Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Return to Tomorrow - Chapter III - When Navigation Aids Attack

One day, or night, an indeterminate amount of time after the previous chapter, a nervous fourteen-year-old girl enters the sickbay and eventually is able to rush out an order from the captain for Mr. Corday to get to the bridge, quickly.  Dr. Strange complies by untying his patient, but asks this Snoozer, Captain Jocelyn's runner, for the latest news.  But while Snoozer is fidgeting and "fascinated" by the head doctor, she's been given strict orders not to talk, even when Strange tries to bribe her with not one but two "cognac bonbons."

I'm not sure if these are alcoholic candies or just brandy-flavored treats.  I'm also not sure whether Snoozer is shy by nature, crushing on Corday a little, or having a natural and understandable reaction to being in the presence of a known psychologist.  Or maybe she's uneasy for another reason, since just when it looks like she'll accept the candy bribe and spill to the doctor, she becomes "suddenly conscious of a bruise on her wrist which she began to nurse."  Stay classy, Captain Jocelyn.

Whatever the reason, Snoozer tears herself away from the offered sweets with a sigh, leading Corday from the med bay to the bridge, and with that the narration focuses on our main character again.  Corday's had time to think about what he'll say when he has a proper face-to-face encounter with the man who imprisoned him, but the author doesn't actually tell us about the rant Corday's been preparing because it won't matter.  Instead our hero focuses on following little Snoozer - oh, and he thinks she's "very pretty, would be more so if she ever washed her face or combed her hair."  Gonna give the author the undeserved benefit of a doubt and assume that this is a platonic appraisal of a minor's beauty.

Corday doesn't pay a whole lot of attention to his surroundings as he's led through the Hound of Heaven, since he considers it "a very temporary prison and he was little interested in her."  He does notice that it's a "complicated" ship with multiple decks and no wasted space, and is surprised by the number of children in the berths he passes, and notes all the women hanging around playing cards or listening to a storyteller in the mess hall, and the whole time Corday is on the lookout for an airlock leading to a "space lifeboat" he could take to Earth.  But other than all that, he's not paying attention.

After one last ladder, helpfully labeled with a scrawled sign of "Bridge Country," Corday arrives on a deck featuring "a thick double port at the blackness of space and the blazing stars," which I'm taking for a window.  Right?  I mean, it might be a heavy entry/exit port, but then how could he see the stars through it?  At any rate, Corday is directed to an open door by "the gangling pasty man who had held in the dive," the guy known as Gow-eater, who must have been silently shadowing him the entire trip.

A frightened Snoozer flees, and Corday comes face-to-face with his nemesis once again.  Jocelyn is in an archaic "chart room" featuring three-dimensional maps, a globe, a "ledge for computation," and honest-to-Space-God compasses for plotting courses.  And not magnetic compasses, the kind you use to precisely draw circles.

And as a I said, whatever rant Corday had prepared doesn't matter, because before he can get started Jocelyn begins talking without even looking up, plus his "presence" just silences the young man.  The captain orders Corday to take a seat so he can start learning his new job.

Alan hesitated and then spoke angrily.

"Captain Jocelyn, you seem to have decided that I would do a lot of things.  I do not intend to do them.  You have taken me, without my consent, into a rotten life.  I dare say you consider yourself very well above the law.  But let me promise you, before we go further, that the first port into which we call will find me before the authorities bringing charges for kidnapping.  I have no intention-"

Jocelyn looked up and his mouth curled.  "You are a fool, Corday.  Sit down."

Well, our hero isn't one to take such arrogant disrespect sitting down.  He feigns sitting down on one of the magnetic-footed stools, but then dives for Jocelyn's gunbelt and pistol sitting on a desk among charts and pens.

Now in case you didn't get a chance to use one during your education, old-school compasses are basically two legs connected by a hinge, which can be opened or closed depending on how wide a circle or arc you want to draw.  One leg holds a pen or other writing implement, while the other has a spike you stab into your paper or whatever to anchor the device.

I bring this up because

Instantly the sharp pointed compasses came up and stabbed.  They bore straight through muscle and bone and pinned Alan's hand to the chart board, points penetrating all the way through and a half an inch deep into the wood.

Though most compasses I believe don't have spikes long enough to stab through the width of an adult male's hand and still dig into the surface below.

In agony Alan struck with his free fist, wrenching at his imprisoned hand the while.  Jocelyn deflected the blow and struck back.  Alan reeled and slumped, held up only by the impaling compasses.

And I'm a bit curious how heavy these particular compasses are if they're able to pin Corday's hand to the table so securely.  Maybe they're technical drawing tools that were also designed with close combat in mind.

Jocelyn chides that Corday has much to learn, "But he looked different for a moment, his eyes probing hopefully into the slack face of the younger man."  Maybe it's a Sith thing where the apprentice is expected to hate and try to kill the master.  At any rate, Jocelyn removes the stabbing compasses and gives Corday a lecture, about how he's young and has "a lot of romantic nonsense in you about the freedom of the individual."  In fact, Jocelyn insists he's doing Corday a favor, offering a position of responsibility like this, one that will surely pay well once they're back from their "short cruise" of a few weeks.

Corday asks Jocelyn to "Do me the honor of not lying," showing the captain that he understands a bit about relativistic space travel.  Jocelyn asks if Corday knows "the latest" about such physics equations, and when the surveyor-engineer asks why the captain would be interested, delivers a good page-long rant.

Jocelyn looked at him contemptuously.  "Do you suppose, Mr. Corday, that I enjoy, that anyone on this ship enjoys the fate of the long passage?  Do you think that we want this sentence to continue forever?  Are you such a fool as to believe that people in such ships as this have no hope of a country, a society, of belonging?

I don't think society changes that much in fifty years or so.  I mean, the gadgets will the different, the music will the weirder, and your home country may have decided that perhaps people shouldn't be forced to go to separate schools based on the color of their skin and how a couple's genitalia match up shouldn't be the deciding factor in whether or not they can marry.  But the core values of that nation, its identity, shouldn't have changed.

Unless you took off from like the USSR and came back to a modern Russian kleptocracy, I guess.  But then you can just join a "nostalgia for the good old days" message board somewhere.

Or maybe these people really can't belong or fit in with their former countries.  Maybe they should go somewhere and start a colony somewhere.  The bottom line is, if they all hate "the fate of the long passage," get off the damn spaceship.

"What are we?" he cried in sudden rage.  "Outcasts.  Pariahs.  We land and are gone a few weeks in our lives and we return to find that years have stripped away everything we have left.  On a normal fifty light-year voyage, a century can pass on Earth.  And what happens in a century, Mr. Corday?  We age in weeks on the long passage.  Earth and the Universe age by decades.  And who wants us?  Who will be there when we return?  What government?  What technologies?  We bring back wealth from the stars to the descendants of those who commissioned us.

This kind of begs the question of whether this "long passage" commerce is even economically viable.  I mean, why would you throw your life away taking a cruise to Manco for a shipment of lepertige fur, or whatever, if there's no guarantee that there will be any demand for your goods when you got back?  Or that the firm that commissioned your trip would still be in business?  Or that there would be a functioning civilization when you returned, and not a bunch of irradiated, mutant-infested ruins?  Or heck, maybe there are buyers for your goods, but two decades after you took off, another more advanced spaceship set out and came back with the same stuff before you even got to your first stop, so the market is glutted and you operate at a huge loss.

We speak archaic tongues more ancient on every trip.  Our learning is nothing, and in any society we would misfit and starve and we're outward bound again.  Do you know what it is to be without a country, Mr. Corday?  Without people?  Without a home?  Who cares what happens to us.  We have this little hell of a ship.  Not even another engaged on the long passage can be our friend.  We are out of time, out of step.  We are nothing!

Airlock's in the med bay, angst-lord.

"Ponder if you want the joy of seeing the centuries crush and destroy whatever we leave behind us.  It's an empty sight, Mr. Corday.  We are hated and we do not belong."

"Which is why I did you such a favor by kidnapping you."

This impassioned speech about the horrible fate he's sentenced Corday to tuckers Jocelyn out, and he has to drink down some medical powder before continuing.  He again asks Corday if there's any new "time equations," something he might want have to check from the professionals rather than any random engineer he happens to abduct from dingy bars.  Corday takes a bit of sadistic revenge by informing the captain that there aren't any, bringing Jocelyn to a long silence.

But then the captain recovers, and explains how there's a lot of work for someone with Corday's education aboard a spaceship like the Hound.  As far as the crew is concerned the ship is sixty years old, but in actuality the vessel is two thousand years out of date, so there's plenty for Corday to fix with his "newer technology."  Uh, I guess that's mental technology or something, since there's no mention of Corday's big bag of fancy tools.  Point is, Corday "is here, you cannot help it.  I would advise you to make the best of your situation."  Why, "it is possible" that less than five decades will have passed on Earth by the time they return, and what's half a century?

Alan looked bleakly at the black heavens and the blazing stars.  He was stunned even though he had known.  Half a century.  Half a century.  How old would his girl be then?

However old she is now plus fifty, dumbass.

And she would wait.

Really?  If her father's forbidding her from getting married until certain conditions are met, I'm skeptical that she's in such control of her marital status that she'd be able to hold out for a year or two after that initial five-year deadline passed.  Especially if people find out that Corday just disappeared one night, and there's no record of him actually getting a ticket to Mars.

Numbly he got up from the stool and fumbled his way down the ladder.  He turned once and looked back.  Captain Jocelyn was emptying a paper into a brimming drink.

I'm just having trouble accepting the drama here.  Not Corday missing his wedding, but Jocelyn and the other sailors angsting about the long passage.  Like, what about it couldn't also be applied to sufficiently old folks who look around and see a country radically different from the one they remember in their youth?  And yet there's no society of timelost octogenarians roaming around because they just don't fit in anywhere.

Maybe because their hips aren't so good.

Back to Chapter II

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