Love and Starships: Chapter 6
Francis had acclimated herself to the work shifts and waking up early for them. At the end of the night, she had finally found the energy to not fall asleep instantly after ending up in her bed, as small an uncomfortable as it was. That particular night, she found herself strew out on top of the covers, listening to a book from her tablet and playing with the curly strands of her hair as the computer spoke words into her ears.
Skee had joined her in the room about a half hour previous, but had hardly conversed with her, aside from his usual greeting. He sat intently on the edge of his bed, legs crossed like normal, his unusual brown eyes moving back and forth over reading material of his own.
Francis picked uncomfortably at her underwear that had began to bunch up past her thigh under the slick synthetic fibers of her off-duty clothes. Man, I wish I could just lounge around in my skivvies like back in my apartment. She quickly peeked back at Skee who had not moved a muscle. Her gaze turned up to the low ceiling, made of a thin-looking coating.
“Hey, Skee?” She finally spoke up. The alien looked over a few more words before turning to her as she sat up on the bed.
“You mind if I… try something?”
“What is this something you wish to attempt?” Skee said back, his head tilting to the side.
“Just bear with me.” Francis insisted. She stood up and moved to the side of the room where the synthesizer was located. “If you don’t like it… then we can tear it down, I guess. How tall do you think this room is?”
“About 2 and one half meters.” Skee suggested.
“Computer, generate a sheet 2.5 meters tall, uh… 3.5 meters long. Polyester.”
“Are you cold, Francis?” Skee suggested.
“No, I was just thinking if we could divide up the room.” Francis explained, extracting the slightly warm, folded piece of fabric from the synthesizer’s tray. “Just like, a little extra privacy, you know?”
Francis looked up at the ceiling and the neat edge of the fabric. “Computer, generate… thumbtacks, 10 of them.” She said, turning to the synthesizer once again.
“I don’t believe…” Skee interjected as the moleculizer hummed to life.
Francis looked back up at the textured panel back on the ceiling and shrugged. “Hmm, yeah. It could be pretty thin. Computer, recycle. Generate… 10 neodymium magnets, 10 grams each.”
Skee watched the tray as the objects clinked into existence from the beam of light and latched onto each other from their magnetic fields. “Are you sure magnets are safe for this sort of application? There may be systems above the deck head that may be affected.”
“You think?” Francis pondered. “I mean… maybe Trish could tell us… maybe also if I had my instruments…” The magnets clunked around in her palm as she scanned the ceiling. “Well, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”
“I’m not sure I trust the logic of such an idiom.”
Francis had already pulled the room’s chair away from the wall and placed it in the middle of the room. She stood atop it precariously and held the light cloth to the ceiling.
She had carefully wedged the magnets between her ear and her shoulder, and she began peeling them off each other one-by-one to stick against the polyester to the ceiling. Slowly, the length of the cloth began to stretch across the room, from just near the door and most of the way to the bathroom slider.
Francis stepped down and adjusted the placement of the chair several times to move the blanket up and down the room. With one final tug, she stepped down off the wavering object and inspected her work. The blanket was just slightly longer than the room was tall, leaving a small bunch on the floor. She stepped around to the opposite side to double check that it had been placed just center enough. Skee sat silently, admiring her ingenuity.
“Your rudimentary guesses for the dimensions and the symmetry of the room were quite accurate, Francis.” The alien noted.
“You don’t mind it?” Francis asked back.
Skee shook his head and readjusted his posture atop the bed. “If it makes you feel more at ease, I have no objections to it.”
“Well then, excellent.” Francis nodded and moved back to her side of the room. She gave one last peek around the corner. “Just… don’t cross over without asking first.”
Skee looked up and nodded at her before she ducked her head back beyond the sheet.
For a moment, she stared at Skee’s discreet silhouette on the other side of the sheet. She stood silently for a few long seconds before carefully shuffling out of the elastic waistband of her pants and dropping them to the floor. Ughhh, freedom. With her lower half unrestrained, she jumped up on the cool bed, letting her smooth legs run across the equally silky duvet.
A loud knock at the door found Francis having fallen asleep atop the cold comforter and the story having started again from the beginning. “Would you like me to answer the door, Francis?” Skee called out. He illuminated the room.
“No, hold on, I’ve got it.” Francis called out. The knock came again and she quickly jumped off the bed to find her pants bunched up in a ball on the ground. She struggled to shove her feet into the crooked leg-holes before pulling them up to her waist. She treaded slightly on the hems as she made her way to the door.
“Night shift here.” The crewman announced, a scanning instrument in his hand. “Just doing some diagnostics. What type of living situation exactly-” He stuttered, looking at the sheet dangling from the center of the room.
Francis looked back at Skee, who was perched on the edge of his bed looking at the crewmen intently. “It’s complicated.” Francis avoided the explanation.
The crewman stepped slightly into the room and held the instrument in his hand towards the ceiling. “What exactly are you using to hold that thing up?” The man asked, his eyebrows furrowed.
Francis peered up at the tiny chrome circles of the magnets stuck to the ceiling. “Well, uh…”
The instrument in the man’s hand lit up slightly. He quickly tapped his wrist and spoke into the speaker. “Yeah, Owens here. I think I found the source of the interruption. Over.”
He pulled the scanner away and peered up at the ceiling once again. “Those are messing with several signal relays that manage life support in the deck above. One of the rooms the next level up woke up to near freezing temperatures, literally. Take ‘em down.”
Francis let out a long sigh and looked back at the crewman. “I don’t suppose you can recommend some tape or something from the ship’s database?”
The crewmen stepped out of the entryway and let the doors close without another word.
“I’m not sure, but did I miss the point where you ask for forgiveness?” Skee asked.
Francis turned around and yanked on the sheet. A few magnets popped off and landed loudly on the ground, but most of them simply allowed the blanket to slip out from underneath them. Francis let out a loud sigh and turned back to pull the chair out from the wall.
The following day was Francis’s off day, which didn’t prevent her from waking up at the same time from the room’s ambient light system and her internal clock. Her eyes opened to a notification of a message on her communication screen, reading off the name Jorge Ford. She looked over at Skee, who was turned to the far wall. He stirred slightly as if he were ready to get up.
The back-light of the screen lit up as she smooshed her oily finger against it. Skee ruffled his blankets as he rolled over to the center of the room. Francis peeked over at him momentarily as he blinked into the bright light. He pushed the heavy bedding off himself and sat up, while Francis quickly averted her gaze.
The message from the Staff Sergeant was brief and to the point: ‘Crewman Arnold, you may come to my office to discuss your previous request at your earliest convenience. -Sgt Ford.’ As she finished reading over the message, Skee exited the room without a word.
After showering and fixing her hair, Francis skipped breakfast and quickly traveled up the lift to the mid-deck of the ship. The line to the Staff Sergeant’s door was almost nonexistent, save a few stragglers conversing with the secretary.
“I’m afraid that the Staff Sergeant can’t do anything on that matter.” The Rosatl’th woman explained to the impatiently waiting alien. “I would advise you make a request directly to the kitchen staff for special orders. As I’ve heard, even if raw poultry is a delicacy on your planet, if it is not necessary for your dietary needs, we cannot easily serve it. It is, after all, potentialy toxic to many of the other species on board.”
The alien folded his spindly, scaly arms and huffed loudly, his tongue flickering at the edge of his lips. “Lucky you’re not an earthling like the Sergeant, or I would suspect you’re being biased- speciesist, even!”
“GSS protocols, Crewman Jarp.” The secretary said, cutting him off and waving him away. Her gaze just as quickly shot over to Francis. “What may I help you with today?”
“Crewman Arnold, reporting.” She announced. “The Sergeant reported that I may see him.”
“Arnold, Arnold…” The woman repeated, staring at her terminal’s screen. “Lindsey Arnold? Says you’re a junior cadet, not a crewman.”
“No… no relation either.”
“Well, the only other Arnold I have is Francis.”
“That’s me.” Francis said plainly, her eyes lowered and arms folded close to her chest.
The secretary looked back at her screen and peered at it again for a few long seconds. The hairs stood up along her neck before she turned back up to Francis. “Ah, yes, I have you. Sergeant Ford is just inside.”
“Thanks.” Francis muttered before walking through the set of doors that opened automatically for her. Inside was Ford, who looked up at her as she stepped up. There were two chairs present in front of the desk which had not been there during her first visit, in one of which Francis took a seat.
“I see you got my message, good.” Ford said, finishing typing something into his computer.
“Things have calmed down, they seem. No more people hoarding in here.”
“With people, it’s never calm.” The Sergent shrugged, his eyes still locked to the screen. “Especially if they’re not face to face. Don’t you remember what the Aishou’s mission is?”
“To forge bonds and mediate conflict between and among potential hostile planets, sectors, and species.” Francis said, repeating what the briefings had told her many times.
“Good.” Ford congratulated her. “I’m glad those words have stuck in your head even if we haven’t actually gotten the chance to do so yet, so early on our voyage. At the very least, I’m hoping you’ve been able to forge a bond with your Reedeen roommate and not having driven one another insane.”
“He’s not so bad.” Francis said with a shrug.
“Good to hear.” Ford seemed to patronize. “Unfortunately, even if you are now the best of buddies, I can’t keep you two together for much longer.”
“What does that mean exactly?” Francis asked.
“Well, I did come across a section of GSS Protocol regarding cohabitation on Starships. I won’t bore you with the legalese nonsense, but essentially, on voyages two years or less, we can’t allow a male and a female to share the same room for more than two weeks, unless they are married. Well, brother and sister for our Bilobans, too. Either way, it’s to stop people from… shacking up, as you say, and reproducing. Eventually, you have a starship baby that’s wandering around, and eventually has to be transplanted, especially hard if the parents go their different ways.”
“I get it, but you said that Skee and I were so physiologically different, so reproducing wouldn’t really be an issue, is it?”
“Are you saying you would rather stay with Skee now? Were you perhaps growing a fondness-”
Francis let out a short yelp to silence Ford. “Augh! No, no. Does this mean you have a room for me to move to?”
Ford turned back to his screen and cleared his throat loudly. “During that drill two nights ago, another crewman had a anxiety attack, a break down if you will.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.” Francis said, faking the empathy in her voice.
“Well, they requested to be shuttled back home, so we do have a single room that is free now.” Ford explained.
“A single.” Francis said with a nod. Hell yes.
“It is on the upper deck area, so farther from your station.” The Sergeant continued. “We could make some other arrangements to get you a closer room before the end of next week, but I need to know this now.”
“I’ll take it.” Francis answered without hesitations.
“Its settled then.” Ford said with a nod. “Place your arm over here. I’ll get your badge set up to access the room, and to have your current room expire late tomorrow to get your things moved over. Do you think that will give you enough time?”
Francis scooted the chair up and stretched her arm across the desk, her wrist up. “Yes, sir.”
After exiting the office, Francis took the maglift down through engineering, stopping before she arrived at what would be shortly no longer be her floor. Her stomach rumbled slightly from skipping breakfast, and the mess hall had just begun switching over to lunch. The meal suddenly seemed like a luxury, all the previous times having been from one of the synthesizers down in her area. While the meals tasted fine, they lacked a certain nuance from being cooked by what she hoped were loving hands.
The dining hall was less packed than usual. With her tray of food in hand, Francis found a spot by herself, self-consciously eyeing the others who had managed to find groups to sit with. As she began to work through the food on her plate, she found herself not as hungry as first imagined. She manages to force down a little more than half of the food, leaving behind the rest for the recycler.
The way to her room down the halls from the maglift had become overwhelmingly familiar, even noticing the one panel that somehow lacked one of its screws, despite likely many inspections. Francis finally came to the door to her room and scanned in. Skee was absent, as was expected. His bed had been neatly put back together, in contrast to her own. Francis attempted to make it back up to the standards that Skee continued to produce, but she found herself unable to do so. Maybe he just doesn’t move much in his sleep, leaving it more neat?”
Francis played with the hem of the sheet some more before realizing that the sheets would be no longer hers to sleep in. With a loud sigh, she yanked them off and bunched them up, shoving them into the cramped synthesizer tray. The machine gave a preemptive beep to tell her that if any action were attempted, it would likely fail. Francis fumbled with the ball of bedding again was able to extract the two sheets from each other before shoving the first back into the tray.
“Recycle.” Francis ordered the computer. The cloth dissolved away. She waited for a few seconds for the machine’s lights to dim before shoving the next sheet inside. After finishing, Francis returned to the plastic covered mattress and sat down upon it with a loud crunch from the material.
Under the bed were a spare pair of boots, several pairs of used socks, and a handful of hair clips that nearly blended in perfectly with the short carpet. Francis scraped them up and placed them gingerly atop the mattress’s cover. Inside her closet was the same bag as before, as well as two of her uniforms, one of which that had only been worn once. The bathroom door was slightly ajar, revealing her hairbrush and toiletries strewn around the cramped counter. She hoisted her bag up on the mattress as well and began shoving some of her things into it. The bag began to bulge even before having made a trip to the bathroom. Francis pulled her ratty civilian shoes out and switched into them from her work boots. They had yet to gather any wear, but were likely not going to help in her trudge up to the upper part of the ship.
The computer chimed in after Recycling the hefty set of shoes. “Congratulations, Crewman Arnold, for returning over 245 kilojoules to the ships systems. This amount will be added to your weekly synthesizer allowance.”
“Well.” Skee said suddenly. In her state of frantic focus, Francis had not noticed the door of her room opening, and her roommate entering. “Is this sudden ritual of cleaning something that happens often? I understand that humans value cleanliness, but I was curious to see the extent.”
Francis turned her head quickly to the alien, who remained at the door, his uniform dark with dampness. “Oh god, I’m sorry.” She apologized. “I figured you were working all day today…”
“There is no issue, Francis.” Skee shook his head slowly. “I simply had to return to change my clothes. A line burst in the botany lab and I was sprayed with nitrogen-rich water.”
“The leak was shut off momentarily, but I must get new clothes and wash my skin or I may suffer slight burns.” Skee explained, tugging at the zipper of his suit.
“Hey-!” Francis exclaimed, stopping him. “I uhm- I’m not just cleaning up, I’m changing rooms. Have to pack up everything, you know?”
Skee took a few steps deeper into the room and peered at the personal objects scattered on the bare bed. “I see, so you were able to find a new accommodation. I am sorry that I was not able to fulfill myself as your roommate.”
Francis waved her arms up at Skee. “No, no, no, it’s not like that or anything. It was never your fault, or anything about you.”
Skee held his taught yet soft expression as he looked into Francis’s eyes. “The fault was obviously that I am male and you are female, like you said when we first met.”
“Yeah, but-” Francis said.
“That is a fact of nature.” The alien shrugged. “Believe me, I know nature.”
Francis turned her eyes back to the mess waiting to be stuffed into her bag. Skee shifted his foot. She turned back to him, suddenly remembering his situation. “Uhm, well, you should change, and get washed, whatever you needed to do.”
Skee nodded slowly and began to walk to the bathroom door.
“Uh, hold on just one sec.” Francis interrupted once again, squeezing past Skee into the bathroom. She quickly scooped all of her toiletries up in her arms and moved out of the bathroom to drop the items alongside her others. “All good now.”
“Well, don’t mind if I do.” Skee said pleasantly before entering the bathroom and carefully closing the door behind him.
Francis heard the jet shower turn on before she shoved the thoughts out of her head and began to push all of her things into the bag. Steam started to pour out from under the door as she finished grabbing her spare suits off their hangers in the cramped closet. She hurriedly began to collect everything up in her arms when the shower suddenly turned off.
Francis faced the door ready to depart. I should say something. “Hey Skee.”
“Yes, Francis?” The alien’s voice came through the door.
“I’m leaving now. I don’t doubt we’ll get to see each other again, so no worries, okay?”
“I will… see you, Francis.” Skee called out as Francis opened the door.
Francis traveled up the one set of Maglifts, across to the opposite side of the deck, and up several more levels in another maglift before arriving at her floor. A few glances shot her way as she entered the new, interesting part of the ship. The items strung across her shoulder and tucked into her arm had begun to wear heavy on her. Deck 6, Corridor B, Room 624. She repeated the words over in her head.
Francis passed by the door that had been assigned to her, considering to herself whether her memory was reliable or not. She closed her eyes as she touched her badge to the sensor, hoping to not see anyone else when the doors opened.
Inside the room was a slightly larger bed, an open floor space, a reliably sized synthesizer, and a welcoming bathroom. She stepped inside without a second glance behind her and deposited her things on the ground as soon as the doors closed behind her.