In the third year of the eighty-first government of the generation ship Patience, the hull is ruptured by a stray spacerock. The rock, it is later determined, was no more than a millimeter and a half across, but at eight millicee that's more than enough to tear an enormous gash down the Patience's side. The automatic internal airlocks keep the death toll to no more than thirty percent of the ship's population, but raw materials for repairs are hard to come by in interstellar space. All nonessential equipment is stripped down, and the survivors set to rebuilding and repopulating under austerity conditions.
Ninety five percent of cultural endeavors – art, literature, music – are placed on hold, and the remaining five percent are drafted into government commissions, writing instruction manuals and textbooks and morale-boosting propaganda. The engines are throttled back, and the scoops begin accumulating mass, spending only enough on fuel to maintain the ship's velocity. The population – since the universal draft, now officially the crew – adapt to microgravity.
Fifty years later, Patience is deemed sufficiently repaired, and she begins – gently – to accelerate again. Getting back up to speed will be a centuries-long process, as the ship is now home to two generations of zero-gee natives, and the next generation likewise will know much less than one gee.
The universal draft has ended, but a military culture still pervades the public consciousness. Clothes and hair are cut severely; civilian org charts follow strict hierarchies; education is divided into age-blind subject courses, which are graded pass/fail. Everyone's nostalgic childhood favorites are anthems of industry and loyalty.
The unsealed cultural archives from before the Pause are alien things, incomprehensible values expressed in a childish dialect. They read like comical stereotypes of the lazy and foolish, and their ignorance of industrial psychology is bewildering. After a decade or so, the archives are mostly ignored except by historians; Patience is in a new era now, and the society of the present has its own culture to build upon.
Lieutenant Rusjus reads over the report again, struggling not to let her eyes glaze over at the tightly spaced columns of numbers.
The per-capita legume requisitions for Foxtrot Sector have increased by 0.32±0.07 standard deviations over the last one hundred days.
She rubs her forehead and sips her caffeinated water.
The cause is as yet unknown. As of this writing (02:17 hh:mm ago), prediction market analysis suggests expected value of basic further investigation between 41 and 118 labor hours vs. expected cost between 14 and 20 labor hours.
She sighs and stretches. The obvious course of action at this point is to assign someone to do the investigation while shorting the market for the time. However, before this goes through, a human still has to evaluate the decision; a final sanity check, to keep the system from acting on perverse results. Rusjus is that human.
She rubs her eyes and tries to imagine every way that a basic investigation of slightly increased legume consumption could go wrong. After a few minutes, she sends a short reply.
Re: legume investigation (ticket #742557cd) Meklal, Does the cost estimate include ethical costs? e.g. privacy Rusjus
The reply is almost immediate. (Blast. She'd hoped that Meklal wouldn't get back to her until the morning.)
Re: legume investigation (ticket #742557cd) Yes. Meklal
Re: legume investigation (ticket #742557cd) OK then, do it. Rusjus
She unstraps herself from the desk and gives herself a cookie and a break. Half of the job is combating decision fatigue.
The election comes around, and for the first time since the Pause began, the incumbent's nominee isn't chosen. This is not to say that the new captain is controversial, of course; she couldn't have won if the crew – the people, Rusjus corrects herself – didn't like her. But it's still a sign.
(A sign of what, the prediction markets don't know or aren't telling. The jargon-wranglers are talking about "increasing risk tolerance", which applies to almost everything.)
The legumes turn out to have been a minor cultural shift, precipitated by an appearance in a popular movie; the filmmakers are investigated on suspicion of advertising, but their proof-of-disinterest paperwork is found to be in order. A new tulip genome passes safety testing, and the blue-and-white petals gradually become a familiar sight. Someone manages to squeeze another few tenths of a percentage point of efficiency out of the street-traffic algorithms, and everyone changes their schedules. Rusjus moves into her girlfriend's apartment on a five-year commitment.
At the end of the five years, they renew for twenty and apply for a child. They name her Tujfin.
Tujfin develops interests in theoretical linguistics, gravity sports, and recreational forensics. Her mothers encourage all of these, but require her to pass her 200-level applied ethics course before practicing the latter unsupervised.
By the time Tujfin is twelve, the Patience's gravity is up to a tenth of a gee, and Tujfin can take twice that on the court. Her rankings consistently float around the eightieth percentile, with which she seems satisfied.
When Tujfin reaches twenty, she moves to Lima Sector to work at a comparative-historical research institution, and her mothers take a one-year renewal, which turns out to be their last. The election comes and goes without an upset; Tujfin starts a local rec-fors club; roses go out of fashion in favor of colored glass beads.
Rusjus starts a bead collection, then gives it away six months later. She starts wearing her hair in a bun.
Tujfin is fifty when her mothers die of an engine stutter, along with two percent of the ship's population. The cause is found to be an impurity in the fuel, caused by deceleration damage to the filters during the Pause. The filters are replaced and Patience spends the next three years obsessively checking every part of the ship for unusual stresses. To the engineers' credit, only three hundred twenty-six more issues are found, of which only eleven would have caused serious problems. The jargon-wranglers note that the societal risk tolerance has dropped.
Eventually, the ordinary business of living seeps back into the front of the public consciousness. Fried rutabagas become popular. A new type of bicycle frame is invented. A local grocery closes in favor of a ceramics shop. Tujfin gets her 400-level ethics certification and joins a realtime cultural analysis organization.
Life goes on.
(Posted for day 4 of the PICO Jam. 1060 words vs. 1000 words minimum.)