Ghost (short story)

Ghost (short story)

"Ghost" is the framing story in Larry Niven's 1994 fixup "Crashlander" that lightly connects and extends the other Beowulf Shaeffer stories published up to that time. The chapters in "Crashlander" are arranged in the following sequence::* Ghost: One:* Neutron Star short story:* Ghost: Two:* At the Core short story:* Ghost: Three:* Flatlander short story:* Ghost: Four:* Grendel short story:* Ghost: Five:* The Borderland of Sol novelette:* Ghost: Six:* Procrustes short story:* Ghost: Seven:* Ghost: Eight

"Ghost" recounts Shaeffer's reunion with his neutron star and galactic core story ghostwriter, Ander Smittarasheed, on the former Kzin world Fafnir. Ander, working for ARM agent Sigmund Ausfaller, has come to question him about his dealings with Pierson's Puppeteers, General Products and Carlos Wu, as well as what happened to Wu and ARM agent Feather Filip, who along with Carlos, Shaeffer, Sharrol Janss and their children, Tanya and Louis Wu, secretly emigrated from Earth to Fafnir to escape the control of Earth's United Nations government and the ARM.

ynopsis by chapter

Ghost: One

Beowulf and Sharrol are at a water war game on Fafnir, about a year and a half after arriving from Earth with Carlos Wu, Feather Filip and Bey and Sharrol’s children, Tanya and Louis. When Bey goes to get food, he notices a man he hasn’t seen in a decade, Ander Smittarasheed. Bey manages to contact Sharrol and tells her that he’s seen Ander. He then tells her to reserve him a room at the Pequod, a local hotel, leave his backpurse in the room, then book him, herself, and Jeena (their youngest daughter, born on Fafnir) on an iceliner flight to Home and have herself and Jeena frozen for the flight. Sharrol has Flatland Phobia but she tell him she can do these things. Ander finds him and is shocked at his appearance (the reason is revealed in the story "Procrustes"), but tells Shaeffer that he’s been sent by Sigmund Ausfaller to interview him. Shaeffer agrees to be interviewed on a consultant basis for ten an hour (ten "what" is not amplified upon, although ten thousand stars an hour would be a reasonable assumption) until midnight; it is ten before noon when they make this verbal contract. They return to Shaeffer’s seat to continue watching water war.

Ander begins by asking Bey how he learned of Pierson’s puppeteers. Bey tells him school and the holo cube; he liked hanging out at the We Made It spaceport so he knew they made General Products hull. His first contact, he tells Ander, was after fifteen years of flying ships for Nakamura Lines and two years later, after Nakamura folded, leaving him ready to accept an offer from anyone. Even a puppeteer.

Neutron Star

Ghost: One is followed by the short story Neutron Star.

Ghost: Two

After Shaeffer finishes retelling Ander Smittarasheed the events of his neutron star story, he recalls to himself the difficulty he had in writing about it and how he met the flatlander after advertising for a ghost writer. Ander had showed up and pushed his way into writing the story up for Bey to film; it had sold instantly on the nets. To Ander’s question about why they sent him to investigate the neutron star in the first place, Bey theorizes the puppeteers reasoned that, because humans had gotten killed while using a General Products hull, a human should “figure out” why it happened and tell other humans, rather than having puppeteers do it.

Shaeffer tries to deny that he was going to steal Skydiver and sell it in the Wunderland system; Ander gives him a look that says he believes what Sigmund told him, not Shaeffer. Bey points out that Sigmund could have asked many pilots whether a ship like "Skydiver" was worth stealing; the odds that one would say “Yes” was pretty high, and Sigmund would have his reason for putting a bomb on Shaeffer’s ship, even if he had no intention of stealing it. Ander doesn’t believe him.

Ander wonders why the puppeteers would trust Shaeffer again after he’d blackmailed them, even if it was unrealistic to think that the puppeteers didn’t understand tides. Shaeffer knew they didn’t mind blackmail, they used it themselves; indeed, they’d used it on "him". Ander tells him that the ARM has been watching the puppeteer exodus and they understood tides very well. Shaeffer goes into the second time he dealt with the puppeteers, on Jinx.

"At the Core"

Ghost: Two is followed by the short story At the Core.

Ghost: Three

Shaeffer remembers that after he’d returned to Jinx, Smittarasheed was there in Sirius Mater to help him write the core story. He’d guessed then that Sigmund Ausfaller had sent Ander both times. At that point, however, his biggest concern was how to tell humans about the core explosion and whether Ander might be someone who could help him get the story out, even if he happened to be an ARM.

Ander asks if Shaeffer saw the black hole that was thought to be in the core of the Milky Way galaxy, a huge one of millions of solar masses. Shaeffer never got that close, and the shell of supernova explosions he saw may have hidden it from him. It might be in the recordings he took from Long Shot, if General Products still had them. But the puppeteers are gone, Ander reminds him. He asks where Shaeffer went after that. Earth, Bey says. After the galactic core, nothing else could measure up.

Ander pulls out a portable viewscreen and shows him an


Ghost: Three is followed by the short story Flatlander.

Ghost: Four

Shaeffer mentions that he and Elephant never went back to Cannonball Express. Ander Smittarasheed knows why. At that moment, however, the water war game distracts Shaeffer (conveniently), allowing him a moment alone with his thoughts. If Ander wonders why Shaeffer is at a water war game, he has to give him an explanation. By becoming engrossed in the game, Shaeffer shows Ander his love of the game and hence his reason for being there alone. Then the game ends and they head for the Pequod Grill for dinner. When Shaeffer tries to step into a phone booth to call ahead, Smittarasheed stops him and phones ahead for a reservation.

Once they are seated with drinks and orders made, Shaeffer asks what happened to Elephant’s expedition. Ander tells him that Elephant kept expanding his plans to revisit the antimatter planet until some government gnome took notice. At that point the UN became involved. Ander doesn’t even know if Pelton is still involved.

Ander asks about the Outsiders. Are they a threat? Shaeffer says no. They’re too fragile, and they always honor their contracts even though they have ships that could run from any agreement they didn't want to honor. The reactionless drives in their ships, if the effects of the acceleration were felt, would reduce humans to a thin film of neutrons. They’re trustworthy. Bey speculates that this trustworthiness is built into Outsider brains.

Shaeffer does consider Grogs and Kzinti as threats, to Ander’s relief. Ander asks again where the puppeteers are going. Shaeffer doesn’t think that’s as important as whether or not the puppeteers have the same technology the Outsiders do. He surmises they do. Ander asks again if they’re a threat. Shaeffer replies mulishly that they honor their contracts as well. Ander considers them manipulative. Shaeffer replies that so are the ARMs. They had been in Bey’s face since he landed on Earth, and that Earth’s Fertility Board denied him a parent license. He, Sharrol and Carlos Wu made worked out an agreement for Carlos to have two children with Sharrol that she and Shaeffer would raise.

When Ander asks about any other alien contact he had around that time, Shaeffer mentions that he’s something of a celebrity among the Kdatlyno.


Ghost: Four is followed by the short story Grendel.

Ghost: Five

After listening to Shaeffer relate the events on Gummidgy, Ander wonders if he might ghost the story for him. But it's old news, Shaeffer says. Besides, he thinks to himself, he didn't tell Ander of Margo's involvement in Lloobee's kidnapping; he wonders if Ander knows of it anyway.

But Ander only asks about being turned onto a "mature" woman (Margo Tellefsen was Larch Bellamy's mother, who was himself 300 years old) and why they broke up. Bey shrugs; it was supposed to be for two years, after that they went their separate ways. He points out that Margo angled for a two-year date the way Shaeffer used to angle for a hot weekend. He asks if old humans ever scare Ander the way aliens do. Ander tells him, no. Bey points out that old humans have learned too much, and they don't like change. If they could stop civilization, they would. The comment is very similar to how the ARM tends to operate. If Ander didn't exactly like the remark, he merely said he decided, if you can't lick 'em, join 'em; so he's decided to get old.

Ander mentions that Shaeffer has a number for General Products on Jinx. Shaeffer tells him he believes that number was for his use only. Ander doesn't like that either, but says nothing. He asks where Shaeffer went after leaving Margo. Bey tells him, back to Sharrol and the children. When Ander says that they're Carlos Wu's children, Shaeffer gets up, deciding to be offended, and Ander tells him he just can't see Beowulf Shaeffer losing his head over a woman.

The comment has an unexpected effect on Shaeffer. He loses his breath. He sits back down, his vision graying out. When Shaeffer won't say why he's acting strangely, Ander dials up a squeezebulb of brandy and soda for him to drink. That helps Shaeffer compose himself. Ander tells him Sigmund told him how he got back to Earth. Shaeffer suggests that Ausfaller may have left something out of the story, and he tells Ander his version of it.

The Borderland of Sol

Ghost: Five is followed by the novelette The Borderland of Sol.

Ghost: Six

Shaeffer notes after relating the events on the borderland of Sol that Sigmund Ausfaller actually fired on unarmed ships, killing three miners without a thought. Ander says, he was right, though. And, Shaeffer mentions that he was in love with the weapons shop aboard his ship, "Hobo Kelly". Ander notes it saved Shaeffer's life. Shaeffer adds that he always wondered why Ausfaller was wearing an asymmetrical beard when he first saw him, twelve years ago. Ander laughs suddenly. Maybe it was to make him "look" crazy enough to plant a bomb aboard a ship. The implication is that he bluffed Shaeffer. Shaeffer's only reply is a snarl; Ander may even be right.

Their dinners arrive. Ander has ordered beef; no imagination, Shaeffer thinks. Shaeffer, in retaliation for having to endure the interview with Ander, ordered crew snapper, listed as a meal for two. It is as long as a short man's leg, taking up most of the table. It looks hideous. Shaeffer offers some to Ander, baiting him some, but Ander is silent for a while as they eat. He wouldn't take any nor even speak of it. Instead he asks about any further contact Shaeffer has had with puppeteers. Bey notes that this is a lot of money to spend just to hear him talk about a species that is not dealing on any known world anymore. Ander tries to wave it off but Bey knows he's recording the conversation. He's done with kzinti, too. Ander mentions an old term the Soviet Union used to use, "neutral." Countries that could not possibly hurt them were considered neutral. That's how the puppeteers think, he tells Bey.

Shaeffer suddenly has a thought. The puppeteer worlds are traveling through space at point eight lightspeed; their worlds have to be repelling gamma rays that would make the Core explosion look sickly! Ander loses his aplomb. Why would they have to leave then, he wonders. Bey suggests that they could be heading to the Clouds of Magellan at relativistic speeds, knowing everyone else will use hyperdrive when the Core explosion reaches them. They'll arrive at the Clouds to find everyone there already. But they might also want to find something closer. Why should they want to go where the planets are packed with refugees from the Core explosion?

Ander asks what happened to Shaeffer himself. Why is he here on Fafnir? This is Bey's chance to lay down a story that will sound plausible. He tells Ander they ran, he and Sharrol. He figured the ARM couldn't trace the money he'd gotten from the puppeteers. Of course, Shaeffer knew they had, but he also had another source of money, one he doesn't mention to Ander: the money the puppeteers gave Elephant for the indemnity on his ruined General Products hull. The ARM couldn't trace "that".

Ander wonders if the puppeteers got a low-thrust drive from the Outsiders that could boost an entire planet up to relativistic speeds. Shaeffer thought it through, then agreed. Then the puppeteers wouldn't have to trust the Outsiders for their survival. Bey then points out that the Core explosion will drive the starseeds out of the Core; the Outsiders will follow. The Core will be empty of Outsiders, and of everybody else. If the puppeteers turn "toward" the Core instead of the Clouds of Magellan, in ten thousand years they'll meet the shock wave. They'd be through it in another five thousand. The Outsiders would be gone, everyone else either dead, fled, or mutated by the radiation. Thousands or millions of worlds would be there, some with oxygen atmospheres, maybe even deep sea life, ready for terraforming. The puppeteers are heading for the Core, Shaeffer concludes. Ander admits, it's different, and worth the visit to see him.

Ander then asks about Feather Filip, and Carlos Wu. What happened to her, and him? Ander is supposed to find out who's dead. It's a blunt statement that's not lost on Shaeffer. This is one story Ander is definitely not going to get the whole truth on. He tells Ander that at least Carlos is dead, and begins the tale.


Ghost: Six is followed by the short story Procrustes.

Ghost: Seven

In the story as given to Ander, Carlos is dead (actually, he is on Home with Tanya and Louis), and Sharrol and the children escaped. Feather put Shaeffer in Carlos' autodoc and left using the "other boat" (another fabrication on Shaeffer's part). Ander says nothing, but Shaeffer knows the flatlander is thinking that his story is leaking like a sieve, that Sharrol and the children are probably dead too and Shaeffer can't face it. This is Bey's intent; if his version to Ander is believed, Smittarasheed will be hunting Feather, not Sharrol.

Ander wonders if there is any evidence that Carlos is dead. Shaeffer thinks Feather might have dumped him in the intake hopper of the autodoc; there might be traces of him on the island, though. Ander wants to know which island, but Shaeffer wants to talk about the autodoc. It's a valuable piece of equipment, and Shaeffer proposes to sell it to him. That amuses Ander. Shaeffer's bargaining position isn't too good. It would be cheap, Shaeffer adds. One hundred thousand stars for the location, and Ander can do with it what he wants.

As they are discussing this, Ander has pulled some green cigars out of his pocket and offers one to Shaeffer. Shaeffer declines. He wonders if Ander is really going to fire it up. He didn't think so, Ander's body language was wrong, even though he'd said he wasn't allowed to smoke on the ship. Shaeffer thinks about letting him light the cigar and running when he was taken into custody, but he still wants to make a deal he says (at least to Ander) he can't walk away from. Ander recalls Shaeffer used to have the tobacco habit, and Bey says he gave it up for Sharrol. He says that Pacifica is like one big spaceship. Ander teases him about being nervous about him lighting up and Shaeffer tells him not to tease the kzinti.

That has quite an effect on Ander. He hadn't realized there were still kzinti on Fafnir. He puts the cigars away, seemingly calm, but his breathing is a bit ragged and there is sweat on his neck. He goes back to the conversation. Shaeffer thinks Feather may be waiting for him to return to the autodoc, he asks. So if Ander finds her, she can take him to the island. That is just what Shaeffer wants him to think. Ander offers five thousand cash for the autodoc information. Shaeffer says no, he wants a hundred thousand. They haggle a bit over how to work the deal and whether Sigmund should know, how the money might be gotten, whether Shaeffer can produce evidence he was ever seven feet tall instead of the five feet ten inches he stands now, probably. They finally agree on one hundred thousand, half in advance, half when Ander has the 'doc. It's midnight and Shaeffer ends the interview, telling Ander to leave his consultant's fee at the front desk.

In his room, Shaeffer finds his backpurse, left there by Sharrol. Evidently she'd also gone through it; a couple of pictures of her with Tanya and Louis, and with Jeena, were gone. He goes to the roof of the Pequod, to review his situation. A "sanity check", he calls it. He tries to scope out what Ander knows and how he might have learned it. Ander was here to talk to him, he said. More likely for him "and" Carlos "and" Feather, Bey himself being the least necessary one of that bunch. Sharrol and her children, UN citizens. But Sharrol may be dead, and Shaeffer is alive... he didn't need Sharrol. He would have started at the spaceport when he arrived, searching hotels and other spaceports for clues about a family of six arriving and whether they moved on before he began checking the islands on the other side of the planet, in Pacifica. He might have checked Outbound to see if any such families had or planned to leave Fafnir; if he had, there may be cameras waiting for him at Outbound. That was not good.

But Ander hadn't had time to call for backup, he'd told him, and he was clearly shocked at the difference in Shaeffer's height. Outbound knew his current height. Ander would not find Feather Filip, Bey knew. Based on what he "had" told Ander, the flatlander could locate the island they'd landed on when arriving at Fafnir and find the autodoc. Ander would figure Shaeffer would wait for the hundred thousand; he'd monitor his phone in case he tried to get a better offer from the Shashters or even the Patriarchy, but wait he would. And Shaeffer knows too much. Too much about puppeteers, about the Core, and about Julian Forward's miniature black hole and the tools he used to make a weapon out of it.

Shaeffer takes a transfer booth to a singles node, ostensibly to kill time while waiting for Ander to make whatever money deal he had to make, but using a card with the ID of Persial January Herbert, the name he'd used to transfer Elephant's money to Fafnir and Home. It's obvious when he arrives that he's not welcome in the node; sometimes tourists are, sometimes not, and the locals there had Bey pegged as a tourist. He walks out instead of using the transfer booth again, hoping that if Ander follows him through he might be slowed down by the locals. He takes a public booth for his next trip, using coins instead of the card, to a dirigible company.

If Ander follows his trail, he could trace him as far as the singles node. After that he might go looking in hospitals for a battered P. J. Herbert. He hopes Ander won't anticipate what he's going to do, which is to take a slidebridge to another island and buy a dirigible ticket under a different name, that of Martin Graynor, the identity he was booked onto Outbound under. After getting a new hairstyle, he boards a dirigible and settles in for a nap.

Ghost: Eight

Shaeffer awakens four hours later to find the "Wyvern" airborne. At the dispenser wall he buys tannin secretion pills for the first time in a year and a half, taking four. Shaeffer gets off the dirigible at Thelinda's Landing. Calling Outbound Enterprises, he learns that "Ice Trireme" will lift for Home in about four days. His wife Milcenta Graynor (Shaeffer and Sharrol were traveling to Home under the aliases of the Graynors, a family whose identities they had bought in return for setting the real Graynors up on another world) and their child were already frozen. Milcenta was pregnant and a surcharge had been added for the special techniques required to prepare her and the fetus for frozen travel. In order to transport his funds from Fafnir to Home, Shaeffer-as-Graynor used his option to buy fertilizer being shipped to Home on the same vessel. On Home he would sell it, and his money would make it to Home in an untraceable form. Taking a slidebridge and a transfer booth, he reboards "Wyvern" on Landis Island and goes to sleep again.

Shaeffer is gambling that Ander checked Outbound Enterprises first and thoroughly when he first landed on Fafnir, and that he wouldn't check again until after Shaeffer, Sharrol and Jeena were safely on their way to Home. He was also gambling that Ander and Sigmund Ausfaller had split up, Ander taking Fafnir and Ausfaller taking Home. The gamble was, the first face Shaeffer sees when he wakes up on Home might be Sigmund Ausfaller's. If Ausfaller was on Home it would be up to Carlos Wu to handle him, Shaeffer was powerless to do anything. At night and alone, Shaeffer abandons his Persial January Herbert identity by dropping his ident card through the safety net of the gondola. It falls into the ocean.

For the rest of the dirigible trip Shaeffer took things easy. He noted that there was a "recess" mentality among the passengers. Lapses in discipline would not be paid for here. He lets conversations find him, and talks very little. In two days the ship reaches Shasht. An hour's walk down a little used footpath through a rocky canyon brings him to the Outbound Enterprises office at Shasht North Spaceport where Ms. Machti, the office secretary, knows him by sight.

She checks him in as Martin Graynor, noting that his height is listed incorrectly. It shows him being 6 feet, 11 inches. Bey starts; "who would have seen that listing?" he wonders. As he is about to go get measured, however, Ms. Machti tells him that he has a call from a Mr. Ausfaller, who says he can't leave just yet. Ausfaller hadn't known his alias, Graynor, but Ms. Machti had given it to him. Shaeffer takes the call at a booth in the office.

Ausfaller doesn't expect Shaeffer to be a foot shorter; his rather vicious smile fades a bit when he sees his bust in the projection. When questioned about his new name, Shaeffer tells him it's Braynard, not Graynor, hoping to throw him off. If he found Shaeffer as Graynor he might find Sharrol and Jeena too. Ausfaller is in a nearby glass-walled building, ten floors up, looking down at him while seated at his own projection table. He directs Shaeffer where to look and when Shaeffer sees him, Ausfaller waves. It would take Bey hours to be frozen for the trip to Home. Ausfaller need only cross the street to stop him. Shaeffer protests that he's talked to Ander, but Ausfaller says he hasn't heard from him. In any case Bey would still have to return to Earth with him; he knows too much.

But Ausfaller can help him, can get him a birthright if he does something of clear public benefit. Something like helping them find Carlos Wu. Carlos is dead, Shaeffer tells him. Ausfaller takes a moment to turn off all the visiscreen monitors on his walls; he's been watching spaceports and restaurants and hotel lobbies, and finally he found Shaeffer. He asks if Bey is sure about Carlos. Shaeffer tells him Feather blew a hole through him, but he knows where the autodoc is, and it's UN property. He pauses to tell the door to his room to open for someone, then asks Shaeffer about Feather, Sharrol and the children. Bey is steeling himself to tell the big lie about them when Ausfaller suddenly slams into the projection field then falls out of sight.

Ander comes into view, pulling Ausfaller's body up for Shaeffer to see. There's a huge hole in his chest, and a familiar object in his hand: Feather's ARM punchgun. Bey realizes that Sharrol must've left it in his backpurse before she was frozen, and Ander found and stole it. He asks where Shaeffer is. If Ander turns and looks down he'll see him. Bey tells him he's in his room in the Pequod. Trying to play cool, he protests that nothing was said about killing Ausfaller. Ander tells him that if they sell it, Sigmund will know who it was. Now, he's gone, and Ander has the punchgun to intimidate Shaeffer. Shaeffer wonders, briefly, if he's responsible for Ausfaller's death, if he found the temptation in the man that made Ander a thief and murderer. But there is nothing he can do now but play it out. He points out that Ausfaller can't send them money if he's dead. Ander replies that Sigmund brought local money, in a case. He doesn't know how much, or how long it'll take him to break the security programs. Shaeffer gives him a longitude; he'll give the latitude when he has half the money. He tries to tell Ander to get rid of the punchgun, but Ander clicks off before he can explain about the vest.

The Outbound Enterprises medics give him a perfunctory physical exam and he looks at Sharrol and Jeena before being frozen. The Shasht police had a vest with wounds very similar to the dead man they would find in the building across the street from Outbound, in a room ten floors up. They'd come looking for Persial January Herbert. They'd find recent evidence of him: a phone call here, a hotel room at the Pequod, dinner with Ander Smittarasheed... Without the punchgun Ander might bluff his way out of a mess. With the gun, it would identify him, and he might try to fight his way clear, a trained ARM against colony cops. But Ander might not realize how many Shasht police were Kzinti. As they were giving him a shot in preparation for cooling him down for the journey to Home, Shaeffer wonders whose face he will see when he awakens there.

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