Authors: Jeffrey A. Carver
Tags: #Science Fiction
Copyright © 1975, 1978 by Jeffrey A. Carver.
Revised edition copyright © 1994 by Jeffrey A. Carver. A portion of this work was previously published in substantially different form in
Published by E-Reads. All rights reserved.
The Star Rigger Universe
(in chronological order in the future history)
Dragons in the Stars
Star Rigger's Way
Seas of Ernathe
The Chaos Chronicles
Neptune Crossing: Volume One
Strange Attractors: Volume Two
The Infinite Sea: Volume Three
Sunborn: Volume Four
Novels of the Starstream
From a Changeling Star
Down the Stream of Stars
The Infinity Link
The Rapture Effect
Roger Zelazny's Alien Speedway: Clypsis
Battlestar Galactica (miniseries novelization)
. . . and for all the rest of the Hancock Place crowd: Doug, Kathy, June, Claudia, Jane, Leslie C., Janet, Randy, Michael, Crystal, Rick, Leslie S., Ken, Helen, Sabrina, Jessa, Greg, Gretchen, Melinda, Anne—and Sam, of course—and all the others who inhabited, kibitzed, encouraged, or otherwise enriched those fondly remembered years!
Gev Carlyle struggled to put the frustration out of his mind. It was essential to maintain control of himself; he knew that. But the alien just kept staring at him from across the ship's gloomy bridge like some frightful catlike apparition.
Who could stay calm looking at something like that?
"Cephean," he said, his voice trembling. (A rush of
interrupted him—the alien's.) "Cephean!" he demanded furiously. His eyes went out of focus as he tensed, struggling to frame his words. He refocused and gazed at the creature again. The cynthian was as large as a tiger and black as coal dust, and he was plump and furry like an enormous Persian cat. Cephean's eyes blinked slowly, indignantly. They were gold-flecked obsidian, with irises of molten copper.
"You told me that your ship operated the same way as mine. And you know how to fly your own ship. Correct?"
"Hyiss-yiss," insisted Cephean. "Hoff khorss."
"Of course," Carlyle muttered. He reminded himself: there must be confidence before it can work. The cynthian said that he was capable; but who could be sure? The telepathic link with the alien was incomplete and largely one-way. The cynthian perceived the thoughts behind the human's words, but somewhere in the communication, the cynthian was misunderstanding Carlyle's instructions. There was only so much he could explain about flying the starship, anyway. How could he explain intuition?
Cephean stared at him with coppery eyes. Waiting behind his front paws were his two small companions, the riffmar, which followed him everywhere. The riffmar were thin-trunked, walking ferns with root-toed feet; from their midsections they waved muscular, slim-fingered branches. They pranced about and squeaked and twitched their fingers disconcertingly.
"All right," Carlyle said. "You have to feel what I am doing when I fly. And you have to help me. When I guide the ship, when I turn it, you back me up as steadily as you can. Don't struggle, and don't work against me. Do you understand? Just follow."
Cephean looped his tail behind his triangular ears. His eyes flickered. "Hi khann ff-hollow, Caharleel," he hissed.
Carlyle nodded, thinking that they
be able to work together—they
to, if they didn't want to die together, adrift between the stars. Whatever their differences, they were both riggers in their own fashions. "Let's go, then." He pointed the way. (He felt a twinge of
"Are you paying attention?" he asked quietly, angrily.
Cephean sputtered—then dipped his head and padded over to the stern-rigger's alcove, with the riffmar dancing behind. He stopped and sat in front of the rigger-seat which Carlyle had dismantled and adapted for his use.
Carlyle shook his head. He swung the seat pad forward to rest against the cynthian's furry spine. The cynthian tensed, fur rippling and eyes flashing—then slowly relaxed. Beside him, the riffmar settled down to wait out the session. Carlyle crossed the bridge to his own pilot-rigger station. He averted his eyes from the sight of the empty alcoves which his crewmates had once manned; and, resisting a compulsion to relive
horror, he lowered himself into the seat and rested his neck against the neural-foam pad.
, he thought.
Numbness spread through his body, stealing his hearing and touch. His eyesight darkened and collapsed. Then his senses sprang from his body like electrical fire and blossomed out of the starship and into space, into the rigger-net. Into the Flux. He stretched and looked around.
The view was an atmospheric panorama: the starship floated in a vast, luminous space. Sculpted lemon clouds drifted in the distance, and russet layers of smoke twisted outward to form a sea as broad and as deep as the entire arm of the galaxy. This was the "subjective sea," interstellar space rendered as an airy red and orange-yellow watercolor, with sloping and intersecting layers, and rivers which ran and twisted at all angles. Some stars were visible, mostly as flecks of carbon dust adrift in the luminous space; however, a few stars and their associated nebulae stood out more clearly, as whorls or discontinuities in the flow of the sea.
The image—which was partly real and partly a creation of Carlyle's imagination—was a good one. It was vivid and bright, and a good analogue of normal-space. He hoped that Cephean could interpret the landscape, and more importantly, that the cynthian could follow his lead.
's rigger-net sparkled around him and pulsed with energy as he flexed his limbs. Below the net he sighted his immediate objective—a dark, channeled intersection of two planes. That was the Reld Current, a smooth-running river deeply submerged in the multilayered sea of the Flux. It was a major current in the Flux moving toward
's destination, and as safe a place as any for practicing teamwork with Cephean.
The Reld Current would be easy.
But after the Reld, they had to sail into the Hurricane Flume, and that was a different sort of current altogether. The Flume was a "channel" where dozens of streams came thundering together, meeting and tangling with terrible energy. They would reach it in six or seven shipdays. The Flume was a perilous place to take a ship, but they had to go through; from within its chaos streamed the upwelling currents to Cunnilus Banks, and that was where
was bound. In Cunnilus Banks lay the star-havens and safety. If they could fly on through to Cunnilus Banks, they would be virtually home free.
But to reach the Banks, they had to go through the Flume; there was no other way. Carlyle was almost too frightened to think about it.
was not a one-man or even a two-man ship. She was a four-rigger freighter, a massive hulk riding on a lone rigger's back.
had carried a crew of five; and Carlyle had been the fifth, the extra. But that was before the accident. Of the original crew, now only he remained—with this alien, Cephean. Singlehandedly, he could manage the ship in the easy current of the Reld. But the Flume would hit them like a cyclone—and if he and the shipwrecked cynthian did not function as a team, the Flume was going to be the end of
, and of them.
He glanced around to the stern.
He released the stabilizers and reached his steely, spidery, sensory arms outward and down into the Flux. Slowly he coaxed the ship downward toward the Reld; and he hoped that Cephean would assist him.
* * *
reached the streamers at the edge of the Reld, Carlyle cursed the cynthian's clumsiness. His anger rang in echoes round the net and vanished to the winds of space. Somewhere astern, the cynthian hom-humm'd to himself and responded late to Carlyle's guiding actions. The ship bucked and plunged like an angry whale.
Gently, Cephean! Do you see the river?
A "river," yes—that would be a good functional image, and it was consistent with the actual flux-currents they were riding. Carlyle settled the image in his mind. The misty lanes of the Reld congealed beneath
and darkened to the color of molasses, then flattened to water swirling downstream between low-profile riverbanks. The sky overhead turned to night, glittering with fairyland stars.
's net shimmered and passed into the dark surface of the river, and Carlyle eased the ship down until her hull settled in its waters.
Carried by the flow,
moved downstream in the night.
Somewhere, lost in the distance ahead, was the Flume. It did not yet betray itself, but Carlyle knew it was there. As he studied the horizon where the meandering Reld vanished into darkness, he detected a dim streamer rising, almost imperceptible against the stars. Above the river's end, in the night sky, the streamer met Cunnilus Banks, a faintly gleaming cloud of particles above the horizon. The sight gave him the first surge of hope he'd felt in many days. Regardless of how distant his goal lay, it was reassuring to glimpse it.
He plunged his "hands" deep into the river, just to feel the cool slipstream.
The ship lurched, and yawed to one side. Cephean had bumped the stern.
No rapport, he thought, despairing. He strained against the current to bring the ship into line. What was it his old friend and crewmate Janofer had once told him? That a crew needn't necessarily understand one another . . . that the crux of teamwork was congruence, simple congruence of vision. And his friend Skan—that without unity none of the rest was worth a mote in the Kryst Nebula. Indeed, that was why they had asked him to go and to train for a time on
It had been their hope, and his, that on
he could learn something which they had been unable to teach; and perhaps later, with more experience behind him, he might return to rig again with his friends.
It seemed as though he would learn now, or he would never learn at all.
This Cephean was an enigma—a bit like Legroeder, so alone with his thoughts, even in the net where personal barriers tended to relax. But Legroeder, despite his aloneness, had always worked in harmony whether as leader or follower. Carlyle suspected that Legroeder was fearless, but Janofer and Skan said that he simply gave what was needed, and no more.
But this was Cephean here with him, not Legroeder, and Cephean wasn't giving what was needed at all. Carlyle guided the ship into a gentle turn; the cynthian responded late, and incorrectly, and the ship swung toward the riverbank. Carlyle was forced to reach deep into the waters, using his hands as rudders to bring the ship back into line with the current. He tried again, coaching;
Gently, Cephean! Steer very gently!
But again the ship went off course, and again Carlyle had to correct for Cephean's mistakes. The Reld Current was running smoothly, but, despite that fact, the ship drew closer and closer to the shallows.
Finally he cried:
Cephean, pull out of the net!
The cynthian obeyed, humming and grumbling; and when Cephean was gone, Carlyle straightened the entire net himself, then turned the ship and held it against the drift, until it was safely back in the mainstream. The effort was exhausting, and as soon as he could manage, he set the stabilizers and withdrew from the net.
He blinked and gazed about the gloomy, reddishly lighted bridge. Cephean and the riffmar were gone. The rigger-stations were empty. Most of the instruments, burned out from the accident, were lifeless. The bridge looked as though it were dying with its former crew.
Carlyle went straight from the bridge to the commons. He drank an ale so quickly he scarcely noticed its taste, and then he went at once to his cabin. He needed to sleep, to regain the feel of his own body. Soon enough he would find the cynthian and face the melancholy bridge, and try once more.
Since its inception in the Twelfth Century of Space, starship-rigging had been regarded as one of the most peculiarly demanding of professions. Piloting a starship involved a mastery of technology, of course; but more than that, it required curious aptitudes of personality, of emotional set. Star-rigging involved not only spaceflight but also the mastering of the Flux—that subjective realm underlying the normal-space of Prime Reality, a realm akin to but distinct from freewheeling fantasy, and as intricate as a mistily mapped waking dream.
Successful navigation of the Flux demanded the exceptional dreamer—the rigger, trained to construct a vision and then to reach
it and to gain a literal fingerhold in a reality where the spaces flowed as oceans and the currents were unconstrained by the laws and distances of normal-space. The rigger's net was a harness, trussing the ship to him like a backpack as he rode the ebb and flow of the space itself. Rigging was an exquisite mating of imagination with the reality of the Flux—a strange way to live, in many eyes, but a fine way to travel among the stars.