Journey to a Dead Star

Chapter 13

All three of the cadets had been impressed with their tour of the Einstein. It was obvious that the ship contained enough specialized equipment to fill a complete laboratory building on any university campus in the solar system. As they ambled their way toward the front of the ship, they started to pass the galley and Astro, always thinking of fulfilling his appetite, suggested that they stop in for a bite to eat.

The spacious cafeteria style galley was equipped with drink dispensers for hot coffee, tea, cocoa and herbal brew. There were also cold fountains for milk, water, cola, Mars Water and orange juice. Astro’s eyes grew large as he looked over the wonderful choices of entrees, some as plain and wholesome as a farmer’s plate and some as exotic as could be found in any fine hotel in a large city.

“Whooee!”,Astro, exclaimed. “To think that we’ve been eating ration packs for over two months and these eggheads have had all of this!”

He immediately grabbed a tray and started dishing out huge amounts of food into a pile in the middle of the plate. Tom and Alfie tried to show more restraint but inwardly they were happy to end their necessary fast. The cadets sat at one of the tables and for a few fleeting seconds could only look at their feast and inhale the wonderful aromas assaulting their senses. Astro broke ranks first and started shoveling massive amounts of food into his maw.

Alfie, somewhat amused, asked, “Astro, how can you possibly enjoy what you’re eating?”

Astro looked up from his plate and only took time to say, “What?”

“That mess that your eating! You’ve piled at least seven different entrees together. How can you enjoy any one in particular?”

“Well, it’s like this, Alfie boy. If I just put one dish on my plate, I’ve got a pretty good idea what the next bite is going to taste like. This way, each bite is an adventure! I don’t know what’s coming next!”

After a good laugh, Tom and Alfie settled down to enjoying their meal. They had almost completed supping when Professor Amanda Grayson entered the mess room and proceeded to pour herself a cup of coffee. The three cadets immediately rose to their feet as manners and respect dictate.

She acknowledged them with, “Hello, Cadets.”

Tom immediately invited her to join them and he asked if he could serve her dinner.

“No, thanks, Cadet.”, she answered. “This coffee will be fine.”

Tom pulled out a chair into which the graceful lady seated herself. She sipped and savored the taste of the coffee while studying the faces of the young men seated in front of her.

“You gentlemen have a lot of questions, don’t you?”, she asked from behind the mask of the coffee cup.

Tom spoke first. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, go ahead. I will answer what I can now, but you may have to wait until the time is proper for certain revelations.”

Tom searched for a diplomatic way of asking, but could not formulate one. Finally he decided to make the inquiry as direct as possible. “Professor, we’ve been wondering for weeks now, just who is Mr. Taylor and why is everything he does so mysterious?”

Professor Grayson, sat her cup down and tried to stifle a grin. “Cadet, I can tell you this much because we are so deep into this mission. I have known Mr. Taylor for almost eight years. He is probably the most honest, studious, and mannered person I have ever known. He is an emissary both to and from the Solar Council and from another council of elders.”

Astro jumped in. “Yeah, but he seems to be a rather cool bird, if you know what I mean. It’s just that no matter what’s under discussion, he doesn’t seem to react.”

Amanda became pensive, then said, “Yes, I know what you mean by ‘cool bird’, Cadet. As a matter of fact, that’s how I perceived him the first time I met him. Believe me, that’s a very well controlled exterior. In his culture, everybody works hard to remove non factual information from all facets of interaction. That even includes the arts and music.”

Astro’s face squinted as he tried to comprehend what he just heard.

Alfie asked, “But Professor, how can that be? I haven’t heard of such a society! Even the dissidents during the attempted Venus Revolt had strange ideas about society, but they didn’t seem as outlandish as this. Where is Mr. Taylor from?”

Tom knew that this question was over the top and he held up his hand. “I’m sorry, Professor. That was beyond the scope of this discussion.”

Alfie said, “I’m sorry, Professor. I retract the question.”

Professor Grayson’s face briefly took on the appearance of the famed DaVinci portrait of the Mona Lisa. She then said, “Any question unasked is a riddle to everyone. A question asked, but not answered is a riddle only to he who asked it. There is an answer, Cadet. But, it must be spoken at a later time. Perhaps that will be after the mission is completed.... perhaps much later. I know that being in your position is difficult, but believe me that I promise that you shall have the answers.”

Professor Grayson rose from the table and the cadets came to attention in unison. Tom pulled the chair back and waited to her to move from the table. She then stated, “I’m sorry to have been so abrupt. Let me say this Mr. Taylor is a very spiritual person. He spends much of his time meditating for his own well being and ours. His ties to this mission are varied and necessary. One day soon, I hope, you will recognize and appreciate what Mr. Taylor is doing for mankind.”

She then removed herself from the table and started toward the galley hatch. As she exited, she turned to the three young men and said, “Thank you all for your hospitality. I hope we can continue our conversation soon.”

“Ma’am, yes Ma’am”, the cadets chorused. Tom added, “Thank you, Professor.”

The three resumed their positions. Tom looked at Alfie and quipped, “Well, that was a lesson in diplomacy that you must have missed!”

Alfie, embarrassed from his faux pas, admitted, “Okay, okay! I know that I blundered on that one. But, you’ve got to admit that, like Astro noted, Mr. Taylor is more than just a bit weird!”

Tom thought for a second. “Weird, may not be the right word. Odd? Perhaps. Different? Definitely. Eerie? That’s it!”

Tom spoke aloud. “Eerie is the word!”

Alfie asked, “What do you mean?”

“Well, weird implies that he is just strange. There’s no denying that. But eerie means that he’s not only strange, but strangely not within a frame of reference. I’ve never seen or heard of anybody that fits his description or mannerisms.”

“You’ve nailed it, pretty boy!”, exclaimed Astro. “He’s so far out that I wouldn’t know how to react if I met him in a dark alley on Spaceman’s Row!”

A new voice spoke up from the direction of the doorway. “I have never been to Spaceman’s Row. Would it be appropriate for me to visit there?”

The startled cadets looked toward the hatch and immediately came to their feet and acknowledged, “Sir!”

The form approached the cadets, who tried to study him as he neared. He was wearing a cap of purple cloth covered with intricate gold patterns which none of the cadets had seen before. The cap’s bottom circled from the middle of the forehead around the sides, covering the top of the ears and terminated with a small gold tassel at the center of the back of the skull. His waist and legs were covered in a long purple and gold skirt like garment which hid the feet. A similarly colored jacket with bloused sleeves covered the torso and a red and gold sash cinched the jacket at the waist. Remembering his history classes, he reminded Tom of the appearance of a mameluke guardsman in Napoleon’s Grande Armee.

“Sir, I’m sorry for the impertinence.”, Tom said to Mr. Taylor.

“It is not necessary to apologize, Cadet.”, said Taylor. “I am intrigued by your observations about myself. What is your name Cadet?”

Tom gulped, “Cadet Tom Corbett, Sir.” Then, pointing with an open hand, “These are Cadets Alfie Higgins and Astro, Sir.”

Taylor gave an almost imperceptible bow to each as they were introduced. He then continued, “Tell me, Cadet Corbett, do I still seem... eerie?”

Tom almost panicked. Looking for a suitable answer, he could only find one. “Yes, Sir.”

Showing no reaction to the answer, Taylor stated, “That is good. That is as it should be. Cadets, I know that my presence is... disturbing to you. That is because you know nothing of me. Not of my past. Not of my involvement in your lives. Not of my mission with the Solar Council.”

Turning toward one of the dispensers, Taylor poured himself a cup of tea and returned to the awaiting trio. “Please be seated, gentleman.”

The cadets waited for Mr. Taylor to be seated and then took their own seats.

“If it will be of comfort to you, please think of me as a seer or visionary.” Looking deeply into the swirling tan potion, Taylor spoke. “Imagine that this tea is the universe. When we look at the entire cup it all seems homogenous. If we magnified the liquid, we would see that there are billions of particles of the tea leaves suspended in the water. Think of the particles as the galaxies in the universe. At times the particles may bump into each other. Most of the time the particles are oblivious to each other. The universe is much like that. Usually it is calm and peaceful, yet there is always the possibility of a violent interaction. If we magnify the particles further we see the same thing happening on a molecular scale, the molecules being as the stars and solar systems within each galaxy. I see a future in which the Solar Alliance will encounter another molecule in this brew. It is important for mankind to be prepared for this encounter.”

Looking at the cadets, who were now staring at the tea cup, Taylor asked, “Do you know what happens when two molecules bump into each other?”

Alfie, released his gaze and spoke. “Sir, several things could happen. They could repel each other. They could tear each other apart to form new molecules. They could be oblivious to each other. Or, they could join each other to form a larger molecule.”

“Exactly, Cadet.”, said Taylor. “I see the future of the human race as one of these molecules joining with others to form a complex and strong compound able to survive and explore the tempests in the teapot of the cosmos.”

“Sir?”, Astro asked. “Are your visions real or imagined?”

Taylor dipped his finger into the tea and then started running it around the rim of the cup. The crystal of the cup started to resonate in a haunting tone. “They are as real as the music of the tea. It just takes a little imagination to allow the cup to sing.”

Taylor rose from the table and the cadets came to attention. Drinking fully from the cup, he then placed the empty container in a rack. “Thank you gentlemen for your time. I know that we will be able to have more discussions in the years to come.”

Taylor adjusted his sash and bowed slightly to the cadets. Without further comment, he exited the galley and closed the hatch.

Astro, totally perplexed asked, “What, in Pluto’s moon,was that all about?”

Tom shook his head as if he were still in the dark. But in his mind, he was beginning to understand the direction that Taylor was taking them. “It’s hard to explain Astro. Maybe Mr. Taylor is just weird.”
End Chapter - 13

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Copyright 1998 by Jack McKirgan II