24 February 2012

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

By Curtis C. Chen

When the young sailor reached the galactic core in the ship he had stolen from the now-dead tattooed man, he found the Celestial Bestiary. The sailor snuck his way through asteroids and cometary clouds to reach the Shrouded Planet, then fought his way through the Guardians' challenges until he entered the Chamber of Singularity and demanded his prize.

"If you receive this modification," the Final Guardian said, "you will be set apart from your fellows. You will no longer be able to live with them as you have. Are you prepared to trade a full life for a long one?"

"You know nothing of my life," the sailor said. "Give me the treasure."

"Very well," said the Final Guardian, and in a flash of light, it rendered the sailor immortal.

Upon leaving the Chamber, the sailor immedately leapt from a high cliff. He gleefully survived the fall, and he survived the pirates who fell upon him as he left the core. The pirates could not kill the sailor, and when he escaped, he swore vengeance upon them.

No longer fearing death, the sailor sought dangerous and lucrative missions all across the galaxy. He traveled through deadly heat and cold and radiation, where no other human could survive. His legend grew.

The sailor also explored more personal perils. He lay with the painted folk, heedless of their disease, and bade them perform exotic pleasure-acts upon his body. He soon tired of that, and his thoughts turned to greater glory.

The pirates who had ambushed the sailor outside the core had also grown in stature. They now controlled an entire star cluster, and the sailor decided to eliminate their scourge once and for all.

He used his celebrity to recruit an elite warship. But as they journeyed toward the pirate systems, the crew began falling ill and dying. It took the ship's doctor many days to determine the cause.

"You are killing us," the doctor told the sailor.

"Speak sense," the sailor said.

"You have encountered many diseases," the doctor said. "The worst of them still lives within you. They do not harm you, but they are deadly to us."

"Quarantine me," the sailor said.

"It is too late," the doctor said.

All were dead by the time the pirate systems came into weapons range. The sailor sat alone on the empty bridge and made one final, easy decision.

He navigated the warship back to the core. He locked onto the Chamber of Singularity and discharged his entire arsenal while descending through the atmosphere. The self-destruct detonated moments before impact, and the sailor's last thought was: The tattooed man was right. I can still burn.

Do not fear weakness. It is weakness that makes us strong. Without weakness, we might never find each other, might never know how our strengths multiply when combined. Without weakness, we die alone and ignorant.

The cosmos are a vast and lonely void. Need binds us together, spurs us to build families and communities and great civilizations. May we find each other, and may we help each other.


Image: Galaxies Collide in the Antennae Galaxies by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, August, 2010