In the vastness of space, Earth's Arks sailed to unknown stars. Amid monotony, passengers found solace in exercise and digital worlds. But each challenge and distant sorrow shaped their evolving identity, hinting at a diverse future among the stars.

8 months ago

Latest Post Infoslate #8 - April update by Kirk Bushell public

The Arks from Earth sped silently toward the stars. At first, there was an excited stream of communication between the great vessels as passengers shared information about their journeys, reports on who had or hadn’t made it aboard, and dramatic tales of escape, sacrifice, or tragedy in the final days of Earth as people once knew it. However, this rush of messages proved shorter-lived than most expected. Transmission delays between the ships increased as they grew further and further apart, and soon reached the point where real-time communication was practically impossible thanks to the time delays. Some went on sending “emails” – there wasn’t really an Internet between the different ships, but the old terminology stuck – with news, updates, or just correspondence. As the days turned to months and the months turned to years, these communications also became less frequent. 

One of the remarkable things that humanity soon learned about space travel was just how boring it could be. Space travel was a game of mass, and only so much mass could be spared for crew space. It wasn’t the absolute least possible amount of space that you could cram people into and still provide life support – someone had calculated a long time ago that a certain amount of personal space and privacy was needed or else people would go crazy if cooped up in a ship too long. It wasn’t exactly luxurious accommodations either, and there wasn’t a ton of space for extra comforts. Furthermore, most of the passengers found themselves with surprisingly little to do during their voyage.

The arks were designed to fly autonomously once they were on course – indeed, there wasn’t that much the crew could do without jeopardizing the mission. There was only so much fuel and reaction mass for the drives, and the courses had been carefully computed beforehand and required little input – yes, there was some surplus ability to maneuver, especially for those ships with more advanced drives, but major changes in course generally wasn't much of a possibility. Most of the time, the ship “flew itself”.

On some of the ships, the passengers were kept busy to at least some degree by the need for frequent exercise to stave off the insidious muscle and bone decay of extended zero-gravity living. In fact, hours of exercise were needed daily. Some were surprised to learn that space travel involved hitting the gym much more than they had on Earth! For those ships with gravity rings, such strict regimes weren’t as necessary, though it was still good to keep moving and exercise to at least some degree. Some ships developed their own zero-gravity games and sports – aboard the Cyan Memory, sports fanaticism took off and rivalries between supporters of rival ‘spaceball’ teams became a source of fierce social tension among the passengers as the journey progressed.

Some turned to entertainment to try and fill the boredom. While there might not have generally been much space for luxury items, digital storage was incredibly small and lightweight, and many arks took to space with vast media libraries. Virtual reality and computer games of various kinds were also popular. Some of the ships, especially those in the initial vanguard, had virtual reality libraries that were packed not with games but with various training simulations for tasks that would be necessary for spacefaring or building colonies on new planets – these simulations themselves became games, as bored crew members competed to see who could get the best score, or the fastest time.

Aboard the ship Tempest, the simulation competitions bore fruit when three adjoining compartments were damaged at once by an internal battery explosion, several crew trapped in one of the compartments rescued – not by the ship’s actual damage control team, which was busy with the next compartment, but by a passenger who had been competing for months for the highest score in the intense Damage Control/Live Casualties simulation and happened to be nearby.

Passengers also didn’t have much to look forward to when it came to dining. Food was an interesting problem – the key issue often wasn’t really the amount of food, but rather the monotony of it. Most of the food and water passengers consumed was recycled from waste matter in a closed-circuit process using various esoteric forms of algae, an off-putting but necessary system for a voyage this long. Space travel was a game of mass, after all, and there just wasn’t enough space to store all the food people would need to eat from stores for trips lasting decades - or longer. A few delicacies were brought aboard several vessels to keep up morale – even a small chocolate ration on a holiday could go a long way, after all – and some other more appealing items could be grown or synthesized in small quantities, but the dining aboard most ships was far from luxurious.

Occasionally, there were problems and mishaps of one kind or another – electrical faults, parts needing replacing, injuries, and so on. These would perhaps even be exciting if not for the risk involved. Even small issues, such as water leaks, failing valves, sicknesses aboard ship, could easily spiral out of control and endanger life or even jeopardise an entire voyage, and that was before getting into the more serious threats. Human ingenuity and resourcefulness often prevailed, even in this unforgiving environment, but it did not always do so and some ships’ journeys were cut short. At the huge distances involved between vessels, the odds of a ship being able to come to another’s aid was essentially zero. These tragedies led to other ships facing a hard decision with the final transmissions from doomed ships: presenting both critical sources of information about what could go wrong, but also a potential blow to morale. Some chose to suppress these transmissions outright or restrict knowledge only to a chosen few, while others decided to inform their crews in full. In some ways, the decision whether to share the records of these disasters was just a microcosm of a broader cultural divergence.

As the ships sailed on and different crews found different solutions to their problems, the subcultures onboard began to grow apart, slowly at first but then faster as regular communication between the ships continued to dwindle. While some ships might stick to a top-down “authoritarian” style of command – or even shift towards dictatorship with more and more power in the hands of the captain and their officers – others chose a more democratic route, shifting more power to those onboard. Some ships had their crews withdraw into old media and virtual reality environments, reliving memories of Earth – others developed their own novel artistic and literary traditions.

Thus, the ships and those people aboard began to diverge – not just in their set destinations, but also in their culture and traditions. Time would tell which of these approaches would flourish and which would falter in humanity’s new life as an interplanetary species.

Kirk Bushell

Published 8 months ago