“DOM-san, are you paying attention?”
Dafyd O’Wilford-Montgomery looked up at his teacher and responded immediately, “Yes sir.”
Dafyd was an average twelve-year-old boy on New Virginia and he had not been paying attention. He had been looking out the window at the pleasantly green spring scenery until his attention had been drawn to the back of Nubia el Ruiz-Wang. Nubia was a tall, athletic girl wore her hair in a short, pulled back afro. She had just taken off her loose dress shirt and sat with her sleeveless tee-shirt on. Dafyd had just noticed and begun admiring the dark chocolate color of her skin.
“What are the different levels of citizenship here in L5?”
“The levels of citizenship are Non-Hominid, Alien, Resident and Citizen.”
“What are the requirements for citizenship?”
“Genetic certification and a Citizenship Qualifier.” This was first year stuff. Dafyd wondered why he was asking such simple questions. The other students looked bored. Sensei CEM.O was a good teacher, but now Dafyd was noticing how shiny his baldhead was.
“And what are the four Citizenship Qualifying Services?”
Four? This was something he wasn’t prepared for. He only knew of three, that he could remember.
“Military Service, Civil Service, Vacuum Service…” He spoke them slowly, trying to think of another. He glanced around the room helplessly. The other students were coming out of their stupors like hungry bears after hibernation. They looked at him with contempt. Nubia even turned right around in her seat and looked at him with those golden honey eyes and then raised her elegant eyebrows.
“Abba bu...” He muttered.
“Care to help him NEW-san?”
“Explorers.” Nubia said and gave him a look that let him know that that was exactly what he had been zoning out during.
“Yes. As I was saying, some of you are in luck because the government has just approved the Explorers as a Citizenship Qualifier. How many of you have signed up to be Explorers?”
Half the class raised their hands including Dafyd. The local troop, 881 was very popular because of their outstanding program, and now the members were getting even more, citizenship.
“Some of you seem to have foresight, or your apas did. Regardless, it will take you six years instead of the two mandatory for the Services, but I’m sure you will all agree they will be less grueling than, say the Military."
The bell rang and the entire class sprang out of their seats, as relieved as Dafyd. That had been the last class of the day before the weekend.
“Don’t forget your reports are due on the arguments for and against the rights of Non-Hominid intelligent species. " Sensei CEM.O called after them.
Dafyd met his best friend, MAV (Maisth Abaza-Virtanen) in the hall. MAV was a head taller than Dafyd. His shirt was untucked over his paunch and half his books hung out of his unzipped pack. His straw colored hair was thick over his dark brown skin. The contrast in skin and hair color made it obvious that his moustache was already starting to come in under his hooked nose.
“How was Soc today?” Mav asked Dafyd.
“You made a fool out of yourself in front of Nubia didn’t you?”
Dafyd grunted in response.
“Don’t worry. If the Explorers let you drive a voidcart after what you did in the simulator yesterday you’ll impress her for sure.”
Dafyd sighed. “I’m doomed.”
They walked out of the school and were met by the nicest day of the year so far. The sky was so clear they could not only see right across the spabitat, they could almost see the entire twenty-kilometer length of it.
“Wow.” Dafyd said looking up at the other side of the cylinder. “It’s almost warm enough to go swimming.
“I don’t like days like this.”
“I don’t want to see the other side of the spabitat. It makes me feel like I’m in a box. I like to see some clouds. Then I imagine the rest of the tat is all glass and you can see right out to the void everywhere, almost as if we were right out there.”
Dafyd looked up and thought a moment. Directly above was a window, just as wide as the land they were standing on and also the length of the cylinder that was the spabitat of New Virginia. There were two other strips of land, on either side of the window and two other windows. You could see through them to the inky blackness of the void and the stars. Dafyd could just make out the moon in the far end of one window and Earth in another.
“I don’t get it.”
“Why did you join the Explorers?” Mav asked.
“Because my apa made me.”
“I joined to see the Solar System, the whole thing. I want to get out there.”
“‘Get out there?’ We can’t even have an eva until we are Grays. I wonder if we’ll ever see the outside of this can, except through a ship’s window.”
He was interrupted by the sight of Nubia going by. Her home, Mav’s and Dafyd’s were all in the same cluster. Nubia took a longer way home so she could run, but she still sometimes beat the boys.
Today she came in out of the trees spinward of Dafyd’s home.
“Hi guys. Don’t be late for Explorers” She said and ran into her home.
“See, she hates me.” Dafyd said.
“Her skin kind of glistens when she runs, you notice that?”
At home Dafyd did his homework, ate a snack and got dressed in his brand new blue overall uniform for Explorers. He met Mav to walk to the tram.
881 met at the South Pole. This was an airlock complex at the end of the cylinder. Trams ran the length of the cylinder in each of the land areas. They carried personnel and cargo since no one had personal vehicles.
Dafyd was glad they didn’t see Nubia. He didn’t know how she was getting there, but she didn’t ride the tram with them.
Neither did Dafyd’s sister Athena. She was three years older and already a Gray. She had gone straight to the Explorer meeting from Flockball practice.
“I’m excited.” Mav said. “What do you think we’ll do today?”
“My sister says we might do Trash Detail today.”
“Trash Detail? You mean going out, outside the tat?”
“In a voidcart, yeah.”
“Wow.” Mav said.
“Big deal.” Dafyd said. “I don’t see the point. They have robots and Space Monkeys to collect trash. We’d just be redundant.”
“We get to go out in the void. That’s the point. Haven’t you read the handbook? In Explorers the void is a laboratory for us to study and learn about society, culture, government and all that stuff. It’s a microcosm.”
“Mav, it’s all just so much talk. Too much talk.”
Mav frowned and turned to his handbook. He read and they rode the rest of the way in silence.
The South Pole was a huge complex that included several airlocks for freight handling; in-processing of visitors and immigrants; and daily commuters. There was also a recreation complex called Zggym South for Zero Gravity Gym. The South and North Poles were the only places inside the spabitat that the centrifugal force simulated gravity was near zero.
Dafyd and Mav stopped at the notice board to find out that Troop 881 met in room 5.
Room 5 was bustling with activity. There were twenty-four Explorers with the five new ones and four Masters, or adult leaders. Nubia was already there standing with a tall young man in gray coveralls. Dafyd knew from his sister that he was Wyly Urocyon-Bernini and an Assistant Troopmaster, or ATM.
The adult was a middle aged woman lighter skinned than Nubia with straightened black hair, but those same golden eyes. Her green adult coverall did not complement her abundant figure. She wore blue loops on her epaulets.
Wyly was well built, with a clean-cut look and an open face. He was nearly the tallest person in the room. His hair was dark and he had an aquiline nose, but his eyes were deep blue. His gray coveralls looked tailored with colorful patches all over and bright galactic swirls on his epaulets.
“Hey Dafyd.” He said and smiled. He spoke slowly, drawing out his vowels. “OBB.P-san you’ve met Dafyd. He’s Athena’s brother.”
“Ah yes.” The ATM turned and spoke in a deep, soft voice. “Who is this with you?”
“This is Maisth Abaza-Virtanen, we call him MAV.”
“Welcome MAV. I am Doctor Odelia Brojanac-Bautista.Polanski. I’m the Assistant Troopmaster for the Blue Explorers, that’s the first three years.”
“Yes welcome.” Wyly added. “You boys know Nubia?”
“Wyly here will be the Patrol Leader for Alpha Patrol.” OBB.P-san said.
“Ma’am, we will have to have an election first.” Wyly corrected her.
“Wyly, they put a Gray in with the Recruits to be their leader…”
While they were discussing the proper patrol procedure the other two new members, Recruits came in. Evangelina “Lina” Minerva-Abbott, a dark haired petite girl and Jillyn Akaga-Richards a copper headed girl with a pageboy haircut who was all smiles. Both of those girls were from another school so Dafyd and the rest didn’t know them until they introduced themselves.
Lina wore her hair long and in a ponytail. She had a nice smile, but it appeared and disappeared like a frightened squirrel.
Jillyn had black, almond eyes and a flat nose with exactly twelve freckles.
In the middle of introductions a small, curvy blond girl in gray coveralls walked up to the front of the room and called everyone’s attention. “Let’s get the meeting started.”
Wyly made a sour face and lined his patrol up. There were four patrols, two in gray and two in blue. They formed a box, said the pledge and did an inspection. Dafyd’s sister stood right next to him as the Patrol Leader of the Omega Patrol. She was tall and made no sign that she even recognized Dafyd.
“Wyly?” The blond came over. Her uniform was gray with three green bars on the epaulettes above a single star emblem. It fit her marginally better than OBB.P-san the adult Dafyd had met with Wyly. She touched Wyly’s elbow. He didn’t flinch, but a grimace passed beneath the skin on his face.
Dafyd remembered her. Ana Loree-Sparks had been Wyly’s old girlfriend and as soon as she got elected Senior Patrol Leader, SPL, she dropped him. Wyly had been the loser in that election twice over.
“Would you be a dear and take the Recruits out for Trash Detail?”
“I would be honored to take Alpha Patrol on Trash Detail directly after we hold our elections.” He said in a flat tone that did not give away any hint of his emotion or opinion of her.
Ana smiled weakly and said, “thank you.”
Wyly turned to his patrol and said, “Patrol, we are going to hold our election and then I will take you all out in the voidcart for Trash Detail, which is just a little look-around Outside.”
“Aren’t you the PL?” Jillyn asked.
“Yes, that’s traditional for the most senior Explorer to be the PL of the Alpha patrol. Also it’s normal for the PL to just pick his assistant, but I think an election would get you all started on the Explorer ways. Therefore we are going to have an Assistant Patrol Leader election. Who wants to run?”
All the younger kids looked at each other. Finally Jillyn said, “I nominate Lina.”
Lina elbowed her and grunted, but she didn’t refuse.
“I nominate Dafyd.” MAV said.
“Do you accept these nominations?” Wyly asked. They nodded.
“Who votes for Lina?”
The girls raised their hands.
“I’m not voting so I guess EMA-san gets it.” Wyly said. He handed Lina a pair of shoulder loops. They had one green bar on each. He himself wore loops with two green bars under his Galaxy pins.
“Well, let’s go.”
They went out to the vehicle dock. The Troops vehicles were in Dock 5. There were two voidcarts and four actionrovers. The Omega patrol was already in one voidcart, but they waited to leave the airlock with the other cart.
The inside of the cart had two forward facing seats and seats lining the walls. There were wide front windows and small porthole-type windows on the sides and back. The controls at the front were basically two handprints surrounded by instruments.
When both vehicles were ready the dock doors shut and the massive external doors slid open. There was a deafening roar of air at first and then silence.
“Cart 2 go ahead.” Athena’s voice came over the speaker.
Wyly was sitting in the right side seat with his hands on the handprints. He said, “Roger” and the cart lifted gently. The next motion was forward, slow, steady and precise.
“How are we moving?” Jillyn asked.
“Chemical?” Nubia asked. “I didn’t know we still used chemical motors.”
“On small, old vehicles like this we do. The artificial intelligence on these are pretty weak too, so you actually have to drive it in and out of dock.”
No one heard his last words because their vision took all of their brains’ attentions. For the first time in their lives they were outside the spabitat. The doors passed by and the entire solar system opened up for them. The South Pole pointed away from the sun so they looked out into inky blackness full of sharp bright stars. As they pulled out the equipment and facilities of the polar dock came into view.
Ships of all shapes and sizes moved in all directions, deliberate chaos. Some of the larger ships and huge raw cargo loads were being moved by small voidtugs. The bright flash of engines firing went off like a presidential photo op.
When their voidcart was completely free of the dock they could see the factories that were a part of their world, but outside of the cylinder itself. They stretched for miles in all directions. In some of them they could see green farms and in some golden ripe grains.
“My mom’s family owns those.” Wyly indicated the farms. He said this so mater-of-factly that it didn’t seem like bragging at all. In fact the Bernini family was rich going all the way back to Earth and were probably the richest people in New Virginia.
The other spabitats started coming into view. They wouldn’t be able to see all fifty of the titanic cylinders that made up L5, but the two dozen they could see took their breath away. Twenty-four times more land and people than they had ever known. Twenty-four times what they considered to be the entire world.
Wyly spun the cart around and started up the curve of the end of the cylinder. As they crested the curve Luna and finally Earth came into view.
“Oh my god.” Actually escaped Lina’s lips.
Wyly stopped the craft. “Anyone want to come up here to get a better look?” He said.
Every single one of them unbuckled their seats and tried to move up to the front windows. In their haste they forgot they were in zero-gee. They all bounced up to the ceiling. Wyly glanced back over his shoulder and smiled.
“Easy now.” He said in that slow, gentle way he had.
They had all been in zero-gee before, back in the Zggym, but now it didn’t seem like a fun diversion. Dafyd was actually the first one to regain his bearings and make it to the front. He was followed by Nubia and the other girls before MAV managed to struggle along the ceiling.
“I thought there’d be continents like on the globe.” Jillyn said.
“You can’t see them from here. The atmosphere is too thick and besides there are a lot of clouds today.” He tapped a few controls and the windows changed into monitors. He then adjusted them so that the clouds and air were not visible.
“That’s Africa.” MAV said.
“Make it a window again please.” Lina said. Wyly made it so.
“What’s all that?” Dafyd said pointing at the spabitat itself.
“Valgae. That’s the plant material that covers the spabitat and enhances the protection from solar radiation.”
They all knew what valgae was and how it worked, but all the photos they had seen in school were not backlit, as they saw it now. In the school photos you could easily see how the multifaceted plants reflected the solar energy away, but like this it all looked dull gray-green and dark.
Moving around singly and spaced out were small figures.
“Are those Space Monkeys?” Jillyn asked.
“Actually they are derived from squid. They are Dosidcus superior. They were GEed to live in space.” Wyly said.
The Space Squid looked very much like very large marine squid, about the size of a human. They grew a type of shell on the top of their heads. It looked like a wide, flat cone. It helped protect them from solar rays. They ate the valgae and communicated by bioluminescence.
“Let’s go.” Wyly said. The ship began to move again. “Look for trash either on or around the spabitat.”
No one did. They were predictably too busy being tourists and Wyly gave no other indication that he expected otherwise.
In a few minutes they approached one of the mirrors. Wyly swung around under it. It was much brighter, but not as blinding as they expected. The light was focused into the spabitat. A few of the Recruits, including Dafyd looked down into the window of the spabitat. It was like looking up from the bottom of a pool.
Wyly stopped the cart again and swung around in his seat. “Anyone want to drive?”
Every jaw dropped, again. Then every hand shot up with cries of “me, me.”
Wyly smiled. “I think the Assistant Patrol Leader should go first. You’ll all get a turn.”
Lina sat down at the controls, but when she put her hands on the handprints she turned pure white and froze.
“What’s the matter?” Jillyn asked.
“I can’t. I just can’t.” Lina said as a single tear ran down her bleached face.
“That’s okay.” Wyly took her by her shoulders and moved her out of the seat. “Lots of people get frightened. It seems like fun until you actually get up here.”
“I think Nubia should go first.” Lina said weakly. They all saw the logic of that. Nubia was a natural athlete and a star Ring player. She was also fearless.
Nubia moved into the seat and put her hands on the handprints.
“Careful, the AI is supposed to keep you from crashing into anything, but it’s not too bright. Also, it’s not…” Wyly never got the chance to finish because, under Nubia’s control the ship jerked to the side and swung towards the mirror at a frightening speed. The sudden movements threw everybody around the cabin. Lina flew into a corner of a seat and MAV drove her down on it. In no time Lina was bleeding all over her face and the cart was diving at the joint of the mirror.
Wyly immediately went to Lina, who seemed to have passed out. He shouted over his shoulder. “Pull away.”
“I’m trying.” Nubia said, but the more she tried the more the cart swung around wildly and increased speed toward the mirror or the window. Dafyd didn’t think they would go through the window, but their impact wouldn’t be good for either the window or themselves.
Suddenly a thought struck him. He knew what the problem was. “You aren’t flying in air.” He said.
“What?” Nubia shouted.
“You’re not flying in air, you don’t have air resistance, you’re over compensating.” He just got that last part out before she slammed him into the wall with another wild movement.
“Would someone please get this craft under control before we crash?” Wyly said as he held Lina’s head.
Dafyd looked at the instruments. It wasn’t too dissimilar to his simulator at home. They were getting low on attitude adjustment fuel. If something didn’t happen fast there would be no way to steer and they would be at the mercy of the last thing Nubia did. Dafyd put his feet against the back of the seat, grabbed Nubia by the shoulders and pulled heavily. He was sure he would not have been able to pull her off if she hadn’t been surprised, but she was and she popped right out.
Dafyd flipped her over his head and flopped into the seat. He put his hands on the controls and started making minor adjustments. It was difficult because the cart was wobbling and spinning and low on fuel. Still Dafyd slowly brought her under control. One single meter before they whacked into the mirror or the window he swung her away.
“Not too far away or we’ll drift off.” Wyly warned.
“I got it.” Dafyd said. He was in a gentle ballistic path back to the South Pole.
Everyone except Dafyd and Wyly had vomited or were holding vomit back violently. Wyly sat in a rear seat closest to the control seat with Lina’s head in his lap.
“Everyone strap themselves back in.” Wyly said.
“That was pretty good controlling.” Wyly said to Dafyd. “Where’d you learn that?”
“My simulator back home.” Dafyd said. “Can I take it all the way back?”
Wyly looked at him in amusement, then he led Dafyd around the craft with his eyes. Everyone besides Dafyd was either ill, unconscious or holding someone’s head together. “I don’t think anyone else wants a turn now.”
The trip back was uneventful. Just before they docked again Dafyd made a quick check of the fuel and then did a perfect double spin to back the voidcart into its garage. He heard dry heaving behind him and he smiled in triumph.
Cart One wasn’t far behind and they called on the radio. “Wyly what happened? Is everyone okay?”
“Everyone is going to be okay and I’m not Wyly.” Dafyd said into the communicator. His sister on the other end was silent for a moment.
“Dafyd, did you cause that spin?”
“The last one, yeah. The first one, no, I just pulled us out of it.”
“What? Where’s Wyly?”
“Tending to an injured patrol member. May I take a message?”
“Forget it. I’ll talk to you when we touch down.”
Dafyd made the cart secure and started helping everyone out.
“That was totally wicked.” MAV said.
Wyly carried Lina out to the medic on call and everyone began cleaning up. Athena walked up to Dafyd, who was helping cleaning up Jillyn’s lunch. Luckily it was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and not very messy, for something partially digested.
“You pulled it out of that spin?” Athena asked.
“He sure did.” Jillyn said. “Then he helped me clean up my tossed lunch.”
“Pretty impressive squirt.” She messed up his hair. “I guess all those days in the simulator paid off.”
By the time they were done cleaning the meeting was over and so was Athena’s admiration. As usual she slipped off with her friends leaving Nubia, Mav and Dafyd to ride the tram home alone.
Nubia was silent and wouldn’t look at Dafyd. He found that even less comfortable than his infatuated silence routine.
“Nubia?” Dafyd said.
“You know that your superior flying ability was the cause of…”
“Of what? Our near death experience? I don’t want to talk about it and I don’t want you to console me.” She crossed her arms and that was the end of that. The rest of the ride was silent.