Back out on the walkway, we looked around again. The air purifiers had to be pretty obvious, so where were they? Lindsi hung half over the railing, leaning out to look around, but it didn’t give her that much perspective. I turned on the spot, frowning, thinking. Purification pretty much had to be a big system, so there was no way it was going to be unobtrusive. And if it was working, it’d be moving air around — wouldn’t that make some kind of sound?
I listened to the wind I couldn’t feel, blowing strongly across the side of the Dome. Strongly — a lot stronger than the gusts that were flicking Lindsi’s silver hair around. And a mechanical hum, underneath it. Of course, there’s a mechanical hum everywhere, of one sort or another, but this was a deep, loud, large sound. So where was it coming from?
“Any ideas?” Lindsi asked, turning around and leaning her elbows on the railing behind her. I frowned.
I can hear something. I just can’t see it.
She frowned too, then straightened up, lifting a hand, her forefinger extended like she’d just had an idea. “What if it’s around the sides of the strut? We can’t see that from here, but it’s close enough to hear!”
So how do we get there? I looked around. No other walkways; this was strip access only. We’ll have to go through the strut, maybe get off the lift at a different level. I don’t know how high it’s going to be.
“Yeah, you’re right. And I don’t really like the thought of wandering around this area looking this obvious.” She sighed. “I never thought I’d be doing anything like this. Do you… do you think you could scout ahead for me? Warn me if anyone’s coming?”
Sure, I said, and she smiled a little.
“Thanks.” She turned, looking around slowly one last time, started back along the walkway — and stopped, her head snapping back around as she looked down at the ramp that had brought us up here. “Hey! Where’s the lift?”
What? I ran up to her and looked down to the floor below. Just like she’d said, the lift was gone! Someone must have called it.
Any idea who has access to this place?
“Not a clue. It could be anyone — Distribution work out of the walls, so there could be people anywhere.”
At least that hadn’t changed. The floor plan of the Domes did periodically, new buildings added here, old ones taken away there, and there often weren’t standardised supply routes. Basic Ship’s rations and other supplies were stored and vended from the side-walls, where the constructions were permanent and as old as the Ship itself. Heavy-duty cargo shunts shuttled materials back and forth behind the scenes, making sure everything was available when it was needed, carting away rubbish and other things we didn’t need for reprocessing. Changing that would be such a monumental undertaking that I don’t think I could have described it as anything other than stupid. It’d have to involve reconstructing half the Ship!
“Guess we’re stuck on this floor, then,” Lindsi went on. “Let’s try that door down the end.”
All right. I followed her as she walked up to it and stopped, reading the sign: ‘STRIP MAINTENANCE STORAGE AND ACCESS’ Her hand hovered over the touchplate for a moment, then she let it fall. We weren’t here to fix the strip any more, we were here to find the air purifiers!
“Okay, one more.”
The third door wasn’t marked, and opened at a light touch to its plate, into a corridor lit by that other wide window. There wasn’t anyone up here, either. Looking around cautiously, I stepped through, Lindsi behind me, and the door slid shut behind us. Walking a little slowly, I went forwards. There weren’t any doors on the right at first, and the left just gave us a view out into the Dome. I didn’t realise Lindsi had stopped until she spoke.
“Did you hear that?”
Hear what? I asked, looking over my shoulder. She hadn’t got more than ten metres from the door.
“I don’t know… probably nothing. Let’s keep going.”
The corridor turned right at its end, and I turned it first, looking down more corridor, again with a long, thin window. It ended in another right-hand turn, and I thought I saw the top of a set of stairs. Picking up the pace a bit, I jogged that way, remembering to call back behind me. All clear so far!
They were steps. I paused at the top, right hand reflexively on the corner of the wall. I’m not sure why I bothered touching it: I could sort of feel it as a faint pressure, but I could just as easily have stuck my hand through it. Although this top area was lit by the window, the lights in the stairwell were off, and it descended into darkness pretty quickly.
Well, it goes down…
I was just looking over my shoulder at Lindsi, who’d turned the corner and was coming my way, when I heard the voice.
“They must have gone this way!”
It was a stranger’s voice, and Lindsi and I shared a moment’s look of horror before she broke into a dead run. I shot down the steps two or three at a time, half aware that my feet weren’t really hitting them and for once glad of it, because it meant I couldn’t trip. A hard left turn at the bottom of the stairs, and I shot through a closed door into another corridor, this one well lit if fairly empty, stretching from left to right and curving slightly with the curvature of the Dome. Something slammed into the door behind me and I all but jumped out of my skin, whirling around and leaping to the far side of the corridor in the same motion, before I realised that it had to be Lindsi catching up.
“Open, blast you!”
I heard her voice far more clearly than I should have been able to through the closed door. Cautiously, I moved close to it again, listening. There was another thud, and I pictured her banging her fist on it. “Open!!”
My initial panic was settling down into something a bit more manageable, my head starting to clear again. Of course, I was perfectly safe, I could walk through walls. And people. Nobody could hurt me — but they could hurt Lindsi, and she was counting on me! I screwed up my courage and stuck my head back through the door.
Just to my left, Lindsi had moved sideways and started searching the wall for something, running her fingers along it in the dimness. She was too far away to be looking for the touchpad, and she’d obviously already tried it anyway. She leapt backwards when she saw me, staring for an instant before shaking herself slightly and going back to the wall. Up above, blue-suited feet were starting to come down the stairs. Whatever she was doing, she had to do it now!
“Manual override!” she shouted at me, and I realised what she was looking for. I started forward in an instant, but those feet were already more than halfway down the stairs, setting a quick pace, and they weren’t the only set.
“Stop right there!”
The woman in the lead had the kind of authoritative voice that was more than just used to being obeyed, it commanded obedience. Short-cropped black hair and dark skin made her blend into the dimness a little, with her dark blue biosuit almost the lightest thing about her. Despite herself, Lindsi jumped. I jumped. Cornered, Lindsi turned, pressing her back against the wall.
“I- I’m not doing anything wrong!”
“Of course,” the woman said, turning at the bottom of the stairs and stepping aside to make way for what I figured was the rest of the security detail to come down behind her. “That’s why you’re in a restricted area.”
“Give me a break,” Lindsi said. Her expression showed she was scared, though, more than I expected her to be, and her voice shook a little. Even so, she went on without a pause. “It’s just a stupid lift!”
“With a restricted access sign on it,” the woman countered, mildly. “Not to mention a locked door. You’re going to custody, girl, and I advise you to do so quietly.”
Lindsi glanced at me, but I didn’t know what to do! There were four of them, all told, all of them adults, some fitter than others, and while I didn’t know whether they were stronger than Lindsi, I didn’t like the odds. At all.
There’s no way out of here, I said softly. It felt really weird still, talking like this and nobody hearing me. They should have been giving me half the attention, but they were all focused on her. To them, I didn’t exist at all. Don’t wind them up. The worst that would happen if we went quietly was would… well, no, I didn’t know what it would be, and that scared me. But it had to be better than what would happen if we fought them physically.
“…You’re right,” Lindsi mumbled quietly, her head down but her eyes on me. Then she lifted her head again, talking to the woman, lifting her hands a little in surrender. “All right.” She held her hands forward without comment as the woman took out a pair of cuffs, and instead of watching them be fastened around her wrists, she looked at me the entire time, holding my gaze not pleadingly, but calmly. She wasn’t blaming me for getting her into this — she was counting on me to get her out.
The Fused by V. L. Bending is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.