Well, that’ll teach me to invoke synthi-meat, won’t it? Should’ve thought ahead, with due regard to the momentum of superstition and Sod’s Law, but no. Never been a thinker. That’s my problem. They’ve all said it: Teachers. Bosses. Exes. Currents before they became exes. Random people I’ve never met before who I’ve passed in the street. All of them.
And, bastards that they are, they’re right. I make some passing remark about the grey boingy dinge that passes for food in the meateries of Fowler Orbital, and skip off into the sunset quite confident that I’m not going to get a ping from Emmie Bloody Kennedy demanding that I take 24 tonnes of synthi-meat to bloody Exioce, all of ten-and-a-half godsdamned light-years away.
So I’m settling into my very-standard hotel room (priced within easy reach of the average trucker’s credit balance; scratchy bed: plentiful fatty food and sugary sodas from the greasy dispenser in the corner). I’ve just got my boots off and I’m sitting on the edge of the bed half-watching one of the local news channels.
And the comm goes, “PING”.
And I go, “Fuck it.” To begin with I figure I’ll just ignore it. It’s obviously just going to be one of those spam calls you sometimes get when you’re newly checked into a place — the ones inviting you to clubs, alehouses, restaurants and brothels and such (which, obviously, I never ever take them up on). “Crampit’s Haven of Astral Delights looks forward to serving you – just a short walk from this suite…”
(Freaking ‘suite’, I ask you… Pit. It’s a PIT.)
But then I happen to glance over at the holo and there’s an Imperial seal revolving lazily in the column of sparkling light.
Ohhh, buuut whyyyy?
Because screw you, Ceitidh, that’s why.
“Drowe Room Seven. Answer call.”
And there she is. EBK herself. Bloody Emmie Bloody Kennedy, about half as large as glowing, slightly flickery life, standing on a plinth in the corner of my room.
“Drowe,” she says. Disdain. Datdain. Any dain she can find, she loads it into that one word and rolls it down her striking Imperial nose at me. Quite how I don’t know, but she makes me want to carry my own name outside at arm’s length and throw it in waste disposal.
“Governor,” I say, throwing in a little respectful head-bow. A little ego-polish never hurts.
“I’m delighted to see you’ve returned to us,” the Governor lies right to my face. “I trust you’re finding our facilities comfortable after your time in space?”
One day I swear to Mercury I’m going to send that woman a dictionary with the word ‘convincing’ in it. I’m afraid it might injure her, though.
“Yes, thank you, Governor,” I lie as well because fuck you I can be a hypocrite if I like dammit. Truth is, as bland as the Mouser’s crew quarters may be, I vastly prefer them to station accommodation like this, and the only reason I’m here is the bylaw prohibiting crews from residing even temporarily in berthed ships. Once docked, you’ve got to get off, and then you have to ask harbour control permission even to go back aboard to fetch stuff, do checks, anything. Your own ship. It’s a scam, if you ask me, to keep money coming in for shit-pits like this one. They say safety, of course, like I can spend weeks in space with nothing but radiation-blazing neutron stars and the howling gravitational maw of a blackhole for company — I even get shot at from time to time — but gods help me I might bump my poor little self if a station has to halt rotation unexpectedly and somehow it’s not going to hurt just as bad in this abyss of a room?
Yes, sorry; right. The call, yes. So she’s still giving me her most endearing sneer.
“I’m so pleased,” oh do fuck off, Governor, really, “Because I want you to get a little rest and then perhaps come and see me. I have a job for you. It’s important to the Assembly.”
The Empire Assembly is the executive body for the system. In theory, Emmie Bloody Kennedy is selected by the Emperor Herself and represents Her voice in Dvorsi. Hence my maintaining at least a minimal degree of decorum. You can get into dead trouble if a governor takes against you. Emphasis on the obvious word.
That said, EBK isn’t, by all accounts, one of the Emperor’s favourites: rumour has it Her Majesty pretty much cold-shouldered her at a sector schmooze-fest a couple of years back, and had to be quietly prompted, by one of those slinky people-recognising flunkies that Royals all seem to have in tow, to extend the proper formalities. This got about a bit, as these things will do, and EBK’s tended to get a little bit of snarkback since. Personally I still think it’s a good idea to keep a governor on side if one’s inclined to be there, so I generally stick to the protocols anyway. Mostly.
Anyway the point is if you’re going to say no to them you have to have something really plausible. And I didn’t have a single blessed thing she wouldn’t have seen straight through.
So, an hour later I’m standing in EBK’s office – a sort of stark, efficient, corporate throne room — listening while she regales me with the details of precisely why she needs 24 tonnes of rank, stinking, rubbery synthi-meat taken all the way to Exioce.
“I belieeeeeve,” she says, wheedling all the way along the word, “That you hail from Exioce, is that not right?”
It is. I’d love for it not to have been. But it is.
“Yes, Governor. I grew up on Experiment.” A planet of golden-green fields and pastures and forests, with vast sparkling oceans. It was and is lovely. Which is why I now live in space, presumably.
She nods, obviously entirely uninterested, and goes on to explain in unnecessary detail why such-a-corporation on the comically named planet Democracy, the second major body out from the star Exioce, needed 24 tonnes of synthi-meat. I’ve got to be honest, I’m no more interested than she obviously is, and it doesn’t really make any difference to me anyway. It’s a request from the Assembly, and they’re going to pay me. And it leaves, after all, 184 good tonnes of cargo space left to put something more appealing in.
Apparently there’s a bit of a rush on consumer technology at Miller Terminal at the moment. If you’ll excuse me, and I’m no less surprised by this than you are, I’m off to buy some washing machines.