Chapter II: Arrival At The City
There's nothing all that remarkable to say about the trip down to Salvador Nuevo, the "City of the New Savior" around of the Mount of Olives. It was what you might call a typically boring flight. Well, it was at least boring for me. Ryan had had the foresight to bring along a stash of comic books—sorry, graphic novels—to keep himself occupied, and Jessie had made sure to get a window seat so that she could experiment with her newest digital camera toys. I had nothing to do but scour for a 'Net uplink only to discover such conveniences are reserved for those passengers not flying 6th class—the next best thing to baggage.
Desperate for something to take my mind and body off the fact that we were crossing four time zones I hazarded a look at the music and video selection the plane had available on its local network. I should not have been disappointed that all I could find was the usual mass-market gibberish, but jet lag was already starting to do odd things to my mind. About the only thing I could do to break the monotony of the flight was to drink plenty of fluids so I could make frequent visits to the bathroom.
It is here that I must correct one of my previous statements; something interesting did happen on the flight, something that I was both a witness to and partly the instigator of. It started while I was hobbling back to my seat after having made one of my business trips up front. No sooner had I cleared the stall when the plane hit a rough chunk of sky, causing the floor of the aircraft drop out from under me. The floor was a sentimental thing, however, and so only forgot me for a moment before rushing back up to give me a hard, flat, cheap-carpeting embrace directed to my head. A stewardess was kind enough to strap me into the nearest seat and disappear, probably to cleanse herself. After all, she had touched a 6th class passenger without knowing where it'd been.
The empty seat she had strapped me to had a neighbor, a man about half my age who apparently had too much to live for, as evidenced by his nervous mutterings and odd squeals every time the plane did anything unpleasant. With the fasten-seatbelt sign on and the stewardesses packing tazers I was unable to escape to better company, so I had to put up with him in addition to the throbbing in my head from the floor's enthusiastic greetings. I might have had the willpower to ignore him had the accident not occurred.
My memory on the subject is fuzzy, so I'm not certain what specific explanation the captain gave for the accident. It could have just as easily been a drop in the pressure of something as it could have been an alien invasion that caused it. Whatever the reason, the end result was that one of our engines had to be shut off. We still, the captain assured us, had three engines operating smoothly and were only an hour out of Salvador Nuevo, and so we were going to continue on as planned. He said it with the calm, cool, dry precision of a detached professional; a voice dull and uninterested enough to drop enraged beasts into comas from across a room. This of course propelled my neighbor to a new level of hysterics. Right there he made it his life's ambition to outdo every bit of nervousness he had displayed before. Instead of squeals, he now screamed, and instead of mumbling he kept assaulting the attendants with desperate pleas for our odds of survival. After awhile, the crew just stopped coming near him, and so I was the only one left to bear the burden, which I did most admirably until, like any man would, I reached my breaking point.
"How far do you think the engines will take us?!" He had asked me in what I believe was an attempt to garner some reassurance. His screams and constant questioning had not helped with my aching head, and so I didn't feel like letting him garner anything.
"Let's see," I replied in a sickeningly enthusiastic voice while pretending to do some calculations on my fingers. "Lucky us! We've got just enough engine power left to make it all the way to the crash site! In fact, I bet we can get there at least an hour before the medics come and it gets crowded!"
It was just a spontaneous outburst on my part and so I did not have any expectations for the result of it. But if I had I'm fairly sure that the last thing I would have expected was to see a look of serene calmness pass over the man's face after seizing up so hard a few of his ribs could be heard to crack. It was an eerie kind of calmness too, as though he had somehow managed to reach Nirvana. I checked for all the important vital signs and, having found that they were there, called a stewardess over. I wanted witnesses for my defense should it have become necessary, but she merely thanked me for finally calming the man down and allowed me to relocate in spite of the fasten-seatbelt light.
Jessie and Ryan had taken note of my absence and were in the middle of speculating that I had gone to the cockpit so I could ram the plane into a mountain for a change of scenery when I squeezed back into my seat. They were only marginally disappointed to see that I hadn't been to the cockpit and made a big show of going back to their usual distractions. I suppose I should have started a conversation, but I don't think it would have been all that productive because it turns out that I had made it back to my seat just in time to watch our approach to Salvador Nuevo.
The specifics of the city itself were nothing new to me; I had come and gone from the place hundreds of times during the course of my Federal Service. However, those instances had always had me sealed in the belly of a military transport, usually during the daytime. To see the city through the expansive windows of a civilian airliner, even in 6th class, is a different experience altogether, especially if you happen to be approaching the city at night, which were well into doing after skipping through so many time zones.
Calling the scene an ocean, or even a river, of light as other observers have done defies the true nature of the city. A sea is singularly flat expanse broken up by cresting waves, and a river is body of water that moves in one direction with a conviction. Salvador Nuevo is both and neither, an almost literal ocean of rivers. From thousands of meters above, the individual illuminations blend, giving the illusion of the city being one luminous organism sustained by the beating arteries of its transportation networks. This, of course, is nothing compared to the Mount of Olives itself, which dominates the skyline of the city proper as well as any other skyline far beyond the expansive city limits because it takes some effort to overlook a structure fifty kilometers high bathed in the glow of spotlights and flood lamps larger than the average mansion.
Funnily enough, those viewing it from ground level usually keep their attention focused firmly on that fifty-kilometer tall section of the structure wedged into the center of the city. The real wonder left out of their minds is that this mountain is just the anchor for a cable and its free-floating superstructure that extends to an even larger trading port in geostationary orbit roughly 160,000 kilometers above the Earth's surface, or about a third of the way to the moon. Granted, this is due to the thick cover of air traffic that lords over the city like some malevolent storm rather than through ignorance of the full wonder in front of them. A person looking up from the ground is more likely to see the underside of a public aerial bus then a patch of sky or the cable itself. For those looking down from the air, however, the cable and its superstructure are easily distinguished by navigational beacons, put there in the event that any aircraft, God forbid, were flown manually into Salvador Nuevo airspace.
It would have been interesting to see the captain sweat while trying to accomplish this, but like a true professional he let the computer do all the work. So, just as the flight was unremarkable—well, mostly unremarkable—so too was the landing. The aerospaceport we exited into was really an emergency strip located in the warehouse district immediately surrounding the base of the Mount. Its purpose was more of a safe haven for space capable craft to steer towards in the event of an accident in orbit. As such there was no welcoming committee when we arrived, nor was there much evidence of any human life aside from ourselves.
The local population in that specific part of the city consisted primarily of automated loaders and light to medium ground transports, and it made getting a ride a difficult and dangerous affair because some of the owners of those AI drivers instruct them to run down anyone attempting to hijack their vehicles. Many of our fellow passengers realized too late that, to a minimal awareness AI, a person standing in the middle of the road waving wildly for their attention looks very much like a hijacker. Their injury was not in vain though, since the medics who arrived to clean up the mess were more than happy to give the rest of us a lift to more organic surroundings.
Ryan had been among those unfortunate few to incur the wrath of an AI driver, but he had gotten away with only a few scratches and one new blood stain to add to the collection he had on his jacket. Insult was added to his injury though when we arrived at our hotel and learned that Thickmann, though he had goofed on letting the three of us run amok, was still on the ball where causing misery was concerned. Oh, we had our rooms reserved all right, but the reservation was set for two weeks later, when we would already be in deep space! We could have caused a huge scene, and I might've gotten on the phone to shout at Jackass for what good it would have done, but our jet lag, which had started as an annoyance, was now full blown and constituted a threat to rational thought.
Here I must make space to thank Kayla Juarez, the clerk with the unenviable task of informing us of what Thickmann had done. Were it not for her Jessie, Ryan, and myself might have done something stupid like wander out into the streets of Salvador Nuevo and look for an open hotel, which would have resulted in our untimely demise—Not from crime, of course, since it is virtually nonexistent in the city, but from commerce. Salvador Nuevo is a bustling trading port, and if you don't keep your wits you will get run over by something—Kayla provided us with medicine to aid in overcoming the jet lag and even let us sleep on the plush furniture of the lobby, provided that we left before her manager showed up in the late morning. I have since learned that she did this service for all the NNYT reporters who come her way as all were forced to do so by Jackass and all were victims of the same reservation trick he pulled on us.
If ever there was a more kind and gentle soul as Kayla Juarez I've yet to meet them. This is why it still saddens me deeply to this day that she died during the height of the Siege of Sol, when the Hibachi actually overran the Mount before the Terran Marines managed exact their vengeance and wrest it from them.
AUTHOR'S NOTE:This chapter might have left some of you with a few burning questions, such as why I would name a alien race after a cheap Japanese grill or why there's been talk of a stairway to heaven when it seems obvious that the Mount of Olives is, in fact, a giant space elevator. All I can say is that things will be clearer in time. ;-)