DREAMERS, copyright 19XX by STARWARD BOUND INC. All rights reserved. No reprints permitted without the advance written consent of the author. First printed in the fanzine, CONRAD’S FOLLY, published by STARWARD BOUND INC., science fiction organization. All rights revert to the author.
This republication is in memory of our friends, Dave Ashworth, Kari McLain & Dave Trautman, who have journeyed to the Magellanic Cloud. The story is based on a planet and solar system created by the Planet Building Special Interest Group of STARWARD BOUND, and the subject of the club’s fanzine, CONRAD’S FOLLY (the complete fanzine is available for purchase thru the club’s post office box or email link). If you are wondering what the emblem is, please notice the club’s ship & dragon emblem created by Dave Ashworth.
MARY ANN SCHMIDT
What is it?"
She opened her eyes and strained to see what I was holding. "Open it, Jack," she whispered through cracked lips.
I glanced up at her to make sure she meant it, but she'd closed her eyes again and the rasping of her breath filled the room--so I laid the container on the floor beside her cot. The object had been meticulously wrapped and stored. When I broke the seal, a slight whiff of preservative floated up and made me sneeze. Reaching in, I touched something soft and carefully withdrew it. It seemed to be a type of fabric but one I was not familiar with, the color so deep that the shadow made it more black than blue. I unrolled it, laid it flat on the floor, and recognized the emblem as that of her family's motto. The silver script caught the light and the soft glow was pleasing.
"It's a shirt."
She half-smiled, "So I was told. It belonged to my aunt."
"Yes, Auntie Anne," she repeated hoarsely.
Casey's great-great aunt had been a major part of her growing years. She'd been a small woman with a great appetite for life--and for space exploration in particular. Auntie Anne had "strongly encouraged" her nieces, nephews, and anyone who would listen to become part of that "last great adventure" as she called it. She had never been bitter that, just as the special drive that would cut the cost and time of space travel was discovered, she was deemed too old and brittle to take the trip. Instead, she had turned her energy to living her dream through her protégés.
I remembered the night before we'd left on this trip. Casey and I had gone to Auntie Anne's to say goodbye. The old lady was well over a hundred years old and probably wouldn't live long enough to see her niece again. 'C'mon, Capt'n Kirk," Casey had said, "she'll want to say goodbye to you, too." I shook my head as I followed her up the stairs.
We're different, Casey and I. She's a dreamer of other worlds, from a family filled with dreamers. And I'm a person who never liked nonsense and things that I couldn't see or touch. But at the Academy, we had somehow become friends, friends to the point that she shared her family of dreamers with me. And, of course, we shared Auntie Anne.
At graduation, Auntie Anne had come to see Casey get her medical degree and me, my commission. And when I got my first command, she'd dubbed me "Captain Kirk" after some silly legend. There was nothing wrong with her memory; she had simply decided to drop the last portion of my name. Auntie Anne was like that.
Years later, I was given command of this expedition, my own starship, and the opportunity to pick my own crew. When I did, I knew that Casey had to be my ship's medic. I recalled the joy that had lit up her face when I told her that she could leave that rock called Titan and start on the road to the stars.
But an hour after leaving orbit, we received word that Auntie Anne had died. I remembered the last thing she said to me, "Always dreamed of being starward bound, Jack," and there had been an almost child-like sense of wonder in her face that embarrassed the pragmatist in me. I had wondered at the time, why Casey hadn't cried. Looking down at the garment, I understood now. She had brought a part of her aunt to the stars with her.
I looked up at Casey's pale face. The radiation-caused lesions were obscured in the shadows, but I knew they were there. Just like mine. I cursed the company-assigned geologist, his ancestors, friends, everything that had anything to do with his being assigned to my ship. I had not wanted to land here. There were too many things wrong, things that just didn't fit--and something else that, as we watched the planet rotate below us, I simply couldn't name. But that "something" had made my skin crawl in that way that always spelled danger to me. I knew we should leave this crazy solar system, but Conrad had overridden my objections. Conrad's authority came from the company, and the company wanted a quick profit. That was his sole consideration when choosing this crazy planet for establishing a mining operation.
Despite Casey's dreams, space is not kind. If it were, a meteorite would not have hit us three kilometers above the surface of the planet known as UMGI-12-7. We would not have had to make a crash landing on an island in the lower hemisphere and two of my crewmembers wouldn't have died.
I told Conrad at the time that if there were any justice, he would have been one of them. But we learned about UMGI-12-7's own brand of justice. Conrad was the first to feel the effects of an undetected brand of radiation. Sores had developed on exposed skin, then oozed and... Even now, my mind shies away from the memory of it. Conrad died a bad death. I remember Casey saying that, and my asking if there was a good death. She had looked at me and said very quietly, "I hope so, Jack, I certainly hope so," and showed me the discolored skin on her hands. The weeks had dragged on, while above us orbited the mother ship, helpless to rescue the last two members of the landing party, Casey and me.
I gave us both another injection of painkiller, then stumbled out of the lander and into the evening air. The suns were setting and the larger moon was rising in the opposite horizon. The sight would have thrilled Casey, as it always did, no matter what rock pile we happened to be on. But no matter to me, one was the same as another and this one simply meant that we had survived one more day.
I didn't want to die, not here, not now. I didn't want Casey to die, not before she was as at least as old as her Auntie Anne had been. Thoughts of vengeance almost choked me and I wondered at my sanity as I contemplated revenge against a dead man. I cursed Conrad again and again. My mind cleared and I thought of a method of revenge. I walked the short distance to the transmitter and flipped the switch that would start it recording my message. I thought of Casey's suggestion as to how to start my log entries, and finally capitulated to her whim.
"Captain's Log, star date--whatever that is--" I looked at the chronometer, "hell, who cares. This is going to be my last entry. After much consideration and fully cognizant of my prerogative as Captain of the ship, McAuliffe, I so name the planet known as UMGI-12-7, 'Conrad's Folly.' This designation is in no way meant to do Mort Conrad any honor. Instead, it is designed to make everyone aware of the degree of stupidity possible in corporate and government regulations and personal decisions."
I turned off the recorder. The anger and bitterness I felt was a tangible, solid thing. I found that I hated it almost as much as I hated Conrad's Folly. But there had to be something better to leave behind us.
I looked around to find that the automatic security lamps had come on in response to the deepening night. As I turned, something fell at my feet and, reaching down, found it to be Casey's relic of a simpler time, a simpler philosophy. And of a family's single-minded aim. I could barely make out the strange winged creature sitting atop a ship--a dragon, Casey had called it--but I didn't need to see them clearly. The words were enough and said it all. Casey once said that it was a pledge as well as an aim.
I remembered all the corny, stupid sayings that Casey had memorized at her aunt's knee: Space was the final and greatest adventure, the last frontier without limits; That infinite diversity among both sentient and non-sentient creatures came in infinite combinations and the joy of them could open new paths within this last frontier. I laughed at all of them now, as I had laughed before. Those outdated and stupid sentiments had pushed an idealistic person named Casey MacKay--I thought of another of her phrases--to go where no man or woman had gone before. To where, I amended bitterly, no one had died before. I thought of Auntie Anne, obsessed with a dream that she couldn't fulfill herself, but one that she had enslaved others with. I laid all the responsibility for Casey's being here on her shoulders--and then I cursed her too.
"If you cannot leave a dream behind you for others to follow, perhaps you should never have lived."
I jerked around and saw Casey leaning against the door of the lander. I jumped to my feet and ran to her but, when I tried to take her inside, she pulled free.
"You should be sleeping, Doc," I scolded gently.
"The stars... Oh, Jack, the stars!" she whispered. I caught her as her knees started to buckle, set her down against the lander, and cushioned her head with the shirt.
"Casey," I started, but the look on her face stopped me. She didn't see me. Her face was filled with the wonder of the Magellanic Cloud, her black eyes mirroring the stars' light as though they were pieces of space itself. Suddenly, it was as if she began to slip away from me. I held her until my fingers could feel the sharpness of her shoulder blades.
Her eyes finally focused on me. "So you did listen to all those stories, eh, Captain Kirk?" A smile touched the corner of her mouth.
It was a game that had started when we first met, and I knew the prescribed response.
"That's Kirkpatrick, Commander!"
But she wasn't listening any more and I knew she wouldn't stay with me, not when the stars called her like they did tonight.
"When you send your last message, make it one of hope and challenge. And dreams, don't forget dreams, Jack," she whispered. "Make them hungry, make them thirsty, those people who will come after us. Tell them that the feast is out here."
"Casey, I can't. I don't have the words, the vision like you do. I..."
"Shhh. You became an honorary MacKay long ago. You've shared our heritage, now you have to share our responsibility to the future. It's yours, I pass it to you. Besides," her eyes filled again with stars, "I have to go."
I reached out to touch her face and my hand shook, "Where are you going, my friend?"
"I dreamed last night that we traveled to that star at the farthest tip of the Cloud. Auntie Anne told me once that it wasn't often that a person was able to fulfill their dream. One should grasp the opportunity when it comes." Her voice faded.
"No," I protested, "Casey, no!" I grabbed her, pulled her close. "We promised never to leave each other behind," I reminded her. My face burned with the salt of tears. "Didn't Auntie Anne teach you to keep your promises?" But my arms were not strong enough to hold her back
from fulfilling that last dream. Gently, I laid her down on the alien soil and my fingers touched the shirt. "How do I follow you?" I whispered hoarsely.
'Always dreamed of being starward bound,' Auntie Anne's voice repeated in my mind, 'always dreamed...always..."
But it had never been my dream. I looked around and wondered just how I had gotten here, what had pushed me out beyond the safety of Earth's solar system? Then I remembered Auntie Anne at Commencement, moving from one group of graduates to another, her eyes alight. A push, a nudge, a lighting of desire... She had spoken a word here and there--no, I corrected myself, she had planted a seed here and there. Words had been the small things that had kept us going outward, not the quest for power or wealth as the corporations and governments would have us think.
Words. Words that belonged to dreamers were what us sent us out here. With a shock, I realized that it wasn't me who had brought Casey out here. No, she had brought me, just as all the dreamers had brought the realists who would give life to their dreams.
I looked up at the Cloud and found that the bitterness and anger were gone. But in their place was a soul-wrenching longing. Is this what dreamers felt? Now I knew what I would leave behind when I set out to follow my personal dreamer. Words. Words to bring the dreamers, and the pragmatists, onward--maybe to settle a world that spun around one of those other bright lights in the Cloud.
But I had to hurry, before the stars were gone and I lost my way. Remembering what Auntie Anne said at Commencement, I flipped the recorder on.
"This is Captain Kirk-," I hesitated, then smiled, "again. An old woman once said to me, 'We are such stuff as dreams are made of...'"
Journey on, friends