Interlude — Where There’s Smoke, There’s a Fire


   “… Grab him here…”

   “… hurry! …”

   Tick-tack, tick-tack, tick-tack. Tick. Tack.

   He moaned. MoAoaAaoOaooaaannnned!

   “… litres…. l… l… like… like litres… l… !”

   His lights went off again. Darkness. Not even sleep, he obviously not thought. So, obviously, he could also not think any further on that input, as to him, it never even occurred.

   He felt the back of his head kinetically intermingling with the ship’s uneven floors. He was definitely moving. Being moved. Carried. He couldn’t figure out who it was, but certainly not what had knocked him over. With all that grabbing going on, he suddenly felt… safe! Safe in a way he would never consider possible, if you asked him on even a good day. Now, he was all baby again. His life was in immediate danger, relying on fast and professional aid. Luckily, this time his final moments would be guarded by crewmembers. If it ever came to trusting each other with all they had, i.e. their lives, there’d be no dudes all across the fifteen galaxies, if it weren’t for his crewmembers at System 1.

   Oh no! One of these fuckers gave him morphine again…

   He fell back into coma. And, somewhat clearly, he heard Willie Nelson sing “On the Road Again”. No shit, really did.

   …

   A bird.

   There was a bird drowning in the vodka?

   …!

   Yeah, ok, this is acceptable. This is within parameters, he thought. Boss Licina opened his eyes a bit wider, just to clarify. I mean, what kind of bird are we talking about here? Maybe it’s just bathing? These things are important when making a declarative statement. Maybe that bird was just visiting. Getting it’s proverbial drink on.

   The effort sent a spike of pain straight through his skull. Never mind that his left eye had scabbed shut. A minor setback, a brief hiccup in procedures. Fingers like sausages reached up and probed at the eye exploratively, gently. Doctor SausageFingers came back slowly with the results. The pain remained, but did not increase. This was good. The eye was operational, just covered in a scab. WIth a thick sigh, the way a fat man might speak to a donut at 2am, he picked it off and blearily opened his other eye.

   The bird came into focus. That was a finch! That finch was definitely drowning. That finch was basically dead. The moment pulled everything into clarity. How could things possibly be any worse? So much time lost, and now this. It wasn’t just the beverage, though hunting down the next bit-a-fuel may be rough. If the finches were down, then the metaphorical and physical waste products were probably impacting some high speed rotational devices, here on System 1. The heck! Maybe way more than only the rotationals.

   Boss Licina rolled onto his back and checked for damage. Eyes, good. Head, impacted. Limbs, noodles had more structural integrity… The list went on, and slowly Boss Licina went from supine, to sitting, and then back up. Boots on the ground, man. Somebody had to do something. A shake like a dog and clarity returned. What. The Fuck? I mean, how do things always fall apart like this? Forget it. Now was not the time for thinking. This was System 1, dammit. This boat needed to get moving. He watched his hand, steady as a Tom Petty track, reach out and grab the finch and squeeze the booze from it like a lemon.

   That first shot was smooth like a kiss, ran down like a spring river. He felt elevated. Delighted. On track. Ka-Boom!

   It’s didn’t take long to start hunting the first problem. Where there’s smoke, there’s a fire, right? A haze clung to the ventilation system, threatening to shut it down completely, ambiently raising the temperature. Through the mess hall, no time to look at the half eaten food. Whatever happened, it happened fast. We may be in space, he thought, but there is nothing liked fried dinosaur. The tiny flightless offspring of the terrible lizards had become ubiquitous and it just seemed natural that a small amount had come along on the trip. The crew had thought that they would be able to grow them and keep them breeding. That fell apart almost instantly. They just tasted too good. The crew had been saving the bones, making stock, and then there was that one time. 2am, walking in on two of the crew, drunk and probably in a fit of gravity sickness, cracking bones onto a marble slab. Before his presence was recognized, four big rips of pure lyophilized marrow, straight up into the sinus and up to the olfactory bulb. You still integrated stem cells there, they said. Boss Licina found himself catching the crew whistling sometimes. Along the halls, when the acoustics were good. Beethoven’s 6th, hints of birdsong. That finch popped up again. Strange, he mumbled to himself. It didn’t affect the functioning of the ship, so it didn’t matter.

   Now though, onto the matter of this smoke. This…haze. This wasn’t a casual activity, this was driven by effort. Somebody with a focus. The scent of ganja and woodsmoke led him through the mess hall and out to the still developing garden area. The aquaponics was still crap. A bad pond is bad. It’s dead. This pond was worse. It wasn’t dead. It was alive. Crawling, and sucking the CO2 from the air, which was good. But, no fish, no plants, which was bad. Just algae and larvae. It was bad. It was real bad. Just the worst. Without a second thought, he kicked a bucket of sodium hydrochloride into the pool. Pouring was for people who had time. Still, Boss Licina was caught by a perverse desire to watch the larvae. Right now he was just like them, he thought. Twitching. Trapped in a space. Trapped in space. Plus, about to be disintegrated by the slowly dissolving sodium hydrochloride. There was no where to go if things went sour. No place to swim free. Outside was coldcoldcold, inside was warmwarm.. hot… smokey… Fuck. Stay on point, man. Something is fucking with the air. Dragging would have required more effort, he just fell backwards and then managed to nail the landing on turning around. Perfect tens all around.

   Around the corner and there was the first of so many issues. Felix had holed up beside the grill. Boss Licina respected the guy, he still had an easy look on his face. Tall as a rail, but not taking up much space, Felix had folded himself up, lanky hair tied in a half knot, like a Swami. Those poor bastards. You can’t bathe in the river, shit in the river, drink from the river, and just expect that everything will just be ok. There is no historical precedent for people bathing in their own piss. Unless you consider that every drop on the ship had at one point been in a bottle, in the pot, and in the pipes. The Hindus would be proud. Any garbage complex enough was indistinguishable from religion.

   Felix was poking at the grill. In one limpid hand hung the source of the dank scent. A guy can appreciate a good smoke, but Felix was pushing the limits. There was a haze sure. Boss Licina felt the hairs on his arms gather moisture. Felix was jumpstarting the water cycle. One man trying to terraform System 1 with clouds. Then there was the grill. Boss Licina began to drool just thinking about it. Two big shanks. Slow cooked. He liked to think himself a master on the grill, but these babies were crying out to him. Felix had put some love into them, a little time, a little effort, a little cumin.

   “Felix, man. What the fuck is going on? I fall asleep for a few hours and all of the sudden we’re choking on dead air, man. I can chew on the air. The air has a flavour. What gives?”

   Felix looked up. “Yeah man, yeah. It’s gotten tight in here, not a lot of room, you know. You should eat something. Keep your strength up.” His free hand lazily poked at the grill, sending off another wave of delicious carbonized protein smells.

   “I don’t have the time man. I gotta hammer this ship into shape. Ship shape, y’know?” Boss Licina began to pace. “Has anyone seen the autoclave? Or a decent knife? You’ve got a knife, right?”

   Felix took a long drag and looked at him sideways over the tops of his shades. “You sure you don’t want something to eat?”

   Boss Licina took a step back. “Nah, I’m good. Gotta hustle, y’know? Too much sleep already. gotta stay away from that food coma”.

   “All right, Boss. Just don’t forget, you are what you eat”. Felix reached out and grabbed a piece of barbecue off the grill.

   This was just great. Felix was supposed to be on it. Maybe he was on top of the situation. It was impossible to tell with the guy. He could be lost for the next 4 days, but he could bust out with something brilliant and change the whole scene after that. Who knew?

   Boss Licina turned and began to stalk off. Something else was breaking down on System 1. It wasn’t all just barbecue and bud. As he walked off, he heard Felix mumbling to himself, meditatively. “You are what you eat, man. You are what you eat”. The sounds of chewing and bones cracking and then a long pause. As Boss Licina turned the corner he heard Felix mutter, mouth full, and with an undeniably diabolic mimic, high-pitched to a spectrum it stabbedly hurt his ears, “My name is LUCAS !!!”.

   Why’re my fucking ears still bleeding? He felt blood on the top of his right hand’s index finger.

   Fuck me, what I’d give for a chirm of finches soaked in vodka. Cannibalism already? Damn, System 1 is going down the drain. That went out of hand way too fast. Had he just stayed unconscious…

   …

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Interlude — Where There’s Smoke, There’s a Fire

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