His shipmates dead, star rigger Gev Carlyle is adrift in the Flux, the subjective hyperdimensional sea that carries ships between the stars. His lone companion, and sole hope for survival, is a suicidal catlike alien named Cephean. Only a compatible rigger team, their visions meshed in psychic unity, can safely harness the turbulent currents of the Flux—and Carlyle's ship is sailing inexorably toward the deadly maelstrom of the Hurricane Flume. For even a chance at survival, he needs Cephean's help. But the price for that is a complete merging of minds and memories. And Carlyle, at war with his own past, dreads that union more than death itself.
From the author of Eternity's End and The Chaos Chronicles.
Read an Excerpt
Star Rigger's Way
By Jeffrey A. Carver
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1994 Jeffrey A. Carver
All rights reserved.
Gev Carlyle struggled to put the frustration out of his mind. It was essential to maintain control of himself; he knew that. But the alien just kept staring at him from across the ship's gloomy bridge like some frightful catlike apparition.
Who could stay calm looking at something like that?
"Cephean," he said, his voice trembling. (A rush of impatience interrupted him—the alien's.) "Cephean!" he demanded furiously. His eyes went out of focus as he tensed, struggling to frame his words. He refocused and gazed at the creature again. The cynthian was as large as a tiger and black as coal dust, and he was plump and furry like an enormous Persian cat. Cephean's eyes blinked slowly, indignantly. They were gold-flecked obsidian, with irises of molten copper.
"You told me that your ship operated the same way as mine. And you know how to fly your own ship. Correct?"
"Hyiss-yiss," insisted Cephean. "Hoff khorss."
"Of course," Carlyle muttered. He reminded himself: there must be confidence before it can work. The cynthian said that he was capable; but who could be sure? The telepathic link with the alien was incomplete and largely one-way. The cynthian perceived the thoughts behind the human's words, but somewhere in the communication, the cynthian was misunderstanding Carlyle's instructions. There was only so much he could explain about flying the starship, anyway. How could he explain intuition?
Cephean stared at him with coppery eyes. Waiting behind his front paws were his two small companions, the riffmar, which followed him everywhere. The riffmar were thin-trunked, walking ferns with root-toed feet; from their midsections they waved muscular, slim-fingered branches. They pranced about and squeaked and twitched their fingers disconcertingly.
"All right," Carlyle said. "You have to feel what I am doing when I fly. And you have to help me. When I guide the ship, when I turn it, you back me up as steadily as you can. Don't struggle, and don't work against me. Do you understand? Just follow."
Cephean looped his tail behind his triangular ears. His eyes flickered. "Hi khann ff-hollow, Caharleel," he hissed.
Carlyle nodded, thinking that they should be able to work together—they had to, if they didn't want to die together, adrift between the stars. Whatever their differences, they were both riggers in their own fashions. "Let's go, then." He pointed the way. (He felt a twinge of preoccupation—Cephean's.)
"Are you paying attention?" he asked quietly, angrily.
Cephean sputtered—then dipped his head and padded over to the stern-rigger's alcove, with the riffmar dancing behind. He stopped and sat in front of the rigger-seat which Carlyle had dismantled and adapted for his use.
Carlyle shook his head. He swung the seat pad forward to rest against the cynthian's furry spine. The cynthian tensed, fur rippling and eyes flashing—then slowly relaxed. Beside him, the riffmar settled down to wait out the session. Carlyle crossed the bridge to his own pilot-rigger station. He averted his eyes from the sight of the empty alcoves which his crewmates had once manned; and, resisting a compulsion to relive that horror, he lowered himself into the seat and rested his neck against the neural-foam pad. Engage, he thought.
Numbness spread through his body, stealing his hearing and touch. His eyesight darkened and collapsed. Then his senses sprang from his body like electrical fire and blossomed out of the starship and into space, into the rigger-net. Into the Flux. He stretched and looked around.
The view was an atmospheric panorama: the starship floated in a vast, luminous space. Sculpted lemon clouds drifted in the distance, and russet layers of smoke twisted outward to form a sea as broad and as deep as the entire arm of the galaxy. This was the "subjective sea," interstellar space rendered as an airy red and orange-yellow watercolor, with sloping and intersecting layers, and rivers which ran and twisted at all angles. Some stars were visible, mostly as flecks of carbon dust adrift in the luminous space; however, a few stars and their associated nebulae stood out more clearly, as whorls or discontinuities in the flow of the sea.
The image—which was partly real and partly a creation of Carlyle's imagination—was a good one. It was vivid and bright, and a good analogue of normal-space. He hoped that Cephean could interpret the landscape, and more importantly, that the cynthian could follow his lead.
Sedora's rigger-net sparkled around him and pulsed with energy as he flexed his limbs. Below the net he sighted his immediate objective—a dark, channeled intersection of two planes. That was the Reld Current, a smooth-running river deeply submerged in the multilayered sea of the Flux. It was a major current in the Flux moving toward Sedora's destination, and as safe a place as any for practicing teamwork with Cephean.
The Reld Current would be easy.
But after the Reld, they had to sail into the Hurricane Flume, and that was a different sort of current altogether. The Flume was a "channel" where dozens of streams came thundering together, meeting and tangling with terrible energy. They would reach it in six or seven shipdays. The Flume was a perilous place to take a ship, but they had to go through; from within its chaos streamed the upwelling currents to Cunnilus Banks, and that was where Sedora was bound. In Cunnilus Banks lay the star-havens and safety. If they could fly on through to Cunnilus Banks, they would be virtually home free.
But to reach the Banks, they had to go through the Flume; there was no other way. Carlyle was almost too frightened to think about it. Sedora was not a one-man or even a two-man ship. She was a four-rigger freighter, a massive hulk riding on a lone rigger's back. Sedora had carried a crew of five; and Carlyle had been the fifth, the extra. But that was before the accident. Of the original crew, now only he remained—with this alien, Cephean. Singlehandedly, he could manage the ship in the easy current of the Reld. But the Flume would hit them like a cyclone—and if he and the shipwrecked cynthian did not function as a team, the Flume was going to be the end of Sedora, and of them.
He glanced around to the stern. You there? he asked.
He released the stabilizers and reached his steely, spidery, sensory arms outward and down into the Flux. Slowly he coaxed the ship downward toward the Reld; and he hoped that Cephean would assist him.
* * *
As Sedora reached the streamers at the edge of the Reld, Carlyle cursed the cynthian's clumsiness. His anger rang in echoes round the net and vanished to the winds of space. Somewhere astern, the cynthian hom-humm'd to himself and responded late to Carlyle's guiding actions. The ship bucked and plunged like an angry whale.
Gently, Cephean! Do you see the river?
A "river," yes—that would be a good functional image, and it was consistent with the actual flux-currents they were riding. Carlyle settled the image in his mind. The misty lanes of the Reld congealed beneath Sedora and darkened to the color of molasses, then flattened to water swirling downstream between low-profile riverbanks. The sky overhead turned to night, glittering with fairyland stars. Sedora's net shimmered and passed into the dark surface of the river, and Carlyle eased the ship down until her hull settled in its waters.
Carried by the flow, Sedora moved downstream in the night.
Somewhere, lost in the distance ahead, was the Flume. It did not yet betray itself, but Carlyle knew it was there. As he studied the horizon where the meandering Reld vanished into darkness, he detected a dim streamer rising, almost imperceptible against the stars. Above the river's end, in the night sky, the streamer met Cunnilus Banks, a faintly gleaming cloud of particles above the horizon. The sight gave him the first surge of hope he'd felt in many days. Regardless of how distant his goal lay, it was reassuring to glimpse it.
He plunged his "hands" deep into the river, just to feel the cool slipstream.
The ship lurched, and yawed to one side. Cephean had bumped the stern.
No rapport, he thought, despairing. He strained against the current to bring the ship into line. What was it his old friend and crewmate Janofer had once told him? That a crew needn't necessarily understand one another ... that the crux of teamwork was congruence, simple congruence of vision. And his friend Skan—that without unity none of the rest was worth a mote in the Kryst Nebula. Indeed, that was why they had asked him to go and to train for a time on Sedora. It had been their hope, and his, that on Sedora he could learn something which they had been unable to teach; and perhaps later, with more experience behind him, he might return to rig again with his friends.
It seemed as though he would learn now, or he would never learn at all.
This Cephean was an enigma—a bit like Legroeder, so alone with his thoughts, even in the net where personal barriers tended to relax. But Legroeder, despite his aloneness, had always worked in harmony whether as leader or follower. Carlyle suspected that Legroeder was fearless, but Janofer and Skan said that he simply gave what was needed, and no more.
But this was Cephean here with him, not Legroeder, and Cephean wasn't giving what was needed at all. Carlyle guided the ship into a gentle turn; the cynthian responded late, and incorrectly, and the ship swung toward the riverbank. Carlyle was forced to reach deep into the waters, using his hands as rudders to bring the ship back into line with the current. He tried again, coaching; Gently, Cephean! Steer very gently! But again the ship went off course, and again Carlyle had to correct for Cephean's mistakes. The Reld Current was running smoothly, but, despite that fact, the ship drew closer and closer to the shallows.
Finally he cried: Cephean, pull out of the net! The cynthian obeyed, humming and grumbling; and when Cephean was gone, Carlyle straightened the entire net himself, then turned the ship and held it against the drift, until it was safely back in the mainstream. The effort was exhausting, and as soon as he could manage, he set the stabilizers and withdrew from the net.
He blinked and gazed about the gloomy, reddishly lighted bridge. Cephean and the riffmar were gone. The rigger-stations were empty. Most of the instruments, burned out from the accident, were lifeless. The bridge looked as though it were dying with its former crew.
Carlyle went straight from the bridge to the commons. He drank an ale so quickly he scarcely noticed its taste, and then he went at once to his cabin. He needed to sleep, to regain the feel of his own body. Soon enough he would find the cynthian and face the melancholy bridge, and try once more.CHAPTER 2
Since its inception in the Twelfth Century of Space, starship-rigging had been regarded as one of the most peculiarly demanding of professions. Piloting a starship involved a mastery of technology, of course; but more than that, it required curious aptitudes of personality, of emotional set. Star-rigging involved not only spaceflight but also the mastering of the Flux—that subjective realm underlying the normal-space of Prime Reality, a realm akin to but distinct from freewheeling fantasy, and as intricate as a mistily mapped waking dream.
Successful navigation of the Flux demanded the exceptional dreamer—the rigger, trained to construct a vision and then to reach into it and to gain a literal fingerhold in a reality where the spaces flowed as oceans and the currents were unconstrained by the laws and distances of normal-space. The rigger's net was a harness, trussing the ship to him like a backpack as he rode the ebb and flow of the space itself. Rigging was an exquisite mating of imagination with the reality of the Flux—a strange way to live, in many eyes, but a fine way to travel among the stars.
The net itself was a glittery spangle of ghost neurons flung into the Flux like the exploded tentacles of a man-of-war. Interfaced through organic neural foam and amplified by the flux-pile, it was the rigger's skin against the elements, his wings and fins in the turbulent air/sea among the stars. A rigger navigated by intuition and by experience, by his own individual imaging powers, and by the currents of the space itself.
The dreaming could be difficult; but far trickier was the intuition, especially among members of a crew. Because no two riggers viewed the Flux identically, teamwork in the net demanded a gestalt, a near-perfect melding of visions, perceptions, and intuitive judgments. Several riggers functioning as a gestalt could sail a ship smoothly and speedily between stars. But working at odds in the net, they could tear a ship apart and leave the pieces bobbing lifeless in the Flux.
To Gev Carlyle the most intimidating aspect of rigging, by far, was the teamwork. He had never ceased fearing the nakedness, the emotional turmoil—the laying forth of embarrassments, of fears, of weaknesses both real and imagined. But one rigger had to know another's fantasies, both to find the common lines of strength and to know what images should not be trod upon; indeed, sailing a ship in a space built of fear was surely courting disaster.
But sharing was so difficult with fellow humans, with his friends. How could he possibly hope to succeed with this alien stranger?
Would he have to resort to the dreampool?
He hoped not. Lord, he hoped not!
* * *
Gev Carlyle's sleeping dreams were filled with visions of old friends.
There was Legroeder: dark little man, pilot-rigger of Lady Brillig and a lover of dream-gestalt plays; friendly, but often shut away in his cabin, a place secluded and strange, and madly adorned with mystical-sequenced pearlgazers which no one but he understood. And Janofer: gentle, beautiful keel-lifter, fond of stories and music even in the net, briefly a lover and always a friend. And Skan: com-rigger and hard-balanced thinker, the one to believe in when decisions fell due, but fearsome when his balance failed and he plummeted into one of his black depressions.
They were the three who had sent him here to Sedora. Why couldn't they be here now—or he back with them on the deck of Lady Brillig?
Ah, Lady Brillig— glittering domed beauty of a ship, light and comfortable and responsive as a kite! Who was the fourth in her rigger-net now? Who, Lady Brillig?
Such dream remembrances gave way to others, though. Darker memories. Memories of danger and fear here aboard Sedora, of burned flesh and dead men. What were their names?
Thoughts better left unremembered.
* * *
Carlyle awoke feeling troubled. After eating, he went to seek out Cephean in his makeshift quarters, halfway around the circle of crew-deck from his own. Cephean made the human cabin look small, both by his own physical size and by the astonishing litter created by his personal belongings. The cynthian seemed unaware of Carlyle's entrance. He sat with his back turned three-quarters to the door; he was idly batting the two riffmar into floating somersaults. Carlyle cleared his throat. The ferns squealed and scuttled away behind Cephean, their oversized hands flailing excitedly. How strange, Carlyle thought, to be so utterly dependent—both Cephean and the riffmar. Cephean was clearly the master, but the riffmar possessed the prehensile branches, the hands. Would Cephean be helpless without them?
He shook his head. "Cephean, let's talk."
The cynthian gazed at him, ears raked forward. (He sensed mild interest.) "Hyiss?"
"Cephean," he said, and hesitated. Where to start? "All right. You need my help and I need yours, and we're both incredibly lucky even to be together here to try. But why isn't it working? We both know how to fly, but the last time in the net was worse than ever." He gestured pleadingly. "Don't you want to reach port, Cephean? Don't you want to go home again?"
"Hyiss-yiss," Cephean said, his whiskers curling and springing straight again.
"Did you have trouble understanding the image?" That was the kindest assumption he could make.
"Hh-no." (Carlyle sensed ... something ... and was disturbed that he could not identify the feeling.) "Hi heff ffly wiss hyou," Cephean hissed, his black velvet face split in what seemed to be a grin.
"What went wrong, then? Why didn't you coordinate with me?"
Excerpted from Star Rigger's Way by Jeffrey A. Carver. Copyright © 1994 Jeffrey A. Carver. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
So little action. Was very drawn out with very little actually going on. Main character was such a putz had no real ability to relate.