“Man, it’s majorly cramped in here,” a young man whined at my left shoulder, pressing himself farther into the bulkhead.
There were six of us on the tour, and along with our guide, we were all crammed into the tiny living space where six of our ancestors had lived for eight years on board this very spaceship, Fortune, en route to their new home. Our home. Titan.
“You were expecting a luxury liner?” That was his wife. What a charmer.
Around us, six canvas sleeping bags were clipped to two bulkheads. “They slept in these because of the Zero G,” our guide continued, ignoring the complaints, “and the crew’s favorite prank was to unclip someone while they slept so they would float away and wake up in a different part of the ship. And that,” she indicated a wall of white cupboards, “was the galley.”
A few were propped open, displaying packets of freeze dried meals, some vacuum packed apples, carrots, even crystallized honey on a honeycomb. They weren’t allowed bread, but got honey?
“Those are the only rations remaining from their voyage. They didn’t have much left by the time they got here.”
“I heard something about a food disaster?” Heartwarming, dude, thanks.
“Yes, in Year Three. The crew member in charge of hydroponics missed some key procedures and they lost several important vegetable crops.” Not what I wanted to hear.
“There was some concern about whether they would make it.” That bad? “They lost a few pounds, but they held on till the next crops were ready.”
“Did they at least stick whoever did it in stasis for the rest of the trip?” I held my breath.
“Nope,” she answered cheerfully. Exhale. “It wasn’t just him. They were all making mistakes.” Oh, that makes it better. “Some of it was because of the increased solar radiation, and some of it was just stress from the difficult situation. But they did look after each other better after that.”
I was getting a bit claustrophobic. My own quarters weren’t much bigger than this, but they never had seven people in them. I suspected our tour guide was intentionally keeping us in here as long as possible. For effect.
“And over here,” she finally moved into the next compartment and motioned us to look through a hatch that was open, but roped off, “you can see the stasis pods those first colonists traveled in.”
We took turns looking through the hatch to see rows upon rows of coffin-sized aluminum tubes.
“Cozy.” The wife looked Mr. Cramped in the eye, “Want a nap?”
“Crew members inspected every pod, every day. They fed the colonists with a nutrient solution that was delivered intravenously, and collected the waste for recycling.”
“Eewww,” a girl of five or six squealed.
Everyone looked shocked at the girl’s reaction, and several people gave the mother a look.
“Of course it was recycled.” The tour guide continued, after taking a moment to collect herself. “We do the same thing today.” Every small child on this world intimately understood the life or death importance of sustainability.
“How many didn’t make it?” Mr. Food Disaster piped up, leaning through the hatch, practically straining against the rope.
“37. Out of 1,500 people.”
“With the technology they had back then? Wow.” The girl’s mother looked genuinely impressed. I wasn’t. 37 People seemed like a lot.
“What caused their deaths?” I asked.
“Four were pod failures, six were unexplained—they just died in their sleep for some reason. The rest happened at once. That was in Year Five. One of the life-support units went out. The crew scrambled to get a replacement hooked up, but by the time they did, 27 of the 30 pods in that unit had failed. They managed to save three.”
“One of those three survivors was my great great grandfather,” our guide declared proudly. “And through here is the hydroponics bay…”
This tour wasn’t going the way I had planned. It was supposed to buoy my spirits, after what happened at work last week, but she kept mentioning one failure after another. That was exactly what I was trying to get away from: my own mistake that just set our engineering team, and our robotic hydro-farming project, back by several months.
We continued on, and she told us how a malfunction in the guidance system prolonged the journey by several months, how the landing engines misfired so they ended up in a crater several kilometers from the mission base, how the first groups to come out of stasis argued over problems, and on and on.
I loved this colony. Was proud of what we had built here. I wanted to hear how they had traversed billions kilometers, faced adversity, and triumphed, not that my ancestors were colossal screwups.
“I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit today,” the tour guide interrupted my melancholy, “come back soon.” Not likely.
I left the museum and boarded the transport back to my housing biodome.
I looked out as we passed Lake Armstrong, a technological marvel in the low gravity of Titan. When I was younger, I had loved going hydroplaning. I fell a lot, but back then it didn’t seem to hurt so much.
The transport glided on, through the newly constructed Porco Gateway, connecting biodomes 7 and 12. Man, there were a lot of delays with that project, but now it’s extremely popular.
“This tunnel’s really long.” A girl in the seat across from me exclaimed while gaping at the window.
“It’s the longest tunnel in the entire colony,” her mom replied, pride in her voice, “and took more engineers than any project since Mercury Dome.”
“When I grow up, I want to be an engineer like you and make cool stuff.” She smiled up at her mom.
I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes, feeling my body relax. Okay, fine. So projects don’t always (ever) go according to plan. We still make cool stuff.