The story is set in the Universe of the sci-fi computer game Frontier: Elite II. It's not important to know the details of the game to understand this short story. The only thing you need to know is that there are three cultural-political power blocs which shape the minds of the people that inhabit them: The Federation, which is a bureacratic culture like the USSR in which mental slavery exists; The Empire, which is an Imperial system like Rome, in which physical slavery exists; Independent Systems, which are a mish-mash of cultures like 19th century USA, in which a tentative freedom exists.]
Location: Hooper's Town, planet Homeland, the Beta Hydri system (of the Federation).
Date: October 3211
"Gio, I've told you already, you don’t have to keep calling captain all the time. We don't follow protocol down to the nth degree on this ship.”
"Okay then. Whatever you say.. 'boss'." The soft-skinned, smooth-shaven Gio grinned inanely at his own lame joke then got up out of his swivel chair and left the bridge. The pneumatic door closed behind him.
"Hrolf, tell me again why I hired that kid.”
Hrolf answered in his thick Australian accent "Err, 'cause your last second technician fell in love with a hulking great barmaid back in New Dobson, Tau Ceti, and did a runner on us.”
Luther felt a pang of recollection "Oh yeah.”
"Or did ya mean the one before that?”
"You mean Eric? Nah, I'd forgotten about him. Poor guy. We told him not to go playing no-limit poker with Imperial Guard grunts. He wouldn't listen though. Damned shame. He was a good engineer.”
"Yeah yeah, right, good engineer. So, uh, why you askin' about the kid for? Is he startin' to get on ya nerves a bit mate?”
"I hope it’s just a short term issue, something that he grows out of. The sarcasm I mean. That kind of humour can be fine in small amounts, but constantly, it becomes almost insufferable. Weininger said that satire is intolerable to the company of men. I'm starting to understand what he meant. Sarcasm and satire both have strong elements of mockery in them. And who wants to work and live with someone that does nothing but take pot shots at you, all the time. Look, if his attitude doesn’t change then I'll have to consider letting him go. I just hope it doesn’t come to that, seeing as we only hired him a fortnight ago.”
Luther punched at some buttons on the computer console in front of him, trying to think of something positive to end on.
"In the mean time, however, let's keep focused on this next job. Perhaps when we've finished this years tour, see what we can do with Gio in the way of mentoring. Visit some, er, what would you call them, 'iniquitous Indy systems' and teach him the facts of life that the Fed opted not to.”
Hrolf nodded understandingly. "Sure thing Luth'. Iniquitous systems ya say?" He shook his large, red-bearded, head and frowned mock-disapprovingly. "Such a low sounding word for such a sweet soundin' place. “
He began to sing a little ditty.
#Oh sweet smellin' Miss Iniquity.
#She gets me so hard,
#fro' my head to my dong;
#Then keeps me bangin' her all night long.
'Rah-hahaha' he bellowed out loudly.
The three man crew of the 200 ton Transporter-type interstellar ship were currently planetside at Hooper's Town starport, planet Homeland, in the Beta Hydri system waiting for a cargo truck to arrive with crates of the latest crop of Decadantium beans. The bitter-sweet tasting beans were destined for the nearby Delta Pavonis system, where they would command a high price, more so for the freshest beans of the most recent harvest. It was much like the 'Tea Races' of 18th century Earth when sea-ships would wait in the harbour of Bombay, Calcutta, Columbo or wherever, fill their holds with chests of tea leaves, and then sail to London as quickly as possible, hoping to make it back and sell their goods to tea houses at the highest price possible. Both Beta Hydri and Delta Pavonis were systems that belonged to the Federation which meant, from an interstellar traders point of view, that doing business there was less hazardous than doing business in corporate governed systems, because the Federation military and police forces ensured that the number of pirate space-ships were kept to a minimum. Fewer pirates and less risk was one of the reasons that Luther, the captain and owner of the Transporter, chose to fly the tedious route hauling beans and other agricultural products week after week, over the higher-risk but more financially rewarding corporate run systems.
Working in Fed systems had downsides though: you had to deal with Federation citizens. Federation citizens that seemed to have attributes, character traits, from Orwell's 1984: an English class system, a large smattering of self-righteousness, and a preference for 'letter of the law' over 'spirit of the law'. This made dealing with them on a day-to-day basis tiring and grating. Conversations were considered to be a game of one-upmanship and proving the other person wrong. It was like they were religious zealots unaware that they were trying to convert other people, whilst themselves remaining oblivious to the possibility of them being in the wrong. Trying to convince them of their errant ways by means of reason was nigh on impossible. The only way you could was by using status: either appeals to authority, shaming of their beliefs, etc.
Unfortunately for Luther and Hrolf, it was one of these types of people that they had to employ as the ships third crewman to replace their last astro-navigations officer that had 'done a runner' with a buxom barmaid. They had hired Giovanni from one of the local merchant spaceman recruitment agencies on a standard two year contract. He was a young man, in his twenties, but seemed to have the personality of a teenager, which was a common trait in many Federation citizens: arrested development due to smothering attention and overprotection at home, school and society in general in the risk averse Federation. It first showed during the interview that Luther gave him when he made a remark about going on a 'fantabulous staycation' recently. Unremarkable in itself, other than as a warning light that he was infected with Federation memes. Federation citizens have a fetish for abbreviations and amalgamations of words, as well as using foreign words over their native tongue. Hence 'for your information' would become FYI, and a 'stay at home vacation' would become staycation, and they would call a Tidal Wave a Tsunami. All completely superfluous, but nevertheless tickled their intellectual vanity enough to make them feel clever. The sin of pride some Unreformed Christians might call it.
It was this kind of attitude that Luther and Hrolf hoped to remedy during Gio’s time with them. Perhaps if he spent some time in the 'real world' rather then the Federation idea of the real world then he may mature as a human being and grow into something greater; less of a specious human being and more of a genuinely decent one. A hard task for two men completely unskilled in the ways of education; but something they would try none the less. If not for Giovanni’s betterment, then for their own sanity. Two years with a Fed citizen in a confined environment is enough to drive anyone spare, especially for a free spirited man such as Hrolf who drunk as hard as he fought, and fought as hard as he worked, and worked as hard as he laughed. Luther had been born and raised on a small Federation colony in the Ross 154 system, so had some experience with the Fed' mindset through the administrators there, but still tried to avoid them as often as he could.
* * * * *
Mid afternoon, the freight truck with their cargo of Decadantium beans had arrived, so Hrolf set to work loading the crates into the cargo hold. He finished manually loading the last of the bulky crates into the ships cargo hold after the auto loader suffered a malfunction. The awkward handling of the crates had caused him to strain a mucle in his right arm. He closed up the ships cargo bay door, pushed the broken down auto loader back to starport hanger, and then returned to the Transporters bridge cursing the broken down autoloader and massaging the afflicted muscle.
"Why don't they grow the damned beans in their own back yard? It's got to be cheaper that way, rather than spending 52 creds for every ton they transport? As much as I earn in a month I might add." He lamented to Luther.
"That's because you get a decent commission unlike most other merchant spacemen.." Luther replied.
"Yeah yeah." He grumbled.
"Anyway, they have done. A large agribusiness company own a couple of hundred hectares of greenhouse-plantations built on the outskirts of
. It just takes time for the bushes to reach maturity and start yielding fruit. About two standard years as far as I recall." York City
"Great! So you mean we've only got to fly this route for another couple of seasons?"
"And then find another line of work."
"Oh yeah! Right, of course! Well, you know what they say, growth is painful, and economic growth has it's victims.'”
He shook his head in disbelief. "That's fine for you. You can always go back to your brothers mine in Alioth. I've got a ship to run; which means bills, taxes and insurance. What am I supposed to do?"
"That's the old traders conundrum ain't it bro? You're existence is based on the exchange of goods from one place to another. If no one wants any goods transported, that makes you surplus to requirements."
"The only way to ensure your survival is to make sure that people are always in want of something, always in a state of wantonness, and then make sure that you are the only one that can supply it. Thatta way they're completely dependent on you to fulfil their desires for the rest of their lives, meaning that you have a job for as long as they're alive."
"That sounds pretty mercenary to me."
"The life of a merchant is almost the same as the life of a mercenary. Both are involved in selling something, goods or services, to the highest bidder. And the only thing they value is money. But that's beside the point. You've got to get people dependent on you if you want to be a trader for life. Get rid of your moral compass, if you've still got one. You've done some slave trading in the past if I remember rightly."
"That was for a genuinely noble aristocrat from the Achenar Empire who I met a few years back. He was part of a guild that made sure that the only slaves they owned 'wanted' to be slaves, and ensured that they were all very well treated. physically and psychically. They allowed no-one to be coerced or born into slavery. There was nothing degrading about it at all. I have no problem with slave ownership so long as the agreement between slave and master is mutual and not made under any kind of duress."
“Mentally. Greek psyche equals Latin mentum.”
"Oh, right. Anyway, like I said, if you want to be a trader, then you've got to make sure you have no morals or believe in nothing except your own continued existence. If you don't then you run the risk of becoming redundant, superfluous, unwanted, unnecessary, or however you wanna phrase it."
"If you're so down on merchants then why are you working on a merchant ship?"
"I ain't down on merchants Luth. They provide an essential part of the economic system. Like the communications part of the economy, or the nervous system or blood cells in yur body. They carry vital things, be they material or immaterial, from one place to another. They're a means to an end, and an end in themselves. But they don't rule supreme. They don't have hegemony. Nor can they. They're just one part of the cycle. If they ruled supreme, then the whole cycle would go to pot."
"Because transporters carry things, but they don't make things or consume things. If you've got no one to make anything, then there's nothing for the transporters to carry in the first place, and if you've got no consumers, then there's no one to take the goods to, and no reason to either. It's just one big cycle that merchants play a role in."
"If it's one big cycle that goes from producer to transporter to consumer, then doesn't that mean that the producer and the consumer are ultimately the same thing, seeing how cycles always start and end at the same point?"
"Erm, you've got me stumped there mate."
"Um, so if we phrased this in abstract terms, we could say that the producer was 'A' and the consumer was 'Not-A'. Because the nature of the producer is the complete opposite of the consumer. And then if we assume that the producer and the consumer are one and the same, because they are the start and end point of the same cycle, then the two of them would actually occupy the same space and time. So we would combine them and then the result would be, err, what would it be.. nothing, zero. I suppose like combining minus one and plus one."
"..or a proton and an anti-proton, or matter and anti-matter."
There was a pregnant pause.
"I need a drink."
"Great(!) I'm a transporter who is stuck between a producer and a consumer, which may in reality be the same thing, and thus nothing at all."
"Make that a double."
"No, no more 'what ifs'. Let me get a drink first."
"Self administered psychoactives sounds like a good idea. Booze or coffee? Depressants or stimulants?"
"Booze, and plenty of it. And let me guess, you'll be drinking simulating coffee like there's no tomorrow."
"Yes I will; and technically if we applied the label 'Not-A' to the past and 'A' to the future and combined them both, then there would be no tomorrow. Nor any yesterday for that. Which means only the present would exist. Unless of course we..."
"Oh God! No more existential dilemmas until I'm well and truly tanked up."
* * * * *
The Transporter blasted off from the concrete landing pad of Hooper city starport and headed away from the planet into near space. Once the ship was about eighty kilometres from the planets surface Luther, who was on the bridge, put the ship into a stable orbit and told Gio to check the astronavigation telemetric before they made the hyperspace jump from Beta Hydri to Delta Pavonis. Looking through the windshield, Luther saw a run-of-the-mill Coriolis space station orbiting the planet - a kilometre wide station containing both cargo and people. It had a number of large 7,500 ton Lynx container ships and assorted small craft flying around it, probably picking up cargo from the space station. Luther squinted at the smaller ships, unable to identify them at first glance. He loaded up a spacecraft recognition computer program on his console, captured an image of one of the ships and compared it to the ships in the programs database.
"What up Luth? Ready to prime the hyperdrive yet?" asked Hrolf who had just walked in.
"Just a moment. I'm just seeing what those ships are over there. I don't recognise any of them.”
"Which ones are you on about?”
"Over by that Lynx Bulk Carrier, starboard, about thirty degrees.”
"Two o' clock.." He muttered to himself as he peered out of the windshield "Oh those, they look like Sakers to me mate.”
He looked up from the computer console at Hrolf "Sakers? Never heard of them. Where are they from?”
"Up North. The Alioth system. If they're here with a Lynx then they probably belong to Mic Turner or some of Alioth authorities.”
"Mic Turner? A big time businessman, traveller, coloniser and more. He's probably on another mission to try and secure greater independence for the system. The guy's been down here a few other times to speak to the Feds about getting tax breaks. Ya know, less desk jockeys, red tape, and the like. He wants to make it easier for men like him and other entrepreneurs to do business up there. I'm surprised you haven’t heard about him, or seen the Sakers for that matter. They've been on the market for, what, about ten years now.”
"Yeah? Alioth you say? Well that explains it then. I haven't been further North than Eta Cassaeopia for a long long time. Which probably explains why I haven't heard of the guy, or the ships for that matter. They look too small to be used on their own by traders or armed escorts, so you wouldn’t expect the average small time trader to own one. I guess that's why I haven't seen any of them before. Too small for me anyway. It'd be destroyed in a single missile strike.”
"Didn't you used to own an Eagle? 'bought the same size as a Saker isn't it?”
"Indeed I did. About ten years ago. And that's why I traded it in as soon as I could afford a large ship. It's too small. More like a death trap unless you are lucky enough fly as part of a large group, like in a convoy. If you are travelling on your own and run into any trouble, either pirates, asteroid fields or suffer drive failure, then its pretty much game over. Too much risk for my liking.”
"Nothing like this big ol' Transporter then? Safe as houses ay?”
"Exactly. If anything goes wrong whilst in this ship, then at least we've got enough supplies, back up systems and the like to get us to somewhere safe.”
"You reckon it's good enough to help you in a Robinson Crusoe type scenario do ya? Well, in that case computer systems and life support aren't yur only concern.”
"Yeah, well there's also the crew mate. Group psychology and all. Just cause you've got enough air, water, warmth and food to last three odd years, don't mean that ya gonna survive that long. Ya end up goin’ stir crazy just bein’ cooped up in a small area with the same people all the time. The ol' timers call it cabin fever ya know?”
"The ol' timers didn't have dreamware.”
"We might have it now, but it could be one of the systems that breaks down on ya when ya need it the most.”
"True. I hadn't considered that. We don’t have anything in the way of back up Dreamware systems or anything else to put you into hibernation; should anything go wrong of course.”
"In which case you wouldn't be any better off than if you were adrift in a Saker would ya?”
"I guess not. If you look at it that way, then it wouldn’t make much difference whether you were stranded in a large ship like this Transporter, or a small one like one of those Sakers.”
"Attitude, knowledge, resources."
"Attitude, knowledge, resources."
"Yep, and in that order. That's your priority list for a survival situation. Without a positive attitude, you ain't getting’ no where. You'll get discouraged, get depressed and have no motivation. Without basic survival and technical knowledge, you've no chance of building or repairing the equipment you need to survive long enough to get you home. Without resources, you've got nothing to build the equipment with to help you survive and get home. Attitude, knowledge, resources, that’s all you need to know.”
"Right. So it's better to have a large ship like this with more usable materials, resources, than a small one like a Saker?”
"You got it.”
"And better than a Saker because there’s more than one person, which means collectively we have more knowledge than if it were just me on my own.”
"But we're not doing as well as we could with regards to attitude.”
"That's what I'm driving at.”
"'Hmm' ain't gonna help us if the faeces ever hits the turbine.”
"Fine. I'll mull it over once we're in deep space.”
A few minutes later, Gio returned from engineering having made the final checks on the astro-telemetry systems, and took his place at the astronavigation console.
"No problems then I take it?"
"No boss, none at all. It's all 'A okay' and hunky-dory down there."
There was a brief pause.
"So then, Hrolf.." spoke Luther, "..are you all set for the next round of the Astroturf Interstellar Cup?
"Yep, sure am."
"Any idea which team are you going to watch this time? The Desert Sailors, the Dirt Devils or the Combusters?”
"It's gotta be
. With Beckenbauer and Cruyuff in the front line there's bound to be some quality goals scored. So long Hooper Town Harriers, hello York City Desert Sailors.” York City
"Oooh, hello sailor!” said Gio in the campest voice he could muster.
Hrolf cringed uncomfortably.
Luther pushed the button that initiated the jump into hyperspace. The ship was sucked into a tunnel of spiralling blue white light for what appeared to be only a few seconds by their time, but was a whole week in 'real' time. At the end of the pale blue tunnel appeared a large dark spot - regular space - and the Transporter passed through it into it one more. As the ship sped along in normal space for a short distance, the white blue exit cloud could be seen behind them.
"Gio, run an astronav' scan so we can find out bearings in this system and plot a course for the nearest starport.”
Hrolf turned his head and looked at Gio in bemusement, wondering if the kid had heard anything Luther had told him before they jumped about the preference for informality.
"Um, boss, I’ve run a scan to find out co ordinates, but the present starscape doesn't match the one for the Delta Pavonis charts.”
"What do you mean it doesn’t match? Are you saying were off course?”
"Yes, it would appear that way cap’n.”
"Run another scan to be sure, in case there was an error. Hrolf, start comparing the scan to other starcharts, to see if we’ve jumped into the wrong system.”
"If we had misjumped, wouldn't there be a warning from the central operating system?”
"Not on this old ship Gio. We haven’t even got an audio-interactive computer-interface it's so old.”
"Err, Luther.." Hrolf said in a tone of quiet foreboding. "..the kids right. We're way off from where we should be.”
"How far Hrolf?”
"I’ve run a basic parallax calculation on a couple of the big stars and...”
"Over a hundred light years, at least, westbound.”
Luther exhaled in mild shock.
"The scans nearly complete." Gio said "We're, we're.." His face turned white. "..in sector minus eleven by minus six.”
Luther took a deep breath, sat back in his chair and squinted to focus on some non-existent point in the distant beyond, trying to conjure up the options available to him.
"That's quite some misjump, and I've known some big-uns.” mentioned Hrolf. "That's four times our normal jump range."
"You got that right." said Luther.
"Don't we have enough fuel to get back?" Gio asked desperately.
"You know that we only have enough fuel left for one more jump." Hrolf added.
"But that means we can only travel 14 light years. That's not enough! What are we going to do?!" Gio implored.
After a moment of consideration, Luther spoke. "You two go to the engine room and check the drive out to see if there’s any damage to the spatial field displacer. Find out if we still have hyperspace capability. Also, check out the fuel cells and emergency back up generator. If were going to be in deep space for any period of time, well need to know how much power we have available to us. Finally, the life systems, recyclers and the rest. Its well known that drive failures on these old Transporters can overload the circuits of nearby systems. In the worst case scenario we've lost air and water recyclers. But we do have enough O2 and H20 supplies to last us for two standard years. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. While you're doing that I'll check the astro-navigation charts, and see where we can go to get some more fuel.”
"Right you are mate.“ replied Hrolf as he stood up out of his chair.
"Come on sunshine, let's get crackin'." he said to Gio.
Gio got up out of his chair and quietly followed Hrolf off of the bridge.
* * * * *
Fifteen minutes later the door to the bridge opened and Hrolf and Gio walked in. Luther was still stood over the astro-navigation console studying star charts. The two other men walked up to the console and looked at the monitor to see what was what.
Luther spoke "I've been over the astro charts, getting a close a fix on our coordinates as possible. As you've said the hyperdrive is still functioning, that gives us a few more options, and increases the odds in our favour. We don't have enough fuel to get to Faessla, the nearest most populous system, about fourteen light years away. We do at least have enough fuel to get us somewhere. Now, there are four systems that are within jump range."
He pushed a few buttons on the consoles control panel and brought up an image of the sector of space that they were, in viewed from above. It displayed the solar systems contained therein, there names and some basic astronomical data. He continued "Firstly, Inlaand. It has a few airless planets that could yield mining outposts. However the FIA Galactic Fact Book claims it has no registered inhabitants. Secondly, there's Ethvece. A sextuple star system with planets about five hundred Astronomical Units from the core. A few mining rigs there a decade or so ago, no idea if they're still there though. Thirdly Liatex, it may possibly be inhabited. It's identified as an anarchic system. In reality that could mean anything, mining colony, wasteland, pirate den, colonists, anything. Or finally there's Esssowa. It's got one planet with an oxygen based atmosphere about two fifty AUs from the core. Cold, eight degrees centigrade average. Zero point nine gee's of gravity. And a small population, less than ten thou'. Faessla's the nearest Fed' system, and it's just over fourteen light years from our current location. But as I said, we don't have enough fuel to get there via hyperspace."
Gio spoke up "What about travelling through deep space at sub light speed? We could keep hailing for assistance whilst we're travelling. Someone's bound to hear our signal."
"He's still a bit wet behind the ears this one." remarked Hrolf.
"I'll say." retorted Luther.
Gio continued "Listen, boss, I remember the Federation procedure regarding misjumps. You just keep on your steady course, and signal for help. The Federation will send assistance as soon as they can. They're always rescuing broken down ships in-between stars, in deep space. I studied a module back in college on deep space rescue. There was one case study on the recovery of four Lynx carriers that had misjumped between Sol and Tau Ceti. The Deep Space Rescue and Recovery Agency were at the scene within a week. All the crew and cargo were recovered and taken to Tau Ceti without incident. And more recently, in the news last month there was a story about how a..."
Hrolf interjected "Yeah yeah, we've heard it all before. There was a story about how a John Doe piloting an Lynx Carrier suffered an unfortunate misjump after getting his ship serviced at a non Fed' workshop. Then ends up getting rescued by the Fed' deep space rescue agency like knights in shining armour. The Lynx pilot tells reporters how he'll never get his ship repaired at non Fed systems again. Rah rah rah. Feds great. Everyone else bad. Like I said, you're wet behind the ears."
"But its true! How can you make it sound like they, they, just made the story up! What are you saying? They fabricated the story out of thing air, just for propaganda? Is that it? That this is one big conspiracy story. Hmm yeah, sure, like I believe that one(!)"
Hrolf continued "It's not that cut and dry. The Feds just highlight the stories that paint themselves in a positive light, and ignore the ones that don't. Then they twist that story so that it best suits their own agenda. That's why the news piece on that Lynx ship highlighted the 'appalling record' of the non-Federation workshop, rather than the fact that the ship was incredibly old and was almost guaranteed to misjump within a year, possibly less, regardless of where it was serviced. If the shipping company had replaced the hyperdrive rather than service it, then the story never would have made it to light. It was just bad luck that it happened after it got serviced at an indy workshop. Even if the ship had been repaired at a Fed' one, it probably would have failed anyway. Its just simple facts like that that the Fed news wilfully fails to report. If you want to blame anyone, blame the shipping company for negligence. That's what I say."
"So what about the incredible history of deep space recoveries by the Feds over the years? I suppose that was concocted for the benefit of the Feds then? Are you telling me that all those lives weren’t really saved? That they were actors hired for the sake of the cameras and that the real crews are still out adrift out there?”
"No not at all. It's more than likely that large ships have been saved over the years, and the Feds should be applauded for it. Rightly so. But large ships are all they focus on. High value ships like Lynx's that belong to big shipping companies that are essential for the Federal authorities. The smaller ships, and smaller shipping companies, like ours, don't mean squat to the Feds unless they have important cargo on board. That's why you never hear stories small time traders being rescued. Or the real corker about how 'X' thousand small time traders have gone missing over the years in deep space. It just wouldn't paint the Feds in a good light.”
"This is rubbish! Boss, do you believe any of this nonsense about Federation News being a load of propaganda?”
"Don't drag me into this. I'm just trying to figure out a way of keeping us alive. Fed' propaganda is the least of my concerns.”
"When you get to my age kiddo, and you've lost as many friends as I have to misjumps, then you'll understand who the Feds really care about.”
"Maybe they weren't really misjumps." Gio replied in a snarky tone. "Maybe they just couldn’t stand your appalling personal habits and ungenial manner any longer and only 'appeared' to misjump to get away from you. Did you ever think of that? Did you? Maybe they just upped and left you on your lonesome, like your last four girlfriends.”
"That's enough Gio.” Luther said firmly.
"Or perhaps they abandoned you like your parents did when you...”
"I said, that's enough.”
Hrolf eyed Gio and shook his head while cursing under his breath.
There was uncomfortable silence.
Luther broke the ice. "Pass me that coffee Gio.”
Gio complied, picked up the coffee and handed it to Luther. "So erm. What are our odds boss? I mean, of getting back to civilisation alive, in one piece?”
"The truth of it? I don’t know. If you want me to hazard a guess, I'd say seventy thirty in our favour. It all depends on how much fuel we can buy, barter or steal from this system.”
"Where's that?" chimed Hrolf "Oh, the Esssowa system. Never heard of it. Mind you, I've never been down in this neck of the woods before. What do the guides say?”
"The Imperial Achenar, Lonely Galaxy and Nichelin guides paint a favourable picture of the system. One of the planets has an O2 based atmosphere, unlike the other nearby systems which are all barren. However there are no starports and it only has a small population of a few thousand, which could make finding a settlement with hydrogen fuel tricky. The Imp' guide doesn't mention much, other than the fact that they raise thoroughbred slaves, fit for plantation work.”
"There are Slave traders there! Oh that's just great! And you give us odds of seventy percent! That's it, we're done for. We're gonna be captured and sold on the slave market. I don't believe this!”
Luther continued reading the guides, taking little notice of Gio’s anxious tone. "I doubt it. We're traders with credits and a cargo hold full of goods. They're slave breeders with a product to sell. It'd be bad business practise to shoot your own customers and enslave them.”
"Really(!) You think so?!" Gio continued in a sarcastic tone, with both of his eyebrows raised. "They'll just leave us alone will they?! Well I don't know about you Hrolf, but that’s certainly assuaged my concerns(!)”
"Knock it off kiddo." piped Hrolf, who was getting miffed with the guys attitude. "We're making the best of a bad situation here right? In all probability he's right about the slavers. Why would they want to shoot a potential customer when they could sell him a bunch of slaves and establish a long term trading partnership?”
"Yeah sure! 'Course they'll leave us alone! With slavers around, that that Empire recommends, sure we'll survive! I guess you think all the Federal news about slave camps is just some wacko conspiracy nonsense too right?! About how plantation owners lobotomize all the slaves so they’ll be more...”
"Oh shut the Fuck up Gio! Tell you what, why don’t you go and write out your last will and testament informing all and sundry about the reckless behaviour of us Indy traders, and how you, the respectable Fed spaceman, tried to warn us of imminent danger. But we, the pigheaded and foolhardy, ignored your utterances of wisdom. Then you can laugh at us from beyond the grave, telling us forever more 'I told you so; I told you we should have followed Federation protocol', while we stand outside the pearly white gates waiting for judgement day."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll do that!”
"Go on then. Fuck off.”
Gio turned on his heal and left the ships bridge.
The door closed behind him.
"Fuckin’ prick.” Hrolf muttered.
Luther continued pressing the touch screen monitor. "Was all that really necessary?”
"Oh, for fucks sake. Not you as well Luth'. He was gettin' on my fuckin’ wick. Swear to God he was. It was like that down in the engine room. Non stop it was.
Yap yap yap. Bitch bitch bitch. There's only so much of that shit that I can take.”
"He's just worried about the slavers. That's all. It's his first time this far from the Core. And his first uncontrolled misjump. He's bound to be on edge. Especially in this kind of scenario.”
"I guess. It's just that sarcasm. It bugs the hell out of me, ya know? None stop. Ever since we hired him.
Yap yap yap. Sarcasm this. Yap yap yap. Satire that. Yap yap yap. Oh, and fuckin' irony. If I hear one more jape about how ironic something is, I swear I'll cold cock him.”
"I hear ya. And I empathise. Too much of that shit pisses me off as well. And you've spent more time with him than I have. But just go easy on him. At least for the immediate future. I mean, after we've got fuel from Essowa and we're safe and sound in Faessla. We don’t need a quarrelsome crew at a time like this. When we've docked in Faessla, you can bitch all you want about his sense of humour.”
Hrolf leaned back on one of one of the walls, crossed his arms and looks through the front windshield absent mindedly for a minute.
After looking at the quiet immovable stars set in the emptiness of space for a few moments, he calmed down. "I'll, err, go and check the hyperdrive. Give it the once over and make sure it's running fine before we jump again. Ya' know, just to be on the safe side like.”
"Yeah, right, good thinking. We can't afford another misjump. Not now. Not with our fuel supplies as low as they are. If we did misjump, may be we'd end up having no option but to send an SOS to the Fed' Deep Space Recovery, and hope they bail us out.”
"Strewth no! I couldn't live that down. Could you imagine Gio? The japes he'd make with it? He'd have a field day with it I tell ya! A field day! 'Oh God', he'd say 'the irony of it! The irony! The scoffer gets saved by a ship he thought was just propaganda!'”
Luther chuckled quietly.
Hrolf left the room speaking out to no one in particular. "Oh the irony of it! The irony! Its sooo ironic!" Laughing bellously as he did so.
* * * * *
"I've already said the ship doesn't have a name Gio." replied Luther exasperatedly.
It was early evening standard time. They had made the jump to the Essowa system about three days ago, and had been travelling intrastellar since then. The journey to planet Irvin's Legacy would take another ten days; during which they hoped not to encounter any bands of pirates, as the Transporter was not particularly battle worthy. The three men were sat in front of their consoles on the main bridge performing routine checks on the ships systems and talking about nothing in particular. Gio had calmed down since his minor outburst the other day.
"Ya' know Luth," interjected Hrolf "that's always surprised me. All of the ship owners I've spoken to in the bar rooms always, always, name their ship. Isn't that what you traders and bounty hunter types do when you get a new ship? Get drunk, get some hot lookin' sheila to crack a bottle of booze over the ships hull and name it, then stumble off to the pub and get drunk some more?"
"Others, yes. Me, no. I can't name a ship like they do as it just feels clichéd, and it would feel fake. Like I would be naming it just because tradition dictates that I should. That's why I never named either of my other ships."
"If you were going to name it anything, then you could name it Hermes, he was the Greek god of transport. It'd be apt, seein' as this is a Transporter."
"I ain't Greek though, Hrolf; I'm a Northerner. Each race has it's own gods in accord with their own peculiarities, even though there may be similarities between them."
"Alright then, whoever his Northern counterpart is. Err, whatshisname again? Err, Hermod. Yeah that's the one. Hermod, son of Odin."
"I'll have to take your word for it. Besides, it still wouldn't feel right. I mean, I'm not well enough acquainted with any gods to name my ship after them."
"Fair enough mate."
Gio looked up from his console and chided "You are joking aren't you cap'n?! You don't 'really' believe in gods and faeries, santa claus and the easter bunny, do you?"
Both Luther and Hrolf turned to look at the kid, Hrolf with a raised eyebrow.
"Do you?" he said with an upward inflection. "You're being silly. Surely." Gio continued.
After a brief pause, Luther asked "Do you know what an ontological tree is Gio?"
"It's a map of the entirety of existence, both material and immaterial elements, expressed in abstract terms. With branches of the tree including various elements, including absolute and relative, space and time, single and multiple, and so forth."
"The genealogy of the gods would be very similar to an ontological tree."
Hrolf said "Yeah, ya see the only difference is that ontological trees are considered purely abstract, impersonal like; whereas the gods are considered to have personality, character, ya know, like human beings."
Gio didn't respond.
Hrolf continued "Besides which, Santa Claus is actually based on Odin, in his Oski character if I remember right?" He looked at Luther for clarification.
"No idea. You know more about the gods than I do."
"Well, me uncle used to work for Varangian Security Services..."
"The private security firm?" Luther asked.
"Yeah, that's it. And so he was encouraged to join one of the cults there.."
"A cult? Sounds a bit sinister!" said Gio.
Luther responded "It's just an abbreviation of the word culture. And a culture can be any group that get's together and shares a common set of beliefs."
Hrolf continued "Anyway, after he retired from the forces, he stayed at my house for a couple of months, and introduced me to some techniques for contacting the gods. Ya' know, like meditation, breathin', psychoactives, all that kinda thing."
Gio pulled a look of disbelief on his face like Hrolf was being a moron.
"It's just a figure of speech Gio mate. You don't really 'talk' to the gods verbally like we're doin' here. It's non verbal communication. You experience what they are communicating to you directly via emotions, or via images in your minds eye, or whatever."
Gio replied "Sounds more like you're just hallucinating to me, which means you're not 'really' seeing the gods. You just think you are."
Luther spoke up "You know that doctors can electrically stimulate certain parts of the brain so that the person really feels as though they are experiencing that sensation. Like tasting an apple for instance."
"Well just because you can create that sensation in the person's mind doesn't mean that the apple doesn't exist, or that apples don't exist does it?"
"I guess not."
Hrolf carried on the gist of the argument "Yeah, so it's like that with the gods. You use the meditating and psychoactives to communicate with them. Like if you pick up a telephone and speaking to someone on the other end. Just 'cause you only speak to the other person using the telephone don't mean that the other person doesn't exist. It's like that with drugs and the gods."
"Hmm." replied Gio: "It sounds rather convenient that the hallucinogenic drugs 'cause' you to 'communicate' with these so called 'gods'."
"We've already explained that gods are more like abstract concepts than childhood fairy stories." said Luther wearily.
"Yes, well, I think I'm still going to remain 'sceptical' on that matter."
Gio’s wrist chrono alarm went off..
"Ooh! Din-dins is ready! Must dash and get my 'coq au vin' and 'creme brulee'. Back in a jiffy!" He got up out of his chair left the other two men on the bridge and went to the recreation room to get his dinner out of the microwave oven.
"Sceptical my arse." Hrolf remarked with irritation once the door had closed behind Gio. "Sceptics doubt, they don't scoff. How can you reason with an attitude like that?"
"You can't. Not unless the other person is at least willing to admit the possibility that they're wrong. It's not worth wasting your time on. Whoever it was that said 'you must be infinitely patient with people' obviously never met someone like Gio. Their only concern is to win the argument, which means you need to lose the argument. And if winning is all they care about, then reason is only a hindrance to them."
"Is that something he's aware of: being unreasonable?"
"I doubt it. It's part of the Federation mentality, never doubting the mainstream view at all, and always contemptuous of alternate views and the people that espouse them."
"That's a bummer. It's gonna be harder for him to learn if he ain't even willing to try something new."
There was a brief pause. The turbines in the ventilation system hummed in the background and one of the computer consoles beeped.
"So what is creme brulee anyhow?" asked Hrolf.
"It's a desert. Creme and sugar. It's French. Creme means cream, and brulee means broiled.."
"Broiled as in grilled."
"So why ain't it called 'grilled cream' or 'cream with grilled sugar' then?"
Luther shrugged. "Probably something to do with snobbery and idolising foreign languages, whilst having a snooty attitude towards your own. You know how the Federation types can be."
"I'm slowly learnin' bro', slowly learnin'."
The two men returned their attention to their consoles and continued performing the routine checks on the ships systems.
* * * * *
The rest of the journey to Irvin's Legacy went without a hitch. The frontier system was seemingly devoid of pirates, or other space-faring traffic for that matter. Which was no big surprise as the system was so far away from the highly populated core systems.
The landing and refuelling also occurred without incident. The
starport traffic controllers were trained to galactic standards, and all communicated using typical 'radiospeak'. Luther, Hrolf and Gio got of the ship and walked to the Border Control office to speak with the officer on duty. After a brief Q & A session, he told them that they would need to depart by the end of the week, as they needed all of the landing pads and hangers free for a large convoy that was due to arrive soon. Bergen Town
Bergen town centre was almost empty of people. The buildings were low tech: ad hoc and improvised using whatever materials that the owners could find. It was the frontier after all. People had to make do with whatever materials they could lay their hands on. Improvisation and maximum utility were the order of the day. Freight containers were the most common sight. They were welded together in pairs or fours, with windows and doorway cut in the appropriate places. The doors themselves were recycled airlocks from space-ships. The airlocks provided an ideal method of keeping the cold air outside and the warm air inside. They protruded out of the building which made it look like a porch way. The interiors were probably furnished with whatever insulation they could find to keep out the harsh cold weather.
They trudged along in the snow until they came to a cross roads. One of the buildings on the corner had a sign out of the front: 'Dugall's Bar and Restaurant'.
Luther stop and nodded up at the sign. "Anyone else for lunch?"
"And a beer. Been a long long time since I've had a coupla brewskis." remarked Hrolf.
They walked up to the airlock, pushed the 'open' button and walked through it, the second door, and then into the bar.
It was a dingy place: a few old fluorescent strips lights on the ceiling provided a faint orange-yellow glow on the unpainted plaster walls, saw-dust was on the floor for beer spillages, a few spittoons by the counter, a small ventilation system replaced the stale air with fresh heated air from outside, and several booths along the walls for the customers to eat in. On a busy night it could probably hold about fifty to sixty people. But as it was mid-afternoon, there were only a dozen people in there.
Gio spoke quietly to no one in particular "I've been to a couple of Irish theme pubs before, but never an 'Alaskan' style theme pub before. Look at all the guys in their three quarter length jackets and woollen hats. How quaint(!)"
He eyed one particularly large man who was sat at the bar counter in front of a bottle of whisky and igniting a pipe. "Do you reckon that those are 'real' handguns he's got there? Is he trying to convince everyone that he's some sort of cowboy?
The grizzled man turned his large head round to look at Gio. His eyes were hard and full of potential menace.
"You got something to say boy?" he said in a low guttural voice. Gio’s eyes went wide like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights.
Luther remained standing where he was; neither moving forward to provoke any hostility in the man or his friends, nor back to show any lack of resolution. He spoke to them man in a steady voice. "You'll have to excuse my friend. He's still learnin' his manners."
The man eyed Luther for a couple of seconds, to determine how serious he was. Then grunted a 'hmm' in response, returned to face forward and carried on igniting his pipe.
The bar tender walked over to the group and asked what they wanted.
"What's the special of the day?" asked Hrolf.
"Niewe Frisian steak with corn fritters and gravy."
"I'll have a plate of that."
"Make that two." said Luther.
"Have you got any salmon steak fajitas?" enquired Gio.
Luther, the bar tender and Hrolf looked at him simultaneously slightly dumbfounded.
Hrolf said incredulously "Unbelievable."
Luther turned to the bar tender and said matter-of-factly "Make that three."
"Right. I'll bring 'em over to the booth over there."
"Great. And a pot of coffee and three cups."
"Err, only two mate. I'll have a pitcher of whatever beer you've got on tap."
"It's called Nysa. It's a fermented tree sap flavoured with local herbs."
"Sounds good to me."
"I'll bring the drinks over to you shortly. The food will be ready in about five minutes."
The three of them walked to one of the booths and took a seat. The bar tender bought their drinks over on a tray, placed them on the table then walked back to the kitchen. Luther poured himself and Gio a cup of coffee. Hrolf did likewise with his pitcher of beer.
"You know you gotta watch that mouth of yours Gio. It could get you into a whole heap of trouble one day." Hrolf said with a serious and earnest tone in his voice, as he whilst filling up his glass with amber-red coloured beer from the pitcher.
"What do you mean?" replied Gio who received the cup of coffee that Luther had just handed him.
"Makin' fun of that guy over there. Makin' it sound like he was dressin' up for some fuckin' kids fancy dress party." Hrolf said, putting the pitcher down on the table.
"But he's dressing up to create an image isn't he? To show off and make them think he's something that he's not. Why else would he wear those clothes and make himself look like a cowboy?"
"No, you see, that's just it. He ain't dressin' to create an image. He ain't dressin' to impress people, or show off. He's dressin' like that, 'cause that's who he is. He wears those clothes and has those guns 'cause that's who he is. By the looks of it he's a tough character that don't take shit from no-one."
"But why did he get so touchy about it then? Surely he wouldn't mind if someone didn't think much of his image."
"'Cause you're showin' him no respect that's why. You're lookin' down on him like he's a.. a.. a fuckin' fair ground attraction. A freak that you pay to go and point and laugh at. That ain't the way to think of people Gio. You've gotta respect 'em."
The front entrance to the bar opened. A quartet of stocky men wearing dirty fluorescent-orange water-proof trousers and jackets walked in. Fisherman from the local harbour just back after a stint out at sea filling up their cargo hold with catch from lobster pots. They took off their jackets and hung them on a coat rack on the wall by the side of the door, then walked up to the counter and spoke to the bar tender.
Hrolf continued "If you don't show 'em some respect, then you'll suffer for it sooner or later. It's for your own good Gio mate."
"Do you think that man would've actually shot me then if Luther hadn't said something?" he asked with a genuine tone in his voice.
"I dunno mate. I dunno. It's possible. He could've just given you a bloody nose instead though. Neither seems preferable to me."
Hrolf picked up his glass quaffed a mouthful of beer.
"I hope so mate. I hope so. 'Cause you wont last long in a place like this with an attitude like that towards people; that's for damned sure."
A few minutes passed. The fisherman were drinking and smoking quietly at the bar. The atmosphere was quiet. There wasn't much background noise, just the humming of electronic appliances, the sounds of meals being prepared in the kitchen, and the low murmuring sounds of men chatting on the other side of the bar.
Eventually the bar tender walked over with their meals and placed them on the table. They picked up the cutlery and started to eat.
* * * * *
In the late afternoon, the three of them went to one of the local slave markets. It was a public market, meaning anyone could go in to buy or sell their wares. It wasn't particularly large building, only three storeys high. The building was divided into three sections: a lobby area where the buyers and sellers would get together to discuss the business of the day and wait before the auction room opened; the main auction room, which was shaped like a nineteenth century surgeons theatre, cylindrical with three storeys - the ground floor where the slaves were paraded, and two viewing galleries above that where the bidders stood; and finally the slave pens where the merchandise was kept.
The men walked through the lobby area, picked up a couple of the brochures to see what merchandise, slaves, were being sold today, and then made their way up to the first floor viewing gallery. Perusing through the brochure, Luther looked at the order of the day, which slaves would be sold and at what time:
"So what can we expect to see Luth'?" queried Hrolf.
"They're about half way through the days sales. We've missed the unskilled labourers, domestic servants and personal security staff. We're just in time for the skilled labourers.."
"What types of skilled workers?" asked Gio.
"erm.. according to the brochure.. entertainers, academics, plantation workers, engineers and technical staff."
"Entertainers? You mean like court jesters, jugglers, dancers?" said Gio, who was genuinely puzzled.
"Slave girls mostly. This is the frontier remember." remarked Hrolf.
"What do you mean?"
"It's a frontier, and the frontier is full of men, and men like women." he replied in a monotone voice.
"Oh." Gio exclaimed in quiet surprise.
"Yeah, 'oh'." Hrolf said sarcastically.
"Yeah, 'oh'." Hrolf said sarcastically.
Luther looked at Gio. "It means the entertainment is more like a red light district than a Sunday farmers market in the town square. Liquor rather than lattes, 'angel dust' rather than artisan bread, whore houses rather than coffee houses. Hence the slave girls are sex workers rather than singers."
They continued up the stair case, walked over to the balcony, which was moderately full, and looked down to the ground floor to see what was what. The ground floor was round and had an elevated booth on one side where the auctioneer was stood behind a podium. A few minutes passed, and the viewing galleries began to fill up with potential customers. Some of the auction house staff were on the ground floor walking to and fro through various doors making some last minute checks before the auction commenced.
"So how much do slaves usually get sold for?" enquired Giovanni.
Luther replied, "It depends on the quality of the slave and how much potential owners are willing to bid. Anywhere from fifty credits to five thousand. Sometimes more."
"There was this one time in Alioth where I heard of a slave fetching eighteen grand." remarked Hrolf.
"I'm guessin’ she was a breeder." Luther commented.
"Yep, a top notch one at that. All the curves in all the right places." replied Hrolf, motioning the curves with his hands.
"A breeder? But nearly all women can get pregnant."
"Breeders are the female equivalent of studs." remarked Luther. "They're genetically engineered to produce large numbers of offspring, quadruplets or more at a time. That way you can get more offspring per woman than if she were to conceive just one child per term. So instead of having maybe thirty kids per woman over her lifetime, you can get three, four or five times that number. More offspring equals merchandise, and more merchandise equals more sales revenue, and more sales revenue equals more profit. It's simple economics."
"Quiet please! Quiet please!" bellowed the auctioneer as he hammered his gable on the podium, readying everyone for the auction.
After a brief introductory word by the auctioneer, the first slave was paraded out onto the ground floor. A well honed man in his thirties wearing just a loin cloth. The auctioneer made remarks about the merchandise, much like in a normal cattle, antiques, or car auction, then began the bidding process.
The process was all rather ordinary, and nothing quite like Gio had expected. He didn't know what to make of it, and so remained quiet for the first few rounds, trying to adjust his mindset to the spectacle before him.
An older woman was brought out into the middle of the floor by one of the attendants.
Lot number 472: Miss Rachel Elizabeth Dundant. A 45 year old seamstress and lace-maker. Good physical and mental condition. Solid work history. Eight former owners. Starting bid of 200 credits. Do I have any offers?"
He looked around the room.
"No advances of 200. 180 then?"
Still nothing. The crowd weren't paying any attention to the slave on the ground floor. They were idly looking around the market, or looking through their auction brochures absent mindedly.
"So what happens if no one bids then?" asked Giovanni.
"I don't know Gio." replied Luther. "I've only been to a few slave auctions before. It depends on what the owner wants to do with them. If they're looking for a good price, then they'll keep the slave in the stalls until the next auction, and hope there's a buyer waiting for them. Or if it's a quick sale they're after, then they'll probably just sell her off for canning."
"Canning?" said Gio quizzically.
Hrolf who was leaning on the balcony chipped in. "Yeah. It's a slang term from the old days when horses were sent off to the cannin' factory to be turned into dog food."
The blood drained from Gio's face. Like someone had stuck a pipe into his back and let all of his blood pour out. It probably took a fair portion of his sense of innocence and belief in human decency with it as well.
Luther turned his head to look at the kid. "Depending on how good nick she's in they usually take the usable internal organs out first. Heart, kidneys, liver, adrenal gland, whatever they can. Then put the organs in cold storage and sell them later on to clinics or organ dealers."
The auctioneer continued offering lower bidding prices. Still to no avail.
Hrolf remarked: "It's kind of like selling an old, worn out, second hand ship. Ya know? Like, take all the spare parts out that you can get a good price for. Then melt the rest down and sell it on to the scrap merchant."
His comments didn't help Gio, who seemed to turn from a shade of white, to one of pale green.
"Okay, final offer of 100.”
It looked forlorn for the middle aged woman in the centre of the ring.
"No bids, no bids anyone?"
Bang! The gable came down.
"And the next lot is lot number..." he continued on his work reading out the next lot as one of the slave handlers brought the next lot in for the observation.
One of the slave handlers, a burly looking guy with a bald head, walked the old slave woman out from the centre of the ring and out of sight, through a door that was located on the ground floor, directly beneath the three men. As she walked out of the ring, she glanced up at Gio. Their eyes met.
The handler put a hand on her shoulder and ushered he through the door to await her fate. She cast her eyes down again once more and walked through the door out of sight.
Luther looked at Gio, who did nothing but continue to stare at the spot where he and the woman had locked eyes. He had locked eyes and seen the barren depths of hopelessness itself in the pits of the woman’s soul. Dark, cold and crushingly inevitable. A thing that could not be avoided by anyone, no matter their effort or struggle. Like an old steam train that was fixed on its rails, and could see into the future laid out in front of it, and thus where it was headed: a half completed bridge that was built over one of the darkest deepest canyons possible. Where no light shone from, nor any light could illuminate. He was lost. Struck by the woman’s crushing, forlorn situation had drained him of his will to live.
It was like he had been struck with the reverse of 1 Corinthians 13 'Faith, Hope and Love Abide': 'Faithlessness, Hopelessness and Apathy'. Her future was fixed/determined and so devoid of Options (faith), therefore she could not even consider the best/preferred possible Option (hope), and so there was no possibility at all of her being able to exercise her Will (love).
Hrolf caught Luther’s eye and made a gesture toward the door, indicating that he thought now would be a good time to leave. Luther nodded in agreement.
After such a shock like that Gio would be in a sensitive state, so would have to be treated carefully to make sure that he would not clam up and shy away from the experience, or react with violent hostility. When someone, anyone, is introduced to a new experience, particularly one that had shattered their existing world view, then they are extremely sensitive, impressionable, to any information that is imparted to them in that state. Sometimes they can react with hostility to that new information, others times with extreme introversion, other with melancholy. Fight, Flight or Apathy; which in extreme cases can become Psychopathia (hatred of the world), Schizophrenia (detachment from the world), or Depression (disintegration of the will to live). Luther and Hrolf had, unintentionally, provided enough of a shock to put him into an impressionable state, so now they had to consider best to help him acclimatize himself to this new world.
Hrolf, who was about fifteen standard years older than Luther, had more experience at these kinds of matters, and with people in general, so he gingerly put a hand on his shoulder and ushered him through the door to await his fate. Gio cast her eyes down again once more and walked through the door out of sight.
Luther surveyed the room for one last time, catching a look at a job lot of seven scantily-clad, buxom young women in the ring. The bidders were competing eagerly for the sale, the auctioneer was reeling through the numbers.
"Fifty five hundred. Sixty hundred. Sixty five hundred. Seventy hundred..."
Luther turned and made his way toward the exit. He turned his head as he heard the gable come down. It must have been for the lot of seven women.
Lot number four seven three, 'The seven daughters of Mr Sin' to bidder number.. one hundred and one.. for fourteen thousand credits."
The successful bidder was grinning widely, and threw the hat that he was wearing into the air in celebration. Several of the other bidders around him shook hands with him at his successful bid. The auctioneer was also a happy man, probably thinking of the commission he would get for this sale alone.
Luther turned back to face the door, and left the happy customer to enjoy his new toys; wondering how he and Hrolf could best to help Gio to adjust to his new, enlightened, world view.
* * * * *
"You what." exclaimed Luther incredulously.
"Nah, Gio, mate, look, this is not what you want to do. Just think about it for a bit. Alright? Just a few days, maybe a week at most, that's all we're asking for mate." beseeched Hrolf.
Gio was adamant, he was looking down at, or rather through, the cup of hot cocoa in front of him. He had his hands placed on the cafe table either side of it. "I can't help it. It was just.. just seeing the look on that woman’s face. The look in her eyes. That feeling I just.. I cant shake it. Its wrong. I.. I can't..."
"Gio, we know how you feel, we've all been there, we've all experienced it, that sympathy, pity or whatever you want to call it. But reacting like this, it's not the way to handle it. You need to think with a clear level head. Listen to what Hrolf said, just give it a few days, a night even. Please, just think it over."
This was not turning out anything like Luther and Hrolf had expected. Gio had reacted very badly to the encounter at the slave market. It had shaken his world view so much that he felt an unbearable weight on his shoulders, totally oppressive, and depleting him of hope. He was considering suicide. It wasn't good. The only saving grace was that he had to spend the night on the ship, which meant that Luther and Hrolf would be around to prevent him from doing anything reckless.
"Please." added Hrolf, in a quietly imploring tone.
Gio continued to look at his plate of nuaco, and nodded gingerly.
Hrolf sat back in his chair, crossed his arms and let out a half sigh of relief.
"I, I just couldn't bare it. The thought of it. The fact that the Federation is the only power in the galaxy that opposes slavery means that the rest of the galaxy, the rest of humanity is just like that. I don't know if I want to carry on living with a race of people that does that to themselves, to other people. It's horrible. Is that all we are? Just a bunch of animals that send the useless ones off to the slaughterhouse when they're no longer needed. No longer wanted. It's just.. it's not human. Why would I want to be party to, be a part of that?"
There was a brief pause before Hrolf spoke. "I hear what you're saying Gio. I do. And you're right. It's awful. I can't figure it out me-self like. Why would people do that to other men who were just like they?"
Gio looked up at Hrolf, his eyes wide and slightly bloodshot. "So why would they do that?" he said, desperately looking for some trace of hope.
"I don't know Gio." he said in a melancholic tone.
Gio’s shoulders slumped and his gaze drifted back at his drink.
Gio’s shoulders slumped and his gaze drifted back at his drink.
Hrolf continued. "But I do know this: the Federation has been around for a thousand years, and in all that time, despite the best efforts of the Empire, and the Organisation, and all the corrupt elements within it, that they haven't succumbed to the pressure for slavery. And do you know what that means Gio?"
Gio looked back up at the man and shook his head.
"That there's decent people in the galaxy, that look at the good in humanity. And they don't want to give in to the hate and the evil and the immoral side in man. That they want to build a better galaxy, without evils like slavery. Where people wont be 'canned' in old age, like unwanted animals, just 'cause they ain't profitable no more. And they'll actually be treated like the human beings that they are. That's why, despite the stick that I give it, it's better that the Feds exist than not. And for the Fed' to continue to exist means it needs a living breathing culture. And a living breathing culture means living breathing people that want to keep it going. You're the latest in the long line of the Fed' culture stretching back over a thousand years now. That's, what, forty generations of men that weren't in favour of slavery and that wanted it abolished. That's something that you, as a Fed' citizen, are a part of."
Gio's eyes lowered a little and the sadness on his face fell away, giving rise to a very slight sense of optimism. The feint possibility of a smile even. He looked back up at Hrolf and smiled gently, appreciatively at the man. His countenance was considerably more relaxed.
Hrolf put a compassionate fatherly face on and nodded back in acknowledgement.
The three men sat at the cafe table quietly for the next half hour as they finished their drinks, watching the rest of the patrons at the little cafe eating their meals, conversing and doing nothing much in particular.
* * * * *
"Quite an experience to live in fear isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave."
A blond haired man, Batty, stood on the edge of a rain soaked skyscraper looking down on a brown haired man, Deckard, who was clinging for dear life onto the rivets of an iron girder.
Gio was on his own on the bridge of the Transporter, sat in one of the chairs with his legs curled in front of him and arms wrapped around them. He was still fragile, despite the words that Hrolf had given to him that afternoon. He was watching the climax of an old 2D motion picture - Blade Runner - that was being projected onto the ships windscreen. Hrolf was getting some replacement parts for the ageing ventilation system; and Luther had spent the last two hours sat in his cabin reading the sector wide news bulletin for any trade related items.
"No you don't!"
Just as Deckard lost grip on the girder, Batty grabbed his arm, pulled him up and threw him to safety, saving him from certain death. Deckard scuttled back, uncertain, until he propped himself against a brick wall.
Luther opened the door to the bridge and saw the film on the monitor. He looked to Gio: captivated, engrossed, mesmerised, and smiled slightly to himself. He leaned against the door frame and watched the final moments of the film. Batty, was making his speech. A speech about slavery, and about the loss of life. He figured that Gio was watching it for that reason. It was something that he could use to try and understand, to make sense of mortality within the context of slavery. Why that woman had to be sent off to the cannery. Why anyone has to be enslaved. Why anyone has to be condemned. Despite that, the film wasn't all that relevant to his situation: they were androids killing their makers, trying to extend their life, and harking after freedom; he was a neophyte, who had seen a woman condemned to a premature death, and who had no possibility of freedom. The only section of the film that was of any relevance was one of the last lines, read by Gaff, the almost apocryphal figure, who had just landed on the top of the skyscraper, and tossed Deckard his handgun.
"It's too bad she won't live. But then again who does?"
He knew Gaff was referring to Rachel - an android and one of the other principle characters in the film - but it could have equally applied to the woman at the slave market, which is probably how Gio would relate to it. It would help to ease his conscience slightly, alleviate the pain of it, by showing that everyone has to die somehow, some when. Be it after five years, as with the androids, or fifty two years as with the woman at the market. We're all mortal; we're all subject to laws, be it biological laws or slave based laws; we all have to die some when. It's how you deal with that truth, that fact, that determines how you want to live your life, how you wish to pursue it, what you wish to do with it.
That's something that Gio was still coming to terms with: he would have to figure out what he wanted to do with his life and what he wanted to value, not take some ethical code of laws wholesale from someone else, namely the Federation. It was a balancing act to be sure, finding that fine line between adhering to/abiding in the laws of others, and finding out what set of laws you wished to live by/in. Too much of the former and you were nothing but a drab, amorphous lackey for someone else, part of one mass homogeneous monoculture. Too much of the latter and you'd find yourself at odds with society (civil laws) or the cosmos (physical laws), which could be potentially fatal.
The final shot in the film played out: Deckard and Rachel were in a hallway and the line 'Too bad she wont live. But then again who does?' rang out in Deckard’s head as he walked over a tiny foil unicorn. Deckard realised everyone dies, and he would have to kill her, kill Rachel, kill his woman.
If Gio was relating, identifying, Rachel to the woman at the slave market, then that could be both useful and undermining for him. Useful as it would provide a cushion, of sorts, that would lessen the effects of his experience, by providing him with some kind of frame of reference or something to relate his experience to, which would make it feel less alien, less unfamiliar, less hostile. It would however undermine him by 'providing' him with ready-made terms with which to comprehend his experience. It would the equivalent to providing him with a encyclopedia of terms with which to understand life, rather than try to figure it out by himself. Providing anyone with an encyclopedia with which to comprehend life would only result in creating a distance between themselves and any authentic experience by a barrier of ready made - alien - terms. Experiences should always be personal and intimate, meaning that a person should not try to couch or express them in ready made terms, words or phrases that have been determined by someone else. To do so would diminish the intimate authenticity of the experience and thus lead to a diminished quality of life.
The credits to the film began to roll up. Luther decided to leave the room, to leave Gio to his own thoughts. He closed the hydraulically powered door quietly behind him.
* * * * *
The rest of the journey to the Federation system was thankfully uneventful and went without a hitch. The feeling among the crew and atmosphere in general was a lot less tense. Gio had shed some of his old habits, and the sarcasm, irony and such like were less present in him. He was more agreeable to be around. That took some of the stress off of Hrolf, who began singing his ditties again whenever the fancy took him. Gio had even joined in some of the time, saying they made a good half of a barbershop quartet. The pleasant atmosphere also made the time travel much quicker, and it wasn't long before they had hyperspace into Faessla and landed on one of the starports there.
Gio had also had a change of heart regarding his career as a merchant spaceman. He'd discussed it with Luther and Hrolf over a few pints of bitter one evening in the recreation room. It wasn't something that he wanted to pursue, it wasn't the kind of life that he thought it would be. It seemed that someone back home at school or college had sold him a lie about how plotting courses through space and 'book keeping' were fun and fulfilling. Which he found out was untrue. The two other men bore no grudge against him for deciding to terminate his contract. They said they'd prefer someone who wanted to be there, wanted that particular life than someone who was only there out of 'duty' or because 'it was the right thing to do'. They questioned what Gio would do instead of being a merchant spaceman. He replied that he didn't know, but would try a few different jobs until he found something agreeable with him. 'Determined from with-in rather than determined from with-out' someone said of it.