Friday, April 1, 2011

Poorly Hidden

There were very few things to do in quarantine.

Alex had spent his last two days sleeping as much as he could. There were six movies available to watch and nothing else. His techs steadfastly refused to tell him anything about the outside world, which was standard procedure. Nothing that would get him riled up, as Shawn put it. That sort of riled him up.

Aside from sleeping, the only thing that broke the monotony was meal time. First he would get scanned and then of the nurses would drop off a steaming hot bowl of nutragel in the small airlock. In the morning it tasted sort of like a cinnamon roll. The lunch nutragel bore some resemblance to chicken soup and the dinner nutragel was similar to beef stew.

Nutragel was easily more dissatisfying to eat than anything else a dispenser produced. It provided everything he needed to live and made things easier on the scanner, but lacked any other redeemable features. Freedom could not come soon enough.

So he thought.

They were released, reissued the jumpsuits they arrived in and sent on their way. Alex took his cues from Carbon when they were reunited. She looked excited for a moment but then tamped it down with a sidelong glance at the orderly. Just friendly, until they could discuss things further in private. A brief look of longing may have also been exchanged in the elevator to the promenade, when they were alone save for a doctor with his nose buried in a tablet.

They had arrived just in time for breakfast. He could smell real, cooked food in the processed air. Or, according to the Civilian Pilot Program liaison who intercepted them in the elevator lobby, they had arrived just in time to be escorted to their mission debriefing.

Alex and Carbon found themselves wedged into the back of a four seat transport not five minutes later. It was an inexpensive but serviceable civilian model with CPP branding all over the outside. They were being transferred to McFadden station, where the majority of CPP operations occurred.

“I still cannot believe it is so large.” Carbon leaned over as far as her seat’s safety harness would allow, whispering to him as the station grew on the main screen, already lined up with one of the bays on the docking arc. Parking lot speeds were strictly enforced this close to a structure, they were still 30 minutes from actually coming aboard.

“Third largest in system, twelfth in all of human space.” Alex kept his voice down too. It was probably pointless, Mr. Yeong was less than an arms length away in the pilot’s seat and could easily hear them. It felt sort of conspiratorial, almost fun.

“I am aware of that, but I do not know why.”

He shrugged. “They had to make room for all the old spacecraft in the Exploration museum.”

Carbon straightened up and looked at him, perplexed. “A museum?”

“Uh huh.”

“You put a museum in space? In a station that some of your most advanced spacecraft are based from?” Carbon was starting to get that tone that said she may be offended by the very idea being discussed.

“Not me personally, no. But it does seem like a reasonable place for it.”

“I did not mean you specifically, Alex. I meant as a species. Space is not a reasonable place for a museum, no matter the subject.”

“Space is the perfect place for a museum about space. That was the jingle they used during construction.” He cleared his throat and sang, off key. “Space... is the per-fect place.”

Mr. Yeong chuckled quietly.

Carbon’s jaw set and she huffed with frustration. “Your species is so cavalier about so many things. Space is dangerous, it is no place to leave a collection of historical knowledge.”

Alex looked out the side window with a snort, dismissing her argument with a wave of his hand. “Oh yeah, nothing of value has ever been destroyed on a planet before, right?”

The back seat got very quiet.

When he looked back, Carbon was staring down at balled fists with deadly intensity, lips pressed so tight they were pale.

“I didn’t mean- Not like, I... Hell.”

Her words came slowly, precise. “I know you did not mean it that way.”

“I’m sorry.”

She closed her eyes and exhaled, her body relaxing. “You have nothing to apologize for, it has been a difficult week for me.”

He had forgotten that isolation is hard on the Tslao. It had been annoying for him, but being completely cut off from interaction in what was ultimately an alien prison cell must have weighed heavily on her. “Is it alright if I feel bad?”

Carbon glanced at him and nodded, a smile slowly working across her lips. “That is acceptable as long as you are done by the time we arrive.”

Alex laughed just as Mr. Yeong turned to look at them. The older man gave them a bemused look. “Has anyone told you two that you sound like a married couple?”

That shut both of them up for the rest of the trip.

2 comments:

  1. That sort of riled him up, though. Ha! I'd cut 'though', but I like the line.

    Luckily, mountains of paperwork and reports...In this paragraph it sounds like he has a lot to do, but in the next it sounds like he only had a few movies to watch and bad food.

    Nutragel... the name alone makes my tastebuds want to flee.

    A mutual look of longing may have also been exchanged in the nearly-empty elevator to the promenade. I like this, but it seems out of place after the sentence where he determines they should just be friendly.

    Parking lot speeds I've never heard it described that way. Nice.

    The back and forth about the museum and the jingle are great.

    He had forgotten how hard isolation is on the Tslao. What was an annoyance to him was closer to torture for her. This could use more explanation. I know she was feeling isolated earlier on the ship but this line seems to imply something more severe.

    Has anyone told you two that you sound like a married couple? That's great.

    One word use note. There was a lot of 'just' and 'still'.

    This return is getting interesting. Can't wait to see what you have for this week.

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  2. Let's see... Scrapped the paperwork thing entirely. In retrospect, it really doesn't fit the whole "quarantine" thing at all. It will show up again soon.

    Nutragel... I think I'd prefer Bachelor Chow.

    Fussed with the isolation thing, should be toned down a little bit and more personal now. Scrapped out a few just's and still's as well.

    Stuff is going to start happening soon, I hope it'll be as interesting to read as it is to come up with.

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