The Adventures of Guy-Shi
(The Rap on what this is all about is at the end of the post.)
The batshit crazy part is that you have to believe in magic swords. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Call me Guy. Guy–Shi, if you want to be more formal. It’s what I am, and it’s what I do. I’m going to try to tell you the story, but sometimes the story might be telling me…
For purposes of this discussion I must posit the existence of the multiverse. N universes, where n is very large, perhaps even infinite. The problem is, this multiverse is unstable. Very unstable. So what to do?
Here’s an example, those of you that have lived in snow country will understand this better than the others. You go outside on a winter morning and it’s dark, your car is covered with snow, and the cold bites into your skin. You start the car, then clean it off and you see a single set of tire tracks in the snow on the road. You get in the car and you start to feel a shiver coming on and you turn up your collar and the thought comes unbidden: Man, I’m glad I’m not that guy.
When things have all gone to hell and it’s no longer safe for ordinary folk to leave their homes, a guy has to get up early and go make things safe. Put things right again. You drive past the school and see the snow falling under the lights and down to the parking lot. There’s a tractor rolling slowly backwards, pushing a big pile of snow. You see a guy in a big snow suit twisted all the way around backwards driving the thing. You’re even more glad you’re not that guy.
Yeah. I’m that guy. In the universe where I spend most of my time, it’s pretty much always a guy. Guy is a slang term for a male of the species in English, which is a language on my planet. I realize that there are probably plenty of universes where it makes more sense for a female of the species to do the work, but I haven’t been sent to any of those. And I also recognize others out there will think the whole idea of sexual differentiation sounds hopelessly complicated and needlessly messy, but hey — it works well enough for us. When the multiverse needs repairs, it calls in a guy. Or two. We prefer to think of ourselves as the Guys. Guy–Shi means ‘Mr. Guy’ in Korean, another language where I come from. It’s a grim sort of humor, to be sure.
When something has to happen and the gods themselves are unwilling or unable to do it, a Guy gets it done. For ridiculously low wages, I might add. When a guy gets to the point where he can say ‘I’ve seen worse’, he’s eligible for recruitment into Guyness. Usually— but there I’m trying to jump ahead again. One wrong decision can destroy more than one universe. Guys get called in to keep that from happening. Older Guys that have been through some shit, and have managed to survive long enough to gain some wisdom.
I woke up on this boat a week ago, and that’s not the place where I usually wake up on these jaunts. This is also the longest that I’ve ever been… somewhere else. Nothing has happened yet. Except for the fact that I’ve gone back to a universe I’ve experienced before.
There should be five thousand people on this… this big ass ship. Corridors filled with life and sounds and smells — people that a part of me seems to know. But there’s just me and the computer. Her name is Scheherazade. She’s perfectly happy with how the ship is functioning and the course it is following, and is blithely unaware of the utter impossibility of this actually working. We’re bound for blank spot on the charts at the edge of the galaxy, natch.
As for the magic sword, well, I’ve had several now. Large and small, cheap and fancy. I should have a hi–tech one in this universe, but instead I have a straight bladed, plain wooden scabbard–and–handle sword. No guard on the pommel. Now I understand that when I have this sword, it means I’m more me than someone else. But I’ve been other Guys, too.
The first time was just a test, a quick run through the Skinner Box to see if this ape/lizard combination brain could handle non–ordinary reality. The second time I had this sword, and something was done to it. I can just as easily call it enchantment as anything else. This is the eighth time that this has happened to me, first once a year, then twice a year.
Something about being in another universe changes things, or changes me perhaps. Makes me lucky, in a sense. That helps. I try to help others. One slave girl (not green, and no.), one slave boy (No! What is wrong with you?!), and come to think of it, one slave AI. I hope she’s okay. Her name was Averel, and she was several orders of magnitude more complex than Scheherazade. The Goddess in disguise, perhaps… I’ve been wondering about that. The memories feel more like a girlfriend than a machine. Maybe I’m just a perv.
I’ve been reading some of the captain’s journals. The ship’s log too, of course, but Edmond— that’s his name, Edmond Dantes (No, not that one. In this universe, that was his great–grandfather.), has been keeping journals since he was young. He’s a Guy, no question, quite heroic, but something’s wrong. He’s become a Guy that sometimes needs a Guy to cover for him.
I’ve been living his life, off and on, for a long time. Much longer than I really want to accept. That part doesn’t fit in with what I’ve learned about Guyness in recent years. I’ve had too much time to think about this. When I go home only a few hours will have passed, no matter what I’ve been through here.
I don’t want to do this anymore.
I still can’t believe that no other know my secret. Kes’san is a friend of the family, and loyal unto death. But the darkness is so strong, so overwhelming… I’m a fraud. Everyone thinks I’m a hero, the greatest compte ever… but it makes no sense. I’m a coward. Fear rules my life.
Yet now… Jasmine is speaking to me again! What happened? What did I do? I can’t remember… still, the blackouts feel like old friends, somehow… they’ve been happening for so long… since I was young.
I thought she would hate me forever.
I lean back in the chair and take my hands off of the journal. Some of the pages began to rise back up, but that didn’t really matter. Jasmine… she reminds me very much of a girl I knew in high school. Light brown hair and blue eyes… I know far more than an unintroduced gentleman should about her, now. I remember many things that haven’t happened to me. Perhaps I’m remembering the future as well. Somehow my mind floats atop a stew of weirdness… but I don’t know what’s holding it together.
I’m working in a region of the multiverse that has a number of universes similar enough to my own. Things, names, faces sometimes carry over, and a series of initially random adventures begin to assume a more linear narrative. There’s one name that’s always there, someone that I’m supposed to know very well. Certain people are quite jealous of that fact. These people are often up to something. Something that I’m expected to put a stop to. By the way, I have never seen this person that I remember.
Day Eight starts the same as the others, with Scheherazade whispering in my ear. I don’t know how she does that because the console is nowhere near the bed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very much the kind of voice a guy (yes, small ‘g’) would like to have whispering to him, but that might be exactly why it continues to take me by surprise. I sit up in bed and look around. I can’t help but think that almost everything in here is very new, as though the place had recently been remodeled. Maybe that’s why the room doesn’t reveal much about the personality of its’ true occupant. One wall does display a large number of swords, arranged in chronological order.
I throw back the covers and head for the bath. There’s a divider/screen sort of thing that separates the console and mini–galley from the rest of the room. “Coffee. Brew.” I dither for a moment, but decide not to ask for a status report.
I hit the shower. It’s a huge chamber, with the wall opposite the entrance serving as a giant video screen. There’s been a rotating selection of tropical beach scenes displayed, life–sized. I liked that because it gave the bath the feeling of a grotto.
The sky looked bluer today, but I wasn’t really paying attention. I’d gotten used to it, and just wanted to get down to business. I was having trouble waking up. I had my head under the water when I felt a draft. I’d never felt that before.
I wave my hand to reduce the water flow. There was still a fair amount of mist in there, but I could see well enough that the door was closed. The draft was coming from the opposite direction, anyway. I look at the wall and see a lanai about thirty or forty yards from the Point of View. This was the first sign of human habitation I’d seen.
The water looked wetter, and the sand looked… sandier. Something moved in the shade and I realize that it is a person. A woman, with dark red hair in cascading waves down to the small of her back and pale skin almost as white as her maillot. She had raised her head up and was looking off down the beach, away from my POV.
I reach out and touch the wall, and watch the ripples spread out from where my fingers penetrate the image. I feel the sun on my fingertips. “At last. A sign.” I withdraw my hand and wave the water back up to full, taking a moment after to check the fingers for all their bits.
I don’t think going over there is a good idea, so I finish up my shower. I worry all the while that this is now a two–way screen and I just don’t want to meet someone this way. I step out and towel off before going to the mirror. I take a good long look at myself.
Very nearly me, but less grey in the hair and come to think of it, the joints haven’t been creaky this week. Hadn’t thought about it at all until now. I pick up the depilator and smooth off my face. If I could take this thing back with me I could buy the entire solar system.
The alarm goes off while I’m still butt nekkid. “Crap!” I grab a robe off the rack and head out. “Scheherazade! Report!”
“Intruder alert, main engineering, reactor room. One life form, no match for current records.”
“Lock the place down! Hold him there until I can get dressed!”
“Lockdown in progress.”
I bolt over to the wardrobe and start frantically pawing for underwear. ED owns some quality clothing, to be sure. I need a belt, and some socks.
Finally I make it to the point where I can strap on the blaster. I do so and then stick my wooden sword in the belt. Time to sally forth.
“Intruder has exited engineering.”
“Valid command codes were used to override locked devices.”
“Fuck me dead!”
“Unable to comply.” There was a hint of smirk in her voice. She should not be enjoying herself during an emergency situation.The door sighs open, and I sigh as well. I flex my fingers, then touch the pommel of the sword with my left hand. I step into the corridor and the heels of my boots start ringing out on the metal floor. I find myself wondering if I’m going to have to kill again.
I don’t want to do this anymore.
I turn the corner and come face to face with the alien. At least, it looks something like a face. There’s oily fur on the tops of its’ head and the skin… the skin is the color of excrement. It has arms and legs (with signs of fur on them as well!), but the proportions are wrong and the joints look flimsy. Most of the body is covered with clothing and the feet are encased in large pieces of some sort of hide.
I see a weapon and notice that the alien adorns himself with metal rings on… well, there’s just too many digits in sight. I’m suddenly glad that the feet are covered. This is all a bit much.
The alien is studying me as well. The eyes are disturbingly large, and they are not looking at my own. They must never cease moving. He might be studying my sword. I realize now that he has one as well. One that looks very similar to my own.
This is unexpected. This could complicate matters. I take a step back.
I look more closely at the clothing. The insignia resemble mine as well. I see the lettering on his chest now. Letters that are almost familiar, but arranged in a non–sensical order.
He— and I’m just guessing about the he part— looks to be going through the same thought processes as I. I don’t draw my sword. I don’t want to provoke him. He draws his as his face splits open and a horrible sound issues forth from the gap.
I draw my sword and get into the ready stance. I decide against making any sound myself. I’m still trying to figure out if there’s way to get him to calm down.
He stands there for a moment, then steps into a back stance. I find myself thinking that he’s got pretty good legs as I raise my sword above my head. He counters by preparing for a lunge. He’s had some decent training. I bring my sword down in front of me and put my left hand on the scabbard. I loosen my grip and let the sword point towards the ground, then put it behind my back, raising my left leg and hand in front of me.
He quickly spins back another step and twists himself into a position that I can only think of as painful. I can see that he’s capable of explosive force from such a posture, however. Well done. I decide to take a very big chance and properly return the sword to the scabbard, then I lower myself to the deck. I pull the sword from my belt and touch it to my forehead before placing it down. My right hand cradles the grip and my left hand carefully lowers end of the scabbard to the floor, sliding towards the right to let the sword all the way down. I bow to the sword.
The alien makes a hooting sound and returns to his first position. He performs a ritual return, with a nice rotation of the sword above his head. Then he lowers himself and performs similar motions to mine. I’m grateful that he’s also realized that fighting is not the way to go. We know some things, this being and I, and I think he may be beginning to recognize that fact. He needs to understand that I’ve been through some of the same experiences as well.
This happened to me, once before, when I was much younger. Then the positions were reversed. I’ve often wondered if this might happen some day. I just didn’t think that it would happen here.
I looked around for a terminal, and wouldn’t you know there wasn’t one in sight. Hopefully he won’t think I’m shouting at him again.
“Scheherazade, have you learned anything about our guest?”
“I detect a great deal of spatial and temporal instability about his person.”
The alien’s eyes went wide during this exchange. He tilted his head in the same direction that I had. “Ea esa, Allorilay?”
“Kreas, suchay fizora.” Yes, it was Scheherazade’s voice that spoke to him. My turn to be surprised.
“Allorilay, tosi na korena suri akohra sene torrisan?”
“Se turi na este sehal e suria ah korati shuniafet ee choko risa.”
Somehow that exchange sounded familiar. That was another strange feeling.
The alien looked at me before speaking. “Schortee nuku teste!”
“Ranita ka selay.”
I didn’t need a translator to know that she just said ‘Unable to comply’. The tone of her voice was unmistakable. What the hell does this all mean?
I didn’t need… Geez, I’m an idiot! I finally remember the translator function of my comm badge. I tap out the sequence on the front of the thing, worrying all the while that he might think I’m going for a cheap shot. He doesn’t move, he just studies me with those weird eyes.
“I’ve activated my translator.” I pointed at my badge. “You must have one as well.” Something else is going on here, and now I understand that nothing has felt the way it has other times I’ve been through this. This guy—
This Guy— because what else could he be? This (capital G) Guy is looking at me like he’s seen all this before. “Greetings, my name is Lorset. How is it that you can talk to my ship?”
Whoa! Okay, he’s got his rig working now. “My name is Guy–Shi, but you can call me Guy. I do believe that you are on my ship, however.”
“This is the Fearless.”
I shook my head. “No, her name is Dauntless… but that’s pretty close. What’s going on here?”
Lorset sort of shook his head now. “I don’t know yet. Why don’t we go and discuss it over tea?”
I laughed. “You know, that sort of reminds me of a story my master once told me.”
“Perhaps we will have time for that as well.”
We eventually made it to the wardroom, delayed by the fact we kept wanting to turn in opposite directions. The room is more or less on the central axis of the ship, which is probably why we got there at all. I was trying to make some sense of this, but didn’t know where to start. Simple things, I suppose. “How long have you been here?
“Eight days. And you?”
“The same. You’re not anything like a Ketzin, by the way. No tail.”
Lorset’s eyes grew wide as I said that. “I should certainly hope not! What kind of creature do you take me for?”
“The only reptilian species I’ve encountered have long, heavy tails. They tend not to go for pants. When I’m around Dr. Kes’san I’m someone else. Would you know anything about that?”
Lorset studied me for a while, stroking his chin (I guess you could call it that) slowly. “Has this sort of thing happened to you before?”
“Yeah. This and other sorts of things. I go places. I inhabit other bodies. This one isn’t really mine, and neither is the other one I was in the last time I was on this ship.”
“This is the eighth time it’s happened to me in the past five years. And you?”
“Something… well, twenty years now myself. Stimulating, is it not?”
“I’m not so sure about that anymore. And this place bugs me… my memories go too far back… here.” Then a thought struck me. “Where’s your bunk?”
Lorset’s eyes swept across the room. “Starboard wing. The captain’s cabin.”
“Mine’s portside. Mirror image. What does that mean?”
“I don’t know as of yet. Tell me something of your adventures, won’t you?”
“Well, okay, but first tell me about Allorilay.”
“Well, she was, and this is from works of fiction mind you, a teller of tales.”
That got a good laugh out of me. “Of course she was. Scheherazade is said to have told a thousand and one tales of wonder and imagination, one every night.”
“I like that.”
I had to smile again. “I actually think you would. Do you read a lot of fiction?”
“Certainly. I even dabble at writing it now and again.”
My smile faded. “Lorset, why are we here?”
“Because two of us are needed.”
“I do not know.”
“That makes two of us.” I pushed the chair back from the table and started pacing about the room. Tea was still too damn hot anyway.
“I’m not at all happy about this.”
“Why not?” Lorset was nonplussed.
I opened my mouth, but another thought struck me. “Has this ever happened to you before? Have you ever met another Guy? I mean a Guy like us?”
He nodded slowly. “Once. When I was in a similar position as you.”
Ah. “When you were still the new guy.”
“Yes. It was a difficult time for me. My resolve was lacking. I was preoccupied with troubles at home.”
“As am I.”
Lorset pondered that for some time before speaking. “Then I will pray that your troubles do not grow as great as mine once were.”
Then I remembered. “But last time out, there was a guy… I think he might have been one of us… once. But when I got there he was just causing trouble.”
“Such an event I have never experienced. I find the possibility… extremely disturbing.”
I put a forearm up against a wall and leaned my head into it. “Why is this being done to us? Why us? I think I hate it.” Then I closed my eyes.
“You have an overdeveloped sense of justice. You have been accused of having an overactive imagination, and you feel that you have no control over your life. So you see, we have things in common.”
“That’s supposed to make me feel better?!”
“You know that I understand. No one can understand this unless they have experienced it for themselves.”
In a way, I did feel better. I let out a breath and pushed myself away from the wall. I looked at Lorset again, and pondered for the billionth time the depths of my madness. Perhaps the hallucinations took over when I was still young.
I moved over towards the table and leaned on the back of a chair. This life was every bit as real as the other one now. But there was still no point to this. “What is our task, Lorset? Why are we here?”
Lorset sipped his tea first. “I believe we are sent to dimensions where we can do good.”
I picked up my cup and drank a bit. “I hope you’re right.” A thought struck me then. “But how— how can we do what we do?”
Lorset smiled. “After we are… transported, some of the normal rules do not apply.”
“Well, you might be onto something there. But we’re just standing around! Is this even real?”
“It may be that we are manipulating real objects from a distant… experience.”
I opened my mouth to speak, then closed it again as I thought about that. A little like Ender, maybe, if he had used psychic powers. We can’t take time out to test hypotheses, though.
That’s when the deck shoved itself up beneath me, rolling along and back down again. A moment later the alarms began hooting. We turned our heads towards the bow and spoke as one. “Ah.”
We were out the door and on our way to the bridge. It was still a bit odd having him beside me. He could match my strides, but with a peculiar gait. I realized Lorset must thing the same thing about me. The peculiar rolling of the deck might have something to do with that. We were having to exert significant effort to continue making forward progress. I began to worry that I might be feeling the beginnings of motion sickness. I should know what’s going on, but I just can’t remember.
“We must assess the situation.” Lorset’s voice caught in his throat a bit. I looked at him and wondered if he might be looking a bit greenish himself. “Clearly this must be connected to our objective.”
“Our objective…” I was thinking out loud, but Lorset heard me.
He managed something like unto a smile. “To save the universe, of course!”
I lost my balance and slammed into the wall. “Ugh! Since when the hell does a ship with artificial gravity do stuff like this?!”
“If it is not a malfunction – which I doubt – there are only a very few possibilities.”
We reached the bridge a moment later and the doors slid open. I could see the main screen and it was awash with a riot of colors. Then that faded away and I saw a more conventional star field. The deck felt more steady beneath my feet as well.
Oh. Right. “Ion storm.” I managed a weak smile. “It’s been a while.”
Lorset made for the science station, so I decided to check the engineering console first. A lot of tell tales in the yellow, but no malfunctions or failure alerts. The big screen flashed again and we rolled on another wave.
Ion storms were rather rare in UpSpace, years could pass between encounters. No mere coincidence today. I proceeded with my sweep of the boards. “What have you got, Lorset?”
“A rift… perhaps two. Could this be a collision of superstrings?”
“Does that explain us… and our two boats in one?”
Hmm. “Scheherazade, who’s driving?”
Oh. “Lorset, I believe that means the bridge is yours. Do we have a plan?”
“Not as yet.”
“How do you separate two universes that are upset with one another?”
“Unknown as yet.” Lorset went to the helm and tried a few buttons. “Ah. Manual control is now available. Once again we are masters of our own fate.”
I walked over next to him. “Are we, really?” An impulse overwhelmed me and I reached out a finger and touched the back of his hand. I found myself on the floor, and I did not understand why.
Lorset was also on the floor, and he looked most put out. “What did you do?!”
I was having trouble focusing my eyes. “Did matter just meet anti–matter?” Another wave washed over the ship and I felt icky again.
“We should not have survived, if that were strictly true, but nonetheless do not do that again. However, I do think this is significant.”
It means big explosion. I chuckled. “Things go boom! Like when things go boom. How do we use this to our advantage?”
Lorset had managed to stand back up, though I saw that he was clutching the console tightly. “Quantum torpedoes… but how to deliver the second?”
Uh oh. This could go badly for me. “Well, what if we outfitted a Fury for remote control?” The deck rolled again at that point, and I knew that I must wait for Lorset to nix my plan.
“We could not maintain control.”
“Yeah, you’re right. So I’ll load up said Fury with torpedoes, and we can fire multiple spreads, if needed, and blow our respective asses back where they belong.” I tried to force a smile, but he resisted my charm.
“The shields would not be adequate for a storm of this magnitude.”
“But that–” Oh, fuck! “You want to launch a fighter, while traveling at high warp, into an ion storm?! Through eel–infested waters at night?!”
That last bit threw him. “Night? But the chronometer… Ah. A bit of humor. My apologies.” Then he brightened up. “But yes! The shields will be much more powerful, and one torpedo should be enough.”
“Even forgetting the fact that a Pegasus has no jump drive, I’ll be toast as soon as the canopy clears the launch tube!”
“It will still take some time before the fighter drops Down, and we’ll have the bots cover it with armor plating. They can even weld you in.”
“Why me?” I was having a sinking feeling not connected with the motion of the ship. Always me. Tired of being me. Tired of it all.
Lorset had a serious look on his face. “Because I cannot face UpSpace again. The one time nearly cost me my mind.”
The first voyagers into UpSpace had indeed lost theirs. The Uncertain Stimulus was hard on small—brained life forms. Ships had to be redesigned and new instruments created to allow people to ‘see’ into regular space, and to protect them from this higher realm.
I’m still gonna be toast. Welded into a fighter on a kamikaze mission. Fuck all. “Lorset, I won’t – I can’t –.” I looked him in the eye. “I… just… can’t.”
“But we must! We cannot fail!”
“We? You mean you in the bazillion–ton boat and me in the alloy mosquito?!”
“Like Faltas and Torente.” Lorset was smiling, so I took this to be an attempt at humor. “Torente did win, you know.”
“I’ll have to take your word for that.” I turned away and walked towards the door. After it had shusshed open I looked back over my shoulder. “Still sucks to be me.” He called a couple of times while I was riding the lift to the hangar deck, but I didn’t answer.
It was really quiet in there, and that kind of threw me. When things were busy in the hangar it could be difficult to carry on a conversation. I looked for my Pegasus, number 317, but it wasn’t in its’ usual spot on the launch cradle. I found it over in one of the repair bays. Lorset must have told the tugs to get to work. I got over there just as the bots fired up their torches. I went away again.
I looked at the sword in my belt. I had my left hand on the scabbard and I wasn’t even conscious of the fact. “What does it all mean?”
I found an open space and did a couple of forms while I waited for beeps from the bots. After I heard a couple of them I did my chuck gum and walked back over. 317 just didn’t look right with that armor plate on the greenhouse. Strictly IFR today. The bots stayed in place, holding up the now much heavier canopy.
An ordinance loader came up now with the torpedo. I went over to supervise. The loader finished quickly, then stowed its’ arms and retreated. Now there was just me. Something’s wrong. We haven’t thought this through.
I’d finally gotten my sea legs, so the motion of the deck didn’t bother me so much. I decided to do a few more forms. Maybe I could figure something out. But first, a bit of doing, not thinking.
I couldn’t focus. My mind just wasn’t cooperating. Then that first bead of sweat rolled down my left temple. Never a good sign. My stomach felt awful again, and I was afraid. Very, very afraid. I can’t do this! I returned the sword to its’ scabbard so that I would not hurt myself.
What’s going on here? “Human sacrifice, that’s what. Ritual sacrifice.” No, calling it that doesn’t make it feel any better. I don’t believe this!
That last thought did something to me. What DO I believe? What is the nature of belief? What then, is the nature of sacrifice?
I drew the sword and looked at it… the sword… it’s all about the sword, isn’t it? What am I missing? What is magic?
I picked up a wrench off of a tool cart and struck the blade. It rang out, loud and pure, with the sound sustaining as well as a tuning fork. I stared at it with my mouth open in awe.
I knew what to do now. Lorset was almost right, but his way wouldn’t succeed. Because I wouldn’t make it. I had some quick work ahead of me.
I found a hammer and punch, and used these to remove the pins from the sword. I stuffed them and the wooden parts into my jacket. I laid the blade down, then I ran over and threw the scabbard into the cockpit of the 317.
I jumped into the ordinance lifter and drove over the the fighter. I pulled the torpedo from the bay hauled it over to a bench. The torpedos are of modular construction, so it was easy for me to isolate the warhead from the drive. I grabbed a code scanner and accessed the thing’s brain. I reprogrammed the proximity sensor. Now I could use the weapons panel in the cockpit to arm it, and to detonate, if necessary. Maybe I have lost my mind. Then I took the lifter back to ol’ 317 and used the robotic arm to set the warhead on the upper part of the fighter’s nose.
Now, I know that there’s no universe where welding on a live warhead is an acceptable procedure, but I had to do it. The intercom crackled to life. “Guy-Shi! Where are you?”
“Change of plans! Gimme a couple of minutes!”
“I don’t think we have it!”
“Yes we do!” Then I smiled. “Lorset, you have to believe!”
“What are you doing?”
“Modifications! Oh, yeah, and I’m going out the back door.”
“Through the landing door. When I tell you, open the doors and drop the field!”
“You are mad!”
“Yeah, so what?”
I had the warhead in place now, so I got some magnetic clamps and put the blade into position on top of the warhead, then grabbed the plasma torch again. It felt blasphemous to take the torch to the blade, but I persevered and soon had it stuck down. Then I removed some access panels from the nose of the fighter, exposing parts of the forward shield generators. Some heavy cables and clamps made the blade become part of the shield array.
If my guess was right, this blade was made of dulanium. If I was wrong, I would just become a schmear of quarks in UpSpace. The energy from the shield system should be sufficient to create a crude warp field. I surveyed my work. It was ugly, sure, but I felt better about my chances. I entered the cockpit and called a tug to haul the fighter into position. Then I summoned a second tug to assist the first. I had them bring me closer to the doors, then I had them grab hold of the rear landing gear. I was just about ready now.
“Guy–Shi! Time grows short!”
“Yeah. Have you got a course for me? I suppose we’re going head to head?”
There was a pause. “Are you not the gentleman who did not wish to participate in such activities anymore?”
“This is actually easier than making a living back on my home world?”
“Ah. After launch, come about hard to starboard. We should circle around rather quickly.”’
“Okay. Now this is important, Lorset. Don’t wast time looking for a torpedo. Target my ship.”
“I said I made some mods. Now please have the bots weld me in. I need to fire this mother up.”
I began my pre–flight checklist. A bit later the sparks blinded me. I dropped my helmet’s sunshield and waited. When they were done I was ready to start the number one engine. I had both of them up and running a minute later.
Showtime. What had come over me? I don’t know, maybe it was just the sense of inevitability. Still, it was one more chance to go down swinging. That did appeal to me.
What to I believe? Do I have to believe? I felt the corners of my mouth turn up. I believe in magic swords. I ran the throttles up. “Lorset! Lemme outta here!” 317 was shaking pretty good now, so I didn’t feel the vibrations of the big doors moving.
“Ready in five… four… three–”
“Shoot straight, dang it!”
“Two… one… clear!!”
Now I felt the rumblings of things heading out the cellar door ahead of me. I pushed the button and the tugs released me. I had lots of delta vee available.
I began my starboard turn and checked the screen. I could make out the Dauntless well enough. I still liked that name better than Fearless. The ride was remarkably smooth for about fifteen seconds. Then I found that my helmet was bouncing off the insides of the canopy.
I was still more or less or on course. I had to hope that the proximity detonator on the warhead would work properly. Why it hadn’t gone off already was beyond me. I was just gasoline on a fire.
Something struck me blind – No, not blind, the sensation was that of my eyeballs being pried open at the pupil, pulled inside out, and then stretched back over my entire head. Then the rest of me wanted to turn inside out as well. There must have been a flaw in the weld somewhere. It wouldn’t have to be a big one.
UpSpace in its’ unmediated form. The stuff of madness, as I’ve said before. Great. I had to reach my left hand across the cockpit to try and block the rays. Not that such a move should actually work, but I couldn’t take my right hand off the stick. I was suddenly covered in a clammy sweat, and my stomach tied itself in knots. Everything in the cockpit looked blurry. I could swear the stuff streaming in was puddling on the floor and sloshing around my ankles. Am I going to make it?
“Guy–Shi!” The radio distracted me for a moment. “I am experiencing some difficulty in maneuvering!”
“No shit, Sherlock! Give it your best guess! Now, I’m taking on a bit of water here, so I need to concentrate.”
Lorset made a strange hissing sound. “Courage, sir! Courage!”
“Sometimes belief is more important… even if you’re not entirely sure what you believe in. Torpedo now armed. It was nice talking with you today.”
“I hope I get a chance to remember you, Lorset.” I wasn’t at all sure about that. I felt that I was losing something… something important, but exactly what I could no longer grasp. I felt very high. I heard a series of tones that had something to do with the warhead acquiring a target. Then the 317 told me that it had been acquired as well.
Won’t be long now. Thank goodness. I could feel this weird grin on my face. My mind is going… I can feel it. I started giggling. I hoped that Lorset wasn’t hearing me. The displays were very hard to read now as tunnel vision was setting in. The tone from the warhead dropped even lower. Detonation was imminent. But it was taking forever. Time must be slowing down, for me, anyway.
I finally heard the sounds that represented incoming fire. Something else started making high–pitched sounds, quite possibly me. I could very well have been screaming or shouting at that point. That classic image from the end of ‘Dr. Strangelove’ flashed through my mind. Oh, yeah, I’m ridin’ the bomb! I felt as though I was watching everything from down inside a well now. Then I hit something.
The crash web might have activated, I can’t really be sure. I did lurch forward as the fighter did not seem to be moving any more. It felt as though we’d plowed into a huge block of ballistics gel. The boards indicated something, actually many things, going wrong with the number two engine. There may have been a flash of light, or it may have been me breaking down into that schmear of quarks after all. I was inside my head and outside of my head, quaking in fear and gazing down upon the scene like a buddha as well.
Thought itself may have stopped.
That might have been a moment when I was truly at peace. I only sort of remember how it felt. Another taste of the bardo, I suppose. The inside of my head was throbbing like a Tibetan bell. That was good and bad at the same time. Again, I was still alive. I felt more ambivalent about that now.
I was back where I came from, still clinging to life the way all beings do. The cats were in their typical places, as was I. Another day was beginning, regardless of my personal feelings on the matter. Today would be the winter solstice, by my reckoning. But the soft breathing that I had grown so accustomed to over the years was no longer there. I was facing this day, this life, alone.
Eventually, the Guy finds himself alone. One time too many.
The Adventures of Guy–Shi by
Kevin L. Corridon is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
This is what I was working on when my wife passed away. It was meant to be a gift for her at the winter solstice, but she couldn't stay until then. Finishing it was perhaps the hardest 2500 words I've ever written.
It's a tale from my sandbox, the place where I got to play with ideas and techniques. First major work I've done in first person. The other installments were all written in third person. This one just wasn't working that way, so I tried something different.
I did the work over the past week, the first real writing I've done since she's been gone. I need to cast about for new ideas. I don't want to work so much on other old projects right now. I'm hoping something new will help me keep going.
Her birthday is this Wednesday, and I post this in honor of her memory.
To Maura, for always believing in me.