Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

‘The Companion’: chapter 17

Fans of ‘Sherlock’ who enjoyed ‘The Hounds of Baskerville’ may be interested to note that this episode features a genetically-engineered rabbit.


Mmm.  Nice and warm in here.  Sleep?  No, not sleepy.  Whoa.  What’s happening?  What’s happening?  Being lifted up.  Where am I going?  A bit scared.  This is a long journey.  Where are we going?  I can smell a big pool of water.  Mm.  Nice, clean water.

Aah, grass.  Eat first?   No, run round first.  Run, run, run, run, run, run.  Nothing chasing me, but just feel like a bit of exercise.  Now eat.  Mm.  This grass is sweet.  Pffft.  Yuck.  That has a bit of twig in it.  Mm.  This is better.  Nice and juicy.  Can I have a carrot?  I said can I have a carrot?  A carrot.  Yes, a carrot.  All I am trying to tell you is that I want a carrot.  Is that too much to ask?  Oh, this is frustrating.  What’s this?  Lettuce?  Ah, Little Gem, and a heck of a lot fresher than it was last time.  Couldn’t we have dried it after washing as well?  What else is coming?  What on earth is that?  Something in round slices.  Spongy.   Green skin round the edge.  Mm.  A bit tasteless, but not unpleasant.  Where is the carrot?  Ah, at last.  That wasn’t so difficult, was it? 

Yes, I will let you stroke me, as long as you do it gently.  Gently, I said.  Mmm.  A bit lower.  No, higher.  Yes, just there.  Will you kindly stop playing with my ears? 

Are there any nice, strong bucks round here?  I seem to have been alone for a long time.  It is comfortable here; the food is good, and hardly anything scary happens, but there’s no action.  It is even duller than the last place I lived, most of the time. 


My name is Patrick Fitzgerald.  My friends call me Paddy.  When I am sitting in court, of course, I am referred to as “Your Honour”, or “Mister Justice Fitzgerald”, since the ship is governed by the law and customs of England and Wales (on which those of my native Australia are also based).  When the administration of the ship was being set up, just before we embarked on our journey, I was nominally granted the same status as a High Court Judge.  Now we are, so to speak, on our own, I suppose I am the most senior legal figure in this community of fifty-thousand souls.  Sooner or later, we are going to have to work out a new constitution, but I am not pushing it on any-one.  What we are doing at the moment works perfectly well.  A constitution in a democratic state to me is like poetry: try to foist it on people and you destroy the whole point of it.  To work properly, it has to be rooted as deeply as possible in the will of the People (assuming that the People can agree on what that is). 

This ship is the most active and cohesive community I have ever seen.  In some ways, it is the nearest thing to utopia that I would ever desire to get close to.  Nobody begs.  Nobody scrounges.  Nobody sits there and does nothing.  Nobody is hopeless, or broken, or defeated.  Nobody has dropped out, or is trying to wreck the progress of normal life.  We also have a much greater sense of purpose than most human beings ever experience.  Our big objective is to arrive safely at our destination, after which we get down to the real work of founding a new colony.  In the meantime, the crew have to keep the ship running smoothly (to which I would say my own occupation is an adjunct).  The passengers have to stop themselves from going mad with boredom.  Both sets of people are doing a thoroughly good job.

There certainly is some crime on this ship, and even occasional outbreaks of disorder.  The people here are human beings, just like on Earth, except that they sometimes get giddier and edgier because they are living in such an artificial environment.  They drink alcohol.  They smoke weed.  Some of them chew khat.  So far, I have seen no evidence of heroin or cocaine, but it is probably only a matter of time.  I have seen no evidence either of organised prostitution, but I would be staggered if some-one could prove to me that it were not taking place, here, now, on the ship.  I might even be able to guess who is running it, but it would be most injudicious of me to name any names without evidence. 

We have an ordinance in place which says that nobody is allowed to give birth before we reach our destination.  The more I think about it, the less I can understand why that was decided.  I would also be interested to hear what sanction we might take against any offender (and if anybody so much as mentions compulsory termination, I’ll have him ejected from the room).  I suppose it was to save the designers of our vessel the problem of having to cater for a growth in population. 

I wonder how long it will be before the new world ends up like the old one, with people begging for money in railway stations, and raiding their kids’ piggy-banks to buy drugs.  Everybody is self-funding here.  Every job is valuable, and everybody gets paid a reasonable income. We have our own currency, which is intended to form the basis of what we will use in the new colony.  I am not sure who invented it.  It is based on coins rather than notes, and they have genuine noble metal in them.  We have a copper coin, called a penny; a silver coin, called a shilling, and a gold coin, called a sovereign.  Ten pence equals one shilling, and ten shillings equals one sovereign.  A sovereign is also called a pound.  We have machinery for striking more coins, and we have more bullion to make them with.  Both, of course, are kept strictly under lock and key.  Decisions to do with things like the money supply are made by an informal ship’s council, which includes the Captain and four senior members of the crew, plus five members who are elected by the passengers.  These currently include Kelvin Stark, Prudence Tadlow, an English lawyer called John Mallard, a Jamaican academic called Professor Timothy Gonzales, and a Scottish business tycoon called Kerr McLean.  I myself have the honorary position of Chairman, but I only vote if there is a tie.

I must get back to work now.  I have to read some depositions and pleadings relating to a disturbance which took place at a Hallowe’en party a few days ago.  Kelvin Stark was present, though I am delighted to acknowledge for the sake of his reputation that he was a victim and not a perpetrator.  I notice that all the defendants in the case are female.  Counsellor Johnson is prosecuting.  I hope she gets some-one to sit in with her, because a bunch of women displaying their alcohol-fuelled lubricity and propensity to violence in public is not really her area of expertise.  John Mallard is defending.  He is a bit theatrical for my liking, but an honest and competent lawyer for all that.  I bet the public gallery will be packed, especially if Dr Stark is called as a witness. 


I have been charged with causing an affray and criminal damage at the Hallowe’en party.  I don’t care.  I would stamp on that bitch’s camera again if I needed to.  Somebody called Mallard is defending me.  I am told he is quite good.  He certainly charges enough.

Back on Earth, Kelvin would have been fully liable for any charge brought against me.  It is a new experience for me to be granted full equality before the law with a human being. 


I have been charged with causing an affray at the Hallowe’en party.  What an absurd nuisance.  I don’t care.  I hate what that awful Vallance woman was trying to do to Kelvin.  It was so vulgar and tasteless, to say nothing of intimidating and intrusive.  I have been recommended by my lawyer to run a combined defence with the other woman who intervened.  This gave me a bit of a funny feeling, because – of all people – she happens to be the one who I made the complaint about because she was following me.  She was fine with me when we were talking to the lawyer.  There was no awkwardness at all.  She said she did not bear any grudge against me for the complaint, and that she might have done the same in my position.  The only thing I could not get out of her was why she had been following me.  I decided it was best to just let it pass.


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