Tonight we spent a Quiet Year (by Avery Alder) on the generation ship Grooveline after the destruction caused by the comet Jackal crashed into the ship and destroyed part of our food stores and threatening our oxygen supply. Although our bank of display panels can provide us with almost any information we need, we have lost any knowledge of how to navigate the ship and the automated systems have taken us off course. We are losing any faith that we’ll ever reach our destination and a faction on board are advocating we fly into the trio of black holes our sensors detect in the distance. As we begin our year aboard, the sensors detect a possibly inhabitable planet ahead and salvageable space debris just behind us. The population are torn on whether we should try for the former or the latter, but a group begins a project to take control of the ships steering mechanism so we can veer toward the planet.
While that project is progressing a young boy, who should have been asleep with the other children in the hibernation chambers, returns to the main deck from the ships innards with a previously unknown repair droid by his side. We plant a vegetable garden in the arboretum to supplement the food stores, and certify a cadre of people on operating the AutoDoc so we can improve medical care. The crew are too busy to do more than note when we pass a beautiful nebula, and Keily-Mae leads a group of rebellious teens in a naked, circular dance ritual, but no one seems to mind or care about their transgression. The steering project fails, possibly due to sabotage as a navigation cable broke or was cut, and the ship continues on its original course.
On the memorial deck, where we honor and remember the deceased, a gravestone has been desecrated, and we discover near the communal sleeping chamber a mysterious machine that would, if functioning, allow multi-colored lights to shine through the floor and reflect off a multi-faceted mirrored globe. But the biggest news is that a small shuttle docks with our ship, a shuttle that contains a single alien life form, the humanoid Borthus. As the engineers begin to repair the navigation cables to make another try at diverting our course, a group begins advocating for procreation with the alien in order to diversify our gene pool. As more Borthusians arrive, inter-species dating ensues and our people are much less lonely. Our attempts to discover whose memorial was desecrated reveals that the Jackal strike destroyed some considerable portion of our data banks as well as the food stores, but our engineers are able to catalog the extent of what is missing, and to modify the oxygen scrubbers to extend the longevity of the our current supply.
The boy and his robot take control of the ship, the droid plugging into the system and override any security and demand that the children be released from cryogenic sleep, but they are not taken seriously and mostly ignored by the crew as we didn’t have much control of the ship before. In order to facilitate the commingling of the species, the communal sleeping quarters are redesigned into a series of pods that can easily accommodate two or three in privacy. Edna, the last crew member with any direct knowledge of our origin who often shared the stories her grandmother had told her of Earth, dies from what the medics claim was murder. People are spending more and more time in the new sleeping quarters and it isn’t long before Bellah is impregnated and an image of a black hole begins to form on her belly. Sadly, her friend Lillian disappears, vanishing before our very eyes.
The space debris seems to break apart and shards of dangerous junk come hurtling toward the ship. The disco light machine is destroyed when the repair teams begin to argue about the best way to use the machine once it is repaired. However, another team, working on developing a manual steering mechanism tied directly to the ships engines are successful in getting their contraption installed, but not before Neil, the strongest among us, is killed in a steering accident. Imagine our shock when another comet strikes the front of the ship and destroys our bank of display panels, cutting us off from our information datastore. Not long after, a group of religious zealots calling themselves the Parish arrive and begin trying to convince the Borthusians to abandon us and return to celibacy before marriage. Hastily assembling a makeshift machine, the engineers are able to scoop up the incoming space debris and use the icy substance as raw material to improve the air quality. Our oxygen deficiency is addressed at last.
Now that we have met most of our needs, we decide it’s time to retake control of the ship and forcibly remove and deactivate the robot giving the boy nominal control. As we begin deciding what to do with our newfound control and ability to direct the ship, the memorial desecrators are caught when some of the scientific progressives are found trying to destroy another memorial in order to free us from the tyranny of the past. In response the community broadens the memorial to include not only lost people but lost projects and endeavors. Bellah is examined by our medical team, and the ultrasound shows an image of the nebula passed earlier to the consternation of all. The Parish curse us as fornicators and lost causes and abandon our ship, but a functional disco machine is discovered and the community uses it to celebrate the Parish’s departure. But then the Frost Shepherds reveal themselves as the source of the comets that continue to buffet the ship when they send a killer comet to destroy us before we can approach their dominion.