Author: Steven Lombardi
He boarded the ship, trailed by gray robes that hid his emaciated frame. An escort of guards met him in the docking bay, and per the Astronautical Law, he requested that they replenish his ship’s fuel, water, and oxygen. Then he relished the sweet, circulated air.
He identified the Captain by the low-hanging regalia clipped to her belt. Out of respect, he touched his forehead and lips.
“You’re the exorcist?” she asked. With a sweeping glance, she inspected his trade tools.
“Aye. I picked up your transmission. Here are my certificates and a receipt of your brief.” She plucked the documents out of his hand and skimmed them over.
“Shall I show you where we’ve had the worse paranormal activity?” she asked.
“Please, Captain.” He lowered his eyes. “May I have a meal before we begin?”
The Captain sniffed. “Right. This way.”
He cherished each spoonful of rice, letting the trace sugars melt on his tongue. A man of his abilities should have been ashamed of such a showing, but work was challenging to find when the boundaries extended into infinity.
“I’ll cut right to the chase,” the Captain said. “The worse of the activity is in our Chamber of Stasis. We have documentation showing when the amniotic wine turned into human blood. It lasted only an hour, and thank God nobody was in there, but someone could have drowned.”
The exorcist shoveled the last of the rice into his mouth and closed his eyes, cherishing the flavor.
“Have you seen anything like it before?” the Captain asked.
“No,” the exorcist admitted. “But I’ve heard tales.”
“Is there anything else you need from me before you begin?”
“Just a question. When will I be paid?” he said, staring into the now-empty bowl.
“When the work is done.”
He lit the hædis candle and already the room darkened around him. The amniotic wine turned from yellow to green, not because of the paranormal, but because his very eyes were disintegrating. He dripped the seinaru water in his ears and felt his tongue enlarge. Soon he would be blind and mute at the expense of seeing and hearing the dead who haunted this ship.
He typed a message for his spirit-box to relay. “Spirit. I’ve come to free you. Show yourself.”
He waited, then played the message again. On the third attempt, she materialized, a woman of vaporous essence who looked utterly breathtaking, despite her forlorn expression. She wept, and he could hear her cries, the stuttering gasps made not for want of breath.
“Why stay here, child?” he typed.
She narrowed her eyes, trying to make sense of this man.
“You can trust me. I’m here to help.”
“If I don’t cling to this ship, I’ll be lost in space.”
“So you stay to feel less stranded?”
She nodded, looking even younger and a touch naïve.
“The ship won’t dock,” he relayed via the spirit box. “It’s a mint harvester. People come and go on ships like mine.”
“That’s a lie. I was a crewmate on this ship!”
“When?” he typed.
“I departed on Sentuary 3, 2902.”
“Much has changed in a hundred years. Look around.”
He watched the emotions flash across her beautiful face, the surprise, contempt and sadness, the fear. “How do I escape this?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. But you can come with me.”
He collected his fee from the Captain and signed a guarantee of service. Then he returned to his ship.
All alone, addressing only an empty cargo bay, he said, “Welcome. I’d like you to meet the others.”
Oh, that’s a fine slice of (offbeat) life.