Twelve pilgrims gather in the canteen about a spaceship bound for sacred Earth. These are the Alpha Centauri tales.
The chimes echoed throughout the ship, summoning us to canteen so the ceremonial first meal marking the start of the pilgrimage. The canteen wasn't much, but then again neither was the spaceship- spartan and basic, it was little more than a long table set in a wide, empty room toward the front of the ship with huge windows to one side of it so we could all see the first glimpses of our destination.
I was the fourth to arrive, slipping into my seat and looking out at the dust and fog of the Oort Cloud that surrounded the sacred system. Soon, the fog would lift and we would be there, well- not there, our final destination would take awhile to reach yet, but we would in the sacred system. We could begin the prayers and contemplation necessary to purify ourselves before we reached sacred Earth.
I had decided to tell my tale and the tale of my fellow pilgrims. It came to me one night in a dream and I thought it would be a suitable penance to extract from myself as we journeyed into the heart of the sacred system. The majority of humanity had long since fled to the stars and over the centuries, adaptations and biological changes had grown more pronounced as humanity adapted to whatever conditions it found out in the stars. Now these new off shots of humanity were often accused of losing their humanity altogether. We had fled to the stars and created whole new species, they said. Humanity was no longer one species, many said. There was no purity left in our lives. So, we return.
We return to the cradle, our womb. Some, like myself are sentenced as penance- in my case for a life of debauchery and drunkeness as well as to forgive a debt I could not repay. I was more curious than anything else. After all, who would pass up the opportunity to go to sacred Earth?
The chimes echoed again and snapped me out of my reverie as more and more of our pilgrimage party arrived in the canteen. Soon, we were all seated around the table and food was brought. We tucked into our food, some casting glances at the windows, trying to see if the dust and fog had begun to life. Though, I suppose, if I am to chronicle these tales I should introduce the players and tell you a bit of each of them.
Yes, there were knights again. The Order of St. John had re-emerged after centuries and lead the colonization of Altair. This knight, she was proud, tall and fair, honorable to the extreme and seeped to the bone in chivalry. If she had a name, she would tell none of us- but she told us plenty of how she had won her honor defending the city of Palatye on Altair against a horde of the heathen Seljuks. She had seen the new library at Alexandria being built and had been one of the four knights to light the sacred lamps that spread the light of knowledge to all the systems that Order of St. John controlled. But she carried a secret that she had promised not to reveal until we stood on the ground of sacred earth.
Where you have knights, you have squires and this one was fresh from the siege of new Picardy, her tresses were long, her appetites lusty and she was tall and almost bird-like, the hallmark of many who had grown up in low gravity environments. Attentive to the needs of her mistress, she was a proven fighter, an accomplished singer and, by all accounts, a vigorous lover- at least if the voyage from Proxima Centauri had been any indication.
He traveled alone, his eyes covered in opaque, thick rimmed glasses as he was not used to the light. A lifetime spent mining asteroids in the darkness of deep space had left his skin pale and sallow. He was a solo prospector, drifting from asteroid to asteroid, with only his robot mining machines as company. He had struck rich, an asteroid with a core of solid magratheum, which in an instant had made him a wealthy man indeed. Now, he wanted to pay homage to the Gods that had sent him this good fortune.
Shastra Valada, high Priestess of the First Church of Minerva was clad in her ceremonial robe of snow white owl feathers, her face was proud and regal but her manner kind and modest- if that makes sense. She looked the part but didn't play the part in the slightest. Other than her feathered robe the only other sign of office that she carried was her trident ringed with the talons of various species of owl. She was on her way to rededicate the temple of Minerva on Sacred Earth, to purify herself and prepare for guiding her followers through the long years ahead.
She had a nun with her
THE FOUR PRIESTS
And four priests.
Cornelius Archibald Vanderbilt IV, or Cav as he insisted on being called dressed in the most flamboyant colors possible, as befitted the fashion of the rich and powerful that held sway over the Denebian system. He caroused. He drank. He gambled. He was a lecher who pursued men, women and sentient beings of every gender you could name. One too many crashes of his family's pleasure barge and one too many arrests had around the ire of the family matriarch, Agatha Vanderbilt. The font of his families money, she had declared, would be cut off unless he went on pilgrimage to Earth. Whether it would mature him or reform him remained to be seen.
A tall mountain of a man, Andrew Jones had a long scar running down the side of his face, which he claimed to have received fighting the infamous Pirates of Irokon, who made their home in the nebula below Orion's belt. He had seen landings at New Prague. Fought in the great war that had threatened to consume the whole of Orion itself. After that last great battle, with ships aflame in the skies above New Bratislava he had lead the assault on the Mahdi's stronghold and with his last bullet had been the man to strike the fanatic down. There, in the rubble, in the burning, fetid death of the city, he had vowed to never fire another bullet or take another life again. He was going to Earth for enlightenment and a spiritual renewal.
And there there was me, the Writer. The Gambler. The Drunkard. Trying to tell the tale of the pilgrimage to sacred Earth to pay my debts, to begin another chapter. To tell another tale. The twin suns of sweet Proxima Centauri lived in my dreams. I longed to feel their warmth again, free of the debts that were threatening to drown me. We were all assembled now. The waiters were bringing the food and the wine. And the chimes sounded one more time and we turned from glancing at the plates of steaming food to the windows behind us. While we had been watching them bring the food and wine, the dust and fog of the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt had vanished. Before the ship stood the reddish heart of the first planet on our journey to the sacred earth: Pluto.
HERE ENDS THE PROLOGUE OF THIS BOOK AND HERE BEGINS THE FIRST TALE, WHICH IS THE KNIGHT'S TALE...