The Pirate's Dilemma

The Pirate's Dilemma

By Steven L. Schiff

John Reddick liked to think of himself as an old fashioned pirate--a pirate on the high seas of space. All he lacked was an eyepatch and a parrot on his shoulder.

John had lived the life of a low-rent space trader, until he had encountered the Verensi of Vrog. In exchange for three-thousand liters of Avocado dip, a rare delicacy on their planet, the Verensi had given John a mind-transfer initiator.

"Once you demon-sssss-strate the initiator to a potential buyer, he'll be willing to give you more than it-sssss weight in Uridium. We'd sssss-sell the units-sssss our-sssss-selves, but Verens-sssss-i religious-sssss customs-sssss sssss-strictly forbid it."

"Fine, but before I buy--before we close this deal, I'd like to try out the initiator myself. See exactly what it does."

"That is ac-sssss-ceptable," said the Verensi on John's viewscreen. "Adjust the initiator to my coordinates-sssss, Mr. Reddick. Sent the time duration factor to 90 sssss-seconds and pu-sssss-sh the sssss-start button."

John did as instructed and found himself in the Verensi's ship, in the Verensi's reptilian body, looking at his--John's inert body on the Verensi viewscreen. "What's--sssss going on?" he asked.

"For the next 90 sssss-seconds, you are Verens-sssss-i." said the ship's second in command.

"And my own body is-sssss, is-sssss what? Dead?"

"Of cours-sssss-e not. The initiator places your body in stasis during the trans-sssss-fer."

John stared at his hands, green reptilian hands, complete with scales, and was about to protest. But before a word could leave his mouth, he was back in his own body, again looking at the chief Verensi trader on the view screen.

"We trus-sssss-t you find the unit ac-sssss-ceptable," said the Verensi.

"Yes. We have a deal," said John, as he immediately began transfer of the Avocado dip to the Verensi ship.

"Just be careful with the unit," said the Verensi. Verens-sssss- i have a much longer life span than humans. Always set the time duration factor for human minutes, as listed on the outer dial. If you set it for Verens-sssss-i clock-cycles, as listed on the inner red dial, you may not return to your body in your lifetime.

"Don't worry, gentlemen. I'll be very careful."

Life is full of should-have's. John should have flown to the nearest planet and sold that initiator for everything he could get. But after a decade of scraping by on marginally profitable interstellar trading, John was feeling a little greedy. He wanted to experience the so-called 'good life'. As they used to say in the twentieth century, John wanted to see how 'the other half lived'. So rather than selling the initiator, he decided to use it for illicit purposes. He decided to use it to steal money from the unsuspecting upper classes of interstellar society. Thus, his life as a pirate began.

John's first 'victim' was a nearly famous anti-grav dancer from the planet Deedam. After travelling to the planet and establishing a comfortable orbit, John spent days observing the young Deedanian woman on his view screen. He watched her as she woke in the morning and as she went to bed at night. He watched her don her anti-grav belt for performance after command performance. And he watched her place her personal credit chip on the theater's payroll scanner to collect her lavish wage. She'd worked hard for her money, and John was going to work hard to steal it from her.

As she was sleeping comfortably in her narrow athlete's bed one morning, John trained the initiator on her coordinates, set the time duration for 360 human minutes and pushed the start button.

Instantly, John found himself in the lithe, female dancer's body, draped in a light lace nightgown with sleep dust still in her eyes.

John's first thought was one of panic. His manhood was gone, of course, and he had an uneasy phantom memory of being castrated. In an instant, however, he remembered that the transfer was only temporary. His 'real' body was in stasis, back on the ship. In 359 minutes, I'll be my old self again, he thought with relief.

John took a moment to examine this new body. He was almost exactly like a human female, with long brunette hair, small, shapely breasts and long legs. Only the Deedanian mini-tail at the base of his spine reminded John that she was, indeed an alien. A very attractive alien, though. I wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating crackers.

John looked around the room and saw abundant signs of wealth: a 35 inch 3-D vid screen, wall-wall speakers and a virtu-real sound system, 3 walk-in closets filled with dress suits, workout outfits, costumes and evening wear. Shee, boy is she loaded,

John observed his/her mini-tail in the dancer's full length hall mirror. _And quite exotic! Maybe I should call her for a date on my next trip, he thought, in increasingly good humor.

John spent the next hour gorging himself on food from her kitchen: Deedanian prawns and Triflower milk, Ortian beans with red sauce, Springberry pie, Light Deedanian ale. Next, he dressed himself in her most conservative, boyish clothing, grabbed her credit chip and trotted out the front door. He jumped into the dancer's new Zephlo-turbo flight coupe and zoomed his way to the local bank.

Several hours later, with her credits safely converted into anonymous currency and then deposited into the Interstellar Swiss banking account of John Q. Reddick, John was once again sitting in the woman's bedroom, listening to her glorious sound system playing delicate Deedanian ballet music. Then, in an eye-blink, he was back on his own ship, sitting in his command chair, waking out of stasis. _Hmmm. All parts present and accounted for. Body's none the worse for wear. And my bank account is full. So far, so good!_

Months passed in similar fashion. John would fly to a particular planet, choose a subject and observe the subject at work and play. When the time was right, he'd take over the subject's body, relieve him/her of unnecessary bank funds and then simply return to his own body/ship. _Perfect crimes, all completely untraceable to me! It's like taking candy from a fetal Legosian sea lion!_

John learned to limit his stays in a particular subject's body to a day or less. He tried a two human day excursion in the body of a famous Fitldian surgeon, to give himself a little more time in the man's sumptuous bachelor suite and experienced unwelcome emotions . . .feelings.

The surgeon had just completed several life-death operations and was concerned for his patients. His concern manifested itself, even when John was occupying the man's body. On the second day of his 'stay', John actually felt forced to visit those patients at the man's hospital, treating them to smiles, words of encouragement and an impeccable bedside manner.

Back on the ship, John resolved to never again 'wear out his welcome' in a subject's body. He resolved only to pop into their bodies for as short a time as possible, steal all their funds, and return to his ship. That seemed the safest course of action.

Following his own new rules, John had no problem stripping the Benisian banker of all his worldly goods. Same with the Cenduvian Ambassador and the rich Massassian lawyer. In fact, John popped in and out of over two dozen bodies on over a dozen worlds before experiencing anything unpleasant. Then, he chose 'Peter Lawson' as a subject, and regretted it for a long, long time.

On the surface, Peter Lawson appeared to be another ideal subject for John. He owned an interstellar textile plant, manufacturing goods for 35 planets in the current star system alone. An ex- patriot human on the Planet Terberon, Peter had a three-story mansion, a beautiful human wife and three school-aged children. After watching Lawson go through his paces for a few days, John set the initiator to a time duration factor of 120 minutes and popped into the man's body.

Immediately, he sensed something different. Something evil or dishonest. Lawson wasn't what he appeared to be on the surface. OK--What have I gotten myself into now? John thought.

Angelina, the man's wife, knocked on the study door and entered the room. John could feel Lawson's face relax into a warm smile, although duplicitous thoughts were still lurking, nearby.

"Sweetheart, it's my night to cook dinner," said the attractive, blonde haired woman. "And I'm planning something special so it might not be ready until 6:30."

"Oh that's fine. Great. I have a few business matters to straighten out, downtown." By the time dinner was ready, John planned to be safely back in his own corpus. Lawson was making him very nervous.

"Is something wrong, Peter?" asked Angelina.

"No. Why should anything be wrong?"

"I don't know. Somehow you just don't seem like yourself."

"No. Nothings wrong. I just have something to do downtown, that's all. It's nothing important, really." Avoiding the woman as best he could, John grabbed Peter's jacket and bounded out the front door. "I'll be back shortly," he said as the door slammed shut.

A short time later, John was standing in line at Lawson's bank, reminding himself that he'd be back on his ship in a flash, and trying to calm the butterflies in his stomach.

The Terberonian bank clerk rolled all three of her eyes when she saw John's 'request for withdrawal of funds.'

"Sir. This account was closed yesterday, on your authority."

"What?? But . . .I just don't understand. I saw a deposit just yesterday . . ."

"You saw a deposit? Sir, would you like to speak to the bank manager?"

"No, thank you."

The account John had tried to access was Lawson's business account. Money had to be there, to pay for supplies, equipment rentals . . . etc. Was Lawson embezzling?

John found himself wandering through the Terberonian city, absentmindedly, bumping into three-eyed, five-limbed Terbonians without so much as an 'excuse me'. Then, since time had elapsed, John found himself again sitting in the stasis chair, on his warm, familiar ship.

Sensible thieves would have forgotten all about Lawson at this juncture. Prudent crooks would simply have flown on to the next victim. But John was too curious to be prudent, too stubborn to be sensible.

He spent the next several days, watching Lawson from the view screen on his ship, watching and listening. John watched Lawson eat dinner with Angelina and the kids, watched him go to work, watched him shuffle through papers while his wife was out of the room.

He found himself strangely attracted to the wife, to Angelina. She was kind, always cautious around Lawson when he was in an irritable mood, never asking questions about his sudden disappearances to small, smokey, Terberonian bars. And the woman was sexy, with smooth arms and legs, lightly tanned in the Terberonian sun, and blonde hair with just a slight streak of gray.

John was also intrigued by Lawson and his relationships with his children. He booed when Lawson refused to help his oldest girl with her Earth history lessons, when he refused to teach his middle son to ride an old-fashioned earth bicycle and when he completely ignored the innocent questions of his youngest boy.

When, some four days later, John saw Lawson buy one ticket on an interstellar transport, he knew he had to intervene. The man was obviously planning to abandon his wife and kids and run off with the proceeds from his business without a decent 'goodbye' to his family.

John did what only the legendary thief known as 'Robin Hood' had ever done. He electronically transferred a few thousand credits from his interstellar Swiss account to Lawson's account. He reasoned that the money would go to good use, once Lawson had run out on his family. Then John Reddick settled back in his command chair, pleased with himself.

This personal comfort was short lived. John heard the call from the bank managers, thanking Lawson for re-opening his account. John saw Lawson grab his coat and make a beeline for that bank. And he saw Lawson initiate an electronic transfer, likely transferring John's money to his own illicit account.

When Lawson told Angelina he'd be 'out for a few minutes' and drove to the space port with ticket in hand, John took action. He turned on the mind-transfer initiator, set the time-duration factor for six hours and popped himself back into Lawson's body.

According to the ticket, Lawson was planning to go to the Dopianian system, clear on the other side of the galaxy. _He's not going anywhere, if I can help it,_ John thought. He ripped up the ticket and drove back to Lawson's home.

He then spent a pleasant evening, watching 3-D video-grams with Angelina and the kids.

"Peter, I'm so pleased that you spend the night with the kids, rather than leaving for--where ever it is you go in the evenings," said Angelina, after they tucked the kids into bed.

"And why shouldn't I want to spend time with my family?" John asked, all the time knowing that, deep in John's mind, Lawson was protesting this domesticity.

"Well I just want to show you my appreciation," said Angelina, treating him to a welcome embrace that even Lawson could not have complained about.

Unfortunately for John, the six hours elapsed a few minutes later and he found himself back in his stale old pirate ship, watching from his view screen as Lawson slept with his wife.

John felt tremendously jealous of Lawson. And the next morning, when Lawson said goodbye to Angelina and drove to the space port to buy another ticket to oblivion, John felt tremendously angry. The guy's just a jerk and there's nothing I can do about it, he thought. Again, John was tempted to simply pull out of orbit and fly to another planet to find a profitable victim. He was tempted, but he didn't do it. As Lawson sat in the space port, waiting for the transport which was due in to port by noon, John watched Angelina at home, tending to the youngest child who was not yet of school age. Then, John made a momentous decision.

He transferred every single credit from his interstellar Swiss account into Lawson's account. After that, he pulled out the Verensi mind-transfer initiator. He touched the inner red dial, the dial that set transfers for Versensi clock-cycles. John pushed that dial to maximum and initiated a transfer. Immediately he was in Lawson's body, presumably for good.

John/Lawson tore up his transport ticket and ran home to Angelina.

"You're home from work, early today," said Angelina as he bolted through his/Lawson's front door.

"Yes, I am."

"Well, I'm glad to see you. It's been months since we've spent an afternoon together."

"Angelina, from now on, you're going to be seeing a lot more of me, so get used to it."

Inside his mind, John could feel Lawson protest. _Give it up, old man,_ he said to that inner voice. _Stop your protests. I mean, you can't keep whining at my brain, forever. And that's just how long we'll be together. Forever._

The End

Copyright 1997 by Steven L. Schiff

You can E-mail Steven at: 70530.3063@CompuServe.COM

About the author: A lifetime resident of Baltimore, Maryland, Steve Schiff is now 38 years young. These days, Steve is constantly looking for some quiet time in which to write more SF short stories. He works in the advertising and Internet fields, and enjoys evenings at home with friends and family. An associate member of the SFWA, Steve's other SF publications include stories in 'Dark Planet,' 'Dazzler's Digital Domicile,' 'WebGeist,' and 'Zone 9.' All comments on this story are welcome. In other words, please write. He doesn't get enough e-mail. He also has a Web site filled with stories. Please take a look: Click here to visit Steve's Webpage.

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