Jude arrived back at Kakuda just before nine the next morning. She was greeted in reception by a young woman whose name tag read “Naoko Mori” who requested that Jude follow her. Led to a changing room with lockers lining the walls, Mori asked that Jude change into the outfit which Howe had given her the day before – which fortunately Jude had remembered to bring.
“Once you’re ready, we can make a start on this morning’s testing. Here, “and Mori indicated a button on the wall, “just press this and I’ll come back and get you.” She left Jude alone to change.
Jude reached into the duffel bag and pulled out a pack of what looked on first inspection like a pair of regular blue thermals. A label on the packaging said “To be worn next to the skin – no undergarments.” Fair enough, thought Jude to herself as she peeled off her bra and shorts. Once she had put on the top and leggings, she understood the reasoning behind not wearing anything underneath. The combination fitted her like a glove and was very unforgiving. Jude felt almost naked but to her surprise, also supported and confined. A little like the time she wore a wetsuit when her father had taken her snorkelling in Cuba, she recalled fondly. The leggings had sock-like feet with a thin sole so she wasn’t barefoot. Jude reached into the pocket of her jacket and fished out an elastic band, which she used to pull her hair back into a pony tail. Stuffing her clothes and boots into one of the lockers, she reached over and pushed the button.
Mori must have been waiting right outside because she walked in immediately. She looked Jude over and smiled approvingly. She closed the locker door, pocketed the key and headed back out with a polite “Follow me please.”
Jude quickened her pace slightly so that she could walk in step with Mori. Jude asked about the whereabouts of her fellow inductee from the previous day.
“We are having a few…em… issues with Mr Hennessey.”, her guide confided. “Chief Howe is speaking to him now.”
They entered a large white room and sure enough, there were Howe and Hennessey. Hennessey was still clad in his street clothes and was in full flow.
“If you think for one moment that I am wearing…” he pointed one of his long fingers straight toward Jude and spat,”…THAT, you are out of your mind. I’ll wear sweats or overalls but if you give me no option then you can shove your fakking job!”
Chief Howe stood calmly as this onslaught continued, although Jude did notice that he held the clip pad a little more tightly and defensively against his chest.
“Stupid shitty fakking programme anyway. We’re just cleaning up crap. Why we have to be dressed like fakking dobes is beyond me!”
“Mr Hennessey, “the chief spoke to him calmly and quietly, “this will not be your work wear. These outfits are merely for your comfort and convenience while we take you through the next part of your training. Look to Ms. Sadako here – she’s quite happy. “He made eye contact with Jude, appealing for her support.
“I must admit I was a bit dubious when I was putting this on but it’s surprisingly comfy. “, she said.
“I don’t CARE if it’s fakking COMFY, “Hennessey barked.
Chief Howe was not backing down. The once cheerful man became stern.
“Hennessey, I’ve read your file. I appreciate your concerns and I do sympathise. Perhaps we can come to some kind of agreement? If I allow you, “he turned briefly to acknowledge Jude then back to his belligerent trainee, “and Ms. Sadako here of course, to wear a gilet or over-vest, would that suffice? Until we get you into company overalls?”
Hennessey looked down at his booted feet and mumbled consent.
“Good, good. Now, “he nodded to Ms. Mori, who had looked on aghast at the whole exchange, “Naoko here will conduct you to the changing facilities and from there we can continue with this morning’s programme.” Hennessey shuffled after Mori like a scolded pup. The chief turned to Jude.
“Thank you for your contribution and patience there Ms. Sadako. Now, let’s see. “He opened his clip pad and scanned the display. “All your tests came back with more than acceptable results. No worries there. So far you seem like an ideal candidate. At this stage, do you have any questions?”
Jude fought back the urge to ask why Hennessey was being treated with kid gloves – he seemed like a royal pain in the oshiri. If it had been her call, she have booted him out.
“No, I’m just curious as to what comes next. “
“Good, good, “the chief smiled. “ One small question. Do you vomit easily?”
Hennessey and Mori returned a few minutes later. Jude couldn’t see what the fuss had been about – he looked to her eyes more than alright in the skin-tight outfit but he wore the padded over-vest like it was armour, his arms folded defensively across his chest. Mori handed her a matching one. As Jude zipped it up, the chief addressed them.
“Now, I have been terribly remiss here. You both must be wondering why Professor Mori has joined us today. She will be guiding you through the first stage of your induction. She’s in charge of our High Enthalpy Shock Tunnel, where, should you pass these first stages, you will learn to manoeuvre equipment and perform EVAs. But for now, she will assess your tolerance for SMS.”
“SMS,” Hennessey grunted. Jude looked puzzled… “Space Motion Sickness.”
Jude was glad that she hadn’t had much to eat that morning for breakfast, just a quick can of coffee and a cereal slice on the train in. Her cohort had obviously eaten better, as evidenced by the stains on his vest and the retching noises he was making.
“Here, “she handed him a sealed packet, “Professor Mori gave me some of these.”
Hennessey opened it and slapped the contents on his neck. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. We could have done with these TD patches before we started.”
Hennessey chuckled, much to her surprise. “Wouldn’t have done us much good. These tests are designed to make you puke. The meds only make you feel better after.”
“You’ve been in space before?” Jude hesitated. “I mean, not just as a passenger?” She sounded like an idiot but Hennessey, if he had noticed, didn’t react.
“Uh-huh. Worked for 5 years with Euro-Sat.”
“So why work for Cosmic Cleaners? That’s well beneath your expertise.”
“Quick money. I need it for my op. “Jude looked quizzically at him. “I’m a trans man.”
“Oh.” Jude didn’t know what to say.
“Yeah, sorry about my outburst this morning. I’ve not had my top done so the gear they gave us freaked me out. Made a damn fool of myself.”
“No, it’s okay. “ Travelling with her parents and her short-lived career in the music industry had brought her into contact with all sorts of people. She stood up shakily and went to get a drink of water from the cooler. “Want one?”
“Please. I hope it was okay me telling you. It’s not something I broadcast but seeing as we’re training together…” he took the proffered tumbler. Then he grinned at her. “Mind if I ask you a question?”
Jude felt it was only fair after he had confided in her. “Not at all. Ask away?”
“Your name’s familiar. Were you in the music business?”
Jude stiffened. Her J-pop career as Kiki Kokeshi was coming back to haunt her. She blushed and nodded.
“Thought so. I loved your ballads.”
Chief Howe popped his head around the door, glad to see that his new workers seemed to be bonding. Nothing like a bit of extreme gravity fluctuations to bring people together.
“You’ll be glad to hear that’s all for today. Get yourselves cleaned up and changed. On the way out, remember to collect your travel passes. See you tomorrow.” And he was off.
Jude showered and changed back into her own clothes. They felt bulky and hot. As she laced up her boots, she wondered what she had got herself into. It couldn’t be any worse than today, could it? But despite her misgivings, for the first time in many months, she was feeling positive about her prospects.
Hennessey was waiting for her in reception. He stood up as she walked over and handed her a train pass.
“Thanks. See you tomorrow?”
He shuffled. “I called a cab to the station. Do you want to share?”
Sure, though Jude, why the fak not?
Hennessey, as it turned out, lived in Tama New Town. As they chatted on the train back into T-City, Jude pleasantly surprised as to how cultured and erudite this young-ish man actually was. He told her he was originally from Belfast. She remarked on how different he must find Japan.
“Not really. It really changed after independence, you know. We managed to become a centre for ship building again, only interstellar ones this time.”
“Is that how you got into working on satellites?”
“Yeah, about 10 years ago.”
“You must have been awfully young?”
He smiled. “Nah, it’s the hormones. Like the elixir of youth. I’m nearly 32.”
They said goodbye at the platform, as Hennessey had to rush off to catch the metro, but with promises to meet tomorrow to travel out to Kakuda together.
When Jude finally arrived home, she kicked off her boots and cracked open a can of highball. Her phone rang – the display was of a mythic tatsu – dragon- and the word “Mother”.
“Hello Dory. “ It irked her mother when Jude called her by her first name but she was too old to use “Okaasan”.
“I’ve been trying to call you all day. Your father is out of his mind with worry.” Jude scanned her missed calls – there were three – two from her mother and one from Coop.
“Sorry, I’ve been working.”
“Working? You have a job? Not more hostessing – your father doesn’t like that you know. All that talent going to waste. You should come and see us. We’re back Earth side next month – you can come work for us again…”
“Dory, I’m fine. It’s not in a bar this time. Coop put me onto something. A company called Cosmic Cleaners.”
“Coop, “her mother snapped in her Edinburgh accent, “that wastrel. What the heck is Cosmic Cleaners?”
“It does exactly as it says on the tin. I’m cleaning up the cosmos. You could say they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”