It was early, and I felt tired, although not hung over. The bed hung over me like a giant blanket, waiting to swallow me up. Something disturbed me, but I didn’t know what. I turned over to look over to the side of the bed, only to find Periclum’s face staring back at me. My eyes wide fixed on his. His eyes turned into a smile and then it felt like he shouted good morning. I screamed and pushed myself back. Breathing heavy I stared at Periclum gripping a pillow like my life depended on it.
“Sorry James, I was trying to wake you gently.” He looked at me while jumping on the spot, as if he had some great news to tell. “The Galactic Union has finished their investigation on the cargo ship you were on!”
I looked at him, confused. “That’s great, but why does that concern me?”
Periclum continued, ignoring my apparent angry undertone, “They have told us they will allow us to go back there!”
I looked at him, still confused, “oh good! I hope you find something.”
Periclum looked at me for a moment and tilted his head. “We won’t find anything. The Galactic Union is thorough. They told us the data that would help bring the companion’s back has been destroyed. But I was thinking this is an opportunity for you and me to figure out more about what happened to you!”
I looked at him for a moment, trying to register what he was trying to say. “Wait, what? You want me to go with you? Back to that crazy, confusing place?”
He looked at me with innocent looking eyes, “Yeah!”
“No, no, no, no, no. I am not going back there. That for me is like every nightmare, dream and weird experiences all rolled into one!”
“James, it will help you bring closure,” Periclum said with a concerned overtone.
“Periclum, that place is a place of nightmares! I can’t face it!”
“Yes, you can, James!” Periclum bounced onto the bed and hit me. “Does that hurt!?”
“Ow, yes, stop doing that!” Periclum continued to hit me.
“How about this, and this, and this!”
“Periclum, stop! What’s your point?”
“I hurt you, but you can still talk to me. You’re not afraid of me?”
“No, but you are…”
“It’s the same with that cargo ship. If you don’t face it, you won’t be able to put those crazy thoughts to rest!”
I looked at him confused for a moment, “Wait, how do you know so much about human psychology?”
He looked at me and sat, leaning against a pillow, “I don’t, but I guess that your imagination is as wild as a Tuhingan’s. Which means your mind made the situation of what happened to you more wild than it was.”
I sat there for a moment, considering what Periclum had just said. It was silent in the room for a few seconds before I broke it with, “Periclum?”
“Why don’t I have a hangover?”
He looked at me confused, “Why aren’t you sick?” he asked me
“Yeah, I feel great yet we went crazy with the drinking last night.”
Before Periclum answered, he seemed to consider it for a few seconds. “James, we get rid of any contaminants, defects or deficiencies in the drink when it got scanned for the EMC. You had the purest form of the drink last night that works as it’s supposed to with your body… At least I think it will work the same for humans….” He paused for a moment. “Oh, I should also tell you. You may feel random moments of fear, paranoia and anxiety today with no genuine cause.”
“It’s the side effects of the Lenimen in your system!”
“Oh…” I considered it for a long moment while Periclum just stared at me. “Yet another reason I shouldn’t go to that cargo ship today!”
“Come on, James! It will be fine. There isn’t anything there that is scary. It’s just a ghost of what it was.”
I took a deep breath and looked at Periclum. He looked back at me and moved his lips up in the corners with his fingers. I burst out laughing at the sight. “Is that your attempt at a human smile?” Periclum smiled back at me with his eyes. I paused for a moment and thought about the situation. After a few seconds, I relaxed and took a deep breath. “All right! Let’s go! But I will blame you if anything happens!”
Periclum looked pleased, as much as any Tuhingan can. “Oh, fantastic. Quickly then! Get changed, I’ll wait for you in the corridor!” He said as he got out of the bed and began moving to the door. Once he had gone into the corridor, it felt like the room fell into silence. I laid there for a moment and stared at the fabric that hung above my head, trying to get motivation to get up. I took a deep breath and then forced myself up. Sitting up, I looked around, really looking at the room for the first time. It was a large, luxurious room. It had what looked to be a fire pit in the centre, lifted from the floor with what looked like blackened concrete. Above it was a chimney that looked like an upside down funnel. I could see a door next to the bed to a room that looked to be a bathroom. All the furniture around the edges of the room was made of wood, the walls were covered in gold hieroglyphics with a red background. It all looked so cosy.
My eyes soon came across the wardrobe, and I approached. The handles were low on this wardrobe and it was a little smaller than the previous one I had in the environment. I had to bend down to open it. I went for some colourful attire. Khaki brown trousers, red shirt and a dark blue blazer jacket. Then left the overcoat I was wearing the day previous on a chair in the room. After, I took some black, supportive walking boots from the EMC and placed them on the floor. Then I materialising a toothbrush and toothpaste, and went to the bathroom to freshen up.
I entered the bathroom, and it surprised me to find it looked similar to a bathroom on Earth. Everything appeared more plain. There was a wooden countertop with an enamel sink. Cupboards under with plain doors. Inside were wooden shelves and nothing stored. The toilet I could sit on and flush the toilet using a button. The tap on the sink could be operated by hand. There was a shower jutting out from the wall over a bath on the opposite side of the sink with twist knobs for taps. It reminded me of a power shower my father once owned. There were plain white tiles all above the top of the bath. It all felt so homely. The only thing that felt out of place was the fact there wasn’t any toilet paper. Instead, there was a bidet right next to the toilet. I brushed my teeth and continued to freshen up.
Soon I put on my shoes and coat, then I went out into the corridor to meet Periclum. He was wearing a dark blue t-shirt, some black trousers and black shoes.
I looked at Periclum, “The bathroom, it almost looks like it is from Earth.”
“It’s the one part of your room that was renovated for you. Re must have found some data and used it to make it more like a bathroom from Earth.”
I was a little confused where he would have taken that information from, but soon shook it off and looked around. The corridor looked like it was decorated much the same way as my room. With gold hieroglyphics all down the corridor, from floor to ceiling. Periclum stood up. “Ready then!”
“Yup,” I replied as Periclum began walking. I followed him down and was admiring the luxury and quality of the building. Under my feet it felt as though I was walking on carpet, but the floor looked to be some wood texture. Like it was made of giant planks coming from giant trees. We soon got to some simple wooden doors that opened as we approached. It revealed a small room that was white inside. Above the door, there was a number displayed on the wall. It was bright like an LCD display, but there wasn’t any display, only writing on the wall itself.
“I called the lift before when I saw you come out of the room. Come on!” Periclum said when he turned and looked at me from within the lift. I was trying to read the number above the door, but I couldn’t quite make it out. It was fuzzy and looked as though it was trying to be two shapes at the same time. One that was a number I know and recognise, the other, something I didn’t. Once inside, I saw that there was a framed panel of numbers and names. They were enclosed in this carved frame with a dark wooden background. I glanced at the numbers and names. They were just as fuzzy and confusing as the number on top of the lift door. Periclum pressed the bottom number. The lift closed its doors, and we descended.
“I can’t seem to read the writing in this lift,”
He looked confused at me for a moment. “Hmm, perhaps your mind is requesting that you see the original, while also wanting to know what it means. It doesn’t work with writing.”
“I guess, I find everything is beautiful here.”
“Hmm, instead of focusing on the beauty of the writing, just try understanding it.”
I stared at the writing, and it appeared in English. It relieved me. The lift continued to move down and I could see each name light up as we moved. I noticed there was a name for each floor. There was one named ‘The Liberty’, one floor named ‘The Drunken Hole’, even one named ‘The River’. I looked down at the bottom button where Periclum had placed his finger. It read, ‘The Temple Subway’. I looked at Periclum.
“The Temple has its own Subway?”
“Yes, James, the Rehew built this to be an entertainment place. When they were drunk, they wanted to get home quickly.”
It wasn’t long before the lift stopped and opened its doors. We stepped inside the Subway tunnel and the lights came on, startling me in my tired state. It was a large Subway, made to cater many people. I saw sofas, rugs, bookshelves with books, and even toilets down there. It looked just as luxurious as upstairs, with gold covering around the doors to the pods, and black hieroglyphics covering the large concrete walls. There were several places for lifts to come down, but there weren’t any stairs that lead to the surface.
Periclum went straight to a vacant pod and beckoned me to follow. He turned to me, “First we will have breakfast with the Captain in the bridge canteen. She contacted me while you were getting ready and wants to see you again, especially now you are better!” he said. I replied with “I look forward to seeing her” and got into the pod behind him. We strapped ourselves in and were soon off. This time, the pod started and twisted around a few turns. After around a minute of turning around this turning, we soon came to a junction where I saw another pod whizz by.
“Looks like someone else is going to the bridge.” Periclum said. At that moment, my grip tightened on my seat. I felt like I knew what was coming. We soon came round into the tunnel, which the other travelled through. We came to a ramp that headed down into the tunnel below. Once we went down the ramp, it felt like we were going the same speed but appeared like we were going much faster with the lights in the tunnel speeding past us in a blur turning into a line. Once again I was being pressed into my seat as we went around bends and changed tunnels. I felt us violently being too slow. I was being thrown forward into the seat belt and soon, as we came into the station, we braked even harder. The belt digging into my chest. We were soon slowing to a turtle’s pace as we came to the platform.
The platform was the same as it was when I first saw it. Periclum was getting out and stood waiting for me. I struggled with the seatbelt to get out, pulling hard until it came free. This time when I was getting out, I didn’t feel so sick, just hungry. I struggled out of the pod, feeling like an old man, and held onto Periclum as I stumbled onto the platform. I was glad to be on stable ground. It took a moment before I was ready to speak.
“It will be nice to see the Captain again. I felt like I didn’t get to know her the first time and I was a mess.”
“What do you like to eat?” Periclum asked as we were beginning down the stairs and then down the corridor.
“I fancy a bit of steak,” I replied. “steak with peas, carrots, a bunch of vegetables and fries.”
“Hmm, you must tell the chef what all of that is. Hopefully, they will understand. It all sounds very exotic.”
I burst out laughing at the thought of steak and chips being considered exotic foods. “That is more of a dinner time thing. I will just order toast and eggs.”
Periclum gurgled, “that will be much easier for the chef to prepare.”
We got so deep into our conversation about tuhingan and human food that it felt like the canteen sneaked upon us. We entered a large room that could clearly seat two hundred people, and there was around a hundred tuhingan in there. There weren’t many aliens of other races, only two apart from me. On the opposite wall from us, I could see box cutouts into the wall that were coated in metal. It drew the eye since it contrasted so much with the plain wooden panels that seemed to decorate the walls of the room. To the right, there were large windows covering the entire wall looking out into the centrifuge. To my left was a bar and a Tuhingan behind serving customers. Behind her was a kitchen with a chef that appeared hard at work.
They made everything for Tuhingan’s, the tables, chairs, bar, EMC machines. Everything was child size. Then I saw someone approach one of the box cut outs in the wall opposite that I was sure they were EMC machines. The sound of wind filled the hall as flashes came from in front of the Tuhingan standing at the wall, confirming my hunch.
“Periclum?” I asked.
“Why is it you have a kitchen and someone serving if you have EMC machines on the wall?”
“We are social people James, It’s nice to ask someone about your food requirements and to talk about anything regarding food. Plus, some would argue that cooked meals taste better.” He was saying all of this while we were walking across the canteen, down a set path in the centre of the room. We soon came to the wall of EMCs, but Periclum didn’t stop at one. He continued walking down towards the bar, and I noticed a door to the right of it.
“The Captain is looking forward to meeting you again. The first time wasn’t the best, and she knows that.”
“Thanks for reminding me.” I said, ashamed at what I was like. We came to the door next to the bar and Periclum went to hold it open for me. I entered to find a room that they had decorated the same way as the canteen. However, it seemed to have a large video screen covering an entire wall on the right. On the screen were alien fish swimming in an ocean. I only knew it was a screen because Periclum mention it as we went in. On the left side of the room was another bar with direct access to the kitchen and the chef. They decorated the opposite wall to me and the door, the same as the canteen with a single EMC machine in the middle. In the centre of the room was a large oval-shaped table that could seat at least ten people. A chair that sat next to the Captain was wider than the others.
The Captain was sitting at the opposite end of the table from me, in front of the EMC machine, greeting me with smiling eyes. She was in the middle of eating what appeared to be green vegetables with some eggs drooping over the top of it. Next to the Captain was a chair that was clearly wider than the others.
“Are you on your own, Captain?” Periclum began.
“Yes, just going over the reports. Please sit…” she gestured out to the large chair at the table while looking at me. I sat next to her awkwardly, nervous about meeting her again. Periclum sat in the chair on the other side of her. “The chef should be out in a minute. She is wonderful and makes the most fantastic dishes.” She continued as we sat at her table. “So James, I hear you are going back to the Nkri cargo ship?” She said while I settled into the seat next to her. I stretched my legs out on this low chair and wriggled until I felt comfortable. “It’s a very brave thing for you to do, especially after everything that has happened. I hope you get some closure.” She said as she looked at me with concerned eyes.
“It wasn’t completely my idea!” I was attempting to move the focus onto Periclum rather than myself in any way possible. But it was clear that this meeting was about me.
“Well, whoever it was, I am still glad you are going back. I wish that all the different species could go back, but then most of them would be unpredictable. They are already finding it hard to settle on this ‘magical spinny land’ as some of them call it.”
At that moment, I felt terrible for the others. I hadn’t even given them a second thought, and some of them took care of me in the Myrmekes. “I will have to visit them myself at some point. Make sure they are okay and try to help bring them round to the idea that they are in a safe place.”
The Captain looked surprised for a moment. “You seem better, James. That would be a great idea! What did you have in mind?”
I could see that she was fishing for something in particular. Guessing that she wanted to make sure I knew what was going on enough to get others to better understand the situation. I thought about the question for a moment. “I can take a group of them, sit them down and ask how their stay has been so far. Try to explain that this ship is not magic and you Tuhingan are the ones that are keeping it going. I can try to create science lessons to teach them about the science behind the g-forces produced from a circling object. Explain about the Higgs field and a variety of other things that I know from my time on Earth. I was a scientist and so I feel it will be great to use that knowledge for something.”
She moved her head from side to side for a moment with smiling eyes. “I think that could help settle a few of them well. So I guess you could say that this would be a self-help group to soothe them?” I nodded in agreement.
“He means to say, ‘yes!’” Periclum explained.
“Oh, yeah.” I continued.
“Interesting idea, James. But you would need to be a calm figure for them to turn to. You will have to deal with some tough situations and you only just got on top of your own emotions.”
I thought for a moment, contemplating on what she said, “Wouldn’t that fact mean I know better what they have been through? Be a better candidate to guide them as I am struggling with similar emotions?”
“James, these are all different aliens with different emotions. I don’t think they will feel the same way you do. However, there isn’t any harm in trying. We can give it a go for a week and see how you do. How does starting next week on Monday sound?”
“Sounds good!” I replied with a smile, knowing that this will give me a sense of purpose and recenter myself. The chef came out at that moment, apologising about the delay. She asked us what she can get us. Periclum went first with the order. He ordered a dish I didn’t understand and drinks that were alien to me. I wanted something familiar, something I craved, but was easy for the chef. “I would like eggs on toast, please”. To my surprise, she understood and wrote it down. “Can I also get some orange juice?” She looked at me for a moment.
“Is that a fruit?” The surprise of her understanding eggs on toast made me hopeful. That question crushed those hopes. “A citrus fruit!” I replied. She gave it a thought for a second. “Would you say it is a pleasant mix of sweet and sour?” I looked at her for a moment, thinking about what I should say to get something similar to orange juice. Then I realised it wasn’t worth it. “Sure.” I smiled back. She looked at me with a tilted head for a moment and then said, “Sure, I’ll get you something similar.”
She left after that, and I was excited to see what she will deliver. It would have been easier to go to an EMC to get my breakfast, but this one-on-one experience was a delightful change. It felt exciting and familiar to think she may not have understood me at all, or there maybe something not right with my order.
“How long has she been a chef here?” I asked, trying to weigh up the risk.
“A few weeks, I think. She had some time on her hands, so she volunteered here!”
I looked at the Captain for a moment. “Volunteered?”
“Yeah, there are quite a few volunteers now. Each one taking one shift per week, more or less.”
This conversation took me back to the conversations I had with Re and Periclum the night before. I remembered how everything was democratically socialist, if you could call it that. There was a hint of capitalism with the energy credits that you can earn to run energy intensive projects. But everyone gets all their needs met and enough energy credits to materialise whatever they wanted, within reason. I guess being a chef on a ship able to materialise any food meant the Tuhingan volunteer, just because they enjoy being a chef.
“Do many volunteer?” I asked.
The Captain replied, “Oh yes, this entire ship works on volunteering. I mean there are few jobs that are necessary and those who do them earn energy credits. But most other jobs are unnecessary.”
I looked at Periclum in a confused fashion. “I don’t get paid James, I enjoy the adventure and danger.” he said to me. It was shocking for me at that moment, realising that Periclum risked his life to gain small bits of information and that job isn’t considered necessary for the Tuhingan. “It’s the boring jobs that people get paid for, like drone mechanic… Eh” he seemed disgusted at the thought of becoming one.
“Does Re earn energy credits?” I asked the room.
Periclum replied, “No, but he is often gifted energy rich materials that his guests give him. He can then claim energy credits by dematerialising them and adding to the energy to the reserves.”
The chef then brought the food out and laid it on the table in front of me and Periclum. I had this enormous egg drooping over this smaller piece of toast and then more toast on the side. There was a mixture of herbs and spices over the egg. With the meal was a glass of pale yellow liquid. I was hungry and ready to dig in. I tried the egg and toast. The bread was a little different from what I was used to and had a little more of a bitter taste. The juice was sour, a little like lemonade, however had a complimentary sweet taste. It tasted very different from anything I had tasted before. However, it was all very enjoyable.
The conversation continued between us all about the day-to-day operations of the ship and my future. There were many things I could do, many projects I could get involved in. There was a database where people can post different jobs, projects and present their group. It sounded like a cross between Facebook and Trello, however, it was more focused on volunteering.
The meal must have lasted for around half an hour and it was soon time for me and Periclum to leave. I felt it went well with the Captain and I learned better who she was. It felt good to prove that I wasn’t the person she first met.
“James, make sure you register yourself as soon as you get a chance. We need to get you settled in The Liberty!” I nodded to The Captain and continued out with Periclum.
“She seems pleased with you,” Periclum said as we walked out of the room. He continued to lead me back through the canteen and we began down the corridor. Our conversation continued about what I could do on the ship. He had many suggestions from helping at The Temple, to helping with drone maintenance. We both agreed that I should think about it and that I should look at the database when I can. As we were walking around a curved corridor, curving to the right. Following the right wall, we came across a small platform sitting in a small alcove. Periclum climbed up onto the platform, beckoning me to join him.
“Just to prepare you, you are standing on an EMC platform.” Periclum said as I climbed up. “Get ready!” I looked at him, confused, but stood facing the same direction he did. We faced outward from the platform and I felt like I was in some Star Trek episode. Just then, doors slide open above my head, to the right and left of me. Sliding out from behind the doors were the EMC turrets. I turned to see there was also one behind me. When I turned back, it surprised me that came down from the ceiling, looking like a camera facing me like I was some sort of celebrity.
My body froze. For a moment, my heart was in my throat and fear took over. I attempted to relax, trying to convince myself that this was all normal. Then there was the sound of wind and light grew stronger. The surrounding environment then fizzled out of existence, similar to losing a signal on an analogue television.
Ohh I do love my feedback, how can I improve?
Tell me what I can do better!
Where do my challenges lie? Please, tell me.