The ship's dinning room was a relatively small one, just fifty meters by eighty, and crowded at the height of dinner time. Everywhere I looked strangers to me gathered in the four-seat-er booths and tables to eat their supper and enjoy each other's company.
This being the first meal of the flight, I somehow knew it was going to be a long journey to New Belgium, a mere 16 parsecs from Mars, yet, a substantial distance across the galaxy.
I didn't want to join couples or a family of three or even two, not even other business men or women competing to tell their latest and best business, or, I'm better than you, stories and making useless inquiries into my affairs, so, with my card in hand, I kept looking, first to one side, then, to the other half of the well appointed room.
I spotted a young woman with jet-black bobbed hair sitting alone with her computer opened and business papers, as well as her food, spread all over the table-top except for one seating spot against the bulkhead. I thought that since she was so busy, I wouldn't be bothered by silly talking.
"Do you mind if I eat over there?" I asked, pointing with my card. She barely looked up and said, "No," she didn't.
I sat down and pressed my ticket. The polite robots brought the food I had ordered and silently, I began to eat. It was pretty good halibut for flight-food, with a nice green salad, boiled corn and large pieces of warm aromatic bread with real butter. I was satisfied and even though I thought I might want some at a later time, I passed up my chocolate cake, leaving it untouched.
As I sipped my coffee, I noticed how efficient the woman moved and studied, reading reports sheets, making notations in her computer and on the pad in front of her, then, back to take a bite or two of food, then again, making notes on her yellow legal pad. Junior executive, I thought, musing over her one-sided business efforts. I disliked these kinds of people. They had no humanity in their hearts and all they seemed to be concerned with was matters unimportant to life and living. Perhaps I was just letting old prejudices influence me and I tried to disregard her presence, even though I stole glances her way from time to time.
Her hair was straight and wore it like an Oriental, though she was white, in that slanted short in back, longer in front style that fell to points bellow and in front of her jaw, a style that was particularly unattractive to me and on any woman. Thick heavy bangs covered most of her upper face so you couldn't see her eyes or brows, not that you could very well, anyway, for she wore ugly black rimmed pointed glasses. She wasn't a beauty queen but there was a loveliness to her unemotional face. But that hair? Sheez! She looked like a dike.
She wore a dark pants suite over a trim tight figure that seemed all woman, yet angular, while being athletic. I had seen her kind a lot in my experience, before I had retired at age sixty-two and after wards in my own circles. A woman completely devoted to her work and nothing else but exercise, to retain her business figure edge, or so they assumed. A shallow, selfish being in my opinion. Still, they had the right to be what they chose to be.
I thought back in time, to the day, one hundred eighty-nine years ago, that I had retired from my business career. The Genesis Code came out three years too late to save my wife but I had gotten into the first wave of volunteers that made death a thing of the past, rejuvenating the body through genetics that could take one back to it's youthful and perfect appearance, enhancing all your physical powers of performance, mind and beauty. It was an amazing bit of technology that had changed mankind forever. Except for accidental death, man had become eternal and now was driven more than ever to exploration and scientific advances. I had gotten in under the wire of the government requirement that forced persons who received the injections to work way beyond the minimum years before retirement and I had actually cheated the taxman, for once, because of it.
The company I had worked for was still in business and doing well and thus my stock options had made me very wealthy, in those early years as well as now. It allowed me to make my own interests a reality. One of my companies, I had began six years after my wife's death and three after leaving my former employer, was self evolving as man moved out into the galaxy. We specialized in small ships like the one I was aboard and advanced propulsion engines that were the envy of the private sector. This ship, I thought, might just be using one of them. I had no real reason to work these days, having the various business ventures in good hands and so I traveled a lot, still, keeping my hand in with the latest developments that concerned me. In this manner I never drew attention to myself and was able to do whatever I felt like. Thus, this trip was for my own pleasure.
"Thank you for sharing your table," I said getting up. The junior executive smiled and said, "Your welcome." It was a stunning smile but her nose went right back into her paper work. I was sure it would be the last time I'd see her, Thank goodness.
I went for my birthing assignment some hours later, now that we were underway, past the ort cloud and up to speed. After I had visited the library and watched one of four floor-shows being performed that evening in the main theater, I strolled to my cabin.
On these crowded trips it's often customary to be assigned your cabin after the ship leaves port so that the crew knows how many actually made the flight and how much over-booking there had been. I was assigned to a suite with only one bed and a 'female' companion. That sometimes happens when ships are overbooked and genders are uneven. I didn't mind. I had no desire to fall in love and my tastes are simple. Plus, I don't mind the occasional character for a few days.
The woman had agreed to the arrangement, not that there was much she could do about it, but I had been issued the mandatory bracelet that kept things on the up and up of decency and proper behavior. Only the ships security force knew the code to release me from its paralyzing effects, if activated.
I pressed my finger to the small ID window, which also sounded a warning to any occupant inside the room that the door was about to be opened. I swiped the security room-card and entered. It was the business woman from the dinning room standing there in the classic S curve pose on one tilted hip with her hair down around her shoulders. She had been wearing a wig?
She looked up as she stood there barefoot, in her panties and hose, her substantial black bra spilling over, putting her suit coat on a hanger. I excused myself and turned away but not before she realized I was someone she'd recently met, and made a double-take glance my way. She made no immediate move to cover herself but simply turned aside, herself, retrieved some clothes from one of her huge suitcases and went to the bathroom, closing the door.
My delivered suitcase was smaller than most, barely over the size of an attaché case, though a bit thicker. I opened it as I sat at my desk, laying my library book on the nightstand. I was arranging a few things when the young woman returned to the room wearing her blue and gold striped pajamas and crossed to my location in the room, next to the bed.
"Hello, again," I said, standing and offering her my hand.
She took it and shook, briefly, but didn't smile or look me in the eye just then, saying, "We better talk about sleeping arrangements."
"I'll take the top of the sheets, you can tuck underneath. It's a double king size so we'll never touch. Is that alright?"
"Yes. Thank you. I was worried about this. It's a bit awkward. I've never had to share a room with a strange man, before," she said, turning away. Suddenly, she spun on her heel and announced, "And--I'm not looking for romance," she blurted out, rather abruptly I thought. I figured she was simply nervous, as she had said.
"Nor am I," I told her, meaning it. "May I know your name, since we are going to be in close quarters for a month?"
"I'm Blair, Blair Buchanan. I'm happy to meet you, Vivian. Please be assured that I won't be bothering you. I've seen how busy you are and I know this trip is about business. I'm a fairly quiet person to be around and I won't be any trouble." I smiled, trying to be reassuring.
She nodded and went back to putting away her things.
Later that evening, I lay beneath the covers, my shoulders and head propped up with pillows reading my book.
"Can you stop that?" Vivian asked, in an irritated tone from her side of the bed.
"What?" I turned, not understanding this sudden irritation on her part.
"You're turning the pages every few seconds. You're not even reading."
"Four thousand words a minute. It doesn't take me long to go through five or six hundred," I explained.
"Four thousand! Really?"
"Yes. I got into it in college. It's been a great help in my career."
"What do you do?"
"Business, like you. I own a small aerospace company. Before that, I worked for Tranco corporation. Ever heard of them?"
"Of course. They're in the top 200 hundred. What did you do there?"
"I worked my way up. I was the CEO for a few years."
Her jaw almost dropped. "You were!"
"I don't believe it."
I laughed and said, "Bring up a new window," her computer was on her lap, "and look up my name. I think I might still be in there under business executives." I told her my two middle names and how to spell my last.
"You're there alright." She was reading more of the biography. "It says you were born in 2382. That can't be right."
"I was one of the first Genetic Feeders, as they've come to be known. I've always thought it a rather repulsive title."
"You're two hundred and fifty years old?"
"Two hundred and fifty-one. Almost two fifty-two, pretty soon."
"I don't think I've ever met a, a, you know, a..."
"A genetically enhanced person?" I said, laughing. "I'm certain you have. You just didn't know it. It is an expensive procedure."
"Um, yes. Maybe you're right. How does it feel. Getting older, I mean?"
"Very good. Before I had the procedure done, I was having a lot of different types of aging problems but it changed my life and my world. I feel absolutely great. No aches and pains, no balance problems, no arthritis. Just fine."
"You're so handsome, though, and so young. You look like you're twenty-five. Your skin is flawless."
"They open up the best genes for you as you grow younger and then it stabilizes."
"That is amazing."
"It's a blessing."
"Is it true you'll live forever?"
"In theory, that's what they tell us. Of course we're susceptible to accidents like everyone else."
"You're so beautiful, really. I feel intimidated being around you. You're prettier than most women I know."
I laughed again at that. "Looks are so subjective. Don't let it bother you. I'm just like everyone else."
"It must really help you in business. Is that why you're going to New Belgium, to set up some new accounts?"
"No. I don't do that anymore. I have some very good people running my business interests. I'm just on a pleasure cruise."
"This isn't much of a pleasure craft."