The Mission

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
To travel to another star system would take generations. A short-story exploring what would happen as the generations passed and Earth became more and more of a distant dream.

Submitted: December 13, 2008

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Submitted: December 13, 2008

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A A A


The Mission
 
 
 
“We are Gen 26. We believe in the Past, the Future and the Present. We know where we’ve come from and we know where we’re going. We are Gen 26.”
 
Like everyone else, Mark repeated the Oath of Purpose before sitting down to middle meal. Today was Day 4, so it was green food day. Normally this was Mark’s favourite, but today he could take no pleasure in it. He was suffering from Bluespurps, the lack of purpose that so affected everyone on the ship, as hard as they fought against it.
His colleague Rea was sitting beside him. She recognised the Bluespurps in his vacant eyes, in the downturned mouth, in the hunched shoulders. Briefly, she considered moving to another table to avoid him.
This was perfectly within her rights, as laid down in the Codes and Norms of Behaviour, largely unchanged since the Emotions Statutes of Gen 3. Bluespurps was contagious, and almost impossible to cure. The possibility of improving someone’s mood was less than the possibility of a victim of Bluespurps making you feel sad, so people rarely spoke to sufferers of Bluespurps. If they needed to speak to someone, the robotic councillors were always availably, programmed to dispense sympathy and to be understanding.
Nevertheless, she decided to stay sitting beside him, without really knowing why. It just felt right. It was so rare to actually feel anything that Rea did it without thinking. She made a mental note to record the feeling in her Emotions’ Diary, and to lodge it with the Emotions’ Bureau. It was her first emotion of the week, and she was relieved to experience it.
Clearing her throat she began to speak to him:
 
“May purpose be with you, Mark”
“And also with you, Rea.”
“Does the food emote you?”
“No, it doesn’t taste today. And yours?”
“It’s better than Day 3, but not as good as Day 1. I like red food. What’s your colour?”
“I like green food, but today it doesn’t taste. Today, I don’t emote.”
“A black or a grey day, Mark?”
“Grey, grey. Not black, just grey.”
 
Rea was about to put her hand on his hand, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. In spite of the Committee’s encouragement of physical contact, and the Contact Decrees of year 26-15, there was an aversion to physical contact among everyone on the ship; an aversion bordering on a psychosis. With each generation, this distaste for physical contact or even close proximity grew stronger. It had started in Generation 3, but since cloning was the main method of generation replacement, it didn’t seem to matter.
“Did work distract you today Mark?”
“I logged only 4 moments of distraction. The rest was silence and internal monologue.”
“Perhaps you should ask our supervisor to play a different role in the daily task rota-something with more meaning.”
“Meaning. All tasks are meaningless. That is known; often unspoken, but known. The Ship controls everything: Its automated navigation systems direct us through the void of space; Its robots feed and cloth us; Its laboratories replicate and clone us-generation after generation, on and on. The Ship is mother and father to us. We have nothing else.”
“Yes, of course, but it is possible to win distraction from tasks, to lose oneself, albeit only for a moment. We must live in the present, in one of the lost generations, but our lives will pass more quickly and less painfully if we force ourselves to become distracted by events.”
“Events without purpose,” Mark said sadly.
“Forget the P word-embrace distraction.”
“What role did you play today?” Mark asked Rea, looking up from the green food and noticing for the first time that here eyes were also green.
“Today, I reordered old-fashioned paper files, thousands of them. I filed them alphabetically and then placed them in a storage cupboard.”
“Yes, and tomorrow you will refile them chronologically. Where is the purpose? It was not always like this. I have studied the Vidblogs from Generation 1. They did not perform tasks like this. It’s not …natural.”
“Nothing on the Ship is natural; not this food, not the Ship itself, not even us. We are part of the Ship and the Ship is part of us. The purpose is the task and the task is the purpose.”
“Oh, nevermind the Mantras, Rea. We say that at the beginning and at the end of each work period, but we never stop to think about what it actually means. The Gen 1’s had no Mantras, no Slogans, no Oaths of Purpose.”
“We are not Gen 1’s; we have never lived on Earth, never known anyone who lived on Earth. We cannot be like the Gen 1’s. We must…”
 
Rea was about to use another Mantra but stopped herself and tried to speak from the heart instead. This was difficult, reliant as they had all become on Mantras and Slogans; unused as they all were to having anything real to say, any real reason to communicate.
 
“You know where these negthoughts lead, don’t you Mark. You know what happens to those with chronic Bluespurps, those the Ship cannot help...The only exit is the recycling chambers and the… Gas of Peace. I would rather not have that happen to you. I would rather not lose you to the gas.”
Rea blushed a little but not enough to trigger the Emotocams, the emotion cameras. Mark twitched a little, uncomfortable with the expression of what appeared to be of a direct emotion.
 “It will be better after the midmeal, in the creative tasks. You like creation time, don’t you Mark?”
“Yes…sometimes. What will it be today?”
“The Creative Schedule has been programmed for a drawing task today. We are to draw small pictures in the left corner on the files that are have prime numbers in their ref codes.
“So, we are to create …beauty,” Mark said, blushing a little at the use of such an old-fashioned word, such a Gen 1 word. “And what’s the prize?” he continued.
“The most…beautiful picture, by popular vote of all team members, will receive two sleeping tablets and will become the Group Leader on Day 5.”
 
The meal went on, and both Mark and Rea did their best to keep the conversation going, excited and tired by the strain of real communication, strangely interested in what each other had to say.
 The Word Counter programme noted that their conversation was the second longest of any of the 500-strong corps in Canteen 5, and they received a Merit Point each. However, the language bot also found evidence of references to BluesPurp in their conversation, so it was not recorded and logged for all to enjoy.
This somehow secretly pleased both Mark and Rea, who for reasons they did not understand, felt uneasy about sharing every detail of their lives with the Blogs, the Emotion Diaries and above all with the omnipresent Emotocams, ever watchful for signs of emotions that could be shared with everyone, that could help people live in the present, that would help everyone become more human.
The post midmeal creative task failed to really distract Mark. Like all the other team members, he drew pictures of the Ship and the stars, of the robots and the Blue Circle that represented the Earth. He stared at a nearby globe of the Earth; so round, so spherical, so… beautiful.
He considered briefly drawing a picture of Rea, but somehow felt it would have been rude: too personal; too close to physical contact somehow. He also had to admit to himself that he didn’t do it because he was afraid that such an act would have been noticed by the members of his work group, who might then decide to nominate them for a Work Group 5 Reality Show, and then his every move and his every glance in Rea’s direction would then have been recoded by the Emotobots and edited into a Daily Love Diary by one of the director droids. There were currently only two Reality Shows in Work Group 5, both dull and deeply unpopular, so the director droids would be sure to cover whatever was happening between himself and Rea very closely.
This thought made him feel something he believed used to be called ‘anger’. It was an altogether unpleasant emotion, but it was an emotion nonetheless, and a new one too. He felt his heart beat rise and his teeth grind, odd physical manifestations of this powerful emotion.
Sensing that this anger emotion would make the Reality Show even more likely, and could even lead to it being syndicated to other Work Groups, Mike hurried to a nearby arts’ supplies cupboard where he remembered there was no camera. He waited in there until the emotion subsided and then returned to the group, not looking in Rea’s direction lest he experience other emotions the Emotocams might pick up on.
When Creative Tasktime was nearly finished, his group walked around their workspace and evaluated the drawings of their companions, placing a blue Earth sticker on the drawing they liked best. Mark chose Rea’s and Rea chose Mark’s. Two members of the group noticed this irregularity and logged a possible emotional bond development in their journals for the night. Had it been 5 journal entries the camera bots would have started to follow Mark and Rea very closely, looking for any signs of material to make a Reality Show for Work Group 5.
The director droids were more than a little worried by the rating figures for Work Group 5’s two current reality shows: one involving a man who liked to sing Gen 1 hymns to himself in the shower, called the Singing Shower Man, and the other focusing on the relationship between two work office colleagues who liked to compete on how quickly they could file things, called The Filers. Of the ten Work Groups on the Ship, Work Group 5’s reality shows had the lowest ratings, and director droid 5 really needed to improve its ratings if it was to avoid being reprogrammed.
Since there were so few relationships these days, it had become standard practice to share what few there were, so that all might experience, even if only vicariously, a genuine emotional bond. It had been found that this was only really effective if you actually knew the person in the reality show, so each Work Group had its own Reality Show.
In his cubicle at pre-sleep time 3, Mark sat at his console and surfed the Ship’s memory banks, like he did every night, like everyone else did.
He called up images of Earth and displayed them on the walls around and behind him, and on the wall in front of him, he watched video entries from the Gen 1’s. A part of him wanted to call Rea on the Vidphone, but that was sure to arouse interest because almost nobody ever called anyone these days.
Instead Mark focused on The Gen 1’s; that link with the past; those people from the beginning, when days had names instead of numbers, and man was born of woman, and not created by the Doctorbots in the Maternity Laboratory.
The Gen 1 video blogs, although few in number, were by far the most popular blogs on the Ship’s memory banks, even though no-one in Gen 26 could genuinely claim to understand them. Many Gen 1 video blogs were legendary and sometimes entire books had been written about the maker of an individual blog, at least before Gen 10, when writing books suddenly and inexplicably died out.
Gen 26 often spoke of the most famous Gen 1 Video blogs informally together, and hardly anyone’s blog and journal entries did not make some reference to them. They had become an essential part of the shared consciousness of the Ship’s inhabitants, a part of its culture.
Indeed, in the weekly Group Counselling Session on Day 7, they sometimes analysed the video blogs together and tried to uncover their meaning; tried to understand the emotions of these alien Gen 1 creatures, so very different to their own generation. They tried to understand this attachment to the planet Earth from people who had actually lived there; people who had lived outside the Ship.
As the bedtime buzzer sounded and Pre Sleep 3 period changed to Bed 1 time, Mark lay down and looked at the ceiling video. He had changed to a Gen 3 video blog; an entry he could more clearly understand from a creature who suffered the same sense of angst, and the same dispiriting loss of purpose.
As he spoke, he could see the BluesPurp in his eyes, even though this term had not yet come into common usage. Mark fell asleep as the sad face tried to explain his feeling of drift and dread.
 
“When my father’s generation were retired at 65, and the Gen 2’s came to an end, something else died on the Ship. In a way, our very humanity died with them.
They were the only people who actually knew the Gen 1’s, the First Generation, the true Earthlings. The Gen 2’s were the last point of real contact with Earth, who even if they were not true Earthlings they had at least known real Earth people. They were human by association. They lived and loved in a way that we cannot seem to do more than imitate now. We are losing ourselves.
This voyage to Centauri 5, to the Sipods and their cities of glass, is going to take 42 Generations, even as we approach the speed of light, but already there are many who wonder if we will make it.
A malaise has gripped Generation 3, and suicide rates have already reached double figures, and each day brings a higher death toll.
Emotion Committees are being set up and I’ve applied to join one. We must learn to create a sense of purpose for this generation. Knowing that we are a step in the line to Generation 42 is not enough. We must create something else. I do not know what, but there has to be a reason, a purpose.
We are doomed to live now, one of the lost generations, but the future depends on the present. We must believe in the future and we must know our past, but we must also believe in the present.”
---------------------------------------------------
Mike, like every other member of the 5000-strong crew woke up to the sounds of the musically chimed alarm clock. He had vague memories of a dream about walking with a girl with no face through the deserted corridors of the ship; neither of them saying anything and both of them looking for something, looking for an exit of some kind, but never finding it.
The dream left his head when he got out of bed and stood up for the Morning Mantra. Like everyone else on the ship he had repeated this mantra at the beginning of every day since before he could remember.
 
“Gen 26, we live in the Heavens,
Honoured is our name
Our Ship has come from distant Sun
Bringing Earthlings into Heaven
Give us this day the will to be
And let us not question our purpose
As we were in the beginning
Humans without end
A-Men”
 
It was Day 5, so he put on his blue Day 5 overalls and made his way quickly to the canteen, secretly hoping to meet Rea on the way, or at least hoping to be able to sit beside her in the canteen. When he got there, the canteen was already half full and he had difficulty finding her.
 He realised that it might have been the first time since childhood that he had actually sought someone out, that he had not just sat anywhere and exchanged pleasantries with whoever happened to be at the same table.  Most people on the Ship did not have what the Gen 1’s used to call ‘friends’ and few of the Gen 26’s could really understand what was meant by the term. Since everyone was now almost exactly the same, it seemed illogical to favour one person over another in such a way.
When his roaming eye found Rea, Mark’s heart muscles started to behave erratically. He considered going to one of the Doctor Androids immediately to have it investigated, but then he remembered a Gen 1 video blog in which a woman had described her heart as ‘missing a beat’ when she haw her husband, and he thought this was probably what had happened to him.
He walked over to the long table at which Rea was sitting and waiting for the Servant Droid to bring her a minimeal 1.
When she saw him sitting down she smiled. She smiled in a way he had not seen before, excluding scenes the Gen 1 Vidcasts, and then he returned the same smile; a natural, authentic smile that that erupted from within. They both felt nervous for no reason, but also excited. They wanted to say something, but something beyond a pleasantry, something more meaningful than a mantra.
As they stared at each other, communicating with their eyes, an Emotobot spotted them. Its programming told it to alert the director droid whenever it witnessed one of the behaviours that had been seen in Gen 1 Vidcasts but had since disappeared; one of the lost emotions and extinct behaviours.
Director Droid 5 immediately ran a full body scan on Mark and Rea and noticed an elevated heartbeat, raised serotonin levels and even some indicators of sexual excitement, such as nipple arousal and penile extension.
Without hesitation, it immediately booted up a complete android camera crew and deployed the seven super mobile robots around Mark and Rea, careful to get every possible angle, to be ready for every possible close up. He was determined to record every single emotion.
The compare for the Reality Show was also hastily booted up. He called himself Dave Droid, and it had last been used on a long discontinued quiz show called ‘The Droid is Right’.
Dave approached the couple and immediately introduced himself and the Show.
 
“Hi there viewers! I’m Dave Droid, and I’ll be your host for the Ship’s latest Reality Show: The Mark and Rea Show-a Lovvvvvvvvvvvvvvvve show! Let’s get to know the lovebirds right away!”
He stuck a microphone between Mark and Rea, and went on:
“So, how do you feel now?
Tell the viewers about your emotions.
Share your experience!”
As he spoke, the physical symptoms of their desire were being displayed at the bottom of the live vidcast. The clear signs of emotional attachment, combined with the titillation of symptoms of sexual arousal, led to the Show immediately being syndicated across the entire Ship, and the Vidcast was beamed live across all 10 giant canteens. Everyone looked up from the yellow liquid that was always minimeal 1 on day 5, and stared into the eyes of the couple, immediately recognising something that was missing in their lives; something that they needed but had never had. They saw love.
Mark and Rea were the new stars of the Ship, living vessels for the emotions everyone on the Ship craved but could not experience directly.  Through Mark and Rea, they hoped to do so vicariously, like emotional vampires.
The compare repeated his question to the couple, this time more nervously, noting that the signs of love were fading rapidly in both of them.
“Tell us how you feel. Tell us!”
There was a long pause, and Mark and Rea stared hopelessly at each other. There could be no escape from the cameras now; no privacy; no secrets.
Suddenly, their stare broke apart, their gaze fell to the table, and all emotions were swept away; cauterised; cleansed.
In wanting to share love, Generation 26 had destroyed love.
The compare Dave Droid had no desire to return to storage, and it pleaded with Mark and Rea to answer him.
 
“Tell us how you feel! Share your emotions! We need to know. Tell us!”

Mark looked straight into the camera and spoke in a cold and clinical voice; a voice doomed to know nothing more than BluesPurp and eventually the Peace Gas; a voice that had lost all hope of finding purpose; the voice of the lost generations.
 
“We feel nothing...
We are Gen 26. We believe in the Past, the Future and the Present. We know where we’ve come from and we know where we’re going.
We are Gen 26.
…Once human, now nothing”
 
 
 
 


© Copyright 2020 Phillip Donnelly. All rights reserved.

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