No One’s Luck Could Be This Bad

space

Image: JPL NASA

From the Flight Log of Freighter Pilot Camdon Rod

I used to think I was the luckiest freighter pilot this side of hyperspace, but obviously my luck’s running out.

Oh, I’m Camdon Rod, owner and operator of the jump freighter Ginger’s Regret. My partner in this operation is the real Ginger, the woman the ship is named after. There’s just one catch: Ginger’s a ghost.

I didn’t used to think she was, not really. I always figured she was some sort of one-in-a-million aberration of hyperspace physics and the quantum wonkiness of how jump drives work. After all, Ginger was “killed” over fifty years ago when she was EVA while the Regret’s jump drive activated due to an accidental power surge.

But we found out recently that hyperspace is where souls go when sentient beings die, at least I think that’s what we found out.

Ginger and I don’t talk about it. What’s there to say? She’s a soul or spirit or something that can’t get into hyperspace with the rest of them. So I guess that makes her a ghost.

That’s not what I’ve been complaining about though. You know, about my luck running out?

I’m bitching about the fact that the officials in Sconet City on Dytalik Beta have put my ship under quarantine. Seems that’s because I delivered a shipment of experimental quantum transporters to a lab complex on Draco’s Planet within the last six months, and the ship might have been exposed to an outbreak of Carmine’s Skoots they’ve just reported. Yeah, it’s a stupid name for a stupid virus that puts you on a toilet for a week because your entire digestive system is trying to turn you inside out. However, the indigenous sentient population of Dytalik have no resistance to Carmine’s. It’s fatal to them. Hence the quarantine (good thing the Consortium goons who call the shots on this world relocated that population to a resettlement colony on the southern continent which is nowhere near civilized jump ship commerce, and yes, that’s sarcasm).

I, that is, we need to get back into space to keep making a living, but like I said, my luck is none too good these days. Wouldn’t you know that my ship is finally cleared for launch by the slow ass moving technicians and pinhead bureaucrats when Calderon Zg, eldest son of Kan Zg, one of the Board of Twelve who run the entire Consortium, decides to make his first official visit to the Outer Regions.

Even for the Outer Regions of the Consortium, Dytalik doesn’t have much to offer and certainly nothing that a visiting dignitary of Zg’s prestige would be interested in, but the life support system aboard his jump ship decided not to work as designed. The next stop on Zg’s itinerary was to the Brel Taurus stellar research station but the ship’s pilot panicked when the life support alarm sounded (or that’s what the rumor mill says anyway) and he reset the coordinates for the first port of call he could think of that had the facilities to make the necessary repairs. That, unfortunately, was Dytalik Beta.

One super, high, important person named Calderon Zg arrives on Dytalik and suddenly all flights off-world are canceled for the duration of his visit due to “security concerns”. Who knew what wild inhabitant of this backwater planet might get the idea that kidnapping Zg and holding him for ransom just because, or maybe just killing the little pain in the ass for whatever crimes the Consortium may have committed against him, her, or other.

So Ginger and I are once again reunited but we’re still stuck on this ball of mud.

“Take it easy, honey, it’s not so bad. Why don’t we just spend our down time in bed?”

I’m sitting in the galley having just finished breakfast and she materializes behind me and starts rubbing my neck and shoulders in a way that suggests an even better method of relieving tension.

I reach up and touch one of her hands. “You sure do say the sweetest things.”

I stand and turn to face her just as she winces as if she had a sudden pain, which is more or less impossible unless something is physically wrong with the ship.

I gently take her by the shoulders. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know.” She manages to recover but looks really worried. “I’ve been feeling sort of numb for the past several days while the ship was quarantined and examined, but now it’s like all my ‘feeling’ has come back. Something’s wrong, Cam. The ship’s been changed.”

“What?” My first thought is that the quarantine was just a smokescreen to cover up someone tampering with the Regret, but why would anyone want to do that?

“Please don’t bother with an investigation Mr. Rod. I can explain.”

Ginger and I both spin around toward the galley’s doorway to see…son of a gun…it’s Calderon Zg in the flesh and pointing a blaster at both of us. How the hell did he get on board undetected?

Videos of the guy have been all over the news broadcasts so even if you didn’t know he was supposed to be famous across known space, if you watched the local news, you’d figure who he was, what he looked like, and why he was here. How does someone that recognizable sneak onto a jump freighter on the seedier side of the city?

“What the f-” I clamp my mouth shut. He who holds the blaster makes the rules, and I didn’t want to break any of his. Of course, he couldn’t hurt Ginger with that thing and she could probably use some of the ships internal defenses to take him out if it came to that, but it was just plain nuts for a guy like Zg to show up on a common freighter and threaten the crew. I wanted to know his angle first.

“I have no intention of harming you and your charming companion, Mr. Rod. I only want passage off of this planet and into hyperspace. After you make the jump, your life is your own again.”

“I think you forgot something, Mr Zg. Because of you, no one is allowed to launch a ship off the planet, so you’re stuck here along with us.”

I could see Ginger out of the corner of my eye and she worried me. Being a redhead, her skin is naturally pale but he looked, you should pardon the expression, ghost-white. She couldn’t be scared of Zg, so what was the problem?

“Here’s the plan Mr. Rod, young lady.” He nodded slightly in Ginger’s direction. The flight controller is about to receive instructions from me personally, an automated message actually, that any ship scheduled to depart may do so thanks to my generosity and support of interspace commerce.”

“Charming.” The reply is sarcastic but even in the face of a deadly weapon, I just can’t help being a smartass.

“Sometime after we launch, my body, or a replica that cannot be distinguished from my own, will be discovered in my suite. I will appear to have died of a previously undiscovered heart problem, but of course, there will be a full investigation which will take months. However, it will also cover my disappearance quite effectively.”

“So did you get tired of life at the seat of power in the Consortium and decide on a significant career change? I’m not accepting new crew members just now.” Like I said, I can’t help being a smartass.

“Actually, my job is finished here and it’s time to go home.”

That one stumped me. Even a jerk freighter pilot like me knew Zg had been born into luxury on Solos, the capital world of the Consortium and had never been more than a hundred light years or so away from the center world until last month when he was sent on this tour, probably by his old man who figured the kid needed to “rough it” a bit.

I didn’t have time to puzzle this one out or make another wisecrack, because I heard Ginger collapse to the floor on my left. I looked at her unconscious form, still incredibly beautiful dressed in standard jump ship crew overalls, when she shimmered and vanished…right in front of Calderon Zg!

“I wouldn’t worry about her. She’ll be safe but in my care, guaranteeing your good behavior, Mr. Rod.”

I turned to face him again. Astonishment doesn’t improve upon my all too average looks, or so I’ve been told. “But how…”

“Yes, I know all about Ginger, the ship, the accident, the…what do you call her…the ghost?” He chuckled as if amused by a private joke.

For a split second, I almost jumped him and blaster be damned, but I had Ginger to think of. Unless he’s bluffing, and how could he be, he had control of Ginger and maybe could hurt her or worse.

“What do you want, Zg?” My teeth were clenched as tightly as my fists. I wanted to rip the smug expression off his face and shove it up his filthy tailpipe.

“I told you what I want, Mr. Rod. Safe passage off this planet. When you get the all clear from launch control, simply take off and pilot to the jump point. The coordinates are already programmed into your navigational computer.”

To make his point, he lowered the blaster and shoved it in his belt. “I won’t need this. I’ve got a far stronger hold over you. Now if you please, to the control cabin.”

He stepped aside and waved me through the open hatch to the corridor. Then Zg followed me as I navigated myself toward the front of the ship. When I took the pilot’s seat, he got into the co-pilot’s, into Ginger’s seat.

I tried as hard as I could not to think about all the ways I wanted to kill him while acknowledging launch control’s okay to lift off.

I went through a routine that I could have performed in my sleep because I’ve done it so many times, and within minutes, the Ginger’s Regret was detaching from Bay 119 and rising above the docking ports on thrusters.

I cut in the Space Norm engines at just one quarter thrust because I didn’t want to fry the city below me or superheat the atmosphere above it, and then climbed out of the atmosphere. Once free and clear of Dytalik, I set course to the jump point, which was only an hour away.

“Now that we’re off world, you want to tell me what all this is about and how the hell you know about Ginger?”

I was still buckled into my command chair but I’d turned it to face him. I was calmer now. Pilots can’t afford to get too emotional when in space. Distractions kill.

“I am not what I appear to be, Mr. Rod. I may have lived a physical life from birth to maturity as Calderon Zg but I have not always been this entity. My business in your reality is concluded and I am going home.”

“Where exactly is home for you?”

“Hyperspace.”

For a second I thought he was joking and then the horrible realization set in. He could control Ginger, maybe hold her captive somehow because he was like Ginger. He was a ghost?

That didn’t make sense. Ginger can’t manifest herself as a physical woman indefinitely, and her spirit or whatever you want to call it is confined to within just a few meters of the ship. How could Zg be some sort of “hyperspace entity” and live roughly twenty years as a humanoid being?

“I can see this is difficult for you to absorb. Small wonder. You know more about the existence of conscious, sentient beings in hyperspace than any of your kind and still you don’t understand. How could you? Our lives, if you will, are so radically different from your own. Even your companion Ginger doesn’t understand her own nature.”

I opened my mouth to ask a stupid question but he answered before I could make a sound.

“No, those are not the souls of the dead inhabiting the realm you discovered in hyperspace, at least not as such. Your companion is somewhat like my kind but not actually. She still belongs in this world. She is tied to it. Brief exposure to what we are had a profound affect on her, but though she only has intermittent solid form, while without a permanent body, she remains alive, just as I am alive and indeed, just as you are.”

I didn’t have anything even remotely intelligent to say so I just let him keep talking.

“I won’t attempt to explain my presence here. The physics would be quite beyond you. All I need from you now is a spacesuit and access to your airlock. I intend to be outside on the hull of this ship when you make the jump to the coordinates preset in your navigational computer.”

That’s how Ginger died, only now he tells me Ginger’s not really dead, not really a ghost, and all of those whatevers we saw and even talked to in that hyperspace realm weren’t the souls of all the dead, or at least not all of them are.

I am so totally lost.

“What happens to Ginger?”

“Nothing. When the jump is completed, she will return none the worse for wear. I only needed to silence her long enough to make sure you would do nothing to interfere with the jump. But make no mistake. If you do not make the jump to the exact coordinates I have fed into your nav computer, Ginger will never come back.”

Maybe he’s bluffing and maybe he’s not. I can’t take any chances, not with Ginger’s “life” or whatever it is, at stake. Of course, he could be lying about her coming back after the jump, but why does he care? If he’s outside the ship when the jump drive engages, he’s toast one way or another.

“I guess I have to trust you.” I sure as hell don’t but what choice to I have?

“I’m sure you don’t trust me Mr. Rod, but after all, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Well, he’s not wrong.

He unbuckles himself and stands. Fifteen minutes later, I get a comm signal from inside the airlock. It’s Zg or whoever he is, inside a spacesuit and opening the airlock.

“You should be only a few minutes out from the jump point. Just go through the usual procedure and everything will be fine.”

I see him on the airlock video monitor. He’s depressurizing the airlock and preparing to go EVA.

I get busy for a few minutes cutting out the Space Norm engines and maneuvering to the center of the jump point with my thrusters. After all these months, it seems strange to be doing this without Ginger either sitting beside me or inside my head.

I look back and the airlock is empty. Instruments say Zg exited three minutes ago. I pop on the hull cameras and spot him halfway down the superstructure to the jump drive unit.

“This will do nicely, Mr. Rod. Thank you for your cooperation and best wishes on your future endeavors. Anytime you’re ready.”

He actually sounds like he’s trying to be nice about everything he’s put us through.

“Jump in 3, 2, 1…”

I activate the drive and two things happen at the same time. The first is that Zg instantly vanishes off of the side of the Regret and the second is that the ship jumps outside of known space, way outside.

“I’m back, lover.”

I feel Ginger’s warm arms embracing me from behind. I quickly hit the auto pilot to keep us from drifting, release my restraining belts, wheel up out of my seat and hold Ginger and tight as I can.

“I thought I’d lost you, Ging. What happened?”

She doesn’t answer right away, mainly because I don’t give her a chance to because I’m kissing her.

After a few minutes, it feels safe to let go of her again. We both sit and she tries to explain.

“I don’t know, but whatever Zg did kept me from manifesting at all. I was just barely aware of what was happening on the ship, but I couldn’t do anything. It was like watching my life from inside of a dream. The instant we jumped, I was fine again.”

Cold realization grabbed me and a checked the logs from the nav computer.

“We’re something over 1200 light-years from our previous position. I don’t think any ship has been out this far before.”

Of course, distance is meaningless to a jump drive. It can jump one light-year or a million, but as you well know, an ordinary jump ship needs an absolutely clean environment to materialize into, otherwise, bye-bye jump ship. Boom! Only very expensive specialized jump drives project a field ahead of a materializing ship that clears out a jump point.

I check sensors and we’re surrounded by a thin cloud of hydrogen and inert dust. “Why the hell didn’t we vaporize?”

“I can answer that now, Cam. Remember I said something had changed about the ship? It was the jump drive. Zg must have had it installed when the ship…when I was in quarantine as part of his plan to get into hyperspace.”

Visions of vastly more expensive maintenance costs for an advanced jump drive start dancing in my head. Sure, having the ability to project a sweep field into space ahead of the ship as it comes out of hyperspace expands my options immensely, but these sorts of engines are hell to keep up over time. How am I ever going to afford it and what will the Consortium do to me and the Regret if they find out we have one?

Ginger had been quiet for a few minutes but I didn’t really notice because I was pondering the ramifications of this enhanced jump drive while scanning the immediate vicinity of the Regret. No dangers. We were nowhere near a star system. I could easily calculate the coordinates back to Dytalik or anywhere else in Consortium space. In fact, I could pilot the Regret anywhere I wanted.

“Cam. Just as the ship jumped, there was this moment of clarity. Zg, or whatever he really was, came from hyperspace and let himself be born as Calderon Zg. I have no idea how that works but I do know why.

“He wasn’t alone here, he was just one of the first. There are others like him in our space-time reality who have come from the realm inside of hyperspace.”

“They don’t just inhabit all hyperspace?”

“I think hyperspace isn’t just a single realm. I think it has depth and boundaries. That’s where Zg and the others came from. Inside one of those boundaries.”

“How did they get into our world?”

“I can’t see that part of it, Cam. But I do see that they consider our use of hyperspace a potential threat. So far, only the two of us have any idea that living beings inhabit some sort of quantum reality inside of hyperspace, but someday that may change. If it does, if the Consortium ever found out, they’d try to exploit it just like every other resource they come across.”

“Being born into the Zg family, one of the twelve ruling clans in the Consortium must have been quite an advantage. The thing could find out if the Consortium had discovered their realm and have access to just about anything they needed. But what do they need, Ging?”

“To keep an eye on us for now. But if it ever got out there was a separate reality with sentient beings inside of a realm in hyperspace, they are capable of at least destroying our ability to jump. I think they’re capable of a lot worse, Cam.”

A chill crawled up my spine, kind of like when I accidentally (and temporarily) destroyed the universe.

I’m just a run-of-the-mill freighter pilot trying to make a modest living with my little jump ship and grabbing at whatever happiness I can on the side with my girlfriend who is also my ship and whatever else she may be (through if I can believe the former Calderon Zg, she’s definitely alive…though not life that I understand).

Now we’re the only two people in known space and probably everywhere else in our universe who knows we’re being spied on by some other dimensional things who, if we get out of line, will definitely stop us from traveling through hyperspace forever and maybe even wipe us out like a nest of pesky incests.

Did I say I was having a streak of bad luck? No one’s luck is as bad as mine. What are Ginger and I supposed to do about this now?

This is the seventh adventure of Camdon Rod. If you haven’t read the previous six, 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.

The next story is What We Do For Love.

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2 thoughts on “No One’s Luck Could Be This Bad

  1. This is turning into a nice little book of short stories. I very much like your use of the Judaic ideas of the soul, and how it is existing simultaneously in multiple dimensions, and I like the fact that Ginger is ‘alive’, and not just the ghost she appeared to be…seeing as spirits are alive…just not necessarily fleshly or incarnate in a way we understand. You could amplify the stories into a novel with many adventures…the characters have a lot of potential, and so does the back story. Keep at it…this is fun for me too!

    Like

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