Echoes (An Excerpt)
“Orbital insertion in five minutes. Please secure your belongings and prepare for docking.”
Victor Palomas closed his eyes and breathed out. He reached into his coat and fiddled with his great-grandmother’s rosary. It was a nervous habit born out of many weekends of Sunday school, but she always said he was a good boy. A good Catholic son. It was at times like this that she said you should ask God for his protection from the evils out in the dark. His great-grandmother never did like traveling out of the atmosphere, but his work didn’t afford him much choice.
Thank God she wasn’t alive to see what they were doing. Would those of her generation approve of this? Would the Pope have condemned them or would he found a moral justification for Victor’s work like they had about a century ago?
Would the Lord think of him as a good son?
Victor was brought out of his thoughts by a chime from the shuttles address system. The flat voice of the captain came from nowhere in particular, “We have docked. Welcome to Fiera Del Vinto. For those coming from Earth, please note even in the station there is a higher Echo Quotient than you may be used to. Please feel free to talk to a station Echo Advisor if you need any assistance. Again, thank you for traveling with us.”
The announcement was a little longer than the usual safety warning but Victor understood the reasoning. He’d seen people who came from low EQ worlds start screaming after getting off the plane, just to hear their voice reflecting off any nearby curved surface. Some would get so intoxicated with the experience they’d faint.
No one realizes what sound was really meant to be like. How it used to be on Earth before it was gone.
It was almost a cliche, but people didn’t appreciate it until they woke up one morning and everything sounded flat. Like you were surrounded by sound absorbing foam and no matter how loud you yelled it wouldn’t carry through the air. Even the seas weren’t safe. For a brief time whales and dolphins beached themselves from the inability to hear each other in the great depths.
Just outside the shuttle’s main airlock was the adjustment vestibule. Surrounded with sound dampening foam it provided a low echo environment needed for most to get used to the higher echo environment of the station. Most of the passengers had already disembarked and were seated at the many available benches in the Stage One Acclimation area. Some took advantage of the station facilities as they acclimated. It was interesting that they called this a vestibule when it was more akin to an entirely separate section of the station. It had to be, since some people could take up to a day to adjust from low Echo Quotient environments to the higher one of the station orbiting a planet like Fiera.
Victor continued past most of the passengers right into the soundlock between the Stage One and Stage Two area acclimation areas.
While it reminded him of some of the old style decompression chambers used by scuba divers, the cylindrical chamber had a couple of chairs and a door at either end like most airlocks. Victor waited with a couple of others as the EQ of the soundlock was raised.
It only took about ten minutes, but during the short period of time details in what Victor heard changed. The flat sound of man seated behind him shuffling his feet against the metal floor gained definition. Instead of it sounding like something flopping against metal Victor could now hear the slight grinding noise of the sole scuffing against the polished floor. The sound was punctuated with a muffled squeak that still sounded faint but elicited stares from others in the chamber. The man stopped dragging his shoes against the floor and looked down and away from the others.
Victor couldn’t help but shake his head. It was bad form to make loud noises in a soundlock. Especially with each person taking a different times to get acclimated to the new EQ of the Stage Two acclimation area.
The soundlock door finally opened.
Being similarly outfitted like the Stage One area, Victor immediately heard the difference here. Noises from people moving around, the sound a ceramic cup makes when it’s rested against metal tabletop. The sounds of muted conversation actually carrying across a room. Now it just sounded like he was wearing earmuffs instead of the cathedral like reverent silence of the previous area.
Victor walked straight through to the last soundlock to the station proper and cycled through. In no time he was standing in the main thoroughfare of Fiera Station. The station was a newer model, the main core of it shunted into orbit after Fiera had been surveyed and determined to be a place whose resources were worth exploiting. After the core was brought in, subsequent ships brought in more pieces for the modular station until it was ready to receive all the additional personnel needed to run both the station and the mines on the planet’s surface.
He watched people go about their business around him. For all intents and purposes everything looked just like it would be on any other station. Except in this station, things weren’t running as smoothly as they should, which brought him to his being sent here.
A young man in an Echo Mining Corporation administration unitard stood there sporting a nervous expression. Victor saw in his blue eyes the customary trepidation most staff had when speaking to him. No one likes speaking to a Mine Safety and Health Administration Echo Inspector if they could help it. It was like talking to the tax man, or a mortician. Sometimes necessary but never desired.
Victor nodded toward the young man, “Yes, but then I’m willing to bet you knew who I was before you even asked, right?”
The man stopped his reply as if he had run off of his carefully rehearsed script. Victor didn’t want to make the guy feel awkward, but it looks like what he had thought was off-putting humor placed him into a awkward situation.
Victor breathed out a sigh and made a circular motion with his right hand like pulling on a fishing reel, “And you are?”
The other man blinked, “I’m, ah, Henderson, um Mark Henderson, sir.”
“No need for the sir, Mark. I’m part of MSHA, not the military,” said Victor.
“Oh, ok, sure. Well, I’m ah, here to take you to administration to meet with Administrator Shilling.”
“Take me down.”
Henderson paled, “Wh-what? But I was supposed to…”
This man was in serious need of a drink. Not right this moment, but then Victor always thought it helped to knock the stress level down a bit. Of course, it was easy to take advantage of a flustered person to see behind the curtain as it were.
Victor tried his best smile. He was always told his smile was nice, “It’s alright Mark. I’m sure Administrator Shilling wouldn’t mind giving us a couple of minutes.