The Unicorn Dance of Cuchulainn, by Liam O'Hanlon

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Unicorns and a fairy tale

A long ago, when the galaxy was much younger, the good starship Raven set out from its home base toward a distant star.

Ships were smaller then - though the people weren't - and the good ship Raven had but 8 souls aboard her...and one Gael tom, the astral engineer, Cuchulainn by name.

Now Cuchulainn was canny, and witty, and light on his feet. He had stories to tell, and jokes to play to pass the time on the journey, and he could sing so sweetly that the birds in the Arboretum - for the ship carried animals for a far port, and fowl among them, though none of the chickens were blue - would come down from the trees, or peer out of the bushes, and bob their heads in time to the tune.

But most of all, Cuchulainn could dance. He danced through the starship as he went about his duties, and he danced of an evening to entertain the weary officers - for they were sad and lonely, with so few humans aboard.

It never occurred to them how lonely Cuchulainn must be, with never a one of his kind to return a phrase in his own tongue, or bid him a Good Watch with a kiss.

But still the ship flew on, laden with seed, and cuttings, and livestock for a colony world on the other side of the nebula. And the stardates came and went, and the humans on the ship bickered and made up, and wrote communications home - which went by spaceprobe, in those faroff days, the simultaneous communication not having been invented yet - and wondered what their next port would be like, and if there would be good shopping, as is the way with humans in all times and places.

But one stardate came - and everything changed. For the Raven struck an uncharted wormhole, and down she went.

Cuchulainn struggled with might and main to stabilise the vectors, and direct the wormhole to a known place. But nobody had ever seen this one before - it was an unstable wormhole - and so there was nothing for it but to ride it out, and see where it led.

The starship came to land on a likely planet - full of islands, lush and green, with plenty of sunshine and good water. But not a soul to be seen - and precious few large animals, though a few small ones peeked out at them from the underbrush.

The humans held a conference. Obviously, there was no way to call home, and no way to send a distress signal, either - the last probe had been damaged in the landing. There was nothing for it but to settle down, farm the place, and hope that someday Starfleet would catch up with them.

Captain Anderson knew how unlikely this was. Nobody'd ever been this far out. And in his nightly talks with Cuchulainn, he expressed his fears - that the crew would grow weary, and homesick, and despondent, and take their own lives.

Cuchulainn thought a long time about the problem, and offered a solution: They ought to see themselves as the foundation of a new culture, and design a new way of life. Captain Anderson thought about it, and agreed. He downloaded all the books he could find in the library about utopias, and they set about to make one.

Cuchulainn groaned inwardly when he saw them all reading Plato and Thomas More, but he figured it kept them sane, so it was worth it, maybe.

Soon there was a disagreement about the role of philosophy in the making of a utopia, and the crew split - one-half to the one big island, one-half to the other. The First Officer, Shirishakri Mukherjee, went to the island she named Mysore, for her hometown, I guess, and Captain Anderson went to the other, which he called Bangelore, because he had a subscription to a theological journal that came from there.

Captain Anderson was a very whimsical man, given to telling fairy stories. His favourite ones were about frogs.

Cuchulainn went along with his captain, of course, as he was an astral engineer, and he kept Fourth Watch faithfully. He tried to be a help to the colonists, and provided all the information he could, although he was privately skeptical of some of their schemes.

And then disaster struck again. For the Superior Conjunction of the two moons of the planet they called Reda - an anagram of their home planet, which was called Eard - came upon them. And swept away their carefully-laid plans like so much chaff before the wind.

Cuchulainn watched in horror as the crew danced naked in the streets of the village of Bangelore - chasing phantoms of friends, fleeing phantoms of enemies, all lightyears away and no more there than the homes they had lost on the other side of the wormhole.

Cuchulainn didn't know what to do at first - then he heard something, something only a Gael could hear. The mountains at his back were singing. They called to him. With a despairing look at the frenzied officers, Cuchulainn picked up a bag containing a tin whistle and some food - and ran for the hills.

Near the top of the mountain, Cuchulainn found a spot - a place where the piezo-electric effect was strongest. He looked around. He didn't see the phantoms.

He didn't see the ghosts of things past, or things to come.

Cuchulainn saw energy. Energy in waves, energy in whorls and swirls, dancing all around him.

So Cuchulainn did what he did best - he danced back at it.

Cuchulainn played his flute, and he danced. He played every tune he could think of. And the energy danced with him, forming itself around the patterns of his song, and the patterns of his feet.

And then he heard it - the sound of hoofbeats, hard against the mountainside. And the neighing of horses.

The mountainside was bright with starlight - at least, to a Gael, who can see the reflection of the brightness of etheric light - and so Cuchulainn, when he looked up, recognized that these were no horses.

They were unicorns.

The unicorns saw Cuchulainn - and stopped, their coats shining white in the starlight. Cuchulainn looked back at them - and smiled.

All through the night - and the nights are long on Reda - Cuchulainn danced, and the unicorns danced with him. And the energy swirled and swirled, and made new patterns.

At last, it was dawn. Cuchulainn and the unicorns stopped dancing. They bowed to each other, and then the unicorns went away into the morning mist, and Cuchulainn sat down and ate his breakfast, before heading down the mountain.

What he found - was nobody. The officers of Bangelore had gone to Mysore in the ship's shuttle, leaving Cuchulainn alone. Sighing, he took one of the boats they'd built, and sailed for two days, until he came to Mysore.

The scene that greeted him there was awful. The crew, surrounded by their children, driven mad by the relentless flood of walking reminders of what they had left behind, had lost their memories entirely.

They had become a new people - primitive, superstitious. In their frenzy, they had completely destroyed the starship and shuttle. Now they were truly castaways. They would never return to the stars.

Cuchulainn wept for a long time, and then he began to sing:

'I danced in the morning when the world begun,
I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun...'

Anderson and Shirishakri's children became two nations, who worshipped a frog and a chicken.

Lobsang Pancha, the only crewmember who remembered his own name after that terrible night, became a student of Gheorgheni science, and developed his powers as a tulku.

Cuchulainn went up into the mountains, and built a city out of dreams...the dreams of Lobsang Pancha's children.

The time was long, and Cuchulainn was lonely. After he had buried Captain Anderson, Cuchulainn wrote a book, to help the descendants of his crew find their way. And he took his little city and put it in a slow-time envelope, to wait for Starfleet to come.

But every Superior Conjunction, Cuchulainn returned for the dance.

The unicorns were faithful, and came to dance with Cuchulainn, as he danced for the moons, and the stars, and the sun...as he danced for Anderson, and Mukherjee, for their children...and for what they had loved and lost.


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