The Coin Keeper, episode 5: the Big L

Madseur'e's gaze wandered from the place before him, down to his feet, through the panels of glass, and into the infinity of space beyond. The beauty of the stars and planets could not disguise the feeling he had, as if it was all just a vast prison. No bars or bricks, but a prison nonetheless. To have so much beauty, and yet be void of life- the thought was torment to a man who had lived in an orbiting ship his entire life, never able to leave the confines of the station except to enter the shell of another ship, drifting in a tin box, breathing the same air over and over. He felt resentful to those ancestors who, with their warmongering and their insatiable greed for wealth had doomed humanity to this canned, aimless exile. If the only purpose left in life was just to live, what was the point?
"Excuse me," a voice at his ear said softly.
Madseu're looked up, startled out of his thoughts. Ah, it was only the girl seated by him at the table, the engineer Alyana Maryala.
"Er, yes, " he said, "was there something you wanted?" He spread thumb and forefinger across his lip, nervously smoothing his moustache.
"I just wondered," she began, then stopped. "no, you'll think it a silly question..."
"No, no," he replied with an eager smile, as he allowed his eyes to look her over. She was not unattractive, he thought to himself, in fact, quite a pretty young lady.
"Well, actually not so much a question, just wondered if you could tell me some things."
"I could sure try," he offered, sitting up in the chair as he tried to suck in his stomach. After a moment, he gave the effort up and exhaled with a soft snorting laugh to himself. He knew he must have looked foolish, with his chest puffed full of air and his shoulders raised to his ears, but he habitually did that when he was around attractive women. He knew he was overweight, but he desperately hoped someone would look beyond his girth and see the man under all the layers, someone who needed affection just as much as anyone else. "What was it you were wondering?" he asked finally.
"You know I'm pretty new to the station," Alyana began. He nodded, and she continued, "But you've been here quite a while, right? So I just thought maybe you could tell be something about this 'Big L' guy. Who is he exactly? Why is he called 'the Big L'? What's his real name? What is this farewell banquet about, where is he going?"
Madseu’re was silent a moment.
What did anyone know about the Big L? He had been around since Madseu're was too young to remember, but his past remained as mysterious as ever.
"I don't know that i can tell you much more than you already know, but I'll tell what i can," he said at last, sitting back in the chair, and placing his hands on the edge of the table.
Alyana leaned forward with interest. Sancarl and Willheim, who had been listening idly from their places both leaned in as well.
"To his real name and past, i know nothing. He has been commander of the station since before anyone here was born. My father, Angeu're, once told me how the Big L arrived when he- my father, that is, not the Big L- when he was only a small boy himself. It was only just after the Seven Day War had ended and all humanity had retreated from the planet in whatever ships and vessels they could get hold of. All was chaos, madness, disorder. If the Big L had not stepped up from the chaos and emerged as a benevolent leader to organize them all, then we would have died in a few years, and none of us would be sitting here now talking about it. As I say, no one knows where he came from, what country, or who he was; he just appeared one day and set about organizing the fleets of planetary refugees into groups based on their skills, education, and resources, and sending them to stations that could become self-contained, self-sustaining communities. As soon as things began to become more calm and organized, he stepped down and took a position as leader of one station especially, this very ship we sit in now."
Sancarl spoke then from Madeu're's other side. "So old, then, is he? I would have thought him in his early fifties, not nearly as old as you say!"
Madseu're turned to his assistant. "Yes, it seems that before society collapsed, health care and innoculations had reached a high point. Nearly every disease had become treatable, some had even been thought destroyed entirely. Life expectancy was longer than ever. Then the War came and changed everything."
"So what about this farewell?" Alyana put in. "Is he retiring finally? he seems very fit, for one so old..."
Madseu're shrugged, and his lips parted to protest his ignorance of the meaning of the banquet, but suddenly Willheim, the message runner, spoke up.
"No, it's..." His youthful voice cracked at first, then he cleared his throat and began again. "I'm not really allowed to tell you what it IS for, but i assure you, he is definitely NOT retiring- that man is stronger than any of us- built like a machine, he is!"
But the eyes of those around him were not focused on him, for just as he finished speaking, everyone in the room full of people had turned their heads toward the sliding doors at the entrance of the Great Hall. There he was himself, large as life- The Big L.

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