Fluke’s Fresh Freefall Fish
I have the worst job in the worlds.
Oh, talking to you? No, I wasn’t, not especially—I suppose I wasn’t really talking to anyone. Don’t tell the ‘tender though, it’s a long night and I don’t want him to cut me off just yet.
Name’s Huffman, pleased to meet ya. I have the misfortune to waste away in orbit as a freefall fish farmer. Quite a mouthful, right? Though you’d probably guess from looking that I ain’t got the knack for book learning, I’d still rather call me a “microgravity aquaculture technician” just to avoid that damned tongue tie. But you think that’s bad? My Uncle Elias runs the family boat, and you know what granddad named the business? Fluke’s Fresh Freefall Fish. I wish I was joking! The thing of it is, granddad’s name wasn’t even Fluke—he was a Bill, through and through.
What is aquaculture? Kali’s blazes! You don’t get out much, do ya? What are you, some sorta dirtsider? Way to make a man feel old. Before my granddad none of us Huffmans had even floated the black, let alone set foot on one of the whole motley bunch of colonies. Anywhile, aquaculture’s real simple, in principle at least. Buy a pile of fingerlings, rig yourself up a tub of water, and hook up some sort of feeding system. The squirmy little bastards do the rest.
Of course, it’s one thing to do this in Montana or Tharsis, it’s another entirely to try it in space. You see, nothing likes to stay in one place in freefall; things tend to go wherever they please, regardless of your suggestions. And fish, well, they seem to prefer not suffocating, which they don’t do only if they’re under water. If you get air in your tanks, it just floats around like a bubble of drifting murder. Are you beginning to see the problem here?
So how do we do it? Well, carefully. Our rig’s the Princess Carlita—just don’t ask, please—and all her insides are full of big balls of water in giant plastic sheets, coated with fancy metal mesh. When we fill a new tank, we just pump water into the empty frames, almost like inflating a balloon. Once the water’s where it needs to be, we tighten the mesh. Since you can’t compress the water, it just squeezes the air out like a big old belch. These big chains attach to the mesh and we ratchet them tighter until the ball’s held fast. There you have it, big tank. Then it’s just a matter of adding in the stock and food–and trying to keep the balls from tearing or fish from cannibalizing each other or solar panels shorting out or crew from ‘locking themselves at the first opportunity. You know, the little things.
All this talk of work is giving me quite the thirst, stranger. I’ve heard all sorts of rumors about Mimiri kindness, any truth to ‘em? Oh, a new beer? For me? Ah, you’re a good one, you are. And for provincial swill, this stuff ain’t half bad.
What’s so bad about it anyway? Just about every conceivable thing. First off, ol’ Carlie is pushing eighty years old, but her cargo module was ancient even when granddad bought her. The first few times we sprung a leak, I mighta died from the panic when I heard our air hissing away. But after a while, it’s got to be second nature, although there ain’t a one of us without some sort of scar to show for it.
And it’s not like we can leave anytime we like. The ship’s mostly belt-bound, of course—rock hoppers are our best customers—and we can’t leave this system on account of the certain death that’d happen if we fired up the old ghost drive with our hull in a couple thousand spot-welded pieces. Would you believe this is the first shore leave I’ve had in two years? Health and Safety don’t really exist out in the black, stranger, not on spacer boats.
And how about the smell? All ships out there are pretty bad, to some degree: even the newest Republic frigate or Annonan merchantman has a stink to it. Sweat, sloughed skin, cooking odors—every smell sticks around, all permanent-like. Can’t open a window up there, you get me? But there’s something especially precious about a fish boat, as you might imagine. They always say that you can get used to the smell, but I never have. I think it’s because it’s a new set of nasal horrors each and every day.
So why do I stay? Does it sound like I would if I had a choice? It’s just…Uncle Elias has put everything into it. Granddad had a farm, back on Terra—he raised pigs, from what my dad told me. But there was something about the black that called to him, and he dropped everything to find out what it was. I remember he’d always tell me the story of the gold rushes in the Yukon and California, how the guys who got rich weren’t the miners, bless their souls—it was the shovel sellers and pants hemmers. He figured even a spaceman needs his food, and the fish farm was born. Elias took over when he finally kicked it, and it’s hard enough to find workers without his own family deserting him. No, I don’t think I could leave.
But this morning I nearly had it. Last night, you see, one of the balls broke loose and spewed a couple hundred gallons of mature stock into the ship. I woke this morning to a white-lipped, dead-eyed tilapia staring at me, inches away from my face. I’m not ashamed to say I hitched a ride on the next shuttle down here. A man can only take so much.
Because, friend, that’s the worst part of the whole deal. I hate fish. I hate ‘em more than I could ever say.
Alright, barman, I’m going, I’m going. No more for me.