The inner airlock door slides open to the anteroom to Engineering Section. This time however, the lights are low and loud, thumping music can be heard coming from the dining room. A half-naked man runs by, covered in what looks like body paint and glitter, adorned with what looks like feathers made out of insulating material.
“Shit! I totally forgot!”
“What’s going on, Beth?”
“It’s Mardi Gras, or ‘Mars-i Gras. It’s when the Engineering Section cuts loose.” Beth sucks on her thumb for a moment. “This is going to complicate things. Follow me.” Beth takes off towards the music and José follows. Over her shoulder, “If we’re going to turn this raw milk into cheese we have to get right on it.”
“Where are we going?”
“To the kitchens!” The lights remain low in the corridors and the music grows louder as they get closer to the dining area. Formerly grim and staid station staff lean themselves drunkenly against the walls.
“Show us your tits!” shouts Maintenance Engineer III Chen Stewart. A woman turns around, it’s Busty Suzy and she’s got it all hanging out with a smile. “Woooo! Chen throws something that appears to be a string of beads, or bead-like objects. She catches it and slips it over her head before doing a curtsey.
“¡Jesus! And I thought you guys were pretty boring!”
“Yeah, the one time this section busts loose is the one time we’ve really got to get something done. Ugh, these blinking lights are going to give me a headache. Hold on, we have to stop in here.”
Beth leads José into the gardening section, noticeably quieter and into the seed store room. She starts scanning the shelves. “Help me find artichoke seeds.”
“Artichoke seeds? What the schmeck is that for?”
“Cheese-making stuff. Just look for the seeds, would you?” Following alphabetical order, it doesn’t take long to find what they are looking for.
“Won’t someone miss these?”
“Maybe on another day, not tonight. And it’s good that we don’t need a lot of them.”
Back in the corridor there’s an amorous couple going at it on the floor. “Hey, get a cabin!”
A Fatboy Slim mix is blasting through the doorway, sonic booms matched to the flashing lights.
“EAT SLEEP RAVE REPEAT EAT SLEEP RAVE REPEAT”
Beth peers in the doorway. “WOW, WE’VE GOT A DISCO BALL THIS YEAR!”
With a smooth move, like some kind of combination of eel and cat a tall man in sparkling pants, glitter and carrying what looks like a very large crescent wrench painted gold slides in front of Beth. “Beth Smith, as I live and breathe.”
“CARE TO DANCE?” He gestures at the crowd bouncing up and down in time for the music. Smiling he holds out a palm, on which sits a single white tablet and with his other arm blocks the entrance to the room.
EAT SLEEP RAVE REPEAT EAT SLEEP RAVE REPEAT
“OH GOD, NO!” Beth tucks under his outstretched arm and dives into the crowd. A second later José dives in after her. Somehow he manages to follow her through the sweaty bodies, past the stage with the gyrating DJ to the back of the room and through the door to the kitchens. Beth slams the door behind him.
In the relative quiet, “What was that about?”
Beth rolls her eyes, “Looks like the chem lab has worked up some party drugs. Last time I tried the home-made stuff I yakk’d for an hour. And that Ed Rangle? He’s been trying to get me trapped with him in a closet since we got here.” Holding the milk thermos in one hand Beth makes a gagging gesture with the other.
“Man, who knew you people could fiesta?“
“Yeah, twice a year we cut loose. It would be fun to join in, but this cheese ain’t gonna make itself.” Beth starts rattling cookware off the shelves.
“Where did you learn to make cheese?”
“From my mother. Mom loved to make her own pizza from scratch. Mozzarella isn’t hard. She even showed me how to make vegetarian rennet.” She’s digging spoons out of drawers. “Now, what you’re going to do is dig around and see if you can find us some tomatoes or tomato sauce.”
“OK, chef. I can do that.”
Beth pours the milk into a pot. “Do I need to tell you to look for oregano and the rest for the pizza sauce?”
“No, I’m on it.” …there’s a pause. “Found the flour and yeast. Well, the bag says flour. It’s not really wheat flour, is it?”
“Close enough for Mars use.”
With a bang the door to the kitchens swings open and Ed Rangle drunkenly stumbles in towing along a giggling, topless Engineering Intern II who’s swaying in several directions at once. “Beth! Jenny and I are going to do it in here, hope you don’t mind!” He backs Jenny up against a wall and starts some sloppy tongue work.
Beth is shaking her head. “Just ignore him, José.” She gets a pot on a stove and flips on the burner. “We need something to grind these seeds in.”
Jenny drops down and slips out of Ed’s grasp. She sways over to José. Jenny runs a finger up José’s chest. “You’re cute, what’s your name?”
Like a typical guy, José has a hard time looking away. “Uh, I’m José.”
She reaches for his crotch. Coyly, “Oh? Tell me about Hose B…”
Ed is not happy. He staggers over and snatches her arm. “Hey!” She pulls away and puts her arms on José’s shoulders, swaying in time to the beat.
“Dance with me…”
“Hey!” Ed is getting more agitated.
Beth is ignoring all of this, intent on her purpose with the focus that would grind down a mountain while she’s grinding her teeth. José’s eyes dart from face to face in the room at a total loss about what to do. Jenny begins the crotch grind. Now Ed’s reaching the boiling point. He grabs a hip and spins her around. She gives him a round-house open-handed slap to his face. Ed staggers back, shocked. He touches his cheek for a moment turning red, pauses and then thrusts her aside and throws himself at José. With a shout they are both on the floor, tussling.
“Enough!” Beth spins around and brains Ed on the noggin with a large frying pan. He rolls on his back groaning and is still. The bass continues to pump in the other room.
Jenny drops to Ed’s side. “Oh, Eddie!”
Feet planted wide apart, fire in her eyes, Beth spins the frying pan in her hand. Through gritted teeth, “Why don’t the two of you go out and dance while I get some work done!” She looks like she means it. José takes Jenny’s arm, helps her to her feet and they are out the door to the party. Behind the door José can hear Beth dragging something heavy and large to block the doors.
Jenny starts to bounce, flipping her long hair around. “YOU HEARD THE LADY! LET’S GO!” she shouts over the music.
When in Rome… thinks José and he starts bouncing too.