1.8 Feminine Suzerainty
1.8.1 Alenby Sees Signs of Feminism Rampant
Aboard Air France 004, Approaching Paris
About 5 am Wednesday 2 April 1987
An announcement came over the speakers, indistinct, something about the English Channel. Another, about la Manche. A few seat lights came on.
Alenby stirred, still half asleep. He became aware of the flight attendant standing there in the semidarkness, whispering something, and then Ada’s voice louder than usual, with an edge to it: "Tell Mister Slashing Swede I do not accept his fracking apologies and as far as I am concerned he can go and get fracked.
"Oh, good morning, Alenby," she said as the as the flight attendant went off with her message, "Sorry to wake you. I'm going through your things."
"No matter, I’m awake now," he announced, and he allowed himself to suppose that, now he was awake, his strange dream of hyperspace must be over. One does not dream of waking from a dream, he reasoned, nor from an hallucination. So he must be back in his own universe, U as Ada insists on calling it, free to indulge his gastronomical appetites to his heart’s content. Right now that would be a slice of buttered toast with a light smear of Marmite on it and a nice hot cup of tea, Assam leaves, preferably Mangalam Estate....
But he knew it was not to be. He was still wedged in his undersized seat in the cabin of a toy airplane in a universe that offered toast perhaps but no butter, possibly no Marmite, and as he was later to discover, no Assam tea either. Something about Assam tea being the user's preferred diluent for milk.
Another thing he didn't care for in u was a certain carelessness in the use of the English language, like the use of the word f**ck. Surely f*ck was correct.
"You're right," Ada responded when he pointed this out. "'fuck' is indeed correct, but 'frack,' has more impact. Historically the word refers to a hydraulic fracturing technique once espoused by the fossil fuel industry, where a probe is driven deep into the earth to inject highly pressurized fluids to ease the release of carboniferous deposits. Currently it derives emotive power from meaning 'rape of Gaea....'"
While she said this Ada still leaned close, still going through his things, as she’d phrased it. Though charmed against his will by the bouquet of her breath--a fresh-mown hay accented with burned-rubber notes replacing the previous evening’s ratatouille aroma, he raised his voice in a bleat of complaint: "What's the idea of this unsolicited inspection of my accouterments?"
"Tch, Alenby, how can you be so unkind? After I've admitted you to—" She touched her locket.
Locket, he thought. Rights and obligations attached thereto. Better call an attorney. But then he recalled that he didn’t have an attorney. He was living totally without legal protection! The previous evening, that realization had alarmed him, but now to his surprise he felt the agreeable thrill that sometimes accompanies risk-taking. Much as he'd felt in overriding a sommelier’s objections to his choice of a red wine—a Madiran no less—with steamed perch and chocolate-enhanced veal sauce. His resistance to Ada’s rummaging collapsed.
"Oh, very well, go ahead. I doubt you will find anything of interest."
"On the contrary—in your toilet articles, a manual toothbrush, a quaint token of your primitive background. Now everyone uses battery-powered toothbrushes. Science has confirmed it, they do an excellent job of clearing harmful plaque.
"Hum, anyway," said Alenby, equably enough though he felt somewhat nettled, "contemporaneously with my use of the quaint token you mention, I noted the toilet's lack of an amenity vital to health--soap. Lacking soap, how do people wash their hands to prevent the spread of deadly disease-causing microbes?"
Ada shrugged. "There is evidence that the ingestion of small amounts of filth boosts the immune system and promotes health, so washing your hands a lot is not thought a very good idea these days. In fact, the United Nations Security Council is contemplating signs making a firm statement about this. The wording is still being developed, but informed sources say that it will be something along the lines of 'Persons employing this facility may or may not wash their hands or any other body part with or without soap--'"
"Yes, that's all well and good" Alenby interrupted, "but Ada, when you take a shower, surely you use soap?"
"Well," said Ada, "personally I don't recall ever taking a shower or bath. The practice of frequent full-body washing using soap went out of favor soon after the advent of Prohibition. There didn't seem any point to it, except for--" Her lips formed "users," but she tactfully segued to "use of a wash basin and bidet--that's all we need, really. And a little soap--very little--and that just for the hairy parts. We u-people are reluctant to disturb the billions, and oh, trillions maybe, of beneficial microbes that swarm on our skin and generate our individual body odors."
Ada's body odor was something Alenby could relate to. "Ah, Ada...your body bouquet," he said, inhaling. "Very nice, very complex...."
Ada inclined in acknowledgement of the compliment, and switched the conversation back to her investigation of his wallet.
"Your passport seems to have all the right words and the right picture, though in a rather odd format. When we get to Passport Control, we’ll get in line to a male inspector. Then you can leave everything to me—I’ll handle him."
"What about my credit cards?"
"Useless, I'm afraid. Through exposure to the extreme field gradients in hyperspace, their coding will have been irretrievably muddled."
"Obviously wrong. That dreadful shade of green, utterly worthless." At the back of her mind, however, lurked the germ of a thought...might those pallid C-notes, artifact of an alien universe, bring a pretty figure at Sotheby's? "But don’t worry about money," she resumed, "we can use mine. We’ll swap, okay?"
Alenby made a faint sign of agreement. He was ready to agree to anything, because he didn’t care one way or another. In this petty, female dominated universe--Edith Bolling, President?--where nobody seemed to care about health or hygiene, and everything he cared about was wrong or stupid, nothing mattered any more.
"We’ll swap, okay?" Ada repeated. "Alenby, for Gaea’s sake wake up! You’re going to need real money! Here—" Upon his eventual, grudging response, she took a wallet out of one of the capacious pockets of her skirt and withdrew a some dozen dark green hundred-dollar bills. With a shrug, Alenby in turn produced his wallet and handed over a like number of pale green C-notes, and the deal was done.
The sound system, acting through the holovision image of flight attendant, advised of their imminent arrival at Simone de Beauvoir Airport, Paris.