Dark Galaxy was a web based strategy game that in early 2002 became a huge time sink at the software company I was working for. I can't actually remember the point of it, or how the whole thing worked. But while shuffling through some old files, I stumbled upon this story that I had written about it.
Tosh re-lit the lantern as the rest of the workers filed into the small portable kitchen.
“Another turn’s work completed”
“Yeah- I reckon that harvest should keep ‘em going for a while”
Tosh was tired. Tired of farming. The genetically enhanced super food crops would soon be ready for more harvesting in another turn – then what? Off they’d go again… More harvesting, more carrying, more trudging through dirt. The food would be loaded onto the giant robocarrier that would take it off to the holding cache. I hope those folk in the colony appreciate what we do for them, Tosh thought, distastefully.
The lantern cast eerie shadows on the scraggly beards of the workers as they took off their boots and began chatting amiably. Tosh was tired of their stories, their same old friendly nature- the predictability of their lives. They were farmers - happy with their lot.
His mind wandered back to the tales Sat had told him – the stories of the planet that orbited a giant bright space light. On that planet, Sat said – half of the time the planet was bathed in an enormous bright light – that lit up everything as far as you could see like an enormous lantern. Then, as the planet turned, darkness enveloped the land. Tosh was used to the darkness. Everyone here was. It was the idea of something different that made Sat’s story sound so appealing. Tosh stared at the lantern, burning a giant pink blob into the back of his eyes.
“Hey – Grub’s up!”
Tosh turned towards the voice, blinking. The pink blob stayed obstinately present as his eyes opened and closed.
The tall farmer with a pink blob for a head held out a tin plate of food towards Tosh.
“Oh – uh, thanks” He took the plate and began to eat.
With a sputtering noise, the fusion lantern hanging from the ceiling blacked out.
Laughing and muted cheers from the farmers as they resumed their feeding.
“Really Tosh – I don’t know why you bother with that stupid thing – It hurts my eyes.”
Another voice agreed – “Much better in the darkness – that’s the way we was born”
“Not Tosh – his Mother was a Fusion Reactor!”
Tosh silently crept to his hammock hanging at the back of the room, and curled up for sleep – more determined than ever before to find something different.
The Impulse woke him at the beginning of the turn, sent him-half asleep into the field, where the newly regenerated foodcrops waved in the breeze, waiting to be harvested again. Autonomously, he began picking pods from a nearby grove of tall daschun plants. Slowly coming to his senses, he realized all the men nearby were doing the same thing.
Not today, he thought. I can’t do this again. Or could he? It seemed so natural- so easy to use the Impulse, to work within the boundaries… A moment of brief internal struggle showed on his face, as he forced his feet to walk further afield.
“Hie – Tosh! Where you going?”
“There’s a good patch just over here – I saw it yesterday”
Diving through the plants, Tosh heard the sounds of the farmers fading away as he forced his way through the plants. He forced himself to walk away, leaving the field for a dense plain of scrubby, dusty earth, that seemed to go on forever. As he walked, he contemplated the difference between the light and the dark, and pondered his destination.
His first thought was to get back to the colony, but when he tried to remember which way he had come when they set out to build the farm, he found he could not.
That whole six turn process had all been done under the Impulse, and was a hazy blur of subconscious memories, like cloudy dreams. In fact, life in the colony seemed a dream. Maybe it didn’t even exist. Ah, but Sat did. Those tales were real, and so must she be. Tosh ached to see her again. How long had it been? Many, Many Turns. He wondered what she was doing now… Was she even on the same planet as him? Sat had spent a great of turns in orbit, after building the Colian Habitat, the first of the four habitat rings. Tosh looked up at the sky. Over the horizon, he could just make out the glow of the four generators that powered a habitat ring. He imagined her there, looking out one of the huge bay windows so the planet filled her view. Maybe, she’d be thinking about me. The frivolity of such a notion made Tosh shake his head. How far had he been walking? He turned. The farm was no longer in view. All around him, nothing but empty dry plain.