The Sharris Curse

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A traveler meets a star drive engineer, and trips over too much information.

Submitted: June 19, 2016

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Submitted: June 18, 2016

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My new friend and I sat in the midships quad 3 observation bubble. He was well into his cups, as drive engineers often were, and I'd gotten him to the point where he was trying to describe just exactly how it was that we were going from Auldsol to Offuchy in a couple of months instead of many centuries.

We were alone; not many could stand the feeling of being a disembodied viewpoint hurtling through the universe in all directions at once. It had never bothered me, though. I found it rather exhilarating.

It helped that in our case, the universe was slightly obscured by the lattice of equations marching across the window directly before us.

I was far enough into my cups that I kept needling at the logical flaws in his explanation despite his growing irritation. Finally, when I laughed at his claim that I was morally bound to accept the conclusion, he slapped me.

My anger died as he fell back into his chair, weeping.

I cleared my head with a brief control trance as I stood by his side, comforting hand on his shoulder. He reached up and placed his hand on my mine.

"My dear, I'm afraid we've passed beyond the fields you should know. I'm sorry, I need to administer an Oath."

"What?"

I had carefully avoided taking any Oaths since accepting Citizenship in my second decade. Contracts, of course, but no Oaths.

He stepped back to the window, and waved away the lattice. In its place appeared a Binding Oath, forbidding me to reveal certain things.

It also inducted me as an apprentice drive engineer.

The calling was hard enough on males, but there were very few female drive engineers. They just didn't last, no one understood why. If I accepted, I was doomed to madness within thirty years, I knew, unless I disabled my cognit early enough, but relying solely on my organics would for all intents and purposes render me an idiot.

I'd known this, and it was part of why I'd kept needling. Pure rebellion. I had known I was transgressing, because Jock had tried to warn me, I now remembered all too clearly, and that would make the Oath legally binding, as well as cognitively so.

I was weeping myself, despite the trance. I'd thrown away a subjective two hundred years of cognition.

But like a recreationally impaired machine operator, I'd made my choice when I'd let myself get drunk with my friend, not when the accident happened. I put my hand on the outline, cognited my personal Permission gesture, and swore the ancient words. "By my reason and my will, make it so."

A pattern of whorls and lines, my hand print, appeared on the form, along with the colorful tangle of my neuro-genetic signature.

My regret peaked harshly as the Oath took hold, then faded. I would learn now certain things that had been puzzling me for most of my life. It would be worth it.

Another realization hit as I expanded an option in the apprenticeship terms. This one made me laugh.

"Jock, you dog! You rutting dog!"

His grin was sheepish, but he did not shy from my gaze. He'd won the great game I hadn't even realized we were playing.

"Nikolaevna Varennikova, my darling, my love, will you marry me?"

Turned out there was a reason beyond the stars I'd let myself spend the last two weeks in this bubble with him, foregoing even sleep, little though I'd let myself admit it. I gave him the kiss he'd won, as fairly won as such kisses ever are.

And yet, and yet, I hadn't planned to have children for at least another couple of decades. Too bad; I'd need to bear them and raise them before the engineer's madness made me a hazard.

Honestly, though, I couldn't imagine a better man to share that duty and privilege with, for as long as it lasted. What the hell, he'd be my mentor during my apprenticeship anyway, and I'd heard that was near enough to married as you could get, barring the sex, usually.

I accepted the engagement option, and we indulged in a certain amount of celebratory snogging. Difficult as it was, we kept our clothes on. There were proprieties, after all, and we still had to arrange the actual wedding. But soon enough we reached the point where we needed something else to do if we were to stay dressed, and chaste.

"OK, you got yours. Now I get mine. What's the big secret?"

This time his grin was not at all sheepish. It made me think I may have indeed made a mistake.

He turned to the window, wiped away the Oath. He made his Gesture, three times on three forms.

An image appeared. It was badly done; the lines were shaky, it was flat, unrendered, and the two figures it portrayed were oddly deformed men, I realized, in ancient clothing.

"I know this is a little hard to make out; it was drawn by hand, long before the cognitive age."

"By...hand?"

"Yes, using a stylus that could leave marks on an inert surface, no smartstuff to straighten things out."

"You can do that?"

"Well, I can't, but yes, it can be done. They're issued when you achieve journeyman status, a ceremonial thing. I'll show you mine later."

"Wow. I'll get one?"

"A dozen, in fact. A box to hold them. And an actual, physical eraser, that can delete the marks they make. Very sacred. Anyway. This image, 'cartoon', as they were called, is also sacred. We do not allow it to be seen by the laity. It is the first lesson in your apprenticeship."

He touched the screen, and the drawing became a rendering: Jock and myself standing in front of a data wall, much like we were, only without the stars.

The wall was covered in childish, nonsense math, with some ancient speak I couldn't read.

"I don't get it."

"No, you don't. And yet, you do. Nikki, you've spent the last day or so saying what this man is saying."

"What's that?"

"Are you ready? Want to sit down?"

His hand hovered above the window, gesture held in abeyance, smirking.

"Get on with it!"

"You asked for it, Nikki. Always remember, you asked for it."

He tapped an icon, and the math changed, too, filling the board, the densest lattice I'd ever tried to understand. It was a condensed version of what he'd been trying to explain. Right in the middle, though, it was interrupted by a cogn ideogram, a concept I didn't understand. I touched it, and the meaning boiled into my brain like ice water.

Jock put a steadying hand on my elbow, helped me sit as the implications overwhelmed me.

It hurt to look at it, with what I later recognized as the first faint tickle of madness.

"The drive wasn't invented, it was discovered by accident. We understand it well enough to build ships around it, but no one understands why it works. It's been proven impossible, clear as Pythagoras."

He touched the cartoon again, to play it as a short clip. In it, I pointed to the ideogram, and said, "I think you should be more explicit here."

"You see, dearest Nikki," said Jock, "a miracle really does occur."


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