by Katherine Allen
|Table of Contents|
Part 4 appears
in this issue.
* * *
The next morning was a busy one, but Skoshi managed to get to the platform where the Journeyman was docked. She said goodbye to her Grandmother and then walked through the hatch. As it closed Skoshi looked back and saw her Grandmother waving, She began to wave back, but then had to use her hand to wipe her eyes instead. She then squared her shoulders, put her head up, turned and began walking, like a man.
She reported to James, Captain Murphy she was to call him, or just plain Captain. He showed her the quarters she would be using, as well as were the officers’ mess was, and the gym. She would have to be very careful about using the gym.”Making sure not to let certain... things give you away,” was how he had put it. Skoshi suppressed a laugh.
Throughout the rest of the day she unpacked her bag, and suppressed an urge to attack her room with dusting cloth and mop, as well as some strong disinfectant. Passenger ships usually try to at least mask the smell of lots of sweating bodies close together. Men it seems, who spend most of their time either working or sleeping, don’t really care. Either that or they get used to it. Skoshi strongly hoped for the latter.
* * *
That evening Skoshi ate in the officers’ mess with the captain. She was introduced as the captain’s special ensign, a Mr. Takshi Hara. They only changed her first name, making it easier to remember. She was accepted without any ado. And, finally, Skoshi was able to breathe. She had been terrified that they would take one look at her, see she was a girl and stuff her out the air lock. A stupid worry, and something that would never happen (there would be much too much stress on the external vapor intakes) but still, she was a little stressed out.
During the meal she took the time to scrutinizes faces, and remember what name went to what face. Sitting at the head of the table was the captain, of course. On the right side of him was the first mate, Mr. Granger, a dark-skinned man with dark hair and kind brown eyes. Across from him sat the head of security, Mr. Palmer, a burly man, who looked as though he spent a great deal of time in the gym. Then there was Mr. Grant, the Science officer, a slight, nervous kind of man, who looked very scholarly. Then, Mr. Cartwright the Chief Engineer, a pleasant gentleman, with a quick tongue and a quicker smile. Sitting across from Skoshi was the only one she worried about: the doctor, Mr. Allen. He was the only one who might find out her secret. She watched him closely, trying to ascertain whether or not he seemed suspicious. But he just sat there, chatting with Mr. Palmer.
Suddenly he turned to her and began questioning her about her home world of Hon’ya. At first it took her by surprise, but then she was able to settle down and answer his questions. Things like, what was it like living on a planet where tourists were everywhere? And, what kind of crops grew there? What type of medicine did they have?
Then Mr. Grant began asking her about the weather cycles there. It seemed that he was an amateur meteorologist, and had always been fascinated with planets in that region of space. She answered their questions as well as she could.
That night she went to bed tired, but satisfied. She had come and managed to do what she had set out to do. That was really the most anyone could expect from one day.
* * *
The next morning Skoshi woke up to the alarm clock ringing its head off. As she lay there for a moment it seemed that for every second the ringing went up by ten decibels. She quickly hit the “Awake” button, and, groaning, she rolled out of bed.
As she struggled with the wide restraining cloth she used to hold herself in, she decided that, even though it was uncomfortable, she would have to sleep in it. Not only was it too difficult to get into every morning, but also if there was an emergency she didn’t think that she could get into it fast enough. When she finally managed to wrestle it on, she sighed and got into the rest of her clothing.
She went to the gym for the once a day exercise that was required for all crew members, and, seeing no one there she went over to the treadmill and began running. A little later a man came in. He said hello and went over to the weight machine. Skoshi quickly looked down to check and make sure she wasn’t bouncing, for her chest to be bobbing would be a pretty clear indication that she wasn’t a normal man.
When he was done weight-lifting — a hundred-fifty pounds, Skoshi noticed; pretty impressive: her brothers had only ever made it to one hundred, and they had assured her that that was the human endurance level, not that she had believed them, but it was still nice to see how wrong they were — he came over and asked her name and rank. “My name is Sk... Takshi Hara. I’m the captain’s ensign. Who are you?”
“My name is Donavan, Joe Donavan...” And with a pained look on his face — a rather attractive face too, Skoshi noticed. She quickly shook her head; there was no way she would ever pull this off if she were swooning over all the officers.
“Junior,” he added. “Call me Donny. I’m the other ensign on this voyage.” Then, after a pause he said, “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? About what?”
“Sorry that you’re the captain’s ensign. The old man is real picky. I know, I had him last time, and he takes the studying really serious. Just as a word of advice: When he says jump, jump!”
“Aren’t you still his ensign? I mean I know I’m the one he spends more time with, and who does his errands, but I just thought it was because he was a friend of my grandmother, and that I knew less.”
“Well, yeah, I still am responsible to the captain, but Mr. Grant is the one who does most of my instruction. Because I’m pretty good at science.”
“But don’t all the officers use us?”
“Yeah, but, there’s a special system, it’s not official, and nobody really talks about it, but it’s there. Your first voyage out you are the captain’s ensign, but that’s really in name only, it kinda means you’re a floater. That means that you do work for all the officers, and on the next voyage one of them will pick you and say that they’d like to further your education. Sometimes they’ll ask if they can have you before the voyage is over, but that only happens if you are really good at their field.”
Just then over the loud speaker came a voice, the Doctor’s.”Will Ensign Mr. Donavan please report to the infirmary immediately. Mr. Donavan to the infirmary.”
“Well, here I march into the jowls of suffering. Bye,” Donny said with a forced grin.
“Wait! Does everyone onboard have to go to see Dr. Allen? Or just you?” Skoshi asked, feeling panic rise up in her throat.
“Everyone has to eventually, when they’re sick. But just me now, cause I have a special virus that the doctor is paranoid about. Bye now.”
As Donny left, Skoshi breathed a sigh of relief. A checkup or exam was a danger she had not considered. She would just have to be very certain that she did not injure herself. Just then the intercom crackled to life again “Will Ensign Mr. Hara please report to the captain. Mr. Hara to the captain.”
Skoshi walked out of the gym and jogged down to the captain’s quarters.”Mr. Hara, after you have tidied up my chamber I will begin tutoring you.”
“Captain, why are you calling me Mr. Hara?”
“Why? To get into the habit of course. What would happen if I were at the dinner table and either called, or referred to you as Skoshi? I would get some funny looks at the very least.”
Now as you can imagine, life was not easy for Skoshi. It was hard acting like a guy. Especially when Donny decided to tell her about all the girlfriends he had disappointed in his life. And showed her all the smelly transmissions they sent him every month. It was her belief that whoever had invented scented transmissions should die. Skoshi was very glad she did not have to share a room with him. All the different perfumes the girls used scented his quarters and made her quite sick to her stomach.
And then there was the neatness part. Skoshi was Hon’yan. Hon’yans were very neat people; they didn’t like messes. And Skoshi was a neat person by nature. It was very hard for her to act like a teenage guy and not clean her room every day. Whenever she went to Donny’s room she had to suppress an urge to clean it. And his bathroom! Covered in soap scum, mold, and often the soap was on the floor by the toilet. Not a pretty sight.
Still, she managed fairly well. She only cleaned her room every other day, but her bathroom... she couldn’t let it get that messy. She just couldn’t. It was always clean. Donny would come in and see it and just shake his head.
Also it was hard work being an ensign onboard a working vessel. Some people may think that the officers and semi-officers didn’t do any work onboard. Wrong! The ensign at least had to do some manual labor along with the crew, plus the duties of an officer, which were, to say the least, not cushy.
Skoshi not only had to be the gofer and cleaner-up after for the captain, but a gofer for whichever officer saw her first. Crawling through ventilation ducts. Fetching tools. And coffee. Do you have any idea how much coffee two men drink during a twelve-hour shift? Also, it gets very... ugly when they both need to use the bathroom at the same time.
Anyway, aside from that incident, life on board was fairly uneventful. Hard, hurried, but uneventful. And very educational, Skoshi found that Mr. Granger was a pleasant man; firm but pleasant. He was always ready and willing to help with a homework problem, or any other type of problem for that fact.
Oftentimes after dinner he would begin telling stories of his homeland. He had lived on earth, in Africa. Skoshi always listened in wonder when she heard his tales. He talked about a giant desert, which at one point had grown so large it had covered all of Africa. Fortunately, the people living there had begun to rejuvenate the land, and make it green and healthy again.
At one point he told them, deserts of various kinds had covered much of the earth. A product of the many wars in the name of religion. However, after war was banned, people began fixing much of the earth. Most of it was livable again.
He also told stories, plain old stories, stories of giants, stories of midgets, stories of cunning old owls, and stories of wise little spiders. Stories that composed Skoshi’s heritage, the history of her race, some the most important things a person can receive.
* * *
Skoshi eventually became an important and necessary part of the crew. She was the only one small enough to fit through the smallest tubes in the ship. Unfortunately, one of those tubes was an essential one. It was the one that controlled life support. Why anyone was stupid enough to make that tube the smallest was beyond her. Nevertheless she went there every day and checked the relays. Also the vents. One time Donny had “accidentally” let some of his dirty underwear get stuck in a vent, and Skoshi had to go get it out... It was... unpleasant.
Besides being able to do the dirty work, Skoshi also spent a great deal of time in study. She advanced far beyond Donny in... well, everything. Also, she was taught to pilot a spacecraft.
In one of the holds, there was a big clunky old space pod. They had it on board in case of passengers. the Journeyman was a deep-space vessel; it was not able to enter a planet’s atmosphere; it had been built in space, and it would be disassembled in space. So they had the clunker to do any atmospheric landings. That was really the only thing the old piece of junk was good for.
Skoshi became quite good at piloting it, too. During the flying lessons the captain would compare teaching her to fly with the old thing of teaching children how to maneuver land vehicles, and occasionally he would solemnly take of his hat, place it above his heart, and say, “Hail Caesar, we who are about to die, salute you.”
* * *
During Skoshi’s infrequent rest times she would go to her quarters and read. One such day Skoshi was alone in her quarters, studying for an exam that was coming up when suddenly she heard a thump and saw a hole in the floor. It took a moment for the thought to register. A meteor had come through the ship’s hull.
She knew that a hull was fairly thin. Otherwise the ship would not work well. But the chances of something actually coming through were a thousand to one. Skoshi guessed she had just seen the one. As all this was going through her mind she quickly tore the mattress off her bed and put it on top of the hole. Just as she set it down she began to black out from lack of oxygen. Her last thought as she blacked out was that she hoped the captain would not get into trouble for letting her on board.
The first thing Skoshi saw when she woke up was a light, a bright light. Skoshi had never believed the stories about the bright light meaning that you were in the afterlife, that was just silly, so she figured that she must be somewhere on the ship, probably the infirmary.
“Don’t worry Captain, your ensign will be fine. He just needs rest. And he can’t get that with you hovering like a worried mother hen. So do us both a favor. Go somewhere else to worry. Go hover on the bridge or something. Now!”
“Yes, Doctor. As long as you are sure he’ll be okay. Ouch, all right. I’m going.”
As soon as the captain left, the doctor came over to Skoshi’s bed and asked how she was feeling.
“Um... as well as can be expected, sir. Am I doing well?”
“Very well. Miss...?”
“Miss? What do you mean Miss?”
“I mean Miss. I’m a doctor. I know basic anatomy. Hon’yans are humans. There are no genetic differences. And unless I’m blind, and my scanners malfunctioning, you are not a man. Are you?”
“No. I’m not. I can explain. I really can! Don’t tell anyone else. I had to leave Hon’ya. I had too!”
“Does the captain know what you are?”
“Yes, he’s a friend of my grandmother, a good friend. He said he would help me go undetected. And he has.”
“Care to tell me the whole story?”
“All right, I will.” And so she told him. Everything. And at the end she said, “And so when we end the voyage James and I will go to where Grandmother is, and they will be married. And it will be great!”
“My. You, my girl, have led an... interesting life. That’s for sure. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone except the captain. It may make it a little easier. Rest now.”
And so she rested. Soon she went back to her room (it had been patched nicely now) and rested some more. She studied, and gradually, things went back to normal.
Now that she no longer feared the doctor finding out about her secret, she talked to him a lot more. He was a very nice man. He would often spend whole afternoons explaining things to her, showing her how things worked in the infirmary. And, occasionally, let her help treat his patients. It was a relief to be able to do the thing she had always enjoyed doing, helping people.
The Doctor once told her that the reason he did not make it known that she was a girl, was the fact that he had a daughter who was very like Skoshi. She was living back on earth, working herself to death struggling at the glass ceiling.
“What’s the ‘glass ceiling’?” Skoshi had asked.
“The glass ceiling is when you can’t go any higher in your job. Cindy, my girl, was there, there are many more jobs higher than hers, but she couldn’t get them, because of the system. A woman can only get so far. It used to make her so... angry. She worked hard, and saw lots of men promoted over her. Men who, “couldn’t pour pie out of a boot with the instructions written on the bottom.” I couldn’t do anything to help my daughter. But I know that she would not want the same kind of system to win, to find you. So, since I can’t help her, maybe I can help you.”
* * *
On Hon’ya a government clerk looked at a marriage postponement request. When he came to the reason why he was shocked to see the entry as, “Bride off-planet, unexpected departure.” Now, everyone knew that no man would let his daughter leave Hon’ya instead of getting married. He sent a message to one of his superiors about this strange document.
* * *
Back at his farm, Skoshi’s father was startled to receive a notice that a government official was coming to his home to investigate certain entries on the marriage postponement form he sent in.
As he sat, puzzling in his mind how he was going to explain his predicament, a servant knocked on his door and announced that a visitor was asking for him especially.
Copyright © 2006 by Katherine Allen