The phone kept ringing. Claudio started to be irritated.
“Why isn’t anyone answering that?” The thought screamed inside.
“Did I just shout?” he wondered.
Not fully awake, it was only by habit he jumped up and was clearing his throat. He picked up the receiver, still not really aware of what was going on.
“Help…” The voice was faint.
Claudio looked at the caller id, Room 215.
“Mr. Carr’s room!” He slammed down the phone.
It took about a minute to be fully coherent, as the mental fog was still lifting. Checking the front desk monitor, he could see the day clerk arriving. Cautiously, he opened the door to the manager’s quarters and stepped out.
“Good morning Claudio!” exclaimed Mandia.
She was early as usual, arriving with a big grin and exuberant greetings. Usually her happy mood annoyed him. But today her joyfulness helped ease his fear. This was normal, which meant she didn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary. Maybe he was just imagining the call from Mr. Carr’s room.
“Is everything alright?” he asked Mandia.
“Yes. No problems! Are you just waking up?” she asked.
He was grabbing a master key from the wall hook, “No, I‘ve been up.” He lied. “Maybe dozed a little last night. I’m just getting ready to make rounds before I head home. Have a good day.”
He was already moving, not wanting her to know he’d been sleeping.
“Yeah, you too Claudio!”
The sound of engines roared. Even though they were muffled by the shuttle fuselage, it was still loud enough that it would have been very difficult, if not impossible to carry on a conversation inside the craft.
Zee hadn’t been paying attention but now he noticed everyone wearing their headphones. He reached down to where his were under the seat and put them on. They helped dampen the sound.
It was getting harder to move as the shuttle picked up speed. Zee settled back and gave himself over to the invisible force which pulled him into his chair. Eyes closed, he listened to the hum of engines. He imagined the ship, passing by the lighthouse and out over the ocean.
Zee found himself waking to the sound of hatch windows opening. He had no idea how long he’d been asleep and now, out his window, was a view both spectacular and stunning.
Teller Station. This was no picture. It was real. The enormous size of the structure, took him by surprise.
It looked like a huge bike wheel he thought. The outer part was like a tire and formed a thick, gigantic circle. Long tunnels, the spokes, ran from the inner rim and met in the center of the wheel, joining at a large sphere.
Zee noticed he was no longer pinned to his seat and could move again. He scooted closer to the window taking it all in. His dad came and sat by him.
“See the big bubble in the middle?” Zee nodded.
“That’s where I work. I’m going to show you that and all over the station.”
As they moved in closer, Zee saw it was even larger than he realized. The shuttle was now flying alongside of what he thought of as the tire. He could see several levels of floors, windows and shuttle bays.
You could tell the shuttle bays. They were obvious by the blue, shimmering glow of bay shields, which served as force fields of some sort. He remembered learning in school that the field created by generators kept the dangerous space atmosphere from penetrating into the station and kept the station life-supporting air from escaping outward into space.
He could see right through the shields. Hundreds of people moved about inside. Multiple types of craft sat docked. He wondered how ships moved in and out without creating a hole between the atmospheres.
No sooner had he thought this, he could see a ship rise off the floor and slowly move towards the outer shield. He watched in fascination as it passed through as easy as if passing through water.
The blue, haze like force field, formed a tight seal around every part of the ship, so tight and so precise, there wasn’t a chance of harmful substances penetrating inward. He remembered too that when ships entered from space into the bay, the heat generated by the shields also served to sanitize the hull which collected solar dust and other particles, rendering them harmless.
In his peripheral vision, movement caught his eyes. A door was opening into one of the levels. By the looks of it, this door opened the way to somewhere deep inside the station. As the shuttle turned to enter, hatch windows began to close. Zee sat back in his chair.
Claudio made his way to the second floor. He was thinking he should just leave and go home. But his sense of guilt pushed him forwards.
Getting to the corridor entry, he took a deep breath and opened the door. Cautiously, leaning his head into the hall, he listened for anything unusual. All was silent.
He started towards Mr. Carr’s room. “This is stupid. Mr. Carr’s asleep, he didn’t call.” Claudio desperately tried talking himself from continuing on.
Having arrived at room 215, his ear was to the door. There was nothing to be heard, or indication that anything was wrong. Everything seemed in order. As he turned to leave, a loud thumping noise sounded from inside.
Without thinking, Claudio leaned into the door and called out, “Mr. Carr?”
There was no answer, again he called, “Mr. Carr?”
There was that thumping noise again. Something didn’t seem right. Claudio inserted the master key into the door lock and opened it.
“Mr. Carr?” He was slowly pushing the door wider.
A horrible smell smacked him in the face. Claudio thought he’d vomit, but he resisted the sensation.
The curtains were drawn shut making it dark. He flipped on the light. It was then he could see the bed was soaked in blood and this time he did vomit.
Standing there, hands on knees, it took some time to compose himself. He could see the phone on the floor, but no Mr. Carr. He looked towards the darkened bathroom, his heart racing faster.
Reaching inside around the wall, he was feeling for the light switch. Fear gripped him as the light turned on, he, expecting to find a body. But Mr. Carr wasn’t there either.
He thought he needed to get downstairs and call the police. Taking a last look around the room, the painting he’d delivered the night before was lying face down on the desk. He remembered his phone call.
“I can’t call the police.” Claudio realized. “They’d find out I was spying on Mr. Carr and hold me as an accomplice in whatever happened here. But then, what if whoever did this was coming for me next?” He needed something, leverage of some sort.
“The painting.” he thought. He moved towards the desk to take it with him.
Lifting it up against the wall, Claudio fell backwards into the side of the bed. He didn’t notice the blood now on his pants. Terror gripped him.
The Edokian Warrior lay face down on the ground having suffered what appeared to be a very violent death. Claudio could clearly recognize Mr. Carr, spear through his body, lying on the dirt road. Someone was posed in the picture with a weapon in hand.
A burst of blue light blinded Claudio as it exploded from the painting. He could feel himself choking.
“I’m in the painting?” Claudio realized he was hanging from a rope in the tree.
“This can’t be happening.” He thought of Mandia and could see her smile.
Then Claudio was gone.
It was another thirty minutes or so before all movement was stopped and shuttle engines turned off. The door through which they had entered before takeoff, now opened and crew began to exit. Zee waited for his cue to leave as well.
He stepped out of the shuttle into a corridor. Following behind his dad, they made their way again through a maze of halls. Approaching a very large door, it opened, allowing them to pass into the bubble.
Zee now stood in what was the largest room he’d ever seen. It was filled with cubicles and desks, computers and other office equipment. Hundreds of people milled about doing their business. All of them wore fleet uniforms. All of them were under the command of his dad.
In the center of the room stood a huge column containing several elevator doors, leading to an opened upper level.
“That’s my office up there”, Zee’s dad pointed.
The ceiling was clear glass and Zee could see what looked like a giant moon or planet.
“That‘s Minas Terra Zee!”
Minutes later they were in the upper level. The view from here was even better. Minas Terra looked much bigger since more of it could be seen and Zee could see in all directions across the outside of the space station, down the spokes and all the way to the outer tire. The enormousness of it left him in awe.
“Sometimes Zee”, his dad said, “We shut down all the station lights to recharge systems. It’s at that moment we can see millions of stars fill this view.”
“But I don’t see any stars”, Zee replied.
“That’s because the lights are on and their light hides the stars from our view. It’s like trying to look outside into the dark, from a lighted room. But turn them out. It’s a beautiful sight.”
Admiral Tucker responded to phone calls and other business. Zee waited patiently, taking in the incredible view outside and looking down to the lower level where the cubicles were below.
It was fascinating to him, watching all these people who were under his dad’s command. There was so much activity going on and he wondered what each person did. They were like ants, moving around an ant hill, he thought.
His observation was interrupted by his dad. “The fleet gets here in about an hour. That gives us two hours before I need to check on them.”
Zee saw the space station in a way no tourist ever sees it. He shook many hands and heard plenty of comments about how great his dad was and learned they had heard stories about him.
After grabbing sodas from one of the many station food services, it was time for Zee’s dad to meet the fleet.
“We have one more stop Zee.”
“Admiral Tucker!” John turned to see who was calling his name.
“Senator Michaels, hello!” John was surprised to see the Senator at the station. “I apologize sir. Somehow I wasn’t made aware you’d be here today or I’d have arranged a lunch or something more formal.”
“Not to worry Admiral. It was a very last minute stop. May I introduce you to Ambassador Pjorn, of the Darian High-Council?”
“Ambassador.” John bowed his head to this most honored guest. ”I’m very pleased to meet you.”
“Ambassador Pjorn was highly eager to see the station today and of course we’re always happy when our Darian friends stop for a visit.” Michaels looked towards the boy. “And who’s this young man?”
“This is Zee, my oldest. He’s visiting the station today for the first time.”
“Nice to meet you sir!” Zee was putting on his best manners.
“Welcome Zee! How fun it must be to see where your father works!” The Senator looked back at John, “You know, you inspire me Admiral. I really should bring my oldest daughter here as well sometime!”
The two men continued to talk for a minute more. Zee noticed the Ambassador was staring at him.
“I’ve come today, just to see you Zee. You’re known by my people.” Zee heard the voice as loud and clear as if spoken to him, but the Ambassador never opened his mouth.
Zee quickly looked towards his dad. It didn’t seem he or the Senator heard it.
“Darkness is about to cover you.” Again the Ambassador was talking. Not moving his lips, but somehow, communicating directly to Zee’s mind. “Be strong and courageous. You WILL find hope, if you don’t give up.”
Zee was pulled from his mental distraction, hearing his dad talk about him. “I’ve given him the unofficial tour and now we’re heading to the science deck.”
“The science deck!” Putting his hand on Zee’s shoulder, the Senator smiled. “I’m sure you’re going to find it probably the most fascinating part of this station.” He turned back to John.
“Well, if you’ll excuse me Admiral,” the Senator reached out his hand to shake Tucker’s hand. “The Ambassador and I are expected shortly on Minas Terra.”
“Very good sir.” John bowed his head again towards the Ambassador, “I hope you enjoy your time with our people.”
Finally arriving to their last stop, they stood outside a door marked “Science Lab”. Zee was still thinking about his encounter with the Ambassador.
“That was really weird,” he thought. He hadn’t been afraid, but the experience was somewhat startling.
“Are you okay Zee?” John noticed his son seemed a bit distracted.
Zee looked up, “How did he talk to my mind?”
“What’s that? Who talked to your mind?” John was distracted by the door to the science lab opening.
“The Ambassador.” Zee answered.
John didn’t hear him as he was already entering the room.
“Brimley!” Tucker exclaimed. The Admiral was very happy to see his old friend.
“John! I mean Admiral!” Even after so many years of not seeing each other, the first name response was still a matter of habit. They both laughed.
“Zee, I want to introduce you to a family friend. You actually used to call him uncle. He was deployed to the dead zone and just arrived here a few days before I did.”
Zee recognized him, Uncle Brimley, from the pictures at home. But he thought he also had some personal memories too.
“John?” Brimley was shocked. “Is this Zee? He’s grown so much! What are you feeding him?” Brimley bent in closer. “Zee, how are you son? It’s so good to see you!”
Zee reached out for a hand shake but instead, was pulled into a huge bear hug. He could feel his ear scrunching into Brimley’s belly button. Then holding Zee out at arm’s length, Brimley kidded.
“Are you now a fleet soldier? Wait, don’t tell me. Let me guess. You always wanted to be a pilot. Did you fly your father here?”
Zee chuckled, “No Sir.”
Looking towards the Admiral, “You ARE going to let me show him the science vessels aren’t you?”
“Actually Brimley, that’s why I’m here. The fleet’s arrived and I need to go meet them. I was hoping I could leave Zee here with you for a few hours to see the ships and check out the lab.”
“Absolutely he can stay!” Brimley was genuinely grateful.
Moments later, it was just the two of them. “Are you ready to see the science ships?”
Zee couldn’t wait.