On last approach the craft slowed, briefly entering orbit around the Hervande before diving beneath the colossal ship. I found myself pressing my face against the window, in awe of the expansive mess of metal and glass above. We came to an almost complete stop beneath the laboratory tower, before pulling slightly in front of it and manoeuvring so that the nose of the shuttle pointed directly up the tusk.
Now I had the perfect view, the underside of what I assumed to be the research centre looked identical to the topside, if a little more haphazard. After all, in space up and down had little meaning - there were some areas designed to be usable at any orientation, others had prototype gravity generators that would override the central gravity system so that they could be used if the Hervande was required to rotate to an upside down position (which, theoretically, it never would). The research centre was designed by a radical architect known only as Todd, he (it was assumed he was male) had been a great believer in the new concept of mirrored rooms. As such, all the rooms in the centre could be worked from both the floor and the ceiling, although there was some debate concerning the safety of having two teams working simultaneously with two different gravitational angles.
Very gently, the shuttle began to follow the tusk around, as if it was driving up the side - using the side of the tower as a road. Of course, it kept a few feet away - the surface was far from smooth with all the construction work still incomplete. Exposed pipes and wires rushed beneath us, soon our entire field of vision was taken up by the bulk of the Hervande. Getting closer, I realised that the sheer complexity of this beast must have taken centuries to even envisage - the metal itself had to be invented before any construction could take place. The only way to power a ship this size was if every inch of its structure could be providing solar power, the only way that could be done was by integrating the solar panels into the metal itself.
At that point, a hand on my shoulder reminded me that Dakenile was, indeed, still with me. He was pointing at an area obscured by shadow and grinning.
"That tunnel goes all the way to the core," he said, before punching me lightly in a gesture I had only seen in old 2D films, "guess whose idea that was?"
"No way!" I was shocked, his eyes were shining - I had thought everyone involved with the design had been reserved VIP shuttles and rooms, Dakenile should have been cruising gently towards a luxury sim-suite, not travelling by the cheapest bucket of bolts Dura-Stell could put together.
"Yep," he said, smiling as we approached the tunnel.
"But shouldn't you be in a-"
"-I designed that thing, I'm damn well going to experience it for myself," he answered before I'd finished.
I nodded slowly, turning back to see the vacuum compression doors contracting to allow us to enter Dakenile's precious tunnel. The shadows were banished by the motion-activated neon diodes, red, blue, green, lilac, flashing past us as we barrelled around the gently twisting route.
He began screaming with excitement, smiling broadly as we changed direction. As we got further and further inside Hervande my pulse quickened, the enormity of both the ship and the future I was hurtling towards hit me. I began to panic, breathing quickly and feeling my stomach churn - but Dakenile's hand grasped mine and comforted me, I relaxed slightly but only for a second. Suddenly the lights stopped flashing, the shuttle stopped flying and we were sitting in the centre of the most beautiful garden I had ever seen.
A low hiss sounded as the noise from the engines, which had been constant, finally died down. A green light flashed to my left as the doors at the front of the shuttle slid away. Dakenile removed his harness and helped me with my mine, as I had been fumbling with the various straps for at least six minutes. Once I was out, I followed him through the door, then I stopped.
I stared. Glistening water was flowing in front of me, the perfect sound of a thrush singing echoed around us. And the trees! And grass! I dropped to my knees and smelled the glorious scent - perfect! It was then that I noticed the pristine shoes.
Looking up, I realised they belonged to a woman dressed in the purest and cleanest white possible. She was looking at me with complete amusement, I could almost touch the laughter she was holding back. I got to my feet, hurrying to look at least a little professional, but by the time I was stood she was addressing the whole crowd which had now gathered from a number of shuttle arrivals.
"Okay Sers, this," she gestured around her, "is the core. The garden here supplies twelve percent of the oxygen on board and one-hundred percent of the oxygen in the control centre, which you may be able to see behind me."
We all looked, and were all a little disappointed to see only a slightly raised white box, about the height of two men and with a single black window running all the way around it. The woman led us the other way through an almost invisible door in the glass wall behind us that extended up far beyond the trees in a gradual curve.
As we left, I took one last glance behind us at the beautiful forest. Before I could get a proper look, a cold hand grabbed my arm and dragged me through the door.
"Move along, miss," a voice hissed in my ear.
I looked around but saw no one, the hand had vanished and I was left to simply shrug it off as protocol. My sudden rejoining of the group did, however, earn me a sideways glance from Dakenile and a raised eyebrow from the woman.
"If you'd all follow me, I'll show you Sector-Autono," she said and led us through what could only be described as a factory-sized corridor, decorated with trees, benches and small market stalls. The ground was a glossy white, but had a strange softness which I knew we would all appreciate after a hard day. The ceiling was glass, giving us a beautiful look at the unpolluted night sky as we walked.
We approached a set of black vac-com doors, which were themselves the size of a small house, but a small man ran towards the woman and whispered something in her ear. She nodded and turned to us.
"I'm afraid Sector-Autono is out of bounds currently, so we will start the tour in Sector-Rel instead, if you'd like to follow me," she said, turning to our left and down a smaller corridor.
We all did exactly what she said.