by Adam Ford
We're working on the new job, the one I promised myself that I wouldn't fuck up so badly like the last one. It's another no-more-hangovers promise nobody believes I'll keep, but eight days in things are looking pretty much okay. Vin's done his usual magic with the stars. He's a natural at that stuff, which baffles the hell out of me because he can't do coastlines to save himself even though they're the same thing inversed. That's what I keep telling him, the same thing inversed, but it never sinks in. I guess it doesn't matter too much anyway. That's why you have specialists. Being a firmament guy he's not really going to have to worry about much once he graduates. I try telling him that, too, but every week or so I catch him in the back somewhere, bitching himself out in that low mutter of his, standing over another broken coast, all bights and bays and not a single inlet or estuary to be seen, which means nowhere for the rivers to run to and that's trouble you just don't want to even think about.
The temporary shelters they assigned are the ones with the calico and amber trees around the perimeter—something to remind us of home. I'm sitting underneath them, the twilight soft with Vin's excellent starscape, one of the best I've seen so far, just a hint of amber in the Doppler shift. Trace comes over and sits next to me. I know where this is going but I just sit there fiddling with a new batch of proteins I'm trying out. I don't make eye contact. She shuffles up closer and pretends like she's interested in what I'm doing, even suggests a couple of amino bonds that I have to admit fit the design pretty well. She sits back for a minute and I can feel her watching me and then she asks when we're going to start the fish.
I tie off the proteins and pause for a moment before looking straight up at her. I try for an authoritative and conciliatory tone without sounding patronising. I almost manage to pull it off. I tell her, like I did yesterday and the day before, that she should be able to tell from the roster that we're at least a week from any multicellular work, let alone vertebrates. I carefully avoid any mention of what happened on the last job she worked. I don't think she realises why she's ended up on this job with me, but if she keeps up with this fish crap I'm going to stop being professional and polite and tell her a few things straight up. She stands up and heads off to the mess. I turn back to the proteins, making a mental note to check her quarters when she's out on the day shift tomorrow, just to make sure she hasn't been playing funny-buggers with supplies.
Vin comes by and I chat to him about Trace, ask him to keep an eye out for anything odd. He says okay. I ask him how his day's been going. I can tell from his expression that he's been messing around with coastlines again, but I don't push it. "Don't head north for a couple of days," is all he says.
I concentrate on a weird knot of carbons that I've just spotted in among the proteins. I try to unpick the bonds and shift them down a valence, but I overcompensate the spin and the whole thing, two days' work, lets out an almost imperceptible sigh and turns to goo in my hands. There's the sound of an explosion coming from off behind the mess and then it's raining fish, all kinds. Trout, kellermen, hardheads, eels, barramundi, you name it.
A featherpouch slaps into the back of my head and I turn around to pick it up. She got the colour of the scales right, but the gills are on upside-down and there are weird energy signatures around the nucleotides. I make a mental note to upgrade inventory to twice weekly and head toward the mess, ducking through the thinning fishstorm, trying to work out if being the captain of a ship of fools means you're a captain, or whether it means you're just another damn fool.
About the author:
Adam Ford lives in Melbourne, Australia, where he edits, writes and procrastinates. He's one of the editors of Going Down Swinging. His first novel, Man Bites Dog was released last year. It's about dogs, postal workers, zines and open mike poetry. His Web site is intended just for fun.