Just completed the jump into the Brinelli system and my head’s ringing like the Cathedral bells at the Lovibian convent on New Mederine. This is the fifth jump where I’ve heard ringing and come away with a splitting headache, and it gets worse with each jump.
Yeah, you know me. My name’s Camdon Rod and I’m the owner/operator of the jump freighter Ginger’s Regret. Right now, I’m regretting taking the job to haul replacement Calidantian micro-spanners to Brinelli for their underwater mining operations. Sure, the price is right since they can’t run the hydro-drills without these parts, but what the heck is happening to my head after each hyperjump?
This has never happened to me before. As you know, any ship equipped with a jump drive plots a virtual point-to-point connection between origin and destination points through hyperspace. The trip is instantaneous from a lifeform’s point of view and it’s impossible to perceive anything about the jump whatsoever, or at least it’s supposed to be.
No time to get careless. A distracted pilot is a dead pilot.
“Brinelli central control to Ginger’s Regret. Acknowledge completed jump.”
There’s Brinelli’s standard acknowledge call. “This is Ginger’s Regret acknowledging jump. Cutting in space norm engines. Estimate landing Ispanzu Port 1450 hours local time.”
“Confirming Regret’s estimated arrival at Ispanzu at 1450 hours local. Welcome to Brinelli. Enjoy your stay.”
“Acknowledge and thanks. Regret out.”
I’m just about gritting my teeth against the pain in my skull but I think it’s starting to ease off some. And so it goes.
“Need some pain killers, lover?”
I didn’t hear Ginger come up from behind, but then again, sometimes she’s just there with no detectable “approach.” I spin around in my chair and see her holding out two pills in one hand and a bottle of water in the other.
“Thanks, but I think it’s getting better.” The pills won’t make me fuzzy or anything, but it’s my personal policy not to be under the influence of anything while in space. I have some funny habits that way.
“Suit yourself.” Ginger puts the pills and water bottle back into the food reclaimer to be reconstituted into their basic elements.
Ginger sits lightly in the co-pilot’s chair next to me. I’m facing the control panel again verifying course and the auto-pilot settings.
“I’m worried about you, Cam. These headaches after jumping are unheard of. No pilot has ever been…”
“Yeah, I know. No pilot’s supposed to be physically affected by going through hyperspace, except this pilot is.”
“No need to snap, Cam.”
“Sorry, Ging. I’m just on edge. Not your fault.”
“Are you sure the doctor didn’t…”
I’m still trying to get used to how we’re always finishing each other’s sentences. “Yes, I’m sure the doctor on Marconii didn’t detect any sort of problems with my head or any other part of me.” After this happened a fourth time (two circuits, jump out, jump back, jump out, jump back), Ginger insisted I have my head examined, literally. I relented. I had enough credits saved up to pay for every conceivable med scan, and even with that, nothing out-of-the-ordinary showed up.
So why do I get these symptoms after jumping? If this keeps getting worse, I’ll have to start looking for a new career, one that doesn’t include jumping through hyperspace.
The pain in my head is down to a dull roar and so is the ringing in my ears. Except I don’t think it’s ringing exactly. If it didn’t hit me so hard and loud right at the point of jumping, maybe I could figure out what I’m actually hearing.
Oh, I’ve gone over the ship’s logs and even activated audio recorders in the cabin, but nothing unusual shows up. Log recordings of the jump are normal and the only thing you can hear on audio is normal ship sounds. Like I said, the jump is instantaneous, so basically no time passes between leaving origin and arriving at destination.
The only person who has ever had a different experience is Ginger, but she’s a special case because she’s dead.
Well, she’s not exactly dead. Fifty years ago, she was EVA outside the Regret when a power surge triggered the jump drive. Her body was instantly vaporized but something about the interaction between her and the goofy physics of the jump caused her personality or whatever you want to call it to become part of the ship. She’s actually some sort of secondary energy field being emitted by the Regret.
I’ve tried analyzing the field, but it doesn’t read like anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s actually pretty subtle, so you have to know what to look for before you can even detect it. That’s why all the inspection scans of the Regret it’s subjected to at each port of call pick up nada.
I have this kind of horrible feeling that if I could compare the readings I get of Ginger’s field with anything inside hyperspace, things would match up, but that’s just a theory. Physics don’t work the same way in hyperspace as in normal space. If they did, there’d be no such thing as a jump.
Suffice it to say that Ginger is made up of some quantum strangeness and I don’t think even the best experts in the field could figure her out, not that I’d let them know she even exists.
Ginger is able to experience something different about hyperjumps that even she can’t explain and over the past month or so, I’ve started to experience something about them, too. Connection? Beats me. I keep waiting to see if Ginger will volunteer anything, but so far she hasn’t. Either she really doesn’t know or she doesn’t want to tell me.
It’s hell being in love with someone, especially someone as “unique” as Ginger, and having part of you not trust her.
“Ginger, do you mind taking a watch at the controls. I think I’m going to lie down for a while.”
“Sure thing, Cam. Flying the Regret is second nature to me.”
That’s one of our little jokes. I chuckle appropriately, give her a peck on the lips, and head down to our cabin.
Oh, you didn’t see that one coming? You should have. Ginger and I have gotten closer since our trip from Cepravez a few months back.
We started a lot slower this time out because she’s been hurt and I needed to get used to the idea that I was in love with a living, sentient energy field that can sometimes manifest as a physical body, a very beautiful physical body.
I won’t give out details, even in a private log, but let’s just say that Ginger is every bit the living, breathing, astonishingly passionate woman as she appears to be…at least when she’s material. When she’s not, things don’t change really. It’s her I’m in love with, not just the temporarily physical her.
We’ve gotten close…very, very close.
I lie down on our bed and am instantly asleep.
I’m in a crowded room, a really crowded room. It’s insane because the room is infinite. I can’t see the walls or ceiling. I must be standing on the floor but I can’t see that either. I can’t see anybody, but I can hear them, millions of them, maybe more than millions.
They’re all talking at once so I can’t make out any individual voices or words. They’re all talking too loud all at once and it’s making my ears ring. It’s getting louder, more intense.
Make it stop! Make! It! Stop!
“Cam. Sorry to wake you, but we’re about an hour out of Brinelli.”
The comm yanks me out of that nightmare. I’m sweating. I feel terrified, though I don’t have the slightest idea why. My headache’s back. Damn!
“Thanks, Ging. I’ll be up in five. Uh, make that ten.”
I put on some clean overalls and decide to take those pain pills after all. The ship flies through space on auto-pilot, but I have to take her in to port manually. Ginger could do it of course, but I’m the pilot and it’s my job. I don’t want to be distracted by a headache while going through the atmospheric descent. A distracted pilot is…you get the idea.
Freighter docks at Ispanzu Port, Brinelli. We arrived on schedule and the longshoremen have unloaded the Regret. Credits were transferred into my account, required inspections were performed, ship’s been serviced and refueled, and my departure time is set for twelve hours from now. Time for some well deserved sleep.
Well, we didn’t get to sleep right away, but like I said, I’m not giving out details. We’re spooning, her backside to my front side. I don’t know if Ginger is asleep or even if she needs to sleep. It just feels good to hold her. As much as I’ve enjoyed the solitary life of a freighter pilot, I have to admit it feels so good not to be alone anymore.
I’m in a city square, but the square and the city are huge. Everything stretches out in all directions as far as I can see. The place is packed. I’m surrounded by people. Well not just people like I am but every humanoid race I’ve ever encountered and a few I’ve only heard of.
Then there are beings or entities that aren’t humanoid and I’ve never heard of before. The joint is crammed with life without end and the noise is incredible. It’s so loud I feel like I’m deaf if that even makes sense.
I decide to try something and grab just one of them. I think its female, though with this species, it’s hard to tell.
I pull it in by the shoulders and have my face nose to…uh “nose” with it.
“Will you tell me where I am and what everyone else is doing here?” I’m screaming but I’m not sure it can hear me, and even if it can, it may not understand my language.
I can barely make out what it’s saying but I understand the words.
“You shouldn’t be here, not yet.”
“Because you’re not…”
I wake up soaked in sweat and with a screaming headache. 0200 hours. The Regret isn’t scheduled to depart for another six hours yet. My head’s ringing and I focus my eyes on the other side of the bed. Ginger isn’t in it.
She can’t always be material, so when I drop off to sleep, she stops manifesting herself. She’s still there in the ship, all over the ship, sometimes even in my head.
Except right now, this crazy dream, the ringing, the headache are all I can feel.
That didn’t come over the comm and I didn’t even hear her with my ears, that one was right inside my brain. Like I said, we’ve become close, and sometimes it’s a very weird kind of close.
“Yeah, I’m awake.”
“How’d you guess?” I sound crankier than I mean to be.
“More pain pills for the headache?”
She’s standing next to the bed now, dressed in that little skimpy nightgown I like, holding out the pills in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. I take them this time.
“Can’t live on this stuff, Ging. I’ve got to figure out what this is soon.”
I toss the pills in my mouth and take a long swig of water to wash them down. I set the bottle on the nightstand next to the comm box.
Ginger climbs into bed again and starts rubbing my neck. It hurts like hell and feels great all at the same time.
“Ohhhh. Thanks, Ging.”
She works on me for a while longer then lets me lie on my back. “Time for you to get back to sleep, lover. Can’t have you dozing off at the controls during departure.”
She kisses me affectionately, lovingly, but not passionately. She’s trying to put me to sleep, not wake me up.
I drift off. If I have any dreams, I don’t remember them…thankfully.
Departure goes off without a hitch and I’ve just set the Regret’s auto-pilot to take us back to the jump point. We should be there in just under six hours.
I can feel the anxiety begin to build in the pit of my stomach. In under six hours we jump back to Marconii, back to our home port. I could have sent out a “Freighter Ship available” query across the hyperspace comm but coward that I am, I didn’t. I don’t know how many more jumps I can take. If the pain keeps increasing, how long before I go nuts or it just plain kills me.
“Ginger, what’s it like when we jump?” She’s sitting beside me in the co-pilot’s chair. We usually talk on the trips to and from jump points.
“You’ve asked me that question before, Cam. I don’t know how to answer it.”
She’s told me that she has senses that aren’t human and aren’t part of the ship’s technology. She can’t explain what those senses are or what she experiences through them. It’s some sort of effect of what she’s become, but apparently, we don’t have words in a humanoid language that can describe her sensations.
“Can you try, just a little?” I’m grasping at straws now, hoping she’s come up with something that might explain what’s happening to me.
“Well, it’s…I don’t know. Noise, I guess, but it really isn’t noise, not like you can hear. It’s not seeing, or hearing, or tasting, or smelling, or feeling, but it’s like all of those and a lot more are all smashed together becoming something else.”
“How long does it last?”
“That’s hard to say, too. The jump is supposed to take no time at all and it doesn’t, but it also takes time. In that fraction of a millisecond when the jump happens, minutes or even hours are crammed inside, or at least that’s how I remember it after a jump.”
“And it happens like that after each and every jump.”
It happens like that during and after each and every jump, ever since the first one.”
“Which first one?” I actually thought I was following her for once.
“You know.” She looks down at her lap, like she always does when she doesn’t want me to see how sad she looks. “The first one when I…”
When she died. I get it. Fifty years later and it’s still like it happened yesterday. Maybe that has something to do with time or the timelessness of hyperspace and jumping.
“Wait. You had those experiences when the Regret jumped…when you were EVA?”
“I think so. All the jumps sort of meld together, but I think so. I think as the Regret jumped, as…as whatever happened to me happened, I had those wonky perceptions.”
“So they didn’t develop afterward, but during the very first jump, right as you…died.”
I don’t want to hurt her feelings but the most nauseating idea has just intruded into my brain.
Nah, it can’t be. That’d be nuts.
I look back at the co-pilot’s seat but it’s empty. Oh, she’s still here. She’s always here. I just can’t see her.
“Sorry, Cam. I didn’t mean to disappear so suddenly.”
“That’s okay, Ging. I know this is a tough thing to talk about.”
“I know why you need to talk about it. I’ll be fine.”
It’s strange to hear her in my head without hearing her with my ears. It’s not like she’s just a voice in my head. It’s like she’s inside my head, like I can feel her presence. It’s like she’s taken that field she’s made up of, the one emanating from the ship, and wrapped it up tight around me. It’s like she’s “holding” me with what she’s really made out of rather than the body she projects.
That gives me an idea.
“Ging, I need a favor, a big one.”
“Sure, Cam. What is it?”
She doesn’t know what I’m going to ask, otherwise she wouldn’t sound so eager. “I need you to do whatever it is you do to stay inside my head during the jump.”
Silence for a few seconds. I’m not surprised. Usually, she’s material and sitting in the co-pilot’s seat when we jump or she’s got a “normal” field distribution around the Regret and I can’t sense her at all.
“We’ve never done that before, Cam. I’m not sure what would happen.”
“Are you worried about you or me?”
“Both. I don’t know what part of me you’d experience. It might be more than you could take. I don’t know what being so focused on you during the jump would do to either of us.”
“Ging, you’ve got to try. I’ve got this crazy idea that what you sense and what I sense during the jump are related somehow. I think this is the only answer, or the only one I can come up with before the jump back to Marconii.”
“You know I’d give my life for you if I had one Cam.”
She’s not dead so she’s alive, but she’s not human alive. She is so different and yet she’s still so human. “I know you would, Ging. Please try to do this.”
“For you, Cam. Yes, I’ll try.”
“Heck, maybe all that’ll happen is we get disconnected when we jump.” I’m trying to be funny but neither of us are laughing.
“Jump in about thirty minutes, Cam.”
I’ve already made the calculations to jump back to Marconii’s destination point. Ten minutes out from the jump, I take the Regret off auto-pilot. In theory, the auto-pilot could take us through the jump and all the way to Marconii, but there are some things I like to do myself. I’ve had trouble with jumps before.
Just a minute now. I cut out the norm space engines and maneuver us into the jump point on thrusters. Jump drive is hot and ready. Nav computer is tied in.
I can feel Ginger inside of me. Even when she’s not talking, it’s like she’s a part of my existence, as if I can’t tell where I leave off and she begins. We don’t always experience this kind of merger. Actually, it’s kind of rare because she really has to put the effort in to make it happen.
When we jump, whatever one of us goes through, the other will as well. I hope this doesn’t scramble our brains.
We’re speaking in unison, me with my mouth and her with something else. “Jump in 3…2…1…”
I feel like I’ve been hit in the forehead with a big rock. Then it’s like my vision explodes, like the universe is turning itself inside out. The colors, the sounds, the sensation all over my body, all inside my body, it’s all indescribable. It’s like being born and dying at the same time. It’s the beginning and the end and everything in between, from the Big Bang that started it all to the last gasp of entropy at the heat death of the universe.
“Marconii jump control to Ginger’s Regret. Acknowledge completed jump.”
The jump was instantaneous but it lasted a lifetime.
“Ginger’s Regret to Marconii control, acknowledging jump. Cutting in norm space engines. Estimate landing Marconii 0935 hours local time.”
The words are coming out of my mouth, but it’s like someone else is saying them. Ginger’s out of my head and in her own body engaging the engines from the co-pilot’s seat. Good thing too, because I’m all in.
Except I don’t have the ringing in my ears and no headache. I’m just really worn out, like I climbed the steep side of Mount Sebo at a run with a fist-sized piece of neutronium in each hand.
Ginger puts us on auto-pilot and then we turn our chairs to face one another. “I know what…” We’re speaking in unison again. Then we both stop and laugh. “You first, Ging.”
“I know what happens during jump and I know what was happening to you.”
“Me, too. I know why you perceive things during jump.”
Neither one of us wants to say the next part out loud, so I say it anyway.
“They’re dead. They’re all dead. That’s what’s inside of hyperspace or some realm that’s part of hyperspace that we have to travel through when we jump.”
“That’s why I can sense that noise during jump. It’s them. The energy they’re made out of is the same I’m made out of.”
“I guess it’s true that you can’t actually destroy anything. Just convert it, Ging.”
Crap, it’s true. People have…I don’t know, souls I guess. When people, well not just people, anything sentient dies, whatever is left gets shunted off into hyperspace. When you die, you don’t just die. You’re body’s gone but whatever else that’s left keeps going in a converted state.
Neither Ginger or I can figure out exactly what that state is or what those beings experience there, but there’s definitely something after the life I have now.
When Ginger died, she should have gone there too, but because she was so close to the jump drive field when she was vaporized, the physics were so wonky that she didn’t make it to the other side. She’s still here in our world but with an essence made for hyperspace.
She couldn’t see it from her experience and I certainly couldn’t, but putting our two “heads” together, somehow it synthesized something we could both make sense of.
“That means I’m not unique. I’m just what happens when anyone dies. Only I’m out here instead of in there. I really am just a ghost.”
She’s scared. I can see it on her face. In fifty years, she’s come to terms with who and what she is, at least she thought she had. Now that she understands more, she feels like there’s something wrong with her again.
“It’s okay, Ging. You haven’t changed. You’re still here. You’re here with me.” I’m holding her by the shoulders. She looks up at me with those great big blue eyes. They’re glistening with tears but she’s not quite crying.
Then those eyes widen in shock.
“What is it?”
“Oh no! Cam, someday, you’ll get old and you’ll die. You’ll go to that existence, but I’ll still be tied to the ship. What if I can never get there. You’ll go on forever but we’ll be apart.”
“Wait! Wait! We can’t be sure of anything. For all we know, that’s a temporary way station and they finally end somehow.”
“It was really crowded in there, Cam. I don’t think so.”
“Besides. You could have it backward. What if the Regret is destroyed in some accident. Maybe that’s what it would take for you to finish the final leg of your journey and be with everyone else.” I meant everyone dead, but even I have my limits when it comes to being brutally blunt.
“Maybe we should fly the Regret into Marconii’s sun sometime and find out.”
“Not funny, Ging.” I know what she means, though. If both of us are right, that would probably do it. We really would go out together and with any luck, spend eternity as merged hyperspace fields or whatever. I still have a tough time using the word “souls”.
“What do you know. All those wonky religions got one thing right.”
“Yeah, Ging. Life after death. Who’d believe it?”
“We can’t prove it, Cam. I mean, there’s no objective evidence. Only our perceptions.”
“I wasn’t saying I was going to start a new religion. I can’t even stand the ones already around.”
“Didn’t you once say you talked to God?”
“The Illumination, and it overheard some smart mouth remark I made, I didn’t really talk to it, if that ever really happened.” She would have to mention The Day I Destroyed the Universe. I guess I might have inadvertently sent all of the Children of the Illumination to hyperspace, or maybe I undid existence so so none of them were ever born.
“Stop. Time out. Too much to handle for a simple freighter pilot.”
“I hear you loud and clear, Cam.” Now she was trying to be funny, and the situation did need serious lightening up.
Then she got serious again, dammit. “Cam, no one in the history of jump travel has ever experienced anything during jump except you and me, and the reason I do is obvious. I think I caused you to have that experience, too.”
“You mean because we got close, inside my head close.”
“Yeah. I mean, I did this to you. I didn’t mean to, but I did.”
“It’s done and I’d never undo it, Ginger. I’d never undo getting close to you.”
She undid her restraining straps, leaned forward and hugged me, then kissed my cheek. “You say the sweetest things, lover boy.”
“Another time out, Ginger. Now I’m getting distracted in different way, and you know that…”
“…a distracted pilot is a dead pilot.” We both laugh, but in the back of my head I’m wondering if my problems with jumping are over with or not. I guess I’ll deal with that when it happens.
“Speaking of distracted.”
“Let’s get the Regret back to Marconii and then take a few days, just you and me.”
“Best offer I’ve had all day.
Best offer I’ve had ever. So now we know where dead people go when they die. I’ll deal with dying when I die. Meanwhile, I’ll concentrate on living with Ginger. She’s more alive than any woman I’ve ever known.
There are several previous adventures of Camdon Rod. If you haven’t read them, start with The Last Flight of the Cynnabar Breen. There’s a link at the bottom of the story that will take you to the next one, and so on. Eventually, you’ll get back here.
For the next entry in the flight log of Camdon Rod, go to No One’s Luck Could Be This Bad. Someone finds out about the secret of the Ginger’s Regret and that someone shares a startling secret of his own, changing Cam’s and Ginger’s lives forever.