Here's one of my favorite chapters in Surviving Sojourn, book 4 of the Series. This is my favorite book of the series.
So I claim this one to be a MUST READ!
Something moved in Sojourn’s dinner of rehydrated protein-and-vegetable stew. He poked at it with his spoon and a green head the size of his thumb rose above the brown goo and clamped down on the utensil, tearing at it with its rows of needle-sharp teeth.
His shipmates farther down the stainless steel dining table roared with raucous laughter. One of them must have found the vicious creature on Alpha 201, the planet they just left.
Everyone had been hoping for a bonus, which they got whenever a colony survived a full year. Unfortunately, not a single person remained on the planet. Evidently, the crew decided to take out their frustration on the newest crewmember.
“Funny, real funny,” he declared, tempted to toss his spoon with the attached Gila worm down the table, but that would get him in trouble…again. Instead, he carried his bowl over to the barely functioning recycling unit and poured the contents down the hole.
He’d probably catch hell for throwing a non-degradable spoon away, but no way was he going to risk a potentially lethal bite just to save one slightly warped eating utensil.
The recycling unit groaned and shivered as if it didn’t feel like working today, or maybe it didn’t like Gila worms either. The brown sludge and Gila worm had just disappeared when Captain Longfellow’s voice barked from the ship’s communication system.
“Sojourn to the bridge!”
Old man Thomas, no doubt the idiot who had brought the Gila aboard, smirked and leaned back in his chair. “Was that the brig or bridge?”
Charles, playing cards at the end of the table with Drogan, paused in his game. “It’d save time if he let you head to the brig straight off.”
Everyone laughed but Drogan. Still, the blue-skinned, gilled Oceanic had to be relieved not to be the target of their torment for once. The morons of this crew constantly told him fish jokes, which no doubt made the fellow wish he’d never left his water planet.
Sometimes these jerks made Sojourn wish he’d never left Terranue, but in his case he’d had no choice. According to a prophecy, if he didn’t leave, the colonists would blame him for some terrible plague that was coming.
When his parents explained the necessity, Captain Longfellow had taken him on as a member of his crew. Since Sojourn came from a genetic strand of humans who could telepathically communicate with animals the captain made him a handler. Outbound captains greatly prized handlers since animals did not travel well in space unless they were constantly reassured.
Sojourn’s job was to keep the animals calm during travel and get them on and off the ship with no harm to the ship or livestock. Today’s task had been a challenge. He’d had to calm and capture half-wild horses and cows remaining at the failed colony and put them in the cargo hold. An almost impossible task, but he’d done it within the time the captain had allotted.
Maybe that’s why the crew pranked him. He was the only one the captain had not yelled at this morning.
Drogan gave him a look of sympathy, and Sojourn nodded to his only friend on the ship. Well…breathing friend. Lt. Cass and he had something going on, but exactly what was hard to pin down and not just because she was a ghost.
From his parents’ memories, which he’d acquired at birth, he knew a bit about Cass’ past. She and the captain had been in love for years, but since she was his second-in-command, neither of them had acted on their feelings. Then she’d gotten blown to bits during the outbound journey to Terranue.
Being hardheaded and difficult, she decided to stay with the captain as a ghost rather than follow her light toward the Gods. Unfortunately, the captain could not see or touch her. Over time, if she screamed her words, he could faintly hear them, and he could sense her presence if she came within inches of him.
Drogan could see and hear her, but he was so shy she’d given up trying to converse with the fellow. Shaman Troy could see and hear her, but she avoided the shaman, since he was always trying to move her on to the light. The other morons on the ship had no clue she even existed.
Cass had latched on to Sojourn the moment he’d come on board a year ago. He originally thought she was enchanted with his blond hair and blue eyes…two beautiful people attracted by their similar features.
Over time he suspected she spent so much time with him because she just needed to be with someone who could see and joke around with her. Shaman Troy had evidently warned her that most ghosts fade away from being constantly ignored.
“Sojourn, you need to get to the bridge, now,” Drogan warned.
“The captain did sound pissed off.” Charles laughed. “You afraid to go? Should Gilly go with you and hold your hand?”
Gods, he hated Charles.
Without responding, Sojourn hurried down the dreary hallway and up the rungs to the next floor of the ship. It was pretty much a junk heap, after twenty years of outbound service, but its quantum engines still worked, so the piece of crap remained in the fleet.
He’d learned the hard way not to disparage the old bucket within the captain’s hearing. Longfellow once heard him refer to it as a dung heap of dented metal and broken down appliances. That earned him a week cleaning the ship’s galley with a toothbrush.
God, he was tired of being scolded and punished. His three parents, Tamsarandem, had changed him into a grown man the day of his birth, but everybody kept treating him as if he’d been born last year…which technically was true, but he wasn’t a stupid baby. He’d been born with the knowledge and memories of two humans, a spirit, and a blue Sargon bull named Blue. He knew more than the rest of these idiots put together, with the possible exception of Drogan. His blue friend was scary-brilliant.
Sojourn faced the door, palms directed forward, and spoke his name so his identity could be triple-verified via eye pattern, handprint, and voice confirmation. A second later, it opened with a whoosh.
“Ensign Sojourn on the bridge, sir.” Maybe the captain was going to promote him for the great job he’d done gathering the animals. He wanted that to be the reason he’d been called, but the last twenty-seven times he’d held such hope, it had ended with him being called down for one stupid thing or another. Most ensigns were promoted up or fired within their first six months. An outbound ship had no room for slackers. He’d been an ensign for a year now. Maybe his time had finally come.
Longfellow sat before an ugly bank of outdated monitors. Upon hearing Sojourn, he turned his swivel chair and glared at him.
“Is it your goal to be the oldest ensign in outbound history?”
All hope for a promotion shriveled and died. “No, but it seems to be my destiny. What have I done now?”
By the fire in Longfellow’s eyes, he wished he could take back his words that had clearly pissed off his captain further.
“Do not take that tone with me, Ensign. I am your captain!”
If he didn’t defuse this situation soon, he’d be sleeping in the brig tonight. “I’m sorry, sir. However, I really have no idea what I’ve done. I’ve been trying to watch my mouth and stay out of trouble. The moment I get off duty, I head for the simulation room. If someone is accusing me of something, I’d sure like to know what, because to my way of thinking, I’ve been a saint.”
His declaration seemed to agitate Longfellow even further. “Someone has complained, and it concerns the simulation which you have spent all your free time enjoying.”
A faint groan escaped him. Gods! The man knew about the special simulation someone had buried under the title Historical Assessment of Plant Life on Earth. It also meant a certain ghost had blabbed her stupid mouth. Damn Cass! Hot one moment and cold the next. No one could tell him she hadn’t enjoyed those simulations as much as he. So why the hell would she bring it to Longfellow’s attention? “You never said it was off limits‒”
Longfellow held up his hand to silence him as he glanced at their new pilot staring back at them. He motioned Sojourn to the conference room and closed the door so they could speak in private.
“How did you even find the simulation?” the captain demanded through clenched teeth.
Cass appeared behind Longfellow and shook her head, her eyes pleading for him not to reveal that she had led him to it.
His gaze held on the blonde, lanky ghost. He should just tell the truth and let her take the grief, but he couldn’t, not with her beautiful green eyes begging for his silence. “I gave the computer parameters for a simulation and it offered me one it thought I would like. And I did…like it, that is. I know there’s something between you two, but sir, she’s the only woman other than my mothers whom I’ve ever met. I felt more comfortable having simulated sex with her than strangers.”
Longfellow’s anger dissipated as he gripped Sojourn’s shoulder and sighed. “Of course, you would.”
For a moment, Sojourn thought he might not only leave without a stay in the brig, but receive the captain’s permission to use his personal program in the future.
“When we dock at the Nebula Station I’ll look for a female crewmember.”
Sojourn shook his head at that terrible idea. “Then I’ll just get in more fights with the other crewmembers. The memories that came from my father and Blue make it inevitable. My father loves and respects his wives and would never allow anyone to treat his women with disrespect. Then there is Blue’s influence upon me: he’ll kill any other Sargon male prowling around his favorite females.”
Longfellow’s glare returned. “Well, I must have a bit of Sargon Blue in me as well, because I am not about to share my woman with you.”
“But this is only a simulation of Cass…”
“If you fell in love with a young crewmember, would you want the other guys enjoying a simulation of her?”
Sojourn shook his head. Honestly he didn’t like Captain Longfellow using the Cass simulation, but he had the sense not to admit that out loud.
“So you understand why I am rescinding your simulation time.”
A surge of anger overtook him. “No. I understand why you do not wish me to use that particular simulation, but why am I to be denied access to any simulation programs?”
Longfellow’s eyes hardened. “As your captain, I do not have to explain my reasons. However, in this case, I will. You are being punished because Lieutenant Cass ordered you to stop using the program and you ignored her direct order.”
Cass reappeared behind Longfellow, her eyes once again pleading silence.
Sojourn glared at her. She had never once asked him to stop using the program. She’d lied and now expected him to take her punishment.
He sighed. “Why can’t you just have the computer restrict access to that particular program?”
Longfellow looked ready to explode in fury. “It was restricted, but you somehow got around those gates, so you are banned from the system entirely until I can hire a better geek.”
Before Sojourn talked himself into a night in the brig, he backed off. “All right.”
“All right?” Longfellow bellowed. “Do you think I’m asking your permission to punish you? No simulation time and two nights in the brig, Ensign.”
Sojourn snapped to and saluted him, hoping that wouldn’t cost him a third night in the brig. Sometimes the captain misinterpreted his desire to behave like a normal crewman as sarcasm.
“Three nights,” Longfellow declared.
Sojourn stood at attention, afraid to blink an eye. The captain had planned to let him leave with a scolding, but somehow he’d managed to bungle his way into three nights in the brig.
At least Cass, standing behind the captain, had the decency to look upset by all this trouble she’d caused.
“To the brig, Ensign!”
Sojourn ran from the room before he received four nights.
When he entered his jail cell, the guard on duty, Wilson the Weasel, laughed. “They should just give you a permanent room in here.”
Sojourn tossed a glare in Wilson’s direction but didn’t reply. A write-up given to the captain in his current mood would only lengthen his stay.
He settled onto the hard metal cot and closed his eyes as he sought out Shaman Troy, the shaman priest who had accompanied him when he left his planet as a one-day-old crewmate.
“I’m coming.” Those two words, spoken in Sojourn’s head, rang loud and clear with disappointment. The shaman priest tried so hard to keep his student on the high path, but Sojourn seemed destined for another. Shaman Troy probably wished a hundred times a day that he’d remained with the colonists on Terranue.
Five minutes later, Shaman Troy arrived and sat on the floor outside the shield. He waited until Sojourn met his eyes to speak telepathically. “I have never regretted coming with you. I am only disappointed that you were so misled and misunderstood in this matter.”
The shaman’s reply soothed Sojourn immensely. Since Shaman Troy could read his mind, he knew Cass had showed him how to reach the program and had always enjoyed watching Sojourn make love to her image. Never once had she ordered or asked him to stop.
“Do not be angry with her,” the shaman counseled. “Longfellow discovered the breach in the system and asked her why she hadn’t told him. She lied to save everyone from serious harm.
An angry snort exploded from within. “Except I’m in here for three nights.”
“Your natural arrogance got you the brig time.”
He groaned at the truth of that. “Shall we blame it on Blue, then?”
A faint smile touched Shaman Troy’s lips. “He is the source of your arrogance, but blaming the King of the Sargon will not help you get along in the world. You must learn to behave in a meeker manner.”
“Then you should have joined with my parents during conception.”
Shaman Troy closed his eyes and pressed his hands palm to palm, either in private conversation with the Gods, or just pissed off at his mouthy student and seeking to quell his temper.
Sojourn sighed in frustration. It was the truth! No one who held Blue’s memories and thoughts could be meek. The bull was the messiah of his planet. They had waited over six hundred years for him to return.
The priest took in a deep breath and gazed at him. “Sojourn, your spur-of-the-moment comments are what get you into so much trouble. You must learn to control your words so people perceive you in a better light.”
Sojourn rubbed his face with his hands. “I doubt I’ll ever get people to see me as meek and simpering.”
“Perhaps not, but having the captain see you as ‘obedient’ would make life easier for us all.”
The worry in Shaman Troy’s voice came through all too clearly. The shaman priest’s only job was to ensure his student’s path remained true. Thus, when Sojourn failed, Shaman Troy failed.
“I’m sorry. I will try to be a better servant of the Gods.”
Shaman Troy stood. “Then begin now, by not responding to the trouble that wishes to find you.” With that cryptic advice, he left the brig.
A minute later, Charles entered the room and sneered at Sojourn through the shimmering force field. Drogan stepped through the door after him.
“You see, Gilly, I told you we’d find your buddy down here.”
Sojourn hated it when the jerks on the crew called Drogan “Gilly”. Three of his visits to the brig had been just for that reason. When Drogan would not stand up for himself, Sojourn felt compelled to do so. He came from a family who protected their friends.
Charles was clearly hoping to lengthen Sojourn’s stay further by antagonizing him. Remembering Shaman Troy’s advice, Sojourn shifted onto the floor and stood on his head, using his hands to maintain his balance. This meditation position took great concentration to hold, leaving no time to focus on annoying jerks.
“Hey Sojourn!” Charles yelled. “Wake up, you stupid bat. Gilly’s brought you a present.”
The temptation to open his eyes was great, but Sojourn resisted. If Drogan had indeed brought him a present, it would still exist once Charles grew bored and left. While Drogan had the patience of a saint, Charles had less than Sojourn. He could do this. He could wait out Charles.
A half-hour later, he wondered if that were true.
Shaman Troy spoke in his mind. “It is if you wish it to be.” He sensed the immense pride Shaman Troy felt for his endurance.
Now certain he could do it, he settled in for the long haul.
Charles didn’t make it easy. His insults to Drogan increased, and then he turned to insulting Sojourn’s mothers. That had always been a guaranteed fight in the past, and the only way Sojourn could endure it was to consider this a test of wills, which he would win, rather than insulting words, which he must revenge.
Shaman Troy remained in his mind, providing him additional strength.
After an hour with no reaction, Charles gave up and left.
Sojourn righted himself and smiled when he saw Drogan seated in a corner of the guardroom, quietly waiting. His friend rose and approached Sojourn’s jail cell. “I have brought you a gift to ease your time.”
Sojourn stared at the delicate, white-paper origami dragonfly resting in Drogan’s blue, webbed hand. “It’s beautiful. Perhaps you could keep it for me until I’m out of here?”
“No need,” Drogan replied. The dragonfly came to life, flew through the force field into Sojourn’s jail cell, and landed on his knee.
Sojourn studied the white creature resting on his orange suit. Its head tilted to one side as it studied him with equal interest.
“How…” Sojourn didn’t even know what to ask. How did a paper dragonfly become alive? How did it fly through the force field around his cell?
“Can you hear its words?” Drogan asked.
He struggled to hear any small voices, but all he heard was Cass speaking words of love to Longfellow.
“You are the only man I will ever love or want.”
He shook off her annoying words and refocused on the dragonfly.
Drogan helped him out. “It says to be patient and all will be well.”
Sojourn laughed softly. “Been talking to Shaman Troy, have you?”
Drogan shook his head. “I haven’t, but it says it walks the same path as Shaman Troy.”
Wilson stormed toward them. “What have you got there? You aren’t allowed to take anything into the cell!”
The dragonfly disappeared.
Wilson glared at Drogan. “You. Out.” He then pointed at Sojourn. “I know what I saw. Now strip down and put everything in the bin.”
Sojourn didn’t argue with Wilson. He simply did as requested then lay naked on his cot thinking about the dragonfly. Given its ability to exist as both a paper dragonfly and a living one, disappear and reappear at will, and be seen by everyone, perhaps it was a being from a different dimension.
He wished he could have kept it. While other dimensions were known mathematically to exist, scientists had never been able to physically open one or locate anything that lived in one. Was it possible dimensional beings had been disguising themselves as paper all this time? That the very mathematicians who’d proved the existence of additional dimensions back on Earth in the twentieth century had written their findings on the beings themselves?
His musings were interrupted when Cass appeared directly in his cell. She sat on his cot, her eyes filled with regret and guilt. “Sojourn, I’m so sorry.”
Sojourn shrugged. “I’m fine.”
“I’ll talk to the captain.”
His lips tightened. “I think you’ve done enough of that.”
Cass sighed. “I know… Thank you for not defending yourself.”
Sojourn’s chin lifted and he rolled onto his back, lifting his right leg to partly hide his privates. “I’m turning over a new leaf. I’m going to gain control of my temper and behave.” His eyes met Cass’. “Which means I will no longer flirt and say inappropriate things to you. From now on, you are my lieutenant and will be treated with respect.”
“Sojourn, I said I was sorry.”
He shook his head in disbelief. “Man, people can’t read me for shit. I’m not trying to punish you, Cass. I’m saying it because I need to get along with Captain Longfellow. I’m going to accept my lowly position in life and act accordingly. If Blue could survive being a farm animal all those years on Earth, I can survive this. And, you deserve the respect of second-in-command.”
She stared at him a long moment. “You’re serious.”
He met her eyes. “Yes.”
She sighed. “I’ll miss your inappropriate remarks. It’s not as if anyone else could hear them.”
He rolled to his side, so his back was to her, not out of disrespect but because his cock had hardened. He would miss her soft moans when he made love to the simulation. “I have to commit to this change a hundred percent.”
“If you can do this, it would mean a lot to Longfellow. He needs you. His current crew isn’t worth shit.”
“Drogan’s a great guy.”
Cass sighed. “He’s a good engineer, but in case of trouble I doubt he’d be much use.”
Sojourn suspected Drogan would be of far greater use than Cass could imagine.
“Time will tell.”
“I’ll talk to the captain about releasing you early.”
“Remind him that I’m needed to move the animals when we land at Nebula Station.”
His thoughts returned to the hundred and fifty humans who had disappeared on Alpha 201. No human remains, no signs of a battle or attack. Something had taken them, evidently all at once, without warning. They’d found skeletons of the smaller animals in their cages, probably dead from starvation after the people disappeared. The larger animals roamed the valley, foraging for their food.
Sojourn knew their discovery had worried the captain far more than the typical failed colony. Normally, they would land on a newly colonized planet to discover an area or pit filled with the skeletons of the majority of the colonists. One or two half-crazed murderers would still be alive, surviving on the rations, waiting to be rescued.
By the structures built and the well dug, this appeared to have been a functioning colony before something had taken away the people. His worry went to Terranue, where his parents and Blue lived. What if they were taken?
The idea caused Sojourn’s stomach to roil.
“Don’t worry about us,” his father chided in his head.
He grimaced. “I didn’t mean for you to hear me.”
He felt his mother Saran’s soothing presence in his mind. “Since we have extended our range and surveillance of the space about Terranue, we hear you quite clearly.”
“I would prefer you not.” Gods, the thought of them listening to Longfellow dressing him down, or worse yet, knowing what had caused his most recent troubles…
“Your feelings are natural,” his father assured him. “However, we are proud of you for your new resolution.”
He felt the sunny agreement from both his mothers.
“We have information you must give your captain. Other colonies have disappeared on Rath 23, Coltron 1, and Sigma 8. However, the other ships’ captains failed to notice the oddities, such as no remains. They simply reported no survivors.”
Sojourn gnawed his bottom lip. “Perhaps the worries of the Colonization Board have finally come true. Some alien species has met humans and concluded we are the cockroach of sentient beings, then decided for the good of the universe, humans must be removed.”
“That is our fear as well,” his father said.
Sojourn sighed. For once it would have been a great comfort if his parents had disagreed with his conclusion.
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