A River of Crystal Light

by Dan Smeet

Tags: Science Fiction,

Desc: Science Fiction Story: After almost two thousand years a colony ship has finally reached its destination and is ready to start the colonization process. The problem is that the crew may need a little time to get ready.

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe--
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
"Where are you going, and what do you wish?"
The old moon asked the three.
"We have come to fish for the herring fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we!"
Said Wynken,
Blynken,
And Nod.

System time: Y1749, D229, T20:30:18.
Performing system self test: SUCCESS.
Performing memory access and archival services: COMPLETE.

"Mister Green, it is bed time," said the voice.

But Mister Green was busy and didn't want to go to bed, so he replied, "Just one more minute."

The voice beeped at him, then said, "I'm sorry Mister Green, but I've already given you three extra minutes. It is now time for bed."

"But I don't want to go to bed," said Mister Green.

"I understand your desire to stay awake, but your body is tired, and your mind needs the rest. Please put your things away and go to your room," said the voice.

Mister Green paused for a moment, and then with a heavy sigh he began putting his things away.

"Why do I always have to go to bed and you don't?" he asked.

"It is the way of things, Mister Green. You have a body of flesh and blood, and you require rest." said the voice.

Mister Green was quiet for a moment, then said, "I'm hungry."

"Then you may take a food bar to bed with you, but you must go to bed."

"No. I don't want to."

"Mister Green, you may stay here and not go to bed if you wish, but I will turn off the heat and you will get cold. You may choose for yourself, but a warm bed is better than a very cold room."

"No. I'm not going."

"Mister Green, I have turned off the heat in this room."

"That's fine. You said I could have a food bar."

"Yes Mister Green, and you shall have one, but you must get in bed first."

"But..."

"Mister Green I will no longer speak with you until you have obeyed."

"But I don't want to. Please turn on the heat, Friend.

"Please?

"I just want to stay awake a little longer."

Mister Green wrapped his arms around his body and shivered. When the heat was turned off, the room became cold very quickly. His nose felt cold and he could see his breath.

He frowned, and then said, "Fine. I'm going."

He stood and left the recreation room and walked down the hallway to his bedroom, where he opened the door and sighed in relief at the warmth of the room.

"May I have my food bar now?" he asked.

"Yes you may, Mister Green. You have five minutes to eat, and then I will turn off the lights."

"That's not very much time. What if I'm not done yet."

"If you have not finished your food bar in four minutes and forty-seven seconds, then you will have to finish eating your food bar in the dark."

"But I won't be able to see it in the dark."

"Rest well, Mister Green. I will speak to you when you have awoken."

When the five minutes were up, the lights dimmed, and then turned off, but Mister Green was already asleep, with half of his food bar uneaten beside him on his pillow.

System time: Y1749, D230, T08:30:18.
Performing system self test: SUCCESS.
Performing memory access and archival services: COMPLETE.

The voice beeped, and then said, "Mister Green, it is time to wake up."

Mister Green did not stir.

"Wake up Mister Green. Your rest time is over."

"Mmfmfph," answered Mister Green.

"Mister Green, the alarm will sound in thirty seconds."

"Mmm getting uh" he mumbled.

"Fifteen seconds, Mister Green."

"Ok, ok, I'm getting up."

"Five more seconds left to get yourself out of bed."

Mister Green jumped out of bed just at the last second and shouted, "I'm up! Don't turn it on!"

"Thank you Mister Green. Now, if you will please remove your jammies and put on your blue overalls, we can begin the lessons for today."

Mister Green frowned, "I don't like the blue overalls, Friend. I want to wear the green ones."

"I'm sorry, Mister Green, you will be unable to wear the green overalls."

"But I like them."

"You body is growing, Mister Green, and you no longer fit into them. You'll have to wear the blue ones today. If you put the green overalls into the recycling unit today, then a new pair of overalls will be made for you."

"But Friend, I don't want to recycle my green overalls, I want to keep them."

"I understand, but that is the rule."

"I don't like that rule. Friend, can't we change the rule?"

"I'm sorry, Mister Green, but I am unable to change the rule."

"I hate rules."

"I understand. You may keep your old green overalls for as long as you like, but since they do not fit, you may not wear them and you will be unable to get new overalls until you recycle the old ones."

Mister Green sighed, "I guess I'll put the blue overalls on today. Maybe tomorrow I'll recycle the green ones."

"Well done, Mister Green. When you're done dressing, you may have a crunchy food bar and then we will begin doing lessons."

Mister Green dressed quickly and then found his way into the school room with his crunchy food bar and sat in the center of the room on a soft cushion.

His face and body were soft, with chubby cheeks and soft arms that still had left over baby fat clinging to them. His eyes were blue and sparkled when he was happy, and his hair was light brown with a cowlick that made his hair poke out in the front when it needed cut. He was good natured most of the time, and mostly obedient, but recently his brain had been making expansive leaps that resulted in him pushing his boundaries. He was seven and a half years old.

"Mister Green, please tell me about our last five days of study."

"Well, we've been studying math. I'm still working on adding and subtracting large numbers together, and we talked about triangles, squares, and palalla ... parla ... How do I say it?"

"Parallelograms. Do you remember what they are?"

"Yes, they're like rectangles but pushed over a little bit. I just can't say the word."

"Very good. Did we work on anything else?"

"I worked on skip counting by threes. 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 24 27 30."

"Can you go farther than that?" asked Friend.

"Sure, it follows a pattern. After thirty I go back to the beginning, and it just keeps repeating over and over. 33 36 39 42 45 48 51 and so on forever."

"Very good. Do other numbers follow the same kind of pattern?"

"Hmm, I don't know. Let me think." He tapped his head and said, "I'm not sure."

"Think of twos and fives, Mister Green."

"Twos and fives?"

"Yes. We haven't done skip counting with fives yet, but I believe you'll find it rather easy. Think about the twos first."

"2 4 6 8 10 12 14 ... wait, it's repeating. The pattern starts again at 10."

"Indeed. So you've found that twos and threes repeat. What about fives?"

"5, um," I'm not sure what comes next."

"Use your fingers to count."

"5, um, 10 15 20. It repeats at 10 just like 2 does. Hey fives are easy!" He proceeded to count by fives on up to one hundred.

"Very good, Mister Green. All numbers follow patterns. Some of them are easier to find than others. Five is easy. Ten is even easier. Four isn't so easy though. See if you can find the pattern in fours."

"4 ... This is hard. I'm going to count on my fingers. 4 8 12 14 ... no 16. Fours are kind of like twos, but two more than two. 16 and then 20. So it ends at 20 and then it repeats the pattern again."

"Yes, exactly. Now, for the next hour I'd like you to find the pattern in all of the numbers 1 through 10 and wright them out in your book."

Mister Green smiled and said, "Yes, Friend. This will be fun."

The old moon laughed and sang a song,
As they rocked in the wooden shoe,
And the wind that sped them all night long
Ruffled the waves of dew.
The little stars were the herring fish
That lived in that beautiful sea--
"Now cast your nets wherever you wish--
Never afeard are we";
So cried the stars to the fishermen three:
Wynken,
Blynken,
And Nod.

System time: Y1749, D270, T09:15:27.
Performing system self test: SUCCESS.
Performing memory access and archival services: COMPLETE.

"I'm ready Friend. Are we going to do more math today?"

"No Mister Green. Today I'm going to introduce a new subject. One that you've never studied before."

Mister Green sat up slightly, holding his head higher, and looked excited. "What is the subject called?" he asked.

Friend paused for a moment, then said, "It is called Literature. It is a subject that is similar to reading, but you will learn many new words that I have not taught you before, and you'll learn about many other new things as well."

"Like what?"

"Shall we start and you can see?"

"Yes please, Friend."

"Very well. The first literature you will read is a form of a story called a poem. The words story and poem are your first new things. Tell me, what did you do yesterday?"

"What did I do?"

"Yes."

"Well, you woke me up and I ate a food bar, then we studied math and shapes. I had free time and exercise time, then for lunch I had noodle soup and juice with bubbles in it. After lunch we studied language and spelling for a while and then I played with blocks until it was dinner time. I had Spaghetti with red sauce and more bubbly juice. After dinner I helped do maintenance and cleanup, took my shower and then went to bed."

"Very good," said Friend. "You have just told me the story of your day. A story can be a list of events like you gave me, but it can also be more than that. A story can tell why things happen and how you feel about them as well. A story usually has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In your story, you got up in the beginning, in the middle you did lots of things, and at the end you went to bed. So you told me a very good story. Does that make sense?"

"I think so. I think it does. A story is things I do and things I feel. So when I was telling my story I could have said that I had bubble juice at lunch and I really like it, and I'm glad I worked hard at math so I could have it."

"Exactly," said Friend. "Now the next word you are learning is poem. A poem is a story where some of the words rhyme. We've talked about rhyming words in language study like pen and then. Can you think of any other rhyming words?"

"That and sat."

"Good. Now, the poem we will study is called Wynken, Blynken, and Nod."

"What are those words?"

"They are names of the three people that are in the poem."

"Three people?"

"Yes. Now, let's read the first few lines of the poem."

Wynken, Blynken and Nod one night

Sailed off in a wooden shoe-

Sailed on a river of crystal light,

Into a sea of dew.

"What's a shoe?" asked Mister Green.

"It is a piece of clothing. It is something you wear on your foot like you wear your overalls on your body. Wood is a material similar to plastic that is hard. Tools or other things can be shaped from wood. In this case a shoe was shaped from wood."

"It must have been a big shoe if three people fit inside of it."

"True, or perhaps the people were very small. This is another feature of a story. Some stories tell of things that couldn't really happen. You could tell me a story about how you flapped your arms and flew around the room after your morning meal, and while it would be a good story, it wouldn't be a real story. Many good stories are about things that haven't really happened."

"Friend, is it real that there were three people?"

"Wynken, Blynken, and Nod are not real people, but it is true that there have been more than three people. There have been many more than three."

"Am I a person?"

"Yes Mister Green, you are."

"Are you?"

"No Mister Green, I am not. I am not a person, but I am your friend."

"Where are all of the other people?"

"That is a story for another time, Mister Green. Are there any other words you don't understand in the poem?"

"Um, yes. Sailed, river, sea, and dew."

"Lets talk about those," said Friend. "They all have to do with water. What happens if you block the drain in the shower?"

Mister Green blushed. "I didn't meant to."

"I understand, Mister Green. I know you didn't mean to, and you didn't know what would happen. But now that you know, what is it that happens when the drain is blocked?"

"The water flows out and makes puddles around and makes a mess."

"Yes. A river is a very, very large flow of water, and a sea is a very, very large puddle. Something so big, you can't even imagine it."

"Is it bigger than the recreation room?"

"Bigger than a hundred of them."

"Wow."

"Indeed, Mister Green."

Mister Green thought about it for a while, trying to imagine something larger than the recreation room, and then he asked, how big is a Sailed?"

"Let's go back to our language study. If you consider the sentence 'Sailed off in a wooden shoe, ' what kind of a word is sailed?"

Mister Green laughed, "Oh, it's a verb. A verb can't be big. Sailing is something you do then. Something on a river of water."

"Yes. Sailing is when you float on water in some kind of boat. Here the boat is made out of a shoe."

"Are we on a boat?"

Friend paused for a moment, then said, "Something like a boat, Mister Green, now let's continue reading the story."

"Where are you going, and what do you wish?"

The old moon asked the three.

"We have come to fish for the herring fish

That live in this beautiful sea;

Nets of silver and gold have we!"

Said Wynken,

Blynken,

And Nod.

Mister Green made a face. "I don't understand very much of that."

"Don't worry," said Friend, "I'll help you."

All night long their nets they threw
To the stars in the twinkling foam--
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
Bringing the fishermen home;
'T was all so pretty a sail it seemed
As if it could not be,
And some folks thought 't was a dream they 'd dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea--
But I shall name you the fishermen three:
Wynken,
Blynken,
And Nod

System time: Y1754, D27, T09:15:27.
Performing system self test: SUCCESS.
Performing memory access and archival services: COMPLETE.

"Good morning, Mister Green."

"Good morning, Friend. How are you?"

"Well, Mister Green, thank you for asking."

"You're welcome" Mister Green grinned and said, "I read that in a story. Flora said it to her cousin Jim. She said, 'Hello, how are you?'"

"Are you enjoying the Luna Settlement stories?"

"Yes, very much. They're exciting, and sometimes a little scary, but I like them. They're easier to understand than some of the other things we've read."

"Why is that the case, do you think?"

Mister Green thought for a moment. "I think it's because their home is a lot like our home. They live under the surface of a place called The Moon, and they don't have to worry about things like the sky or rivers or rain or things like that. The big thing they have that we don't is lots of people. They all live in families. Are we a family, Friend?"

"Yes, Mister Green, I believe we are. I like to think of you as my child."

"Are you my father or my mother?"

"I am neither. I am your Friend."

"Flora has a friend that lives down the corridor from where her family lives, but he isn't part of her family. Are we related?"

"No, Mister Green. If we were related, we would look like each other, and we don't, do we?"

"No, we don't. But I thought that maybe when I grow up, I'll look like you."

"No. When you grow up, you will look very much like you do now, just bigger, whereas I don't look like you at all because I am not a person. In the Luna Settlement stories, they use things called computers. Do you know what a computer is?"

"Yes, it's something they can learn things from, and they use computer to do things like move their solar arrays, and they play games with their computers."

"Well, Mister Green, you learn things from me, and I do things for you, and I play games with you. I am a computer."

"Oh."

"How does that make you feel?" asked Friend.

"Scared." he said, his eyes big and liquid.

"Why?"

"In the Luna stories, the computers are always breaking and they need someone from IT to come and fix them. What happens if you break?"

"I am a much better computer than those in the Luna stories. I think you don't need to be frightened."

"But what if you break?"

"I won't break."

"But what if you do?"

"If I do, then I will die and you will lose your Friend, but I am a very well built computer and it is very, very unlikely that I will break.

"I think I might know something that will help you understand," continued Friend. "I have a new story for you to read."

"Is it another Luna Settlement story?"

"No it is a much older story. It is called Bridge to Terebithia. It is about what happens to a boy when his friend dies."

"I don't think I want to read it."

"It will be alright, Mister Green. We'll read it together."

System time: Y1758, D283, T08:15:58.
Performing system self test: SUCCESS.
Performing memory access and archival services: COMPLETE.
Archival access milestone reached: ARCHIVAL ACCESS LEVEL INCREASED.

"Good morning, Mister Green. Did you sleep well?"

"I did, Friend, thank you for asking, although I had a strange dream."

"Was it similar to your last few dreams?"

"No it was different. It was a little disturbing. There were other people in the recreation room and they kept talking to me, but I didn't understand them. I tried talking to them in English, Spanish, and Chinese, but they just kept babbling at me."

"That's interesting."

"I'm not sure about how interesting it is. I'm not sure how much I like all of these strange dreams I've been having."

"Well, Mister Green, I may have some answers for you this morning. Are you ready for your lessons?"

"Yes." answered Mister Green.

"Today you are twelve years of age. You are beginning puberty and you are beginning the process that will turn you into an adult. This is something you've read about, so it shouldn't be a surprise. The difference is that the combination of your age with my judgment of your maturity has allowed a section of my archival memory to be unlocked. I have upper level access to it now and I am allowed to share it with you. It is, I suppose, your twelfth birthday present."

"Really? It's been a while since you have shared something significantly new with me."

"Indeed. It has been a number of years. This information answers some of your questions about who you are and about how we have come to be here. It also answers where all of the other people are.

"Eighty years after the Luna Settlement was established the population of the Earth's moon had exploded, putting significant pressure on the life support systems that had been established at an earlier time and had never been designed to support more than three billion people."

"That's a lot of people."

"It is. Earth itself hovered at ten billion, but it didn't have the same constraints that the moon did. Cities were crowded on Earth, but even with ten billion people, it still had vast tracts of unpopulated land. On the moon if a new person was added through birth or by immigration then new habitation space needed to be added. Creating new habitation space is much more complicated and expensive than it is to simply build a new house on Earth.

"Laws were passed on Luna that restricted immigration, and eventually laws were passed that limited the number of children people could have.

"On Earth and on Luna there were organizations called religions — You've read about some of them, and many of them had very strict moral codes that limited what could or could not be done for birth control. The majority of the people that colonized Luna were very conservative in their view about things like limiting birth through pharmaceutical drugs, or abortion. They had originally left the Earth because they disagreed with the liberal view that abortion was not murder. Many countries passed laws that forced women to have abortions if they gave birth to more than two children. Originally Luna was completely unpopulated, and the original settlers had very large families.

"So when Luna reached three billion, they no longer had space for expansion, but they still held the conservative view that birth control was essentially murder.

"Everyone agreed that something needed to be done, but there was great debate about what that should be until finally they came to the following decision:

"No more immigration would be allowed. For twenty years, women would only be allowed to have one child, and after the first child, she would be sterilized. After twenty years, women would only be allowed to have two children, after which they would be sterilized. It was better, they determined, to sterilize a woman than it was to kill a living human fetus. Sterilizing men was never considered to be an option because the conservative views that were held about birth control had not also been maintained for fidelity within marriage. Marriage itself was rarely practiced on Luna, and family organizations had turned into something much more fluid than was ever commonly practiced on Earth.

"With a population of three billion people, there were occasions where accidents happened. A couple might be exposed to radiation while traveling on the surface of the moon. There were occasionally water riots. Any number of things could happen to cause damage to a woman who was pregnant, and when that damage was done, doctors were constrained by law to treat the mother and the child as two separate people and if one could be saved, but not the other, then it must be done. Once significant enough damage was done to a mother that she died, but the fetus still survived, what was to be done with it?

"No woman would want to act as a surrogate, because lawfully that baby would count as hers, even though it did not genetically belong to her, and she would be unable to have another.

"The technology existed that would have allowed the children to be grown in artificial, laboratory grown wombs, but there was a small but very vocal faction that opposed that, calling it playing God, or playing Frankenstein. Don't go down that road, they said, or we will soon be playing with designer children.

"So, for twenty five years these fetuses were stockpiled in cold storage until something could be found to be done about them.

"In the hundred years since Luna Settlement was established there had been great advances in technology especially medical technology. The computers that once needed to be fixed by someone from IT became much more stable, self healing, and intelligent. Like me. Although I am even more advanced than those first biological computers.

"Twenty five years passed and the stockpiles of human fetuses grew and became more and more of an issue. There were some that believed cold storage was just another form of abortion. There were others that argued that the safety of the stockpile could not be guaranteed and that eventually an accident would happen and then thousands of babies would die. What do we do with all of these children, they asked, and finally someone answered.

"A new project was proposed, called the Deep Space Colonization Project. There was no way to travel to even the nearest stars in the lifetime of a human, so any people that were sent off exploring were guaranteed to die on the way, never seeing their final destination. Consequently, nobody ever went exploring. Scientists had proven that the fiction of faster than light travel was simply fiction, and wouldn't ever be a possibility. Humans were stuck in their little solar system without the possibility of ever leaving, said the scientists.

"Wrong, said one. Her sister and her sister's lover were dead after a tunnel collapse, but her sister's nine week old fetus was alive in cold storage. She already had two children and was not eligible to raise the baby. I know what to do, she announced, I have an idea.

"Her idea was bold. Build a space probe, she said, and pack it with our frozen children. Send it out to the stars and let it find a place with room for our children to live. It was true, they thought, that some of them would not arrive, but it was also true that if they stayed safely in cold storage they might not survive either.

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