She had never been flying before.
It was one of the many wonders from the time before that had dissapeared. Once men had gone through the air like birds. For that matter, once birds had gone through the air like birds. But now the skies were barren, until today.
The screen showed them what was happening. The pod was moving through the air quickly. The piles grew smaller and smaller, until finally they were of similiar size to the colony, until the dome was nothing more than a silver blip.
"I feel sick." Arril said.
"Try to hold it in." Mona told him, but it was too late, and the boy vomited in front of his seat. From the back seat Sgt. Aleph looked pretty green himself. Mona steeled herself, trying not to think of what was beneath them, or rather, what was beneath the floor of the pod. Nothing. More and more nothing. And if they fell, that nothing would last a long, long time.
"Now exiting atmosphere." The pod said, in a reassuring female voice. "Please remain seated, during orbital procedures."
"What the hell is this?" Aleph said.
The display on the screen changed. The sky grew darker, and less blue. The stars came up all of a sudden, white dots on an endless black. Underneath them the land was now a globe, that Mona recognized as the globe. The Earth. From in front of Arril, globules of vomit floated before his face.
"Its space." Mona said. "Were in outer space."
"Thats not possible." Aleph said. "It has to be some kind of trick, or display."
"I feel funny." Arril said. He unbuckled his restraint, and started to float inside the pod. His face lit up in amazement.
"Is that a trick?" Mona said. "I'd like to see how its done."
The pod approached the space station, and everyone shut up again.
The space station was an enourmous creation. It bristled with vanes and spines, and seemed to have arms that went off in every direction. For Mona it was the dome all over again. For Aleph and Arril it was something new and impossible, that nothing had accounted for before.
"Beginning docking procedures." The pod intoned. "Please remain seated, while artificial gravity is established."
And just like that, Arril went crashing to the floor, his vomit globules splattering comically on his head. The airlock hissed, and Aleph helped the boy up. When they stepped through, they were in the Space station.
The space station walkway was all white, with large windows on either end. One side showed the vastness of space, on the other, Earth loomed below. There was a smell inside of dust, of a vastly old tomb. Arril pointed to a bench. "Wonder how long he's been there."
Mona stifled back a gasp. There was a corpse on a bench, facing the window of the walkway. Not the sort of corpse Mona came in contact with from time to time in the piles, fresh and oozing, but a skeleton, whose skin had long since turned to dust. Aleph trained his plasma rifle on it, and walked over. The corpse did not stir. The Guardsman nudged it with the muzzle of his weapon, and the skeleton fell over, sending up a small cloud of dust.
"Dont look." Mona said. "Arril, sweety, dont look."
"I think its cool." the boy said. Then he grimaced. "It hurts to walk. And I smell bad."
"We need to get you cleaned up." Mona told him, wondering where they would be able to do that.
"He doesnt smell like Rot." Aleph said. "Whatever it was, it happened a long time ago."
"Can you help carry Arril?" Mona said.
The three of them came fairly quickly to the central hub, but not before passing several other corpses in similiar states of decomposition. In all of them, the effect was the same. They were facing the stars, or the Earth. What had happened to them? Was this part of the Rot, some unseen side effect? Was it in the air right now? Would Mona feel the urge to sit down, and then simply starve to death, facing the universe? It was almost too much to think about, so she put her mind away from it. There were priorities. Medicine for Arril, first, and then finding out where they were, and then, maybe, there would be time for other mysteries.
At the central hub, which seemed to be a spire that ran the breadth of the space station, Aleph was frustrated by a touch screen panel. "I dont understand these symbols." He said.
"Let me try." Mona told him. It was a mass of AI symbols, living code for machines. She had seen it before with the Droid. She skimmed through the code looking for something that said start, or enter, and then flipped it. The display popped up directly in front of Aleph, startling him.
"Shit!" He exclaimed.
"Welcome, travelers!" Beamed an attractive female hologram. "Welcome to Virgin Galactic's Orbital Station. Ask any questions to your representative."
"Whose a representative?" Mona said.
"This construct is an artificial representative of the Virgin Galactic family." the holo said.
"What do you mean, family." Aleph said. "There's more of you."
"In this case, family refers to a multi-national incorporated conglomerate." The holo said, cheerfully."
"My leg hurts." Arril said.
A map appeared on the panel. "First aid is available on level three-A." the holo said. "If you are having difficulty walking, a service cart can be provided to you for an additional charge."
"We'll take one of those." Aleph said. "This kid is getting heavy."
"Wait a minute." Mona said. "Are you available throughout the station?"
"That is correct." The holo said.
"Then we want navigation." Mona said.
"Additional charges may apply."
"It doesnt matter." Aleph whispered. "I suspect any of the people we would have owed money to are dead."
The cart managed to drive itself just fine to the first aid station, where for additional fees in long defunct currency, the chipper AI talked up a storm the entire way about the many features of the location. In the first aid station itself, the AI managed to talk Mona through giving the boy a scan to determine where the break was in his leg, setting the small robotic splint, and giving him an anesthetic. After that, Arril was able to walk again, which made the small party a degree more mobile.
"I feel better." Arril said. "But I'm hungry now."
"Visit the dining section for fine world cuisine!" The AI said,"All food synthesized."
"We should be careful." Aleph said. "What if whatever it is that killed these people off, is in the air?"
"What does synthesize mean?" Mona asked.
"Synthesication is artificial genetic reconstrution." The AI said.
"No." Mona said. "We really need to see the dining hall. Lets go now."
The AI was a little basic in its commands, so the trio ended up having Thanksgiving dinner.
This was a feast none of them had ever seen. The smell was enough to send hunger pangs shooting through Mona's stomach, roast turkey with graving, bread stuffing, beans, potatoes. The synthesizer hummed and popped out one dish after another. Arril fell into into ravishly, and soon despite themselves, Mona and Aleph did the same. There was a synthetic wine to go along with dinner, lightly carbonated, and the Mona was feeling somewhat tipsy afterward.
"Its good." She said.
"I'll say." Aleph said. "You stay on rations most the time in the guard."
"I eat meat sometimes." Arril said. "From the dome. This was different than that, but still good."
"This could save us." Mona said.
"I think were doing okay." Aleph said. "I mean, yeah, I could use a lay down and a bit of a nap, but overall I think I'm all right. You fixed the kids leg and our bellies are filled. What more do you want?"
"No." Mona said, "I mean the colony."
there was a silent pause.
"We dont know how long this station has been out of comission." Mona said. "But the AI was able to make us this meal. If we can do the same thing on a larger scale, we can fix the food problem."
"The food problem." Aleph repeated. He looked over at the boy, who was snoring gently in his chair.
"Do you know what I'm talking about?" Mona asked.
"I've heard rumors." Aleph said. "About the number of stragglers we get every week. The resources and everything. But I'm not really paid to think too much into it." He burped. "But after this, I guess I will. I havent been this full in a long, long, time."
"We've gotten used to living on a reduced calorie diet." Mona said.
The quarters the AI showed them to had a series of beds, underneath a wide window that showed Earth above, or below, or more likely simply beyond. When Mona went to sleep she felt happy and strangely hopeful.