"There you are..."

 

After eighty long years the journey is only half over.  The last person to have known Earth died a long time ago, and new ship borne generations are having to suffer the existential nightmare of a complete and total absence of choice in their lives.  A horrific event starts unravelling their small and seemingly harmonious society, threatening the mission, and their lives…

New Horizons
By W. Ross White
Midway (New Horizons Book 2)
By W. Ross White

Chapter One of Midway 

     “There you are…” 
     Johannes Bowland had finally found his son Tycho.  “Why did you go dark?  I’ve been looking everywhere for you.  Although… I guess I should have known to look for you here first.”
     From Johannes’ perspective, Tycho was upside down, sitting cross legged against the top of the zero gravity bubble, secured there by strips of Velcro on his standard issue grey coveralls and small dots of the inverse material all about the bubble’s surface.  There was no meaning to words like up or down in this section of the ship; Tycho was only on the ceiling relative to the orientation with which Johannes was standing.  His eyes were closed and he sat with his hands on his knees while his straight, medium length brown hair rebelliously floated aimlessly about his head in the absence of any forces pulling it in any particular direction.  The bubble’s only entrance was the hatch through which Johannes had just stuck his head to talk to him.  Aside from the small circles of Velcro arranged in a grid all around the bubble, it was otherwise completely transparent. 
     Although there was a lighting system mounted up on the habitat ring which could illuminate the sphere on command, Tycho found the bubble truly magical when the lights were left off and he was left in total darkness.  The view of the stars which this allowed was breathtaking.  It was Tycho’s favorite place on the shipit was where he came to be alone and to collect his thoughts.  There was something about being so naked before the cosmos, about having only a couple centimeters of transparent synthetic material between oneself and the unforgiving vacuum of space… and everything it contained.
     Tycho’s had been using the ship’s telescope network when Johannes found him.  It consisted of a four telescope interferometric array, with each telescope being a robust and impressive instrument in its own right.  Each telescope had a total mirror area of ten meters, but this area was built up out of a honeycomb of eighteen smaller hexagon shaped mirrors.  This way, the large telescope could be folded up and fully retracted into the hull of the ship.  At the moment Tycho was just using the Beta and Gamma telescopes, and feeding the data to his PANE (Personal Area Network Eyes) contact lenses.  He’d started out just idly scanning the sky tonight, but he’d stopped to meditate on a four star system he’d happened across.  He couldn’t see them move in real time, but he knew from his studies that each pair orbited around each other, and that the two pairs, over the eons, orbited around a mutual centre of gravity.  More complicated stellar systems had been hypothesized and later documented in the greater galaxy, but he’d never just happened across one even this complex while just looking around.
     Looking through the telescopes had become one of his favorite activities over the years, especially when he set his PANE to full immersion mode with Beta projected on one eye and Gamma on the other, and then manipulating the telescopes directly with his Brainchip.  He found that doing this while sitting in the darkened bubble could be truly awe inspiring.  It felt like the telescopes were direct extensions of his eyes, and that he could peer directly and deeply into the cosmos on a very personal level.  It could sometimes be overwhelming, and that feeling was often his objective.
     He’d been scolded for logging too much time on the telescopes but he didn’t see the problem.  When not in use they were shielded in a protective cocoon and sure, when they were in operation they were very exposed.  But this far out in deep space, Tycho knew that the possibility of the ship just happening upon some random piece of interstellar debris, and it just happening to strike one of the mirrors while he was using it was, well… astronomical.  So, he defiantly used the telescopes whenever he wished.
     He turned the telescopes around to look at Sol, the star he was told they had come from.  Well, one of the planets around it anyways.  The New Horizon ship was the only world he’d ever known, and it was well out in deep space.  It was only recently that the last person born back on that planet had died.  Now for better or worse, they were all children of the void.  There were so many things Tycho had never known and could never know; so much which he figured must be important for a human being to know.  What made matters worse was the fact that he was a voracious reader and learner; he absorbed as many details as he could about the home they had left behind so long ago. 
     He also enjoyed using his PANE on full immersion mode to experience vistas and interesting sites on Earth.  The technology allowed him to see and hear (using a complementary device implanted in his ear) a raft ride down The Amazon River, or witness the sweeping great plains of Asia and North America, or Paris and the Eiffel Tower lit up and flashing at night…  He could see and hear all of it, but he could feel none of it; he could smell and taste none of it.  The most precious moments in his memory were the few times when he was able to briefly forget that it wasn’t all an illusion.  It was sometimes difficult to reconcile his contained existence on the ship with the images he saw of environments on Earth, environments which stretched out to the distant horizon.  He sometimes felt a strange sense of existential vertigo looking at them; they seemed to go on… forever, the very opposite of the claustrophobic sense one got on a small starship.
     There were artificial and simulated equivalents of some of these environments onboard of course.  There was the arboretum, but it could seem so… sterile.  Tycho was intensely curious about the dirty chaos of a natural world which he could only imagine.  An ocean brimming with life, and an air heavy with unknown scents… to be able to wander in no particular direction and not know what you’re going to find when you get there or how far you’ll be able to go…  He longed to feel the natural warmth and light of a nearby star unimaginatively referred to simply as the sun by the people of Earth.  It was almost as unimaginative as calling Earth’s moon the moon, or the planet the earth, Tycho thought.
     But personally knowing these intimate experiences was never meant to be for Tycho, and he knew that he was for the most part alone in these longings.  Most had accustomed quite well to life in the eternal emptiness, as he figured they would have habituated well no matter what environment they’d been born into.  Humans are generally quite good at adapting in that way.  He‘d had to accept his bitter reality many years ago when he’d first fully realized the ultimate truth of his existence and his absence of any choice in it.  He would never know these things, not ever.  He was born on this ship… out in the void between the stars… and he would die in the void, on this ship.  He hated the idea, but he’d accepted it long ago.
     He never particularly understood their predecessors’ motivation to leave Earth in the first place.  From what he’d read, Earth didn’t sound nearly as bad as they’d described it, and there seemed to be so much that they were all missing out on now.  The only consistent explanation of the founder’s motivations to leave was essentially… existential boredom, which Tycho certainly understood as a prisoner of the New Horizon, but it was something he really couldn’t understand for people who had a whole world and star system to explore.
     Likewise he would sadly never know Haven.  This was the planet in the Sigma Draconis system which their descendants would arrive at and enjoy in another, oh… eighty years or so.  Being thirty one years old himself, it seemed especially cruel that he would no doubt almost survive until the arrival, but that it would most assuredly be impossible for him to actually survive that long and to experience it for himself.  And what if he did?  How much fun could someone have exploring a virgin planet at over eleven decades old?  They were equidistant between two worlds he could never know, in a world he knew far too well for comfort.
     He wondered what kind of life they would find on Haven.  Humans had after all never landed on another living planet before, and based on the spectrograph of the atmosphere, they were certain that some kind of life was there.  Tycho was a scientist, but he was a scientist in the same sense you would call someone who speaks fluent Latin a linguist.  Every field in which he specialized was a discipline which he could never actually engage with on a personal or direct level.  He could only ever study the discoveries of those who came before him.
     This served the rest of the ship’s community just fine though.  Somebody had to personally preserve the body of knowledge he was responsible for, and nobody else seemed to want to.  They were all interested in more practical concerns.  They preferred to focus on things like physics and engineering in order to properly understand and service all of the very complicated equipment on the ship, like the ion drives or the fusion core or the archives.  They also chose to study the environment of the space around them to better understand the interstellar medium and to search for potential hazards to the ship and crew.
     Tycho studied what had been known as the Earth Sciences; geology, meteorology, hydrology, and volcanology.   He couldn’t understand why no one else seemed anywhere near as interested in the material as he was.  The sheer scale of the forces at work excited and stirred him.  The unfathomable time scales involved and the raw natural power of it all electrified his curiosity and passion.  If no one else wanted to steward this knowledge, it served him just fine to do it himself.

     “Tycho?” his father Johannes asked, rather annoyed at having been ignored the first time. 
     What??” Tycho answered finally, irritated and keeping his PANE system on full immersion.  “I’m busy…”
     “You’re always ‘busy’ looking through those damned telescopes.”  He accentuated the word busy with air quotes.
     “And?  It’s not like there’s anything else to do around here…” he grumpily retorted.
     Johannes blinked.  “Well, there is now.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “There’s been a murder,” Johannes flatly stated.  Tycho froze at this, and then finally switched off his contacts and looked at his father.
     “What?”  He just couldn’t believe it.  How could this happen?  “I don’t believe it…”
     “I know, I… I can’t believe it either.  But it’s true nonetheless.  Anaru has asked me to investigate…  I am the psychology expert after all,” he shrugged.  “There’s no other obvious choice,” he added, “and we don’t exactly have a… you know, police detective or anything.”
     “No, I suppose not…”  Tycho considered this carefully.  He was right; there really wasn’t anybody on board whose duty it would naturally be to investigate a murder.  It was after all so unthinkable that there were no specific protocols dictating how they should proceed.  Johannes seemed as reasonable a choice as any.
     “Anyway, while I’m busy with this I was hoping that you could watch over the kids, there’s no way to know how this’ll play out and… well, I’djust feel a lot better knowing you were there looking out for them while I look into this.”
     “Oh.  Oh, okay sure, I understand.”  Johannes was referring to his grandchildren, Tycho’s niece and nephew.  Not having children of his own, Tycho spent a lot of time with his them, and they were as close to his own children as he’d ever wanted.  Johannes, his daughter Kirana, and her husband Seth, all appreciated Tycho’s willingness to watch over the kids and give them a break when they needed it, or if their duties called them away.
     “Great, they’re waiting for you in our quarters, thanks again Tycho.  I owe you one.”
     “Yeah, um… don’t worry about it,” Tycho said as he ripped himself off of his Velcro mounts and thrust himself off the bubble wall towards the hatch Johannes’ head was poking out of.  Before he left he used his Brainchip to begin the retraction of both the sphere itself, and both telescopes as well.