Observe, maybe; understand what was going on, absolutely not.
He wasn’t capable of much, not these days. He had put his affairs in order. The house was leased to a well-respected rental management firm. His sport hover car had been carefully boxed and stored. He had made arrangements for things he thought he’d need in this strange after-life shipped to the Aquillion, but left the particulars to the movers.
As instructed, he’d arrived at the appointed location planetside to join the Pelands for a shuttle ride to the Fabricon space jet manufacturing facility.
He’d stood on the spots where he was told to stand and sat in the places where he was told to sit. And now he pretended to observe while his brain languished in its lugubrious state.
“Seat belts fastened, please,” chirped Peland’s wife, Mrayan, the stunning Areban Kabelian mixed breed lady. She was thrilled, like a child with a new toy. Her brand new space jet, a gift from her husband. She was pilot. She seemed to know what she was doing, confidently giving instructions to Captain Peland who obeyed her orders and responded with official sounding replies.
The other crew member in the cockpit, Fabrican Industries’ chatty, cheerful navigator, sat behind Peland’s wife, handling navigation. Not that this trip would require much navigating. They were scheduled to make only a short jump to the Aquillion, the Pelands’ brand new space ship, parked somewhere out there, not far away in astronomical terms.
The Fabricon navigator, Pheeto Oppel, would also navigate during the journey to Celi where he would board another star vessel due for a refitting and guide it back to Ephon. Apparently, that’s what he did, hopped back and forth from this place and that navigating vessels Fabricon had either sold or contracted to refit.
“This will be my twentieth trip,” a cheerful Pheeto told Ferred, as if being the twentieth trip awarded him a prize.
Twenty trips, each about two years in length (from a planetside point of view), but only a fraction of that time for Pheeto. He'd been gone from his home on Celi for forty years, Celian Standard Time, yet he looked hardly a day over eighteen! At this rate, the man would never age! "Born at the dawn of the age of the gravitational drive," he'd explained, "Jumped into the navigator’s field with the very first graduating class trained to handle this new mode of space flight. Haven't looked back."
If he’d stayed planetside, he'd be older than me, Ferred realized.
The peculiar sensation spacers faced at one time or another dubbed “time psychosis” nibbled at his mind. The man was born years before me, but I’m his senior in age. The concept wasn’t new to Ferred the astronomer, but facing it in living color, breathing and speaking was. He hadn't been prepared for the visceral punch time psychosis could give. Ferred swallowed and distracted himself with a different trail of thought.
Celi was the place for pioneers, for people longing to be free and who didn’t mind adopting the Celian way of life. It was on Celi where the famed Kabelian, Candan Rubeek had done his seminal work inventing the gravitational drive to start with. Now that man, he would be a hundred years old if he never traveled in space.
Celi had, after all, provided the greatest leaps in Somainain science, technology, art and literature in the history of the universe, so why not meld to it? Because it’s not all good, Ferred thought, in a stereotypical, conservative Ephonian way. He grimaced. You're heading right for Celi, directly to Navigator's school. Retaining the good from your previous incarnation when you take on a new one is a real trick. He scowled. I cast off the best of my first incarnation long before this, my third remake.
Pheeto pointed at his screen and explained something he saw there, but Ferred didn’t hear a word. He eyed Pheeto with a scientist's hard gleam and not a little envy. Just look at him, confident, young and able. Those Celians. Embracing the future with enthusiasm. Disgustingly optimistic.
Ferred stared out the window at the launching bay where Fabricon employees and their robot assistants prepared the Criche for launch. Through a great, man-made diamond window, he could see other new jets waiting in queue. Each one acrawl with workers adding finishing touches.
On the other hand, he left no one behind who cared whether he existed. Would it make any difference if he stayed young while his relatives and peers aged? Not one whit. Those days, when his existence mattered to someone, were gone. He had not only burned his bridges, he'd blown up the abutments and the foundations.
Cheerfully, Pheeton went on talking, “I’ve only spent three years planetside since taking this job and that in training on Ephon." He shrugged. "Took some time off while I was there to experience the natural world for a week or so." He added in sign language, "(But mostly I’m a spacer and I like it that way. If I ever meet a lady, well, then we’ll see.)” He grinned like the young fool he so obviously was and focused again on his operation panel.
Spacers: They might never age, but they might never mature either, Ferred decided.
While time passed, the space jet, cockpit control panel became brighter and brighter with blinking lights, luminous dials, illuminated gauges and diode computer screens that flashed recognizable symbols that amounted to gibberish in their totality for Ferred. The space buzzed with computer clicking and whirring, buzzing and other soft, mechanical noise.
Mrs. Captain Peland, what should he call her? She’d said he should call her Mrayan, but such informality was not acceptable. Two captain Pelands was confusing. Captain Peland Number One and Captain Peland Number Two? Ludicrous.
Whatever her title, she was Pilot. Mrayan Peland pushed the stick forward and the engines came to life. Power surged under his feet and vibrated through the jet’s frame rattling his bones. Fear attacked and with it a rush of nausea.You're leaving Ehpon for good!
Was this the right decision?
Would he regret it for the rest of his life?
Nothing would ever be the same again!
His jowls felt loose and the organs within his ribs strained their moorings, but before he could cry out, “Let me out of here, let me go home,” the jet leapt into space and it was too late.
|NASA photo: Shadow of the Dark Rift|
O Eternal, where are You?
Stars spread in the blackness. He glimpsed the glowing albumen of Ephon before the jet swerved away and the Aquillion dominated the view, a single mercury glass ornament hanging in the black distance surrounded by tiny sparks of light.