The Quartermaster

The portal takes very little effort to open, and the ease with which it opens frightens you. Was it this easy to open the whole time I was in here? You calm yourself with the faith that there is a lock that prevents the opening of the portal while undocked. Your feelings move from anxiety into calm as the portal door opens.

The door opens to reveal a pipe-like hole that resembles what you might expect a man-hole to look like after the cover is removed. Although, seeing a face at the other end staring back at you with a smile is not what you expect to see at the bottom of a man-hole.

“Hello out there.” The face calls through the passage.

“Hi.” You wave at the individual.

The isolation has affected your demeanor and this odd sight is not helping the situation. The figure at the other end appears to be inside a larger well lit area, but the passage between is dark.

“My name is Greg. I’m here to welcome you to L4.” The figure reaches out a hand to beckon you through the opening, “Come on out of that tin can when you’re good and ready and don’t be scared when the door closes behind you.”

After a few moments of calming yourself down, and taking a deep breath, you begin to move through the door. The passageway becomes a painless task of floating through the hole. The door shutting behind you makes a loud echoing clank that startles you despite the warning.

This small tube leads to another more spacious tube. It might be a hallway except that it has no floor. The tube-hallway is well lit, clean, and quite long. It has a ladder extending the full length right next to some portals. The portals are at intervals along the length of the ‘hallway’. From the looks of things, you are close to one end of the hallway, and the other end is very distant. Greg patiently waits as you take in your surroundings. After a long moment of silence, he breaks the ice.

“Hello, and welcome to L4. I’m the quartermaster on this monstrosity, and I’m here to greet you with a nice warm welcome.” He extends his hand in greeting.

His hearty greeting matches his cheery bearded appearance. Oddly, this exchange seems easier than a normal handshake. It also warms your mood. After days in that can like OTV, it feels good to have company of any kind.

Greg is dressed in some workers coveralls that are not clean. His short beard and hair float around him giving him the look of a man who was more of a flower than a human. The weightlessness adds to this flower style as he appears to bend in a non-existent breeze. His exposed forearms are dirty with soot, and it is clear he’s recently been working on something. The effort that you put into cleaning yourself up before docking seems to have been unnecessary.

“That tunnel you just came through is the shielding. This whole place, everything here, is encased in a very thick wall of shielding. This is the safe place, this is home. Everything is built with that in mind.” He explains as he motions for you to float clear of the portal door closing at a snails pace.

“Where are we?”

“We’re in Terminal B, we have to go up to Central, but first tell me how the trip was.” Greg grins and pats his hands together.

You force the words, “It was rough. I didn’t know I’d be isolated.”

“I’m sorry for the rough trip, but you’re here now and I hope you find it pleasant to be here. Down in housing it should be just wonderful compared to that can.”

The question burns, “I know that communication services are available between here and earth. Why were they shut off?”

“I remember when they did that to me. It’s not fun.” Greg sighs, “They do that to everyone on their first trip. They claim it’s to test your mental state, but nobody ever goes crazy. You passed with flying colors. I hear you are quite coordinated.”

The realization hits you, “they watched me?”

Greg’s eyes widen, his teeth grimace, and his head slowly nods. “You can imagine how difficult it is to give someone a warm welcome and tell them they’ve been watched for the past several days.”

You stutter out, “Why?”

“We all feel exactly the same way about the situation. Even the support staff dislikes it. It takes some time to get used to.” Greg pauses for a moment and leans in close. “Anywhere outside of here you can be watched. I don’t like it either,” Greg’s smile disappears briefly.

“So we’re being watched right now?” It gives you an odd feeling.

“No, like I said, you’re safe in here.” Greg waves his hand around. “They aren’t watching now. The outside world doesn’t get to watch or pester you in here unless you want them to. We get to relax at home right?”

In a somber tone you reply, “I didn’t know I was being watched.”

“Yup, the whole trip,” Greg chuckles, “I didn’t get to see that acrobatic display that docking control says was hilarious. If you did what they say you did, then you are a naturally talented individual. Not too many people take to zero-g quickly,” Greg twists back and forth on the ladder with an uncoordinated motion.

“Ah, but we do get privacy in our dwelling space. It’s spacious, and very accommodating. Think of being away from your quarters as work… Oh listen to me calling them quarters, they’re much more than that.” Greg motions with his hand, “would you like the tour? We have some toys for you to have fun with…”

Greg proceeds to describe how to use the ladder. He grabs it and shows you how to use it to propel yourself down the hallway. In no time he’s a fair distance away. A quick motion reverses his course, and he’s back. He beckons for you to lead the way. You take your turn, and with great ease you are flying fast along inside the tube, with Greg in tow.

As you approach the end you reach out to the ladder to slow yourself down. Knocking a finger against a few rungs on the ladder slows you to a speed slower than walking. Through the opening at the end of the tube-hallway, you can see a giant room.

“You didn’t even need to be told to slow down. You’re a natural at this.” Greg beams.

You both stop at the cusp of the terminal. The view is dizzying. With a natural fear you grip the last rung in the ladder as your heart begins to pound. It’s something out of a dream with no way down or up. It’s a large spacious place, well lit, but not as clean as Terminal B. The giant room gives you that sick in your stomach vertigo feeling. It’s a round chamber about the size of a stadium. Again this area is cylindrical, but not very long. Through the center of the chamber an out-of-place gigantic beam stretches from one side to the other. Around the circumference are various other terminal entrances similar to the one you’re floating in.

Greg clears his throat, “This is central, or as I like to call it, ‘The Aviary.’ I’ve got a bag full of goodies for you. We’ll go through it on ground, but for now you’re going to need a few things from it.”

Greg reaches around the corner to grab a bag that had been floating there attached to a hook of some kind. He opens the bag and begins to rifle through it. After a few moments he pauses and looks you over as if trying to discern something. He furrows his brow and with a hearty voice apologizes.

“Most people feel a little sick the first time they see central. I guess I should have told you that. Do you feel a little sick? Do you want a baggie?”

“Thanks.”

With a big smile he says, “This is for the fun part,” as he hands you a bag and something else.

You take the folded bag, and the other item. It is pretty clear that the bag is in case you vomit, but the other item is merely a small battery operated fan. The fan’s blades fold back onto the body, and it fits quite easily into a pocket.

Your face displays the question clearly. You look Greg in the eye with one eyebrow raised as you turn the fan on and off. The silence draws out as he smiles back without response. Without warning he produces a similar fan from his pocket, lets go of the edge, and points it towards you. With a click he slowly moves away into the wide open enclosure, the fan pushing him along.

In a slick maneuver he uses the fan to turn around a few times. Nothing happens fast, but rather like a slow deliberate graceful dance. It seems uncharacteristic of the cheerful man in work coveralls. The display continues as he moves himself carefully into a position about a stones throw away from you towards the center of the huge open space.

Instinct has made sure that you have a healthy fear of heights. However, in this place there is no gravity, and no height. Taking a big gulp you, summon whatever courage you have. You tightly close your eyes, take a big breath in, a shaky hand releasing, and a fan begins to hum. After a few seconds you open your eyes. You try to turn around to see behind you, but it’s not possible without something to hold on to. Turning the fan off does not stop your slow progress away from Terminal B.

Experimentation with the fan yields great results as you fly around the large enclosure turning and stopping, spinning and moving. The little fan is the only way to make it from one place to another with ease. It’s clear that Greg must have a lot of experience using the fan because nothing you do seems to come out exactly right, but everything he does looks like ballet.

You approach the only out-of-place thing in the stadium sized enclosure: the gigantic beam that crosses the span of the entire place, and it’s the only structural member that appears to be in place. The beam extends into the wall on either side of enclosure. It crosses directly through the center of the enclosure, and it is offset from the Terminal entrances around the outer wall. Bumping into the cold metallic beam is unavoidable given your lack of finesse. Up close the beam is smooth, solid, and as big as a train.

In a surprise, some people emerge from somewhere around the end of this beam huge beam. At distance you can make out only a red and gray figure. You watch as they make their way quickly toward a terminal and disappear into it.

“Is it fun or what!” Greg calls from off in the distance.

You turn to look and see his figure moving slowly toward you. You move the fan to approach him, but your approach seems askew from his. With every course correction you make the approach becomes odder. At a close distance you try to stop.

“It takes a lot of time to get the hang of that thing.” Greg shouts with less behind his voice than before. “Just try to stop and I’ll approach you.”

You do your best to stop, but instead you just reduce your movement to a slow float. Greg expertly maneuvers to within talking-distance. In one arm he holds the bag in tow, and in the other he holds his fan. The hand with the fan is moving about clicking the fan on and off.

“Follow me over to the elevator, and we’ll head on down to your new home.” Greg turns and makes his way toward where red and gray had emerged from moments earlier.

“By the way it takes most people a couple of days to get to where you are with that fan,” Greg yells over his shoulder.

“It’s pretty scary at first.”

“Well you saved me a lot of work in teaching you about it. I usually have to spend a day or two coaxing people the first time.”

“You’re kidding right?”

Greg doesn’t reply and instead points to the elevator doors. These doors are comically out of place in this arena. So far, it’s the most familiar sight you’ve seen since you left earth. The doors open like normal earth-type elevator doors.