Teddy Hubble's Account of the Events of TD+14
[This journal account was written by Teddy Hubble in TD+17, based on his recollection of the events in TD+14.]
The disappearance of Bernadoni is all too fitting. Men of his type I had often been given an account of, especially with the frequent polychron traffic in and out of Estanzione, but I had not realized before boarding just how badly-off were the navigational and directional systems of the Due Return. The nature of a ship steered by collective effort of course includes in its repertoire of myth and daydream the possibility of a human of such ability and stamina to drive the ship alone. Or, more simply thought—if a task typically takes twenty or more, humans will always want to imagine the possible individual who can accomplish the effort alone—a shining, noble, isolated being, child of god and human, so perfect that even the fracture that leads to its self-annihilation is somehow beautiful. But I am losing the strain of my thought, and perhaps this narrative is thrown off by the thread of later events. In recounting, I must try to remain faithful to the actual thoughts of that evening, just after leaving Estanzione. Craving accuracy, I will try to be brief.
The ship left the docks, and I was able to make one quick illustration using the magical mapping machine. I was fantastically happy at its smooth functioning.
Bernadoni, myself, Marcus Glasikis, and Isadora Sunshine had sat at a table for what we believed to be a simple game of poker, a sort of quiet welcoming moment before the ship would pass into the intermedial docks of the liminal zone. Most of the other crew slipped quietly away to their bunks and the lower levels of the ship, and this was when Glasikis set out a single amber tumbler filled to the brim with what, from appearance and smell, I knew immediately to be a bizarre mix of control fluid. “I’ve got a bit of a small secret and surprise” Glasikis said. He proffered the glass first to myself, who of course was rather surprised and put off. He next offered it to Bernadoni, who beyond my belief, sucked half of the glass down before passing it over to Isadora, who quietly took a small drink, and Glasikis, who could only take an equally small portion, and even that with some coughing and flushed skin. He then continued on to admit that not only had he feigned the role of ship’s captain during the stay at Estanzione, but that the ship had lacked a captain for some time. In addition to this, the ship, I learned, had never previously had a navigator, and that many in the crew were curious as to what sort of role I had planned for myself, especially if I didn’t participate in the Rot, which always made traveling easier.
At this moment, Isadora interjected that all had been wondering if Bernadoni and myself were planning on taking over captainship, since she and Glasikis were thought of as the ship’s “finest players”, and that the crew had agreed that the new captain should be decided before proceeding another day. Bernadoni and I were called out to engage in the games since we had so recently come from such a prestigious win on our own paths. Rather than correct her that Bernadoni was invited to come along only as observer, I had to ask about this custom of deciding captainship, which it turns out is merely a process of playing some series of games, decided upon by the competitors, and the winner of which would become the next captain of the ship, for a term without length.
Sensing the immense difficulty of travel which we were to face on a ship without captain or navigator, Bernadoni nearly leapt up as he reached for the glass of control fluid—the Rot as they called it—poured a long shot down his throat, then offered the small amount remaining to me. His look told me I had no choice but to drink it. I was surprised by the flavor, and happy to realize that the stomach spasms which frequently accompanied the mixtures we were asked to consume in navigation courses were not to come from this drink.
Sitting back in his chair, Bernadoni then began to speak with his traditional rapidity. If not for the pamphlets I later found among his few possessions, I would not be able to recollect in full the events that followed. The ship began to lurch rather strangely as Bernadoni’s eyes literally glowed a vibrant Prussian blue, and the arcing of lights all about the ship assured me that the Due Return as about to shift, and suddenly.
“Aha! A challenge! My Hubble friend and myself, we accept! Wombly Bat or UFC?” asked Bernadoni.
The fiery flashes of light about the ship seemed to me to merge with the light of Bernadoni’s eyes, and that is when I knew that it was not the normal action of the ship and its crew, even, that was leading us far too quickly into the liminal zone, but that Bernadoni himself was driving the ship.
“No!” I cried.
Thinking I spoke of the games that Bernadoni mentioned, Glasikis—seemingly untouched by the unexpected and unspoken transition of the ship—asked, “but which games are those?”
“Where for Pete’s sake in great Scott are we going?” I think I nearly shrieked.
Isadora replied, “But aren’t you navigators used to this going about? Whenever the Rot’s about and a captain’s game is up, we know the time to go is come.”
Bernadoni then whipped the deck of cards into a flurry of shuffling and dealt cards to all of us, first two down to each around the table. Meanwhile, almost in incantation, he recalled first the rules of play for Wombly Bat and then for Ultimate Field Chess. I later found pamphlets which Bernadoni had been carrying to outline these games, though I am not sure their instructions made his tale any more or less useful. As Bernadoni spoke, it was as if the ship were passing through the hall of some great and massive structure of play, and on all sides could the three of us see players engaged in the very games he described.
In the midst of Bernadoni’s rapid speaking, he continued to deal out the deck of cards, now one at a time, face-up, to each of us, providing a brief poetic note or incantation after each card hit the table.
From experience and training, it was clear that wherever Bernadoni had taken the Due Return, the ship had been bound up ultimately in the images in his mind, whether of a place that was real, witnessed in the past or present, or strung out of a strange and detailed imagination.
I do not know what danger had been averted, if any at all, and now especially it is difficult to decide one way or the other. Fortunately for my memory and judgment, not only were the rules of the games described by Bernadoni included among his possessions, but also a small pamphlet which included roughly the same account of the intermingled play of these games, which the four of us seemed to have witnessed from the deck of the ship as it passed through the middle of a lunatic night. I have also been able to find among his possessions a copy of Zolar’s Fortune Telling by Cards. I noted that Isadora kept notes on a small napkin during the game, and I soon hope to compile this list with any useful information that I can derive from the meanings associated with each card in the book.