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The Mission

by Phillip Donnelly

part 1 of 2

“We are Gen 26. We believe in the Past, the Future and the Present. We know where we’ve come from and we know where we’re going. We are Gen 26.”

Like everyone else, Mark mechanically recited the Oath of Purpose before sitting down to midmeal. Today was Day 4, so it was a green food day. Normally this was Mark’s favourite but today he could take no pleasure in it. He was suffering from BluesPurps, and his colleague Rea recognised the lack of purpose in his vacant eyes, in his downturned mouth, in his hunched shoulders.

She considered moving to another table to avoid him, and she knew that nobody would blame her for this, as she would be perfectly within her rights, according to the Codes and Norms of Behaviour in the Emotions Statutes of Generation 3.

BluesPurps was contagious, and very difficult to cure, and Rea, who like almost everyone else had suffered from it, had no desire to return to the Emotion Camps with a fresh dose. Rea knew that if Mark needed to speak to someone the robotic councillors were always available, programmed to dispense sympathy and understanding. And she knew that they alone controlled access to the mood facilitators, the medicated happiness of diazepam 6 and the other neurotransmitter enhancers.

Nevertheless, she decided to stay sitting beside him, without really knowing why. It just felt right. It was so rare to actually feel anything that Rea did it without thinking. She made a mental note to record the feeling in her Emotions Diary, and to lodge it with the Emotions Bureau. It was her first emotion of the week.

After clearing her throat for no physiological reason, she began to speak to Mark: “May purpose be with you, Mark.”

“And also with you, Rea.”

“Does the food emote you?”

“No, it doesn’t taste today. And yours?”

“It’s better than Day 3, but not as good as Day 1. I like red food. What’s your colour?”

“I like green food, but today it doesn’t taste. Today, I don’t emote.”

“A black or a grey day, Mark?”

“Grey, grey. Not black, just grey.”

Rea was about to put her hand on his hand, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. In spite of the Emotion Committee’s continual encouragement of physical contact, and the Contact Decrees of Generation 17, there was an aversion to physical contact among everyone on the ship, an aversion bordering on a psychosis.

Unable to actually touch, she did manage to overcome her distaste for proximity and leaned in towards Mark slightly. “Did work distract you today, Mark?”

“I logged only four moments of distraction. The rest was silence and internal monologue.”

“Perhaps you should ask our supervisor if you could play a different role in the daily task rota, something with more meaning.”

“Meaning. All tasks are meaningless. That is known: a truth unspoken, but known. The Ship controls everything: its automated navigation systems direct us through the black death of space; its robots feed and clothe us; its Maternity Factories clone us. Generation after generation, on and on. The Ship is mother and father. We have nothing else. No meaning...”

Rea glanced nervously at the cameras, disturbed by this deviation into honesty and away from pleasantry.

“Some truths are better left unspoken. It is possible to win distraction from tasks, to lose oneself, albeit only for a moment. We must live in the present, in one of the lost generations, but our lives will pass more quickly and less painfully if we force ourselves to become distracted by events.”

“Events without purpose,” Mark said sadly.

“Forget the P-word; embrace distraction.”

“What role did you play today?” Mark asked Rea, looking up from the green food and noticing for the first time that her eyes were also green.

“Today, I reordered paper files, thousands of them, replications of Earth files. I filed them alphabetically and then placed them in a storage cupboard.”

“Yes, and tomorrow you will re-file them chronologically. Where is the meaning? What is the purpose? It wasn’t always like this. I’ve studied the Vidblogs from Generation 1. They did not perform tasks like this. It’s not... natural.”

“Nothing on the Ship is natural: not this food, not the Ship itself, not even us. We are part of the Ship and the Ship is part of us. The purpose is the task and the task is the purpose.”

“Oh, never mind the Mantras, Rea. We say that at the beginning and at the end of each work period, but we never stop to think about what it actually means. The Gen 1’s had no Mantras, no Slogans, no Oaths of Purpose.”

“We are not Gen 1’s; we have never lived on Earth, never known anyone who lived on Earth. We cannot be like the Gen 1’s. We must...”

Rea was about to use another Mantra but stopped herself and tried to speak from the heart instead.

“You know where these negthoughts lead, don’t you, Mark. You know what happens to those with chronic BluesPurps, those the Mood Camps cannot help... The only exit is the recycling chambers and the... Gas of Peace. I would rather not have that happen to you. I would rather not lose you to the gas.”

Rea blushed a little but not enough to trigger the emotocams. Mark twitched a little, uncomfortable with the expression of what appeared to be a direct emotion. Rea saw his discomfort and spoke again.

“It will be better after the midmeal, in the creative tasks. You like creation time, don’t you, Mark?”

“Yes... sometimes. What will it be today?”

“A drawing task: we are to draw small pictures in the left corner on the files that have prime numbers in their ref codes.”

“So, we are to create... beauty,” Mark said, blushing a little at the use of such an old-fashioned word, such a Gen 1 word. “And what’s the prize?” he continued.

“The most... beautiful picture, by popular vote of all team members, will receive five diazepam tablets and will become the Group Leader on Day 5.”

The meal went on, and both Mark and Rea did their best to keep the conversation going, excited and tired by the strain of real communication, strangely interested in what each other had to say.

The wordcounter program noted that their conversation was the second longest in Canteen 5 and Rea and Mark received a merit point each. However, the language bot also found evidence of references to BluesPurps, so their conversation was not recorded and logged for all to enjoy.

This secretly pleased both Mark and Rea who for reasons they did not understand felt uneasy about sharing every detail of their lives with the Blogs, the Emotion Diaries and above all with the omnipresent emotocams.

The worktime 2 creative task failed to really distract Mark. Like all the other team members, he drew pictures of the Ship and the stars, of the robots and the Blue Circle that represented the Earth. He stared at a nearby globe of the Earth: so round, so spherical, so... beautiful.

He considered briefly drawing a picture of Rea, but somehow felt it would have been rude: too personal, too close to physical contact somehow. He also knew that he didn’t do it because he was afraid that such an act would have been noticed by the members of his work group, who might then decide to nominate them for a Work Group 5 Reality Show, and then their every move would be recorded by the emotocams and edited into a Daily Love Diary by a director droid.

There were currently only two Reality Shows in Work Group 5. Both were dull and deeply unpopular, so the director droids would be sure to cover whatever was happening between himself and Rea very closely.

This thought made him feel something he believed used to be called ‘anger’. It was an altogether unpleasant emotion, but it was an emotion nonetheless. He felt his heartbeat rise and his teeth grind, odd physical manifestations of this new powerful emotion.

Sensing that this anger emotion would make a Reality Show even more likely, Mark hurried to a nearby arts’ supplies cupboard where he knew there was no camera. He waited in there until the emotion subsided and then returned to the group, not looking in Rea’s direction lest he experience other emotions the emotocams might pick up on.

When creativetime was nearly finished, his group walked around their workspace and evaluated the drawings of their companions, placing a blue Earth sticker on the drawing they liked best. Mark chose Rea’s and Rea chose Mark’s. Two members of the group noticed this irregularity and logged a possible emotional bond development in their journals for the night. Had it been five journal entries, the emotocams would have started to follow Mark and Rea very closely.

The director droids were more than a little worried by the rating figures for Work Group 5’s two current reality shows: one involving a man who liked to sing Gen 1 hymns to himself in the shower, called the Singsing Shower Man, and the other focusing on the relationship between two work office colleagues who liked to compete on how quickly they could file things, called The Filers. Of the ten Work Groups on the Ship, Work Group 5’s reality shows had the lowest ratings, and director droid 5 really needed to improve its ratings if it was to avoid being reprogrammed.

In his cubicle at surftime, Mark sat at his consolechair and sifted through the Ship’s memory banks. He called up video diaries from the First Generation and projected them on the wall in front of him. Around him he had set the walls to display images of a forest from Earth before the Ecocries. A part of him wanted to call Rea on the vidphone, but he was afraid a late surftime call was sure to arouse unwanted interest from the emotocams.

Instead Mark focused on the Gen 1 video blogs, which although few in number, were by far the most popular blogs in the Ship’s memory banks. Mark had watched all the blog entries over the years, trying to uncover their meaning, trying to understand the emotions of those alien First Generation creatures, who had once lived outside the Ship.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2010 by Phillip Donnelly

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