Of Vultures and Vent Covers

Imagine a planet with no large carrion eaters. Animals die, and their bodies sit undisturbed. They bloat. They rot. They pile up until the dead overwhelm the living with stench and disease.

Once upon a time, this was true for human society. We gave birth to massive machines and titanic towers, but childish creators that we were, we made a world without vultures. As the mouldering remains of our endeavors threatened to bury us, we created a savior to eat away the corpses that fouled our air and our water. Vulturecorp was born of humanity’s need, and it soared across the galaxy, stirring our bones and giving us new life. Any abandoned human working was their carrion, and everything they took was given new purpose and sold virtually at cost.

 

Brigadoon was first built to house workers for some ancient mining corporation. When every planet in the star system had been consumed, they departed, leaving behind this one barracks. Hundreds, or even thousands of years later, Vulturecorp found the ancient relic, and shaped it into a modern Lodginghouse with a station-length Mattersmith Matter Forge, and even an “Outdoor Recreation Area”.

Their work was excellent, and their parts well made. Embala knew all of this, of course, and felt sincere admiration for the company. Even the covers for the ventilation system showed the care with which Vulturecorp did their work – sturdy, easy on the eyes, and each one as good as the next. She was very sure of this last point because what looked like every single vent cover in the station was sitting, neatly wrapped, on the three pallets in front of her.

She touched one of her ear studs to activate her com.

“Bran.” There was a brief pause, then Bran answered.

“What’s up?”

“Can you see an air vent from where you are?”

“Yeah, I think- Oh! That’s odd! There’s no cover – just an open duct.”

“I had a feeling that might be the case.” Embala looked at the gaping hole at the bottom of the wall next to her, and muttered, “they didn’t even put them on the vents in the delivery bay.”

Louder, she said, “Ok, thanks for checking, Bran. Happy baking!”

“You too. I mean… Yeah.”

A smile tugged at her lips as she tapped her ear again.

“Eagun.” Pause.

“Embala, my friend. What aid might I give you on this lamentable day?”

She blinked.

“Um… Is something wrong?”

“Since the rising of the sun, I have pursued my duties across our hollow home, and what do I find?”

“No vent covers?”

“Not one! Surely, I thought, it couldn’t be the whole station! How could I have been so hopelessly optimistic? Truly this new drudgery stands as a solemn reminder – never give in to hopes for a better future! Always prepare for worst!”

“Eagun-”

“And only think! The dread beasts that Mattersmith and the Spider God brought aboard could discover this error! They could find their way anywhere! Even my own chambers! I was able to construct a barrier there for the time being, but I fear it is only a half-measure. We must get vent covers, Friend Embala!”

“They’re in the delivery bay, Eagun. Do you want help putting them up?”

“No, this burden falls to me. In truth, it is better so, for I must inspect every millimeter of this, our only shelter from the horrors of space. I shall bear the covers with me as I go, and leave them in my wake as an assurance of my inspection.”

“Ok, that sounds-”

“They shall be a seal! A promise of clean air and sturdy walls!”

“Sounds good, Eagun!”

She ended the call. Brigadoon’s custodian was unlike anyone she had ever met, and she would be working closely with him. Less than a week since their arrival, and it was already clear that managing Brigadoon would be very, very unlike work at the comfortable Lodginghouse she had helped her parents run.

Embala laid a hand on the wall by the pallets, calling a console into existence under her fingertips. She opened her favorite wallpaper, and turned to look at the rest of the delivery bay as the program loaded. Suddenly she was back in the little square in front of her childhood home on Ilgai. The early morning sun peeked through the forest of towers that was downtown, and a soft, silent snow was falling. She reached out her hand and let the flakes pass through it to add to the intangible dusting on the floor.

There was a soft thump behind her and she spun to see what caused it. Erwin the cat had appeared out of nowhere to pounce on one of the illusory snowflakes. He now squatted, front paws outstretched and tail lashing as his gaze jerked from flake to falling flake. Embala walked over and stooped to pet him.

“Hello, little one! I’m glad you like my home!”

He sniffed her hand, and the curled his paws in to sit, loaf-shaped, watching the snow. She scratched him behind the ears and the soft rumble of his purr started.

“I suppose Brigadoon is home now, for both of us.” She sat next to the cat, her back against the pallet of vent covers.

The purr continued. Embala glanced down at him.

“Easy enough for you, I suppose. Gregg has had you traveling all over the galaxy, but this is my first time off my home planet.”

He looked up at her, stood, and left the way he came, vanishing through the wall of a nearby building. Embala frowned.

“Stop projection.”

The wallpaper vanished in time for her to see a dark, plush tail vanishing into the open air vent.

“You’re not making our lives easier,” she called after the cat, and then added to herself, “at least we have time to close the vents before lodgers start showing up.” She leaned her head back and said, “Resume projection.”

Ilgai re-appeared, and the snow started falling again.

ARRIVAL

There, ahead of the ship it lay! Brigadoon, enchanted refuge at the edge of space! Brigadoon, whose glimmering form lay ahead of us, given a misty halo by the Carina Nebula! And my hands did sweat as the ship docked, and my hands did tremble as I opened the door and stepped forward into a new world.

And then did Ariadne, dark of eye and dark of humor elbow me aside, saying,

“Could you not stand in the doorway? We’ve got shit to move here!”

Downcast I stood aside, and let our own lightning elemental sweep by, searing the world around her as she fled for the wires and conduits that welcomed her rage.

Then did Ebb Spacedragon, steadfast and true, roll forward in her gleaming carriage and lay a hand upon my shoulder. Strength flooded into me once more as she gazed upon me and said,

“I don’t think she even remembers her first time on a space station. Take your time, and if you’re still mad about it, put something snippy in the blog.”

And then she was gone, rolling down the jetty, followed by our chuckling comrades, and then by me. All of us were hushed as we entered the vast hall into which the jetties led, and the silence of ten thousand tons of empty rooms and hallways washed over us. My heart racing, I walked to the dormant fountain that ran the length of the room, slumbering in wait for us. I ran my hand along the smooth stone as I felt the vastness of our home spreading out around me.

Then pain! Fearful, stabbing pain, like needles in my hand. I cried out and leapt away from the cursed fountain, glancing back in terror at the source of my torment. There, crouching upon the stone was a dread beast, with daggers for teeth, and needles for claws, its tail lashing as its evil, slitted eyes gazed up at me.

“Gregg,” I cried. “Did you not swear your furry pets would leave me be? Were they not to remain in your room where they would not shed everywhere?”

“Sorry, Eagun, I just felt like they deserved a chance to explore too, yeah?”

“The pact,” said I, “has been broken, and now there will be much difficulty ere we can repair it!”

“You know damned well I never agreed to keep them locked in my quarters. Don’t worry, I’ll help with keeping the place fur-free. I don’t want any getting into the reactor center. You’d be surprised how much damage a decent tuft of fur can cause.”

“I dare say,” I replied, “but can it even be done? Some surprises are best left in the imagination!”

“I’ve had cats in space stations for years. We need positive pressure in the center anyway to keep any other contaminants out. Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.”

And with that he was gone, his belongings floating after him.

“We all know what we’re doing!” cried Lisa. She approached the dread beast and sat on the fountain next to it. “That’s why we’re here, right? Eight, Ebb, and Gregg put a lot of thought into who it would take to run this place! I’m so excited to get started!” She held her finger before its fanged maw with reckless courage as it craned its neck up, and ran the side of its face along her long, silver nail. “Honestly Eagun, I know we haven’t known each other very long, but I can’t believe you don’t like Erwin! He’s such a friendly kitty!”

“Spare me your hollow cheer, Provisioner Tambridge. Not only will my first expedition into space be plagued by vicious beasts, but I will assuredly die in a fur-fueled conflagration, far from any world I’ve known.”

“Eag-”

“Why, O Why,” I sighed, “could our Mattersmith not have had sensible, furless, sessile pets like Good Anansi?”

“I like you, Eagun, but don’t drag me or my teachers into this,” said Anansi, and he crept through a doorway and down the hall to his new lair.

With grins suppressed and eyebrows raised, my companions followed, leaving me alone with my thoughts. The beast rolled before me in the fountain, displaying its fearsome armaments as it stretched out on its back.

“And so,” I said “Begins our new life on Brigadoon, Space Station in the Mists!”