Eleanor was not sure what to expect from being a cadet on a Federation starship crewed entirely by naked women. Presumably there would be no swabbing the decks and splicing the mainbrace, whatever that meant. But then again, what did everyone get up to all the time on the Enterprise.
But there was much to learn. It was impossible for the ship to be entirely automatic. Checks had to be made constantly that the ship was running correctly. A disaster in space where the nearest other ship was light years away would be much worse than a shipwreck on a terrestrial ocean. Much to her surprise, Eleanor found it easy to learn the ins and outs of crewing a starship. She got promoted. Although she wasn’t called that, she imagined herself as an ensign on the Enterprise.
The big surprise was Jane moving out of their shared quarters. It hadn’t really registered with Eleanor that Jane was spending time in the company of Commander Grainne, but it turned out they had been getting deeply involved with each other. There were no rules against relationships between crew, and as far as Eleanor could tell it was not a case of the commander using her position to get the new recruit to sleep with her. They really did like each other. And Eleanor’s new standing in the crew entitled her to having her own quarters. Despite the occasional tentative approach from other crew members, she still was not interested in forming any sort of relationship. She found that learning to be a better officer was much more interesting than sex.
After some months, although time on board ship seemed a bit dreamlike with no external day and night, no seasons, they docked with a space station. This was no small structure. Hundreds of other ships were docked already as they approached and they all looked insignificant against the bulk of the station.
The crew complement of Mother Knows Best was 38 after Eleanor and Jane had joined. Eleanor had got used to seeing that number of naked women around. Then she stepped through the docking tunnel on to the station. A naked woman was checking off her details on a hand-held computer. Several naked women were doing maintenance work. She had been told to visit the concourse area which involved walking down a corridor and then taking a lift. There were several naked women with her in the lift, all strangers to her.
And then she stepped out into the concourse. It was a crowded market, teeming with naked women. Hundreds of them. She halted at the shock of it and several women behind her walked into her, their naked flesh against hers. It was an odd feeling. Not unpleasant, but not pleasant, either. She apologised and hurried along. So many naked women! It was unsettling. She felt a strong urge to go back to the ship, to the solitude of her own quarters.
There were cafés and bars lining the edge of the market, and one of them caught her eye. Her implant rendered the name of the place as A Taste of Old Earth, and it even appeared to be in an archaic font. The place was not as crowded so she found a seat at a table with her back to the market.
It was just like a restaurant back home. There were printed menus on the tables. Eleanor picked one up. The items were familiar. Roast beef. Pork chops. They even claimed to have tea. It was so familiar it was disorientating.
A woman came out to take her order.
“Is this for real?” was Eleanor’s first question. “I’ve not seen things like this since I left Earth.”
“I did wonder if you were from Earth when I saw you come in. I’m from Earth originally, but I haven’t been there for a very long time.”
“But how do you get this stuff? I understood there was no trading with Earth yet.”
“We don’t. But there are plenty of inhabited planets in the Federation and it seems that there are only a limited number of variations in plants and animals. The fact that all inhabitants of the planets look like us is proof of that. So I’ve combed through the foodstuffs from hundreds of planets to find the nearest to beef and wheat and everything else I’ve needed to recreate Earth cuisine.”
“I’m getting all nostalgic just looking at this. Meeting someone else after all this time away is odd. Well, there’s my best friend Jane, but we left Earth at the same time. She’s out with her, well, girlfriend I suppose is what I’ll call her at the moment and I didn’t want to be a spare wheel. Where are you from? When did you leave Earth?”
“I grew up in a small place called Tiptree,” the woman began.
“Tiptree!” Eleanor exclaimed. “I know it. I’m from Chelmsford. We’re both from Essex.”
“That is a coincidence,” she replied. “I expect Essex has changed a lot since I left there. My story? I was in service.”
“That means you were a servant, right?” queried Eleanor.
“Yes, I worked in a large house as a cook, hence my current career. But I wanted adventure, so when the war broke out, I volunteered as a nurse. You know about the war? We called it the Great War.”
“Yes, we call it World War I now. That was over a hundred years ago now.” The woman did not look older than her thirties.
“That long? I’ve stopped tracking time since I’ve been here. We live so long, nowadays.
“But as I was saying, I volunteered to do my bit against the Hun, but a surprise barrage hit our hospital and I ended up spending the night in a field hiding from the gunfire. It was there I was picked up by a Federation crew observing the war and I was offered the chance to join them. Like you, I suppose. Where you in a war?”
“No, thank goodness,” Eleanor replied. “Nothing so dramatic. I was picked up after a drunken night out with my friend.”
“Well, after the hell of the war, coming on to a Federation ship was bliss. Of course I joined them. It was men doing the fighting on Earth. The Federation is all women and hasn’t had a war in centuries. And, ironically, another nurse was picked up the same time as me, a German. Gert and I met for the first time when we woke up naked together on the ship and we’ve been together ever since. She’s getting supplies at the moment, but if you stay around, you’ll meet her. After many years on the ship we decided to settle down and we opened our restaurant. Which brings me to what I was originally going to ask when I came out here. Do you want to order something?”
“A pot of tea,” was Eleanor’s reply.
Eleanor had an appointment to keep, one that could decide her future in the Federation Star Fleet. Part of the station held the local administrative offices of Star Fleet, and she was to report there where it would be decided if she was suitable officer material. Being promoted to ensign her captain could do, she was now due to be promoted to lieutenant, and that needed to be ratified by the higher-ups.
It was just like any other suite of offices that Eleanor was familiar with, except the woman on reception was naked. Jane had already arrived and the two of them awaited being called in.
There was a panel of five members of the Federation High Command sitting at a desk on a raised platform. At the centre was Admiral Jelna, her strikingly red hair cascading down her shoulders. She was apparently the top person in this part of the galaxy, even though she also didn’t look a day over thirty. None of the panel looked old, but Eleanor realised they could be centuries old.
Commander Grainne was sitting at a lower level as their sponsor. When it came to Eleanor’s turn to answer questions, she was reminded of that old advice to imagine your audience naked when addressing them. It was all she could do to avoid having a fit of the giggles.
It appeared their promotion was just a formality. Grainne had already given glowing accounts of their character and abilities. Eleanor wondered how Grainne and Jane’s personal relationships affected matters. It seemed that long-term relationships between crew members was not uncommon in the fleet, so presumably there were checks in place to prevent favouritism.
Afterwards, Eleanor and Jane were alone together.
“The way things are going,” said Jane, “I can see you getting promoted to Number One.”
“You’re the one sleeping with the captain,” replied Eleanor, her thoughts about favouritism still on her mind.
“You’re always going on about Star Trek. Spock never slept with Kirk,” joked Jane.
“Well actually, if we ever see Earth again, I’ll have to show you some fan fiction.”