The Coin Keeper, episode 9: Dreams of Twilight

"You have known the Big L since before I was even born," Madseu're began slowly. "What can you tell me about him as a person? What kind of a man is he?"

A thoughtful smile peeked out from the corners of the old man's mouth, and his lips played with the words before saying them. "That," he said, "is a very large question."

Madseu're leaned forward expectantly until at last Tarwhal D'Hriver gave in and began to speak.

"I recall a time long ago, in troubled times, amid the chaos and the aftermath of the Global Exodus when humanity first realized- or, I should say, finally remembered - that they needed a savior. . There was little or no order; without a central guiding force, the drifting, aimless bodies that orbited the globe had turned on one another, the strong preying on the weak. Piracy was as constant danger as was simple lack of communication and coordination. When we would encounter a wrecked ship we could never know if the flotsam and jetsam from the smashed vessels was from a collisions of ships whose orbits had intersected one another, or if the wreckage was the result of an attack by one of the thousands of petty war-lords who dominated the airspace, leading small packs of ships in raids on the defenseless drifters that made up the remainder of the population. It was in the midst of this madness that I was born and raised.

"While I was still a child that one man stepped out from the fray to lead and unite us all and eventually eliminate these warlords and bring a sense of stability to life. This was the Big L. He organized and coordinated the scattered resources that remained. Stations were constructed or expanded from parts of old ships. Special greenhousing stations were created where the plants that had been saved could be used to produce food that could be rationed and distributed.

"By the time I turned 18, plans had already begun for the exploration of space and the search for a new home for humanity. I was entered in an academy that had been formed for the training of new pilots, where I met your father Angeu're. We shared a room and quickly became close friends." The old man sighed deeply as he recalled the now-distant memories. "How young and naive we were- what dreams we had! Each training mission we took to the moon or to our neighboring planets we imagined we were discovering the New World; every time we looked at the stars it was with a hope that one day we would be chosen for the mission that would lead us to that distant, as-yet undiscovered planet. As we crossed the uninhabitable red planet with her towering stony mountains that rose against the pink skies, I always tried to picture in my mind what it must have been like to walk the surface of our old home when she still had green hills, blue skies, and golden valleys filled with grain growing freely and swaying in the breeze. I then would look up to the stars again and wonder what beauties the new world would hold?"

"And the Big L?" Madseu're asked, "How did you meet him?"

"Oh, yes," Tarwhal said, "I nearly forgot why I was telling this story. Of course- he was not directly involved with the training in our academy, but he had helped start it, and sat on the board as chair. What was he like? He was fair, kind, intelligent- the kind of man people wanted to lead them- he never manipulated with impassioned speeches or bullied people into obedience. We followed him because we wanted to. Yes, he had rules he expected to be followed. Yes, he had standards he expected to be met. But he did not rule with an iron fist- he led by example, and people obeyed out of love. This is not to say that the Big L did not exact punishment. He was fair, but just. If you did not do what was expected of you, even if it seem like a little thing to you..."

Tarwhal stopped. "Let me tell it another way. Do you wonder why, after being in the Academy, I spent my lifetime as a mechanic on this station, and not as a pilot exploring space? It is not because I wished it- in fact, it is the result of my first meeting with the Big L. I would rather have died than give up dreams of exploration, but because I was young and foolish, I lost that chance.

"In academy, in addition to our studies, each of us had an assigned job at the academy's base station. These roles were unrelated to our studies, and mostly menial tasks. When not on a mission or in classes, I was a Sub-Message Filter, which meant that I worked in the communications department. The job was a dull one, and seemed unimportant; simply, my job was to scan incoming messages to the station's faculty and crew- eliminating those messages that were not relevant, and sending important ones along to the Arch-message filter for final approval to be delivered. It was while working this drudge of a job that I encountered a message that indicated that the Big L was arriving for an inspection of the Academy. The Arch-Filter, after reviewing the message asked me if I would personally greet the Big L upon his arrival.

"I was, of course, eager for the task, but as I waited for his arrival in the docking bay, I fell asleep, and when the Big L arrived, he was greeted only by a mechanic who happened to be working there on another ship. As a result of my lack of responsibility, I was demoted to the mechanic's position."

The old man's clenched fists trembled. “I recall how angry I was. The Big L afterwards met with me personally to discuss the punishment with me, but instead of humbly accepting the discipline I had received, I cursed the man. How dare he give me such a low position? I felt as Captain Ahab had when in the scriptures he said, 'I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.' But rather than respond in anger himself, the Big L had sadly told me that he could not allow me to continue to study at the academy.

"This crushed me. I couldn't believe my dreams had been snatched away by what I thought was so small a thing. But after I had time to reflect on the matter, what hurt more than anything was the realization that my punishment was just." Tarwhal's shaking hand wiped an escaped tear from his wrinkled cheek. "Years later, I know that what he did was right. I was brash and prideful, qualities that could easily jeopardize such an important mission as we were training for. What kind of man is the Big L? He is a just man. But beyond that, he is merciful. He could have punished me more harshly and been right to do so, but seeing my eventual remorse, he allowed me to stay at the academy as a mechanic, and years later he even offered me a position training new students in the academy.

"I declined the offer, indicating that it would be too hard to spend my life training others for a job I could never be allowed to do. He acknowledged my feelings, and though he remained firm in his decision that I would not be allowed to fly again, he took me in as a friend- a father, rather - and when he stepped down to become captain of this station, he asked me to come with him and be the head mechanic, which I gladly did."

There was a long pause after the old man finished his story. Madseu're was lost in thought, and Tarwhal was lost in memory. At last Tarwhal broke the silence, quietly inquiring, "So then, has my story been helpful to you? Have you decided what are you going to do with your gift from the Big L?"

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