And it's here that Sylvie holds court. She cooks, she hosts, she serves,
but most of all she impresses everyone, especially the new comers, with
her clairvoyance. Yes, Sylvie never gets an order wrong because she
knows, quite literally, what you want to eat before you even sit down
at the table or counter.
"Hey, Aunt Sylvie" they all call her that "what
do I want today?"
Playing along, she puts her hand to her head dramatically and in a
whiskey-soaked voice announces, "I'm seeing fries and a soy burger
with a Coke, hold the ice."
Of course, she's right, and the kids giggle and laugh when she adds
in a basso profundo, "Sylvie knows! She always knows!" After
which she usually turns her bulk towards the kitchen where she or one
of her faithful staff whips up the meal.
"Go ahead, ask her," some old timer will encourage a newbie.
"So Sylvania . . ."
"Please, please, it's Sylvie."
"OK, Sylvie. I feel weird asking, but . . ."
"Listen they all do it," she launches into her machinegun
spiel: "They wanna see if Sylvie's ever gonna get an order wrong.
I know what you want; I see it up here," pointing to her fabulous
hair, "so why bother writing it down? Do you see a PalmPad? Has
anyone ever seen me with any kind of recording device? Have I ever,
ever, ever gotten an order wrong in all these years? Never. Please,
"How'd you know my . . ."
"Please, Tom may I call you that? Sylvie knows.
So relax and enjoy the salmon with dill sauce. And with it you'd like
the oven browns with extra gravy, even though your doctor has warned
you. Tsk, tsk." She winks and turns on her black patent leather
This is always quite the sight: All that weight supported on apparent
pinpoints. Of course, it's a great costume, a magnificently contrived
illusion: the heels, the fishnet pantyhose, the sky blue waitress outfit
with the skirt way too many inches above the knees, the pointed rhinestone
glasses, and that shock of cotton candy pink hair swirled into a hive
so lacquered it would crack off if you touched it. Central casting couldn't
have come up with a better cliché of the 1950's waitress-and
Sylvie knows it.
She's even extended the illusion to the canteen itself, using the Base
replicators to whip up red-checkered table cloths, revolving leather-topped
bar stools for the counter, not to mention the yellow and red plastic
mustard and ketchup containers on every café-sized table.
Quite simply, Sylvie loves her role of Canteen Momma and unofficial
Until just now, perhaps.
Today, the latest shuttle takes returning personnel back to Pluto Base
and from there on a freighter back to Earth a nearly 8 billion
mile journey in total that takes over a year even with the latest fusion
and plasma technology. It's hard to say goodbye to people you've lived
with for two years at a time, the length of most tours of duty. But
it's also an adjustment to get used to the hundred or so freshmen getting
off the boat, teams of young scientists doing research on this frozen
outpost at the edge of the so-called Oort Cloud. They're naturally scared
being so incredibly far from their homes on Earth, Mars, or Europa;
a place where a simple message on the HyperNet can take over 75 minutes
to get to its destination and a reply just as long. A place where the
sun is nothing more than a laser bright star among millions. A place
where excursions to the surface mean entering a landscape of inexpressible,
incomprehensible bleakness and cold. A place that takes over ten thousand
years to orbit the sun just once. A place named for the Inuit goddess
of the sea who lives angrily at the bottom of Earth's Arctic Ocean.
Face it, a place where every fact seems to be measured in some extreme-coldest,
farthest, darkest, and definitely most grim.
No wonder crazy, fabulous Sylvie who arrived from her miserable life
on Earth a decade and a half ago is seen as the best thing-dare we say
it? since sliced bread.
Her ability to read minds, to know and feel things, was discovered
when she attended grade school. She just seemed to recognize automatically
what people felt, what they were thinking, what they were planning to
do. Unfortunately, early on Sylvie we'll call her that for now;
she's had many identities over the years got in trouble when
her natural penchant for being outgoing and fun-loving prevented her
from keeping her bits and pieces of acquired information to herself.
She would innocently blurt things out and inadvertently cause a ruckus.
It was one thing to say, "O, Mrs. Brown, you're thinking about
going on vacation next week but you don't know how to tell your husband."
It was quite another when she'd add, "But Mr. Brown won't mind;
he'll have more time to spend with his girlfriend then."
As she grew older, these indiscretions were kept more under control,
but people were still wary in her presence, afraid that her sixth sense
would somehow reveal something they didn't want known. Sylvie came to
appreciate that people liked to have their secrets, their private thoughts
who doesn't? but that such privacy seemed almost impossible