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Noblesse Oblige
by Phil Geusz
©1999 Phil Geusz -- all rights reserved

Life moves slowly when traveling the vast reaches of outer space and even a rabbit needs to have some fun.

I'd never had it so good in my life.

With practiced ease, I worked my way down the row of gourmet-quality Romaine lettuce plants. It was harvest time for this crop, and the cook was waiting. The plants came out of the "soil" easily, of course -- they had been carefully developed to make my job easier. Raising them was a joy. You just started the seeds, and jumped back out of the way before the emerging plant hit you in the face.

The bucket was completely full by the time I got to the end of the day's row, and there were two succulent plants left. It made no sense to waste them, so I "sneaked" an illicit snack in the name of quality control. After all, there was plenty to go around.

My garden was VERY fruitful. It had to be; all our lives depended on it.

Carefully I set the steel-based bucket on a magnetic holder, then began harvesting lima beans. This was a bit more of a chore, but still easy work in comparison to a real farm. Man-decades of labor had gone into designing and building my little greenhouse, and it showed. Handholds ran along each row perfectly placed for my comfort, and the grow-lights were shaded to keep me from getting a headache as I worked. What's more, the tremendously high oxygen content among the greenery kept me optimistic and happy all the time. I had a wonderful job!

In days past I'd have whistled while I worked, but my lips no longer had the right shape for it. That was about the only thing I really missed, though.

When I was done it was pig-out time! I loved beanstalks, and no one else seemed to care for them no matter how well the cook disguised them. What a shame that they were left for me to dispose of...

After my meal was finished, I put the special zero-gee buckets full of beans and lettuce into a carrying rack, and carefully kicked off from the wall with my powerful hind legs. It was important not to get too carried away -- someone could be badly hurt by a load of produce propelled too-enthusiastically down a corridor. I had only occupied a lapiform body for a few months, and still had to be careful in free-fall with my hopping power. Once I had even knocked myself out on a bulkhead when a rat-morph crewman clapped his hands behind me as I launched. But this journey went well. I navigated the two bends in the corridor with verve and skill, and delivered the groceries right on time. The cook, Matt, didn't seem impressed.

"Lettuce and beans? What happened to the corn you promised me?"

"You'll have to serve frozen tomorrow, left over from last week. Remember, we did have a bumper crop."

"Yeah, but..."

"But what?" I asked innocently.

"Nothing." Matt sighed, his whiskers fluttering in the gentle breeze of exhalation. Like most of the crew, he was a rat-person. "You're right. I guess it's got to be the frozen stuff. Not that you care."

I rocked my ears in a simulated smile. "Hey, someone had to be morphed to eat the stems and other leftovers. I can't help it if I think cornstalks and such are delicious."

"True enough. But give a care to the rest of us, huh? I need that corn soon, Bill."

"You'll have a good crop in a day or two. It's just not quite ripe yet."

"Great! By the way, are you coming to dinner tomorrow?"

"Why would I, Matt? I eat everything fresh and raw."

"Oh, no special reason." Matt sighed again, and returned to his work.

Things were going perfectly. No one dared to say a word to me about the upcoming holiday. Which was natural, I supposed, what with me being the only lapine on board and all that. Some of us were pretty sensitive about our animal forms, despite the fact that we had been chosen for transmutation suitability every bit as much as we had for skills within our fields. No one told animal jokes, for example -- it just wasn't done. Actually, though, rabbithood suited me very well; when my tour on the interstellar exploration ship "Magellan" was over I planned on keeping the form. If we survived to return to Earth at all, of course... Being the first in the starship business wasn't exactly good life insurance, after all.

I bounced merrily off the walls on the way back to the greenhouse, encountering three rats from Engineering and the First Officer, a human norm curled up almost into a ball in the tiny corridor. They were checking out a reported minor hull leak, and I didn't envy Gloria her job as she tried to maneuver with far too little elbow room. Most of the ship was routinely closed to human norms because they were just too big -- half the reason most of us had been required to transmutate was to cut down on the biomass (and thus the food and air demands) of the crew. The savings in weight were enormous -- in fact, star travel might still have been a dream without transmutation and its related technologies. We wouldn't have carried any human norms at all except for the fact that human bodies had first built "Magellan", and could conceivably be required to repair her. Besides, the human race was still in some ways uncomfortable with transmutation technology. They didn't really want to be entirely represented by animal-morphs, on the off chance we might finally encounter intelligent life.

Carefully squeezing past the crowd, I returned "home" to the greenhouse, and strapped myself into my form-fitting bunk for a nap. It was going to be a long night...

Deep into the midnight watches, I woke up on schedule. After blearily running a brush through my silky fur and grabbing a quick snack (one of the downsides of lapineness is that you have to eat all the time, it seems like) I got right down to work.

The eggplant seeds came aboard in my personal weight allowance, and received approval with raised eyebrows. In the end, no questions were asked. Still, the plants proved to be the very dickens to cultivate in null-gee, and the fact that I was forced to raise them in secret made things worse. There was a little seedling nursery in a closed compartment off the back of the greenhouse that no one but me ever visited, and the eggplants had done decently there, with a lot of tender loving care. Eventually I got a good yield of the purple fruits, ripened just on schedule. It was harvest time!

Unfortunately, as I quickly discovered, eggplant greens are not nearly as delicious as beanstalks. Well, you can't have everything.

Still, the work went quickly. While the eggplants were being washed, I rounded up all of my harvesting buckets and went to work on them. Busy, busy, busy! Shredded green paper bound for recycling anyway formed my "grass", then I added carefully hoarded sugarcane from my little hothouse section. A few carefully rationed jellybeans rounded things off, and then it was time to return to my "eggs".

Trying to figure out how to decorate eggplants while leaving them in an edible state had been a major challenge. It was a long way to the nearest craft store, after all! In the end, I decided to wrap them up in pretty colored paper and tinfoil that I had been "scrounging" here and there whenever the opportunity arose. They looked more like Christmas presents than Easter eggs, perhaps, but I figured folks would get the idea.

Then came the hard part. "Magellan" had a crew of 37. Only a minimal watch worked at "night" -- for social reasons, as many people were kept on the same schedule as possible. Still, I had to be careful. The Easter Bunny never gets caught making deliveries, after all!

I had more fun than I would have believed possible. Twice I was nearly caught by light sleepers, and once by a crew-rat on a bathroom run. Still, it was delightful to sneak around the darkened ship and leave my labeled "baskets" beside bunks, under desks and on top of vacant consoles. Then, to cap things off I "hid" my remaining eggs all over the ship, some of them with odd little "prizes" like a packet of rationed coffee or a precious tidbit of chocolate tucked inside the wrapping.

No one caught me. The Bunny's blood must run true.

Next morning, the Captain had an unscheduled Easter egg hunt on his hands, though he didn't seem to mind much. After all, I had "hidden" an egg within easy reach of his bunk...

And for once I ate dinner with the crew, as guest of honor right next to the Captain. Matt served me bamboo shoots and other delicacies I hadn't even known were in the freezers, and a good time was had by all. All in all, Easter was a success.

The vast reaches between the stars are not so cold, after all. Not when we humans warm them with joy and fun.

Spaceship used with permission of the fine folks at Casstle Trash

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