Conqueror-class Carrier/Cruiser Lübeck, Star Folk Community Fleet, Mars Orbit, 2 October 2304
Ditmar Drexel was dead.
Petr Drexel was late to Ditmar’s funeral, having been forced to race to the community ship Lübeck from a job ferrying cargo. The Lübeck had been a warship two centuries before, and the two-hundred thousand ton vessel sat in the middle of the Star Folk Community Fleet with its kilo- meterround centrifuge circling the ship like a halo. Petr had approached the Lübeck at a higher velocity than was safe. The docking bay personnel had chastised Petr as he docked his shuttle in one of the Lübeck’s massive shuttle bays. Petr raced through the winding corridors packed with what seemed like every one of its twenty-thousand citizens to reach the heart of the giant ship and the chapel where the funeral was taking place.
Now Petr stood at the front of the small rectangular chapel near the dais with his family, feeling as if his head would brush the low ceiling. Before him were the rows of dull metal benches that served as pews, and to either side on the bland gray metal walls were colorful depictions of the life and death of Christ. As with everything on the former war ship, two centuries before the Lübeck’s chapel served the military ratings.
What seemed like hundreds gathered in the chapel, hundreds more spilling out the chapel door and into the Lübeck’s corridors. Cloying incense smoke wafted around the mourners within the chapel. More people shuffled in, each taking a place in the growing queue. While most of the Star Folk present wore the formfitting space suits common in their society, many had donned black sackcloth over their heads or shoulders as a sign of respect for the man in the coffin at the front of the room. Many wore the roaring bear symbol of the Drexel Tribe. Other tribe symbols could be identified, too; the white tiger symbol of the Von Ettingshausen Tribe, the rearing lion superimposed over a star of the Loewe Tribe, the fox symbol of the Wodnicki. Even a few pale, sickly-looking notables from the secretive Sibenthal Naviga- tor House with their Gemini crest were seen in the growing crowds.
Many in the Star Folk felt the loss of the patriarch of the Drexel Tribe. He had facilitated peace within and outside of the Star Folk Community Fleet wherever the Community Fleet roamed in the solar system. Ditmar had been a master negotiator, and won contracts for both his tribe, and other tribes the Drexels worked with. He had even been a mercenary commander at one point – long before Petr was born, of course – and the bards still sang of his battle exploits on Mercury, Venus, and Mars.
He had been Petr’s grandfather.
Petr Drexel stood at the far-right side of the dais and the coffin along with his parents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. Petr felt broken from the rest of his family. Once Petr’s home, now the Lübeck felt alien. It had been months since he stepped foot within its corridors, longer still since he stood within the walls of this chapel. He no longer felt connected to the people he used to see almost every day for the past twenty-eight years.
As the mourners paid their respects, Petr’s eyes remained focused on the corpse of his grandfather.
While many of the Star Folk felt Ditmar’s loss, Petr’s feelings were more intense. For Petr there was a hole in his soul where Ditmar had been.
The solemn Himmelsweg played. Drums beat, futes whistled, and every throat in the room joined in its haunting, sorrowful tune.
The priest spoke about Ditmar’s life, and each of Ditmar’s sons – Bodenolf, Gerhart, and Petr’s father, Jindrik – took their turn remembering the great tribal patriarch.
“There was a time when some in this room wouldn’t have been caught dead together,” Bodenolf, the oldest of Ditmar’s sons and an accomplished engineer, said. “My father brought our tribes closer together through business deals and defensive pacts, and today the Star Folk Community Fleet is safer for our children and grand-children because of it.”
Jindrik – the owner of a small but lucrative logistics network within the Star Folk Community Fleet - smiled warmly as he took his turn to speak. “When I was young I had trouble deciding what I wanted to do with my life. Even though my father was busy, he always made time for his children. One day he and I spent the day together, working out at the gym and talking, and somehow we ended up on the topic of his time in the Einherjar mercenaries. It was that talk that led me to join up with the Einherjar mercenary brigade. I’m sure my mother, God rest her soul, was pulling her hair out in fear for my life.” This was followed by a few laughs. “My father helped shape me into the man I am today.”
Sounds a lot like my talk with Grandfather, Petr thought.
In the back of his mind Petr churned over the accom- plishments his father and uncles had to show. Each owned profitable enterprises and had developed skills that benefitted their families and the Tribe as a whole. What did Petr have to show for himself?
Finally the coffin was closed, and the mourners departed. As people began to leave Petr spotted some of his friends – former friends, he had to remind himself. Andre and Kada, who Petr had been friends with practically since birth, didn’t even acknowledge him, and Petr was reminded of their final words to him.
“You’re a loser, Petr,” Andre had said months before when Petr was preparing to leave. “A failure.”
As Petr watched Andre and Kada walk away, Ditmar’s words to Petr surfaced in his mind. “Fairweather friends. They’ll fall away when you try to change yourself for the better. True friends will stick with you no matter what.”
Petr looked away. Don’t look back, he told himself, you aren’t going that way.
Then only Ditmar’s children and their families remained. Petr noticed his uncles eyeing him from the other side of the chapel. Looking down at me, Petr thought. Wonder- ing when I’ll quit and slink back home to my father, begging for a job. Peter ignored them, turning away instead.
“Thank you for coming,” Jindrik said, shaking Petr out of his funk.
“You know I wouldn’t miss grandfather’s funeral,” Petr said, clasping his father’s forearm in greeting.
Jindrik released Petr’s arm. “So, are you-“
“No.” Petr shook his head. “I have to do this.”
Petr’s eyes darted toward Bodenolf and Gerhart again, and he could have sworn they looked even more disgusted of him than before.
“You know you don’t have anything to prove to me.”
“But I need to prove it to myself. I need to prove my worth to our tribe. One day I’ll return when I have something to show for myself.”
Jindrik sighed and nodded. “May the God of our ancestors fly with you through the black.”