tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Empty Ship

The Empty Ship

byGrillytilly©

This story was inspired by the BBC series "Red Dwarf"; the books "The Dark Beyond the Stars", and the original "Rendezvous with Rama"; as well as the original film "Alien" and the video game "Phantasy Star III".

This story is a rewrite of the original unpublished version written in 2009.

This story takes place in a time period many centuries after humans have left Earth but many centuries before the events of "The Pilot and the Princess". The ship in the story does not have an FTL because it hadn't been invented yet.

I am putting this in Science Fiction because it is more that than anything else. In the interest of full disclosure, so that the reader can know what is contained within and not feel that anything was sprung on them that they didn't want to sign up for; this story contains woman with woman and sister with brother. If you don't want to read that kind of stuff then skip this story. If the story interest you but you just don't want to read that kind of intercourse then skip that sex scenes.

As always, please enjoy. Vote if you feel like it but remember I'm not trying to win any awards or anything like that. I'm just happy that people are reading my writing.


*****

Marsha found herself sitting on the edge of a bed in a hospital room wearing a simple hospital gown. As her mind came into focus she realized that she'd been sitting there for a while. She was awake. She should have been excited but it was hard to be happy at all with the way she felt. Her body felt dirty, like some gunky oil was clinging to her skin. Her insides wanted to turn over on themselves. To add to all of that, she really had to use the toilet.

As her mind took in her surroundings she began to realize that things were not as they should be. The light in the room wasn't on and the only way to see anything was from the daytime light streaming in through the window. By the way it looked she could already tell it wasn't the light from a star but from the daytime operating lights of the massive ship.

This ship was a colony ship. Contrary to what you might think, that did not mean it was a ship that carried a colony from one planet to another. That is what a transport ship is for. A colony ship is a ship that has a colony on it. They live in space, traveling from system to system. That is their normal way of doing things and they treat their ship like their own sovereign homeland.

It was a funny thing then that this colony ship would be carrying colonists headed for a planet. Not a full colony, however; just a partial one. The royal family on Ajo was extending an invitation to the last Empress of Shikju to come and live under their protection. Marsha and her family didn't really have anything to do with all that. They weren't royals, just normal people. Her father was a teacher and her mother worked at Narra capital museum. But when all the arrangements had been made for a colony ship to come and transport the Empress to Ajo, spaces were opened up for immigrants to travel with her.

Normally, a transport ship would be used for this sort of thing but the journey was going to take over 200 years. Space travel is difficult work. You can't leave maintenance to machines or automated systems. It was a common misconception that space transport ships let everyone sleep the whole way but that is not true. There must always be a crew awake at all times because space, for as huge as it is, is much less empty than anyone realizes. The intergalactic medium can damage the ship, create areas where it isn't safe to travel, and for seemingly unknown reasons just warp space and time in certain places.

Besides all the dangers that are just lurking out there that can kill you all of the sudden, any engineer will tell you, robots don't last long. Computers don't last long. Even engines don't last long. They all need care, maintenance and eventual replacement. People never seem to notice that their wrist watch will outlast all their other electronics and yet they still insist on thinking that robots in space will just live forever.

And then of course there were the sleep chambers themselves. Those things could kill you if you didn't have someone checking up on them every now and then. Believe it or not but the human body isn't designed to be asleep for years at a time. It isn't even designed to lay in one position for that long. The bodies have to be rotated and that meant moving parts. Anything with moving parts can break down over time. Every human body is a little bit different so that means the sleep chambers have to regulate things differently depending on who is inside. That means they can get things wrong, do the wrong amount of something and the person inside starts dying. If that happens, you need someone outside who can be alerted and can get the person out of the sleep chamber as fast as possible.

The way a lot of transport ships work that are going on trips longer than two years is that they'll have several crews who will be awake and operating the ship for a year or two and then they'll go to sleep and let the next crew take over. On really long trips, the awake cycle could be as long as five years.

Now if you do the math, with crews that are awake five years at a time, you'd need 40 crews for a 200 plus year journey. That's too many. That's not going to work. No one has ever heard of a transport ship carrying more than seven different crews and even then, they only had five captains to spread out among them. That is where the colony ship comes in.

The people on the colony ship have their own culture. They live on the ship generation after generation. Unlike a transport ship, these colony ships are huge and it seems they're always getting bigger. When Marsha came aboard this ship she was blown away at the size of the interior. Unlike a transport ship, which is like a submarine or ocean liner, a colony ship has its own ecosystem in the main cylinder. There was soil several kilometers deep that lined the walls going all the way around and from one end to the other. From the soil, there were trees and other plants that grew. In the distance, Marsha could see the outline of farms and a few rolling hills with animals grazing. It was like a planet had been put outside in. If not for the bright central line of lights, as well as cloud cover, she would have been able to see the people above her upside down.

The ship that had brought Marsha up to space had decks and corridors and whatnot. The colony ship didn't operate that way from what Marsha could see. Once you were inside the ship it was like a town with streets and buildings and people walking around. There were restaurants, shops, a park, and just about everything else you'd expect to find in a civilized settlement. According to the map, this was not the only town either. There were many others as well as one main city and several areas that were listed as forest. There were at least two great rivers marked on the local map that spiraled all the way around several times to help circulate water and there were canals that branched off to supply water to every bit of dirt in the ship. The place was so big that there was a train of all things that could take you around. Way off on the other side of the cylinder there was a place listed as mountains and even a mine. Those big rocks were parts of entire asteroids that had been brought whole into the ship. Beyond the mountains there were many more kilometers of the ship. There were more plains that eventually turned into a beach and a salt water sea. Across the sea was another beach and then more plains and the ship just went on and on.

The colony leaders said their ship only had a population of about forty million but could sustain many times that number. Of course, they didn't say that to Marsha and even if they had, she wouldn't have been able to understand them. Just as each world has its own language or languages, the same was true of the colony ship. During the two weeks that Marsha had been on the ship before going into the sleep chamber she hadn't understood a word of what any of those people had been saying. She was only able to communicate with other travelers or some of the robots. Their robots were funny looking too. Robots planetside looked almost completely human and only the color of their eyes or their quirky mannerisms gave them away. Robots on the ship looked like they were modeled after storage containers. They were little more than metal boxes on wheels or treads. But still, they were intelligible and helpful.

So, a colony of forty million was carrying twenty thousand travelers, including the last Empress, to Ajo. Once there, the travelers would be able to take ownership of a rather large peninsula and the Empress would probably marry into the royal family and the last remnant of the old Empire would be swept away.

It was strange for Marsha. The Empress was only a girl, barely 18 and she'd lost everything. Whatever political or ceremonial powers her ancestors or even her father had had before her, they were all gone. The rulers who were supposed to be loyal to her now all wanted her dead and she wasn't going to Ajo so the king there could bend the knee to her. She was going as a refugee. She didn't even have the funds to support herself and her travel expenses were being taken care of by a very complex trading arrangement. Technically, she didn't even have a family name or any name. Anyone who spoke with her was expected to only use her royal title as if they were above names or something. Marsha wondered what her mother called her when she was a baby.

"Most honorable crown princess of the Eternal Imperium, stop that. No, most honorable crown princess of the Eternal Imperium, you (in the plural of course to denote the royal "we") can't do that. Most honorable crown princess of the Eternal Imperium, put that down or you will hurt yourselves."

Still, as much as Marsha might want to empathize with the Empress because she was the same age as her and she knew what tragedies had befallen the Imperial family, she still couldn't help but see the Empress as nothing but a spoiled brat. The two times that Marsha had even gotten close enough to see the Empress for herself, though from a great distance, she seemed an animal with a bright light being shown into their eyes. She was having trouble coming to terms with the fact that she was no longer special. She was no longer a princess. She was a pauper in all reality and she probably had no skills, no education, and outside of marriage nothing to offer the rest of society. If Marsha met her, she imagined that the Empress would be a bore to talk to. She couldn't imagine that the Empress would like music or fashion or anything else normal. She'd likely only see Marsha as some lowly servant girl.

Before going to sleep, Marsha had found that she'd spent most of her time with her younger brother, Tom. He was only ten and he was constantly asking questions that Marsha didn't know the answers to. As Marsha was sitting on the bed in the hospital room she wondered where he was and their parents for that matter.

She looked down at her hand. It was now over 200 years old. Wow. That was just ... wow. She was an old woman. She felt a laugh bubble up. Tom was an old man and mom and dad were practically ancient now. Long stints in sleep chambers wasn't really commons so it could very well be that they were some of the oldest people in the galaxy.

Her mind came back to the here and now. There was silence. Her stomach made a noise to let her know she needed to get something to eat and it almost echoed in the silent room. She stumbled off the bed and staggered to the wall where the light switch was. The switch didn't seem to do anything. She tried the door and it wasn't locked or anything so she opened it.

The hospital looked deserted. None of the lights were on and there didn't seem to be anyone anywhere. The hallway was dark but Marsha figured out she was on the first floor of the building. Even though she knew they didn't speak her language, she called out to see if anyone could hear her.

Fear. Fear was starting to come into her thoughts. Was this a dream? She told herself to calm down. There were twenty thousand travelers after all. Maybe most of them were being awoken somewhere else. Maybe most of the attention is on the Empress and her court. Yeah. Maybe someone had put Marsha in that room but hadn't expected her to wake up until later.

The bathroom wasn't very welcoming. It sort of smelled like it hadn't been cleaned in a while and on top of that it looked like this was in fact the men's room. Marsha didn't care. She needed to go and she hadn't found the ladies' room yet.

The more awake she began to feel, the more she really wanted a shower and something to eat. Those needs only increased when she was finished and discovered there was nothing to wipe with. Before leaving she looked at herself in the mirror with lots of dark spots. Her hair was a mess. Yuck. Now she was sort of glad no one had seen her yet. And to top it all off, the toilet wouldn't flush and she couldn't even wash her hands.

She made her way to the front door of the building and ventured out.

Oh boy. This place looked wrong. The plants had over grown everything and there were a lot more insects than she remembered. Had they just dumped her into the poor part of town? It figured. The damn Empress was probably in a nice place having her every need taken care of while Marsha had to use the wrong bathroom just to pee.

She walked to the next building and there was no one there save for a robot that was sitting outside in low power mode. For a split second Marsha thought that it would be a bad idea to leave a robot like that outside since it could get rained on or something but then she realized that they didn't have rain on the ship. Well, she didn't know that completely. No one had told her that. It was just a funny feeling for her to catch herself thinking like she would on a planet with weather. It was a testament to how much this town really did feel like a town you might find anywhere.

She eventually found what she thought was a private home. She rang the bell and there was no answer. She tried the door and it was locked. She pushed just a bit on the handle and the wood around the handle started to crumble. Before Marsha even knew what she was doing, the whole front door fell off its hinges and went to the floor in a huff of kicked up dust. Ok, that was not a good sign.

Inside the house she found, again, not a living soul. She did find a bathroom but with no running water. So this place was a bust. However, she did find what she hoped was soap. She started to get the idea that she might have to go bathe in the river or something. She was definitely going to wash herself and she was starting to care less and less if anyone saw her or not. In fact, let them see. She was slowly building up a long list of grievances to hurl at the first colonist she encountered.

She marched out of the house and tried to find a com system. Was anything working in this place? Why had they let everything go to shit in the last 200 years?

So far, in the several hours that she'd been awake, she'd found no one. On top of that, she was still hungry and there was no food. None of the shops or eateries had anything either out or in storage. It was a ghost town. Marsha's emotions swung back and forth from fear to anger. She didn't know what else to do so she went back to the hospital she'd started from.

And then the big lights started to go off. She knew she shouldn't be scared of that since it was normal. The ship had a day and night cycle. It wasn't just for the humans either. It turns out that plants and animals expect that and develop best with some kind of cycle to go by. She wondered if they also simulated seasons. Now that she thought about it, it felt hotter than before. A lot hotter in fact. Before sleeping it had been nice spring weather, but this was full on summer heat. It wasn't unbearable but temperature wise it wouldn't be difficult to bare all.

Even off, those big things that made the daylight glowed hot for about an hour and it was a sort of twilight. Marsha was hungry. She was thirsty. She needed a shower. She needed some proper shoes. She needed to talk to someone. She paced back and forth by the entrance of the hospital and as the light faded to blackness she began to understand just how alone she was. There was nothing. All around her it was quiet and dark. In all of the ship that she could see, it was just quiet and dark. There were no other people alive. They weren't in this town and when Marsha went up to the third floor of the hospital and looked out, she could see that there were no lights on in the next town over.

Right. She was alone. She was alone on a ship and all the colonists were gone. Why? Were they coming back? Maybe they were on vacation. Maybe they'd stopped at some interesting star to check it out and found a nice planet with lots of awesome beaches and decided to take a few days off. Maybe they'd just left Marsha in a state of slowly waking up and forgot about her.

One thing she did know, she did not get up out of the sleep chamber and just go to that hospital on her own. Someone put her there. There didn't seem to be any people here but there was the one robot. She went over and there it still was. She tapped on it and while it didn't seem to come to life, the display screen on the side lit up.

"Where is everyone?" she asked.

[Please wait ... please wait ... please wait. Repeat the question.]

"Is anyone else here?"

[Please wait ... please wait ... please wait ... System error. CPU heat level above ... ]

Forget it. The stupid piece of junk had to be a hundred years old. These colonists weren't like the people planetside. They were still using silicon and copper for their electronics. You could almost get a full fifteen years out of a robot on a planet because they were built with graphene processors and titanium skeletons. These colony robots would probably only work for about five years before you needed a new one. And from the looks of things, nothing was new round here. They'd really let the damn ship go to shit.

Marsha wandered off and eventually found herself walking through what was left of the park. She felt like she sort of remembered the place. She couldn't be sure but she thought that perhaps this was the same park that she and Tom had gone to the day before going to sleep. She had been trying to ignore him and talk with her friends while he was trying to ask her what would happen if they tried to fly a kite up high enough whether it would ever come back down.

She walked around and then she found the stone bench. She remembered that she was so surprised to see something made of stone in space. Then one of the robots explained to her that the stone likely came from an asteroid. Colonists did that sort of thing. It would be so expensive in both currency and energy to have things shipped up to them if they needed something. It was so much easier to just gently put one end of the ship up to a big space rock and mine it for what they needed provided of course that the rock didn't have enough gravity to pull the rest of the ship down to its side. They had told her that the ship was carrying huge stockpiles of resources that the colonists would sell to worlds that lacked such raw materials.

Marsha laid down on the stone and looked up at the sky which was not really a sky at all. Beyond that blackness was more of the ship, it was just too far away to see. The stone felt nice actually. It was slightly cooler than the air around her and she appreciated that. Just think, all the children that grew up on one of these colony ships would go to bed looking at a starless sky while they are physically out among the stars. It was so weird.

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byGrillytilly© 4 comments/ 8787 views/ 26 favorites

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