Canto 1 – Escapade
When you look out the portal of a space craft, especially a large portal like the main view-port of the Leaping Shadowcat, you get a glimpse of the great orchestra of light and silence that has been playing its music in space since the dawn of time. The diamond-bright stars glow with an electric melody in a great sea of black, littered with the silent notes of the Galactic Symphony written on the face of the universe, and being conducted by God himself.
Ged Aero stared at this silent music as he contemplated his brother’s plan. Ham Aero had proposed the impossible. How could it be the only solution?
“You can’t deny it any more, Ged. The Galtorr Imperium is no place for a man like you.”
“…but the unknown, Hamfast? How can you expect to get by beyond the edges of known space?”
“Others have done it in the past. You know that civilization still has not absorbed even half the worlds that Martin Faulkner visited five hundred years ago.”
“Yes,” said Ged, pulling at the front brim of his dirty brown fedora as if to hide his eyes and the doubt that was in them, “but he was an explorer. He knew how to live in space without any human contact for years on end.”
“What he can do, we can do.” Ham pushed a fall of thick yellow hair out of his eyes. It had been far too long since he had had a haircut, but only their mother had been allowed to do it, and she was now gone. “We have to. Prejudice against you has reached the point that it will be fatal.”
“Okay, I know that. But I’m learning to control it. I don’t have to change all the time. I can stop it when I need to, and maybe even start it myself. I don’t know why it happens, but I think I can make it work for me instead of against me.”
“Yes, well, mutations like yours are almost always fatal in the end. You’ll slip at the wrong moment, and the Imperials will have your head on a platter. What did they call your disease?”
“Lycanthropy. Werewolf disease.”
“That’s my point exactly. We both know it’s really something else, but the torches will come out to burn you the next time they see you change even a little bit.”
“Unknown space, Ham? Does it have to be unknown space?”
“Yes, Ged. Unknown space. It’s my spaceship. The decision is ultimately mine.”
It was a beautiful space ship. It was a safari cruiser of the Xenomorph Class, a smooth airfoil shape with silver skin and a photon drive that could leap across parsecs of space in practically no time. It could land on planets with atmosphere as easily as it could glide through the electric sparkle of space. It had a good, sturdy ground ATV and accommodations for as many as twenty-five people.
“So how do you plan to navigate the unknown?” Ged knew Ham was a capable starship captain, but they had no reliable navigator. And the third member of their minimum crew of three, the engineer, was not even aboard.
“Goofy can do it. He’s more gifted than you believe.”
“Don’t tell me your friend Trav Dalgoda is the engineer we’re waiting for!”
“Okay. I won’t tell you.”
“Are you insane? You’re going to jump out into unknown space with that Lunar Tick as our only means to fix the ship and set our course?”
“Yeah,” said Ham, grinning. “It doesn’t sound too smart when you put it that way. But he is an original thinker and a good problem-solver.”
“He’s also wanted on four planets and owes ten million Galtorrian credits to the biggest Vice Lord in the Thousand Planets.”
“Yeah. It was easy to talk him into jumping out with us.”
“Oh, I’m so glad it was easy.”
The two brothers had started calling their boyhood friend, Travis R. Dalgoda, “Goofy” when, as an academy graduate, he started wearing an eye patch over his left eye even though he could see through it perfectly. It didn’t hurt that he always wore that silly Donald Duck sailor’s hat that he got on his one and only leave on the Disney planet. He also had a thing for ties with weird pictures or sayings on them. Trav was one of a kind.
“I guess I understand your plan finally,” Ged said morosely to Ham. “You’re going to bring an end to my suffering by committing suicide in deep unknown space.”
“Yeah,” said Ham staring out the view port at the silent music of the stars, “Something like that…”
At that moment, a blazing piece of space junk trailing sparking debris came fluttering toward them like a wounded sparrow.
“Oh, gawd! Get to the co-pilot console, Ged!”
Whatever it was, it was maneuvering, using powered flight. It was apparently seeking them out.
“Any bets that this burning space-ball is Goofy?” Ham asked as he strapped himself into the pilot chair.
As if in answer, Trav’s voice came over the ship-to-ship commo. “Ham-boy! You gotta help me. I picked up a band of followers on my way out of system!”
“Yep. That’s Goofy,” moaned Ged.
“I’m pickin’ up bad guys!” shouted Ham. He flipped on the commo. “Goof? You got six of them on your tail?”
“Oh, is that all? My sensors are out. I figured it was more like fifty. Pinwheel Corsairs, ain’t they?”
“Yes. I make them to be Tron Blastarr and Maggie the Knife. What’s your beef with them?”
“Oh, they’re friends of mine. I helped them loot a cargo out of Mingo Downport. They just didn’t like the ninety-ten split I left them with.”
“Typical,” muttered Ged. “They got the ten, right?”
“Could I split it any less fair than that?” Trav answered. Ham launched the Leaping Shadowcat into an arching intercept course. Ham had never done a high-speed docking maneuver before, that Ged knew of, but the young pilot was about to learn fast.