An Earlier Time
Jenai loved to get up early and see the stars, for they shined only briefly between dark rise and light fall every morning. Sometimes the large orange circular behemoth would make an appearance and occasionally the spider galaxy could be seen fully with all of those spindly legs.
It was a strange morning that she found Assistant Caretaker Chub wandering the dark corridors while mumbling to himself. She could not make out what he was saying to himself but since he seemed to be on some mission she decided to follow him.
Jenai was careful not to make a sound. She knew that if he did not look directly at her and focus, Chub would not be able to see her. It was her special talent, to be able to go unnoticed. Most of the children in the facility had some sort of talent. It was suspected the others did too, they just hadn’t been figured out yet.
Children were not allowed down in these levels but Jenai liked to explore them. She had found an entire library of undecipherable books once, unfortunately she was never able to locate it again. Jenai was sure that Alabaster could have deciphered the language, it was his special talent. It was a mystery that may never be solved.
Jenai watched as part of a wall became a shiny metal door and Chub pulled out of chain of keys and carefully selected one of them. The doors swung open and he entered, Jenai moved closer as the doors shut. Fortunately one of them hadn’t closed all the way and she peered inside.
The room seemed mostly empty and dark. She could see the shadow of the Assistant Caretaker moving around inside but it was murky. Suddenly a large circular spot on the floor lit up a brilliant blue and the room could be seen. Whatever it was, it was the sole purpose of the room.
She saw Chub walk to the edge of the blue pool and drop something inside. Then the chubby young man with the dumb face seemed to wait. Then something emerged from the pool and into the air where it was snatched by his hands. As far as Jenai could determine this was some kind of message-sending device.
Why not just use the hyper like everyone else?
The blue light vanished and a solid floor reappeared as the room became dark once again. Jenai moved away to a corner in the corridor as the Assistant Caretaker locked the door and walked away, when he was gone she looked back and there was just wall there once again.
It was a mystery and Jenai liked mysteries. She made a note to tell her friend Craig all about this when they met at the water tanks later. In the meantime she was supposed to hurry or she’d be late to Secondary Mathtistics.
Craig listened to her story without interrupting. His face had broken out in a smile as the thought of solving a new mystery beckoned.
“Some kind of communications? It does sound that way, but what if it was something else? Maybe it was a trade?” Craig asked, “I wonder where the other side went? Can people cross over?”
Jenai hadn’t thought of that.
“That sounds extremely dangerous, sending people through some kind of portal,” she said, “When Chub arrived to help old man Martin, he came by ship. If people could cross through with the portal, wouldn’t it be faster and easier?”
Craig nodded, “You’re right about that. Traveling by ship would be a waste if the portal could be used to travel.”
“I guess that’s why it’s a mystery.”
He smiled, “Tell nobody else about this. Not until we’re finished finding out the secret.”
Jenai nodded, she was pleased. She liked solving mysteries, especially with Craig. She liked Craig.
That night, at a predetermined time, Jenai and Craig slipped out of their beds in their respective dorms and met near the main water tanks. The cool air was moving and it felt like standing in front of a cooling vent. There were no stars of course, no matter how one strained looking down off the platforms.
“How do you reckon we can get inside the room?” she asked.
He smiled, “I know a trick. I’ve seen one of those before. It’s sort of like your talent, if you look at it and focus you’ll see the lever that makes it visible,” Craig explained. Then he shrugged, “I have no idea how it does that, but they do exist.”
Jenai was surprised he had figured that out just from her description, “We’ll get this all done too quick at that rate, Craig, slow down.”
He laughed, then he told her “Let’s go have a look, it’s getting cold out here.”
Once inside they descended until coming to the darker sections of the orphanage. They nodded toward each other after looking around, not wanting to be caught. Jenai led him deeper into the level and paused to consider the path.
“Are you lost?” Craig asked.
She scoffed, “Of course not.”
He shrugged, “You never found that library a second time.”
Jenai rolled her eyes, would everyone always bring that up?
Then something looked familiar and she strode toward it, Craig followed. This was the right place but the door was already open and there were shadowy figures in the room again. Craig pulled her aside and into a recessed area of the corridor.
“We cannot get caught!” Craig whispered, she nodded only feeling thrilled that his mouth was right next to her ear as they huddled.
“I hear someone talking, quiet,” she said.
It was old man Martin, the Caretaker, he was talking to someone.
“I realize the severity of the situation. I only ask that you consider this facility neutral, we are not your enemy here,” the old man said. His shadow was next to a smaller one that flickered across the wall of the tiny portion of the room they could see.
They heard no response but soon the Caretaker spoke again, “I am sure adequate safeguards can be agreed upon, we can present all the proof you’d like. This is a fully civilian facility, after all, I can guarantee we are no threat to your society.”
The response they heard was a distinct growl. Craig and Jenai looked at each other, both wondering what kind of secret they had stumbled upon. Both wondering if they would get caught.
“The children, yes, they must stay in their beds, I understand,” the Caretaker answered, “I think it a bit extreme that you would punish them so harshly though.”
A whiny, even threatening growl.
“If the term is not negotiable, I will skip on to the next. I’m not sure what you mean about a portal incidence, I assure you we would never use them against your people. We are all civilians here...” then he shut up as the other voice growled a response, “Yes, yes. I don’t understand how such a modification would work, but if you say it is real… I am not arguing with you. I would never dream, after all we are guests on your planet.”
Craigs’ eyes were huge saucers, his breathing quickened. This made Jenai more frightened as well.
“If that is the term we must operate by, then we shall do so. Goodnight,” Martin said and they watched the smaller shadow move and grow bigger as it approached the glowing blue pool on the floor. For a brief moment they saw what had thrown the shadow. The four-legged alien was covered in an outer exoskelton, almost dog-like.
Martin locked the door and it became wall again and then the old man paused and looked around before walking away. Jenai and Craig breathed again, relieved to not have been spotted.
“What was that?” Jenai asked.
“Diplomacy,” Craig answered, “I don’t think it’s good news, but the Caretaker seems to think whatever the terms were are the best we can get.”