17 February 2012

"The First Half of the Star-Sailor's Tale"

By Curtis C. Chen

Many years ago, in a small binary star system, there lived a young sailor who sought adventure, found treasure, and learned the importance of weakness.

The sailor worked inter-planet cargo transports, but yearned to explore the galaxy. He hoped to save his earnings and someday purchase his own ship. Then, one night, he met a man with the Celestial Bestiary tattooed across his forehead.

They had both wandered into the same planetside tavern, where the drinks were strong and the painted folk offered their bodies for pleasure. The sailor declined their invitations, knowing of the folk's reputation for uncleanliness, and soon found himself crowded against the bar beside the tattooed man.

The sailor had never seen skin designs so intricate. There were six-legged predator mammals stalking through tall grasses, flying reptiles hunting in packs, and more creatures that he did not recognize.

"Are these mythical beasts?" the sailor asked the tattooed man. "Or do such creatures actually exist?"

The tattooed man replied, "I wear my life upon my skin."

That did not satisfy the sailor. He plied the tattooed man with drink, and before the moon set, the tattooed man told of the treasure at the center of the galaxy.

"It is not what you think," the tattooed man said. "It is not rare minerals, or ancient bones, or even water."

"What could be so valuable, that a man would risk his life seeking it?" the sailor asked.

"Immortality," the tattooed man replied. "Life everlasting."

"That is indeed priceless," the sailor agreed. "And you know its location?"

"Yes," the tattooed man said, "but I will not tell you. I can see it in your eyes. You wish to know the secret, but only because you do not understand the consequences. And I am tired of answering questions."

"Forgive me," the sailor said. "Another drink?"

"I have drunk enough," the tattooed man said. "I have lived too long and seen more than any man should. When dawn comes, I will leave this world forever."

"Where will you go?" the sailor asked.

"To my death," the tattooed man replied. "I will steer my ship into the sun, and hope that I can still burn."

"No man should die alone," the sailor said. "Please, allow me the honor of accompanying you. Let me aid your final voyage. I will leave in an escape pod before we reach your destination."

"You are a good companion," the tattooed man said.

And so they left the planet, and headed for its star.

But as they approached the star, the sailor knocked out the tattooed man with a stunner, then placed him in an escape pod and jettisoned that into the star.

"Apologies for the deceit," the sailor muttered. "But it seemed a shame for such a fine vessel to die along with its foolish master."

The ship's data banks contained records of all its past travels. The sailor found a complete navigation log of the tattooed man's journey to the center of the galaxy. He set the auto-pilot to return there, then slept and dreamed of immortality.


Image: NASA's Hubble Finds that Puny Stars Pack a Big Punch by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, January, 2011