From: (nikolai kingsley)
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: Mop Duty
Date: Mon, 1 Dec 1997 20:03:46 +1100
Organization: anarchartists/FDP
Lines: 121
Message-ID: <>
X-Newsreader: Anawave Gravity v2.00.753

He couldn't say why he'd signed on, but after he'd done it he felt safer, 
somehow; it felt right. Even with the acclimatisation, the new routines 
he'd had to learn, the stifling living conditions and (worst of all, in 
some ways) the crew, he felt that this is where he was supposed to be.

They'd had to let him go, of course; it fit the profile. Acid Warriors, 
conditioned to do that job, filled  with hallucinogens and sent out to 
kill (he occasionally wondered if there were any other professions that 
benefited from chemical enhancement - Acid Sewerage Workers?); when they 
got tired of it, it was only natural that they might want to get away 
from it all. Shards of personality emerging from the soft padding they'd 
been encased in would determine where each one went for that solitude 
they needed so badly.

It had to be a particular kind of solitude. Away from other humans, and 
most definitely away from the other Acid Warriors. The whole experience 
had been like getting too close to a friend, seeing them tumble towards 
your personal space like a mass transit vehicle out of control, 
unstoppable, Roche's limit of the psyche shattering both parties if they 
didn't manage to get some distance between them. But still, they needed 
company of some kind.

Some of them joined the fragment religions that attracted aliens, but 
most signed up with alien starship crews - the less humanoid the better. 
There were limits to how far they could go in that direction, of course; 
not every alien race would want a human around. There were enough who 
didn't care either way, enough to take them all in, one to each ship.

The race he'd found sanctuary with didn't have a name that could be 
rendered into human language; the closest anyone could get was a 
particular pattern of concentric rings scribed in graphite (it had to be 
done that way, the aliens insisted, otherwise it meant something entirely 
different), symbolising the magnetic fields they used to communicate. 
There were translators, but he knew that the exchange of ideas between 
them was marginal at best. There were several core concepts that he just 
didn't understand.

But they could make their wishes known to him at a very basic level. His 
duties on the ship were mopping, and replacing the heavy spherical 
batteries that powered their EVA suits. The ship was an asteroid mining 
tug, but he never got to see what went on outside; he'd only been allowed 
into the command space once, where the four aliens who shared the command 
of the ship examined him silently, reviewed his records and then turned 
away. An underling spent five minutes trying to get across to him the 
concept that he'd been accepted; the matter was complicated by the idea 
that their acceptance was only for a limited time and that they'd want to 
meet with him again at some point in the future. He'd been shown how to 
tell if a suit battery needed replacing, how to swap dead batteries for 
fully-charged ones - or at least half-charged; the aliens had the habit 
of running the batteries down until they were completely dead and then 
struggling back inside and making emotional pleas for him to change the 
batteries *now*. His ideas about fully recharging the batteries aroused a 
mixture of derision and tolerant good humour in the rest of the crew.

The mopping was the hardest part. Apart from the air (mostly methane; he 
had to wear a suit whenever he went outside his quarters and he thanked 
the goddess that the pressure was close to human normal), the sudden 
gusts of wind that the alien's air system made in imitation of their home 
world's atmosphere, the darkness (their primary visual sense was 
magnetic), the corridors themselves were madly uneven. Tube-like 
indentations ran down the sides, across the floor and up again; there 
were flanges set at random along the walls which bruised his arms. Even 
after two months he was still being taken aside by one crew member or 
another and told in a vaguely grandfather-to-little-boy way that there 
were some sections of the ship that he was not supposed to mop. These 
directives changed every week, to a pattern that he could not fathom. He 
made charts, diagrams and timetables, none of which helped. In the end he 
confessed that he had no idea where they wanted him to mop and, to his 
surprise, they stopped chiding him. From then on, he mopped the entire 
ship except for the command space, their living quarters, their altar 
spaces and the engine section.

It was wearying work. He was given a bowl-shaped container and shown 
where it could be filled with the cleaning agent - some chlorinated 
liquid which was extremely poisonous. He found this out the hard way and 
spent a very nervous two shifts in one of the ship's altar spaces where 
one of the commanders silently prayed over him. They had little in the 
way of human medical care facilities, and he got better through luck and 
determination more than anything else.

He used a human mop; wooden handle, stringy brush bleached white by the 
chlorine fluid. The work itself was drudgery; dip the mop into the bowl, 
slosh it around on whatever even floor-surfaces he could find and leave 
it to dry. He didn't even know *why* they wanted parts of the floor 
mopped; it didn't perform any useful function that he could see. He 
supposed that it was a decorative or perhaps ritual thing.

His quarters were tiny, compared to the other spaces on the ship, but 
that reflected his status. For a while, he kept a light in there, mainly 
to read by and to help him locate his clothes. After three months, he 
found himself using it less and less, and after eight months he didn't 
use it at all. He located his things by touch, and he no longer read.

After a year and a half, the commanders asked to see him again. By that 
time he had come to know them better, even become familiar with their 
presence; floating in the command space while dozens of dark grey eight-
legged horse shapes silently gestured at each other didn't inspire the 
same curiosity and sense of wonder it once had. After eighteen months he 
had partially merged with them. If he didn't understand them completely, 
he could at least emulate their slow, cautious way of moving through 

The commanders examined him for almost three hours without communicating; 
then they turned away just as they had the first time they'd seen him. 
The gesture brought back an oddly displacing sense of the kind of person 
he'd been back then.

An underling - the same one who had spoken to him before, reinforcing the 
memory - told him quite simply: "We will begin to take you home soon."

It was only after he'd been returned to Earth and was hiding from the 
other humans in an ExPort suite that he realised: they'd pushed him away 
for the same reason he'd pushed the other Acid Warriors away. They had 
been getting too close.

No-one ever said a day has to be juggled into any kind of
sense at day's end. - Pynchon