Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 12 (rude words and sexual references)

Pamela has started hanging around “The Farm”.   This is the nearest thing that the ship has to a large, open space.  Most of the food production is done by machines.  They scoot along on rails in between huge trays of plants and lights which are stacked close together, just wide enough apart for the plant they are growing to reach the required height.  We certainly have a varied diet of vegetables and fruit.  The commodities we lack which cause the most complaints are cocoa and rice.  We even have tea and coffee growing onboard.  There are no weeds and no pests, but the machines plant, water, feed, monitor, and harvest (but the tea has to be sorted by hand after the machine has cut it).  The lowest level of The Farm is suitable for people to work in, and is also a place of leisure.  It is a bit like visiting a huge garden centre, except that the light from above is artificial (we get all the energy we need from the fusion reactor in the ship’s power plant). 

Passengers and crew are encouraged to visit the farm as often as possible, as a means of avoiding depression.  It is divided into “climatic zones”, and this is mainly for the benefit of the humans rather than the plants.  There are three “forests”: tropical, temperate, and coniferous.  These have occasional, artificial rain, and the coniferous one has snowstorms.  Kelvin has started publishing the schedule for these precipitation events in The Rover, under the heading “Weather”.  There is a myth circulating that these trees are necessary to generate our oxygen, which I happen to know is not true.  I sometimes go into one of the forests and hide for long periods, watching out for copulating couples.  I have not seen Kelvin yet, but I happen to know that the ship’s male captain is having a clandestine relationship with a male nurse from the sick bay. 

Kelvin’s favourite spot seems to be the fishpond.  This is where they breed the carp which are our main source of protein. Like the agricultural area, most of it is automated and utilitarian, but part of it is landscaped and used as a place of relaxation.  There is an oriental-style bridge under a weeping willow tree that Kelvin and Prude like to stand on when they are at their soppiest and most nauseatingly sentimental.  I am pleased to note that Kelvin always seems to be stone-cold sober during these trysts.  One of the ship’s regulations says that it is an offence punishable by three days in the brig to dispose of waste in the fishpond (and this specifically includes pissing or shitting in it). 

It would  be particularly embarrassing for Kelvin to be found committing such an offence.  As well as being well-known for his partial authorship of the mission that we have embarked on, he is also frequently seen in the public gallery in the ship’s law court.  I must admit that I enjoy attending court sessions as well.  The best ones are those presided over by Judge Fitzgerald.  He is a florid-faced Australian lawyer with silver hair, a beer-belly, a loud voice, and a perfect knack for allowing counsel, accused and audience to have their fun without ever losing his grip on the proceedings.  The prosecutor is usually a woman called Cecily Johnson.  She is well-spoken, conscientious, and has an impeccable academic record, but is also inexperienced, unworldly and idealistic.  During the hearing of a recent case of alleged public indecency, she broke the first rule of advocacy (never ask a question to which you do not know the answer) and had to ask one of the witnesses what “felching” was.  There was hushed silence among the audience.  The witness’s answer (which was so word-perfect that it could have been read from the Oxford English Dictionary) produced uproar which even Judge Fitzgerald took several minutes to quell.  Counsellor Johnson’s well-bred, ivory cheekbones turned bright crimson.  This case left quite an impression on Pamela, because I had been hiding in the tropical forest where it took place, and it looked at one point as if I might be identified and ordered to be appear as a witness. 

Half the crime on the ship is due to drunkenness, and this is partly Kelvin’s fault (a fact for which he assumes no moral responsibility whatsoever).  The ship has its own currency (which is expected to continue in circulation after we land).  Kelvin has started investing by renting growing-space in The Farm, and manufacturing-space in The Factory (the portion of the ship where most of the workshops are).  He grows barley and hops.  The barley he makes into malt which, with the hops, he then makes into beer.  More recently, he has also started making whisky.  Thus far, his whisky has been good for little more than removing stains, but his beers are excellent, and in great demand.  He is already getting a return on his investment and, if he keeps on like this, he will already be wealthy by the time we reach our destination. 

He is even showing signs of a flair for marketing.  His first product was a bottled beer, a dark mild (3.5 per cent alcohol) with a full-bodied, sweet, nutty flavour and a chocolatey finish.  He called it Black Mischief, and promoted it by, among other things, serialising Evelyn Waugh’s novel (from which he had stolen the title) in The Rover.  Sales of the beer and the hit-rate on The Rover’s website both went up at the same time.  Black Mischief is now established as the drink that many people have at the beginning of a session: too much of it is considered to be overly dehydrating.  In pursuit of something lighter and more refreshing, he came up with a pale ale which is almost like lager.  He called this Light Brigade.  The label has a picture of men on horseback and cannons, and the slogan “C’est magnifique, mais c’est n’est pas la-geeer”.  Pseuds buy it because they think this is clever, and the rest of us buy it because it tastes good and is 5 per cent alcohol.  I believe he is working on some others, but he wisely spends time getting the recipe just right and assessing demand before going to market.    

Apart from semi-public sex, litigation, and getting drunk, another shipboard pastime (I won’t call it entertainment) is learning to drive.  In the era when we left Earth, cars drove themselves, or were driven remotely by powerful, central computers.  No such system will exist when we arrive (until we can build one ourselves) and so we are having to resort to old-fashioned methods.  We have a number of government surplus vehicles which people are encouraged to learn to drive in one of the empty cargo-bays.  This was mildly amusing at first but, once you have seen one person cursing after reversing into a pile of packing cases, the amusement soon wears off.  Driving a vehicle is something that my algorithmic brain is particularly good at, but I pretend to get it wrong sometimes, just to maintain my cover.

Ostensibly to earn money, I have volunteered as a chamber-maid. All the passengers have to have jobs.  This caused consternation at first, particularly among the academicians of the more abstruse subjects.  Egyptologists and orientalists (who are well-represented among the colonists, mainly at Kelvin’s behest) are allowed to work in their chosen field, as long as they can get people to pay to attend lectures.  A handful of them have succeeded in this, but most have failed.  Given its size and complexity, the ship has a crew which is surprisingly small in number.  Nearly all of them are employed in keeping it moving, pointing it in the right direction, and making sure that it does not strike any obstruction.  The passengers are supposed to be responsible for, among other things, keeping the living quarters and food preparation areas clean.  They have had trouble recruiting cleaners and “cabin refreshment operatives” (maids).  As soon as I heard this, I abandoned all my schemes to do with picking locks and scrambling cam-feeds.  In my role as maid, I can go almost anywhere unnoticed.  I am currently deciding whether it is worth systematically bugging all fifty-thousand cabins, or if that would just be taking a passion for thoroughness a bit far.  I don’t have that many microphones or cams, but I have my 3D printers in my luggage container (which we are allowed to access while we are travelling) and so I can make as many as I want.  It took a few days before I was given a worksheet which included Prude’s room, and a few days more before I got into Kelvin’s, but I have them both under surveillance now.  This has made shipboard life much more interesting (and sick-making).

He has had his leg over, at long last.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: