LUX #12

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The last thing Eve did was open Libera’s own author portal. There were several in a few different fields, all relating to exotic matter. Libera moved seamlessly between disciplines like an eel slipping through a net, and her papers were nothing short of dazzling. Detailed, innovative and yet entirely sound methodology. Complex topics translated so coherently that even a layman could understand the thrust of Libera’s research- without the sacrifice of any fidelity to detail. All written with a sharpness and verve that effortlessly demonstrated the author’s intelligence and humor.

It was the best paper Eve had read in months. It was dated five and a half years ago.

Libera hadn’t published anything since. Not a single paper since she became director of Lethe-2. That made sense on some level, a base director had countless duties besides research… but the author of this paper had clearly gone the extra mile to do excellent work.

What had happened to her? Eve didn’t want to even think about it. None of the answers that drifted through her mind were pleasant… and she was fragile enough as is.

Eve put her watch aside when her eyes began to hurt, but she still wasn’t tired. The few girls who were still partying had gone off to the lounge next door. The vast majority of the base was asleep.

Gingerly climbing the ladder past her sleeping bunkmates, Eve decided to take a walk through the ship to better orient herself. It had been so cramped on that tiny transport. Stretching her legs would be good for her.

Deck 1 was home to officerial accommodations, so she stayed away for fear of running into Nysa. Instead she headed down to Deck 3, walking through the mess hall which was in the midst of being scrubbed by a SPRING_Cleaning probe. TORCH generally disdained robots, but custodial duties were a waste of even the lowest agent’s time and talents.

For a few minutes, she watched the cleaning probe methodically suck up bits of food with a vacuum appendage, then spray away wet spots with disinfectant. Eve was no better than a hobbyist in engineering, but the skill of the roboticist was evident. Every inch of its design served a vital purpose, no wasted space. Rare to see these days.

The quiet was good. This was how the world was meant to be: not a shifting vortex of chaos but a purposeful silence broken only by useful or interesting information. The whirring of machines was one of the few sounds that quelled Eve’s fury for a moment or two.

She headed below-decks to the “workstations”. This office room was nearly as large as the galley but looked to have been overrun by a mob of teenagers. Cubicle walls had been torn down. Desk forts had been constructed. Marker graffiti was everywhere.

Of course. Work had all but ceased in Lethe-2, so what purpose did this room serve? Two pairs of feet stuck from beneath one of the desk forts, one over the other. They were trembling and moaning. Eve decided to go.

The hydroponics growth chamber made her feel sick- too much water in the air- so she went down another deck to the meeting rooms and sick bay. Not much to see here, on down to the research lab on Deck 6. This was the closest thing to an ordered place in the entire facility, although disturbingly sparse.

Phoebe sat at a large desk in the center of the room, utterly engrossed in a half dozen screens that surrounded her. She glanced up at Eve, then looked back down. “Docent Oread,” she said tersely. “Do you need something?”

“Just taking a walk. Sorry to bother you-”

“It’s fine. Kindly remedy that by vacating the premises.” Phoebe was staring at her watch screen with a frown. Eve was used to rudeness, but that didn’t stop it from sticking in her craw and flaring her temper- but then, what didn’t flare her temper?

“I read your papers,” she blurted out. “On the Enyoni. They were quite good.”

“Thank you.” Phoebe kept staring at the screen.

“It must be difficult… being the only person in this base who takes her work seriously. I just wanted to say that I’m glad there’s at least one woman like that.” Eve tried to stay positive: if she had a smile on her face and a kind word on her lips, it was easier to maintain her composure.

Phoebe just nodded. Out of respect for her fellow scholar, Eve made no further attempt to break her concentration.

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LUX #8

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She stared at Coronis with a frown, unsure what to make of these comments. “So dinner is ongoing?” she asked.

“Yeah! You hungry?”

“Not really,” said Eve. “I ate when I woke up.”

“Hmm? Oh yes… I guess it’s still morning for you. We’re a few hours ahead of standard time.” To Eve’s immense relief, Coronis led her to the quietest corner of the room. The owls here were all fully-clothed, none of them were passing around drugs, and all of them had food with their drinks. “Everyone, I’d like you to meet the new transfer! This is May Oread- she’s a cryptobiologist.”

“Pleased to meet you all,” Eve said, bowing her head and taking a seat.

“I’m Corey- I work in acquisitions. And yes, I do take requests, so don’t be shy to ask!” She giggled. “Lessee. Thumbelina here is Eirene- she’s the base sweetheart, please handle her gently. She works in engineering.” The small, pretty woman gave Eve a wave. “Next to her is Lerna, she’s our resident chemist. She cooks up the pheromone we use to ward off the big guys- so she saves our lives every day. The vision of perfection next to her is Ariadne, she’s a biological engineer who tries to reverse engineer the big guys- not much luck so far.”

“Bite me, Corey,” said the silver-haired beauty second from the left.

“Sure, I can pencil that in.” Corey chomped her jaw. “Just let me finish introductions! Lastly is Phoebe on the end- she designed the base, the pheromone emitter, and pretty much everything else. She’s crazy-wazy smart.”

Phoebe didn’t look up from her food or acknowledge that she was addressed. Eve liked her already.

“Hey, welcome to the base,” said Eirene. She had a soft, melodic voice. It was so nice that even Eve didn’t find it annoying. “How was your voyage?”

“Fine,” Eve said, forcing a polite smile.

“We’ve never had a transfer before- at least, I don’t think. Usually it seems like LUX command has forgotten we exist.” Eirene smiled shyly. My, but she was delicate: shapely features like a porcelain figure, a girlish physique, and frizzy dark red hair tied back.

“Try the food,” Coronis said, pushing a plate towards Eve. Eve absently took a bite, then took six more. It was delicious. The meat had the rich taste of lobster cooked in a creamy mushroom sauce, and the potatoes were perfectly seasoned. Eve, who had been eating tasteless waifers for months, found an appetite she previously had not noticed.

Some modest chuckles rocked the small group. “Good right?” laughed Coronis. “When I was in SMOKE back in the old days, the food was bleggggh. Down here we eat like Matres- a perk of deep sea life!”

“Your chef must be very talented,” Eve said carefully.

“Oh, Dryas is great,” said Coronis as an industrious little cook stirring a pot appeared beneath her chin. “We all love her. But it’s more about the budget. The stipend is super generous… there’s just not that much to spend it on.” She popped a baby potato in her mouth. “Plus there isn’t much to do down here. We haven’t got a bowling alley or anything like that. For some girls, food is their only thing to look forward to all day.”

Eve looked over at the three women who had been getting handsy with one another. Their foreplay had devolved into a writhing mass of limbs and gasps. One let out a shrill squeal as her limbs splayed. Nobody was reacting as if this was anything remotely unusual. “For only some girls, it seems.”

Annoyed, Eve refocused on her food. She was worried about a inevitable barrage of questions about herself and her past, but they didn’t come. The conversation was subdued and banal. Coronis, who Eve had pegged as a center of attention, seemed lost in thought. These must be the base introverts.

Now that she thought about it, Eve was completely starved for interaction. She even strangely enjoyed Nysa’s inquisition. It was a conundrum, and one she had never been able to resolve: she got bored and pissy when nobody talked to her, and defensive and short when people did. No matter what happened, mind-destroying fury was never more than two steps away.

After finishing the lobster-esque and potatoes, they had a dessert of tart lemon cakes with powdered sugar. They too were delicious- Eirene mentioned that the lemons were grown on-site in the hydroponics lab on Deck 4. Eve looked around for Libera and found her sitting near the center of the room. Most base directors would have had their own private table or dais, but that wasn’t Libera’s style.

She had also gotten brutally drunk. Her shoes and glasses were off and her beautiful hair was askew. Someone murmured something to her and Libera burst into hysterical laughter. Then Nysa helped Libera up and walked her out of the galley.

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