(Sunday Scribbling: Pilgrimage.)
The apprentices were nervous. Curious, yes, as anyone would be on the first trip away from their home planet, but there was an undertone of anxiety in their actions and murmured comments that fell far wide of soothing. I hadn’t had much need to interact with novices while I had been living with Parsippany the last few years. She participated in their training as much as any of the other Healers did, I suppose, but I couldn’t remember ever having a conversation about it with her. If I hadn’t been so keyed up from running to catch the shuttle and leaving my lover behind, I might have found it amusing.
But I was keyed up and it wasn’t amusing. Not right now. They knew who I was and while relationships like mine with Parsippany weren’t commonplace, they happened just often enough to make it a topic of conversation. On the planet it was fine. You had the mitigating effect of repetition and daily exposure. But here on the ship, speeding out into the emptiness of space, everything was new and strange to them.
After we were underway, I lingered a bit in my cabin. It would be my only refuge for the next two weeks. It was small, utilitarian as all spaces were on a shuttle of this size, and it would soon enough be stifling and claustrophobic. In this moment, though, it was the separation I needed from the prying and hopeful eyes of the young Healers on board. The smell of the ship was soothing and I let the rattle of the engines work out the lingering anxiety while I sat and breathed deeply.
Only a few minutes had passed before I heard the irritating squawk of my door. When I opened it, there stood one of the crew. He was weathered and tall enough to make navigating the short walkways of the ship a burden. Quite good looking, too, if one was looking for that sort of thing.
“The captain would like a word,” he said succinctly. His voice had exactly the tenor of gruffness I had expected.
I nodded but followed without comment. When the captain asks for you, it’s not really a request. My curiosity was raging, though. Regardless of what he might have heard about my past, I was only a passenger on this flight. Surely he wouldn’t censure me before anything had even happened. The slight anxiety crawled back up my spine as we moved our way up the ladders and short passages of the hallways to the bridge. The crewman spared no glance in my direction to ascertain whether I followed him.
We entered the bridge with a more measured pace. I could sense the crewman take in the atmosphere of the room before he spoke.
“Captain. The passenger you requested.”
“Thank you, Giles.” Said the captain as he walked over to the doorway in which I was still standing. Protocol hadn’t abandoned me so much that I wasn’t aware of needing permission to step foot onto the bridge of a ship of which I wasn’t crew.
“Come,” he said and lifted a hand to gesture me forward. I walked towards him, both looking at him and trying to take in the faces of the other crew members as well. There was suspicion there, I saw, and worry. And a tinge of resignation. This wouldn’t be good. You didn’t want to see all of those on the faces of the people who were in charge of navigating you through space.
He looked closely at my clothes before he started speaking again. Looking for what, I wasn’t sure. “Please forgive the intrusion. I find I must ask a few questions to see if you might be able to help us.”
“Help you?” I asked, quizzical.
“Do you pilgrimage with the others on board?” his face was a little abashed as he asked. I could tell he wasn’t used to this sort of delicacy.
“Pilgrimage? “ I pondered. “No, I’m not….” I stuttered because I was so taken aback. Maybe because I assumed he should be able to tell that I was not part of their group. But what was he to think? I had embarked from their planet, on a shuttle that left from the colony site. Any Seekers would have taken one of the larger resort shuttles back to their own planets. And then I understood the appraisal of my clothes. He was confused.
“I’m not a Healer although I have lived on the planet for some time.” I explained. “I have. . . other reasons for traveling.” Because what I was on was definitely not a pilgrimage. Surely, there was a word somewhere in some lexicon that meant the opposite of pilgrimage. I was actually traveling half the speed of light through space away from everything I held holy and sacred – away from her.