For my devoted Sci-Fi Friends. Do not go quietly into that long good night!
Star Date: 3849 CE
They had never dared to descend to this level before. On many of their unauthorized excursions they had bolstered the courage to travel as far down as level twenty-three, but beyond that level it was said to be a truly wild and scary domain.
They were high school students bored with the mundane, tired of being told what they could or could not do and - should the truth be known - they were three spoiled brats and two sub level followers.
The spoiled brats, Steve Baker, Laureen Powers and Mark Stryker, were the sons and daughter of ship leaders. The two tag-along teens were Teddy Grant and Michelle Graves who were considered second class citizens from the lower Colony sub levels. Everyone in level one called them subs. However, the teens all had one thing in common; they did not abide by the rules, any rules.
"Time for a break," moaned Laureen, sitting down heavily against the polished corridor wall. "We’ve been walking for hours without stopping." She was a tall sandy haired blond with sad eyes and a sulking manner. She was prone to pouting until she got her way and she seldom if ever took no for an answer. Her father was Captain of the Ship.
“And nothing to show for it either,” replied Mark. “Last trip I found an animal skin, or at least a piece of animal skin. Everyone went boggly wild over that find.” Mark was your typical high-spirited jock and although he was not captain of the basketball team he was a great player. He was also a daydream Lothario of the high school girls with his dark hair, tall rugged physique, and dreamy blue eyes. His father, John Stryker, was one of the chief scientists working on the elusive riddle to the navigation equipment.
Marks friend, Steve Baker was just that, a friend and not a very close one either. He was a short sly looking kid with a knack for melodrama and silly pranks. His parents worked in the recycling lab and helped to produce food for the Colony.
Mark, Laureen and Steve were not supposed to associate with the sub Colonist – those second class people living below deck one - but true to their rebellious nature they often picked up strangers to accompany them on their unauthorized trips into the dangerous lower levels. They were only one of many unauthorized teams who braved the sub deck dangers, mostly teens searching for fun and to escape their parent’s rigid rules.
The two accompanying them on this trip was Teddy Grant and Michelle Graves. Teddy was the grandson of the famous Theodore Grant who opened up more of the sub levels, while Michelle was simply along as eye candy. She was a very attractive brunette, well-proportioned physically, and always portrayed a smile and a cheerful disposition and she was the target of every boy on level one and probably all the sub levels also.
Teddy was just Teddy. He was of average height, strongly built and afraid of nothing, or so Laureen told everyone. Neither Mark nor Steve particularly liked him. In fact, they were both wary of his unusual strength and trigger temper. He was only along on this trip because Laureen enjoyed messing around with the subs and her boy toys as she tagged them.
Rumor had it - and rumor was usually right - that fugitives from seven hundred years ago had descended into the lower eighty levels of the ship and turned it into a savage and brutal place, a place of uncivilized murderers, witches, wizards and cannibals.
These fugitives, allegedly the descendants of the First Mate, mutinied against the ship Captain. The mutiny was put down but the ship lost all guidance. Their original destination - the Star System Altar-4 - had long since been passed and now the ship was plunging through deep space, destination unknown.
Levels one through twenty of the massive twenty-five kilometer long ship was restructured and settled by the Colony. In this modern era, a small part of level one was reserved for the Captain, crew, scientists, security personnel and their families, who were the official rulers of the colony, the rest research and development and training schools. Level two and three had been converted into factories and shops. Level four through eight was living quarters for the colonist but the population had expanded so rapid in seven hundred years that living space was at a premium.
Levels nine through twenty, had been gutted and hydaformed to grow crops for the Colony’s primary food source. The Colony was one hundred percent vegetarian, not by original choice but due to necessity. All the farm animals and cloning labs the colonists had on board were kept in the lowest levels of the ship now occupied by the fugitives.
The First Mate and his followers had supposedly made levels twenty-two to one hundred uninhabitable and for over seven hundred years no one cared to open the locking hatches to those levels.
It wasn’t until thirty years ago that an adventurous colonist named Theodore Grant had dared to unseal levels twenty-one and twenty-two, finding they were in their original shape and for the most part completely uninhabited. The people considered him a hero because the Colony was preparing to institute a mandatory euthanasia sentence at age 50 due to over population. His fortuitous discovery cancelled that new and uncivilized resolution.
However, since that time exploring colonist had disappeared in levels twenty-three on down so the Captain had placed everything below level twenty-three completely off limits to everyone except the ship’s security force. Levels above that were being recovered to make more living space for the expanding Colony.
The off limits prohibition did not stop adventurous colonists, especially teens, from exploring the unknown levels as they were called. That is why they were now deep into level twenty-three.
“Instead of following this level all the way to the end why don’t we go down to the next level?” Mark stated. “All we’ve seen is more and more of the same, nothing but empty rooms.” He wiped his hands on his shorts. The entire Colony wore shorts and polo shirts along with deck shoes. Climate control kept the ship at a comfortable 78 degrees and therefore no need for excessive clothing.
“There was that burned spot about a hundred meters back,” Steve replied. “Can you imagine people actually using real fire? That is way too crass man. Fire went out of style in the 28th Century when all the forests were cleared.”
“I agree with Mark,” Laureen stated. “Either we go down and find something worth finding or I’m out of here.” Her indignant pout strongly backed up her intentions. They all knew she could and would blow the adventure on a whim and they had already made it down to level twenty-five, the deepest any party had ever descended. “Down it is then,” Mark replied with shrug.”
The first access hatch they came to for a level drop was only a few meters away. When Mark put his hands onto the manual override handles to screw open the hatch it refused to budge. Steve joined him adding his puny strength to the effort but was quickly brushed aside by a fidgeting Teddy.
Without warning the hatch suddenly flew open sending the two boys sprawling on their backsides. A strange smell poured from the opening and flooded the hallway they were standing and lying in. A faint breeze and creepy gray/green smoke accompanied the horrible smell along with a low wailing noise.
“What in the Captain’s name is that smell?” blurted Laureen, cupping her hand over her nose and mouth her eyes watering with tears. The smell was so powerful she almost threw up in the palm of her hand.
Before anyone could answer her question, several dozen strange people stated pouring through the opening. All of them were dressed in the same type of uniform, and they all carried weapons. Within seconds all five of the teens were subdued by. Even Teddy with his unusually powerful strength was like a child in their strong grip. They instinctively knew not to fight or offer resistance for the fighting abilities of the colonist had been bred out of them over the generations and they had neither the knowledge nor the skills.
They were quickly hustled through the hatch and watched with wide fearful eyes as it was closed and barred by several armed guards. When the leader signaled for two men to remain stationed at the hatch it was obvious that a guard was maintained there. So far not a single word had been uttered by any of them.
As they traveled down the wide corridor the source of the awful smell was revealed. People were actually roasting flesh over grated fires in one of the massive open bays. The captives were mesmerized by the smell of the cooked flesh. What disgusted them the most was that it smelled so tempting, so inviting, yet they knew it was the flesh of a living animal. No animal flesh had been consumed in the Colony in living memory.
Shortly they were ushered into a large room with seating for scores of people. Around twenty men and women sat around a large circular table and waved for the teens to be seated across from them. The guards remained near the exit doors.
“I demand to know what’s going on and why you kidnapped us.” Mark finally got the courage to blurt out. “I’ll have you know that Laureen is the daughter of the ship’s Captain, leader of the Colony. If you don’t release us you will regret it.”
An attractive thirty-something woman smiled and pointed to the convenient pitchers of clear water setting along the table. “Please have a drink,” she stated. “I assure you it is nothing but pure water.”
The teens hesitated, then Mark poured himself a drink, followed by the others. “I’m waiting for your answer,” he snidely remarked, sitting back and folding his arms with a smug look.
“My name is Commander Jennings, Lilian Jennings and I represent the Guardians,” she stated. “I assure you that you will not be harmed.”
“The guardians of what?” Laureen asked.
“You are well aware that 747 years ago, ship and earth time, the First Mate mutinied and led more than half the starship crew and many of the colonist to the sub levels to live. What you are not taught is that their mutiny was triggered by oppressive and brutal treatment by the ship’s officers. Their tyrannical rule knew no bounds and crew members were executed for the smallest infractions.”
The teens looked very skeptical at his implied alternate history.
“You don’t have to believe it,” Lilian smiled, “but it is verifiable truth. “There are one hundred levels in this starship, more in certain areas. The ship is twenty-five kilometers long and ten kilometers wide. Your colony, the original colony, occupies the top twenty levels. Directly beneath that there are four buffer levels. We are on a portion of level twenty-four, the rest is blocked off and all exits sealed.”
“Why is that?” Mark asked. “What gives you the authority to block off any level?”
“Let me provide you a bit of ship’s history, then you will understand why,” Lilian replied, taking a sip of the cool water. “When the fighting was over and the surviving crew sealed off the decks above them, for many years there was chaos and infighting. Slowly, over time, groups of people broke away and moved to the lower levels. These groups preferred their own systems of government and beliefs and formed even other groups who broke away and moved to other levels.”
“We don’t need this BS,” Steve interrupted. “How do we know what you’re feeding us is even true?”
“Bear with me,” Lilian replied. “Let me finish my briefing and then you may ask questions. According to our documented history,” she continued, “civilizations developed on each level according to their particular desires. For example; Just below this level there is a culture based on the laws and customs of ancient Rome, and they even call themselves Romans. There are other historical oriented levels based on the Middle Ages, Medieval Ages, the Pioneer Age, ancient Egypt, and many more. There are also levels based on religious beliefs such as Christianity, Polytheism, Islam, Judaism, and other similar or combined religions. These civilizations go down all the way to level 99. Some levels have more than one civilization while a few civilizations have expanded to more than one level.”
“What’s to keep them from destroying each other?” Teddy asked, with a bright look on his face. “Is that why you have sealed off the levels above this one.”
“Both of your answers can be summed up very easily,” Lilian smiled. “We, the Guardians, are the ones who keep the others from destroying themselves. We are also the ones who sealed off the levels above here to keep the colony from interfering. Located on this level is the only operating elevator that connects with all levels above and below, from the top of the ship to the bottom. We are able to move to each level at will, whereas, the others are confined to their own levels, except when some overly adventurous person breaks the rules and goes into another level.”
“That still doesn’t give you the right to restrict everyone to their own level,” Laureen spat, glancing angrily around the table.
Lilian glanced at each of the teens in turn. “You must understand that seven hundred years can produce some incredible diversity in history,” she continued. “The people in these independent levels know nothing about our true history. They are not even aware that they are on a ship traveling across the galaxy. They have lost all modern learning, or intentionally gave it up. Most of the societies are primitive, some are religious fanatics. The highest level of intellect is that of the Romans just below this level. In effect, there are some decent societies down there, but there are also some disgustingly horrid ones.”
“So your job, the Guardian’s job, is to keep these civilizations from colliding?” Michelle asked.
“Correct,” Lilian replied. “We also monitor development and provide guidance in certain ways. For example, it may be necessary to replace certain leaders when they advocate mass genocide, or help curtail population explosion, suggest better ways of food production, help eliminate disease or prevent it from spreading, and hundreds of other small touches. We also keep each level below the industrial revolution era so they don’t blow the ship up. Our hope is to someday bring each level up to the point of mutual cooperation so we can reunite the ship.”
Growing more interested and less belligerent, Mark asked, “Do you just barge in with your weapons and demand they make changes?”
“Goodness no!” Lilian stated. “We use the hidden elevator to infiltrate their level. which is well hidden. We have agents who are educated in each of the different civilizations and they go among the inhabitants in a clandestine manner. The people don’t even know they’re Guardians. Upon completion of their mission, they return to this level and monitor the results. It may take many trips before their work is fruitful. Their duties are not without danger though; many agents have been discovered and murdered and some went native.”
“Do you have agents on our level?” Laureen quietly asked.”
“Many of them,” Lilian replied.”
“What’s to prevent us from going back and telling our parents about all this and about your agents?” Steve blared, a smug look on his face.
“If you wish to return you will be provided with the means,” Lilian stated. “However, we have the technology to erase that part of your memory that we consider necessary, and implant false memories and strong desires to discourage exploring. You will not be harmed. However, we also offer you the opportunity to stay with us and become Guardian Agents. We are critically short of intelligent minds to help in our difficult tasks. Many from your level have joined us in the past.”
“I thought we lost that science during the mutiny,” Steve stated, “along with the navigation computers and most of our other technology.”
“We have recovered almost all of it,” Lilian stated. “Point of fact, we are presently on a trajectory to orbit a habitable planet in 27 years. A decision must be made then concerning colonization, because the ships power units will die in 156 years.”
“When do we have to make a decision?” Teddy asked?
“You will be given an extensive overview of the training cycle, the labs, and a detailed observation of each level, and the duties thoroughly explained before you make your decision,” Lilian replied. “You might take note that all of your fellow upper level adventurers opted to remain here and you will meet many of them.”
If the ship is due to die, I do not think we should gently go into that long good night,” Lilian stated. “We are aware that our home planet died so we must do all we can to preserve all that is left of humankind. Your help in preparing the inhabitants of this ship for journeys end…would be most welcome.
NOTE: I thought about turning this into a full length novel using the adventures of the New Agents among the lower levels as chapters, until final landfall. WOULD you recommend I do it? Your comments would be highly appreciated!
Word count: 2887
Author’s Note: This original story was titled “Starship Galileo” but do to numerous changes and rewrites; a new title is in order.