Friday, August 17, 2007

April 15 672 a.t. Interstellar space

This time, the waking was even worse. The waking room was noisy, people walking round, bumping the cot I occupied, clambering over the equipment; I felt piercing pains and nausea, and couldn’t make anyone understand me for hours. Eventually, with some sedatives and painkillers in my blood, I could relax a little; and then I realised that I could remember where I was. I could have whooped for joy if I’d had the strength.
Waking a little more, the picture was not quite so rosy; I realised that I had not recovered any of the memories lost when I awoke last time; but at least I wasn’t getting any worse. Turning my sore head to either side I noticed a couple of sleeping colonists sharing the room with me; they weren’t recovering from hibernation, just sleeping normally. They seemed cramped and uncomfortable. A little later I got to talking with one of them, a colonist named Ania. She told me that she had been unfrozen a month or so before, and found a ship full of other colonists who were refusing to be refrozen. So many of the thawed statics were suffering from loss of memory, dyspraxia, paralysis and organ failure that no-one was keen to be refrozen. Ania said that the ship was now full of refusniks, determined not to go back into the ice- coffins and risk irreparable damage.
“I did lose some memory myself, last time” I said. “But this time it looks like I’ve got away with it. At least, as far as I can tell.”
“I’m very pleased for you, I’m sure. But one awakening without… problems… is no guarantee that the next one will be okay. You just don’t know; it’s like playing Martian roulette.”
In the background I could hear a constant murmuring, a ship full of fretful and bored people most of whom had declined to be refrozen.
“You can’t stay awake for the rest of the journey,” I said to Ania. “We are still more than eighty years away from our destination. You will die before we get there.”
“The ship has some medical facilities; we can cook up anti-aging treatments. I would be over a hundred when we get there- but I’d still be fairly healthy. A hundred isn’t all that old these days.”
“You’d probably be too old to have kids; a colony is never going to survive without children.”
“I might be able to cope, even at that age. Besides, I could have kids on the ship. What else is there to do? We’ve already got a dozen or so children on board.”
Right; that explains one thing, anyway. I had been hearing babies crying in the general hubbub; I thought I was imagining it.
“This ship is far too small to become a generation ship.” I said. “There isn’t enough stored food on board, for a start.”
“The fab-lab can make some more. Recycle the waste and all that.”
“There won’t be enough organics on board to feed a growing population. I hate to think about where we would get more organic feedstock from; the seedstore? Are you going to eat the statics when you run out of food?”
“Is there any reason to keep them? We can’t thaw out anyone else; there isn’t room on the ship. They say that if the statics aren’t thawed out every couple of decades they lose all the information in their heads. I’m not talking about just losing some recollection, the whole lot goes.”
This is something I vaguely remember, but just as a disjointed fact in all my shattered memories. In vitrification the cellular material is locked in place; but over time quantum level effects randomize the information that makes up a person’s memories. If the ship wakes you up every couple of decades your natural cellular repair mechanisms can sort things back into place, much of the time. I suppose that explains a lot of the memory loss and other bad stuff. But after ten decades? The repair mechanisms just can’t cope, even with the best help nanomedicine can supply.
If they don’t get thawed out regularly, Ania seemed to be saying, we might as well just convert them into organic feedstock and eat them.

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