2 Years Ago
The video was played dozens of times on hundreds of stations. At first Cable News had tried to keep it exclusive to them but soon gave up as the footage was quickly copied and rebroadcast by station after station and network after network. Within 24 hours news of the Portal and what was on the other side had spread around the world.
On the footage the transition from Vancouver to what we now know is Central America is abrupt. One moment there are dozens of people and a view of a well-maintained park then the next there is a riot of color, mostly green, as Jackson followed LeBlanc through the Portal.
For several minutes Jackson expressed shock as LeBlanc, who had been in shock himself several minutes before, tried not to laugh. Eventually she collected herself enough to start filming the area.
They were in a jungle, that much was obvious. The foliage within a few dozen meters of the Portal was stunted and shrunken, assuring that the area around the Portal was clear. We didn’t realize the significance of that at first, but later we would realize this was normal for an active Portal. In fact, we later would learn that that the maintenance crew at the Vancouver First People’s Center had been having trouble getting the grass to grow around the Portal, but we didn’t even know to ask at the time.
Once she had recovered Jackson and LeBlanc made their way down the path LeBlanc had found. Jackson pointed out that it was apparently intended as a path as it was paved and had steps on the steeper portions. LeBlanc admitted that he hadn’t noticed that on his previous visit.
At the base of the path was what looked like a parking lot. LeBlanc had wanted to go on down to the main road but Jackson started filming the area, giving attention to that plaque with the strange pictographs on it.
After filming it long enough to ensure good coverage she started looking around the area and found several cars overgrown with the foliage. She and LeBlanc spent some time pulling vines and smaller trees away from it, then took a good look at what they had found.
It was a car, obviously, but the design was nothing that either of them had recognized. More of a tractor towing a passenger carriage. Then she pointed the camera at the interior and spotted the bodies.
There were two of them, in the back seat. Entangled together, they had obviously been there for some time.
Jackson found this upsetting and wanted to go back but LeBlanc took some time to examine the bodies first. It was difficult to tell how long they had been lying there but it was obviously years. He also thought it was odd that apparently no animals had disturbed the bodies.
It was at this point that they realized they hadn’t heard or seen any evidence of any animals. No birds. No insects. Nothing. Just the sound of wind in the trees. This wound up disturbing them more than the bodies and they wound up going back up the hill and back through the Portal. Immediately they were arrested. Jackson was fortunate in that someone from her network approached her as the police arrested her and she was able to hand the camera, with its recordings, to them as she was taken away.
After several days LeBlanc was released. Jackson wasn’t. She was extradited to the United States where she “committed suicide while in custody”. No one believes that, but that is the official story.
The next day I got up and packed on the assumption that we were heading to the Delta side of the Portal. I did leave my bag behind though as I went down to the cafeteria and from there to the Portal. A number of people were still around and ATVs were still pulling trailers through. I looked around and finally saw Helena standing with a few others and reading something off her pad.
“There you are!” she said as I walked up. “The rest of your team has already gone through. We were wondering if you had gone back home or something.” She laughed.
“No.” I said, shaking my head. “I didn’t know there was a schedule for us?”
“Someone missed the briefing last night.” she said, wagging a finger at me. “Maybe show up on time next time? Anyway, they’re on the other side.”
I looked around. “My stuff is still up in my room.”
She nodded. “Yeah. Don’t worry about it. We’ll send someone for it. You probably need to get on over there.”
I shrugged and walked towards the Portal. I waited as another ATV drove through then stepped through myself.
Instantly my surroundings changed to a snow-covered Dallas and I immediately regretted my choice of wearing a t-shirt and jeans again. I looked around and saw Stanford walking towards me.
“Hey, Dr. Greyson!” he said as he came up. “We were wondering where you were! Everyone else is over at base camp.”
“Sorry.” I said, wrapping my arms around myself and shivering. “I missed the memo. Where is it?”
He waved a hand in a vague direction. “Over there. Don’t worry, I’ll take you.” He looked me over. “Where’s your jacket?”
“In my room.”
He shook his head. “Not used to Portal travel, are you?” He turned and yelled to someone at the entrance to a nearby building. “Hey, can someone grab a jacket for Dr. Greyson here?”
We waited a few minutes until a woman in military fatigues ran up carrying a blue and white jacket with the IRPO logo on it. I gratefully accepted it and put it on. It was a bit tight, but warm. I took a minute to set the temperature and sighed as the electrics kicked in then turned back to Stanford.
“OK, let’s go.”
Stanford led me out of the park and down the street. It was cold and snow was piled in drifts along the buildings, but at least the sun was out.
“At least it isn’t snowing.” Stanford said as we set out.
“Not surprised.” I said, falling into step beside him. “There actually isn’t that much snow once an Ice Age starts.”
He stopped and turned to me in surprise. “Really? I figured it would be snowing like… all the time.”
I shook my head. “Nope. Most of the moisture is locked up in the glaciers and the snow. There isn’t that much in the atmosphere. Humidity is really low. It’s almost like a desert.”
He nodded slowly. “Yeah, that makes sense, I guess.” He shrugged. “Just seems weird to be this cold and not be snowing.”
I shrugged. “Back home, yeah. Here, not so much.”
We were walking down the street. Abandoned cars were parked along both sides of the road, most of them with shattered windows and deflated tires. There were sidewalks on both sides but the snow and ice were deeper there in the shadows of the buildings so we stuck to the street. I noticed that most of the buildings were shops but most had their windows broken out and seemed to have been looted long ago. Every now and then a dropped item or piece of debris could be seen half-buried in the snow.
“Is everything like this?” I asked, indicating the buildings around us.
“Yeah.” he said. “Everything was looted. Twice, they say. Once when most people left taking anything of value and later taking anything that would burn. They were just trying to stay warm.”
“Probably how some of the fires around here started.”
“Yeah.” He nodded, then paused. “I wonder what happened to everyone in the end. We’ve been making enough noise that if any of them were still around they should know about us.”
I shrugged. “I guess that’s part of what we’re here to find out.” We walked along a bit in silence.
“How far away is base camp?” I asked, finally.
“Just up ahead.” he said, pointing. “There. It was a hotel, apparently. No furniture left but plenty of rooms and space to set up. Plus it’s a couple of blocks from the Portal so you don’t hear its beacon all the time.”
I nodded, then paused. “Why wasn’t that a problem back at Gamma? At the castle?”
He shrugged. “Usually they set up base camp pretty far away. The castle was an exception. And believe me, it makes things a whole lot easier for us. I wish they could figure out how to do it elsewhere.”
“Yeah, Sonja was saying something about the framework around it blocking it.”
He nodded. “Makes sense, I guess.” He stopped walking suddenly. “Hey, if they knew what the Portals were, do you think any of them made it to Alpha? To home?”
Now it was my turn to shrug. “From what I was told no one from any of the Outworlds ever used the Portals, even though all of them seemed to recognize them as being important in some way.” I paused. “But if the people on Delta 3 figured out a way to block at least some of theirs, they must have realized that they were being used for something!”
He nodded again. “Yeah, they knew it was important. Everyone did but us, apparently.” He started walking again. We walked for a while in silence until he abruptly stopped. “Here we are!” We were in front of a six-story building with a sign announcing “Wisteria Hotel” over a revolving door that was surprisingly still intact. “The science team is set up on the third floor, I think. Security is on two while living quarters are up on four.” He waved. “See you around, Doc!”
He turned and headed back down the street towards the Portal. I waved then pushed through the revolving door into the lobby.
The interior was brightly lit; someone had the lights working. There were a couple of people doing something behind what was probably the registration desk while a bored-looking woman in fatigues stood up from near the door.
“Can I help you?” She sounded more bored than concerned.
“Dr. Greyson?” I said. “Science team?”
“Oh.” she said. She had the look of someone who wanted to be anywhere other than where she was. “Third floor. Just find the open door. You’ll have to use the stairs; the elevator isn’t working yet.”
I nodded. “Thanks.” She slumped back into a chair and picked up her pad as I walked to the back of the lobby and up the stairs.
On the third floor I looked around. One door was wide open and I walked towards it.
The room may have once been a hotel room but the original furniture was gone. Instead, I found Jesicca and Dr. Pravana engrossed in setting up a bank of computers on a pair of folding tables. Several open and more closed crates showed that they had been working on it for a while. Jesicca looked up as I came in.
“There you are! Sleeping in?”
“Didn’t mean to, but apparently I did.” I shrugged and made a pronounced show of yawning. “I didn’t know there was a time we were supposed to show up.”
She laughed. “It’s the first day on a new Earth! You should be excited!”
I shrugged again. “It’s my first Outworld, OK? I’m not used to this yet.”
“You’ll do fine, Dr. Greyson.” said Dr. Pravana. “But we’re glad you’re here. Dr. Kwan and I are setting up our network here. Do you think you could get the weather station set up on the roof?”
“The weather station.” He pointed to a particular crate. “It isn’t much, but it’s more than we have here so far. See if you can find a way to set it up on the roof. One of the drones or military can help you if you need it.”
“OK,” I said. “sure.” I went to the crate and looked inside. It was a standard home weather station, not that much different than the one I had on the balcony of my apartment back in Atlanta.
“This is it?”
He shrugged. “It’s what the IPRO has sent us. It’s better than nothing.”
I nodded and pulled out the base unit, setting it on the table. I then picked up the crate and carried it out of the room.
I wandered a bit until I found a flight of stairs leading up. This one, unfortunately, only went to the sixth floor. I wandered a bit more before finding another set of stairs that led to a roof exit. I opened the door I came to and went outside.
After looking around a bit I found a flagpole and was trying to figure out how to attach the unit to it when I heard a voice behind me.
“They said someone was wandering around lost on the roof. I figured it had to be you.”
I turned to see Peri standing a few feet away. “You don’t happen to have a screwdriver, do you?”
She shook her head. “You really don’t know how any of this works, do you?”
I shrugged. “I keep telling people I’m new here, but they keep acting as if I’m supposed to know everything. Dr. Pravana told me to take this to the roof and set it up, so I came up here.”
She sighed then pulled out her pad and spoke into it. “Private Avena. Technician with a tool set needed on the roof of the base.” She paused. “One of the science team is up here trying to set up something. They need a tech.” Another pause, then “Thanks.” She closed her pad and turned back to me. “Probably be about ten minutes.”
“Thanks.” I said.
“Next time, just call for a tech. They can set it up for you so you can focus on whatever it is you do.”
“Climate.” I said, somewhat annoyed. “Weather.”
“Whatever.” she made it obvious she couldn’t care less.
“What’s your story?” I asked her.
“What?” She gave me a sharp look.
“I can tell you really don’t want to be here. Or have much interest in any of us who are. So why are you here?”
“It isn’t like I had a choice.”
“There is always a choice.”
She shook her head. “Not really. But keep believing that if you want to. I could have turned this assignment down but it wouldn’t have ended well for me.”
I hesitated, then nodded slowly. “I understand, I guess. I kinda got the impression that if I didn’t agree to this I wouldn’t have much of a career ahead of me.”
“And you have a usable skill. Imagine if you didn’t.”
I looked at her. “Everyone has a usable skill!”
She sighed. “Yeah, keep believing that too. Everyone has skills, but ‘usable’ is something that we don’t get to choose.”
“What? What do you mean?”
She shook her head. “The fact that you have to ask that means you don’t understand. You can’t understand.” She turned to look behind her. “Hiya Brad, how’s it going?”
A stocky blond man struggling with an enormous tool chest was walking towards us. He dropped the chest and gave Peri a hug, trying to give her a kiss that she thwarted by turning away from him. He briefly looked offended then turned to me.
“Bradley Harris, tech services.” he said, picking up his tool chest again. “What do you need?”
I hesitated, uncertain of what had just transpired, then held up the monitoring unit. “I need this mounted somewhere. It’s a wind, temperature, and rain gauge. I need it mounted somewhere up high.” I pointed to the flagpole. “This would work fine, but I don’t have a way to mount it there.”
Bradley came over and looked at what I was holding. “Easy enough.” he said finally. “Just need a stand-off and a couple of bolts. We’ll take care of it.” He turned back to Peri. “Hey, you got any plans for tonight?”
She grimaced, then pointed to me. “Yeah, I having drinks with Perry here.”
I cocked my head at her as Bradley turned to me. “What? Him?”
She nodded. “Yeah, you got a problem with that?”
He shrugged. “No. Whatever.” He turned back to me. “I’ll get this set up. I’ll ping you when it is connected.”
“Thanks.” I said, looking from him to Peri.
He leaned closer to me. “And good luck.” He glanced at Peri then back at me.
“Yeah.” I said, not knowing what I was getting into. “Yeah.”
He shrugged. “I’ll get it from here. You two can get on with… whatever.” He picked up the unit and started deliberately studying it.
“Let’s go back inside where it’s warm.” Peri headed for the stairs. I looked from her to Harris to find him staring at me. I shrugged then followed her.
She was halfway down the stairs when I entered. She glanced up at me but kept moving until she hit the entrance to the third floor where she stopped to wait for me.
“You’ll be in the cafeteria later tonight.” She said. It wasn’t a question.
“I guess?” I said. “Look, I don’t know whats going on here but…”
“I can handle Bradley.” she said interrupting. “Just stop by the cafeteria later.” She turned and walked down the stairs without another word.
I watched her descend until she was out of sight. Shaking my head I went back into the hallway and down to where Dr. Pravana and Jesicca were working.
“Set up?” Dr. Pravana asked as I walked in.
I shrugged. “There’s a flagpole up there that’s a good mounting point but I couldn’t figure out how to attach it myself. There’s one of the technical support crew up there now hooking it up.”
“I trust he will figure out how to install it without destroying it.” Dr. Pravana said with a sigh.
“I’m sure it will be fine.”
Jesicca looked at me. “You should have stayed up there to keep an eye on him.”
I cocked my head at her. “Why? Is there a problem with the team here?”
She sighed. “None of them appreciate how important any of this is. They think it’s a game and that we’re wasting their time by asking them to actually do something.”
I frowned. “They look pretty committed to me.”
She shrugged. “You’re new, so you haven’t seen them. We’re out here because we need to be. The Outworlds are changing our knowledge of everything, and may change the world forever. We have to bring that about. Them? They’re here because it’s easier to be here than to do whatever they were having to do back home.”
I started to say something then hesitated. After a pause, I said. “I guess I still expect the best out of everyone.”
She laughed. “Don’t worry. The Outworlds will burn that out of you pretty quickly. Now, think you could help us get this WiFi network running?”
With a shrug I started helping them network the computers together. After a while Harris stuck his head in the room and told us that the weather station was set up. A quick check showed that we were receiving data and I set up one of the computers to start collecting the logs. We then spent some time going over the maps that had been produced from the drone flights, picking out locations to set up further weather monitors.
After several hours I looked up to see Jesicca working on something on her pad while Dr. Pravana was staring out the window. I walked over to see what he was looking at.
A thin layer of clouds had formed and were reflecting rays of the setting sun in a pair of brilliant sundogs; twin rainbows shining on either side of the sun and above the ruined city.
“Beautiful, isn’t it.” he said. “Too bad we rarely get to see such things back home.”
“Yeah.” I said. “Makes it worth it to be out here.”
“It does.” said Jesicca coming up beside us. “Almost makes it not worth going home.”
I shook my head. “No, home is still where I want to be.”
She laughed. “You’re still new out here. You’ll get it.”
I turned to her curiously. “What does that mean?”
She shrugged. “You’ll get it. Stay out here long enough and you’ll wonder why home is even important.”
“I’m not sure about that.”
Dr. Pravana clapped a hand on my shoulder. “You’ll get used to it, Dr. Greyson. You have a new world to explore. Many new worlds. How can one world matter after this.”
I was suddenly uncomfortable and glanced at my pad. “It’s late. I guess we need to get down to the lobby in case our bosses have anything they need to tell us before dinner.”
Jesicca glanced at her own pad. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. We’ve done about all we can today anyway, until we get more data. We’re still speculating in the dark here.”
I nodded. “Yeah, we don’t have anything yet. Has anyone found anything more about what might have happened?”
She shrugged. “There’s been a couple of teams out searching for a few days now. Maybe they’ll have something to report tonight at the briefing.”
“Hopefully.” I said. “Otherwise we don’t have much to go on.”
Dr. Pravana nodded. “Unfortunately no. I suggest we clean up a bit then head for the lobby.”
I wasn’t sure where to go at first but eventually found a fatigue-clad man who directed me to my room. It turned out to be something that had probably been a suite based on its size, but the only furnishings were a folding cot and work table that had been set up and my luggage that someone had brought through the Portal for me. Several layers of plastic had been taped over the windows and an electric heater hummed softly in the corner. After making sure everything had been brought over I ditched my borrowed coat and found my way down to the lobby.
The lobby was empty except for a bored looking soldier behind the reception desk but I heard noises coming from down a short corridor. Following it I found myself in what was obviously the former hotel restaurant. Several folding tables and chairs had been set up and the room was filled with people, some mingling and talking while others were sitting and eating.
Food was apparently being handed out from a window leading into the kitchen. I wound up with what I think was chicken fettuccine. I think it was still an MRE but at least someone had unwrapped and heated it up for me. I grabbed a beer from the ice bin and looked around. The only members of the science team I saw were Jacob and Sofia. I went over, pulled out a chair and sat down.
Sofia barely looked up from her pad. I noticed she hadn’t touched her meal either. Jacob had been idly watching something innocuous on a screen on the far side of the room while eating but shifted his attention to me as I sat down.
“Good evening, Dr. Greyson. Settled in yet?”
I shrugged. “Getting there. And it’s Perry. I’m not used to ‘Dr. Greyson’ yet.”
He chuckled. “Don’t worry, you will. So, how’d your first day go?”
“I got to play network engineer. And I almost got to climb a flagpole.”
He nodded. “We started digging in a landfill.”
“It was cold.” said Sofia, not looking up.
“A landfill?” I asked?
He nodded. “Yeah, Sofia and I, we’re urban archaeologists. ‘Modern archaeology’ they call it. When studying ancient civilizations we learned the most by looking at what they threw away. We just do the same thing for more modern societies.”
“Newspapers don’t decay in landfills.” said Sofia, not looking up. “Did you know that?”
“Yeah, I think I’d heard that.”
“Anyway,” Jacob continued, “after the cold came everyone here looted anything that wasn’t nailed down, then burned it later to keep warm. Didn’t leave us a lot of records to look at. But we found a landfill and we’re digging into it trying to find newspapers, magazines, books, or anything else that can tell us what the culture here was like.”
“Or anything really.” Sofia finally looked up. “Even what foods they were eating or what clothing they discarded tells us something.”
“I guess that makes sense.” I said. “Found anything?”
She shook her head. “Nothing yet. We found some interesting artifacts and records but nothing we’ve found so far has told us what failed here. But we have found a few things about their culture. It looks like this may be the most recent butterfly we’ve found.”
“You’ve been out before?”
“Yes.” she said, reaching out and running her hand along Jacob’s arm. “We were on Gamma 2 and Delta 3 together.”
Jacob uncomfortably shifted away from her and Sofia went back to her pad. “Yeah.” He said. “This is our third time out.
“So, how is here compared to where you’ve been?”
“Cold.” He laughed. “Gamma 2 is a mess. That’s the one they call the zombie uprising back home, even though it had nothing to do with zombies. More like a “rage virus”. Everyone started attacking each other. Everything was torn down, burned up and destroyed.”
“They think it was like the ‘dancing sickness’ from the middle ages.” Sofia again spoke without looking up from her pad. “Something affecting people’s brain and causing abnormal behavior.”
Jacob nodded. “Yeah, that’s what we think. But we’ve decided that the dancing sickness came from a fungus and we haven’t found anything on G2 that has that effect. Not that we’ve found in testing.”
“Hasn’t affected any of our people?”
He laughed. “Everyone knows better than to try to eat local food on a bio world. We only ate what we brought through.”
“This stuff?” I pointed at my own plate. “I’d almost want to take my chances.” That brought another laugh and even a smile from Sofia.
“Oh come on, the food isn’t that bad.” I looked up to see Sonja and Jesicca had arrived. “What deep mystery of the universes are we solving tonight?” Sonja was asking.
“Why everywhere out here is dead.” Jacob said straightening up. “And which one is the worst.”
“Delta 2.” said Jesicca as she sat down. “Nuclear war. Can’t top that.”
“Unless something sucks all the oxygen out of the air like Delta 1. Or turns every bit of food useless like Beta.” said Jacob.
“Or whatever is still killing anyone going through the Russian portal.” I said.
Sonja sighed. “Yeah. I keep hoping we’ll learn what that is, somehow.”
I suddenly felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see Peri glaring at me. “I thought you were buying me a drink.”
I felt as if everyone was looking at me and turned to her in confusion. “We don’t buy anything here.”
She gave me a withering glance. “Get me a beer.” She walked towards a table in back.
I turned back to see everyone else looking at me. I spread my hands and shrugged.
“I wouldn’t keep Peri waiting.” said Sonja, supressing a grin. “Better get her one.”
“I have no idea what I’m getting into.” I said, standing up.
There was some laughter. “Yeah, with Peri I’m sure you don’t.” said Jacob. There was more laughter.
I shrugged. “I’ll catch up with y’all later.”
Jacob laughed. “Yeah, good luck.”
I got up and went back to the counter. Dropping off my mostly-empty plate and empty beer can, I fished two more out of the ice bin and carried them over to where Peri was sitting. I popped the top on one and set it in front of her then pulled out a chair and sat down.
Peri shoved the open beer back to me then picked up my unopened one. She popped it open herself and took a drink. “Thanks.” she said.
I shrugged and took a drink from the other beer. “No problem.” I paused for a moment. “So, what’s this all about?”
She snorted. “What? Don’t want to have a drink with me?”
I shook my head. “Didn’t say that. Actually, I’m more wondering why you wanted to have a drink with me?”
She hesitated. “Because I wanted to apologize.” She looked at me. “We kinda got off on a bad start, but you’ve been pretty helpful with me and everyone else. So I guess I misjudged you. That’s all.”
I shrugged. “You’re welcome?”
She grunted and went back to her food. I sipped my beer and watched her for a moment.
“There’s something more, isn’t it?”
She continued eating for a bit, then put down her fork and looked at me. “Look around the room. Tell me what you see.”
I did. Dr. Pravana had joined the science team after I had left and they were deep in discussion about something. The military detachment was silently eating near the door while the support team was gathering around the projector and arguing over what to watch. I noticed Harris looking at us until he saw me then he turned back to the rest of his group.
“We don’t mingle much.” I said.
She snorted. “That’s an understatement. It’s every clique ever.”
I nodded, remembering my thought from the night before. “Like high school.”
“Or basic. Or prison. Or anywhere else there are groups of people.”
I looked at her in surprise. “You’ve been in prison?”
She seemed surprised. “What? You haven’t read my personnel file yet?”
“Why? Why should I?”
“Everyone else has.” She paused. “You mentioned high school. We’ll go with that. Look at what we have here.” She gestured around the room. “We’ve got the nerds,” indicating the science team, “the jocks”, she pointed to the military detachment, “and the underachievers.” indicating the support team. “Then there’s the two of us, the ‘special’ students, sitting by ourselves.”
I grimaced at that. “What are you getting at?”
“I mean that for what is supposed to be a ‘great exploration’, we aren’t working together very well.” She waved a hand at me. “You helped us carry a shit-ton of stuff through the portal yesterday. And you tried to mount that equipment today on your own?”
I nodded. “Yeah. What about it?”
“Did anyone else from the science team help?”
I shook my head slowly. “No. No they didn’t.” I paused. “And Jesicca and Dr. Pravana both seemed surprised that I didn’t stay to make sure Harris did what he was supposed to.”
She nodded. “Yeah. No one wants to help each other. And no one trusts each other to do their jobs either. Every group thinks the other groups aren’t doing their share. Your science team doesn’t trust support to do its job. Support doesn’t think we do anything to help around here. And we get annoyed that the science and administrative teams sit around while the rest of us do what we have to do to keep us all alive out here.”
I was annoyed by that. “I’ve been trying to help!”
She nodded. “Yeah. You have. That’s why I’m talking to you.”
I sighed. “OK, so what are you getting at.”
She hesitated and looked around then leaned across the table towards me. “I think something out here is affecting us. I think something is turning us against each other.”
I let out a short laugh. “What?”
She looked hurt for a moment but quickly recovered. “Look!” she said, more urgently. “Just look. Does the way people are behaving make sense? Why are we turning against each other so fast. Why are we so quick to be suspicous of each other and so slow to help each other. Cliques have always existed; trust me, I know. But something abnormal is happening out here. I know people. It’s one thing I *do* know. And this doesn’t seem normal.”
I started to dismiss her concerns and go back to where the science team was sitting, but I hesitated. I thought about the reactions I had gotten the day before when I went to help haul supplies through the Portal. And I thought about watching the sunset with Dr. Pravana and Jesicca that afternoon.
After a long pause, I spoke. “This afternoon… Jesicca was talking about how she liked being out here and not wanting to go back home. Dr. Pravana agreed with her.”
She nodded slowly. “They aren’t the only ones. I’ve heard quite a few people mention similar things just since we got here. You remember Harris this afternoon? He even asked me if I wanted to stay out here with him. Run off somewhere and find a place to stay.”
“Yeah.” She sighed. “I slept with him once and he seems to think it was way more important than it was.” I gave her a surprised look but she continued.
“Anyway, it seems to be getting worse the further out we get. Back on Beta almost no one talks about staying, not that you could stay there long term anyway. You start hearing it some on the Gammas, but out on the Deltas you hear it a lot. The only weird thing this time is how fast it has started happening here.”
“You’ve seen this before?”
She glared at me. “I’ve been out here a long time. Not all of us get immediately sent out to a research assignment. Some of us don’t have skills; not as far as our leaders are concerned anyway. I was one of the first ones to get assigned to the IPRO. I’ve been in the program for over 18 months and I’ve spent most of that time hauling supplies from one Portal to another.” She sighed. “I spent six months driving crawlers. It’s only been a month or so that I’ve had a more-or-less ‘permanent’ assignment.”
“Must have been rough.”
She shrugged. “Could have been worse. It *is* better than daily drills back home.” She laughed. “Maybe your scientist friends do have the right idea.”
I sat for a while in silence, sipping my beer. Looking around the room, I again noted the stark separation between the teams. Even high-school had never been like this.
I finally turned back to Peri. “So what do you want me to do?”
“You tell me, I’m just the grunt around here. Do your science thing.” She drained her beer, dropping the can onto her tray then shoving it towards me. “I’ve got a shift. Dump this for me, will you?” She stood up and started walking towards the door. “See you around, P.” she said over her shoulder.
I looked after her for a moment then looked around. No one seemed to be paying attention to us except for Harris, who was looking at me with a smirk. I shrugged and picked up the tray, carrying it back up to the counter and dropping it off, then turned back to look at the room.
Everyone was still huddled in their own groups. A large part of the military team had left but most everyone else was either deep in conversation or was staring at the movie projected on the wall. I thought about going back to the science team or even joining the group at the projector but decided against both. I wanted to think about a few things. I picked up another beer, picked up a second for later, and headed up to my room.