Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Long Distance Relationship : Part 3

Four days passed. McLean had been dividing his time between his bunk and the arboretum; The hydrangeas were flourishing. Only occasionally would he venture onto the bridge of the ship to check things were still running smoothly - they were. The computer had everything under control, as usual, and the humans aboard were still just cargo, still just along for the ride. On the fourth day, after an uninspiring breakfast of Oatmeal Foodtube and Orange Juice Drinktube, McLean sat on his bed gazing out of the small circular viewport above his head. He smiled as he remembered for a moment the last real meal he'd eaten, made from ingredients that didn't have to remain edible for the next two years. And then, Foodtubes.

The languid spin of the craft made focussing on anything for longer than half a minute or so tricky, but over the last ten rotations he was sure he had spotted something new. A previously unseen object winked at him weakly from across the depths of the inky black.

McLean dragged his naked feet briefly across the cold metal floor and slid them into his comforting and worn brown slippers he had brought all the way from Earth, all that time ago. They had become his regular footwear soon after departing Mars, after all what was the point of wearing shoes if you never went outside? The soft material reminded him of the soft floors, and soft skin, of home. He sloped towards the Viewing Room, a room containing a single large screen and a quartet of plush velvet chairs.

He flicked the light switch and the room brightened to a comforting half-light. Dark walls illuminated sordidly by yellow uplights; this homage was missing only the slow coil of cigarette smoke. McLean had always imagined that whomever designed this particular room was a frustrated home cinema enthusiast, barely stopping short of providing surround sound and a popcorn dispenser at the back. Flopping down into one of the deep chairs, he lazily manipulated the control column for the external camera array and panned the view to centre roughly on the distant craft. McLean locked the cameras onto it to compensate for the ship's rotation, and stepped through the magnification levels. Five times, ten times, one hundred times - the white blink now resembled a small comet with a fiercely bright nose and a long blue-white tail behind it.

McLean snorted derisively to himself. Looking closer still, he could make out a tiny sphere at the front of a long cylinder which was presumably the ion whatsit. That sphere can't have provided particularly agreeable living, but then no nuclear missile was ever built for its creature comforts. He sat back in his comfortable chair, allowing the massage function to work its undeniable magic, and said a silent prayer of thanks to the incalculable genius that decided massage chairs were indispensable in the advancement of spaceflight.

He didn't dare magnify the image any further in case it transpired Bryant really was wearing a Stetson.

He flicked on the chair intercom. "Bartlett?"

"Here Commander!" came the bright reply.

"Put me through to the One Child Policy, please." Bartlett acknowledged and in a few seconds she signalled that the channel was ready to transmit. McLean hadn't really thought about what he might say at this juncture - he was almost slightly surprised at himself for seeking out communication with the unwelcome intruders. But Intruder is such a strong word, he thought. After all, space is pretty big. There's plenty of room for both of us. What about Interloper, or even Tourist? But, McLean acknowledged privately, this should have been his big bit of space.

Yes, he was being petulant, and Yes he was being difficult, but he had enjoyed being on the only inhabited ship to experience this area of space - such as it was - first hand. Now suddenly he felt crowded, his private resort overtaken by towel-bearing German tourists.

"Hello One Child Policy," he stated. Not a question.

"Well hello!" came the easy reply. McLean didn't need to ask who he was speaking with, after all who else could it be?

"How's things going over there?" McLean's interest was piqued by pangs of jealousy - had he now been relegated to the B Team?

"Well there's never much room to move around," Bryant answered dismissively, "But we're still accelerating and I think we're on schedule!" He thinks?

McLean paused for a second. Two seconds. Three.

"I've been meaning to ask, actually," he pondered aloud in measured tones, "What exactly is your schedule?" McLean knew his own ship's schedule intimately and was morbidly keen to learn how the two craft stacked up. With three months left to travel to reach the Rally Point, he wondered exactly how B Team was he?

"Well you know, it's not long at all! Here, let me check." How could Bryant not know this? "About 3 weeks."

Bugger. It. All.

McLean flicked off the intercom and sloped off to talk to his hydrangeas.

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