Nothing is out there; no wonderment or mystery awaits me, just more machines pretending to be people, people pretending to be gods. – Antino I
He had to hurry home; soon the worlds would bleed into one another, allowing those humans who did not have the aptitude or power to sneak through the weakened borders. Skipping worlds was mainly useful to those that dealt in foreign currencies, and a gradual fortune revealed itself to one that could juggle the exchange rates. But there was much greater wealth in goods, commodities so rare they were used to purchase a flavorful assortment of stars, planets with hard-grinding civilizations intact, there was even an item whose value equaled the entirety of the existence, sans item of course.
Few had reason to visit those places which conducted such major dealings. Not him. Not yet. Plenty of domestic politics to resolve before he found himself at the table with any Tyrant Lords or Blood Emperors; and of course they would receive him as he was presently, though he lacked the title of Revolengian. He would stride into their demonic courts with his shoulders pulled back, his lips pulling away from his face with a haughty smirk. They would call him Captain, but he would fumble his shiny tools, and teeter off in his explanations of central union joints, and multilayered housing plates. And many would ask what would barbarians and savages, the most murderous of trade makers, know of building, of Respin’s Principles of Balance? Nothing, they would reply. But those that dealt in blood knew people; they knew that a man who watched his brother die must fight with the strength of two; that people were never beaten until they cursed the names of their heroes. The actions of these nobles had never changed, only the ways which they went about their doings.
He still he continued his short walk home knowing what was there, and away from work where he ladled out unhealthy portions of his time, for thimbles of money he threw away the moment he received it. A Captain has no need for money, he thought. Truthfully, only reciting what he had been told by his Seeker, for he had been in need of money, great amounts of it, used to acquire things whose purpose was curious in singular and unsettlingly cryptic when combined. The Seeker had told him that these things were needed, yes, eight-thousand left-foot galoshes, fifty-five gas scooter transmissions, over a hundred-thousand embroidery hoops, and the list continued further into absurdity, but the pup Captain accepted this. He knew there had been creatures, and mechanisms attached to them, when there was no thought, when there was no order, the time of the Dark Before. Families and great houses from that era were said to still grope into the new worlds, offering protection and fuels to those willing to commit to shadowed covenants.
Footfalls came, and they were purposely shuffled to alert him to his visitors. He grumbled, and tried to keep his lips pulled over his teeth. The visitors caught up with him, and he slowed and then eventually stopped, but he did not turn around. The entrepreneurs came from both sides. The much larger male, stood closer to him than any other man typically would, closer than an acquaintance, closer than a slighted brother with a knife. His female partner, obviously the seller, stood apart and cracked her tiny knuckles. Dark hair was poured over the top half of her body.
The half giant spoke first. “A moment, Captain,” he said, his ratty hair hung down over his face. The giant held his head low; it was impolite to be too tall near a Captain.
“I have class soon,” he said.
“It won’t take long,” the giant said.
The larger man motioned to the woman beside him. “This is my lady,” the giant said.
The dark woman held out her hand strangely, and he was unsure if he should kiss her hand or shake it, it was never simple with those not able to see the numbers. He shook it, and felt that her grip was gentle, but there was stone to her palm.
“Did you enjoy the gifts?” she said.
He lifted his chin. “The dog enjoyed them very much, thank you,” he said.
The pair glanced at each other and then the taller man smiled wider. “We understand your tastes are different from our own. Apologies. But did you consider our offers?”
“I did,” he said.
“And did our Captain believe they were favorable?” the giant said.
“I’m afraid your lady is lacking in the needed mass,” he said, and continued to walk towards home.
“Impossible,” the giant said. “Just how many goats did House Dalang offer you?”
“I really haven’t considered-“ he said.
The giant pushed closer. “I’m sure I can round up more goats, if only-“
“It wasn’t the amount of goats,” he said.
“Was the milk good?” she said
“No more goats,” he said. “I need someone that holds at least a significant share of the mass.”
She raised her head. “I will do this thing, no matter the cost,” she said finally, the streetlight caught her sharpened teeth.
“And I’m sure you will, but the cost is why I hesitate,” he said.
“Your meaning is unclear, Captain,” the giant said. “This is our trade. Have the other Houses offered more?”
“The deals were all the same,” he said walking away. But it was only how they fulfilled these contracts which differed. Business large in scale would always be dealt with those worlds far from his own, worlds adjacent could offer each other only a little at a time. But those worlds strange to one another had enough leverage to shift in a way that could be favorable.
Chaos and stability
And he knew which side he stood. Even now he walked without a glance over his shoulder; his eyes ignored the shadows wafting with the breeze. Soon he arrived at the home he did not own, and sat down on the couch he did not buy, and nuzzled against the woman that did. His job paid little, but he needed his time, and a Captain’s mind must be on his training, not on the millions of things it could be. Bills, meal plans and drapery, none of this mattered, to him at least and he had never bothered asking.
“You’re early,” she said, thumbing through channels on the television. The dog came in a moment later and joined them on the couch.
He wanted to get to work, to study, but the couch was so soft, and so was the woman next to him and the dog was already settled in between his legs, so he stayed. A warm cocoon, whose heat was kept in check by the chill of the central air conditioning, greater brothers had been stuck eternally in such comforts. The people dancing on the television, obviously talented, certainly motivated, did not interest him. He could only feel the dog breathing, the woman breathing, him in between, fur and curly hair would never truly come out of his clothes, no matter how many washings, but he stayed, even when he remembered the Seeker would be here to collect him soon.
It was only when he thought of the Seeker’s disgusted face did he even imagine leaving this near perfect place. Had Eden been so terrible? If he could never tear himself away, his children would never be able to tell him if it was.
“I gotta go to bed,” he said, faking a yawn.
Her lips curled with derision. “Puppy, sit with me,” she said rubbing his chest. “Just a little while longer,” she said kissing his cheek. The touch of lips was still a novelty to him. Still half erect when next to any woman not a proxy mother or proxy sister. Yet the Seeker and professors had urged those more devoted not to mutilate themselves.
Captains are not monks
He shrank back into the sofa, into the woman, cowed again by an ancient threat held over all his male ancestors. Rest in peace to those uncles that braved the cold nights and the empty branches of the Family Tree. He had to free himself, but was unsure how. So many excuses he had given to avoid the traps before. The Seeker had asked him if he loved her. Of course, he had replied, though he had not dared to tell her. But he showed, tolerated her need to sleep with the bathroom light on, and he supposed she thought her car never ran out of gas, and that the grass never grew.
It was a simple mechanism
But they worked well together, he thought. But anything could be better, so he leaned forward slightly, nearly helpless against the dog’s weight, and under the arms of his woman. He pulled harder; they would have to release him eventually. Done. Now away from them, it was colder, and he felt there were more than a few universes between them. He dragged himself upstairs and showered, before sitting on the bed, waiting for the adjacent world to catch up with his own. The clock. He had pieced it together with the little knowledge he had. And unlike safer Machines which dealt with space, mass and energy, his own altered time, just slightly enough that he could use it to gain something. He set his clock, it was never more than a couple of hours, a few minutes his time. He could recall missing the comeback and had to explain to his girlfriend how he had snuck downstairs for a snack without her hearing.
The clicks were growing louder and closer together, until finally a clunk. Anyone else would just see the bedroom, but he could see others in the room, many others. Catching trains, reading papers, riding on the backs of Dune Hogs, there was always an errant world mixed up in the grouping of their own.
And there was the Seeker, sitting on a bench just before him. “Ready?” the Seeker said. He stood next to the older man, a gentleman from his dress, a former savage from his eyes. The Seeker rose and they began the muddled path to the world which they wanted to go. The Seeker did not have the power, the sovereignty, to force the worlds to align, and young Captains did not have the ability to unbind them once done. So they rode trains, and hopped into waiting cabs to catch bus drivers between sandwiches.
As the bus rumbled through the street, the Seeker carefully kept watch on where they were in the Existence. All while his junior tried to digest more of his notes. He thrust the dry and yellowed pages back and forth along the metal spiral.
“Why is it like this Seeker?” he said. “Why can’t we just do what was meant for us to do?”
The Seeker was lighting his pipe. “One might ask why are any of you pups here?”
“Efficiency,” he said.
The Seeker laughed loudly, ignoring the worried glances he received. “Look at this thing,” he said, pointing to a spot in the younger man’s notes. “It’s working, that’s all she cares about.”
“Look at how many are lost,” he said.
“Only a few are needed,” the Seeker said.
“Don’t you want to know where humans are going?” he said. “Couldn’t we get there faster?”
“Since there’s nothing to crash into, there isn’t any need to steer, right Captain?” the Seeker said.
He caught the eyes of a young woman listening to their conversation. She smiled and placed her eyes back in her book.
The older man elbowed his junior. “Haven’t you ever wondered about the looks you get?” the Seeker said.
He laughed. “A woman already loves me, I try to ignore the others,” he said.
“Not those my boy,” the Seeker said. “The brothers and sisters that make themselves known. One right in front of you,” pointing with his pipe.
“And what of them?” he said.
“You need these people, just as much as they need you,” the Seeker said.
He had never thought that was so. For many years it seemed they had tried to beat the ideas out of him, to make him just like the others. It was not until adulthood that he realized they hurt him to stiffen his nerve. They needed a brother that was not just able to gaze at the sun, but soar through it.
“I heard there were some Captains that don’t need classes,” he said.
Everyone needs training, Captain," the Seeker said. " All Captains have a Seeker,"
"Are they special?" he said.
"You all are special," the Seeker said. "Everyone is special, if they convince the universe that they are."
He snorted. "I mean,"
The Seeker grinned. "You mean are they better?"
He nodded. "Yeah, I mean, all we have to study," he said. “The charts, the theorems,”
"Supposedly the most gifted Captains don't need paper for their equations," the Seeker said.
He frowned. "That seems impossible," he said.
The Seeker handed his junior his pipe and began to dig into his suit jacket. "Hold this,” the Seeker said. “Now this. And this right here.”
In only a few moments the younger man’s hands were full and he clutched several items, including an apple, seven spindles of purple yarn, a rotating fan, a beach ball, and several un-fluffed down feather pillows.
“What is this?" he said.
"How much more do you believe you can hold, Captain?” the Seeker said.
“Nothing, if I’m sure,” he said.
"There you have it," the Seeker said.
“Have what?” he said.
“It would be easier to hold the formulas and equations in the mind, if it were empty, no?” the Seeker said.
“I suppose,” he said. “But how empty of mind could a man be?” He had learned a bit of deconstruction and began to break down the objects he held, a few of the more simpler ones disappeared. The Seeker assisted him, throwing the random items back into his suit jacket.
“It could be asked how much can a man possibly know?