“Welcome to Cylinder. You must be the Dolanoff Family.”
As they followed Rick, helmets in hand, a voice filled the elevator they’d entered. A broad black arrow pointed the direction of down. Raina and Alexi bumbled around while the children became instantly acclimated to the fractional Gs found this close to the axis. Rick waved them into standing positions next to him. “Oh hey, Janette. Yeah, this is the famous Alexi Dolanoff and his beautiful family.” He nodded his head as he pressed the number five on the panel. “I hope you don’t mind me using your first name, sir. We’ve all been anxious to have you onboard.”
The elevator began to descend. Starting at zero, the designated shells of the station were spaced every one-hundred meters, gravity would be greatest at level 5.
“Are you one of those artifactual things the shuttle told us about?” Alsatia occupied herself by jumping up and down as their weight increased with the distance from the axis.
“Hello there, Alsatia. Did I say that right? I’m such a stickler for names.” Janette pretended to clear her throat. “Yes indeed, I am one of those artilects, but we, Jimmy and I, are so much more than just artificial intellects.”
Petr could feel the pressure in his boots grow; the feeling of his suit hanging off his shoulders and hips. After days of weightlessness, the reorganization of his organs in his gut, the heaviness of his head and limbs returned in a comforting but distracting way. He dropped his helmet. “Oops, sorry.”
“You feeling alright there, Petr?” Janette asked.
“Uh, yeah. I didn’t expect, I don’t know, the sagging feeling. And the vertigo, I guess.”
Alsatia quit her bouncing. “Wow, I feel like a ton of bricks.”
“Please continue, Janette,” said Raina, leaning back against the wall for support against the growing weight and the Coriolis effect, like that of a strange carnival ride.
“Ah, yes. Spin-life can be so disorienting. Though I try to understand, I can only imagine.” They’d reached half-G on their way to the three-quarters gravity level 5 would provide. “Jimmy and I are rather like your captains on an ocean cruise. Basically, Jimmy manages the station, the ship, and I work with the people. But I’m just stating what Mr. Dolanoff already knows.”
Petr, who’d been watching the gravity numbers climb on the readout above the selection panel, looked up to his father, perplexed.
“I didn’t want to diminish the wonderment, son.” He removed his gloves, formed a fist and lightly bumped Petr’s shoulder. “I think you might know a bit more than I, Janette. Maybe you could point out how we might get around while we’re here?”
“My pleasure, sir.” On the wall next to the sliding doors a map of Cylinder appeared. “Let’s see. I’ll start simple, just to be sure. The down direction means you’re moving away or out from zero-G. Up is moving towards zero-G. If your walk in-spin, that is, with the direction of rotation, you’ll feel yourself getting heavier. In that direction, east is to your right, west to your left. With me so far?”
“It’s like a big hamster wheel in space, right?”
“Good analogy, Alsatia. And everyone but me and Jimmy are the hamsters.”
Petr followed along as Janette highlighted portions of the diagram. “Is it true that you get lighter if you run, I guess, out-spin?”
“You’ve arrived at level five. If you could give a demonstration…”
The doors opened to an atrium the size of an opera house. The Dolanoff’s cautiously stepped out and stood gawking. Overhead, more than thirty meter up, the superstructure was painted a mat white but was currently bathed in a vivid sky blue light. Before them, rows of planters sported trees, shrubs and gardens overflowing with greenery. To either side, the curve of the outer shell rose enough to give them the sense that they stood at the bottom of a valley.
“I’m sure you won’t have trouble getting about,” Rick started, “but let’s practice. First I’ll answer Petr’s question.”
Rick walked ahead, east between two low planters filled knee-high grass. He brushed the tops as he went. “We’ve even got livestock onboard.” Once he reached an intersection he stopped and turned right, out-spin, backed up several paces, sprinted forward and, in what Petr could only describe as the leap of a gazelle, launched himself easily clearing five meters in distance. “You’re right, Petr. While moving against the spin, gravity drops.”
He returned and hooked a finger over his shoulder. “This way to Carousel.”
“That was amazing.” Raina said.
“Thank you.” He turned and managed to keep walking backwards. “One more thing about moving about.” He spun back around and pointed left. “In-spin,” he announced. He pointed right. “Out-spin.” He then pointed forward as they worked their way between stands of aspen trees. “This way is side-spin. Now.” He stopped and pointed to his feet. “When I take a step straight along the axis, what happens is that Cylinder rotates beneath my foot, just a little.”
“This is important.” Janette’s voice came from somewhere, everywhere. “Oh, yes, I’m always available, Alsatia. But I’m no eavesdropper. Anytime you want me to be quiet and ignore your conversations, just say my name three times. The same technique works in reverse, too. Now, Rick was getting to an important part.”
“Thanks, Janette. Moving side-spin can be dangerous. The faster you move the more you have to compensate. If I did that jump moving along the length of Cylinder? I’d have ended up landing in a patch of petunias. That’s the Coriolis effect. This ain’t Kansas, as they say.”
The group eventually entered a section of the station that felt more like a hotel. Above the entry way, an airtight set of doors, A garish marquee announced ‘Carousel’.
“These are your rooms. Your belongings will be along soon.” Rick had stopped before suite 2-21. “One last thing before I leave you. You are very safe here. We have never had a critical accident. But, to be sure you can always know where you are and can reach out, on your beds you’ll find replacements for your phones that you left behind on Earth. These are special, Cylinder phones.” He peeled back a zipped flap on the left forearm. He held up a familiar rectangular screen that had been strapped on. “You two will like these.” He nodded to Petr and Alsatia.
“Alright, you guys.” Janette was back. “There are closets for your suits and helmets. Keep them safe. This is space after…”
An unsettling shudder rumbled up through their boots. Petr expected some dismissal of the anomaly. But the look on Rick’s face spoke otherwise.
“Janette…” He began.
“I’ll take care of them, Rick.”
That was the last time they would see Rick and his graceful self as he dashed down the hall running out-spin.