Home > World-Building > Day Two Hundred and Twenty-three: The Nightfinder

Day Two Hundred and Twenty-three: The Nightfinder

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

As part of NaNoWriMo, I came up with an overall theme that had to do with the classical elements – air, water, fire, earth, and aether. During the “fire” section, I thought about campfires and what they represented: safety, warmth, companionship, s’mores – but also a kind of safety in the darkness. A beacon at night for others to find you. A small zone of civilization in the wilderness, rudimentary civilization though it might be.

With that on my mind, my thoughts naturally turned to the end of the universe [1] and how the only stars that are likely to still be shining in the ridiculously far-away future would be the red dwarfs stars. These stars are not only the most common type of star in the universe, but they burn so well and efficiently that they have a projected lifespan of hundreds of billions of years – far longer than the universe has existed so far and much, much longer than our own short-lived sun will exist. So I thought that at some point, these red dwarf stars are likely to be the last ones left when all the hotter stars either burn out or explode. And if there is intelligent life able to do so, it will huddle around these stars, getting as much energy from them as they can until they finally burn out.

So I imagined a ship from one of these star-hugging colonies – one of the first red dwarf stars to fail. The people who lived there would have to evacuate, sending ships in all directions at supra-luminal speeds to try and find new homes somewhere out in the vast, unending darkness of the universe.

The Nightfinder was one of them, and gave me a nice, two-part story. Here’s what we know about the ship and her crew:

171: A New Star 1

  • The captain is Atris Parkell.
  • The ship moves through “supra-luminal space.” At random intervals they would drop back into real space, look around, and move on if they couldn’t find a red dwarf colony.
  • Crew members are outfitted with neural encoders for the transmission of information. They also work as translators, as long as the computers have been given a plaintext code to compare the new language to.
  • Their ship had originated around Delta-b Cygnus, which was a generation or two from failure.
  • The ships were meant to be legacy ships, packed with crew and civilians.
  • Suicides began after a few months, reactions to “existential dread.”
  • There are starkeepers on the crew – experts in solar science.

Part of writing this would be thinking about what kind of ship the Nightfinder would have to be. With the exodus from its star, it was pretty clear that the Nightfinder was going off into the unknown and never coming back. What’s more, it would be traveling alone. The exodus plan for the people of Delta-b Cygnus was basically to send ships in all directions, in the hopes that one of them ran across an inhabited star. Not the best plan, mind you, but the future state of the universe – at least as science understands it now – would really allow for nothing else.

The universe is expanding, you see, and it’s going so very, very quickly. This doesn’t mean much for us, but in the far-off future, it’ll mean that things are farther apart than they used to be. The stars won’t be sprinkled lavishly throughout the sky, but will rather be rapidly-flying pinpricks of light until they get so far away that their light can never reach us. The skies of the future are desolate and empty, and cosmology as we understand it will be impossible.

So the people of Delta-b Cygnus would literally have no idea where other stars were. They would just have to hope for the best. This also was why the Nightfinder and other ships had to be able to travel at faster-than-light speeds. Anything less, and they would never catch up. There would always be more space in front of them so that even if they did have a destination, it would always be receding away from them, faster and faster.

At the same time, it have to be a legacy ship. FTL travel is nice and all, but when you don’t know where you’re going, the universe is still a terrifyingly big place. No one knows how long they’ll be looking because no one knows where the other stars are. All they can do is pop back into real space from time to time, look around, and hope for the best. It’s a crappy plan, really, which is why I knew that there would be suicides starting pretty quickly. By the time they reach Alpha Aurelius, I figure about two-thirds of the original population is gone, and the ship is run by a skeleton crew that consists of whomever they can dragoon into working on it. The sheer hopelessness of their mission, the vastness of the universe – it’s all too much for a lot of people, and they simply give up. Somehow, the captain is able to keep some from doing away with themselves.

Of course, given what he discovers about Alpha Aurelius, it’s uncertain that he will be able to keep doing so…

—–

[1] As they do.

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