Scout’s Honor

by rthieme on September 1, 2004

Scout’s Honor

by Richard Thieme

[Scout’s Honor was published in the Timber Creek Review, Summer 2004 (Vol 10, Number 2) and subsequently reprinted in the literary magazine Ascent in August 2005. It was dedicated to my wife Shirley … for good reason.


for Shirley

Scout was standing at the table, lecturing. His audience was rapt. From time to time he wondered why he was even speaking — he had come to doubt that anyone could teach anyone else anything — still, he swayed in his boots, holding onto the table, talking about time.

“Why talk about time?” he asked. “I mean, time doesn’t exist, does it? I mean, it exists, in our way of framing things, but apart from our minds, no, it doesn’t. Time is merely a way to arrange the data of our experience in a kind of grid. Time is like a computer program, built into our brains, that runs in all directions at once.

“But it’s worse than that! Oh yes! Every tribe, little or big, a schoolroom or a whole planet, has its own way of arranging things. There are larger and smaller spans of time, and faster and slower flows. It goes bone-deep. It’s learned at the breast, before we know anything else.

“Got it, younglings? We can never capture in the web of our own knowing that which is known only in and through the web itself.”

He teetered at the edge of the table and steadied himself, then slid into his chair. Their eyes followed his slow descent.

“Why, then, you may ask, am I willing to crawl into the Cheese and risk disappearing, just to try to find a life that might differ little from this one, because when I come out, I will still be inside the confining cage of my own mind?

“Besides, I’ve seen it all. I’ve been to the mines of Phobos and Scylla. I’ve seen people and robots under the harsh lights of the Grid working in the shadowless day and night of airless space, digging rock for their Earth-bound owners. I have frozen my bones on Mars, waiting for the arrival of a rescue ship which, when it finally came, was a wimple of what they had promised, and I had to go home like cargo in the hold, bored and cramped and crazier than a slave in his stinking galley. No,” he snorted, “don’t tell me about the romance of deep space and the enticement of the bright islands of the night. Don’t tell me about adventure waiting for you easy marks who have the so-called courage to sign up for twenty years of indentured servitude, all to profit the Bartolomews, the Legendary Chesters, and the Elwood City Seven.

“No, my friends, I have been hither and yon in this system until I was dizzy with despair and disappointment. You’d think that was enough, wouldn’t you? My dreams have burned like wicks in a smoky chapel. My money is gone. My body is shot. So why do I find myself seduced by the notion of going into the Cheese – oh, excuse me, into the tangled matrix of space/time – and popping out, like a puff of smoke, in some strange domain? Where will I come out, and when? Our language is not provisioned with words for ‘where’ or ‘when.’

“The reefs and shallows of outer and inner space, and the gulfstream of time winding from cold sea (here and now) to cold sea (here and now) is the only adventure left. My last chance at learning something. Finding the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end. The mermaid on the rocky shore, her hair streaming in the seawind. Oh God!” he cried suddenly, wishing he were young again. “I have to go!”

He drank the remains of his warm dark bitter beer, backhanding his wet mouth and his wet chin as he slammed the mug down on the table. The cadets were ringed around the table in the flickering light, their eyes wide and shining. They thought despair was a game to play with the dice of life, wagering their youth against the yawning maw of the dark mother of endless space. They thought Scout’s need to drink his pain to the bottom of the night was romantic. They thought being chosen for the first Transit through the Cheese was an honor. He thought it was God’s little joke, knowing he had been chewed up and spat out, for his turn to come around again. We only win, he tried to tell them, when we no longer want the prize. They thought they understood what he was saying. Always do.

Irony frets our lives like the blues souring this lonely night in the Sidewinder Bar.

He stood up and looked down at their worshipful faces. “I’m going to bed,” he announced, then staggered out of the bar into the street.

Some flaw of design determined that he had to exit the Sidewinder Bar in order to come in again at the next door and climb the steep stairs to the top of the ancient wooden building, only to double back in the dim hallway (a single lightbulb glaring in the webbed shadows) toward a room above the very bar he had just departed. He stood and swayed in the cool wet wind, inhaling the odor of brine and rotting kelp. Fog shrouded the clamorous sea. Through the tattered clouds, he could see the stars, and when the waves hit the breakwater, he could hear the boom before the spray fell back to the piles of jagged rock. He thought of bursting bodies when the airlock had failed on the Rising Orion and how his mind had provided a sound like thunder in the silence of space. It had not seemed real for tattered pieces of flesh and bloody clothing to explode in slow motion over the hold without a sound.

He walked through the doorway and came up the creaking stairs one slow heavy step at a time. The hallway was empty of living beings, and his room, when he swung in the door, was empty of hope. He closed the door behind him and stood in the silence of the night. Where was love, his heart cried, fretted with grief and painful memories? Where were the painted faces of the cargo-cruisers, where the warm bodies of the dustmops and mollies?

“Sit down,” said someone standing in the shadows where he couldn’t see him. Scared him nearly to death.

“What!” he cried. “Who are you?”

“Sit down,” said his host coldly. “Shut up and listen for a change.”

He lowered his astonished body into the wooden chair and sat there hearing himself breathe heavily. “Go ahead,” he said. “Talk your head off. I don’t care.”

The other waited. Then he said, “I am here to announce your destiny.”

“My destiny!” Scout snorted. “My destiny died in the Rings, where everyone I loved or had been bound to was betrayed by Grayling Expeditionary, Limited or died or disappeared. Or don’t you remember the sordid details?”

“I remember the details.” His voice sounded like a wry smile. “Better than you.”

“I’ll bet.”

The other sighed. “You can’t just sit there and listen, can you? Always was a problem. Got your ass in a sling before and it will again.”

Scout made an incredible effort just to sit there and say nothing. It took all his energy and will, but he did it.

“Much better. Now listen. They’re going to put you through the Cheese tomorrow morning. In one hole and out the other. No-one has the least idea where you’ll pop out, when, or how they’ll get you back.”

“But –”

“Shut up, will you? I know they told you you’re bait on a hook and all they have to do is pull in the line and you’ll come home. Garbage! You guessed as much, didn’t you? Morley Scout, your capacity for self-deception is absolutely heroic. They broke your body in the mines but they said you were a Riser, so you took it. They shot you full of fire and ice in the Rings, and what did you do? Climb back in the saddle, wincing with pain, and go on tour for the scum, singing their praises. They lowered you like a mole into the bowels of the Scylla Rift, with drones and lights your only companions for seventeen weeks, and you brought home the drowl and the gossum – for them. Look around you, Scout. You’re in a ten-dollar room on the dark side of Basal Spaceport, drinking your liver to bits, dumping the pain. But you’ll still crawl into the Cheese in the morning like a good little Scout. Won’t you?”

Scout said nothing.

“You can talk now. This is your chance.”

“What’s all this about? What’s your game?”

“I want you to know that I’ll be in the Cheese with you, waiting while you lose it.”

“Lose what?”

“It’s a mind-bender, Scout. You have to go nuts to come through the Cheese. Your mind has to be willing to get lost – in the interest of progress, you understand. For the advancement of science.”

“Don’t be sarcastic. Why?”

“It can’t grasp what it can’t hold. The mind’s a time machine, Scout. It’s woven into the brain. Can’t get around it. The mind has to come apart. Then, when there’s no longer a web of time spinning through the isolated data of your life, and bits of memory, shreds of identity, and discrete thoughts float in freefall toward the Small Dark Point at the End of the Universe -you’ll show up on the other side of the Hole. A center-fielder playing a high fly. Catch yourself on the other side. Open your arms and smile like your daddy did at the bottom of that tree. Remember that one, Scout? Jump! he cried, Jump! I’ll catch you!”

“Yes, I remember. The son-of-a-bitch dropped me.”

“Can’t blame him, though. He was drunk. I’m sure he meant well.”

Scout stood up suddenly and staggered toward the voice, but when he entered the shadows and waved his arms wildly in the dark, there was no one there. He reached for the switch and scattered the small room with bright light. There was no one else in the room, and he turned slowly, looking steadily like the sweeping beam of a lighthouse beacon at every corner and wall and corner and wall and corner and wall and corner and wall….

“Yes indeed!” said the General, his bright eyes flashing. “This is big day!”

The General stood beside Scout, his arm draped protectively around his shoulders. He held him close to himself, as much it seemed to prevent his running away as to bolster his morale. The General was in parade dress with all his medals and gold braids. He was huge and, Scout thought, stupid. But he had been brave at the right time and silent at the right time, so he had made the grade.

They faced a roomful of reporters, surrounded by technical assistants. Along the walls, consoles of computers and flashing lights.

“Tell us again, General,” said Horace “Jowls” Woodruff, nicknamed Brain-dead by the Scout, “how you’ll get him back.”

“We’ll reel him in like fish!”

Everyone laughed, except Scout, who frowned and said he might be a little more specific.

“We’ll reverse flow,” the General explained. “There’s one original only in the whole universe, so the absent pattern in our part will suck back into the matrix the only pattern that plugs it. Matter mirrors matter, yes? What got sucked out will get sucked home. Like running movie backwards. Pancake flipping from floor back into big skillet.”

“I’m the pancake,” said Scout, and everyone laughed, except Scout.

“Come on,” said Oscar Scowllup, pushing through the reporters. “Give us our man, will you? Enough questions! Time to make history!”

The crowd parted and they led Scout into a waiting cage. They raised the cage by a hoist and it swung into the air, twenty feet above their heads. Scout held the mesh as the cage swayed in the air, looking through the wire toward the crowd on the floor. The hoist swung him over the beige partition and set him down in the lab. Four huge handlers hefted the cage and set it on the metal flooring which then began to withdraw slowly into the wall. The cage moved on its grating until the mesh front was flush with the plane of the wall. Then it stopped. Scout in his cage was plugged flush into the cage-sized hole in the wall.

Then the partition lowered into the floor. The reporters craned their necks to get a better view. The technicians were all in white coats and lab smocks for the photos. Lights flashed and coils sparked in the background. They were using an old set which they had brought out of mothballs for the occasion. They might as well have been dressed in muumuus, for all the difference it would have made. But the General had told them to look like scientists.

Scout looked as forlorn as a dolphin culled from its pod prematurely. He gazed in the haze of his hangover through the wire mesh of his cage. He had nothing left to lose, and he looked it.

“Are you ready, Scout?”

“Do it,” he said glumly. “Get the damn thing over with.”

“Don’t quote!” shouted the General, coming through the crowd and handing out pages of quotations. “Use these. These are all quotes from Scout. He said all this this morning, over coffee and fried eggs. And toast! Lucky we made transcriptions.” He distributed printed sheets of paper with a grave face.

While the reporters were reading the lengthy quotations or asking the General questions, a technician named Harold P. Flatforth fired up the grid, froze the co-ordinates of the Cheese on the screen of the Galaxy 509, plugged in his best guess on where the dismal temponaut might spin out like a morose little pinball, and punched the button for sequence-green. No one saw the cage tremble and quake, then explode with a cloud of smoke and a flash of bright light. When the smoke had cleared, the wire mesh front of the cage was shredded, and the cage itself was empty. Where was Scout?

“Next!” said the General, dishing out answers as fast as they could fire questions. Green sheets, yellow sheets, blue sheets, and pink sheets, all coded for questions they had been coached to call out, littered the tile floor. “Next question!”

Meanwhile, Scout’s mind came apart at the seams. It was like a baseball hit so hard the cover was torn off. It was like a rabbit he had once stepped on accidentally, the intestines shooting clear out and lying on the grass in a neat pink pile. It was like a star disintegrating in deep space.

Luckily, Scout was nowhere near his mind when it happened. He was somewhere else, watching. He could see clearly that time and space were in his mind, all right, and he was not. He was out of his mind.

He reached out with his arms to try to get his bearings but there was nothing to touch. So he turned his head to look ahead toward where he was headed, but nothing was there. He looked back to see where he had come from, and he couldn’t tell. He closed his eyes and counted to ten. He counted to ten twice. No matter how many times he counted to ten, it was always the first time. Once, when he said, “Ten!” he said, “One!” except once when he said them both at the same time. Once he said “One!” before he had said “Ten!” but then, when he got to ten, he was just getting ready to begin….

So it went, for as long as it happened. Except that it was over in an instant. He arrived with a whoosh on his feet and staggered with the momentum of his sudden coming to rest. His mind gathered itself around a focal point inside himself and came together. It was merely a white Dot. Home. When he reached out, he touched something – it happened to be a treetrunk – and under his feet he could feel the earth.

Or was it?

He looked up at the bright sky. It was orange and shot through with yellow drifting clouds. Large turnip-like spheres floated in and out among the clouds: or like large hot-air balloons. There were hundreds of them, filling the sky from horizon to horizon. Most of them were purple.

He looked across the rolling barren hills in which here and there a lone tree was leaning into the muscular wind. The balloons were turning slowly in the eddying air, and now he guessed that they were vehicles or floating homes. He could see windows in the ones that were closer to the ground, and through the windows, he could see things moving.

He tried to walk but the wind was too strong. He stepped back into the shelter of a tree.

No one here to help, he thought. A fitting diminishment. No-where known and all alone.

“Well, there’s me,” said his companion. “I’m here.”

“You’re a figment of my imagination,” Scout told him. “I’ve got it all figured out. You’re my alter ego.”

“First of all, you’re wrong. And second of all, even if that were true, I wouldn’t be so cavalier about the only English-speaking entity in the neighborhood. What if you’re here for the rest of your life? Try to be nicer, can’t you?”

Scout sighed. “Where are we, anyway?”

“Cut it out, Scout. I can’t tell you everything. Part of the lark is to figure it out. You came through the old Swiss, Scout. Your mind turned inside-out but here it is, intact. This is no rainbow-end of the arc of a ship to the fringe of the system, you know. What does it mean to say, where am I, anyway?”

“I see,” said Scout. He was at the center of himself, wherever he was. He was the point of reference for everything. He was just one little window through which his mind, or maybe a Big Mind, was able to peek. Just as it should be.

The wind was dying down, and he stepped out from behind the tree. Most of the rolling country was windswept and treeless, but here and there a lone tree like his own was leaning into the wind. Toward the ground, the trunk was thick, but the tree narrowed as it lengthened to a tiny needling tip. Leaves like green swords stuck in the trunk grew close to the smooth black bark.

He looked up at the orange sky. It was bright and shot through with yellow and yellow-white clouds. Large spheres floated in the sky: or like large balloons. Most of them were purple. A few were blue. From time to time a whirling sphere dipped close to the ground, and Scout could see inside the window. Something was moving in there; whatever it was, was large and dark. Then the balloon turned and rose in the air, carried above the other balloons which dipped and soared in the currents of air.

Scout sank down by the trunk of the tree and closed his eyes. He breathed deeply and relaxed his body from head to toe. Then he went through his body again, relaxing muscles, tendons, and the capillaries he could reach. His neck and back surrendered to his suggestion and went with the flow of energy he called Scout. When he opened his eyes, he was much less stressed, and that was a good thing, because a balloon had tethered itself to the ground in front of his face. The window faced him, and inside, he could see a face pressed against it. Whatever it was, was large and dark. It was interested in him. Looked like two big eyes, bloodshot.

“Hello?” said Scout. He raised his knuckles and rapped on the window. When he did, the tethers withdrew inside the sphere like the tentacles of a tubeworm disappearing into the coral, and the wind took the sphere into the sky. He watched it turning and turning in the bright sky until it disappeared among a hundred others.

He sank down in the windshadow of the tree again and closed his eyes. He remained still for the longest time, watching memories move through his mind like leaves on a stream, then suddenly coming to himself. Home. Here he was now, watching with a quiet open inner eye. He saw in the cold blue space inside the thin skin of his life a silence and a vast emptiness. He wanted to cry, it was so lonely. Tears formed in his mind’s eye. He wished he had a hand with which to wipe them dry. He stayed steady, though. Good Scout. Stay now very still. It is quieter inside. Good. Outside he could feel the fists of the wind beating at his brain: so far away as if there were little sensors outside sending signals to the warm dry Scout inside.

I am tempted to stay here, he thought. But then what was the point of coming through the Cheese? He opened his eyes and blinked.

Through a sandstorm the landscape was dimmed and flattened. The orange air was thicker than anything he had seen on Mars. The wind was roaring, and through the orange storm, there were hazy spheres dimly spinning high above him. They stayed steady in the chaos of the wind like spinning tops. He rose and embraced the trunk of the tree. He climbed the tree by hugging the bark and squeezing with his strong thighs up its bent length. As he hunched along the trunk toward the distant tip, he felt himself slowly moving through an open door. Wind roared in his ears and sand blasted the back of his neck. Then he disappeared.

It was so quiet, he just lay down on the floor and fell asleep. His mind was a kaleidoscope of images (yellow and orange and purple) turning in his dreams. Then there was a bright white light: he tumbled into its depths which had deceived him, what with their soft petals infolding like a pale flower with its paler fragrance, and he suddenly awoke. He was thoroughly refreshed. He stood up and stretched (his mouth widening in a silent O) and he opened his eyes.

“Yes!” cried the General. “Here is Scout home! Hooray!”

The reporters roared their approval, then raced for the Jacks to plug in their szells and zip the news to the waiting world: Morley Scout had gone and come.

The first Transit through the Cheese was history.

The next morning he was propped on the cushions of a deep soft chair, his limp legs hanging high over the floor like a little kid’s. His arms were strapped to the sides of the chair and blue fluid moved in a drip from a blue bottle to his pale arm. He watched his arm become bluer.

“Won’t hurt,” Barnabas Phineum told him for the second time. “It’s a memory-enhancer. Freshens up the images. Crisp and bright against the blank backdrop of forget-me-land.”

“Don’t want to remember,” said Scout. “Try to forget as much as I can.”

“We know,” chirruped Phineum birdily. “Hence the enhancer. Bring-em-back-alive and brew their brains with Blue.” Phineum laughed twice like a horse coughing. Scout did not want to be in the same room with him, much less strapped to the plaid chair with the Blue moving into him minutely. Didn’t take much, though. His head was already full of vivid pictures.

Orange sky and yellow clouds and purple balloons. Dark trunks of stunted trees with green leaves like swords stuck in. A needle-point treetip toward which Scout was slowly crawling.

“That’s all, eh?” Phineum politely smiled. “Nothing else?”

“Just the companion. He’s invisible.”

“Mmmmm,” said Phineum. “Yes, I can’t see him at all. Can’t see nothing but an orange sky and yellow clouds and those rotating thingamabobs. What do you think they are?”

“Don’t know.”

“Not even a clue? Mmmmm … interesting, isn’t it? The way they move like the Big Spots on Jupiter, Neptune, Pleadora … I wonder what’s in there, don’t you? Interesting little creatures, I bet.”

“Stop the Blue.”

“Had enough?” Phineum scanned the screen attached to the cord plugged into the portable Grip on Scout’s cleanshaven head. The scene was repeating tediously, again. Same scene. “Yup. Okay. Whatever you say, Scout.”

He was reaching for the switch when his hand flashed: Scout would often recall his hand reaching forever for a switch it would never touch.

“Have you out in no time,” said his companion. He removed the grip from his bare head where the grease had been smeared to ensure a good contact. He wiped the hairless dome with a Plexi Stretch. Then he niftily unzipped the Blue from his forearm and switched it off. He unbuckled the black straps and laughed as Scout flexed hands and arms and jiggled his head.

“The Blue will disappear in a minute. It’s fast-acting and fast-exiting. An excellent enhancer. Doesn’t leave a trace.”

“Except in the brain. The cortical curl can never be straightened. A good man can tell how many times you’ve been enhanced, and when, and sometimes where.”

“Scout does know his chemicals,” his companion said, “not wisely but too well.”

“I never contest a rescuer,” Scout stood up now and rubbed his hands up and down his arms. “Who are you, now? Isn’t it time to tell?”

“Sit down,” he felt a short shove on his chest and fell back into the plaid chair. “Yes. Time to tell.”

Scout relaxed and waited gamely.

His companion drew himself up to his full four feet – if a mist or a pale shade has height – and settled into his story-telling stance. He had learned it from the NetherBernts on their dark world of floating ice, where they stood for days like penguins in the winter darkness, telling stories and listening. Not a bad adaptation.

Scout was waiting.

This is what his companion said:

“I wasn’t home long enough to learn who had given me birth or raised me until I could walk on my own. They must have dropped me at the dock. I hitched a ride when I was only ten on a cargo-liner out of Downside, and I never regretted my early departure. I rode with Skags and Baldies all the way to the Pluto Deep. I was twenty-one when we got there. We had made a few stops, of course, along the way.

“Have you ever seen the Deep in the velvet light of a solar flare, scattered by ionized dust in a purplish haze? Well, that was our breakfast lamp. We read the scannies fast when the haze heated up, and when it settled down, it was cool blue twilight time again. Too dark, too cold, too far. We invented Mind-to-Mind of a necessity, Scout. Not a parlor game: A necessity. We learned to tune in and out of each other like a shortwave call coming and going in the static. Brothers and sisters linked in electric arcs of love like white lightning.

“We were the last Expedition sent without Holders and Soothers. Those coddled kids who adore your distorted story have Soothers and Holders and Strokers and Scratchers. They have more touch and love than they can stand. We were isolated, Scout, and it took its toll. Now they know.

“Have you ever eaten with a Baldy? The Skags at least sucked it all in without a slurp, as bad as it looked. Not the Baldies: lick by dripping lick. God! The Baldies were thought to be well-adapted, because they were loners. Living as they did, it was no wonder. They were the worst. One of them, named Quarg, was incapable of tuning or scanning. He went crazy quickly. He thought he was lost in himself when in fact he had long gone. Scared me to death, watching him implode in that cold dark cell they called a starship. That’s when I learned to listen in.

“I watched him waver and wink out. A sad fate. Not me, I swore. Never say die. I learned to attend to the presence of others. Some say it was a waste to give it all away like that. I had no choice. There was no other way to survive in the loneliness that we called ‘modern life.’ It fit the rigors of life on that distant ship.

“I had to get outside myself. My antennae beat in the air like a roach’s. I caught feelings and thoughts and moods and points-of-view, sometimes days before they happened. I knew who was getting ready to erupt. I learned to love it. Lost myself utterly in them. Forgot my own self.” He sighed. “So it goes. Now I’m here. I can only respond to cries for help. I do what I can.”

Scout nodded. “I see.”

“Perhaps. When I disembodied, having no more use for my own senses, which distracted me beyond measure, tempting me to turn from my chosen path, I found I could go here and there at will. My trembling sense of self could follow lines of energy like forcefields arcing in the void. Distress signals travel in the ether at lightspeed, faster in fact. Yours were the worst I had heard in years.”

“Why?”

“The despair was deeper, darker. The pain was life-deep, scarred and pitted like an icy moon. There was empty space inside you like the Hole at the Heart of the Universe. Empty and vast, longing to be filled. How much liquor can a man pour down? How much Skiba can he suck? How much LimbicBaseline can your veins engorge? How much Hora can you squeeze? I was shocked by the bottomless depths of your lonely soul. That triggered my need to hunt you down and shore you up.”

“So you showed up before I went through the Swiss. Now what?”

“Now, dear Scout,” he stiffened in the rigid pose of a come-to-me Soother from the Wetherby Moonship. “Now we teach you how to love.”

He learned that he had gone nowhere. He had lived in a picture he had painted and hung up to dry when he was a child. Orange and yellow and purple were his favorite colors. He never could draw trees. He loved the wind. He loved vast desert spaces.

He was taught that the people who touched his heart and made him weep were his friends. He would not believe it. He refused to remember. He wouldn’t listen. Night after night he returned to the Sidewinder Bar and drank himself into oblivion. He could run, he discovered, but he couldn’t hide. Some of the young cadets had learned to be fond of the old man. Their concern and admiration touched him. Their fidelity and kindness broke him down like orange and yellow and purple lichens on a large rock.

The General apologized one night in front of everyone. He wept and admitted the whole show was a sham. Scout might have died, tumbling into hyperspace like that. He begged their understanding and forgiveness. They forgave him, although he was arrested the next morning and sent away forever. Scout was even more of a hero after that. Risking his life for a noxious fume like the jailbird General. The shame of it! The scandal!

Scout sobered up. He ate fresh fruit and green and yellow vegetables. He began to exercise again. He yuppied along the sea-wall in the morning light, building his wind. He stopped smoking, he stopped using Dragonweed, he stopped lusting, and he stopped screaming in his sleep. Anxiety dried up like stale sweat in the dawn-wind wrinkling in from the sea. His dreams became as blue and white as the water on a warm morning.

Then the lovely young thing showed up. She appreciated his history, but she loved his presence best. It took him three years but at last he got it. He became capable of being loved by the little ninny. He allowed her to touch him, inside and out. She allowed him to touch her too. He awoke one morning weeping and told her everything. She listened and rocked him in her arms. Then she told him everything too. He shrugged and said no-one was perfect. She crushed into his arms and he held her as if she were his own life and he loved it. Two anchors tethered their ship of love now in their thrilling hearts.

They were married one warm morning on the waterfront by the Captain of the Brash Embrace. Scout loved the elaborate ritual and its happy aftermath. Three starships shattered the sky with their homage and thunder. Whole boatloads of old groaners rolled and cheered. Hundreds of cadets threw petals and crispers all over them both and zithered and warbled all the old spacesongs. The companion disappeared that night and Scout and Lily Louise lived happily ever after in a big boat painted yellow and orange with purple smokestacks that bobbed gently in the nearshore water that was always calm.

Time was woven in his mind like a spider’s web wet with the morning dew. Memories glowed like iridescent pearls of joy. The web was transitory and fragile, as everything is, but it was also quite beautiful, and when he awoke to the web with wonder in the soft morninglight, basking in the glow of her fresh love, he had no words to describe his delight. He could even endure being all alone with life-and-death and not whining or crying or dying. The pain was bittersweet, but so was the strumming music of life on the strings of his heart. He never heard from his companion again, but he never forgot him neither, nor needed he enhancer to recall his gift or spirit and its spell.

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