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The greenhouse doesn’t take that long to get in order. In a couple of weeks, the ground is prepared, the seeds are planted, the honey is harvested, and there are still no critical ship problems to solve. There’s nothing to do but wait.

I decide to find out a little something about the people I’m working for.

My primary job here, after all, isn’t to survive. My primary job is to get these thousands of colonists safely to our new home, to build our new society. And since I have the time, I might as well figure out what that society is probably going to look like.

Back on Earth and Luna, people had considered me to be somewhat obsessed with the Exodus Phenomenon. (To be fair, I had coined the term and wrote four books about it, so it was difficult to defend myself against that particular accusation.) What convinces an overcrowded population to, as one, turn their faces towards new lands, outfit a whole bunch of their own, and send them off into the unknown to possibly never communicate with home again? Time and again, all throughout human history, we’d seen it; movement to new territories, to new islands, to new planets, and now, to new solar systems. Historians tried to justify every one on an individual basis, based on whatever local war or religious movement or persecution or discovery was going on, but as humanity grew, the pattern became undeniable. Shortly after humanity gained the ability to properly detect, analyse and classify exoplanets tens of lightyears away, we looked back at our own overcrowded colonies and, for reasons that made no economic sense whatsoever, came together and started building colony ships. Humanity knew that no colony settled sixty five lightyears away was going to be some annex of an existing government. There was no practical way to trade resources over that distance, and no reason to go so far for them. Communication was sixty five years one way; the people who had sent the ships off would be dead by the time any news of whether the mission had been successful could possibly come back. We built those ships, and total idiots like me actually got on them, left behind the lives and worlds that we knew, narrowed our entire future experience of humanity to the five thousand people in our big metal tube and the future we would build together. That was, from any conceivable angle, an insane decision, but it seemed to be something deep in our bones, because the ships had filled up with volunteers and launched.

But no matter how many books I wrote about some group dispersal phenomenon in our species, it was very apparent that different people were affected differently. It took a specific type, or at least a specific subset of types, of people to get on a javelin. Some people just had nothing to stay behind for, or were significantly overdosed on the spirit of adventure or scientific curiosity, or just tended to make bad decisions. But in a project like this, there was always going to be people tempted by the idea of setting up a new place to live without the oversight of an existing government, who was doing things wrong.

I’d applied to the javelin program via general assignment; that is, I’d just thrown my name in to fill in a chronostasis pod on whatever ship had room. This was the most likely way to get a place on a javelin, as it minimised the chances of being disqualified for some random reason like there already being too many colonists with your specific metabolic genetic suite, but it wasn’t the only way. Most people applied to a specific ship they wanted to be on, so if a whole lot of people had the same idea about the kind of colony they wanted to be a part of, they’d apply to the same ship. And when the colonists woke up, the rest of us would naturally be at the mercy of whatever social norms the majority held.

It would, in short, be extraordinarily naive to assume that at least some of the javelins weren’t heading off to make weird cult communes on exoplanets. If I’m going to spend the rest of my post-landing life as part of some fringe group’s religious, social or economic experiment… well, I can’t do anything about it, but I want to know.

And since I currently hold every single rank on the ship, I have access to all the secure information that I need to find out.

Colonist social and psychological profile data is very basic on purpose. While the mental and social analysis we’d been subjected to as part of the application process had been thorough and extensive, the Powers That Be had followed standard practice in discarding almost all of it after the approval process was complete. The Big Data Problem had caused a lot of mistakes in the past, and nobody wanted a situation where somebody’s extensive psychological history on Earth could be viewed by a colony psychologist, be overapplied or create bad assumptions or biases, and make accurate analysis impossible. People deemed unfit for colony life hadn’t made it aboard the ships, so there’s no reason for psychology teams to need specifics beyond what they could determine from behaviour or be told by colonists; while the medical team had full access to my genetic sequence existing physical condition, mental and social information is mostly self-volunteered based on whether the colonist thought it was important.

That’s fine. I’m a sociologist. I can work with vague.

The first thing I check is the gender distribution. The colonists are 38% female, 41% male, 15% brennan, and the rest unspecified and the usual range of miscellaneous identities. That’s a fairly standard distribution, and all but rules out any of the gender supremacy groups, who tend to be massively overrepresented in whatever gender they think is the best one. It also means that we’re probably not looking at tradnucs, since brennan tend to be vastly underrepresented in their communities since they have no place in the “one man, one woman and their children” family structure. You usually had a handful hanging around as ‘maiden aunt’ types, so long the community wasn’t too forceful on the issue of marriage, but it should be far lower than the 15% average.

They might be broadnucs, strongly preferring two-parent plus children structures but without gender restrictions. Those communities tended to have a standard gender ratio. That’s pretty unlikely, though. Earth and its surrounding satellites has ample colonies where long-term pair bonding forming the core of a family structure was the norm, it’s not something you need to go to another star to build a community around.

Using my position as medical officer, I invade my fellow colonists’ medical privacy next. The genetic data and specific physical conditions are unimportant; I skip straight down to birth control status. Of the five thousand colonists, all between the ages of twenty three and forty (the age range that responds best to chronostasis), fourteen per cent are in repro and nine per cent are confirmed sterile, either voluntarily or by birth. That leaves seventy seven per cent on reversible birth control.

That’s very high. It’s not completely unheard of; birth control is pretty regional, but outside of low-population work societies where reproduction is impractical or forbidden, that’s really high. I’m a bit surprised by that; I was bracing for a low number, which is a common indicator of a lot of socioreligious cults. I’d been ready to see a number significantly lower than the average of fifty eight per cent and have to tell myself that it might not mean anything, because it was only natural for colonists to reverse birth control before heading off to some new planet rather than hoping that we’d succeed in setting up good medical services when we go there. I wasn’t prepared to see a number so high.

I have no explanation for this. It could be random chance. There could be some niche medical reason why colonists on birth control were favoured for chronostasis. It… could be a microsociety thing? I can’t think of too many religious, social or political groups that specifically push for really high levels of birth control. There’s various groups of Extinctionists, of course, but heading out to colonise distant solar systems is the exact opposite of an Extinctionist philosophy. There are probably a couple of Extinctionist sabateurs on board – the Powers That Be had let me, Doctor Aspen Fucking Greaves, onto the ship without protest, so I have no faith in their ability to weed out bad agents – but not enough to tip the statistics like that.

Maybe it’s a group I’ve never heard of. I take a peek at the colonists’ religious affiliations.

Ten per cent Unspecified, which is pretty low. Six Public Universal Friends are aboard, which seems really high, but stats are unreliable on such small numbers. Normal smattering of Jewish people, Hindus, a small but significant population of Dryans which should be fun, the Gardnerian Order of the –

Oh. Seventy eight per cent of my colony mates are Christian Ascendant.

Christians, last I’d checked, make up about two per cent of the human population, and dropping. Christian Ascendants are the second largest group (after Catholics), but that’s still a fraction of a per cent of the population. And they make up over three quarters of this ship. That isn’t anything to be concerned about on its own; the Christian Ascendants are fairly innocuous so far as I know, but it’s weird. It definitely increases the chance that this ship has some kind of weird cult that identifies as a subset of Ascendants or something; it’s certainly implausible that that many completely standard Ascendants have ended up on one ship by random chance.

It might be an effect of something else, though. Religion is even more regional than birth control, by a large margin. Perhaps, for some reason, a whole lot of completely standard people who live in the same area happen to be on this ship. I’m not sure why the Powers That Be would do that but it’s possible.

I check. More than eighty per cent of the colonists are from the Republic of Texas.

I stare. Okay, that is definitely deliberate. For some reason, more than four thousand Texans all decided to go to the stars together. Less than one thousand of my colony mates aren’t Texan. That’s absurd. I’ve never even been to Texas. Ascendancy is the dominant religion in the Republic of Texas, so that sort of answers that question, except it absolutely doesn’t. Now I just don’t know which thing is the weird thing – am I surrounded by Texans for unknown reasons, who just happen to be Ascendants, or am I surrounded by Ascendants for unknown reasons who just happen to be Texan? If I can’t figure this out, it’s going to keep bothering me for five entire years.

Also, even though Texas is pretty Ascendant, I’m certain it’s not that Ascendant. And it’s never been one of the more spacegoing nations. I mean, sure, Texas has a space program, and it’s not surprising to have some Texans aboard, but it’s a largely terrestrial nation. So it’s not like this is some big national push for exploration that Texas specifically invested in.

Unless it is. The Exodus Phenomenon had gotten me into this metal tube, who’s to say it hadn’t swayed the hearts and minds of the Texan government?

Lots of religious Texans, who are overwhelmingly on birth control. I poke around a bit more in their medical histories, enough to estimate that a lot of them probably came from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds, based on the kinds of medical complications and treatments they’d received in the past. That doesn’t tell me anything; poor and desperate people are naturally going to be more inclined to head off to distant stars than rich people whose lives are going fine. They’re all relatively able-bodied through either nature or medical intervention, barring a few missing limbs or metabolic disorders, which also doesn’t tell me anything; they’d been deemed fit enough for the program. Low confirmed fertility, lots of people untested; again, that means nothing. Most people’s fertility was confirmed by having children, or medical testing in preparation to have children, and people with kids to raise don’t tend to abandon them for the stars in high numbers. (They hadn’t tested fertility for the program. We have plenty of healthy human blastocysts in the cryofreezers. Natural reproduction is an option, but not important to colony survival.)

Maybe this was a religious thing. I didn’t really know anything about Ascendancy; maybe they had some kind of end times prophecy about ascending to heaven or something and enough had interpreted that as going to other stars that they’d overwhelmed the javelin program by coincidence? That was possible, but if it were the case, it’s something that I definitely would have learned about back on Earth when everyone was trying to pull me into the controversy of the program. It’s the sort of thing that would have come up. The only thing I can really remember about Christian Ascendancy or the Republic of Texas is endless arguments with other students back in university about the reliability of religious affiliation data, using the Texan prison system as –


The Republic of Texas has a for-profit prison system. It’s one of the few things that basically everybody knows about the country (because everyone loves remembering the bad parts of other countries so they can feel better about their own), and there are three main owners of the prisons; an unscrupulous billionaire, a company that owns a large chain of factories and needs a steady supply of cheap labour, and the Church of Christ Ascendant.

Most of what I know about Texas or Christianity is long debates with my fellow university students about the validity of data gathering on religious affiliation, using the Texan prison system’s coercive conversion practices as an example. Prisoners in Ascendant care tend to receive better treatment if they officially convert, so such data is inherently unreliable.

Foreboding curls in my stomach. I check the profiles more carefully.

Of the five thousand colonists aboard this ship, four thousand are convicts.

What? How? Why? That doesn’t make any sense. In Texas, prisoners are a valuable economic resource; why would the Church just give up four thousand of them? Why were they allowed to come? Were they – taproot and stars, were they forced to come? Why? Chronostasis pods in the javelin program were in demand! Why force a bunch of prisoners to come along when volunteers were clamouring for the positions? How could a bunch of resentful, involuntary colonists possibly be a good thing to build a new colony on?

I mean, yeah, that sort of thing had been done in the past, when prisons were overcrowded or the taming of a highly dangerous new environment was needed. I’d spent time on Luna, I knew how convict exploration worked. The Luna prison death rate is high; they consider their prisoners more disposable than most nations with a for-labour or for-profit system do, and space is dangerous. But Texas is largely terrestrial, and crucially, would get no possible benefit from colonising a star sixty five lightyears away.

Well, I suppose that my colony-mates either know why they’re here and will tell me, or don’t know so it won’t matter. It’s definitely going to bother be for the next five years if I can’t figure it out, though. The computer probably has information on Texas, up to date at the time of launch. Maybe I should look through it later and figure it out.

I open up a random ex-convict’s medical profile in the hopes of random, blind inspiration. He’s just a guy with a history of minor health problems associated with poverty and deprivation, nothing astounding. His current condition is listed as stable but his chances of successful revival from chronostasis is incredibly low – sixty two per cent. That’s pretty sad, but you get people on the low end of any bell curve. I go to close the profile, and freeze.

Next to the chronostasis data is an option that says BEGIN REVIVAL PROCESS.

I can wake people up.

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5 thoughts on “011: POPULATION

  1. Oooooooh! Are they gonna do it? Are they? Are they gonna wake someone up just so they won’t be alone and to satisfy their curiosity? Will it be a terrible mistake? Find out next time on “Aspen Fucks Around and Finds Out!”

    As a Christian person I am dang curious about this. I also wanna know if it’s relevant to the late Captain’s mental break/the mystery of the locked ring.



    Ah, the wonders of prison colonies. And Texans. And some kind of culty splinter of a splinter of a splinter of Christianity, that always goes well.

    See, Aspen’s not getting the point of the kinds of religions Christianity tends to splinter into. It’s the whole missionary doctrine; it tends to get taken advantage of or blown out of proportion. People looking for shortcuts to eternal paradise usually aim for increasing the total number of Christians at any cost. Sending 5000 Christians to another planet where they’re the majority religion is a net win even if they never produce any value for the senders, because they’re producing god-fearing souls for the afterlife. It’s just an extension of the rationale behind the prison conversions really, spending earthly wealth for literal Hail Marys that might increase the amount of people in the good place.



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