Like I said last time, this is all getting rewritten right now. It continues immediately from the last installment. Enjoy!
Whatever it is that our parents are afraid of, it must be pretty terrible. Daemon must have been right. Maybe Mom and Dad do know what happened to that ship. They’re the ones that wandered through its hulk, after all.
Lights flash blue red blue again, then bright blue as new doors open. People undo their restraints, pushing themselves laboriously to their feet. You can tell the lifelong spacers from the Earthers and station folk again, not just from their builds. Cesi and I struggle up, pulling ourselves along the wall and using our feet to teeter out of the capsule. We’ve done simulated full-gee practices, we do it relatively regularly. But there’s a difference between regular practice and never even thinking of it as unusual. The pale angry Earther is out the door in no time, pack hanging from his back in some effortless use of full-gee that still looks insecure to me. We take a little longer, but finally get out the door without more trouble. It hisses shut behind us, lights turning red.
“Take care, kids.” The neutral stayed by the side of the door waiting for us. They stick out their hand.
I look at it dubiously, then realize that they want to shake. I try to make my shake look natural. I probably fail. It feels weird to touch a stranger.
“Have a good time on station, and enjoy Bear ring.” They smile as they turn around and start walking away with a ponderously lanky stride. “Don’t get into too much trouble!” They wave without looking back.
We don’t bother to wave in return.
We set out, tottering along on our feet in some ungainly parody of the freedom that we’re so used to. It’s like free fall in that you’re always almost falling. But instead of embracing that and falling to where you want to go, you have to keep catching yourself and pushing on to the next almost-fall. I hate it.
It takes far longer to get to the storefront than the map says it should. I think it’s because we’re bad at walking. Why anyone would maintain an actual storefront these days seems beyond me. It would be so much better to just run business through a set of remotes, doing all your sales and orders and everything by the network.
But I guess Mariel Gamal feels otherwise.
It’s the right person, from what the dossier that our parents gave us says. She looks like she has the same facial structure, the same smile, even though her hair is a bit different. Unsecured braids that long would be a hazard in null-gee, but here they just dangle down to below her ribs, framing her broad face and flat nose.
“Why hello there! Hal and Beryl told me to expect you. I’m so glad to see you coming to visit me in person.” She takes off her glasses as she welcomes us into her storefront, and I have an immediate sense that I’ve completely changed spaces. The hallway was the same sort of sterile, gray, metallic corridor that we’ve seen everywhere else, but with doors and little labels for each shop or passageway that led off of it. There are a number of free MR skins for the ring floating on the local net, but Cesi and I agreed that we didn’t want to risk fumbling through them while trying to find our way to the shop.
Now, I feel like we’ve stepped into a full MR display, even though my glasses say they aren’t showing anything beyond my normal HUD. There are big cushy looking chairs, the walls are all hidden behind drapes of colorful cloth, and the floor is something soft and welcoming. There’s a spot for footgear by the door, and when I walk barefoot on the, the rug, it feels fuzzy.
“Please,” Mariel smiles, “have a seat, make yourselves at home.” She looks a little sad as we struggle into the chairs. “I’m sorry I can’t offer you null-gee down here, but maybe I can make it up to you. Something to drink?” Her hand waves elegantly, like kelp in undersea currents from my favorite documentaries, and encompasses a side table with a steaming water chamber, a variety of small mugs, and a little cabinet of drawers. It looks like it might be actual real wood. I’ve only ever seen synthesized, replica wood.
“Perhaps you’d like some cocoa, or tea?” She smiles, “I know your parents like my coffee, but I don’t know whether you enjoy that sort of thing yet.”
Ugh. I wrinkle my mouth. Coffee is exciting in all the wrong ways.
“Cocoa please,” Cesi pipes up. She’s tucked herself into a thoroughly padded chair that looks like it’s made entirely of cushions.
“I’ll try some tea.” I’ve never had any before, or at least never had any that wasn’t synthesized into my cup.
“Of course.” Mariel busies herself with pulling packets and tins from the little cabinet drawers, pouring powders and little clumps of what might be biological material into cups, and then pouring actual steaming water from her hot water chamber. The water actually falls and puddles in the cups, pooling and burbling and releasing steam that rises. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in person. Suddenly, the storefront makes sense. It’s a place for performance art. It’s a stage, with all the scenery you could want.
Mariel settles into her own chair after serving us. There are little flat surfaces by the chairs where our cups stick, no velcro necessary. I can’t help but look at the open top of my cup nervously, expecting the tea to bead up and float off at any moment.
“Your parents mentioned that they were concerned about you being safe onboard your ship.”
We, Cesi and I, both freeze. We stare at Mariel. I guess a storefront is also a place where you can talk in person. No worrying that someone might be spoofing your connection, pretending to be the person that you think you’re talking to.