The Truth Hurts

OR

Romancing the Exposition Stone

Farrago Story


Elsie stopped in mid-sentence and got that faraway look in her eyes. Evette waited patiently while her companion reconciled the Farrago’s hyperspace coordinates with their four-dimensional equivalents. Shifting in and out of hyperspace always made Evette a little bit nervous. Warping the very fabric of the universe just for the sake of being able to travel conveniently was just plain unnatural, and not without risk.

Realizing she was holding her breath, Evette exhaled and chided herself. Three hundred years ago, she’d felt exactly the same way about flying, but she’d gotten over that eventually. She’d learn to deal with this too.

Outside, the stars winked back into existence as the Farrago materialized at the edge of the Sphinx system. "…chances of finding a job when we get there?" Elsie asked, finishing the sentence she’d begun some 30 parsecs away.

Evette exhaled and answered in French. "I don’t know. Hopefully, we will have better luck as a ship for hire out here on the frontier."

Elsie nodded and replied in French. "Well, the further we are from ‘civilization’ the better. Do you think anyone’s still after us?"

Evette shook her head, her raven locks whipping back and forth as she did. She reached up to push a few strands of hair away from her lips and said, "I don’t know. Technically, you and the Farrago are still stolen property. But the only people who would care were in no shape to come looking. I don’t know how long that will continue to be true."

Elsie noted the worried look in her partner’s eyes and a slight jump in vocal stress indicators, so she changed the subject. "Hey, I had an idea about how we can make some money just before we went into hyperspace," she said. "I went ahead and placed the ad already."

Evette got that sinking feeling. Her companion had the wisdom of the ages at her fingertips and was undoubtedly very bright, but she was also terribly nave sometimes. She tapped the touch panel in front of her to call up the communications they’d sent upon rematerializing in 4D space. She quickly found their usual ad in Galactic Standard text: "Starship Farrago and crew for hire. Intra/interstellar. Passengers and/or light cargo. Gallivant-class personal cruiser. Pocket-warp capable. Evette du Reve, Elsie co-captains. Contact Reg#765rfrey.net."

No problem there.

Then she scrolled down to the next message: "Hot live girl-girl sex shows. No holes barred. Private shows or small parties. Contact Reg#766rfrey.net."

Evette’s first two responses would have been in French. The third would have come out in German. By time the time she worked her way through Russian, English, and Galactic Standard, the blood that had rushed to her cheeks was circulating more or less normally and she felt able to address Elsie without shrieking. "What in God’s name were you thinking?"

"Well, we like having sex," explained Elsie, "So I figured, why not make it profitable as well? And we really do need the money."

"But prostitution?"

Elsie laughed. "It’s not prostitution if we just do it with each other. I checked; a lot of men are willing to pay to watch attractive women engaging in sexual activities."

"A lot of men are utter perverts," argued Evette switching back to French, "and I don’t want them on the Farrago."

"Don’t be paranoid. It’s a very common fantasy," Elsie assured her also speaking in French. "They can’t all be perverts."

"Yes they can," insisted Evette. "Go ahead, cross-reference it. I dare you."

"Fine," replied Elsie. She got that faraway look in her eyes again as she accessed her vast databases.

"Well," she said a moment later and blushing slightly. "That was an unexpectedly high area of overlap."

"Told you so," said Evette.

"Nonetheless, I still think we could…"

"No," said Evette firmly. "I’m not doing it. Period."

"Well, I suppose I could…"

"And neither are you. There will be no peepshows on this ship. I’m pulling the ad now," stated Evette. She tapped the touch panel loudly for emphasis.

"You never want to try anything new," sulked Elsie in Galactic Standard.

Evette closed her eyes and massaged the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger. "We are not having this argument again either."

"I’m just saying," complained Elsie in Galactic Standard even though Evette was still speaking French.

"For the last time," snapped Evette. "It’s just plain gross. It’s cruel to the gerbil. And I won’t have rodents on my ship!"

Elsie looked startled and then was silent for a moment. She could have accessed any number of references on lovers’ quarrels from Shakespeare to Men are from Zeta Reticuli, Women are from C1176B, but she just didn’t feel like it. "Fine," she said getting up out of the pilot’s chair and leaving the bridge. "I was just trying to help. Besides, it’s my ship too."

Evette started to call after her but was interrupted by a comm signal from the solar system ahead of them.

"Greetings, Farrago," came man’s voice in Galactic Standard. "I am calling about your ad."

"Listen, pervert!" snapped Evette. "Zat ad ees canceled so you’re just going to ‘ave to get your sick, pathetic, voyeuristic thrills somewhere el…" She could speak Galactic Standard (and English, German and Russian) without a French accent if she worked at it, but right now she was too upset to bother.

"She says the ship is not for hire after all," Evette heard the caller tell someone else at the other end.

Evette’s brown eyes went wide and she sucked in a hiss of air through her teeth. "Forgive me," she said hurriedly. "I… thought you were someone else. Zee Farrago and ‘er crew are indeed available for hire."

"How could you have thought I was someone else when you do not yet know who I am?" chided the caller. "Your words have the ring of untruth."

Before Evette could respond, she heard a second voice at the other end. This one was wet and gravelly. "Perhaps she merely misspoke rather than lied. It could be that she thought we were calling for some other purpose."

"Yes, zat is it," interjected Evette. "I thought you wanted… Well never mind what I thought you wanted. Just allow me to apologize again and ask ‘ow zee Farrago may be of service?"

"We are Seekers of the Truth on a pilgrimage of Holy Discovery," said the man. "We require transport for four passengers to and from the second planet of the Van Ham system. Can you accommodate a special-needs passenger?"

"We can seal one of the cabins and set up whatever atmospheric, radiological, or gravitational needs your companion may need," said Evette beginning to relax.

"Nothing so extravagant," said the wet gravelly voice. "My life support needs are generally quite human-compatible; however, I do favor a warmer temperature and higher humidity. Oh, and a bit of methane. I’ve uploaded the specifications to you. I also have my own self-contained sleeping module."

Evette glanced at the incoming specs and nodded. "There is nothing simpler," she assured him.

"Actually, there is a vast number of things that would be simpler," said the first speaker sternly. "However, we will choose to accept your confident exaggeration in the spirit in which it was offered."

Evette shifted a bit in her chair. "Er, thank you." She glanced at the Call Properties window. "I see you are calling from one of the moons of Sphinx-6. I’ve uploaded our fee requirements and standard contract. If they meet with your approval, we can meet you there in about sixty hours, negotiate any outstanding details, and have you on your way to the Van Ham system."

"That will be fine. I am Brother Santos. We will speak again when you arrive." With that, he closed the comm link.

Evette swiveled her chair and called down the hall. "Elsie, we’ve got a job! Passenger transport!"

"Good," came Elsie’s blunt response over the intercom. "Then we won’t have to have sex."

Evette spent the next couple of hours setting the course and going over the information Brother Santos had uploaded. It was work Elsie could have done in a matter of minutes, while carrying on a conversation at the same time. But since Elsie didn’t seem to be speaking to her anyway, it was a moot point.

Evette sighed and wished. She wished Elsie would come back to the bridge so she could apologize. She wished just once Elsie would ask her before trying whatever goofy crap she stumbled across in her databases. She had never known anyone with so much knowledge, but so little life experience. The vigor with which she attempted to compensate for that lack of experience was at once exhausting, endearing, and often amusing. She’d find things in her databases and immediately need to try them. It didn’t matter whether it was cybermime, zero-g extreme shuffleboard, or cooking mastodon steaks with a flame-thrower; everything interested Elsie and, honestly, that was part of what Evette loved about her. If only she wasn’t so damned impulsive. But then, Evette supposed that was part of her charm as well. She wondered whether Elsie’s impulsiveness had been programmed into her personality on purpose or if had been some sort of self-generating fuzzy logic character trait.

Evette stretched, checked the control panel one more time and got up to go find Elsie. The Farrago’s cool plasteel deck felt good against her bare feet as she padded the short distance down the hall from the bridge to the captain’s cabin she shared with Elsie.

Sliding the door open, Evette first noticed Elsie’s boots and form-fitting uniform in a crumpled heap on the floor. She sighed again. Had no one ever programmed her to hang up her damn clothes? She picked up the uniform, quickly folded it up and stuffed it in the bottom drawer of a three-drawer chest of drawers beside the bed. She tossed the boots into Elsie’s closet where they landed with a thump and a twang of the banjo that had come into her possession following yet another one of her database excursions.

Evette listened but didn’t hear Elsie in the sonic shower. The only other place she’d be without her clothes was the rec room. Evette had no shortage for appreciation of Elsie’s preference for exercising in the nude despite the fact that it had scandalized (and delighted) some of their passengers on previous jobs. This might be a good opportunity for them to make up in the time-honored manner.

The recreation room was at the end of the hall past the Farrago’s four passenger cabins. It has originally been the smaller of two upper cargo bays but Elsie and Evette had modified it with some exercise equipment and a virtual reality entertainment center they’d acquired on a job some months back.

Evette was disappointed to find that Elsie was not exercising nude today. Instead, she was wearing a simple brown robe tied around the waist with a piece of rope she’d retrieved from storage. Tragically, it concealed everything except Elsie’s head, hands, and feet. Also from storage was the five-foot length of plasteel pipe in her hands that she was using as a quarterstaff. The VREC was on and was projecting a hologram to make the balance beam she was perched on look like a log fallen across a small stream in a forest.

Evette watched as Elsie dueled an imaginary opponent, her robe flapping and fluttering with her movements. She had tied a bandanna around her head to keep her thick blonde hair out of her face. Elsie’s face, from her wide blue eyes to the dimple in her chin, had been built to the precise specifications of the man who had originally owned (and who, in fact, legally still did, Evette reminded herself) her and the Farrago. Despite that, it was the face she was in love with, and Evette couldn’t have imagined choosing any differently even if she’d had any say in the matter.

"So, how come we don’t rob from the rich and give to the poor?" asked Elsie spotting Evette’s reflection in the wall-to-wall mirror across the room. She swung her staff in a smooth arc, then ducked, pivoted and delivered a graceful kick arcing in the opposite direction.

"We are poor," Evette reminded her. Elsie was still speaking Galactic Standard and Evette responded in kind.

"So were Robin Hood and his merry men," said Elsie.

"Ah, that explains the Friar Tuck outfit," nodded Evette.

Elsie leaped, spun, jabbed with her staff and landed on the balance beam. "How or why anyone would attempt real hand-to-hand combat in an outfit like this is beyond me," she said. "All the sources I’ve researched so far advise against it, though I’ve only cross-referenced a few hundred documents so far."

"Well," suggested Evette, "Friar Tuck was a monk, so maybe he was more concerned with spiritual matters than his fighting prowess."

"I’ll factor that in," said Elsie. With that, she used her staff to vault over her imaginary foe, land on the beam, and strike from behind. "See?" she said. "In a real fight, the robe would have slowed me down enough for my opponent to knock me out of the air. Its aerodynamic properties are virtually non-existent. Now, those tights the merry men wore in some of the references I’ve found make more sense. Besides, Errol Flynn: Yum. Although, I wonder: is ‘merry’ a euphemism for ‘homosexual’ in this context?"

"I have no idea," said Evette. "Anyway, I came to…" She hesitated.

"Apologize?" finished Elsie. "Don’t worry about it. I checked the entire Ann Landers, Dear Abbey, and Miss Manners archives, and they all seem to agree that volunteering you to participate in amateur porn without first obtaining your permission was improper. So, my bad." She did a double flip off the beam with a snap kick in the middle and landed next to the VREC controls. "Not a bad little workout," she said checking the system’s review of her performance. "The robe will have to go, of course, but the staff’s got some good versatility." She switched the VREC off and did a few cool-down stretches.

"I…" began Evette. "I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings."

Elsie shrugged. "I need a shower. I don’t really have feelings, you know, so there’s no need to feel bad."

Evette knew both statements to be false. First of all, Elsie sweated an odor-optional saline solution whose chief function was to make her seem more human, although various scents, pheromones, and/or aphrodisiacs could be added. Besides, they both hated the Farrago’s sonic showers. As far as Elsie’s feelings were concerned, they were as real and legitimate as anyone else’s. She’d never treated Elsie as anything less than human. How could she?

Evette wanted to raise these points as she followed Elsie back up the hall to their quarters, but Elsie was chattering on about Robin Hood in Galactic Standard. Once in their cabin, Elsie slipped out of her robe – leaving it on the floor – and went into the bathroom. Evette heard the soft hum of the sonic shower as Elsie stepped into the chamber and slid the door shut. There had been no trace of a suggestion that Evette should join her, so Evette hung up Elsie’s robe and sat on the bed dejectedly.

"Hey, listen," said Elsie from the shower. "I did some follow-up on our passengers to-be. Turns out the ‘Seekers of Truth’ are a religious organization devoted to living lives of complete honesty. They’ve got a few hundred thousand human and non-human believers scattered across the sector. Anyway, they equate telling a lie with sin. The most extreme sects consider dishonesty a killing offense."

"So, you’re saying that Brother Santos didn’t necessarily have a broomstick up his ass, he was just acting according to the dictates of his faith?"

"Well, while acts of sodomy involving sweeping implements are generally frowned upon by the Seekers of Truth, it’s still not as bad as lying." 


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