We followed the Security officers back down the lift we’d come up with so much trouble. One of them raised an eyebrow at Lindsi as they pressed the button for their ground-floor destination, but she didn’t say anything, just stared out at the Dome with something of a sullen look. As for me, I followed, trying to keep an eye — and ear — out for anything useful. There wasn’t much. We walked through the streets in a little group I noticed everyone avoiding, along to what I recognised as this quadrant’s Security station, somewhat larger than it was in my time. There’s one per quadrant per Dome, and a couple more around the Ship, or used to be. I didn’t know how many would have been extended or torn down or what since my time. This one was definitely bigger, but the Security emblem beside the doors was the same, with the Ship’s upward-flying silhouette making the central piece of a shield-shaped badge, inside a circle of deep space. I didn’t stop this time to read the words as I went in, more focused on Lindsi. She watched our escort rather than looking at me, and I was glad of it.
We went straight past the front desk with nothing more than a nod to the officer behind it, and through a back door into a short corridor with rooms on either side, ending in an open space of some sort. I counted two sets of doors in the quick glance I got before the leader steered Lindsi into the first one, and I darted in after them. One of her companions went in with her, but the rest stayed outside — and closed the door. I heard it click shut and it seemed like the most ominous sound in the Ship.
Lindsi sat down in a chair without being told, and the woman settled in one on the opposite side of the fairly plain table. The other officer, a man, stayed by the door.
“Lindsi Davison,” Lindsi mumbled. “No need to read my ident.”
“Miss Davison, then,” the woman said pleasantly, if fairly brusquely. I got the impression she dealt with a thousand things a day and Lindsi wasn’t that important to her. Good for us, I thought. “I’m Celia Sandell. Do you know the penalty for bypassing safety protocols and accessing a restricted area?”
“I’m sure you’re going to tell me…”
She raised her eyebrows slightly. “Assuming this is a first offence, you have the choice of a forty lux penalty or the equivalent in hours of additional labour, penalties to be incurred by your family unit should you fail to meet them. If it’s a second offence, then you already know the penalty, and it doubles to eighty.”
Lindsi’s face fell like that had really hit her. I wasn’t sure why. Lux are luxury credits: what you use to get anything beyond basic vital supplies. Water, air, basic food, those all come courtesy of the Ship’s systems. Anything outside basic issue can be bought with lux. Depending on the job, you might get a certain number per shift, or people might trade them to you, but they expire eventually, so there’s no point hanging on to them for too long. You can still live pretty comfortably even at really low lux, as long as you have a few things already set up. Lindsi’s house looked run-down but fully furnished, so she wasn’t in any urgent need as far as I could tell… but who knew what this crazy future had done? I was already trying to figure out why she looked so dispirited when she answered, voice low.
“I’ll work it off, all right? It’s a first and I’ll work it off, only put it straight on my record and don’t tell anyone, all right?”
The woman, Officer Sandell, leant forwards a little. “I’ll need to check your record to confirm. Why don’t I take you along to the bathroom and you can clean up while we put you through the system.”
Lindsi actually looked blank for a moment. Then, slowly, she reached up a hand and touched her face. “You mean this?” Sandell had barely even begun to nod before she was speaking again. “I can’t, it’s stuck like that. There was some crazy accident or something, I don’t know what happened, I really don’t! But now I’m stuck to this stupid biosuit and I can’t — I don’t know how long I’ve got and I can’t even —” Her voice had risen to a shout, and she abruptly fell silent, dropping her head again and staring at the table.
“You’re stuck like that?” Sandell echoed. Lindsi nodded, licking her first two fingers and scrubbing hard at her dark blue face with them. It didn’t make a single speck of difference.
“See?” she asked. “Nothing I can do.”
“Have you seen a doctor?”
Lindsi blew her breath out in an exasperated, half-defeated sigh. “No, I’m in the queue. I’ve got weeks before they’ll even glance at me.”
“Didn’t it occur to you that this would jeopardise your chances even more?”
Lindsi scowled and stared at the table, fingers interlocked. Her blue hands didn’t usually change colour much with pressure, so I was a little worried to see them actually darkening slightly where her fingertips dug into her hands. Skin isn’t even supposed to darken, it usually lightens under pressure, but who knew what hers did now? Sandell seemed to take pity on her, or maybe just wanted to get back to her other duties.
“In any case, you sit tight and I’ll run your case. Ten, fifteen minutes or so and you’ll know the outcome.” She got up to leave as Lindsi nodded mutely, taking the silent man with her and leaving us alone in the room. With the two security officers gone, Lindsi buried her face in her hands, elbows resting on the table.
“What am I going to do…?”
There’s got to be something, I said quietly, a lot more to myself than to her. I turned away, looking around the room again. There was nothing much to see, the floor worn and scuffed where hundreds or thousands of people had walked across it, the wall very slightly scarred in a couple of places where someone a lot more angry than Lindsi must have hit it with something hard, a camera eye recessed into one corner observing the room. Ship? Ship, can you hear me? It had said it wouldn’t be able to, but I felt so helpless, so out of ideas. We’re in trouble, Ship. We’ve got to do something!
The Ship said nothing as I stared up at the camera, wishing it could see me through it somehow even though nobody else could. Then I had an idea. It was probably really stupid, but it was all I had. It might not fix this problem, but it might just get us out of the same kind of trouble next time.
I’ve thought of something! I told her. I have to catch up with that woman — I’ll be right back!
And I darted out of the room, through the closed door and away. I had to find that woman before she opened Lindsi’s file. I had to see her do it! Urgency filled me as I raced through the corridor, into that open space I’d seen, saw her at a desk and ran to peer over her shoulder. She was just entering her auth code for the system, and I watched her fingers dance across the keys. If I could just remember it, this would be our solution. This would keep us safe.
The Fused by V. L. Bending is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.