Andrea’s office was bare. Not a cake, pastry, pie, flan, bun or confectionery item of any kind to be seen. No tea, no coffee and no what people like to call ‘proper drinks’ either.
“C-pill: where’s Commander Pratt?” Andrea asked the AI.
“Commander Pratt is in your conference room,” the ship replied.
“Open up,” Andrea said.
“You want me to open the door between your office and your conference room?”
“No. I want you to play ‘We Will Rock You’ on the bagpipes!” she replied sarcastically.
The room was immediately filled with what sounded like the massed pipes and drums of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo belting out the Queen hit at maximum eardrum-busting volume. Shimshuu Tanimoto couldn’t possibly hear it, but he felt his smart watch vibrate. He raised his wrist and looked at the message displayed on the face of his watch. «Loud environment. Sound levels are at 103 dB. Around 10 minutes at this level can cause temporary hearing loss.»
Shinshuu tapped his boss on the shoulder. When Ishmael looked at him, he held his watch up and raised his eyebrows. Ishmael whispered into Andrea’s ear. She didn’t hear him. He grabbed Shinshuu’s wrist and thrust it in front of her face.
“C-pill: stop that,” she said.
The computer couldn’t hear her.
She walked to her desk, brought up the control panel on her monitor and manually stopped the broadcast.
“Spoilsport,” Meredith said, “it was just coming to the best part. I… it was about to reach a climax.”
No-one picked up on her slip because none present heard her for the ringing in their ears.
The door between Andrea’s office and her conference room opened slightly and Patsy’s head poked through. “Do you have to play that awful music so loud?” she asked, “People are trying to sleep in here.”
No-one heard her for the ringing in their ears.
A minute or so later, hearing started to return to the gathered dignitaries, and they passed through from the office to the conference room.
The large conference table was covered with an array of cakes, pastries, pies, flans, buns and confectionery of all kinds, such has rarely been seen outside the largest and most lavish gatherings among the planet’s filthy rich. Earth, that is, not Earth-2. So far, we have no hard information on the lavishness or otherwise of the festivities, if any, that took place on the latter planet. Or didn’t, as the case may be. Or not.
In the centre of the table was what could only be described as the pièce de résistance. [in fact there were many ways it could have been described; many epithets that could be applied to it; many appellations – not to be confused with the North American mountain range – that would be both apt and appropriate, but for the sake of brevity, conciseness and succinctness, and to avoid repetition, saying the same thing in different ways or even different things in the same way and… you know where this is going, don’t you? Where was I? Oh, yes!] In the centre of the table were three large and exquisitely decorated cakes: one was a scaled-down but uncannily accurate replica of C-pill, one of the Sir Prijs and the third of a ship that no-one recognised. This last was sleeker than either of the others and had a more business-like, or at least meaner aspect. Looking like something that would do credit to one of the more evil Star Trek empires it carried, seated on its upper surface between the missile bays and laser banks, six smaller craft that were as sleek as the infamous Nubian Royal Starship used by Queen Amidala of the Naboo [yeah, I know that was all fictional, but so is this, so what’re you gonna do?].
“Brilliant!” Andrea enthused, “But what’s the third ship?”
“That’s a surprise,” Meredith replied.
[I know, I know, but you expect me to say it so I must. Here goes…] “No, Admiral,” Ishmael said, “Sir Prijs is the second one.”
“Not Sir Prijs, Commodore, surprise – something that is not expected, anticipated or planned for.”
“Got ya!” Ishmael pointed a finger at Meredith. [Didn’t his mum ever tell him it’s rude to point?]
“So what’s the gift you said you brought for me?” Andrea asked her boss.
“Duh!” Meredith said, sweeping her arm about her to encompass the aforesaid vast array of cakes, pastries, pies, flans, buns and confectionery of all kinds, such has rarely been seen outside of the largest and most lavish gatherings among the planet’s filthy rich, and so on. As well, of course, as what we have chosen to call the pièce de résistance, the three-part centrepiece.
“Yeah, but I thought you were bringing something for me. Not something everybody and his partner can dig into.”
“The centrepiece is just for you, Petal. Well, not them, exactly, but the tri-metal replicas that we had made as ornaments for your office.”
“Why would I want a model of my own ship in my office?”
“Have you never watched any Star Trek? The captain always has a model of his ship on display in his office.”
“Yeah, but why?”
“I don’t bloody know! They just do. Right?”
“Okay. I suppose.”
“And what do you say to me for these gifts?”
“Thank you,” Andrea mumbled.
“I didn’t hear you.”
“Thank you,” she repeated more clearly.
“Thank you what?”
“Thank you, Ma’am.”
“That’s better. Now. As soon as this shindig is over, we can go to your quarters, and you can thank me properly.”
“But I thought we weren’t having any of that stuff in this book!”
“Looks like somebody’s in a funny mood.”
“No. You-know-who,” she said, looking upwards.
“Close. Or so he seems to think, anyway. Remember how he suddenly decided that Jason was gay when he clearly wasn’t?”
“Clearly,” Andrea said most emphatically.
“Yes, well. Least said about that, soonest mended, eh? By the way, how’s your relationship with Al-Kawazi?”
“Ishmael? Great. He’s an excellent captain and the finest engineer in the Regiment.”
“I didn’t mean like that, Andrea. How’s your [air quotes] re-lation-ship with him.”
“If you mean are we sleeping together, the answer is no. There is no sexual or romantic element to our most excellent working relationship.”
“Why are you so interested, anyway? Is Joan not cutting it for you any more? Are you tiring of Patsy, or…? I know what’s happening. Joan and Patsy are becoming an item and shutting you out. That’s it, isn’t it?”
“Let’s talk about this jump you’re doing,” Meredith said, hastily changing the subject, “What time will it happen?”
Andrea smiled a knowing smile. She had clearly hit a raw nerve. That’s one to file away for later, she thought. “Anti-emetics will be dispensed during the afternoon, and we’ll aim to transit at eighteen hours.”
“And when will we arrive in the new system?”
“Eighteen hours. The same time we leave this one. I’m sure you know that already, so what are you driving at?”
“I have a meeting at eighteen thirty, so I’ll need to leave as soon as we arrive,” she said tersely.
“I’ll get a couple of pods ready for you.”
“Can’t we use the pads, the same as when we came up?”
“The pads are only certified for use in-system.”
“Surely they’ll work the same as the pods do?”
“They may, but that hasn’t been tested, and until it is certified as safe by our Jinthate friends and partners, I’m not going to authorise their use.”
“I do outrank you, Andrea. I can order it.”
“If you do, Ma’am, I’ll have first dibs on your job.”
“What do you mean?”
“There is a good chance you won’t emerge alive. If that happens, I want your job.”
“Okay, you win. We’ll use the blasted pods. It’s under protest, though.”
“Duly noted. C-pill: shipwide announcement please ‘anti-emetics will be available from fourteen hours. Please ensure you have one for each person. We aim to transit at eighteen hours. Those in categories one to six, and fifteen and above, please proceed to acceleration couches by seventeen thirty. Message ends.’ For immediate transmission.” She turned to Meredith and said, a grin on her face, “I hope the anti-emetics can overcome excessive consumption of Henri DuBois’ cakes.”
Unknown to the two admirals, Patsy Pratt had been close by and had heard every word of their conversation. “Don’t talk to me about that arrogant worm,” she said, “the cretin told me I could never be as good a pastry-chef as him because, in his words, he is French and I am only English. As far as I’m concerned, he can rot in hell!”
“You don’t mean that, Patsy,” Meredith said, resting her arm around her ADC’s shoulders.
“We’ll see,” Patsy replied, then walked off to start clearing the table and boxing up the small amount of produce remaining in preparation for the jump.
Andrea looked at Meredith and said, “I’ve never seen Patsy that angry before.”
“Oh, I have, Petal. I have. And you don’t want to be too close when she’s like that. Now, let’s slip away to your quarters and prepare for this afternoon’s big jump.”
“Did I just hear a euphemism?”
“Sounded more like a Sousaphone to me. Come on, Rear Admiral, let’s split.”