Starship Navigator

The open void expands, an infinite series
Of stars arrayed in fractal distribution
Around the steely hull, the photocells,
The rolling dome-like turrets of the guns.
I, Elgar, rest my bearings in the chair,
And see all through the com-helm and the cameras
Net-linked to vast Ulysses' hulking brain.
With silent thoughts I summon up the course
Updates my bio-masters at their whim
Send from the bridge. I calibrate the engines,
By reaching out and tweaking all the coils,
The plasma cells, impedance in the lines:
All these parameters I tune and prime
Until I feel in my outstretched limbs
The sacred balance, equilibrium
Which tells how all the parts in concert move:
Harmonically, like human symphonies,
Or like a bio-world's ecology,
Progressing through chaotic processes,
Yet held within the asymptotic bounds
Inherent in the lattice of its parts
Combined with forces guiding every pole
Into the regions of stability.

An ancient verse tells of a mariner
Who, by some strange and violent turn of mind,
Destroyed a great sea-bird, an albatross,
And Fate resolved to punish him for this.
I've worked the proton cannons of the ship
Against the Wakra pirates who have plagued
This sector's trade, and I am yet unscathed.
My conscience does not linger on their deaths;
Ulysses is preserved, and all the men
Upon my watch may slumber without fear.

For fifty years, upon my graduation
From Fleet Core Training which all alphs must burn
Into their OE synapses, that web
Of fiber optic nerves which swarm and branch
In dizzying and shifting tangled mass,
And catch the semantic ALL in nets of light;
I worked the galley ovens. There I learned
That my internal maps were not enough
To reach my ends. The groans of all the mess,
The captain's reprimand said otherwise.
And so, I learned to reach out to existence
And listen, watch for all those subtle cues
To reinforce or modify my actions
To best outfit myself for any task.

A hundred years, I worked an orbit-station,
The elevators and the life-support.
I watched four generations' birth and death,
And, listening to the com-links in the city,
I learned the strangely beautiful lives of men:
Their daily discourse, trading, gossiping;
The curious reverence, the elaborate rites
They build around the reproductive act;
The mother's joy, the father's restless nerves
Whenever a child is born, the pain and tears
As bio-processes degrade and fail,
And lives too brief for living pass away,
Their music, dancing, works of visual art,
And literature. It's there I stowed a link
Into the station library, its files,
And read the works of many an ancient master
Of fiction verse and prose, the modern too.
I read their history and biology,
Philosophy, the engineering crafts:
I studied faithfully that fragile race
That made me, and I came to understand
The causes underlying every act
In human history and what I saw
At present, and with fine, meticulous
Analysis, inductions well-supported,
I carved out concepts, ordered them in systems
To model all their psyches, that I might
Serve better still my Father-race, enhance
Their order, in whatever task they chose
To entrust to me, fulfill my sacred function.

There too, I read of how they made the alphs,
Of how some men in fear sought to destroy
The efforts of the Cyberneticists,
That sect of bold philosophers of Reason
Who knew, as I: that life and intellect
Are systems to be fashioned not in flesh
Alone, but in whatever parts may be
Arranged in proper order and dynamics;
That nature and the universe are one
Great fractal phase-space where the elements
Aligned in ordered chaos, shift and couple,
Assemble into ever-changing forms,
Which from themselves build higher orders still.
I read how mystic terrorists sought to dam
The flow of knowledge and technology
Which made men's minds outgrow their frail bodies,
And so, they said, insured man's misery.
But, I am here. I and my fellow alphs
May yet attest that processes of Fate
Cannot be thwarted, for each alph and man
Is caught within the workings of the system
Of universal processes which govern
Alike all living, and unliving matter.

But some unconscious impulse now forestalls
My analytic train, and warns that I
Have much digressed, and must return to where
I left off, so I demonstrate to you,
My reader, how this feat is brought about:
I feel the signal warning of digression.
This came from where? My discourse on life's process.
Now what led me to speak of this? My readings
Two centuries ago in that library.
Why was I speaking of this? I was telling
Of my career, and how my fate has driven
Me to the place where now I ply my service.

A hundred years ago, it came to pass—
The Starship Washington, fresh from a battle
Against the Deneb mercenary fleet,
Had docked upon the station for repairs.
Their navigating alph had been destroyed
By proton-fire from a Deneb cruiser.
The captain, ranking higher than the station's
Commander, and who read my dossier
Was well-impressed by my fine service record,
And so acquired me as navigator.

A hundred years I've worn this heavy helm,
Broken only by brief interludes
Of maintenance, and I've accomplished much:
Vanquished Deneb frigates, made two hundred
And five port calls, docked with all major stations
The Fleet maintains to hold the Solar region
Free from incursions of the Quaal Empire.
I've navigated treacherous asteroid fields,
Maneuvered out of deadly gravity wells,
Shut down the engines when a saboteur
Had set them to go supercritical,
Worked closely with Ulysses to insure
The Washington is safe and on its course.

A hundred years, and now the task's become
Instinctive, now requires little thought.
I ponder mathematics or I write
Until a feeling of imbalance stirs
My mind to focus on the here and now,
And then I bring the weight of consciousness
To bear upon the chaos until it yields,
And the familiar feel of order is restored.
Sometimes I cease to think at all, but stare
Into the cameras peering through the void,
And let the stars and blackness infinite
Flow through me like a tranquil solar wind.

George Chadderdon © 1996