Brief by Beth Goder
The main character discovers semi-alive alien rock creatures and becomes obsessed with learning more about them. Since the creatures hibernate for long periods of time, such research will take several lifetimes. The main character founds a settlement to conduct this research, and plans to check up on the progress every several decades. Because of the mechanics of space travel (see: Twin Paradox and time dilation), when the main character sets out on a spaceship going very fast, time passes more slowly for them in relation to the settlement. For example, the founder could travel for two years, and return to a settlement where thirty years have passed.
Since we’re the soft science fiction group, I think we can pick our time intervals without actually doing the calculations. Let’s assume that by changing the acceleration of the spaceship and duration of the trip, we could have different intervals of time pass on the settlement.
Please feel free to come up with a different question that the main character wants to answer. This concept should work for a variety of ideas–longevity studies in the main character’s field of research, figuring out a scientific mystery, looking at an experimental utopian society over time, economics and investment plots, or discovering the cure to a disease, just to throw out a few ideas.
A new settlement on a non-Earth planet. The founder’s spaceship.
A – Founder of the settlement. Has an intense need to answer a personal or scientific question, which is their reason for founding the settlement.
B – Ship AI. Founder’s closest companion.
C – Settler. Remains on settlement while founder travels. Does research to find an answer to the question.
Character A discovers a semi-alive alien rock species that goes through periods of intense activity between bouts of hibernation. Character A founds a research settlement to study the creatures, popping back in every thirty years to check in on new discoveries. The research reveals more questions than it answers. Character B (the AI) sees that Character A is getting too obsessed with this question, and recalculates their route so that they’ll arrive thousands of years later than expected. Character A reveals a small patch of rock growing on their leg, which adhered to them when they touched a rock creature. The rock patch has been expanding, which means Character A needs to figure out more about the rock creatures before being completely subsumed. Character A and B arrive at the settlement thousands of years later. Things have changed dramatically. In addition to the human settlement, there is also a group of humanoid rock creatures, but they are hibernating. Character A joins them. Character B copies their own brain, downloads to a robot, and touches a rock creature to see if they can sync up with Character A’s hibernation. The version of Character B still in the ship goes out to explore, deciding they may come back to the settlement, but not for thousands of years.
If you choose to use a different question, here are some ideas to consider as possible areas of conflict: if the time interval is long enough, the settlers forget about the founder; the settlement has changed so much that the founder has trouble communicating with the settlers; the second generation of settlers demand a reason or more compensation to keep working on the question; the founder miscalculates their trip, and arrives at the settlement much later than expected; a second person arrives, masquerading as the founder; it’s actually impossible to find an answer to the question, no matter how much time is spent on it.
Here are some questions that could be useful to think about when writing: How do cultures change over time? How does our understanding of time change based on our context and viewpoint? What question could be important enough to make someone willing to spend most of their life in a spaceship, essentially fast-forwarding until an answer can be found?
K. G. Anderson