Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on Io, I thought I would sail about a little and see the most distant reaches of space.
Despite the limitations of technology, the endlessness that spread before our ship pulled me with a unique gravity. The bounty itself was naught. In retrospect, it was a meaningless and futile obsession, but the captain persisted. I followed, as I was wont to do given the limited quarters of the starship, and it never occurred to me that the quest was impossible. After all, I longed for nothing but the sight of stars through the viewscreen, so I was content to drift along in the wake of his unwavering determination.
TW was regarded as the most feared man in the seemingly endless reaches of the solar system, and despite the minimal reward I was compelled by the captainâ€™s inexplicable, unwavering persistence to pursue the ghost of the pale ship through the asteroid belt, through the orbits of nine planets, and through the gentle and burning licks of solar flares.
â€œHeâ€™s out there,â€ the captain said. â€œHeâ€™s out there.â€
TW had claimed innumerable victims, and even in my green and formless years the myths had flickered across television screens as the magnetic residue of a legend. I must admit that I was infatuated with the concept. When the captain himself raised the bounty my interest was piqued, and the lot of us were incited to impossible action.
â€œHave you sighted the ship?â€ he broadcast over all frequencies, but the replies were foreboding or outright prohibitive.
In my quarters, I dreamed of the solar system stretching out before me like an arm that never reached a hand. Doubtless, he dreamed of whiteness streaking the dark of space.
â€œHeâ€™s out there,â€ he said. â€œHeâ€™s still out there.â€
Months passed like days, occupied by the dreariness of daily duty and the shadow of passion that the captain cast upon us. I kept a log of activities, though it was surely tedious by the standards of occupied worlds.
â€œHeâ€™s out there,â€ the captain said. â€œHeâ€™s still out there.â€ Despite the protests of the senior staff, he continued. Our transmissions were denied by ships which busied themselves with far more likely prospects.
Behind me, Io was a frozen world. I watched the great shroud of space roll on as it rolled five thousand years ago, and I followed orders and monitored the empty radio broadcasts. Space collapsed into distance and the blackness of the signal screen revealed no blips of existence.
â€œHeâ€™s out there,â€ the man said. â€œHeâ€™s still out there.â€