A short story by Sha'Tara, local writer and friend.
[a short story—by Sha'Tara]
So, as I was saying, I crewed with Abraham, on the old WindSong, you know, and as luck would have it...
"Hey, wait a minute, did you say Abraham? I thought the Wandering Jew died when his ship's hull was breached by a meteor and the computers failed to sound the warning in time."
Well, obviously he hadn't yet eh? Can I get on with this? As I was saying, the Old Man called his commanders to his cabin one day, that is, those of us temporarily out of fugue, and he said, "You dogs listen, and listen good. I don't have a lot of time left, no matter how much fugue I take, and with rats like this crew to command, not much of that allowed me or I'll find my ship boosted and me shackled in the hole or looking at the stars without a face visor. Here's the deal, and it will explain why I felt the need to hire a pack of criminals like you for this trip. Our manifest states we are hauling arka-brite to the smelters on Ita. You know this. What you don't know is, we're going renegade. Are you hearing me?"
We all nodded silently, looking at the floor, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"What, no argument from you pirates? Fine. A couple of sleeps ago, I had a dream. There was an ancestor of mine with the same name I have. He too was a wanderer. Seems he was looking for his home and his god, so the dream said, spoke to him and promised him this home if he would do whatever he was told to do. Fugue dreams can get very detailed, and often very boring, since you can't get out of them. This one was interesting. This Abraham turned from his ways and began to follow the directions given him by his god and messengers, or angels or whatever you call them. We've seen enough of these in our travels, not a problem to accept this possibility is it? Good.
"What I found interesting is that my ancestor stopped questioning everything. He basically did as he was told and he had a pretty good and interesting life all around. Women, battles, hobnobbing with some king in a place they called "Egypt" or so it sounded. Then he had cattle that grazed on rolling green lands—I saw these in the dream—and he lived in tents that billowed in the wind. It's my understanding that the god wanted Abraham to have children who would inherit the world they were on at the time and didn't much care how those kids were "begotten" as the saying went, if you get my drift."
Old scar-face actually winked as he said that. Must've been a pretty exciting dream for him to demonstrate feelings! He continued:
"I couldn't make out whether these people had ships, but it seems they actually didn't. I know, sounds far-fetched but who knows the kinds of events that happen to worlds over time? In fact, if I understand the dream, they walked, yes, with their own legs, from place to place. They didn't even use exoskeletons. Gravity must've been pretty low to be able to do that. Didn't mention equipment either, so best guess, they were able to survive on it without suits. What else... oh, yes, in what I saw of it, this world had biological life all over it: things like live animals, plants, and open water, lots of open water in some places. I saw the sky: it was colored a light-blue. Now that makes for an interesting kind of world.
"Well, you rats, I have a mind to find that ancient world of my ancestors and if I can black-market our manifest to my smuggler friend Hino the Zealous for a half-decent payoff, we head out."
I remember then saying, "Uh, cap'n, apart from the fact that if we're arrested after high-jacking a load of arka-brite from Arka Corp we'll all hang so to speak, do you have coordinates for this planet of yours?"
"I will have. I intend to do exactly what my ancestor did. Not for nothing they sneeringly label me the Wandering Jew. I am Jewish, not that it means anything anymore, but it did in those times, apparently. My plan is simple: I intend to enter into fugue shortly and return to the dream. I intend to contact that god and get the coordinates from him. Since the planet was given to my ancestors, then it's also mine. Logical. If my people are already on it, then I'll retire there and you can have the old Windsong. Lots of parsecs left in her yet. We'll give her a facelift, change her name, registration, and off you'll go boys."
"Sorry to interrupt cap'n," our computer analyst and programmer Bryxt cut in, "but you intend to enter fugue while connected to a brain scan?"
And as you space dogs know, it's the only way to reconnect to the dream sequence, and totally illegal because in most cases, it induces what has come to be known as "gap" sickness, an incurable condition of acute paranoia caused by jumps.
"That's what I mean to do, damn space admin's rules or the consequences. If I come out addled, the ship is yours that much sooner, so what's the worry? Toss my body out and we'll be square."
So, to make a long story short, the cap'n entered fugue connected; came out apparently sane and sound with a smile on his scarred leathery face that spread from ear to ear.
"All right you useless worms, contact Hino. The coordinates are in the computer. As soon as we're cleaned-out and paid, we head out. A little adventure, that's what a man needs at the end of his journey. Space can get so damned boring at times."
We sold our cargo to the smugglers and entered worm hole TF-068 using a pirated ship's signature from one of the smuggler's barges and after some unexpected and bone-jarring jolting came out among the weirdest groupings of solar bodies I'd ever seen. Our computations had wiped out in the boost—hell, old WindSong was never meant for that kind of torture: she was a freighter, for Ajax sake! Of course we should have realized our cap'n had lost it when he gave us his plan, but you know, the captain is the man and if you want to survive space, there is but one rule: do what the man says once you've had your say.
We scoured that area with what was left of the ship's computers working, found nothing, nothing at all. We were years looking, scanning, probing, sending surface craft to promising worlds until enough didn't come back we couldn't risk that anymore. We used up all our surface probes, most of which never responded. Those that did only increased our despair. This system we had tumbled into refused to make the least allowances for human life.
Sanity was the first and greatest victim in our situation. We argued and fought with what little energy we had left. Most wanted to mass-launch the last jumpers and sling-boost equipment or crash land WindSong even to take their chances upon a particular world that seemed quasi-adequate for human survival. Radioactivity was high but they argued they could beat it. Anything to get off what had become our prison on dying WindSong. Anything to get away from the totally mad Wandering Jew who now spent his days hooked up to the brain scan that didn't work, trying to recall his stupid dream. When he disconnected to walk among us, he had tears in his eyes, but they weren't for us, for having stranded us. He didn't see us, or hear us either. His tears were for his damnable dream. He began to talk to his ancestor's god out loud and we shuddered, giving him wide berth whenever we heard him pleading, demanding, cursing, sighing. Off the chart, he was, poor bastard. We even felt sorry enough for him not to boost him out the air-lock.
From a healthy and happy crew of 68 men, we were whittled down to 31 emaciated ghosts wandering through the ship's corridors when the damned angels appeared.
"So that's how you got back?"
That's what's so sick about the whole thing. I woke up here, right here, in this pub. Alone. No crew, no ship, nothing to my name, just old memories."
"What did space admin have to say about your story, man?"
Just a story, home boy. Bar tender, did that earn me another round before I return to the Heritage II?
"You from the Heritage? Hell's bells, I should've known! We've been had good, he's one of those story tellers. "
And all of you so sure you could spot a storyteller, eh? And also a shape-shifter, friends. That old man you made your little bets with before I joined your group was none other than myself and it's time to pay up. Better luck next time boys.
I could have been anything. I came out of the Academy with top ratings, family money, prospects, offers, the works. Space is infinite. The number of ships that move through this one universe alone would be considered infinite. Possibilities endless. But despite the less than glamorous conditions of spacing around from galaxy to galaxy as a story-teller, you can't beat it. It's not only that we exist as double-agents, spying for corporations or this and that tin pot dictator, emperor searching for traitors, princes hunting for concubines and wives belonging to opponents; even indulging in sleuthing on the side—you know, to relieve the boredom between gigs—but there are other compensations. I even had me a date with a blue Andromedan beauty last time through there and it didn't cost me anything but a little story I made up on the spot. It would have been worth it just to watch her purple eyes dilate and hear that universally renowned laughter. I might tell you about that sometimes, but not this trip. My feelings are still too closely associated with it, especially the part where I was caught with her "in fragrante delicto" and trying to explain to the genoba that I had imbibed a bit too much Andy beer and was under the delusion she was an Andy goddess I had come to propitiate. He almost bought it... almost.
Anyway, next time is next time. I have to board now, before my pub acquaintances discover the old man I claimed to have shape-shifted into was an old wino I found outside the bar and bought for a bottle of cheap rot-gut. So, I live my life on the edge. Why not? I'm young, not even 150 years old, with a whole life ahead of me begging for adventure.
(Genoba, for those of you not familiar with Andromedan lexicon: owner of a very, very, high class Andy brothel, the kind that unless you're royalty, or a member of the Family, you want to be sure to stay out of.)