The boat pulled up through the fog to the end of the Farallon Platform’s main pier. Graham, Charley, Peggy Lee, and Ian disembarked and walked down the pier to an elevator door in a huge, cylindrical pylon. Above the door, a rectangular red light shone – its color diffused by the swirling fog. Almost all of the Farallon Platform, save this entrance, was shrouded – as always – in fog. No other pylons could be seen. From the pier, the entry pylon towered up and disappeared without giving any indication of the size of the structure. Graham reached out through the grayness and pressed the elevator button.
“It’s a mystery elevator,” Peggy Lee said. “What lies above, no one knows.”
“Yes, it’s strange alright,” Graham said, “and once you see how enormous the Platform is, you will be amazed that we do not have a more fitting – that is grander – entrance.”
Just then, as if on cue, the red light turned green, and the door slid open.
“Come on, everybody,” Charley said, “let’s go get some grub.”
As they ascended, Graham noticed Peggy Lee’s foot tapping away once again. Let’s go; let’s get a move on. She quietly wrung her hands a couple of times as well . . . as if she had something pressing to do. She was like a clock wound too tight; too much energy in those springs, Graham thought to himself. Or maybe she was just hungry. It had been a long time since breakfast.
The doors slid open, and they stepped into an enormous, air-conditioned warehouse high above the Pacific Ocean.
“Welcome to the main staging area on the Farallon Platform,” Graham said. “Tons of equipment and supplies come through here all the time. We have a couple of cranes outside – located just over our heads, in fact – that can lift massive loads up from the pier and into this warehouse. But we can talk about all this after we eat. I promise a full tour after lunch. Come this way.”
As they crossed the giant room, their footfalls echoed around them. They passed large stacks of wooden crates and a series of forklifts. Graham led them through a small door directly opposite the elevator, and then they walked down a long hallway and into the dining hall.
The room had high ceilings with banks of sunlamps shining down from above. Clusters of palm trees grew in planters in each of the corners. Tropical-themed murals covered the walls, depicting towering mountains in the distance and thick foliage in the foreground. Large succulents surrounded the sunken dining area, and a thin, graceful waterfall spilled from a ledge two stories up into a pond covered by blue and white lilies and edged by thick stands of papyrus.
“Oh my,” Peggy Lee gasped, “how perfectly lovely. Like those scenes of rainforests from the old documentaries.”
“It’s not your typical military mess hall,” Graham conceded. “But then, living out on this Platform is not a typical military assignment either. The soldiers deserve a few perquisites for working out here. But don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the military that created this Shangri-La. Years ago, before my time, a very salty soldier, named T.Y. Gibson, spent ten years out here. He could have requested a transfer, but he said he liked the solitude. Each year a new group of soldiers would come in to assist him. They always complained about the dreariness of the Platform and the mess hall in particular. Eventually old T.Y. retired and a few years later he died of cancer. When his family opened his will, they were surprised to find that he had left all his money to the Army in a trust dedicated to the creation of this dining hall. In his will, he included design notes and architectural drawings.
“The military was reluctant at first, but once some of the high-ups got hold of the story, they approved the construction right away. Come on over here,” Graham continued as he pointed to a plaque on the wall, “you can see the dedication he wrote.”
Peggy Lee read the plaque out loud: “This room serves as a testament to the fallen soldiers who strove to keep the boilers boiling day and night so that the American citizens in the L.A. Climate Shelter Zone might survive the current emergency, overcome the challenges of this bleak moment in our nation’s proud history, and create a future society that prioritizes the preservation of our natural environment above all else.”
Peggy Lee slowly ran her finger down the list of soldiers who died in the line of duty at the facilities. Graham had already made plans to add Private Mirosevich’s name to that list.
“He was no poet,” Graham said, “but his sentiment was heartfelt.”
Peggy Lee flushed and turned away. Only Graham noticed. Why the emotion? Most of the men on the list had died years ago. She cares, he thought. She really cares.
“Well, I think it’s a beautiful dedication,” she responded, recovering quickly. “It’s not Keats, I grant you that, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. And what a wonderful, hidden surprise of a room.”
“I’m glad you like it,” Graham responded. “It’s quite the posthumous achievement. And our soldiers really like it. Of course, they still ask for a reassignment first chance they get. But I believe they’re a bit happier because of this peaceful place. Anyway, on with the show. Let’s eat.”
A soldier in an apron had been standing down in the sunken dining area, waiting for them. Graham waved and the soldier saluted. “We are ready for you and your guests whenever you are ready to eat, sir,” the soldier called out.
Graham and Peggy Lee stepped down in to the dining area, followed by Ian and Charley. They crossed over to the table nearest the waterfall. The soldier with the apron disappeared into the kitchen and then reappeared with a small plate of sautéed calamari.
“What is this?” Graham asked, looking a bit surprised.
“Well, sir, we heard that we were having important visitors, so Private Adams and I decided to take it up a notch for the guests’ first luncheon on the Platform. I don’t know if you are aware, sir, but we have been monitoring a very pale species of squid that has taken up quarters along the side of the northwest pylon. I know that we are supposed to immediately report all rediscovered aquatic life to the Life Preservation Department. And we were just preparing a report for you, when we heard you were coming. There are thousands of them down there, so we figured that no one would miss just a few.
“Private Adams and I dove down there just this morning. Then, we researched old recipes. This is approximately how they used to eat them in the old days. I know that it is a bit off protocol, but with your penchant for history and all, we thought you might think it was pretty cool to eat a dish from the past.”
“Well private, normally I would have to punish you for violating the regulations, but my stomach counsels leniency,” Graham said as he stuck his fork into one of the calamari rings and dipped it into the accompanying bowl of aioli. It was tender; it was delicious.
“Ah, Graham,” Peggy Lee said as she grabbed his arm. “I hate to be rude, but Ian and I are strict vegetarians. We can’t eat this. I must have communicated that to you before we came.”
“Oh right, of course, I remember,” Graham said, swallowing quickly. “How inconsiderate of me. Private, what else do we have for lunch today? Our visitors never eat meat.”
“My apologies. In the excitement of our discovery, sir, I overlooked that detail. Everything else is vegetarian. I will return immediately with your soup. I’m so sorry.” The soldier disappeared without removing the calamari.
Graham set his fork down. Something about the way Peggy Lee had said “We can’t eat this” made the appetizer taboo. Nearly everyone was a vegetarian out of necessity. Meat of any kind was just too expensive. But most people, even strict vegetarians, would, if given the opportunity, eat meat just to say that they had done so. It was a sign of status. Graham was extremely hungry and that first bite had been sublime, but now it seemed disrespectful to eat the calamari. Charley followed his lead and did not touch the appetizer.
The waiter quickly reemerged with four bowls of soy milk and lemongrass soup. Graham motioned for the soldier to remove the calamari.
“Now this is very nice,” Peggy Lee said after the calamari had been taken away. “Lemongrass soup is one of my favorites.”