Julia landed softly on a glossy white floor. It was so clean she could see her refection in it. She was not pleased with the sight. She was pleased to be fully dressed. Byron landed beside her and caught Lilana before she landed belly first beside him. They were in a relatively small room with one dark entry arch. A strange glow illuminated the room; none of them could locate an obvious source. Julia fought off the urge to vomit and stood. Byron helped Lilana to her feet. They all looked at the arch way as a light began to materialize before it. Soon they realized it was the form of a person. Byron wanted to comment on how Star Trek it all was, but didn’t. The image formed into a generic woman. It did not necessarily resemble a human or any other race, but seemed female.
“Welcome to Echelon.” It spoke in a soft monotone voice. “Is this your first visit to our world?”
“Yes, it is.” Julia said in wonder.
“Excellent! My name is Eada and I will be your guide for the next few hours.” Eada turned and the dark arch blinked open. At first the light blinded them. As they adjusted a massive city stretched out before them. Towers of the city reached high enough to touch the dark blue clouds. They themselves seemed to be on a very high level of a tall sky scraper. Small vehicles zipped and zoomed in between the towers like lightning. Directly beyond the arch, beings of all kinds came and went along walk ways wrapped around the tower. Some were following holograms like Eada. Others were alone and seemed eager to get places.
“Echelon is considered the core relay world. It is estimated one in every forty relay jumps leads you to Echelon. Echelon also contains the highest concentration of relay entrances and exits of any yet discovered world. Echelon is home to the Trans-Relay Trade Union and the main recruiting center for Vanguard. Any questions so far?”
“I have one.” Byron studied Eada. “This exit relay is way up in this tall building. What happened before the tower was built?”
“A common question. Prior to the establishment of the collection towers, a great many visitors to Echelon perished as a result of the long drop to the planet’s floor. The now extinct native population of Echelon built the first pillars reaching up to the relays. Several memorials have been erected to remember those who died from such bad luck.”
“Bad luck…” Byron said. “How high are we?”
“Judging by your language, dialect and tone I estimate you originate from Relay 11281984. Locally known as Earth?” Eada stood plainly without inflection. Byron shook his head yes. “Using your system of measurements, that puts us 8708 feet or 2654.21 meters above surface.”
“That’s over a mile…” Byron took Lilana’s hand. “I hate heights.”
“I have taken the opportunity to scan your vitals.” Eada began again. “You are all malnourished and the young lady is carrying a fetus. Might I suggest your first stop be the medical bay?”
“That sounds like a good idea Eada, thank you.” Julia put on a fake smile.
“Excellent, follow me.” They all followed Eada as she floated out of the small room and began down the walk way. Byron was very carful to stay close to the wall, staying far away from the edge of the building even though there was a guard rail. The horizon was filled with other towers. Many of them flashed time and time again as more travelers arrived on Echelon. Byron thought they looked like bulb flashes at the super bowl half-time show. Lilana grew a smile at the wonders beheld. Never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined such a place. Julia followed behind, seemingly oblivious to everything around. Her mind remained elsewhere. Eada lead them to an elevator and they all packed in with a variety of other strange creatures. The door to the elevator almost shut when a blue hand thrust its way through to stop closure. The rest of the blue figure pulled the door back open and stuffed into the chamber. The figure flashed a toothy grin at Julia from under his hood. Then doors shut and the elevator began to descend.
Seconds past and the doors reopened. Julia never felt movement. Eada moved off the elevator and they followed. Julia noticed the blue man also exited on this floor. He quickly disappeared into a crowd. This level of the tower was much more closed off from the outside. Only a few windows reminded them they were still hundreds of feet in the sky. The halls of this space were wide and filled with beings from every corner of the relays. Eada lead them through all of this and down a long hall. They eventually reached glass double doors which whooshed open to reveal the medical bay. The area was full of curtains. Eada took them all to their own curtained off area before disappearing without notice. Moments later a tall yellow skin creature fumbled through the curtains opening. It had a small beak for a nose wore a white lab coat.
“Afternoon,” it said in perfect English. “I’m Doctor Riley and Eada tells me you have just arrived. I’ve looked over the scans she did. I bet you’re all really hungry?”
“Very, now that you mention it.” Julia realized just how little they’d all eaten other the three week boat journey.
“Understandable.” Doctor Riley sat on a stool. “I would like to examine her.” He pointed at Lilana. “Jumping can be tough on the unborn.”
“What are you going to do?” Lilana said. Julia and Byron stood dumbfounded. How could she have learned their language so quickly?
“Just a routine check up. I gather you didn’t get many of those on your world?”
“No, not really.” Lilana stopped. “How do you understand me?”
“Ha! Eada forgot to mention the translator!” Doctor Riley laughed. “That explains the white faces of your friends here then. These curtained off areas offer a small translation zone. It’s all very complicated but it basically manipulates sound waves.”
“It only works in here?” Lilana seemed depressed.
“You can buy portable versions, but they are rather expensive.” Riley took out a handheld scanning device. “Would you two step out for a moment while I look her and the baby over?” He looked at Julia and Byron. Julia stepped out of the curtain. Byron went to follow but Lilana clutched his hand before he could.
“He can stay; I’d like to talk to him a bit before we have to leave the translator.” Lilana smiled at Byron. Outside Julia stood watching all the other curtains. Figures moved around behind them. She began to think about Wesley and Avery. The whole turn of events happened so fast. It almost seemed like a dream. This seemed like a dream. She hugged herself as she realized how cold the air was. Julia turned and looked out the door of the medical bay and spotted the blue man. They made eye contact quickly before he ducked away around the corner. She knew he’d been watching her. Julia walked across isle to an empty curtain and hide inside. She pulled it open just slightly so she could see the entrance of the medical bay. After a few moments the blue man returned. He moved slowly by the door and looked in. Not seeing Julia anywhere he passed inside and took a seat in the waiting area. Julia stood back from the curtain and breathed heavily. Adrenaline began to pump through her veins as she realized this man was after them. She needed to get back to Byron and Lilana without being seen.
Julia looked out the curtain again. The blue man was looking at a magazine. She stepped out the back of the curtain and dropped to the floor. She crawled across the floor to the other side and stood behind the curtain. She checked to see the man, who was still looking at the magazine and then ducked back into the curtain. She found Byron and Lilana passionately kissing. Doctor Riley sat on his stool. He looked at Julia and rolled his eyes. Julia cleared her throat.
“All done here?” Julia glared at Byron. He jerked up and looking embarrassed.
“Everything looks good with Lilana and the baby.” Byron said. Lilana just smiled an held Byron’s hand.
“Good. Doctor Riley, is there a back entrance to this place?” Julia feigned calm.
“There is, but it’s employees only. Is something wrong?” Riley stood.
“We are being followed. A blue man in the waiting room.” Riley walked out of the curtain and looked into the waiting room. He checked a chart at another curtain and walked back to them.
“That is Wasalt! Are you sure he is following you?” Riley seemed very concerned.
“I’m sure of it.”
“Eada?” The doctor spoke into thin air. “Eada?” He growled. “As I feared, Wasalt must have hacked Eada to find you. It seems you are right.”
“Who is he?” Byron said as he snuck a look at Wasalt.
“Wasalt is an assassin. A hired gun. If he is after you there is only one reason for it.” Riley took a handheld device out of his pocket. He furiously typed on its screen until he was satisfied. Then made an upward pulling motion with his fingers and a map was projected from the screen into 3D space. “We are here.” He pointed. “This is the back door and the nearest elevator is here. Your best bet is to head for the slums on the city floor. It’s easy to hide down there and a lot of people know and dislike Wasalt. Another option is to head up and grab a relay off world. I’ll go cause a distraction while you get away.” Riley produced a vial of dark green liquid from an over head cabinet and drank it down. His face cringed at the taste.
“You’re too kind.” Julia kissed Doctor Riley on the cheek.
“I wish I could do more.” Doctor Riley left the curtain and marched to the waiting room. Julia watched as he approached Wasalt and began to speak with him. Wasalt seemed to be telling to Doctor he was just waiting for someone and did not need any assistance. Then without warning Doctor Riley keeled over and began to violently vomit in Wasalt’s lap. The green liquid had done its job. Wasalt jumped from the chair and began to rage at Doctor Riley. He wiped the regurgitation off and looked back through the infirmary. The curtain Julia, Byron and Lilana had been in was drawn back and empty.