Friday, December 28, 2012

Story fragment: The Cartographer's Apprentice

Rain clouds covered the skies of Middle-Earth, obscuring the view from Henry's ship. The view port was a quaint, antiquated affectation, fairly useless when compared to the array of panels and screens at the far end of his suite on the ramscoop SS Wind Rose.
It was his great-grandfather's idea, Middle-Earth. Alvaro Santarem charted a half-dozen systems in the Hundred Star Reach, his slavish attention to detail in Tolkien extending from the star's primary to the moons of Galadriel (elves) and Thorin (dwarves); the rocky, shallow-lit asteroids (humans) and the icy, distant comets  (the assorted, multiple names of various weaponry). The man was nothing if not slavish in his attention to detail.
Middle-Earth was what some in the old days referred to as a super-Earth, a beautiful, massive rocky world with sapphire oceans, emerald forests, and opalescent clouds. The only problem being it was too large and its atmosphere too rich in oxygen for human beings to thrive there comfortably, if at all. There was an abundance of native life (including a race of squat bipeds Alvaro had insisted on referring to as "hobbits") but on the whole Middle-Earth was a fantastically beautiful place where no one could go, which must have tickled the elder Santarem to no end.
Tolkien was the Wind Rose's last port-of-call before shipping out to the Outmarches on a charting mission of her own. They would slink below the rings of Sauron and collect stores of helium-3 to augment the interstellar hydrogen the ramscoop would rely on in its decades-long trek through the night, perhaps gathering up a comet--Glamdring or Ringil--and harvest its water.
The idea of this made Henry vaguely uneasy. He suspected it was meant to. Alvaro Santarem named every ball of ice, gas, or rock in the system. He turned them from Things into Places. One of the few clear memories Henry had of his great-grandfather was of the old man telling him a story from the Bible, that when God created man, He set him about naming all the beasts and birds of the land. "Even the trees and rock," the wizened old cartographer insisted. "Even the stars."
The little hobbits below had no idea, of course, about Henry or his grandfather or the names and significances the humans attached to things. When and if they evolved speech, the hobbits would have their own names and stories for things. By then. Henry would be long dead, his own name lost, itself just a hand-me-down reflection of some original story.

1 comment:

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