The Void Captain's Tale, by Norman Spinrad

Re: The Void Captain's Tale, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 6:16 am

CHAPTER 10

MAL D'ESPRIT, sexual malaise, cafard, obsession noir; thus might masters of the healing arts have taxonomized my mental state as Lorenza and I went our separate ways. Those of less therapeutic but more moral bent not without the justice of the tribe might deem me a rogue bull, a sociopath, a monster of anomie faustian.

Chez moi, I would no doubt have pled my guilt to all these things, then as now. The turning away from succor's hope into the darkest heart of the obsession itself was surely a willful act of my own choosing.

And yet, now as then, at the baleful end-point of this self-chosen geodesic curve of fate, I still cannot deny a certain secret pride in having chosen the vision absolute over the quotidian vie humaine.

Voila, I have at last allowed this awful truth to pass from my self-occluded coeur onto the word crystal of this account where all may confront it, even if the only soul ever to read this naked truth will be my own!

Think of me what you will, regard me as did Lorenza as a prideful fool in love with my malaise; as I left that chamber of voidly dream, I longed not for the status quo ante, for the lost innocence of my Captainly role, but for she who had led me into the dark depths of this cafard--indeed, for the orgasmic countenance of the void itself.

But though an age had turned in the augenblick of the dream chamber, in the realm of flesh and time barely an hour had passed since the Jump, and Dominique lay in sick-bay coma still, leaving me to wander the ship like the Fliegende Hollander of ancient operatic lore, a lorn ghost-Captain in a shadow realm.

Hours passed in a fugal fog. Lorenza had departed for the environs of the grand salon; I therefore repaired to the entertainment deck, where we would not meet, where congress with Honored Passengers and crew might meetly be confined to the silent communal passivity of the spectatoral mode. Here I attended the performance of a string and electronic septet, a holocine in the kabuki mode, a dance of sword and fire, an erotic triplet, a concert of spontaneous musical odes.

Or rather did I drift from one to the other, sipping at this and that but never drinking deep; notes and movements, costumes and gestures, words and vistas, melanging into a fragmented abstraction of the arts humaine, the frenzied dance of captive spirit through maya's forms, or so it seemed to me in my timebound daze.

Flaming torches arching from hand to hand, the silken rolling of flesh on flesh, tautened wire vibrating to the human word, ideogrammic gestures of fear, love, and rage, the mathematical grace of bodies moving through space--all seemed revealed as shadows on the void, the pauvre panoply of man's attempt to transcend the universe of space and time through the transmaterial purity of abstract form.

Yet beyond this noble dance of human art, the highest expression of our spirit's striving to transcend the realm of time and form, lay that which could not be encompassed by the artifice of man. From nothing are we born, to nothing do we go; the universe we know is but the void looped back upon itself, and form is but illusion's final veil.

We touch that which lies beyond only in those fleeting rare moments when the reality of form dissolves--through molecule and charge, the perfection of the meditative trance, orgasmic ego-loss, transcendent peaks of art, mayhap the instant of our death.

Vraiment, is not the history of man from pigments smeared on the walls or caves to our present starflung age, our sciences and arts, our religions and our philosophies, our cultures and our noble dreams, our heroics and our darkest deeds, but the dance of spirit round this central void, the striving to transcend, and the deadly fear of same?

Only now, in the machineries of the Jump, via the ultimate expression of our mastery of the matrix to which our spirit is bound, have we at last thrust our will beyond the boundaries of mass-energy's maya into that formless realm.

Only then, as I drifted from shadow play to shadow play, each a striving to transcend and an illusion with which to deny, did I begin to perceive the meetness of the Pilots' name for the unnamable--the Great and Only, that which lay beyond even our quotidian void.

Cafard? Obsession? Anomie? Or the vision absolute from which our spirits shrink? Cannot they be the same?

After a time, I wandered from this venue of the arts to the vivarium, where previously my spirit had been drawn in such fits of existential angst. Here, in the company of the mindless trees, the free-flying birds, the bugs and frogs that passed from stimulus directly to response without the interval of consciousness between, did I hope to lose myself in the living mandala of evolution's less self-tortured forms.

Instead, as fate would have it, I encountered that most exotic denizen of the Dragon Zephyr's aviary humaine, Maddhi Boddhi Clear, the one man aboard whose obsession matched my own, a kindred caricature of my spirit.

He was sitting alone on a crumbling stone bench staring into the artificial sunset now deepening the illusory rose and purple sky toward the impending appearance of the starry void, as if to capture the moment when the illusion dissolved into the true vision of stellar night. This most thespicaliy social of Honored Passengers, this white-maned pilot fish of the floating cultura, seemed lost in the private contemplation of his own secret realm; I felt both a reluctance to intrude upon his solemn meditation and a magnetic attraction to the very inwardness his face now seemed to declare.

It was he who spoke awareness of my ambivalent approach.

"Ah, Captain Genro, seek you also the sight of the naked stars?"

I started somewhat at this manner of greeting, so close to the core of my secret mood, so distant from the mode of discourse between Honored Passenger and Captain. "Quelle chose!" I dissembled, "In the course of my duties on the bridge, I view them to surfeit. It is Honored Passengers such as yourself who might find the sight outre or picturesque, not to say daunting."

He stared up at me with even dark eyes. "They daunt me not, " he said, "though admittedly my fellow voyagers tend to vacate these premises when the illusion at last gives way to less occluded vision. In that respect, at least, I sense in you a fellow creature."

Indeed, as the shadows lengthened and the disappearing rim of the sun sent flickering umber and carmine shafts through the foliage, I now perceived parties of passengers scurrying for the exit with a certain uneasy haste, even as the birds of day retreated into their tree-top perches. There went Mori, arm in arm with Rumi, glancing in our direction with a certain widening of eyes at our congress as they made their way along a nearby path.

"Will you not sit here beside me and watch the stars come out?" Maddhi invited.

I hesitated for a moment. Certainement, the public sight of the Dragon Zephyr's Captain seated together with this outre personage, this mystical mountebank, would no doubt become a topic of some bemusement, not to say jocularity, in the gossip of the floating cultura; yet I could not deny that I sensed a certain desire in myself to seek his counsel on matters which otherwise need go unvoiced.

As I stood there frozen in stasis between my true desire and the social bounds of my Captainly role, I spied Lorenza walking round the far shore of the nearby pond, brightly plumed admirers clustered about her. She chanced to glance in our direction, and a quick moue of distaste puckered her lips, her eyes narrowed, her eyebrows raised; then she turned and said something to her companions which elicited a twittering of mirth, a covert flicker of glances in our direction, no doubt at my expense.

"Por que no?" I said to Maddhi, speaking also to Lorenza and her party in my heart of hearts. I seated myself beside him, flourishing my indifference in the sight of all; if I was Captain of this ship, was I not also the Captain of my own soul?

"May I speak to you frankly?" I asked somewhat foolishly.

"It can hardly be prevented."

We both laughed good-naturedly, albeit perhaps not without a certain reserve.

"Jocularities aside, Captain, I do believe I already know what you wish to ask, and the difficulty of framing it within the bounds of politesse and taste. Con su permiso, allow me to relieve your burden. Is this so floridly named fellow fraud or seer, mountebank or pilgrim? Do We Who Have Gone Before truly speak to him in dream and trance and sexual cusp, or is this a ploy to cozen otherwise unwilling lovelies into his somewhat overripe embrace?"

I laughed again, this time a discharge of uneasy tension. "I would not have quite framed it thusly. ..."

"But you would have it answered, nicht wahr?" Maddhi said, the humor vanished from his eyes.

I nodded silently. The last oblique rays of artificial sunset glazed his eyes with blood-red highlights and chiseled his features with chiaroscuro shadows; a trick of lighting, a change of voice, and all at once a deeper spirit seemed to speak through this thespic shell.

"If you will indulge, I will answer you with the tale of my name, though I warn you it is no less outre than my cognomen's form. ..."

"Por favor. ..."

Maddhi stared up into the near blackness as he spoke as if unwilling to miss the moment when the planetary illusion gave way to the tele-view of the naked void itself. Perhaps with thespic intent as well.

"My name is Maddhi Boddhi Clear, and as you have no doubt surmised, I have chosen all three as freenoms, leaving my pedigree in the mists of the long-forgotten past. Tambien have I chosen them not in homage to some personages I admire but as ensign of my chosen path, homage a the satoric moment that set my feet upon it, and admittedly with declarative intent as well.

"I was born a considerable time ago on a planet I choose not to name for reasons that also leave my pedigree best unsaid. Suffice it to say that poverty was my birthright and knavery my means of escape therefrom; in my youth and indeed far into mature manhood my physical charms were held in high repute by femme and homme alike and I did utilize them sans merci or shame for the pecuniary advantage of the moment.

"Thus did I find myself on the nameless planet of We Who Have Gone Before as courtesan companion to a woman of great wealth and great age, whose name I will not defile in this outre tale. Suffice it to say that though her corpus had long since decayed beyond my body's desire, her spirit was such that each performance of the tantric arts which I was compelled to give might fairly be said to have been an act of love, if such sentiments may be granted to a plyer of that trade.

"I knew not what she sought, there on that world of ancient mysteries in the twilight of her life, save that I knew her to be a far-traveling seeker of those ineffabilities whose essence I was then far too jejune to comprehend; indeed, I had surmised that her connoisseurship of outre molecules and charges, of sexual excess, was a famine not of the spirit but the flesh.

"When at last her true goal was revealed, scandalized, horrified, I at first refused. Until with tears and blandishments and discourse which hovered just beyond my powers to understand, mayhap through subtle influence of the venue itself, I was persuaded to relent.

"Scattered about that planet, clustered here, in isolation there, are the ultimate machineries of We Who Have Gone Before; deceptively simple black cubic slabs, or couches, or altars, within which lay the devices from which our scientists have derived the stardrive of the Jump. Most have long since ceased to function; the few that remain active are closely guarded by the curators of that planetary museum.

"But wealth in the service of true obsession may purchase all, and so we secured a period alone, high on a mountain crag under the all-knowing night sky, in the presence of a still functional altar. And there the deed was done.

"Naked beneath the stars, we ingested some arcane brew of molecules of her devising, and, when the air seemed pregnant with the ghostly spirits of that discorporate race, when the blood beneath our skins seemed to boil, and the stellar concourse seemed to whirl about us in a cosmic dance, she laid herself out on that altar of the unknown.

"As is known, these devices are not precisely tuned to the nervous system of our species; sin embargo, when I laid myself upon her and began to apply my erotic skills, almost at once was she transported into orgasmic ecstasy's embrace. Not once, not twice, nor any discretely numerable amount of times did she achieve her orgasmic peaks; rather did her cries and spasms meld into a single, endless, fiery plateau of ecstasy too extreme to bear pleasure's name.

"At the moment when I could prolong this state no more, as my being sought to pour itself through my phallic connection to her state of masculinely unknowable transfleshly grace, she bit upon a poison cap, and in that instant, she was Gone Before. Leaving me behind to tell this tale."

Somewhere in the darkness of the deserted vivarium, a single frog croaked its forlorn song. Dreaming birds rustled the leaves in their sleep. Above us glowered the million pinpoint eyes of the stellar abyss, each an oasis of pale, frail light in that black sea of nonbeing, a random speckling of matter thrown across the void. Maddhi Boddhi Clear turned from that countenance of the infinite deeps to stare, human to human, man to man, into my own.

"What did I feel in that moment of her blissful death? Did something then speak to me from the great beyond? The drug? My own orgasmic peak? A final farewell kiss of thanks? Quien sabe? Memory would not bind."

He sighed, a sad, longing, regretful sound. "But one thing I will never forget--in the moment of her death, as my body poured forth its measly manly essence into that which she was leaving behind, I gazed upon the last instant of animating life moving through her face. Never, before or since, have I seen such perfect, tranquil, utter bliss."

He shrugged, he smiled ruefully, he seemed to don his quotidian persona by conscious act of will. "Thus, mein Captain, was my life transformed. Pilgrim? Seer? Mountebank? All that and more. From that day until this, my entire life has been the effort to taste that which left me behind. Seer have I become in hope of attracting greater seers. Mountebank to the rich and seeking so as to finance my pilgrim's travels--"

"But do voices from the Great and Only truly speak to you in dreams and at the peak of sexual embrace?" I asked, regarding him now with sympathetic eyes.

Chilled with this confirmation that my obsession had touched another's heart through darker deed than any I had done, I was yet moved by his courage to speak its black name clear. For was his quest not that which in less naked guise had seized my spirit as I ejaculated into the void of Dominique's releasing lips, Lorenza's abstracted flesh, pierced to my own quick by the mystery's black and fiery lance? .

"Do We Who Have Gone Before truly speak in dreams or orgasmic cusp to my poor mannlichen ears?" Maddhi said, throwing up his hands in a gesture of self-reflexive irony. "Quien sabe? Long have I studied all the available lore, long have I dreamt in waking hours of the fulfillment of my denied desire, long have I lusted after such communion beyond and within the flesh. Does something truly speak to me from beyond the void or is it merely my own desire? Do I use this vision to entice women into my embrace or is the reverse the truth? After all these years, am I sincere, or is all this but a ploy to gain largesse?"

"You yourself do not know?"

Maddhi Boddhi Clear seemed to shrink in upon himself then, beneath the pitiless eyes of the all-seeing yet occluded void; yet a third persona seemed to emerge, this an aged, weary man facing the end of his long unfulfilled quest.

"One thing in truth I know quite well, mein Captain of the Void," he said in undissembling tone. "I seek a path I have not found. And I know it to be there."

"Know? Or merely believe?" I said without an interval of reflective thought. And immediately was chastened by the frisson of pain that passed across his face and then was gone.

"I know that We Who Have Gone Before ... have Gone Before. I know that she followed through aid perhaps of their instrumentality and my own phallic grace. And I sense in you, Genro, a fellow creature, a man who has looked through the window of the Jump itself and seen what lies beyond, if only in the mirror of some woman's eyes, nicht wahr...?"

I started in guiltily unmasked surprise. Our eyes locked, gaze to gaze, homme to homme; fellow creatures beneath it all, and that I could not deny.

"Beyond that, are we not reduced to logical belief, you and I?" said Maddhi Boddhi Clear. "We Who Have Gone Before appear not to have been a race divided into genders of femme and homme. Where they went, their species went entire. And this prison of mass and energy in which we find ourselves confined teems not with halfling remnant races left behind, though all our science declares that sapient spirit should arise as the crown of every biosphere. Vraiment, justice is more than we can expect from evolution's random chance, but does not logic itself declare that we poor human males be not the only poor benighted sapients doomed to be forever left behind?"

"You truly believe that it is possible for us to ... to ...?"

The concept could scarcely form itself within my mind, let alone frame itself in words upon my lips. In what manner were his quest and my obsession one? Only in that place sans words or form. But as I stared into Maddhi's haunted eyes, there I saw the mirror of my own as down some contracting warp of time, old with years, freighted with knowledge, yet still peering longingly at that final mystery beyond the voidly veil.

"The path must be there for us as well," said Maddhi Boddhi Clear. "Otherwise ..."

Otherwise, are we not lost? I thought, and sensed the congruent frisson of doubt pass through his anguished heart.

"Otherwise, we overpride ourselves on our unique wretchedness in the universal scheme, nicht wahr?" he said, breaking the intensity of the chilling moment with dryly delivered jocularity noir.

He shrugged, he looked away, far away, up into the eternal, endless night. "In fifteen billion years did spirit out of less than dust evolve," he said. "In fifteen billion more will not this universe of stars to less than dust return? Whence did it come? What is there when it is gone? Surely, mein gut Captain, we are not paranoiac enough to believe that such paradoxes are posed solely for the chastisement of the sons of Earth? That would be reference delusions on a cosmic scale! If the path exists for spirit to transcend this sorry scheme of things entire, vraiment, it must exist for all."

Or for none at all, I thought, but deigned not to voice.

And so we sat there for a time in silence: two sentient creatures hunkered on a slab of stone beneath the leafy trees by a tranquil pond, moving in our bubble-world through the great abyss. Wrapped around us, the vision of the seemingly all-embracing void, the womb of time which gave us birth. Was that too but sentience's veil of dreams, a bubble of illusion in a greater beyond?

***

In such a state did my spirit confront the self-appointed hour come at last, and so once more I found myself stealing up the Dragon Zephyr's spinal corridor, not like a lover in some farce d'amour, but like a somnambulist in a fever dream. I started not at the sound of approaching footfalls, nor did I scuttle crablike up cul-de-sacs to avoid the sight of Honored Passengers or crew.

Was it clarity of vision that made all else seem a shadow play, or had my obsession clouded my perceptions of the puissance of the quotidian realm? Even now, as this other Genro sits here at the terminus of his spirit's path through time, I cannot say. My ship seems doomed, my duty betrayed, my honor gone, and yet, gifted or cursed with foreknowledge of its end, would I have stepped away from this path? If clarity be madness, then must we not make the most of it or be doomed to make the least?

As fortune and custom's use would have it, few were the witnesses to my zombic march, and none to see this gaunt-eyed ghost slip inside his Pilot's cabin, though not through any worldly care of mine.

Dominique feigned not surprise at my apparition; indeed she awaited me, propped up alertly on pillows in her bed with her hair combed neatly, as if this were an assignation long since planned and I a tardy swain.

Vision seemed to sharpen, fog to dissolve; in this innermost of all forbidden venues, the charade was over, for the game of persona, having never begun, could neither be won nor lost.

"So, cher liebchen, we tryst once more," she said, a thin smile creasing her bluish lips.

"As we both knew we would. ..."

"Vraiment, am I not your fated femme fatale?" she said dryly. "You will sit here beside me, no, and fear not, mein pauvre petit, la belle dame in an outre sense perhaps, aber nicht sans merci."

Without verbal riposte, I found myself reclining on the bed beside her, close enough to smell the sour perfume of metabolic malaise, close enough to see the capillary red marbling the whites of her fevered eyes, the bits of whitish crust at the corners of her Lips. Was this my fated femme fatale? I was seized by a protoplasmic revulsion for that which drew my spirit near. What manner of man was I to eschew the arms of the fair Lorenza to seek such unwholesome embrace? And yet ...

And yet ...

And yet I felt my treacherous phallus on the rise as a cold and nauseous serpent oozed down the chakras of my hollow spine.

"Do you know what you've done?" I finally said.

For a moment, her rheumy eyes seemed to peer deep down into my soul, and then, as if rebounding off nether truths, glazed for an augenblick into mirrors of my own internal void, her pale and blotchy face stylizing into a lifeless mask through which peered some dark spirit which animated us both.

"I have awakened that which might better for you have slept," she said in a clear voice devoid of all remorse. In this same emotionless, unromantic spirit did she lay a cold and clammy hand upon the undeniable proof. My reflex was to shrink at this all-knowing touch, a chill went through my protesting flesh, but it was all a foolish psychesomic lie. The serpent uncoiled into her pitiless hand, its kundalinic body engulfing my spine, an electric connection between my phallus and my mind.

She gripped my cold-blooded erection in a demanding fist. "What do you feel now, mein Captain? This is not the amour, nicht wahr?" I groaned as she deliberately kneaded my flesh just this side of pain. Her eyes showed not passion, nor would they let mine alone.

"Fear not the truth, Genro," she said. "I know that this burns not with passion for the beauteous Dominique Alia Wu. Nor do I feel fleshly lust for my Captain of the Void. Aber we both seek consummation of the selfsame desire, liebchen, and in that, our spirits touch."

"A consummation which only you have found."

A tremor of some momentary irony humaine flickered beneath the mirrors of her eyes; her mouth quivered with a hint of unknown fear or loss which, though eluded, failed not to touch what remained of my human heart. For a moment, it seemed as if there were something more than congruent desire that we shared.

"A consummation which you have not found, vraiment," she said. "And which you wish to understand."

"Which in my madness I seek to contain," I said, and felt the serpent's mouth engulf my brain as my soul at last admitted all.

Dominique touched my cheek with a trembling hand. "I have awakened that which better should be left asleep, poor creature," she said again.

"Such was not your intent?"

"I serve that purpose which is its own intent," she said. "Toward you, mon cher, I had no intent at all."

"And now?"

"And now, perhaps, I am infected with the conscience humaine. Quien sabe? But we are fellow seekers now, travelers together, though we are each alone."

"Mad creatures both, beyond the social pale," I said, and in so doing felt a tension part, a crossing over to another realm, where figure had reversed with ground, and the dancer dared to step beyond the dance.

As she had exposed my true karmic state to its own self-aware perception not without my own collusion, so did she now free its priapic proclamation from the camouflage of social concealment not without my own inevitable aid.

"Shall I give you the ghost of what you desire best I can?" she said, gripping my heated flesh with hard, unsensuous hand. "Ah, liebchen, if I could give you more ...," she said with a sigh, palpating waves of sensation up my central core to batter at the portals of my final pride.

"When I'm on the bridge now," I whispered, "when my finger is poised above the Jump command point, it feels like this, Dominique, it feels as if ..." I shuddered in a spasm of self-revulsion, unable to go on.

But my Pilot eased away this clotted moment with a suddenly tender hand, a finger placed upon my lips, and words that balmed and cozened. "Ach, mein Genro, do not imagine that this is the perverse passion to one who understands! You wish to be with me in the Great and Only now, do you not? So, mein pauvre petit, I take you there in the only way I can. Imagine I do for you what you do for me and be not ashamed. Who are the shadows of this ship to say that what we do is not the act of love, verdad?"

I felt my flesh surrender to her ministering hand, my spirit surrender to my flesh, and both surrender to the moment itself--the timeless, mindless now, beyond the moral realm of future deeds or judgments past. Who indeed could say that what we did was not an act of love? Through this inadequate flesh did not Dominique in selfless mode seek to repay my own altruistic role for its service of her spirit in the Circuit of the Jump? Was it not a mere cruel trick of time that our completions could not in temporal congruence merge? Was it not a grace to transcend our timebound fate through mutual act of selfless will? If this is not love, the word has no meaning; I believed it then, and I believe it yet.

I closed my eyes and gave over my mind's eye to her words: "It is velvet dark in the Pilot's module, liebchen; there is neither light nor sound nor pain. You float as if in the womb, sans gravity, sans temperature exchange, sans tout. There is neither a you nor an it, for you have melted into the perfect, formless, featureless darkness. ..."

Waves of stately energy moved in tranquil grace up the kundalinic connection between our fleshly nexus and the darkness behind my eyes. Under her tantric ministrations, I practiced the yoga of sensual disconnection, cleansing my eyes of vision and focusing my sensorium on the sound of her words and the electricity of her touch. Slowly but steadily, the tempo increased, bringing me to the quivering brink of orgasm and holding me there on the sweet razor edge as I floated in the timeless and formless blackness.

"And then, at once, you are there! From nothing into All, from darkness into the endless white light!"

Spasm bolts of lightning seared up my spine to explode in brilliant shards behind my eyes, piercing the pleasure centers of my brain, galvanizing my nervous system with a white-hot charge--

"Ah, the moment, liebchen, when the blackness explodes into the light and you are all, and you are not, and it is Great, and it is the Only, and it is forever, beyond the veil containing space and time ..."

--the fibers of my body contracting in a coldly glorious final tsunami of formless, modeless, emotionless ecstasy pouring my spirit through my phallus into the vulval void!

"... soon, alas, to end, as webs of darkness fracture the light into form, into the vortex of maya drawing you down into the dance of space and time. ..."

Slowly my eyes opened to the vision of Dominique staring down at me with a thin but not entirely cruel little smile, a knowing communion of the unknowableness of the unknowable, a moue of empathetic loss.

"Tu sabes, liebchen?" she said softly. "For you, it is to know but the shadow that poor words and flesh can give you; for me, it is to taste the Great and Only vraiment, and then to be cast out once more into the shadow world."

I lay there in supine and detumescent lassitude on the soiled and rumpled sheets of our transaction, feeling in truth soiled and rumpled myself, aware now of the fluids and sweats that are the quotidian aftermath of the highest psychesomic cusp.

And yet, even in this most extreme of revulsive post-coital depths, I understood that the bargain was worth the price, that to touch the heights one must indeed wager all, that the spirit's purpose truly was indeed to serve no purpose lower than its own.

"To awake here slowly in agony and pain to pay the price ...," I said, clasping her hand to me and stroking her ragged hair.

"The aches and agues of the body our Healer soothes with drugs," she said. "Aber, to be returned from the Great and Only, that, my friend, is the pain for which there is no balm."

"And so our spirits touch in exile in this shadow realm," I said. "And comfort each other as best they can."

She kissed me lightly on the lips. Her pale, sickly face was transfigured by the first smile thereon that had truly touched my heart. "Ah, mein liebe Genro," she said. "Your Pilot meets a Captain whose spirit understands."
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Re: The Void Captain's Tale, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 6:16 am

CHAPTER 11

LIKE THIS WORD CRYSTAL being replayed, the period confined within the temporal bounds of the next three Jumps seems a subjective nonlinearity measured by event rather than duration; it all seems to exist simultaneously before memory's unreeling eye.

Naturellement, I fed my body, eased its fatigue with sleep, abluted and relieved myself when necessary, and performed my duty's rounds. Perforce did I also hold congress with Honored Passengers and crew like a socially conscious man.

But these concessions to mundane imperatives existed in a timestream alien to the causal skein of meaningful events whereby the spirit measures time; as heartbeat and breathing are given over to cerebral centers beneath the cortical crown, so were the biological and social niceties given over to the peripheral systems of my mind.

For in truth those events which mattered were warps through linear time, compressions of experience where temporal distancing was overcome, at least within the illusion of subjective desire.

How convoluted and arcane does that apologia sound as I play it back with its true meaning hovering just beyond my own comprehension! Vraiment, I am dissembling still, or perhaps any craft is insufficient to render a coherent image of vision or madness from memory's other side.

The unembellished truth is that my full attention came alive only at the moment of the Jump and at the time-warped completion of the act in Dominique's boudoir; the interval between was the realm of shadows through which my true spirit slept.

How this puppet Captain must have appeared to the other actors on the stage is something which even now I can but dimly recollect as data shorn of all affect.

Seven meals were taken, or mayhap eight; six of these were social events spiced with discourse in which I no doubt took part. There are sense memories of many noble dishes artfully prepared and vintages of appropriate savor. There was a grand banquet given by Lorenza, where I was the object of a certain jocular contempt for my congress with Maddhi, as well as thinly veiled japes from our Domo of a more unseemly erotic nature. There was a meal with Argus and Mori passed in formal discussion of the ship's duties and events. Other repasts were taken in various cuisinary venues with names and faces that blend into a babble of sprachs.

A customary status report on the human cargo stored in electrocoma was made to me by Maestro Hiro; this impressed itself upon my memory owing to his expressed concern for the status of my health. Erotic overtures were made to me by a somewhat unusual plenitude of Honored Passengers whom I repulsed with as little personalization as possible, feigning weariness or malaise or pleading duty elsewhere.

On a number of occasions, I was entrapped in conversations of hermetic intensity which in another state might have piqued my curiosity or attention, but from that period my memory can extract only intellectual shards. A discourse by Rumi Jellah Cohn on the dialectic between the universality of the artistic impulse and the diversity of cultural forms. A woman who spoke of faint messages now perhaps being received from the galaxy of Andromeda, millions of years in our nonrelativistic past. A scurrilous tale about a Domo who conceived an infatuation for her ship's Second Officer and sought to undermine the Captain's authority in the service of her inamorata's ambition.

It all seems an automaton's dance to me now as did it then, a shadow play in which I slept through the playing of my own part. Only one imperative seems to have left the memory trace of the exercise of my will: not without consciously applied skill and guile did I seek to avoid Lorenza, Maestro Hiro, and Maddhi Boddhi Clear--the only humans on board who, through diverse instrumentalities, might have penetrated the perfection of my fugue.

If analytic perception may be granted to a being in such a state, it seemed to me then that only by abstracting my being from the intervals between could I endure the temporal gaps between the Jumps and the discontinuity between Dominique's fulfillment and the shadow of my own. Indeed, the universe of space and time itself had become reduced to an unseemly intrusion between those augenblick perceptions of that which lay beyond.

As for those brief bright moments themselves and her with whom I shared them, if Dominique and I were lovers, it was by no classic definition of the dramaturge art. We stared not limpidly into each other's eyes, we shared not romantic meals a deux, no soulful solitary strolls, and of dream chambers we knew only one, and that the product of no human craft. Certainement, all the loverly sentimentality and sacraments of the quotidian realm sullied not the purity of the passion trans-humaine that we shared.

There are certain tantric dyadic asanas in which erect lingam penetrates yoni immobilely for the duration of the mutual meditative trance. If such partners in the solitary inward quest may be said to perform an act d'amour, then mayhap Dominique and I were lovers, for although our tantric configuration was different, its goal and spirit were the same. If such exercises be informed with mutual caritas, are they not a rarefied act of love?

Certainement in the linear timestream our discontinuous performances were unselfish acts of love; on the bridge, I served her spirit, in her bed, she served my flesh, and never in this time-warped transaction did yoni and lingam meld to give as they received.

Was this not a human bond between us, this leap of trust through time? Were we not two souls in our isolation magnetized by the same pole?

She was the Pilot of my kundalinic circuit, as I was the Captain of her own. But in the chord of our mutual vibration, I was the minor note. What the Captain bought was not half so precious as what he sold, and I now perceive that even then the baser note of envy was a throbbing undertone.

Thus while our time-transcending congresses had merged into a seamless generality where event was subsumed into the archetypal now, as I replay that memory's worldless crystal, I see the fault lines of its eventual shattering marbling the whole.

I sit on my throne of power beneath the canopy of stars as it seems I have always done, and as the familiar Jump ritual proceeds, the now- familiar electric current begins to flow along my spine, deja-vued by memories and anticipations coiled round the illusory now.

I gaze into the starry void, into Dominique's eyes, into the blackness behind my own sealed eyelids as her lips envelop my lingam, and I feel a feedback channel opening between this creature of obsession and the dormant natural man.

"Pilot in the Circuit. ..."

Even as my spirit perceives our cycle as a time-warped act of love, phallic logic goads me with its egobound primal throb; now she would ride the whirlwind and I would be her steed, through the electronic Jump Circuitry my will would serve the purpose for which my flesh was disdained. ...

"... checklist completed and all systems ready for the Jump. ..."

In the Jump, I was the master of her ecstasy, and in the flesh Dominique the mistress of my surcease; au contraire, was she then not the servant of my flesh and I now her spirit's slave?

"Captain! Captain Genro? The checklist is completed."

"Well then, take your position, Man Jack," I say with serene distraction, and Mori repairs to her chaise with an expression of bemusement that seems to be eternally there.

"Ship's position and vector verified and recorded," Argus declares, her voice shrill and peremptory as it seems to have always been. "Vector coordinate overlay computed, Captain, and on your board."

Was this erotic equation not truly the ideogram in which we were bound, and was it not an injustice, an imbalance in the universal scale? Had not Maddhi--

"Captain Genro, the vector coordinate overlay is on your board and ready to be dumped!" Argus fairly snapped; the slap of her voice, the keen edge of contempt in her eyes as she turned to regard me shattering the crystalline temporal generality into the unseemly and all- too-specific now.

"Are you all right, Captain?" Argus demanded with little show of sympathy. "Are you suffering from some malaise?"

"Attend your console, Interface," I snapped with an ersatz Captainly peckishness. "Dumping vector coordinate overlay into the Jump computer now. Please activate the final two command points."

Sullenly, Argus returned to her duties, and the last two command points reddened on my board. "Jump Field aura erected," I announced with a deliberate reduction of curtness, although I jabbed the command point with a vehemence I was hard put to understand.

Like a reveler awakening the morning after a multi-molecule binge and wondering what enormities the gap in his memory track conceals, I found myself surveying the traces of the past three ship-days in the timebound causal world. Had this disharmony on my bridge been building while my attention was vanished from my Captainly role? Had I sleepwalked through my duty as I had through the floating cultura in a somnambulistic haze?

Even then I knew that my fellow officers were no just objects for my ire, nor in hindsight's clarity was it Dominique against whom my passion raged. Nevertheless, as my finger curled toward the Jump command point like a tautening steel spring, slowly did the unselfish tantric figure reverse with the angry thwarted ground, did impotent envy come to inform the impending act.

The Jump warning notes sounded, reverberating down my spine, and my digit stiffened into a vengeful phallic lance. My lips twisted into a soundless sneer as I confronted my rider in the void, serene in the crystal blackness beyond my manly powers.

"Jump," I growled gutturally. "Jump, damn you, Jump." And as I thrust at the red quick of the Jump command point, I longed to feel that orgasmic moment impaled on my own exploding flesh.

In an augenblick the moment came and went. Outside the ship, the stars were different, and on the bridge, I sat there foolishly, regarded with discomfort by the widened eyes of my crew.

Mori's startlement seemed innocent of knowledge or judgmental tone, but Argus studied me narrowly as if I sat there naked, sweating, and tumescent on my Captain's throne.

"Captain Genro, are you sure you're all right?" she said. "Would not a consultation with our Healer be--"

"I am in perfect health and in command of my faculties," I replied coldly. "Though I appreciate your concern."

"I only meant--"

"It is of no importance, Interface; I will let the matter pass." I said with as much authoritatively Captainly finality as I could feign. I locked eyes with my feminine Second Officer, willing her accession to the authority of my command, to the potency I longed to feel.

After a moment, Argus looked away from what she saw, and in that moment perhaps I might delude myself that some sense of my manly power had been regained. But this was the pouvoir of the Captain only, not the puissance of the man.

***

I departed the bridge with my consciousness in a somewhat less fugal state--not that my spirit had been deflected from its inner focus; rather that quotidian events of sufficient import had intruded themselves upon my attention to the point of forcing me to act. For the first time in three ship-days, I had truly donned my Captainly role and dealt with a psychic exigency of command beyond the mechanical round of automatic duties.

True, I had done this only when my Captainly authority had been frontally threatened; true tambien that my own prolonged disattention had been the causal agent of Argus' challenge. Nevertheless, the event had occurred, and it opened my void-glazed eyes to the effects left in the wake of my somnabulary trajectory.

In retrospect, I then began to see that while my spirit had been traveling other realms, its animating absence from my persona had perhaps not gone entirely unnoticed by those who encountered the resulting creature in the course of duty or social discourse. My Second Officer had perceived it well enough to challenge my authority not so much as Captain but as a properly functioning man, and even my young Man Jack had not been oblivious to the bizarre nature of my behavior. Truth be told, I feared a seance with Maestro Hiro or Healer Lao, for my confidence in my ability to pass the muster of their profession was not exactly great.

Yet even as I left the bridge with a certain determination to restore the potency of my persona as Captain in command, even as I admitted to the practical cunning of avoiding the close perusal of the Med crew, I doubted not the absolute reality beyond the worldly veil, nor did it seem to me insanity to pursue it.

Rather were the realms in which I found myself in disjunction with the ideal spiritual state. The bubble-world of human culture was but a shadow parade through timebound space, and that which lay beyond it lay also just beyond my grasp, floating mockingly before me in the tender ministrations of Dominique. Once more I empathized with that first lunged fish to crawl out of the englobing ocean into the open unknown air; I was gasping on the interface between the lower and the most high, unable to go on, unwilling to return.

But unlike that first self-tortured amphibian, I was possessed of the dualities of mind and the reflectiveness of spirit to realize that in order to evolve, an organism must first survive. Chez moi, that meant survival as Captain of my ship, and as I tentatively entered the grand salon, I wondered what I would find. How far had the erosion of my social persona drifted while its essential spirit was gone?

The grand salon was well attended as is customary during the Jump. Like gaily colored tropical fish habiting a convoluted coral reef, Honored Passengers of every species and hue were floating about the levels, nooks, and cubbies of the great sculpturefied room in hovering schools and shoals. Trays of dainties were everywhere, carafes and goblets of spirits, essences, and wines, herbal pipes, and braziers of intoxicating incense.

As I stood there on the entrance landing in the high-lighted sight of all surveying this generality as if from a mountain peak, a certain psychic odor seemed to waft to the back reaches of my brain: the ripeness of overrichness, the proclaimed artifice of superabundant perfume, the ozone of circuitry sizzling near overload. Private islands of variously tinted light picked out archetypal floating cultura scenes as if some classic painter had laid out a vast genre canvas of the fete. Here were lovers bent together on a pinkly chiaroscuroed chaise, there a scene of Maddhi Boddhi Clear amid feminine acolytes in a hazy golden glow, a slim woman playing a sandovar silhouetted in bright white, drinkers, diners, amorous adventurers, and the quite intoxicated all incarnating this dramatic baroque tableau.

Here was the vida real of the starfaring floating cultura, the distilled and heady essence of this greatest age of man; here were wealth and art and beauty, science, curiosity, and intrigue; why then was I reluctant to be the Captain of its ship of fate, to play my leading role? Why then did I stand there until I had once more made myself a strange-eyed spectacle to these brightly accoutered shadows?

Indeed, Sar Medina Gondo, with great thespic flourishes of her flowing white, gold-embroidered robes, ascended from the fete to fetch me like a great maternal bird.

"Ach, gut Captain, you have been quite an illusive figure," she said, capturing my arm in hers and leading me like a prize down the stairs before all.

She clung to me assertively as she guided us through the swellings and thinnings of the throng, never ceasing all the while to prattle of this and that in a grand, projecting voice. "I see that Rumi and your little Third Officer are still keeping to themselves, pero from other voyages with that bravo, } tell you it will not last, of course we sophisticated voyagers know what rogues d'amour you Void Ship officers are, and nicht wahr, mi mannlein, you can say the same; why even you apparently have become indifferent to the great Lorenza's charms, leaving other hearts to hope. ..."

She stole a glance d'amour in my direction as she offered me a goblet of wine from a tabouret, her long blond hair combed into golden waves, her shining green eyes clear and empty as fine crystal.

When this was not returned, she continued apace, squiring me about the grand salon and simulating our rapt conversation with an endless monolog of public bon mots.

"Ah, mon cher, there is Ali Barka Baraka, surely the richest creature aboard, they say he owns an unreported planetary system in the outer fringes where the economic overlords of creation gather to engage in unspeakable vice, though alas I've never been invited, but I did once share a dream chamber with one of his lovers who had the most amazing tales, speaking of which, I'll wager you've heard some droll ones from our Maddhi over here. ..."

By design or fortune, she had thrust me into the center of a group gathered about Maddhi Boddhi Clear, with her own person attached and little reluctance to assume responsibility for the intrusion.

"Why everyone is talking about your little tete a tete up there in the darkness together, my dears, have you finally made a convert out of a comrade of your own foolish gender, Maddhi, pero surely, nicht wahr, not through the usual means ...?"

Maddhi, not to be nonplussed in his own venue, shot a brotherly glance in my direction and replied in fine, florid style. "My heterosexuality is a legendary scourge of the galaxy, cher Sar, as you have had occasion to know; it goes beyond the fleshly tastes to regions alas beyond your ken. As for the Captain of the Dragon Zephyr, I judge him a similar spirit, a fellow pilgrim of the way."

At this there was jocular and at the same time befuddled laughter from those gathered about us, whose numbers now seemed to have spread.

"So this is the cause of our Captain's distraction," some unseen sly voice said. "Like Maddhi Boddhi Clear, he listens to voices in his head."

The laughter at this was raucous and prolonged, and to his own considerable discomfort Maddhi was unable to sail a jape above it, which is not to say he did not try. "Like Maddhi Boddhi Clear, he has not stoppers in his ears."

But this riposte sounded lame to his clearly critical ear even as he launched it, and it was in any event shouted into a whirlwind of jocularity, in which it vanished without a trace.

"So does it happen to those who stare into space too long!"

"Better men than we have gone before!"

I found myself within a flock of bright-plumed and riotous parrots, squawking their laughter at their own birdbrained sallies, shrill life- denying cackles flung round my smarting head. No riposte presented itself to my blushing mind, nor could I flee except in even more unseemly disarray, and so I was reduced to standing there like a comic foil till the japery finally died away.

Yet though I clearly stood there as the victim of their jests, still did it seem to me that there was a higher joke of which they were the butt, the cosmic conundrum which their laughter sought to veil. Was this japery not their means of trivializing the unconfrontable profound? Was not the laughter longer and louder than such banalities should command?

Mayhap such analysis is the rationalization of the public buffoon, and certainement I itched with the burning rash of same, and verdad it took the mercy of the good-hearted Mori to effect my extraction by leading me away with my ears still ringing on the pretext of some non-existent technical question.

But even as I released my rescuer back into the dyadic company of her inamorato and attempted to melt away into the anonymous generality of the fete, I smelled even more strongly a shrill, overripe odor in the psychic air, of hidden and unbidden alchemies smoldering beneath the scenery. Beneath all this gaiety and baroque complexity lay the simple and so carefully denied; beyond the thin metal surrounding us was the endless humorless void. Hollow rings the laughter of orphans in the night.

The embarrassing and unsettling scene chez Maddhi was not, at least, without its practical compensation: in the process of being rescued from my discomfort by Mori, I had been extracted as well from the clutches of Sar. I resolved to make myself the center of no more attention than was unavoidable and certainement to eschew the company of anyone whose style or intent was likely to propel me into bold relief.

Indeed, I contemplated leaving the fete for some more solitary venue, there to pass the time until my hour with Dominique away from this madding throng. But in a peculiar fashion, my very unease in the grand salon made it both psychically and practically difficult to depart. Of what unseemly and perhaps less humorous gossip would I become the object if I retreated from the venue of my jocular disgrace into solitary broodings? Might not my comings and goings become a subject of closer public scrutiny, endangering the secrecy of the ultimate enormity of my assignations with the ship's Pilot?

Certainement as Captain I could ill afford to appear unwilling to face the discourse of my own Honored Passengers, and as a man I refused to slink off like a creature of no consequence from the bemusement of these shrill buffoons.

So, like a nectar-dipping butterfly, I fluttered from bloom to bloom, tasting this conversation and that, sipping wine, inhaling incenses, nibbling dainties, never securing a static perch but hovering at the peripheries while sampling the garden's questionable delights.

Nevertheless, I was the object of no little attention and not merely the accustomed flutter attending the Captain on his social rounds. I was constantly aware of covert glances behind my back of the sort conducive to a self-diagnosis of paranoia, had I not occasions to trap unwary watchers with a sudden shift of my gaze. While I encountered no more verbal assassins lurking in the shadows, my mental state seemed the subject of subtle probing scrutiny assayed through the idle discourse. Particularly were my difficulties with Lorenza an object of prying gossip.

"Quelle chose, my dear Captain, why was our Domo not in attendance at our lunch?"

"It was a rare meal Lorenza conjured, Genro, peculiar you weren't there."

"She seemed more than willing to share dream chambers with us all."

"Ah, my roguish Captain, you have the secret amour, ne? For surely poor Lorenza's behavior reveals the claws of a woman scorned."

"Or is it you, pauvre Genro, who have lost Lorenza's favors? Is that the cause of your malaise? If so, allow me to suggest a stratagem d'amour which I've never known to fail. ..."

"Certainement, mon cher, there are others more than willing to cast away your gloom. You need only look about you--or into my own eyes."

Und so weiter ad infinitum, as I wandered in a growing discomfort which began to take on an edge of anger as the proceedings evolved. For as they all assayed me, I passed over into judging them, and in my vision they were no less haunted figures than the Captain whom they regarded as such an object of psychic speculation.

Indeed, while my admitted distraction might have wrapped me in enigma, and the disharmony between Captain and Domo might be ample cause for this social concern, the true meaning was beyond their courage to attempt to comprehend. Thus, while their perceptions were clouded by self-willed ignorance, mine were honed by the all-too- puissant clarity of the inner eye.

From which vantage did all this gaiety seem somewhat overheated and thin, like a phantom oasis city shimmering in the desert eye. Like wasteland travelers, did they not dwell in their own mirage, wrapping their illusion round them in the empty awful night? So fragile was the structure of their reality that a single unsubsumed consciousness, a solitary ripple in their little pond, was enough to roil the social waters into a frothing, bubbling foam.

"Ach, the wandering spirit returns!"

I was in the act of pouring wine into my goblet from a flagon, standing for the moment alone in a blue-illumined concavity, rather like a tiny sea- cliff grotto carved into the overhanging rock, a bubble of relative solitude, or so I had thought.

But there Lorenza found me, and not without her entourage. Two of them were supporting her, or, rather, she lounged luxuriantly in their arms. Aga Henri Koram, the freeservant master of erotic entertainments, done up in bare chest and mail of brass, held her about the waist like a sack of plunder while she draped her arm around the neck of a thin blond fellow dressed in wine-red silks artfully arranged to simulate noble rags. Lorenza herself wore but a short white sarong clasped with a wooden brooch and slit to expose her inner thighs and a wreath of bejeweled golden flowers choked tight about her throat. Sweat glistened on her body or mayhap some unguent gel, and her ice-blue eyes were glazed with toxicants and the reddened haze of voluptuary intent.

Behind them, like the background in some erotic frieze, were half a dozen Honored Passengers similarly dressed for festishistic fantasy of diverse styles and modes, leaning against each other and regarding me with lidded eyes.

"Greetings, Lorenza," I said stiffly. "I see you are enjoying the spirit of the fete."

At this, there was tipsy laughter from the followers in her train; no few of them were charged or moleculed, and sans doubt all of them were drunk.

"And you, pauvre Genro, are your pleasures being met?" Lorenza said somewhat thickly. "Or would you care to join our troupe?"

I stared evenly into her bleary eyes. "You seem quite well escorted at the moment," I said. "What need do you have of me?"

"What indeed!" she said with a sudden ice-hard coldness that provoked intakes of breath. The moment hung there suspended like a thundercloud of storm. Blue daggers of lightning seemed to flicker in her eyes. All within range seemed locked in unwholesome attention.

" Ah, but surely, mon cher, there is always room for one more," Aga said with naive good-naturedness despite his chosen persona of naked flesh and chains.

With that, the tension burst into erotically overtoned laughter, in which all save Lorenza joined.

"Yes, do come along, we have more than enough of everything to go around."

"Come let me stroke away your gloom."

"Let us all repair to a dream chamber and invent an erotic figure no one has seen before."

"What do you say, my gallant Captain, is this not an occasion to which you can rise?" Lorenza said in a slurry yet piercing tone that silenced the sycophantic rust lings like the cracking of a whip.

"The question is, mon cher ," I snapped, "whether you can remain erect much longer."

There was a collective inhalation at my bluntly pointed rejoinder, a whiff of the ancient arena of our most timeless gladiator game; the onlookers observed this contretemps with a naked hungry glee.

"Supinity will suffice for my part, ne, is not the other yours?"

My ears fairly burned crimson and my groin grew damp and cold. The audience laughed uneasily in a squirm of sympathetically crawling flesh.

"I fear our fair Domo has passed beyond the realm of nicety," Aga said distastefully, loosening his grip upon her waist.

"Oh, the niceties and gallantries have long since passed between the Captain and myself," Lorenza pressed on, hazy of countenance but crystal cold of eye. "Verdad, Genro? No doubt there are numerous others who have piqued your manly interest. As there are others, many others, to be honored in your stead."

Now Aga disengaged himself with righteous manly indignation. But Lorenza barely noticed, merely flowing closer against her other momentary swain. "Unless you have become a sour celibate, as the all-knowing Sar would have it. "

"Or perhaps there is another whose charms exceed your own," I snapped back cruelly, no longer prudent in my shameful rage. "Is such an unlikely miracle beyond your ego's power to imagine?"

"Name her, then, and tell us her tale!" Lorenza said with serpent softness. "Produce this beauty for our delectation. Hide not treasures for yourself!"

"And if she conducts her amours not as theater as some others I could name ...?"

Lorenza looked coldly into my eyes and I glared just as coldly back. Though my mocked and outraged manhood called for vengeance against her taunts, my higher cortex abruptly clarified with the knowledge that this scene had been played out much too far.

Lorenza too seemed to have attained this relative state of cerebral civilization or at least had seen what was in my eyes; she gave off staring with a thespic wobble of her head, feigning a sudden awareness of her own intoxicated state.

"I do believe I am not entirely within my powers, good playmates," she said in an exaggeratedly syncopated voice. "Let us find a place softly cushioned and leave our Captain to his ectoplasmic soul-mate."

So saying, she departed with her entourage in her wake, and I stood there for quite some time in my shadowed little niche, watching them reel and bob like flotsam through the wrack of faces, spreading the gossip of this latest unsavory addition to my unwholesome mystique like windblown foam.
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Re: The Void Captain's Tale, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 6:16 am

CHAPTER 12

BY THE TIME I had screwed up my courage and screwed down my anger to the point where I might risk another immersion in the floating cultura, the effects of the contretemps were all too evident in the lidded and carefully neutral eyes that everywhere met my glance, in the murmuring and swift whispering that sprang into being wherever I turned my back.

Goaded into an unthinking reaction by intoxicated outrage to my manhood like some naive adolescent or detumescent aging roue, I had myself exacerbated exactly the perception that I had sought to prevent.

Now, sans doubt, Lorenza's accusation of impotent celibacy would contend as a theory for my bizarre mood with my own foolish proclamation of a hidden amour. My movements and actions would be subject to the prying scrutiny of all and sundry, my mental state would continue to be a prime topic of idle speculation--all of which, alas, being that which I had made my appearance at the fete in order to avoid arousing.

Under such circumstances, my continued subjection to this reality served no tactical purpose, and, feigning wooziness myself, I beat my rather disorderly retreat from the grand salon.

Out in the empty spinal corridor, I paused to catch my psychic breath, clearing the fog of social banalities and games of persona from the center of my perceptions. And I must confess that, as I stood there with the long tubular corridor stretching away to vanishing points fore and aft like the geodesic of my own lifeline, reflection upon the state of my own sanity could not remain absent from my scrutiny.

I began walking slowly up the corridor through solitary, coupled, and grouped Honored Passengers crossing over from the grand salon to the stateroom module, drifting through this area of cross traffic like a wraith. Soon I had passed beyond this habited country into the long empty passage to the bridge at the Dragon Zephyr's bow.

Behind me, the world of the floating cultura seemed to recede down a corridor of time, becoming a memory, a distant shadow play, a place I had left, and to which, in a certain sense, I now knew I could not return in the same karmic form. The figure of Void Captain Genro Kane Gupta was now irrevocably an object of unwholesome surmise; unarguable also that on this voyage Captain and Domo had become the polar foci of disharmony rather than the ritual leaders of the accustomed pavane.

Nor could I deny that the unwritten social contract had been nullified by an act of my own will. Just as I had donned the robes of pariahhood in the eyes of my charges, so had they become less than wholesome to my own inner eye. Between us lay a barrier of fractured expectation and shattered illusion, an intrusion of more puissant forces through the fabric of the reality we once had shared.

To those whose lives were seamlessly subsumed into the mass and energy of maya's realm, was not a consciousness such as now possessed me beyond their ken? Were not they sleepwalkers through a vain illusion from the vantage of this outre apparition in their midst? Verdad, if sanity is a social definition, then Genro Kane Gupta was mad; aber if the spirit is the highest judge, then was I not the only sane person aboard?

Dominique and I.

Who served no lower purpose than our own.

I found myself approaching the Pilot's cabin just as our Healer, Lao Dant Arena, was shutting the door behind him. "Captain Genro?" he said from under raised eyebrows. "Why are you not in the Grand Palais?" Meaning, naturellement, Why do I encounter you in this province?

"I seek," I said spontaneously, "the solitude of the bridge."

"The bridge?"

"Indeed. I was just on my way there now."

"Is something amiss with the ship? Some anomaly or malfunction in the mechanism?"

"There is nothing to fear, Lao. I merely wish to to commune, as it were, with the stars."

The Healer now regarded me with a certain professionally sympathetic concern. "I have observed in you a certain malaise of the aura of late, if you will forgive me, Captain," he said. "It is said that you have been lacking some subtle elan vital, that--you will pardon my concerned intrusion--that you reject all overtures to erotic exercise."

"I was not aware that the duties of a Healer included serving as a conduit for mendacious gossip," I said sharply but without fire, determined not to provoke any more suspicion than my appearance in these environs had already warranted.

Lao squirmed nervously and leaned closer, an expression of acknowledgment of his transgression of the bounds of nicety which I somehow found engaging. "I meant only to open a conduit between yourself and the exercise of my art," he said hesitantly.

I stared at him in unfeigned befuddlement. He drew even closer and lowered his voice to a tone of confidentiality even though there was not another person in sight.

"As a Healer, I do well know that the broaching of such matters presents certain difficulties of the ego..."

"Difficulties of the ego?"

"Vraiment, alas. Foolish but true. If a man suffers from dysfunction of the stomach, or the heart, or the bowels, or discerns in himself a depressive metabolism, he suffers no qualms over seeking a Healer's aid. But let his phallic organ become the victim of somic or psychic malaise, and more often than not he will suffer in silence rather than forthrightly acknowledge his disease and be cured."

"Are you suggesting that I am suffering from ... from a phallic dysfunction?" I said, feigning lofty amusement even as my scrotal sac contracted.

"Only you are presently aware of any such symptoms," Lao said nervously. "However, from the secondary data available to me, such a possibility does present itself. A certain anomic flattening of zestful social intercourse, solitary broodings, mystical studies, as it were--these are all peripheral effects not so much of the malady itself as of the secretive defensive reaction to it. Indeed, paradoxically, the lancing of the boil of secrecy is ofttimes sufficient to restore normal erotic function."

The touching yet also clinically detached mien he had fashioned, the rational placitude of his words, somehow made me wish that I could plead to a simple case of impotence; indeed, had such been my state, I no doubt would have unburdened myself, for clearly Healer Lao knew his art well. How less taxing it would have been to quaff a few capsules, perform a prescribed series of special asanas, and be relieved of all psychesomic disharmonies!

Unfortunately, my tantric conundrum, if malady it indeed was, would hardly prove susceptible to potions or exercises, being not a symptom of dysfunction in the psychesomic matrix but of the spirit's dialectic with the universal corpus in which it was bound.

Vraiment, all other supplicants might find me less than a natural man, but she who waited behind that closed door had the power to raise my priapic lust to be something more.

"I assure you, Healer, my lingam is in fine working order," I told him. "Rather, perhaps, has my taste been jaded by excessive indulgence in the pulchritude habitually available to a man of my station. Alas, it now takes a rare morsel to tempt my so thoroughly sated fancy."

"As you say, Captain Genro," Lao said neutrally. "Though such a complaint is rather rare in the annals of the amorous chase."

"But then we Void Captains are a rare breed, nicht wahr?"

"So I have noticed," Healer Lao said. "But should you have need of my services in future, do not hesitate to seek them out."

"Naturellement," I said ingenuously, and seeing that Lao was not likely to end this seance on his own, I turned and resumed my supposed journey toward the bridge, not daring to glance behind me to see if I was indeed being observed.

Thus did I deem it politic to actually enter the deserted bridge in order to fulfill my ruse in the sight of any watching eye. The chamber lay in darkness relieved only by the faint amber and green lights of the bank of monitors. The tele, of course, was deactivated, and its great overarching glassiness gleamed palely in the ghostly glow. How long had my destiny lain in this venue and where was it leading me now?

From the Interface console, I let in the cosmos, or the color-compensated simulacrum of same, activating the tele sans the orienting gridwork of man. A million stars and nothing more looked down on me as I stood there in the darkness--points of light that cast neither illumination nor shadow, like pinpricks in a black curtain lit from within.

Like a miserable microbe, I scuttled under this enigmatic cold scrutiny for the psychic shelter of my Captain's chaise. Like fabled King Canute did I sit there staring out into the dark ocean and commanding the waves to part; like that archetype of hubris, did I too fail to prevail.

Verdad, I was the victim of impotence, but alas not of the flesh. Did I not throb with desire as I performed here? Did I not achieve orgasmic completion at the hands of my Dominique? Was it not merely in the temporal continuity that I failed the test of a natural man?

Indeed, my phallus now ached with thwarted desire under the bleak and lonely stars. Soon it would be time to make my way down the corridor to Dominique's cabin, where this thirst would be slaked. Or would it? For while any thoughts of protoplasmic impotence were banished by the evidence within my own trousers, under the pitiless truth of the void, I could not deny that I suffered from an impotence of the spirit.

I could neither achieve the true completion that I sought through the masturbatory manipulations of Dominique nor transport her to that higher realm with my machismic puissance, though I served as the will for the demon lover of the Jump Circuit. Was this not a form of impotence, albeit of a species unknown to Healer Lao's art? My phallus quivered with the somic memory of the act it failed to perform here, with the transference of tantric function to a finger on a command point as Dominique rode my will, shunning my flesh.

Yet in the moment of time-warped reciprocation, when her lips or her fingers gripped my kundalinic nexus and released its fleshly constriction, did my consciousness not batter futilely against the ultimate, did I not also eschew her womanly reality for the fantasy of the genderless orgasm of the Great and Only? Were not her descriptions of it as she cozened my lingam the only sweet words she whispered in my ear?

All at once the bridge seemed to grow colder, as if the airless chill of the void itself were leaking through its very image on the tele screen, as if the concept alone were enough to shrivel my flesh.

I could bear this venue no longer, for here did the source of my frustrations lie, and only in the arms of Dominique might I at last complete the broken tantric cycle and release the true kundalinic charge in the only way open to a mortal and natural man. I burned with the passionate yet coldly desperate desire to master her now, in the flesh, as a man, to feel her ecstasy surround me in the moment of my own, to pierce the wall of time between us with my disdained phallic lance.

In short, perhaps through Lao's suggestion, my spiritual dilemma had found expression in the sprach of the flesh, and so too, I then believed, did its solution appear to be a simple, straightforward coital act.

***

Reasonably secure in the knowledge that no Honored Passenger or crew member would be lingering in these deserted environs, I strode boldly down the corridor, following the thrall of my determination through the door of Dominique's cabin and to her bedside without further rational considerations.

Dominique lay propped up on her pillows awaiting my arrival with the expectation of established custom; not long out of unconsciousness, her spirit shone brightly through eyes still reddened with the Jump's sickly after-glow.

But this time I perceived as her glance fell upon me that what were hours of coital interruption in my timestream passed in little more than an augenblick in hers. As her psyche swam back into consciousness, the Jump had occurred only a subjective moment before. One more convolution in the temporal maze between us, yet another point at which our realities did not touch--all the more reason to skewer this Gordian knot with my sword.

"So, cher Genro," she crooned, as I eased myself onto the bed beside her, following the ideogrammic pattern of what had become our frozen tantric form. Sans hesitation or truly passion, she slid her hand up my thigh with repetition-honed surety, enfolding the response she knew would be there.

"So, liebe Dominique, I have become an object of unwholesome surmise to the passengers and crew of my own ship; my manly potence is questioned by all and sundry, and all for the love of you. ... "

I gazed into her eyes as I said it, or rather into a focal plane just short of her face, so that naught but ambiguity might be read from my intense stare, and I nuanced my voice with wry irony even as I made my face a mask of stone. As for me, I remained to myself unreadable as well, distant from whatever might have lain at the heart of my meaning of this phenomenological and social truth.

"You know not what you say," she said.

"Perhaps," I replied. "Certainement, I know not what I do."

"Mein pauvre petit," she said, stroking my cheek as if I were a lorn little child, a gesture I now perceived as having become a commonality in the ritual of our affair.

"My femme fatale," I said enigmatically; undertoning passion with irony as I grabbed her up in my arms, determined to proceed with my phallic intentions even though no psychic mode of amorous procedure seemed to present itself to the flesh with any conviction.

"Vraiment, Genro," she said as her body tensed into resistance, "you do indeed know not what you do."

"What I do now is the only thing I do with clear volition," I told her, speaking at last a plain, unambiguous truth.

So saying, I reached back into the memory track of a thousand such moments and kissed her full on the lips, open-mouthed and with full labial honors.

Her pliant lips were unresistant to my own and nothing more, her breath metallic with chemical fatigue, and her body remained a fleshly statue under my touch. Yet somehow this very nonresponsiveness seemed to fuel the fires of my lust with the determination to shatter it into womanly passion.

I slid my hand under the bedclothes to seize her at the quick, even as her immobile hand remained fastened to my own tantric focus.

At this, she pulled her mouth away with a cool, calm lack of either startlement or distaste and looked me evenly in the eyes.

"You'd rather not," she said.

"You mean you would rather not. I assure you I know exactly what I want. "

A thin smile creased her puffy, bruised lips, and the spirit seemed to vanish from the windows of her eyes, robbing her face of mere human expression. "Nein, liebchen," she said. "I know what you want. Do not make me cruel enough to tell you."

In response, as if to shout "This is what I want!" like some brutish lout, I tossed her on her back and fell upon her, tearing aside bedclothes and raiment with an unseemly haste, and not without her assistance. This accomplished, I moved my mouth toward hers as she reestablished her hold on my lingam.

But as my lips descended toward her, she rolled her head away, still without expressing any displeasure by releasing her grip on my manhood. She stared up at me with something short of defiance and something more than rejection's ice.

"You may do as you believe you desire without any ill will chez moi," she said softly. "Only then will you believe what you already know."

"Only then will you know what I believe!" I countered angrily, but not without a certain tender passion, and I prized her hand away from my phallus and penetrated at last to the core of the matter with the first heartfelt thrust.

There was no resistance to my penetration. Nor was there any discernible response. My rage engorged by this ultimate affront to my manly puissance, I threw into the fray all my frenzied vigor and all my not inconsiderable tantric skill. Nevertheless, I was thrusting my kundalinic prana into a vacuum, I was delving a featureless void; I evoked not a sound or movement, not even as my control eroded after what seemed like an eternity of fiery calisthenics and my flesh was carried by its own momentum toward the edge of its solitary release.

Indeed at the ultimate moment, I looked full into Dominique's eyes, and what I beheld there staring back at me from some unfathomable distance was a mask of indifference, sans feeling or passion or even triumphant self-control; merely a nothingness so absolute that my orgasm became an ugly explosion of soul-chilling ice.

"It's not you, mein pauvre," she said as I lay upon her in exhaustion and no little despair. "You are the noble stallion of the tantra, but chez moi, it is no use."

"The first occasion is seldom representative of the full possibilities," I whined with a certain wounded pompous pride, "If you will allow others, I will prove it to you."

"I allow you all, Genro, provided you do not fail to allow me the One," she said with a strange passionless indifference. "But even should you be skilled enough to evoke your desired response, you will only learn that you have not gotten what you really want."

"And what is it that I really want?" I demanded, rolling off her into a squat, and glaring down at her supine form from above.

"You know it already, though alas, you must hear it from my lips," Dominique said, slowly rising to face me level to level. "What only I can have."

Chilled to the coeur, frozen in timeless amber, I looked unwaveringly into her eyes, into the voidly visage of the Great and Only, into the opaque-mirrored black vision of my own impossible desire.

"Ach, Genro, you yearn to be my lover in the Jump, ne, to share the cusp of the spirit beyond the mere orgasm of the flesh. And would I not give you this gladly if it were mine to grant? But this is impossible, my poor creature. Unless...."

"Unless?" I hissed sharply as I felt my blood beat in my suddenly echoing brain.

"Unless, like me, you are willing to forsake all else; unless you are truly mad or sane enough to travel the path to its ultimate end."

"There is a way?" I said, aware now that this moment had been preordained on the sky ferry, and mayhap by her will. I sensed with the cold certainty of hindsight's logic that all had been a prelude to this, that despite her protestations to the contrary, she had sought to bring me here from the start, and for purpose of her own as she herself had declared. If a sympathy of sorts had evolved between us in the process, it was no doubt incidental to her true quest, the object of which she had now made my own. Yet despite this satoric knowledge of her guileful manipulations, I hung breathless on her words, although I feared what I was to hear.

Dominique, somewhat shakily, eased her body back into her nest of pillows for support; I remained squatting where I was, but our eye contact never wavered.

"You have never seen the face of a Pilot who has died in the Jump," she began. "Aber, mon cher, I have, on the Feather Serpent, the face of the Pilot who died on that voyage, Dominique Noda Benares, whose destiny and freenom I took upon viewing it."

She shivered. For a moment her eyes became shimmers of mirrored opacity, but then I began to glimpse something forming out of my own inner chaos beginning to be reflected back.

"Tres drole, no, sehr macabre, I look into the face of a corpse, and I know that I can be a Pilot, and I know tambien that I must. Had you seen it, Genro, perhaps you would understand. The face of a soul that had died transformed."

In her eyes, in the memory of her own mask of comatose bliss glimpsed on the gurney, in the congruence of her words with Maddhi Boddhi Clear's description of the dying moment of his lover who had sought this apotheosis on the altar of We Who Have Gone Before ecstatically impaled on his lance, I could almost see the dead Pilot's face.

"Perhaps I am beginning to understand," I said. "You sought that blissful moment of final release, you were seduced by ecstatic death."

Dominique shrugged, breaking the intensity of the moment, perhaps through breathless choice. "Could I truly know what I was seeking before my first Jump?" she said. "I knew not what I sought, only where it was to be found. It took me many Jumps to begin to understand."

She paused, breaking eye contact and leaning back against the pillows as if to inform me that this discourse had a distance to go before it reached the answer I both sought and dreaded.

"Dominique Noda Benares must have been gifted by fate with the death of the body in the moment of the Jump. Somehow, the Feather Serpent passed through, and she went on."

"Went on?"

"On. On and on and on. Forever."

"I don't understand."

"Poor creature, of course you do not!" she said ruefully. "To you, the Jump is an augenblick too brief to register on your instruments, nicht wahr, aber within it lies eternity. There is no time in the Great and Only; therefore, within it, there is all time. There is no space, and so there is all space. Nothing is contained, and so the spirit contains all. ..." She shrugged, she squirmed, her face twisted and twitched, as if her whole corpus were frustrated by the impossibility of speaking the unwordable.

"The antique human religions, nicht wahr," she finally said, "with their cravings for nirvana, Atman, life everlasting in the heavens above--these must have been dim perceptions of that which underlies and transcends this temporal illusion, where spirit grows from flesh, only to depart into the nothingness from which it came."

She sighed. She smiled at me, a smile not without human warmth but not without something else too.

"We swim in deep waters, liebchen," she said softly. "Con su permiso, we go deeper still. I hold back nothing; I tell you my dream that I have never dared to reveal to another soul. The dream that makes me a sport even among Pilots, the hope that has caused me to preserve my flesh with nutriment and exercise so that it may maintain my spirit in this realm as long as possible. I have told you I do this so as to experience as many Jumps as possible in my life span. But now that I have found you, I reveal the truth of which that is the shadow. ..."

She stared into my eyes, uncertainly it seemed, as if trying to verify some conclusion written therein. I stared back at her shorn of all artifice or manipulative intent, opening my windows to reveal whatever unknown essence she sought to perceive within.

"My dream, cher Genro, is to find a Captain who will help me to make one last Jump into the Great and Only, who will let me go on and not come back. And I believe I have found him in you."

"WHAT?"

"You have heard of the Blind Jump, nicht wahr," she said in a strange, distant tone that seemed to echo down the corridors of my mind. Without conscious awareness of the process until it was completed, I found myself sinking silently into the pillows beside her as if my body were no longer willing to bear its own weight.

"No one here knows what happens to a ship that Jumps Blind except that it vanishes from the here and now," she went on. "Science has its limited surmises as to how. A malfunction of the electronic instrumentality. Biological failure as the overlay guides the Pilot through the cusp. Some mad test of a Pilotless Jump Circuit. This much you are taught at your Academy, verdad?"

I nodded numbly, reduced to silent absorption of what I already sensed was about to be revealed.

"But there is that of which the scientists dare not speak," she said. "The Blind Jump achieved by the will humaine. Aber not by the will of the Pilot. What I have sought is a Captain of the Void with the vision and the understanding to do it for me. And you, mein Genro, are you that man?"

"What is it you expect me to do?" I whispered.

"In technical terms, a trivial act. It is the vector coordinate overlay which guides the Pilot and through her the ship through the Great and Lonely back into this pale realm, nicht wahr, which forces her spirit to return. When next we Jump, neglect to feed the vector coordinate overlay into the Jump Circuit computer, let me jump free, up and out and on into the Great and Only. Set me free, liebe Genro, set me free!"

"Set you free!" I shouted. "Kill myself and destroy my ship for the sake of your cosmic unnamable! What ego! What arrogance! What madness! What demonic gall! How can you believe that I would even consider such a thing? What kind of monster do you think I am?"

Dominique looked back into my outrage with eyes of black ice. "You were told that to achieve what fleshly destiny has decreed you can never have you must forsake all else, mannlein. You were told that you must be mad or sane enough to follow the path to its ultimate end. Now you have arrived."

Her voice had become distant and hard and cosmically cold, sans emotion humaine, sans pity, sans morality, and yet, somehow, informed by a quality that seemed to transcend all of these.

"What happens to a ship that Jumps Blind, Genro?'" she asked in that same even and unyielding voice.

"No one knows," I said softly. "No one can." But already my visceral precognition was oozing forward within my bowels toward the awful inevitable, toward the ultimate and monstrous bargain offered up to my soul.

"If Pilot and ship Jump free into the Great and Only, if there is no vector coordinate overlay to dragoon us back, will we not go on together eternally in the timelessness beyond the void, and will that untimebound moment not last forever for our spirits? Free me, Genro. Free me and I'll take you with me."

"And everyone else on this ship."

"Yes," she said coldly, without a flicker of regret or guilt.

"That's mass murder. ..," I declared righteously. "That's evil beyond all rationalization. ..."

"Only if you also believe it is suicide," she said evenly. " Aber chez moi, if you believe as I believe, as you cannot help yourself from believing, is it not the bestowing of the ultimate good?"

"No man has the right to make such a choice for another," I said firmly. In that, at least, my conviction was not feigned.

"Forsaking ... all ... else. ..," she said slowly and harshly, emphasizing every syllable as if to express the whole as a single, terrible, indivisible truth. "You were told that was the price. All else, mannlein. All considerations of this shadow realm."

My heart seemed to stop in my chest as I saw my own depths mirrored in her eyes. As I looked through those windows into the eternity within, time froze, perspective reversed itself, and all that I saw seemed a reflection of myself.

"I'd never do such a thing," I said bloodlessly, "Surely you must realize that." Was the waver only in my voice, or had it already come to express a tremor in my resolve? Was it the thin, knowing smile on her lips that made my own words ring hollow in my ears, or was it already the shadow of the inevitable emerging like leviathan from my own depths?

"There are many Jumps between here and Estrella Bonita," Dominique said calmly, dismissing my protestations from her discourse as if their finality had never been uttered. "And never is not so long a time as forever, verdad?"

Our eyes locked in a long, silent contest of wills.

"Never," I finally said, crawling from that bed of unspeakable temptation to stand as my own man. "And will I allow you to tempt me so again. I put all this behind me! It's time we said goodbye."

She looked up at me evenly as I backed toward the door. "Say what you will, mon cher ," she said with ruthless knowingness, "this is only auf wiedersehen."
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Re: The Void Captain's Tale, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 6:17 am

CHAPTER 13

I WANDERED STERNWARD down the main corridor in a daze, or, mayhap, stunned by the clarity of too much truth. Past the entrances to the stateroom module and Grand Palais and through the cross traffic as if on rails, oblivious to anything outside the compass of my own inner universe. If indeed anything could be said to exist outside the parameters of the conundrum which had now become my own inner demon.

I had exited Dominique's cabin in a burst of righteous indignation, but this emotional clarity felt fraudulent even as I allowed it to move me; and once I was outside, other, more serpentine voices became insinuated in my inner ear, and all I knew at that moment was that I had to escape the chaos inside my own mind before I could even begin to center a focus.

In previous bouts of what the ship's gossip was no doubt calling my cafard, I had sought out either the solitude of my cabin or the pseudo-natural realm of the vivarium as refuge from the storm, but now the company of my own four walls offered anything but the promise of escape, and the vivarium, with its simulated biosphere and false sky seemed but the quintessence of the floating cultura of maya. As for social roles and niceties with my fellow denizens, I hardly trusted my ability to maintain a coherent persona.

My feet propelled me ever sternward, beyond the habited area of the ship, into the sections of corridor to which the various freight modules were secured; regularly spaced hatches leading to inspection passageways lined this seldom-traveled section of the Dragon's spine on both sides. As this pattern became a featureless generality my footsteps slowed, my mind began to ruminate on what my spirit had swallowed, and I began to understand why I had brought myself here.

The true ambivalence of my connection empathetique to Dominique Alia Wu could not for long be subsumed under the rubric of moral outrage, which is not to say that in a moral matrix her small suggestion was less that outrageous. But I could not deny that my spirit was amorally attracted to this ultimate temptation as my conscience was morally repelled by it.

As for emotions of a human level, here too, repulsion and attraction were locked in stasis around the central void.

Had this utterly ruthless creature not seduced me step by step into this ultimate confrontation with my own spirit for her own self-proclaimed higher purpose which brooked of no tender feelings for me as a man? Or had something in her sensed a kindred something in me which drew us together in our outre tantric pattern like the more fleshly but no less unwilled tropism of mutual pheromonic lust?

Certainement, there was truth between us, in abundant surfeit. Truth absolute, truth noir, but truth without a moral dimension. My very state of being proclaimed that we were, alas, kindred spirits, although that to which we together were kin might be & less than romantic matter.

Against the will of self-esteem's desire, I could not fail to acknowledge that the true chasm between us lay both below and beyond the moral realm of ethical esthetics. Indeed, her ruthless dedication to her one true grail, proceeding as it did from a single absolute axiom to an entirely unwavering pursuit of this axiomatic higher good, might be said to be at least formally superior to my chaotic involutions.

Which is to say that I had become a creature of unresolved doubt while she never doubted her priorities for a single instant.

Did I not envy such terrible clarity of spirit even as I was repelled and outraged by its ultimate expression in the realm of action? For her certainty, her ghastly willingness to ignore all morality in the pursuit of eternal Great and Only, was based upon the actual experience, whereas my morally superior outrage was that of a spirit in ignorance.

Each cargo module was connected to the central core of the Dragon Zephyr by an inspection passageway. Each passageway had a tele monitor for inspecting the condition of its module via remotes. In case of emergency necessity, each passageway was also equipped with an egress and a rack of voidbubble belts.

Excursions out onto the exterior of a Void Ship faring between the stars at relativistic high velocity are not common, which is to say that, uncommon as they are, Void Ship crews would prefer that they be less common still. Indeed I had attained to my Captain's rank and served in that capacity for many years without ever experiencing the unmediated reality of the interstellar void.

The bridge tele and lesser viewers scattered all over the ship were all equipped with compensation circuits which rendered outside reality not as it would have appeared to the naked senses but as the eye would have perceived the galactic abyss from some abstract point of rest. Thus, the starry seas I surveyed from my throne on the bridge were at once another illusion and recreated reality in its untimedistorted incarnation.

Those whom emergency has constrained to work outside a ship declare the experience most unsettling. At these relativistic speeds, the spectrum is dopplered blue toward the bow, red toward the stern, and the shockwave of the ship as its shield deflects the velocity-compacted interstellar medium paints a rainbow aura before it; these effects, however, are said to be mere outre visual curiosities. But the bending of space itself does things to the human visual sensorium that are described as akin to staring into the foveal blind spot in effect, if not in content.

Despite the queasy and arcane repute of this experience, in another sense because of it, I found myself opening a hatch and entering an inspection passageway, moved by the perverse determination to match Dominique's experiential knowledge of the naked void with as close an encounter as I could conjure this side of sharing her Blind Jump.

Quien sabe? Somehow I felt l owed such a direct confrontation to her and to myself; somehow I perhaps believed that the most absolute morality demanded that I look as deeply into the ultimate as my nature would permit before I could in true conscience put it behind me. Only by facing that reality could I in true clarity renounce it.

The inspection passageway was a simple flextube connection between the Dragon's spine and the freight module, about fifty meters long and atmosphere-sealed at either end so as to do double duty as a roughhewn airlock. Immediately upon entering, I confronted the rack of voidbubble belts, donning one and sealing the hatch behind me before proceeding up the tube to the simple egress hatch equidistant from both ends. This was equipped with a system for valving air in and out of the sealed passageway, and twin green-glowing ready points, which now indicated that the seal was complete.

The tele remote monitor was installed directly across the tube from the egress for convenience' sake, and before erecting my bubble, I paused before it to regard for the last time with virgin eyes the electronic simulacrum that had always been my least-indirect perception of the reality of the deep interstellar void.

The image on the tele screen was a snugly contained picture of what lay beyond the ship's skin, unlike the great firmament of illusion which overarched the bridge; the necessary distortion of representational scale served, in that moment, to render the still pointillist starscape obviously unreal.

Nevertheless, it was, in a sense, a truer image of the reality than my naked vision was about to experience in the reality itself. On the tele, the distortion was the product of craft and intellect striving to represent an image of the absolute from a theoretical point of detachment, whereas the relativistic distortions of the raw reality were the means by which random chaos hid behind its own veil.

Thus did that which lay beyond the egress insinuate its vibrations into my perceptual field by the mere fact of my decision to confront it. I erected my bubble of polarized force and began valving air out of the passageway, staring at the tele as the pressure came down as if to impress this human representation of the transhuman reality onto my brain before venturing forth.

All exterior surfaces of the Dragon Zephyr were charged with a quarter-gravity field perpendicular to their plane, so that when I opened the egress hatch and crawled out, I was immediately able to rise to my feet and stand at an unsettling angle to the curved exterior of the passageway without kinesthetic vertigo or backbrain fear of falling, like a fly upon a glowglobe.

When I allowed my visual focus to shift from the metal beneath my feet, however, my equilibrium was severely taxed.

I was standing on a thin branch of an enormous metal tree, the stem, as it were, of one of the dozens of huge metallic fruit depending from the trunk of the Dragon's spine, which towered up toward a rainbow sheen high above me. Attempts to look out into the depths around me were met by a sense of nauseous and formless constriction, as if reality itself were hiding in the blind spot of my visual field no matter where I tried to focus my gaze. Blue-and-red-streaked reflections in a black distorting mirror swirled around me at the edge of my peripheral vision, which itself seemed to iris in to a narrow perceptual tunnel warped at a bizarrely pitched angle.

Stomach heaving, I redirected my visual focus to the sight of my feet touching metal, and walked hastily and easily with my eyes downcast to the juncture of the passageway tube with the central core of the Dragon. Here I placed one foot on the "wall" before me, leaned backward as I completed the perpendicular step, and found myself standing on the ship's spine itself, looking forward along the mighty length of my vessel.

Like an immense metal javelin, the Dragon's spine on which I stood seemed to pierce the fabric of space as it hurtled into the rainbow shield of the ship's deflectors, a giant needle whose prick maintained a prismatic meniscus of surface tension through the oil-slick surface of reality.

Streaming like a spiraling comet's corona from this central anomaly, space was a reversed whirlpool of darkling nothingness smeared with a cloud of blue motes, forever exploding into being before me as I rode ever onward into the eye of the storm. Behind, the universe was a red-misted vagueness drawing down a long tunnel to a vanishing point, and the tunnel itself, the reality of my visual perception, seemed to have neither length nor sides.

Unable to form this visual input into a coherent sensorium via quotidian parameters, my perceptual centers were forced to coalesce my consciousness around an altered matrix. This new spirit perceived itself as a viewpoint on the surface of its own sensorium, a second-order abstraction of the interface between sensory data flow and internal processing mechanism.

Thus, even the absolutism of physical objectivity was revealed as arbitrary itself from the point of view of this ultimate subjectivity.

From this altered perspective, I was riding through the cosmos in a bubble of time, which is to say that the only true reality was the great ship on which I stood and the viewpoint that stood upon it, for this was the only reality of which that viewpoint was equipped to form an image.

Vraiment, was not that reality sufficient to fill the soul? There I stood, a tiny mote upon the back of this mighty metal leviathan, this great silent silvery dragon burning its way through the fabric of the universe itself, the ultimate defiance of the process from which it arose. And was I not, despite all fathomable appearances, the master of the preternatural behemoth on which I rode?

Thus the warped and twisted reality radiating from the prow of the Dragon Zephyr became a mere artifact of the system, a phenomenon of the interface between a given input and the essential spirit within, which perceived it as through glass darkly.

I had ventured into this realm in order to confront the unmediated absolute directly, but the revelation which it had forced upon me was the paradoxical nature of the conundrum of absolute reality itself.

If this star-filled void had any objective reality, was it it not that still, cold blackness of invariant crystal pin pointed with abstract points of light which was simulated by the ship's teles? Contrariwise, was that diorama not an illusion, and the present unmediated natural chaos the unmasked face of the ultimate?

Au contraire, was my present reality not an illusion generated by the relativistic motion of the ship?

Vraiment, they were both real and both illusion. For was not the arbitrary distinction between illusion and reality the ultimate illusion itself?

Cosmic physics informs us that our universe exploded into being from a single space-time point in the deep but finite past; particles, atoms, stars, planets, biospheres, sapience--all implied in that ancient eruption of existence into perfect void. Tambien do the cosmic physicists tell us that this hyperglobular shockwave of being is still expanding to fill the indefinable matrix in which it has occurred. But of that which surrounds this universal exploding mandala of space and time, even our greatest mages remain mute. Indeed, there is a theorem, proven unprovable by its own terms, that knowledge of what lies beyond the universal material matrix is by definition beyond the powers of an internal viewpoint to conceive.

But as I stood there overcome by the spectacle and by this ultimate perception of that most essential of voids, I realized as well that by one single instrumentality did consciousness thrust its tendril beyond the absolute theoretical shell of this universal egg--the Jump itself transcended the absolute rules which prevailed within.

And by so doing verified the possibility of attaining a viewpoint beyond maya's veil.

I marveled at the clarity of this awesome satori. The absolute reality of the Jump was confirmed within our quotidian realm by the translation of the ship from locus to locus in defiance of our treasured universal laws of mass-energy phenomena. Thus did our technology produce an effect which transcended the weltanschauung of the very science that produced it, thus did the serpent of the cosmic paradox swallow its own tail, thus was chaos supreme reborn out of the ultimate order.

I was daunted by the implications in our shadow world of forms. Of all phenomena in the realm of maya, only the Jump itself allowed the spirit to transcend the mass-energy matrix which gave it birth, and in a manner which paradoxically allowed our very instruments to record this fact. Yet just as my sensory perceptors could form no coherent image of the relativistic whirlwind at whose subjective focus I stood, so was our entire rational starfaring civilization unable to gaze with clarity into the anomaly in its very concept of reality, upon which it was nevertheless centered.

Small wonder then that an intricate floating cultura had evolved to insulate starfarers from this perception. Less wonder still that this social matrix had evolved a wall of purdah to separate the rational will of its Void Captain from the transcendent reality of its Pilot. No wonder at all that these cultural instrumentalities rang hollow in the spirit of one who had seen too far.

And if I, who even now still viewed the ultimate through distorted reflection from within the illusion, had become a rogue spirit within the human herd, what reality could a concept like social or even human morality have for Dominique, who had experienced the most intimate of congress with that which I apprehended only in tormented fantasy?

Vraiment was the Great and Only that which served no other purpose than its own. Great. And Only. And solipsistically Lonely.

The temporal duration of this satoric moment I perceived not; all this could have passed in an augenblick, or I might have stood there transfixed for an hour. Be that as it may, it was a moment that I passed through, not a state of being that my psyche could long coherently contain. And once I had passed through it, my vertigo returned redoubled, transformed from a confusion of the sensesinto a nausea of the spirit.

On trembling knees and with my eyes downcast to focus on the mechanics of perambulation alone, I retreated to the egress hatch, all too aware as I crawled through it and closed it behind me that I was scuttling like a blinded mole back into the comforting darkness out of a surfeit of light.

Reflexively, I activated the passageway's tele as I waited for it to fill with air, retreating behind the illusion crafted by the sensors of my bunker, striving to 'purge my consciousness of its vertiginous clarity.

When the atmospheric pressure had equalized, I folded my voidbubble, returned the belt to its rack, and shakily re-entered the reality of the ship.

There in the corridor to be confronted by my Second Officer, Argus Edison Gandhi, regarding me with bemusement and no little concern as I emerged from the hatch.

"Captain Genro? What are you doing here?"

"I might ask the same question, Interface," I rejoined hollowly.

"There was an instrument reading to the effect that someone was out on the hull in this area," she said. "Mori picked it up on a routine scan, I couldn't find you, so I came here to investigate myself." She peered at me narrowly. "Were you ... outside?"

I nodded silently, unable to frame a coherent verbal response.

"Is there something wrong with this module? Do we have bolide damage? Did you detect an air leak?"

"External conditions are nominal," I managed to inform her authoritatively,

"Well then, why were you outside?" Argus demanded, as if she were the senior officer.

My initial impulse was to dismiss her with a frost of Captainly ire. My second thought was to invent a harmless anomaly which might have caused me to investigate. But as I regarded this ambitious young officer, this future Void Ship Captain, with her expression of dutiful earnestness, her air of self-conscious competence, and her uncomprehending rational bright eyes, I decided for once to be true to my own inner nature, and thereby, perhaps, to the respect l owed her as an officer and a fellow being,

"You have never been outside, Argus?" I said.

"In orbit, but never ... never ... out here. ..."

"Well, neither had I before now. I thought it was time."

"Time?" she inhaled, openly regarding me now as an object of unwholesome speculation.

"Time to apprehend the reality through which I guide my ship," I dissembled. "Has it never occurred to you that we are in a sense traveling blind, that we perceive the seas we sail, as it were, only through the mediation of our technical instrumentalities? Have you never wished to experience the true void firsthand?"

Her eyes widened. "Everything I have heard of the experience causes me to believe that it is unsettling in the extreme," she said. "Is this not so?"

"Verdad. But such unsettlement might make one a better officer, ne, certainement a more knowledgeable one at any rate. I commend it to your consideration, Interface."

"Are you ordering me to go outside, Captain Genro?" Argus said in a challenging tone of some insolence. But her expression belied this with a certain fearfulness.

"I merely grant you the option of the experience," I told her. "As I have granted myself."

"Captain, are you sure you--"

"The matter is now closed," I snapped in Captainly fashion, and I strode briskly up the corridor toward the habited areas of the ship without looking back, either upon the further reaction of my Second Officer or upon the gateway between our shared reality and that which lay beyond, through which I had perhaps even then irrevocably passed.

***

Much to my dismay, but in a certain sense to a higher form of indifference, before many hours had passed, my sojourn in the void had become common knowledge, not to say obsessive gossip, within the floating cultura. No doubt in the absence of any order to the contrary, Argus had discussed the matter with Mori, who in turn could not have kept the tale from Rumi Jellah Cohn, and thence to the general diffusion via word of mouth. Perhaps Argus herself had also made the subject a matter of public conjecture so that the tale quickly rippled through the body politic from an ever-expanding multiplicity of foci.

Whatever the vectors of diffusion, it soon became impossible for me to appear anywhere without my mental state and unfathomable motivation for this outre behavior becoming the center of both obliquely inquiring attention and pointedly averted eyes.

Some, like Maddhi Boddhi Clear, Rumi, and a cosmological physicist named Einstein Shomi Ali, sought openly to engage me in discourse upon the subject of my questionable adventure. Einstein wished fervently to have a detailed description of the distortion effects; Rumi, seeking a somewhat deeper cut, wished me to repair to his cabin, where I could compare my sensory experience with certain paintings and objets d'art said to have been created by artists in various states of psyche-somic transport. Maddhi, naturellement, in his florid public style, probed me for evidence of the traces of We Who Have Gone Before written in the perception of the naked firmament, although I sensed beneath this posturing a deeper longing to apprehend the essence of the experience itself.

To this sort of interrogator I replied with candid truth, albeit of a careful narrowness defined by the parameters of the question. To the cosmologist, I described my sensory experience in terms of distortion, without divulging the psychic consequences. Rumi I put off with the generality that no art I had ever seen expressed this reality, although perhaps in future I would accept his invitation to peruse his collection of arcana. Chez Maddhi, I told him my experience had led me to believe in the ultimate sincerity of his ultimate quest, though I had detected no trace of alien sapience.

In truth I obtained a certain unwholesome satisfaction from speaking at last from my authentic spirit, be that essence as it may, rather than dissembling through my persona, though I retained enough self-consciousness of the necessities of my Captainly role to refrain from transcending the weltanschauung of my questioners.

As for those, who, like Sar, Argus, Mori, Aga, and most of all our Domo Lorenza, sought to diagnose my malaise with oblique inanities and loaded pleasantries, it was this insinuating interrogation which finally drove me to the solitude of my cabin somewhat against my will.

The vague inquiries as to my pattern of sleep, content of dreams, and physiological function were discomforting enough, but when Lorenza turned this process into a public inquisition, I could tolerate it no longer.

Although I had been scrupulously avoiding her company as best I could, the most socially conspicuous figure aboard could hardly expect to escape confrontation with the mistress of the Grand Palais indefinitely.

I was sitting in the refectory of the cuisinary deck where hunger had driven me when the inevitable occurred. Here, where the long white tables and bench seating created the communal ambiance of a barracks dining hall, one might assuage one's hunger without making of it a social event, at least to the extent that such a thing was possible to the Captain of the ship. Though the public refectory was crowded, here the social niceties required that one did not engage in conversation with one's neighbor unless the desire was mutual, and such solitary communion with one's meal was not looked at askance.

Thus, I had for the moment successfully retreated both from babbling tongues and from inner voices into the sensory universe of a platter of Pasta Goreng a la Fruit de Mer, a confection of noodles, vegetables, seafood, eggs, and spices of daunting complexity, when Lorenza made her grand entrance.

Bereft now of retinue, she was dressed in a simple white costume of pantaloons and blouson, and her long hair had been gathered behind her neck in a queue. Sans bijoux or pigments, she seemed a bit puffed and haggard, as if from a surfeit of pleasures perhaps too determinedly pursued. Nevertheless, it was impossible for Lorenza Kareen Patali to enter a room in a style not calculated to announce her presence, and not for our Domo the etiquette of privacy in a communal dining hall. She marched up to where I sat and seated herself beside me in a manner which brooked not of the possibility of suave dismissal.

"I'm sorry for my outburst in the grand salon, Genro," she said in a normal tone of voice which nonetheless carried to at least the nearest half-dozen Honored Passengers scattered the length of the table. "I had partaken of a considerable complexity of spirits, molecules, and charges and was in the throes of amorous intrigues as well."

"A trifling event," I said with a combination of gallantry, true indifference, and desire to keep the subject closed. "We all have such moments, ne?"

"But it was an act of cruelty to tax you for your erotic indifference when in fact you were suffering from some deeper malaise. "

This remark sufficed to draw my attention up from my platter to regard her with raised brows. Tambien did the attention of all within earshot focus upon this confrontation, though their eyes were fixed all the more fully on the meals before them.

" Ach, pauvre Genro, it is known to one and all that you have been wandering all over the hull of the ship like a lost soul," she said with an expression of solicitude, although it was impossible not to detect a certain malicious edge to her voice. "How gauche of me to attribute your lack of ardor to indifference to feminine charms when in fact you were the victim of some psychesomic dysfunction. "

"I am aware of no such malady," I said frostily, squirming under the covert but obvious scrutiny of our tablemates.

Lorenza leaned closer, as if into a sphere of confidentiality, but curbed not her verbal projection. "Ah, mon cher, that is the most disturbing symptom of all. You behave like an amateur erotique in the dream chamber with one who has already experienced your sophistication in the tantric arts, you engage in strange seances with the likes of Maddhi Boddhi Clear, you float silently about the ship like a ghost, you spend long periods in solitary brooding, and finalement, you wander ... outside where no sane person would want to venture, and yet you cannot detect any dysfunction in your behavior!"

Diagonally across the table, a woman made tiny choking noises as if swallowing her laughter, and several pairs of eyes could not resist sidelong glances.

"I am not aware that my duties have not been performed properly," I said angrily. "As for the rest, there are philosophic concerns which may cause the attention to transcend the realms of social niceties and erotic interest, though mayhap these are beyond your comprehension."

Lorenza clicked her tongue and shook her head slowly in a ruefully maternal manner. "Mon pauvre petit," she crooned with poisonous sweetness, "I seek to aid your recovery, not chide your actions. It is likely your condition has some organic basis, I do believe. Have you trouble sleeping? Does your breath have a peculiar savor? Are you experiencing cerebral agues?"

I glared at her in something of an impotent rage. The attention of the surrounding Honored Passengers had now become forthrightly overt and titillation seemed to have been replaced in several cases by a certain fearful concern for the mental equilibrium of their Captainly steward.

"My sleep is undisturbed, my breath offends not my own senses, nor do I suffer head pains," I snapped.

"Is your appetite lethargic or outre?" she persisted. "Is your sense of smell perhaps preternaturally keen? Are your bowel movements regular?"

"I hardly believe my defecations or lack thereof are a fit subject of discourse between us in this or any other venue!" I shouted in dumbfounded outrage.

The murmurings of conversation lapsed into total silence throughout the entire dining room. All eyes were turned in my direction. Brows were raised, jaws hung agape, and I was suddenly surrounded by a mass perception of my own unwholesome exposure so naked and complete as to set my face burning.

"Poor Genro," Lorenza said into this thespic hush, touching a hand to my flaming cheek. "Do you now not think it wise to seek medical attention?"

I could hear the intake of breath at the voicing of this suggestion, and I could see a dozen glances exchanged with nearly imperceptible nods, as if Lorenza had spoken for them.

I bolted to my feet, flinging my chopsticks into my dish with disgust, and raked my gaze angrily around the room so as to compel a ripple of averted faces.

"I thank you for your solicitude," I snarled at Lorenza, "but I, not you, am still the ultimate authority on this ship! You would do well to keep your insinuations to yourself!"

So saying, and with the lack of any other recourse, I stalked out of the room in righteous outrage, but not quite swiftly enough to escape the sound of the pandemonium that erupted as soon as my back was fairly turned.

***

I could not have been sulking in my cabin for more than an hour when Healer Lao interrupted my broodings with a request via the annunciator to visit the sick bay for a medical perusal, which, he solicitously hoped, would restore the confidence of crew and Honored Passengers in the health of the Captain of their ship.

Nor could I say that such a summons had been entirely unexpected. While there was no authority aboard to supersede my own, in extreme instances a Captain might be placed under medical supervision of the Healer if that functionary was sufficiently convinced of his inability to perform his duties to risk his own career on such a diagnosis and if the Second Officer could be persuaded to assume command under the circumstances at even greater risk than his own.

Such involuntary transfers of command have been exceedingly rare, and instances in which the Healer and Second Officer involved were later held blameless are rarer still, to the point where the particulars of them all are known by all Academy graduates.

Therefore there remains a wise and practical ambiguity as to such procedures; the situation is recognized as one by definition so extreme that no regulation can define its parameters. Thus an extreme politesse is maintained in these matters between all parties. I could refuse Healer Lao's request with Captainly impunity, but to do so might incline him to draw conclusions therefrom which could expand speculation further and cause him to ponder more extreme measures. Whereas a cooperative attitude and a nominal chart, as it were, might do much to tranquillify the situation if it were made public knowledge.

I therefore readily agreed to proceed to the sick bay at once and made my passage thence as conspicuous as possible, rather than slinking like a miscreant to some shameful venue. Indeed, I took several conversational opportunities to inform the generality that I was on my way to the examination, a disclosure which was greeted with a mixture of relief and bemusement.

Only when I reached the Healer's lair was my composure fractured. For waiting for me there amidst the cabinets, chaises, and instruments was not a solitary Hippocratic monk, but a veritable conclave of inquisition: Lorenza, Argus, and Maestro Hiro himself, surrounding the obviously disquieted Lao with grim expressions.

"What is the meaning of this?" I snapped, donning my persona of command.

"This examination was suggested by our Domo," Lao said uneasily.

"And by myself as well," said Argus. "When Domo Lorenza told me of your bizarre behavior in the refectory, I agreed that such was prudent, coming soon after our own encounter. I trust you win accept our initiative in the dutiful spirit in which it was intended."

"Under the circumstances, Healer Lao naturally thought it meet to have me present, " Maestro Hiro said evenly.

I paused on the brink of asserting my power to dismiss these onlookers; to avoid the appearance of a conspiracy against me, they could hardly refuse to grant me privacy, and I was outraged by their unseemly presumption.

But upon reflection, I realized that I had much to gain and little to lose by their witness. In the unlikely event that Healer Lao was willing to opine that my functionality was impaired, they would be informed in any case, and when I was found fit to command, as I was certain I would be, what better vectors to spread the word of this outcome than my chastened accusers?

I met their eyes, one pair after the other, with a cold, unwavering gaze. "Very well." ] said, "since you all consider yourselves sympathetically interested parties, I would be an ingrate and a churl not to allow you to remain. Let us proceed expeditiously; I wish to have my usual full untroubled sleep before the next Jump."

And so, under the nervous gaze of my Second Officer, the professional neutrality of Maestro Hiro, and the lidded stare of Lorenza, the Captain of the Dragon Zephyr gave his corpus up to the probings, readings, samplings, and palpations of the ship's Healer. Electrodes of all sorts were attached to various portions of my anatomy, samples of blood, skin, hair, saliva, and the like were collected and analyzed. Arcane instruments were passed over, around, upon, and into my nooks and crannies.

At length, vraiment at considerable length, these rituals were concluded, and the diverse data digested by a med computer, which shortly displayed a summary readout for the perusal of Healer Lao and Maestro Hiro.

The two medical officers studied this for a time together, whispered to each other briefly, nodded their agreement, shrugged, and turned to report their findings.

"Well?" I demanded. "Is there any evidence of dysfunction?"

"Your metabolic intake has a slight insufficiency of calcium, your brainwaves indicate an undesirable level of fatigue, and there is a noticeable deficiency of iron in your corpuscles. " Healer Lao said owlishly. "I advise you to consume more cheeses, fresh green vegetables, and organ meats and to sleep more regularly."

"And you, Maestro Hiro, do you have anything to add to this calamitous diagnosis?"

"Only that such an examination reveals only the absence of any somic components of psychic malaise," be replied unhappily. "Without a detailed psychic audit of some duration, no further conclusions can be drawn, for only subjective analysis can detect purely psychic anomalies."

"But what of behavioral bizarrities!" Lorenza demanded. "Surely these are objective evidence of a malfunctioning mind?"

"Behavioral bizarrities?" I shouted. "I lust not after your favors, I choose not to make idle conversation, I exercise my Captainly prerogatives to inspect the exterior of my ship, and these are self- evident proofs of derangement?"

"There has been no talk of derangement," Lao said soothingly, clearly embarrassed at such unseemliness in his sanctum.

"Indeed?" I said with exaggerated evenness. "Then you are now willing to attest to my full possession of sapient sanity?"

"I have no cause to attest otherwise," he replied.

"Then as far as I am concerned, the matter is ended," I declared. "Be assured that I lodge no recriminations. My Med crew was merely performing its appointed duty, and my Second Officer can be accused of nothing worse than an excessive concern for the safety of the ship."

I shifted my attention to Lorenza, whom I had deliberately exempted from this profession of forgiveness. "As for you, cher Lorenza," I said cruelly, "while your comportment has been less than exemplary, who cannot forgive the folly of a woman scorned?"

With a wordless growl of outrage, Lorenza stormed from the room.

As Argus somewhat shamefacedly made to follow, I held her back. "A moment please, Interface, I have an order to give you before you are dismissed."

Argus turned to regard me with a neutral professional readiness which aroused my own professional admiration under the circumstances even though my ire against her could hardly be said to have completely cooled.

"I delegate to you the duty of reporting via the ship's annunciators the result of this inquiry," I said.

Her eyes widened. Lao and Hiro glanced at each other in bemusement.

"You ... you wish me to report publicly to the Honored Passengers that the Captain is in full possession of his faculties?" she said incredulously.

"I order you to do so, Interface." I said. "Since you so rightly perceived it your duty to ask the question on behalf of the commonality, it is tambien your duty to announce the answer to same, nicht wahr?"

"Captain, do you think such a procedure is advisable?" Maestro Hiro said.

"If I did not, I would hardly issue the order."

"But--"

"Enough," I said roughly, but without losing control. "In medical matters, I defer to your judgment, as I have just proven. But as Captain of the Dragon Zephyr, I will brook no argumentation on the procedural orders I give on my ship."

And to spare both them and myself further confrontation, I let that caveat serve as my exit, assured that I had established the rightful authority of my command.
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Re: The Void Captain's Tale, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 6:17 am

CHAPTER 14

THE TELLING OF this tale nears its end; soon, all too soon, I must put aside this word crystal encapsulating the past and face the ultimate consequences of my action in realtime. While I approach the moment when I must leave this cabin to confront my Honored Passengers and crew with something less than serenity, I believe that these confessions have lightened my burden, not so much through the hoary tradition of guilt-lancing self- flagellation as by enabling me to view past incarnations through hindsight's ruthless clarity and by so doing becoming at least no less than the integrated product of assimilated karma.

In such a state of clear untimebound composure, I can now comprehend the wisdom, or at the very least the low self-serving cunning, of what from a more merely rational perspective, such as that of Argus or Maestro Hiro, must have seemed self-defeating madness. For the Captain of the ship to order the Second Officer to publicly proclaim that he has been found not mad was, naturellement, to induce the opposite impression in the community at large to the detriment of his authority.

While such a bizarre pronunciamento from any quarter could hardly fail to exacerbate the paranoia of the floating cultura, by ordering Argus to make it instead of the Healer himself, I had served public notice that my ability to command had been challenged, that the ship's Healer had found me fit, and that therefore this question was now closed by order of the Captain and accepted as such by his Second Officer.

Thus, from the moment of that announcement to my present command of this Pilotless marooned ship, no further challenge to my authority has presumed to appear, despite the growing conviction that I was possessed by dark demons. Having quashed the notion of my psychic inability to perform my duty at this stage and in such a self-evidently outre manner, I had divorced the definition of my sanity as Captain from acts performed outside that official role. That I was irrevocably in command had become axiomatic. Like Ahab, I had made myself an object of fearful mystery whose very darkness enhanced his charisma, a figment of inevitable destiny.

Naturellement, such clear self-awareness informed not the deed in the doing; indeed, at that point I could not have been more indifferent to the social perception of my image, for my central concern was to encapsulate myself in solitude so as to confront my own tormented being.

For truth be told, I was tormented by perceptions and their corollary temptation which from a social definition rendered me unsane, though from a more absolute viewpoint what I might be said to have been suffering from was an excess of insight. Social morality requires a shared matrix of communal reality to which to relate thought and deed, and the illusion of an objective ethical esthetic requires at the very least the conviction that objective reality is more than a contradiction in terms.

But I had passed over to a realm of perception where all that could be said to have objective existence was the conundrum of unknowable chaos out of which our quotidian relativities spring. And the only phenomenon of the dance of maya which touched any absolute ground was the Jump itself. By this instrumentality alone was the veil parted, revealing the trace of the Great and Only in the ship's translation through it.

Had my mind therefore not accepted through a form of reason that which my spirit could seek but not touch? Did I not then comprehend that in the most absolute sense only this Void beyond the void was real and that I myself existed as a shadow in a world of shadows?

This conviction grew within me as I went through the motions of the next Jump ritual, exchanging stiff orders and affectless phrases with Mori and Argus, who remained, like myself, sealed within duty from any emotional acknowledgments of the tension on the bridge.

In retrospect, I do not think that I could have been unaware of the odor of psychic ozone which had pervaded the ship as I marched from my cabin to the bridge, nor of the uneasy greeting I received upon entering, nor of the carefully unacknowledged pregnancy of the Jump countdown itself. Rather did I simply not deign to pay it heed, for was this not a mere shadow play itself?

Tambien do I now believe that I could not have been unaware of the ultimate implication of this logic, though by some functionally protective psychic mechanism I succeeded in hiding the knowledge from myself.

Which is to say that even then I saw that from what had become our shared weltanschauung, Dominique's ruthless indifference to all but the absolute goal could not be judged against any system of merely human morality. If only the Great and Lonely was really real, then only it was absolute, and any ethical esthetic which denied this truth was a formal failure.

In a sprach more terribly plain, I had reached the point of no way out but through, though I dared not admit this to myself.

Au contraire, I sought to use the Jump ritual to deny this unacknowledged inner reality, to mechanize the experience, to purge it of its erotic charge.

Indeed, as I went through the motions in a detumescent disconnected trance like some ancient manual laborer moving to the rhythm of a collective worksong, outer reality made no connection to my inner realms until Argus spoke the words "Vector coordinate overlay on your board."

Then, abruptly, inner and outer reality snapped into congruent focus at the glowing red point of tangency between decision and mechanism. perception and morality, the Captain and the spirit--the command point beneath my fingertip.

It all came down to this act or its exclusion. Duty demanded that I touch this glowing point and dump the vector coordinate overlay into the Jump Circuit Computer, thereby ensuring the safe passage of my ship through the Jump and back into the world of men. Temptation's fulfillment required only that I omit to will its denial.

I could never face this moment again without this awareness of its true meaning.

And as I achieved this chilling satori, my finger came down like a reflex hammer, as if to avoid the awful responsibility of this conscious choice. " Dumping vector coordinate overlay into Jump Circuit Computer," I fairly sighed in relief.

So doing, I then erected the Jump Field aura and commanded the Jump itself without any psychic connection to these acts. And in the moment of the Jump, I felt nothing at all.

For I now knew that my fantasies were fraudulent and empty if I had not the courage or moral monstrousness to act, mere masturbation when the means to true mutual fulfillment for myself and Dominique were mine to command.

At this point, naturellement, I had long since passed the point of inevitability as I slid down the geodesic of my lifeline toward my present destiny, but the acceptance of such a conclusion was still anathema to the Captain of the Dragon Zephyr, the Genro who had been, still loyal to his command.

Thus in a mode of abnegating and slowly eroding denial, I determined to relegate myself to isolation, both from the temptation and irresistible influence of any congress with Dominique, and from the milieu of social consequences, which for me had become a shadow play in which my role was Flying Dutchman at the fete.

Like that ghostly Hollander, I haunted my cabin, or, daunted by my own unwholesome company, wandered the corridors of my ship in an ectoplasmic phase that allowed no connection to protoplasmic beings.

"All else," Dominique had said often enough, "is waiting." Now I experienced the the vacuum implied therein, a state in which no event was meaningful, in which no figure stood out from ground to mark the slow crawl of time.

Thus was I reduced to measuring its passage by conventional instruments, becoming a watcher of timepieces and schedules, running a mental countdown to the next Jump as I waited for hands to move and digits to change. Twenty hours to the next Jump, and Dominique was being transferred from sick bay to her cabin. Sixteen hours, and by now her coma would be lightening to a more normal sleep, and consciousness would be slowly coalescing out of the Great and Lonely dream. Fifteen hours, and by now I should be on my way to her cabin. ...

Of the venues of previously mechanically passed hours I remember only a gray generality, but the moment I realized that I was now making the choice to eschew our by-now-regular assignation engraved itself with painful clarity on my memory track.

It was precisely fifteen hours till the next Jump, and I can recall this datum with such precision because I was eating a solitary meal in my cabin, staring at a down-counter I had set with the Jump as zero point and watching the digits change. As they did so, I felt a coldness in my limbs, whatever I was chewing turned to paste in my mouth, and for the first time since Dominique had presented me with her ultima thule and my terrible temptation, the faint uncoiling rustles of my kundalinic serpent.

Sense memories of our previous erotic encounters were released by this missed beat in our rhythm, and with them the memory of the state of being produced by her descriptive and erotic ministrations, and with that, the lust to regain it, transcending the morality of lesser desires. But with that frisson of arational temptation came the realization that this aching throb of nerve endings was directed not at the flesh of Dominique Alia Wu but through it to what lay beyond, to the state I had denied to both of us when my finger had reflexively dumped the vector coordinate overlay into the computer.

I wanted to do this thing. I could no longer deny the reality of this terrible lust. I could no longer pretend that powerful components of my psyche which might be called my essential spirit did not long to commit it in defiance of all other considerations. I was horrified by the presence of this monster within me; at the same time I despised the coward crucifying the highest impulse of his spirit upon an ethical code.

Nevertheless, I was gripped in the bounds of both a denial-stiffened determination of Captainly will and a karmic equation of far greater puissance. Just as my role in this transaction as commander of the Jump had been revealed as both engine of ecstasy and ultimate denier of its highest fulfillment, so did I now perceive that the being denied was both Dominique and myself. Thus I knew that I could no longer seek the illusion of my true desire in her flesh any more than she was able to delude herself with mine.

Between us now, only a truly mutual act was possible, and that was the act of sublime criminality which I both detested and sought, the only meaningful event remaining in the repertoire of our destiny.

Our lifelines therefore must be sundered if such an enormity was not to be, the status quo ante must be regained, and I must proceed as if that chance meeting on the sky ferry and all events consequent had never occurred.

Upon such an improbable feat of mental judo was my forbearance based; such was the absurdity to which my moral calculus was reduced in its combat with fate. Moment by moment, hour by hour, I held myself at bay with this foredoomed false mantra.

Never did it occur to me as I watched time squeeze slowly by that the will of another would never permit such denial, that my failure to appear long after the customary hour would cause Dominique to commit some escalatory act.

Ten hours and thirteen minutes until the next Jump, and as the digits changed, there was a thumping and a shouting at my cabin door.

There stood Lorenza, vibrating with outrage, wild-eyed and clench- jawed. "If you are not a madman, Genro Kane Gupta, you are sin doubt the poorest excuse for a Void Captain that I have ever seen!" she said shrilly. "You have a duty to my Honored Passengers as well as to your machines! The public disharmonies between us may be laid to personal pique, and despite all appearances, your sanity has been certified by your own Med crew, but this occurrence is evidence that you've lost all control of your own command!"

"What are you talking about, Lorenza?" I snapped. "You're the one who's making no sense."

"This beastly Pilot of yours! Like a fool, you permit this creature the cuisinary rights of an officer, indeed you squire her at her repast, and as a result, she now has the presumption to attend our fete."

"What?"

"She holds court in the grand salon even now, attempting to engage Honored Passengers in discourse and refusing to leave on her rights as an officer of the ship."

"By no authority of mine," I told her.

"In any event, you must order her to leave. My clients are in a fever, and the damage to my reputation as a Domo I think has been more than sufficient for one voyage!"

Unable to calm Lorenza, I followed her distraught footsteps to what I perceived all too well was a tableau of confrontation arranged by Dominique for my regard. There was no other person aboard whom she saw as other than a shadow and no purpose animating her actions save the One. She would as soon have invaded the grand salon for the purpose of vexing Lorenza or her Honored Passengers as she would have forborn the same out of consideration for their tranquility. Sin doubt, what she sought was what she had achieved: to force me thither.

When we reached the grand salon, Dominique was sitting alone at a cafe table across the floor from the entrance, where the ascending spiral balcony began its climb to the vivarium; thus she was both of the generality and perched about four feet above it, on the first shallow turn of the ramp.

As we stood for a moment on the elevated landing overlooking the fete, the ripples this apparition had created were visible in the geometric configuration of the would-be revelers. The distribution of Honored Passengers within the levels of the sculptural room was flattened like an amoeba flowing around the invisible obstacle of Dominique's sphere of influence.

Then Dominique perceived our entrance from her vantage below. "Good abendzeit, Genro," she called loudly over the heads of everyone in the grand salon. "We've all been waiting for you to arrive!"

A hush descended upon the room as heads swiveled back and forth between Dominique and the object of her greeting as I stood there naked upon the stage.

"Why have you come here?" I called back reflexively in a voice whose projection was no less thespic.

"You are contributing to this sorry spectacle," Lorenza muttered and, gripping me firmly by the wrist, fairly dragged me down the steps and out of this highly involuntary limelight.

"You must remove this creature without further discussions, " Lorenza hissed as we made our way through the throng towards Dominique. The press of bodies parted before me as if fearing contamination, and I was the object of a plethora of fearful sidelong glances.

A semi-circle of onlookers had already formed beneath Dominique's balcony table, creating a stage beneath upon which for me to perform, like a foil, below her. There was no way I was going to avoid further contribution to Dominique's spectacle; certainement, I was not at that moment able to remove this creature without further discussions.

Dominique was dressed in a plain yellow bedrobe. Her feet were unshod, her hair a tangle, her eyes hollow and bloodshot, and the mottlings and marks of the Jump Circuit machineries were still evident on her skin. She was an apparition of the postcoital price of congress with the Great and Only, and she spoke to me as if no other beings of consequence were there.

"Where have you been, mannlein?" she said from on high. "As you can see, when I missed your company, I thought enough of the lack to seek you here, in the tropical fish tank. No higher proof of my regard for you is needful, nicht wahr!"

"Dominique! How could you?"

Never in my life had I experienced a moment of public exposure of such enormity so cavalierly delivered as if from Olympic realms, such a total disregard for the social surround, such an act of psychic terrorism, such a sea of stunned faces, such a feeling of nude unwholesomeness as might only be remembered from primal childhood dreams of appearing pantsless in a crowd.

"With the Pilot?"

"--his secret amour--"

"--demented verdad--"

"--explains his cafard--"

"--quel horror--"

The uproar spread in growing ripples, then rebounded from the outer confines to fill the entire grand salon with a shrill, scandalized, horrified, rolling-eyed babble. Bodies eddied and swirled as the mob pressed closer. Lorenza, her body bent backward as if at the sudden release of a vile odor, snarled at me under disbelieving eyes.

Dominique stared down at me, her bloodshot eyes twin tunnels of overlapping images; opaque and fathomless, fatigued and burning with feverish energy, clear, black, and infinite as the void behind them. "Look at them, Genro," she declaimed in a voice of withering thespic scorn. "Watch the shadows caper and dance. See how they become terrified when you rattle the bars of their cage!"

"Stop it! Stop it!" I shouted at her, choking on the miasma of rage and fear in the air.

"The power to stop the dance is yours alone, mon cher," Dominique said evenly, transfixing me with the truth of her unwavering gaze.

"Genro Kane Gupta, have you been conducting an affair d'amour with this creature?" Lorenza shouted. "As Domo of this ship, I demand an answer. If such a monster is in command, we all have a right to know."

Silence fell like a curtain behind the figure of Lorenza confronting the miscreant with hands on hips and outraged eyes.

"Tell her, Genro" Dominique said with a thin little smile. "Tell her as little or as much as you like. It is a thing of no consequence."

I was psychically paralyzed, frozen on the interface between persona and being, logic and emotion, social reality and inner impulse. I was literally incapable of response, for none could conceptualize itself out of my utter chaos.

"It is a thing of the greatest consequence," a familiar voice called out, and Maestro Hiro, accompanied by Healer Lao, elbowed his way through the press to Lorenza's side. "Argus Edison Gandhi, are you here? Your presence is required."

A moment later, Argus emerged from the crowd to join the phalanx of my judges, all regarding me with a cold, horrified contempt.

"Med crew Maestros have been rendered unfit for duty by congress with pilots, as you and I, mein Captain, have had occasion to discuss," Hiro said. "If you are the unlikely victim of such a cafard, you must be placed under medical supervision and your command remanded to your Second Officer. I am willing to stake my reputation on the necessity for such action, and I am sure all present would concur."

A guttural rumble of righteous agreement greeted his words, a low feral sound overtoned with the subsonics of fear. A strangely anomalous feeling began to seep into my bones, a cold, clear counterpoint to the nauseous helplessness of my position.

"Au contraire, all present do not concur," Dominique snapped sardonically. "And since I do not, this foolishness is at an end."

In the dead stillness that followed, Dominique--pale, unshod, frail creature in tangled hair and bedrobe--seemed yet to speak with some unsheathed queenly authority, her voice as clear and sharp and gleaming as a naked blade.

"I am the Pilot of this ship until it reaches Estrella Bonita, nicht wahr, for there is no other. And Genro Kane Gupta is your Captain until then too, for I will accept no other. Come, Genro, come up here beside me where you belong."

To the angry murmurings of all and sundry, I mounted the balcony as if in a trance and stood beside Dominique's table surveying a mob that bayed for my blood. Daunting as such a tableau might be, from this vantage the cool tendrils of calm creeping along my bones began to make connections with my main spinal core, and I seemed to be looking down on this melee as if from some mountaintop height.

"For the Jump is required the clear, untrammeled willingness of the Pilot, verdad?" Dominique said, fixing her gaze on Maestro Hiro. "Tell them, O Maestro of my worldly machineries!"

Hiro stared back at her in the confounded terror of a man of urban civilization weaponlessly confronting a wild beast.

"Tell them! If there is resistance in my spirit, there will be no Jump. If I do not freely offer myself up, this ship will hang here in the long light- years forever. If another's hand but Genro's touches the Jump command point, I promise you all that nothing at all will occur. In this regard, my will is absolute. Can you deny this, Maestro Hiro?"

Hiro glared back at her for a moment; then polarities reversed, and he was the one who averted his gaze from the more sapient eyes.

So too did the gazes of the others transmute from red ire and hot fear to a sullen, smoldering evasiveness, crusting over this volcanic flow with the ash of frozen destiny. A vast shrug of nervousness seemed to twitch around the room. From my viewpoint on the balcony, I could see the rear edge of the mob eroding away as hunch-spirited figures slunk toward other venues. Lorenza, Hiro, Argus, and Lao all seemed to flow backwards as if to lose themselves in the generality of the now beaten and dully terrified throng.

"Genro Kane Gupta is Captain of your destiny as I am Pilot of your fate," Dominique declaimed grandly. "So it is written, so it shall be."

Turning slowly to me, she stared intently but said softly, with an almost fey smile, "You are the Captain of the Dragon Zephyr, cher liebchen, please be so good as to dismiss these churls." Her expression hardened as if challenging me to exert my puissance as nakedly as she had displayed hers, to seal us here together on our Great and Lonely throne.

"This public forum is ended," I declared in my voice of command. "As Captain of this ship, I will brook no further interference with my authority."

I glared down at Dominique with as much outrage as I could muster. "As for you," I said, "I will return you to your cabin."

Dominique's eyes became opaque and unfathomable, mirrors of amusement tossing back a reflection of my ire distorted into an intimate jest. "Certainement, liebchen," she said, loudly enough to be well overheard. "You are the Captain as always, and I am yours to command."

***

Guiding the shaky-legged Dominique before me like a toddling child, I removed us from the grand salon with as much dispatch as the hysteria that formed in our wide wake would allow, and deigned not to speak to her until we had escaped into the nearly deserted environs of the central corridor, where I grabbed on to her arm and, fairly dragging her forward toward her cabin, demanded: "Why did you deem it necessary to commit such an atrocity?"

"To teach a lesson that you must learn, mannlein," she said harshly. "To strip away the final veil."

"Revealing what?" I snapped back.

"Revealing what was already known."

"'That you and I have been lovers?" I said, dumbfounded.

"Known to you, Genro, not to those poor shadows. To me, you are the only other one who matters."

"Is that some bizarre profession of love?"

"It is a statement of our karmic configuration, mannlein," she said, pausing to regard me with an expression seemingly devoid of any tender emotion. "Have you still not accepted the truth?"

"Your truth?" I said. "The truth that has caused you to destroy my career?"

"Forsaking all else, liebchen. You know that is the price."

"And now that you've forced me to pay it, I have no choice but to continue to the end, is that it?"

"That," she said, "is what was already known."

I glared at her. Our eyes locked in some ultimate contest of will, but as my spirit drifted into the bottomless depths of her orbs, I was forced to admit that this combat existed within my own soul.

"Was it not you who first came to my cabin?" she said insinuatingly. "Was it not you who chose to return more than once? Was it not you who walked the hull of the ship so as to bring this very moment into being?"

"Was it not you who seduced me down every step of this path?"

"Certainement," Dominique admitted freely. "It was my destiny to do so, as it was yours to be seduced. We would not do what we do if we were not who we are, ne? And who we are is the Pilot of the Great and Only and the Captain of the Dragon Zephyr, and we both know what we want. And together we have the power to attain it. Have you finally not the courage to acknowledge the nature of your own being?"

"I acknowledge the true nature of my desire," I told her. I acknowledge that I have the power to attain it. I acknowledge that I have become all but convinced that nothing else is real. But unlike you, Dominique, this single reality, puissant though it be, does not totally define the nature of my being."

"Doesn't it?" she said coldly. "What else is there?"

"The social realm, the responsibilities of duty, the--"

"Shadow games in a shadow realm," she said flatly, daring me with her eyes to deny it. "Did you not experience it as such but a moment ago, mannlein?"

In my silence I could read my answer on the thin smile that twisted her lips. Still, I could not accept myself as the mirror of what I saw in her eyes and nothing more or less.

"The spirits of other human beings," I said with much greater conviction. "No less real than our own."

"And no more, Genro," she said assertively. "You speak of violating the spirits of other humans, but have they not violated yours and mine? They fall upon you, do they not, like a dog pack upon a strange animal, and for what? For not fulfilling your duty? Nein! For congress with the pariah. For seeking vision beyond the bounds of their egg. For things that are the rightful province of your spirit alone."

She wrinkled up her nose and nodded contemptuously down the corridor toward the grand salon. "That is the lesson I sought to impart with my little theater," she said. "What moral obligation do you have to those who willfully refuse to open their eyes and deem you mad for seeing?"

"And what about you?" I said in inwardly evasive anger. "Am I more to you than another shadow, Dominique? Another means to the only purpose, which, as you say, is its own?"

"You are the only other one who matters to me, Genro," she said. "As I am the only other one who matters to you."

"Because we each need the other to attain our desire. ..."

"Yes."

"And nothing more?" I said, studying the muscular ideogram of her face, the shifting surface of her eyes, for any new emotive response.

"There is nothing higher, so there can be nothing more."

"Sophistry," I said.

"You ask if I feel for you l'amour humaine, the caritas of personal treasurement?" she said much less certainly. "I have caritas enough to erect no easy untruth between us. And the truth, liebchen, is that this is a question I cannot answer. We are what we are and our karma is inextricable. This may not be enough to you, mi mannlein, but it is everything to me. If this be self-serving sophistry, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa."

We had reached her cabin door. She cocked me an inquisitive look.

"You would grant me your favors even now?" I said with a certain incredulity. "After this contumely? Even though I forswear the reciprocation you seek?"

"Perhaps that is the measure of my affection for you, mon liebchen," she said, not without a certain warmth, but not without a certain irony either. "I grant you all within my poor powers sans reserve against reciprocation, and I ask only the same from you. Is this not the essence of the true unselfish amour humaine?"

"I know not any more," I said, opening the cabin door and ushering her through it. I stood in the doorway for a long moment regarding Dominique as she regarded me. Many things had passed between us, but none of these could ever have simply been called love. Indeed, to enter her boudoir now would only result in another act of masturbatory fantasy in which the image of ecstasy would become a mocking reminder of the true desire, the only true sharing of which destiny had rendered us capable. This too had become a meaningless shadow.

"You wish not to come inside?" Dominique finally said.

I shook my head. "There is no longer any point to it."

She nodded her agreement. "There is only truth between us now," she said.

"Or nothing at all."

Her eyes widened in quite ordinary alarm. "You do not mean that, ne," she said shakily. "You merely hide from your own lack of courage to do what must be done. ..."

Vraiment, from her viewpoint, this no doubt was so, but in truth I sensed then no connection of our spirits, no mutuality of emotion beyond a shared passion for that which I perceived was not declared the Great and Lonely as less than an ultimate jest.

"Perhaps," I said, "there are things which in your infinite wisdom you have yet to understand." And left her standing there in the doorway, struggling to digest this ambiguous food for thought.

***

In truth, the meaning of my words was as much a conundrum to myself as it must have been to Dominique; I only knew that ours was an amour shorn of all caritas, a force of nature, a passion noir sharing only the same object, and, certainement, it could not be said to be generative of nobility of character in any quotidian sense. And yet ...

I had not proceeded thirty paces down the corridor when my dark musings were interrupted by the apparition of Maddhi Boddhi Clear, bustling up the passageway toward me like some pursuing demon, his white mane of hair an aura about his distractedly determined face.

"Captain Genro," he said, fairly grabbing me by the elbow. "I must talk to you, and I think you are a man who now must talk to me."

I attempted to regard him with detached bemusement even as he peered earnestly into my eyes. "How so?" I said.

"You need not dissemble to me, mein Captain, for we are brother spirits," he said. "Do we not seek the same goal?"

"Do we?"

Annoyance clouded his features. "Have I not to you revealed the darkest of my secrets?" he demanded in a somewhat whining voice. "Is the Pilot of this ship not your lover? Do you imagine that a man such as myself cannot perceive the inner meaning of such congress, having experienced the psychic equivalent on the planet of We Who Have Gone Before? We can speak freely, you and I, as each of us can to no other."

Shamed by his intensity and by the terrible but undeniable truth of his words, I softened my expression. "Very well, mon ami," I said not without a certain rush of relief, "perhaps we should speak."

We had now reached more habited environs, and those passing back and forth across the corridor between the Grand Palais and the stateroom module scuttled across our path like frightened crabs; skittish, sidewise, and clickingly brittle.

"Let us repair to my stateroom," Maddhi said softly. "A surfeit of ultimately private matters have already been made public."

Maddhi's stateroom was strewn with stacks and piles of word crystals, antique leaved books, vials of arcane substances, holocubes, and mandalic paintings, and his bed showed the evidence of recent amorous use. Eschewing the chaises, we seated ourselves across the small dining table, littered as it was with pipes and wine goblets and an assortment of learned detritus.

"Let us speak plainly, mein Captain," Maddhi began. "You have been engaged in a sexual relation with a Pilot, as is now publicly known, and such congress reveals you as a fellow seeker of the ultimate momenlt."

"You speak in riddles ....," I protested queasily.

"Please do not evade me, Void Captain!" he said sharply. "Who better than I to understand that such congress is as close as we mortal men have come to that which only such as my dying lover and your Pilot have achieved? Not to my face can you deny that we both do know what you truly seek to taste in her embrace! I, who have fruitlessly sought this shadow in all possible feminine flesh ..."

I met his gaze with an openness born perhaps of fatigue d'esprit not uncomplicated with a certain pity, or perhaps it was merely plain that his age-hollowed eyes saw too obviously through my defensive facade.

"Since you know all," I said, "what then is the purpose of this conversation?"

"But I know not all, my friend," he said. "Vraiment, it is you who know more than I. It is you who have experienced the sexual truth of a pilot, a deed which I never dared to conceive, an impossible dream, or so I had thought. You must tell me all. I must know what you have found in the center of this ecstasy and how you have achieved it."

"What I have found," I said bitterly, "is but another shadow, and as to how our affair was conceived against all custom and reason, you would do better to interrogate Dominique on that score."

"She seduced you?' Maddhi cried. "Quelle chose! Everything I have ever heard about these creatures has led me to believe that none of them seeks or obtains fulfillment from the phallic prowess of any man."

"This, alas," I said, "is quite so."

Maddhi's eyes widened at this, then narrowed. For once, he studied me with a quiet, receptive calm, as if politely inviting me to bend the ear of a kindred spirit in the service of my own, rather than hectoring me for his own enlightenment. By so doing, naturellement, he achieved that very end.

"Dominique and I share no mutual fulfillment in the flesh," I said, lowering my eyes a few degrees. "Through the oral tantric arts or other noncopulatory means does she simulate the true experience in my spirit as she titillated my body to orgasm," I blurted, feeling unmanly and unclean. "She herself eschews all fulfillment save the Jump itself."

But Maddhi displayed no pity or revulsion at this admission; au contraire, on his visage I read only an unexpected sense of confirmation. "Of course," he said, "this must be so."

"It must?"

"Naturellement. You speak as one whose erotic cusp has been revealed as an unsatisfying shadow of that which floats beyond our grasp; how much more so for one who has truly for fleeting moments Gone Before?"

Maddhi paused, his brows furrowing. "But why then did your Pilot conceive this affair?" he asked, perplexed. "Surely not out of tenderness of the heart? Her actions cannot serve another purpose but the One ..."

The moment seemed to hang there for a very long while. What did I know of this man? That he made his way through life as a parasitic organism of the floating cultura. That he sought the ineffable whose beatific countenance he had glimpsed in a dying lover's eyes. That nothing I had broached to him thusfar had been received as either admission of mental dysfunction or heinous act. That there was no one else aboard save Dominique with whom I could even admit to the existence of these ultimate matters.

Was this enough?

Au contraire, from what other quarter could I expect more?

"How the affair started, whether through chance or design, seduction or pheromonic congruence, is a moot matter," I said quietly. "Mayhap it started out of dreadful guile and evolved into some kind of demonic affection, mayhap the reverse. In any event, in realtime, my friend, you are right. Dominique wants a service from me indeed, a service which ... which ..."

I began to gag on my words. How could I even voice such a proposition? Would not the mere fact of revealing such a thought to another fellow being reveal its own ghastliness to my eyes through his horrified reflection?

But why did I fear to reveal this to myself? I suddenly realized as another part of my psyche observed this thought moving through my realtime mind. Because I would then be prevented from succumbing to the temptation?

Without further inner dialectic, it was this satoric aspect which then spoke, determined that I would commit no act that could not bear the light of day.

"She wants my collusion in Jumping this ship Blind," I blurted.

Maddhi's eyes bugged, fairly rolling in their sockets; his jaw gaped; and in a certain sense his expression was the expected ideogram of outraged horror. But behind this mask, I sensed, lay something else, something already overruling the socially programmed moral reflex.

"This would entail failing to dump the vector coordinate overlay into the Jump Circuit computer," I went on doggedly but not without a certain sense of relieved tension as I spit the whole thing out. "The ship would then be translated into the nonbeing of the Jump along with the Pilot as usual, but neither would return to this quotidian realm, leaving us all either expired or Gone Before into the Great and Only, the existence of which we poor mortal men can only deduce through logic or faith."

Maddhi's expression became truly unreadable. His face slackened, his eyes seemed turned inward, his mouth seemed on the verge of muttering to itself. "You comprehend the meaning of this technical sprach?" I asked.

"Of course ..." Maddhi mumbled slackly. Then more forcefully: "Of course!" Then, amazingly enough, he fairly beamed at me.

" Ah, mein Captain, I knew that it was time for us to speak truly," he said. "So much that was occluded now stands so clearly revealed!"

"It does?"

"Jawohl! That is how they did it! They never intended that which we call the Jump Circuit as a stardrive. Mayhap the thought never even trammeled their minds. It was our human scientists studying that which they could hardly comprehend who perverted the purity of purpose of the ultimate instrumentality of We Who Have Gone Before into a mere propulsion system, a beast of karmic burden. But for We Who Have Gone Before, the only way to Jump was to Jump Blind!"

He clapped hands upon my shoulders. "Do you not understand what this means?" he demanded in some consternation at my puzzled expression.

"It is no less than the answer to the ultimate question, the revelation I have sought all these long decades," he said. "Why we have never encountered the expected abundance of sapients in our starfaring and how our species entire may at last follow We Who Have Gone Before into the higher realm."

I regarded him not without a certain confusion, but a part of me was already beginning to encompass the meaning of his words.

"Most sapient species which survive a sufficiency of their own history to achieve the necessary level of knowledge must discover the means to produce the transcendent phenomenon that we call the Jump. Mayhap this independent discovery requires a far more advanced state of knowledge and wisdom than our species had achieved when it stumbled on the clue to the Jump's premature development. Thus, we, in our youthful ignorance, created a stardrive therewith, whereas the general course of galactic evolution was for this secret to be discovered by older civilizations, which would comprehend its full purpose."

"That which is no other purpose but its own ..." I whispered as the vista opened up before me.

"Exactly," Maddhi said, correctly reading my expression. "It is the grand and noble paradox of the universe of mass and energy--that out of its very substance evolves the generality of sapient spirit and, out of that sapience, the means for transcending the very matrix which gave it birth. Your Dominique has conceived of the Jump Circuit as evolutionary destiny intended, and in this ultimate incarnation the full experience should not be limited to any biological specificity."

"And as proof of this we have the dearth of other sapient species--most of whom have Gone Before!"

Maddhi nodded his excited agreement. "We ourselves have always had the means for all to Go Before," he said. "We but hid this from ourselves with our guidance machinery, anchoring ourselves to maya by act of twisted will. All of us can Jump freely into the Great and Only-- it but requires the courage of spirit to be willing to Jump Blind!"

"You mean ... you think ...?"

"Of course," Maddhi Boddhi Clear said with finality, for there was no dissembling or ambiguity between us now. "You must do as you have been given the knowledge and power to do, mein Captain. You must summon up the courage to do it for all of us. You must."

"Would it not be better to go on to Estrella Bonita and there inform the scientific commonality of this discovery ...?" I stammered foolishly. "For if we do not, will the knowledge not vanish from the universe with this ship?"

Maddhi snorted contemptuously. "Inform the scientific commonality of what?" he said. "If this conversation were reported, we would both be judged mad, nicht wahr? You would never command a Void Ship again, and Dominique Alia Wu would be retired as a Pilot forthwith. Can you deny this?"

I lowered my head almost imperceptibly, for surely I could not deny the truth of his words. Indeed, neither could I deny that the likelihood that another command would be entrusted to me at the end of this voyage was vanishingly slim in any event, in light of events aboard, which had already cast a heavy public cloud over my sanity.

"I see your spirit is troubled by what you must do, my friend," Maddhi said softly. "But knowledge inherent in existence itself can never be lost. Mayhap the generality of our species will not be ready to accept it for generations to come. But by then, you and I and the denizens of this ship will have long since expired in vain. For us, the only thing that can be lost is this opportunity. For us, the only time is now. You must seize this moment, for you will never be vouchsafed another."

I shook my head in soul-deep weariness. "How," I asked plaintively, "can I believe that I have the right to decide such ultimate questions for the unknowing passengers on this ship?"

"Believe what you like about your right to decide, Genro, " he said with an edge of ruthless knowingness in his voice all too reminiscent of Dominique. "Destiny has placed the power to decide in your hands, and in yours alone. And to decide not to use it, that too is to make a decision that must haunt you always, nicht wahr?"

I sighed. I hung my head limply. I could bear no more. Indeed there was nothing left for me to bear as heavy as this ultimate moral load.

"I can hear no more of this," I told Maddhi without censure or rancor. "There is nothing left to know."

He nodded his agreement. "Of knowledge," he said, "there is now at last a sufficiency. It remains but to act."
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Re: The Void Captain's Tale, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 6:17 am

CHAPTER 15

I LEFT THE CABIN of Maddhi Boddhi Clear in a strange sort of daze--not a clouding of my clarity but an excessive sharpness of same; a cold, hard, black, ultimate knowledge of the ideogram of karma in which my spirit was frozen, and of the impossibility of seeking freedom from its inevitability through the intervention of forces beyond my will.

My existential options had been reduced to a clear duality. I must either surrender to entropic fate or will my own destiny via the only path left open. There was no middle ground. Either I would fail to act and this temptation would be gone, or I would screw up my madness or courage and Jump Blind. Either I would become a purposeless hulk deemed unfit for command and doomed like Maddhi to wander hopelessly, longing to find the Path once more, or, having already forsaken all else, I would seize the unknowable prize for which I had already paid the price.

Stated thusly, the proposition becomes a tautology, leading inevitably to the very event which has now come to pass. As I sit here encoding this onto crystal and contemplating what now must be done, I could no doubt find facile justification in the self-serving notion that all I have done and will do has been pre-determined by fate.

But as I returned to this very cabin where I now sit in self-judgment, I was still then struggling with the ethical conundrum, there was still a social creature inside me protesting against amoral destiny with the voice of the tribe.

And in the dialectic between the psychic construct and the amoral spirit a certain anger of conflict found form; as a man of duty and human emotion, I found it not difficult to conceive a certain hatred for Dominique.

Had I not met her on the sky ferry, would I not now be existing in the relative tranquility of innocence? Had she not used my spirit as an instrument, bending it, and sharpening it, and baring it to its own self-awareness, all in the service of her own solipsistic purpose? Her pity on my poor maya-bound masculine state and her unselfish- seeming granting of orgasmic simulation of that which supposedly lay forever beyond my reach, was this not too a seduction, a dance of veils knowingly crafted to lead me on to this final naked moment?

Did she not disdain me both as a fellow spirit and a natural man? Was it not impossible for her to truly share so much as a simple mutual act of love?

Was she not a monster of inhuman obsession? And if I now shared that transcendent monstrosity, was it not Dominique Alia Wu who had knowingly captured my soul for purposes not its own?

I lay on my bed trying to force my consciousness into sleep, unwilling to bear the torture of experiencing the hours of endless contemplation before the next Jump, both hoping to escape into nothingness, and willing the time till that moment not to pass.

As a result, naturellement, I hovered on the interface between wakefulness and sleep; slipping into blackness only to awake with a start, tantalized by unremembered dreams, my consciousness fragmented into jagged jig-saw shards.

In such a hypnogogic state, half awake and half asleep in the semi- darkness, did I suddenly bolt upright, staring into a human face not more than two feet from my own.

It was Dominique. She must have slipped soundlessly into my cabin during one of my flashes of sleep. Now she was standing beside my bed looking down at me, a Dominique transformed.

I had never seen her this close to her pre-Jump psychic and physiological peak before; nearly a full day after the last Jump and only a few hours till the next, she was radiant compared to the sickbed lover I had previously known. Her skin was pale, but even of color. Her hair was neatly combed, her simple blue jumper freshly laundered, and her body seemed to vibrate with nervous energy. The dark eyes staring down at me were clear, powerful, and only slightly shadowed by fatigue. Until this moment, I had never fully comprehended how severely the Jump drained her animal vitality, for I had never before seen how much there was to drain.

"What are you doing here?" I said, sitting up in bed and checking the bedside timepiece. "We Jump in less than four hours."

"Perhaps that is why I have come to you, liebchen," she said, joining me on the bed without solicitation. "Since it was obvious when last we spoke that you would not come to me again."

My mind began to clear of fog. When last we spoke, she had accused me of lack of ultimate courage, and I had left her with a rejection of her further favors, and in fact my ire toward her had fallen asleep aroused.

Yet somehow this seemed like another time and another place, perhaps because Dominique seemed such another woman.

"You told me when last we parted that there were things I had yet to understand," she said, crouching like a catamount on the bed, staring at me with eyes that seemed to luminesce opaquely in the semi-darkness. "I wish to understand them, Genro, truly I do."

"I wish I could believe you," I said.

She laughed; a strange, feral, snorting sound, yet not untinged with a sigh of some inner sadness. "Why should you not believe me, mi mannlein," she said. "Have I held anything of my least politic aspects back from you? You believe that I have seduced and used you for my own ultimate end, ne, without tender regard for the free will of your spirit. You believe tambien that I have granted you sexual favors for service rendered with utter indifference erotique. You believe that I have done all this to achieve my own Great and Lonely goal without care for another fellow spirit."

"Well put," I said dryly.

She rose slightly higher on her haunches, looming toward me as she spoke. "If you believe that much, mon cher, then, nicht wahr, you must believe that I know it too. I admit to all. I deny nothing. Believe me when I say that I know what I am and what I have become."

She duck-walked closer to me, touched a hand to my knee. My flesh drew not back. "Verdad, I did all that I did in no one's service but my own. True also that even now I will not deny that my highest desire is for you to do what must be done, and perhaps I am even now exerting my wiles toward this end."

Slowly, she began fumbling with the catches of her jumper, parting the garment down her breastbone and wriggling out of it like a moth emerging from its chrysalis as she spoke.

"But if I thought only to bend your will to my ends, I find that by so doing, I have freed an inner spirit whose nature matches my own. Mayhap all who see beyond the veil become at bottom one; perhaps there is but a single dancer to step outside the dance. This is a thing I do not understand, Genro, for you are the first such creature I have met or made."

Naked, she hovered above my body supported on her elbows and knees, the tight brown nipples of her breasts arced centimeters above my chest like twin electrodes, her mouth close enough for me to taste her rose-perfumed breath, her pubes poised to lower themselves onto my detumescent loins, her eyes staring openly into mine with what seemed like simple truthful clarity.

"Am I supposed to believe tambien that you now truly seek to know me as a man for the sake of amour erotique alone?" I said. "That all at once you are consumed with fleshly lust?"

She lowered herself upon me; I neither resisted nor returned her touch, and though I felt my body begin to stir under the pressure of her naked flesh, my psychic life-blood ran thin and cold.

"Tonight I admit all, mon cher," she said, kissing me lightly on my unmoved and unmoving lips. "I wish us to truly make love, Genro, I wish you to share a moment of ecstasy with me, I wish us to come together in the only way we can in this shadow realm, so that perhaps our spirits may touch beyond it. ..."

"So that having once shared such a lesser moment of bliss, I cannot gainsay us the greater ...," I said knowingly.

"I admit all, mannlein," she said, undoing the front of my tunic. "Such is my goal, such is my passion, such is my hope that I will make it yours. I want to take you as close as you can get, I want to feel your ecstasy as you feel mine, I want to bridge the final gap between us, I want us to come together in a place where each can know the other does not lie."

I saw no guile in her eyes as she said this, rather, the ruthless openness of spirit that denied all possibility of dissembling, the artful yet artless clarity of purpose beyond all such dances of veils, the essence which had first drawn me to her, and which, in some sense, I admired in a fearful way that might be called love.

Hesitantly, I moved my arm about her. Tentatively, I cupped her cheek in my hand.

She smiled with soft passion at me, a smile which for once touched her eyes, but beneath it still was something of cold steel, the purpose whose primacy she did not even in this moment conceal.

"Be naked to me now, Genro," she said. "As I have made myself naked to you. When next we embrace, it will not be in this flesh, nicht wahr?"

Slowly, I began undressing, never taking my eyes off her face. "I make no such promises," I said.

"None need be made, liebchen," she replied. "Now that we are naked to each other, what will be cannot be denied. What will come out of this moment I willingly trust to fate. Can you not do the same?"

So saying, she stretched the full length of my body, and seized my lips in a kiss of such depth and passion as to take my breath away, molding her soft flesh to my contours, filling me with her untrammeled breath.

Her hand reached into the quick of my manhood, and as it surged into that embrace, I felt a shockwave of electricity surge up my spinal chakras and into my brain, opening a channel of clear kundalinic energy between our spirits via the instrumentality of our flesh.

"It has been a long time," she breathed in my ear, "but in a previous incarnation, I was considered an adept."

This was uttered in a tone of jocular challenge, but behind it I sensed the serious truth. Our dialectic had at last reached beyond words or thespic actions to the ultimate plane where being confronted being in the meeting of flesh, and even here did she challenge my manhood to command, even here would our spirits contest in a combat of wills for the ultimate stake.

Vraiment, did this merely serve to whet my energies as she mounted my steed, drawing it within her with a startlingly muscular grasp, then slowly kneading my passion with rolling and surging grindings of her hips. I felt myself flowing into my phallus as it seemed to float free in an infinite cyclonic eye within her, drawn down my spine from my roiling brain into that nether intelligence of my kundalinic serpent; at the same time, my gaze was locked into hers as if each sought to see their own interior reflection from within the other's eyes.

Slowly, without a flicker or waver in our mutual stare, without a word or gesture, I began moving within her energies, first as a minor note, and then, as I raised us into an ideogram of equality, sitting in each other's laps still locked eye to eye and pube to pube, meeting each inward roll of her hips with a slow burning thrust of my phallic lance.

This mutual tantric asana is a configuration of long duration, of the slow, even feedback of kundalinic energies, the roll of the yoni and the thrust of the lingam combining in a dance of smoldering fire, an even, calm rhythm through which the energies build not fiercely but with a rising oceanic swell.

She was adept, vraiment, and so was I, verdad; I knew I had never had or been a lover like this before. Eye to eye, lingam to yoni, spirit to spirit, we performed this exercise for a timeless eternity, until it ceased to be an exercise, until our eyes seemed to meld into endlessly reflected images of each other; until thought, and challenge, and purpose were an subsumed into the void whence they came, until all that remained was an interface of ecstasy oceanically throbbing and rolling in a space beyond space.

"Be a Captain to me now," she sighed, "and let me be the Pilot of your soul."

Clinging to my neck, she drew me slowly down on top of her, wrapping her legs tightly around my waist, and drawing me down, down, down into her with every muscle of her body, with her rhythm and with her eyes, which seemed not to blink or flicker as they stared up at me with the cold black clarity of the perfect void.

I was a lance of energy and nothing more, a glowing nerve trunk from spirit to spine, and from spine to phallus, as if a lightning bolt through the fabric of reality had pierced me to the core.

Like a leaping diver, I thrust myself into the ecstatic void of free fall, soaring and plunging down the geodesic curve into the whirlpool of her center, a demon rider on an eldritch steed.

I watched her lips part and compress, part and compress, part and compress with the rhythm of my spirit until it seemed that I was synced into the very breath of her body and she into mine as we moaned into a single endless ecstatic shout, a mantra of clear energy that went on and on as reality dissolved in a timeless flash of sweet nothingness that seemed to pour out of my spirit down the endless tunnel of her open orgasming eyes, and in that moment of utter release, we were Gone- Before, and together and into the All.

We lay there silently in each other's arms for a long, long moment, as my consciousness slowly reformed into awareness of time and space and fleshly reality, as my spirit clung longingly to the fading glory , and when I finally reluctantly returned, it was longer still until I could speak.

"That was ... that was ..."

Dominique kissed my lips briefly, then stopped them with her finger. "Only a shadow," she said, her eyes burning brightly. "Even that, liebe Genro. You know it as well as I."

I lay there supinely, still empty of all coherent thought, as she disengaged herself from the memory of our embrace and donned her jumper.

"Think of this when next you sit on the seat of command, mein Captain," she said as she drifted like a fading succubus toward the door, "and I will trust my spirit to your command gladly. In my own strange way ... I think I love you, Genro Kane Gupta."

Then she was gone.
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Re: The Void Captain's Tale, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 6:18 am

CHAPTER 16

AND SO NOW I reluctantly approach the end of this tale; soon the recounting of the past will merge into the present act of its telling, and then I will have reached the moment when reflection must give way to action, when self-justification, if such this word crystal be, must give way to the judgment of others, when I must leave the venue of the past and emerge from my solitude into the world of my ship to face the future.

I find it strange addressing this account which logic declares will likely never be found to a theoretical audience whose future existence I am hard put to find credible. But of course the true audience I have been addressing all along has been myself, as if by recounting my past incarnations to the Genro that now is, I may re-arrive at my present state of being in a fuller awareness of how I got here, how I became what I have become.

Of what practical use such knowledge may be to the Captain of this marooned ship may seem a moot question. By all logical analysis, the Dragon Zephyr and all aboard it are doomed to drift in the interstellar abyss forever. No one will ever decode the apologia of Genro Kane Gupta, the Void Captain under whose command a Blind Jump occurred, and so no outside viewpoint will ever exist to judge whether he was monster or saint. Nor will an enlightened Genro survive a moment longer than the man who first sat down to tell this tale when the ship's air finally runs out.

And yet ...

And yet I have been to a place beyond place where all such considerations were irrelevant. As I arrived there contra all conventional logic, in defiance of anything that might be called human morality, beyond the timebound realm of the universal egg itself, beyond, in short, anything called law, so has my passage through it all but convinced me that, against all rational expectation, there is a way to return.

So perhaps more than a testament to some theoretical posterity or an exercise in self-justification, this coding of my tale onto word crystal has been a ritual purification for what is to come. By admitting all and in the end perhaps justifying nothing, I bring myself to the present with the ruthless clarity with which Dominique Alia Wu sought and achieved her apotheosis. By so doing, I free myself to act with the same ultimate dedication to my only remaining purpose.

And perhaps tambien to make my peace with She Who Has Gone Before.

Even to the end of our congress on this plane of maya, the heart of Dominique Alia Wu remained a mystery; indeed, as men customarily use this word as metaphor for the human tenderness of the spirit, the question is whether she had such a thing at all. And whether such to me remains.

Certainement, in that first and only temporally mutual act of what men call love, our spirits touched, and merged, and stood revealed in the searing white light of our shared moment of ecstatic nonbeing.

But undeniable too was the truth she spoke that even this was but a shadow of the Great and Only desire we now both so completely sought.

No higher union of spirit may man and woman through flesh and destiny attain, but if amour humaine can be nothing more, mayhap it must be something less. For in truth does not such sentiment require a dedication absolute to a kindred being, and not to a shared vision of that which lies beyond the very realm of thought and form?

But the being of which we had become kindred avatars knows no purpose other than its own, and in the end we each in our own way served it above any mere heart's desire.

Was I animated by the tender afterglow of love as I made my way to the bridge for our last Jump? Had I then already fully surrendered to the destiny that we shared?

Quien sabe? In memory's eye, I had fallen into a black and perfect sleep after Dominique slipped out my door, so that upon being awakened by the annunciator from this time-slipping state, she seemed to have faded into a dream but a moment before.

Argus' voice blared at me through the speaker. She and Mori had long since activated the bridge machineries, the Jump was scheduled within the hour, the Pilot was already in her module. Where was the Captain of the Dragon Zephyr, or was he ready to give over his command?

"I'm on my way to the bridge now, and I'm still in command of this ship, Interface!" I snarled in angry confusion.

And so I woke into a frenzy of bustle and tension as I drew on my clothes sans grooming or ablution and stormed like a juggernaut of purpose through the terror-ridden corridors of the ship.

Faces formed and dissolved like mist in my field of vision as I hurtled through the atmosphere like a bolide. The beauteous and fatuous Sar, cringing from sight of me. Lorenza, her eyes spitting sparks. Bocuse, companion of other voyages, regarding me with disgust. Twitterings and scamperings and raucous dismay as I charged through a cage of frightened parrots.

They passed through my sphere of perception, but in truth I saw them not. My vision was fixed at another point in time, in the ecstatic void of transcendent nonbeing, from whose heights I had seemingly just fallen into this vile quotidian realm.

Only briefly did another truly perceived being intrude, that being Maddhi Boddhi Clear, whose visage passed for a frozen moment across my trajectory, riveting my gaze for a timeless instant with sapient eyes that seemed to mirror Dominique's and my own. Therein did I read both an assent and a plea, the longing touch of a brother spirit upon my own, a beseeching camaraderie calling to me to do what must be done, a final moment of vrai connection humaine before I passed on.

In such a state did I arrive on the bridge, bursting in with a clatter of footfalls that snapped Argus' and Mori's heads around to gape at the arrival of the madman on the bridge.

"What are you staring at?" I said sharply, planting myself in the Captain's chaise without further ado.

What were they staring at indeed? In the eyes of my crew, I saw the reflection of my own distracted apparition: touseled hair and stubbly beard, tunic donned in rumpled haste, eyes that these two intrepid farers of the starways dare not meet.

"See to your duties," I ordered. "I'm still Captain of this ship!"

"By whose command?" Argus snapped. "By the will of your Pilot and lover!"

What then arose in my eyes must have been sufficient to cow my Second Officer, though what I felt bore little kin to feral rage. I had become what I had become and other beings were what they are, and each of us was our own reality. And I no longer cared what impact my persona made on theirs, for that construct had been stripped away to reveal the naked soul within, to whom all this was but vanity and maya.

In truth, I cannot judge whether this was what Argus Edison Gandhi beheld, or whether her own subjectivity constructed another fearsome Genro out of what she saw. Be that as it may, what she perceived restored through terror the obedience I had once commanded through station and respect.

She returned to the perusal of her instruments, and Mori, naturellement, followed suit, and so the final ritual began under a dark canopy of stars veiling the reality of its destined outcome.

"Jump Drive generator activated on standby ... parameters nominal. ..."

The first of my ready points glowed an expectant amber.

One by one, in a tense and utterly mechanical voice, Mori ran down her checklist. In this opening set of the ritual, the Captain had no speaking part, and so I sat there staring up into the simulated starry blackness, into the imagined firmament beyond the tele's illusion, into the utter conundrum of spacetime itself which I had perceived beyond the hull of the ship, into that which lay beyond even that final veil, detached in spirit and function from the instrumentalities of the bridge.

"Primer circuit activated on standby ... parameters nominal. ... Pilot in the Circuit. ..."

Only with the sound of those words did my awareness snap back into the here and now, or rather to the only point of tangency between instrumentality and essence which remained. I imagined, if such is the term, Dominique, floating there in her amniotic nothingness, awaiting the moment when her spirit would be released--to soar free forever into the Great and Only, or to be tantalized once more like myself by only a glimpse.

At that moment, I do now truly believe, the deed was done, in the sense that the decision of the will is the true essence of the act.

"Checklist completed and all systems ready for the Jump."

"Take your position, Man Jack," I said in a voice that sounded hollow and distant even to myself, a voice that seemed the ghostly generalized echo of those oft-repeated words and which therefore had somehow achieved an archetypal absolute. The mantra of this transtemporal chord moving through my being seemed to leech me of all feeling save a cold, clear, indifferent grandeur, the calm that comes with the final surrender to inevitable fate.

Mori hesitated at the arcane intonation of this familiar order, glancing at Argus before repairing to her chaise. But Argus had retreated into the world of her console, and Mori, after perusing my expression, dared not step outside the ritual's pattern.

"Ship's position and vector verified and recorded," Argus muttered tightly. "Vector coordinate overlay computed and on the Captain's board."

Now at last all my command points were active. I had reached the moment of total command once more, but now I felt nothing--a sweet, calm emptiness as I passed into true union with the rite's inner secret, as I myself became the act and the void.

"Jump Field aura erected," I said, touching a command point.

"Captain Genro, you haven't dumped the vector coordinate overlay!" Argus shouted, bolting from her chaise as my finger poised above the Jump command point, stabbing at my board with a trembling hand and wild eyes as it came down.

"Jump!"

***

How to describe the inherently indescribable? How to render an account of events in sequence when neither "sequence" nor "event" is a meaningful term? Words themselves are a linear sequence; this account, no matter how decoded, must be perceived as a series of images along a skein of time.

But what "occurred" when I touched the Jump command point, what "I" perceived or became in the "interval" between one nanosecond and the next bore no relation to "time" or "sequence." Nevertheless, I am now reduced to a system of translation which must force the illusion of linear sequence onto any attempt to describe the "experience."

I was still "there" on the bridge with my finger on the Jump command point and Argus' perhaps touching the one beside it in a certain sense, in that my consciousness still had access to that slice of spacetime, just as it had similar access to any other event along the geodesic solid of my lifeline.

So I did not "disappear into another continuum" in the sense that my consciousness did not translate into another timebound matrix at some remove measurable in space and time; rather did I abruptly gain awareness of "myself" as a mutating, unfolding standing wave pattern of spirit moving through the mutating, unfolding mass-energy matrix in which it arose. Which is to say my consciousness diffused down my lifeline via the annihilation of the illusion of sequential time, and I not only "experienced" but became the total spacetime pattern "perceiving itself" from outside.

My "body" frozen there with its finger on the command point was merely an arbitrary section of a flux of microenergies in the eternally unfolding macrosphere, which itself existed within the matrix of nonbeing as pure pattern flowing through its own forms, thus creating the illusion of energy and matter as interference phenomena of the intersection of "space" and "time."

To say that the "physical sensation" was akin to "endless orgasm" would be a reversal of field and ground. For the human orgasm consists of the release of a certain narrow spectrum of bioelectronic energies whose momentary free-flow through the synapses mimicks in miniature the universal untimebound reality of forms flowing "freely" out of the true Void, just as timebound notions of "paradise" and "nirvana" must be visions of this eternal universal now.

The boundaries of figure and ground, space and time, "personality" and "existence," being annihilated, "I" existed as "my" own awareness of the standing wave pattern known as Genro Kane Gupta extant as a completed and eternal subconfiguration of the completed and eternal Great and Only, the four-dimensional explosion of raw existence out of Void, the universal flow of massless, particle-less pattern itself, the Great and the Only, the One and the Lonely, the eternal sustaining orgasm itself whereby being is conjured from nothingness, creating the quotidian illusion of time.

Before me spread the "vista" of my true body as the spacetime mandala itself, the Great and Only conundrum of nothingness redoubled into being, the orgasm of the Void.

From this vantage, all things were revealed, and yet in another sense all things were occluded by an excess of light; for all things were events of the simultaneous moment and that which perceived them was the pattern of the phenomenon itself, the figure was the ground, and its awareness dissolved into the totality.

Was Dominique "there" with "me"? Did "I" confront the spirits of We Who Have Gone Before?

Meaningless verbal paradoxes. There was no other "place" than "there" in all space and time, and every particle and event in all and eternal existence existed nowhere else. Yet since all was One and the One its own illusion, none of "us" were "there."

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that in another sense our spirits met, since beneath the dance of forms all sapience was One, the means by which "reality" evolved a viewpoint beyond the nothingness of the Void and thus conjured itself by its own illusion into being.

Thus was it perceived that the Jump itself was no anomaly in the matrix of space and time, no intrusion of chaos through a rent in universal law, but a phenomenon of the totality of the orgasmic All itself, not of any part or locus, but of the interaction of the universal moment filling space and time with its relativistic illusion and the ground of nonbeing in which it arose.

The matter of the ship and all within it was but a standing wave of pattern in the hologram of space and time, a segment of the universal chord, no more and no less than the "consciousness" of the Pilot was a pattern hologrammically distributed throughout the Great and Lonely All.

Contrariwise was the One hologrammically distributed through all segments of itself, for no pattern conjured itself into existence save the totality itself.

To "go" from "here" to "there" in an interval of temporal "duration" was an illusion of the timebound mind.

There was no "there" that wasn't "here" and there was no motion of consciousness through time; rather did time exist as but another interference pattern in the universal mind.

At last I understood the true extent of Dominique's despair at being dragooned back into occluded consciousness by the instrumentalities of man, for now "I" and "she" were the purpose which knows no other than its own.

The vector coordinate overlay guided not the Pilot and the ship through the Great and Only and back into another configuration in space and time; rather did it warp itself a dimple in the eternal sentient All and suck a segment of awareness down a nullity of time, fragmenting a subconfiguration of the totality and drawing it down a whirlpool of subjectively reforming maya into a new illusion of quotidian here and now.

But "We" were Jumping Blind.

We Had Gone Before.

We were that which existed, the One and the All, Great because we were everything, and Lonely because there is no other.

But even as this vision exploded into existence in an augenblick, so too, with a rending and a tearing, did it just as "swiftly" fade, did a suction of the spirit whirl "me" down out of my unity even as another "me," with lorn parting salutation, watched itself Go On--

***

"Jump!"

Genro Kane Gupta sat in his chaise on the bridge of the Dragon Zephyr, his finger touching a red command point on the board before him. Beside the Captain's throne, Second Officer Argus Edison Gandhi was in the act of crumpling to the deck, her hand still sliding off my console. As it thumped against the floor, I emerged from "I," as it were, or rather awoke to the awareness that no time had passed since the previous moment, that I had watched Argus grab for my board as I touched the Jump command point, and then--

--and then here I was in my seat of consciousness, and there Argus was, falling to the floor--

--and in between--

"Captain, Captain, what's happened?"

Mori, her eyes glazed and blinking, her countenance leeched of coherence, was staring at the prone form of Argus, at me, at the ideogram we made together.

"Don't you remember, Man Jack?" I sighed, forcing words to once more animate my throat.

"I--We--" Mori's facial features spasmed into a moment of contortion, as if gagging on memory, or discovering the presence of an illusive hole therein. Then her gaze darted about nervously above and behind, scanning the overarching starfield like that of a small frightened child in a large dark cave.

"Where are we, Captain Genro?" she asked me shakily. "Did we Jump?"

"You felt nothing, Mori?" I said in a cool, tranquil voice, which, under the circumstances, sounded passingly strange chez moi, even as it spoke through me. "You don't remember?"

As for Mori, I finally began to register awareness of the fact that she was balancing on the razor edge of hysteria, and that my behavior thusfar had hardly been well calculated to cozen her toward equilibrium. Moreover, a member of my crew lay unconscious or worse at my feet while I attempted to retain the unretainable.

"Summon Healer Lao to the bridge forthwith, Man Jack, " I said briskly, slapping Mori gently across the face with my voice of command. "Then check the ship's position."

This had the desired effect of snapping the distracted consciousness of my young Third Officer back into duty's persona and sent her scrambling to her appointed tasks, not without a certain grateful subsumption of self-awareness into ritual.

Smartly, she summoned help from sick bay, and smartly still did she repair to the chaise of the stricken Argus and set the computer to overlaying its starry memory patterns on the realtime firmament presented to us by the tele. It took a somewhat anomalously long time for the computer to find a matching configuration.

"We did Jump, Captain," Mori said, as digits flashed across our artificial heavens. "But we're far off course, the vector was all wrong ... there's a deviation of 76 degrees, and ... and ..."

Abruptly, she turned to stare at me in cowed and disbelieving horror. "What have you done?" she said. "What really happened?"

"I have done what I was destined to do," I told her from a cosmic distance. "As for what really happened--"

"The ship has Jumped Blind, and the Pilot is dead!"

It was Maestro Hiro himself who announced his presence on the bridge with these words. Behind him came Healer Lao, who made straight for the corpus of Argus without acknowledgment of the presence of those in less obvious need of his immediate attentions.

But Maestro Hiro, oblivious to the immediate medical exigency, could not take his eyes off mine.

"This is where you have led us," he said angrily, but not without a certain horrified compassion. "This is the terminal phase of your unwholesome cafard. ..."

"You didn't dump the vector coordinate overlay. ... Argus ... you ..." Mori began stammering at me in a fit of returning quotidian memories. "You ... you killed the Pilot. ...You've marooned us here to die!"

While these phenomenological accusations could not be denied, my spirit felt cool and not unclean; least of all could I be chastened as the foul murderer of Dominique Alia Wu. Au contraire, au contraire.

"And you. Maestro Hiro," I said somewhat dreamily, "do you too remember nothing? Did you not feel ... the Pilot as she ... Went On?"

Hiro glared at me. "Do you feel no remorse?" he demanded, somewhat hollowly, it seemed.

"Remorse?" I said distantly. "Perhaps ... But not in the sphere of discourse you likely comprehend. ..."

He goggled at me blankly. But behind the blankness erected before it like a mask, I sensed a discontinuity, a psychic twist of denial around a half-remembered void, and mayhap a strange sort of homage to he whose eyes had seen and willed not forgetfulness. As our eyes locked, I felt an arcane exchange of energies, which, in the next moment, seemed to leave him subdued, cowed, uncertain of the ground upon which he stood.

"We've ... we've survived a Blind Jump," he said softly and with no little wonderment. "At least for the moment we are still alive. ..."

"So we have, Maestro Hiro, so we are," I said. "And perhaps we have not yet seen the terminal phase of what you choose to diagnose as my cafard."

***

And so I have reached the end of my tale, the point at which the present grows out of the past and the future awaits in which reflection must act.

Beyond the door to this cabin lies the reality of this marooned ship, no less a shadow than he who now closes this account, yet, nicht wahr, no more. Of those under my stewardship who pierced the veil for an augenblick in my company, one is dead, four have lapsed into dreamy stupefaction, a dozen remember what they can only recall as a moment of utter madness and presently doubt their own sanity, and the rest remember naught.

Argus Edison Gandhi, suffering no obvious organic impairment, nevertheless cannot remember whether or not she succeeded in dumping the vector coordinate overlay from my board; but in any case has become a subdued personality, lacking any further impulse to challenge her mad Captain's authority.

Nor do any of them dare to move against me. The terror of slow asphyxiation far from the worlds of men stalks the corridors, and while they may deem me mad, a deeper wisdom tells them that only a madman can lead when the sane know themselves to be doomed.

So, finally, has this been the autobiography of a madman? Certainement, it would ill serve as a moral fable for the social edification of children. Certainement tambien that I am the only person aboard whose memory track retains the true vision of the Great and Only, who believes that the Captain of the Dragon Zephyr is as in command of his full faculties as he is of this ship's destiny.

There was another whom I might have rightly accepted as my sanity's judge, but he is gone from this realm, and, mayhap, it has been his final good fortune to have Gone Before.

Maddhi Boddhi Clear was found in the vivarium by Sar. Far from being disgusted or horrified at discovering this expired corpus, this apparently empty-headed and simpleminded creature reported that after a moment's start, she experienced a frisson of unreal peace.

Maddhi had seated himself on a stone bench under a willow tree overlooking the pond. Arms stretched out across the back of the bench, his head lay back on his shoulders looking up at the simulated sky.

"Like a statue, I tell you," Sar had said, her eyes dreamy and far away. "Like a holocine. Looking up at the sky with his eyes open wide and the most beautiful happy smile on his face. Ah, who could ask for more in one's final moment, nicht wahr? Sehr romantic, no? I do believe I shall remember the old roue far more fondly than I would have believed possible."

And so, indeed, shall I. If not without a certain arcane envy.

And with the example or Maddhi Boddhi Clear before me, I shall now leave my cabin to address my Honored Passengers and crew in the grand salon, where I have assembled them to hear my next course of action.

As Academy procedure for a doomed Pilotless ship prescribes, and as expectation would have it, I shall call for volunteers from among the female passengers to serve in the stead of Dominique Alia Wu, even as Dominique herself received her name and her destiny in similar circumstances aboard the Feather Serpent.

Considering the certain doom of the alternative, there will be no dearth or fearful trembling souls to come forth. Nevertheless, I can hardly expect to simply pluck another Dominique from among the denizens of our floating cultura, another such terrible and glorious spirit born to ride the Jump.

But as Dominique seduced me into the final unresisting surrender through its cognate in the flesh, mayhap may I not now mold another in her image through my own preternatural knowledge? As Maddhi Boddhi Clear did on the night he took his name, may I not serve through a synergy of fleshly and electronic instrumentalities as the vehicle of another's passage, as I did for my Dominique?

Each volunteer for the Pilot's module will submit to my tantric ministrations, first in my cabin, and then in the chamber of the voidly dream. Each will walk the hull of the ship by my side. Only those who follow this path to its end will then be deemed worthy to face the ultimate test of the Jump Circuit.

Though many may at first reject this as an outrage of lecherous intent and a scandal under the ship's doomed circumstances, others, such as Sar, will assent for that very reason. Certainement, few will attain to the Pilot's module with the hope of success, but certainement tambien that in the end, as air and hope dwindle, none will gainsay this desperate and bizarre attempt at rescue.

Mayhap all of this is vanity and such a quest is doomed to fail, as all quotidian logic and sanity would no doubt contend. But as Maddhi pursued his grail longingly through years of feminine flesh, must I not pursue that purpose which is its own by the only means available?

May not my tantric puissance and my Great and Only knowledge with unlikely fate combine to create for us a Pilot who will take us to safe harbor, thereby rendering me the equally unlikely hero of an outre romance?

Or perhaps I dare to hope that a Captain and his Pilot shall Go Before together, leaving none to complete what has been no moral tale.
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