From the Hands of Hostile Gods – Ch. 29

He waited.

Through the rumble of the Escape Module engaging its engines, through the heady and violent roar of its launch up through the retractable dome, through the ensuing silences and emptiness of a station abandoned of all human life but his own, Brett waited. He tore the legs off his flimsy table and slabbed it against Cassandra’s front panels, then he sat on it with his back against her warmth and his head beside the shattered capsule. When he looked up, he could see Emily.

When he looked down, he could see the cards as he had dealt them, spread out between his legs. He couldn’t remember the spread as Ritter had shown him, nor the meaning of any of the cards themselves. He hadn’t found Ritter’s portable computer with the database of meanings and didn’t feel like searching for it. He couldn’t even say why he had retrieved the cards in the first place. It had been something he had done, an unconsidered item on his list of errands.

He realized vaguely that this was probably a bad sign, some sort of negative indicator of the organisms’ control over him. But he couldn’t parse the significance of it, so he left it alone. Instead, he dealt the cards because it was something to do while he waited.

He liked the feel of them in his hands, their slick and sturdy weight, the mechanical process of shuffle and deal and cogitation. This was a thing he had discovered. What the cards meant—what people said they meant—was insignificant to him. He had made his choices and not just divined, but forged his future. There was nothing prophetic they could tell him that was of any value or that wasn’t already known.

But as he looked at them, studied their pictures, their backgrounds, the warm and solid pictures they bore, he built a narrative. The cards whispered stories constructed of image and thought and loosely tethered correlations. They told a story that was unique each time he laid them down, and though it was not his story, it was a human one. It was populated by lives and destinies that were glorious, by people with long and complex histories that intertwined with his by the sheer and simple fact of their human community. They were not real, but he understood them.

He surveyed the cards before him, most of them Cups. The colors were green and blue, sky and sea, shore and foam. The man in the first card stood on the sand and peered off into the wide and empty horizon, searching for ships that did not come, or ships that had gone. Brett understood him. A man bound to the land by history and training, a man terrified of the vast deep that stretched beyond him. But a man who loved it as well, who heard the crash of the waves and experienced both terror and desire.

The unknown man was in the next card as well, and all the ones that followed. A man desperate to find his way, to achieve some victory over the terror, some grasp on the thing he desired most, never realizing that the two were not distinguishable. It was not an either/or proposition. There was no desire without terror, and no terror without the thing he most wanted. They were the same.

He skipped ahead to the end to see if he ever discovered the truth. Did he claim his desire only to find, once he had it, that there was no pleasure in owning it? That the pleasure was all in the … Read more