Sunday, May 17, 2015
First Chapter of my First Novel
Isn’t it odd how real a dream can seem when it’s of a place that you’ve never been? I awoke from a dream that I have had before: a dream of wind softly swaying tall green grass, while puffy white clouds drift across a blue sky. I have never walked through grass. I have never felt wind – real wind – across my face. I have never walked under a blue sky, or looked up at a cloud.
I know from the videos in the library that my dream is of Earth – a place that I have never visited, and that I never will. I know what green grass feels like because I have felt it in the seed labs. I can guess what wind feels like on my face, because the air blowing out of the ventilation shafts must be quite similar – it is just air moving across my skin. I can guess what sunlight on my face would feel like, because we use sunlamps to keep our vitamin D levels up. Perhaps my sleeping mind takes all these experiences and molds them into a false memory of what it would be like to walk through a grassy field on the planet that our species calls home. But why does this dream make me feel both so peaceful and full of longing at the same time? It is enough to make me believe the legends of the Old Believers.
But I have only a few minutes to muse. The alarm rang at 0600. I am scheduled at the gym at 0610, and in the classroom at 0730. I climb out of my bunk, and head to the showers. Below my bunk is Sharee; above is Benjeel; both are part of my shift, although neither shares my work assignments. I know little of what either does. There are thousands of us aboard, and we are assigned to sleeping shifts based on our sleep patterns. Some of us require seven hours of sleep for optimal performance; some require eight hours; some require nine. We are assigned to our sleep shifts by the doctors, who periodically evaluate our needs.
Sharee is a bit younger than me, in her early thirties, muscular, curvy, with dark hair and olive skin; she is my occasional partner in Lounge C. While we talk little there – and never anywhere else – she thinks that she may be of Italian ancestry. I have looked at the videos in the library, and I try to imagine what to be “Italian” might be like back on Old Earth. It all seems so absurdly remote, as if I were trying to imagine our hominid ancestors, when they first left the trees.
Benjeel is about my age; nonetheless, he is beginning to turn to fat, as though he does not make the best use of his gym time. He is dark – almost chocolate brown. From my readings I believe that his ancestors, at least some of them, came from the place called Africa. Benjeel and I have never discussed it. I have seen the videos of this strange land of giraffes and elephants – creatures that seem absurdly impossible. But the lions in those videos do not seem so odd.
Every century or so, we unfreeze a few domestic animal embryos, grow them to adulthood, and let them breed, so that we have fresh, undamaged embryos to put in the repository. When I was young, it was the time for domestic cats. For a few years, we had dozens of these curious creatures wandering the ship – and I can see the lion in those cats.
Everyone is assigned sixty minutes of gym time. Even with artificial gravity, we must work out, or we turn to flab. I know that it was not always so; on Earth, humans worked very hard, and only r arely was someone ever fat. The oldest videos in the library show how firm and muscular most humans were, and yet they seldom seem to use exercise equipment. I have analyzed several centuries of videos; exercise was a tiny part of the lives of these astonishingly fit people.
Some of us work out harder than others; I keep myself muscular and conditioned, as all of us are supposed to do, but Benjeel is not alone in coming up short. Some like to believe that it is the artificial nature of where we live that makes gym time necessary, but I know better. It is not our unnatural world that makes us so, but the jobs that we do. It is hard to imagine that there was a time when our species survived “by the sweat of your brow.” Where does that come from? I have seen in the oldest books and videos, but none of them identify the source; perhaps I will search for it today.
Gym time is over; I am covered in sweat, and I am hungry. The showerhead turns on as I walk under it and the timer starts counting down three minutes. I try to imagine living on a planet where water goes to the sea, turns to puffy white clouds, and falls as pure, clear water – and no one worries about how long you spend in the shower. But all I can do is imagine it. The chances to go native are rare; the burdens and risks are huge; I am not sure that I am willing to take them up.
Time’s up! As I walk out towards the locker room, I pass Sharee and Benjeel, who have just come from the gym, and are stripping down to shower. I smile at Sharee and Benjeel. Sharee’s smiles back. Benjeel gives me a rather non-committal gesture with his left hand, more an acknowledgement that he sees me than a friendly sign.
In the locker room I dress for the day, and head to the mess hall one level up. There are hundreds of others already there, picking food from the dispensers. I grab a tray of scrambled eggs and another of biscuits and gravy. In truth, I have no idea what these foods really are. I am sure that no bird of any sort had anything to do with those eggs. I know that “biscuits and gravy” is a very old delicacy of a particularly elite population on Earth; biscuits seem to be a form of bread, but gravy is something that I recognize without understanding. Perhaps this is a topic I will assign to the tenth tier to research.
We eat standing up in the mess hall. It saves time, of course, but there are days that I wish that I could sit, talk to a friend, and enjoy my meal. But the ship is crowded. Room is for those who go native; space is for those who don’t need space.
Breakfast is done; it’s time to teach. I grab a cup of coffee as I leave the mess hall. (Why is it a “mess hall”? It isn’t particularly messy. Another interesting question to research, perhaps for the eighth tier.)