The captain stumbled only a little as the rail upon which he leaned disappeared. They, all three, looked around the new setting with interest while Miltin quickly cleaned up his tools and tinkering. Technically, the Mooses had shifted to an internal space, but the room was so big, with a ceiling so high, that it developed its own weather patterns. The light rain falling all around could be no bad thing, considering the neat rows of greenery growing all around them. Their immediate surroundings included a respectable selection of fruit trees, but as they looked in different directions, they could see grains, greens, berry patches, and rows of roots of both familiar and foreign patterns plentiful to support quite a large population.
“So, I did my part and got us here,” Monroe said after a good look around. “What is the next step in this rescuing operation?”
Monroe glanced at his companions, and they looked at each other. “First we need to figure out what is actually going on and why,” Miltin said.
“Then we need to help everyone get home,” Captain Milty added with a firm nod.
“Okay, that makes sense, but how? What do we do?” Monroe asked when it became obvious the others had nothing else to say.
“We should find the ship’s bridge,” Captain Milty suggested. “That is where the ship’s officers control things and make the decisions.”
“We should find the ship’s main engineering section,” Miltin countered. “That is where the ship’s engineers make sure everything does what it should, where they understand how things do what they do and why.”
“So what we really need, is to find some people to talk to,” Monroe interpreted, stripping both ideas down to their cores. Miltin thought a moment then shrugged while the Captain gave another decisive nod.
“What sort of space would have the most people not immediately engaged in running the ship?” Monroe asked, looking around again, but this time looking through their immediate surroundings and into the spaces beyond.
“The ship’s mess,” Miltin and Captain Milty responded in almost perfect unison.
“Oh yes, where the sailors eat and spend their free time,” Monroe said, and started walking off under the trees.
Caught by surprise, the Captain and the Engineer had to hurry to catch up with Monroe’s longer strides. Monroe did not seem to notice, with his eyes focused on something the other two could not see, but he waited until they caught up to speak again “I have always wondered about that word. Why do they call where sailors eat a mess? I mean, I know some people are sloppier eaters than others, but I would not expect sailors to be any less neat than anyone else, unless they were trying to eat stew during a storm or something like that, which can hardly be held against them.”
“Now that you put it that way, it does seem rather odd,” Miltin agreed. Monroe and Miltin glanced at the captain. They were only part time sailors. Captain Milty was the professional, and his fascination with sailing predated the acquisition of his own ship by a long stretch.
“‘Ship’s Mess’ has nothing to do with sailors’ table manners or lack thereof. English just borrowed a term from another language that kind of sounded like ‘Mess’ and shifted it to the more familiar word,” Captain Milty explained.
“So it did not come from a long, secret tradition of organised food fights, then?” Monroe asked. The others could not quite tell, but Monroe sounded a bit disappointed.
“Sorry Monroe, but no. On a long voyage, with chances to reprovision limited to ports, the sailors would not have any food to waste that way,” Captain Milty pointed out, gently. Then he shifted subject to the more immediate and asked, “Where are we going?”
“The layers, or decks, of this ship do not seem to be connected in the ordinary way. They are not like the rooms and floors of a house touching wall to wall, or ceiling to floor. Instead they all occupy the same bit of space, just a tiny bit to one side along a path in space most people can not access, arranged more like a big collection of giant Moose pockets all stacked together. Consequently, they do not really have doors or corridors between. Instead, there is a transport system weaving them all together, rather like our original, fixed position slides, only faster, and not nearly as much fun. I can feel the nearest access point this way. It is not far,” Monroe explained.
When they found the ‘access point’ it did not look like much. A low square platform of a dull, metallic alloy rose out of a bed otherwise densely populated by the feathery tops of well-grown carrots.
“This is it?” Captain Milty asked, lifting one eyebrow.
“Fascinating,” Miltin said. The small moose surged forward to crawl ever and around the platform. He poked, peered, and prodded, trying to decipher how it functioned, but it did not reveal its secrets readily. The surface had no decorations, no access ports or panels. Miltin found no controls or antennae. In fact, the only marks that showed on the smooth, cool surface were a series of grid patterns on the top surface. Each pattern covered the surface with uniform squares. The smaller the square size, the more shallowly the pattern was inscribed from faint scratches for Miltin’s sized individuals to stand within to four squares big enough for a family of elephants that cut through the platform nearly down to the dirt, yet so narrowly that they were nearly invisible.
Monroe and Captain Milty watched Miltin crawling around, thoroughly enjoying himself, until he started pulling tools and equipment out of the air and they felt compelled to return him to their main goal. “You can come back and explore how the builders intended the transport system to work some other time,” Monroe said, bringing Miltin back to the moment, “For anyone used to accessing your slides, using this system’s pathways to skip from this room to the mess should be no challenge.”
Miltin’s lower lip might, just might, have slipped out a bit for a moment before he stored his equipment away again. “You are right, of course,” Miltin conceded. “Everyone stand in a square your size and we will be off.” Miltin jumped to the platform in one long, easy bound, and took up station in the center of the far side. For reasons of their own, Captain Milty settled in the center square, with both pooves spanning the deep cuts for the big squares and Monroe settled into one corner, in one of the least incised platform positions. Miltin flicked his poof in an almost negligent sort of wave and the light rain switched off, leaving the three Mooses standing… elsewhere.