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Chapter 21

Carter turned a page, thinking. What gave T.S. Eliot the authority to invent words as he did? Was it due to his standing in the world of literature, or perhaps his position as a deviser of the English canon, or maybe even just the respect gleaned from his unique influence on etymology. Either way, it told him apart; made him stand out from the rest. Of course, Shakespeare had invented his fair share of words as well, and Dr. Samuel Johnson then set out to define every one of them, but in the modern era, the 20th century, with the English language already fit to burst, the laureate Eliot saw fit to add more.

How had words come into being? At what point, in the ascent of man from crawling, babbling apes to erect, intelligent beings had language been established. And how many original languages had there been? It was impossible to know which cultures, which races of newly-evolved humans would have had the greatest grasp of language and communication, and the primary instinct to record it, to enforce rules in language, in order to ensure comprehension wherever and whenever. This was the development of the spoken word into the written word; a process that, as Ted Hughes once pointed out, removed part of the feeling, the life in words. To speak a word is to engender the speakers feelings, tone and current situation in the manner of speaking, but when a word is written, it is ink on paper. Nothing more, and nothing less. It becomes impossible to fathom what the person who might once have thought it up was thinking and feeling at that precise moment.

So if Eliot invented words, did he ever actually use them in conversation? Many of them were just too much; too many Latin roots and connected sub-meanings to assimilate usable words. If, then, these words were just ink on paper, and were never spoken, could it not be argued that they did not have the meaning that words before them might have done? After all, the words Shakespeare invented would have been spoken aloud in his productions, sung perhaps in his sonnets, slotted into proverbs repeated today. Scholars would have looked upon Eliot’s word on the paper, nodded and smiled at the clever use of whatever Latin root words the author fiddled with, but would have to admit, despite the obvious literal meaning that could be deciphered, that the new word lacks much potency when compared with words commonly spoken aloud. Still, though, a clever guy.

It was time. Carter lowered the book slowly, closing it gently and placed it back on its shelf. He had brought plenty of reading material with him of course, selecting books that he knew would inspire him, keep him sane and make the ship feel like home. They were the books that you had to go back to, even though the reading of novels multiple times was, in some circles, considered detrimental to the reader’s own interpretation. This didn’t occur with the poetry, so Carter was of the opinion that it didn’t matter. Books were designed to entertain. If they could still serve this purpose after their initial use, then they were better value entertainment. It saved buying more books. They were the sort of books that had been places, with their worn covers and tatty pages. You could see that they had lived Carter’s life. Some had been with him on the Mars Mission. Some had been with him since his adolescent years, undergoing major and minor surgery; new bindings, page whitening, cover enhancement, in order to keep them soldiering on. Carter had never seen the appeal of the devices, Kindles and Iphones or whatever they were called, that were like mobile libraries. For a start, reading books was an experience in itself, and this was totally lost with the intervention of technology. And also, staring at a screen was not only irritating, but bad for the eyes, whereas real books were just paper, just harmless materials that humans have trusted for years, barring the occasional paper-cut. Could you even use a Kindle outside, on a sunny day? Wouldn’t the sunlight black out the screen or something? He was no expert, but this was what tended to happen with laptops and other devices with such screens. But with books, they were simply brightened, made clearer still. No, he was one firmly in favour of the book’s fight against extinction, and the same went for newspapers. Sure, there had been some stinkers in the past, but it felt good buying something new, holding it in your hands, for a small amount of money, absorbing all the current affairs, and then discarding it, possibly tearing through it frantically afterwards to find a TV Guide or if you remembered an eight letter word for ‘the process of building.’

The gloves were just visible, where Carter had last left them; protruding slightly from his drawer, three fingers of the right hand drooping downwards, the rest rigid. They were old gloves, gloves that had grown used to his hands, that had moulded themselves around his hands over the years, leather that had softened at his touch, and indeed at whatever he touched with his hands. They were gloves that, like the books, had lived his life with him, accompanied him on those daring escapes; into space, on combat missions, into the skies, in simulations. Saturated deep in the worn grey leather, somewhere in there, was the essence of Carter’s life, in such a pure form that it filled Carter’s senses when he pulled them on, drawing back memories and allusions; when he had pulled on the gloves for driving, for woodcutting, for punching even. It was so strong, he reckoned Jean-Baptiste Grenouille could have extracted it and made a perfume that represented Carter’s scent. He pulled them on now, thinking.

It was cold in his dorm. There were heaters, installed cleverly into the walls, easily within reach, but they were under instructions not to use them too much during the first year of flying in order to stay energy efficient, and told to use blankets and hooded sweatshirts instead. Carter hadn’t bothered; instead he allowed himself to grow cold. He didn’t mind it so much. He could always fix himself a hot-water bottle later, providing he recycled the water. Recycled. He was starting to hate that word.

It wasn’t that he was averse to ‘saving the planet’ and ‘reducing his carbon footprint’ and all of that nonsense. If people wanted to do something to help the environment, it was just as helpful to plant trees or ride a bicycle. He just didn’t understand why it was such a big deal up here. There was a positively huge amount of water on the ship; in fact it was very much like a human in that way, it was eighty per cent water. But every last drop of it had to be continuously recycled and reused as part of NASA protocol to keep the supplies up and prevent any shortages. Okay, so it kept the crew safer, and stopped mishaps and wastage. But surely the water couldn’t be recycled all the time. What happened to waste that was flushed in water? NASA had invested in state-of-the-art flushing mechanisms on every single lavatory on the ship, which used minimal water, but then, what if he ended up washing in water that had, not a few hours before, contained Perez’s shits? The very thought made his stomach churn. Oh well, it was what he had signed up for.

The good thing was, there was a way to solve the problem. There was always a way to solve a problem. All you had to do was think long and hard about the difficulties, weigh up the possible courses of action open to the individual, and pick the one most suited to the situation. And he was quite sure that he had chosen wisely. There was a muffled sound from just beyond Carter’s door. He looked around, envisaging Perez pausing before summoning up the courage to knock.

A sharp wooden sound rung out, ‘You wanted to see me, Colonel?’

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