Friday, February 9, 2018

Part One - Chapter 3 - Restaurant at the Edge of the World

I step out from my cabin, arriving at a corridor. About 20 meters long, which is plenty, but the station's curvature is still barely visible. - Damn... if this is such a small slice of Ring 2... I can't even fathom how big the whole ring is. Cabins lining up on both sides. Including mine, there’s ten in total. On my right is the elevator door which closes down the hall.

“Navi! Which one is Charlotte’s cabin?”
“Two floors above, officer level. Cabin no. 4”
“So these are the ordinary sailor quarters?”
“Sailors?...No...Southfork is not a ship. These are the cabins of low-ranked civilian employees.” - Just to know your place Boston.
“So these are all empty?”
“All of them, except yours.” - Did Commander Dallas threw everyone out into space? Coz’ I can imagine this from him.
“And the Commander’s cabin?”
“Officer department, door no.1”
“Can I reach Charlotte somehow on the network?”
“Only with special permission from Commander Dallas.” - Damn!
“Is this usual limitation?”
“No. This is a special commander request.” - So he wants me to stay away from her, for sure.
“Where are the members of the crew now?”
“Sorry, this information cannot be accessed.”
“Where can I get to with guest right and without escort?”
“To the restaurant, and to the dock’s waiting room. The rest of the station counts as working area.” - So I’m not free, just my cage got a bit bigger.

I touch the panel of the elevator. It changes to green, and the door opens almost instantly. On the two sides of the walls there the buttons 'Restaurant' and 'Dock'. I touch “Restaurant”. The door closes and the elevator goes down. I lean to the wall opposite to the door. This is how every experienced space hound holds against the Coriolis force in an elevator.

What’s a luxury restaurant like at the edge of the world? The elevator didn’t gave so much time thinking about this. About half a minute, and the door opened. The passageway opening from the elevator is the same white plastic purity what I saw on the rest of the station. - I want real colors! - With fast steps I walk through the hall. At the end on the right is a two-winged swing door. With small circle shaped windows. Looking through it, I see a dark room. That must the guest area. I go through the swing door.

The guest area is completely black. Not just because of the dark. The floor, the walls, the ceiling, everything is made out of pitch black carbon fiber. This is the naked body of the station, without any inner cover. Except the opposite wall, which has about a 10 metres high and 40 metres wide, contiguous star panorama in front of me.

“Navi! Where are we?”
“This is the great hall of the restaurant. We haven’t used it for a long time. But the view is still amazing...isn’t it?” - It is.

With careful steps I walk through the dark of the room. Looks like the place was gutted out completely. Nothing remained here, just the panorama. I touch the transparent wall with my palm. It’s cold. So it’s not made from plastic, but from some kind of glass, or transparent metal. The whole view is surrounded by the slowly rotating starry space... It’s hypnotizing.

At the celestial pole, is Orion. On his belt, I see a fourth star, brighter than the usual three. That must be the Sun. About 150 billion kilometres away from here … 250 years ago every human lived inside the orbit of Neptune. And now we keep a farm this big 30 times farther from the Sun. How far the pioneers of the 24th century got? Halfway to the neighboring stars? Or maybe they’re there already?

“Hello!” A sudden voice comes up from nothing and taps me on the shoulder.
“Aaaahr” My whole body twitched. - Who the…?! Huh. It’s Charlotte...who else?
“Heeey! You scared me shitless.” But she just laughed at me on her trilling voice. -I’ll get you next time, you beautiful beast. - I mumbled to myself.
“You were daydreaming, Astronaut!”
“Indeed. The view is hypnotic.”
“When I was a kid I used to stare into space from here.”.
“Did you grow up here?”
“Here?” Opens her arms “In front of a window???”
I laugh. She does the same, but with her beautiful eyes and her titties shaking from laughter. I can’t stop staring them.
“Come, Boston! I’ll show you our table.”

Through a door at a hidden and pitch black corner of the restaurant we arrive to the officer canteen. Finally a place which looks better than the rest. - Light blue, matte walls. Green landscapes in classy frames. From the ceiling hangs a chandelier with a white linen lampshade above the gray table in the middle of the room. The table has space for eight, but it was prepared for four only. Folded white fabric napkins, silver cutlery and blocked glass made out of crystal.

We aren’t the first arrivals. On the opposite there’s a thin-faced Asian woman sitting in blue and gray overalls. She greets us with a cheery face.

“You finally brought him!” She jumps up and comes towards us.
“Now that’s what I call handsome! Right Charlotte?! He’s in a pretty good shape for being 280 years old.” She pats both of my shoulders.
“Boston! Let me introduce..:”
“Greetings Madame Klein!” I disrupt Charlotte.
“Uh huh, how good looking, and prepared too! Did you asked Navi about the crew?”
“Excuse me madame, but…”
“Aaah, just call me Susan, sweetie!” - Sweetie?! That’s what I call a style! She barely looks 50, and she talks like she’s my grandma. “And what nice things did Navi said about me?”
“Just that you like old stuff.”
“That’s for sure!” She looks at me with dazzling eyes. “Come, take a seat, DAN prepared the table over there for you.” She points to the other side of the table.
“After you Susan.” I offer way for the lady, bowing slightly.
“Ohh. You see this Charlotte? What a gallant knight we have!” Susan overplays herself, but Charlotte doesn’t answer, just grins, biting her lower lip. I proceed to sit down in my seat, when poof, I’m suddenly on the floor. Like someone pulled out the chair under from me.
“Ouch! What the hell?!” Susan and Charlotte laughs hard. “Aaawh come on!” I answer confused, with reddening face.
“Told you he won’t notice.” Says Charlotte to Susan in laughter.
“Wait! What didn’t I notice?” I asked in an upset tone, while I’m still on the floor.
“Senses can be tricked with mobAR, but the physics cannot!” Susan educates. - Is this for real?! Putting a virtual chair to my place, just to see me falling onto my ass? … What childish move is that?!
“Don’t take it on yourself! It’s just initiation. Welcome to the 24th century, newcomer!” She helps me up.
“Thanks Susan.” and now I’m grinning too. “By the way, how should I spot that it wasn’t real?”
“By your sixth sense, dear.” she points on her head in pretended seriousness.
“Don’t goof him!” Charlotte decries with a smile. “We pranked him enough!...Navi! Set the marked display mode for Mr. Taylor!”

The chair next to me has blue-ish blurred outlines. - So that’s virtual, too?
“Ohh. Now I see. You did not trust the chance.” I grab the virtual chair. For the touch, it feels like real, solid wood.
“Would you like to revenge our prank Ben?” Asks Susan with a straight face.
“Umm...what do you mean?”
“Smash that chair to my head!” - Is she goofing me again?...Hit her in the head?...and what if this is the real one, and she just believes me it is not.
“No way! For real?”
“Of course! Aren’t you just discouraged about what's real and what's not?” She stares into my eyes challengingly.
“I think I have to sit down to think about it.”

I put the chair behind me, and I sit down with clenched eyes. I fell through this one the same way as the last. The room is filled with laughter. I get up, grab the chair, and smash it to Susan’s head with a huge momentum. She raises her hands above her head as defense, and the chair shatters into virtual debris. In that very moment Commander Dallas came in the opposite door.

“Hello! Hello!” His voice boomed.
I stood there surprised, with the two broken virtual chair legs in my hands. No one makes a sound, only the knocking of the falling virtual debris can be heard...I put my hands behind me in fear, and I drop the remainings of the chair to the floor… Charlotte tries to hold back her guffaw with clenched shoulders.

“Hello Anton! Mr. Taylor is getting know to the modern technology.” Susan sums the scene.
“Mr Taylor, I hope you had your fun. DAN is bringing the tray, so let’s take a seat!”

Charlotte and Susan took their seat comfortably, but I didn’t have anything to sit on.
“Mr. Taylor, will you serve yourself, or should I bring a chair with DAN for you?” He points at the chair on the other side of the main table.
“No need...I think DAN have enough things to do.”
“He has.”

I take the chair to my place, but before I sit down, I give the seat a few good pushes. Just to make sure. I put myself down carefully. It holds me. This chair is real for sure.

DAN enters with a decorated metal tray into the canteen. A familiar smell hits the air.
“Bolognese?” I ask.
“Yes Sir. Spaghetti alla Bolognese.” DAN answered, Susan stares at me with round eyes.
“How did you found that out?”
“The smell was familiar.” - But to be honest, I had no clue…It was a wild guess.

The robot brings out our meals, beginning with mine. He puts the dish in front of me from the left, as it fits. Then for the others. The food looks yummy. It's even topped with grated Parmesan and fresh basil.

“Would you like to drink something?” DAN asks.
“You have Cabernet Sauvignon?” I ask without hesitation.
“We do. An excellent choice Sir!”
I tap on the table. - That’s what I’m talking about! - ...but something's not right… Commander Dallas’s face hardens...Charlotte moves away a bit from him...Whoops...Did I already stepped on a mine?
“You hear that Anton? A real gourmet was drifted to us from space!” Susan tries to save me.
“I’m glad.” says the old man, but I can’ the same from his face. “DAN, open two glasses of six year old cabernet.”
“Yes Sir, right away.”

The robot leaves. I grab a fork. Susan too, while she looks at the commander. Reluctantly, he grabs his fork too. Looks like I got away. He won’t throw me into space right now.
I twist up a portion of pasta onto my fork. The first bite. Perfect consistency. Al dente, as if straight from a textbook.The shiny red sauce, slightly salty, with tomato and rosemary, the ground beef being juicy, and the slightly melted parmesan, with the taste of the fresh basil. Phenomenal!

Meanwhile I didn’t notice that DAN came back, and he fills my cup. Just in time. This is what my belly needs after half a plate of spaghetti. He pours some for the others, and as he finishes filling Charlotte’s glass too, Susan rings her glass with her knife.
“Anton, don’t you give a toast?”
“Hrmmmm” the commander growls.
I dare that he say a simple no, nor anything. But instead he grabbed his glass and stood up. The fork stopped in Charlotte’s hands, and she looked at her father and Susan, then at me, with round eyes. She stands up too with the glass in her hand. Susan and I follow her example.
“Khm.” The commander clears his throat. “Mr. Taylor, in the name of the whole Southfork crew, we welcome you on our station. You’re a really lucky man, that you can be here with us. I’d like to think that fate only rewards the ones who are worthy for this. Don’t let us down!”
He raises his glass.
“To the ones who’s worthy!” Susan raises her glass too. “I’m glad for you Ben.” She toasts me, then she gives a kiss to both of my cheeks. I turn toward the commander. He toasts too. Then I turn toward Charlotte, who gives a stare like she never saw something like this before…She rings her glass unsurely to mine. I take a sip from the wine. Slightly dry, lightly mellow, fruity. Perfect. From the corner of my eye I see Charlotte who drinks the half of her glass with one chug, then sits down. Then all of us.

“Excuse me Commander, Sir. May I ask?”
“What do you like to know, Mr. Taylor?”
“Was this station originally intended to orbit in the Oort cloud?”
“No it wasn’t.”
“Then how did it end up here?”
Susan answers instead of the commander.
“Southfork was originally a luxury hotel orbiting around Saturn. Imagine what a view would open up from the window in the great hall.” She points at the door where we came in.
“Navi! Can I have an album from the old restaurant?”
A thin booklet appears in the middle of the table. Susan looks it up.
“See? First class space panorama straight to the rings of Saturn. And look at the decoration! Real ebony walls, with diamonds, ice statues, real candles, and pure gold cutlery.”

Outrageously bourgeois. But somehow familiar. Like I was at a place like this before...We move on and see pictures from guests, the crew, the salon orchestra, and the served food. The pictures soak in unashamed luxury.

“Promising brochure. It sold me.”
“It is likely that you never had enough income in your whole life to spend even one day here in all inclusive service.”
“Maybe, but who know?!” I answer with a faux-snobbish smile on my face.
“Ooooo” Susan scans my look. “Looks like an ex space billionaire is in our circles?” she smiles.
“I dunno...but something tells me that this luxury isn’t far from me.”
“Oooh, I hope that a lone bank note remained from that wealth… How much interest rate can be on that after 250 years?!” She laughs.

Meanwhile DAN collects the dishes from the main course, and starts to serve the second one. Barbecued pork ribs with red wine sauce, with jacket potatoes. Needless to say, this dish is ten stars out of five.
“Hmmm. And then what happened? How did this restaurant become a farm?”
The commander answers.
“The farm was originally part of the restaurant. The kitchen only worked with the commodities grown here. So the freshness and the quality were ensured.”
“And I guess the hotel part went bankrupt, and the farm part went on.”
“Somehow like that.”
“And moving to the edge of the world? What was the cause?”
“The market and politics.”
“The world changed a bit while you were out there.” Susan takes back the word.
“What happened?”
“Just the usual. War.” She looks at the floor, then slowly back up. “Do you know the story of Carthage?”
“No...doesn’t ring any bells.”
“Carthage was the most wealthy and rival city of ancient Rome in the Mediterranean Sea region. While Rome was strong on land, the Carthaginians built ships. But after three consecutive wars, Carthage was defeated. Then, to prevent further wars, they razed the whole city down to the ground.”
“ mean China and USA?”
“Yes Ben. In this story China was Rome, and Carthage was the USA.” she holds my hand. “I’m sorry. USA was liquidated by the world government founded in 2245.”
I need to feel sadness now, but I don’t feel anything. Boston, my hometown was destroyed in 2114. I wasn’t even 4 years old then. I couldn’t call the States my home for a long time.
“The world government that led by China I guess.” I try to pick up where we left off.
“Mostly yes.”
“So Southfork escaped from China to here?”
The commander replies.
“Let’s say that my grandfather found a suitable market gap here. Since then the pioneers appetite and money keeps the business going.” He rubs his finger. “We don’t have any special problems with the government, since we’re out here, they leave us alone. But the taxes, they collect them hard.”
“Guess that’s why we didn’t contracted in money.” I point at him, then at me, like that time when he offered job for me.
“This is one of the reasons. The other one is that you’re officially dead, Mr. Taylor...Still.. .no banks will open an account for a dead man.”
“And the cafeteria? Don’t you pay taxes after that?” I try to humor.
“If we produce it in place, and don’t introduce it into accounting, then there’s nothing to pay tax after.” He answers, with a sort of smile on his face. “Can we open the 2nd glass of wine?”
“Let’s do it!” Charlotte says. I hear her voice since her father joined us “And this time we could ask for dessert.”
“Yes Miss Dallas. What can I bring for you?” DAN asks.
“If my memory’s right I saw some poppy seed ice cream in the cryo…”
“Ooooh, I want some too!” Susan joins.
“Commander Dallas?”
“Thank you DAN, but I pass on this one now.”
“Mr. Taylor?”
“I’d like some. Thank you.”
“Then 3 plates of poppy ice cream...since I didn’t prepare for that it takes 15 minutes to serve, if that’s alright.”
“We have time, DAN” Susan answers.
“I planned to stay just for another glass of wine... gotta put myself away for tomorrow’s shift.”
“Should I bring the wine first, Sir?”
“No, thank you. I’ll pass.” He pushes himself from the table and stands up. He leans to Charlotte and gives a kiss to her forehead. “G’night darling.” then he turns to Susan. “Don’t stay up late...and when you finished, please escort Mr. Taylor back to his cabin!” then he turns to me “I’ll be waiting for you at the docks at 8 AM. Won’t be late! Good night!”
Susan says goodbye to the commander with some sort of salute.

After the doors closed, Charlotte’s good girl mask fells off.
“Party time, Susan?”
“Party time! DAN, the ice cream can wait. Please bring in the second glass of wine!”
“And you can also bring some shots, too!” Charlotte tops the order.
“I’m sorry Miss Dallas, but the crew’s spirit stock has run out. I can only bring some for invoice.”
“Excuse me, ladies. May I invite you for a drink?” I try to pick up the new mood of the crowd.
“Oooh, our knight!” Susan plays on the tone “And how do you plan to pay the bill, Mr. Taylor?”
“DAN, how much first-class spirits can be paid with one month of my basic income?”
“Not more than six shots, Sir.”
“Splendid, six shots, then!”
“Right away, Mr. Taylor.”

The mood change can be touched by hand, since the commander left the canteen. Charlotte smiles with biting her lower lip again.

“How come that you and the commander are different worlds?” I ask, what Susan gives a big sigh for.
“Ahh, Anton was never that nutless dick as he is now. My dear sister, Sylvia broke him.”
“Charlotte’s mother. She got away with a sailor, that lil’ bitch. Charlotte wasn’t even 4 years old back then.”
“Awh! I hate you when you talk about mom like that!” Charlotte mumbles.
“Ooo I remember how she promised that she’ll change, that she won’t have affairs with upstart sailors, that she’s in big love and she’s engaged. And when she wrote that she’s pregnant, I moved here in no time…”

DAN steps in with another tray. This time with the wine and 6 shot glasses of spirits.
“Just leave it here DAN, coz’ we gonna drink all this!” Susan orders the robot.
DAN puts the tray in the middle of the table. Charlotte picks up the first shot, right after her Susan picks the second, and she indicates with her finger, that she asks for word.

“Now it’s my time to say a toast” and she looks at me. “Benjamin. Navi told you earlier that I like old stuff, right?” I nod in agreement. “Son, you’re a walking archaeological find, and that's more than enought to adore you!” My mouth turns into a frown. “No! Don’t take this on you, Adonis.”
“Greek demigod, who dies, resurrects, and the women fall for him. Right Charlotte?” Charlotte doesn’t answer, but she’s biting her lower lip deeper.
“Ben, you’re a wonderful present for this girl. And I gladly hold my back for your affairs, if you be so kind to do some in my favor too.”
“Say whaaaaaat?!” I moan. Can’t say more from the shock, I almost even dropped my shot glass.
“Ooooh, I knew, I could prank you with this!” she laughs. “Noooo, sonny...It could be good , but I don’t need you for “that”...If I could be younger with 20 years...maybe then...but I’m not.”
“How old are you? I never guessed more than 50.”
“You’re cute!” she giggles “But it’s not a polite thing to ask a woman’s age!”
“I’m sorry Susan.” I excuse, but she just spats with a smile.
“You’re a really interesting part of history, boy, from a really interesting age. The Age of Singularity.”
“The Age of Singularity?”
“2148 was the Year of Singularity.”
“You mean technological singularity?” after the moment I said that, a weird thrill ran through my spine.
“Yes. You could relive the events, the mood. I’m interested in everything you can say about that.”
“Even if lived back then, I can’t remember.”
“I’ll help you remember.”
“So let me get this straight. If we talk about things from my previous life frequently, you'll cover me and Charlotte from the commander?” I hold the girl’s hand, who doesn’t resist at all.
“See how smart our knight is?” Susan smiles with her mouth full.
I look into the eyes of Charlotte, who can be seen so excited that she almost bit her lower lips bloody.
“I’m in!”
“Then let’s drink for this!” Susan stomps the floor like a soldier, and she lifts her glass. Then she laughs.

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Part One - Chapter 4 - The mine

Navi wakes me up at 7 AM, just as I asked. Charlotte left while I was sleeping. I have an hour left to pick up work at the dock. Damn…if the...