contained all of the equipment and pre-fab structures they needed to set up the new colony. This included a massive series of compartments that hosted several square kilometers of artificial biosphere to generate air for the ship, filter both air and water, and provide the new colony with the biological stock it would need to grow.

Dann just hoped that any surviving crew weren’t too far away. His legs definitely didn’t feel up to a long hike.

“Pvt. Lydia Jackson’s cryo-pod is not responsive to status update requests. It’s located in the next storage chamber.”

“Okay. We’ve got to go check on her.” Dann took a few steps experimentally to test his legs out. It was astonishing how much 500 years of frozen, dehydrated immobility could take out of you.

“I recommend waiting before doing so, Pvt. Chambers. You haven’t taken the recommended two liters of water prescribed for post-cryogenic trips of two weeks or more yet, and—”

“Can’t I take it on the way? Most of the crew is dead, Rose, I have to check on anybody who may be left!”

“If you insist, Pvt. Chambers.” She—it—she—Dann settled on thinking of her as she—handed him a thin, white robe. That was when Dann noticed he was naked. He’d probably have blushed if he’d had enough liquid in him.

He shrugged the robe on and checked himself over. He was used to thinking of himself as having a decent tan, but he was so white now he looked like a ghost. His skin was almost translucent, with blue veins visible everywhere. He was incredibly thin, too, which accounted for some of his weakness. Cryo-sleep slowed metabolism to a crawl, but didn’t entirely stop it. His muscles, never the largest or strongest, had atrophied over the centuries. “Oh man, I look like crap,” he said, with almost a tone of wonder in his voice.

“It’s an unavoidable side-effect of such a long cryo-sleep, Pvt. Chambers. Your health will return with proper care.” Rose returned and handed him a large two-liter bottle of water, a proper uniform and a ration bar.

Dann tore into the ration bar, the sight of food triggering a hunger like he’d never known. “Pvt. Chambers, you should drink some of the water fir—”

Dann was already finished the bar. “Any more of those around?” He popped the top off the water bottle and drank several mouthfuls down, intent on starting the search for other survivors. He stood still, letting the water flow into his system, then stood very still as his stomach, unused to containing anything after hundreds of years of dormancy, protested the sudden flood with a loud and supremely uncomfortable gurgle.

“Ooooh… urgh…”

“Your system isn’t used to processing food and water yet. I’d slow down if I were you.”

“You think?” he groaned, and leaned against the wall. “C’mon… ugh!”

“You need to slow, Pvt. Chambers,” Rose admonished. “No other pods have activated. If there are others alive, they’re not going anywhere until we get there.”

Dann let himself relax a little. “Okay, okay.” He took more water, sipping it this time. He was starting to recover a little strength. He turned his attention to the uniform. It was a set of light-duty blue fatigues for on-board wear; long shorts with plenty of pockets, a tank top, boxers, socks and heavy boots with electro-magnets embedded in the soles for traversing areas of the ship that weren’t spinning to provide the equivalent of gravity. He started changing, then glanced at Rose, who stood by, passively observing. “Um, Rose, if you wouldn’t mind …”

“Of course, Pvt. Chambers,” she said and turned away.

He had to stop several times while dressing to take more water. As his system adjusted to the intake, he needed more and more of it. Once he was dressed, he was swigging from the bottle freely, without pain, though he still couldn’t take a lot at once.

“Feeling better, Pvt. Chambers?” Rose asked, once Dann tapped her on the shoulder to indicate it was safe for her to turn around. He felt vaguely ridiculous being modest in front of an android, but her face was just real enough, and just unreal enough, to be unnerving. The uncanny valley, some called it.

It wasn’t so much her metal skin, nor her features; they looked and moved just like they should. When she talked, she had all the patterns down right, except maybe for a slight inflexibility in her speech. It was worse in the ship-board Rose, but there was still a touch of it to the android too. No, he thought. It was the eyes. They’d just never quite gotten the eyes right. Maybe, he thought suddenly, it was that the eyes were right, but they were windows into a soul that wasn’t there.

Those eyes regarded him curiously, waiting. He blinked. “Yes, sorry, Rose. I’m feeling a lot better, thanks. Now can we get going?”

She unlatched the door and opened it up. Sunlight spilled into the bay, and noise filled the air.

They stepped out into one of the gigantic artificial biospheres. Birds chirped among the branches of huge trees, some that looked all the hundreds of years they must have lived. Insects buzzed, and small animals scampered away at the unfamiliar scent of human. Somewhere close, a brook babbled away to itself, helping to filter and clean the ship’s water in as close to a natural cycle as humanity could design.

Dann’s eyes were wide as saucers. “This place … I knew this was the idea, but it feels like I was just here, it was nothing like this when we left!” The biospheres had been just a few years old, prepared in advance of the launch and allowed to grow and get settled. There was a huge difference between a 2 year old managed simulation, though, and that same system, left to fend for and manage itself for centuries.

“True, Pvt. Chambers, a lot has changed over the centuries,” Rose agreed. “My observations have documented 4,728 examples of evolutionary adaptation giving rise to new species, and a further 15,171 adaptations of more subtle varieties.”

“Huh?”

They set off toward the cryo-bay that housed Pvt. Jackson. “New species, Pvt. Chambers, and adaptations within Earth species.”

“But all of this stuff is from Earth!”

“Originally, yes. After 500 years though, only the oldest trees actually originated on Earth. Everything else has lived, reproduced, died, and accumulated changes due to the unusual stresses of living aboard a moving, rotating star ship instead of on a planet. Nothing has changed so much that it’s unrecognizable, but many things, especially the complex bacteria and smaller, shorter-lived species like insects, have undergone tremendous evolutionary changes. They now represent species native to, and unique to, this one ship.”

Just at that moment, something that might once have been a mosquito landed on Dann’s shoulder and bit him. “Augh! If they’re so different, why’re they after me? They haven’t had humans to attack in hundreds of years!”

“They do feed on other animal life though, large and small.” She stopped outside of the bay they were looking for. “Here we are, Pvt. Chambers. Pvt. Jackson lies within.”