The Nautilus

You may be in an ordinary middle school now, but imagine how it would be if your classroom were airborne, because you were born in a space ship that had been whizzing through the universe for generations on the way to colonize a planet.

Jeremy 3 yawned, and rubbed his eyes, wishing there were something else to see. As he gazed around the classroom aboard the Nautilus, the large holographic screen showed the view of space outside. Every few moments the camera view would change but it was always the same: planets, suns and the everlasting dark. His father Jeremy 2, and his mother Cathy 2 worked aboard the ship, where, like he, they had been born. All four of his grandparents had been the first generation to be born on the ship, hence their names had been followed by 1.

Since then, there had been fantastic advances in communication, all having to do with something complicated about the universe, space and time being curved. Scientists had learned to triangulate sound energy outside of the universe, space and time, all complicated science Jeremy did not understand. He did know that while the transmission of messages was instantaneous, it still took years to physically travel the wide reaches of space. Generations had passed--they said his generation was the lucky one. All the other generations could do is anticipate the future, but his generation was going to be the one to settle on the planet they'd aimed for so long ago.

The history teacher was talking about some long ago event in the 2000's when Nasa had sent its Crew Exploration Vehicle to the moon to study water under the moon's surface. The teacher gave him a dirty look. Jeremy conceded to her, and picked up his stylus to take notes. She knew that his digital recorder was on, and it would have converted the audio into text even while she was talking, but she made her students take notes by hand because it helped them remember.

She went on to start talking about the old star NGC 6826 surrounded by a nebula (a small cloud of debris). She switched the hologram window and played a graphic video of NGC 6826 otherwise known as the blinking eye nebula. It did look like a huge creepy green eye with flashes of red lights on either side.

After classes, he went with his parents and his sister Cathy3 to a meeting. The garden was Jeremy's favorite place. There was grassy turf, and the tall ceiling was designed to look as if the sun were moving across the sky. He and Cathy waited for their turn on the swing set. Jeremy felt he was too old for such things, but he didn't mind pushing his little sister. From the swing, you could see the hydroponic gardens where his mother worked. She was part of the water-farming team that raised food that kept everyone fed. Except for the grasses that covered the floorspace of the park, all the plants were grown hydroponically.

There were many plants. As users of carbon dioxide and builders of air, plants contributed to the biosphere. "Our living in the space ship is just like lizards in a terrarium," his little sister had once told him, when she had been studying earth reptiles. He supposed it was so,. To him it seemed they were goldfish in a bowl, except they were swimming in a sea of air. And outside, there was no air.

A distant hum was in the background, something mechanical the ship was using, but most of the systems were passive solar which converted solar energy into electrical energy used by the mechanical systems. The grownups were sitting on the grass with their picnic baskets out. Jeremy's stomach growled. Billy 3 who was next to him in line and also in Jeremy's class at school, laughed at him. But it was okay because then he admitted he was hungry enough to eat a watermelon by himself.

A hundred years ago, the observatory probe had returned to earth, revealing a lovely, pristine planet, completely unsettled and perfectly temperate with an atmosphere and temperatures identical to earth. The probe had led to this mission--one that had lasted generations.

Jeremy thought that the planning of the long ago pioneers had been one dimensional. What if their children or their children's children didn't want to be adventurers on the way to a new world? There was no choice for them, stuck on a ship hurtling through space going to a destination no real human had actually ever visited. He felt like he bore the consequences of those ancient plans, though he'd had no representation at those meetings that had happened almost a hundred years before he was born.

They lived by so many rules. Husbands and wives were only allowed two children; and those children were allowed to be one boy and one girl because the ship could only harbor a certain number of people. There would be no rules like that when they landed. They were going to have a democratic republic. The numbers recording the generations--that wasn't a rule. It was a sentimental tradition that had just sort of happened.

When it was Cathy's turn to swing, Jeremy pushed. She giggled, and tried to swing her feet, but the motion on the swing was always strange. The artificially generated gravity didn't work well with the swing, so it had a seatbelt, and a lead rope, in case someone and got stuck on the ceiling.

Before long Jeremy's mother called. They sat down to eat. As part of the ship's crew, his father was on the stage next to the captain. His father waved at him as the captain talkd about how they would be reaching atmosphere in less than a month. They would establish an orbit first, and send a crew down to set up some shelters. He realized at that moment that they would soon be landing, for real. He couldn't imagine a place with dirt instead of floor, no walls or ceiling, somewhere he could stretch his legs and run in a straight line instead of a treadmill....

The complete story was sold to RiverDeep. This partial is posted with permission. As it has been configured as a reading lesson complete with vocabulary words, the SF elements have been adjusted to the middle school publisher's required mildness.

The original story goes on to establishing the colony, and how the trappings of civilization fall away as they fight to survive in this primitive world surrounded by aggressive native flora and fauna--including dinosaurs and dragons. Jeremy finds his footing and becomes a rogue--or a hero, depending on your perspective. Or to put it another way, one civilization's fighting-mad mental case intent on destruction is another civilization's hero. We of course, see him as a hero, because he has a tea party of the future, casting off the shackles of a non-representative government.