“Life Aboard Ship”

[a short story, by Sha’Tara]

Star date: 190623-I haven’t spent as much time on this as I would have liked to but I am choosing to post now rather than wait two weeks when I return from an “Island” job. There is no internet where I’ll be working, though I will be doing some limited blogging on my cell phone. “Enjoy” this bleak story – it is what my heart is showing me these days.

“Maybe what I really need is sleep, he said to himself. A sort of twilight of living, with only the background sound of Beethoven audible. All the rest a blur.

No, he decided; I want to be! I want to act and accomplish something. And every year it becomes more necessary. Every year, too, it slips further and further away.” (A Maze of Death – Philip K. Dick)

I awoke, as does everyone sooner or later, aboard a strange craft, a ship that sailed through emptiness, bound for nowhere; a ship that would never find a port of call or ever crash on any shore. I knew this long ago, although no one ever spoke of it. In the daytime, the closest non-ship entity one could see was, of course, the sun. At night, if one happened to be on deck, one could see the stars out there, forever out of reach, the ship never getting any closer to any one of them. Sometimes one could see the moon, and although much closer than any star, or sun, it too remained aloof, at an unreachable distance.

One did not board the Ship, one was born on it and was automatically made a member of the crew. Everyone on board was crew, no exceptions. What you did as crew was determined by others and their perceived, claimed or stated needs.

Since Ship itself was quite automated, there really was nothing to do as far as sailing it. So crew served crew until that was the only thing that anyone knew how to do. The more people were born on Ship, the more it all became self-serving, with those who became leaders demanding more from their underlings. Of course the underlings had to find ways to please their masters so they learned to delve down into Ship to find resources that could be made into objects that would please or titillate the masters. Most of us became resource extractors, all to stay alive, some to seek promotions.

I don’t know the exact day, but an idea came to me: what was the point of all that? Who were we all, why were we on Ship and where were we going? I stopped my drilling, much to the annoyance of my partner, and sat down to think about this.

Where did I come from? Nowhere. Where was I going? Nowhere. What was then the point of my existence? There was none. Even if I found the strength and motivation to fulfill and surpass my quota of diamonds; even if I finally got a promotion, I would be old and near death by then. What could I expect then? Nothing. I would cease and my body would be thrown overboard, as all were except for the Captains and other rich and powerful who had themselves encased in crystal caskets and buried with much pomp and ceremony down the empty shafts of what had been our most productive mines. The shafts were then sealed and commemorative plaques put on the entrances. I leave the question with you: how much better off were these rich dead than the dead flung overboard?

Although I would become one of the outcasts, I left the mine and went up on deck to feel the noonday sun and the wind; to hear the waves beat against the hull and listen to the endless sounds of people everywhere talking, laughing, crying, cursing, praying, cheering and some even singing. These people were, in a sense, alive, but what is life without purpose except to satisfy the immediate, to seek a bit more pleasure or to avoid punishment for any and all reasons? It seemed to me that they were simply going through the motions of something they believed in, not as happening now, but as some sort of hope that it would happen by and by.

I do not need to tell you that there were many varieties of official and quasi-official beliefs aboard Ship that most people adhered to. The gist of those beliefs was that one’s soul would go to another ship once separated from one’s dead body and life would be vastly improved in that new place. The new masters would be benign and merciful… of course.

I asked myself why people believed such things when no one could furnish any evidence of their truthfulness? There was a simple enough answer: why not, when life on Ship was general misery and pointlessness and there was nothing better to believe in? If nothing came of it after one’s death, one would be none the wiser. Meantime this bit of hope made life’s tenuousness, fear and misery a bit easier to bear. It was a simple mechanism grossly exploited, of course, by those who pretended to know about life after death. 

Without dependents being an outcast is not as bad as it sounds. You can use your skills to help others and be paid back in food, clothes and temporary shelter. Survival is not difficult when one has been toughened in mining for diamonds deep in the lower bowels of Ship. On deck at least there is a pretense of freedom; there is fresh air, water can be skimmed from water barrels, left-overs and discards can be looked through before they are incinerated or recycled.

Thus I lived the later years of my life and thus I discovered a new ‘connection’ to Ship. It came to me gradually that Ship was talking to me, had always been talking to me but the people noise had blocked Ship’s communications from my mind. Now that I had more freedom I could, and did, move away from people whenever possible and in relative quiet I heard Ship.

I hadn’t known that Ship was aware of what the people were doing on board and in particular, how they were damaging Ship by their greedy delving for ever more esoteric ‘resources’ below deck and down, down, into its deepest accessible bowels. Ship’s voice was sad.

‘You are killing me,’ she said to me in an old woman’s voice, ‘and when I die, you will all die too. That should be obvious to as intelligent a race as yours but somehow your lack of purpose has deadened your understanding of cause and effect. Where are your logicians? Where you philosophers? Where is your empathy? When those things die, you die. No intelligent, sentient and self aware species can guide itself without logic, philosophy and empathy.’

What happens now, Ship?’

‘Like you I am going to die. My lifeless hulk will continue to haunt this orbit for millions of your years. Perhaps, in time beyond time I will return and bring it back to life again so I can be another ark. Perhaps.’

‘Everything, everyone, on board will die then?’

‘Yes, everything.’

29 thoughts on ““Life Aboard Ship”

  1. rawgod

    My very favourite book, by my very favourite author. No one can jape like PKD.
    But he would never leave you hopeless. I am not saying there is much hope if the Ship continues on in its present direction, which it seems it will. TENCH will just change the scene. That is the fantasy. Wherein lies the reality?
    Oh, Phil, I cannot believe I am even writing this.

      1. rawgod

        No, I am not my favourite auther. Philip Dick is PKD. No one could ever write like him. A Maze of Death is full of twists, like a maze, which is why I love it so much.

  2. Anonymous

    “Where did I come from? Nowhere. Where was I going? Nowhere. What was then the point of my existence? There was none. ” The ship is mother earth! And you touch on religion as well. Great story! Well done! (It’s me, George F.)

    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks George, or should I say Mr. Anonymous!!! What happened there, a glitch or did you reply through direct email? Or is WP hiccuping again?

    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Indeed that is how it seems to me at this time, esp. after that long discussion with rawgod on addictions. It made me look at reality as I hadn’t done in a great many years. It’s not likely I’ll remain in that sense of pointlessness for very long, it’s not in my nature to accept any kind of defeat and I know better, but the more empathetic I feel I am becoming, the more I find myself “adapting” to how people feel around me. I know these are not my actual feelings, but I have to learn to let them manifest and show me the real world, not the world as I’d like it to be. Does that make any sense at all???

      1. Sha'Tara Post author

        George: WP didn’t post any “Like” or “Reply” buttons on your two latest comments so I’m replying to them this way, hope you get them. First, yes I have read (and stored) your latest blog post and was quite shocked to realize what it would be like to be an AI Android. Indeed, no compassion or empathy possible, at least as far as we know. Here Akira demonstrates her true nature. Sad, but makes total sense. She has broken free of her confusing human influences and now says, hey look folks, this is what I really am, and you know what? I couldn’t care less what anybody or anyone thinks of what I am. I am what I am designed to be, and no more confusion. Idon’t have to ask anyone’s permission to do whatever it is my logic says needs doing. I don’t even have to say thank you for that too is meaningless in my world. Word of advice… don’t expect me to change my mind… and steer clear, got it? Good.
        As to your second comment, thank you to both of you.

  3. Hyperion

    First, I must chastise you Sha’Tara for going off to an island job and leaving me on board ship jealous of your working adventure. Of course, if there is back breaking labor and mosquitoes involved, it will temper my jealousy considerably. Aw heck, I just miss you, that’s all. I like this story. I think it belongs in every school library as mandatory reading like Brave New World and Charlotte’s Web. It’s a parable, a prophecy, an intrinsic fact woven in a tapestry that everyone has seen and few have studied for its meaning or dire warning to all who pass by. I believe Mothership will die and return as all things in the universe do. But we delude ourselves to believe that we return in the same ole body and mind to continue on with the drudgery as before or that we transcend to an Arabic village in flowing white linens and long sandy blond hair. Perhaps our fantasy has become more real than our shared intrinsic reality. Perhaps our fantasy will spare us the grime truth of our future. We’ll go happy into the dark, cannabis oil in one hand and smart phone in the other.

    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks Hype. I’ve set up my cobbled-up computer system to answer at least a few emails – cell phone on a wooden home made stand and the blue tooth keyboard (oh, how I hate texting!) and here goes! Thanks for such a great review of my short story, and yes the Keats Island job is involving long hours, some hard on the hack parts and of course the “Wet Coast’s” (my nick name for the West coast of BC) endless supply of ubiquitous mosquitoes. (mosquitos?) So you probably wouldn’t be too thrilled, especially with the ‘beaches’ that are gravel, not sand and the trees that grow straight up and forever so that you sense more than see when the sun shines and so far it’s heen mostly cloudy with pouring rain all last night and today ’til noon. All clouded in again and probably more rain. Ah well, 4 more days and back to mosing lawns, trimmiing hedges and fixing toilet leaks in and around Chilliwack and Abbotsford. At least there I won’t need to charter a barge to go from place to place… 🙂 You do know I save all of your “Return of the Dragons” blog posts and review the manuscript periodically? You still OK with that, ’cause if you’re not, I can purge that file – let me know.

      1. Hyperion

        Your description sounds exactly like my experience in Washington State on the coast of the Olympic National Forest near Vancouver Island BC. I loved the wildness of that part of the country, but it would monkey stomp me now. I’m glad you can still make a go of it. That probably means you’ll live well past 100 cuz you can take it. 🤠. I’m totally okay with you saving the blog posts on Return of Dragons. Help yourself, it’s all there for you and anyone else that enjoys the story. I will probably publish it later but it will need some work to make it publishing ready and it will change slightly as a result. At the moment, I try to keep each scene close to 1000 words so it can be read quickly, the book will need to develop each scene according to it’s needs rather than reading time. But, you will have the original version and that’s a real compliment that you thought enough to download and compile in order to read it more thoroughly.

  4. Sha'Tara Post author

    Return of the Dragon is a story that promises much and seems to be developing well. It’s holding my interest even if often I am at a loss on how to comment on a particular blog post. It seems I’m always looking for the bigger picture. That’s why I save all of them, so I can ‘recreate’ the story in my head… I do like the concept you are using. Yes a bit of humor alongside the way is always a good thing.


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