Experiment. Here is a draft preface to the first story in the sci fi novel I’ve largely pretended I was going to write over the past couple decades. Probably won’t use it, but it captures something of the ideas and flavor I’m going for. So I’m throwing it up here. What do you think?
“What are your thoughts on murder?”
“Could you be a little more specific?” The young woman, with practiced calm, remained unruffled.
“It’s a long trip.” Her interrogator, equally impassive, continued. “There’s bound to be a few people who get through the screening who can’t take it, where the combination of vast emptiness and tight confinement push them a bit too far.” He cocked his large grey head slightly on the other side of the plain grey desk. “Someone starts getting ideas, maybe not even crazy ideas, and starts telling himself that nobody else can be trusted, that everybody else needs to wake up.” His level gaze never left her face.
“The Argos is a huge ship,” she replied, wondering how hard she should stare back. Hard enough to say ‘confident’ but not cross the line to ‘aggressive’. “I don’t think lack of space should be an issue.” She was stalling.
The large, grey man stood up, and walked over to the window, and seemed to examine the skyscrapers it framed, his back to the applicant. “Have you ever been to Hawaii?” She waited. “Huge islands. Very beautiful, a paradise, even. Several million people live on them. But you can drive all the way around any one of them in a couple hours.” He paused.
Slowly, she ventured, “Some people don’t like it?”
He turned back toward her. “After three days there, I was itching to get back to the mainland. I had Honolulu behind me, looking out on thousands of miles of ocean in every direction. I felt trapped. Three days in, on paradise.”
“So, you’re not going?” She asked with genuine curiosity.
“Me? Nah.” He sat back down. “I’ll live out my days on this little rock, trying not to think how small it is compared to the enveloping black.” He settled in his chair, and seemed to relax a bit. “So, guy like me gets through the screening, a few years in, starts quietly freaking out – will you kill me if you have to?”
She weighed her choices, and decided to go with honest. “No. I would bring the situation to the attention of the proper authority.”
“And what if the proper authority doesn’t believe you or otherwise fails to act?”
“Then we have bigger problems than one lonely guy losing it.” Her gaze returned to steady.
He leaned back in his chair and gave a slight nod. “Good answer. Now, what do you think of marital fidelity?”
She started slightly, then recovered. “What does that have to do with the long ships?”
He leaned forward. “This is an important question. Do you believe two people can take such a vow to each other and honor it for the rest of their lives?”
She was taken aback. “I – I don’t know. I suppose they can. If they want.” She had anticipated, even dreamed of, all the weird requirements of long-term space travel, of the heroic sacrifices the team would have to make. But was there a requirement she live like her great grandparents? She wasn’t sure that was the sort of romantic adventure she hoped space travel to be.
“Knowing what you know about this mission, why do you suppose we ask about marital fidelity?”
She had a salvaging thought. “To weed out the religious fanatics?”
He was looking at his desk, and seemed to be reciting a speech. “We are expecting at least two or three generations of people to spend their lifetimes onboard a ship with other people not of their choosing, some of whom they are guaranteed to dislike. The passengers and crew will take vows regarding their duties on board the ship, to obey the authorities, to honor the mission.”
“Years of research and dry runs have shown – to the surprise and disappointment of many, I might add – that in order to have one big bickering, grudge holding, petty family that, nonetheless, still can get the mission completed, you need moms and dads that stick to each other for better or worse, richer or poorer – all that hopelessly romantic claptrap.” He re-engaged his steely eyelock. “It only works if that level of dedication is inculcated from the womb, by the only person who matters to that baby.”
“You’re kidding me.” She dropped her interview persona and slipped unconsciously into her default brilliant post doc. “You’re saying that, for this trip to succeed, only hetrosexual couples mentally inhabiting the Dark Ages need apply, and that mothers” she flinched, “must physically bear and raise their own children?”
A slight curl raised a corner of his mouth. “Oh, it’s worse than that. It’s not just a matter of personal vows. The society on the ship must reinforce and, if necessary, enforce these behaviors. They must be societal norms, accepted by everyone, expected by everyone.”
He stood again and turned again to look out the window. He must have been an actor, she thought, with these dramatic pauses and bits.
He continued. “The very idea that someone would break a vow must be seen as a horror, a disgrace, a threat to everyone’s well-being. If not, why, all those pledges we extract from each person on board, to put the welfare of the ship and the colony first, don’t mean jack.”
Silence filled the room. The winter sun fell below the skyline, and darkness began to spread. Through the large window past the Interviewer, she saw one of those ubiquitous air party ships passing slowly between the slender skyscrapers, retro-neon lights flashing, illuminating its huge, bulbous hull. Along its bottom edge were many large sloping windows, through which she could imagine she saw the endless party therein contained. An observation deck, like a giant’s underbite, protruded from the ship’s leading edge. Scrolling illuminated text several stories high let it be known which sexual and chemical activities would be celebrated on-board.
“It’s not enough that you are allowed to do whatever you want,” the interviewer was clearly examining the scrolling text as well, “you must let everybody else know you’re doing whatever you want.”
He continued to speak with his back to her. “Oh, we know it won’t work perfectly, people being people. And we considered maybe something like Buddhism or even some sort deep training, with mental and physical disciplines – space Ninjas, we called that idea – but, in the end, the old bonds of family and friends seems to work best.”
He turned toward her, wresting her attention from the airship. “What do you think? You’re young, the file says you’re still fertile.” He wondered at that – most college girls got the treatment by the time they were 16. Some young people are just too proud. “Could you get and stay married for the rest of your life? We need replacement generations, and you might be called upon. Duty and all that.”
“I – I don’t know.”
“We didn’t think you would know,” he said, turning back to the window. “In fact, your profile suggests you would be a poor fit for our little medieval village in the sky.” Her face was a mask. He continued. “The reason you’re here at all is that, trumping even the need for faithful parents is the need for certain technical specialties. You’re the best of the best in exobiology. Terraforming will often involve a lot of pest control, you might say. The labs on the Argos are state of the art, finest money can buy. Shame if we couldn’t staff them with top talent.”
She said nothing. He went on, turning back to the airship, now facing them as it rounded Gilead Tower a mile away. “So, the real question is: can you fake it? Can you keep your personal opinions and behaviors to yourself? Or do you need to broadcast them, like those fine souls on that airship?”
The interviewer turned his head back toward her. Past him, she thought she saw a human form, tiny with distance, throw itself off the observation deck and disappear into the darkness below. Her face and voice were grim. “I think I can. I would give anything to try.”