The Barium Deep continues, with a smaller installation for today. This follows from the last bit. Enjoy!
“You’ve got the airlock code memorized?” I ask Cesi as we pull through the bulkhead door into another identical corridor. The only difference that I can see is in the big red block of paint on the wall, a one digit change in the airlock ID numerals showing through gray and metallic in paint-free knockout font.
She nods, and forwards the code to my glasses. I save it. I start memorizing it just in case.
“I like home better.” She says quietly as we drift down the corridor. Somewhere up ahead there should be a passage to take us to a different layer of the conduit corridors that run through this section of the central spar. For now it all looks mind-numbingly the same. “At least at home we have all our different paint settings for the corridors.”
I sigh and nod. I haven’t spent any time looking for local station display files beyond the basic map interfaces. Maybe this hallway could look like the deep ocean on Earth. I can’t help wondering where everyone is though. “Shouldn’t there be people here?”
Cesi does a little spin as we float down the corridor, looking all around us. “Maybe. But even if there are a lot of people here, this place is pretty big.”
I murmur agreement. Huge. Knowing how many people live here and how big it is could tell me the average density of the population. But it tells me nothing about what I should expect in more distant transport corridors. Who says the population has to be evenly distributed?
The next hallway, through another set of bulkhead doors, has a portal opposite the airlock doors. Except for that, and the slightly different airlock ID, it looks exactly the same as all the other corridors. Whoever made this place was big on standardization. And not so big on decoration.
We follow our map through a series of corridors, working our way out towards the exterior of the spar. There are more and more people moving around us, and the spaces broaden and begin to show off curves. These larger spaces are more like big transshipment spaces, corridors where people can move the cargo that they’ve offloaded through more industrially sized airlocks than ours into queues for loading onto one ring of the station or another. It’s all some frantically complex and ornate traffic pattern, but from the edge it looks like a beautifully choreographed dance. Like videos that I’ve seen of old Earth birds flocking together, swooping through the sky in vast weaving ribbons.
Cesi and I cling to the wall by the portal that we came through, staring at all the people. More than we’ve ever seen in one place at a time without our parents there to lead us.
“Holes,” Cesi whispers. I nod.
More dangerous than alone with strangers.
“Yeah,” Cesi is quiet and thoughtful. I didn’t realize I’d spoken aloud.
“Do we have to join one of those shipment queues?” I point towards the vast floating pallets, gently firing thrusters to push them towards their respective destinations. Everything about it looks like doom waiting to happen. But watching the ships come in to land here in the central spar looks almost exactly the same and I’ve never seen a collision there, so I guess they’re probably safe. Or, well, not safe. Well controlled.
“I…” Cesi glances around. “No. There.” She points towards smaller, clumpier lines of people. Each line ends by a little door. Where the lights around the doors shine blue, people stream into them. None of them have more than personal gear with them. Where the lights shine deep red, they wait along the wall, clinging to handholds by winding patterns of black and yellow striped arrows. “Those must be the personnel transfer capsules that the map talk about.”
I nod. “And those bigger doors are the cargo transfer capsules.”
Cesi hums agreement.
“Right.” I look at the sidewalls, ribbed struts separating the striated sets of lines that line themselves up across the outer wall. There’s more red paint blocks with paint-free knockout text in each pocket between struts. Every one has its own distinct label, the names of the different hab rings differentiating the various access points. “Bear. There, over there,” my finger stretches out, highlighting the ring code we’re looking for on my glasses and throwing the highlight over to Cesi’s. It’s a long way down the vast room from here.
We exchange a look, and push off along the wall. We stick as close to it as we can, using the handholds that have been set in place by whatever thoughtful person made this place. Some of the older station areas were designed by early generations of engineers, and they just don’t have enough handholds. We do our best to ignore the fact that there are so many people churning around behind us, moving cargo, talking and yelling to each other, standing so uncomfortably close together. I think for a moment about how close we’ll have to be to all those other people while we wait in line, while we crowd into a personnel transfer capsule, and then I very purposefully stop thinking about it. Focusing on the holds in front of me, on the way that I have to manage my speed and vector as I drift along the wall, helps to keep my mind off it for a little bit.
Eventually though, we’re there. We work our way up the sidewall, out along the outer wall to the line for the Bear ring. One way or another, we’re going to have to be close to all these people we don’t know.
Cesi and I clump together. I don’t know about her, but I feel safer that way.
There are so many people here, people who look nothing like us, people who look like they could be family but definitely aren’t.
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