Good HousekeepingBy Executrix
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"There's only one story...a delayed fuck"--Samuel Goldwyn|
1. Luckily for the intrepid three, the huge ship's galley was located right behind the flight deck (behind, that is, if you came in from the teleport bay).
So it was one of the first things they found. Jenna pushed the door open with the carbine that Avon took from the corpse on the flight deck. They all looked wildly about for menaces, and found none.
The narrow room had cabinets, top and bottom, on either side. In the middle of one side was a hollowed-out place, with a stainless-steel faucet and the kind of taps that you can turn on and off with your forearm. In the middle of the other side was a stainless-steel cooker. At the end was a double-door refrigerator, one door steel and the other one glass.
Blake didn't want to say "This must be the kitchen," in case that sounded stupid. Jenna particularly didn't want to say "This is the kitchen" because she knew that it would take all her strength to interpose a third term between "starving to death" and "doing all the cooking."
Avon pushed at one of the taps with his arm, jumped back as the water began to pour out, and placed one cautious finger beneath the spout. The clear liquid wasn't, for instance, lye or hydrofluoric acid. He opened all the top cabinets until he found something suitable (a teacup) and part-filled it from the tap. "I think it's water, actually," he said, after running a battery of tests.
The other two started exploring the cabinets. Avon tapped at the wall behind the sink and between the top and bottom cabinets. "If this is the main plumbing stack," he said, "Then we can infer that at least some of the WCs and washing facilities are backed up to here, and above and below here on the other decks."
Always good to know.
They also inferred that the white foil-lined packets were concentrated food (unless, of course, they came from a litter tray for a very large and civilized hamster). When reconstituted with boiling water, the packets' contents were inoffensive and filling.
After finding a nearby empty room to stack the dead bodies in (to be disposed of the next time they had the hatch open), they tacitly agreed to call it a night. Blake and Jenna each curled up on one of the leather couches of the flight deck. Avon decided that he could do without company for a while. So he followed the presumed layout of the plumbing until he reached a huge room gleaming with white tiles. In addition to a long bank of showers, it contained three cubicles, each blissfully equipped with a bathtub, a cake of salt-and-olive smelling castile soap, and best of all, a door. The satisfaction that Avon felt as he pushed he catch so the sign read "Occupied" rather than "Vacant" was nearly orgasmic.
Just to be on the safe side, he tested to see that, here too, the water pipes produced water. Satisfied that they did, he ran a deep hot tub and splashed beneath the surface.
Really, he thought, anyone who could build a ship like this could find a simple bottle of Floris bath essence if they tried. They sold that everywhere in the Universe.
2. The next day, rattling about like a trio of lentils in an Olympic-size pool, they made further discoveries about the ship. What with learning the systems, and losing an argument with Blake about whether to go to Cygnus Alpha to pick up the social undesirables whom Avon and Jenna had been so happy to see the back of on the London, and losing an argument with Jenna about whether to make a hurried two-person exit from above Cygnus Alpha, Avon hadn't had a minute to inventory the contents of his cabin.
The things in his wardrobe and cupboard had been taken from the Wardrobe Room, so he knew those well enough. The question was what was in the unit bolted to the cabin wall opposite the bed and its built-in drawers.
It turned out to be the same kind of rubbish you find in any desk: things to putatively write with (broken, blunted, dried up, etc., according to their nature), things to write on, broken things that never got mended, things that were going to come in handy for something. The ones that had a detectable purpose, Avon divided into two piles, and swept the useless ones into the wastebasket. This gave him a triumphant sense of accomplishment.
In one of the side drawers, there was a slim flat packet a little larger than the palm of Avon's hand. He lifted it, balanced between curiosity and caution, and saw that it was wrapped in beautiful shiny paper, eggshell-white with a faint baroque design picked out in gold. It exuded a faint but delightful smell--a little like coffee, but sweeter and more flowery.
There was writing on the other side: "Lindor Chocolat Mi-Amer." Chocolate! Hard to believe. Like everyone from Earth, Avon was familiar with chocolate. It reminded him of love, really. Until you were old enough to get your own, everyone told you how wonderful it was, what a treat, and then when you got older you couldn't believe that they either didn't notice or weren't enjoying setting you up for a disappointment.
As Avon well knew, chocolate was a dull unattractive gray-brown, carried a whiff of burnt leaves, and tended to crumble away in your hand. And they kept cutting your ration and playing you for a fool by expecting you to believe that actually the ration had been increased.
The perfume grew stronger as Avon opened one of the corners of the packet. The alleged chocolate, wrapped in silver paper, was a deep rich fur-brown, glowing with a subtle bloom. The bar was scored into small squares, just like what he couldn't help thinking of as "real" chocolate.
For a long moment he debated whether, in this peculiar atmosphere, everything that appeared to be food really was. There might be some dialect or cipher in which "Chocolat" meant "plastic explosive" or "subtly seductive and hence unusually effective rat poison."
He broke off one of the squares, and broke it down further into smaller squares. He licked the top surface. It was absolutely delicious. Additional testing to destruction of the sample showed that, whether it was licked, bitten, or permitted to dissolve, it was still absolutely delicious.
Avon folded the foil and paper back closed, and went to the flight deck. "You've got to try this, Blake! Here, close your eyes. Open your mouth." Avon broke off a couple of squares of chocolate and slipped them between Blake's parted lips.
Blake kept his eyes closed. He discovered that, when his teeth penetrated the thin, brittle surface, his mouth flooded with rich warm sweetness. He opened his eyes to see if Avon's hand was still hovering at his face, or had been withdrawn.
"Oh, offworld chocolate," Jenna said casually as she walked by, seeing the familiar bar in Avon's hand. They sprang apart. "Yes, we used to trade a lot of it. We ate so much of it the first time we had a shipment that we all got pig-sick of it. But if you fancy it, I think I saw a carton or two stacked up in the storeroom with the blue walls behind the third nacelle."
Brilliant, Jenna thought, let them get on with it. Wonderful as it was to be free of the threat of sexual assault, it would be more wonderful to be free of importunities from friends. She liked Blake, admired him really. In fact, although he was only a few years older than she was, he was everything she wanted in a great-uncle.
As far as Jenna was concerned, sex was a lot like the holovid broadcast of the Match of the Day: something that blokes did for fun while the sensible adults got on with running the world. Sometimes you had to do it for business reasons, which was also true of filling up VAT forms. You could fake those too.
3. "Avon? Are you in there?"
"Cabin light on. I'm tempted to say no. The door's unlocked, Blake."
Blake walked through the door, sat on the desk chair, and wheeled it over toward the bed. "What are you doing?"
"Trying to take a nap, against overwhelming odds," Avon said. "But these solitary acts of heroism are seldom effective, are they?" His bunk was made up with cornflower-blue cotton sheets (Blake didn't know they had any except white ones). He kept the sheet and a darker blue blanket wrapped firmly around his waist and legs.
Blake thought, quite right. Too dangerous for you to try to take a nap by yourself. We ought to go about in pairs. "The Wardrobe Room carries a full stock of pyjamas, you know."
"I don't believe in them." Avon rotated his shoulders, stretched his head back, and yawned. "Are you going door-to-door taking a survey?"
"No," Blake said, determined to bluff it through. "I thought you'd be awake. And I wanted to ask your opinion about whether the Liberator runs entirely on fusion power, or whether it has an auxiliary system running on fossil fuels--and if it hasn't, the pros and cons of fitting one."
"Hardly," Avon said, so softly that Blake had to lean forward and come in closer, until the wheels of the desk chair smacked the bed frame with a soft shock. "The mere fact of our mutual criminality need not make us dishonest." He propped himself up on one elbow and stretched the other hand out toward Blake. As his fingertips grazed Blake's face, Blake sighed. His eyes closed tenderly.
Then Blake flinched back in the chair as Vila walked in.
"Hullo, chaps!" Vila beamed. "The door wasn't locked..."
"Yes-it-was," said Blake, who had thrown the bolt. "WHAT the DEVIL are you doing here?"
"Came to empty the wastebaskets, have a bit of a dust around. You should see my cabin, you could eat off the floor. Blake, you're always encouraging me to take more a role in keeping the ship tidy." This came out in the triumphant, martyred whine of every bloke in the history of the Universe who has ever been importuned to be more useful around the house.
"Empty the wastebasket? Into what?" Blake asked.
Vila realized that he had forgotten the bin liner he planned to tuck into his belt in the interests of authenticity.
Avon leaned back on the pillows, bedclothes still firmly in place, and crossed his arms. To Blake, this constituted a clear loss of visual amenity. "Perhaps you've come to bury a suicide, Vila, as my bedroom has inexplicably turned into the crossroads? Or, even better, you've come to volunteer?"
"Yes, well," Blake said, getting up uncomfortably. "Best get back to the flight deck. Keep thinking about those fossil fuels."
Vila smirked, wondering what it would take for Jenna to give him some fossil fuels.
4. "Zen," Blake said, "Find me someplace VERY boring, where there is not even the vaguest possibility of a Federation presence."
When Zen complied, Blake called a crew meeting. "Vila, Gan, get kitted up. I'd like you to go downplanet and perform a geological survey. You never know when we'll need some sort of crystal or other. Zen says that it's safe as houses, lovely fresh air, no Federation bases, no sentient beings."
"It's not fair," Vila sulked. "I've just come off watch, and I'm ever so sleepy."
"Quite right, quite right," Blake said. "All right then, Vila, you go off and have a nice rest. Jenna, you take over on the geological survey."
"We'll report in every ten minutes," Gan said enthusiastically.
"Oh, I shouldn't think that'll be necessary," Blake told him. "Every three hours should be fine. Or don't even bother, if you can do the job quickly and get back in...oh, two hours or so."
That falls rather short of my idea of a full evening, Avon thought.
"They're gone," Blake said, returning to the flight deck after they had been safely teleported.
"I've often wondered how anyone ever managed to have more than one child," Avon said.
The flight deck, its lights lowered to 25% level, glowed by romantic Zenfascialight. One of the cabinets in the galley turned out to contain an assortment of alcoholic beverages, so Blake chilled a bottle of champagne and brought it out to the sofa. He was slightly uneasy about locating a seduction on the flight deck, but on the other hand he felt even worse about leaving the monitor screens unattended.
As Blake started to peel the foil off the top of the bottle, Avon said, "Really, what's the point of that? I don't like champagne and I know you'd rather have a couple of pints of stout anyway."
Blake hovered between wanting to ply Avon with the champagne and christen him with the bottle.
"Now that we're alone, we needn't bother to stir up antagonism to hide our real feelings."
"Vila's here," Avon said. "So much for being alone."
"He's asleep, and what's more asleep the length of two football pitches away," Blake said. "You needn't sit all the way over there, you know."
The commlink crackled. "Gan here!" came the cheerful resonant voice. "Blake, you'll never believe this! We had a bit of an adventure. Natives with spears and that. Oh, and tell Zen that he's wrong with that 'no sentient beings' routine. I did think we were headed straight for the cauldron, but then it turns out that they have a legend about magical bracelets and a woman with yellow hair and a ship from the sky who will free them from oppression....Anyway, I told them you'd be right down."
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