Jump to content

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

Michael Hopcroft

Suddenly Alone on the Stations

Recommended Posts

Picture this: a near future setting, 2075 or so. Humanity's only presence in space is a series of orbital stations which oinclude industrial colonies (for technology that can only be manufactured in space), tourist hotels, and military observation posts/weapon platforms (which can od things like kill a single person on Earth by firing a laser sattelite from orbit). Space is thriving as a commerical and residential area, and children are beinbg born on the stations who might spend their entire lives there.

 

In fact, they're going to have to. Because something is about to happen on Earth. Something bad. Something so bad that the surface of the Earth will be unsuitable for human habitation for at least thirty thousand years, if then.

 

The space stations depended on Earth for support, indeed for their reason for being. Now the Earth is, to all intents and purposes, gone forever. It happened to fast that only a pitiful few refugees were able to escape into space.

 

The big question: what happens to humanity next? Will there be enough food to feed everyone in space? Will it run out, and where will they replace it? If there are no supplies or reinforcements coming from Earth, what will the people in the military installations do? What about the tourists in the hotels who have suddenly become colonists?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

Naturally they will all immediately revert to tribal savagery and start wearing lots of studded leather and mohawks and stuff. It's traditional.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

First of all, I'd think the stations would already provide most of their own food. Why? Because it costs a lot of energy (= money) to ship things up to orbit. Even if we assume relatively cheap surface-to-orbit trips, it's still far cheaper to use hyrdroponics to produce most locally consumed calories -- well, locally! Things like actual meat, of course, would most likely come up from the surface -- there may be substitute meat produced from, say, soy products or cultured protiens, but you wouldn't waste money on hauling live animals up to orbit. Assuming no artificial gravity other then the spinning-the-stations kind, animals don't do well or reproduce in zero gee (at least, not in the experiments we've done so far). Plus you'd have to provide food for them, and there's a lot of the animal that isn't edible (hide, bones, etc.). Sure, all that could go back via recycling, but the point is you're caring for an animal that isn't 100% "usable" for the desired end product. Meat hauled up from Earth would be expensive, but cheaper than trying to produce that locally.

 

The refugees may strain things for a while, but it's a relatively easy task (as such things go) to expand a hydroponics farm...the main things you need are extra space, piping, water, and labor. Labor is provided by the refugees. Piping can be supplied by the orbital factories. Water may be a bit of a problem, but considering how dense water is (and thus how much it would cost to boost into orbit) I'm going to assume that either recycling tech is very good, or an ice asteroid or two has been hauled in to provide water for the stations (or perhaps both). Sure, water from an ice asteroid would have to be melted, filtered, rendered potable, etc. but there should already be facilities in place. People may be on short rations of water for things like bathing for a while, but it's still do-able.

 

The main problem with expanding a hydroponics is the space needed. Ironically enough, one thing that's always at a premium in space is -- space! Well, habitable space, anyway. On a spinning station you can't just build on additions wherever you'd like, either, because it will throw the balance off and break up the station. Eventually I'd imagine that some older stations might be converted over completely into "farms"; in the mean time you'd have to expanding into already existing spaces...cargo bays as they are emptied of supplies, the holds of docked ships, recreation/meeting halls, and so on.

 

No, while it will mean belt-tightening for a while, I don't think quantity of food will be a true cause for concern. Quality, on the other hand, worries me.

 

I don't mean I'm worried that everyone won't be able to eat steak every night; what I'm worried about are the inevitable losses of vital trace elements from the food cycle -- thinks like potassium, sodium, chromium, and so on and so forth. Those doubtless would have been hauled up from Earth, because a small quantity would treat a huge amount of foodstuffs that were produced locally. With no more such supplies from Earth, you'll have to find sources elsewhere...and that won't be easy. Food-wise, that would concern me a great deal, because without the proper trace elements, many functions of the body (including cognitive functions) begin to break down in months, and that's not a lot of time when you consider the situation the "colonists" are now in.

 

I say the losses are inevitable because no system is 100% efficient, and even recycling the bodies of those that die won't recover everything. So, inevitably, there will be slow losses. And that means creeping health problems. The worst thing is that the most deadly problems -- cognitive function ones -- probably won't be noticed until too late. They'll come on slowly, and everyone will assume the elevated level of mistakes is due to the stress of the situation, working 16 hour days, and so on. Not a good prognosis.

 

Raw materials may or may not be a problem, depending on how you have things set up. I'm going to assume that most of the bulk materials used in orbital manufacturing come from towed-in asteroids. The problem will come from the lack of replacements for the very high-tech stuff: microchips, for just one example. There will be hundreds if not thousands of things necessary to keep the stations working properly that won't be available any more, and there's a good chace it won't be possible to produce them locally. I doubt very much the people will realize just how many components fall into this category until equipment failures, months or years down the line, begin to mount. When that happens, whatever government there is in place will likely institute a wholesale "scavenging" operation, and this will lead to unrest as it will undoubtedly mean the "nationalization" of many personal possessions. For example, if your kid's handheld game contains microchips that could, with a little adaptation, take the place of a vital-and-irreplaceable chip in a piece of station equipment, do you think Junior is going to get to keep the game? Ha! And even if the parents agree with the decision, the brusque and "heartless" nature that will be a necessary part of the acquisition process (time will be of the essence) will bring about a smoldering resentment.

 

The largest threat to the stations' (and mankind's) continued survival will be mankind itself. People will endure a lot, if they know it's of a limited (finite) duration; when these sorts of situations become permanent, a lot of tolerance goes out the airlock. Oh, people will all 'rally around' at first, but inside of 3 months there are going to be escalating incidents of violence and sudden, murderous fury, and often over very minor things as the stress and feelings of helplessness seek an outlet. Whatever sort of government is in place (and I'm betting it's military) will respond by clamping down harder on regulations...curfews, penalties, that sort of thing. It may stop the overt flare-ups, but will just be building toward a major bloodbath and/or attempted revolution against the 'oppressors'. Suicides may become commonplace.

 

I know all this sounds pretty bleak, and it is...if it was a group of, say, 100 or less, they could probably keep pulling together without any bloodshed (or maybe one incident of it). With a population of thousands, though, I expect the worst of human nature.

 

Mankind would probably live through the bloodbath period, at least for the short term. Those that are left would likely be living in a very rigid society in which posters bearing slogans like "What have you done to earn your air today?" will not be jokes. They'll also be hard pressed to keep things running, because the population will have been thinned out by the bloodbath -- and that's not really good news for the gene pool, either. Births will probably be very closely regulated, and marriages may be state-selected based on genetics.

 

In the long run there's till the problem of irreplaceable vital equipment, trace element loss, sanity problems, and disasters that the environment is just asking to have happen. All it takes is a momentary mistake to send a ship accidentally crashing into a station...and assuming the automatic bulkheads close in time, how many more are lost to the gene pool when those in the vented section die in the vacuum of space? How much more irreplaceable equipment is destroyed?

 

If they have the fuel available (or can manufacture it) perhaps scavenging expeditions to the surface can be mounted to bring back replacements for these "irreplaceable" items. For a good many years, at least, there should be decent pickings. That is, unless the disaster that renders the surface uninhabitable includes complete global nuclear annihilation, or constant tornadic acid storms or whatever. If it's something "less" severe, like a super-plague, or all the oxygen being stripped out of the atmosphere by some kind of runaway catalyst reaction, the expeditions may be possible. I imagine those who go would be regarded with a mix of awe and suspicion -- awe at their courage and what they due for the stations, suspicions because they've got to be at least a little crazy to do that, and who knows if they've brought some horrible/noxious/deadly thing back from the surface with them, inadvertently?

 

For a role-playing setting, the PCs being part of a "Surface Recovery Effort" probably wouldn't be a bad way to go. After all, there's danger (who knows -- other humans and/or horribly mutated animals may have survived somehow, and are now on the hunt), intrigue, unreliable equipment...heck, it sounds tailor-made for some nail-chewing, white-knuckle roleplaying!

 

For a soft-pedaled look at this sort of "survivor economy", I'd reccomend checking out the origianl 16-part Battlestar Galactica TV series. Sure, the ships are mobile, but they face many of the same problems that stations would. For trying to survive in a world drastically changed beyond recognition, check out The Nitrogen Fix by Hal Clement.

 

Okay -- that was a heck of a lot longer and grimmer than I expected, and if it's not what you're looking for (or too much of what you're looking for) I apologize. But I rather hope I gave you some usable ideas! :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

The space stations probably were already recycling their air and water. They likely have hydroponic gardens as well. I don't know if any livestock are allowed in the spce stations or if the idea is even feasible. If not, everyone will be turning vegan very soon. If they have fuel to power space ships, they may send expditions to Earth to get more water (say, from icebergs), then purify it in the station. They can get water from the moon as well.

 

As for the inhabitants, it is likely everyone will be trained to serve some useful purpose in the station's upkeep. After all, there's nowhere else to go. The only problem is how long before the station's orbit will deteriorate, sending the station crashing back to Earth. Of course, if the station can be maneuvered, that can be avoided.

 

How far can the ships on the stations (if they have any) go? Is terraforming possible? Earth may be too big a job, but maybe Mars could be a suitable home after many years. If such a project hadn't been considered before, it's more likely to be more desirable now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

I like your premise, Michael. There's similarities to the setting of my SH game-a whole lot of humanity lives in artificial habitats, Earth is an uninhabitable wasteland. The time of my game is in the late 24th century, however and hydroponics and recyling are sufficiently advanced to support large populations.

 

The society the player characters hail from has a warrior code that is kind of good for keeping the population down (ritualized duels), add to that some wars every 20 years or so. And some aforementioned reproductive control results in close to zero population growth.

 

Psychologists and just a little genetic tweaking have played a large part in humanity's adaptation to enclosed living. Sure, anyone can go take a walk with a spacesuit on Miranda, but none of the inhabitants have ever walked under Earth's blue skies. But the inhabitants of some of those societies have adapted, and many have a strong sense of duty (and some haven't, so I have Outworld Raiders from Oort cloud planetoids to use as villians). I don't know how realistic that is but,hey human behaivor could change a lot in 400 years. In your setting though the social turmoil mentioned by Dr. Anomoly sounds very feasible, it will take awhile for the Stationers to adjust. Player characters could be an idelistic group, striving to build a new society as well as keep the recyclers running. If there is space based industrial capability this will be mangeable. And a nut with "space madness" could be a problem if could say,blow up those orbital factories.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

I would imagine the need to plan for future expansion would lead to some enterprising use of available space. I'm remembering an old Asimov story where cast-off rocket shells that stayed in orbit were given spin and converted to hydroponic farms.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

Before I would make any suggestion, I would like to know the state of the rest of the solar system.

 

- Is there (or was there ever) a moonbase?

- Are there nop other colonies in the whole solar system?

- And I would really like to know what conditions make the Earth uninhabitable. If is is radiation, biological agents, "nuclear" winter (could be meteor strike or some such). The reason i ask is that even though it might be uninhabitable on the large scale, domed colonies could be established on earth, for mining, water processing, and maybe even some industry. And I am sure there would be other reasons...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest LordZarglif

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

And if nothing else, unmanned probes could be sent down to recover materials. unless Whatever Happened totally ripped up the surface, rendering it impossible even to stand on.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

Just a few considerations:

 

1) Did whatever happen on the Earth affect any orbiting stations? For example, if it was a nuclear war, were any of the orbital stations targeted? If it was a plague, did any of the few escapees get to a station, spreading the infection? If so, a salvage adventure to one of the stations could lead to interesting situations....

 

2) Are the space habitats built by the various nations/factions on Earth, or are they open to all nations/factions? If different nations/factions built their own stations, and the devastation on Earth was caused by a war between the nations/factions, would the stations continue to war with each other, carrying out vain efforts to destroy the "enemy?"

 

3) Is there enough fuel to run the stations indefinitely, or will they have to find alternative power sources? And what about if different habitats use different types of fuel? Could this lead to raiding for fuel sources?

 

4) Besides the orbiting habitats, are there any satellites still circling the Earth? if so, there could be a race to recover the satellites that are no longer necessary for their raw materials (metals, electronics, fuel, etc.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Major Tom

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

As far as the possibility of housing livestock aboard an orbital station is con-

cerned, I only know of one sci-fi film that touched on the subject, if only for

the briefest of moments: Earth II (the '70s movie, not the more recent

NBC series). There was a brief scene in the film where some new arrivals were

being shown some of the station's facilities, and a livestock area was among

the areas shown.

 

Another example of a "survivor economy" situation in sci-fi TV was the British

series Space: 1999.

 

Major Tom :cool:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

For a soft-pedaled look at this sort of "survivor economy"' date=' I'd reccomend checking out the origianl 16-part [i']Battlestar Galactica[/i] TV series. Sure, the ships are mobile, but they face many of the same problems that stations would. For trying to survive in a world drastically changed beyond recognition, check out The Nitrogen Fix by Hal Clement.

 

To add to the "literature as a source of ideas" portion ... the book Fallen Angels by Niven, Pournelle and Flynn.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

I know it's not completely apropos, but what about Silent Running, with Bruce Dern? Y'know, where he's a "space druid" of sorts on a ship that houses some of the last remnants of Earth's ecosystem.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

Another example of a "survivor economy" situation in sci-fi TV was the British series Space: 1999.

 

The only problem with Space: 1999 as an example is that everything is always clean, brightly lit, spac-and-span, uniforms looking brand new, and so on. (I don't mean in the immediate aftermath of a disaster; I mean during "normal" day-to-day life.) We never see any signs of rationing, shortages, and so on. Granted, we didn't see a lot of that in Battlestar Galactica since most of the action took place on the Galactica herself, and the troops got the best of everything, since they were responsible for fleet defense. There were quite a few times, though, when we saw conditions on other ships in the fleet -- cramped, overcrowed, shortages of food, water, medicine -- and just the opposite, as a few rich people were still living lives of private luxury while people on "common" ships were dying. Not a lot of time was spent on showing this, mind you, but a lot more than with Space: 1999.

 

Note: I'm not knocking Space: 1999 in general; heck, I bought the $200 complete DVD collection a while back! I just don't think they're one of the best examples of a "survivor economy." Star Trek: Voyager did this bit, too, and while various shortages were talked about (rationing of replicator use for non-essentials like coffee) rarely did we see any visible signs of the rationing or shortage impacts.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

Star Trek: Voyager would be indeed be another example . Except they had replicators. And with that show you never really got the "feel" that they were in any real danger of running out of supplies, just like previously mentioned. I'm a diehard Trekker, but Voyager kind of sucked. Maybe it's a bad example of the survivor thing. Or a bad example of Star Trek.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

Depending on how advanced embryology gets, it could be possible to create 'meat farms'. The muscle itself would be the only thing grown, and the energy to grow it would come straight from the source (as opposed to livestock, which need phototrophs). Milk and Eggs could be made similarly.

 

Voyager did suck.

A friend onced described the difference between it and Farscape (which was better than Voyager, even when it got bad at the end) as follows:

 

An alien offers to send the crew home, and in payment requests the limb of one crewman.

 

Voyager Reaction: Janeway contemplates the deal over a cup of international blend coffee, and decides not to, based on the worth of one soul or something, and later saves the life of the mean alien to give a lesson on humanity.

 

Farscape Reaction: D'Argo draws his sword . . .

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

Star Trek: Voyager would be indeed be another example . Except they had replicators. And with that show you never really got the "feel" that they were in any real danger of running out of supplies' date=' just like previously mentioned. I'm a diehard Trekker, but Voyager kind of sucked. Maybe it's a bad example of the survivor thing. Or a bad example of Star Trek.[/quote']

 

Just a mis-done example of what could have been a great concept. I remeber reading how Voyager had been a boon to "Malahelcion: the Muse of Bad Fanfics"", a fairy who isnpired people to write incredibly bad fanfiction that the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 crowd could rip apart -- which actually describes most episodes of Voyagrr, when you think of it.

 

Richard Tucholka did a much better job on the lost-in-space theme with his classic RPG Incursion -- which would have made kiuller TV now that you mention it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

A friend onced described the difference between it and Farscape (which was better than Voyager, even when it got bad at the end) as follows:

 

An alien offers to send the crew home, and in payment requests the limb of one crewman.

 

Voyager Reaction: Janeway contemplates the deal over a cup of international blend coffee, and decides not to, based on the worth of one soul or something, and later saves the life of the mean alien to give a lesson on humanity.

 

Farscape Reaction: D'Argo draws his sword . . .

Didn't this exact scenario-- or something quite like it-- actually happen? I remember Pilot giving up an arm for some reason or other, but that it wasn't a big deal: he knew he'd grow it back eventually.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

Didn't this exact scenario-- or something quite like it-- actually happen? I remember Pilot giving up an arm for some reason or other' date=' but that it wasn't a big deal: he knew he'd grow it back eventually.[/quote']

 

IIRC, Pilot voted against giving up his arm. It was the rest of the crew that decided he would give up the arm. They justified it with the knowledge that it would grow back.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest LordZarglif

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

One possibility for planetary destruction put forth in Manifold: Space is seeding the oceans with chlorine-fixing bacteria. if unchallenged, they will just keep multiplying and releasing chlorine from the oceans into the atmosphere. So, for a low initial investment, you can completely destroy a biosphere. This could be an example of genetic engineering gone wrong a terrorist act in megascale, or alien intervention.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Re: Suddenly Alone on the Stations

 

Personally I don't see a major problem with livestock in space, assuming that for some reason society has developed the appropriate technology. I fully expect that pets will be welcome as space tourists someday, so many of the issues will likely have been addressed already. Wouldn't be a very efficient food source, granted (though it would provide plenty of methane ;)).

 

But Sociotard is right, meat could be "farmed" by cloning the appropriate tissues. Hydroponics could provide the nutrient baths. Permanent space stations might already have medical facilities for small-scale tissue cloning, which could be expanded. (In my old SF campaign I called it "sheet meat" because it was grown in huge, rectangular slabs. While it lacked the nuances of "live meat," it was engineered to actually be tastier.)

 

-AA

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...