Time passed, and I realised that the story would work better if shifted into the realm of sci-fi – envisioning a Royal Navy of spaceships. It’s still a human story, with a moral centre. In this form it was published in Nova SF in 1993. So, as this is a long short story, and it was originally conceived as a serial, here it is in four parts…
It is a horror story and there is sex involved.
TEN YEARS HENCE
Sufficient alco-pills inside me to produce a splendid euphoric effect, I was thinking in time with the moving pavement's rumbling. Pining over Patricia's absence. Shore leave had frittered away. On the morrow, I was due to rejoin His Majesty's Spaceship Aphelion.
Fancifully, I wished I could be instantly transported ten years ahead, beyond the years of deep-space sailing, imagining we'd be happily married and settled down, my allotted space-faring replaced by a desk-bound job.
Unaccountably, my ankles and knees grew weak. Head swam. A falling sensation. Yet I seemed to be moving as normal on my familiar route home. A conveyor malfunction, I thought foggily...
Utter blackness, and a damp humid musty odour, of something aged and rotten.
Feeling about me: I was confined in a Plexiglas coffin. Hands and face felt roughly lined. I was being rejuvenated in my grave... ten years later...
Funny, that. The weak-kneed feeling back there. Never had that before... Not even when first joining the RN; I've never suffered from space-sickness. Got this nagging headache as well. Pounding, as if Arcturian rivet-birds were clawing at my skull from the inside. Maybe the pounding wasn't my head - sounded like the front door... at this hour?
I clambered out of the water-bed and trundled hazily downstairs, neglecting to operate the escalator switch: I couldn't even face its sibilant hiss. I slid open the front door.
Her auburn-framed head leant to one side, emerald eyes pleading entry.
As ever, I couldn't deny her.
I helped her off with her coat; my briefs were itching for me not to stop there - the flimsy clinging dress she almost-wore hardly concealed her generous endowments.
‘Jack,’ Patricia began. ‘I've been out of my mind with worry...’
Right now I didn't want an insane woman. Danger signals flashed in accompaniment with my Arcturian riveters. ‘Worry about what, love?’ Knowing the reply.
Clever me. Clever bloody clever me! Naturally, I had my doubts - as to the validity of both the pregnancy and the honour of sire. But the pained, tear-rimmed look in her lovely frightened eyes told me who...
A life lay a-growing and a-moving in her womb, a piece of each of us, for better or worse. Ours. Oh, Gee-zus!
I remembered the evening well, even with pregnancy screaming through my mind. It had been raining, which may have given spur to our yearning for the melodramatic. We loved, with abandon and urgency, till sweat soaked us as if the downpour had itself.
I came to earth with a resounding thud. Burbled ‘I'd marry you, but - I still love you, course I do...’ To hurt even moreso, ‘We'll get the little bugger adopted, eh? The rates are good...’
All the while, her eyes saddened and the soul behind them shattered. Conscience, eh? Every kid I see in the next few years, I'll be wondering if it's mine!
But what could I do? Ruin my naval career through a shotgun wedding and a kid I didn't want? Nope, deep-space commitment meant no hangers-on: no dependants. Without a history of deep-space sailing you didn't advance up the promotion ladder. And that wasn't going to be me, no way!
Next day, I rejoined my ship, destination no secret at all: Singapore thence Deep Space...
Throughout the brief shakedown cruise I felt guilty, repentant, a heel. Big-hearted me! There was Patricia worried sick, carrying our child and me gallivanting off to Singers. Unmarried mothers were frowned upon, like the old Victorian days: drains on the social budget. She would become a pariah, lucky even to get a menial job...
But not much of anything registered my first day at Singapore Spaceport, for on arrival I was twenty-two and I had more than my fair share of everyone's tot - Aldebaran IV Rum. (Their Lordships had banned rum but so much illicit drinking and smuggling of the stuff went on that they resignedly repealed the veto. The risk of drunk-driving diminished with the automated people movers.)
Inebriated, I slept it off - till 1800 when I was woken with a pre-Atreides Dune of a mouth, a lousy thunderous riveters' congress for a brain.
Having amazingly managed to get ashore, in the company of fellow Able Spacemen, I ambulated or was otherwise propelled along the rows of blast-pads and, via a ‘fast-black’ hover-jet, eventually into the ‘Village’ - No.6 wasn't in sight.
Although most of Malaysia had caught up with the 21st Century with a vengeance, the outskirts still retained their traditional flavour - squalor. Street sellers of all shapes and races, antennae and tentacles waving, continuously hawked their interplanetary wares from gaudy, dilapidated stalls. All noise, a veritable Babel.
An education... Daughters offered at reasonable prices, wives at even more attractive cost; and for those otherwise inclined, brothers and others for even less than reasonable cost... At least the ultimate cost, death from AIDS, no longer had to be paid: they'd found that cure on the Perseus mission...
Foggy recollection: slumped over a table; my carefree companions shouting and accosting attractive females of dusky skin and dark eyes; heady fragrance of smouldering joss-sticks; Catamites; my elbows wallowing in Tiger beer. And the terrible pungency, of staleness, of spilt liquor, of sweat and urine untended, of cellulose cigarettes and more potent drugs.
Inwardly I was fighting down a nausea very powerful; and alas I was as helpless as a lamb. Lamb to the slaughter, you could say.
A gentle touch of cool fingers on neck and arm, a soft lilting whisper of comfort promised and present, of tenderness totally unexpected. Sandal-wood, musk: exciting scent-buds I'd thought irretrievably saturated.
Felt myself lifted up; tended to stagger, head reeling, stomach gyrating, eyes unable to focus. This was almost as bad as the early transporter trips, but this same tender cool touch steadied me. I felt no longer alone.
For one of her calling, the woman who had liberated me from my inglorious situation was unusually gentle, and most considerate.
I must have been a very awkward partner in bed; flopping about, mumbling between groans, drunkenly sprawling all over her. Yet as my lethargy wore thin so did my desire grow. Before dawn, both of us were asleep, sound away in the tranquil depths of after-love.
Sun deigned to intrude through the window's plastic jalousies. Automatically glancing at my automatic watch, I noted I'd precisely fifteen minutes to get onboard. Otherwise, adrift! My watch was precise; apart from being a Rolex (smuggled from the Cassiopeia colonies because no earth-sider could afford one) it was beer-proof and shock-proof. I wasn't shock-proof, however.
In a flash I was out of bed. The flash wasn't my agile movement but my searing headache: the riveters were employing hammers and tongs now, it seemed.
My pleasurable saviour of the night before lay unmoved, olive musk-scented skin contrasting with the sun-tinted sheets that lay rumpled at the bed's foot.
As I hurriedly donned my Leading Spaceman's tight-fitting trousers I watched her firm little breasts rise and fall. Dark nutmeg-brown nipples and large aureoles mesmerised me; I drew my eyes away, to gaze on the sparse black cluster. With a dry tongue I licked dry lips, overcome with an urge to experience those idyllic delights again, the after-love odour exciting sense-buds. I wasted precious minutes there...
I sped out of that room, bowled hazily down the decrepit stairs into the sunlit street. A few alien eyes glowered my way, but I just ran. Verdun Road, a sign said... I ran, footsteps a-pounding, a-resounding, as did my head as it received a pounding which blacked me out and sent me a-falling.
… to be continued tomorrow…
Originally published in Nova SF, 1993. Copyright Nik Morton, 2014