The Schrödinger Ship

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Jem ate her apple with her legs dangling over the edge of the deepest shaft on the ship, one bare heel free of its shoe. She couldn’t see the bottom, but she could feel the currents of warm air that rose up from machines in the darkness below. The apple was red and sweet, and as she bit into it, the snap echoed in the silent shaft. Her arms were draped over the lowest of the catwalk’s safety rails, and she propped her chin on them. Her head lifted and fell with each slow chew.

Jem considered dropping the apple core down the shaft, but held herself back. She had a seed in her mouth, and after thinking about it, she decided she could spare that much organic material. She spat it out, and it raced away into the darkness. In seconds it was consumed by the murky silence below. When it was gone, she lay her head on the side and saw a tiny light flashing far above her. She watched it and listened to the silence for a few minutes before getting to her feet, shuffling back into her shoes, and leaving the shaft.

The corridor that led from the shaft to the labs had a line of bright blue light set in the wall, and Jem liked to drag her finger along it as she went. This was her favorite color, and she had tied back her twisty black hair, from the top of her brown forehead to the back of her brown neck, with a kerchief patterned in the same bright blue. Some of the corridors had warm white lights overhead, but she preferred the passages with the colored lights, even though those spaces were darker.

She entered the lab with the soilless growing chambers, and deposited the apple core in the composting unit. The apple core would be broken down into compounds in a few minutes, most of which went back into the organic feeding systems, so it wasn’t exactly composting. She knew that. Years ago, though, Jem had drawn a picture of the composting cycle, including bacteria, and placed the picture on the unit’s door. She always thought of it as the composting unit after that.

There were plenty of other things on the ship that she saw in her own way. There was the engine room, which wasn’t a room and didn’t contain an engine. There was the driver’s seat, which was a small, dark room where you could only watch the ship’s course plotted over the next few hours.

There was also a heavy hatch in the middle of a bulkhead that she thought of as her parents’ door. This blast resistant hatch was the only access to a small section of the ship where she had once lived with her parents. She hadn’t seen that section in a long time. Not since the last time she had seen her parents, in fact.

The library actually was a library, and as usual, Jem was there when it was time for the lights to dim. She looked up, then checked her wrist for the time. She touched the screen she had been reading, both marking her place and putting it to sleep.

Jem followed the line of bright green light to her bedroom. She had appropriated a small room adjoining the water tanks. The soft gurgling sounds of water flowing through the system relaxed her, and while she did not sleep well, this was the most restful place onboard. She kicked off her shoes and got into bed, and daydreamed to the sounds of water flowing around her.

~ 0 ~

“No, there aren’t any windows that look outside,” Jem’s mother said as the little girl sat on her lap. “We have windows into the lab, though.” She smiled and cocked her head to one side.

Jem held the tablet very close to her face and stared at the photo of a large house by the sea. She put the pale print of a little chocolate brown finger on the screen, covering a bay window that looked out over a stretch sea. “You had a window on your house, mommy,” she said. “I want a window to look outside.”

The woman smiled. “You can’t have a window to look outside,” she said, squeezing and rocking the girl back and forth. “There’s nothing outside to look at. We’re zipping through space so fast,” she said, and cut the air sideways with her hand.

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