Sunday Serialisation – Back Paige. Chapter three, part three.

The task of distributing medication to a total of 688 people spread around a ten-storey high, one-kilometre long spacecraft in less than three hours is not one to be taken lightly. However, the logistics involved having been painstakingly worked out over a four-day period, it went rather well, and by seventeen hours everyone who wanted one had such a pill about their person. At seventeen-thirty, the ship’s AI announced, “Thirty minutes warning. Thirty minutes to transit. Time to take your anti-emetic pill. Categories one to six, and fifteen and above, please proceed to acceleration couches and strap in now. Thirty minutes warning.

Thirty minutes later, the full bridge crew was assembled and at their stations. On Andrea’s signal, Ishmael instructed Shinshuu to initiate the thirty second countdown. The chief engineer looked sheepish.

“What’s up, Captain?” Ishmael asked.

“I haven’t done any countdowns and now you want me to initiate the thirty-second one. I’m not sure I even know which one that is and how it differs from the others.” He started to weep.

“I think the stresses of the last few days have been too much for him,” Ishmael explained, “I’ll start it. C-pill: execute interspace jump in thirty seconds.”

MTS in thirty seconds. Starting now.”

Thirty seconds later, nothing seemed to happen, but it didn’t seem to happen so quickly that no-one noticed that it hadn’t seemed to happen. However, happened it had, or perhaps happen it did. [that’s just ‘it did happen’ twisted around, not the northern British “appen it did”, which implies that it may have done but there was no certainty]

“Are we here?” Meredith asked Ishmael.

“Depends on where you think here is, Ma’am,” he replied, “Philosophically speaking, the answer is affirmative, regardless of where we are or where you think we are. That we are together, communicating, is pretty clear evidence that we are, indeed, here. Were we elsewhere – there, for example, we—“

“Oh shut up, Commodore. Where. Are. We?”

“We don’t have a name for it yet, Ma’am. I suggest HO2.”

“And that is where, pray?”

“We are in the Tritos system. That’s Greek for third, because it was the third planet we…”

“So you called it Tritos. Whoopee. Get on with it.”

“Ma’am. We aim to establish a stationary orbit a couple of hundred million kilometres above Earth-2, similar to HO1 in relation to our home planet. This was all discussed an hour ago, Admiral.”

“You may very well think that, Commodore; I couldn’t possibly comment.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s just something I like to say. In this case, it means that I was engaged elsewhere; busy, if you will, and so not party to any of the discussion to which you make reference.”

“Busy doing what, may I ask?”

“You may not.”

“Aren’t you going to tell me?”

“No.”

“Is there a reason for that, or are you just pulling rank on me?”

“It is because the idiot who writes this rubbish hasn’t got the bottle to write the good stuff.”

“Is it that? Or is it, perhaps, that he doesn’t believe himself to have the skills needed to write convincing, authentic erotica?”

“You may have a point there, Ishmael,” Meredith said with a most un-admiral-like leer, “Perhaps you and I could go off somewhere more private and discuss the finer points raised by your suggestion.”

“Don’t you have an appointment in,” Ishmael looked at his watch, “thirteen minutes, Ma’am?”

“Oh, bugger. Show me to the pods. PATSY! You’re with me.” A few steps further on, she said, “Ewww. What’s that?”

“Captain Stuart-Lane didn’t think he’d need an anti-emetic, Ma’am,” the housekeeping orderly said.

Sunday Serialisation – Back Paige. Chapter three, part two.

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.”

“Me?”

“No. You-know-who,” she said, looking upwards.

“Oh, God.”

“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.”

“Boring!”

“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.”

Sunday Serialisation – Back Paige. Chapter three, part one.

Petty Officer Bolesława Wojciechowska was rostered as padmaster that day. Pacing the pad area prior to the arrival of the most senior officer in the Royal Space Regiment and her ADC, she practised over and over what she had to say to them, making sure to show respect as well as authority.

At precisely oh-eight-hundred, Admiral Meredith Winstanley and Commander Patsy Pratt materialised on the MTS pads.

“Good morning, Sirs,” she said with all the authority of a small, frightened kitten, “Have you got your tests?”

Patsy looked at her boss. “Can I?”

“No,” Meredith said firmly, “unless it’s to help her.”

Patsy made some strange movements and a few indescribable and unfathomable utterances.

“Sorry, Petty Officer, we didn’t quite hear you,” she said.

“Good morning Admiral, Commander. Welcome aboard. May I see your vaccination records and test results, please?” Bolesława surprised herself with the level of self-assurance and authority she displayed.

Patsy stepped off the pad, approached her and handed her the two virus test results, showing that she and her boss were disease-free, and held the vaccination record QR codes up for scanning. Bolesława thanked them and hailed the reception group who would escort the visitors to the bridge, where the senior staff were waiting for them.

As they left, Patsy turned to Bolesława and said, “Good job, PO. You’ll do fine.”

“Thank you, Commander,” she said, wondering what had just happened, and where her nerves and self-doubt had gone. She shrugged her shoulders in resigned acceptance and got on with her day not realising that she had been forever changed.

On the bridge, the ship’s AI emitted the tones that announced the arrival of a full admiral on the vessel. The entire bridge crew stood smartly to attention, faced the arriving officers and saluted. As ship’s captain, it fell to Ishmael to formally greet and welcome Meredith, and to offer her the honour of inspecting the assembled crew.

“Thank you, Commodore, but can we take that as read? I would like to sit down with your commanding officer and yourself to discuss the upcoming move before anything else.”

“As you wish, Admiral,” Ishmael replied, “With your permission, I would like to invite Captain Tanimoto to join us. He and his people have carried out the bulk of the work to prepare for this.”

“Of course.”

In anticipation of the admiral’s arrival, the captain’s ready room had been laid out with a sumptuous breakfast buffet, offering the best of British and Continental breakfasts, as well as specialities from some of the other countries represented amongst the crew.

Meredith, Andrea, Ishmael and Shinshuu occupied one table whilst Patsy opted to occupy herself with a critical appraisal of the pastries on offer. She was soon joined by Henri DuBois, himself a self-professed master of the pâtissier’s art.

“Do you not think these are excellent, Commander?” he asked.

“Excellent is not the word I would have chosen, Lieutenant,” Patsy replied.

“Exceptional, then?”

“Not that, either.”

“What word would you choose to describe these delicacies?”

“Hardly delicacies,” she said dismissively, “if pressed, I might consider going as far as acceptable, though they barely make it into that category.”

“Acceptable? ACCEPTABLE? How can you, an Englishwoman, describe the culinary arts of France as barely acceptable?”

“You do know who I am, do you, Lieutenant?”

“I do not think we have been formally introduced, Madame.”

“Perhaps my name tag might give you a clue.”

Henri looked closely at Patsy’s badge. “Patsy Pratt, Commander,” he read, “Are you related to the Patsy Pratt of whom many on the Sir Prijs speak?”

“I am she.”

“You are Patsy Pratt, the preposterously post-pubescent, pouting, preternaturally pugilistic preparer of puff pastry, pies and pasties?”

“… and flans. Yes, I am. And I must say that description sounds incredibly sexy said with a French accent.”

“Then you won’t mind me telling you that I believe that epithet to be grotesquely over-blown. You cannot possibly make better patisseries than I make.”

“Why not, pray?”

“Because I am French and you are only English.”

“And were you involved in the preparation of this morning’s offerings?”

“I provided the recipes, I supervised the preparation and I approved the produce for the admiral’s table. So yes, you could say I was involved.”

“I would not say that with pride, if I were you.”

“Why not?”

“Because, monsieur, they’re not very good.”

Not very good? Are you suggesting you could make better?”

“Could, can, have and do – regularly. And don’t take my word for it. Rear Admiral Smithson herself describes my apricot Danish as to die for, my pies as the stuff of legend; and she says … her words, not mine … that once you’ve had one of my baps in your mouth, you’ll be forever spoilt.”

“From an Englishwoman who has not enjoyed the benefits of being raised surrounded by excellence in foods. But all the praise in the world won’t elevate your abilities beyond those of a second-rate English cook.”

“And all the Michelin stars in creation won’t stop you from being an arrogant French bastard,” Patsy said, rising from her seat and leaving the room. [Did you notice some hand movements? I can’t be sure.]

Meanwhile, back on the higher-ups’ table, Shinshuu Tanimoto had just finished explaining to the two admirals in detail both great and minute, which in itself is quite the feat, how he had prepared the ship for her epic journey into the unknown, and now it was time for Meredith and Andrea to wake up again.

“And that’s all there was to it,” Shinshuu said… finally! “Is there anything you wish to add, Commodore?”

Ishmael, although fully invested and involved in the procedures his subordinate had just described in such minute detail and at such great length, didn’t feel there was anything he wished to add.

“Let’s have some breakfast, then. The pastries are made to Henri Dubois’ recipes and he supervised their preparation himself. He’s French, you know, and an exceptional pastry chef.”

“We could do that,” Meredith said, “or we could go to the Admiral’s office, where I believe there are some Patsy Pratt originals waiting for us.”

Andrea looked at the Japanese engineer and said, and not for the first time, “The choice is yours, Captain, but let me tell you this. Patsy’s apricot Danish is to die for; her pies are, indeed, the stuff of legend; and once you’ve had one of her baps in your mouth… well, what can I say? You’ll be forever spoilt.”

“But is she… could she possibly be better than a genuine French chef, Admiral?” Shinshuu asked with an air of superiority that was just begging to be knocked down like a coconut in a shy.

“Come with us, my friend,” Ishmael said, “and on the way, I’ll tell you what bears do in the woods—“

“And I will demonstrate beyond question that the Pope is, indeed, Catholic,” Andrea said with a chuckle.

Meredith said nothing. Her mouth was watering too much.