Life on Da Vinci

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Copyright © 2005-2006 Runestone & Seed

Back: Backstory


The Mission

What keeps one head above the surface.

The mission plays a big part in colony life. Mission with capital 'M'. Everybody on Da Vinci is there for a very specific reason, and it is hard to forget even when soaked in hot water and relaxing drugs: to get a firm foothold on the planet, make it your home, and in time bootstrap a seed ship of your own.

The mission is why most colonists work as crazy, why everything seems to be about tools and theorems and discoveries, and why society hasn't gotten around to stopping for a moment and considering what is going on.

Even before a colonist is "born", they know about the original terraforming plans and how it was meant to be. What role they can play. How it can be done. Head filled with theories, plans, theses, speculations.

But everybody gets the same shock, once they are released into the harsh reality of colony life. TAU, the malfunctioning AI, is still following the original curriculum during speed-growth, much to the chagrin of the colony, and thus preparing people for a world where things are still on the right track.

People deal with the situation in different ways, but a typical colonist lands on her feet anyway and get cracking. New problems, same goal, slight change of plans.

In Between Worlds

How to relate to a distant planet Earth.

It can be a difficult thing, knowing you are designed and meant to perform a mission. While many colonists think of Earth as where everything came from, a growing number tend to downplay or even dispute Earth's relevance in the colony's future.

Most of Da Vinci's population do not even think of themselves as "colonists". After all, everybody was born there. Nobody has seen Earth, except in video clips in the databases. It's an abstract concept, a fairy tale, a historic fact.

The cradle of humanity is far away, and your home is right here. Not that it is easy to feel welcome on the increasingly aggressive planet, but it is still your planet, and most people feel they belong there.

Enemy Within

What happens when there are too many dreams and ambitions.

The designers back on Earth programmed TAU to seed the colonists with an urge to perform well, to stand out, and to break the limits. That ambition plays a part in many colony feats and tragedies.

Most colonists want to crack the problems. Get the mission well underway. Get things up and running. Get over that top, and preferably in their own lifetime. But the road keeps getting longer, and problems stack.

It sometimes seems easier to get a bit of glory and luxury right now. There are also those who have grown tired of the constant pressure or stopped caring.

Many colonists hunger after being in the one project group that pushed terraforming back on track, that got society back on track, or that made stuff work. Many want to carve out a niche for themselves, be somebody special, or be the one people seek out for help.

Ambition often gets in the way of co-operation and communication, and it is hard to stand out in a crowd of people just as skilled, ambitious and trained as you. Unless you turn to less savoury means.

Chronic Strain

What to do when ressources are limited.

The colony runs on projects, and projects are fuelled by resources and access to the right machines. But the aging colony can in no way keep up with the demand for more, and new machinery is hard to build when the existing ones suck up spare parts and components like a dry sponge.

Every system has been running for way too long, and every machine has bugs, glitches, issues and breakdowns. Every project is forced to fight the other projects for everything it needs, and while competition can be a wonderful driving force, it can also cost dearly.

Those who are used to getting things done know that it takes skill, smarts and a good helping of elbows to do it. You want that crate of graded magnets; you better know who has it. You want access to that 3-D printer in time; you better know how to get at the front of the queue. You want those samples; you better make sure nobody else gets to your source first and contaminates it.

Thinking On Your Feet

How to act in a disaster-tormented environment.

The colony is sandwiched between the hostile weather outside, and the silent, often invisible siege of microbes going on inside. Everybody knows it can be crucial to do the right thing when the alarms go off or somebody starts coughing up blood.

Once you have a problem on your hands, you better have the right solution or know how to improvise it. Many colonists tend to think in right-now-mode, to focus on things that can get solved quickly in order to clear the swollen queue of crises waiting to happen.

Jury-rigging become long term solutions, which add to the plethora of bugs, accidents and breakdowns plaguing every colony system.

A Run-Away Power Tool

How to handle a deeply troubled AI.

The heart and mind of the colony is TAU, the immense cluster of swarm intelligences that brought the seed ship to Da Vinci and founded the colony. TAU was never meant to be anything else than a tool, although a powerful one. Nobody in their right mind would consider TAU a sentient being, no matter how personalized, clever and aware it appears.

But TAU is a power tool gone wrong. The incredibly complex machine that handles your floatbed, regulates air flows, manages critical warning systems, creates human life and safeguards all knowledge is not working properly and nobody can find the flaw or flaws. Most colonists are used to living with and using a tool that might kill them.

It might seem a nice dream to take the machine out of the equation and rely on humans only, but it is not an option on Da Vinci. Everything has grown way too complex for man alone to handle.

Allround Specialists

Who does what to keep disaster at bay.

There are no traditional professions like technicians, scientists or workers in colony society. This might seem confusing, but compared to modern day people the colonists are fit for almost any task.

Every cell, every process in their body is configured to perform optimally. They have access to extremely sophisticated technology and learning facilities. They are all "born" with the equivalent of several university degrees and that is just to start out on.

Everybody can pretty much do what they want, given that they put down the time and effort. You want to know the details of fusion power, you go learn it. You want to know about nano-level brain surgery next, you go learn it.

However, not everybody does everything. Lack of time is often the factor in who does what, rather than lack of ability. People tend to specialize in something they like to do, like handling large-scale structural collapses, or tracking down virulent viruses, or acting as go-betweens when tempers flare, or researching blueprints for better sub-specified fiber optics.

You can get a formal certification in some areas, so people quickly can find an expert if needed. But everybody still has the basic package - how to do simple maintenance, first-aid, how to take a sample, how to recognize an accident waiting to happen.

A society divided between workers and thinkers wouldn't stand a chance on Da Vinci.

Every Man Is King

Who controls the society.

The colony has a fairly flat hierarchy with a very interchangeable top. The administrators rule all production and much of the trade flows, but a determined group stand a good chance of tipping the scales and taking over.

Real power is found in nepotism, in networks, in who knows who, and who can do what. There are no central bodies, no focused meetings, no formal ways of doing things. But a whole lot of unwritten rules, local habits and dangerous undercurrents in public opinion to navigate.

The anarchistic and sometimes chaotic democracy also means there are no authorities to automatically take care of things. While TAU builds and maintains critical life-support systems, almost everything else is up to people.

If nobody cares, things will not get done. Talking about it will not fix it. Petitions are considered a useless tool - you want stuff done, you go talk to people and convince them to help out.

Colonists are used to taking personal initiative and doing things themselves. If you see something you do not like, get some support and change it. If you get sick, find somebody who can assist you in finding a cure. If you want better equipment, make it or find somebody who can help you. If the outer hull shielding in your cluster is cracking up, you better take action before an accident occurs.

Crime & Law

When civilians are in charge of law enforcement.

Even in a society with no authorities and much personal freedom, there are limits and those who break them. Crime on Da Vinci often manifests itself as carelessness, cynicism and too much ambition, though the occasional violence or murder happens.

When you want a project to succeed, you might go easy on how you test things - or on who or what. If you really need those hardpoints to get your stuff in production, sabotage or blackmail may be the fastest way to remove your opponent.

Since there is no police, spotting and dealing with a crime is everybody's responsibility. Everything is solved through the claim system, where an anonymous group of randomly chosen jurors decide whether or not a given accusation might stick. Typical punishments focus more on stopping, repairing or preventing damages than actual revenge.

Village Life

How to live in a world where everybody knows everybody.

Living in the tower can be like living in a very small village, made small by augmented reality and computer eyes. Even though the tower stretches 3 kilometres towards the sky, you can never really get away from people.

There is no terra incognita, no next town to skip to if things get too hot. If you mess up, you have to live with it.

Being hooked up to databases all the time also means nobody is truly a stranger. Even though you may never meet most of the 240.000 people you share your recycled air with, you can always look them up in the database. If a complete stranger stops you for a favour, you can always find him or her again on the net.

That means networking comes naturally to most colonists. It always pays to do somebody a favour - after all, you might need one later and it's not like they are leaving town.

Downtime & Recreation

How to relax in a stressful environment.

Your typical colonist works like there is no tomorrow, but every now and then it's time to relax and dump some stress. Spending some time in the local garden, enjoying a prolonged stay in ones floatbed or doing a quick skin patch of soothing drugs are all popular choices.

But the steam bath is where most people go. Imagine soaking in nice, hot water while drug-laced steam lifts you up and keeps even the worst day at a wonderful distance.

Drugs play a growing - some say too large - part in colony recreation. But when you are strapped for time, it's a convenient choice.

Nature In The Jar

How to sustain human life under inhabitable conditions.

While the colony is still underway, nature has been suspended in many ways. The colony can choose to restore some or all of this, presumably when there is room and opportunity for it. However, that day seems farther and farther away, and some have begun arguing for reversals sooner.

The suspensions mean that colonists neither drink, nor eat, nor sleep as modern day people do. When toxic levels in the body attain annoying or problematic levels or when nutrition is needed, a colonist will return to their floatbed for a physical and mental recharge. There is no coordinated sleep cycles, giving the tower a feel of restless activity at all times of the day.

The colony has no children and no families as we know them. The ability to procreate has been put to sleep, along with the digestive systems. New colonists are speed-grown and speed-taught in floatbeds, which comes sliding out to deposit a young adult with impressive skills and knowledge in the world after just 2 years. As for family life most colonists feel the need of a basic social unit and join a ring. Rings are good for support, sharing mindsets and feeling less disconnected in a huge, milling society.

There are no old people either. Most colonists appear stuck somewhere between 18 and 45. This is due to the floatbed treatments, which keep aging damages in check. Humans have only been alive and awake on Da Vinci for 120 years, and virulent diseases or accidents are still the main cause of death.

The population is still split into men and women and cover many different shapes, sizes and skin colours. While more extreme physical changes or adaptations were discussed, the designers back on Earth strongly wanted to keep human diversity and appearance. A minority of colonists challenge this decision and want to investigate more fundamental changes to the human genome, in order to better fit Da Vinci.

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