Orlando C. Scott
Lucille in the Skye Station
"We call it the Womb," Lucille Diamond said. Mr. Shields pushed off lightly from the pale-carpeted elevator floor and floated toward the center of Skye Space Station's central sphere.
"Who came up with that name?"
"Actually, it was Elmer Fudd."
"Design engineer or interior decorator?" He did not sound amused.
Letting the question go, she decided to stick to business.
"This spherical room at the center of the station is our zero gravity research and recreation space. It is 30 meters in diameter, providing plenty of space for both uses. You can see that the walls are padded felt carpet to which items may be attached with Velcro. Now might be a good time to remind you that in case you lose stability unexpectedly, you have Velcro patches on your forearms to help you attach to the wall, and also on your shoulder blades for a more secure hold. You'll also notice the doorknobs, regularly spaced small padded balls that you can grasp to control your movements. The inset rose-colored disks, as you can see, are our lighting. We like to call them the sixteen candles. We don't know who came up with that idea."
This time, he cracked a smile. "And the squares outlined in green neon?"
"The smaller ones with white interiors are elevator floors, like the one we just arrived on. Each spoke of the station provides an entrance through the hub to this space. The large dark area is the entrance for our zero-gravity lab, which we call the Finger. Zero-gravity experiments and trial manufacturing processes can be set up in the lab, with the help of low gravity in the Hub, and then projected into the Womb for processing."
"This is what I always imagined it would be like to be a goldfish floating in a bowl, always just the right displacement to stay at the level you want." Shields took a sort of breast stroke, turning and changing his direction, so he appeared to be swimming on his back. With his LSD projecting several inches from his solar plexus, he looked more like a yellow submarine than a goldfish. His standard issue bright-yellow guest flash suit, with its uncountable gold zippers, was a sartorial version of a Swiss army knife.
"It's not the same, though. There's no gravity at all, so your displacement makes no difference."
"Well, I still think being a fish must feel like this."
"Maybe that's how it feels, but it really is different. Fish bladders stabilize them vertically. Instead of a bladder, you have the LSD on your belt to help stabilize your movements and your position both vertical and lateral."
"LSD? I wondered if I'd been issued a maternity suit, until I saw yours. Not that I know what this is, just because it has a name."
"Limited Slip Differential, after an obsolete automotive device for improving traction. It's a gyroscopic gizmo that gives whatever position you are in added inertia, so you can't start yourself spinning just by reaching out an arm. You lack fins to control your movements by resistance against the atmosphere. Even if we equipped you with flippers for your hands and feet, without the LSD, you'd bounce around in here like an eight-ball on a pool-table, except you'd not stop for hours once you were started."
"Sort of a magic eight-ball, eh!"
"Yeah." She resisted a chuckle.
"Prepare for a change."
"A magic eight-ball wouldn't work here, either," Lucille said.
"Let me guess. It requires gravity."
Lucille smiled for the first time. Shields didn't seem like such a bad guy. Technically, he was her superior, though he would be stationed at Whole Earth Control Unit once he completed touring the six stations and meeting staff. He was the new VP for WECU Security, which was located in Silver Maxwell, the main subsurface city on the moon. The flash suit didn't flatter his physique, but he looked OK for a guy in his 40s, presumably on his second wife and set of kids back at WECU. His close-cropped hair outlined his shining bald, brown head. His brown eyes seemed friendly, and he wasn't more than maybe 4 kilos overweight for his height, which was about the same as Lucille's 1.77 m.
"What sort of recreation takes place here?"
"We've been developing zero-gravity games. Did you ever read Orson Scott Card's book, Ender's Game?"
"Hey, yeah! That's a dusty one isn't it? But it really holds up."
She smiled again. He wasn't just a dumb bureaucrat. He actually read old books. It might be seriously interesting to get to know him.
"Then you remember the war games."
"Yeah. Vibro! Flash suits and light guns!" He grinned at her.
"You're wearing one, -- a flash suit that is. We have them with and without the LSD. We're not all that interested in war games, thank goodness, but the concepts of zero-gravity games in Card have suggested several we're developing here. Playing around the Finger when it's up adds interesting twists, too."
"I imagine someone has tried zero-gravity sex by now."
"Not too likely. Though you can't see them without moving closer to the walls, there are 16 inset digital cameras - placed with the candles - monitoring this space, along with sound and life-sign monitors. They stream data continuously to the mainframe in Internal Control Unit. ICU knows everything that happens in the station, where every person is and what she's doing."
"Not much privacy."
"Even less than you think. All data from Skye is security-streamed to WECU's mainframe. When you're in your office at SM, you'll have security clearance to learn the location and current activity of anyone in any of the six Earth stations. You'll be able to request movement and activity histories, and to video-view them, too." She directed herself toward him, thinking they had spent enough time on this part of the tour.
"So everything here is public? Must be really discouraging." He looked a little discouraged, himself.
"Well, in our personal quarters there is only one camera, for direct communication. We can decide where it points, and we can even cover it for up to an hour before an alarm goes off. But we can't turn off audio and life-sign monitors, so even when ICU can't see you, it pretty much knows what you're up to."
"That's too bad, because I'm thinking thoughts I'd like to conceal."
"Not talking about them would help."
"I can't help it, though. Marry me, Lucy."
"What? How do you know my name?"
"It's right there on your name tag. L. C. Diamond. Call me Billy."
"That's against protocol, Sir. Last names only between associates on duty. And my name's not Lucy."
"Yes, Ma'am Ms. Diamond. Don't want to mess up protocol. Security officers have to stick to the rules." But he smiled in such a big ridiculous way, like a baby seeing the bottle, - or letting loose. "Hell with security, I love you, Lucy. I can't help it. Do you believe in love at first sight? I melt for natural hair. I want to run my hands all over that slinky black satin suit. I want to zip your zippers, push your buttons, turn your knobs. Let me lick those chocolate lips!" He reached out toward her suddenly, and when his hand made contact with her shoulder, there was a small cracking sound. Static electricity!
Instantly, Lucille was cart-wheeling across the Womb. She hit the padded wall hard and bounced away far too fast to snag a knob or slam down her forearm. The uneven surface of the walls made her trajectory unpredictable, and Shields didn't seem especially quick in his responses. Though she had no control of her direction, she managed to gracefully curl her body into fetal position, with her hands buried in her dark, curly hair. She attempted small moves to bring her feet foremost.
On her fourth bounce, she was able to land almost square on her feet and to push off in his direction. When she hit him, he flailed at her and managed to get a secure hold on her ankle. He drifted with her, slowing her down, so when they came to the wall, she could attach herself by the Velcro on her back.
The blow of their collision had sent a spurt of adrenaline though his system and his head cleared for a minute.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Static shock blew my LSD. I just pushed the reset button. It will take 3 minutes to reorganize itself. By then, though, you're going to be back into ZGE."
"Zero-Gravity Euphoria. Alert ICU! Medivac ZGE stat!"
"Don't worry, Sir, we'll have you in Medical in minutes, and you'll be fine within a half hour."
"All I need is love."
"Oh, Pam! I want you so bad! Your eyes are the emerald isles!"
Medical technician Polly Pam was attempting to fasten Shields to a rolling medivac cart, but he continued to squirm weakly.
"It's Ms. P. T. Pam, Sir. Required protocol. Just lay still, while I fasten you up." Poll leaned over him to fasten the tie-down over his chest. Her medical green jump-suit and wavy red hair filled his vision.
"Your hair smells like strawberry fields! What's that gold in your ear?"
"Antique, Sir. Used to call them paperclips."
"How did you get it in there? Why isn't my tongue in there?"
"Keeping thinking about that, Sir. Don't want to lose consciousness. Let me take you down the hall."
Polly rolled him through a pair of white swinging doors, where her partner, Elly Rigby, helped guide the cart into a white cubicle and lock down the wheels. He was still conscious. They lifted him into sitting position. Elly extracted a 125 gram, buff-colored foil bag from a half-used pack of six and pressed a point on the end. A plastic nipple popped out.
"Here, drink this down."
Shields obediently started drawing, and Elly gently squeezed the bag.
"That's it. Don't breathe until it's all down. Keep going."
When he finished, Elly tossed the bag in a low-grav slow motion arc toward a large DISPOSE-ALL circle on the wall. Just as it opened to swallow the spinning bag, Shields let out a weak yelp.
"Yeeuu! Tastes like warm Busch Lite."
"That's about what it is -- 1% alcohol in "green tea solution" at body temperature. First step in getting your circulation back in order."
"I prefer Jägermeister."
"You would!" Lucille appeared at the door of the cubicle, out of her black flash suit and in a navy-blue on-duty jump-suit.
"Jägermeister?" Polly asked.
"We call it Master Hunter. You know -- that licorice syrup stuff." Lucille replied. "The German name is obsolete. He seems interested in history. And, as you can see, ZGE turns him into an undiscriminating sex maniac."
"What would his wife say?" Polly wondered.
Everyone paused and looked at Shields, still in his bright flash suit, pregnant with his LSD unit. Elly checked her watch. "Sixty seconds," she said. "OK, Mr. Shields, time to get your clothes off."
"For you, gladly. I love you E. Rigby! Marry me! Let me at those zippers, my wild honey pie! I can set your legs free! I can set everything free!"
"What would your wife say?" Elly replied.
"Wife? Lovely Rita? Is she here? I adore Rita, but now she's just baggage, you know? An old bag."
"You know what he's talking about?" Polly asked.
"No," said Lucille. "Could be he's going incoherent. Should you give him adrenaline?"
"Got no wife. I'm between wives. I'm shopping for a wife. You look like just the right model to me," he shouted and then grinned.
Elly smiled, too. "Charming aren't we?" To Polly she said, "Better go with adrenaline, just to be safe. Need to open him up first, though."
Elly and Polly went to work on Shields's zippers while Lucille watched. The two-piece flash suit would unzip into four sections; when the four main zippers of each piece were undone, the piece could be removed. But Shields had to lift his shoulders to remove the back half of the top, and then he had to roll off of the bottom half.
When they were ready to roll him, he was ready to twist and shout. He was off the cart, and he was almost able to keep his balance as he started tugging down his red plaid boxers with his left hand, while hanging onto the cart to keep from falling into and sliding down the white wall. In full Earth gravity, he'd have been on his face instantly.
Elly tried to turn him back onto the cart, while he kept pulling at his underwear. "The boxers should stay on, Sir. We just want you face down on the cart, and we'll soon have things under control here."
"Not ready yet, lover! Here, please help me with this!"
Polly started laughing, and, despite her frustration, Elly couldn't help joining.
"Remember, ladies, this is all on camera," Lucille warned.
"We'll have to be sure to review it after he starts sending us memos on security reg violations." Polly quipped.
Elly laughed harder, then, but Polly helped her push Shields down onto the cart and strap him gently in place.
Pam squeezed several cc's of clear lubricant from a large tube onto his legs, and then, with her latex-gloved hands, spread it out evenly over his skin.
"Nice!" he said, his voice slurred because the side of his face rested on the white vinyl cart-top. "Smells like olives. Ever been to Spain? They have the best olives there. Better than Greece or Italy. Those little green ones with the red peppers inside. I love to look at the full bottles. Marry me, Olive! Let me suck out your pimiento!"
Polly turned on the vibrator and started with his left leg.
Shields lay on his stomach, with his head turned to the right, staring at a blotch of color, the only thing he could see that was not white wall or chrome and black plastic medical machinery. Gradually, the picture came into focus, a movie poster for an ancient classic, showing King Kong balanced atop the Empire State Building, Ann Darrow in one hand and an unfortunate member of the biplane Air Force in the other.
"Very angry gorilla," he muttered. "Me and my monkey."
Meanwhile, Elly was all business, as she tossed an empty plastic test tube toward DISPOSE-ALL, and pressure injected Shields's right arm.
After five rotations of one minute of vibrator massage on each limb, Shields was nearly down from his euphoric state. He lost his focus on King Kong, the master hunter, and he realized that his last memory was of L. C. Diamond saying that everything that happened here was recorded.
"Where am I? What are you girls doing!?" he demanded.
"You're fine, Sir. You had an attack of ZGE in the Womb, and you're responding perfectly to treatment."
"Zero-Gravity Euphoria. Your circulation regulatory system goes haywire and your brain suffers mild oxygen-overload. Untreated it can lead to coma and even death, but usually, you just become semi-conscious until medicated. It's sort of like dreaming."
"And this is the treatment? Two gorgeous women with a purple vibrator and a med-injector, and me in my boxers?"
Lucille reassured him. "It's OK. You're safe. Elly and … I mean, Rigby and Pam are married."
"And besides," said Polly, "as Diamond keeps reminding us, it's all on camera."
Elly turned the vibrator up to setting fourteen and shifted to his shoulders. It was like being thumped softly but firmly on the back with a baseball bat. He couldn't talk when he was bouncing like that.
"Here comes the sun." Lucille pointed out that the lights were shifting from artificial to natural as the sun emerged from behind Earth and a system of ports and mirrors directed natural light through much of Skye. She directed her voice toward her desk console, "Hey, Judy, show us the sky." A small panel in the right wall slipped down noiselessly. She and Mr. Shields looked out across the universe.
"Judy?" Shields asked.
"I like to think of my node as a personal friend. Sentimental I guess."
"I'm sorry I caused you so much trouble."
"Don't worry about it, Sir. It can happen to anyone, even after months here and hours in the Womb. It's good, though, that you don't remember the details."
Lucille turned again, and looked out pensively at the bright and distant stars.
"You know," Shields said, "the sunlight really brings out something in the way you smile. I've got a feeling, Lucy."
Thanks to these classmates for helpful revision suggestions: Kelly Anderson, Bob Benson, Lindsey Driscoll, Kyle Fargen, Marie Fettkether, Masumi Fottral, Jana Hallas, Joseph Lentner, Ashley O'Conner, James Williams. And to everyone for inspiring ideas. And, of course, to the Beatles for perpetual inspiration! I wanna be a paperback writer!