There are, I have learned, three kinds of Farseers.
The first are the mythical oracles who spend their lives “in the dreaming,” as they like to say, viewing the future. They are considered to be responsible for the vast majority of their Imperium’s safety, because they know what the hell is going on. Aside from the near-galaxy-wide empire of efficiency that they help build and maintain, these guys aren’t so bad. Mostly because you never see them.
The second are the Vigilant Sentinels. The Watchers whe spend their time “in the waking.” The guys who get out on the frontline — or as close to the front as any Farseer comes — and maintain the day-to-day order. In other words, the assholes.
If you haven’t noticed yet, these guys piss me off. They’re also, conveniently, the ones who were sent as couriers on our freighter.
I suppose, if I really think about it, it makes sense that they’d be the couriers. Since they don’t bother with “the dreaming,” they don’t ever need to sleep. Makes them perfect — and persistently annoying — guards. Much better ones, at least, than an oracular guard who never woke up.
What’s that? The third kind? Oh, right. The third type of Farseer is the hybrid kind, like Gator, who doesn’t want to have anything to do with the rest of the Farseers.
I still haven’t decided how I feel about those types.
Unfortunately, the couriers aboard our ship were the second kind. The kind that pisses me off. And that’s probably because of the time I spent with them.
The two Farseer couriers strode into the galley, decked from head to foot in heavy, gold-tinged, mechanical armor. One wore a cloak of vibrant green, while the other a simple grey mantle. They, much like Gator, were almost too large to fit into the booths, but they managed anyway.
I briefly wondered whether Em was too large to fit, but then I decided that would likely be an impolite question to ask her.
“Chef,” called the grey-mantled Farseer. “Bring us food.”
I glanced over my shoulder at them, then over at Chief. Already, I was growing accustomed to the crew’s quirks, and I was curious to see how Chief would handle these two intruders.
As I expected, he turned briefly in their direction, fixed them with a somber, withering glance, and then returned to his fruit-slicing from before.
“Did he not hear me?”
“Relax,” said the green-caped one, who was reviewing something on his suit’s display screen. “Maybe the kitchen is closed. Didn’t they serve a meal earlier or something?”
“Yes, Vigilant, but we weren’t here for that, were we?”
“Calm yourself. If you explain that to the chef, I’m sure he’ll comply.”
The grey-mantled Farseer stood from the booth and strode toward the galley. Chief looked up as soon as he crossed the near-invisible threshold between “eating area” and “cooking area.” Apparently, he was as sensitive to these guys’ presence as Guhle and I were.
“Hey,” said the Farseer, a bit abruptly. “We need food. You served the meal too early.”
Guhle inhaled sharply, causing a hollow whistle to peep out of his beak. I turned my attention to him quickly when the other Farseer glanced up at the sound.
“What is it?” I asked.
Guhle was simply shaking his head. “You never tell Chief that he’s done something wrong. He’s a perfectionist like you’ve never seen, especially when it comes to the kitchen. I know it seems like he’s relaxed, but he’s always at the top of his game. So you don’t judge him as otherwise.”
I had honestly not seen any of these traits in Chief, but I was fast learning that Guhle had been here for a long time, and was able to pick up on some of the quirks that I simply didn’t have enough experience with the crew to do yet.
“Hello?” said the Farseer. “Did you hear me? Or are you just too stupid to understand what I’m saying?”
Chief slowly turned his head to look down at the armored intruder, rising up to an impressive height, with his head almost brushing against the ceiling.
“That’s better. Now at least I have your attention.”
This couldn’t end well, I realized. If Chief did anything to offend the Farseer. Or, horror of horrors, if he actually struck the Farseer, we’d all go down with his folly. I didn’t know yet if Chief was the type of…person to do something so rash, but I wasn’t about to sit around and find out. My short-lived job security aside, I didn’t want to spend either five hundred days on a ship with offended Farseers or the rest of my life in a Farseer prison — depending on how things played out here.
I stood up. Guhle looked surprised, and apparently it was true as he didn’t have any words for me as I darted toward the confrontation.
As I neared the Farseer, though, he suddenly turned and grabbed me about the shoulders. I couldn’t see his face or otherwise read his expression, but when he swung me up against the nearby doorframe, I figured he was less than friendly.
“Trying to sneak up on me? Haven’t you ever met a Sentinel, human?”
I threw up my hands in what I hoped was a placating gesture to Farseers — the “hands up” pose had gotten me far enough with most other species, why should they be any different?
“Woah, woah. Calm down,” I said. “I was just trying to help you out.”
I glanced up at Chief — who, aside from maintaining his overbearing height, seemed to have calmed down a bit — before turning back to the Farseer. “Well, I don’t know about you, but if I saw a twelve-foot spider-nightmare monster with scythes for arms and about a hundred different bladed weapons within arms reach rearing up to attack cause he’s pissed off at the stranger who’s telling him how to run his kitchen, I’d be appreciative of anyone who decided to stick his neck out to warn me about it.”
The Farseer paused, glanced up at Chief, who theatrically made himself somehow even larger, and then turned back to me.
“Again,” I said. “It might just be me.”
For a long moment, I wasn’t sure what the Farseer was thinking — and, consequently, what he was going to do — but then he lowered me down, shot a glance at Chief, and turned back toward his booth.
Except the green-caped Farseer was already standing there beside the table, waiting for the other one to return.
I watched them, hesitating, until the green-caped Farseer beckoned me over with a wave of his hand.
“Thank you for your intercession,” he said as I made my way over. “I apologize for my Sentinel’s efforts in antagonizing your chef. Hopefully, this will not result in any trouble between us and the rest of the crew. Or should I prepare to spend my trip in the confines of my cabin?”
Not knowing what to say, I glanced over at Guhle, who promptly buried his attention in a corner of the ceiling. He wasn’t helping me out of this one.
“I don’t see any trouble,” I said. “But you should probably teach your men to behave themselves around bone-white alien death monsters. For their own safety, of course.”
There was a shift of pressurized air as the respirator in the Farseer’s armor cycled through its filtration sequence, and then he spoke again. “You consider yourself a funny individual. Is that right?”
I shrugged. “Never thought about it, honestly. I’m just the new guy.” It was true. While I tried to maintain a level of sarcastic appreciation for my surroundings — as a survival instinct, you understand — I had never thought about whether or not anyone else might consider it entertaining. It was just habit for me at this point. Other people didn’t enter the equation.
“What is your name, new guy?”
“The crew calls me hatchling,” I said. “You can do the same. It’ll be easier that way.”
The Farseer inclined his head. “Hatchling, then. I am glad to know of you. I am the Vigilant Sentinel T’Vosh, who has been tasked with overseeing this shipment. With me are the Sentinels S’Rah and Q’Laren. Q’Laren here you have already met.” He motioned to the other Farseer. “While S’Rah is currently occupied with duties pertaining to our delivery.”
T’Vosh straightened up before continuing. “It is my hope that my Sentinels and I can have an incident-free trip in relation to your crew. As I expressed to your captain, the Farseer Dominion sees no reason for us to quarrel, nor does it see any possibility that our mission will be met with difficulty. Please relay that to your crew mates.”
“I will,” I said. What else was I supposed to do? Tell him I just met everyone earlier that day? Or remind him that it wasn’t up to me what other individuals did with their time and opinions? Or point out that it was his man — er, Sentinel — that had nearly provoked Chief into violence?
It didn’t seem to me like any of those options would go over well. Or even get through to this guy.
“Thank you,” said T’Vosh. He then turned to the other Farseer — Q’Laren, or whatever he was called — and beckoned him forward. “Come, Sentinel. I think a little distance will do this situation some good. We shall pursue a meal later on in our watch.”
The Farseer bowed his head and followed T’Vosh as the commander led him out of the galley.
It was only then that Guhle looked at me again.
“Well, look at you,” he said. “Making friends with the Farseers. Whoop-de-doo.”
“I got them to leave, didn’t I?”
“Leave?” Guhle’s whistling laugh filled the dining room. He scooted out to the edge of his bench and rested his elbows on his knees as he looked up at me with skepticism. “Hatchling, we’re on a freighter leaving the orbital zone of the last stellar landmark for the next year and a half of realspace travel. They can’t leave. None of us can. We’re all stuck in here and we all have to deal with each other. Like Mr. Vigilant Sentinel just said, hopefully we can all get along. But I’m willing to bet that he doesn’t think that’s likely to happen.”
Guhle propped his feet up on the bench and leaned back as he closed his eyes. “I sure as hell don’t.”
With Guhle’s feet blocking my bench, I had no place to sit down. So I just stood there and stared at Guhle, unsure of what to say. Finally, I managed a question. “What do you mean?”
Guhle opened one eye to look up at me. As it studied my face, it narrowed sharply. “Are you serious?” he said. “You’re asking me to explain all that? What kind of station-hopper are you?”
I shuffled from foot to foot, embarrassed. “I just mean, how can you feel that way? You’ve been with this crew a long time, right? So, shouldn’t you all get along by now? Or are you worried about the Farseers?”
“Let me make one thing very clear to you,” said Guhle with a sigh as he leaned forward again. “Yes, I’ve been working on this ship for a long time. Yes, I tend to think I know most of these people pretty well. But by no means do I expect that to mean shit when we’re out there in the silence. Okay? I don’t care how friendly, supportive, or otherwise upbeat everyone seems to be right now. Once we’re out in the silence, everyone — and I mean everyone — starts to go a little crazy.”
The avian spacer shook his head and fixed his attention on a corner of the table. “It’s only ever a matter of time before someone in a realspace crew does or says something to break up the whole lot of them. You’ve just always got to hope, as you head out there, that that moment doesn’t happen on this trip. Or else, if it does, that it happens close enough to the end of things that you can all part ways within a month or two. Otherwise…” He shook his head again then looked up at me.
I saw, in that moment, in his eyes, the hardness of who Guhle really was. For all his helpful-but-cold appearances, Guhle wasn’t my friend or my benefactor or anything else of the sort.
Guhle was alone. Guhle looked out for Guhle, because that’s all he knew he could count on.
“Understand this, hatchling. A realspace crew is a time bomb. It might not go off on this trip, or the next, or even the one after that. But someday, without warning, everything you thought you could count on is going to fail. When that happens, you need to be ready, and you need to pay close attention. Otherwise, you might not make it out alive.”
As Guhle held my gaze, I held my breath. This was total honesty. Something I’d never seen before. Or if I had, it had been so long that I couldn’t remember what to do with it. For a while after, and especially as I came to know Guhle better, I thought this whole spiel was just another one of his pranks. An effort to put me on edge for his own amusement.
But as I would learn, anything can happen out in the silence. Out in the black. And Guhle had seen enough to be wary, and he cared just enough to warn me.
At last, Guhle sighed and stood. Without another word, he turned away from me and trudged out of the galley. As he left my sight, I started breathing again.
Guhle was alone, I reminded myself. Guhle was alone because he had to be. To survive.