Thursday, May 3, 2012

5/3/12

Procyon Descent
By John Conway


The day comes too soon. I work up the length of the crop terrace. My waist-high row is lined with scrawny beets sucking what they can from the muck of the nutrient stream. Across is a row of an old Earth grain called barley, followed by eight rows of sheet fungus and more rows of stuff we call food, lining the curved floor that turns up and out of sight behind the matching curved ceiling. It wraps around back to here, everything pressed to the floor by the spin of the ship that's been groaning under the strain for over 800 years. Or so it's told.
The lights wink.
"He's early," I complain.
Megan, two rows over, slows her gray-water flow to a trickle. "Just seems."
I gawk a moment, seeking her eye, just to confirm someone shares this feeling of being rushed. I see it's so. But it doesn't help.
She looks away, seeming small. She wipes the brown fungus stain on her hands. "Time," she says, and abruptly goes left--upspin. I set my blue-algae stream to 'overnight,' and leave the other way.
Dad crouches at the condenser tank pointlessly reading levels that haven't worked for generations. His jumpsuit hangs like a blanket. He must be 90 pounds.
"How ya comin'?"
He jumps, and then brushes his pants and gives me a tight grin that doesn't quite hide his resignation. "Still wanna star gaze?"
I confirm. It's our special thing, since I was real young and he showed me Procyon through an observation chamber view port and explained what it meant to be living in an ark with a destination.
Gina passes us, leading her mom to the Atrium. Good choice: closer to the center, less centrifugal force, and her mom loves the fake Earth garden. The adults think Procyon B will flower like Earth, so they permit the ancient seed and cell vaults to claw at our resources. But they won't suffer the result. They won't strain to restore centuries-idle machines to functionality. As if the Crossing didn't prove we don't need them.
Dad pushes a creaky hatch. "C'mon."
Icy frost bites my lungs. My breath roils, drifting counter-spinward. Down slick metal stairs, we grow heavier approaching the exterior bulkhead. Others are here, but we're dispersed. The view portals are clear, fresh ice recently reclaimed for the system.
Dad peers through. A pinwheel of stars spin around Procyon. "Almost there now."
"What happened to the Bluegrass?" I ask. He won't like the question. But it's my last chance to learn.
He hesitates. "Before my time."
"Carson said it betrayed us, and that's why the Landfall Act." I know he distrusts Carson. They all do. Carson was born during the mandatory birth gap--an illegitimate "travesty."
His head shakes.
"Bluegrass was Landfall supply."
He nods.
"They squandered the supplies on themselves?"
"As told."
He resists filling the gaps. I press. "I saw an old record ... with our family name on the Bluegrass manifest."
"It's a lie," he blurts.
I stare. His shoulders sag. "No one's business anyway. Especially not Carson Pitt."
I want to describe the real Carson. Strong. Decisive. Our leader. But he won't understand. Colonization is theory to Dad. It's reality to me.
"What really happened?"
He leans close. "They were all wasteful. Not just Bluegrass. The mission was doomed. Not enough supplies for fourteen ships."
A chill grips my spine.
"They had to whittle. But they needed a big lie to justify."
"People would know."
"Don't matter. Important thing is"--he glances both ways--"it's bad form to be from Bluegrass. Keep mum."
I swallow. "Okay."
He's right. There'll be times ... decisions will be made. I can't be singled out, ever.
"But stand tall, just the same," he says. "They'll take from you if they can."
That thinking was always the problem, and now it is clearer. While Crossing they competed for resources, cast blame for depletion. They finally cannibalized a ship. But it wasn't enough. Now the food and oxygen won't last-- not with our numbers. That's why the birth gap and the Landfall Act. They all decided. They agreed. Everyone born before the birth gap committed to self euthanize when the solar sails deployed ... so the mission would succeed despite the broken machines ... so we, their legacy, the young and healthy, would survive and descend. But now they've violated the Act. And only to protect their children from each other's-- the same petty competition. They're not eating. But that's not enough. And the time has passed.
"I'll watch out," I assure him, without saying what that truly entails.
He recites his mantra. Everyone's equal. Work together. Be heard.
"I'll assure the colony's survival."
"How are Lief and Dylan?"
My jaw tightens. "Fine." He considers them our leaders, trained in management, democracy, philosophy ... But they, too, know it's Carson.
The power flickers twice. I tense. My skin tingles.
"Dad, I ..."
I look away. He knows.
"It's okay, Son. Anything it takes."
Blood roars in my ears. I place my hands on his shoulders. "I miss Mom."
"Me, too." His smile is thin. His Adam's apple bobs.
I struggle to say something important, but can't. The world reduces in the moist haze of welling tears to an idealized image of him.
I must act. For my place in the colony.
My hands shift to his throat and tighten. He knows his mistake. They all do. They drain our resources. He struggles in reflex, but he is too frail. My eyes stream now as I bring him to the floor.
His grip loosens. I remain tense and locked.
Anything it takes.
The corridor is silent. Soon I'll report to Carson, as will we all.
He will be reclaimed.
My place in the colony is secure, and we will begin our descent.


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I am a complex litigation attorney, the recent grand-prize winner of the Yosemite Romance Writers 2012 Smooch contest, and a winner with 2 science fiction stories in the 2011 80th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition - Genre Short Stories. I wrote and programmed the play-by-mail science-fiction strategy game Powerstar.


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