Sideways Up

Doc crosses the corridor carefully, watching out for a speeding hoverscooter whose driver is lost in whatever music is seeping out from his headset. He goes into the arcade across from the entrance. The security officer there nods and smiles at him, not really paying much attention to anything.

The blue column of light on the other side turns out to be an aquarium filled with small, colorful fish, bioluminescent jellyfish, and other exotic invertibrates. It's not just an aquarium, however, it's the wall of a second, interior corridor. The tank is lit by blue flood lamps discreetly placed among the coral and amoebas living on shelves that spiral around the edge of the tank, following the floor of the inner corridor. The lights of the tank are the primary lighting for the dim, atmospheric hallway. Doc leans against the glass, looking up and down. From what he can tell, the aquarium runs the entire height of the tower.

A family of four dolphins swim past Doc, downwards to the base of the tower. The smaller one is wearing a dolphin-fitted T-shirt bearing the block letters OUE. He stops and whistles at Doc.

"Wow, this terrarium is incredible," Doc's translator responds rather flatly after processing longer than normal.

Doc waves. The dolphin bobs his head and blows a bubble before continuing down with his family.

The interior corridor is also lined with shops, mostly small restaurants and cafes taking advantage of the relaxing effect of the lights and sounds of the aquarium. Doc glances briefly at the menu displayed for the nearby Blue Lounge: lots of shellfish and sushi, as well as specialty coffees and a full bar.

Doc begins walking "up" the inner corridor. The slightly tilted gravitational field makes it easy to walk up what would otherwise be a mountainous climb. Doc can see that he's walking in spiraling circles up the ramp when he checks his position relative to objects in the aquarium, but when looking forward it feels like he's walking through a flat hallway endlessly curving to the right.

The pace of traffic in this interior corridor is much lighter, as the hall is much smaller. After hiking for several minutes and covering a quarter mile already, Doc notices people exiting an elevator. Looking back, Doc had passed several of them already and didn't realize what they were. They appeared to be seamless white columns placed evenly between every few shops. Doc heads for the lift.

The threshold of the elevator is slightly sloped, actually level with the real ground (or at least the overall "down" direction of the space station). It looks like the elevator is tilted, but when Doc steps into it the gravity shifts again and Doc can see the actual slope of the corridor. The elevator is a cylindrical tube large enough for a dozen people or so. There are no controls on any visible surface.

"Top floor?" Doc asks. The elevator doors close. There's the sound of rushing air, but no feeling of acceleration as the elevator whisks him upwards. Within seconds, he's arrived.

The docking bay is huge and filled with space ships. The elevator shaft rises slightly out of the deck, joining the others in a sort of stone henge arrangement of truncated chrome pillars encircling the aquarium, which rises to the ceiling. The aquarium widens like a funnel as it becomes the ceiling, dividing the docking bay in two, vertically. The upper, water portion holds several strange, translucent, organic-looking vehicles apparently designed for operation under water as well as in space. Another family of dolphins are exiting one of these vehicles and headed for the funnel leading from the upper parking area into the tower's central column of water.

The lower portion of the parking lot is for air breathers and is filled with shuttles that look more normal. Doc leans up against the railing opposite the ramped entrance to the inner corridor, looking down as a young couple walks up into the parking lot. He watches as a ship arrives through a large, open bay door. It's a sleek, black, sporty-looking two seater. A stripe of blue light dances off of its hull as it crosses through the atmospheric barrier into the bay.

Doc wanders around the huge, bowl like parking lot. There's a lot of ships here; most are about the size of trucks or schoolbuses. Some are very small, car-sized and generally look very fast and expensive. Some are more like passenger jets. There are fewer of these and are parked in specially designated areas, and thus are easier to see. While some look similar, none of them are the Pu. Doc continues to search. Eventually, he completes the full circle around the docking bay, finding nothing.

"Steve? Are you there?" Doc calls on his I-Browse.

"Yes, Doc, I'm here," Steve replies.

"I'm in the parking lot. The Pu's not here."


"Any luck with the ID cards?"

"Yeah, I was able to forge entries into the database, but I wasn't able to access the audit logs. Your ID card should work now, as long as no one looks too closely at how you actually got here. If anyone asks tell them you arrived aboard the Astraliner Cyprus. It launched from Kennedy yesterday afternoon. Its passenger manifest is privately encrypted so I can't forge entries there, but OUE Security can't look it up directly, either. I think the story of 'history professor auditing classes' will hold up."

"Well, what do we do now?"

"I'll check the docking control database to see if the Pu's scheduled to land anytime soon. I'll also see about getting a dorm assigned to us in case we're stuck here for a while. You find out what happened to Mark and Thunderhorse. OUE Security's offices are in Sun Tower, Sub basement 2."

"Okay." Doc pockets the I-Browse and heads for an elevator. A voice from behind stops him.

"Dr. Shaw?" it says.

Doc turns. There are two men in black suits and dark sunglasses following him. The suits, while stylish, are thick and do not conceal their body armor very well. A dim green light reflects from their faces behind the sunglasses, revealing them to be HUD units. Their boots are thick and thoroughly shined. The men themselves are of Asian ethnicity. They walk towards Doc, arms draped to their sides in an overt attempt at being non-threatening.

1 comment:

Doc said...


"Excuse me gentlemen, I'm very busy!" Hustle for the elevator, get off a few floors down. Try and lose them, cause this looks bad.

Hide in the bar mens room and call Steve.