Voyager in night, p.1
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       Voyager in Night, p.1

           C. J. Cherryh
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Voyager in Night


  Voyager in Night

  By

  C.J. Cherryh

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter One

  1,000,000 rise of terrene hominids

  75,000 terrene ice age

  35,000 hunter-gatherers

  BC 9000 Jericho built

  BC 3000 Sumer thriving

  BC 1288 Reign of Rameses in Egypt

  BC 753 founding of Rome

  Trishanamamndu-kepta was <>'s name, of shape subject to change and configurations of consciousness likewise mutable. But Trishanamarandu-kepta within-the-shell kept alert against the threat of subversive alterations, for some of the guests aboard were unreliable in disposition and in sanity.

  Concerning <>'s own mental stability, <> was reasonably certain. <> had a longer perspective than most and consequently held a different view of events. The chronometers which might, after so many incidents and so frequent transits into jumpspace, be subject to creeping inaccuracies, reported that the voyage had lasted more than 100,000 subjective ship-years thus far. This agreed with O's memory. Aberrations in both records were possible, but <> thought otherwise.

  AD 1066 Battle of Hastings

  AD 1492 Columbus

  AD 1790 early Machine Age

  AD 1800 Napoleonic Wars

  AD 1903 Kitty Hawk

  AD 1969 man on the moon

  <> never slept. Some of the minds aboard might have seized control, given that opportunity, so <> managed O's body constantly, sometimes at a high level of mental activity, sometimes at marginal awareness, but <> never quite slept. Closest analogue to dreamstate, <> felt a slight giddiness during jumpspace transits. That was to be expected in a mind, even after long and frequent experience of such passages. <> leapt interstellar distances with something like sensual pleasure in the experience, whether the feeling came from the unsettling of O's mind or O's physical substance. Fear, after all, was a potent sensation; and all sensations were precious after so long a span of life.

  <> traveled, that was what <> did.

  <> set <>'s sights on whatever star was next and pursued it.

  AD 2300: discovery of FTL

  AD 2354: The Treaty of Pell

  End of the Company Wars Founding of the Alliance 1/10/55: colonization of Gehenna, Building of Endeavor.

  Another voyage began. Little Lindy moved up in the immense skeletal clutch of a Fargone loader into the cargo sling of the can-hauler Rightwise, while Rightwise's lateral and terminal clamps moved slowly to fix Lindy in next to a canister of foodstuffs. She actually massed less than most of the constant-temp canisters Rightwise had slung under her belly, less than the chemicals and the manufacturing components destined for station use.

  She was in fact nothing but a shell with engines, an unlovely, jerry-rigged construction; and the Lukowskis, the Viking-based merchanter family which owned Rightwise, having only moderate larceny in their hearts and a genuine spacers' sympathy for Lindy's young owners, settled for the bonus Endeavor Station offered for the delivery of such ships and crews in lieu of Lindy's freight, and took labor for the passage of the Murray-Gaineses themselves. Rightwise had muscle to spare, and Lindy's bonus would clear two percent above the mass charge: the owners were desperate.

  So Rightwise checked Lindy's mass by Fargone records, double checked the dented, unshielded tanks that they were indeed empty for the haul, grappled her on and took her through jump to Endeavor-unlikely reprieve for that bit of scrap and spit which should long since have been sent to recycling.

  The Murrays and Paul Gaines arrived at Endeavor with the same hopes as the rest of the out-of-luck spacers incoming. Endeavor was a starstation in the process of building, sited in the current direction of Union expansion, in a rich (if unexportable) aggregation of ores. But trade would come, extending outward to new routes. Combines and companies would grow here. And the desperate and the ambitious flocked in. There were insystem haulers, freighted in on jumpships, among them a pair of moduled giant oreships, hauled in by half a dozen longhaulers in pieces, reassembled at Endeavor, of too great mass to have come in any other way. They were combine ships out of Viking, those two leviathans, and they collected the bulk of the advertised bonus for ships coming to Endeavor. There was a tanker from Cyteen; a freighter from Fargone, major ships while most of the independent cold-haulers that labored the short station-belt run were far smaller, patched antiquities that gave Endeavor System the eerie ambiance of a hundred-year backstep in time. They were owned by their crews, those ancient craft, some family ships, most the association of non-kin who had gambled all their funds together on war surplus and ingenuity.

  And smallest and least came ships like the Murray-Gaineses' Lindy, an aged pusher-ship once designed for nothing more complex than boosting or slowing down a construction span or sweeping debris from Fargone Station's peripheries, half a hundred years ago. They had blistered her small hull with longterm lifesupport. A human form jutted out of her portside like a decoration: an EVA-pod made of an old suit. Storage compartments bulged outward at odd angles almost as fanciful as the pod. Tanks were likewise jury-rigged on the ventral surface, and a skein of hazardously exposed conduits led to the war-salvage main engine and the chancy directionals.

  No established station would have allowed Lindy registry even before the alterations. She had been scheduled for junk at Fargone, and so had many of her parts, taken individually. But at Endeavor Lindy was no worse than others of her size. She was rigged for light prospecting in those several rings of ore-laden rock which belted Endeavor System, feeding the refiner-oreships, which would send their recovered materials in girder-form and bulk to Station, where belt ores and ice became structure, decks, machine parts and solar cells, fuel and oxygen. Lindy would haul only between belt and oreship, taking the richest small bits in her sling, tagging any larger finds for abler ships on a one-tenth split. She even had an advantage in her size: she could go gnatlike into stretches of the belt no larger ship would risk and, supplied by those larger ships, attach limpets to boost a worthwhile prize within reach: that kind of risk was negotiable.

  And if she broke down in Endeavor's belt and killed her crew, well, that was the chance the Murray-Gaineses took, like all the rest who gambled on a future at Endeavor, on the hope of piling up credits in the station's bank faster than they needed to consume them, credits and stock which would increase in worth as the station grew, which was how marginal operators like the Murray-Gaineses hoped to get a lease on a safer ship and link into some forming Endeavor combine.

  There was Endeavor Station: that was the first step. Rightwise let go the clamps; the Murray-Gaineses sweated through the unpowered docking and the checkout, enjoyed one modest round of drinks at the cheapest of Endeavor Station's four cheap bars, and opened their station account in Endeavor's cubbyhole of a docking office, red-eyed and exhausted and anxious to pay off Rightwise and get Lindy clear and away before they accumulated any additional dock charge.

  So they applied for their papers and local number, paid their freight and registered their ship forthwith with hardly more formality than a clerical stamp, because Lindy was so ridiculously small there was no question of illicit weaponry or criminal record. She became STARSTATION ENDEAVOR INSYSTEM SHIP 243 Lindy, attached to SSEIS 1, the oreship/smelter Ajax. She had a home. And the Murrays and Paul Gaines, free and clear of debt, went off arm in arm to Lindy's obscure berth just under the maindawn limit which would have logged them a second day's dock charge. They boarded and settled into
that cramped interior, ran their checks of the charging that the station had done in their absence, and put her out under her own power without further ado, headed for Endeavor's belt.

  For a little while they had an aftward single G, in the acceleration which boosted them to their passage velocity; but after that small push they went inertial and null, in which condition they would live and work three to six months at a stretch.

  They had bought three bottles of Downer wine for their stores. Those were for their first tour's completion. They expected success. They were high on the anticipation of it. Rafe Murray, his sister Jillan, merchanter brats; Paul Gaines, of Fargone's deep-miners, unlikely friendship, war-flotsam that they were. But there was no doubt in them, no division, when playmates had grown up and married: and Rafe was well content. "It's tight quarters," Jillan had said to her brother when they talked about Endeavor and their partnership. "It's a long time out there, Rafe; it's going to be real long; and real lonely.”

  Paul Gaines had said much the same, in the way Paul could, because he and Rafe were close as brothers. "So, well," Rafe had answered, "I'll turn my back.”

  They called Rafe, half-joking, half-not, their Old Man, at twenty-two. That meant captain, on a larger ship. And they were his. Jillan planned on children in a merchanter-woman's way. They were life, and she could get them, with any man; but, unmerchanter-like, she married Paul, for good, for permanent, not to lose him, and snared him in their dream. Their children would be Murrays; would grow up to the Name that the War had robbed of a ship and almost killed out entire . . . and he dreamed with desperate fervor, did Rafe Murray, of holding Murray offspring in his arms, of a ship filled with youngsters-being himself a merchanter-man and incapable of pregnancy, which was how, after all, children got on ships: merchanter-women made them, and merchanter-women got his and took them to other ships which did not need them half so desperately.

  He had had his partnerings with the women of Rightwise and bade all that good-bye "Go sleep-over," Paul had advised him on Endeavor dock. "Do you good.”

  "Money," he had said, meaning they could not spare the cost of a room, or the time. "Had my time on Rightwise. That's enough. I'm tired.”

  Paul had just looked at him, with pity in his eyes.

  "What do you want?" he had answered then. "Had it last night. Three Rightwisers. Wore me out." And Jillan walked up just then, so there was no more argument.

  "We'll have a ship," Rafe had sworn to Jillan once, when they were nine and eight, and their mother and their uncle died, last of old freighter Lindy's crew, both at once, in Fargone's belt. Getting to deep space again had been their dream; it was all the legacy they left, except a pair of silver crew-pins and a Name without a ship.

  So Rafe held Jillan by him-Don't leave me, don't go stationer on me. You take your men; give me kids give me that, and I'll give you-all I've got, all I'll ever have.

  Don't you leave me, Jillan had said back, equally dogged. You be the Old Man, that's what you'll be. Don't you leave me and go forget your name. Don't you do that, ever. And she worked with him and sweated and lived poor to bank every credit that came their way.

  Most, she got him Paul Gaines, lured a miner-orphan to work with them, to risk his neck, to throw his money into it, Paul's station-share, every credit they three could gain by work from scrubbing deck to serving hire-on crew to miners when they could get a berth.

  Having children waited. Waited for the ship.

  And Endeavor and a dilapidated pusher-ship were the purchase of all they had.

  Rafe took first watch. He caught a reflection on the leftmost screen of Jillan and Paul in their sleeping web behind his chair, fallen asleep despite their attempt to keep him company, singing and joking. They had been quite a handful of minutes and there they drifted, collapsed together, like times the three of them had hidden to sleep, three kids on Fargone, making a ship out of a shipping canister, all tucked up in the dark and secret inside, dreaming they were exploring and that stars and infinity surrounded their little shell.

  Mass.

  <> came fully alert, feeling that certain tug at <>'s substance which meant something large disturbing the continuum.

  Trishanamarandu-kepta could have overjumped the hazard, of course, adjusting course in mid-jump with the facility of vast power and a sentience which treated the mindcrippling between of jumps like some strange ocean which <> swam with native skill. But curiosity was the rule of <>'s existence. <> skipped down, if such a term had relevance, an insouciant hairbreadth from disaster.

  It was a bit of debris, a lump of congealed material which to the questing eye of Trishanamarandu-kepta appeared as a blackness, a disruption, a point of great mass.

  It was a failed star, an overambitious planet, a wanderer in the wide dark which had given up almost all its heat to the void and meant nothing any longer but a pockmark in spacetime.

  It was a bit of the history of this region, telling <> something of the formational past. It was nothing remarkable in itself. The remarkable time for it had long since passed, the violent death of some far greater star hereabouts. That would have been a sight. <> journeyed, pursuing that thread of thought with some pleasure, charted the point of mass in O's indelible memory in the process.

  The inevitable babble of curiosity had begun among the passengers. O's wakings were of interest to them. <> answered them curtly and leaped out into the deep again, heading simply to the next star, as <> did, having both eternity and jump capacity at O's disposal.

  There was no hurry. There was nowhere in particular to go; and everywhere, of course. <> was now awake, lazily considering galactic motion and the likely center of that ancient supernova.

  Such star-deaths begat descendants.

  Chapter Two

  The Downer wine was opened, nullstopped and passed hand to hand in celebration. Music poured from Lindys corn-system. There was food in the freezer, water in the tanks, and a start to the fortunes of the Murray-Gaineses, a respectable number of credits logged on the orehauler Ajax, from what they had delivered and a share of what others had brought in with their beeper tags. They were bathed, shaved and fresh-scented from a docking and sleepover on Ajax. Even Lindy herself had a mint-new antiseptic tang to her air from the purging she had gotten during the hours of her stay.

  "None of them," Jillan said, drifting free, "none of them believed we could have come in filled that fast. No savvy at all, these so-named miners." "Baths," Paul Gaines murmured, and took the wine in both hands for his turn, smug bliss on his square face when he had drunk. "We're civilized again.”

  "Drink to that," Rafe agreed. "Here's to the next load. How long's it going to take us?”

  "Under two months," Jillan proposed. "Thirty tags and a full sling.”

  "We can do it." Rafe was extravagant. He felt a surge of warmth, thinking on an Ajax woman who had opened her cabin to him in his onship time. He was feeling at ease with everything and everyone. He gave a quirk of a smile at Jillan and Paul, whose privacy was one of the storage pods when they were down on supplies, but they were full stocked now, with solid credit to their account, stock bought in Endeavor itself. "Someday," he said, "when we're very old we can tell this to pur kids and they won't believe it.”

  "Drink to someday," Paul said, hugging Jillan with one arm, the bottle in the other. The motion started a drift and spin. Rafe snagged the bottle from Paul's hand as they passed, laughing at them as the hug became a tumble, the two of them lost in each other and not needing that bottle in the least.

  I love them, Rafe thought with an unaccustomed pang, with tears in his eyes he had no shame for. His sister and his best friend. His whole life was neatly knitted up together; and maybe next year they could build old Lindy a little larger. Jillan could look to family-getting then, lie up on Ajax for the first baby; be with them thereafter-close quarters, but merchanter youngsters learned touch

  and not-touch, scramble and take-hold before they were steady on their feet.

  And even f
or himself-for his own comfort Endeavor was a haven for the orphaned, the displaced of the War, people like themselves, taking a last-ditch chance. There might be some woman someday, somehow, willing to take the kind of risk they posed.

  Someone rare, like Paul.

  "Drink up," Jillan insisted, drifting down with Paul. The embrace opened ... a little frown had crossed Jillan's face at the sight of his; and Paul's expression mirrored the same concern. For that, for a thousand, thousand things, he loved them.

  He grinned, and drank, and sent their bottle their way.

  Trishanamarandu-kepta was in pursuit of delicate reckonings, had chased plottings round and round and busily gathered data in observation of the region. <> might have missed the ship entirely otherwise.

  <> detected it in the Between, a meeting of which the ship might or might not be aware. It was small and slow, a bare ripple of presence.

  It too was a consequence of that ancient star-death ... or came here because of it. Weak as it seemed, it might well use mass like that which <> had recently visited as an anchor, a navigation fix when the distance between stars was too great for it. <> diverted <>'s self from <>'s previous heading and followed the ship, eager and intent, coming down at another such pockmark in the continuum, where <>
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