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Another Entry for the weekly fiction writing contest over at The Friday Challenge
This week’s theme – Nihilists In Space. (Or Nihilism in Science Fiction)
A warning for my regular readers: Nihilism is depressing and harsh.
Note: I am doing something here and I’m wondering if you, the reader can figure it out.
Please let me know in the comments if you did.
I, the author, have been captain over the ship ‘Rusal Rae’ for 28 years.
I am the captain. That should feel good. I command thirteen hundred people. But my endeavors and travels have lost their adventure.
Nearly thirty years have I been on this ship – thirty years sailing through the galaxy – and quite successful, too, by any standards. But to what end? To what good?
People die on my ship as they grow old, and others are born. Someday I will die, too. For what purpose? The galaxy wheels on its axis – around and around it turns and it will be doing that for millennia, eons. Ten million eons.
My words aren’t enough to explain my boredom. The next time I hear one of my officers say “Hey, that’s new!” off they’ll go, to the brig. It is not! It’s been there since before humanity began.
I, the author have been captain over the ship ‘Rusal Rae’ for 31 years. I have seen all that there is to be done in space. It is an unhappy business this life given to men on voyages. I tried to gain wisdom. Again, I was successful. I read from many teachers. I deduced many outcomes. Men come to listen to my wisdom. But it is all foolishness and does me no good; he who increases his knowledge increases his own sorrow.
I have been captain over the ship Rusal Rae for 33 years. I decided to try to gain happiness and peace by seeking after pleasure. So I’ve had women (I took them from their home worlds and made them my wives) and I have had my fill of liquors from two dozen planets and I have laughed. But what is laughter? When you’re captain, you can make anyone laugh. And when you’re drunk, anyone can make you laugh. There is no challenge!
I have been captain over the ship Rusal Rae for 47 years. I decided that I should put my hand to building a colony. My men reluctantly concurred. So we have spent 12 years on a serviceable and largely uninhabited planet – Modr. There was no difficulty in subduing the population. They were barely past the industrial stage. Selected and painful killings of the local leaders who defied us, (their deaths were performed publically by my hand, I’ll point out) and they submitted. Deal out acute and decisive pain and most any group of lifeforms is willing to submit.
We built cities (with Modrian slaves – they are strong) and developed food growing lands and we took the valuable metals and filled our storage bays. I can’t imagine that any other captain has done this well and this quickly with a colony. We took what we wanted. But the more I thought about it, I saw that it was like collecting the waste fumes our ship leaves behind us. What good will it do me, long term?
For I remembered that humans have been planting food for three thousand years. They have been conquering other races for nearly that long. All we have done is perfected the technique.
So I hated life, because what is done in all the galaxy is grievous to me – it’s all foolishness and I feel like I’m chasing after solar wind.
Because it’s still work! It’s not like I, as captain, ever get rest. I spend more time at work than the slaves – those idiot slaves who have never even seen a sun beyond their own.
So I gave up. What has a man gained from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the Modrian sun? Even during the night watch my mind got no sleep.
For behold, I will still die. Is this not sobering? Just like the slaves. And then they’ll cremate me and the molecules will end up floating in the Modrian atmosphere. This is zero percent better than ending my existence in the soil of a Modrian continent, where the slaves end up.
So I took a Singler down to one of our cities and watched the slaves. As I watched, one of them threw down his tool and refused to work.
I noted his name – it was Toorook.
Following orders I had put in place a decade ago, I watched as he was cut in half by the guard (another Modrian) using his lazer knife. And then in quarters. And the parts were laid in the gate of the city for all slaves to see.
And I saw that Toorook is better off than any living man. But better than Toorook is his son, for I looked into the matter and found out that his son died one day after birth – having not seen the evil deeds that are done under his sun. I had the entire family killed. I curse them.
The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.
I put out notices to the Modrian natives:
Guard your steps when you come to my ship. To draw near to listen is better than to offer foolish gifts. When you speak, be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before me, for I am the captain and you are Modrian. Let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.
What you promise me, do not delay in doing it, for I take no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. I am the one you must fear.
If you see in your city the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher official, and there are yet higher ones over them. But this is gain for your world in every way: I, the captain, am committed to cultivated fields.
I have been captain over Rusal Rae for 49 years. We have spent 14 years on Modr.
I am finding that the more we take from the Modrian, the less I am satisfied by it. And I require more guards, and more bribe money to catch the spies. The slaves get more peace than I do!
I learned from a weak and panicked Modrian corporal that he knew of a man that had successfully hidden some large quantities of the source minerals for the Deutrion we need to power our ship (they use it for fuel as well) but that it had all been destroyed when our EarthSpiter (working to create a roadway) disintegrated that part of the hill where it was hidden. The hider’s name was Ver’r. How foolish he must feel.
Ver’r was born into his world naked, and naked he will leave it. Maybe soon. He will leave it from the cell on my ship that he is now arms-up legs-down beambound. We took him that very day. His children will now starve. This is evil. I did evil.
I did evil. I do evil.
But all his days Ver’r will eat in darkness in much aggravation and sickness and anger. There is a time to weep.
One day I will leave naked. And unsatisfied.
Better the day of death than the day of birth.
I have been captain over Rusal Rae for 52 years. We have spent 17 years on Modr.
The Modrians are fighting us. They use the technology we gave them. Some of my own people aid them. Our guard patrols lost control of one of the cities for several hours before we sent 80 from our ship in Singlers and Doublers and destroyed whole segments of the crowd.
More warning posted to the Modrians:
I say: Keep the captain’s commands.
Do not work with those who fight against the Captain.
Listen to the word of the Captain. You are only Modrian slaves.
If the captain chooses for you to die, you will die. Do not ask for this.
The Modrians are no longer fighting us. ‘Punishment’ is perhaps too weak a word to describe what I did to those from my ship that helped them.
I have been captain over Rusal Rae for 54 years. We have spent 19 years on Modr.
My first mate, Jonfert, has mated with a Native. Her name is F’rar. He says it is for life. There is no shame in this. There is a time for embracing. Still, cannot he see that it is madness?
It will not last forever. One day she will die and cause him great grief or he will die and cause her great grief. Does he wish that for her? Does he love her, as he says?
I briefly considered secretly having her killed, but now I think I will not. For some, I’m told, a little joy is worth much.
I have been captain over Rusal Rae for 55 years. We have spent 20 years on Modr.
We had experienced success on the world of Modr. Obviously this success gave me no satisfaction, but it did please others, so I consider it not an entirely wasted endeavor. As I say, we were doing well.
And then they came.
In a ship ten thousand times larger than our own. From a nearby system – Naisre. Evidently they had been watching us. They began destroying. First the planet, since our ship’s defenses were strong when they arrived –
They destroyed provinces, they evaporated seas, they tore down mountains.
– And all the while (we learned later) they were studying our ship. And soon they began to dismantle it.
They gave us no reasons. No demands. But I perceived this and understand it: Who needs a reason to destroy? There is a time for tearing down.
The Rusal Rae is built like an onion. It’s defenses are in layers. The bridge is in the center. One layer was torn off. A second. Hundreds died.
And then a ridiculous thing happened. A slave – A Modrian – who had been trained to fly a Singler (and evidently in matters of science) approached me, secretly. He told me he could save our ship if I let him have a Singler. I didn’t believe him – what could he do? He was a slave. He made me promise that when it was over I would not tell anyone what he had done. I assume he didn’t want anyone to know he had helped me, the Captain. I will keep that promise.
So in the end I deemed the risk of treachery worth the potential gain. I myself brought him to the Singler bay and watched as he attached some device that I knew nothing of to its underbelly. He flew off. I watched his work.
My engineers (bound to secrecy) later watched the imaging footage and summed it up like this: He got very close to the Naisrean ship. They leveled their weapon at him. The device he had installed absorbed the energy and nearly quadrupled it. The resulting self-destructive detonation was angular in nature and focused back on the Naisrien ship. It was crippled. The Rusal Rae then easily destroyed it under my command.
I didn’t learn this slave’s name. I heard that his own people call him ‘Betrayer’ because he became absent at an evil time.
I ask – is this not an injustice? This man was forgotten about in less than a few months, but I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his actions are not known.
Still, I acknowledge that under the Modrian sun, and all others, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.
I have been captain over Rusal Rae for 57 years. We have spent 22 years on Modr.
Recovery is ongoing.
I saw something today that was pure folly: One of the Modrians flying a Singler directly over one of our officers who was walking on the ground like a native slave. Is that not ridiculous?
I had them both killed that very hour.
Final words to the Modrian Natives
Happy are you, O Modr, when your captain is wise and works progress. He feasts at the proper time, for strength, and not for drunkenness!
Bread is made for laughter, and your liquor gladdens life, and money answers everything. Work for it!
Even in your thoughts, do not curse the Captain, nor in your bedroom curse your captors, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature tell your evil words.
As you do not know the way the spirit comes to a women giving birth, so you do not know the work of your Captain who makes everything possible.
So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. Expect them.
The words of the wise are like the encouraging whip, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are all given by one Captain. My children, beware of anything beyond these truths.
I have been captain over Rusal Rae for 64 years. We have spent 29 years on Modr.
By my orders, three cities were destroyed today. There is a time to cast away stones. It matters not that there were many humans among the dead. The thousands who died are better off. There is a time to die. More will die tomorrow.
I listened to the screams. It is all meaningless. Their lives and mine. . . .
The end of the matter; all has been heard.
I’m told that there was a time that humans believed in a creator God figure, and even worshipped Him. I have read of other strains of humanity – far disparate from us in this branch – that still do this – they seek after a deity. One hears things.
But not here – not for centuries. None believe now. . .or obey.
But that . . . now that would be something to do. If there was an all-seeing Deity and he gave out commands – I would do that. There would be value in obeying, more so than obeying a mortal overlord. There would be good in looking for His judgment of deeds. I would seek to be good in His eyes. And maybe He would bring every deed into judgment – every secret thing, whether good or evil. And I imagine that He would be just.
I could do that. I would obey.
But no, it cannot be. I would have heard.
In any case, it’s too late. I hear the First Officer outside my door with a group of armed men. His wife is counted among the dead. These are mutinous voices.
I am unarmed.
They will kill me. There is a time to die. And I will leave naked. Amen.
For those who still wonder what I have done here:
King Solomon writing Ecclesiastes – but what if he was a non-theistic space captain?
I am using the ESV.
Did you figure it out?