Tom's Story


Sarah Jenkins' journal: first impressions of the Tyrhenna.
One day aboard and already I'm feeling lonely. Still, it was my choice to come.
The captain, Gareth Williams, seems a true gentleman, an attitude which befits his age. While he's eighty years old (and looks more like fifty), he's lived through most of the last four centuries, thanks to his peripatetic life. He is a quiet man who rarely says anything he doesn't mean to. He's been the most forthcoming so far - which is only fitting, as he is the man I owe my berth to.

Ruby, the ship's martial specialist, is another matter altogether. The name is certainly fitting; she has striking red hair and a personality to match. I've received nothing but curt commands and cold silences from her. I don't know what's wrong with her, but I'm obviously the problem in her eyes, as she gets on fine with the rest of the crew. Maybe it's my imagination, but the fact that she could kill me with her bare hands doesn't help.

Michael, who handles programming', the arcane art of computer manipulation, is little better. While he's more civil than Ruby, he makes it just as clear that I'm not wanted. I'm quite intimidated by him, not only because of his frosty demeanour, but also by his machine implants. The crew call them cybernetic enhancements', and I guess that they're fairly normal in spacer culture (the captain's also got an artificial eye), but their blocky, metallic appearance, along with their sheer wrongness, are a disturbing spectacle to someone with my background.

Even stranger is Rachel. While she's been friendly, she has even more metal on her than Michael. She's the ship's weapons specialist (I was introduced to her in the Tyrhenna's armoury) and so I guess the modifications would make sense, but I've gotten the feeling that she didn't choose to have them.

Chryse is Rachel's lover. He's an interesting man, in an ethereal sort of way. While he is quite personable, I always feel that he keeps me at arm's length. For lack of a better word, I have to say he's weird. His name is a bit strange, too - most of the crew have told me he's Cydonian (whatever that means), but Rachel and the captain have been noncommittal. While he laughs and jokes, there always seems to be an inner, sober part of him, a part that scares me. I don't know why.

David is the engine technician, and perhaps the most friendly among the crew. The first thing I noticed about him was his height - he has to be at least seven foot, and I felt dwarfed by him. The other thing, the strange thing, is his glasses. I never thought that something I saw on a daily basis at home could come across as strange, but there you go. Why would a spacer wear glasses? I guess some time I'll have to ask him.

Tom is the last member of the crew, and the one I think I understand best. He's almost as new as me, and even younger. Apart from a few shy words on the day we'd departed, he's stayed thoroughly within himself. Despite the fact that he was appointed to be my guide to the ship (and showed me around with admirable efficiency), he said nothing that revealed any part of himself, always talking about whatever new marvel I was being shown. Usually I'd take an attitude like that to be arrogance mixed with resentment, but his quiet tone and subdued manner made me realize he was more afraid than annoyed. Apparently he'd had a traumatic experience of some sort shortly before we departed, but I suspect that much of his reticence came from his personality. He's like me that way, lost and alone.

It seems strange saying this, but I still have no idea of what the ship looks like. The shuttle we took up from Demeter had no windows, and since then we've been steadily accelerating. I guess I'll have to ask for an external tour later.

Dammit, this is turning into one depressing account of the crew - they've mostly been quite pleasant - but then I guess it's inevitable for me to feel lonely. I hardly know them yet, and they have good reason to remain detached. Hopefully things will improve in the next few weeks.

Spaceship Tyrhenna, leaving Delta Crucis, 2893

Right on time. I suppose that's a good start. Ruby put away her assistant and looked Tom up and down - he didn't meet her gaze. Their first lesson', the day before, had consisted of her shouting at him to attack her, then countering every technique he tried to employ and throwing him to the floor, usually after several painful strikes.

After his near-death on Demeter, he'd decided to make sure he'd never be helpless again. Learning from Ruby - especially learning something violent - was an intimidating prospect, but Tom felt that this was too important to let nerves get in the way.

If you want to learn how to fight, then that's fine, but don't expect me to handle you with kid gloves. Yesterday was to give you an idea of what to expect. Tom felt a response would only invite more bile, so he stayed quiet.

You're slim, which is a good start, but you've got no meat on you. You'll need to get fitter, and that isn't going to be easy.
Well, as long as you don't put me on a treadmill, I'll be all right.

Ruby must have appreciated the joke, because she laughed and gave him one of her rare smiles. Trust me, bored is anything but what you'll be. I'll be double-tracking you - teaching you how to fight at the same time I'm getting you fit. Neither one's any use without the other. But for now you can give me some push-ups.

It was took two seconds before she corrected him and demonstrated the proper technique. Thankful that he carried almost no weight, Tom breezed through ten, twenty, managed thirty, and gave up after forty. Before he'd even caught his breath, he found himself on his back doing sit-ups, and then running laps around the ship's gravity wheel, and then on a marathon up and down ladders, stairs and hallways, and finally more push-ups and sit-ups. As if that wasn't enough, Ruby then put him through a variety of painful and contorted stretches. It was all he could do to get back to his cabin and collapse on his bed.

The next few sessions were much the same, as Ruby ran him ragged until he could literally take no more. The captain had exempted him from watch duty, since he wasn't really much use anyway without neural implants, and so his training virtually took over his life. After two weeks Ruby lengthened the sessions from forty minutes to an hour, then one and a half, and finally two. After a month or so, he felt stronger, and noticed more flesh on his limbs, and had come to enjoy the clean feeling of hard physical work and the rush of endorphins when he exercised.

Training had become more interesting, too. Ruby had started by showing him some basic holds and throws (demonstrating, of course, on him) which he had managed to get the hang of, and they then moved on to punches and kicks. Exercises now frequently included gruelling sessions spent punching and kicking at focus mitts and kick bags (held by Ruby or any others who were interested at the time), and more often than not they would strike back at him while Ruby shouted keep your hands up! A short while later, she started to introduce sparring into his training (now that he was reasonably fit, Chryse and David often trained with him rather than in their own time). He learned how to stay alert (bruised ribs and bleeding noses were his rewards whenever he failed) and to judge when it was best to evade an attack or roll with the blow, and Ruby was, for once, unreserved in praising him whenever he managed to get a solid hit on his opponent.

More things changed during that time than in any other in his life. He'd started training in a skin-tight bodysuit; when he complained that it itched, Ruby laughed and gave him a traditional gi. She insisted that he train barefoot, and although the blisters were incredible for the first week, he found his feet getting used to the unaccustomed strain.

After two months, he felt that he'd woken up from a dream. He could now fight without having to devote his whole attention to where the next hit was coming from, and was fit enough that most sessions now left him comfortably tired rather than exhausted. Rachel, David and Michael had gone into deep sleep and the captain was preparing to put the ship on autopilot for the next thirty-one years of real time. After a tough session, Ruby talked to him. He'd come to realize that she was, indeed, not cruel, and that she was harsh only because she felt there was no other way to be. Their lingering animosity had gradually been replaced by a mutual respect, his for her incredible strength and skill, and hers for his determination and adaptability.

So now he felt curiosity rather than trepidation when she approached him.
I have to say you've done well. I'm proud of you, Tom. You've learned the basics. But... She indicated that she wanted him to figure out the next part for himself.

You could still whip me in a fight?
Correct. At the moment you can handle yourself in the gym, but you'd still be out of your depth in a real fight. The most important thing for you to do is to develop a style of your own. I can't take you through it step by step because we're not the same, but I can give you some 'd be... good, I guess. He sat down. So what's there to be aware of?
First, I think you should go and learn something else. Any more of this and you'll be overloaded. Keep your fitness up and come back in a month or so.