on the shoreline of darkness
by
violet bertelsen

Violet's story The Lure of the Depths was chosen for volume one of the OSS Anthology.  It was a hard choice to make, for she also sent in two other stories at least as good.  But The Lure of the Depths won out, as it was set on the planet Neptune - and that was true of no other story in our in-box.  I felt we had to have a Neptune story to complete the coverage of the major worlds. 

To my relief, Violet has given permission for her other two tales to be displayed on this website, for the time being at least.

Poe's Raven would doubtless have something to say about this dark tale of "the night's Plutonian shore..."

The polyhedron Plutonian spaceship docked in the pad at the Louisville terminal.  The Plutonian men in their g-suits unloaded the crates of dried fungoid mass which had grown so popular in recent years.  Dr. Diego Kraken watched the crates come off, his head shaking, wondering to himself.  How did it seem so easy to live without the fungoid mass just a few years ago? Now everyone with half a brain is imbibing it all the time…even me.  And…it’s delightful, a mild euphoric that increases acuity of the senses, and allows for deep understandings, hidden connections to come to the light…very useful.

He observed the Plutonians, under their silver g-suits which prevented the earth’s gravity from crushing their fragile bones.  They’d evolved on an almost sunless planet, and yet they do not merely survive, they thrive, thought Dr. Kraken to himself, shaking his head.  He worked on and off at the University of Planetary Studies in Chicago, and was considered one of the best research anthropologists.  Beings on every planet of the Solar System avidly read his accounts of the last remnants of the ancient civilizations of the Earth’s Moon, the deserts of Mars, the eerie twilight belt of Mercury, the seas of Neptune…all of it.  He had visited every planet in the solar system and most of the major moons.  That is, all but one: Pluto

Prior to the advent of the fungoid trade four years ago, little had been known about the most distant planet, or the strange pale men that lived there, with their windowless cities, fungoid gardens and distinctive polyhedron space craft.  There was brief mention of them in the legends of the Neptunian Cetaceans who told fearsome tales of the pale humanoid beings who craved blood.  Likewise, the Jovians had some folk tales of the horrible polyhedron space ships of legend that would snatch their children for some sinister purpose.

Certainly, these myths link up in a terrifying way, thought Dr. Kraken as he watched the polyhedron, so unearthly with its translucent, green and purple sides, being loaded with its Earth cargo; human children, aged about ten to sixteen years, no one older than eighteen.

Generalissimo Johnson had been happy to have an off-world market for the rapidly swelling convict population.  Since The Coup, times had been dark: secret police, concentration camps, torture rooms; the entire apparatus of a high-tech police state.  So far, Dr. Kraken had been left mostly at peace. Not even Generalissimo Johnson, who hated public intellectuals with a passion, wished to harm the celebrated Planetary Anthropologist, at least not yet.  Although the professor had been brought in for questioning a half dozen times, and every time the sinister men with their fedoras and cigarettes had spent the better part of an hour discussing their various torture instruments and asking Diego to sign copies of his books for their wives and children.

This is my final frontier, thought Dr. Diego Kraken, afterwards what am I going to do with myself?  As soon as he thought these words he had an eerie premonition of horror, and involuntarily touched the ray gun that never left his side holster. Dr. Diego Kraken had been putting off going to Pluto for a while now. 

Given the tremendous speeds of space travel, there was always the reality of Einsteinian time dilation to contend with.  While Dr. Kraken would only experience the passage of about one earth day on the space ship, the rest of the universe would experience the passage of the better part of ten years.  Travelling to Neptune had been horrific for this reason.  Everyone hated experiencing the effects of time dilation.  Now though was different for the professor. Now he had no one to return to.  He did a breathing exercise to calm his heart; my flight is already chartered, and it’s wiser to get out of Earth while space travel is still allowed.  If things go Venusian I have a lot of friends I can turn to, no matter how many years have passed.

The human cargo was led on board, and Diego walked up to the open bay of the ship, “Hello sir, here is my passport; I’ve chartered a flight with you to Pluto,” he said with his characteristic outward pluck and confidence.

The Plutonian in his shimmering g-suit took the passport.  His little black eyes became round when he read the name.  “Professor Diego Kraken!” he exclaimed, “When the captain told us you would be coming onboard I couldn’t believe it.  I love your work! The Cetacean Myths of Neptune is my favorite book ever! Please sir, come on board.”

And with that Diego said to himself, “Farewell Terra!” and stepped inside.

*          *          *

After the take-off, the Captain was eager to meet the great anthropologist.  He invited Dr. Kraken to his private study for a glass of whisky. “Ah, so you are the great author; you know I’ve read all of your books Dr. Kraken, indeed, they are what inspired me to become a pilot.”

“Thank you, Captain, I am surprised that you were able to get them all the way in Pluto,” said Diego as he took a long sip of his drink. Watch this one he thought; he is more dangerous than he looks.  Diego had learned to trust his intuition long ago; it had saved his life more times than he wished to remember.

“Yes, well. Please, call me Draque,” said the obsequious Captain; “there are a lot of rumors and misinformation about Plutonians that I trust you will be able to set straight.  We are voracious readers, and writers I may add.  We get most of our books via Uranus, which of course is a major hub of some of the best libraries and publishing houses.  The weather of their steppes is good for preserving paper and their great forests are an excellent source of paper pulp.”

“Hmm, that is fascinating, Draque,” pondered Diego.  “I’ve never heard mention of Plutonians in Uranus; they seemed to think it was a dead planet.”

“Why yes, they would.  Look Dr. Kraken, I’ll be straight with you; you have your…political situation on earth, yes, and it would be…unethical for me to press you on it, given the potential consequences. Well, Pluto has certain…arrangements that we wish to maintain.  Utter secrecy concerning our trade with Uranus is one of them.  Not everyone needs to know who trades what for what,” said Draque sinisterly, as if testing the professor.

“With all due respect, how do you expect to maintain secrecy with your fungoid mass trade?  It is so enormously popular, and for good reason.  The last four books I’ve written have been under its influence,” remarked Dr. Kraken.

“Well, hmmm…you must have noticed that the shipments only came after your Generalissimo Johnson took over,” said Draque, now speaking with barely concealable malevolence.

“Hmmm, yes you’re right; I hadn’t put it together,” pondered Dr. Kraken, nursing his whiskey.

“Suffice to say word won’t get out from Earth; prior to The Coup there were over five hundred thousand radio operators on your planet.  Now there are less than one thousand alive, following the strict scripts of your dictator.  We are not concerned; loose tongues are in no one’s interests currently. Have you considered that many people less travelled than yourself do not know or even care where their fungoid mass comes from?” and before Dr. Kraken could answer, Draque finished his drink. “More whiskey Dr. Kraken?” he offered cordially.

“Yes, thank you,” said Diego.

Captain Draque looked out the side of the spaceship.  “We are passing through the asteroid belt right now; don’t worry, our pilots are skilled, very skilled.  We believe on Pluto that men can be molded to their machines, that men are the machines of machines.  Would you like to see what I mean?”

“Yes, of course!” said Dr. Kraken, his ears pricking up.

“Very good; come this way,” said Captain Draque.

They walked down a flight of stairs to the control room.  In spite of himself Dr. Kraken gasped.

In the helm was a body totally merged with the machine, like melted cheese.  A spinal cord was visible and here and there the ripple of muscle.  Captain Draque guffawed at Dr. Diego Kraken’s involuntary fright.  “And you consider yourself cosmopolitan!” sneered the Captain; “our trade ships are all operated by a body that has, since earliest youth, been conditioned to be an integral part of the ship.  It makes it very easy to navigate; you just set a course on this monitor, and the pilot effortlessly traverses through space.”

“That is so…efficient,” said the anthropologist, disgusted.

“Indeed, you may wonder why we need a captain at all; I simply control the crew, keep them from getting rowdy and of course I set the course, although a trained monkey could probably do so as well in my place,” said Captain Draque drily.

“Fascinating,” yawned Diego, suddenly exhausted.

“Shall I show you your quarters?” asked Captain Draque.

“Please; space travel always makes me sleepy.”

Captain Draque led Diego to a small room with a cot.  “If there is anything you need, my good man, let me know.  If you need to relieve yourself there is a button here that will launch the suction toilet.”

“Many thanks,” sighed the professor, ready now to sleep.

“Sleep well,” said Captain Draque, returning to his study; “may you have sweet dreams.”

*          *          *

Ada lay there in her hospital bed, the cancer spread through her vitals; she looked at Diego, tears in his eyes: “Dad?”

“Yeah Ada?”

“I’m going to die, aren’t I?”

Diego felt his heart sink in his chest; he wished he could trade places with her; he had already lost his wife Ruth to a Mars attack, now he was about to lose his only child.

“Ada…” he said stupidly, like a coward, like a man who couldn’t look his daughter in the face and tell her the truth.

“I’m going to die, Dad.” She said, a statement not a question.  “I’m going to die…Do you think that there is someplace we go after we die?”

“Well, the Neptunians believe….”

“I read your book, Dad; what do you believe…I’m scared…”

“I…I…don’t know; I haven’t thought about it much personally.”

Ada began to cry, “I can’t die - I’ve barely begun to live!  I’m just sixteen…”

Diego watched her helplessly, the daughter he had barely known, regretting bitterly that he had spent so much of her youth travelling and writing and now not sure what to say.

“I need to be alone,” she said, “I need to think about this stuff myself.  I’ll let you know the next time you can see me.” There was an edge to her voice.  They both knew that he had failed her.

“Ada, I love you.”

“I love you too, Dad…bye…”

He stood there for a moment looking at her light brown skin and bright eyes and curly dark hair, and she looked away from him and out the window and he didn’t want her to get cross and make an ugly scene, but didn’t want to acknowledge that this would be the last time he would see her.  With all his strength Diego made himself leave.

The next time he saw her was her funeral…

Dr. Kraken gasped awake, covered in a cold sweat in the strange room.  He was haunted by these memories.  He felt like crying but couldn’t, and felt her ghost with him in this spacecraft so far away from Earth.  “Oh Ada,” he said out loud, “I am so sorry…”

He took two tablets of fungoid mass, got up and opened the door. Outside he saw that they were landing on Pluto.

Captain Draque found him, and smiling his vampiric smile said, “Welcome to Pluto, to the end of the Solar System, or as we say here; the shoreline of darkness.”

*          *          *

“It is…dark here during the day,” said Diego surprised in spite of himself, “I would say that it is about as bright as early dawn on Earth.” His body felt light; low g-planets were in some ways more disconcerting than the giants.  On Jupiter you went around in a g-suit to keep the bones intact, which kept things feeling very similar to Earth.  Here he felt he could easily jump four meters off the ground, and even with intensive exercises his bones would rapidly atrophy.  Best to leave here soon as possible, he thought to himself.

“Yes, there is much less light here than on Earth” said Captain Draque; “we will provide you with some specially made light amplification goggles if you should like.”

“Thank you, I doubt I’ll need them,” said the professor, watching the human children being led onto little trains under the faraway sun, little bigger than a star but so bright.  A cold wind blew.  “It is frigid here!” he said shivering.

“For an Earthling yes, I’d imagine so.  For us zero degrees Celsius is rather balmy,”  Captain Draque explained as he and Professor Kraken sat themselves on the passenger car of the same train.  There were no windows.  “May I ask why there are no windows?” asked the professor.

“Ah yes, it is part of our…foundational myth you would say.  Secrets are important and there are grave dangers in looking out into the world.  Much better to look inwards.” Diego’s hair rose on end at the lurching way Captain Draque was speaking.

“We are passing now the fungoid plantations where the agricultural cyborgs are welded to their machines, similar to the pilot. It is a pity you can’t see them now, but you can trust my word, and I’ll happily show you some illustrations when we get to the Capital; we are proud here on Pluto of our mechanistic efficiency.”

“I’m eager to see.”

Diego dozed; time-dilation caused the worst sort of jet lag.   He awoke as the doors opened, and he looked outside in the frigid air.  Craggy mountains, red and white; the odd fungoid masses further out and what appeared to be the agricultural workers, on stilts and augmented bone structures, loading the seashell-shaped masses into the open gondolas of freight cars.  The skyscrapers, the same colors as the mountains, blood red and snow white, but without a single window, reaching upwards into the sky.

“That’s enough looking around, professor, you’ll catch a cold with your warm, human blood,” scolded Captain Draque.  “Let’s go to the library where you can learn all about Pluto.”

“Hmm, okay; I always prefer to form my own impressions first and then do book research,” mumbled Diego.

“That is ill-advised here,” said Captain Draque sympathetically, “I understand you have your scientific method you so treasure, but we too here have our…political realities, and it is safer for you to read the material that we have prepared for you.”

“Ah…of course,” replied Diego, a chill running down his spine.  They entered into a smaller windowless trolley, which was crowded with pale Plutonian bodies, all of them hairless and with beady wide-spaced small black eyes.  Professor Kraken took a tablet of prepared fungoid mass and, his brain duly fortified, listened carefully to snippets of conversation between two loud, new money merchants.  Professions and spending habits were easy enough to discern anywhere.

“Markets been good lately,” said one, big and gaudy in black shimmering clothes

“Oh yes; great influx of human blood,” said the other smaller, but with more cunning in his voice.

“Helps the mind, great aphrodisiac!” said the larger one vulgarly.

“Couldn’t live without it anymore, better than anything...” said the little one, with a note of resignation.

Professor Kraken clearer his throat and turned to Captain Draque, “I’m particularly interested in the biology of Pluto; the divergence with the Homo sapiens line, etc.”

“Why of course,” said Captain Draque, “easy enough; you’ll learn that we have a tad bit more fungal admixture in our chromosomes and some fascinating differences in the structure of mitochondria. The fungoid growths and mycelial networks too may be of interested.  I’ll make sure that the royal librarian is well prepared to help you in your scientific inquiries.”

“Many thanks, Draque.” 

“My pleasure.”  The trolley arrived at the boxlike, windowless library, made of the same bright red and white stone that seemed to be the major building material out here.  Make note to brush up on the geological history of this place, thought Professor Kraken to himself.

They entered the library, and walked over to the main librarian’s desk where a chubby Plutonian was deep in a book.

Captain Draque cleared his throat. “Excuse me, librarian!”

The librarian jumped up comically.  “Oh, well; oh my!” he stammered, “I thought you would all be quite a bit longer getting here.   Well then, there are books prepared, I’ve seen to that, indeed…”  He was moving his big body around, clumsily, knocking down books here and there, before finding a big stack for Professor Kraken.  “Yes here we go; if you have any questions, any at all, Professor, ask me.  The scholar’s room in the library has been arranged for your stay.  We love your writing here and can’t wait to read what you have to write about us!” said the Librarian, now tarrying to pick up the spilled books before returning to his reading.

“May I ask you a favor before we depart?” asked Captain Draque.

“Yes of course, you’ve been so helpful to me!” said the professor, almost feeling affection towards the sinister Plutonian.

“Would you sign my copy of The Cetacean Myths of Neptune?” asked Captain Draque pulling the volume out of his briefcase.

“Of course,” said Diego Kraken, picking up a pen and writing: To Captain Draque; thank you so much for all that you have taught me.  With all my best, Professor Diego Kraken.

“Thank you so, so much!” exclaimed Captain Draque, genuinely excited.

“Take care,” said Dr. Kraken as Captain Draque again boarded the windowless train.

“Best of luck!”

Professor Kraken sat down with a sigh, and began to go through the books, taking notes.  Apparently, Pluto was the oldest plane of the entire solar system.  It was held together by mycelia which Plutonians harnessed to convey their rails.  The rocks were fungal-mineral hybrids, totally unlike anything on Earth.  The entire planet is an organism, realized Diego, perhaps not too different from Earth in her own way… After many hours of study, he had the Librarian show him his sleeping quarters, where he immediately fell into a deep sleep.

In the morning he awoke in a cold sweat, the same dream of Ada’s farewell, the same horrible feeling of impotence, the same horrible regret.  I only spent 3 years with her he thought fighting back tears, I missed most of Ada’s short life because of the time-dilations of my space travels....  Not wanting to be alone the professor decided to chat up the librarian, rather than hit the books.

“Good day, librarian,” said Dr. Diego Kraken.

“Ah good day, good day – was breakfast adequate?” asked the excitable librarian.

“Very much so, thank you; I’m curious about some lines of questioning that aren’t accounted for in the literature.  Things of a particular human interest.”

“Yes, go ahead,” said the librarian leaning back.

“Well, why do you import so many human children? It is interesting to say the least,” asked Diego frowning.

“Of course, yes, yes, my apologies for the lack of appropriate literature; it is such a new institution here we don’t yet have much published on it.  Human blood is compatible with Plutonians since we share a common ancestor.  Young blood is highly valued, it has been scientifically proven to reverse aging, increase our ability to think clearly and improve our vitality and virility. Of course, we breed differently than humans; we are all physiologically male and combine the sexual fluids of eight males to form the base of a new one.  We also, like you, have sex for pleasure.  Human blood increases our ability to create reproductive fluid, another reason it is so much in demand.”

“Could you take me to see a facility for milking the human blood?” asked Dr. Kraken, sweating.

“Well, uh, I shouldn’t, you know, I could get in trouble; but…you’re a great writer and scholar and, well, as personal hero of mine.  Although it’s probably foolish of me… yes, I can pull a few strings and we can visit a factory tomorrow.  I can arrange it to avoid suspicions,” decided the librarian resolutely, “but…you’ll owe me a favor.”

“I will grant you anything within my capacity,” said Diego, curious to what the favor would be.

“Take me with you when you leave. Your tales have inspired me greatly and more than anything else I wish to see more of the solar system, adventure about for a few years.  Also, if I am party to betraying Plutonian secrets I shouldn’t want to stay once they figure out what’s happened,” said the librarian, poker faced.

“Well, sure, I’ve helped dozens of folks immigrate across the solar system before.  I promise to take you with me.  You should be safe with me. By the way, what’s your name?”

“Mephist.”

 “Okay Mephist; tomorrow morning it is; we visit the factory.”

*          *          *

Professor Kraken had never been so horrified in his life; there was the phlebotomist explaining the situation concerning the girl strapped to the wall; her hands and feet severed and stuck into the fungoid machine which now overrode her heart recirculating and siphoning her blood.

“So you see,” the phlebotomist explained, “we have made her a part of the circulation machine.  This circulates her blood, siphoning it off at a sustainable rate. They usually last about three weeks before they must be replaced.”

“What ultimately kills them?” asked Professor Kraken trying to conceal his rage.

“We’re not exactly sure,” said the phlebotomist. “but we believe it is something akin to sorrow, we make sure to drain them fully before this though, of course”

The girl moaned and writhed, struggling against the wall.

“Can she hear us?” asked Professor Kraken, increasingly upset.

“Probably, but she is already as good as dead so not to worry,” said the phlebotomist.  The girl seemed to hear and whimpered as if trying to make words.

“We have millions upon millions of such blood apparatuses all over Pluto,” explained the phlebotomist cheerfully ignoring the girl, “with fresh shipments of young humans daily to restore our stocks.   Now even agricultural cyborgs can afford warm human blood!”

The girl cried and mumbled to herself as if dreaming, and Dr. Kraken shook his head, sickened. Mephist the librarian cleared his throat; “May we see the holding tanks, sir?” he asked.

“Ah yes, come see the Earthlings in their cages.”

The humans were held in great cages with feeding troughs, some were dispirited, some looked sick and some were angry and sullen.

“We keep them here at approximately fifteen degrees Celsius,” explained the phlebotomist, “they huddle together for warmth.  Those that approach psychosis we make sure to drain first as they are murder/suicide risks.”

“Ah,” said Dr. Kraken, seething.

“There is a good latrine system.  Full turnover is about three months,” continued the phlebotomist, “but with the increasing number of shipments, we have ourselves limited by faculties, not humans to drain.”  Dr. Kraken was hardly listening; in the cage was a young girl with light brown skin, bright eyes, and curly black hair.

“Ada!” he cried out loud.

“Excuse me?” said Mephist the librarian.

“May I speak to that human?” asked Dr. Kraken agitated, pointing to the girl who looked exactly like his daughter.

“Sure, no reason why not; she’s slated to be inserted into the machine three days from now.  No harm in asking her some questions,” said the phlebotomist opening a little door to the cage.

Dr. Kraken entered and approached the girl, “Hi,” he said.

“They’re going to kill me in three days,” said the girl, distraught, “my parent’s were enemies of the Johnson dictatorship.  I got sold to the Plutonians in exchange for fungoid mass….my name is Sarah, I am 16 years old.  Please, don’t let them continue doing this with the solar system totally indifferent.  Please.”

“Listen Sarah, you remind me of my daughter…she died of cancer years ago… It broke my heart. I can’t let them drain you. I won’t,” said Dr. Kraken quietly to the frightened girl, and leaning over he whispered quietly in the ear, “don’t worry Sarah, I promise that I will rescue you from here.”

*          *          *

All that night Dr. Diego Kraken and Mephist plotted how to save the girl; “do you think I could just simply buy her?” asked the professor.

“Hmm, seems doubtful; you would probably have to trade your blood for hers, which is highly unlikely, only blood from Earthlings younger than twenty years old is the least bit desirable.” Said Mephist.

“Well, how about this; we go back tomorrow, grab her, and scram; Captain Draque told me that operating the ships is very easy since you have the pilots welded in and apparently without any volition,” reasoned Diego.

“It could work; about half a mile from the blood factory is a fungoid mass plant with a docked space craft.  If we could get her onboard we could perhaps escape,” said Mephist.

“Do you have a ray gun?” asked the professor.

“Yes, and you?”

“Never leave Earth without it!  Alright then! We have a plan; tomorrow we rescue Sarah.”

*          *          *

The next day they returned to the blood plant, but there was no Sarah in the pen.  “Where did the one I spoke with yesterday go?!” demanded Professor Kraken.

“She is being prepared to be attached to the circulation machine, you actually just interrupted me from the preparations,” explained the phlebotomist, “should you like to see?”

“Very much so,” said Diego his hand on his ray gun.

She was unconscious on the operating table.   The bone saw lay next to her, the phlebotomist seemed pleased with himself; “Soon I will apply the tourniquets and then remove the first hand and it insert it here into the wall.  I have a little stool that helps me jab the stump into the wall and then untie the tourniquet.  We save more blood that way, and the stool helps save my back! Then I do the same thing with the foot on the opposite side.  This creates a sort of diagonal bracing. Afterwards, the rest goes fast. With her limbs in, the wall myceliates around the body helping to support it.”

“Ah,” said Professor Kraken, “Faaascinating,” and then he grabbed the phlebotomist’s head in his hands and brought it full force onto his knee.  To Diego’s great surprise the head shattered like a melon filled with black blood.  The lowered g-force! He understood in a flash: my muscles and bones are stronger than his because Earth is five hundred times more massive.

He slung the body of Sarah over his shoulder, and leapt for the door.  “Now to the space ship!”  Dr. Kraken ran in great bounding strides on the low gravity planet.  Mephist struggled to keep up, falling further and further behind. As they ran through the odd dark fungoid landscape an alarm bell sounded from the blood factory. Mephist tripped head over heals and screamed “help!” Dr. Kraken, bounded back, grabbed his arm and slung him over his other shoulder, “I never forget a promise!” roared the professor as he bounded on like a gazelle carrying both Sarah and Mephist.

They approached the spaceship and saw the long-limbed cyborg workers about three hundred meters away.  Soon ray guns began to fire at them; Mephis jumped to the ground.  He and the professor made zigzag patterns and fired back, slowly advancing.  Mephist was a surprisingly good shot, one of the best that Professor Kraken had seen in all of his travels. “How did you learn to shoot so well?” asked Diego breathlessly.

“Video games!” cried Mephist as he shot the last factory gunman.  The agricultural cyborgs were without weapons and had disappeared in the mayhem.

They advanced to the ship, Mephist opened the bay and they entered.  “Where shall I set the course?” asked Mephist.

“Ganymede, moon of Jupiter.  I have some good friends there who will loan you a gravity suit to protect your bones.”

Mephist nodded solemnly, entered the information into the screen and they took off.

“Well, that was easy!” exclaimed Dr. Diego Kraken, sighing as they passed Neptune, “I imagined everything would be better defended.”

“Well, from reading your accounts, Pluto is one of the most conformist and regimented planets in the solar system. People can hardly think for themselves and so they very rarely misbehave at all.  That is why it was so easy to gain access to the factory; I simply lied through my teeth and claimed more clearance than I had, and no one thought that I might lie. The authoritarian structures have atrophied our imaginations. I’m more surprised that we experienced as much trouble as we did,” explained Mephist.

“Interesting, I’ll make note of that in my book.  Oh drats!  I left all my notes at the library,” remembered Diego.

“Well you’re lucky to have a librarian with you right now to help fill in your gaps!” offered Mephist with the odd vampiric smile that all Plutonians seem to have.

“Point well taken; I do hope Sarah wakes soon, it’s been quite a few hours,” worried Professor Kraken.

“She should, but it might take a few days.”

“Ah.”

They arrived on Ganymede later that day.  The better part of four years had passed in the Eintenian time-dilation.  It took the better part of a week before Sarah opened her eyes.  “Where are we?” she asked groggily.

“Ganymede, moon of Jupiter,” replied Dr. Kraken; “we’re in a hotel.  I got a good rate; it’s the off season.”

“What happened? Am I dead?”  she asked.

“We saved you from getting inserted into the circulation machine,” said the professor.

“What…what are we doing now?” she wondered, tears in her eyes.

“Well, I have a lot of interplanetary royalties, so money’s not an issue right now. I plan on writing about Pluto. Mephist is going to help fill me in with details; we’re co-writing it,” said Dr. Diego Kraken, Mephist in his g-suit beaming vampirically.  “I’ll need all the help I can get.  I’m about a week off the fungoid mass and my thinking’s a bit…disorganized.  After the Pluto book I’m going to write about what’s happening on Earth; I have some friends in high places throughout the solar system and maybe they could fund some political movements hostile to the Johnson dictatorship.  From what I’ve understood his leadership has been bad for business, except for Plutonian business that is.  Things have only gotten worse since we left four years ago.  Maybe there could be some sanctions against Pluto after this; they’re breaking quite a few laws.”

“We were travelling for four years?” asked Sarah, eyes wide.

“No, we travelled for about eight hours, but we went fast enough to experience Einstenian time dilation, so four years have passed everywhere where people were not travelling at similar speeds.”

“That is so…eerie…this has all happened so fast, but taken many years for everyone else,” said Sarah quietly “I’m stranded outside of Jupiter without a friend or any skills, exiled from my home.”

“Sarah, please, don’t worry,” said Diego in a soft voice.  “Ganymede is a big hub for business and there’s a lot of opportunities here and lot of interesting characters; Venusians, Martians, even some Uranians.   Real interesting scene, which is part of the reason I decided to come here rather than Mars, which is more desolate, or Earth where Johnson still reigns.   I would suggest that you stay away from the space drugs and attend some of the free lectures at the University here, but I’m old fashioned like that.”

“This has all happened so quickly,” said Sarah, dazed.

“I want you to know that you can stay with us as long as you need, eat on my tab.  No worries…it’s important to me.  Also, here’s a key to your own room, number 27.  And last thing…if you’re up for it I want you to help me with the books,” said Dr. Diego Kraken, “tell me about your experiences, have you be a viewpoint character.”

Sarah cautiously took the key, and smiled uncertainly. “Thank you Dr. Kraken, I don’t know…”

 “You could help a lot of people by sharing your experience…but I don’t want to pressure you just after you’ve woken up and before you’ve been able to shower or have a bite to eat.  You can let me know what you decide in the weeks ahead.  Don’t worry Sarah, you’ve got all the time you need. Down the hall to the left there’s a cafeteria and next to it are the showers.  If you have questions about the hotel the receptionists are helpful, and I’m here too if you want to talk.  Now, though, I must leave and lie down for an hour or two.  It’s been a hectic week, and hard to rest without the fungoid mass.  Take care Sarah, I need to go to bed.”

Sarah smiled and looked like she was going to start crying.  Dr. Kraken sighed, and left her to her process, walking down the blue hall to his room.  The girl was not Ada, and would never be Ada.  Saving one girl didn’t stop the horrific blood trade, and writing some books was a shot in the dark, a dangerous one at that.  It was easy enough to imagine him failing in his objectives, and becoming a fugitive scuttled from safe house to safe house or meeting his end in some asteroid belt torture-room...  He felt so little and limited compared to the evils of the universe, and the political problems on Earth.  Dr. Kraken unlocked the door, and sat down on his bed.  He looked at himself in the mirror mounted on the wall, meeting his own eyes. He thought; well, at least it’s something, at least I’m doing what’s in my capacity and doing it in good faith.  What more can I do?  Unable to answer the question, he turned the lights off and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.