Botany 5oo: Night Work

'What are you saying? What does this mean?'

"It means that we’re nothing. Well... nothing more than a shared dream. Be glad that someone's thinking of you. We’re a perpetual repetition: living the same lives over & over again, incapable of all but the most microscopic changes... in the hopes that one day we graduate." 

'Graduate to what?'

"To a star in the universal sky."

Malcom was awake now, new kind of awareness, sit up in his bunk straight from the sound he heard inside. The voice? Must have been an aural illusion. The ship cruising smooth on Slumber, quiet glide through endless mul of space, low roar of the engine constant in his ear, and his mind turned the ambient low as he looks around, listening for more...

There had to be more, he knew he heard a noise. A sound. A voice. It woke him out of his sleep, but now that he was awake that sound was inaudible. There should be a word for those sounds. That you hear in the night. Those voices. Someday somebody has to make one up. No alerts on the monitor.

Bedsheets tossed and down the ladder from his bunk... Malcom sneaking down the halls of the Botany 500, making the trip to the pharmhouse barefoot, his heels feel the vibration of the matter converter six decks below, steady bending space-time to forge the ship’s lane, to groove a path in the skyway, ahead, to their destination, to whatever was next. The tritanium tiles ice-cold beneath Malcom’s feet and he says a prayer blessing the warmth of his dark thermal pajamas.

Stepping into the pharmhouse and son of a bitch... Jody & the others didn’t clean up last night: slides & sketchbooks left open at the workbench, food trays on the table, digiscopes & phials in the exam stations. Waking up was already justified- one look at the negligence & Malcom knew he’d been too lax with the crew. He stepped back to the doorway and said “screenshot,” the room momentarily lit by a flash. Tomorrow there would be a meeting, a return to standards, hard days ahead.

He re-entered the room & sat at the dispensary, hit the switch to power up L’il Fury, who blinked two blue light before asking “How can I help you, Captain?”

Malcom stared at the machine’s blind eye, the sound that had woken him now buried below, a feeling deep in his stomach, elusive, wanderlust or bad vegetable or a hole in his soul. He decided to feel his feelings. “I don’t know.”

The ship’s computer- usually in a foul mood- surveyed the mess, blinking its eye in pantomime of human. “These people are pigs.”

Malcom found himself smiling, somehow. “Don’t judge.” He tapped the counter twice and the tablewatt lit up the dispensary bright from below before dropping to half-intensity, the room dim & ready for night work. Nights were interesting... because at nights you just don’t know. “Again: how can I help you, Captain?” L’il Fury, getting pissed. Much attitude from a simple computer.

“We’re going to generate a pharmaceutical... form: tablet, quantity: two, chemical code

C43H66N12O12S2, color null, flavor null-”

“You are synthesizing an opiate.”

“That’s right.”

The robot spoke cranky from its binary programming: “Is this for study, patient, or self use?”

“Fury,” Malcom smiled, leaning back, “just make it happen.”

“I am obligated to advise you of the hazards of personal medication use. I’m required to deactivate this dispensary if -“

“Your objection is noted. I have been advised of the risks involved, take all the courtesies as understood.”

L’il Fury beeped in ascension.

“Take all rubrics as read & understood.”

More beeping from the computer.

“Make note of the request & send appropriate updates to Department Heads, feel free to copy all necessary parties.”

He watched the computer light slow and finally stop. “Complete.”

Malcom sighed. “Is that enough or do I need to have my mother sign my permission slip?”

L’il Fury blinked yellow/green in agitation. “With all due respect, you are one dumb motherfucker.”

Myles smiled and shook his head. “Begin synthesis.”

The low rumble and high-pitch whine had become music: the pills were dispensed into the battery jar, and he stood up to pop them in his mouth & swallow dry.

“You are officially an addict,” said the bitter computer, “when we make contact with Department Central it will be my pleasure to present my reports and Hazard 2’s”

Malcom poured a glass of water. “Enough. If you don’t shut up I’ll make you run a self-diagnostic.”

“Is that a threat? Should I be afraid? You’re going to make me work so you can get high in private? Unlike you I respect process & procedure. What kind of Captain are you? You better hope Zoology 5oo gets to you before I file my reports. You’re an indulgent child, no better than-“

“Initiate self-diagnostic.’”

“Oh, go fuck y-“

L’il Fury’s screen stutter, technology shut-up as autoprocess triggers, the blinking lights signaling the start of the 6-hour diagnostic cycle.

Malcom lonely, more than before, down the corridors and turn of the ship, climbing, descending, make his way to the observation pod, a small chamber with a transparent bubble overlooking the ship starboard, four seats to behold the glory of deep space and the edges of the universe. He sat down and took in the starfield, the room at an angle 42. He decided not to initiate auto-level, enjoying the slant, his eyes fixing on a luminous sphere of plasma off somewhere in the distance, held precious by nucleosynthesis, smiling with a light you might find in the eyes of the thoughtful, shining eternal, better than love. The drug was hitting his bloodstream.

Ida Lee climb down the ladder, still in her field suit, her fingers brown with soil, her French braid tight as the brow above her eyes. She took a false step from the pitch of the pod, almost losing her balance but recovering graceful- her specialty. Working late in the terrarium as usual. Malcom didn’t turn, already knew, and his sister sat the seat beside him, her eyes fixing on her brother’s star, trying to lose herself in the same place. Trying to get lost the way he was.

“What are you doing up?” he asked, eyes on the sky, pupils dilating as warm glow overtook his skin.

She laughed, not looking over, and he knew she was asking the same.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Malcom spoke, his spine liquefying pretty.

“Sleep is for the peaceful.” She spoke without missing a beat, and he wondered if his sister knew that sometimes, sometimes when he needed her reassurance most she scared the adult out of him. The cold in his heart was muted by the chemical, and he knew what she had on her mind.

“My cycle. Malcom we should probably start trying again.”

He felt himself sigh, in spite of autonomic repression, and there it was. There they were. The star outside winking infinity, grinning benevolent at the mess of two humans.

“You synthesized an opiate, didn’t you?” Her head like a globe on an axis swivel slow to face him now, Malcom shake his head in frustration.

“Do you have to know fucking everything?” He caught Ida’s smile peripheral, mellow somewhat with the passage of light year, short of the beast she could be, used to be, who would have tore him to shreds.

“I know that getting high is not an answer. And it might be time to face the fact that...” She put on the filter. “That it might be more than a habit for you now.”

Captain Malcom Myles, equal part angry and stoned, sighed heavy, his eyes still on the distant light just out of reach. Always out of reach. But no matter how far away, it was there. Right?

“You worried about the hydrocosmus? We’re doing what the department wants us to. We didn’t grow it, we’re not selling it.”

Malcom, numb.

“You worried about the Dark Star? They’re light years back. They’ll never catch up.”

Malcom’s pulse in time with his star now... surging slow, bound to one another’s gravity. Sometimes Ida doesn’t help.

“Even if they do catch up, we have weapons. We can fight-“

“Idalia,” Malcom exhaling, the drug in his system honeymooning with the opioid receptors in his brain, “stop talking.” 


So they sat, in silence, watching the star, alone in space together, united in faith, separated by chemical, the rest of the crew sound asleep, the Dark Star breaking space-time patient in steady pursuit, the bales of hydrocosmus in the ship’s hull, the industrial community of Bagada awaiting delivery, the ship’s computer calculating vengeance towards the inefficient mortals on board.

Ida Lee had gotten up from her seat quiet, or maybe Malcom was just too stoned to notice. Now she was sitting on his lap, straddling him, her hot breath in his ear, breast tangible through durable mesh-fabrica, her thighs spread, her hands on his chest. Malcom listened for the sound- the voice- as she kissed his lips, and as he stood up against himself he cursed the drug for not being stronger.

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