~ a short story
Two twin voices rang out within Captain O’Billio Starbeard’s heart and mind:
Thar she is! Me north star!! Lady o’ destiny itself manifestin’ afore us… We need only reach out and grasp her!!!
A wide view of the thirty-fourth spec-zone within the Far Quadrant zone: Astral-Phoenix-02 displayed itself to the trio of commandeers upon the bridge of the Queen. A ranging starscape unpeopled with either nearing planet or craft, heralded only a small blink in the fore between its diffuse starlit passages spreading far and wide. A minute anomaly there in the spiraling black shuddered with grav waves forceful enough to shake the ship’s scan. The force reverberated outward enough to behold with naked eye. One sight through the deck’s bow, three different visions appeared for the three persons tasked with coursing the Queen safely through the sector.
For the navigator, an obstacle on the way to their next mark, a wave to be borne in the endless hunt. For the First Mate, a challenge to surmount, to build his personal accolades, to harbor a story to brave with braggadocio for next port among the hi-class cosmo’s. For the captain, a dream transcending his job or his career up to that point, surpassing even his duty to his mates… Destiny within the silent void. A sanctuary inside the endless grid of booty, something overriding his employer in C.C., beyond the goddess cyber herself their profession cast them to lust after.
A bridge between our worlds… he gasped soundlessly.
“Captain! Something is wrong. We need to change course! Fast!!” First Mate Oren intoned rapidly from below, in the pit where he managed the wider affairs of their craft. With floating touch panels and streams of uncanny light only a righteous cyberman such as he could observe with any semblance of cogency, he silenced himself within his work. His fingers licked across the pixels with desperation, out-calculating the gravitational pulls of this unnameable anomaly before them out there in the waveless voids of their black ocean. On his forehead, a third mecha-eye glowed upon the conditions of their trajectory and did not blink. Using its preternatural foresights, he channeled his muscle memories to chart separate courses for his duo of bridge mates to review and approve.
Of course something is wrong, matey! They always go that way just before a righteous course through the wayward flow turns everything right!! Starbeard, the lodestar of the deck, screamed in his heart but did not say aloud, for the time was not yet birthed for him to abandon all else and force his play.
Captain O’Billio Starbeard stood upon the neon prow of Queen Bonnie’s Revengeance, his steely grip upon the grav-wheel kept the starship’s course straight and true. Right on with that growing blink in the black, his eyes fixed and purposeful, he directed his Queen into the source of the eerie pit of butterflies and bats now forming itself in each of the trio’s stomachs.
Their ship was far off course, headed toward seeming disaster.
He said nothing. Lost in the anticipation of it. The feeling…
That feeling coming soon now, brother, the voice sang within him once more. The voice from the dream.
“Captain,” Navigator Leyland spoke with as much resolve as she could muster. Her voice sliced down to him from her suspension behind and above him on their layered deck, at the center of the ship’s omni-sextant, where a perfectly real-time updating map of the known starscape flowed about her space. Within her bubble of starklight, her eyes darted to the nearest ports where they could jet at a discount, but only in case of an emergency. Everything about their situation deemed it so. She believed their discount to be secure, so utilizing Oren’s charts, approving them instantly, she punched in coordinates. She sent those suggestions onto Starbeard’s console, displaying them instantaneously as she imagined them, flowing from her cy-brain and onto the spokes of his wheel, awaiting his own punch of affirmation, the third and final needed to fire the ship’s warpcore to the elsewhere they’d drawn up.
If he saw them, the Captain did not show it. No punch came. The Queen plummeted onward, pulled by a matching physical and psychical fate. In the halls of outer space, a compulsory orbit lurched them toward the enlarging dark at nearly top impulsing speeds. And there aboard their bridge, just below Leyland’s confining starkcyber-bubble, an irrational captain led them to the same.
“Captain, that prick of unlight is displaying characteristics of a black hole!” shouted Oren from below.
“But it’s too small,” he muttered, re-running everything.
“Oh god…” the First Mate whispered finally as he read and re-read the readings. Doom. Ream after ream of doom. Every second the math showed similar such outcomes of an eternal and inevitable doom. Time slipped away for them to have the chance to escape it. Within the bars of division and the parentheses of the codes upon those pages his third eye squinted through, Oren watched his short life flash in the whites between the inks.
Starbeard’s stance remained motionless and strong as a rock, their course onward, unerring.
Above, Leyland contemplated an insta-mutiny. In an unprecedented maneuver, she broke the chain, easily reorienting her user-status within the ship’s inner flows, and began to redirect control from the Captain wheel unto her own devices before her. But it would take time. Milliseconds they no longer had. Simultaneously, in the hopes of a better, simpler solution to their quandary, she considered what words to say to the Cap to dissuade him from his unmoving clutch upon the wheel. Clearly taken by the onset of some psychosis, hopefully temporary, she put on a different tactic to try to break him from it. No more duty. No more navs or suggestions or logic. She’d speak to his heart, wherever in the maelstrom it was right now.
“O’Billio,” she spoke into his private comm. Staring down at the back of his head, his long black hair flowing from underneath his old style tricorn hat of cloth and leather, she thought she detected a jump to his posture as she proclaimed his first name alone, with no title. A breach of etiquette she was thought to be incapable of. He was listening. Urgency from the Navigator was no small disturbance. Even if he was gone, he at least heard her. She’d be able to say her peace to a witting counterpart. Subvocalized into 2.5x speed, Leyland’s desperate words came all at once, instantaneously understood within the Captain’s mind-piece despite the jumble.
“Whatever you think will happen by plunging into that small bit of astral nothingness, that pocket o’ supermassive denseness, whatever the hell you are angling for with this maneuver… it’s not going to end how you think it will. You are endangering everyone aboard. If you persist, this could be the Revengeance’s last venture. I’m sending our coordinates and a sum of the situation to C.C. as we speak. They’ll know what happened, and where. And how. This could be the end of us all along with you, captain. Don’t make me mutiny to save us. You can still do that.”
She paused her words as her hands and mind kept working away at wresting control of that wooden grav-wheel from the Captain’s icy fingers. She gave him a chance to respond, to act, to give her and Oren the courtesy of some kind of explanation to his mad dash into death. A moment. After it, when no answer came, when her breakdown subroutine carried a 67% transfer of control, Navigator Leyland acted with the conviction of a seasoned C.C. officer, a ‘pirate o’ the skies’, a bustblastin’ buccaneer, kyber-privateerin’ extraordinaire, and slammed the ship’s grav-wheel of master-controlling utility into a hard left bank, diverting all available power to shift the starship’s course away from the oblivion that Starbeard seemed so silently, ardently wishing for.
And thus Starbeard’s silence broke in a fit of mad verbal and physical reaction to the mutinous maneuver.
“NOOO!!” he screamed, filling the bridge with his surly baritone and a fair bit of spittle from his just previously salivating mouth. To Leyland’s heightened senses within the starklit fluids of her sphere, it was a scream fit to shake the heavens, incapacitating her in the intervene.
And thusly, at this pivotal point of contact, much faster than Oren could calculate any kind of damage-sense reports from the ship’s outer bumps, and quicker still than Leyland could hope to regain herself and reorient the ship back to her diverting turn from that nascent grip of ultra-gravity seeping from the anomaly, Captain O’Billio Starbeard threw the whole of his weight behind a countering turn upon the wheel back to the right, setting the ship onto his original path. His abyssal black beard shook the other way in a countervailing reaction to his sudden burst of speed and strength.
As Oren turned around to his captain and away from his many consoles requiring such quick-twitch controlling, the ultimate taboo for a First Mate of the C.C. fleet, the fear of God in his young, glowing eyes, he saw the madness in Starbeard’s countenance. All of his duties fell away; ‘duty’ itself seemed at the moment such a mundane and meaningless venture. There was an impassioned fire in those eyes, his silver and gold teeth in a full grin. As terror rose to its fulcrum within the young privateer, that expression from his Cap settled into him and somehow provided a welcome opposing force to the hopelessness of their predicament. The captain’s own strange betrayal leading on to his and all his crewmate’s coming dooms seemed lesser. And most importantly, only a betrayal of them, and somehow not of himself.
Dancing upon his face was more than a psychotic drive toward death — there was romance in it. In Starbeard’s soul lay a madness so deep and pure, and so apparent in this split second glancing, that Oren could not help but fall victim to the beauteous ex nihilo grace of his Queen’s final flight into the heart of a random supermassive black hole at the edge of all, in a nameless rogue sector far afield of any of their targets for pirating and cyber-looting. Hysterical yet hopeful at the possibility of such romance existent within oblivion, Oren cackled as he wept.
The Queen boosted into the darkness undaunted.
“So, when was the last time you encountered … him?”
In his private quarters, Captain Starbeard lounged before a hologram of his C.C.-sanctioned — and quite requisite — therapyst. Their session just beginning, he settled into the satin recliner and tugged at his beaded-beard impulsively, grooming it of its small tangles and twinging inequities. The luscious auburn hair of his counterpart flowed over a square-shouldered frame upon a well-fitted hi-class suit. Only her pleasantly-seated form appeared in the apparition flowing up from the sphere sealed to the floor of the guest cube of his quarters. He wondered where she was, her first away-time off the Queen since she’d been stationed here among them. The where of her vacay not a required piece of information, even for the Captain. After all, she was an independent member of the crew. A consummate professional, under the direction of C.C. hi-executive. A ‘professional’ amongst ruffians. Maybe our environment finally got to her… He studied her delicate features. Can I blame ye for wantin’ to get away?
Starbeard kept his pause pregnant, to mess with her most powerful mind. To her credit, she didn’t repeat herself, or avert her eyes. Her digital form sat with perfect posture, outline occasionally fluttering but hands resting at ease, eyes locked onto the strangely bearded specimen of the full-human O’Billio Starbeard. She waited patiently for his response.
“Two nights ago,” he finally answered. O’Billio wondered what her enhancements might be? For a therapyst, they likely favored Empathy+ mods. Or maybe Telepathy-lite. Or maybe her enhancements had nothing to do with her profession. An old fashioned one. Like him, in that way. Pure labor; no ‘cheats.’ No matter how common or readily available they might become, O’Billio had long ago vowed to eschew any ‘add-ons’.
“And was this scenario similar to the previous dreams?” she asked, her voice cutting in and out briefly as the connection glitched. One could hardly even bear to notice there are still fractures in the systems of intergalactic communicae. She might as well be here, sitting right before me, as clear as her beauty and her voice is within this room. Disturbing! O’Billio shuddered. He could never get to used to it.
“Aye…” he mumbled, his thoughts still away for the moment.
Starbeard’s anti-tech philo didn’t sit right with just about any of his colleagues. For a captain of an elite-class starship, carrying out violent and strategically necessary cyber-”gathering” duties as an officer of C.C., such a philosophy was not only odd but potentially damaging to their mission. Spooked by their present working reality in the passages of spacefaring preconditions, of comms and grams and nanomachinery ruling the commonplace, could he be responsible in his sworn duty to recover the materia undergirding it all, the precious cyber within the marrow of the bones of the Dreadnoughts they so passionately hunted? So far, Starbeard had proven to be a righteous man of contrasts and paradoxes; the Queen was among the top-performing piracy crafts, in no small part due to his piloting. A mix of ruggedly technical brilliance and roguish daring, Starbeard had made a legend of himself within the ranks of his peers within the Free colonies. And all those ‘crimes’ had been abolished instantly when he turned his talents over to the official body of the rebellion in C.C.
Sondra’s glitching form returned to normal, as did her patience. And to him, most inexplicably perhaps, it was these little things like that unnerved him most. Speaking freely with a spectre halfway across the ‘verse without a second thought, without a reason to doubt the real-time truth of the ghost you are conversin’ with…
“Aye. A man at sea, in the sun and riding the swelling plane of blue… So blue. An infinitude of blueness broken by waves from ‘rizon to ‘rizon…” Starbeard reminisced the dream-memory of the man he’d named as ‘ancestor.’
“A pilot!” he added with gusto a moment later. “There could be no doubt.”
“A man not unlike yourself, in profession and appearance,” Sondra stated from her digital throne before him. Her hands mimed the length of his beard. Scanning her notes as she did, Sondra repeated his previous discoveries back to him, from prior sessions.
Starbeard nodded methodically, turning his thoughts to the dream, releasing himself fully to the session’s purpose. He reconfigured his position into a more comfortable one within his seat. Initially, he had staggered at the thought of therapy, thinking it mundane, even silly. But with every session with Sondra thus far, he’d grown not only comfortable, but intrigued at the possibilities of what these conversations could do. They empowered him to search out his psyche, his dreams — his soul itself — for hidden truths. Not only of personal betterment in the continuing health of his mental faculties for the sake of his career performance, but also of individuating revelation. To him, in speaking of his dreams especially, he dug away the wide gulfs of time and space that harbored the personages of the past away from his embrace, closing them with these satisfying, delving conversations. Somewhere within, the truth lay dormant — he lay dormant. He as he could be. Starbeard believed his conversing with Sondra promised the construction of a bridge to that… future man.
“In the dream, you are him?” Sondra asked.
“Aye,” Starbeard returned. “And he is I…” he added softly.
“And what’s that like? Being him. Being each other?”
“Extraordinary. We share much.”
Sondra waited for him to continue.
“Beyond profession… Though aye, he was a pirate like me. Incredible, ain’t it? This ancestral forefather I be seein’ the waves of the ocean through, he was a ruffian in the ancien regime back home. Home home. Earth. In the days afore the stars, a forgotten age. It be the real ocean, real waves I be seein’ him ride so elegantly upon. A true superstar.”
“Captain of his own ship somewhere in the Caribbean,” Sondra said with confirming tone. “Early 18th century. His run of luck, many conquests and imperial commandeers against superior numbers and weaponry, this is all at its peak when you visit him, yes?”
Sondra once more reviewed her notes, calling back to the aspects of this dream-reality that Starbeard had recounted in previous sessions.
O’Billio chuckled waving a finger playfully at the digital apparition of the therapyst, “More skill than luck… But aye he has grown fat off the teat of the empire and her shipping companies not yet wise to his devious ways. The man, his crew, his ship: all thriving.”
“Understood. And you said ‘beyond-”
“And he treats his crew with the utmost respect!” O’Billio chimed in again, glory in his eyes unseeing of the mundane features of his small chamber and off somewhere far away, in the past. “Aye, that is important to him. The lives they lead are full of violence and debauchery, sure, but also freedom. Autonomy. Respect. I believe their effectiveness is due most of all to that mutual trust between the men and their leader… The captain. Me, er, him. “
“I see,” Sondra said. “So you might already be answering my follow, but you did say ‘beyond profession’, as in you and …this ancestor share characteristics as well?”
Starbeard’s eyes became distant then, as if scanning the horizon of the dream once more, recollecting himself to speak it into existence before the therapyst. As in many of their recent sessions, his words were beyond the keeping of mental stability, as this woman was tasked with doing periodically with every member of the crew. They were inspiriting. His heart swelled as his mind turned the visions over again. Without her here, Starbeard thought, he might never build up the courage to realize, let alone speak, such things… But she was here. And so he said them.
“There’s a desire,” O’Billio whispered. He paused, unsure of how best to articulate it all.
“A desire you sense, in him, your ancestor?” Sondra led him on. “A desire for what?”
“What?” O’Billio returned. “What indeed?” His eyes fell over her. “I do not believe it is a desire for anything in particular. And therein lies its power!” He held up a finger, bobbing it as he gathered his thoughts, the memories of his forefather flooding through him. Goosebumps flowed over his skin as he recalled the sight. The sight within the waves…
“A generalized kind of desire. A desire for everything. For nothing, maybe too. As in, it might not be able to be satiated. But it definitely lie upon the open sea. The sky. In the waves, aye… It is a desire that lay beneath the waves. Some kind of unfathomable ambition… Absolution…” his rambling voice faded again as he saw the blue flow amidst the foam of that distant ocean.
“Ambition. Something you share,” Sondra said uncertainly.
“Aye, every leader of men does,” O’Billio softly growled, nodding.
“And absolution? What about that?” Sondra jotted some of his words down upon her note.
“Aye, absolution for time wasted. For livelihoods risked for less than the infinite,” he said absently, struggling with the precise memories he wished to call upon once again.
“Hrm,” Sondra grimaced. “Help me understand. Try to use concrete language.”
O’Billio frowned. He was still trying to gather himself. Don’t rush me… He stood up and began to pace.
“It would better serve us both if you stay seated during the whole session, and we are able to speak face to face, Captain,” Sondra stated flatly.
With a frustrated sigh, he sat back down. “Okay, look. When you… When you look out of the ship. Any ship. And you stare into the void out there … what do you see?” he asked her.
Sondra turned, appearing to stare out of the window of whatever ship or station she now sat upon. “Space,” she answered.
“Aye, space. Outside. The big dark. The great beyond. The final frontier. The infinite.”
Sondra nodded; O’Billio continued.
“Well, when my ancestor sailed he saw something similar in the waves. In the ocean. He saw such an infinitude.”
“I see. Something you relate to him on,” Sondra reasoned.
O’Billio shrugged, scratching deep into his beard with agitation. “Aye, but that’s not it! That’s not all, I mean. I think.. I believe he made a realization after such a sight that he could not escape from. Not ever again, no matter how many ships he took, or treasures he plundered… Nothing could approach… that. I could feel it inside of him. Stronger than ever within the latest dream.”
“That?” Sondra questioned, leaning forward in her chair, the contours of her face becoming animated upon closer sight through the screen.
“That… oceanic feeling…” O’Billio said with dismay. He slouched in his chair, body language reflecting restlessness or agitation. He wished to say more, but perhaps couldn’t find the words.
Sondra mirrored his move and leaned back, but to her resting position, exuding calmness. “And this oceanic …feeling, you believe it is the source of that nameless desire. The ambition and the absolution you speak of?”
O’Billio nodded, unsure of how else to put it or explore the feeling. Perhaps the thing is beyond articulation… he lamented within.
“The object of the desire? Or just its driving force, do you think?” Sondra pressed.
Starbeard shrugged halfheartedly. He was deep within the vestiges of the dream, even as the answer to such questions faded.
Silence pervaded between the duo, the conversation stalled.
Sondra raised her finger to the bridge of her dark glasses and pushed them more securely onto her face. Through the screen, O’Billio lost track of her eyes in a sudden reflective flash upon them. She spoke with a confidence usually reserved for the end of their sessions, when her conclusions arose to be lashed upon O’Billio’s mind with righteous, and pleasuring, enlightenments that he might go forth with. This was the ‘payoff ‘ voice, as O’Billio liked to name it but only unto himself and never aloud.
“The oceanic feeling, your ancestor desired it because he’d experienced it before in fleeting moments,” Sondra stated with a blink of passion in her voice. “His desire was a desire to recapture the feeling. Maybe he found it initially in piracy. The great victory over seemingly invincible foes. In plundering those that had plundered for so long without consequence. The feeling of impossible vindication. The feeling of absolute freedom. The feeling of … infinitude. In the sea, under the sea, atop the waves as he sailed them. Ominously, recursively such a feeling becomes one of mortality. A true blue anxiety. A feeling of being faced with something forever unfathomable. His own death, perhaps. Eventually, all things end. And this feeling is damning. The oceanic feeling counters it. It is a tinge of immortality. Immortality imagined, but still there. His oceanic feeling, Starbeard,” Sondra said with gleaming clarity, speaking as if she was there before him, leaning toward him with a tacit force of will that he could not behold without a stirring feeling of some unnameable power,
“It is the feeling of something eternal. Something impossible. And yet, something real. Something … there.”
Starbeard’s mouth hung agape, his beard stilled from his nervous scratching, his body no longer squirming with the uncertain releases of his mind. “How do you…”
“And this feeling is one you wish to experience for the first time. The oceanic feeling,” Sondra finished, reorganizing her body in her chair, the notepad back on her lap. “You share it, the desire. But you, unlike him, are inexperienced. And naturally, being what you are — the captain of starship — you believe it can be found… out there,” she pointed to the side of his chamber that she knew to be the window he could look to the starscape beyond from.
Starbeard did not turn. He kept studying her face. He did not yet confirm her thesis with an answer to her suppositions. Instead, he said,
“You speak of such things from your own experience.”
“Every leader of men knows the feeling,” Sondra said with the utmost sincerity, mirroring his own prior words in the conversation. A silence fell over their conversation for a few moments.
“I am uncertain of what to do,” O’Billio said at length.
“The yearning has you restless. Off your routines. Late to councils. Your command of the ship, perhaps becoming ajar?” Sondra ventured.
O’Billio’s eyes widened at the mention and then narrowed. Does she mean to incite me? “Who-”
Sondra patted her hands softly in the air before her lap. “You know I can’t say names. Not that I would need to, your recent derelictions are widespread enough that practically everyone has noticed. Know that no one trusts you less for your recent… subpar performances. There is a first time for everything, after all. Your record remains nearly pristine, Captain. I merely mention these things because I think we have found their source. Now what to do?”
O’Billio, tempered and contemplative once more, finally turned to the window and looked upon the stars. Their glow anchored him, as they always did. Mayhap that’s the problem…
“You wish to go further, beyond the Near Sector,” Sondra claimed.
O’Billio’s attention perked at the suggestion. She always knows… he flashed in mind. Once more, he knew not whether to be appreciative or scared.
“A reasonable request, one you’d need only make,” she added, clicking her pen against the closed pad upon her crossed legs.
O’Billio shook his head. “All of the fish are in the Nears. Costs are too high to transport through the Fars.”
“That’s true for most Dreadnoughts, but not all,” Sondra said. “In fact, a few of the most prominent Noughts — sanctioned by the richest clientele, and with hoards to match their security — make their way through the Far Quadrant.”
She spoke as if she was an authority on the flows of the East Interstellar Company’s flows. He’d never heard her speak of the specifics of their business operations before. But when she took this tone, of facts and circumstances in the world, the policies and plans of C.C., she’d never been wrong. O’Billio considered her words as she continued.
“Them being the only that can afford such a trip, they are, of course, well protected. But not invincible. Their cargoes, compared to what you’ve been nabbing out here in recent secs, would be three or even four-to-one cyber hauls.”
“What are you exactly are you suggesting, therapyst?” O’Billio said, including her title as if to intimidate her in some way. She kept on undaunted.
“Kill two birds with one stone. Test your mettle against the best. Traverse to the limits of this infinity you chase,” Secure in her words, Sondra spoke with an intense glare upon him, as if challenging him. O’Billio had to look away, fearing his paranoia might make him look weak before her. She’s just doing her job. Providing a suggestion for me like in previous sessions. And a good one, one she knows I will go for…
“Test my mettle, heh,” he silently chuckled at her words.
“You speak of ambition. I’ve read your file Captain Starbeard. I’ve seen the tests, I know your record. And your competitive streak. Hell, you don’t take on a name like that, grow a beard to touch your stomach and read every story, fiction or non, on the Age of Pirates unless you expect great things from yourself in such a role.”
Sondra spoke the commanding words with perfect posture. As they landed upon O’Billio he shifted in his seat, uncertain of how to follow her up. Course she knows all that, not hard to find… But she’s never mentioned it before. Playing the cards now. Wonder why?
“I say this only to encourage your embrace of such ambitions,” she added gently.
O’Billio nodded sheepishly. Something was at nagging at him in all this, more than the dream now…
“Do your ambitions…” Sondra began suddenly. “And sorry if I am overstepping here, but do your ambitions perhaps lie beyond C.C.?”
O’Billio arched an eyebrow to her, weighing what her question meant. She’s employed by C.C. just the same as me. And her role is much more secure, higher in the chain, more tied to the same interests as them… No reason to risk any revelations on that front, not with her…
“No, not at the moment,” O’Billio answered diplomatically.
“Do you yourself believe in the cause of the Counter-Cyberitalists?” Sondra asked, as if rote from one of her handbooks. The words startled O’Billio who had never heard any such direct inquiring of his loyalty from her. So her agenda is laid bare? She sends me after the Far Quadrant by request from some suit. Explains her intel. Starbeard focused hard on his body language then, to give nothing away. He kept himself from moving, thinking that might be an adverse signal.
“Aye,” he returned, showing a hint of indignation that she would even ask of his loyalty to this mission.
“Aye,” he repeated quickly. “How else could we set about flowing the cyber once more. Once the Dreadnoughts consolidated nine-tenths of every tonne of cyber into their holds and entered the folds of hyperspace, only two fates manifested afore us: a slow extinction among the colonies they abandoned, or a long and righteous hunt through near and far after them and their calcified bones of stolen exploit.”
Sondra nodded slowly, eyes locked onto him, measuring his poetic words. They were not rote handbookian rabble, they were the words of his heart. In measuring her gaze for a moment, O’Billio was happy for her to realize that and parallel them once again in the conversation.
“Piracy is in me blood, Sondra,” O’Billio said with humor. “I come from a long line of cyberteers, old school Internet pirates before that. And apparently, even back to the ‘Age’ of ’em on the high seas. I tried to sign on to C.C. the day it originated. Only thing that stopped me-”
“Was that fact that you were four years old and ‘livin’ on a block a wood floating in a sea o’ black’,” Sondra said mirthfully, recounting his hardy origins on a flooded colony while trying her best to match his strange accent. She smiled then for the first time in their session. Her stark white teeth shone through the screen with enough clarity to force O’Billio into a moment of self-consciousness regarding his own mediocre hygiene. Don’t need to take the part that far, I suppose…
“Except, a major difference,” he added after a moment. “Our cause, C.C., is a noble one. Not thieves and killers like back then, but reappropriators. Judges. The only judges with any power, at least. The cyberitalists doomed their own race for the sake of themselves. C.C.’s creation is the last, best hope for humanity. Without more cyber, without reacquisition and return of the flows from within the marrow, without the breaking of more Dreads, the only place we can get it, the means to sustain the colonies…”
He left the rest of the statement unsaid. Sondra straightened herself in her chair. They both understood the stakes of their collective mission. In nearly fifty years, they’d only hunted down and reappropriated the cyber of thirteen A-class Dreadnoughts, among dozens of surveyors, and hundreds of automerchant convoys, the foot soldiers of the Dreads. But with the cyber from those they had destroyed, and from technological advancements gained from turned or tortured scientists from the surveyors, the effectiveness of their operating was increasing exponentially. Superstar captains like Starbeard were a reason for the colony sectors to rejoice with hope, even as their immiserations perpetuated with much of the appropriated cyber being reinvested into military research & development to hunt more of it. With the growth of the C.C. operation came expectations, and bureaucracy and corruption. And consolidations of their own. However, both Sondra and Starbeard, to their own surmising faculties, understood the continuing importance of the mission, with starships like the Queen as the vanguard of their potential victory in the end.
O’Billio had long wondered, but never asked, how many other ships had their own therapyst. They probably wouldn’t tell me. Either from playing their cards close like the governors do. Or to save another feast for my ego. I may be very special after all… Ha!
“Captain, we are nearly at our limit.” Sondra’s voice pulled him from his thoughts.
“I know,” he whispered gravely.
“No, I mean for our session today.” “
“Ah, yes. Thank you, Sondra,” he said quickly, gathering himself.
“Will you take my suggestion under your advisement?” Sondra asked with a hint of hope in it.
“The Far Quadrant, you say?”
She nodded. “I can send you some coordinates… For you to discuss with your commander in your next bi-weekly.”
“Sure,” O’Billio stated cautiously.
“If you are wondering at my intel, I’m afraid I cannot tell you. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Exploration of these portions of the sector I speak of is set to commence in the coming months. Surveyors of our own, but pirate-class starships as well.”
“That intel you can confirm from the daily consults on your console,” Sondra added lightly. “Bottom line: they will need some of you out there.”
“Understood. And I will. Thank you, th- Sondra.”
“Happy hunting!” Sondra flashed a final smile. Her image blinked away.
Captain O’Billio Starbeard’s eyes were on the starscape out his window once more, the restlessness returned. The yearning dream of his ancestor fully embodying him once again.
The Far Quadrant… he pondered. Moments later, a set of coordinates blinked into his console from a no-reply anon. He began to study them.
Back on the bridge, from that moment of the breach, at first onset of the infinitude to come for Starbeard and his Nav and his First Mate and all his toiling crewmates in the lower decks, they all sang then to a stretch of time that seemingly would not end. The ship sailed the unexplored mists of the outer bounds of the Far Quadrant, where Sondra’s coordinates roughly corresponded. Its tyber-steel hull, and all of the conscious minds within it, began to become estranged from all of reality. And this beginning — alongside those final thoughts in the minds of our intrepid trio — would be forever.
Oren watching his mentor, his Captain, watching their doom while bathed in the superpositioning light and darkness of hope and despair — forever.
Leyland orchestrating the most disgraceful action of her career, the ultimate betrayal to her inner Code and to the creed of the Counter-Cyberitalist, in the form of a mutiny against a leader’s madness coming too late anyway to change their collective fate — forever.
Starbeard, finally wise to the sublime, immaterial consciousness-blasting wave of ‘that oceanic feeling’ staring into the heart of something no man — seafaring or spacefaring alike — had ever seen before, also comes to know the cost of his desire for this infinite absolution. Manipulated to these ends by the therapyst Sondra — suddenly off the ship and eager to send him here to some end profiting unto her or some other collective interest with no bearing for his own life — Starbeard storms his mind in this forever into a reflection on the possibilities of her plans for him, hoping to crack it some time over the course of this inner eternity, for an enlightening vengeance on the other side of his ordeal, paradoxically hoped for… Remembering most of all those final images of her flickering digital form in their latest session only weeks before, glitching unlike any long-range comm he’d ever had from his quarters, as if her signal was too near to justify the ansible’s usage…
While in the flash of this moment of forever, the Queen Bonnie’s Revengeance arrives on the other side of this anomalous portal, to a strangely bright locale, the minds of her intrepid crew of cyber-privateers string on the final stop of this forevermore with thoughts, worries, romantic despairs, and finally — surprise.
By the time they arrive, inexplicably intact — alive! — on the other side of this impenetrable darkness, they have been touched by eternity, never to be the same again.
Overawed Starbeard looks down to meet Oren’s tear-filled eyes. Leyland clutches the wheel indirectly, now at one-hundred percent control acquired. Floating without a thought in the bubble of her immobility, she does not turn it. Not yet. Unpaused from their storming forever-passions just a moment previously, they take a breath.
Around them, in a space uncharted and endlessly puzzling to their suddenly malfunctioning equipment, is the stark, near-blinding waves of light, infinitely bright and vast but still coherent enough to decipher a kind of negative blinking starscape from within it. From horizon to horizon, the light basks over small pricks of darkness. A reversing, opposite-oriented starscape. Oddly, the familiar space of their final glancing upon the anomaly they charged through … made negative. Light where the dark should be, and un-light where the stars used to be.
“¿ew era erehW” muttered Oren, finally turned around to the bow’s wide view, all three of them looking into this field of darkstars amidst the uncanny unvoid of light.
Leyland stared silently, struggling with the sight before her and the fading glow of their eternal departure on the shore of their newfound arrival, and did not answer.
“eb ot su detnaw ehs erehw yltcaxE…” Starbeard proclaimed with an unexpectedly sound command in his voice, halting as he realized the strangeness of his words and Oren’s, and the stranger feeling still of being able to understand them in such a state.
“si taht reverehW…” he continued. “egdirb eht evah uoy ,nerO .leehw eht evah uoy ,dnalyeL,” he called to the both of them as he walked off his prow and toward the porter at the back of the bridge.
“¿niatpaC ,gniog uoy era erehW” croaked Leyland from her bubble above him.
“…yhw tuo derugif evah I kniht I dnA. detnaw ehs tahw si sihT. pihs eht no llits s’ehS .ardnoS find oT.” ~