Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lukewarm Welcome

“Good morning, Mr. Sorenson.” Shawn, the technician who monitored Alex during the mornings had a twangy martian drawl. After six days of waking up to that, it was starting to grate on him.

Alex squinted into the overhead lights as they warmed up and rolled onto his side, looking at the clock through the thick observation wall. Six AM, just like yesterday and the day before that. Just like every day since they had taken the portal back to the Solar System. “You got half of that right.”

“Sunny as always, I see. Please proceed to the scanner.” Shawn’s voice was coming from somewhere in the ceiling, likely working from a different part of the station. Alex hadn’t been able to locate the speaker. All he could see was the single air vent, a scanner array and a half-dozen burner nozzles. Not being there in person probably made it easier to fry the room if need be.

“Bathroom first.” He swung his legs out from what passed for a bed, standing with a stretch. A quarantine room was a strange place. With the exception of the ceiling and observation wall - 150 millimeter thick impact resistant glass with an airlock - it was nothing but white, curved surfaces with varying levels of resistance. The bed itself was little more than a soft plateau rising up from the hard floor.

Shawn didn’t reply, but the lights on the camera nodes went off. He didn’t know if they actually shut the cameras off, but there were laws that allowed basic levels of privacy, even in quarantine. There were a host of other ways they could monitor him without violating those laws. Heat scanners, sonar... that big
observation window. While the hallway it was open to was currently empty, it was the most difficult thing to get used to when he was taking care of his business.

Coming home had not been triumphant. Not that it wasn’t great at first, when he gently accelerated the Kshlavo out through the ring. That first minute had been tremendously exciting. He had been on top of the world.

As it turned out, having large object of unknown origin just appear out of nowhere in your home system set off all of the alarms. Having it spit out a ship that should have been dead in the water several thousand light years away just exacerbated the response. There had been a lot of very authoritative yelling on the com.

A boarding craft had come for them, soldiers in full boosted armor escorting them off the Kshlavo at gunpoint. It was hard to tell if someone was sympathetic or not with the faceplate they put on those suits. The flight to the medical station had been very, very quiet.

That had turned right around just as soon as Alex had been sequestered into his quarantine suite. Several branches of the military had come around to take statements on what happened in the dyson shell. Most of it, anyway. He may have omitted the part about taking a nap with his alien girlfriend.

They had been particularly unhappy that he had shut off his recording equipment. None of them seemed to like the answer that he had just wanted some privacy while he went to relieve himself and had forgotten to turn it back on.

Once they had gotten enough information, they disappeared. Alex hadn’t spoken to anyone but Shawn in the morning and then Lorin in the evenings since then. They both seemed like good people. He hoped they were, anyway. They had access to the button that would burn the room, after all.

He washed his hands and dried them on the mint green scrubs they had furnished him with. “Done.”

The camera lights came back on. “Good. Now proceed to the scanner.”

It was only three steps away. Another platform rising up from the floor, narrow and directly under the medical scanning array. He climbed onto it, head resting on a squishy lump at one end. There were three scans per day in quarantine. Alex closed his eyes, expecting to pick up some more sleep. Not like they needed him to do anything other than lie there.

The scanner hummed to life above him. “You want your five day evaluation?”

Alex shrugged, eyes still closed. “Sure, why not?”

“Everything looks good so far. Even taking into account the repairs made by the mediboard, you returned in slightly worse shape than you left. That is consistent with how the body reacts to long periods of elevated stress.”

“I don’t recommend getting shot up by the Ehom.”

That got a chuckle out of Shawn. “In addition, your scans have been clear of any sign of infections, viruses or foreign bodies - with the exception of that thing fused to your sternum. That’s giving the boys in the lab a fit.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yup. It doesn’t scan well or appear to do anything. It just seems to get them all riled up. They think your account of how you got it is impossible, but there it is.”

“Shame they weren’t there, could have experienced it firsthand for themselves.”

Shawn sounded particularly entertained by that idea. “I don’t reckon they’d like that very much.”

“They have any thoughts on what it is?”

“I’ve heard a lot of things being floated around. They seem to come back to your first assertion all the time, that it’s a sort of passive tracking or ID tag.”

“Good to hear, but it feels like cold comfort right now.”

“I can understand that. As long as nothing changes, you’ll be out of there in another day.”

Exposure to unknown alien environments had a one week quarantine. The scans were to make sure they weren’t missing anything that could have adverse effects. “So soon? How’s Shipmaster Tshalan doing?”

“Hang on.” There was a long pause. “Feisty. So I am told. She’s just as clean as you are.”

Alex smiled and laughed. “Yeah, that sounds about right.”


  1. A big jump in space and a big jump for the story! I can't wait to see what happens when their relationship comes out.

    a twangy martian drawl. nice, makes me feel like I know what a martian accent sounds like.

    He really hadn’t minded the accent before now, but given the situation it was starting to grate on him. Could either give more or no info about where he is now, maybe cut to, 'After six days it was starting to grate on him.' or 'He hadn't minded it for the first few days.'

    standing with an involuntary stretch why involuntary? Makes it sound forced.

    The observation wall was still hard to get used to when he was taking care of his business. So, they maybe turn the cameras off but there's still a guy watching him?

    Coming home had not been as triumphant as Alex had originally expected it would be. this sounds like he had imagined/planned his homecoming. Maybe cut to, 'Coming home had not been triumphant.'

    There had been a lot of very authoritative yelling on the com. I bet. I have this mental images of guys in uniforms with cigars shouting into microphones.

    Add how it got in there and it seems to offend them quite severely. I like the idea of the offended scientists, but this doesn't sound like dialog from the same guy who says 'reckon' in everyday speech.

    Feisty sounds exactly right for Carbon. I also like the sinister yet routine nature of the quarantine room, they can fry you but it's for a set time for defined reasons and the techs aren't the bad guys.

  2. Edited... Changed some stuff to make it more clear and fussed with Shawn's dialog. Should be better, I hope. In a lot of ways, I think quarantine is pretty common and the technician is just doing his job. There's a lot of stuff out there, it's probably just something people expect to have to do.

    Oh, I'm sure word about their relationship will be getting around...