Chapter 1: Natasha
The raindrops pounded the deck, their barrage creating a harsh, metallic resonance through the ship. I flipped up the collar of my jacket, and pulled it close. It was midday, but the days had all looked the same since we left the City of Waking. A gray canvas stretching from horizon to horizon. No clouds, no visible ones anyway, just dark, dark gray. I was alone, isolated from the others. Wandering through the shipping container labyrinth on the deck of the Arcturus.
But that's irrelevant isn't it? Does it matter, truly? Do you care? Do I? The answer is no, we don't, so why choose to record it? Because it is part of who I am isn't it? I choose to wander a maze, in the rain, in a lifeless, colorless hell, alone. It tells you who I am, doesn't it?
Let me ask you a hypothetical question.
A man is on a ship, it is the middle of the night. This man receives a message from another ship, warning about icebergs in their vicinity. On the way to deliver this message to the captain, he is distracted be an attractive and confused woman asking for directions. The captain never gets the message. The ship hits an iceberg and sinks. There are four survivors. A fat cook, a young teen, and a wealthy forty-something. They find a lifeboat, and get in. They stay in this lifeboat for three days. By the third day, it is quite obvious that the cook has succumbed to an infection, and will not make it until a rescue arrives. It is also apparent that the other two men will starve if they do not eat. They agree, in secret, to put the chef out of his misery and cannibalize him. The day after they commit this atrocity, a rescue arrives. When they return to their home country, they are tried, and sent to jail for murder. Is it their fault that the cook died?
No. It is the original man's fault, the man who never informed the captain of the impending danger of the icebergs. He fell victim to the old sin of lust, and because of him, not only the cook, but thousands of other men died. Does he get sent to jail? No. You may have noticed earlier that I mentioned there were four survivors. The fourth was this man. He never encountered the other three. He lived. He went home, to his family. To his wife, whom he had cheated on. Two men, forced to commit a monstrosity due to the horror of their situation, are jailed for life. The adulterer gets off free. There is no justice.
Let me ask you another hypothetical question.
Let's say you can do something about this? About the indecency of the world, about the sins of man. Would you do it? Of course. Most of us would, anyway. But let's confound the situation, what if, to eradicate evil, you must become it. What if you must murder millions, billions, men, women, and children alike? And what if you have to lie to even more? What if you have to ruin lives, create monsters, turn innocent men into demons? Would you do it? Does the end justify the means? Is the temporary suffering of today's population justify the eternal bliss of the rest of humanity?
The answer is yes. Of course it does. The few making the many great, this is the way that our society works. But why are we conflicted? Because we don't want to be the one to make the few suffer. We don't want to be their tormentors, we don't want to bathe in their tears and blood.
"Where do you go for all these hours?" the Trapper-Spider said. I jumped a foot into the air.
"Where did you come from?" I muttered, coldly, trying to compose myself.
"Beaconsfield, originally," the Trapper-Spider replied, "Don't tell me you spend your time out here with the cargo..."
"I'm taking an inventory," I said, pulling a cigarette from my pocket. It immediately was drenched by the rain. I tossed it aside.
"Well, that's not technically true," I answered, "I'm making sure there is nothing here that shouldn't be." The Trapper-Spider turned four of his eyes on me as he scuttled up the side of a tower of cargo containers. "We made it out of the Oktoberist's clutches too easily. There is no possible way that he could have know the Arcturus was the ship we had in mind for our escape. We didn't even know it until a few hours after we left..."
"So," the Trapper-Spider cut in as he began weaving his web between two cargo containers, "you think that the Oktoberist smuggled something of value to him aboard the ship."
"And you've been checking every container for something out of the ordinary."
"Katie's been looking for you," I glance at the Trapper-Spider. All eight of his eyes were fixated on me, he had stopped his work, and was dangling upside-down from his half-constructed web.
"You can't stand to be near her."
"Because you're still guilty."
"You know what you did to her was wrong..."
"And you don't know your place!" I barked suddenly. The Trapper-Spider left his gaze on me for precisely one more second, and then turned back to his work.
"I'll continue your search for the Oktoberist's treasure, I can cover ground faster than you can. You go eat, when was the last time you had a true meal?"
"This morning." Five days ago.
"And go talk to Katie, she remember. She can't. Maybe you should take this chance to redeem yourself."
"It's worthless. I'm only redeemed in my mind. I know it's a lie." The Trapper-Spider did not respond. Defeated, I turned away from him without another word. The cargo maze was no longer a viable grounds for me to stalk, if the Trapper-Spider found me there again, he'd force me out.
Let me ask you another hypothetical question.
How do you know what is real and what is not? This on is easy. Reality is what you experience with your senses. I mean, sure, there are things that are real that we cannot sense, but if you sense something, then it is definitively real. Because if we cannot trust our senses, then reality is meaningless. If you are a brain in a jar, and the world around you is created from the electrical stimulus of the various areas of your brain, then... well it doesn't actually matter does it? The reality where you are a brain in a jar is pointless, it has no value to you. What you see now, is real for you. It doesn't matter if it is a scientist's test or the dream of some higher being. When you're in a dream, does it matter to you that it is not real? No. In actuality, most of the time this fact is so utterly insignificant that you forget it. And when you do realize that your dream isn't real, is it particularly worrying? No, there may be a brief period of disappointment after a good dream, or a less brief period of fear after a nightmare, but in the end. It passes.
Children don't grow older. They die slowly until they're adults.
Man is not the greatest evil. He's too incompetent for that.
The thing that is most valuable to you is your own life.
A nature researcher watches a young lion slaughter an older one for dominance of the tribe. He films this, and does not interfere. The older lion is brutally, unnecessarily torn to shreds. His mate is stolen and raped by the younger lion, and the younger lion becomes the head of the pride. The researcher films this, and he does nothing.
Now let's reverse the roles.
A lion watches a young man slaughter an older one. They are naked, bare, and wild. The old man is fearful, and he glances nervously to his wife as the young man advances slowly, no weapons but his muddied hands. The lion films this, and does not interfere. The young man bites the old man, tearing his jugular out of his neck. And with his bare hands, he claws at the old man's stomach until he breaks the skin, and rips it open, disemboweling the old man. He then rapes the old man's wife, and forces the old man's family to worship him as the new patriarch. The lion films this, and he does nothing. There is no justice.
You can rationalize this. You can say the lions have no concept of life, that they don't know what they're doing, they're running off instinct. Except that's not entirely true, is it? Every living being has a concept of life, they understand their own mortality. Even ants will flee from your descending foot, in a fruitless effort to sustain their own life. So the lions have a concept of life, they know what it is, what it means to them.
And their instinct, the basic instinct of every living creature, is to preserve their own life. And take the life of others.