0099: The Colonists

Ziggurat #7

1 February, 1999
A Recording by Lamont Townsend
Aboard the United Space Ship Westward

The first thing that strikes one about the colonist deck is the smell. The moment the lift doors open, I am met with a complex, earthy scent of people and animals that not even a constant regimen of deep cleaning and waste recycling can completely erase. It smells like sawdust and hay, perspiration and glycerine, rubbed shoulders and scraped knees. It is not in the least unpleasant; just the opposite. Upon entering this deck that occupies the upper part of Westward, I suddenly realize that there is something abnormal and perhaps unwholesome about the cool, antiseptic air of the decks below.

Next come the sounds. Having just left the control deck, I was a moment ago immersed in the clicking and whirring of computers, the beeping of consoles, the measured footsteps of general business. Now, children shout as they negotiate the terms of play. Mothers raise their voices to be heard above them. Music plays; a discordant blend of sounds as popular jazz plays from one quarter of the deck, classical piano drifts from another, and a child absently practices on a recorder near the observation windows. There is a bustle of activity; everyone here is occupied with something, but it is not the same kind of mechanical busyness observed below. Westward’s duty schedule is divided into three shifts, and at any given time of day or night, one is likely to find the control deck swarming with technicians and analysts moving from station to station with focused professionalism. The colonist deck, by contrast, operates by rhythms. Depending on the day or the hour, a visitor looking out at the open common area may encounter the early morning cavalcade of livestock as they are led through their daily exercise. Or, one might find the children gathered in a circle for a lesson. In the middle of the day, blankets are laid out and baskets opened for a picnic-style lunch. In the evening, chairs might be pulled out from the housing units for a communal concert or church service. For ten hours at night, it is dark and quiet, every colonist sleeping at the same time.

I find it remarkable that in an environment with no change in season, no soil to till, no structures to build, the colonists seem to be ever-occupied. These are people who were, before the introduction of Westward, prepared to make a life in the gas mining operations over Venus, or in the submarine colonies of Titan. To these pioneers, the prospect of perhaps settling on a world with a breathable atmosphere and tolerable temperatures would have, only three years ago, sounded like a fantasy. For them, an indefinite time spent sharing the space roughly the size of a city block with fifty other colonists and a small menagerie of animals is practically an extended vacation.

There is one thing that threatens the stability of their internal dynamics, as I see it, and that is the persistent presence of a hundred outsiders beneath their feet.

Next: Class Dynamics