0117: What People Need

Ziggurat #25

“Middle of a Thursday, and there’s one of them now, loafing around, enjoying a refreshing beverage in our cafeteria. I tell you, it’s only a matter of time before we start to forget who belongs on what deck.”

“What’s on your mind, Monty?” Rosemary asked, tilting her head into his field of view from the opposite side of the cafeteria table. “You haven’t touched your algae cubes.”

The newspaperman blinked, forcing his focus off the brightly glowing blue dot that was suspended among diaphanous clouds of pink and violet behind Rosemary’s head. He couldn’t imagine why she would choose to sit with her back to such a spectacle. “Sorry,” He said, prodding at the spongy, multicolored cubes on his tray. “I suppose I’m not that hungry.”

“I can’na imagine why,” Grumbled Chief Wellington, who was sitting at the next table, scrutinizing the cube on his fork as if it were an exotic species of insect. “All the spices in the world fail to break the monotony after a year of this.” Then he shrugged and popped the morsel into his mouth. “Still, I’ve had worse.”

“And gone with less, I’d wager,” Rosemary suggested.

Arthur gave a sober nod. The white that wove its way through his dark blond mutton chop whiskers suggested that he had survived the times immediately following the Epiphany event. “Aye, lass,” He acknowledged. “But even so, a simple potato stew would be a welcome addition to the menu.”

“I think I saw some spuds growing on the colonist deck,” Lamont offered. “Maybe you could barter something for them.”

“Barter?” The security chief huffed. “Why should they be feasting on the fruit of their gardens while we eat pond scum? This looks like a job for good old fashion taxation.”

Looking at the large-framed Scot, Lamont couldn’t determine whether he was being serious. “As I understand it, the colonists are already on the hook for a percentage of what they produce. The price of transportation.”

“Only when they’ve planted a colony,” Wellington remarked. “Until then, they’re freeloading. I tell you, it’s a dangerous system.”

Rosemary’s brows furrowed. “Dangerous? Why?”

Arthur leaned forward toward the diminutive medic, pointing the prongs of his empty fork at her. He was also facing away from the window, presumably because old habit had taught him never to sit with his back to the door. “I’ve been around long enough to tell you that people are all the same. They only appreciate what they’ve sacrificed for. Right now, they’re running on credit, and that’s not enough to keep them in line for long. They’re going to get restless.”

“You’re tilting at windmills,” Scoffed Rosemary, who clearly took offence at the chief’s overbearing mannerism. 

“Think so, lass?” Arthur huffed, pointing his fork toward the opposite end of the eating area. The utensil was directed toward the drink dispensers, where Constance Becket was drawing herself a club soda, her salmon-colored jumpsuit a marked contrast against the crowd of white and gray uniforms that filled the space. “Middle of a Thursday, and there’s one of them now, loafing around, enjoying a refreshing beverage in our cafeteria. I tell you, it’s only a matter of time before we start to forget who belongs on what deck.”

“Would that be so bad?” Rosemary countered. “A moment ago you were bemoaning a lack of variety.” She stabbed an orange cube of algae with pronounced agitation.

The security chief’s eyes followed the young colonist like a hawk as she turned her attention away from the drink dispenser to look around the room. Her eyes settled on Lamont with a noticeable flash of recognition, and she began to make her way in their direction.

“People need two things to be happy, lass,” Arthur sniffed. “They need to know their place. And they need to know who’s in charge. Everything else is just details.”

“She’s coming to sit with us,” Rosemary observed.

Lamont forced himself to look fixedly in the direction of the observation window, his back turned to the room at large.

“Well, enough chit chat,” Arthur concluded, standing up and putting on his uniform cap. As far as Lamont knew, Wellington was the only crew member who consistently wore one. But then, his hair was a little thin on top. From where he sat, Lamont could see the chief grudgingly tilt his cap at the approaching colonist before stiffly walking away, leaving his tray at the table.

Rosemary rolled her eyes and began to gather up her scraps. “Where did they find that insufferable ox?” She sighed.

“Please stay,” Lamont hissed urgently.

“What?” The medic asked.

Lamont made an exasperated expression and leaned forward, lowering his voice as Constance approached. “It would be rude for me to leave, but it doesn’t look good for her to be sitting with me alone. She doesn’t seem to know any better. Please stay.”

Rosemary offered a gap-toothed grin and patted the newspaperman’s hand. “You don’t have to beg. The rumor mill doesn’t run itself, you know.”

Next: Boxed In