In the Belly of the Whale
Truth or Death – Drilling the shell – ‘Excellence, we have a problem’ – Damned capewalkers – Nobody – Ling-ling shows her ankle – Kicking the can down the road – A pedestrian observation
“This is my ankle,” she said, pulling off her boot.
“Big deal,” Megwan scoffed. “It’s no different to mine.” But his eyes lingered, and he declaimed:
“Slim, curved, and graceful
Demanding no adornment,
I would be your shoe.”
He made a move to touch the so-celebrated ankle, and the duenna, supervising the play from a stuffed chair off to the side, sat forward, warning him off.
“Thou art a bold one, Meg,” Ling-ling said. She thought the poem not bad for a spontaneous composition, although he had framed it in Standard English and used syllables rather than morae for the line counts. Her duenna sniffed disapproval, but whether for the sentiment or the syllabification, Ling-ling did not know.
They were, fittingly enough, in the Game Room of the suite known as Zephyrholm, an interconnecting set of compartments on Three Deck, forward of Seven Frame, used by the Commander of Air. Her father was an important man, and someday the post would be hers, although she was unsure what that entailed.
“Have you gotten your draft notice yet?” Megwan asked, but with a little too much eagerness in his voice, so Ling-ling affected not to care. She extemporized a couplet:
“Oh, that notice so best of worth
Comes not always on the fest of birth.”
Megwan’s mother was Commander of Water, a puissant post in its own right, since next to breathing, drinking was most vital. Their parents had been conspiring all of Ling-ling’s life to join her to Megwan, though she had become conscious of the deliberateness of these arrangements only in the past year. Her child by Megwan would become Joint Commander of Air and Water. Even the in-captain would have to pay attention to so powerful an Officer. So, she and Megwan had been tossed together like the ingredients in a salad in the hope that when their draft notices came, they would have already formed a bond of affection.
Of course, there was the small matter of the Examinations, but she could cast a verse as readily as Megwan, and there was always yin privilege for moving the children of Officers up in the rankings. So, as long as she passed, Ling-ling did not think she need worry about demotion.
As far as that went, Megwan was not the worst choice her parents could have made for her. He was presentable and cleaned up nicely. But the Eugenics Department had the final say regarding who could copulate and with whom.
Her mother had instructed her in that art too, of course, but she wasn’t quite sure what that entailed, either.