Settlers of the Void


Retraining

Oversight finished programming the farming simulator. I spent four hours training with it this morning inside one of the coffins – it’s sort of like a flight sim, but a hell of a lot more boring.

It based the program off of archival footage of Iowa. Although the graphics are a little rushed and sometimes it crashes, Oversight did a pretty good job with the coding. While I trained I heard simulated birds nesting in simulated trees, felt the non-existent breeze blow in my hair, and saw distant fields of wheat and corn that looped from virtual east back around to virtual west. Since I’ve never eaten cabbage before, the computer was nice enough to simulate what it tastes like for me. It’s better than Nutri-Stew, but not by much.

By the time I was done ploughing, my back hurt and the palms of my hands had chafed.

“Do you enjoy being a farmer?” Oversight asked once I opened the lid to the coffin and started suiting back up.

“It seems repetitive,” I said, relieved that the pain in my back was gone. “Same as any other job, I guess.”

“I see,” it said. “What about the cabbage? Will you like eating it, you think?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Food’s food.”

“I think you will all be very happy here,” the computer said. “The planet is in better shape than I estimated it would be.”

When I asked when it thought we would be able to go outside, Oversight didn’t give a straight answer. It just printed out a bunch of probabilities to the console, the way it sometimes does when it feels uncomfortable in a conversation.

#

Still no progress finding the rats. I made a full tour of the seed storage area and went down to Cryo to see if Theresa and the rest had noticed anything strange, but there was nothing: no chewed wires, no holes in the grates, no signs of any kind. Maybe all we saw was a ghost.

Walking through the hallways that connect the storage bays makes me think about how many more of us used to be alive than there are now. At our peak there were over a thousand of us, I think. Most died from cancer. It’s what’ll get all of us in the end, assuming starvation or a poisoned atmosphere doesn’t kill us first.

Down in the service passageways, silent except for the dull hum of electronics, it can get real lonely. When we were little, Dawn and I used to explore the corridors of the ship for hours at a time. She used to be such a weird, awkward child. Skinny legs, never quite comfortable with her body. Same as me, I guess. When you’re a kid the adults hide all the bad parts of the universe from you. You only see the good stuff. At the time we thought that our coming here was some sort of grand adventure, not what it really is: a backup plan to a backup plan to a backup plan, something that was largely improvised and could have easily ended up with everyone dead and the Hierophant drifting forever as a floating tomb.

#

Dawn was at our window this afternoon reading one of the newly printed novels: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I mentioned I had seen obvious typos and misprints in the stacks of books, but it didn’t seem to bother her.

“I’ve noticed them too,” she said. “But once you get involved in the story they’re only a minor inconvenience.”

“I can’t help thinking that maybe we’re not getting the real thing,” I said. “I mean, if the computer rewrote a whole chapter of Anna Karenina how would we even know? Nobody’s got it memorized. Nobody who’s still alive has even read it before, probably. You could be reading the wrong book entirely and not even realize it.”

She thought about what I said for a while, looking across the broad expanse of black outside the window.

“I guess it doesn’t really matter, does it?” she said. “Not as long as we learn something. Or feel something.”

“No,” I said. “Maybe not.”

Most of the old books are so dry and boring that I can’t imagine how anybody can get anything out of reading them. But, since we’re about to live in a world of paper and dust instead of silicon and sterile hallways, I better adapt. Hiroshi’s reading One Thousand and One Nights and I’ve started Walden.

“Did you find the rats?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “I think they’re getting smarter about where they hide.”

“What are you going to do when you find them? Kill them?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Otherwise they could get at the seeds.”

“I doubt you’ll ever catch them all. They’re good survivors,” she said. “Like us.”

“Yeah,” I said. “We’re rats in a cage, that’s for sure.”

“Not for much longer,” she said, smiling.

I love it when she smiles. We talked for a while watching the soil grinder move from one side of the sunset to the other: about the planet and what all will happen to us next, mostly. Everybody has a prediction, but nobody knows for sure.