Fluidity In Space: Chapter Five

My name is Kevin Jackson. I am the third man in my family to carry that name. It used to mean something on this ship, but it doesn’t hold much weight anymore. My grandfather was captain, my father was the science officer and second in command, and I’m working the cash register at Main Street Electronics.

I stared up at the clock, thinking about what time it would be if we didn’t use a system based on rotations of a planet that was who-knows-how-many lightyears away. All this adherence to a foreign culture that none of us had ever experienced really annoys me at times. Our experiences should be our own, not that of some people on a swamp-covered ball in a galaxy named after cow juice.

If I didn’t need the money, I’d quit my job. I’m really sick of having to deal with people complaining about the lack of colors available on our line of robo-puppies. People on this ship are so obsessed with emulating everything from the planet we left behind, but they still end up asking for replications of pets in crazy colors that never existed. When we had to study Earth history in upper form, I don’t remember seeing anything about phlox poodles, but I get dozens of requests for pets in insane shades like that every day.

Ugh, finally. Oh-seventeen-hundred hours on the tick. I can’t wait to leave this madhouse and get home to my wife and sons. I am so glad that my son Jonathan put in the request to authorize my use of the crew corridors, and I’m even more glad that the captain approved it. It’s so much quicker to go through the crew corridor just outside of Main Street than it is to walk to the housing district directly. In my case, it’s not a matter of favoritism over the fact that my sons are part of the crew on this ship. An accident left me as half of the man I once was, literally.

I used to work as a digital component programmer in a simulated sawmill that was located in the ship’s simulation of the Scottish Highlands. It was a great job until the electronics on the saw arm malfunctioned, and I lost my limbs in an excruciating minute that felt like an eternity. The audit of the accident showed that the machine’s processor was faulty. As it was a hardware issue rather than a software issue, the ship’s treasurer, Adam Rockseed, authorized complete payment for my hospital stay, rehabilitation, and for my robotic appendages.

The good side of that ordeal was that my pension would still grow as long as I worked, even if it was not at the sawmill. That was music to my ears, as I got far away from that God-forsaken place as soon as I could. Thus, I moved, with my wife and infant sons, from one simulated Earth location to another. We left our residence in the artificial Scottish Highlands to reside in the residential living quarters just off of Main Street in the simulated United States of America.

My sons are now grown men, but we still live off of Main Street. However, we’re now in a much more convenient location. It is nice since, due to the fact that my sons are officers on this ship, we’re allowed to live in the living quarters in the area reserved for senior crew members. Plus, now with my access to the crew corridors, I can leave work and go straight home.

Our sons have their living quarters, separate from my wife and me, but our family is still together. The three spacious living quarters, each with their own toilet area and shower, are combined with a kitchen and a living room in a structure that has the facade of a domicile designed following Victorian-era architectural norms.

Even as a juvenile, I was a genius when it comes to programming, so as you can imagine, living on a ship sailing through space meant that I had my pick of careers. At the time, I didn’t want my life to be determined by the career path of my father and grandfather, so I went against their wishes and took a civilian job. That was the biggest mistake of my life.

I chose the Scottish Highlands simulation because I thought it was so beautiful and lush with vegetation. After the accident, all that I can do is look at it and see nothing but its artificial components, and I can’t help but see that even its existence is artificial. It attempts to mimic something so precisely that no one on this ship has ever actually seen. Everyone on board this ship only has an inkling of what Earth really looked like due to the digital archives created centuries ago by our ancestors.

To be honest, I can’t help but see every part of the ship that way now, as I feel that we can be so much more if we forge our own path in architecture and design instead of using designs created by people who died ages ago. The Main Street location allows me to remain close to my sons, who are now both officers on this ship, so I don’t let anyone else know about my inner thoughts. I grin and bear it, as my family is more important to me than anything else.

When I finally left work, on the way to the elevator, I walked past the pathetic attempt to recreate the stone, gravel, and sand that made up the faux-asphalt in our simulated, sanitized, 20th-century-America-inspired downtown facade. Our ship’s depiction of Main Street is so far off from the virtual augmented reality simulations that we viewed in school.

The real downtown districts from that time period had real character, style, and a sense of being that we sorely lack. The real, unfiltered, storefronts of Earth sold similar items to our stores, but the owners weren’t afraid to show the dirt, grime, and decay that naturally occurred on the planet over the decades. They were actually proud of it, as our dictionary notes that they coined words for the natural aging of buildings, calling them “weathered”, which was seen as a positive trait. They also had phrases that emphasized their approval of natural progression, stating that “things only got better with age”.

We have a clean oxygen supply throughout the ship, but Earth’s atmosphere is an amazing cocktail, containing many disparate components such as nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and water vapor. That’s not even going into the chemical byproducts of pollution that gathered within the perimeter between the Earth’s atmosphere and the cold vacuum of space that we are always floating aimlessly through, but do our best to pretend we’re not. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to breathe that wonderful mix of elements into my lungs, but I’m sure it tastes a lot sweeter than the cold, sterilized oxygen that we’re forced to breathe.

My parents took me to a theme park simulation in the ship’s Augmented Reality Entertainment Network Archway as a kid, and even their make-believe Main Street seemed much more realistic than ours. The builders on Earth made these romanticized attractions to escape from reality, but our sterile attempts at mimicry are not an escape, they are our reality.

I can’t speak from experience, of course. Maybe our downtown really is accurate. Maybe the dirty, gritty, virtual AR simulations that I experienced in school were just a fluke. It’s possible Earth’s downtowns really did resemble the ARENA records of a theme park’s Main Street. But, if that is the case, at least the saccharine structures in the theme parks were real. There was a designer who wanted to bring back the joy of the Main Street storefront that he or she remembered. Our attempts to rebuild the theme park version of 20th century America are hollow. None of us ever experienced the real thing, nor did our parents or grandparents.

Well, enough reminiscing. I’m finally home. It’s time to kick back, relax, and enjoy some downtime with the people I love.

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