Captain Joel knew three things that morning. One: their generational ship – the only world they’d known – was failing. It was never meant to be inhabited for hundreds of years. Life support and thrusters couldn’t be repaired with tape and promises for much longer. Two: they’d lost their long range scanners – meaning that even if there was a habitable world in this sector, they wouldn’t be able to find it before their ship gave out. And three: their children had all gone insane. Collectively, unprecedentedly, insane.
Every ship child had risen from dreams that morning to draw repetitively on whatever surface they could – screens, walls, floors, their own skin, each other’s skin. A ten year old girl had to be sedated to stop her cutting a picture onto her own abdomen with a paring knife she’d found in the galley. And every single child drew the same thing.
Big houses, small houses, some together – like a neighborhood – some alone. Simple houses, complex houses, colored houses, gray houses. The maddening thing was that none of the children had ever seen a house in their life. Ship people lived in pods, and any picture of a house had been inaccessible on the ship’s glitched-out computer database since Joel had been a child himself.
“What do you think?” Doctor Superia gestured at the drawings laid out on the conference table.
“You’re asking me? You’re the psych doc!” Captain Joel said. “It’s your job. Fix these kids while I try to fix the ship.”
“We have no idea how to fix them. They won’t stop drawing. They say it’s because of their dreams.”
“Well I have no idea how to fix the ship, so we’re all screwed anyway, aren’t we?”
“Sir?” interrupted his youngest officer, barely past adolescence herself, “I think I know.”
Captain Joel and the Doctor looked at her.
“I think it’s a map, sir.”
“A map, lieutenant?”
“I think if you put all of these pictures in order . . .”
Captain Joel took a few steps back, squinted his eyes. “What order?”
“May I, sir?” she asked, and began moving them around on the table, sorting them, leaving spaces here and there, twisting some this way and that, some overlapping, some separated. She moved like she was in a trance.
Minutes later the young lieutenant stopped and nodded. “It’s a star chart. The big ones are stars, the smaller ones worlds. This one.” She pointed to a small blue and green house, drawn on a scrap of insulation, “Is habitable.” She looked at the captain and the doctor with conviction. Then she looked out into the star field on the flickering view screen ahead and pointed. “And we can just make it there if we change headings. Now. Today.”
“How in the hell can you know that, Lieutenant?” Captain Joel gaped at her.
“Sir, I . . . dreamed it this morning.”