starry horizon and clouds
Photo by Ali Zahdhan on Unsplash

Aboard The Ark by Matthew Spence

The ship woke him up after the last course correction failed. Noah knew this might happen, he’d been briefed on it by the AI and the Captain, but this was the first instance of his actually having to try and do something about it.

The ship didn’t wake any of the rest of the crew—the engineers, science officer, helmsmen. They were only to be needed for when the ship arrived at its destination and had completed braking maneuvers so that they could pilot the ship through the system to the target world. But that was going to be different now, so Noah had to prepare the ship ahead of time.

Noah walked the length of the ship’s central corridor, a tube that connected with the command deck. He could appreciate the feeling of walking on solid deck plating, even though he had no real gravity of his own. He was a hologram, a simulation of the “original” Noah, created as inspiration for the rest of the crew and the several hundred passengers in suspended animation units. And, although they called him Noah, this was not his ship, although it was an ark of sorts, and he was its main navigator after the AI.

“Report on current star positions,” he ordered as he reached the command deck. It was pristine and uninviting in its silence, a maze of monitors, work stations, and field projectors, one of which showed an image of the system they had missed, and the one they would eventually approach.

“We are currently twenty-two light years away from target,” the AI smoothly replied. “At 99c, we will begin braking at the halfway point in five years’ subjective time.”

Subjective time, Noah thought wryly. It had no more meaning for him as software than it did for the AI; they could go on planet-hunting for centuries so long as the antimatter stream was running-and, as long as the ship’s accelerator and dark-matter collectors were online, they could afford to wait that long. But this mission wasn’t just about them—it was about those people, who had been expecting to be revived decades ago, and who now would have to wait again. The passage of time didn’t matter as long as they were in suspended animation, but one day they would have to be revived, and they weren’t going to like it when they were...

“Give me an estimate on time dilation and mass,” Noah said. “And hook me up to the VR.”

“The same simulation as before?” The AI knew his preferences.

Noah shrugged. “Why not?”

The Ark—his ark, the one he’d designed—wasn’t made to fly between the stars, and it was round, not tube-shaped. But he’d built it with his own hands—and the help of his sons—and had ridden out the flooding from the Aegean that had created the Bosphorus gorge, until the Ark finally settled in Tauris, or what the moderns called Crimea. There had been animals on board; but only those they could carry, plus scores of birds-and insects, which had been a constant annoyance. But they had been part of the Plan, and the voyage which had to take its course.

Noah and Gilgamesh were drinking together from Noah’s private stock, which he’d started making again not long after landfall after sections of the ark had already been cannibalized for housing. Gilgamesh had been looking for immortality.

“It’s overrated,” Noah said. “Go home to your people.”

Gilgamesh frowned. “You are Utnapishtim,” he insisted.

“No, I’m not.” Noah was tired of this argument, tired from drinking. “And I’m not immortal—I’ve lived long enough, or soon will.”

Gilgamesh eventually did leave, as Noah knew he would, but that had been the second time that others expected more from him than he had to offer. Maybe that was why he’d cursed Ham, for being even more imperfect than he was. And Noah knew how unpleasant he’d been when drinking too much.

But this was all just another artificial memory, and when it was over, Noah was left alone with only the AI for company. They were like an old couple, he thought. But it might be just enough to see them through to the next system, and the one after that...

...for however long it took to get his Ark to shore.


Matthew Spence was born in Cleveland, Ohio. His work has most recently appeared in page and Spine.