0178: New Arrivals
“Is everybody all right back here?” Rico asked as he made his way through the open threshold that separated the cockpit from the cargo bay.
Constance, close enough behind him to be shocked by the density of his aftershave, looked toward the side of the utilitarian bay where her fellow colonists sat. Most of them looked a little pale, but apparently none the worse for wear. Jamie, one of the Downs’ twin boys, grinned bravely beneath his cowboy hat. “I want to sit in front on the way back so I can see what’s happening,” he said.
“Trust me, you don’t,” Constance half-lied. She was still reeling from the uncanny sensation of approaching the weird alien tower with its mesmerizing—what had Lamont called it?—beacon, its glassy surface flickering with complex geometries. She was still coming down from the heart-pounding suspense of wondering whether the tower would open to admit the asteroid pod in as she was told it had done before. She was still processing the experience of watching for herself as a portion of the copper-colored side of the tower seemed to simply disappear before their eyes so that the asteroid pod could be brought to a landing inside. She was still recovering from the nauseated sensation caused by yet another shift in the source of gravity. She hoped it didn’t show.
Lamont passed by her and strode to the small control panel at the aft of the asteroid pod. He looked at the small cluster of lights and dials for a long moment and turned back toward the cabin with an expression of vague annoyance. “Does anybody know how to read this?” he asked.
One of the crew members got up to examine the panel. “This is oxygen, sir,” she said, tapping a meter near the top. “It’s in the green zone. This looks like air pressure, also in the green zone. I think it says the atmosphere outside is good.”
“Thank you, Miss…”
“Beverly Fawcett,” the woman answered. “Mathematician.”
“Oh, good,” Lamont muttered around his unlit cigarette. “Well, let’s find out.”
Constance held onto the cargo netting near the other colonists and unconsciously braced herself as the newspaperman punched the prominent button to open the hatch. There was a rush of cooler air, filled with a subtle scent that was entirely unfamiliar to her, but no disaster was forthcoming as the metal ramp slowly lowered itself to the floor. Glancing to check that the others were okay, she hurried to make her way to the ramp, falling in step beside Rico. Lamont, with no apparent hesitation, lit his cigarette and took a long drag, exhaling a cloud of smoke into the weird, pearlescent chamber in which they had set down.
He set the cigarette in the center of his mouth and turned to look at Rico. “This is a different room,” he concluded.
Rico’s dark eyes traveled over the chamber. From where she stood, Constance could make out some kind of structure set about twenty feet from them on the strange white-pink floor. It was somewhat larger than the asteroid pod, greenish in color and shaped something like three upturned buckets connected by a helix.
“Either that,” Rico agreed, “or new guests have arrived.”
Lamont shook his head. “Don’t you think we would’ve noticed that?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he added: “The layout is the same, though. We’ll go that way.”
Constance’s eyes followed the direction of his finger, which was pointed to the corner where the walls of the evidently wedge-shaped chamber met in an apparently blank surface. “Let’s get moving,” he said. “I’ve got to do this three more times today.”
Next: A Lot Not to Know