I Fuel the Great Machine: Part VI

(Read parts one, two, three, four, and five!)

After the first nap she had taken in decades, after being awoken by an ever-frantic Gabe, and after having her disheveled hair fixed by an insistent Ramona who instructed, “Don’t embarrass me,” Agnes stepped off the Mother Ship and docked the Slanted Satellite Base.

The Slanted Satellite Base, which was stationed behind the dark side of the moon, was itself somewhat like a miniature moon. It was spherical and only half the size of the moon, but as they had approached it in the space ship, Agnes had looked out the window in amazement at its glass exterior, which transparently revealed the greenery inside. Much like the common room of the space ship, with its crowded, jungle-like plant life, the Slanted Satellite Base was populated and bursting with organic vegetation. Despite being in the shadow of the moon, Agnes was surprised that the human-made mini moon was brightly lit, and the plants looked brilliant green through the glistening glass.

“It’s self-lit, so it doesn’t rely on the sun,” Ramona commented, as they neared the base in the space ship. “We’ve replicated an energy and light source similar to the sun and it’s held in the center of the base, like a mini sun at the core.”

“What’s important to realize is that the success of one person is affected by the success of all life and matter around them. We understand that to live successfully, we need a thriving ecosystem that benefits all,” Gabe added, leaning towards Agnes and Ramona as the three of them stared out the window at the impending space station.

“Thank you for that supplemental information, Gabriel,” Ramona said, with a neutral face. “He just can’t help himself,” she whispered separately to Agnes, who chuckled.

As they approached the hub, their space ship circled around the back, where several other space ships were hooked up to the sphere. They looked almost as though they were mosquitos sucking from flesh, the ships attached to the satellite base by only their boarding dock. Gabe and Ramona’s Mother Ship slowed down and steadied itself, aiming for an empty port, carefully lining up to the marked spot on the base.

When the Mother Ship was close enough, the boarding dock extended from the bottom of the ship and hit the targeted location on the base; a garage door of sorts opened to allow the boarding dock to extend out of sight, into the base, so that when passengers entered or exited the ship, they would only pass through the dock like a tunnel, which also anchored the ship to the base.

Like most Slantia laborers, Agnes had never been to space before. In fact, before that day, space travel was not something Agnes had known was quite feasible. She had spent most of her life looking towards the ground and watching as her hands worked and washed, and so when they docked the Slanted Satellite Base and entered the space utopia hidden just behind the moon, Agnes was practically in tears from the beautiful fantasy she felt she had stepped into.

“Unfortunately, our base is gravy-simulated, too,” Ramona said, as the three of them stepped through the atrium after leaving the ship. “I forgot to mention that on the ship, too, that we’re not floating because most of our space equipment has gravity features. We do have an anti-gravity park here though!” She tossed her head back to shake a piece of hair out of her face.

Agnes felt excited at the thought of experiencing anti-gravity, floating freely without any restraint. At the same time she felt heavy and over-stimulated from her day, she also felt energized and buzzed from the awesome possibilities she had discovered. For a moment, she wondered if she were even the same person that she was just the day before; she felt a childlike excitement spinning inside her.

Through the atrium led to an open, public space, much like a food court. This was the area all the docking stations led to, so people and aliens were bustling about, meeting up with their crew after a long voyage, or heavy-heartedly wishing best outcomes to one another before a departure. Hovering refrigerators floated among the crowd, and if someone was hungry, they merely had to hail a refrigerator and select their desired meal or snack—-Agnes noted that these refrigerators probably offered more options than her old one did. There were also many plants hanging from rafters or potted around the common area sporadically, and there was a restroom and dozens of tables set up to accommodate travelers waiting. Music played naturally throughout the room, an upbeat and silky tune that both calmed and excited.

“Come on, now, don’t get left behind,” Gabe barked over his shoulder, as Agnes gawked at the space, looking up and around. A few people walked through the gap between Gabe and Agnes, and Agnes moved quickly to trail behind Gabe. Ramona wandered lackadaisically, occasionally spotting someone she knew and waving or blowing a kiss, but she was never far away and seemed to keep casual track of her two teammates.

They weaved among people taller than they were, people of all colors and body shapes, people with additional eyes or missing eyes, extra arms or lacking arms, some with flat faces, others with pointy faces, a few people coated in fur, several with dog-like ears, and many, many humans. Agnes and Gabe were both shorter than the majority of the crowd, so she kept a close eye on him so she didn’t lose him. But there was so much around her she wanted to look at more closely! Agnes felt like she was in a dream. Was she still napping on the space ship?

Gabe led them to a doorway at the edge of the auditorium and they began down a neon blue-lit hallway with many doors and a curved ceiling. “This base has a lot of hallways, so get used to it,” Ramona commented from behind; she brought up the rear, having just had a brief conversation with a purple fellow before following them to the hallway. She quickly caught up with Agnes, who was breathy and hobbling along as quick she could.

“Makes me wish you had brought your Cycle-Bike again,” Agnes said with a pant, her face growing red.

Ramona nodded, and seemed to think about it for a second. Then she shook her head. “Nah, I don’t think we could get a Cycle-Bike rental. It’d involve an even longer walk. Can you tough it out?” Ramona raised her eyebrows with a look of slight concern.

Agnes waved her hand in dismissal and said, “Of course. No, I’m absolutely fine. Don’t worry.”

The hallway was marked every so often with digital signs like street names so they would know how far along they were down the corridor. After they had passed a sign with “Ramsey House” illuminated on it, Gabe approached a doorway on the right; the door was tall and had an unknown language written upon it.

“This is us,” he said curtly, stopping in front of it and turning to Ramona and Agnes. He pushed up his glasses and seemed to be waiting for a response.

Ramona gave a little “Whoop!” and then looked to Agnes, who was just a few yards behind them, breathing hard. “So, this is our office; this is the division of the Slanted Soldiers we work for. We’re just here to touch base with our leaders and crew, and hopefully we can contact Senga and arrange a meeting with her!” Ramona bounced a little in her spot, balling her fists in excitement. “Senga’s kind of a big deal around here so it’d be really cool to catch her with some free time!”

Agnes nodded and exhaled. While it was certainly interesting to discover she had a sister, family didn’t mean that much in Slantia; it was like finding out someone had the same name, where one was mildly interested at the coincidence but it barely affected anything about one’s existence or sense of self. What Agnes was mostly looking forward to was finding out more about Slantia’s wicked history, indulging in more fantastical experiences like the anti-gravity room, and possibly even contributing to the cause of the Slanted soldiers, a cause that just yesterday, she would have never imagined she’d support. Apparently, she realized, she didn’t have much in her life to lose; the Slantia government had given her no true meaning to her life, but disguised this hollow enslavement with rigorous brainwashing.

“Well, let’s get this over with,” Agnes said, and Ramona shot her a quick side-eye at the cynical tone as Gabe opened the door with his handprint to a screen. The door slid into the wall and he stepped inside, and Ramona followed quickly, and Agnes took her time following them in.

Inside the door was a room with a ceiling so tall it was lost somewhere above them. Large office work space bubbles floated around the room—-Agnes frowned as she processed what she was seeing. Rather than cubicles, each employee’s desk was enveloped in a bubble and floating around the room softly. The bubbles were transparent, so one could see their co-workers, but they insulated noise, so the office was quiet. A person could play their music or tap their pen without disturbing the person next to them, even though they could still stick out their tongue or wave at their neighbors. Agnes watched as two separate bubbles gently bumped into each other and formed one larger bubble, as the two people inside them began collaborating with one another, discussing and showing each other their tablets.

“Hey everyone!” Ramona shouted, and waved fanatically. Some workers began to notice Gabe, Ramona, and Agnes, standing at the entrance beneath them, and waved back. The door slid closed behind them.

The large room containing the bubble work spaces had large, frosted windows as walls, and the room had soft yet bright lighting, the light emanating from the matte white window walls, cut into grid-like squares by supportive black beams. It was a circular room, and the tall walls curved to a dome.

“Step into my office,” Ramona said; she turned, some hair falling in her face, and she pet her hair back as she headed towards the right side of the room, towards a mounted computer and a lever nearby it. A small circular door in the wall was above the computer and the lever, at eye level. Ramona’s boots thudded against the ground as she strutted, long legs sweeping. Gabe and Agnes followed behind.

“It is good to be back,” Gabe commented quietly. He had a way of raising his eyebrows and pursing his lips when he spoke, which elevated his disposition.

Ramona navigated the touch screen and then pulled the long, golden lever mounted on the ground. The circular door in front of them sprung open, and from it formed the soapy cap of a bubble as it was blown through the hole like a bubble wand. Once it popped through, it floated gently to the ground, and Ramona waved the others to follow her, then carefully pushed through the film of the bubble and popped through, to her desk. Gabe entered without hesitation, and Agnes, with hesitation, pushed her hands through first and then followed with her head, stepping into it.

Inside the bubble, Ramona picked up the tablet from her desk and used it to float the bubble.

“Feel free to have a seat,” she said, drawing her finger across the tablet and then setting it back down on her desk. Aside from the S-shaped chair at the desk, there were also a couple bean bag chairs within Ramona’s work bubble. Her desk was a flat wooden surface mounted to a large, round pillow bottom, like a bean bag chair with a desk surface. Ramona had a few paperweights on her desk, in the shape of a cow and an abstract blob shape, but there were no folders or papers.

“This is where you do work?” Agnes asked, honestly rather shocked by how magical of an office Ramona worked at. How had she been stuck washing dishes for over fifty years while Ramona got to sit at a floating desk in paradise?

Ramona pulled her desk chair and offered it to Agnes, having recognized she may struggle to get into a bean bag chair so close to the ground. “Well, I do some work here. I use my desk mostly for a foot rest. I do a lot of field work,” Ramona explained nonchalantly.

“Ramona has a tendency to make anything she does not look like work,” Gabe muttered. He plopped into a bean bag chair with his arms crossed, looking up at all the other bubbles around them.

“I really do,” Ramona affirmed, nodding emphatically.

“I can see that,” Agnes said. She sat down in the s-shaped chair and rested an arm on Ramona’s desk.

They floated upwards, and slowly merged with another bubble, containing a similar desk and a woman with antennae who otherwise looked completely human. Her light hair was pulled back in a straight ponytail, and she wore a set of gray cargo pants and a gray button-up shirt much like Ramona’s.

“Welcome back!” the woman said, and Ramona and Gabe jumped up and stepped towards her to shake her hand.

“Thank you!” Ramona said. “This is Agnes, who provided us with the silvovia, and who is Senga’s twin sister,” she explained.

Agnes nodded and reached out her hand from the chair to shake the woman’s, as well.

The woman stepped up to Agnes to shake her hand as Ramona explained that she was Milanda, the leader of their office, and the woman who made it possible for Ramona to embark on her most recent mission to Slantia.

“It’s lovely to meet you,” Agnes said, smiling at Milanda. “Ramona must be a very big deal around here, for you to give her such gracious respect.” Agnes didn’t know what to do with her hands now, and awkwardly laid them in her lap. She felt nervous to be in the presence of a leader at the work space; when she had worked washing dishes, she rarely interacted with anyone of higher status than the Enforcers, who were basically just used for their violent tendencies.

“The pleasure is all mine!” Milanda burst, with a friendly laugh. “Ramona is a special person here, of course!”

Ramona giggled politely with Milanda, and then turned to Agnes. “I forgot you’ve lived with a Slantian understanding of work,” she said, looking earnestly and almost pitifully at Agnes. “Our version of work isn’t as hardcore as Slantians’ version of work. Our leader is like one of our friends. It’s chillax.”

Agnes looked a little confused, and Gabe piped up, practically pushing himself around Ramona from where he had been standing behind her. “What Ramona means, is that work is a responsibility, but it doesn’t rule our lives. And people aren’t killed at work by their bosses.”

“Hm,” Agnes said, frowning. As she realized that Ramona and Gabe almost seemed to enjoy work, she began to also feel cheated for the horrendous work environment she had forced herself to happily endure for so long.

“Well, I hope you’ll make yourself comfortable, Agnes,” Milanda said. “Help yourself to anything.” She pointed at Ramona and Gabe and cocked her head. “A discussion please?”

“Of course!” Gabe chirped, and shuffled towards Milanda, and Ramona glanced at Agnes for a moment with a nod, then approached Milanda and Gabe. Agnes sat at Ramona’s desk while the three of them took turns talking in low voices at the end of Milanda’s desk.

As Agnes sat there, a moment to herself, she took in the radiant orb in which she floated. It was an immaculate feeling of lightness, and she looked around the pink-tinted room, at all the other bubbles also floating on, as though they were floating along a lazy creek, and exhaled deeply.

What would her life had been like, had she grown into a woman in this society? She almost grieved at the thought of the woman she could have been, had she been given a better lot, in this world. Agnes stopped herself from sinking into this lost possibility before she began to weep over it, it now being far too late to serve her any good.

With the mental fortitude that she used to push through all those years of suffering over dirty dishes to fuel a corrupt machine, she changed gears of her perspective; rather than feel remorseful for what she never had, she decided to feel grateful for this moment, right now, in this beautiful enclosure with kind souls and a feeling of weightlessness, and when she closed her eyes, she could just about imagine she was in heaven.

And a tear did slip from her closed eyes.

This is not the end quite yet! Part VII will be here next week!

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