Exodus

The Exodus launched today, carrying forty-two human crew members on their pilgrimage to the stars. Their journey will be long, longer than any journey mankind has ever even attempted. As much as it saddens me to say this, I was not aboard the ship when it launched. The unstoppable flow of time has sullied my body to the point where I am unfit to touch the heavens. My dream lives on with those colonizers, my chosen disciples who will bring mankind to its new home.

Their destination is an earth-like planet located a dozen lightyears away. Even with the fastest ship in the galaxy, the crew of the Exodus will never step foot on alien soil. They live and will die floating in the abyss, their roles on the ship taken by their children. Their children, and countless more generations of crew members, will spend their entire lives on the Exodus. Eventually, once Earth has become nothing more than a distant memory dulled by the passage of time, the descendants of the original crew members will land on their new planet.

The name Exodus was chosen, as you may guess, for its religious connotations. Much like Moses freed his people from the shackles of servitude, this ship shall free mankind from the destiny of extinction on the blue mudball we call home. And, like the biblical prophet of old, soldiers shall soon come for me. People who cannot conceive the necessity of my actions shall lock me in chains and treat me like a monster. There will be no splitting of the red sea, no great crashing of water upon the Pharaoh’s men, only imprisonment. The men who come for me will be too late. The Exodus has already launched. There is nothing they can do to take that away from me.

So let this recording serve as my manifesto. A tell all of the inner workings of the Exodus narrated by yours truly. Let them spread it far and wide, so that every man, woman, and child thinks of me as a monster. Maybe then they will understand.

I expect to spend the final years of my life rotting in a prison cell. This is a burden I am willing to accept. The Exodus has already launched; there is nothing anyone can do to prevent my dream from becoming a reality. As I sit in my cell, staring at the night sky, I shall dream of the Exodus and its journey through the stars.

A blaring alarm echoes through Cap-23’s quarters, shaking him from his slumber. He groans and places his hands on his ears. “Just let me sleep a little longer,” he says.

“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Captain,” the ship’s AI says.

“Of course not,” Cap-23 grumbles.

He places his feet on the ground of his quarters as the AI turns on a dim light located on the wall. His quarters are nothing remarkable; a three foot by seven foot metal room more comparable to a broom closet than a bedroom. He lies in an old hammock that hangs from hooks on either side of the room. “What do we have on the agenda today, Minerva?” he asks.

“Gar-284 is scheduled for retirement in 2 hours,” the AI, Minerva says.

Minerva’s voice carries a calming, feminine tone that sets Cap-23 at ease. “I’d forgotten about that,” Cap-23 says, a twinge of remorse in his voice.

“I reminded you before you went to sleep, Captain,” Minerva says.

“I know,” Cap-23 says with a sigh. “I guess I just tried to keep myself from thinking about it.”

“If you would like, I can begin giving reminders of upcoming retirements well in advance.”

“That won’t be necessary, Minerva. What else is going on today?”

“The Workers have begun preparations for tonight’s feast, as is to be expected. The Gardeners have just finished plucking a new crop of onions, which should make tonight’s feast excellent.”

“What else?”

“Dok-98 and Dok-102 are currently planting the new Worker in the Tube Room, while Dok-100 and Dok-101 are preparing for today’s harvest.”

Cap-23 grimaces. “Anything else?” he asks, trying to change the subject.

“The Fixers are currently having some problems with the Sail and will presumably spend the day fixing it.”

“What kind of problems?”

“Would you like for me to call Fix-290 so you can ask him?”

“No, I’ll just ask him in person.”

Cap-23 places his feet on the ground and takes a deep breath. He has a long day ahead of him and he knows it.

The Exodus was constructed as a large tower, with nine circular floors attached around a central elevator shaft. The ship rotates as it travels, using centrifugal force to create makeshift gravity for its passengers on the walls of these circular rooms. The exterior of the ship is covered in solar panels that capture the energy needed for survival.

The Exodus lacks an engine; one isn’t needed in the vacuum of space. The initial energy created by the ships launching will allow it to coast through the void until it reaches its destination. This morning, a nuclear bomb was detonated beneath the Exodus. I watched the scarlet mushroom cloud that propelled my baby into the heavens from miles away.

A large metal plate attached to the bottom of the Exodus absorbed the blast, protecting the ship and pushing it out of Earth’s atmosphere. As soon as its purpose was completed the plate was disconnected, causing it to crash down to the planet below.

Nuclear detonation is currently prohibited by the governments of this world. Even though I detonated the explosive far in the desert, far from any civilization, they will lock me away for life for this action.

A large mirror, connected to the ninth floor of the ship, acts as the ship’s only method of changing trajectory. The small amount of force given from reflected sunlight is enough to, over time, move the nose of the ship. This mirror has been lovingly christened as the Sail.

I can spend hours talking about the minute details of the ship’s mechanics. But, in my limited time, I must acknowledge the fact that these things are ultimately irrelevant. The true brilliance of the Exodus lies within the society I have cultivated aboard the ship.

The crew of the Exodus are sorted into six groups based on function. There are the Fixers, who keep the ship flying, the Gardeners, who ensure the ship has food and oxygen, the Teachers, who take care of the young prepare them for a life of work, the Workers, who prepare the food and clean the ship, the Doctors, who maintain the health of everyone aboard, and the Coppers, who ensure that everyone aboard follows the rules I have laid out. There is but a single individual who doesn’t fit into these categories; the Captain, who acts as the leader of the ship.

From the moment they are born, the crew members of my ship are taught only what is vital for the survival of the crew. They are taught to follow orders and that failing to do so shall result in suffering, not just for them but for mankind as a whole. They are taught to be something other than human, something more equipped for survival in the void.

Cap-23 crawls through a hatch into another room located on the sixth floor. This room is somewhat bigger than his own quarters, large enough to hold three hammocks. One of the hammocks contains a large muscular man. He tosses a makeshift ball, created out of palm leaves rolled together, in the air and catches it over and over again. His name, Kop-78, is branded into his forehead. He hums a simple tune to himself as he tosses the ball.

A similar man, nearly identical to Kop-78, does pushups on the floor of the room. His face is similar to Kop-78’s, but contains a handful of wrinkles and a large scar covering his right cheek. His brand says Kop-76.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” Cap-23 says.

The older man, Kop-76, jumps to his feet and salutes. The younger man, Kop-78, attempts to do the same but instead slips out of his hammock and crashes to the ground. His ball lands on his head.

“At ease, officers,” Cap-23 says.

“Old 84’s retiring today, right?” Kop-78 asks.

“Correct,” Cap-23 says with a sigh.

He looks around the room and notices that one of the Coppers is missing. “Where’s 77?” Cap-23 asks.

“He popped over to the kitchen for a snack,” Kop-76 says.

“Of course he did. Would you mind retrieving him?” Cap-23 asks.

“I’m on it, sir!” Kop-78 says as he pulls himself to his feet.

He climbs through a hatch into the central elevator shaft of the ship. A few moments later Cap-23 hears the sound of the old motors turning as they take the elevator to the ship’s third floor. “God he’s energetic,” Cap-23 mutters.

“He’s a kid trying to prove himself,” Kop-76 replies. “He’ll grow out of it by the time he’s our age.”

“I suppose so, old friend,” Cap-23 says with a smile.

Kop-76’s face turns sour. “While we’re on the topic of old men nearing their retirement ages, there’s a retirement today,” he says.

“I know,” Cap-23 replies.

“Are you ready?”

“I’m the Captain, I have to be ready.”

Cap-23 hears the sound of the elevator returning and climbs aboard through a hatch located on the room’s ceiling. He and Kop-78 take the elevator to the ship’s eighth floor, a workshop where the ship’s repairmen sleep. The workshop is much larger than both the Captain’s quarters and the Copper’s quarters combined. Tables covered in wires and broken machinery are spread around the donut-shaped room. Twelve hammocks hang over the tables, all empty.

Only a single Fixer stands in the workshop, a short stocky man wearing an old pair of goggles. His name is Fix-290 and he is the leader of the Fixers. “Good morning, Captain,” he says with a gruff voice.

“Minerva mentioned that we’re having problems with the Sail,” Cap-23 says.

“Nothing we shouldn’t be able to fix,” Fix-290 says with a wave of his hand. “Some of the mechanicals are sticking again. We should be able to fix it from within the ship. I have all of my men up there working on the problem as we speak. Worst-case scenario, we do a spacewalk and knock everything back in place.”

The Exodus’s Nursery is located on the fifth floor. Here, three Teachers raise the young. From infancy to age twelve the children seldom leave this room. The Teachers do more than just teach, they act as pseudo-parents for the children aboard the ship. When they reach maturity, after years of being taught nothing but loyalty and the skills required to keep the ship running, the children graduate and are taken to their workstations, where they will stay for the rest of their lives.

Cap-23 and the three Coppers take the elevator to the Nursery. It’s a large open room, with toys spread across its metal floor. Eight hammocks and one crib sit on one end of the room. Several desks and a large monitor sit on the other end. One of the Teachers stands by the monitor, showing a diagram of the ship to a duo of young students. Another Teacher stands in the corner of the room, rocking an infant back and forth in his arms.

Two children run past Cap-23, almost knocking him over. A Teacher runs after them, yelling at them to stop messing around. When he notices Cap-23 he gives up chasing the children and turns to greet his Captain. “Are you here for 97?” he asks.

Cap-23 nods and the Teacher points at the hammocks, where a lanky boy with Gar-297 branded into his forehead sits. “He’s over there, Captain,” the Teacher says. “He’s nervous about graduating.”

Cap-23 walks over to the hammocks. “Gar-297, the time has come for you to take your rightful place among the Gardeners,” he says.

Cap-23 notices a doll sitting in the boy’s hands and snatches it. “You won’t be needing this,” he says as he sets the doll on the floor.

As Cap-23 leads Gar-297 to the elevator, he notices a boy leaning against the wall, staring at him. The boy’s name, Cap-24, is branded on his forehead. Cap-23 shudders.

I didn’t have a very good childhood. My parents were abusive drunks who locked me in our attic for days on end. From the windows of that cold attic, I fell in love with the sky. An endless sea of planets and stars untouched by the cruelty of mankind. From a young age I understood how incredibly insignificant mankind is in the grand scope of the universe.

As I grew older, I learned of war and pollution and realized that the people of Earth will eventually destroy this tiny blue dot we call home. If we are going to survive, we must spread through the stars, colonizing new worlds and growing our empire. But, when we conquer new worlds, we must be sure that the problems that are destroying this world don’t follow us.

Race, gender, sexuality, religion, creed, these things that separate humanity, they are not found aboard the Exodus. Because the crew members are grown in artificial wombs and only taught predetermined beliefs, I have made each of them essentially identically, distinguished only by age and duty. Each of the Fixers looks like every other Fixer, each of the Coppers looks like every other Copper, and each of the Teachers looks like every other Teacher. Of course, bigotry isn’t the only cancerous element I have severed; the crew is taught to avoid greed, lust, wrath, gluttony, and every other sin of man. They are also taught to despise personal connections, to keep themselves from being drug down the path of rebellion by petty sentimentality.

The elevator stops in the Garden, a large humid room located on the first floor of the ship. Unlike the metal rooms making up the rest of the ship, the Garden is a vibrant green room filled with plants. Its floor is covered in grass and filled with leafy plants that stretch to the tall ceiling. Eleven Gardeners tend to a plot of spinach. One by one they notice as Cap-23, the three Coppers, and young Gar-297 step off the elevator.

The Gardeners stare into Cap-23’s eyes. A chill runs down his spine. “Could you retrieve Gar-284 for me,” he asks. “The Doctors would like to speak with him in the Infirmary.”

“You’re lying,” one of the younger Gardeners mutters. “You’re here to retire him.”

Gar-297 stares at his feet. He can feel the disdain the Gardeners have for him. Cap-23 glances at the young boy and sighs. “Yes, we are here to retire Gar-284,” he says. “I understand that you may despise use for this, but it is something that we must do.”

“Why?” the Gardener asks.

“For the good of the ship,” Cap-23 says. “Gar-284 is currently the absolute oldest person aboard. As he gets older, he will take more and more resources to continue living but will be capable of less work. This ship is only capable of supporting a maximum of forty-eight people, a number that we have already reached. If we are going to grow a new Gardener to take over Gar-284’s job, we must also retire Gar-284. Now then, where is he?”

“Behind you,” the Gardener mutters.

The blow comes as a surprise, as Gar-284 smacks Cap-23 in the head with a tree limb, knocking him to his ground. In an instant, all three Coppers pounce on Gar-284. They pull him to the ground and begin kicking him in the chest. After knocking him unconscious, Kop-77 and Kop-78 drag the old man into the elevator. Cap-23 catches a glimpse of the old Gardener’s wrinkle covered face.

Kop-76 helps Cap-23 to his feet. “You’re bleeding,” he says.

Cap-23 wipes the blood off of his forehead. “I’m fine,” he says.

“Do you need to go to the Infirmary?”

“I said I’m fine. It’s just a cut. I’ll go to waste management, clean myself up.”

Cap-23 notices Gar-297 staring at him, horrified. “Please don’t leave me here with these people,” the young boy pleads.

Cap-23 turns towards Kop-76. “Stay with the Gardeners for a while,” he says. “Make sure they don’t try anything.”

My prohibition against interpersonal relationships, I suspect, will be one of the most controversial elements of the Exodus. ‘Why do you hate love?’ they’ll cry, treating me like some sort of monster, incapable of understanding the brilliance of my scheme. The ultimate concern of the Exodus must be to keep the ship running at all costs. Obviously, stopping the crew from interfering with the ship’s function out of selfishness is necessary, but preventing them from interfering out of selflessness is equally important.

Once a crew member becomes too old to do their job, they are retired and replaced with someone younger. This process, as cruel as it is, is necessary for the ship to keep functioning. Most people would be opposed to this happening to their loved ones, so none of the crew will be allowed to have loved ones.

Crew members aren’t given names and are instead referred to only by their jobs and numbers denoting their age. This lack of individuality helps crew members think of each other as objects. Romance is strictly prohibited, parenthood is only given to Teachers who will die well before their children do, and crew members are ripped from their Teachers and childhood friends as soon as they reach maturity. This, like all things I have done, is necessary.

Cap-23 walks through the waste management room located on the ship’s second floor. It’s filled with pipes and machinery that clean and transport water throughout the ship. It also happens to contain the only shower on the Exodus.

Cap-23 feels the lukewarm water run down his face, washing away the blood and hiding his tears. He feels alone in a way that only a man who has never been without friends can feel.

“Minerva, can you sing for me?” Cap-23 asks.

“Of course, my Captain,” she replies.

Minerva sings in a language the Captain has never understood. Her voice isn’t mechanical or inhuman, rather it is familiar and comforting, like that of a parent. Cap-23’s stress fades away.

Without thinking, Cap-23 begins to sing along. Minerva stops singing and turns off the water. “What is it, Minerva?” Cap-23 asks.

“You were singing,” she says.

“I suppose I was.”

“Captain, there are far more important things for you to think about than music.”

Cap-23 sighs. “I know,” he mumbles.

Art is something so intrinsic to human nature that it cannot ever be truly separated from the human mind. It is also dangerous. Art can bestow thoughts and emotions that should never be placed in the mind of a loyal crew member. It can inspire rebellion, it can inspire hatred, and it can inspire love.

This left me with a quandary while I was designing the Exodus. How might I solve the paradox of art being both necessary and dangerous? Ultimately, I decided to give the task of artistic duties to Minerva, the ship’s built in artificial intelligence program.

Minerva gives the crew the art they crave, but ensures that they only consume art I approve of. She tells stories, but only stories with the message of conformity. She sings songs, but only in languages that the crew can’t understand. Best of all, she subtly makes sure that the crew doesn’t attempt to make their own art.

After his shower, Cap-23 goes to the kitchen and grabs a radish. “What are you doing?” Wor-178, an older Worker in charge of handling meals, asks as Cap-23 sinks his teeth into the radish.

“Eating,” Cap-23 replies.

Wor-178 scowls. “You’ll ruin your appetite before tonight’s feast,” he says.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it to the feast,” Cap-23 mutters. “I have a lot of work to handle.”

“But, you’re the Captain, you have to come to the feast!” Wor-178 says. “Besides, who in their right mind would pass up something as wonderful as a feast?”

“I’ll try to make it,” Cap-23 mutters.

Cap-23 leaves the kitchen through a hatch in the wall and climbs into the Tube Room, the only other room on the third floor. The Tube Room is a dark room containing eight glass tubes stretching from the floor to the ceiling. The tubes are all filled with pink liquid and have machinery attached at their bases that regulate the contents of the tubes.

Two Doctors are working on one of the tubes, preparing it for the implantation of a new lifeform. “How’s it going?” Cap-23 asks.

“Good,” one of the Doctors says. “We should have Wor-178’s replacement growing by the end of the day.”

“I heard you got hit in the head earlier,” the other Doctor says. “Mind if I take a look?”

“I’m fine,” Cap-23 replies.

The voice of Minerva comes on over the Tube Room’s speakers. “Captain?” she says.

“Yes?”

“Dok-101 has requested that you come to the Infirmary.”

Every member of the Exodus’s crew is grown in the Tube Room, genetically engineered to be smarter, stronger, and more resilient than the average human. Each member requires less sleep and is more resistant to disease than humans from earth. More specifically, the different groups are all bred to be inherently suited for their jobs. For example, the Fixers are bred to have more grey matter in areas of the brain associated with problem solving and the Coppers are bred to be physically stronger than the rest of the crew, to better help them enforce the law.

It takes thirteen years to grow a replacement for a crew member, so retirements and the planting of new crew members are planned years in advance. Of course, accidents can happen, people can die early. All of the positions aboard the Exodus, with the exception of the Captain, have more crew members than is necessary specifically to help protect against accidents.

Cap-23 steps out of the elevator onto the fourth floor Infirmary. What he sees shakes him to his very core. Gar-284’s corpse is laid out on an operating table. Two Doctors are cutting his chest open and placing his organs in containers. Kop-77 picks up one of these containers and walks to the elevator. “How’s it going, Captain?” he says.

Cap-23 dares not open his mouth, out of fear of vomiting. After receiving no reply, Kop-77 rolls his eyes and boards the elevator. He takes it to the kitchen.

“Ah, Captain, I didn’t see you over there,” one of the Doctors says. “I heard about your fight in the Garden and was hoping I could take a look at you.”

“What?” Cap-23 mutters.

“This one hit you in the head with a stick,” the Doctor says while gesturing at Gar-284’s corpse. “Remember?”

“Oh, right.”

The Doctor frowns. “Are you okay?” he asks.

“I’m fine,” Cap-23 says.

Cap-23 takes a deep breath. Even after years of being Captain, he’s still squeamish about dead bodies. He tries to calm himself down; his crew can’t see himself like this.

“You’re bleeding,” the Doctor says.

“What?”

“Your bleeding,” the Doctor says while touching his forehead.

Cap-23 places his fingers on his forehead and feels the wet, sticky blood. He stares at the blood. Slowly, his eyes drift to Gar-284’s body. “Here, let me sew that up for you,” the Doctor says.

“No,” Cap-23 mutters.

The Doctors stare at him. He takes a deep breath. “You need to finish the harvest,” he says. “I’ll be fine.”

One unbreakable law of the world is the law of conservation of matter. Because of this cruel law, the Exodus is incapable of gaining new mass. Thus, everything must be reused. Filthy water is purified in the Waste Management Room, CO2 is turned back into oxygen by the plants in the Garden, and waste is used as fertilizer for the plants.

Because of this law, the crew of the Exodus cannot waste the precious calories held in the bodies of retirees. After the Doctors execute elderly crew members their bodies are cut up and shipped to the Kitchen for cooking. This ‘Harvest’ is, like all things aboard the Exodus, necessary.

“Minerva, do you think that retirements are right?” Cap-23 says.

He sits in the storage room, a room on the seventh floor filled with boxes filled with replacement parts for the ship. He comes here often to clear his head, exploiting the fact that the rest of the crew rarely leave their work stations.

“I’m not sure I understand the question, sir,” Minerva replies.

“Gar-284 attacked me because he was afraid of dying,” Cap-23 says. “I’m not sure that, if I was in his position, I wouldn’t do the same thing.”

“I see. You question if it is right to kill members of the crew for the greater good?”

“Yes.”

“You are asking the wrong question, Captain. You should not concern yourself with what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. Your primary concern should be with what is necessary. You are the Captain, sir. It is your responsibility to ensure that the ship keeps running.”

Cap-23 sighs. “Thank you, Minerva,” he says.

“The Fixers are about to attempt a spacewalk, Captain.”

“Right, I’ll be there in a minute.”

Minerva is an AI built to resemble my own mind. Although she is only capable of thought and speech, she is the most important individual aboard the crew. Unlike the human crew members, Minerva cannot age or grow sick. She acts as a constant presence, ensuring through subtle manipulations that my will is carried out.

In the event that the Captain dies, Minerva is instructed to take over their duties until a replacement reaches adulthood. Minerva is more than capable of giving orders. In a perfect world, Minerva would be fully capable of leading the crew.

Unfortunately, in my experience, people dislike following the orders of a machine. Thus, the need for a Captain to serve as a figurehead, a minion of Minerva whose sole duty is to give the illusion of human leadership.

“We ran into an asteroid field last night. The steering mechanism for the Sail got hit and isn’t working right,” Fix-290 says.

“Is it repairable?” Cap-23 asks.

“Not from within the ship. We’ll have to do a spacewalk,” Fix-290 says.

Cap-23 sighs. The two of them are in the Control Center, a small room filled with buttons and screens used to steer the ship located on the ninth floor. “Who are we going to send?” Cap-23 asks.

“I’ll go,” Fix-290 says. “I’m next in line to be retired anyway. Better for me to risk my life than one of the younger guys.”

“Are you sure? Do you really want to do this?”

“The important thing isn’t what I want to do, Captain. It’s what I have to do. If the ship is going to keep flying, we need to fix the Sail. And, if we’re going to fix the Sail, a space walk is necessary.”

Fix-290 suits up and exits the ship through its airlock. Cap-23 and the other Fixers watch as he crawls along the exterior of the ship, connected only by a thin cable. He climbs to the Sail, pulls out a wrench, and begins tinkering with the complex machinery of the Sail.

“I think I’ve got it,” he says after twenty minutes of tinkering. “Try moving the Sail.”

The Fixers press a few buttons. Slowly, the large mirror attached to the ship shifts position. The Fixers cheer. “That’s good,” Fix-290 says. “I’ll come back-”

It happens in an instant. A meteorite strikes the side of the ship. Before anyone can react, Fix-290 is gone, the cable that held him severed and floating in the void. At first, no one says anything. Then one of the Fixers speaks up. “Does the Sail work?” he says.

Another Fixer presses a few buttons. “Yeah, it’s working,” the second Fixer says.

“That’s good,” the first Fixer says. “Still, it’s a shame we lost the spacesuit. How many do we have in storage?”

“Five, I think.”

“Shit, is that all?”

Space is a cruel, unloving void where death can happen in an instant. Humans are not built to survive in this void. For the sake of mankind, I have created a hellhole floating through the heavens, a palace where men are stripped of their dignity and freedom. I understand that people will hate me for this monstrosity I have created. I do not blame them. But, as I end this recording, I have but one question: is there any other way? Could the violent, wasteful apes of this planet survive in space without forfeiting their humanity? Is it possible that the things I have done are not truly necessary?

I do not know. Perhaps there could have been another way, a better way, that I simply could not see. But this is the only path I can imagine that could succeed. It is the only way for mankind to survive.

The crew is gathered in the Garden for the feast to commemorate Gar-297’s promotion. The Workers pass around bowls full of soup. The Coppers sit around Gar-297, shielding him from the angry stares of his fellow Gardeners. The Doctors talk amongst themselves about a revised retirement schedule, one that accounts for Fix-294’s unexpected passing. The Fixers discuss ways to manufacture a new space suit to replace the one floating in the void. The Teachers keep their children away from Gar-297, knowing that spending time with his childhood friends will make leaving harder. Cap-23, the twenty-third Captain of the Exodus, sits alone at the base of a tree. He holds a bowl of soup in his hands. He stares into the murky brown broth, filled with chunks of floating meat. The sight of it makes him want to vomit. 

Gar-297 stares at his soup, unwilling to take a bite. “What’s wrong with you?” Kop-78 asks.

“I’m not hungry,” the boy responds.

Kop-78 smacks him on the back of the head. “The Workers worked hard on tonight’s feast,” he says. “Eat it before it gets cold.”

“I told you, I’m not hungry,” Gar-297 repeats before shoving Kop-78 back.

The shove knocks the bowl of soup out of Kop-78’s hands. “You think you’re funny, you little shithead?” he yells before punching Gar-297 in the face.

Kop-78 starts kicking Gar-297 in the stomach. Kop-76 places his hand on his shoulder. “Easy there,” he says.

Kop-78 shoves Kop-76, sending him stumbling back into a plot of newly planted spinach. “Look what you made me do!” Kop-78 yells before kicking the boy one more time.

“Stand down, 78,” Cap-23 says as he walks over.

He helps Kop-76 back to his feet. “Are you hurt, old friend?” he asks.

“I’m fine,” Kop-76 says before glancing at the spinach. “I don’t know about the crops though.”

One of the Gardeners runs over. “It’s ruined!” he shouts. “You crushed all of the spinach with your fat body!”

“I wouldn’t exactly call myself fat,” Kop-76 replies.

The Gardener glances at Gar-297, who sits in the mud covered in blood and bruises. “He did this,” the Gardener shouts. “The boy ruined the spinach crop!”

“I’m sorry,” Gar-297 mutters before Kop-78 kicks him again.

“Calm down, I’m sure it isn’t as bad as it looks,” Cap-23 says.

“Captain, I have troubling news,” Minerva says.

Cap-23 sighs. “What is it, Minerva?” he asks.

“A cursory scan reveals that a large portion of the spinach was killed when Kop-76 fell on it.”

“We can grow more spinach.”

“Yes, but that will take time. By my estimates, the crew shall run out of food shortly before a new crop will reach maturity.”

“Can’t we eat the spinach?”

“Yes, but the destroyed spinach had not yet reached full maturity and will give less calories than the crew requires.”

“That’s okay, though. We’re currently a man down anyway. I’m sure we have a little wiggle room-”

“The recently deceased Fix-294 would have given more calories upon harvest than he would have consumed in the time leading up to his retirement.”

“Right, but-”

“Captain, you know what you have to do,” Minerva says in a tone much more forceful than her normal speaking voice.

“I know,” Cap-23 says with a sigh. “Coppers, take Gar-297 to the Infirmary for harvesting.”

“I didn’t do anything!” Gar-297 shouts.

His screams do nothing to convince the Coppers to let him go. As the elevator leaves, Cap-23 hears the hushed voices of the crew, murmuring about the recent developments. Much to Cap-23’s horror, he sees smiles, presumably brought about by the prospect of a new feast.

Cap-23 walks back to his tree and picks up his bowl of soup. A drop of blood rolls down his forehead and lands in the murky broth.

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