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The World of Dew and Other Stories

The World of Dew

This world of dew
is a world of dew,
and yet, and yet . . .
Kobayashi Issa (1763–1827)
I never scan the ship before blastoff. I just buckle in and ignite. It's like striking a match. My ship fizzles noisily through Juntavu's atmosphere and then settles into a nice steady burn that consumes mass until there's almost nothing left. That's where I live—that tiny splinter between your fingernails, that fragment, that almost nothing. You would never know I was carrying the exportable goods of an entire world with me, but that's what all those expensive pseudo-dimensions tucked away in back are for.
When the match burns out that's it. My fuel is spent and I'm still barely out of the system. But I've got all the momentum I need. I can ride that stupendous wave of kinetic energy all the way to Arragarra. I'm going well over lightspeed now, thanks to the zero-space ram affixed to the prow, and there's nothing to slow me down out here in the almighty night.
Only once I'm beyond the intercept threshold of whatever customs officers and law enforcement agencies exist on the planet I've left behind do I scan the ship, pinpoint the rogue heat signature, the carbon dioxide source that shouldn't be there. A blue blip on my monitor, a ghost in the darkness. Hold G8. A stowaway.
There's often a stowaway. The Brotherhood couldn't function without them. We were all stowaways or castaways or runaways at one point. So I go down to the cargo decks with a paralysis pistol and a crowbar. My computer tells me which crate he's in, whispers it right in my ear so as not to alert him. It's a big crate that's supposed to be full of electronic goods. Lots of packaging and shielding. Easy as pie to chuck some of that junk and make a nice, comfy nest for yourself, become invisible to customs and security. But no one's invisible aboard my ship.
I crack it open and point my pistol, pretending to be a mean old space cowboy, but there's no need. He's curled up and out cold, sleeping like a baby. Must have taken some sedatives. Skip the boredom and fear of the wait. Smart kid.
He's barely more than that. Young enough to be my grandson. Actually, my grandson died of old age millennia ago, but you know what I mean. He's maybe eighteen. Shaved head, lean delicate features that will fill out as he ages, but that currently make him look fragile and cute and desperate. A tracksuit and rucksack that look military. Maybe a deserter then. I can sympathize, old hippie that I am. I've had a few deserters from various military and paramilitary and quasi-military outfits over the years. They tend to be good workers but bad company. Usually they ditch after a few runs anyway.
I manhandle the kid onto one of the light-duty stevedores and take him up to Habitation. I check him over with a DiagnosStick—he's fit as a horse—and leave him snoozing on a bunk with a tray of breakfast on the nightstand. I lock the door to his cabin and tell the computer to keep an eye on him, let me know when he wakes up. He can thank me later.
The Doctrine Manual of the Intergalactic Brotherhood of Relativity Freighters states that everyone who comes to us must be given the chance to join up, stowaways included. The past doesn't matter. Water under the bridge, bygones be bygones and time heals all etcetera. By suppertime of the first day out of port, whatever prison sentences they faced are long since completed, whatever crimes they committed are ancient history, whatever debts they might have left behind have been made negligible by inflation. What matters is who they are now. The Brotherhood is all about clean slates, fresh starts, second chances. The present is all.
You'd be surprised how many bad apples turn good in the Brotherhood, "get their crunch back" as I like to say. We've become something like a religion, and you can sort of see why. The name fits, for a start. Like an order of monks or something. And then there's the bit about being absolved of all your sins. Your sins grow old, whither away and die, but you stay young thanks to the relativistic effects of FTL travel. And, like a religion, we tend to attract the downtrodden, the desperate and the just plain crazy. People who want to leave their lives behind. People who want to disappear. People who are legally prohibited from entering a spaceport.
And that's why I never scan our ship before blastoff. Lax security is our recruiting strategy.

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