iamhyperlexic

Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 13

My name is Prudence Tadlow.  I am a hydro-geologist by training, which means that I am unable to work at the moment, because I have not got a planet to study.  I have been given a job in “The Farm”, which is what we call the ship’s food production area.  The work is surprisingly absorbing. 

When I signed up for this venture (I can’t bring myself to mention its official title – it is quite cringe-worthy) I feared that being confined in a space-ship for several years would be boring.  So far, it has been quite the opposite.  In a matter of weeks, I have started and finished a relationship with Kelvin Stark himself, and acquired a stalker.

When Kelvin asked me if I wanted to go for a coffee, I thought he just meant that I looked tired and needed a break: I thought he meant “go for a coffee” on my own.  But he meant a date.  He asked me a lot of questions about geology, and I found myself having to dredge stuff up from my undergraduate course.  I don’t think I have been asked so many academic questions since my PhD viva.  Later conversations revealed that he had absorbed everything I said.  Talking to him is like trying to swim through treacle.  I ask him what I believe is a plain and simple question.  “Do you like heavy metal?” would be a good example.  First of all, there is no reaction.  I am just about to repeat it, because I am convinced he has not heard me, when he decides to respond.  “Do you mean the music or do you mean in the chemical sense?”  I laugh.  He looks at me.  I look at him and realise he is serious.  About half an hour later, if we are lucky, we have established that he likes some heavy metal.  Sometimes it is like talking to a robot, at least until you move him onto a subject he is passionate about.  He told me that he used to have a therapist on Earth who told him he might have Asperger’s Syndrome.  I was not surprised. 

We had dinner in the refectory a few times, and went for some walks under the trees.  When he finally made his move, he was a surprisingly good kisser and then became quite physically demonstrative.  When he started to express himself with his body, his ability to convey his feelings in words seemed to diminish even further.  I am very wary of men with emotional baggage, and he was evasive the first few times I asked him about his previous relationships.  He mentioned a “Lieutenant Thorn”, and I thought for one doom-laden moment that he was bi-sexual, but the “Lieutenant” turned out to be a woman.  They split up just before we left Earth, and the alarm bells started to ring.  I am convinced he is not over her. 

One night when we had had quite a lot of Kelvin’s own beer to drink (that Black Mischief stuff is quite nice if you put blackcurrant cordial in it) he admitted that on Earth he had had a “companion android”.  I have never seen one of those things, but I have always considered that the word “companion” is in the same category as the word “escort”.   I eventually got him to admit that he used to have sex with it.  I think this is weird.  It put me off him a bit, but it was the fact that he still seems to have his mind on some-one else that made me decide to finish with him.  He took the news with complete detachment.  All he said was, “This is a new experience for me.  No-one has ever dumped me before.  Can we still be friends?”  Completely contrary to my better judgement, I said that we could.

My stalker had already started by then.  She is a tallish woman with mousy hair.  She cleans cabins, but she is a passenger and not a member of the crew.  At first I could not work out if she was following Kelvin or following me, but now I know it is me.   If she does not stop soon, I am going to have to say something to her.  I don’t know what her problem is.  I have never seen her socialising with any-one.  In fact, I had never noticed her at all until I realised she was tailing me. 

A few people expressed surprise when they found out I had ended it with Kelvin.  A strange woman called Cerise Vallance asked me some very intrusive questions, including what Kelvin was like in bed.  I told her to go and boil her head.  If she writes anything about me in that ghastly e-paper of hers, I will not be at all pleased. 

*

Doctor Prudence Tadlow has dumped me.  I am sorry about this, but not heartbroken.  I still get to see her around the Farm.  I realised after we broke up that I am not very good company at the moment, because my mind is on some-one else. 

I miss Violet.  I think about her while I am lying in bed, and sometimes I miss her so much it makes me cry.  I have never regretted anything in my life so much as I regret leaving her behind.  Looking back, I cannot remember why I decided to do it.  I immerse myself in activity, to stop myself from thinking about Violet.  I have started a brewing and distilling business which is doing very well.  I potter around the Farm. I practice the guitar.  I have seen an advert on the intranet for language tuition, and I will probably sign up for that.  But none of this stops me from thinking about her when I am on my own.  I was so comfortable talking to her: everything flowed, and felt natural.  Talking to Prudence was interesting, but it felt alien sometimes.  She wanted me to talk to her the way she talks, not the way I talk.  She kept asking me if I had heard her, when I always had, but I was thinking before speaking.  Violet never did that. 

Wherever Violet is, I hope she is not as miserable as I am.  I can’t bear the thought of her with another legal owner.  I am sure she is living on her own somewhere.  I hope she is happier than I am. 

*

Kelvin has been crying himself to sleep for the past few nights.  I can’t make it out.  It seems incredible that breaking up with Prude would have upset him so much.  I wish he would talk more.  When he is on his own, he usually keeps up a running commentary on everything he is doing.  He refers to himself as “we”.  It’s funny.  But these episodes of tearfulness have been infuriatingly non-vocal. 

Pamela has put an advertisement on the intranet for language classes (French and Spanish). 

 

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