Eyes Without A Faceearliest post first | most recent post first
It began with a small note. "The Captain sends his regards," on a small piece of paper, folded, delivered on a silver platter by one of the water-bagged waitstaff in the dining room.
While it was the code of the Planet of the Many-colored Grass to never reveal ourselves, it did not deny contact with your people. Indeed, our entire foray into luxury travel was based on serving your needs, and how can this be done without communication? Of a sort.
I convinced the crew that we should develop an event planning department, and created a series of themed fancy dress parties. These spanned weeks, and amounted to transforming the entire passenger complement into a 24/7 LARP, culminating in wild raves in the grand foyer filled with confetti and soap bubbles. Though she would have been the clear winner in every one, I made sure that Aya won first place, or role of Queen, or Grand Marquessa de CEO, or whatever the theme called for. This allowed me to also send her bushels of roses (from our crew-grown greenhouses), and boxes of chocolates (imported).
She began to send messages back through the waitstaff. She thanked me, demurely. She said she understood the stipulation in the passenger contract that no passengers would ever have direct contact with any member of the crew, and respected it. As my gifts and short notes continued, she thanked me more, and began to joke about her "mysterious captain."
Soon she began to ask questions I could not answer. Not without betraying the people of the Planet of the Many-colored Grass. She asked about my life, my planet. When I stopped sending her gifts and notes, she sent notes to me, asking forgiveness. Asking me to reply.
I knew I had gone too far. This was madness, and had to end.
The final port was only days away.
But by then, Aya had already found her way into the crew compartment.
I began observing Aya quite by accident. It was at a quadrille being held in the Grand Hall. She was dressed in the traditional formal gown, with nothing to suggest the special rank or stature of royalty or the titled merchant class. Yet she commanded the room with her demeanor and her poise. It was as if she was a princess in their midst.
The dancers moved through the figures of the dance, enraptured by Aya and the beauty of the moment. Completely unaware they were being watched through the one-way glass by a crew of skeletons.
I started to take note of Aya throughout the days. At the breakfast buffet, playing shuffleboard, karaoke in the bar at night. While the structure of the ship allowed us to observe the passengers extensively through one-way glass, hidden spy-holes, and the occasional eyes cut out of oil portraits, I can assure you that the privacy of the passengers was never invaded. We could view them in public spaces only, never in the privacy of their own quarters.
And there was Aya, spreading her wonder and her joy wherever she went. And though her beautiful bones were covered in the same disgusting water-filled fleshbags as all the passengers, I could see her beauty shining through from within.
I had to meet her, to speak to her, to profess my love, regardless of our star-crossed forms. But how? It was the fundamental law of the Planet of the Many-colored Grass, that we could move among the waterbourne but never reveal ourselves. How could I make my love known to her? It was my greatest desire to share with her my truest self, and let my people be damned.
And damned they would be. If only I had truly understood the consequences of my love.
Now, you're a captain yourself, so I don't need to tell you what it's like to pilot a ship through the Murk, riding the currents round the Drain, navigating your way around Floodspace and the myriad murk monsters that dwell in it. And I can tell by your crew you're a merchant ship, and delivering cargo through the Murk is the very backbone of Floodspace civilization.
But you've seen the Mare Tenebrarum, and seen how mighty she is, even as a derelict. I know you can imagine what it was like to drive her through the Murk at full speed, with a handpicked crew you could rely on like family. But what you may not have had experience in is commanding a cruise vessel, a vessel filled with hundreds of passengers, lives entrusted to you and you alone. By no means am I belittling the responsibilities of any captain, of any ship, with any cargo, but there is no greater responsibility than a ship full of lives, and to carry them in the most beautiful, most technically advanced ship of her age was an experience I feel must be unrivaled to this day.
And to top it off, this particular voyage of the most beautiful ship in the Murk contained perhaps the most beautiful passenger in all the Murk as well.
Aya, of Ieeooiai.
Along with her monstrous size, audacious streamlined curves, and incredibly tasteful interior design, part of the brand (and the mystery) of the Mare Tenebrarum was that her crew always remained hidden. Not the wait staff and bellboys and customer-facing crew, of course. I mean the pilot and bridge and engine crew. All natives of the Planet of the Many-colored Grass, we knew the pure beauty of our skeletal forms would be too much for your kind. If our race were to be discovered we had no doubt your armies would fall on us through the Murk and destroy our people, and our planet.
So, the skeletal crew of the Mare Tenebrarum existed in our special part of the ship, off limits to both passengers and the non-skeleton crew. We communicated purely through the ship's public address system--a series of tubes--and kept the customers at ease with our velvet banter. Meanwhile, through an extensive installation of one-way glass, we were able to observe the passengers as they ate, drank, and played shuffleboard.
On our inaugural voyage, we made it from the Far Reaches to Destiny City in 45 days -- a record I doubt has been beaten to this day!
It was the start of an opulent -- if short -- career in luxury travel.
“Oh Mare Tenebrarum, Mare Tenebrarum, Wie treu sind deine Blätter!”
The Mare Tenebrarum was so magnificent she had her own anthem. I was there the day she was christened, accepting the accolades on her behalf as captain. She was to be the flagship of the finest cruise line ever to sail the Murksea.
She was the first, but destined to be the last.
The Planet of the Many-colored Grass is an eden--the most tranquil oasis of beauty in all the Murksea. Tucked away in a gravity well in an eddy near Heart of the Drain, we were safely hidden from explorers, colonists, and franchise chains until our civilization was ready to make contact on our own terms.
After years of intercepting and studying your radio signals, we knew what kind of beings populated the worlds of the Murk. We knew how your bodies were different from ours. Where ours were made purely of bone, your bone bodies where covered in a wet mass of meat. We found you horrific at first, but realized that your condition must have been an evolutionary adaptation to living in the Murk--your bodies covered themselves in their own shields of liquid--quilts of flesh.
It's not your fault. It's just adaptation.
And it was then we realized that we were your forebearers, your ancestors. Because we were the originals--the first and oldest intelligent life in the Murkiverse.
The Dry Bones.
The first and only ones to remain dry in the Murksea.
And so to protect our secret, we went into the luxury cruise liner business.
I have always been a skeleton.
My crew--skeletons. My family on the Planet of the Many-Colored Grass--skeletons.
You look upon me now with horror, but the looks my people and I shared with one another were as full of love and longing and spite and hate as you and your people, with your horrific water-filled cellular padding covering your own beautiful structures beneath.
But, like, you, we were driven towards discovery, towards the unknown.
Agressi sunt mare tenebrarum, quid in eo esset exploraturi.
This is my tale. THE TALE OF THE MARE TENEBRARUM.
"Purge the Murk!"
"Purging the Murk."
"Set Secondary Seal!"
"Setting Secondary Seal."
"Airlock complete, mam."
"Open the gates, Mr. Charmers."
"Aye aye, mam."
The massive, ancient iris valve was rusty, but it hadn't seized up. With a creak and a wheeze, it dilated. To our surprise, nothing came out but a dusty puff of air.
"Leave your diving helmets on, lads. There could still have been compartmentalized leakage."
"Ahem!" said Petty Officer Flouncey.
"I mean, uh... sailors! My apologies Flouncey."
On the inside, The Mare Tenebrarum looked just like it did in the magazines. Great curved staircases and soaring balustrades. We lit it up with the criss-cross of our headlamps. Dry as a bone, apparently. At least here in the grand entry way.
"To the bridge. Mr. Chalmers, take the lead."
We shuffled our lead boots through the decks to the fore of the ship. It was hard to hear much but our own breathing in our helmets, but it was easy to imagine the great low creaks of such a giant empty vessel.
"But where are all the bodies, Captain?" asked Flouncy. "There's no record of survivors, and none of the lifeblimps had been jettisoned."
"Just keep your attention sharp, Petty Officer."
The bridge was as finely wrought and ornate as the rest of the ship we'd seen, all mahogany and brass fittings, fading velvet carpet and massive windows. A grand captain's chair sat on a swivel in the center of the room, turned away. I walked up to the chair and spun it around.
And came face to face with a skeleton.
The captain, apparently, by the uniform.
And slowly, the skeleton captain lifted its head to look me in eye.
As we neared the event horizon of the drain, we beheld a panorama so deplorably desolate no human imagination can conceive. To the right and left, as far as the eye could reach, there lay outstretched, like ramparts of the world, great nebulae of swirling floodspace foam, starfish arms stirring up whirlpools with tidal energies so massive they could take shake a planet off its course. Intermittent detonations of murkspark lit the horrific tableau.
Our protoplasmic host veered off its course to the Heart of the Drain.
"Mr. Charmers, where are we heading?"
"We seem to be surfing the rim of the whirl, mam. It's still off the charts but we appear to be picking up more velocity."
"Still fine, mam. This pressurized floodspace field is keeping us packed tightly."
@Claira's five-legged devil cow was up from its nap.
"Mam, we're coming up on something. Larboard."
Through the purple phosphoresce we could just make out a long, dark shadow.
"We're matching speed and coming along side, mam."
As we neared it, the rudder and stabilizers became clear, and then the smooth lines of a hull. An old ship. Practically ancient, with a distinct silhouette that was unique even at the time of its construction. And one that every Deep Murk sailor knows from the history books.
"The Mare Tenebrarum..." said Ensign Charmers.
The aurorae are always something a Floodspace sailor sees from a distance. Or at least they should be. Those that have gone in close have never come back, on account of the Drain.
We're all caught up in it, all the Island Worlds and Island Suns, slowly, ever so slowly, making our way in a grand slow dance around the Drain. The eggheads say it takes a thousand years to go around it just one time. Plenty of time to enjoy life, create civilizations, go about your business.
And now we're heading right for it, being pulled along inside a massive phosphorescent plankton to our doom.
"Can we breach it, Ensign? Tear a hole through it?"
"We're being held in the center of a large pressurized field of Floodspace, and unable to maneuver. It's like we're stuck in honey, and the weapons can't get through it either."
Junior Navigator @Claira's creature lay curled up in the map box, purring away.
"You're not worried about any of this, are you?"
"What planet did you say you were from again?"
"Will it be nice? Where we're headed?"
The furry little five-legged thing sat up in the map box and stretched.
Then she looked at me with her glowing yellow-green eyes, and nodded once.