|Oregon Magazine Fiction Page|
I | Jock
Jarvis II | Jock
III | Jock
IV | Jock
Jarvis V | God
Speed | That's
All Folks | Halls
Eons | Starscope
Funny Thing About Fear | The
Music of the Spheres | The
Sweet Sound of the Pipes | The
Land of Milk and Honey | The
Politician | Epicuriae
�(OMED: Many early pieces in Oregon Magazine were written in a version of Netscape Composer that in modern browsers produces black diamonds with reversed question marks inside them. These are almost always quotation marks, apostrophes or dashes. When you see text that contains those black diamonds, it means I haven't gotten around to repairing the problem, yet.)
|Jock Jarvis and the Pillars of M16
by Larry Leonard
Jock picked up the cat from a spacer’s pet shop on Gryblkn, a planet with a good ship repair dock complex across the Milky Way from Earth. Besides having his Sheckley FTL drive serviced, he got an upgrade to his ship’s computer and a few other items that would be necessary ingredients in an enterprise he had in mind. The cat was named Brngllth, which like all Welsh names is unpronounceable. He named it Sam.
Cats do well in space because they have a perfect internal orientation mechanism. Growing up on Earth, Jock had seen cats right themselves in freefall many times, and once, on television, had seen a cat jump from a barn roof, sixty feet down into the arms of a farmer. Jock had long thought that just as birds had evolved from dinosaurs, cats must have evolved from birds. Or, perhaps, they were simply stupid. In any event, heights didn’t seem to bother them very much, and they were not herd animals. Neither was Jock. Unlike most men, he was fond of independent species.
Sam, he thought, would be good company on the long reaches. He had a modified larynx and a memory chip implant which raised his intelligence to eight IQ points above that of the average attorney, according to the shop owner. Jock was drunk at the time, and figured that if he ever settled down, he would finance the cat in a run for office and get all the political cover he ever needed. Unfortunately, Sam only spoke Welsh. Jock was six hundred lightyears beyond Gryblkn’s sun when he discovered that. Many people are unaware that all drunks naturally speak that language, but cannot recall a word of it when they become sober.
“How’s it going,” Jock said to Sam when he
woke up that
“Then how do they communicate with each
other?” asked Jock.
But the cat played chess like an attorney – that is enthusiastically but without logic. Jock beat him every game. And Sam purred at classical music and Charlie Chaplin movies. They had a fine time all the way out to the Pillars of M16, where in the midst of all that gas from an exploded supernova, Jock thought he might find the motherlode in the form of a lump of gold created and spat out by the explosion. According to his calculations, it would take a sphere of gold about the size of Mt. McKinley to rent a space navy big enough to do the job he had in mind. This involved bringing to heel the military arm of the IRS which was looking to nail his hide to a barn door. It was an old disagreement which Jock now planned to end in his favor.
He knew of a navy that was available, too. A nasty planet called Grot circled close in to a red dwarf in a triple system known as Wolf359. Remnants of the old Earth Nazis had taken ship from Venezuela in the early 21st Century after the invention of the Sheckley drive and using slave labor had turned Grot into a fascist paradise any liberal would love. Only the army and the police had guns. Religion was outlawed. Redistribution of wealth that would make the IRS blush, with all the redistribution going to the leaders. But military dictatorships are notorious for going broke, and Grot had ended up with a fleet of war cruisers and no fuel to lift them. None of their neighbors would sell them sufficient quantities, for very good reasons, and without enough to energize a fleet, the Grotians couldn’t simply take what they wanted.
IRS rebels were slowly gaining power in that
system after system by the pure terror of their remnant fleet of battle
wagons. Bethe blasters blazing, they had a nascent empire, now,
were on their way toward Grot with hungry eyes. The day was
when Grot’s fleet would be destroyed on the ground, or there would be
kind of feudal merger between the lords of Grot and the lords of the
Jock figured that with enough money there
was a narrow
window of time he could use to bring in a load of fuel ships from afar,
and make a deal. Grot would take on the outlaw IRS group, they
reduce each other to broken ruins and Jock would get his job back with
the Interstellar Mining Corporation and go on a nice binge with
He dropped into normal space a thousand
lights out, broke
out a bottle of scotch, poured himself a stiff one and just sat their
at the sight. It was a spectacle that called for Gustav Mahler in
his prime. Marching off into the gulfs of space were a series of
blue and red gas columns, each of which were so large that they could
a million Jupiters without a belch. Even for an old spacer like
the scale was just too large to comprehend. They looked like
anthill columns to him, though he knew they were so tall that a ray of
light that took nine minutes to reach the Earth from Sol would travel
the time it took Man to go from stone spearheads to steam engines and
not reach the other end.
The pillars are a star nursery. During
one was “born. ” He kept dropping back into normal space to look
things over on the way in. This resulted in a series of
similar to a time exposure movie. Each “stop” gave him another
forward in the series of events.
The more mass the material had, the closer
the orbit to
the sun. Thus did Jock see with his own eyes the creation of a
planetary system with terrestrials, rocky spheres, in close and lumpy
rings destined to become giant planets farther out.
Jock found his mountain of gold about a
quarter of the
way up the second column. When that amount of mass was
into momentum by the three Sheckley drivers he had in the hold, it
skip across the Milky Way like a flat rock across a pond. There
a chance it wouldn’t slam into anything on the way. That kind of
mass wasn’t controllable. But, it could be aimed at a hole at the
far end. Say, something about a hundred lights in diameter.
It would stop somewhere inside that circle.
“You’ve had three days,” he said to the
“Who are they?”
They were air-breathing cephalopods with
and a hide from a rhinoceros. Eight arm/legs, each terminating in
a finger, big flat eyes, extremely good brains.
“They do what with the gold?”
Corynx was the leader of the
Cephalopods. He was
a mine foreman, not a military sort. They didn’t even understand
the concept of war, never having had any competition at home, and never
before having run across another intelligent species, let alone a
It was a geographic problem. Creatures
in the sea, or returned to it as whales had on Earth, simply did not
the problem of mountain ranges, rivers or continental
They could swim right over them. Territoriality, while it existed
in certain mild forms related to reproductive terrain (which was easily
eliminated with the advent of intelligence), just couldn’t rear its
head among the long distance gypsies of the sea. The continuity
oceans forbade nationhood. The Cephalopods had never engaged in
“Listen,” he tried again. “Even if you
the idea, you can understand the concept of mass death, can you not?”
“Not easily,” said Corynx. “Our ships
do not speed
across distances like yours.”
“Our scientists will have a wonderful time
with this one,”
“The cat is pooped,” said the
were not meant for discussions of relativity. They get irritable
discussing peace. And, until you’ve tried to say space time
in Cephalapodian, you don’t know the meaning of pain.”
In the end, Jock was right, but only
mountain of gold grazed the atmosphere of a Catholic planet in the
sector during evening vespers and the warm gold rain that resulted
fulfilled an ancient prophecy to the day and hour. This caused an
obscure brotherhood associated with the prediction to come to power,
their disciplines to be required.
(to be continued)
(C) 2003 Larry Leonard