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The Empty Voyage, Pt 2 of 2

When he first discovered that there had been no functioning cameras on board the ship, a strange feeling came over him. His mind was a jumble and continued to hammer away at thoughts that the whole trip had been a "waste", a "sham" and a "lie". But despite these thoughts he felt a sort of peace flow over him, warming him from the inside like the sunlight that relfected off the waves. That's when he realized that it didn't really matter, and that what had driven him on the voyages until now had little to do with being on television or having anyone else understand or validate what he did.

What did disturb him, however, was the question of whether anyone was actually operating the electronic map he'd been following. Clearly, it had some sort of GPS built in and it knew where he was at all times, as it did not update until he reached the latest destination. But the question was whether the map had all of those routes pre-programmed into it or was there someone (or something) updating the map in response to his movements. In other words, maybe all of the voyages were canned and stored inside the map, and then mindlessly released when the map's GPS detected he was near the latest destination. All this time, he had assumed that there was someone or at least some interactive intelligence operating the map in response to his activities.

And so he began a third set of journeys, journeys that he himself designed in part to test whether the map would continue to guide him if he were to deviate significantly from the path it was telling him to go. Would it continue to mindlessly shephard him back on to preprogrammed routes? Would it still provide guidance if he wandered far from its apparently predefined paths? Or could it aid him in voyages of his own devising? And if so, could he discern a human operator behind the map, would he be able to sense some of his/her character? Perhaps even ascertain a purpose?

And so he set sail again, this time ignoring the map's indications for him to sail to Gibraltar. Instead, he sailed towards the Northern coast of Africa, within sight of the Atlas mountains towering up over the distant blanket of haze above the waters. Leaving the boat in a dingy (completely forgetting about customs as he now often did), he headed south, down into Berber territory, deep into the valleys and arid plains nestled in the mountain range. And in those remote towns and villiages he searched out stories, stories that most likely had never been written down and never available to the electronic world of the web or in paper books for that matter. Stories no human operator of the map could know about, homegrown Berber stories or stories brought in by nomads on the winds of trade across the vast Sahara. And he let these stories guide him, guide him to further destinations and remote villiage and ancient trade routes on the backs of grumpy sandy camels.

As for the map, most of the time he forgot about it. But sometimes, if the trail of a story or legend he was following petered out, he found that the map would often be pointing to some obscure villiage or other destination in the general vicinity, often no more than a day or so away. And sometimes (but not always) in the villiages or landmarks pointed out by the map, he might start anew, or experience something very unusual, like an entire Berber villiage (including him) performing ecstatic Sufi trance dancing rituals deep into the night. But none of these experiences did he seek out per se, nor did he feel he was undergoing some kind of spiritual quest. At this point, he traveled simply because it did not occur to him to do anything else.

Occasionally, he would think about the world he had left behind, seemingly a life time ago, back in the as-yet 'rational' world of the western world. And thinking back on that world, it seemed suprisingly ephemeral and unreal. In particular, "logic", "economics" and western notions of "objective reality" now appeared to him to be just another fascinating story, no more or less real than the ones he followed in Berber North Africa

Nice one

Interesting idea here. It still left me with the question where the map came from in the first place, but the way the story ends does suggest that that question really isn't the point. (Though I could see some readers still might not being satisfied by that.)

I like the voice of this piece too. It has the right sort of tone for a story about long journeys to distant places and a world where not having all the answers is only to be expected.

I do think that final paragraph could be expanded a little. The ending feels a little short. But I think it works as is.

I like it....

"And so he began a third set of journeys, journeys designed in part to test whether the map would continue to guide him if he were to deviate significantly from the path it was telling him to go."

This sentence threw me off for a nanosecond. I understand what your saying, although it may be clearer to have it something like:

"And so he began a third set of journeys, his mind set to test whether...."

But then again, the sentence you have works. I only mention it because as I was reading it tripped me up a little. Just a thought. I really enjoyed reading the story, roped me right in....

The Empty Voyage

Oh yes, now I see that: It looks like the operator of the map designed a series of journeys to test whether the map had an operator....I wonder if I can fix that.

Thanks for the comments. The positive feedback is appreciated, because I think that some of my themes are different from a lot of the other fiction on the site, so it's good to know I'm not posting in a forum where it's not wanted...


I enjoy variety, so please keep posting! -alpha