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Home > Station Eleven(15)

Station Eleven(15)
Author: Emily St. John Mandel

“Sure,” she said. He’s been saying this ever since she registered with the temp agency, but what she hasn’t told him is that she went from temporary to permanent at the end of her sixth week on the job. Leon likes her. He appreciates how calm she always is, he says, how unflappable. He even introduces her as such, on the rare occasions when he’s in the office: “And this is my unflappable assistant, Miranda.” This pleases her more than she likes to admit to herself.

“I’m going to sell those new paintings,” Pablo said. He was half-naked in the bed, lying like a starfish. After she got up he always liked to see how much of the bed he could sleep on at once. “You know there’s a payday coming, right?”

“Definitely,” Miranda said, giving up on the blouse and trying to find a T-shirt that might look halfway professional under her twenty-dollar blazer.

“Almost no one from that last show sold anything,” he said, talking mostly to himself now.

“I know it’s temporary.” But this is her secret: she doesn’t want it to end. What she can never tell Pablo, because he disdains all things corporate, is that she likes being at Neptune Logistics more than she likes being at home. Home is a small dark apartment with an ever-growing population of dust bunnies, the hallway narrowed by Pablo’s canvases propped up against the walls, an easel blocking the lower half of the living room window. Her workspace at Neptune Logistics is all clean lines and recessed lighting. She works on her never-ending project for hours at a time. In art school they talked about day jobs in tones of horror. She never would have imagined that her day job would be the calmest and least cluttered part of her life.

She receives five emails from Thea this morning, forwarded flight and hotel confirmations for Leon’s upcoming trip to Asia. Miranda spends some time on the Asian travel itinerary. Japan, then Singapore, then South Korea. She likes looking up maps and imagining traveling to these places herself. She has still never left Canada. With Pablo not working or selling any paintings, she’s only making minimum interest payments on her student loans and she can barely cover their rent. She inserts the Singapore-to-Seoul flight information into the itinerary, double-checks the other confirmation numbers, and realizes that she’s run out of tasks for the day. It’s nine forty-five a.m.

Miranda reads the news for a while, spends some time looking at a map of the Korean peninsula, realizes that she’s been staring blankly at the screen and thinking of the world of her project, her graphic novel, her comic-book series, her whatever-it-is that she’s been working on since she graduated from art school. She retrieves her sketchbook from its hiding space under the files in her top desk drawer.

There are several important characters in the Station Eleven project, but the hero is Dr. Eleven, a brilliant physicist who bears a striking physical resemblance to Pablo but is otherwise nothing like him. He is a person from the future who never whines. He is dashing and occasionally sarcastic. He doesn’t drink too much. He is afraid of nothing but has poor luck with women. He took his name from the space station where he lives. A hostile civilization from a nearby galaxy has taken control of Earth and enslaved Earth’s population, but a few hundred rebels managed to steal a space station and escape. Dr. Eleven and his colleagues slipped Station Eleven through a wormhole and are hiding in the uncharted reaches of deep space. This is all a thousand years in the future.

Station Eleven is the size of Earth’s moon and was designed to resemble a planet, but it’s a planet that can chart a course through galaxies and requires no sun. The station’s artificial sky was damaged in the war, however, so on Station Eleven’s surface it is always sunset or twilight or night. There was also damage to a number of vital systems involving Station Eleven’s ocean levels, and the only land remaining is a series of islands that once were mountaintops.

There has been a schism. There are people who, after fifteen years of perpetual twilight, long only to go home, to return to Earth and beg for amnesty, to take their chances under alien rule. They live in the Undersea, an interlinked network of vast fallout shelters under Station Eleven’s oceans. There are three hundred of them now. In the scene Miranda’s presently sketching, Dr. Eleven is on a boat with his mentor, Captain Lonagan.

Dr. Eleven: These are perilous waters. We’re passing over an Undersea gate.

Captain Lonagan: You should try to understand them. (The next panel is a close-up of his face.) All they want is to see sunlight again. Can you blame them?

After these two panels, she decides, she needs a full-page spread. She’s already painted the image, and when she closes her eyes she can almost see it, clipped to her easel at home. The seahorse is a massive rust-colored creature with blank eyes like saucers, half animal, half machine, the blue light of a radio transmitter glowing on the side of its head. Moving silent through the water, beautiful and nightmarish, a human rider from the Undersea astride the curve of its spine. Deep blue water up to the top inch of the painting. On the water’s surface, Dr. Eleven and Captain Lonagan in their rowboat, small under the foreign constellations of deep space.

On the day she sees Arthur again, Pablo calls her on the office line in the afternoon. She’s a few sips into her four p.m. coffee, sketching out a series of panels involving Dr. Eleven’s efforts to thwart the Undersea’s latest plot to sabotage the station reactors and force a return to Earth. She knows as soon as she hears Pablo’s voice that it’s going to be a bad call. He wants to know what time she’ll be home.

“Sometime around eight.”

“What I don’t understand,” Pablo says, “is what you’re doing for these people.”

She winds the phone cord around her finger and looks at the scene she was just working on. Dr. Eleven is confronted by his Undersea nemesis on a subterranean walkway by Station Eleven’s main reactor. A thought bubble: But what insanity is this?

“Well, I put together Leon’s travel itineraries.” There have been a number of bad calls lately, and she’s been trying to view them as opportunities to practice being patient. “I handle his expense reports and send emails for him sometimes. There’s the occasional message. I do the filing.”

“And that takes up your entire day.”

“Not at all. We’ve talked about this, pickle. There’s a lot of downtime, actually.”

“And what do you do in that downtime, Miranda?”

“I work on my project, Pablo. I’m not sure why your tone’s so nasty.” But the trouble is, she doesn’t really care. There was a time when this conversation would have reduced her to tears, but now she swivels in her chair to look out at the lake and thinks about moving trucks. She could call in sick to work, pack up her things, and be gone in a few hours. It is sometimes necessary to break everything.

“… twelve-hour days,” he’s saying. “You’re never here. You’re gone from eight a.m. till nine at night and then you even go in on Saturdays sometimes, and I’m supposed to just … oh, I don’t know, Miranda, what would you say if you were me?”

“Wait,” she says, “I just realized why you called me on the office line.”

“What?”

“You’re verifying that I’m here, aren’t you? That’s why you didn’t call me on my cell.” A shiver of anger, unexpectedly deep. She is paying the entire rent on their apartment, and he’s verifying that she’s actually at her job.

“The hours you work.” He lets this hang in the air till it takes on the weight of accusation.

“Well,” she says—one thing she is very good at is forcing her voice to remain calm when she’s angry—“as I’ve mentioned before, Leon was very clear when he hired me. He wants me at my desk until seven p.m. when he’s traveling, and if he’s here, I’m here. He texts me when he comes in on weekends, and then I have to be here too.”

“Oh, he texts you.”

The problem is that she’s colossally bored with the conversation, and also bored with Pablo, and with the kitchen on Jarvis Street where she knows he’s standing, because he only makes angry phone calls from home—one of the things they have in common is a mutual distaste for sidewalk weepers and cell-phone screamers, for people who conduct their messier personal affairs in public—and the kitchen gets the best reception of anywhere in the apartment.

“Pablo, it’s just a job. We need the money.”

“It’s always money with you, isn’t it?”

“This is what’s paying our rent. You know that, right?”

“Are you saying I’m not pulling my weight, Miranda? Is that what you’re saying?”

It isn’t possible to continue to listen to this, so she sets the receiver gently on the cradle and finds herself wondering why she didn’t notice earlier—say, eight years ago, when they first started dating—that Pablo is mean. His email arrives within minutes. The subject header is WTF. Miranda, it reads, what’s going on here? It seems like you’re being weirdly hostile and kind of passive-aggressive. What gives?

She closes it without responding and stands by the glass wall for a while to look out at the lake. Imagining the water rising until it covers the streets, gondolas moving between the towers of the financial district, Dr. Eleven on a high arched bridge. She’s standing here when her cell phone rings. She doesn’t recognize the number.

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