And All Our Yesterdays
And All Our Yesterdays
They were shot into the heart of the heavens. Their shell was metal, but rotted through with life: reclamation vats gorging on detritus to output nutrients for plants engineered to draw power from almost any spectrum of radiation in the dim eternal midnight of interstellar spaces, all shaking with the pulsebeat of a gaggle of apes chattering, clambering, bouncing off the inner walls and manipulating their communal metal skin on a seemingly random course.
The species, frozen in evolutionary history by the lack of environmental pressure ensured through terraforming, had muddled its way through the solar system in the old pattern of overpopulation, aggressive expansion and inevitable warfare so that it finally stood on the edge of hollow night. A handful of colonists, mere hundreds out of the hundreds of billions, were loaded into a metal cocoon and reduced to their bodies’ core imperative : to breed. Their progeny, in centuries’ time, would have the un-enviable task of readying an entire world as an escape for bellicose apes crowding out of the scarred, resource-impoverished hive of their origin.
Generations came and went inside the ship. Neptune faded into the night then the sun shrank to a point. Life droned on. Mechanical maintenance became a routine, a religion and finally a reflex. A colonist might polish and replace an electrical contact on his way from a meal to his mating ritual. His mate might stop to clean an air duct in between copulations.
Communication became extraneous. After the first few years, the output from sensory equipment was, for all purposes, unchanging. Education of the young was streamlined from lengthy explanations to “do as I do”, to a grunt, a point, and respectively a nod of approval or an unpleasant physical contact. Back home, riots succeeded governments, and warfare, riots. The wayward children sent drifting through the heavens were forgotten, and their daily report of “all’s well”, punched out religiously even as its destination sank out of memory, sailed past the Earth unheard.
All’s well in the funeral march. No accidents disturbed the cycle of copulation, birth, death and corpse recycling. The same atoms recombined as plants, animals, excrement and soil until distinctions blurred. Hatches clanged, engines roared, animals bounced along the hallways. Bloody murders were followed by bloodier executions. Cycle the carbon, fertilize the fungus, brawl with your mate’s new lover and toss a handful of hydrogen atoms into the reactor. All was well.
The children which emerged from the other side of nothingness were clockwork monsters, more machinelike than the machinery they tended. In maintenance consecrated, they had forgotten how to look beyond the night. Though the outside cameras had been well for generations, showing only inky sky and dots of light, they suddenly erred in displaying a small ball of flame. Gravity was only an illusion of centrifugal force and the affirmation of its presence outside the ship represented a flaw. The blue world of waves and thunderstorms had been long forgotten and the appearance of such an image on the monitors was an incomprehensible malfunction.
Repairs were made. Monitors were perfected into inert wall decorations, cameras were streamlined into inactivity. The gravity well dissipated into ease and comfort and the metal shell carried its ever-normal cargo ever onwards into midnight. All’s well. All’s well.