This is a story I've just written for @CarolKean's Mad Cow Contest. I had at first toyed with a bleak idea involving prions and revenge in some kind of laboratory setting, but this struck and just seemed a bit more fun. Although I was thinking about the recently reported blue dogs of Mumbai when I wrote it. The setting, Port Stephanie, features in one of my novels, The Line of the Dead, which is the sequel to The Scion.
Chuck stared out of the diamond composite viewing window at the berthed craft with distaste. The ship they all knew as The Mad Cow was back. So-called because of her dappled black and white livery, and her temperament. He’d been pressganged into working aboard her, been hoodwinked into a passage from Mithros, the cost hard labour in the ship’s bowels. For three years. As an older organic craft, she regularly required irrigation. It had been difficult work. He placed his drink back on the faux marble table, stood up and left the bar.
Six months earlier, he’d managed to escape when she’d last come to Port Stephanie, and had spent some time revelling in his freedom. Before he bumped into Parvia in some dive bar. She worked the nutrient feeds for the organic craft. Craft such as The Mad Cow.
‘Everyone knows about her,’ Parvia had said, once he’d explained away the previous three years. The stench of the work.
‘You mean I’m not the first?’
‘Not the first broken soul from her crew I’ve encountered, no.’
‘She didn’t break me,’ he replied defiantly.
Although she had come close, her avatars torturing him into submission. At least he had submitted, which is more than could be said for another crew member. A thrall had been inserted into his cranium; he’d worked hard for a week before dying.
Parvia had become close over the subsequent months. She even understood his obsessive need to scour the docks, waiting for The Mad Cow’s return. Although she cautioned against some of his crazier ideas for revenge. Taking his hand one evening, she told him her idea. He thought it was crazier than any of his.
‘She’s back,’ Chuck messaged to Parvia.
‘I know,’ she replied. ‘I’m hooking up the nutrient tubes now.’
In about half an hour, Parvia had joined Chuck at the lenticular bulge of glass that formed one side of the bar. She was carrying a bottle of champagne, from Earth, and two glasses.
‘Expensive stuff,’ Chuck remarked, raising his eyebrows.
‘The occasion merits it, I believe,’ she replied.
‘You didn’t get caught?’ he then asked. ‘Nope,’ she replied, popping the bottle.
‘Who’ll take the heat?’
‘Stop worrying will you? No-one will be blamed. It’ll go down as an idiosyncratic reaction to the new feeds. As planned.’
They sipped champagne and settled back to watch. The fresian livery of The Mad Cow slowly began to change. The black splodges turned baby blue, the background white a bright pink. Soon a crowd began to gather at the window, pointing at the ship, which now hung on the docking gantry like a ripe berry. Aliens of all races were there, pointing and laughing.
‘Bloody hell, it worked,’ Chuck said.
‘Of course it did,’ replied Parvia.
‘How long before she notices?’
As if answering this question, The Mad Cow began to move, shaking in her cradle. The movements became wilder, nutrient cables detaching and spewing globules of fluid into open space. The cradle then began to sag and tear before she pulled away, spinning on her axis and angling away from Port Steff. Around them the crowd began to whoop and holler. Soon the media streams were filled with mocking pictures of her altered form, the burst of expletives she issued at Port Steff captioning the images; The Mad Cow’s reputation was in tatters.
‘They say revenge is a nutrient feed best served space cold,’ he smiled, looking up at Parvia with loving eyes.
‘Or chilled, on ice. Like champagne,’ she replied, pouring him another glass.
‘Almost as sweet,’ he added, taking a gulp.