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  1. The Weather Vane
  3. Gedalia Gershon
  30. Copyright © 2018 Gedalia Gershon
  31. All rights reserved.
  32. ISBN: 9781723762802
  37. 01
  40. UNAWARE of the octopus menace growing in the wings, the prisoner woke on the forecastle of the Sea Star.
  41. Bosun Bicklesworth asked, “Where’d ya go thurr, matey?”
  42. The prisoner didn’t know, and he said so.  Ocean spray came over the gunnel and washed away the last sliver of his dream.
  43. The bosun said, “Stand up then, yarr.”  
  44. The prisoner stood up in the sunshine and the hard wind blew.  
  45. The bosun clapped him on the back and said, “Me thought we’d lost ye, yarr!  Aye, we did!”
  46. The prisoner was confused and surveyed the big ship.  The sails and rigging blotted out the sky behind the bosun as the ship rocked from side to side and back and forth.  He focused on the blue-uniformed figures on the quarterdeck behind the mainsail.  The sails cracked in the wind and the salty ropes creaked.  The prisoner got vertigo.  He leaned against the gunnel unsure on his landlubber’s legs.  The Jolly Roger flying atop the highest tegelen sail smiled down at him and he smiled back.  
  47. Rosalie put her hand on his back and asked, “Are you ok, love?”
  48. Behind the sails, the sky was scarlet and orange fading to deep purple.  The prisoner looked overhead where the rigging hardly crossed the ship’s foremost section.  He saw deepest space of night though it was day on deck and skies were blue near the horizon.  He looked again and saw the sky fade to sunset near the zenith.  At the zenith, he saw stars and a plan-et with wispy white stripes.  He told Rosalie he was confused.
  49. Bicklesworth thought to help.  He said, “Garr!  Yer on ye oldie Sea Star, sailin’ from one life to yer next.  Bo!  Hurr!”
  50. Rosalie asked if he remembered.  The prisoner noticed a half-dozen others standing with him besides Rosalie and the bosun.  The look on the prisoner’s face said he did not re-member.  The bosun frowned.  The bosun said, “Best we take ye belowdecks, reckon.  Yarr.”
  51. “Did you fall asleep?,” Rosalie asked.
  52. “I, uh...,” the prisoner didn’t know.  “Who are you?”
  53. “Me?,” she laughed. “I’m Rosalie.”
  54. Bicklesworth said, “And you wouldn’t be forgettin’ yer old matey the bosun now, would ye?  Narr!”  The prisoner only frowned as the ship rocked from side to side, and back and forth.  The bosun said, “Barr!  ‘Elp me wi’im, would ya, lady?”
  55. The prisoner said, “It’s ok, I got it.  Below deck you said?  Lead the way.”  The bosun told Rosalie to stay put and he led the prisoner to the hatch.  They walked past some salty old sea dogs milling about, swabbing the deck and such.  They didn’t give a glance.  A few score non-nautical types watched intently as the prisoner followed the bosun to the hatch.  
  56. “Down the hatch master!  Aye!  Right down ya go!  We’ll get ye all shipshape ‘n’ fooly in yer noggin, ain’t no concern.  Narr.”
  57. The prisoner climbed down the ladder until the blue sky was hidden by the ship’s timbers.  Looking up the ladderwell, he saw the ropes and sail lit with daylight but behind them only the night sky where a greenish planet replaced the old one.  Confused and ignorant, the prisoner climbed to the bot-tom and the bosun followed him down.  The ship rocked along its gait, this way and that way, side to side and back again, creaking along the way.
  58. The bosun wrapped on a secured hatch three times and un-latched it when there was no reply.  He said, “‘Ave a seat then. I’ll fetch the doc.  Aye.  Fetch the doc, yarr.”  
  59. The bosun and the prisoner had gone impossibly far be-lowdecks compared to the size of the ship seen from above.  The prisoner asked him about it but the bosun only laughed.  
  60. The bosun said, “Aye.  She’s a good big ship she is.  Wouldn’t ‘ave it no other way!  Narr, she woon’t.  A good big ship and true!  Yarr!”
  61. Bicklesworth walked away mumbling.  The prisoner waited.  The light through the single porthole played in the kit netted to the overhead.  Amnesia occurred to him, and he tried to recall, but his breath was too hot when he breathed it and he only felt sick.
  62. A brief tap at the door and a red-faced man burst into the room.  The doctor’s shiny, crimson, formfitting body suit threw the prisoner for a loop.  The shock of unkempt crimson hair made the man altogether ridiculous.  The doctor said, “One Two Axelzaxbar, ship’s doctor.”  He extended his hand and the prisoner shook it.  “Oh my!  Aren’t we the clammy one?”  The doctor shook his head tsk-tsk-tsk, “That’s not good.” He turned his back to rummage through a hanging net.
  63. The prisoner said, “I’m confused.”  One Two Axelzaxbar paid him no mind and moved to a second net, and then a third.  “Doctor One Two... what was your name, sir?”
  64. “One Two Axelzaxbar.  But please, feel free to call me Twelve.  Here, drink this.”  Twelve uncorked a gourd and jammed it at the prisoner’s face.  Fine mist piped out like a sci-fi piston.  The prisoner took a whiff and chugged it.
  65. Twelve plopped down on a stool and stared into his pa-tient’s eyes, first the left, then the right.  Left right, left right, the doctor examined his eyes quite closely.  “So, my friend, please do tell me.  How did you come to be aboard our fair lady?”
  66. “Fair lady?”
  67. “The Sea Star.”  Twelve waved his hands around to the deck and bulkheads.  “This lovely ship.”
  68. “I don’t remember.  I can’t remember anything to speak of.”
  69. “Do you remember Earth?”
  70. The prisoner smiled.  “Yeah.  I’m definitely from Earth.  I’m American.”  Then he said, “Is this not Earth?”
  71. “And Mr. Bicklesworth informed me that you nodded off already?  On the very first day?”
  72. The prisoner thought, Did I?, and said, “I don’t think so, but—”  
  73. The doctor cocked his eyebrow and gave an incredulous look.  
  74. “Well, maybe,” the prisoner corrected himself.
  75. Twelve said, “Well, if you did then I’m quite surprised, quite surprised mind you, that you’re still here!”
  76. The prisoner said, “Why’s that?”
  77. “Don’t you remember the orientation?”
  78. “No.”
  79. “I see.”  Twelve frowned and looked away.  “Well then, the skinny-minnie of it is that you died on Earth and ascended, or maybe you ascended in life, it happens you know, and you made it to the Port of Higher Calls from whence we’ve de-parted just this morning.  Does it make bells ring for you?”
  80. The prisoner shook his head no.
  81. “We ferry the Ascendant from their home worlds to their next port of call.  The thing is, with you though...  you can’t fall asleep!  Are you sure you don’t remember the orienta-tion?”
  82. “I sure don’t.”
  83. “Well, the thing is: you mustn’t fall asleep!  If your atten-tion disintegrates then so will you!  Do you understand?”
  84. “I died?”
  85. “Maybe you did, I don’t know.  I fear you’re dead now but let me explain.  You cannot fall asleep on the Sea Star because it is only an unbending intent that will guide us to your desti-nation.  Those who fall asleep fade away.”
  86. The prisoner showed the doctor his hands. “Well... I’m still here, man.”
  87. “Yes, but Bosun Bicklesworth tells me you were nodding off.”
  88. A long moment passed, and the prisoner said, “Well... I was dreaming so, yeah.  I guess I fell asleep.”
  89. “Most interesting, my boy!  An exceptional case!  An excit-ing event!”  He snatched the gourd out of the prisoner’s hand and licked the strung cork.  “Do tell me.  What was your dream?”  The doctor jumped his stool back and kicked his red-booted feet up on the bench where the prisoner sat.
  90. “I don’t remember.”
  91. “I see!  I see!  You don’t remember.  Of course!  You don’t remember the dream you had on the forecastle.”  The doctor dropped his feet and scooted closer than the prisoner cared for.  Twelve said, “But riddle me this then, my good man: how did you come to be on the forecastle?”
  92. “I don’t—,” the prisoner began but a vision came to him.  “I was watching some mermaids play near the bow.”
  93. “Yes of course!  The merfolk.  Beautiful creatures!  I fan-cied more’n a few mermaidens in my time.  Beautiful crea-tures.”  Twelve winked slyly.  “Life at sea’s different than life ashore, you know!”  He jabbed his fingers into the prisoner’s ribs and smiled a wide mouthful of very pink teeth.  He said, “Life at sea’s different than life ashore, you know,” and prod-ded the prisoner with his finger again.
  94. The prisoner said, “Dude,” as he brushed the doctor’s hand away.
  95. Twelve said, “Hmmm... well, yes, it is, you know.” He re-lented in his prodding and gave the prisoner room to breathe his too hot breath.  In a hardly audible whisper the doctor muttered, “Quite different, you know.”  A moment passed and the doctor winked.  The prisoner chose to smile.  Was it good that his memory was coming back or was it bad that he was discussing the delights of the mermaidens with a red man in a red body suit in a dingy ship’s hold?  The prisoner did not know.  
  96. The prisoner said yes and no when the doctor asked him many more questions.  He listened intently to everything the doctor said but it didn’t quite come together as a coherent narrative.  
  97. Twelve said, “Alright, my boy.  Back up on deck with you.  Unless you’ve some questions for me.”
  98. “You mentioned that people, uh... you said those of who fall asleep fade away.  Why didn’t I fade away?”
  99. “That is an excellent question to which I will be devoting my full attention when I return to university.”  One Two Ax-elzaxbar, R.R., M.D., Ph.D., Ph.Q., Z.ζ.7 stood and opened the hatch to the gangway where he motioned the prisoner to be on his way.
  100. The prisoner said, “And one other thing.  We’re all dead?”
  101. “Oh no, my boy!  We’re very much alive.  You Ascendant have only shuffled from mortal coil to the next, and those of us in the ship’s crew know nothing but life.  Move along now, abovedecks with you.”
  102. The prisoner had one more question but chose not to ask it.  He preferred to believe that he misunderstood the doctor’s blathering.
  105. 02
  108. ON deck, no one was talking and the prisoner didn’t have much to say.  He loved the sea, the weather was beautiful, and the creaky Sea Star seemed right as rain.  The sky was a de-light.  He watched the clouds roll in from the horizon and then get sucked into the void of space where high noon would have been if there was a sun.  
  109. A big cloud rolled toward the Sea Star, a nimbus.  The prisoner’s gaze drifted from the cloud to the cyan sky at the horizon.  He rolled his gaze back above where the colors of the sky darkened until a ring of sunset hues began near sixty degrees.  Near the vertical, a blue gas planet with neon orange stripes was circled by sharp gray-brown rings like Saturn’s.  The forward edge of the cloud began to dance against the sun-set.  Then the poofy cloud became turbulent at the sky’s last purple brink before the star field began.  A few tornadoes formed far above the Sea Star and then, all at once, the whole cloud, even the calm part set against the still blue sky, was sucked out into space never to be seen or heard from again.
  110. “Well, dang,” the prisoner said.
  111. Rosalie surprised him, “I used to watch clouds with my husband.”  The prisoner turned.  She said, “He would have loved to see that.”
  112. The prisoner said, “It doesn’t quite look natural does it?”
  113. She said, “You’re one to talk, mister!  You’re not looking too good.”
  114. He glanced at his arm again but, really, he was watching the clouds to keep his mind off it.  His skin was looking a little waxy.  He was constipated.  He said, “I mean... if the clouds at the edge get sucked in there then how come all the air doesn’t get sucked out too?”
  115. “Air?,” she giggled.
  116. “What’s funny?”
  117. “There’s no air, love.  All of this is magic.”
  118. “Oh magic, huh?  Who told you that?”
  119. “It just is.  Can’t you see it?”
  120. “I can’t, no.”
  121. “Are you ok?,” she put her hand on his shoulder.
  122. His shoulder felt numb like it had fallen asleep but without the pins and needles.  He wore only a thin tunic but her touch felt like he was under a heavy coat.  He pointed to the deck and said, “Well, if it’s magic then why are those ropes’ shad-ows over there when there’s no sun in the sky over there?”  He pointed to the sky behind her.
  123. Rosalie said, “Sorry.  Everyone’s so quiet.”  Then she said, “We’re going to be here a while and you just reminded me of Ben when you were looking up at the clouds like that.”  He didn’t say anything.  “I’m Rosalie,” she said.
  124. He took her up on it.  The prisoner said, “Well, hello there, Rosalie.” He took her extended hand and said, “I’m having a problem understanding what’s going on.”
  125. “Having A Problem Understanding What’s Going On?!  Such a long name!”  The prisoner liked her joke.  She said, “Nice to meet you.”
  126. “Likewise,” he said.  After a moment he said, “So, Rosalie, tell me.  What are you up to these days?”
  127. “Not much, just waiting for the viewing to start.”
  128. “Do you remember how you got here?”
  129. “I sure do.  I died in my sleep and woke up in a room at Barney’s.”
  130. He thought about it.  When she didn’t say more, he asked, “And who is Barney and what belongs to him?”
  131. “Barney keeps the inn at the Port of Higher Calls.  Rejoice, my friend.  We are Ascendant!”  He couldn’t share her enthu-siasm.  She saw on his face that he was sad and the extent of his ignorance registered with her.  She said, “Do you remem-ber your path, love?”
  132. “My path?”  Her eyes widened and he said, “No, I don’t remember anything.”  He looked around for another cloud that might disappear but they were all far out in the blue zone.  His headache had worsened since he began talking.  The pris-oner said, “What was your path?”
  133. “Oh!  I was a witch!”  She cackled an emphatically witchy cackle.
  134. The prisoner thought about it and went with it.  “A witch, huh?  What’s a witch do?”
  135. “Professionally?  Mostly I did remote viewing work for various shady organizations.  Then after Ben died, I retired and moved to the mountains.”
  136. That rung his bell.  A long and craggy canyon formed in his mind.  In the distance, the floor of the valley was green.  Higher up, there were no plants, only rocks.  Then it was gone, and he couldn’t be sure he’d seen it.  
  137. Rosalie saw the thoughts on his face.  “You know... we’re all about the same as you.  No one knows what’s to come.  Everyone’s just waiting and thinking.”
  138. He glanced around.  There was a skeleton crew on deck with about a hundred other somber Ascendant quietly alone on the big ship.  
  139. Rosalie said, “It’s just that you reminded me of Ben so much there.  I didn’t mean to bother you.”
  140. He said, “No, it’s fine.  I don’t mind.”  She looked to the horizon.  He began, “You know the other day—,” but he cor-rected himself since there was no night or day, or even any time at all other than the clouds blowing across the sky and ship’s pendulum gait.  He said instead, “When I fell asleep, you were there.”
  141. “Did you fall asleep?”
  142. “I don’t know, but you were there, right?”
  143. “I was.  I was in my own little world thinking about things and then Mr. Bicklesworth starts raging like a madman and charging over to us, ‘Shake ‘im ‘wake!  Shake ‘im ‘wake!,’ and I shook your arm but you didn’t seem asleep to me.”
  144. The prisoner said, “He brought me to see the doctor.  He mentioned an orientation.”
  145. Rosalie said, “You don’t remember it?”
  146. The prisoner said, “Can you tell me what they said?”
  147. She said, “Sure I can, love,” and she told him.
  151. 03
  154. ROSALIE woke in a rustic room not at all unlike the cabin at the entrance to her mountain compound.  She was worried but immediately noticed the note on her bedside table.  It ex-plained that she died and was Ascendant, and that she should go downstairs where she could get something to eat when she was ready.  She thought it might have been a trick even though her senses reassured her.  When she looked to her face in the mirror, it was forty years ago she felt just fine.  She lis-tened to the sounds coming from outside and got back into bed to sleep a little more.  She slept deeply and woke again.  She checked the mirror to see if she was still young.  She was.  Her thin gray hair was red and thick, and wavy and vibrant.  Her cherub’s cheeks were high and smooth.  The note said there were clothes for her in the closet, so she took off the night gown, dressed, and opened the door.  The sounds were jovial as she walked down the hall.  After two turns and some stairs, she came to a restaurant and was seated by a young girl.
  155. The waitress said, “Can I get you something to eat, ma’am?”
  156. Rosalie looked around and didn’t see anyone else sitting by themselves.  “I suppose.  What do you have?”
  157. “Special today is bear stew.  We’ve got kelp salad, bread, rye bread, sour bread, hard bread, and soggy bread.  If ya got something else in mind, Barney might get it together for ya.”
  158. Rosalie looked around again and didn’t see a mirror.  She was apprehensive because that didn’t sound like the menu in heaven.  Rosalie said, “Yes, love.”  She looked fully around to her left and fully around to her right hoping to see something to make her feel more sure but there was nothing.  Instead, she grabbed a handful of her hair.  It was young and strong, and that was convincing enough.  She said, “You don’t have any,” she winked, “mushroom ravioli, do you?”
  159. “Mushroom ravioli, ma’am?”
  160. Rosalie wasn’t sure if she’d said too much but she nodded confidently.  
  161. The girl said, “Let me check.”  The girl disappeared and re-appeared and said they didn’t.  Rosalie had the salad and the bread, and it was pretty good.    
  162. When she was done, she asked the girl, “Tell me, love, are these the other Ascendant?”  
  163. “No, ma’am.  They’ve gone to the park.  I don’t think any of the others went back to sleep after they read their notes.”  The girl winked and was gone.
  164. The park, eh?  Rosalie walked outside and saw the green space down the road.  She walked and it was obvious that the Ascendant were there.  Their energy was undeniable.  She had never felt so much living energy in one place.  Not by a long shot.
  165. A man called to her, “Rosalie, over here.”  He told her what he’d told the others.  She should make herself at home, but she mustn’t wander too far.  She could come as far as the park and she may go down by the docks and the pier, but she shouldn’t stray far from Ascendico Boulevard.  The man said, “You’re safe here but the dock is never really the safest place.”  He told her that the Sea Star couldn’t approach the pier until the wind picked up.  Until that happened, there was nothing to do but wait.  
  166. The man walked away so Rosalie sat quietly among the other Ascendant who also sat in the park.  After six days, the wind picked up.  On the seventh day, it seemed like the whole town would blow away.  The girl came to Rosalie’s room and told her that it was time to go.  Rosalie gathered with the oth-er Ascendant in the restaurant.  She made small talk with an-other woman, Carla, and then the front door blew open.  It scared her.  The roar of the wind and rain was terribly loud.
  167. The man from the park came in.  Before he shut the door, Rosalie saw a whole cart turned on its side and pushed by the wind down Ascendico Boulevard.  The man gave each As-cendant person a length of rope and instructed them how to tie a harness for themselves.  After an hour, he had checked everyone’s knots and handed each aspiring master a pair of carabiners.  He told them to line up by the door single file and attach themselves to the rope outside so they wouldn’t get blown away.  The man said, “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll make it.  I’ve been doing this a long time.  I never saw one of you lot get blown away in the storm.”
  168. Someone asked, “Why not do it when the weather is bet-ter?”
  169. The man said, “You’ll see.”
  170. The driving rain hurt but they slogged single file down to the dock where the Sea Star was moored.  It was a catamaran, two individual sailing ships connected by some crossbeams.  One hull sat at the dock and another was fifty feet in the air, completely out of the water.  The sails were furled on the low-er hull’s masts but the force of the wind at the broad array of nested sails on the multiple masts of the upper hull kept the second ship aloft in a precarious balancing act.  The second hull swept in the air as the winds roared and waned, and as the hull in the water rode the waves.
  171. Rosalie thought the wind would blow her off her feet but it didn’t.  She kept putting one foot forward and then the oth-er until all the Ascendant in front of her stopped and she stopped too.  The angle of the deck on the flying ship was such that gravity should have pulled all the sailors into the sea but it didn’t.  As much as Rosalie could see through the del-uge, the sailors on the flying hull were walking and working at about seventy degrees to the vertical.  The people in front of her got on the lower ship and then it was her turn to climb the net draped over the side.  The lower ship rocked a lot as the unconstant wind pushed the upper ship higher and dropped it into its lulls.  
  172. The young officer leaned close and yelled in Rosalie’s ear, “Use your hands on the verticals, put your feet on the hori-zontals.”  He showed her what he meant by grabbing two ver-tical ropes and shaking them.  He grabbed a horizontal rope and shook his finger in her face.  “No!”
  173. She climbed up.  Other Ascendant climbed up behind her.  The officer climbed up and then two deckhands pulled the net up and over.  Besides what might have been a hundred miles of sail and rigging, there were ropes strung across various por-tions of the deck and she was shown how to loop her foot in the rope near one of the cleats, and to hold the rope behind her back and under her arms.
  174. The Sea Star was quickly underway and then Rosalie was very glad to have the rope.  The pitching was as violent as the dickens as the Sea Star somehow remained halfway balanced in the air.  She heard a yell and a thud behind her as someone was flung into the sea when the Sea Star cleared the jetty.  A big wave came over the port side to wash two more away.  Rosalie had seen plenty of violence and didn’t wince but many others did when a body was thrown into the air.  It smashed against the mast as the ship rolled back in the trough.  Then that Ascendant person was lost in the water.
  175. Suddenly sailors were about a big commotion.  A man was signaling to the higher ship with a pair of flags.  Rosalie looked up to see the sails levering the big ship up start to furl and then the sails around her were unfurled. The Sea Star’s sails blocked her view as they caught the wind.  The higher ship dropped and the lower deck pitched over until it became a vertical wall.  As the higher ship dropped, the lower ship was hoisted higher and higher until gravity normalized and the storm was gone.  It was daylight on a calm sea.  The As-cendant looked about confused and awestruck from above by the cosmic porthole landscape of stars.
  176. One of the officers said they were going to sail out into the deep water and then have a viewing.  They would sit on the deck and watch each other’s entire lives play out like movies projected onto the mizzen sail.  Since almost everyone had made it so far, the viewing was going to take a long time.  The crew had experts that would also watch, and they would de-cide who would disembark where based on what they saw.  The Ascendant were ascending to join the Guild of the Great-er Good in the fight against the Eternal Enemy.
  177. “Any questions?,” the officer asked.
  178. Someone called out, “So if someone lived to be eighty years old then how long will that take to watch?”
  179. “Eighty years.  Any other questions?”
  180. Olunkuna said, “Why are there so many more Ascendant women than men?”  There were about three for every two men.  She asked, “Are we that much stronger?”
  181. The officer said, “Ah, no.  We have polygamy in Exland so... any other questions?”
  182. There were several more questions.  The officer answered them all patiently and left them with a stern warning.  “Yer among the most powerful people from yer whole planet.  Yer from this nation ‘n’ that nation, and this time ‘n’ that time, but we know ya understand what sleep is.  Ya might think yer get-ting tired but yer not!  Think of this fine ship—”
  183. A refrain of sailors chimed in from the rigging.
  184. “A fine ship!”
  185. “Yarrr.”
  186. “The finest ship, yarr!”
  187. The officer continued, “Think of the Sea Star as a dream.  Don’t letcher mind wander.  Somethin’ ‘portant brought ya here and keep yer minds on it.  If ya ‘cide ‘o take a nap, then that’ll be the end o’ ya.  Case closed. No more you!”
  190. 04
  193. THE main deck was shrouded in ropes and sail.  The Sea Star was so long and big, there was hardly an unobstructed line of sight from fore to stern.  The ship’s crew were about a steady business of sailing and maintenance, but it was hard for the Ascendant to know what the crew did.
  194. The prisoner jumped to his feet.  He said, “But why is the shadow here and not there?  It doesn’t make any sense!  There’s no sun!”  He had taken ill.  His stomach felt like a ton of lead.  
  195. Riz said, “No, sir.  The light comes down from the sunset like a waterfall.”   Riz pointed again to the sketch he’d made as if one more glance would finally convince the prisoner that the Sea Star’s science spurning shadows were in good order.
  196. Riz was alive five centuries earlier than the prisoner and the prisoner couldn’t debate the man, not for lack of trying, so he walked away.  The prisoner felt horrible.  He was drinking and eating but his bowels hadn’t moved since Twelve gave him that stinking gourded potion.  His hands were a deathly taupe shade.  He couldn’t get a straight answer out of the crew and the other Ascendant were uniformly too uneducated or too mystical to make any sense when the prisoner tried to ra-tionalize things.  
  197. Ishikawa, who had been a samurai and a nobleman in Ja-pan’s Tokugawa shogunate, and who had studied in the Por-tuguese school in his prefecture, was regaling Rosalie and two other women with tales of battle and intrigue when it hap-pened.  The world’s worst, most cavernous sloppy roast beef fart escaped the prisoner’s backside.  Ishikawa’s hawkish fea-tures contorted into a mask of disgust.  
  198. Rosalie said, “Oh my!”
  199. A few others made their similar sentiments known with lesser but varying degrees of tact.
  200. The prisoner smelled it and it was the worst of his life.  It was the worst by far.  He threw his hands up in frustration.  He pointed at Ishikawa.  “I mean how the fuck does he speak English?  And you, French caveman, how the fuck do you speak English?”  There was another group of three black men and a black-looking woman looking at him.  The prisoner waved his hands angrily at them and said, “He literally invad-ed Spain from Africa and he speaks perfect fucking English, man!  I mean... what the fuck!?”
  201. Then he realized he’d soiled his britches too.  A slow, wet slop worked its way down his trouser leg.  He considered the disgust turning to pity on the faces around him and felt ashamed.  “I’m sorry about that, y’all.”  Not knowing where he could clean himself, he headed belowdecks.  He wanted to see Twelve again.  
  202. Just before the prisoner reached the hatch, a sailor in the rigging yelled, “Arrr!  Poseidon give us a breeze!”
  203. When the prisoner turned to mount the ladder, he saw his trail on the deck.  It was something like uncooked sausage links and blood.  He missed his handhold on the ladder, slammed his chin on the third rung, and fell down the shaft to land in another ghastly, poopy fart explosion.  
  204. The carpenter’s mate dropped his work planing a new hull plank.  “Careful tharr, master, ye— Oh, have mercy on me all ye fish in the sea!”  He covered his nose and mouth with an oil cloth.  “Are ye shipshape, master?”   The mate kept his dis-tance.  Then he stepped back.
  205. The prisoner groaned, “Would you get Doctor Snacks Bar for me, please?”  The prisoner thought his jaw was broken but he didn’t want to check because his hands were covered with mess.  His trouser britches ripped in the fall.  He said, “Twelve, I mean.  The red man.”
  206. “Aye, arrr.”  The carpenter’s mate avoided the second hatch at the prisoner’s feet and climbed down another ladder at the back of the hold.  
  207. Shadows danced around the prisoner.  Several heads were visible at the top of the ladderwell, but he couldn’t see their faces for the light streaming down behind them from blackest night.  Rosalie yelled, “Are you ok?  It looked like you fell.”  Her voice sounded funny because she was holding her nose.
  208. The prisoner said, “Don’t come down here.”
  209. Ishikawa laughed.  As if.
  210. “Are you ok, love?”
  211. The prisoner looked at his hands and felt the throbbing in his chin.  “No, Rosalie.  I don’t think I am.”
  212. A voice he didn’t recognize asked, “Dost thou require aide, comrade?”
  213. “Outta my way, yous,” a burly sailor jostled past Rosalie and the others.  He slid down the ladder despite the prisoner’s protestations.
  214. The burly sailor said, “Yer right messy thurr, master.  Yarr, ya are.”  The sailor nudged one of the prisoner’s chunks with his boot.  “Ne’er saw a sick passenger ‘fore.  Narr!  Narr, not a one.”  He looked at the prisoner as if expecting an answer.  The crisscrossed creases in the sailor’s furrowed brow cracked the leather skin from eyes to scalp.  The prisoner heard the whispers of whomever Rosalie was with.
  215. The sailor pressed the prisoner.  “Mr. Bicklesworth woke ye from yon nap, did he?”  The prisoner looked away and the sailor raised his voice, “Yarr er narr, tell me now!”
  216. The prisoner made a show of wiping his hands on his ru-ined britches.  The sailor kicked him in the foot and bellowed, “Dammit!  I’m the sailing master o’ this ship and I’ll know my heading.”  Then he added in a tone of reconciliation, “Yarrr, I will.”  He tossed the prisoner one of the carpenter’s oil rags.  “Was it ye who napped and yet remain?  Answer you me.”
  217. “Yarrr!  ‘Twas I,” the prisoner answered.
  218. A great smile spread across the sailing master’s fat, wrin-kled face.  “Yarrr!  Methought ‘twere ye!”
  219. The prisoner realized he didn’t feel so bad once the embar-rassment was wearing thin.  He said, “Yarrr!”
  220. The sailing master yarred again and a few enthusiastic yells of, “Yarrr,” came down from above.  
  221. The sailing master tucked his fat ogre’s thumbs into his belt and rocked back on his boot heels.  “Yarr, yer alright, matey.”  He looked around.  “Were Mr. Woodwright in ‘ere when ye entered?”
  222. The prisoner didn’t know who Mr. Woodwright was.  He said, “He went to go get the doctor.”
  223. The prisoner stood up and ignored the flow of bodies from his trousers.  The sailing master frowned at the aromatic wave but stood unflinchingly.  “C’mere, young master.  Wasser name?”  The prisoner told him that he couldn’t remember.  The sailing master introduced himself as Mr. Black.  Mr. Black offered his hand in a startling display of poor hygiene.  The prisoner wiped his hand one more time with the rag and shook Mr. Black’s hand which was like a mooring cleat hang-ing five wood bananas.  
  224. Mr. Black said, “Garr, tharr,” and pointed to his own chin.  “Ye’ve got a wee thing ‘anging free.”  He reached out his oth-er hand and plucked something from the prisoner’s face.  In Mr. Black’s hand, the prisoner saw his chin.  
  225. “Good sir!  I’ll not have the ship’s crew scouring the flesh from my wards!”  Twelve burst into the room in a brilliant red flash.  The spastic motion would have reminded the prisoner of Kramer from Seinfeld if he could have remembered, but he could not.  Dr. Twelve said, “Remand that flesh to me this instant, Mr. Black,” and stomped his foot emphatically.  “Harumph!”  Mr. Black tossed the chin to him, wished them both good day, and climbed abovedecks.  
  226. The sails hung slack but the clouds showed that the wind would pick up soon.  The smell lingered so Rosalie walked away from it, which was hard to do with no wind.  A few of the ship’s crew and more than a few Ascendant made their way to observe the prisoner’s leavings.  Rosalie walked all the way to the bow and even leaned forward a little trying to smell the salty blue water.  It wasn’t far enough, and she walked to-ward the stern.  She went down the stair from the forecastle to the main deck, then down another stair to the waist of the ship where the gunnel became a bulwark.
  227. On the Sea Star’s waist, Rosalie took note of an eccentric man and her rush slowed to a meander.  He was an older man with a peg leg, an eye patch, and a hook hand.  He advised some discipline for half a dozen men, all replete with limbs, hoisting a cargo net through an open deck plate.  He said, “Altogether now, lads!  Put yer backs into it!”
  228. The man looked at Rosalie and she felt awkward when he caught her looking at his eye patch instead of his one good eye.  He said, “The poopdeck.”
  229. Rosalie said, “Yes, excuse me.  I was trying to get away from it.”
  230. “Narr, lass.  The poopdeck is where ye wanna be.  Abaft o’ da quarterdeck.”  He pointed the way she was heading and shooed his nose.
  231. “Yes, the poopdeck.”  She’d heard the term before.  
  232. The men drawing the cargo heaved again and most of the big net appeared.  It looked very heavy and she counted four blocks in the rigging.  Ben would have liked that.  He was an engineer.  He had been.
  233. The man sunk his hook into the net.  When he pulled it, a crane arm that Rosalie didn’t notice at first creaked.  The man leaned into it and pushed with his peg leg while balancing on the good foot.  He said, “Watch out, lass.  ‘Tis heavy, aye.”
  234. “Oh, of course.  Excuse me.”  The great old winch creaked and swiveled toward her as she took a few steps back.  The sound of the wooden joints’ twisting soothed and distracted her.
  235. “Alright, lads,” he said.  The ropes went slack and the load dropped onto the deck.  As the slack went from the net’s drawline, a few things spilled here and there.  The peg-legged man began to hobble aforeships.
  236. Rosalie stopped him.  “Sir?  Sir, excuse me?”
  237. He turned and gave her an inquisitive eye.
  238. “Hello, I’m Rosalie.”
  239. He nodded.
  240. “And you are?”
  241. “They call us Lefty.  Aye, so they do.”
  242. “Oh dear!  I see.”  The man’s left leg, left hand, and left eye were missing, and the moniker seemed in good agreement with her general impression of business aboard the Sea Star.  “May I ask what task you men have at hand?”
  243. “Yarr,” Lefty replied and left it at that.  
  244. “I’ve just noticed that the crew keep so busy, but our des-tination is so far away.  What’s in these bags?”  She waved to the net where Lefty’s lads sorted the swag.
  245. “Oh, aye!  What’s in the bags is a mystery, young master lady.  ‘Ave a look if it’ll make ye right.”
  246. “I can have a look?”
  247. Lefty said, “Aye.  We’re ‘ere at yer service.  Do as ya please.”  
  248. Rosalie liked the sentiment but knew it wasn’t entirely true.  The Ascendant weren’t to go belowdecks uninvited, they weren’t to cross the cordon on the quarterdeck, and even then, they weren’t to linger on the quarterdeck where the captain and bridge crew drove the ship.  Bicklesworth had been rather keen on that.  He’d said, “And don’t ye linger!  Narr, narr, narr!  No lingerin’!!!”
  249. She squeezed into the fray of sailors stacking the bags and barrels.  She introduced herself making pleasantries and the sailors did the same.
  250. “Yarrr.”
  251. “Yarrr.”
  252. “Hurrr.”
  253. “Durrr.”
  254. Rosalie picked up a burlap sack and was surprised to see the word MYSTERY stenciled in blue paint.  She set it down and picked up a jug.  UNKNOWN was etched into the hard-fired clay.  She shot Lefty an inquisitive look.  He smiled and gimped down the ladder where the deck plate was open.  She rolled a barrel on its side: THINGS.  More Ascendant joined her inspection as they too tried move toward the stern.  She liked their curiosity.  The general conservative demeanor of her fellows was a drag.  
  255. Porfirio asked Rosalie, “What do you make of it?”  He and Rosalie had become acquainted during the prisoner’s if-you’re-all-speaking-English-then-why-don’t-you-have-English-names rant.  
  256. Before Rosalie could answer, one of the others, a tiny pyg-my of a man, answered.  He said, “I don’t know what to make of it.”
  257. Rosalie said, “Only one way to find out.”  She lifted a small jug above her head.  
  258. From nowhere, one of the sailors grabbed her wrist.  It didn’t hurt but the man’s hand might have been an iron mana-cle.  He said, “Narr, me sweet sea fire.  Can’t be spilling the secrets just yet now, can we?”  She relinquished the jug and noticed SECRETS printed on the side.  The man shook his head and placed the jug with the other jugs of secrets.  “Narrr,” he muttered.  She looked at the other sailors and they cast disapproving looks.  
  259. Curiosity culled if not quite satisfied, the Ascendant moved back from the sailors that returned to organizing their haul.  The gathered Ascendant climbed onto the quarterdeck, moved quickly across it, and climbed onto the poopdeck where the air was fresh enough.  Some of them laid down to stare at the sky and space.  Rosalie leaned against the gunnel.  Daria slid next to her.  She said, “Did he call you sea fire? That’s nice.”
  260. “He did,” Rosalie said, glad of the conversation.
  261. Daria said, “It’s very fitting.  I could have sworn your hair was on fire once, but it was only blowing in the wind.”
  262. Rosalie said, “Don’t you say the sweetest things.  I’m Rosa-lie.”
  263. “Daria.”
  264. In her new life at sea, Rosalie’s youth had returned, and every Ascendant person was young and healthy.  Rosalie twirled her hair in her fingers half as much as the others watched the waves break and the sky roll.  
  265. Rosalie said, “I love this,” taking the sleeve of Daria’s silky gown.  They talked for a long time, a day or more, before the prisoner climbed up the ladder looking worse than ever.  Rosalie frowned at him.   
  266. He said, “I’m a zombie!”
  269. 05
  272. BICKLESWORTH told the prisoner, “It’s the fluctuations in the root mean square of the variance.”  The prisoner squinted his eyes and the bosun added, "Yarr, ‘tis,” and winked.
  273. The prisoner couldn’t argue with the bosun’s logic. The explanation was pretty good but a hundred other things on board made no sense at all.  He said, “Rosalie told me the Sea Star is really a catamaran.  Where’s the other hull then?”
  274. “Down below, low down beneath, aye.”
  275. “Where is it though?” The prisoner gestured for the bosun to follow him to the gunnel.  The prisoner leaned far out over the water and didn’t see it.  “Where?”
  276. “Bo!  Hurrr!  It’s down thurr young master.  D’ye see water lappin’ ‘gainst the ‘ull?”
  277. The prisoner did not and said so.  He’d assumed that was just the breadth of the big ship.  
  278. The bosun said, “Down there ‘tis, skirtin’ a dangerous nether realm ‘tween thither and yon, and ye wouldn’t wanna fall inter.  Narr, siree.”
  279. The prisoner leaned out even further.  He saw no evidence of any waves reflecting off the hull.  How did I not notice that before?
  280. “Careful tharr, ‘tis a dangerous nether realm ‘tween ‘ere and thurr.  Bo, hurr.”
  281. The prisoner thought about it for a moment, and though he didn’t think the bosun was lying, he declared, “Bullshit,” and picked up a length of rope.
  282. Bosun Bicklesworth put his hand on the prisoner’s arm when he saw the prisoner meant to rappel over the side.  “Narr, narr, narr, master.  We can’t ‘ave that, now.  Narr way in heck.”
  283. “Why not?  If I die here then that must mean I wasn’t the one who wins your Guild war for you, right?”
  284. The bosun’s fat cheerful face went grim.  He’d heard that line of reasoning before.  The bosun’s countenance was so changed and gaunt that the prisoner felt uncomfortable and stopped tying the rope around his waist.  The bosun looked at him hard.  There was no silliness on that face.
  285. The prisoner said, “What?  Am I wrong?”
  286. “Narr.  Yer not wrong, master, but that’s dangerous thinkin’.  Aye, ‘tis.”
  287. “What of it then?  Pull me back up when I yell.”
  288. “Don’t do it, master.  If ye slip and get lost, y’ll suffer.  ‘Tain’t just dyin’.”
  289. “I’ll be fine,” the prisoner said.  He secured the other end of the rope to a cleat on deck.  He threw the rope over the side and was surprised that the rope didn’t hang slack.  It fol-lowed the curve of the hull and rolled out of sight beneath the ship.  The prisoner mounted the gunnel and then half walked and half rappelled down the outer hull.  
  290. “Be careful, master,” the bosun said.  “We’ll pull ye right back up.  Yarrr, we will,” and he continued to mutter as the prisoner descended.
  291. The gravity was wrong.  The prisoner’s feet kept stepping on the hull even as he descended past the overhang.  He looked up and saw Bicklesworth wave one last wave before the overhang blocked his line of sight.  He looked down and the water didn’t seem any closer.  Then he looked to the aft and nearly slipped when he saw a waterfall of the ocean spill-ing out into the void of space.  He took two more steps and underneath the ship he saw another set of sails.  Another two steps and he saw the crossbeams.  The prisoner was fully sur-rounded by space.  The star field felt cold.  The rush of water all around seemed like it should pour onto him, but the tor-rents bent away.  He called for the bosun to pull him back up but the man must not have heard.  Then the prisoner grabbed the rope and began to pull himself up.  When he pulled, all the dead flesh sloughed off the palm of his hand and he lost his grip.  He fell about twenty feet before the rope snapped taught.  The harness held fast and he dangled there, taking in the ocean above, the star field, and the other ocean that the Sea Star’s second section sailed.  He looked at his hand.  He could see the hand bones and the finger bones.
  292. The yank on the rope at the prisoner’s slip alerted the bo-sun and he pulled him back up.  Bicklesworth said, “Did ye slip?”
  293. “Aye, we did,” the prisoner said.  He was glad to see the warm happiness back on the bosun’s face.
  294. “Did ye see yon’ other hull.”
  295. “I sure did, thanks.”
  296. “So, yer satisfied then, are ye?”
  297. “I want to go down there?”
  298. “To the other hull?”
  299. “I want to see how what we see up here looks from down there.”
  300. The bosun was exasperated.  He said, “Narrr, ya can’t go down tharr.  Narp.”
  301. “Why not?”
  302. “I’ll tell ya why not, Mr. Sleepy Head.  It’s because yer a mimsy wonka.”
  303. “A what?”
  304. “A mimsy wonka.  Aye, ‘tis whatcha are.  Yarrr.”
  305. “What the fuck is a mimsy wonka?”
  306. At that, the bosun’s face brightened and became full of joy.  “What did ye ask me thurr, young master?”
  307. “I said, ‘What’s a mimsy wonka?’”
  308. “Aye, I thought that’s whatcha said.  Yarr, me thought ‘twere just so, aye.  Come wi’ me.  Barr!”
  309. They descended from the main deck to the waist where the bulwark was too high for even a tall man to look over.  Then they climbed up the taller ladder onto the quarterdeck where the bulwark gave way to a rail of fancy carpentry.  The bosun unclipped the purple velvet cordon rope, which was crisp and new and not salty and old like everything else on the Sea Star.  The bosun and the prisoner took the attention of the helms-man at the wheel, the navigator at the table, and the captain and his first mate behind them.  The bosun told the prisoner that it was alright to step forward.  Then Bosun Bicklesworth clipped the purple rope’s golden fastener back where it was.
  310. Captain Atlas said, “What are you about, Bicklesworth?  He shouldn’t be over here.”
  311. “This young master wants to know what a mimsy wonka is.”
  312. Smiles spread across the faces of the bridge crew in unison.  The captain said, “Oh?  He does, does he?”
  313. “Aye, Captain.  He do!  Yarrr, me heard it with me own ears just now.  Not forty moments ago, narr.”
  314. The captain said to the prisoner, “Is it true?”
  315. The prisoner said, “The fuck is a mimsy wonka?”
  316. The captain turned to the first mate, Leftenant Command-er Mancuso, and said, “Go for it.”
  317. Mancuso stepped forward and began singing to the tune of He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, “For he’s a mimsy old wonka, for he’s mimsy old wonka—” Music from a ragtime band filled the air and suddenly the quarterdeck was three times wider than it had been.  
  318. The prisoner looked to the bow and there were sailors singing along, doing acrobatic tricks in the rigging.  The song went on with dozens of voices sounding louder than a jet en-gine, “And so say of all of us!”  A loud cymbal crashed on the word us and the prisoner jumped.  He looked in the other di-rection and quickly moved out of the way for a marching band wearing all white, and even gleaming white patent leather shoes.  “And so say all of us!”
  319. The song went on. “For he’s a mimsy old wonka, for he’s a mimsy old wonka.  And so say all of us!”  At that us, the hatch to the space under the poopdeck burst open and a line of tropically themed Rockettes in Carmen Miranda headgear pranced out.  They sang along and kicked their long legs high.  From the other direction, a line of sailors wove through the Rockettes dancing with their mops and swabbing the deck theatrically with vaudevillian vim.  
  320. The song went on.  The prisoner watched the sparkling choreography of the Rockettes and sailors doing a number in front of the band stepping in place where they played their tune behind the navigator’s table.  “For he’s a mimsy old wonka, for he’s a mimsy old wonka.  Which nobody can de-ny!”
  321. The bosun yelled the last line right into his ear and it jolted the prisoner again.  “Which nobody can deny!”  After his glance, the song and the music ended, and the quarterdeck was its usual size.  There was no dancing, no Rockettes, and no band.
  322. Bosun Bicklesworth clapped the prisoner on the back. “Nardy narr, narr narr.  Nobody can deny it fer ye now, can they?”  The prisoner didn’t know what to make of it.  During a few hundred years aboard the Sea Star, he never again ex-pressed any irritation with something not making sense.  
  323. The captain told the prisoner that he stunk, and they should get the doctor.  The captain wanted to boil him to get all the rotting flesh off him.  The doctor assured the prisoner that he would be fine, so they made a fire on the main deck and brought a big black cauldron full of seawater to a bub-bling boil.  The prisoner put his hand in the steam and it didn’t hurt.  He dipped a finger in the water and it didn’t hurt so he hopped it and sat there for a while.  After that, he was just a skeleton.
  326. 06
  329. NOT long after the cauldron, the bosun went around the ship telling the Ascendant that they’d reached deep water and the viewing would start soon.  He said they should head to the poopdeck and sit so they could see the mizzen sail hanging from the Sea Star’s sternmost mast.  
  330. The prisoner and Rosalie sat next to each other.  “Here we go,” he said.  He offered his hand, he was wrapped in cloth like a mummy then, and she took it.  
  331. After all the Ascendant were situated, the captain ad-dressed them.  He congratulated them on making it so far and said, “In my experience, this first viewing is when yer most apt to nod off and fade away.  Try and stay awake.  Don’t forget.”  He told them that when the person whose life they were watching goes to sleep every night, they might be tempted to think of that as their own sleep and drift into a slumber them-selves.  “So be attentive.  Be vigilant.”  He had an aside with Leftenant Commander Mancuso and then said, “Oh, aye.  And be compassionate.  Other people’s lives’re all different than yer own.”
  332. Altogether, about a hundred Ascendant sat on the poopdeck waiting for the viewing to start.  After about five minutes, two men in black body suits appeared looking not at all unlike like Dr. Twelve.  Their skin and hair shined with an oily but clean looking sheen.  They hauled a big oaken chest shackled in iron.
  333. Rosalie asked the prisoner, “Who are they?”
  334. “No idea.”
  335. Someone in front of them turned and said, “They’re from IT.”
  336. Another of the Ascendant asked, “What’s IT?”
  337. “You know, they handle the computers and stuff.”
  338. The two black men opened the chest and passed out crowns.  One said, “Take one and pass it back.”
  339. The other said, “Just hold it.  Don’t put them on yet.”
  340. The prisoner and Rosalie passed them back as they came to them.  The crown was very thin like a tiara but with a large square jewel set in the forehead.  When everyone behind them had one, the prisoner and Rosalie took their own.  The pris-oner offered his to Rosalie and said, “Will you marry me?”  
  341. Rosalie laughed and told him to be quiet.
  342. The black men finished handing out the crowns.  They pulled a heavy satchel from the chest and held it high in the air.  “We will choose by lottery whose life to watch first.”
  343. Rosalie whispered, “Oh!  It’s like Harry Potter.”
  344. Bosun Bicklesworth patted the bottom of the satchel as if to mix up the contents.  Then he drew a name.  “Soon-Jang?”  
  345. Soon-Jang said, “That’s me.”  
  346. One of the black men pulled a big ruby from the chest and told them to pass it to Soon-Jang.  The oddly black clad tech-nician said, “Do you see how it goes on there?”
  347. The ruby was set in gold and there was a stud that fit a slot above the jewel on his crown.  Soon-Jang said, “Yes, it fits.”
  348. The technician said, “Ok, now just you—”
  349. The other black man interrupted the first.  He said, “Just Soon-Jang now, the rest of you wait.”
  350. The first one continued, “Yes, only him.”  Then he said, “Only you.  Please put the crown on your head.”
  351. Soon-Jang did, and the two men and the bosun looked at the mizzen sail.  “Excellent,” one of them said.  They took some more jewels from the chest and began to arrange them around the base of the mizzen mast, and they kept glancing toward the sail.  
  352. “Fantastic,” the other one said.  
  353. The lead technician took a jug from the chest and spilled the contents on the jewels around the base of the mizzen mast.  The empty sail began to glow.  He said, “Ok, now the rest of you can put your crowns on.”
  354. Way down deep—the Sea Star was in the deep water by then—a big octopus felt the energy of those jewels pressed to the Ascendant’s foreheads, so it began swimming from the depths toward the Sea Star.
  355. The viewing started.  Baby Soon-Jang opened his eyes for the first time and what he saw was on the sail.  Soon-Jang died when he was thirty-four, killed by his own brother.  He took his last breath and the glowing image on the sail faded away.  Five Ascendant had nodded off while they watched and were gone.  The bosun said it was an average attrition rate and he reported it to the captain.  The Ascendant were hungry for the first time since candle light first fell on baby Soon-Jang’s new-born eyes more than thirty years ago.  The two IT guys col-lected the jewels from around the mast.  They collected the crowns and told the Ascendant to head to the galley.  Most of them hadn’t seen the galley and were surprised to be sent be-lowdecks.
  356. In the galley, they sat eight to a table.  Bicklesworth told them to discuss what they’d seen.  Soon-Jang sat with his head in his hands.  Viewing his life in the way it was projected onto the sail showed much context of which he had been unaware during his life on Earth.  It seemed like a dream.  His brother was working for the Chinese governor the whole time.  It was almost incomprehensible.  He thought, For such a small amount of money!
  357. They went back to the poopdeck and watched another one.  Ishikawa lived to be sixty.  He died in a sword fight.  Then they watched another one.  They watched some more, each one a tale of betrayal and murder.  Then they watched Sfethen’s life which was fantastic and amazing.  He had been a king.  After his viewing, the other Ascendant called him King Sfethen.  They went to the galley to eat and discuss what they’d seen.
  358. Rosalie and the prisoner sat together as they always did.  Rosalie said to him, “I don’t know what I’m going to do after you all watch my life, love.”
  359. The prisoner said, “You’ll be fine.”
  360. She looked around at a dozen eight-man tables, mostly full.  “I mean... we’re about a tenth over and...”  She put her hands over her face.
  361. “It’s ok, baby,” the prisoner said to her.
  362. “No, you don’t understand.  I’m so different than them, than you.”  Rosalie shook her fists and bemoaned her chagrin. “Oh, what to do?!”
  363. “How do you know you’re different than me?  My life could be just like yours.”  In all his years on the Sea Star, the prisoner never remembered his life.
  364. She began to sob softly.  “No.  Just no.”
  365. The prisoner consoled her.  Ben-Khan was sitting at their table and he told Rosalie to cheer up.  “Was Sfethen’s life the same?”  
  366. Rosalie admitted it was not.
  367. Ben-Khan said, “No, it wasn’t.  And how about when King Sfethen sunk that dagger into Archerole’s heart?  Was that the greatest feeling you ever felt or what?”
  368. Daria, who was also seated with them, said, “Oh my God!  Yes!  I don’t think I’ve ever hated someone so much in my life.  That was one evil bastard.”  She halfway meant it.  She wasn’t thinking about her own murderer and even considering him, her most-hated superlative would change over the next few viewings.  There were greater evils than the evil in Archerole’s heart.  Greater evils by far.  
  369. Rosalie had taken no pleasure in seeing that man die.
  370. The prisoner said, somehow vocalizing though his vocal chords were long gone, “I know!  When I saw the blood start to bubble at his lips, I knew he was done for.  Man, I hated that guy.”
  371. A man sitting at King Sfethen’s table stood and proposed a toast.  They toasted him and everyone cheered.  They asked Sfethen questions and they were all glad to have a nice story.  Usually the galley was a grim place for the Ascendant on the Sea Star.  The viewing was a dark time.
  372. They went abovedecks and sat behind the mizzen mast again.  Bicklesworth pulled a name from the satchel held by the two black men: Three Seven DD, who liked to be called Thirtyseven Double D, and JRR Zero, who liked to be called Jarrow.  
  373. The bosun called out, “Richard.”
  374. Richard was born in Nebraska in 1941.  He moved to Chi-cago for college and lived there the rest of his days.  He didn’t know it but the loft he rented in his freshman year was near the building where H.H. Holmes had run his torture hotel.  Nineteenth century aristocrats and other perverts from around the world visited Chicago where they paid to torture in the torture chambers hidden in Holmes’ building.  The his-torical record of the crimes showed that Holmes himself was behind it all but in truth, he was only the henchman for a cult that had set up a lodge in Chicago.  By the time Richard moved to Chicago, the torture hotel had moved to New Orle-ans but the lodge was still in Chicago and it had grown.  The hotel in New Orleans was the inspiration for The Animals’ song The House of the Rising Sun.  The wailing in that song wasn’t the singer’s voice, it was a recording of a man being cooked to death.  It was what Hank McCoy called a pain song in a song of his own.
  375. Walking to class in the spring semester of his freshman year, Richard was spotted on the street by Malcor.  Malcor was his name at the lodge, Paul Feral was his legal name with respect to the United States of America Corporation.  Malcor saw the glow of the energy that would eventually lead to Rich-ard’s ascendancy and he reported it to his superiors at the lodge.  The lodge watched Richard from afar all through that year and the next.  
  376. When they were satisfied that he was just some man alone filled with an energy no one had ever noticed, they conspired to take it from him.  At the lodge one night, Malcor proposed to kidnap Richard.  Malcor said, “He walks home the same way every night.  We should snatch him!”
  377. Malcor’s father, Bron Feral, whose name in the lodge was Sphinctor, and whose parents were ignorant and had never heard the word sphincter in their miserable lives, had another idea.  Money had been tight.  The Feral family were very well to do when the hotel was in Chicago but the finances had been steadily drained over the decades.  By the time Malcor spotted Richard, all the reasonably sellable assets had been sold.  They were still nearly millionaires but the Ferals were millionaires no longer.  Their income and the lodge’s income weren’t where they were wanted to be, and Sphinctor sought to improve that.  He said, “You say this feller’s real smart?”
  378. Malcor said, “Yes, sir.  He’s been acing all his classes.  His professors think real highly of him.”  Richard was studying finance and business management.
  379. Sphinctor said, “How about we milk him?”
  380. Malcor said, “Yes, sir.  I can get him tomorrow night.”  He thought his father meant to milk that magic energy out of his body on a cutting board like they did with the poor folk who wandered too far from home in south Chicago.  There was hardly any energy to milk in most of those paupers, but the lodge enjoyed it just the same.  Children always had some en-ergy, even if it was meager.  Adults not so much, but the sad-ists at the lodge still liked the torture even when there was no energy to steal.
  381. Sphinctor said, “No, son.  How about we milk him slow?  For his life and his money.”  Sphinctor explained his plan and the lodge voted in favor of it.
  382. A few weeks later, Malcor introduced himself to Richard.  He said, “I’m Paul,” and that he was in Richard’s accounting class but had dropped it.  “I remember you were a real hot-shot.  The prof loved you.”  Richard was flattered and agreed to tutor Paul for a small fee.  So Richard’s relationship with the Ferals began.  After he graduated, Bron Feral got Richard a job at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.  Richard married two years later and Malcor was the best man at his wedding.  Richard became a very successful trader and quite rich.  Rich-ard grew to think of Paul as his best and oldest friend.
  383. Richard told Paul about a real estate deal he’d been work-ing on that had finally closed.  He’d netted nearly a million dollars.  Malcor brought it to the lodge and they decided Richard was ripe.  They kidnapped Richard’s daughter and sent a ransom note with her foot.  They made sure Malcor was with Richard when he got it.  Richard, apoplectic, wailed his agony.  
  384. The note said not to call the authorities but Richard said to Malcor, “I have to call the police.”
  385. Malcor said, “Maybe my father can help.”
  386. Richard knew Paul’s father was some kind of mafia figure but had never really developed a relationship with the man.  He said, “Do you think so?”
  387. Malcor said, “It couldn’t hurt to try.”  Malcor drove Rich-ard to Sphinctor’s home where the daughter was held.  Sphinctor assured Richard that he had heard of the kidnap gang and that the best thing to do was to pay.  
  388. Richard wept and Malcor consoled him in the living room of Sphinctor’s baroque home.  Malcor winked at his father.  Sphinctor opened the door to the dining room so that Victo-ria could see her father from where she was strapped to the board and gagged.  She spasmed and shook and thrashed to get her father’s attention, but it was to no avail.  Sphinctor pulled out his penis and testicles behind Richard’s back.  He shook them at the girl.  She was ten years old.  
  389. Though the girl was totally silent restrained as she was, Richard felt something and began to turn.  Paul grabbed him by the shoulders and stopped him.  He said, “You have to be strong now.”  Sphinctor put his private parts away and closed the door to the dining room.  Malcor said, “We’re going to get through this.”
  390. Richard paid.  It more than doubled the Ferals’ coffers.  They killed the girl.  They skinned her alive, cut off her arms and legs, and sewed her mouth to a sow’s behind.  When she finally died, they ate her.  Malcor ate her liver and said, “Mmmm, I love fois gras.”
  391. Years later, they did it to Richard again with his other daughter.  Sphinctor had died by that time and Malcor was running the Chicago lodge.  Then Richard became a widower and a hermit seeing no one except his old friend Paul whose happy life Richard was glad to hear about from time to time.  Then Richard died of old age.   Malcor never took Richard because he thought his energy had faded.  Really, it was only hidden behind the pain.  Then the glowing image on the Sea Star’s broad mizzen sail faded away after seventy years.  The Ascendant were in a somber state in the galley after that.  No one said anything.  Richard never knew it was Paul.  
  392. Richard was sick and didn’t eat anything.  Bicklesworth told him he should eat and Richard told him he didn’t want to.  
  393. The bosun said, “Richard, this cult is known to us.  Aye, we fight them.  We fight them and likely you will too once we’re to Exland.  Garr, hear you me.”  Richard left the galley and went abovedecks.  The bosun told the others to discuss what they’d seen.
  394. Rosalie said to the prisoner, “I don’t know why I’m even here, love.  My life was so... different.”  She thought about Ben and the mountains.
  395. The prisoner said, “It’ll be ok, baby.  We’re all here for a reason.”  She laid her head down on the table and cried.
  396. They watched another and another.  The third life after Richard’s was Daria’s.  She was burned at the stake as a witch at the age of twenty-nine.  Unlike Rosalie, she was not one.  The shaman was merely angry that Daria hadn’t taken to his advances.  The mizzen sails glowed with flames and they all heard Daria’s cries and screams fade away as she burned to death.  Then the glow of fire on the sail faded and the As-cendant began the march back to the galley.  
  397. Rosalie and the prisoner stood on the poopdeck waiting for the single file line to descend onto the quarterdeck and then the waist where was the hatch leading to the galley.  Two great tentacles came over the Sea Star’s port side and two came over the starboard side.  The Ascendant didn’t see, but the same happened on the Sea Star’s second hull.  The orgu-lous octopus twisted the Sea Star.  The crossbeams connecting the hulls splintered and broke.  Some of the Ascendant and crew were thrown into the sea, but some were not so lucky.  They were thrown into the void that the two hulls skirted, lost forever.  The callous creature crushed, and the keel cracked.  Then it smashed the two hulls together and the Sea Star was destroyed.
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