At the top of the highest flights of stairs, in the heart of Station RK237, Madseu're entered a labyrinthine jungle of machinery, gigantic spinning gears, pumping shafts, and, all intermingled, a serpentine networks of pipes. A constantly rumbling, throbbing hum of clanking, clunking, hissing, and rattling made it difficult for him to concentrate as he searched the core of the station, looking in every hidden nook where a man might hide himself away in an attempt to find privacy from the close quarters of the station. After some time, he found what he sought. in a private open area, lit by a single bare bulb was a small, silent figure, almost motionless but for the slow, meticulous, stroke of a well-worn brush that he dabbed against a small canvas, which was resting on an easel at the center of a crowd of similarly seated relatives.
Madseu're approached with easy footsteps that went unheard under the thrumming beat of RK237's mechanical heart. The old man continued his careful, pensive brushstrokes until, catching sight of Madseu're with a startled sideways glance, he turned to great him. "MADDY BOY, IS THAT REALLY YOU?" he shouted smilingly, barely audible amid the clamor. He quickly set the brush down on the nearby glass pane that served as his palette. Reaching out to greet Madseu're warmly, he wrapped his thin arms as far around the head cook's wide form as he could extend them. "IT'S GOOD TO SEE YOU!"
"YOU TOO," Madseu're shouted into the man's ear while crooking one arm stiffly around the old man in reply. "IS THERE A QUIETER PLACE WE CAN TALK?"
Releasing his hearty embrace, the old man nodded vigorously as if a gentler shake of the head might not have been heard. He motioned to the paintings around him. "HELP ME TAKE THESE OUT!"
They collected the canvases, and the old man led the way through a small door that had been hidden by the shadow of a large column that was part of the ship's skeleton. Inside was a cramped, dimly-lit room whose walls were covered with circuits, breaker boxes, dials and display panels. The old man's belongings lay all about the room; clothing hung from the huge switches, books and papers lay spread over the scratched metal table at the room's center, and over the back of the torn couch in the corner was thrown a pile of dirty blankets and gray sheets. Not an inviting space, but at least it was quiet.
"Where shall I put these, Uncle Tarwhal?" Madseu're asked the old man, raising the canvases in each hand.
"Set them on the floor, against the wall there," Tarwhal said, pushing aside some empty boxes with his foot to make room for the paintings. "I'll go get the easels- be back in one moment." The old man emptied his own hands and stepped out into the rumbling din.
Madseu're nodded, and as the door closed, he looked over the row of canvases where they lined the wall. From the old man's practiced brush had come fanciful images of fantastic, beautiful worlds. Madseu're had seen the photographs taken by expeditions to the other planets and moons of the system, but these landscapes were different- blue skies dominated the images, and below, great white-capped mountain ranges, skirted by forests of towering trees that parted for grand, flowing streams of water that splashed over rocks and emptied into the magic pools of cool, dark lakes. He had never seen a picture of the old world- no one had- but the legends that had been passes down to him told of a green world where the plant life grew to unbelievable size, not like the small topiary gardens that were kept in the space stations to help maintain oxygen levels and provide fresh food for their crews, but gigantic, impressive structures that stretched overhead- formidable, awe-inducing, living structures. The skies of the other planets were many colors, but all dead tones- the deadly red and orange skies of the two nearest planets were made of gases that could not support life. The outer worlds and moons of the solar system were all too cold, and the inner planets too blisteringly, scorchingly hot for man to survive. But these paintings imaginatively portrayed the old man's vision of how the homeland might have looked before the ravaged of man's wars betrayed their mother world and turned her to the dead gray rock that now turned beneath them.
The door behind Madseu're opened and closed, and he turned as the old man set the folded easels in the corner by the door. "These painting are wonderful, Uncle T," Madseu're praised, "Why did you never try to become part of the art community instead of living your whole life as a mechanic on this station?"
"Artists make poor friends." the old man said. "They have strong inclination to disagree with one another's point of view on art. If one is better than you, he despises your work as amateurish and ignores you completely, and if he is worse, he despises you out of jealousy for your talent and ignores you completely so he can continue to tell himself his work has value." He sighed in a mock-dramatic fashion, posing with the back of one hand thrown against his forehead. "No, the only dependable friend is a machine."
Madseu're laughed, and the old man broke his pose and smiled too.
"So, what brings you way up here?" Tarwhal inquired with an examining squint of his left eye. "It's been a long time since you came to see me- what is the occasion?" Tarwhal pushed aside some bare pillows to make a spot on the couch and, looking at Madseu're all the while, was seated.
Madseu're knew that anything less than the honest truth would be detected by the aging man's still-keen perception. Tarwhal D'Hriver was not really an uncle to Madseu're, but a long-time family friend since before Madseu're had been born. He was the same age that Madseu're's own father would have been had he still been living, but unlike The Big L, he showed ever minute of his age, and, being skyborn, was fated to age quicker and die sooner.
Taking the chair at the table, Madseu're drew in a quick breath and threw out the question abruptly. "I want to know more about the Big L."
"Ah," the old man smiled knowingly. "This is about his gift, isn't it," He lay back on the couch. "What do you want to know?"