Chapter 06 - In Transit.
My seat completes. A couple stands behind me waiting their turn. Too intimate to really take notice of me, holding hands and staring into each others eyes. I sit down and the section slides into the roaring throng of the main arterial transit. I look back to see the couple settling down on a bench seat curled up together. Oblivious to everything else around them. This is the bit I hate. A single seat, sliding into three to four lanes of very fast moving transit. The brittle chatter of the vids no distraction. The seat gains momentum and slips sideways through the seething, continuous snake of commuters. I've spent a few credits extra so I slide ever towards the middle of the transit tube, to the faster lanes, the little bubble that is my capsule easing itself through the mass of other passengers as they go over, under and around me. The claustrophobia is intense for a few seconds then there is and almost audible pop as my seat finds it's speed and settles into the throng, other passengers almost physically materializing next to me, as the bubble dissolves and my journey joins the rest of the tube.
I'm presented with row upon row of identical sets of seats, other people heading in similar directions, occasionally a bubble forms around one and their seat peels off to an exit, only for the rest of the seats to reorganise and replace it, filling the gap.
The seat next to me begins to drift to the side and a corridor opens between us. A couple of grinning hawkers push a food cart between us, they gesticulate and jabber in what must be the local commerce dialect, obviously singing the praises of their wares. Even going as far as actually trying to push some of their cheap traveller comforts, pillows, warm towels, into my hands, both grinning and nodding as they do so. I don't succumb to their less than subtle sales banter, I shake my head, pushing the goods back and point a the vid screen, indicating I'll use the mesh to order as and when I want their services. Looking a little disgruntled they push their cart forward, like some macabre double act, scavengers in search of another corpse, looking for new victims. The seats re-align themselves and continue at their break neck speed. I feel the slight push of the g-force as we accelerate forwards, as there's a sudden bank upwards, and slowly the gravity begins to decrease as we move away from the rim towards the hub.
I notice a sudden hush fall on the other passengers around me. Then an audible gasp. Before I've had time to process what's happening I burst out into the space bridge. Right out into the vacuum itself. Even I can't help letting a small sigh of shock escape my lips. It's terrifying and beautiful at the same time. Ejected up through the roof of the rim, into a transparent tube threaded down one of the radial arms of the station. A beautiful clear view of space in all its majesty. The closest most of these people will actually get to a space walk. A shock to the system that literally takes your breath away. Of course the palsti-glass is coated and shielded otherwise thousands of commuters a day would be fried by the cosmic rays and intense sunlight this close to the star that is our sun, but it still is one of the most impressive sights you can see on SolDock Five. It still takes my breath away. I'm told that you can see two of the other seven SolDock stations at the right time in the orbit. The radial arms are alight with sparkling tendrils of the transits, like veins of light threaded down the spokes of an enormous cart wheel. Past the inner two rings, the governing bureaucracy housed and officed in sumptuous courts in the centre of the ring, a huge spoke to the entire life of the station both physically and metaphysically. A glittering jewel of activity, all glass and shining, tiny activity, now seen for the first time since I docked almost a month ago.
Looking back the rim seems like an ancient sailing ships wheel lost at sea and left so long life has encrusted itself on and around it like coral. Tiny drones, manned traders, tugs, luggers, and massive freighters, military and commercial, ships of all sizes swimming brightly to and fro like a myriad of fish dependant on the reef for existence, the loading cranes and gantries like anemones and crabs grabbing at the less wary and ensnaring them to slowly devour, sucking their insides out first.
Again a communal grumble from up ahead. As we hit the intersection of two lines they merge, we loose our seats. Pushed from a comfortable sitting position to an upright, standing one, most of these people do this on a daily basis, but still moan as they are almost catapulted vertical. The space between us reduces and we are packed like some military transport.
I start to look around. It's only now I notice how much military black is worn by my fellow travellers. My own uniform is the equivalent of a petit-commissar, insignia and piping all in red, there are a few similar ranks. I spend a while comparing badges and branches, divisions, with my own. The majority are admin arms. I derive my rank part from the work I use to do in the Mars Commissary, and partly from a little disposal work I still do for the military. You have to be a certain rank to be allowed to take out high security trash. I also rank many of them because I can fly a ship. I have to admit to feeling a little bit of a fraud because I haven't seen any real action, but at least it affords me enough respect to have a little room to breath. The majority of the rest are lower grades, few or no rank badges. Desk jockeys and console goldfish, bottom feeders and data sifters. The sort of jobs complex AI refuses to do, or too unfathomable to be able to write an algorithm to handle. Unlogic on a level machines will never understand, and biological process alone can handle, witchcraft at its best, an inferred science at its worst. All essential to the war effort, of course. At times I wonder if the proles are not actually given work and pay just to be able to consume the goods produced, in order to shore up the whole galactic capitalist economy. There are some higher ranks. I spot the odd orange insignia, and possible one yellow. The higher grades don't tend to travel far, preferring to be billeted close to their offices. The High Bureaucrats actually live in their places of work, with small modest retinues. Considering the size of the Temples of Truth I suppose I would.
A large section slides in to position just in front of me. Filled with what looks like and off world work gang. Heavy fatigues, large hulking individuals some with intricate facial tattoos marking them as ex-gang members from certain disreputable quadrants. They chatter in a dialect I don’t immediately pick up, being somewhat unfamiliar to me. A few minutes and the translator begins to filter the standard forms and give me an easier to understand version of their conversation. It seems that the gang boss is arguing pay splits. He claims that because he arranges the jobs the rest should take lesser shares. One of the bigger individuals seems to think otherwise. A scuffle breaks out and a number of the gang pull large blades. They face each other. Then slowly lower the knives and laugh. One notices I’ve been watching and gesticulates. He begins to walk over toying with the knife and shouting. The others grin and watch the spectacle. I manipulate a couple of icons on my HUD. The left side of my face tingles as the electronically active ink in my own face tattoo reveals itself. I’ve been told its called burning Knot work. Our eyes meet. He sees the tattoo. A friend steps forward and whispers in his ear. He looks at the friend and briefly looks at me. I actually see the fear in his eyes. He quickly turns and doesn’t dare make eye contact again. The whole group shift nervously and look anywhere but at me, muttering amongst themselves about how it isn’t worth the trouble.
The tattoo itself is a gift from a neighbour in the Martian Archologies. It’s the clan emblem of one of the biggest, nastiest, most fierce street gangs from the worst quarter of Mars. Why have I got one you ask?
Simple, my neighbour, a rather frail and delicate old lady needed to deal with the Bureaucracy on Mars. Not being conversant with the proper protocols, and knowing I was something in the commissary, she asked for my help. It was only the matter of filing the correct applications to the right departments, no real problem for me and it ensured her medical insurance and living expenses continued to be paid by the company. A couple of weeks after I completed the arrangement for her she invites me in for tea. In her pre-hab are about a dozen of the biggest thugs I have ever seen, and being from a less than salubrious side of town I had seen my share. To say I was scared was an understatement. The biggest nastiest of them stood as I entered the room. Thanked me for helping his grandmother and a second member leaned forward and anesthetised me. I wake up a few hours later in a panic. Only the big one is there in my pre-hab. He explains what they have done and what an honour it is to be initiated into the gang. He explains the tattoo, calms me down again, and shows me the de-activation switch, and explains the electronically active ink that has been used. Showing me that it doesn’t come up on certain types of scanner, he smiles and says it’s the only thing they could think of to say thank you properly. It appeared family was very important to the gang. They see themselves providing a support where the company fails. I was going to argue the prostitution, and narcotics, and hideous street murder aspect but you don’t live as long as I have without knowing that one should always be as diplomatic as possible in certain circumstances. I will admit I have become attached to the thing. I’ve only needed to “show my colours” once or twice. There is of course the fact that William, “Big Willy” to his friends, also promised that if I should ever need anything he personally would see to it that the gang would provide. He then cut my palm, and his, mingling the two, and proclaimed me “blood”. Then wandered off grinning like a Cheshire cat. I do believe he is doing particularly well for himself and has risen quite high in the ranks of the gang at present. It amuses Hassan to keep me abreast of Big Willy’s progress, and passes the odd communiqué now and then from him.
There's a marked deceleration. Whole rafts of passengers bubble over and begin to peel off into the slower lanes. My own section grows a canopy and slows and dives, my stomach almost hitting my mouth. It slows to a crawl then dissolves. Leaving a couple of dozen of us standing, looking bereaved and bereft for a couple of seconds whilst we get our bearings.
I look round. The space is gargantuan. An immense void of glass, encircled by pillars the roof difficult to see above us, shrouded in a mist of smoke. Braziers hang ever few meters from endless chains from the ceiling, the light pools underneath them. I admire the High Bureaucrats for one thing, and one thing alone, their sense of the Gothic. I begin to follow the throng towards the main reception desks.
The doors to the building stand symbolically open, each side guarded by a squad of titanic battle droids. The crowd constantly washed with laser sights, scanned with every form and wavelength of detectors known to man, or machine. The droids impassive, constantly sweeping the crowd, using military patterns to ensure the maximum number of individuals are covered at any one time.
My mesh begins to chime. Set automatically it begins the arduous and complicated protocol, chanting like a mendicant, a sinner on pilgrimage, negotiating with the Bureaucratic mesh, the hub frame. I pace slowly towards the first bank of security gates to check in.
As I get into the middle of the hall my HUD begins to display the double headed eagle ripping a scroll in two. The icon is as immense as the hall it, virtually, spins in, and glittering in a way only an augmented reality event could. Looking towards the security gates and above them there now appears the slogan “Welcome to the Temples of Truth!” Followed by their motto, “Hide Nothing, Fear Nothing!” Emblazoned in six foot tall letters.