1.5 Ohu's Stronghold (I)

The automatic docking went smoothly; soon the ship was attached to the axis just under one of the rings and Katja and Kubiri were walking through long empty corridors. There was dust on the floor. There was dust on the little signs in Ylfae on the pale pastel walls. Katja's snowboots gave a muffled echo with each step.

"We should be able to find out everything we need to know at central command, which I think is this way," Kubiri said, and she followed him. As she reflected on her feelings, she found that she was a bit angry. Here she was, having been ripped up from her life, from her routine, and thrown across a galaxy with such an urgency that she did not even have a change of clothes, for no other purpose than to take control of a station that had obviously been deserted and running on automatic for quite some time. What could possibly have been the purpose of such urgency?

She tried to set the anger aside as futile, since there was nothing to be done about it now. For the most part she succeeded, although it would occasionally resurface as irritation.

They passed endless numbers of rooms and cross-corridors. There was a conveyor belt that would ordinarily have moved once one stepped onto it, but the entire system was off. So they walked. And walked. And walked. Everything simply highlighted the sheer size of the station. They then made their way through various rooms and up stairs. They were all lit, but dimly, as if by emergency lights.

"I will be getting my exercise here," Katja said after they had climbed the third set of stairs.

"Once we get things turned on, we will no longer have to go these long ways; but when they left, they shut practically everything down -- elevators, conveyors, everything that was not originally designed to continue indefinitely."

"You know," said Katja, "we are really going to need a better name for this station than '3311543'. Is that the only name it has?"

"As far as I know. Conceivably the Winbaric gave it another name, but it was not recorded anywhere."

"Well, then," she said, "as Adminstrator of this station, I hereby designate this station Lin Ohuen, Ohu's Stronghold. In some of the old songs, it was supposed to have rooms filled with good fortune. The honey bees go there to get the good fortune they mix with flower-nectar to make honey."

"Lin Ohuen it is, then," Kubiri said, pulling open his tablet and tapping it rapidly with his finger. He then closed it. "I have officially noted it," he said. "If anyone tries to give it a different name, you can tell them that the Samar call it Lin Ohuen, too."

"I'll do that," said Katja. She thought: Well, at least I get to name things.

They finally made it to the command center. Everything was covered in plastic, which they pulled off. One screen was already working, and Kubiri began to examine it. Katja sat on one of the benches.

"What I don't understand," said Katja, "is how we are supposed to run this station all on our own. We should have technicians, engineers, security. Did the Tanaver not know that the station was deserted? Did they just forget to tell anyone that an entire crew would be necessary? How am I supposed to run a station singlehandedly? What if something goes wrong?"

"It is truly a puzzle," said Kubiri, pressing the screen and reading the result. "But you are not single-handed. I doubt it was ever intended to be run by only two people, but it was designed for periods with just a skeleton crew. I think the original idea was to start out with a few people and slowly expand the population on the station. And while the architecture is Ylfae, the systems themselves were clearly designed by a Samar -- simplified, reworked to account for the difference in technology between the Samar and the Ylfae, but there are several indications that it was Samar."

"Do you know who?"

"No," said Kubiri. "An engineer might be able to guess based on the design, but it is out of my province. It is definitely Samar, though, and, assuming it was made to specification, I don't think we will have to worry about any serious problems. I can send an inquiry next time I upload to a Portal."

"There's no harm, and possibly some use, in knowing," said Katja. "What I wonder is why you didn't already know. Surely it would have been mentioned."

Kubiri looked up from the screen and looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. "My thought exactly."

"Is there any reason why the Samar High Council would not have told you?"

"Precisely because they didn't tell me, I am very sure there was a reason. It is possible that no one checked. It is possible that it was a Private Consultation that was never logged. The number of Consulations in the Universes is truly immense, and all Samar are allowed to negotiate Private Consultations as long as they meet certain conditions. It is generally preferred that such Consultations be logged, partly for the protection of the Samar in question, but there's no strict rule. Or it could be some other reason. But it is curious."

He reached over and flipped a few switches. The whole console came to life. "Ah," he said. "Let's see what we have to work with."

He pressed one of the consoles, and a screen on the far end of the room sprang to life with the flowing cursive of Ylfae writing.

Katja rose. "A map of the station." She walked across and looked at it closely. "It looks like the crew quarters are near here. What systems do we have?"

"At present, little more than basic life support. I think water reclamation is working, as well. As for anything else, I think it will take me some time to figure out the rest of this system, which seems rather old and quirky. At present I've figured out almost nothing beyond its basic Ask and Tell functions -- we can get information and upload information, but anything else is a bit beyond us."

"Do you think you will be able to get everything online?"

"Almost certainly," he said. "It's not a complicated system, just somewhat oddly designed." He thrust out his lips in a Samar smile. "I think it is some Ylfae notion of what a user-friendly system would be -- it keeps trying to do things for me that are completely inconsistent with what I actually need it to do. I will need a few hours, I think."

"I think I will tour some of these crew quarters and see what shape they are in. The last thing I want to have to do tonight is fall asleep in a pile of dust."

Kubiri nodded and Katja set out. For all that it was a very simple thing to do, no more than walking around to see what things were like, it felt strangely good, and after a short while she suddenly realized what it was. It was the first thing she had done since she left home that was actually in her power. In this small little action, she was taking some control of a life that seemed to have been spinning entirely out of control. She was, at that moment, in one small way, not just a log bobbing along in a current. She was an agent in her own right, able to make her own decisions and do her own work.