possibly take the opportunity for a tour of your
Max and Moritz looked like they
were about to explode with delight, which was good—and the comment had drawn
Shanti and Patch’s attention as well, which was even better.
“We would consider it a fantastic
honor,” said Moritz. “We shall tour the common area with you.”
Shanti hurriedly gestured to the
SFers, and Philippe soon had an entourage of soldiers that included her and
Patch. Max and Moritz told the crowd that the humans were going to go for a
tour, and the other aliens quickly made way. A loose group followed them.
Max and Moritz plodded ahead on their
six feet as Philippe tried to follow them and gawk about at the same time.
The alien station looked nothing like Beijing, thank God. Everything was quite brown, although the orange light
made it hard to determine exact colors. The area was large and open, with no
dividing walls and only the occasional narrow column. The floor seemed to give
a little underfoot, although Philippe wondered if that was an illusion created
by the difference in gravity and oxygen content. When he had the chance, he
discreetly touched one of the walls. It gave a little under his gloved fingers,
tempting him to peel off the protection to get a better feel.
“As you may have already
determined, we are currently occupying a common area,” said Max. “If you were
to look at the station from the outside, we are on a floor located in the large
cylinder that comprises the main body of the station.”
Moritz looked slightly apologetic.
“You will notice that the common areas are very open,” he said. “That is to
accommodate the wide variety of body types present. I realize that some people
prefer more-enclosed spaces, and I apologize if our arrangement makes you feel
“Not at all,” Philippe assured him.
“Humans don’t mind open spaces in the least.”
“Yeah, they’re great,” said Shanti,
in an unenthused tone. “What are those things?”
She pointed at an arrangement of
low walls that emerged from the floor to their left. They looked oddly like
office cubicles, or perhaps stables.
“Those are more-enclosed spaces,”
“As part of our divine mission, we
have created spaces in our common areas where different people may meet and
communicate,” said Max. “Since some prefer more-enclosed spaces at times, we
have those. We also have many areas with tables.”
They approached one of the narrow
columns, which lay at the back of a large oval hole in the floor. The hole was
marked off by a low railing with a large gap in it.
“It’s an elevator,” said Patch.
“They just go up and down all the time, so you gotta wait and hop on when you
They stopped in front of the gap in
the railing to wait.
“Have you seen the White Spiders?”
asked Max. “There are several on the ceiling at this location.”
Philippe looked up where Max was
indicating. The White Spiders had not had a representative at the reception,
but there were at least a dozen of them here, clinging to the high ceiling
overhead. Patch’s name for them had been typically descriptive—they had ten
long, feathery legs sticking out from an oval body.
Philippe waved and said hello, but
they did not acknowledge him.
“They are a quiet people,” Max
“They live on the ceilings?” Shanti
“We provided them with a living
area, as we do everyone,” said Max. “But for the most part, they prefer to
inhabit the high parts of the common areas.”
Shanti made a noise in her throat,
communicating to the humans at least her opinion of that particular lifestyle.
The elevator arrived, so the humans
and Hosts got on. As they waited for it to start moving, a White Spider let go
of the ceiling and started to drift down, parachute-like. A cross-draft caught
it, and it suddenly flipped inside-out, like an umbrella in a windstorm,
presumably to avoid being blown off course.