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Monday, March 12, 2018

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: • “The Waters of Oblivion,” by Michael Haynes •


Jackson always calls hyperspace the “waters of oblivion.” It seems an odd affectation, out of character with the rest of his carefree personality. His parents are both dead and he has no close relatives; he’s told me he plans to work the hyperspace runs until he’s thirty and then retire young and wealthy.

I asked him about the phrase once, and he wouldn’t answer me. Two days later ship’s time, after we’d completed the three-jump journey to the Karibib outpost to drop off our cargo, he turned to me and said “I took it from an ancient text.” Then he walked away.

I didn’t realize what he’d been referring to until many minutes later.

¤

Getting ready for a jump is easy. Put in all of the navigational information and the computer does the rest of the work. The jump itself only takes seconds. At least, that’s what all the systems say. But while you’re in a jump, hours or days or even weeks go by in the rest of the universe. And here’s the thing. All those seconds? You feel them.

Doctors and biologists say that’s impossible, that it’s a trick of the mind. That since the body doesn’t go through more than a few seconds of biological processes—respiration, circulation, digestion, and the like—that the brain simply cannot actually be experiencing an extended period of time.

There are armchair scientists and weekend philosophers who debate this endlessly on the nets. Some say it’s proof there exists something separate from our physical bodies that contains our consciousness. A soul. Others insist there must be a biological reason, even if we don’t understand it yet. One of the most notable proponents of this latter view raised money and arranged to have himself brought on board a jump ship as “cargo” several years ago. He returned no less confident in his writings on the topic. And yet, when a soul advocate offered to put up the money for him to make a second trip, he declined.

¤

“How’s David?” I ask my partner via the hypercomm. Jackson is sleeping and I should be sleeping, too. But the ship doesn’t have hypercomm capabilities and the morning will be taken up with the preflight checklist for the jumps to Namanga Station with no time for personal matters. Our son’s first birthday is the day after tomorrow—while my ship will be off navigating the waters of oblivion—and I want to talk to him and to my partner. David was three months old when I left home on a month-long ship’s-time run...

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