The alarm shrilled at 0230. I felt pretty well rested. I got up, brushed my teeth, made a pass through my hair with an travel brush and got dressed. Everything was packed away five minutes before Amy showed up. She was right on time.
“I imagine that one doesn’t leave tips for housekeeping, here,” I said.
“That’s right. You ready,” she asked.
“Lead on,” I said.
Amy nodded. This time, I rolled my own bags. We went back up to the cafeteria for breakfast. They had everything that anyone could ever want. Not having a clue as to what awaited, I stuck with oatmeal with blueberries and a bit of maple syrup. And toast. And, of course, coffee.
I thought about what I had seen so far, which wasn’t a whole lot. The elevator had a lot of buttons, but whose to say that most of them weren’t there for show? The government did have a history of building large underground complexes during the Cold War; this could have been one of them. But I was more than certain that I wasn’t going to be able to pry the answers out of anyone. The only real clue I had was the size of the dining hall and, more precisely, the amount and selection of foods. They were easily serving a few thousand meals a day. Other than Smith, I hadn’t seen any suits. I’d not seen a single miliary uniform.
“Is there a ladies’ room nearby,” I asked.
“Back over there,” Amy said and pointed.
I nodded, grabbed my stuff and went there. I didn’t ask Amy to watch my luggage and she didn’t offer. Yes, I have trust issues. It’s an occupational hazard.
The bathroom had several stalls, including a larger handicapped one, which I used for I had room to take my bags in with me. After I was done, I went to the sink, washed up, dug out my toothbrush, used it, and splashed some water on my face. I had forgotten how enjoyable it was to wake up in the middle of the frigging night.
It was now ten of four. Amy stood up as I came back to the table and said: “Let’s go.” We went back to the elevator to the hangar; two different guards were at the checkpoint. We rode the elevator back up. This time, there were a few airplanes in the hangar, the largest was a 757 that had a foreign registration. I didn’t know most of them, at least outside of the obvious ones such as “C”,”G”, “F”, “D” and “RU”. The airplane didn’t have any of those. It was almost dark in the hangar, only a few scattered lights were on.
Amy led the way to a door and we went outside. There was hardly any light on the ramp. It was cold. Desert, most likely. I looked up at the sky, the stars were far brighter and seemed closer than they did in the DC area. I had taken an interest in astronomy a number of years ago, so I was able to tell that I was maybe a few hundred miles south of DC. The stars in the eastern sky were not as high as they should have been for this time of night, which meant that I was far to the west. Nevada or California, maybe.
“Come on”, Amy said.
I followed her, we went around the corner and I stopped in my tracks. I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. It was a very large cylinder, lying on its side and propped up by struts or something. There were other things that kind of looked like shipping containers, only maybe heavier. The whatever-the-hell-it-was was dimly lit. “What the fuck is that,” I said.
“”You’d not believe me,” Amy said. She walked towards it and I followed her. We went up to the side of the cylinder, maybe one-third of the way along its length. There was a ramp that led to an opening about the size of the door on an older Lear Jet. Amy went inside and then turned and stuck out her hand. I passed my bags to her and then followed. There was a little chamber, maybe large enough for three people to fit, and then another door.
Inside there were seats, like airline seats, but larger, heavier and more cushioned. There were ten rows of seats, four to a row and the seats had spacing between each seat. The floor was flat, whether there was storage space or equipment under it, I didn’t know. There was a very small door at either end of the compartment Amy went to what looked like a row of lockers and put my stuff into one of them. There were straps inside the locker that she used to secure my suitcase and laptop bag. She tied them down.
“Take any seat,” she said. I did. She showed me that two shoulder straps came out of the seat next to each headrest, creating four-point restraints. Amy buckled herself into the seat next tome and I followed her lead. The door in front of us opened, then a set of feet came through, followed by the rest of a middle-aged woman. She went to the doors to the outside and closed first the outer one and then the inner one. They looked to be heavy doors. Without appearing to look our way, she went to the door at the end of the compartment. I saw now that there were handholds at the top corners. The woman grabbed both of them, kicked her feet up and into the door’s opening, and swung herself through. Then she closed the door.
“If you feel sick, this is what you use,” Amy said. She opened the armrest, there was a little thing to grab. She tugged at it and out came a funnel, which was connected to a collapsible hose. The funnel had a hinged cap. She opened the cap. handed me the funnel and told me to hold my hand near the opening. I did; I could feel some suction.
“OK,” I said.
Amy restowed the funnel.
A chime went “bing-bong”, a seatbelt sign lit up, followed by a slight rumbling sound or sensation. It soon stopped. We just sat there. About ten minutes after the rumbling stopped, the chime went “bong-bing” and the seatbelt sign went off. Nothing happened. I took my phone out of my purse, turned it on and started to read. I had no idea what was going to happen, now, but I was determined not to look antsy or give any sign of apprehension.
An hour or so later, Amy asked if I wanted coffee. I followed her over to a little galley. She took out a go-cup of some sort from a cabinet, opened a little door and put the cup in there. “Cream or sugar?”
“Two creams, please.”
She pushed the buttons for that. After about fifteen seconds, a light glowed. She took out the cup, gave it to me, and put one in for herself. The coffee was barely OK. The interesting thing was that the cup had some sort of screw threads at the bottom. The lid didn’t come off, and I had to put my finger on a little lever to drink from it. I could have used this cup back in my office, for I had trashed enough keyboards with coffee.
Two hours had elapsed. My patience was fraying, but I was determined not to be the one to break. There was a little bathroom, I used it.
“Bing-bong” went the chime and the seatbelt sign was back on.
“You need to strap yourself in,” Amy said. As I did, she took my coffee cup and put it in the armrest, giving it a quarter-turn, which locked it in.
Something happened, all right. My stomach took a flip. I felt funny. then I took a pen from my jacket pocket, held it in front of me, and let go. The pen just floated there. I gave it a twist, the pen turned. I grabbed it and put it away.
Amy unlatched herself and pushed off, slightly, floating out of her seat. I did the same. I gently floated up to the ceiling.
“We’re in space,” I said.
It wasn’t a question. Gravity is a constant in our lives. The only way to not feel it is to ride one of the “vomit comet” jets (or go skydiving). Those flights have a significant G-force both before and after the weightlessness. There had been none here. And those airplanes could only provide maybe thirty seconds of weightlessness. We’d been weightless a lot longer than that.
“Let me show you something,” Amy said. She moved along the ceiling. I followed her. There were some small hand-holds around a panel. She grasped one of the handholds and slid the panel aside. There was a plexiglass window, blanked off. Amy pushed a button and, with a slight whirring noise, the outer panel moved aside. She gestured to the window and moved away.
I grasped the handholds, pulled myself to the window and looked.
There it was. Earth. The Big Blue Marble. We had to be tens of thousands of miles from it, maybe a hundred thousand or more. Earth didn’t appear to be very big. But not only did it look like the NASA photos from the days of the Moon landings, those photos didn’t do it justice. Maybe they could have faked that. But they couldn’t fake the weightlessness.
“Bing-bong”. Amy pushed a button to close the shutter panel and then slid the inner panel closed. We gently pushed off, aimed towards our seats. Amy was a lot more practiced at this, she helped me get back into my seat. We buckled ourselves back in and gravity came back on. The chime binged again.
“Where are we going,” I asked.
“The far side of the Moon. That’s where the main staging base is, at least for now. They’ll have it closed in a few more years.”
“Why do that,” I asked.
Amy sighed. “Too many countries are beginning to mess around with space. It’ll be too inconvenient to keep things out of sight. So they’re moving to a new location in the Kuiper Belt.” Amy said that as though they were relocating from New York to California.
“How long has this been going on?”
“Oh, since just before World War II. You’re going to get a historical briefing at Farside.”
“What’s your normal job,” I asked.
“I’m an exobiologist. I study the environment of new worlds.”
“In person? You go there and do field work?”
“Yes. We go there, examine the planet to see if its worth setting up a base or a colony. If so, the astrosurveyors establish a TDEP.
“What’s a ‘TDEP’?”
“ A ‘Trans-Dimensional Entry-Exit Point’. Remember in the move Star Wars, when Han Solo talked about the need for precise navigation going in and out of hyperspace? We go from the nearest colony or base in normal space, at high relativistic speeds, to a star system that has been identified to contain possible worlds for settlement. If it looks at all promising, the surveyors set a TDEP and then more ships come. We return by TD travel, anyway, lots faster and no relativistic effects,” Amy said.
“So you really are the Amy Glesius that I went to college with,” I said.
“How old are you,” I asked.
“Oh, maybe 32, biologically. They recruited me fresh out of grad school. Actually, I was a year in.”
“What about your family?”
She looked a little bit troubled. “I can’t go home, not to see friends and family. As far as they know, I was on a survey mission in southern Africa and was killed in an accident. Six months after my ‘death’, my body was exhumed and sent back to the States.”
“Which mandated a closed-coffin, I presume?”
I dropped that line of inquiry. “How long will it take to get to the Farside base?”
Amy glanced at her watch. “Another ninety minutes, more or less.”
“Four hours from the Earth to the Moon? It took the Apollo astronauts three days!”
“We have better technology,” she said.
I had a lot more questions. But I knew, now, that I’d get the answers in due time. I unscrewed my coffee cup, went over to the coffee-maker, and freshened it up. The machine evidently could determine how much was still in the cup.
On any other day, that would have been a marvel in itself. But today, I barely took notice of it.
I glanced up at the ceiling and looked at the closed viewing panel.
I was in space. In less than two hours, I’d be on the Moon.
And it wasn’t even seven in the morning, yet.