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Colony Crisis

level_head in colony_crisis

Chapter 20: Accidentally right

Approaching the Axiom in the middle of the day was a rare treat for Brandy. Her folks still demanded that she complete all her chores — and there would be a price to pay for skipping out today as she had. Her hobby of spending time digging through the ship’s computer library was only allowed in the evening, when her other work was done.

The base of the Axiom, on the west side of the Colony, was still illuminated by the late morning sun. It was only a kilometer or so from Ellen’s place, which was almost the nearest part of the Colony to the ship.

Well, Brandy realized, that wasn't quite true. This area had been part of the Colony once. The Axiom’s cradle was still sunlit; it looked very different from its appearance during her evening visits. The light caused her to notice things she had never paid attention to. There were lots of Life Pods on the ground, but most of them looked abandoned.

“Weird,” Brandy said, looking with distaste at a debris-filled pod as they passed by.

“What’s that?” Ellen asked.

“The pods. They’re nasty. Who lives like that?”

“Most of us used to. The pods were well insulated with the door closed, though it wasn't an easy job to operate those doors manually. The problem was that the life support systems had been used up years ago; there was no way to breathe in the things with the doors closed. These are abandoned.”

Brandy pointed. “That one’s not. Look at it.”

“Well, I see. And there’s another one that looks in use; it’s got fresh trash at the door. Hmm… None of us live out here. Some Shippers seem to, from the looks of it. Maybe living in one of these little five-meter balls makes them think that they're still on the ship.”

“Weird,” Brandy said again. “Why can’t they build real homes? I’ve been in a pod. If you put a hoverchair in, you take up the whole thing — and who can sleep on those curved benches?”

“I don’t think they’re impressed by the places we’ve built out of trash cubes, soil, and sheet metal.”

Brandy was indignant at this, and pointed inside a filthy life pod as they walked past. “We may have a dirt floor at home, but we’re not walking in that!”

Ellen had no argument.

They approached the aft ramp, Gangway 22. The trail leading from the Colony ended here, and some people were coming in and out of the ship, the ones coming out blinking in the sunlight. The tall fair woman and almost as tall darker girl ascended the ramp steps, avoiding trash piled around. A few people going in or out eyed them curiously, and a bit suspiciously; their Colony-cloth outfits were in stark contrast to the red shipsuits.

Brandy didn’t know what they did inside, really. Did they work and then take lunch breaks, like everyone in the Colony? Or just sit around? She knew those shipsuits wouldn't hold up to hard work, but what kind of work would a Shipper do? You couldn’t grow anything in the dead ship, she was sure, but she’d heard that there were still almost ten thousand Shippers.

They entered the gloom of the Axiom, and slowed down inside while their eyes adjusted. For all the lifetime Brandy could remember, these red emergency lights were the only lights the ship had ever had. It was supposedly all lit up inside once, but she couldn’t imagine it. And supposedly food just sort of magically appeared, any time you wanted it.

Ugh. Lots of dirt on the floor in the corridor, and lots of sand. Brandy had never been on the Axiom during a sandstorm, but she knew they couldn’t close the doors. Of course, she lived in a home with a dirt floor, but this was different.

She didn’t like their food, not at all. Brandy had managed to make a couple of young friends on the ship; they offered to share, but the contents of those foil packets was gross. They claimed to like the weird-looking stuff, but were always glad when Brandy brought real food to eat.

No food today: They were on a Serious Mission. Maybe Brandy’s hobby would prove useful. The pair moved to a stairwell; the door was jammed open like all the stairway doors here in the Carina decks.

Down they went, then forward a few hundred meters, then down again. Avoiding the main corridor above got them past a lot of the trash, but even the cabins down here … well, they just didn’t seem to care about cleaning up after themselves.

The air stank. The fact that there were twenty-two giant doors open, half on each side of the Carina hull, didn’t seem to help much. She guessed they needed more wind.

Even a sandstorm would help the smell.

Finally they reached the compartments for OR, Operation Recolonize. There were a few computer stations here; as far as she knew, they were the only ones left still running. And there were racks of equipment that Brandy loved to look at, but didn’t understand.

From what Ellen told her, most of that equipment nobody understood.

Ellen slid into a chair at a station. Brandy grabbed a folding chair from a slot in the wall and sat next to her. Since this was access to the library, rather than to the Ship’s own systems, they could use the keyboard. The screen appeared in the air above the projector bar, and the computer display materialized in the packets of field-constrained dust. Ellen had told Brandy that the projected screens were actually brighter than they had been in space, since there was now more dust to work with.

They had an answer in less time than it had taken to walk here. “Eastern diamondback?” Brandy read aloud. “Wow. This says that they’re poisonous.”

“It does. Are you sure that’s what it was?”

“You saw it too. What do you think?”

“We should have brought it along, I think. But the head doesn’t look right to me. This looks too wide.”

Brandy had looked very closely, but Ellen had a keen observer’s eye: she made comments about the creature from a brief (and alarmed) glimpse that impressed Brandy. They flipped idly though galleries of North American snakes as a starting point. Ellen had said that there were no snakes in the chambers that had been unpacked, so since the snake was impossible, it could be from anywhere; so her thinking went.

Brandy saw it first. “Hey, lookit that one!”

Ellen looked carefully, then laughed aloud. “What name did you give that snake?”

“GO-4,” Brandy said, looking at the screen. “Yeah, I know. I had no idea. Hey, it eats mice! Cool!” According to the screen, it had the weird name “Pituophis catenifer” but was commonly known, centuries ago when it was common, as a gopher snake.


And here's one rather like GO-4:

And here's another, describing behavior a bit.

===|==============/ Level Head
The puns! They keep coming!

There IS something different about walking around in dirt as opposed to a dirty floor. Maybe it's the thought that one is supposed to be that way, and the other just isn't.
I keep wordplay in this sort of writing to an absolute minimum; I'm keenly aware of how much trouble a strange sense of humor can get you into.

In fact, I'm aware of a story of a fellow in Arizona, an enterprising young man from Yuma in the southwest. He tried counterfeiting, but as a metallurgist rather than a printer, he decided to have a go at coins rather than bills. He had plenty of copper, and so began there -- but his engraving was not very good, and he was quickly caught.

They hung him for his strange cents of Yuma.

It could happen to me.

===|==============/ Level Head
*laughs* Oh, I ADORE punning! That's one of the reasons I love English so much, its infinite amount of pun opportunities.
Okay, I'm not quite surprised that my diamondback classification was off. But this unlikely coincidence... well, I don't expect it in a source that's been pretty serious heretofore, as with the population decimation. It seems counteractive. But, well, you know the tone(s) you want.

Par. 7: In at least two styles I've studied, "well insulated" and other "well" constructions should always be hyphenated.

Par. 14: I suggest replacing "as" with "equally." If you keep "as," I should consult the guides on whether the situation calls for hyphens. After all, "as" here is an adverb that does not end in "-ly."

Par. 16: "Lifetime" generally isn't a collective noun; consider rewording.

Par. 18: Sometimes I have to remind myself why there are still Shippers.

Par. 19: I think "They" should be lowercase here.
By the way, the "coincidence" of the snake not being poisonous isn't, really. Remember that none of these animals are "natural"; each species had been chosen by a human for survival.

===|==============/ Level Head
I was talking about the coincidence that the gopher snake was called a GO-4 snake. But coincidences in fiction are more pardonable when the characters notice.
Speaking of species surviving, it had long been considered unfortunate by the Colonists that mice and were among the species chosen for survival on the Axiom. Ellen unpacked a few for testing, as she learned from the instructions.

And then a couple of got away. The Colonists don't understand biology enough to have realized that the rats (also originally white) that appeared in their crops were not just larger mice. Those were from the Project Ark facility, which the Colony still does not know about.

So, by convention and from matching pictures, they call the larger ones rats and the smaller ones mice, but they think they're more related than they actually are.

Mice and rats are further apart, genetically, than humans and chimpanzees. It will be a long time, if the Colony survives, before they could determine that again empirically.

Of course, they do have the Axiom's libraries.

===|==============/ Level Head
I still haven't learned much of the differences between rats and mice, and my comic includes a rat. At least I can now consistently see the visual difference.