Letters Home, Chapter 3: Great Expectations
taken by mirsasha
Prompt posted Oct 9 2006
|Story Type: Original|
Content Cautions: None.
Critique: Very welcome, no kid gloves needed. Commentary in general very welcome, since hashing stuff out with folks is one of the best ways to get my creative juices flowing to write *more*.
Summary: Chapter three of my ongoing story about an everyday Earthborn gal learning to love her new home, a space station orbiting Mars. Note: from here on out, order-written (which is Chapter Number order) may well not reflect order-occurred. Chapter one is here. Chapter two is here. I'm tempted to retitle this thing, "Leigh Becomes A Proper Martian," since I'm not sure her letters home are going to be all that important in the ongoing story, but we'll see. I still don't have a plot; here, have some backstory instead!
Administrative note: Oh, and by the way, nekosensei, I hope you're happy now; I'm putting my wordcount on this in for NaNoWriMo status. :-> Puts a bit of teeth behind my on-my-own determination to write a chapter at least every day or three.
Of all the ways Leigh had imagined her first few steps in Lilivaran Station proper going, drizzle had figured in none of them. Drizzle? Space stations? Definitely not the sort of thing she expected THERE. Of course, she didn't expect the frogs either ... but let's begin a little earlier, shall we?
Interplanetary travel in the year 2060 can be said to be many things, but 'thrilling' is definitely not one. Neither is 'eventful' -- though most agree that's a good thing, on the whole. Earth-to-Mars journeys via rocket are better counted in weeks or months than days, even when the two planets are conveniently close together in their mutual heliocentric dance. If she'd been on one of the swankier liners, there would be scads of fun Planned Activities in which she could partake, spacious (maybe even two-room!) staterooms, and gourmet food.
However, since she was being shipped out by her employers, Universal Planetary Shipping, she went on one of their regular cargo-runs. Luckily, they take human cargo not terribly infrequently (either deadheading employees, like herself, or the rare paying passenger), so she wasn't reduced to living out of a shipping container in the hold, but the crew still didn't want her underfoot, so her avenues for exploration and social life were greatly curtailed. They'd warned her about this, so she packed plenty of books (electronic format was all her mass allotment would cover, alas; she already missed the smell of proper bindings and paper) and a few newish games she'd been meaning to try out.
To amuse herself, she'd deliberately sought out mid-to-late-twentieth-century novels dealing with the colonization of Mars, figuring that the better ones might have useful areographic details, and that even the bad ones would be funny. The ones starring the green princess in the metal bikini and her teleported-to-Mars Terran boyfriend were always good for late-night insomniac giggles, for example.
She'd had a couple of days in transit on Clarke Station and in Luna City, and everyone said Phobos was like Luna, only smaller, and that all space stations were more or less alike, so she felt pretty prepared for that bit, and instead focussed on the wonder and grandeur of Mars itself ... and familiarizing herself with the schedules and client-list she'd be dealing with on her first day in the office on the other end.
Innumerable games of minesweeper and solitaire later (she'd discarded three pairs of socks to leave mass for a favorite deck of actual cards), though, the station was in sight. A long-suffering environment tech showed her to a tiny porthole that sometimes pointed in roughly the right direction while they were on docking approach, and she got her first look at her new home for the next six months.
It was a bit of a letdown, really. Clarke Station was a majestic set of four futuristic wagon-wheels tied together, their stately whirl gleaming palely in the sun. Lilivaran was ... well, dingier, and far more random-looking. Clearly, nobody had ever drawn out this whole assemblage on a blueprint at once. The hab section, roughly cylindrical in cross-section, was hard to see past the shiny-bright solar panel louvers surrounding it. A central shaft nearly three times the length of the cylinder protruded on both ends, providing moorage space for a motley assortment of craft, none larger than midrange.
Past it, though, was the swelling russet curve of Mars, and that was as impressive as anyone could have wished. Dusk was passing under the station as they came in towards their berth, and so the sparkling jewels of Mariner City were visible, clumped together into the city proper and then spreading in necklaces and garlands of outposts along both walls of the Valle Marineris' vast canyonlands. In daytime there's rather less to see, but at night its lights gleam and sparkle like a fistful of glitter dumped in a sandbox.
The take-hold warning sounded, so she tore herself away from the view and pelted back to her cabin to strap in for 'landing'. Docking, really, but old habits of speech die hard. She felt her weight drift away into the swimmy uncertainty of free-fall, and a tiny CHNK of contact as the connections drove home. A crewman came to escort her to the lock, and she politely failed to notice how glad they were to get rid of her, while doing her best to imitate his economical soaring dives from handhold to handhold. The only good thing, she mused, about only being allowed to bring 20 kilograms of baggage is that you've got no trouble carrying it all yourself ...
The 'joys' of undergoing thorough customs inspection and microbial decontamination in zero-gee when you're accustomed to Terra's comforting 9.8m/s² embrace are best passed over quickly, and Leigh thought to herself, often, that this didn't really count as being 'on the station' yet. This was just more travel hassle to add to the end of a long line of travel hassle, all the way back to her atmospheric flight from Chicago down to Rutan Spaceport, and the abysmal sandwiches that passed for food on O'Hare's concourses.
No, the entry station didn't count, where she got her temporary-resident badge (please carry with you at all times, Miss ...), or the out-check station, where she reclaimed her newly-fumigated and -inspected 20 kilos. The spin-up vestibule didn't count, either, though it was kind of cool: like a weird cross between a carnival ride and an elevator. You swim/float in, dog down your luggage and grab a hand rail, and then suddenly you're moving sideways, faster and faster, until suddenly the wall you're standing on is most definitely floor (since most of the walls have grip-carpet on them in Lilivaran's null-gee sectors, you can't exactly go by that). And then the door you didn't come in through opens, and you step into another vestibule, only this one is most definitely an elevator proper, and through its clear sides you see ... an unearthly vista, in every sense of the word.
Imagine one of those panoramic scenic views, taken from some high tower or other, the kind they put on postcards. Now imagine taking the postcard, getting it wet, and *twisting*, so the ground goes distinctly up on both sides. In fact, as the elevator descended, it became clear that the ground went all the way up both sides, meeting at the top, and isn't *that* just a vertigo-inducing realization? Suddenly the pretty patchworks of farmland and plaza became faintly threatening, because, well, the sky was made of them too. Irrational though she knew it to be, Leigh's hindbrain was insisting that one of those tractors way up there could fall on her head at *any moment* and she had to be ready for it.
So if you don't count decontam, the vestibule, or the elevator, this was her first step onto Lilivaran Station proper: her soft cloth-topped, rubber-soled black slippers landing on a square of warm beige foamcrete, part of a stamped pattern intended to imitate complexly patterned stone pavers. Welcome Square, it was officially called (she didn't find out till later that residents called it simply 'The Doormat'), and welcoming it was, with the arrivals area encircled with bench-edged planters of waving green foliage, crowned here and there with brilliant blossoms. Sponsored and cared for, the little plaques were happy to say, by Dunne-Salazar Botanicals, one of the station's economic powerhouses.
And, at the moment she stepped out onto the Doormat, Dunne-Salazar was beginning a scheduled rehydration cycle. Meaning that high overhead, hundreds of nozzles suddenly cut loose with their carefully-enriched water-and-nutrients solution, and it started to rain. Well, not really *rain* to a girl from Terra, where the men are real men, the women are real women, and the weather is REAL weather, dammit, but it passed for rain on Lilivaran. By Leigh's standards it was just barely an anemic drizzle, and if she hadn't just been hosed and combed and inspected through the station's very thorough decontam procedure, she'd have been worried about her hairdo and clothes.
However, given the day she'd been having, she found herself starting to giggle, harder and harder, until she couldn't tell the irrigation from her tears. She rolled her suitcase over to the nearest bench (edging a strangely-bluish, but undeniably scenic, burbling brook) and just sat there and laughed and drank the rain until her manager came to collect her.