That was our view of The Station as Mai carefully guided the helicopter skillfully down near one of the bubtents. She landed, and I could not feel the vibrations of working machines around me any more.
I had been too focused on The Station to notice that it was dark all around us; the Antarctic night was upon us.
Kesler opened his eyes and croaked, "Freedom Yokoto? How exactly are we going to get out?"
"With your legs," Mai replied, carefully studying the controls.
"It's freezing out there," insisted Kesler, turning his head to look out side and pointing outside as well, for redundancy.
"Which is why we're going inside," Mai said, turning a knob carefully, then grabbed the joystick again, her delicate features screwed up in determination. She reached over across her control panel and pressed a button. The helicopter moved forward (on hidden wheels), and the bubtent split along an invisible seam. Kesler looked stunned by this feat.
Or maybe not. "Just like the old garage door openers," he said, leaning back in his chair again.
We passed through the seam and into a circular room, about 10 meters in diameter. It was brightly lit, and a bit of a pain on the eyes after a look at that all encompassing night around us. "Okay," Mai said, getting up from her seat and moving towards the hatched door. "It should be room temp in this bubtent, if Toril's got all the essential wiring hooked up- and I think she does…" Her voice trailed away as she unsealed the hatch and cold air came blowing in.
"Or not," Kesler said, sneezing. "Do you have any thermal garments?"
"Yes- check back there." Mai pointed to the back where all our luggage was placed. She stepped out onto the chill concrete floor, looking around. I dove into the back, searching madly for anything that would protect me from the cold air rushing in. It wasn't Antarctic temperature, of course, but it was still below my personal comfort level.
"Got them," I grunted, trying to rearrange my limbs in a semi dignified position, holding in one hand a rather heavy plastic vacuum sealed bag marked, "PROPERTY OF UNITED WEST. THERMAL PROTECTION SUITS." I slid back over the pile of luggage, wincing slightly as my face and arm met with the floor, resulting in bruising, which I noticed when I sat on the floor and rolled up my sleeve. "Here we go," I grunted, pushing the bag out the door.
Kesler had stared at me through the entire ordeal as if I was an extremely interesting and entertaining and somewhat stupid clown. He started to chuckle. I quickly followed the bag out the door, although, thankfully, this time, on two feet. I passed out the suits and we began to pull them on over our uniforms.
"Damned if I don't feel like a marshmallow," Kesler observed. I struggled with the zipper of my suit, quietly agreeing with him. "Ready yet?" Mai wanted to know. With military efficiency, she had had her suit on within seconds.
"No- yes," I said, as the zipper finally reached its destination, nestled snugly under my chin.
"Here're the helmets," Kesler commented as he found them under the helicopter's two seats, after a frantic look for them. (In thermal protection suits. Try that at home.)
"And here're the flashes," Mai said, pulling another package out of the chopper. She ripped it open, and passed a heavy black flashlight to each of us.
"We're using hovcar to get to Toril's camp," Mai informed us, as she led the way across the circular room to another seam-door. It opened when we go near it, and a silvery metallic hovcar glistened on the floor, facing a seam-door outside.
So we can have hovcars in Antarctica, but not in Mexico City. It's insane.
"I'm driving," Mai said as she slipped into the driver's seat. I sighed. "Helmets on, okay? This hov doesn't have a top." Kesler and I nodded, slipping ours on and locking the seal. Mai did the same, double checking the tightness and security of the seal.
The seal door gave way, and Mai slowly turned the craft on.
The first, most elementary things anyone can know about hovcars is that they are not powered by a fancy motor, or strange magnetic fields that keep it off the ground. It works like a blow dryer, in the words of my 0.5 grade science book, drawing in air, then expelling it forcefully to keep it up. The nozzles which shoot out the air are changed in their position by the steering wheel, and so the hovcar stays up.
Amazingly low technological level, but it works quite well.
The craft rose slowly up, gaining slight altitude inch by inch. (I know that the official measure of the world is the centimeter, but I like the inch, although it was gone from the official world by the time I was eight and from England from before I was born.) Mai slowly keyed the craft upwards, then switched on the hand accelerator. (Foot accelerators had been done away with. Hand accelerators were safer and were in no danger from a lead foot, just a greasy hand.) We moved forward slowly and stately, and by the time we had cleared the seam door, Kesler asked, "It's okay that we leave our bags and stuff there, right?" He turned around, staring back as though sheer will power would turn the car back.
"Yes," Mai responded, slowly keying the hovcar up to a greater speed. "We couldn't carry it anyway, we've already got enough in the back to replenish their supplies. Prepackaged back there. Lovely vacuum packed, low-residue 'food.'"
"How far away are we from Lieutenant's Ingersol's camp?" I questioned, finally able to sit in a seat, instead of on a cold floor.
"Twenty minutes. We're just following the red pipe to them," Mai said, pointing at the red pipe which had come into view and which we were now following. It had flood lights on it as well, highlighting it against the dark. "That's the second-to-last one they've got to build," she half shouted over the thrum of the hovcar's very, very nice air intake/out take motor. This was the first time I had ridden in a hovcar in…
I was in a state of bliss for the next twenty minutes.
When we came in eye-shot of the camp (which had high watt poled lights every five or so feet), I noticed that the suited workers' suits were white, not the caustic orange that I myself was garbed in. Kesler hopped out of the hovcar and walked slowly to the camp; the suits made every movement clumsy and hard. After swallowing to brace myself to a military encounter, I followed him. Mai got out of the hovcar after lowering it to the ice floor and headed after us.
"Where's Ingersol?" Kesler questioned, his eyes screwed up and squinting at the numerous white suited figures. Apparently, their suits were much more finely crafted, with more mobility in the joints, especially fingers. Makes sense, as they were doing fine manipulation work, but I could have used a glove or two, preferably two. The high tech mittens I had encased on my hands didn't make me feel particularly mobile.
"I don't know," responded Mai, also straining her eyes to investigate. "Maybe she's in-"
Meanwhile, a white garbed figure had come leaping at us, probably the most efficient way to travel on the ice. The white suits had studs on the bottom which allowed for fast moves. If I leaped anyplace, my boots would have skidded and I would be flat on my back.
"Ahh, here's Toril," Mai said as the figure stopped near a pole light.
Toril motioned at us, bringing us closer. We came, and she immediately stuck her helmeted head out and touched it to Mai's, her mouth moving, but we couldn't hear a thing. Mai stood up. "Okay- listen up, Royals, to talk to anybody but among ourselves we're going to have to touch helms."
I blanched at being referred to as one of the 'Royals.' "I assumed that's because the white suits are built to hold everything in for maximum heat protection, and it's a minor design flaw that they're so suited up that sound is muffled?" I inquired.
"Mmmm. Like in space, astronauts without radio could touch helms and then sound would travel between the helmets, and sound would travel … I see," Kesler noted.
"Yes, exactly. The connection of the helmets provides a medium for sound waves to travel, as they're mechanical waves and need one, in space, and it's basically the same concept here. There were extensive worries about a radio system being put in, but then an ex astronaut suggested this, the helm-tapping. That's what Toril says, any way…"
"Freedom Yokoto?" I said. A nasty thought had just appeared in my head, and I was going to voice it. "Why can we talk without helm-tapping?"
"Our suits aren't as well made… they can let sound and some heat through. They're emergency rescue suits, not nearly as effective. Toril says that the teams call them 'thips-' for thermal, no 'i,' just there for phonetics, protection suits," Mai replied after a short conference with Toril. "Ready to be shown the sights of O'Melia Outpost?"
"Always," I said, walking clumsily along in my bulky orange thip as Toril and her white-suited military fellows around us leaped along on the ground like swans.
Mai: New update.
Toril: She's awful cheap. Why the non radio system? Do you know what a nuisance that is? To tell somebody something you have to run over to them, clank helms, and then talk, then run back-
Cedric: Anger not The Author.
Toril: I have no control over my fate. If I say something mean, it is not me saying it. I have no control over anything in my life, and if She decides to kill me off, She's just lost an outlet for her anger and cheapness.
Kesler: She enjoys doing mean things to us. She made me airsick. How inconvenient is that?
Mai: What we would like to interrogate *cough * QUESTION our lovely reviewers about now is character realism and relationships.
Cedric: At least She has gotten over that whole 'is Cedric manly enough' thing.
Kesler: And now She's onto the rest of us.
Toril: Actually, it was kind of funny when She was questioning your manliness.
Cedric: Well, I was going to talk to Her about giving you a real radio talk thing, but you just blew it.
Mai: And relationships… past, present, and future. How have the characters reacted to each other in the past, how their relationships seem now and- Oh god, I cannot say this.
Mai: Listen: AND HOW YOU THINK THEY REACT TO EACH OTHER IN THE FUTURE- FRIENDS, ENIMIES, ALLIES. THIS INCLUDES ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS.
Kesler: Did She actually make you read that?
Mai: It's on my note card.
Toril: I will kill anybody who remotely suggests I should become romantic with anybody.
Cedric: Oh god.
Cedric: Now I know why She was questioning my manliness. She wants to turn this into an angsty, romantic, teenagerish fic.
Kesler: I will hurt Her before anything like that happens.
Mai: I think She might be mature enough to not do that, Cedric.
Toril: Which brings to the question on my note card: Is this a teenagerish fic? Is it stupid? Be as harsh and mean as you can. She deserves it.
Kesler: Well, this part is certainly teenagerish.
Cedric: Well, that's required.
Mai: It's the Author's Note.
Toril: Let me rephrase my question: If you were to pick this story up randomly, who would you say wrote it? Age, maturity, etc.
Mai: Thank you and good night.