This is the third section of the second chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.
Laden down with bags, dragging a suitcase behind her she finally found the correct door. Trying her card the door opened and she saw what would be her second home for the foreseeable future. The room was large, but sparse, the kitchen in one corner, the bed near the middle, bathroom in another with all its fittings exposed and a few chairs in the corner nominally for any guests. And of course the glass roof staring out into the ocean. Judging by the gloom and the number of levels she had come down this was as good a sign of her status as she would ever see. No bright beautiful ocean scenes for her. At least she had some open space though she thought.
She started to unpack her myriad of bags, she was normally good at packing light, but with this extended posting there were only so many things that could be left in storage. With any luck she’d be able to go and collect the rest of her possessions later, but given her past experience with what these postings were like that was somewhat unlikely.
Exhausted she collapsed on the bed staring at the roof, the ceiling, the window? She wasn’t sure how to think of this great glass structure. She guessed it must have first started as a fashion, but before long it became the cheapest none structural building material and space had been plentiful on these occer constructions. Maybe privacy also became unfashionable, you can tell a lot about a society by its architecture someone had once told her, form dictating function dictating fashion. A society both shaped and was shaped by the building that it was able to build or had already built. People made do with what at one time might have been considered inappropriate or inconvenient and made it the norm. So what did this place say about the society she was joining. Why was she even joining it?
The already gloomy illumination grew even darker as some sort of creature swum overhead. Was that a shark? A whale? She wasn’t sure, maybe classifying large marine animals would become important to her life down here but it hadn’t come up before.
She jumped slightly at the sound of her doorbell ringing, sat up alert in bed she swung her legs around to head towards the door when it opened by itself and a short well built woman strode in.
“Ah, good morning. Malka isn’t it?”
“Erm, yes” She looked this intruder up and down. No uniform, no identification, just a civilian`s fatigues. Otherwise she looked like a rather self confident middle aged Asian woman who judging from her body language was either a commander of people or an arrogant thug; someone who was used to going where she wanted and getting what she wanted. Still unfamiliar with her room she looked around her room to try and see where she had left her pad or if the room had some sort of terminal she could use to signal for help from this intruder. “Who are you?”
The intruder almost jogged towards Malka clearly already more at home as an intruder than Malka was in her own new dwelling “Gwen.”
As if that is enough explanation thought Malka “Still not helping, look who are you and what the hell are you doing helping yourself into my room”
“Well I heard you’d just arrived. I always like to look after the new arrivals.” she paused for a second as if her thoughts were just catching up with her. “You mean you don’t know who I am?”
“No” Malka finally noticed her pad on a half unpacked holdall and started moving slowly towards it “And I’m not used to strangers just walking straight into my room. Especially a room this, exposed.” she glanced towards the toilet and shower in the corner.
“One of the joys of this job I guess, you can’t forward all the information on ahead. Don’t worry you’ll meet everyone tomorrow. Yes, I’m Gwen they’ve assigned you to me as my protege or some such thing they called it.”
Malka blinked a few times “You’re my new superior”
“Uh huh” agreed Gwen.
“Don’t take this the wrong way but I don’t buy it” she had finally managed to slide across towards her holdall with the pad and behind her back reached for the pad. “not unless the military has changed these last few years.”
“Ah we run a different ship here.” Gwen sat herself down on one of the chairs nearest the bed “the militant attitude doesn’t work here”
“Uh huh” agreed Malka. Her fingers had finally reached her pad, noticing the intruder was facing away from her as she paced around the room she quickly tapped out SOS on the screen, some guards would be here soon, she just had to keep this woman talking “Does that explain how you got in here”
“What? Oh no, how sweet. How long since you served?”
“Been a volunteer since I was sixteen.”
“And you’re used to closed quarters?”
“Yes” she wondered if she should be saying Sir, but her story was sounding more and more suspect.
“Ah it’s all barracks down here. Everyone needs to be able to see everyone else.”
Malka’s eyes flicked up to the glass ceiling again, trying to work out how long ago she’d tapped the help code “Not for officers though.”
“Especially for officers.”
“So you’re my new superior then?”
“And you just thought to storm into my private room without any other introduction without any identification, without even a uniform”
“Uniforms can be picked up anywhere, identification was never asked for and privacy is best forgotten here.” Suddenly at the end there menace and authority in her voice became evident. “And of course the guards you called for earlier will know who I am.”
“You saw that?”
“I’d be a poor commander if I didn’t have a good sense of a room. You can’t keep track of a complex battle situation without good senses and you need to be more subtle”
Almost on cue two guards made their appearance at the door “Everything alright in here?” asked the shorter one.
“Who is this woman?” asked Malka.
“Commodore Ikri Gwen” replied the taller guard.
“Thanks” replied Malka “I’m fine I think, sorry about that.”
“No problem” replied the taller guard, he realised he had forgotten something “Captain.”
“Well” said Gwen relaxing back in her chair “that’s always fun.”
Malka stared at Gwen for a moment “Some sort of test I guess?”
“Everything is a test.”
“And I failed.” she stated almost as a fact rather than as a question.
“No, there is no failure as long as you survive and learn.”
“Strange thing to say, what if I get people killed?”
“In this job, we’ll either succeed in unimaginable situations or we’ll fail and all the human race will die with us. Survival and adaptability is all that matters here.”
“You sure you are running this right?”
“Here requires a new way of thinking. We need people to start with a good military mind then we move onwards.”
“Why? What is it you are trying to build here that is so strange?”
“You know why we’re here.”
“Yes but why are you ignoring protocol?”
“Not ignoring; supplementing. Look,” Gwen stood up and headed towards the door “Just get comfortable here, meet up with some people and then come and see me, I think then I’ll be able to explain more.”