Part I – Earth II
Game Description Intro
Voyage of ARGO V: Quest of the Cybernauts is the 3D-game for champions (though some contestants are 2D), played by heroes and an equal number of bad guys on the ultra cyber-world gameboard of Kastorr, a section of which compares to the Black Sea and Pacific Northwest's Puget Sound regions of Earth I and II but differs in some significant respects. Argonauts, astronauts, now Argonaut-Cybernauts, humanity’s chances hinge on this endgame voyage’s success. Just where Kastorr is located will ultimately figure as the most significant detail. The Black Sea—a unique bridge of salt water joining Europe and Asia-—for the Danube River that fed into the sea connected Asia with the heart of Europe--was something well-known to ancient countries since the time of early Greece, Troy, and the Minoans, it is true. Yet few people, other than those who sailed it, knew it was half-dead. With only one small outlet at the Dardenelles and the Bosporus, and major rivers such as the Danube emptying their salts into it daily, the Black Sea turned toxic beneath the surface.
Master of the data, Wally was not held to a strict geography: he could move the game to any suitable location and combine pieces of whatever geography suited his purpose. He knew that only the surface waters of the Black Sea supported life. No fish, not even tuna, could live in this sea past a certain depth. That, Wally decided, wouldn’t do in his gameboard. He didn’t want any of his mariners to get sick if they ever fell in and happened to gulp a mouthful or two, for he fully intended to make them as real as that! As for the Puget Sound, this mostly inland sea was, if not “fresh,” then a great deal fresher than the Black Sea, thanks to a large access to the open ocean. Full of islands and bays, with waters that swarmed with aquatic life of all kinds, the Puget Sound was perfect for Argo V's itinerary, and that was the reason for Wally’s moving the venue there from the coasts of Greece and Turkey. Like the Black Sea, it too was unique and would help add interest to his cruise, in that it contained species found no where else, and in tremendous sizes. Here was found, in a sea that should have been too cold, sharks and even Great Whites. Here too were seals and Orca killer whales, as well as the the largest octopi in the world, well able to swamp boats if ever they emerged from the depths. Creating it in virtual reality was a rather pleasing task for him.
So much for his good plans! At this point everything “gang aft agley,” as Robert Burns the Scottish bard observed about affairs of mice and men.
While operating as Wally the champion of Earth II, Wally had previously programmed the game as a nice, relaxing, little cyber-cruise based on an interesting mythological voyage, intending it to be the vehicle for his retirement from active service. He thought this might reward him for very hazardous duty in the Wargame of Dr. Pikkard, but a computer security system has seriously compromised the cruise by introducing a top-of-the-league competitor, a vicious gang of pirates and cutthroats who will stop at nothing to secure the game’s objective, the fabulous Golden Fleece.
When Wally-Horace Boomershine discovers the change, it is too late--he has become a participant, with no longer any power over the outcome, or any ability to reprogram the game, or even to press ESC and get out of the thing. Everybody aboard has already proved his or her abilities, but this game provides the ultimate test and challenge.
This is a zero-sum dual game. Only one side wins and gains fame and immortality. The other side loses all and, after a lot of suffering and disaster, ceases to exist. White Ship mariners, or Black Ship pirates?
A game played in cyberspace, the creator himself is on board, Horace Boomershine has previously been morphed by a certain software company in Redmond, Washington State, into the cyberspatial world of the Internet.
He is discovered and modified by various hacks and programmers in turn until he becomes Wally the roving NTM, Non-tethered Mode, of a 22nd Century Cray supercomputer.
As if going full circle, he reverts to his old name and lastly takes on job of butterfly lookout onboard the White Ship, the only similarity being that he is still in cyberspace. This is quite a come-down for Wally, of course. While still engaged in the “real” physical world, he has successfully moved an entire planet to safer pastures in the Universe, and dealt with many deadly foes of OP, including the Nano-Queen in A. S. 8732.
True, he had experienced certain reverses and considerable humbling at various times-—being reduced to a pedometer was certainly one of those times-—but he had always climbed out of the low points and reasserted mastery over his fate. But this was not the same thing at all: back in the virtual world of cyberspace, he would have to take his lumps, just as he was programmed.
There would be no startling come-backs or cross-overs to another kind of reality if bad things happened.
The White Ship is ARGO V, with Dr. Pikkard as skipper-—the same Pikkard who masterminded the Wargame that saved Earth II from the Red Star. The only difference is his age and looks--he appears to be in his twenties.
His crew consists of forty-nine men, a butterfly, as well as two women who were taken hostage by the Black Ship but are given refuge by Dr. Pikkard, saving them from a fate worse than cyber-death. Besides Horace as Lookout, Pieter van de Wordt is helmsman, Ero Theotocopouli is musician and oarsmen, Karmelita is ship’s cook, Betti (formerly the Hollywood star Betti Bangles) is her unlikely assistant, Fritz Enthoven is ship’s carpenter and oarsmen, Cyrus Olson is oarsman, Jason Placentia is navigator and oarsman, and other crew members are named as they come up in the action.
CREW OF ARGO V, THE “WHITE SHIP”
Dr. Pikkard, “Captain Jason”
Pieter van de Wordt, Helmsman
Horace Boomershine (Boomershinus horatius), Butterfly Lookout
Ero Theotocopuli, Musician-oarsman
Karmelita Dinah Aquamarine Tumpo, Ship’s Cook
Betti, Cook’s Assistant
Fritz Enthoven, Ship’s Carpenter; Oarsman
Cyrus Olson, Oarsman
Jason Placentia, Oarsman,
36 Champions from 3rd Division, U.S. Army, Awarded Medal of Honor in WWII; Oarsmen
Lady Evelyn, Ship Nurse
Horace Brave Scout, Chronicler’s Assistant2>
The Venerable Bede, Mission Chronicler and Learned Man
Alfred the Great; former king of Wessex, Anglo-Saxon England; Consultant on War Strategy
MacArthur, a "reformed", once foul-mouthed, military man’s parrot (ship’s mascot); Volunteer Poet with Stock of Rhymes
Already stated, a virus broke in, via a re-worked security mechanism introduced into the system, and it automatically tries to destroy his sub-file game with a competing crew of cutthroats drawn mostly from America’s now ancient FBI files. This is supplemented with a contingent of traitors formerly working for Britain’s World War II M-15 spy service, and a sprinkling of radical leftist university theologians who met every year to decide questions of truth and falsity with variously colored pebbles thrown in a box. To round out the snake’s nest is a group of runaways from an abusive Californian reformatory farm-school, all whom ended badly in their previous wretched lives.
The White Ship’s rival is the Black Ship, the Anti-ARGO, flagship of a master pirate, Captain Wolvewoeld ( Shickelgruber, Djugashvilli, Old Goatley, Rabiscu, Chillingsworth, Harold Carter, Dr. Celman, and Pontius Pilatus rolled into one cyber-fiend). His expertise is trickery, conspiracy and destruction of the human race. His crew is highly experienced. Two dimensional, they looked most like playing cards from Alice in Wonderland, but they are deadly enough, and have the added ability to shift-change into sharks the instant they dive into the water. In addition, they carry cutlasses that operate in optimum conditions to terminate all or portions of White Ship crew members or part of the White Ship itself. The only problem is maintaining access to passwords or code words needed to warm up the firing mechanism (more about equipment and gameboard devices further on). Files that were case sensitive do not allow full names here, otherwise full names are given.
CREW OF THE “BLACK SHIP”
Wolvewoeld, “Captain de Hell”
Virginia, aka Medea, Ship Psychic
Edyth Hamilton, Ship Librarian; Classicist
Clarence Silkey, Runaway Wolverton Boy Lookout
Thomas, alias John McCullough; FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Thomas, alias Jim Sloan; FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
George, called “The King”; FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Roy, FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Kenneth, alias John Arthur Blotz; FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Fred, alias John W. Frederick; FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
George, FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Lloyd, alias Raymond Kidd; FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Otto, FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Frederick, FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
John, alias “Matt”; FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Joel, FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Monroe, alias Willie Tyler, FBI Most Wanted List; oarsman
George, FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Mace, FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Billy, FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Nathaniel, FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Millar, FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Daniel, FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Michael, FBI Most Wanted List; Oarsman
Cornelius Hodgkins, aka “Hoagie”; FBI Most Wanted List; oarsman
Old Goatley, Consultant
Nils Nilsson, Consultant
Marty Gantry Yeager
Harold Carter, Oarsman
Dr. Celman, Ship’s Doctor
Kim Philby, Captain’s Consultant, Chief Aide, and Navigator
Arthur Blunt, Shipboard Art Museum Director; Senior Spy
Virgil, Runaway Wolverton Boy; Oarsman
Arthur, Runaway Wolverton Boy; Oarsman
Percival Arbogast, aka Striker; Runaway Wolverton Boy; oarsman, Shipboard Athletics Director
Harry, Runaway Wolverton Boy; Oarsman
Ed, Runaway Wolverton Boy Oar; oarsman
George, Runaway Wolverton Boy; oarsman
Hugh, Runaway Wolverton Boy; Oarsman
John, Runaway Wolverton Boy; Oarsman
George, Runaway Boy; Oarsman
Lawrence, Wolverton Runaway Boy; Oarsman
John, Runaway Wolverton Boy; Oarsman
Charles, Runaway Wolverton Boy; Oarsman
Fred, Runaway Wolverton Boy; Oarsman
Five shipboard human-headed rats (crew’s mascots)
Total: 50 pirates
About the Game Prize
Cyber-world though it is, all players are real, possessing personalities and identities and feeling no desire to be prematurely terminated, since for them this is no game but a life and death struggle.
And what is the eagerly sought Golden Fleece? Originally, Enoch the seventh from Adam and the prophet of the ante-diluvian times before Noah set sail in the Ark, first identified it.
He said it was the golden pelt of a winged Ram, the Ram being the Son of the Most High God. This “pelt” from the Ram when He was sacrificed, could not only save a man from death but secure eternal life and happiness for him in God’s own heavenly paradise, heaven. It was this very Ram that a world-renowned classicist, Edyth Hamilton, found so puzzling, since she had no idea how very ancient the original accounts were that found their translation into what are called Greek myths.
In classical Greek times the Golden Fleece was thought to be the golden pelt of a winged ram belonging to the Sun-Titan, Hyperion. This winged ram flew a young man named Phrixus to a refuge in Colchis, a kingdom at the base of the Caucasus Mountains, through which the modern Rioni River, the ancient Phasis, flows to its estuary on the Black Sea.
Upon landing safely at the capital, Aea, Phrixus sacrificed the wonderful, life-preserving Ram.
Whatever the sacrifice really meant, no doubt champions of those earlier times thought such a pelt was magical and might enable them to fly like birds, and for that reason it was highly prized. Since few treasure-seekers of more modern, less credulous times, when aircraft of all kinds filled the air, would know what to do with such a thing now, in the questors’ circle it is the subject of hot debate.
What could the Golden Fleece really be? What could it do for them? It could be power, self-fulfillment, victory over opponents, or a chance to play the game again against other opponents--things surely worth a fight. Some think it is real gold, some jewels, others gold and jewels mixed together in a big, dragon-guarded heap.
Still others think of chests of crisp hundred dollar bills or gilt-edged securities.
The imaginative dream of luxury, custom-made limos with Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe-type blond bombshells riding along.
In any case, the Golden Fleece, whatever it turns out to be, is the object for which the two ships and crews will try to outsail each other to gain.
Is it worth the effort, pain, and sacrifice? Not something any of the questors first imagined, the end comes with the creation of something that weighs seven times the sun’s mass, but that is only the beginning of a chain of events that will affect the fate of not only Earth but the Solar System.
Additional Consultants, Good or Evil, from the Cyber-Think Tank
Unknown to the Argonauts, whatever they accomplish, for good or evil, will greatly affect the cosmic Wargame that encapsulates the ARGO V somewhere in real time and space.
What they can’t recall or people whose relations to them have been erased in their memory banks, still matter. Like phantoms they reach out and speak to the players at crucial times. Even the Black Ship’s pirates hear and heed such invisible presences and voices.
Though seemingly a world unto itself, cyberspace is always dependent on what has preceded and produced it, from the Titans and Atlanteans to Anne, Debora, Jael, Lady Evelyn, Spackle, Yeager, Shickelgruber, Joseph, Noadiah, Ruth, Basemath, and Pilate--these and many others sit in the bleachers and not only cheer but, as at a puppet play, pull strings on occasion.
Probably the greatest string-puller is Gabriel Tall Chief, a young boy with CP, living in the 1990s, who before his death discovered the evil stellar entities that were invading the world and who passed on his knowledge to his cousin who in turn preserved Gabriel’s discoveries for ages to come.
His mentoring reader boards pop up at the beginning of each new test, informing and alerting the White Ship crew to what lies ahead. This gives them a degree of advantage over the Black Ship, of course, but the hazards that Gabriel identifies are actually all that were intended for the voyage. Serving the same capacity on the Black Ship are the Ship Psychic and other highly trained and experienced consultants.
The Black Ship is a hostile foreign element, a game-crashing alien that the game’s creator, Wally, neither foresaw nor wanted.
Once entered in the gameplan, the Black Ship must be either circumvented somehow, or defeated on the way to the Golden Fleece. That won’t be easy. The White Ship Cybernauts are now facing, not only incredible obstacles set in their path, but veteran sociopaths and atheist clergymen with doctorates in skepticism and cynicism who are out to exterminate the Godfearing Argonauts just as much as they want the treasure of the Golden Fleece.
Truly, each White Ship Cybernaut would soon find reason to pray, and to pray in the manner Elhanan, the Son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, once prayed:
Bow down Your heavens, O Lord, and come
down. Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.
Flash forth lightning and scatter them. Shoot out
your arrows and destroy them. Stretch out your hand
from above, rescue me and deliver me out of great waters,
from the hand of foreigners, whose mouth speaks lying
words, and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.
Anyone who prays such a prayer is in a most desperate pickle, and knows it. Mountains such as Las Palmas in the Canaries, indeed, can smoke, unleashing forces with terra-forming landslides that can destroy whole continental seaboards thousands of miles away with tusanami higher than 500 meters. How could David know such titanic powers were locked inside mountains? Yet he did know it. In such a bind, only OP Almighty can help! Only He can destroy thundering, world-destroying mountains with lightning, turning them into fine dust that can hurt no one. The same Almighty One can also deal with equally treacherous humanity, and deliver His champions from their greatest foes. It is encouraging that “You shall recover all” is no idle promise given the star-challenger Elhanan and his descendants by the Almighty.
How the Naval War Game was Originally Devised
Wally, sometime before his campaign against the Algol queen, decided he would try an experiment and see if he could transfer to a living entity instead of spending his entire existence in virtual reality for the rest of his computer time. Though he had seriously considered becoming “Wally’s Service” station in a VR Mayberry, he opted for a more active life.
After a careful review of successful “interactive educational software” such as “The Oregon Trail,” and a host of once best-selling Nintendo video games, he tried to strike a balance between the two, creating a hybrid in which he could become the real creature he hankered to be. By forming the gameplayers, the Argonauts, from the genotypes stored at Tutasix, a genotype archives in the Aleutians from the 22nd century on, he aimed to create three-dimensional human beings--at least that was the experiment.
It was cyberspace, to begin with, but with certain changes he hoped he could turn it into cyber-reality, a quantum leap from old video games and interactive entertainment software he had researched. He would do the same to himself, but since he was flying into a new dimension he decided to give himself a name change.
Would the thing work, or would he only achieve a phony, make-believe Barnum and Bailey freak show?
He could only find out by trying. The game was a cruise based on the classic Ancient World’s ARGO’s voyage, when the Greek hero Jason set off with the fifty greatest champions of Ancient Greece in search of the treasure of the Golden Fleece. Of course, that wasn’t the only model Wally used.
He had data on Tim Severin’s ANNO 1985 re-creation of the epic ARGO voyage of Jason and the Argonauts, starting from Volus (ancient Iolcus, or Iolkos), Greece, and sailing 1,500 miles to Vani, Soviet Georgian Republic (ancient Colchis), on the terminus of the Black Sea.
He also outfitted the vessel with an amazing array of equipment, some of it useful to his Cybernauts, the other stuff merely decorative, such as the shields brought out, after the voyage is under way, to grace the gunwales--fifty stunning, morale-boosting reproductions of Franklin Mint silver coins depicting epic voyages from the ARGO in the 12th Century B.C. to Columbus in the 15th Century and finally to the Apollo Moon Mission of the 20th--all events that changed the course of human development.
As in the original, the coin-shields’ obverse side bear the royal portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, a British monarch for over fifty years who reigned at the time of the Apollo mission. Seeing these ornaments as quite unnecessary for the ship's operation, Captain Pikkard, exercising his authority, had them put ashore in a secret place for later retrieval. He also disposed of the elaborate Grecian-style costumes Wally had put aboard the Argo for the crew--the white stockings, flounced skirts, and short jackets, with large-cuffed and laced blouses that Greek honor guards wore in the 20th-21st centuries. In their place, he allowed whatever the crew felt comfortable wearing. What their uniforms then lacked in style was made up for in practicality.
To make everything real, Wally had to program everything from the standpoint of the gameplayer’s sensory equipment.
To feel a breeze, to smell a flower, to taste wine, to experience fear or hope or dream a dream, to make hair look and act like real human hair (the hardest task of all!), he had to construct an entire world from the inside out. It was no good having a Cybernaut lift a rose on the Isle of Lemnos (i.e., Bainbridge Island off Seattle the "Emerald City") to his nose if it was only for show and he couldn’t distinguish its scent from that of a burning rubber tire.
No, Wally had to give the Cybernaut a human being's complete range of olfactory ability, and that was rather difficult. The Cybernaut had to be programmed to experience the sweet richness, as well as remember past rose fragrances to want to smell another. One hundred million pages of an encyclopedia on the olfactory sense later, Wally had a Cybernaut who could smell a rose and not only identify it as a rose but enjoy it.
He had to do this, naturally, with the four remaining senses. Once started, the task became all-absorbing, something the old Human Genome Project once conducted on Earth I in the late 20th century, or, earlier still, like what Herakles faced once upon a time when he had to clean the Augean stables (which was just one of his Twelve Labors assigned him because they were impossible to mortal men). Helmets off to Wally! He proved equal to the impossible task.
He reached his goal after ransacking all his files for every bit of information that could possibly make the CYBER-ARGO and its crew real.
At this point things will go wrong. For some unknown reason it is more difficult to make something good seem real than it is convince anyone with something negative.
Flush with his crushing victory over the Algol Nano-Queen, Wally “dies” and comes back to life as Horace--a process of transformation well-known to his species. The grand experiment seems to have worked beyond Wally’s expectation. Horace doesn’t think he is anything but real.
All the senses of a real butterfly are operative. The human role players, too, may sense something is odd, but except for a few bad, confusing moments they can find no proof they are not completely real, thanks to their truly stupendous programming that makes even Michelangelo’s feat on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (remember Florence’s greatest Renaissance artist who glorified the St. Peter’s for a Borgian pope?) look like sprayed on grafitti.
Wally would have beenvery pleased with himself, indeed, if he, in his new life as Horace, could have remembered Wally.
Major Features, Strategy, Weaponry, Miscellaneous Hazards
It is clear by it being a zero-sum game that both crews cannot win the Grand Prize and end the game; one has to lose, one has to win. Nothing can change that basic fact, chosen by the Master Game Designer.
But which one? That will be decided, perhaps, long before the Grand Prize is even sighted. Either crew can knock out sufficient numbers of the opposing crew to cause the opposing crew to forfeit. These “helps” were all added to Wally’s original retirement cruise vehicle.
They are scattered about the cyber-landscape or given mostly to the Black Ship crew members. Some areas of the landscape and water have low gravity fields, so any ship entering can either bounce out suddenly, spilling all contents and crew into the water, or even sink out of sight as if loaded with a thousand tons of lead fishing line weights. These gravity fields are the dangerous shoals and reefs to be found in any respectable sea or ocean.
The gravity fields also serve to keep both ships from wandering too far off the course plotted by the game’s creator.
Each ship must navigate its way through a series of obstacles to gain the treasure even while fighting to eliminate or elude its hostile competitor. To aid them are a number of weapons and naval aids.
The Black Ship navigators all come equipped with Spanish main-looking cutlasses, which appear to cut with a blade but actually use a laser to burn and slice off portions of their enemies’ anatomies. They also have a B button (A is Throw Fire) which stuns, in a popup control panel in the palm of their right hand.
The stunned victim can then be hauled away for torture or for gaining valuable information from before being liquidated. The C button (for Catapult) throws the victim at supersonic speed against any available rocky headland, where he disintegrates beyond retrieval.
Shot power meters pop up out of the hilts of the cutlasses for A, B, but not C, so users can regulate the degree of effectiveness from “low” to “life-threatening,” to “lethal.”
Springboards are available to both crews, since they pop up in the landscape, provided for eluding dangerous animals or hazards. Step on one, which will look like a flowering aspidistra, and the player is launched out of harm’s way, landing not with a bone-shattering crash but with a pleasant, feathery, floating effect.
Water hazards are the hidden gravity fields, various sea monsters, the Clashing Rocks that rise up unexpectedly in the ship's path and can crush a ship beyond retrieval (called the Symplegades, they constitute one of the most dangerous Obstacles in the course). Strong currents, like the famed maelstroms in Scandinavian waters, can also force the ships back or whirl them around in eddies until they smash against rocks or each other.
This course is made impossible to complete. If the water hazards aren’t lethal enough, along it are distributed Harpies (foul-smelling attack birds whose feathers, in the wind, make a harplike, high-pitched, shrill whine) that is most terrifying to hear.
Star-Stones—Where Will the Fallen Carbuncle Be Located?
First identified by Gabriel Tall Chief, in the centuries and millennia that follow him a number of star-stone juggernauts have been fought and defeated, at great cost, of course, to the combatants, for no star-stone worth its salt ever gave up the Earth without a hellish fight to the death.
But something seems to have been over-looked--the Tenth, for instance.
Who is going to take on the fallen Carbuncle. This is the predecessor to the famed Arkstone, the radiant fluor spar of the Ark of Noah, the glowing Carbuncle that once lighted a single family aboard the giant gopher-wood and pitch-sealed vessel during the forty days and forty nights of the Great Mabbul? Without its cheering light, even Noah’s faith might have faltered, when the world around them lay drowned beneath the beating waves and constant, seemingly quenchless monsoon rains. But we know that Noah succeeded in passing from one world to the next. Would Earth II be so fortunate? After that, its look-alike, the fallen Carbuncle that was thrown out of heaven’s courts into Universe II with its deadly siblings,
invaded Earth II and caused no end of havoc, coming and going as it pleased, but always leaving death, despair, and unbelief behind. Where has it-—with its vampire spirit-form--flown off to? Nobody knows.
All the progress mankind has painstakingly made, thanks to various star-challengers, can be wiped out now by one misstep in cyberspace. It is just as well that no one on board the ARGO V knows it, for the burden would prove too heavy for any mortal man and even an Argonaut to bear.
Proceed to Installation of Last Gameplayer/Startup by Clicking NEXT
Jigme Wangchuck Memorial Genotypebank, Tutasix, Atka Island, the Aleutian Archipelago. With ample robotics and not one visitor, the utter lack of service personnel did not prove the slightest hardship, and for several centuries the facility looked nearly as it did when it was dedicated. Later, several thousand years aged the facility beyond repair. Though not sustaining a direct hit from a comet, water seepage, terra-forming earthquakes, encroaching animals such as polar bears and even seals, all would take their toll.
The facility Cray would crash. Retrieval. But only in part. At last the players were assembled, most chosen when Wally was planning retirement.
Others may have been added at that time without his knowledge. But now the New Game was on-line, and a 50th champ was needed to complete the White Ship’s crew. Since so much database had been lost in the shut-down and the retrieval had been only partial, the Cray, in the last gasp of its existence, was forced to send the NTM Wally on a final mission before StartUp in the game.
Perhaps the gameplayer would suffer a degree for the loss of data. That remained to be seen when he was “solidified” in cyberspace.
At least this mission was the recruitment of Wally’s last Cybernaut.
White Ship Musician-Oarsman Recruited
In the reigning silence, the classic Bhutanese holograph sculpture stood in the Tutasix lobby in a way that suggested it would do so for eternity.
Closer inspection, however, revealed a mass of tiny cracks that showed the statue, if touched, would probably disintegrate into a pile of dust.
Only the flower in the statue’s hand still looked flowerlike and intact. A blue butterfly materialized just above the flower offering in the left hand. Vastly intelligent and physically real, the butterfly showed interest in the lotus blooms, gilt as they were. Its blue wings fluttered over the blossoms.
But scentless flowers could not hold it very long, beautiful as they were. The butterfly vanished quickly as it appeared. There was a slight dimming of blue to a violet shade, then instantly it was gone.
The lobby and the soon to be disintegrated Wangchuck statue continued on as they had before the slight interruption. Just as the latest visitor disappeared without signing the completely decayed guestbook in the visitor center, the emergency lights blinked on.
Looking deceptively as if it would last centuries more, the sculpture cast a shadow like a gorilla’s which stretched as far as the service doors of the defunct, frozen elevators that once took personnel and visitors down to the archives.
A second after leaving the lobby, the visitor hovered in the center’s main shaft where the genotype canisters were stored. It was just in time. With sea water washing in through giant cracks, the shaft was now a frozen lake with real fish and seals hunting them, and the constant upwelling water was forcing house-sized chunks of ice upwards in jumbled, chaotic masses like Arctic floes. Soon the rising water and ice pack would reach and smash against the 22nd Century’s genotype files, yet the frigidity had preserved the contents of those still surviving.
Once brilliantly lighted day and night, the vast circle that had gleamed with polished titanium now glowed dully with rime and hoarfrost.
Looking tiny and toylike, automated service elevators, some with human bones with shreds of security guard uniforms fitted with reflective stripes clinging to them, hung in place like dark clots of mud dabbing swallows’ nests on a cliffside, no longer gliding up and down at prescribed intervals. In no need of an elevator, fortunately, the butterfly passed down the remaining levels and circles in a slow and lazy, counter-clockwise spiral. At the level of the 22nd Century, genotypes were still intact and available. Here the entries were probational, and all had blinking orange lights, signifying they were still awaiting a signal from headquarters that still had not come after 8,000 years. The name plate of one the butterfly touched was, “Theotocupouli, Anteros Perseus, WUSPF44560000000021000000000012A.” Why this one? Why not any of the others?
Whatever the reason--which might take Eternity’s disclosures to reveal--a blue beam from the butterfly shot into the 12A’s laser keybox. The serial numbered tube slid out with a hiss of decompression. Unlike all the others, the light ceased blinking forever. Then the butterfly alighted on the chilled, gleaming surface to take the reading of the genotype data.
Instantly, serving as the uplink, the data that was Anteros Perseus Theotocupouli once upon a time shot skyward, intercepting a high, speeding ball of light and metal and electronic intelligence that circled Earth for as long as its asteroid-dodging, self-correcting navigation system allowed. Already the data for both crew lists and the gameplan sped to a pre-ordained destination: a glowing, bluish, secret world inside a world that was colder and more cruel than both of Earth’s poles at the height of a raging gale.
Only Theotocupouli’s data remained to be entered in the game plan.
This done, Ero was now living again, reborn as a 3-D sailor on a seagoing ship.
1 ”Kalo Taxidi!”—-Good Journey!
Away! Away from the dawning light for the fleet-footed Greek Olympic runner who never had the chance to complete his Olympic mission, thanks to the Red Star’s axing of the 22nd Century’s Crystal Age Civilization. Away from what living people take for granted every morning, to a light of a different and special kind. It was a light created expressly to shine behind the foreground.
It was the light of a giant monitor, the same that now lighted an entire worldscape--but a world he had never imagined! The giant golden ring that had enclosed him, holding him suspended in space, was now hurling him across the
length and breadth of a land with round, canal-ringed cities and giant buildings that looked to him like Mayan temples except that these looked brand-new. Globe-like objects poured out and into the tops of the highest pyramids, while others hovered high in the air waiting for their turn to land. Just as the gold ring was taking him down toward a gold-apexed building that was collecting other flying rings like his own, it tipped about, zigzagged, and suddenly shot away as if it were going to smash him against the far mountains.
The magnetic ring seemed to be tugged between this world and something else that was proving more powerful, drawing him down a windy tunnel glowing into the distance.
He saw it only a moment, and the startled faces of Jason, Herakles, Lynceus, Orpheus, Typhys—no! they didn't look Greek enough to be Jason and his crew, and the flag of the bow wasn’t Greek, it was red with a crescent and a star—all turning to stare at him, before he rocketed past. The tunnel was strange, fluid-like, and it enlarged suddenly around an aircraft carrier, then narrowed to enclose several submarines and aircraft and stranger craft that resembled holiday floats, among on one of which he recognized a giant statue of the fabulist Aesop, with a giant Hare trying to catch a triumphant Turtle holding up the winner’s torch.
The walls of the tunnel then expanded up and around beyond his sight. Flashing off and on, another scene made its appearance to him, spreading a broad vista of sea and a beach. But the ring was traveling so erratically, he wondered if he was going to smash into a thousand pieces.
Though not exactly at the appointed time, Ero arrived. Something was waiting for him. Afloat on white-foaming dark water, dangerously near reefs and land, a sleek, winged shape, half-bird and half-ship, met him and gently received the rapidly spinning golden ring that brought Ero.
The ring slowed down, came to a full stop, then dissolved. A moment later the ship began to move and crest the waves. It shot out into deep waters beyond the crashing thunder of surf breaking on shoals. The voyage into the unknown cyber-world had begun!
Ero lay on the deck for a time with wide, staring eyes. This half-comatose state was a necessary process. The gameplayer was slowly gathering sense detail data. He could still remember only flying the tunnel and fragmentary glimpses of strange cities and vessels old and new. Finally, he found himself lying on his side, curled up fetally on the deck of a ship more strange than anything he had seen in transit.
A blond-haired youth about his age came up to him and stood looking down, his eyes the color of the evil eye on the prow. “Oh, this one couldn’t be good, solid Dutch! Too bad! Looks suspiciously Sicilian, or Italian, to me--”
“We’d better leave him be, Pieter,” said Captain Pikkard out of Ero’s line of vision. “Like us when we first came, he’ll need a bit of time to find himself. Solidify, I mean, and get himself together. You all know what that entails.”
Shrugging, the youth, chosen helmsman by the captain, went away.
How much time passed with Ero lying on the deck “solidifying”, he could not tell. Eventually, he felt strong enough and rose to a sitting position. But he could only sit, as he tried to fathom what had happened to him. More time passed, and he grew bolder. He climbed to his feet on the rocking deck.
His worst confusion was still himself. He could not remember anything yet about his life. Not sure of himself, he felt like taking a long sleep again, but something in him fought off the impulse. He wanted to know who he really was--that would be his true starting point, he sensed.
As if on cue, a glowing board with colored letters popped up suddenly through the deck and flashed a message on and off. No one except Ero paid it any attention. Most had seen it happen dozens of times already with other in-coming crew members.
QUESTOR IS NOT FULLY BOOTED UP. QUESTOR WILL REMAIN ON
STAND-BY AND NOT PRESS SPACEBAR UNTIL FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS ARE
The message, repeating itself, formed plainly in warning yellow on a lighter, off-white background, and Ero, knowing computers, understood the language, but what did it mean? He was a player? In what game?
Finally, the message flashed in a bright, cheering blue colo, and a red spacebar appeared for his use:
CONGRATULATIONS, ERO! STARTUP SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED FOR MUSICIAN/OARSMAN. PRESS SPACEBAR IF YOU WANT ADDITIONAL INFORMATION. FILE, EDIT, VIEW, INSERT, FORMAT, TOOLS, TABLE, AND HELP ICONS WILL ASSIST GAMEPLAYER TO BEGIN. READER BOARD WILL NOW BE WITHDRAWN, UNLESS SPACEBAR IS PRESSED. PRESS SPACEBAR NOW TO REQUEST ADDITIONAL HELP(S). PRESS SPACEBAR, OR PAUSE (F7), OR AUTOMATIC DATA z9- INJECTION LOADING SYSTEM WILL BECOME FULLY OPERATIVE.
After he stared at it a few minutes, a tiny beep sounded, the board dimmed, and it vanished into the decking timbers.
Ero, the annoying board gone, dismissed its instructions completely and summoned his strength and determined to take charge of his life. He
decided to confront the men on board and also take a look around the ship. He took a few steps, then
was stopped. Information flooded into his brain-center that nearly knocked him to the deck. Now he knew who he was and what he was asked to do.
But a thousand questions came to mind at the same time. Why was he aboard this ship, with these
sailors, and not back on the Peloponessos running for his country's honor and the fame of his family and island? Seriphus--his home--they were all glued to their sets watching the events of the marathon! Or at least they were. Now-" He looked about, and despite the sea he felt like a trapped animal, which was the greatest outrage for a Greek torn involuntarily and without explanation from his home. But why was he here and not running, for all he could recall was being in Olympia at the Olympic Center where his genotype specimen was taken.
Try as he might to find the answer, the new information would not tell him, and nothing came to mind.
Sighing, he gave up for the moment. The realization sank in that maybe he was making things difficult for himself--unnecessarily. Maybe he would do better if he cooperated a little with what was going on around him? He considered this a moment, then, swallowing his pride, decided he might try this. It was new to him, but nothing he had tried so far had worked. What did he have to lose?
But would he ever know what he wanted to know? His emotions got the best of him--despite his recent decision to cooperate. Panicked, his eyes darting wild in his head, he acted on impulse. He lunged to the gunwales, knocking two shields—Irish St. Brendan’s
and Viking Leif Erikson’s voyages to the New World--off into the water where they landed on the water without a splash and instantly dissolved. In one direction there was nothing but sea, no sign of Seriphus.
In the other direction flying clouds massed across a broken ridge of mountains. It was just a glimpse, but there had been something more too--the dark-forested brow of a headland ringed by white-crested breakers.
That was enough! He knew the headland--it was the very last bit of Pelop’s Island! The sight-—and the loss of his homeland—-made him scream out for all he was worth.
He would have flung himself overboard at that point, but suddenly coils of rope sprang out from the decking and wrapped around his legs, and try as he might he couldn’t get them off and he collapsed, bawling like a broken-hearted child who had just lost his first big race. The moment he ceased to struggle, the ropes jumped off him and landed in his hands--as if he were being shown he had an option--be free, or be tied up--it was his choice.
Again, the Message flashed on the popup message board: QUESTOR IS NOT FULLY BOOTED UP.
Obviously, there was some kind of glitch in the program, or the program would not work if there wasn't more cooperation on Ero's part. Ero had not cooperated--to say the least. Some seasoned mariners nearest Ero shook their heads as they observed his behavior, and they tried to point him to sharks in the water who were just waiting for any of them to fall or jump in.
The blonde helmsman made a move toward the distraught Ero, but one older man said something, and the blond crewman sat back down with them.
Ero wasn’t concerned with them anyway. He had just seen his beloved homeland disappearing from sight! There could be no greater tragedy for a Hellene, a “Greek,” as the ignorant, outside, barbarian world called the Hellenes. He had lost everything that had ever meant anything to him! Everything! What “everything” meant in detail, he could not have said at that point, for he had little of such memory remaining. But it was the feeling of having lost all—that, for a Greek, was the whole point.
When he finally realized he wasn’t going to get free of the ropes by fighting them, he calmed himself down. The moment he no longer fought, the ropes relaxed, and then suddenly faded and vanished back into the decking. Ero rubbed his eyes. How strange this ship was! Was it real? He had to pinch himself to see if he were real or now. He give himself a bruise before he decided, yes, he was real. The pinching hurt him with real, throbbing pain!
He noticed too that his shipmates were staring at him, and he forced himself to calm down even more. He sat and eyed the men warily. Controlling his emotions was hard, but he made himself do it. The men then paid no further attention to him. They quietly conversed or worked together or alone on various, small projects they had going, while he thought through his predicament, which for him seemed the size of the Aegean.
He thought back in time. Hadn’t Odysseus been challenged by the riddles of the Sphinx? He found he could remember a riddle he learned in his boyhood: “One is two, four make more, one is cool, five are hot, three have faces, three not, two can die, four cannot. What are they?” But somehow, the answer eluded him at the moment. He began to swear. It was so stupid to lose the riddle’s answer. That was as bad as forgetting his own name, for a Greek. But he could not get any further, hard as he tried. The memory just would not come back.
Instead of the riddle’s solution, a scrap of rhymed song came to mind: “…our mortal race is never blest—-some petty blight asserts its sway! Some crumpled roseleaf light is always in the way!” That annoyed him. It didn’t seem Greek enough to him. Later on, a Jack Kerouac-era beat poet and musician would rephrase it: "Our mortal gig is our blown test--we win a place in hell for rest." Was it Pindar? Hardly! No Greek poet would ever complain of life that way. Life was a gift to be treasured, every passing moment of it!
But he suddenly felt ashamed, thinking that. He should be filled with joy that he was alive, right? Why then was he making himself miserable, like a sulking child?
That thought brought him to his feet-—a man again, and a Greek. What could be better than that? He decided he would make the best of it—whatever this ship and this crew was.
2 Another Jack Dutch Game?
For Ero the Greek oarsman and musician, adjustment was not easy. For a Dutch helmsman n the White Ship named Pieter, it was less difficult to cross over from life (a life haunted with fear of a return to New Alkmaar and a job at the old mill) to cyber-life, hellish as that life had turned for him. For him the change came as something of a relief. Perhaps, in recognition of that fact, no reader board popped up to guide him. He would have ignored it anyway.
Thrown on his own resources, Pieter made do as any good young Dutchman would do who had just discovered that death, rather than being a disaster, gained him certain advantages—among them, his legs had been given back to him! No longer having to hobble around on crutches, he could walk like any man! How glorious! He was so happy (as far as a Dutchman of his kind could feel happy), he could hardly keep from expressing his delight with his body, and stretched his legs, pounding them with his fists to make sure they were as strong and muscular as they appeared. Why question his good fortune? He would be the last to do so. After all, the old Dutch saying was true for him--"Don't look in the schlempf bowl if the last draught is still good!"
It took some time for him to think of other things, the regaining of his legs was so wonderful to him. At last, he sobered down enough to consider the other aspects of his new life. He thought how at his death he would have like to have known that he had prevailed, that he had done his job as a good Dutchman, even though one deprived of his legs. It would have been most assuring to reflect that somehow he had etched his name, not Van Kilroy’s, across a smooth and limitless barrier and it had begun to open like a door, reveal vistas of solid Dutch polder-land in the realm beyond life. He fully expected to see something of the sort, if there really was such a heaven for him. But if there wasn’t? He—well, looking about at the ARGO and its captain and motley crew on his first arrival, he saw the Afterlife wasn’t quite going to fit his conception of a Dutch heaven where sugar candy windmills dominated the town of heaven and everyone did his good Dutch duty to eat them all in one sitting.
Remembering Anne, he felt something vital concerning them was unfinished. Maybe, if he had had more time, he could have made a good Dutch woman out of her.
At about this point, he recalled where he really had “left off” in life. Whether the barn roof collapsed first, or it was the walls, undermined by seeping water and the added disturbance of the gravedigging, who could tell?
All he knew was that the air was suddenly full of falling beams and rotten cedar shakes. Suddenly, he felt a slight pressure on his head grow to a huge fist pressing him into darkness. Just as suddenly, the darkness fled away, as a ring encircled him, taking toward another realm that opened up to receive him. The dark waves that had threatened to fall on him and drown him forever now shone bright and blue and leveled out around in him every direction. Was this the “Afterlife”? Why, it was nothing to fear at all! How mistaken the Dutch Reformed domines and theologians had been, preaching hell and damnation for sinners! There was no such thing—along the way to a new life he had seen not one Jack Dutch sinner being dragged to eternal torment as Hironymous Bosch had pictured it.
On the “other side” of the Game’s entry point, where the iron ring set him, he had found himself standing, on his own fully restored legs and feet, on a deck no less of a wooden ship under full sail. The ship was maybe unexpected, but with intact legs in his possession once again, he felt prepared for anything.
Eagerly, he took interest in everything around him. By his side and throughout the length of the boat sat men who would furnish the ship’s oarsmen. They all came and greeted him as one of themselves. Still pinching his legs and arms to see if they were real, giving great kicks into the air, Pieter made rapid progress in his adjustment. He felt something on his head, a light pressure across his brows. His hair felt thicker, for some reason, than it had been. It had been straight too, he remember. Now his hair curled.
“This is a strange kind of heaven for a Dutchman,” he thought at last, after comparing what he saw with orthodox-reformed Church School teaching on the subject. “But I can handle it, even if it is very odd!”
The captain came to him and grasped Pieter’s hand hard and long.
“You made it! Well, good to have you on board, Pieter my boy!”
Recognizing his former employer, but fuzzily unable to recall just exactly what he hadn’t liked about him, Pieter smiled after a moment’s hesitation—for, after all, this was a fellow Dutchman, he saw at once, and the captain of the ship!
“Thanks, Meinheer! You know I will do my good Dutch duty! And with this dandy pair of legs, there is nothing that I can’t handle! Just you wait and see!”
Captain Pikkard seemed to be taken aback, as he looked at the restored, proudly bipedal Pieter, but the new helmsman obviously didn’t remember anything averse about his former performance as Pikkard’s assistant, and so the captain, who did remember, let it pass.
Pieter felt only one thing for certain, shaking his captain’s hand, that all would be right. And not only was it right, but he felt in his good Dutch heart that here was a brotherhood and a home forever. Together with Captain Pikkard, a fellow Dutchman, they would see that the crew crossed over to good Dutch ways of doing things!
With that end in mind, it was a most joyous homecoming, as far as this plain Dutch youth was concerned. Here he had feared most of all ending up in New Alkmaar’s gristmill, but that fate was not to be his. Instead, he would sail this beautiful boat to Dutch New Guinea, perhaps, or other points Dutch, with his fellow Dutchman, Captain Pikkard. What could be better?
“So we are in heaven together!” he cried to Captain Pikkard, loving the feel of the ship, and the clean sight of the vessel. “What waters are these, captain?”
Captain Pikkard withdrew his hand, staring at him without a smile. Having much to explain to Pieter, he tried to break it to him gently that this could not be heaven, nor was it exactly the “Afterlife.” In truth, it was actually a game of some sort they had been all been assembled to play.
For all his trouble, Captain Pikkard saw that Pieter, who had never liked games, wasn’t able to appreciate what he tried to convey. Being a man of business and humble and sober life-style, Pieter did not relish anything with odds and risks, and so “game” meant something “Jack Dutch,” or forbidden and nasty. Pieter had never really believed in Pikkard’s game, the captain knew from the past, but now he was caught up in yet another. It wouldn’t even appeal to him that the object of the game was winning the Golden Fleece. Nevertheless, the captain tried—-not surprised when Pieter showed only disgust when given the first rudimentary details of their voyage and its typical Jack Dutch quest.
Before long, the captain gave it up-—instead turning to basic duties aboard ship rather than trying to win Pieter over to the whole idea of the voyage.
“He just has to work it out himself as he goes along,” Pikkard decided, moving away after giving Pieter a run-down on his shipboard duties.
Pieter stood, his hand on the gunwales to steady himself, and saw the sea opening boundless before the prow. This was a wide, deep sea to plow. But what was it called? The captain had not told him, mentioning only that it was some sort of Jack Dutch quest they were on, with something called the “Golden Fleece” as the prize. What a horrid idea! Yet could the captain be right? If so, what could he do? Jump ship? He didn’t like the water—-so he cast that option aside immediately.
The Dutch helmsman rubbed his head. Slowly, it began to make more sense. He recalled that his grandfather had shown him some stars that were supposed to look like a ship’s prow and used them to tell him about a Dutch explorer named Van Jason who had sailed in search of a golden ram’s pelt. This man had fought various enemies and monsters, but in the end he handled everything and won the prize, plus a beautiful woman, a king’s daughter, for his wife. It was just a silly story to him at the time, but was he now supposed to re-live it? He couldn’t think of a more incredible thing than that!
But, thank heaven, the ship was a solid Dutch craft. He had that much going for him, he decided. “I got through the plane crash and the gang’s torture,” he further reminded himself as he looked about the ship. “Now I know I can handle anything else that comes my way. Nothing can stop a good Dutchman! Absolutely nothing!”
Having reassured himself this way, Pieter went to the captain. He found him speaking to the men in a corner, answering their questions. As soon as he could, the captain turned to Pieter, giving him an inquiring glance.
Pieter, feeling confident now, announced, “Now I’ve been thinking, captain. I have looked around at this ship, and you all, and when I think of what brought me here, I feel I am ready for anything. I will take on this duty-—er, game-—since I see it gave me back my good Dutch legs that the old mill took from me! Now what do you want me to do, Meinheer--I mean, Captain?”
Pieter stood, feet wide apart, his husky arms crossed on his chest, waiting expectantly for words of encouragement and approval.
The captain looked away a moment, then began to quote something as he looked back at Pieter. Pieter didn’t recognize the quote, but heard what the captain said after that.
“Being on a ship has loosened your tongue, Pieter. You were never so free before on land with your thoughts. Is that good or bad? I am not so sure I can deal with this fluent, new Pieter you’ve become. Oh, well! At any rate, only God can strengthen us for this undertaking. We certainly can’t succeed in gaining the prize on our own strength and merits!”
Pieter flushed in his face. “Isn’t that what I was saying, Captain? I found just a moment ago that the Dutch in me was stronger than anything that tried to master me. Why, I discovered from my life that I am captain of my own soul and destiny! It is like a golden cord I can strum deep in my gut! Isn’t that wonderful? Aren’t you glad for me?”
Pikkard and the crew stared at Pieter, who could now express himself as no plain Dutch youth might have in his place-—with an impressive rhetoric- lathered, positive-thinking, Emersonian Transcendentalism thrown in for good measure!
Pieter, in turn, stared back. Their expressions clearly said he had missed the point somehow. What was it? He had just shared with them the most valuable lesson of his life, and they didn’t seem to grasp what he was saying. In fact, after hearing him they all went back to their former conversation.
Pieter stood, wondering what to do for a moment. He felt uncomfortable and then moved away, and as moments passed it seemed less and less important, being misunderstood. Accepting that the men would not appreciate solid Dutch wisdom, for few of them seemed genuine Dutch, Pieter adjusted to his new limbs, new verbal skills, and new experiences. He found out that they were expecting a full complement of Fifty, and so there were more coming aboard, just as he had just done.
It seemed only a few minutes later when another ring appeared bearing yet another Argonaut. The flying ring, not economical iron like his but gleaming, wasteful gold, glittered off starboard as it spun rapidly down toward the ship.
Seeing someone about his own age, Pieter went to find out his name. One close look at him told Pieter this was no proper Dutchman. How disappointing, that he couldn’t have another Dutch shipmate besides the captain!
In fact, the new arrival looked Jack Dutch to him, a Greek or Italian with his dark looks. Just then the captain cautioned him, to let the newcomer adjust to his new home and role aboard ship.
Ero, his name, seemed to Pieter to take awfully long to adjust. But he bowed to the captain’s command, and let Ero find his way on his own time.
In the meantime, the captain took Pieter aside for a moment, to explain something about the lookout. When he had finished, Pieter still looked as doubtful as when the captain first began. Shaking his head, Pieter moved away when the captain gave up the matter.
When he could not wait any longer, Pieter went back to check how Ero was doing. But Ero must have had the same idea, for he got up to approach Pieter.
“I am the forty ninth,” said Ero. “Who is the fiftieth?”
Pieter was taken aback. He seemed reluctant at first, but he pointed to the bow where Ero could see a blue butterfly perched.
Ero couldn’t believe it. “What?” he cried.
Pieter shook his head and shrugged. “It’s our lookout-—that little fellow there I showed you.”
Ero was dumbfounded. “Who says so?”
“The captain. Go see him if you have a problem. I myself can’t figure it out, but orders are orders, you know. This is a good Dutch ship, even if some aren't Dutch. We take orders and do our duty, not ask silly questions.”
“But that stupid THING can’t be a member of the crew!” protested Ero. He looked around for support. His outburst drew the attention of nearby Cybernauts. They all seemed surprised he would object, so without support Ero turned back to Pieter.
“I am only insisting on scientific reason, which we Greeks invented, after all,” Ero said. “Tell me why that insect can be a crewman. It can’t work an oar or pull its share of the work load! Butterflies and human beings are not the same thing, and can never be!”
Pieter gave it some good, solid Dutch thought, then replied, “It doesn’t have to be the same! He’s just the lookout, and all he’s got to do is scout any trouble up ahead. Our course is set--or soon will be--so we'll soon set sail and reach our destination and deliver the goods--if we have any goods to deliver on board this ship, that is. Anyone and anything can do so insignificant a job as the lookout's. So what if the lookout’s a butterfly?”
Such sensible, pragmatic Dutch reasoning ought to have satisfied. Yet it didn’t satisfy Ero at all. He stepped so close to Pieter he was practically leaning on his chest, so the Dutch boy had to step back a bit. “Why wasn’t I chosen for lookout?” Ero demanded. “I could do a much better job, compared to that silly bug up there! I don’t agree at all with you, Pieter! It’s a very important position! Any sailor knows that! I'll fight anyone for the post who wants to fight me!”
Spoken to in this way, Pieter, who was a landlubber at heart and hated the water, stiffened and grew somewhat red in the face. Captain Pikkard had been drawn by the stir and was listening in. His meershaum pipe unlit in his mouth, he glanced over at the excited Ero. Catching his glance, Ero went to him with a lot of words that somehow he couldn’t get out.
Smiling, the captain smoothed Ero’s hair like a father would do for his son. “Now just calm down, son! I believe you are about to hear and see a lot of things that will seem even stranger to you than having a butterfly for a lookout. Having you ever read Lewis Van Carroll’s “Through Admiral Heyn’s Looking Glass”?
Ero, like the headstrong stallion that he was, shook his head like a horse with one tight movement.
As if Ero were his own son, the captain pulled Ero down so they could have a more private chat, for he saw it was time to do some reining in or lose him altogether. “Well, Ero, we were all raised on that story when we were children. It tells you one main thing, that I recall, that all the rules change once you step through from one world to the next. That’s what we done here—-entered another world, one unknown to us in most respects. Here you will just have to learn to adjust, like we all are trying to do. Otherwise, you won’t be able to fit, or function as you should. Do you understand me?"
The captain continued as Ero, uncharacteristically acquiescent, listened. “It shouldn’t sound more strange than any Greek tale, for you are Greek, are you not? You Greeks were continually discovering and exploring the unknown until the Romans put a stop to it! The Romans, for all their organization and road building and governing ability, never really discovered new worlds. They just conquered and administered the ones they knew about. Where would we be without the derring-do of the old Greeks?”
Ero, knowing his own Greek roots, nodded glumly, still eyeing the “lookout”.
Pikkard began to tell Ero that he had worked out a method of communication with the butterfly crewman. “He is as smart as any of us,” he told Ero. “He lived, in his caterpillar stage, on a fig plant, he says. Then after many adventures, including work for an employer he declines to name but describes as a brilliant professor doing research on firewood, balloons, fire crackers, ice cubes, and what not, he decided to retire from active life, and here he is with us! I myself used to do research on those same things, but our good lookout can't recall the fellow's name, unfortunately. It's possible I might have met him, or read about him at least. But that is neither here nor there. We have a voyage to make, and of course we all need to work together to make it a successful one--right, Ero?”
Despite the captain's fatherly approach, Ero didn’t like the idea any better after Pikkard finished. He had an overwhelming desire at the moment to catch and set his heel smack down on the lookout--that would finish the question once and for all!
Pikkard must have caught his glance and the look in it, for he touched Ero’s shoulder as if to caution him.
Ero suddenly felt all his frustration like Greek fire boil over. He leaped up and didn’t know what to do.
Pikkard rose, sighing as he said, “We’ll talk about it later again. All right? You just need to think things over a bit more.”
Ero, who was upset enough and could have committed a mutinous act at that moment he would have regretted, flung himself away toward the stern for a moment with his own thoughts.
Pieter stared after Ero, and the captain stopped him from following. “Let him go, Pieter,” he said. “He needs to do some more adjustment, that’s all. Obviously, he’s having a hard time accepting this kind of Afterlife. It's not exactly Greek heaven, and it isn't even Hades. Give him some breathing space.”
The captain's eyes gleamed, and he chuckled, "I suppose it is really some sort of limbo we're all cast together in--which is a Latin idea, frankly. Where it all leads I have no idea! But I find we are here, and our task is set for us, and I see no reason not to follow through to see what the results might be. So why make a fuss? It could be worse. We might be set down as clerks in a vast accounting firm floating somewhere in the ether! How humdrum that existence would be! Here we have the excitement of a ship and a whole new realm of possibilities, even danger to our lives to add a bit of zest--"
Toward evening of that first day aboard, as birdsong from the "trees" (which were a type of many-branched anemone that had climbed on shore, some of it dying, hardening to form what looked like petrified trees) died down and it grew deathly quiet, Ero came and sat by Captain Pikkard who looked as if he had been waiting for him.
“Okay,” Pikkard began, smiling. “You probably recall that the ARGO, after which we are apparently modeled, had its lookout, and he too wasn’t human. What was he, Ero?”
Ero immediately felt better as the knowledge leaped into his mind. “A dove, sir!”
“Correct!” the captain laughed. “Van Kolumba was its name, since it was a good Dutch dove, not really Greek. Well, we have something better, I think, as his story can tell us.”
With Ero’s attention gained, the captain told him the lookout’s name, Horace Boomershine, and the rest of his remarkable story, of how Microsoft the software manufacturer transformed him into an entity that eventually played a part in a great world-wide war with an alien invader. As for what it was, the lookout defined it was a kind of star and a jewel combined--but immensely intelligent and powerful.
“What did he do in the game?” Ero wanted to know, not believing a word about the alien invader.
“A lot of important things, son. He scouted out problems for the team playing defense for the Earth against the alien entities he said were invading and destroying everything.”
Ero couldn’t imagine it, so the captain had to explain it in detail, how the aliens, beginning with a very powerful “star-stone” fashioned like a red carnelian, stopped civilization in its tracks and even turned technology backwards for hundreds and even thousands of years.
"Of course, I never saw it in my day, but it had been operating for quite some time, and I was involved in searching for it among the bits and pieces of evidence that pointed towards its existence when--" A bewildered look came over him. "--when I just went blank. I have no other word for it. I was flying, I recall, up near Minnpaul, and something must have happened to us--Pieter was with me at the time. But he's no help there, doesn't recall anything but a barn, he says, falling on his good Dutch head!"
Ero couldn’t take much of this strange talk in-—but he absorbed the gist of it anyway. “Is the war game still going on? Is that why the lookout is here on this ship, or are we somehow part of the same game?”
The captain had obviously pondered this point deeply already, for he didn’t answer quite so quickly as to the other questions. He seemed as if he had to gauge Ero’s level of receptivity first. When, after a few moments he spoke again, it was in a very sober voice. “A very good question! I can’t be sure enough about that, one way or the other. It seems—“ He broke off to look towards shore and the gleaming pinpoints indicating night fires of the competing crew. “—it seems to be a continuation, though this is a game to played for high stakes, since the winner takes all and the loser is, ahem, eliminated.”
Ero’s face filled with shock. “What do you mean, sir? ‘Eliminated’?”
Captain Pikkard gestured toward the shore. “You can’t see the other ship from here, but it lies anchored just around that point of land to our right—just so we are out of range of our cannon. You can still make it out in the light that’s left. Well, if they win by a successful strike with their cannon, we will be blown out of the water. That isn’t fatal. We get another ship immediately. Don’t ask me how. We just get this one replaced! But if it happens twice we will all suffer extinction-—and the winners will live on, apparently forever, no doubt to crow about their victory as long as they like. That doesn’t seem to be a very pleasant end for us-—wouldn’t you agree? So let’s all do our best to fulfill our purpose and avoid finding out what extinction means! The reason they haven’t used the cannon yet on us? I don’t know! I can only think that the captain has a mean streak, and wants some action first before he gives us the coup de gras!”
“But who are the others, sir?”
The captain seemed to draw inward and shudder for a moment, but he soon recovered with a determined look.
The moment Ero heard that there was no escape, but the captain would be with him no matter what happened, he looked at the captain in a new light, seemingly seeing him for the first time. Ero's eyes softened, and he spoke softly, hesitantly.
“What is this game played for-—what are we after?”
“You should know!” the captain burst out, slapping him on the back. “It’s your Greek people’s account, the most famous voyage in your race’s memory!”
Ero thought about it, his eyes crinkled and he laughed. “Of course! You’re Jason, right? You’re leading us in quest of the Golden Fleece! But you don’t look Greek to me! And I don’t see the Argonaut story saying they had a cannon on board!”
“Right, I am no Jason or even a Typhis,” acknowledged the captain. “I think I follow his role in some way, but this voyage may run differently than the original one. We ought to expect that, since two ships are involved, and that, of course, wasn’t in the original. As for the cannon, that is the only weapon given both ships. We can’t get rid of it-—which I would prefer to do—-unless they divest themselves of theirs. And I doubt they would agree to it. Besides the cannons, we are all issued swords. Do you think we should have total disarmament and give them up too? I would agree to it, if I could trust this other crew to give up all their arms too-—which I am not fool enough to do.”
Ero’s mind whirled. He could grasp the captain’s point, but what the voyage entailed, he had no longer any idea. It was a most sobering thing, and his expression showed it.
Captain Pikkard gave a reassuring glance to Ero, and though Ero would have normally shrugged it off, he didn't this time. “We’re not going to lose this game by not doing our best. So don’t get too sad on us! We may be setting out, not knowing what’s ahead, but how do we know that our enemies know any more than we do?”
Ero’s face, grown dark, brightened again. “Yes,” he agreed, “they may be just as much in the dark. But when will the game start?”
“Do you think you are ready to play with us?” the captain solemnly asked Ero.
Ero’s face showed the struggle he had with the whole idea. What he had expected from life-—what he got—-and then this strange business of a voyage for the Golden Fleece with the strangest crew he could imagine—well, it took a few moments to sort it all out and come to a conclusion. “Yes,” he muttered in a voice just above a whisper.
Captain Pikkard rose to his feet. “Welcome to the game, my son!” he said, looking down at the surprised Ero. “I was hoping you would decide to join in with your own choice to do so. You’ll be quite an asset, I feel, since I am not like the other captain, who commands by fear and force and intimidation. I would have hated to see you go and have to be sent someone else we might not like as much.”
Ero sprang to his feet, feeling himself a full Cybernaut for the first time.
The captain walked the length of the boat, and all the men rose to attention. When he had all their attention, including the lookout’s, he announced, “Men, the game has begun, now that Ero, the last on board, is ready to sail with us. Ready or not, I’m calling the competitor and its captain to board.”
He took an old-fasioned lantern at hand and began waving it high overhead from side to side.
A few moments later, they all watched a light waving back at them.
Suddenly, lights went out on shore. A boat was soon bumping against their hull, together with gruff voices of strange mariners.
Cursing, the strangers climbed into the boat—the competing captain and his First Mate. Ero put out his hand to help them aboard, but one look at them in the light of the ship’s lanterns made him withdraw it hastily. He didn’t withdraw it quickly enough, however, for the First Mate caught his hand with something black and metallic that looked like a mechanical prosthetic gripper.
“Allow me first to introduce the Honorable Captain Wolvewoeld! And I am First Mate Kim Philby at your service! You can just call me Kim, my charming boy!” Fast on Philby’s heels was Philby’s current boyfriend, a young man named Travis had quite a bit of experience with cruises, Kim Philby assured Ero.
But were they real men? Ero wondered, rearing back and pulling his hand away from the clinging Philby, whose eyes traveled up and down Ero’s body. Philby’s slick friend, too, was no better, eyeing him in a way that no less clinging, but with a different end in mind.
But they couldn’t be human! He thought, his skin crawling as he stared at them. Their bodies were extremely flat, front and back looking like playing cards stuck, yet these 2D “card-men” carried some very convincing, broad-bladed knives and seemed fully capable of using them. Some had heads above the card surface, others below. As for their eyes, they too were flat on the card-men, yet they gleamed with life. How could the captain be so cold and icy and his First Mate be just the opposite? It was a most unlikely pair, yet all their actions seemed to be coordinated and flawless. Would they be open to disarmament? Looking at them, he doubted it very much.
His face betraying no sign that he had seen anything abnormal, Captain Pikkard welcomed them aboard the White Ship. Then a table was set up and a couple chairs with it so they could sit. All the White Ship crew stared as they watched the Black Ship captain, despite his 3-D body, bend stiffly like a card might so that he could use the chair.
As for the First Mate, being 2-D, he preferred to stand, taking a position next to Ero, who soon grew uncomfortable and moved away.
Captain Wolvewoeld threw a pack of cards on the table. “You shuffle, Captain,” he said. “Whoever gets the highest hand leads off. Agreed, sir?”
Pikkard shuffled and dealt. They each looked at their hands.
The Wolf smiled as he flung down his hand. Captain Pikkard showed his, and then the Wolf rose and sneered at the White Shipmen and their captain. “Great! You lose! We win! We sail first, come dawn! But be prepared for a cannonball the first chance we get to turn, hide, and wait for you to catch up! This is a bad start, indeed, to your venture, and I can assure you, that you will pay dearly! Dearly!”
Not one for exchanging pleasantries after this, the Wolf departed at once, though the more sociable Philby seemed extremely reluctant to leave the company of the 3-D White Shipmen.
As the boat moved away in the dark water, Ero saw Captain Pikkard go stand and watch it until it vanished in the mist on the water. Only then did the captain heave a sigh of relief and relax in his expression.
“We must wait until dawn, though there much of any need to sleep, you will find.”
Ero discovered what he meant. He felt no desire to sleep, though he retained a dim memory of once having to do so.
The captain posted guard, however.
“Now that you're seen them, except for their odd physiognomies, they're real enough pirates, aren't they? Ero and Pieter stand the first watch. They are capable of trying to board us in the night-—to start the process of elimination with a little swordplay to reduce our numbers before we even get going-—so please be alert,” he told them.
3 The Opposing Player (OP)
Captain Wolvewoeld, after return to his camp on shore, grimaced in his closest approach to a grin. Whenever he did that, the big scar or tear on his forehead, which didn't show but pained him nevertheless, hurt all the more. He was, despite the pain, pleased as punch, since the supply of crews to be liquidated at his command was apparently unlimited. Yet there was a difference with this latest batch of bumpkins, and he paused to consider it.
“This particular consignment of fools isn’t quite like the others we’ve eliminated. Not only is there that queer butterfly-lookout, but I see they have a Greek runner. As for being an Olympian champion—-I hear he didn’t quite make the grade-—a pity for him that he showed up here to face me! Well, now we’ll finish him off for good! How I love this job! It has such a cleansing and Greek-style, cathartic feel to it!”
The captain had time to think about things as his men lay sprawled and carousing in their makeshift huts on the beach. There were several brawls as usual over the marked cards being played, but that was nothing to intervene in. Let them sort it out themselves! the captain decided. Why should he discipline anyone at this point? They were only amusing themselves. If anyone was ripped to shreds, that was no loss. They always got a replacement the next morning
just as good.
The weather, as usual, was perfect in the evening, and he walked along the shore. On a high point of the trail that led up on the headland, he turned and looked down on the White Ship, whose crew remained aboard their ship and had not once ventured to land.
In the dead calm he could hear voices of the White Shipmen, even the words used, drifting up to him. He recognized one voice as that of Ero.
“I think now I have him!” the captain laughed to himself. “I will catch him with the thing that catches all stupid, red-blooded, three-dimensional men!”
He had no desire for anything but killing his rivals, yet his crew still cultivated lust though there was no way they could find fulfillment with only two dimensions between them and their victims. On board his ship were two women, captives—one Jamaican and the other light-skinned. The black one was particularly a thorn in his side and worth getting rid of because she was not so easily intimated. He would liked to have kept the blonde for his men to knock around if the White Ship were eliminated too soon and things got boring for the crew while they waited for the next consignment, but he could always get her back later.
4 The Torch-Bearer
Spotted in time by the Second Watch, an attack had been beaten off without losing any crew members. What’s more, two women escaped from the Black Ship and sought refuge with them. One was quite attractive in the eyes of the youth on board. That should have given heart to Ero, but it didn’t work that way.
Unlike Pieter, Ero, indeed, needed more time to adjust. For one thing, the captain’s inept gamesmanship and losing the advantage of first sailing upset him a lot. It was most absurd of him, he thought. It was incomprehensibly stupid to think the game was lost before they even started. He felt like bursting into tears again, just as Achilles the great warrior in Homer's Iliad was so apt to do in one of his fits and rages. Why couldn’t he control his disillusionment?
At dawn, with the Black Ship underway, they too were given orders by the captain to begin after the required two hours wait, an agreement the captain was scrupulous to honor.
Then the captain called them all to stop whatever they were doing and come listen to him at the stern. When he had their attention, he began, one hand on the shoulder of Pieter who stood at the "wheel," the two rudder oars, his other hand on an oar.
"This ship is not going anywhere until we start the right way, with prayer. I apologise for having delayed doing this. It might be the most important thing we ever do aboard ship."
Having said this, he bowed his head and prayed: "Creator God, Thou has called us thy servants to a voyage the end of which we cannot see, by waters unsailed and unknown, full of perils; yet we launch out in one spirit with good courage now, not knowing whither we are going, but only that thy Hand is leading us, and thy Wisdom supporting us..."
Ero wasn't about to listen to any prayers, even the captain's. While the captain prayed, his dark-green Greek eyes were keenly looking around.
"Amen!" the captain said, followed by the "Amens! of the crew as they broke to return to their duties.
Watching them, Ero realized it was a fact he was surrounded by mostly strangers. Who were they? Keeping out of his way, some were busy at the rigging, taking down a big white sail with three giant-sized Mycenean soldiers painted on it, while others worked on the twenty pounder cannon, getting it read to fire should the need arise. Servicing the cannon, he could see that. But why take down the sail? He could see they were at sea, and it was crazy of them not to leave it up and have to use the oars if the wind was good!
A few men turned to him, pointed, laughed, and shouted something to him about the disappearing land. The men continued with their work despite his jeering remarks, and soon he was made to look a fool when he saw the ship still moving briskly through the waves, without sail, and without anyone at the oars!
Overcome by a rush of self-doubt, questioning his very identity as a Greek, Ero stared at this phenomenon—sailing without any visible means of propulsion, either wind-power or motor or muscle. This was clearly no ordinary sailing vessel. But what was it? Magic? His Greek soul recoiled at the thought of anything magical, though as a Greek he had, from childhood, believed in all sorts of miraculous lives of saints.
He put his face in his hands and sank to his knees. He felt he had need to think. One moment he was standing in Olympia's Olympic Center and then--nothing! Circe the beautiful witch might have dropped in on him and enchanted with her spells!
It came to him then most clearly, it had to be more than that. He had somehow died to get where he was aboard the ship. Died? Had the Olympic Center blown up with him in it? That was a distinct possibility, he knew. What other event could explain the big blank gap he had in his memory? Had somebody thunked him on the head with a mallet? His skull was as thick as any Greek's, but that could have done it. But it couldn't explain the present experiences, unless he was imagining everything somewhere in a hospital bed while lying in a coma!
Greek panic rose in him. “Ailinon!” he gasped. A coma was no better than death itself. The ancient Greek cry for the loss of youth wrenched out of him like a dry retch. He clenched his fists with terrible frustration. He could tell what anything really was anymore, he thought. He appeared to be living, yet he had died. Now where was he? And what was he?
Thinking fast, he tried to backtrack, retrace his footsteps to the Olympic Center. That technique had helped him previously to recall certain events, or explain his loss of a wallet or the smudges of lipstick on his fact, in past capers after drinking too much retsina-flavored local wine.
Stuck in this mental track, he wasn’t getting anywhere fast when the Pieter had his fill of waiting on Ero and went over to him. “You’re a torch-bearer for the Olympics, from a Greek island named Seriphus, right? So I have been told anyway!”
Ero, stunned that anyone with such a square-cut hair style could know so much about him, nodded. He was so surprised, that he couldn’t speak for a long minute. It was as if his tongue was paralyzed.
The helmsman smiled, as if he knew everything Ero was going through. “Take it easy on yourself,” said the helmsman. “I thought that too, that I had left everything good behind when I found myself on this ship. But you’ll get used to it soon enough. We all thought at first that this could not be real—we were crazy, or it was just our imagination. Now we accept where we find ourselves.”
Ero winced. The helmsman’s words broke Ero’s invisible shackles, and his speech was restored. It seemed such a fact, when the helmsman put it that way. Was that so bad? That he was cast upon a strange vessel at sea with strangers, sailing to God only knew where? Now, at last, the barrier to accepting the situation passed. It was what it had to be-—a kind of resignation he could understand, having lived so close to the East. But his eyes suddenly blinded with a scalding moisture when he suddenly recalled the life he had lost. He looked off, weeping silently this time.
What the helmsman had called him, reminded him of everything. No longer possible to be attained, something at the heart of his efforts to reach the Olympics and win glory for himself, his family, and island—-he saw the golden, almost sculptured shape of his life now recede like a wave, breaking on the faraway shore of this fake Peloponnesos.
Before the coming aboard the White Ship, he had died physically somehow, somewere. Now he felt the death of his dreams-—a greater loss by far, he felt, now that he knew this other kind of death. Other than dying maybe in the smoking ruins of the Center or some other disaster nearer home--he couldn't quite locate his actual demise--this realization changed him, and was his worst moment.
A few tears could not do it justice. He lay full out on the deck and turned his face away from his lost dreams and lost youth. How long he lay like that he did not know as the ship made its way toward the first challenges and hazards of the long and perilous quest and voyage...
PLEASE GO TO PART II OF CHRONICLE SIXTY-TWO AND THE REMAINDER OF THE CYBERNAUTS' VOYAGE AND QUEST, INCLUDING THE UNCHRONICLE FEATURING ERO'S FLIGHT VIA THE WALLY-PROGRAMMED FLYING DOME OF THE OLD UNION TRAIN STATION INTO NEVER-NEVER LAND.
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