Benjamin C. Kinney’s story “Shiplight” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 9 September 2016.
Shiplight grew out of a different story, written but long-abandoned. A story about humanity’s first and only interstellar vessel, shuttling back and forth between worlds called Earth and Sea. But on its sixth outbound trip, the Ship was full of marines, and a crew cut off from both worlds by decades of time dilation.
First, I wrote about the crew, fighting among themselves as the worlds force them to take sides. Then I wrote about the marines, on a one-way trip to a world they would need to pacify and yet integrate with. Finally, I wrote a story worth publishing: about the people of Sea, and how a single well-placed strike could unravel the cord between a world and its offspring.
The particulars of “Shiplight” began with, of all things, math. I had established how fast the Ship could deliver colonists: five thousand every ten years. However, a relatively safe world with cultural/economic demand for population could have a growth rate of 20 per thousand per year. At those rates, as the landing approaches in year 60, the natives and colonists each comprise about half of the population. But the natives are overwhelmingly young, and the colonists are at least in their thirties. What might all those youths do, in a society built along power structures of a world they’ve never known?
My other inspiration came from the protest movements of the early 2010s. I first wrote this story in 2012: the year after Occupy and Tahrir Square. The size of the protests in Shiplight may seem small, but as a fraction of the population, New Plymouth had twice as many protestors as Cairo. Later revisions of the story followed the 2013 protests in Istanbul, particularly the government’s use of the word “hooligans” to describe peaceful protestors.
Let us all hope that popular movements for peoples’ rights in the real world lead to better outcomes than Sea’s. But there are always more factors at play than anyone can foresee. Rache was right about the Ship’s malevolence, but wrong about the reasons for its silence. That comes from the unknown story of the crew, and all its brave souls as the tried to preserve the one corner of the universe they called home. Perhaps someday you’ll get a chance to read their story!
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