The Jumpers: Prologue – Jeremy Huard

The Jumpers: Prologue - Jeremy Huard

Look On My Works and Despair

Captain’s Log, April 1st.
Adrian Ur Commanding
Ship: Ozymandias
Class: Frigate retrofitted for cargo transport
Crew: 50 Souls
Cargo: 400 Bodies
En Route from Orion IV to Earth

The stars played an April fools joke on us today. While maneuvering though an asteroid belt in the system surrounding the middle star of Orion’s belt, one of our engines suddenly failed. The thrust from the working engine spun us and we collided with a passing asteroid. Had this impact struck the cargo bay, no great tragedy would have occurred, there only being our Orion catch there. But instead it collided against the top of the ship where the crew’s quarters lay. We lost 18 of our original crew and we now struggle to continue the basest functions of the ship while controlling the cargo.
The Orions seem to sense the urgency of the situation. I heard about some damn activists back on Earth that talked about some sort of “scientific research” that proves the Orions have souls. I find that difficult to believe. We’re talking about creatures with no vocal chords, without a voice. Language is universal, even amongst animals. And even animals can sense danger by their regular senses. No, I’ve shipped and observed these things for 15 years and all I’ve ever seen them do is huddle, scratch the ground, and push each other around like apes. They can eventually be taught commands in our languages back on Earth, but so can a trained monkey. That is far from being a soul, at least in my book.
Speaking of huddling, that’s what they’re doing right now. I see them huddled to the corners of the cargo bay now, watching us as we patrol the catwalks above. I do not know if it is within their mental capability, but the crew seems to be afraid of the possibilities. They fear that after the blood compensation for the lost crew, that we won’t even break even on this expedition should a revolt foment against us. Admittedly, if that happens, all will be lost whether we survive or not. But even with some of the past revolts, I think we can make it to port in time.
Tomorrow, we will exit the Orion system for good and I shall be glad of it. Now I see the reason behind those ruthless governmental regulations. After what happened to the Amistad, the extra precautions are both necessary and give some peace of mind to the remaining crew.
Some thought that the auto-turrets would mistakenly shoot the cargo but that was only a problem while there were enough of them to violate the proximity scanners. We let out about a dozen through the airlock to alleviate some of the space issues in the hold and the turrets haven’t been a real issue since.
It’s funny, since we put the turrets up we can’t go into the hold to remove the dead ones unless we lower ourselves down on ropes into the crowd. Hell, even that dozen we jettisoned alive we did with nets. But the Orions took back the bodies from the firing line. I even saw one take a bullet in the shoulder so that it could pull the last body back. Once they had them all I obviously expected them to eat them like the ones in the last hundred runs I’ve done, but they didn’t. No, in fact they did something quite different.
They took the bodies and laid them in a neat line along the airlock as if they expected us to jettison them, like they understood the way that the hold works. Poor lipless bastards probably just remembered the door opening and watching their friends disappear. But still, that spooked a few of the men and the asteroid collision happened soon afterwards. Altogether, this is becoming one extremely jumpy crew and that in itself is a reason to be a singularly concerned captain.

Record of the Speaker, April 1st
Speaker Anstice of House Ambrose

Acacia died this morning. Her infant son Calix followed her soon for there was no breast to feed him. Food here is scarce and when it is given, it is thrown from the platforms above us, into the crowd. Our captors often watch and seem to play games with us, making us perform like dogs.
I have never found myself in such a position. The others look to me for guidance and leadership through this trial, believing each that we have not left our home. For myself, I let this lie live though I know its true nature. Such comes of an Earthly education under a retired slaver who stayed on our planet. It is fortunate for me that the cargo hold has no windows, else my people would see the stars and know the truth.
The men who guard us are easily justified by their stupidity, their oafish faces and dull, lightless eyes. But what of their leader? I have seen him but twice and I have seen his face. His eyes are bright with understanding. How can he lead such an endeavor?
The poets say “seek knowledge, wisdom and good will follow.” But, with respect, I would venture a caveat in that maxim, for knowledge blinded by prejudice produces men like our good captain. He knows the truth, though he may never admit it to himself. He has even seen my face and my eyes. And for a brief moment, I thought he would see the folly in our situation. I thought the epiphany of our intelligence and our knowledge would break forth like the light of the sun upon his darkened mind. But it did not. He turned and fled from the truth in my eyes. Well, he will hear his truth soon enough.
I have explored the circuitry of the cannons they placed to watch us in my mind’s eye and I know the perfect psychic pressure to apply to the mechanisms to destroy them. But I shall need to get closer. For that, some of us must die. I must venture within the range of the machines for that and I can either block the bullets or destroy the machines, I cannot do both. So I must have a wall of flesh and a lake of blood to save the rest of us.
I asked for volunteers amongst the kin and many stepped forward. I told those who had brood that they were forbidden and my authority has not been challenged. Ten remain and they now prepare themselves for the end. I go now to meet with them and pray.
I wonder if God abandons those who leave his soil. For truly, the sky has never been so deep and wide and though I thought to look for my King in the stars, I found only the infinite stretches of darkness from the vastness of space and the void in mens’ hearts. But perhaps God is still here. Perhaps he is farther away and I must venture away from this path of commerce in flesh to find him. I know not, but I know for truth that I shall meet him if aught goes ill tonight.
If I do not survive, I pray this record reaches the council of our proud city of Chania in the dreams of the seers and auguries. And I pray that commemoration of our proud victory or of our glorious defeat be put to the muses and sung for the people to hear, and know of our enemies.

Lower Decks, Time: Sleep Shift 2 of 3

The mercenaries leaned with their backs against the thick bulkhead. The dull light of the single bulb above their heads did not extend down the entire hallway but rather created a small pool of light in which the three of them reclined. Silence ruled their listlessness.
The patter of bare feet approached their unknowing peace. One of them looked up and his eyes widened as he saw the silent mass approaching them. He tried to shout, but found there was an immovable, invisible pressure strangling his voice. He clawed at his bare throat.
The mercenaries around him looked to him and tried to help, still oblivious of the approaching danger. The choking man sputtered and pointed. As the others turned, the approaching aliens lunged and held them to the ground, four-fingered hands around their necks. As the mercenaries choked out their dwindling lives, a voice rose above their struggles.
“Break their necks quickly. We have no time.” The voice was like a whisper in their minds because they did not hear so much as feel the voice. But it was a mystery that would never be answered to their dying minds. The Orions on top of them twisted their heads and snapped their necks.
The lifeless eyes watched but did not see the dozen four-toed feet quickly slapping against the hull floor as they passed. One set paused and a sympathetic hand touched their brows. Anstice rose from his knees and faded into the darkness down the hallway. The rebellion had begun.

Captain’s Log, April 2nd.
Adrian Ur Commanding
Ship: Ozymandias
Class: Frigate retrofitted for cargo transport
Crew: 1 soul
En Route from Orion IV to Earth

To the Orion Industries office of Human Resources, I hereby submit my resignation as captain of the ship Ozimandias. I also send a warning to those who would believe the Orions inferior species in mind or soul, you are dangerously wrong. I shall submit an account of the events that led to this moment for the analysis of any who would pass judgment on me.
The Orions rebelled. The auto-turrets made no difference nor did any of our guards or precautions. Our defences are all prepared to fight things that must touch to destroy, and the Orions are no such people. To compensate for their lack of vocal cords, the Orions have developed the power to manipulate the world with their minds. This is mostly used for a form of communication, even for speech amongst those who are trained from childhood to be what the Orions call “Speakers.” Consider the value of oratory amongst a people without voices. Consider the power of a tongue in a world without voices, like sight in a land of the blind.
The night was no different from the dozen we had previously passed after leaving the Orion system. But it was different for me. For me, the night carried no rest but only disturbance. My fears clamored more and more within me during this night than any other.
I considered for the first time why I feared the Orions. For, so far as I knew then they were nothing but beasts. Or at least, I had convinced myself of such.
The door to my cabin opened and one of my crew stumbled in. He tried to speak but before he could say a word, his throat seemed to implode. Rather, it collapsed inward violently and without warning. He fell choking to the ground.
I scrambled to arm myself but soon saw a tall, clothed Orion standing in my door. Finding no other weapon, I took a book from my bedside table and threw it. The Orion lashed out with his hand and the book exploded into a shower of words.
I charged, hoping to overwhelm the creature. He caught my arm and ducked under it, pulling me over his shoulder and throwing me to the ground. This was not the fight of some primitive animal. Training and finesse showed in the movements of this presumed animal.
His long foot pressed against my throat with his elongated toes wrapped more around my throat and I felt something akin to a needle at the back of my head. Heat emanated from the pain and a voice invaded my mind. I could do nothing but cry out in agony.
“Cease and stand son of Earth. I have no desire to slay you.”
He released his grip and picked me up, setting me on my feet. I backed away quickly, tripping and falling again. The Orion made no movement to assist me this time.
“My name is Anistice. I am a Speaker amongst my people and though you do not know what that means, suffice it to say,” he paused. The next words vibrated in the air.
“I have a voice.”
“What do you want with me?” I asked, my voice showing through the panic I felt inside.
“You are a man of intellect,” he began. “And I know of the intellect and power of Earth. We too have had our Foucaults, our Aristotles, our George S. Pattons and Shaka Zulus. We know of men of great worth in the mind and great martial prowess. And I wonder which are you?”
I stammered but found nothing of sense forming in my mouth. All my preconceptions previously thought meant nothing in the face of this revelation. It was as if the bear had risen upon its hind legs and declared its distaste for the stereotypes of man.
Anistice calmly walked into the room and sat down in one of my chairs. He looked at the pictures on my bedside table. A strange sort of twist came to his flat beak that I can only describe as a smile.
“These are your mate and your brood? They are beautiful for your kind. At least as I can tell.”
I nodded dumbly.
“Come now,” he said, his eyes now turning to me. “I did not come here to speak with a wall or a table. I came here to speak with you.”
I had calmed some in the time he sat. I picked myself up and sat in the chair adjacent to him. His eyes warily watched me.
“You wanna talk, talk.” I said with a new found defiance. He nodded his head with a wry look.
“You hunt and enslave my people. I want to know why.”
His question took me aback. Why? Did he want me to explain the tradition of a hundred years to him? Did he want a history or economics lesson?
“I don’t understand.”
“Surely, you must understand your own reasons for becoming a slaver. I understand the larger reasons of Earth. But tell me your reasons. Your soul is the one I am interested in.”
I paused and shivered at the statement. My soul? I wondered what that meant for this man.
“I…I suppose I wanted the money. Why does anyone take a job? It isn’t really something I think about.” Anistice nodded and clasped his hands.
“I suppose it is simply the mores of my planet,” he began. “But truly, the spirit of each man is shown by the actions he takes. I find it hard to believe that you never thought about what you did. I know the slavers that settle on my planet. They stay there and educate such children as I was because an irreversible guilt consumes them.”
His words pierced my facade. The nights of rationalizing, justifying what I did to myself, the years of sneaking suspicions, he knew them without needing to know me.
“In my world,” I said. “They teach courses about the inferiority of your people. The finest minds of our time have all dedicated some time to solidifying what we believe about you.”
“And you think this excuses what you do? Is it society that you blame for your iniquity?” His accusation cut at me. “To my knowledge, each man makes his choices even if he is convinced by others. If guilt seethed in your heart, then you knew. Rationalization is only needed when there is something irrational and evil to reconcile.”
I remained silent.
Anistice stood.
“If you were in my position Captain, what would you do? Would you submit yourself to your captors and peacefully live out a life in bondage? What would you do with the captain of a ship that took you from your home, your family, and your people?”
I bowed my head in surrender to the inevitable.
“You sit here and make excuses for an evil whose nature you know. And whether your world condones it or no, the choice is always yours.”
“If I was in your position,” I said. “I would kill the man responsible for stealing my life. I would kill him and everyone who followed him. Then I would turn the ship around and go home.”
Anistice stood and walked closer to me. He knelt down to my downcast face and stared straight into my eyes. I looked and thought to see hatred, but he surprised me. Pity, only pity looked on me.
“Understand then,” he said, his breath on my face. “That the greater punishment is for you to live. Run and return to your home.”
With those words, the Speaker turned and strode from the room. As he left, he pushed the button on the wall that deployed my quarters in their escape pod. The door sealed behind him and he turned, his eyes never leaving me through the window. I fell to the floor as the pod launched and the momentum pulled me towards the door. The artificial gravity fell away and I felt weightlessness.