Editor’s note (from Lila Krishna): A beautiful tale that turns the concept of mutiny as we know it on its head. I loved reading this piece. Michelle does a great job of conveying desperation in the first half, and commitment and hope in the second.
Our navigation system shut itself down today. We’re four generations in on a generational ship in the middle of nowhere, so this is a bit of a problem. Nav has been obviously malfunctioning for ages, and probably not-so-obviously long before anyone noticed. Now it has given up entirely. The honesty is refreshing. It really takes the edge off the helpless terror.
Where are we going? Someone asks the question daily. Well, probably daily. Our ship’s chron system is down, too. The only way anyone can keep track of anything is with personal devices that each have slightly differing ideas of what day and time it is. Several arguments have broken out about the exact length of time we’ve been cruising the universe. Some even got physical before our security bots intervened.
“Everything is going to be alright. We’re going to get you home.” Says the voice of our superiors, the Control Team, far away on a planet we left before I was born.
We have little knowledge of who Control is at this point, what government or corporation they represent. All we know is that without their voices through our coms, we would be alone out here. Their continual reassurance that ‘everything is going to be alright’ is beginning to grate.
All the livestock died when the life support systems gave out on Deck 12. The deck was security-locked to the team in charge of it, but they had died with the animals. We sent a request to Control for help. The response was an extremely lengthy apology and some lukewarm words of encouragement that everyone back home was certain we could “figure it out.”
Our historic records were purged in one of many network glitches awhile back. What are we even doing on this ship? We’re relying solely on generational memory, and many disagree on our original mission.
“Just stay the course,” the people on the com network tell us. “We’ll get you home safe.”
WHAT COURSE? Several departments scream back in unison. It’s been approximately ten years since we lost nav.
“Control,” our current captain says into the com. “Nearly half of our crew is currently missing. Bodies have been found. Malfunctioning robots are suspected and we’re requesting permission to shut down the botnet for evaluation. Many of the crew fear for their lives and the lives of their missing crewmates.”
How do so many people go missing on a ship? Even a ship this big, there are sensors and logs. Well, there are sometimes activity logs. They’re not always functional now.
Control doesn’t reply. This is one of those times where they pretend our transmission isn’t getting through. Adrift in the universe and no one to guide us but some shady-ass unknowns who, so far as most of us can tell, don’t truly care about us one way or another. We speculate frequently on what their ultimate goal is, here. I think this is a gamble: what we do with our ship and our lives is nothing but a very long-term bet between billionaires.
Mission Control sends a message about the missing and dead approximately three weeks later: “Our thoughts and prayers are with you, crew. Eject your dead via airlock. The missing will turn up, doubtless. As for the robots, shutting down the bot network entirely could have catastrophic consequences for ship functionality. Permission to go offline denied. Just do your best. Eject anyone who refuses direct Control orders.”
We decide in secret to take over. Turn off the com system and stop reporting back to Mission Control. They want us to eject possibly hundreds of our own. None of us can stomach that so on one point we agree: It’s time to stop listening to Control completely.
A small but vocal faction wants to just suicide out: put as many people in escape pods as you can and explode the whole damn ship. Some of the pods will surely make it somewhere. Ridiculous. The only way we have a chance of getting out of here alive is if we stand our ground. Put down the energy weapons and makeshift shivs. Deactivate all the bots.
All of the bots? people ask.
Even the cleaning bots?
Yes. Every single robot. And every electronic communications device. If we’re going to directly disobey Control, we’ve got to go hands-on for this, I say.
I’m terrified to have so many people listening — I’m just a junior systems engineer, after all, what do I know? I’m not qualified for leadership. But then again, clearly no one else is, either. That thought gives me a little more confidence.
Here is what we do:
We first off stop fighting. We send a team out to find the missing crew.
We make a daily newsletter and print notices, schedules, crew updates. Maybe some fun stuff, too, like ways to use rehydrated peas to make guacamole.
We allocate a large portion of our resources towards education. We’re all floating out here helplessly anyway and half-assing any repairs will not help that situation. Gather every manual you can find, I tell them. Bring them here to this lounge. This is now our central learning lab. This is where we will share our knowledge and set a course.
Look at this. Six months in and repairs are going beautifully. Our ship is back up to seventy-six percent functionality. Crops are growing, our children are growing. We found the missing crew, locked up in bot storage by the malfunctioning machines, and they’re recovering. Mission Control doesn’t control fuck-all now.
The nav systems just came back online. Someone get that crate of liquor from the cargo hold! I yell. This is a big moment for us. I flip the unused com system back on for one last message home:
The ship is righted. Our course is our own. Final sign-off.