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The Plague of Plagues Incident

by Jeremiah Tolbert

In the early years, the passengers of the generation starship Open Waters had nothing but time on their hands. The ships systems were self-sufficient and fully functional. Traveling at two percent the speed of light, they were not arriving at their destination any time soon. The complete tools and knowledge of mankind were at their disposal, as well as all the works of art. Every film, every album, and every book had been uploaded to the ship’s network. But those things had no meaning or relevance for those born on the ship. Perhaps it was inevitable that they would make their own entertainment. The Designers had failed to take into account just how dangerous boredom could be.

It began with the Gen-4 in their biotech class. They were assigned the task of creating the genome of custom bacteria. They did their homework, but something about the work sparked a sadistic streak of creativity in some. Those children spent their free time making their creations fight one another for dominance of a Petri dish. Gen-2 and Gen-3 turned a blind eye to the games. Then one of the more precocious children discovered retroviruses and the plague fights began.

The viruses were impressively creative but mostly harmless. One plague turned girls, and only girls, bright pink. Another caused the infected to lose all their hair. One particularly popular virus mimicked the effects of Tourettes Syndrome. Each day, something new popped up in the ship’s populace and spread from family clade to family clade. Gen-4 found the plagues hilarious. The bald, sometimes pink, and uncontrollably swearing adults failed to see the humor in the outbreaks.

Gen-2 launched a crackdown. Sequencers were locked up. The genetics database was password protected and access only given to Gen-2 and Gen-3 adults. Agar became a controlled substance, harder to find than a bottle of whiskey from the ship’s stills. Possession of a petri dish was punishable by four weeks hard labor in the fertilizer plant.

The ship’s medical team created vaccines against the most embarrassing infections, and with time, the plague fights were forgotten. Forgotten, that is, until curious Gen-12 children found mentions of the debacle in the archives and decided to start their own plague fights. This time, things were not nearly so harmless…

--From Open Waters: A History of the Grand Failure by Mark Claude Tobin Speers-Grubin IX.

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