|The Nothing Place|
The Maremma girl and I come to the end of the row. The guard-rail curves around and joins the wall. We overlook the rear-wall of the hall but right next to me is the final set of sliding doors along this gangway.
“The reality in here is special,” the girl says. She still has not volunteered her name.
Of course I’m supposed to say, Special how? “Exactly right for a learner shaman, I bet.”
She’s edging me toward the still-closed sliders. “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never pushed anyone in here yet. A first timer will give me five credits.” She punches the air. “I’ll be the alpha-bitch when I get back to the kennels tonight!”
She comes forward against me, growling and slavering from a fierce dog-like expression and I am so shocked I fall back against the doors.
Which slide open and cause me to fall into that reality.
The doors slide shut.
I turn on my butt. Scramble up onto my feet. Stare. Allow my jaw to sag. Stare.
The place I’m in is completely devoid of features. Whitely empty.
How long I stare I don’t know because not a thing keeps on happening.
"Yet to be made”
“Yet to be made. What does that mean?” I step off the sensori-mat. There’s nothing to tell me whether I’m on the floor, a wall or the ceiling. My head reels. Nausea roils in my stomach. I step back onto the sensori-matting and press my back to the doors.
Which don’t open.
Not that I expected them to. “There’s nothing here,” I say after a long silence in which I slow my heart-beat with deep breathing.
I start to observe again. Though the place is lit, light does not emanate from any particular place. Walls, ceiling and floor as white as they were in the Reception Hall, if that is what it was.
“Yet to be made”
“Great. I have to make the whole universe myself?”
“Call yourself a shaman?”
“Singing the totems and calling the ship is all I learned.” I sound like I’m whingeing even to me.
It could do that? Not fair. I swallow. Two tokens, two credits. Then I think it through. “Why bother with credits at all when there’s no shop in here?” Maybe I say the obvious. Maybe I’m stupid thinking there’s a listener. Maybe I’m just talking to myself.
It’s a stalemate. That’s what I’m calling it. I’m still standing with my back pressed against the doors. I lift my feet one at the time to inspect my soles. The ribbing of the sensori-mat has made patterns on my bare feet.
“Hey! We had a mat like this at home. Dad used to get us to stand on it to scold us. Same pattern on my feet.”
Was that a distraction I just threw into the silence? Didn’t bounce, even for me. The mat at home was probably eaten by Lotor along with everything else.
I try a little story. “Weird if our mat was a historical artefact? I could go round to all the places on the ship with sensori-matting. See if any are missing. Could be one slid from the … from the shuttle with all the people.”
There’s a break in the sequence right about where I stuttered that I hope the entity doesn’t notice. But never mind, there is no change in the ambience.
“Mongoose thinks people used all the sensori-mats from all the shuttles as landing pads. That they already knew Lotor for what she is when the settlers first landed.”
The sensori-mat disappears! The ribbing on my foot too. The doors behind me change into glazed stone.
“Three credits retracted”
“Wait … why? What did I do wrong?”
“Remembering is not discovering. Making things up is not discovery. Exploring some other person’s meanings is not discovering”
One fucking credit. “Go on! Take that one off me too! What use are they?” When I shout my voice clatters through the space.
The only answer I get is that the temperature rises.
I take off my clothes as each item becomes impossible to wear. The fucker running the show isn’t human. All the other humans too busy in their own hells, I assume.
The white cell was the previous place where I only lasted because I decided to relieve my feelings through swearing. I nearly cry because this is a definite step back.
When I am naked, my clothes disappear.