Caught Somewhere In Time – Chapter 08

Location: LunaBase, Luna, Earth Orbit

Local Date: Friday, November 17, 2220

 

LunaThe lobby was neither difficult to find, nor very exciting. A mechanical receptionist waited to greet whoever walked through the room, and when Val entered, it immediately recognized her.

“Hello Valentina. Do you need assistance?” said a monotone female voice.

Val hated talking to machines, usually only cursing at them when they are not doing what they should. This one obviously had been equipped with a scanner that read chip implants whenever one was in the vicinity. “No, thank you.” She said politely. A former colleague of hers had been afraid of an eventual robotic takeover, and told her she should always be nice to robots. The friend felt that the electronic uprising force would remember the friendly ones.

Despite the flawed perspective, she decided there might be a nugget of truth in it. Electronic memory banks only “forgot” things when they experience a major malfunction or sustain severe damage. She decided it might be better to be polite consistently, since they would always remember her later, even in passing. They did, after all, provide a service to humans by doing all the jobs that people didn’t want to do, like sitting at a desk for days at a time waiting to offer assistance or greetings to people.

She opened the door and exited the lab complex into the immense LunaBase main hall. The base effectively filled the Aristarchus-H crater, making it a giant domed-complex about four kilometers across. Various hangars, labs, and offices made up the outside wall, with a long concourse called the Avenue running just inside of that at the ground floor. The Avenue measured about eleven kilometers around, a continuous circle with a network of intersecting walkways that accessed all the businesses and living spaces in the central area. A person could see the ceiling of the dome several stories up from many places along the Avenue. In an effort to keep the people here in shape and reduce pollution, no vehicles were allowed inside the base. Shortcuts and moving walkways abounded however, if you took the time to learn where they could be found.

Right across the main Avenue Val spotted a sidewalk café, like Cole told her she would, and he sat there at a table looking down into a cup of coffee. She walked over and asked, “Is this seat taken?”

He looked up at her with a strange look on his face, and replied, “I guess it’s taken now.” He looked down into his coffee again and Val looked at his smooth, shaven face once again. She liked it better than the scruffy Cole she met the first time. His hair looked damp, at least as wet as hers, which seemed altogether strange. His appearance changed somewhat each time she met him. Without looking up, Cole furrowed his brow and said, “Can I ask you a question?”

“I guess you just did,” teasing him just like he teased her. With a sheepish smile on her face, she corrected, “I mean, sure. Ask away.”

He looked up at her, and with a confused look on his face, he asked, “When did you find out?”

She thought a moment about the question, going over in her mind the two times she talked to him previously, in the lab upon arriving and then a few moments later in the hall. There didn’t seem to be any connection to those conversations here, so she thought maybe he meant something different. When did she know she wanted to be a pilot? Not likely. When did she find out she would be part of this program? Maybe. Before she could answer, he suddenly seemed to realize that she didn’t understand his question.

“Did you know I was just fired from the program? From MY program? How could they fire ME? Did they tell you about it? Did you know when we met in the lab a little while ago, or did you find out after I walked away?”

“You got released from the team? No, I had no idea! That’s horrible!” Val felt badly for him. “I hope I wasn’t brought in as your replacement. If I was…”

Cole cut her off. “No, Chan had been looking for the right pilot for a long time. Besides, you don’t even know anything about Novikov’s Effect. I could tell by looking at your record, since I am the authority on that. I don’t know how he expects you to figure it all out without me; I’m not really replaceable.” He stopped suddenly, apparently switching away from one thought and focusing on another. “What were you going to say? If you were brought in as my replacement, you’d do what?”

Still a little shy, Val choked up the courage to speak her mind honestly. “I’d quit. This is your work, not mine. I’m just a fly-girl. I can work anywhere, fly anything.”

“You think you can fly anything, huh?” Cole shot at her, “Have you seen the ship?”

“I spotted it the second Chan walked me into the bay.”

“Must be a pilot thing. I don’t notice stuff in plain sight sometimes.” He looked like he might chuckle, but them he sighed and looked back into his coffee. “Do you want something? You have a credit account through the lab. Everything is paid for.”

Val was quick on the draw, “Did you get that coffee on the lab’s credit after they fired you? You did, didn’t you?” She laughed a little, and she eyed a little smile in the corners of his mouth, a dimple peeking out. “Don’t worry. I’m not afraid to break a rule occasionally.”

“Oh yeah? I didn’t see any rule-breaking in your file. I looked over the pilot candidates pretty closely, and some of them did have disciplinary issues which we disqualified immediately.”

She could tell he was trying to bait her. She felt comfortable with him though, more so than earlier, so she took the bait on purpose. “I just never got caught.” She paused a moment for him to realize that she confessed only a little, and then she changed the subject. “Is that what got you fired? Breaking the rules?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, you don’t want to talk about it then.” She pushed the point gently.

“I hoped you would know. He didn’t tell me. The Admiral just came to my apartment door a few minutes ago and then told me that I was no longer part of the program, relieved of all involvement. He asked me to leave quietly and immediately, so he wouldn’t have to call security to escort me. I tried to talk to him, but I got mad. I don’t talk so well when I’m mad though, so I came here to try and sort it out while I calmed down.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. There must have been something you’ve done that would provoke that.” In the back of her mind, Val felt a bit of concern for her own employment, given how the Admiral treated Cole.

“I have been trying to retrace my steps in my mind. Going over what might have caused Chan to fire me that way. The only thing I can think of is that something on the Martian message helped make up his mind. I wish I listened to it while I had the opportunity.”

“When did the message arrive?”

“While Chan was down on Earth picking you up and doing his speech thing. I hate giving speeches. That was one of the reasons I accepted his offer to run my program, so I wouldn’t have to give any more speeches. Well, the funding too. There wouldn’t be a ship without…”

No actual light bulb burst to life over his head, but Val could see its light in his eyes anyway when he left his sentence unfinished. She asked him, “What is it?”

“Do you feel like breaking some rules?”

“Does it involve getting you back in the program?” Val felt excited.

“Maybe, maybe not. It would at least give me a chance to find out why I got fired though.”

She started following his train of thought and got a fire in her eyes that matched his. “I’m in.”

“This could get us both in some serious trouble. You can say no at any time, and just walk away from this, no harm done.”

Val started feeling warm. “I’m not afraid. This is your project, and I wouldn’t even be here without your work.”

“That ship in the bay, were you briefed on its primary function?”

Her heart started pounding. “Yes.”

“I am sure my access has been turned off by now, but yours hasn’t. Are you willing to get me into the bay, to the ship?”

She gripped the edge of the table with her fingers. “Yes.”

“Do you think you can fly it?”

Her muscles started tightening. “Yes.”

“Do you want to help me steal it?”

She looked into his eyes, and felt like she’d known him much longer than just this short time. All her fears fell away. “Yes.”

Val broke the law periodically, but usually it only what she felt necessary to get a job done or to stay alive, never to help someone whom she only just met. While not completely out of character for her, all she stood to lose was a job she barely even started. Now at least she felt she had a direction and a purpose. She trusted him, and his eyes told her he was an honest man. They got up from the café table and Cole started walking down the Avenue.

“Where are you going? The ship is through the lab.”

Cole smiled at her, “I can’t just walk in there and take it. The receptionist does more than offer service, she also controls and records entry into the complex. There’s only two ways to the ship without passing her. One is to fly into the hangar, and the other is through the tunnel from the Administrator dock. You already walked it once today.”

“Isn’t there some security leading in there though? We won’t be able to just walk through a door and gain access to Chan’s ship, or any of the other administrator vessels,” she replied.

Cole stepped onto a moving walkway and quickened his walking pace. His long strides made it difficult for Val to keep up. People walked all around them now, so they needed to keep their voices down. When Val caught up with him, he told her, “Administrators come and go as they please here. They don’t need authorization to depart like everyone else does. There is a single secure door blocking the public out of that hangar because the people in charge don’t want to be hassled by security while they are taking care of business. It’s right through there.”

He pointed to a short hall of elevators that ascended or descended to different levels of LunaBase. Seven doors lined the wide atrium, three on each side and one at the end. When she followed Cole into the hall, she noticed that two of the elevator call buttons lit up when she approached them. Elevator call buttons only lit if you retained the proper clearance to use them. “Where do these all go?” she wondered out loud.

“Most go to internal office areas like our complex, but this one,” he pointed at the nearest lit button, “goes to the roof. It’s interesting that Chan gave you access to that. The one we want is at the end of the hall.” He pointed to the other lit call button, and Val pressed it.

This door, easily twice as wide as the others, opened to a large elevator, apparently one meant to carry freight or luggage. Inside, another door stood closed at the back of the car, but she saw no buttons to control this lift. When the door closed behind them, gravity began to lessen, and Val could not tell whether they were ascending, descending, or not moving at all. When the door in the back of the car opened however, they clearly had arrived in the Administrator dock. Val was here only an hour or two ago and noted that she now stood at the far end.

Cole smiled at her a little crookedly and said, “Follow me.”

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