A Berth on the LondonBy Judith Proctor
Page 3 of 4
Jenna looked at the limited menu entries on the food dispenser with a
marked lack of enthusiasm. The selections sounded interesting enough,
unless you took a close look at what other people actually had on
their plates. Economy was obviously the order of the day. Everything
was was plainly powdered concentrate simply reconstituted with water.
There hadn't even been any attempt to make it into an interesting
shape. And she'd thought the food in the holding cell was
"I think I've just lost my appetite," Vila moaned beside her, as he looked at the red pulp on his plate that was supposed to be bacon.
Jenna grinned. "Look on the bright side, Vila. At this stage of the journey, the water hasn't been recycled yet."
"What do you mean?" he asked suspiciously.
"She means," a sardonic voice pointed out from a nearby table, "that all water on these ships is reused. It has to be. Tomorrow, you'll be drinking your own excrement."
"Thanks a million," Vila muttered.
Avon smiled briefly. "My pleasure."
"Jenna." She turned at the sound of Gan's voice. "Would you like a game of chess?" he asked.
"What, now?" she queried in surprise. "I haven't had breakfast yet."
Gan nodded. He looked slightly worried. Perhaps he wanted to talk about something.
"All right," Jenna replied. She looked at Vila's meal in mock disgust. "I wasn't that hungry anyway."
Gan led the way to the table next to their bunks. Jenna had noticed a supply of gaming pieces set there yesterday. Not many people had shown an interest then, but with the lack of entertainment facilities on board, presumably people would end up using them. Gan tipped the pieces out of their box and started to line them up on the board. The pawns looked ridiculously small in his large hands. "Jenna," he said tentatively.
Jenna waited patiently. She'd already realised that Gan wasn't a man for long speeches.
Gan hesitated. He wanted to warn her about the food; but was there any easy way to tell a lively, independent woman that she was going to degenerate into an apathetic shadow of herself? He wanted to know more about Jenna while she was still herself. Jenna must have seen things that he had only dreamed of. "What's it like in space?" he asked, hating himself for his cowardice.
He knew instantly that he'd hit on her favourite topic. "Beautiful," Jenna replied succinctly. "You can't see anything from here, they haven't even given us a view screen." Her hands sketched pictures in the air, as Gan listened, fascinated, while she described the whirlpools of distant galaxies, the glories of planetary rings, the myriad colours of the stars, of interplanetary dust clouds. It wasn't just the beauty of what Jenna described, it was the animation in her face as she spoke. It was so long since he had met anyone who was truly interested in anything. With a few occasional words of encouragement from Gan, she carried on, telling of long journeys running guns to rebel groups; smuggling highly taxed items between planets; having to navigate by triangulating stars when the navigation computer broke down; other worlds and other peoples. She stopped suddenly in the middle of her narration, pausing for thought.
"Has it ever occurred to you, Gan," she asked, "that there must be more to life than we see?"
"What do you mean?" he replied.
"Well," she gestured at the chess board, "everything obeys some kind of rules. Not just games, but the universe as a whole. Could it all really have really come about through blind chance?"
Gan thought about that. It was what he had been taught, but he didn't accept everything he had been taught any more. "I don't know," he said slowly. "I've never really thought about it before. Are you saying that you believe in a god of some kind?"
Jenna laughed deprecatingly. "No, I don't," she replied lightly. "I guess I'm too much of a rationalist, but it is something I've considered. Take the Amagons for example."
"They're pirates aren't they?" Gan asked. The Amagons were a popular villain of the vid shows, attacking defenceless Federation ships which then had to be rescued by the space force.
"Some of them are without doubt," Jenna replied. "But there's more to them than that. I've worked with them occasionally - sometimes a trade deal comes up that has too much cargo for a single ship to handle. I had to hide out with one once while we were evading a large group of customs officers. We got to talking to pass the time." She watched Gan to see if he was losing interest, but he appeared totally absorbed in what she was saying. Jenna couldn't help but feel sorry for him. People who lived all their lives in the sterile environment of the domes simply never knew what they were missing out on. How many of the people on this transport would manage to survive on the bleak alien world of Cygnus Alpha? Had any of them any idea as to what life would be like outside a temperature controlled environment where everything was provided by machines? Would Gan be a survivor? She thought he would be - not just because of his physical strength, but because he was willing to consider new ideas. Although he didn't say much, Jenna had the distinct impression that he would remember everything she was saying to him.
She continued. "Tarvin - he was the Amagon - told me that his people were originally religious exiles. They left Earth at the start of the New Calendar, rather than give up their faith."
Gan gave her a questioning look.
"They have a god they call Allah. Many of the Amagons still worship him. They have a book of all the teachings of his prophet, and they take it quite seriously. Even Tarvin, although he claimed he wasn't very religious, still had a lot of attitudes that you don't find outside the Amagons. We were trapped in a dead end cave in the mountains at one point - if the customs officers searched right to the back we'd have had it. Tarvin was quite relaxed about it. He simply said: Inshallah. It means 'as God wills it'. That's the Amagon way of looking at things. If we were going to be caught, we were going to be caught. It was simply the will of God, and there was no point fighting it. If they didn't catch us, then that too would be the will of God. Why waste effort fighting the inevitable?"
Gan frowned. "I don't think I could do that," he said. Now he had that started to question things around him, he wasn't going to stop. Never again would he blindly accept what he was told. If he did anything in the future, it would be because he had considered it and determined that it was the right thing for him to do. Be it the will of the Federation, or the will of anyone else. And that also meant that Jenna had a right to her own full will, to her own knowledge, no matter how much Gan wanted to shield her from it...
He twisted the white queen between his fingers. "You shouldn't eat anything today," he said finally.
"Why ever not?" Jenna asked in surprise.
Gan replied, "There's something in the food that makes people go to sleep."
"That's right." Blake spoke from behind Jenna. "I expect it's loaded with suppressents."
"How would you know?" Jenna queried.
"They do it all the time on Earth," Blake replied. "The results are so subtle, you don't even notice when you're affected, but the rebels are well aware of it."
"Then how do you know we're not affected now?"
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