John Thiel, The Return to the Green Galaxy, continued
The crew of the Oblivion thought they were dreamers indeed when they saw what was apparently a pirate vessel coming toward them. Lettered along the side of it was the name of the ship, the PORT SKELLY. A large X was next to this name, and a grinning humanoid skull.
Ryan Rocannon, ship maintenance, was near the major airlock as the ship drew up alongside them. Through the viewer he could see the ship settle into place with its own form of majesty. "Captain, surely you're not going to allow them to board us?" he asked. Bryon Whist, the captain, answered in one of his rare utterances.
"Not very polite, is it, when a ship's encountered in the middle of the Vastness, not to find out what it wants?" He paused and stared, considering his statement, then clapped his hands against both sides of his uniform coveralls. "Besides, what do you expect me to do, outmaneuver it until it goes away? It might not go away. We'd be fair dangling in the aethers. And as for letting it know our speed, we don't know its speed. I may be superstitious, but superstitious or no, I have the feeling it's capable of any speed."
"So we just spread the welcome mat and let 'em board?"
"No---I'm not intending to open the locks. Chances are they'll have no means of communicating and get bored. Besides, there's no way they could board. The ship's not equipped for a crew transferrence."
"Well, they're certainly getting lovey-dovey out there. When two ships meet in an infernal waste, a place without time in outer space, is the force that draws them together love, something sent from heaven above? Or is it hate, that contrary emotion, that sets the music of the spheres in retro motion? If hate, I've tasted of that; it left me feeling major b-flat. If love, I've not had as much as I wish, but no space rogue will contribute to my bliss." This was Rocannon, proving a maintenance man could sing; in fact his ditty was known thereafter as 'Rocannon's Song' by his fellow crewmen, who had little to do but make whimsical comments about one another. The captain sang a little chantey about how many ships he'd commanded and what he felt about this particular experience, which was an outer space version of ANGST. Rocannon's real first name was Edelbert, but he went by his second name more commonly.
A couple of the crewmen had to go to the ship's latrine. They wanted to get "cleaned up" in case the visitors caught sight of them.
"No,they'll just be there awhile looking and comparing, and then they'll go away," the captain said. He meant the visiting beings in the pirate craft.
He was talking this when the first of the star-beings appeared inside their ship. Their proximity had just been a matter of establishing their presense. One was bad enough. The crew could find no way of relating to him. He was a darksome, sorcerous being whose appearance kept changing, as though he were wondering what the proper way to present himself would be. "We regard your presence in our realms," this being said.
"Regard it as WHAT?" Rocannon asked.
"We simply regard it. We are watching you."
"You show every sign of being a pirate!" Jake said.
"We are far above being that," this entrant said. "Instead, we simulate things you have seen and appraise the results of our doing this."
More of them were appearing. "The results of your PRESENSE?!" the captain shouted. They all mixed it in and a grand battle ensued. It was difficult to trace all the action, and we shall not attempt to do so here. One of them kept saying, "We would not be fighting if it were not in your minds that such should occur." It was likely that they would have beaten the crew of Earthmen, had not this recurrent statement finally registered on the captain, who said, "Well, we seem to be getting the worst of it, but they say they'll quit if we do."
"Has our fight offended what you call your 'egos?'" asked one, who looked like a massive Swede with a buccaneer's ring in his ear.
"No, not really," the captain said. "Earthmen are not very good anyway. If you're superior to us, that's as it may be."
A lot of other marvels happened in that encounter, but the reader will not be told about them in this account. In the end things came to the captain telling them that although the men did not like other people being on board their ship, there hadn't been any others for quite a while and so this could be interesting. "I'm acutely conscious that we're in your part of space," he added.
"No doubt that makes you transgressors, if the concept I have from your mind is correct," the Swede-looking fellow, named Aptor, said. "We're not conscious of it at all, but it does breed consciousness, which makes it an amusing exercise."
"Well, take what amusement you want of it," the captain said. "I don't exactly like my mind being read, though. Makes me edgy."
"No doubt he regards his mind as his own," said Aptor to his fellows. "Well, that's got us all thinking that way. Which, of course, is a different way of thinking. Tell you what, Captain of your Ship, we'll stop doing that, and if you'll think what you say at us, that way it'll be you doing it." He turned to his fellows. "How did that sound?" he asked them. They all agreed it had sounded great.
Akinnis brought up the matter of whether they could drink. He had several dozen bottles of Old Crow ready to the occasion. "I save this for significant moments," he said.
One of the visitors to their ship said, "I don't care if you do that."
However, they all tried out the whiskey, first, and with consent, getting information from the Earthmen's minds about what the appropriate way to react to it would be. They caught on so well that one of them, having partaken of the whiskey, said, "Man, this is good slosh. Reminds me of the time when some people from I don't know where tried to enter here and only managed to make a big slosh, slosh."
"Were they similar to yourselves?"
"I hardly think so. They were you. You may not be aware of that effect. But I think that others here of my kind would consider me to have described it aptly."
The Earthmen discovered that they were starting to smerge with their visitors. These new people (new to being people, also, as they kept saying in their conversation) were accustomed to intermingling without any great reference to the self, and as they interrelated with the Earthmen there was something of this effect. Of course, the Earthlings didn't like smerging too well, and sought to avoid it, which the Overlairinans, as they decided to call themselves, found perfectly tolerable and reasoned with. They wanted to arbitrate all matters into good order. They got to considering the Earthmen's origins and said, "You people should have a sort of Galactic Federation out there, one which would improve your interrelations."
"Well, we don't yet," bin Leyden said.
"We're not that EVOLVED yet," Rocannon said, pouring himself a shot.
They got all kinds of information from the Earthmen about their origins. The crew figured they owed that to them and did not consider it treason to make these people well-informed. In a strange way, it was that, though. The principle of difference involved was to cause a discrepancy equivalent to forms of warfare.
There was, it proved, little that could be called matter in this part of the Universe. The dwellers said they could evolve a realm compatible with the ship, if they really wanted to land on something.
"We want something OLD to land on, not something NEW," Akinnis said. Nevertheless, they settled on something the size of an asteroid, so they could rest from their space travels. The star dwellers seemed to have no concept of flatness. Their asteroid had things floating at various levels, or if not always floating, leading upward and around in vast complicated mazes. But it was obvious they had to have a flat place to land the ship. They figured that out by themselves. (The Overlairinans, not the Oblivion's crew.)
Once landed, they had a marvelous time looking around at all the new-made configurations. These being newly-created made that exploratory experience a little close, but the crew were grown men; they weren't worried about intimacy. They ate and slept in it for several "days" (those hadn't been provided, but the men were creatures of habit with, as it were, automatic clocks in them). During this time they persuaded the Overlairinans to make some fuel for their starship. They had plenty of it by the time they were ready to depart.
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