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THE VOID CAPTAIN'S TALE

 

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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