Silently running Sandell’s auth code through my head, I dashed back towards Lindsi’s cell, stepping in swiftly through the closed door. The faster I did it, the less weird it felt. She looked up at me as I came in, and I ran around to her.
I got it!
She looked startled, confused; glanced up at the camera in the cell and frowned at me before bowing her head again as if staring at the table. I bent down to talk to her, even though I didn’t need to.
That woman’s authorisation code, I have it! Lindsi’s expression went to complete shock, but she kept her mouth shut, head down. I waited a few moments until she seemed to trust herself enough to whisper to me.
“A-are you serious? How under all the stars did you get that?”
I shrugged. I looked over her shoulder. She couldn’t see I was there, I read her fingers on the keyboard. Somehow I was certain I still knew it, too. We have her access clearance! Now we can go wherever she can!
“Until someone figures it out…”
I doubt they will as fast, I said. If there’s somewhere she isn’t supposed to go, her clearance probably won’t get us into it. As long as we only go places we can get into, I doubt we’d set off any warnings, right?
“Maybe,” Lindsi muttered. She put her hands on the table, blue fingers interlocked, twitching one forefinger restlessly. I wanted to talk to her, but stayed silent. The more she spoke to me, the more likely it was that someone would notice — and if they did notice, they’d think she was crazy. If that happened, probably neither of us was going to get out of here. Sure, I technically could, but it wouldn’t do me any good. Without Lindsi I’d be completely helpless, a ghost wandering around the Ship’s systems and watching as it all went wrong. Resisting the urge to talk to her, I turned away, paced soundlessly up and down the cell a little, then stepped outside the door again to watch and wait for someone to show up.
It took a few minutes, but eventually Sandell returned, alone this time. I felt a moment of panic as she approached, almost seeming to look right at me even though I knew she was just looking at the cell door. I stepped out of the way, and her eyes didn’t track me.
Sandell’s auth code, I thought to myself, testing my recall as she touched the plate for the cell door. At once it appeared in my mind as fresh as the moment I’d memorised it. Auth codes are complex passwords partially set by their owner, and hers was pretty decent, but now I’d seen it I seemed to have perfect recall. I wondered if that was another side-effect of what the Ship had done in bringing me back like this.
Lindsi looked up as Sandell stepped through the door, doubtless seeing me behind her, but not looking at me.
“Miss Davison?” the officer said, still calm and fairly polite. In contrast, Lindsi’s voice was strained, hope and fear mixed.
“The lux penalty has been added to your record.” She softened a little. “Since you’re a hard worker and this is a first offence, I’ve not filed any reports to your relatives. Stay out of trouble from now on, all right?” She held out a hand and beckoned Lindsi over. “You’re free to go.”
Lindsi got to her feet a little fast, shoving her chair backwards with a scraping sound and spinning to catch it before it fell over. She looked at Sandell a little apologetically as she tucked it back underneath the table, then came around quickly to follow her out. I stood further aside, making sure neither one of them walked through me — Sandell unaware, Lindsi forced to either step straight through someone she could see plain as day or look strange for dodging a patch of empty air. I left about a pace of space between me and them, and found myself absently wondering if Lindsi could hear my silent footsteps on the hard-wearing basic synth of the flooring. Fibrous and ridged, slightly greyish blue-black, it showed enough wear for such a tough material that I figured it probably hadn’t been replaced in decades. Given it was outside the cells, it wasn’t as if it was exactly a high priority for it to look good. Not that anything on the Ship really seemed to look good any more.
A quick walk past the front desk and we were out, Sandell cautioning Lindsi one last time before freeing her into the street. She turned and walked away without a backward glance, moving fast, keeping her head up. I trailed in her wake, hoping she’d go somewhere secluded and quiet, somewhere we could speak again at last. Eventually, she turned off down a narrow, dim alley, and leant against the wall. Finally, I stopped in front of her.
She sighed, bowed her head. “I guess so.”
I hesitated. How bad is it? Forty lux… could it be that much?
“Bad enough. I don’t have savings or anything.” She looked up at me. “What would’ve happened to you, if you couldn’t pay a lux penalty?”
I shrugged. No more lux income until I’d paid it off, I guess. Like she said, ‘hours of additional labour’. If I didn’t have any lux income, eventually it’d just expire. Why… what happens to you?
Lindsi held up a fist, and extended her forefinger. “No lux income until it’s paid.” Another finger. “Hours of additional labour, not the work I’d already be doing if I was able.” And another. “If I don’t pay up, sanction: any lux items I own confiscated and my basics restricted until the value is met.”
I stared at her during the recitation, remembering to close my mouth after a moment. That’s barbaric!
She fidgeted, shifted her weight. “I guess it is a bit harsh.”
Basic restriction isn’t harsh, it’s inhumane! I remembered some words from my old civics class. Existence isn’t a privilege, it’s a right! Basics are called that for a reason: it’s what you need to survive! The Ship generates them on a per-person basis as one of its primary functions! I paused, remembered myself. None of this was Lindsi’s fault. Besides, she was looking at me funny like I’d started waving a laser cutter around.
Let me guess, I said. Talking like this isn’t allowed either?
“It isn’t a good idea,” Lindsi admitted. “I guess you can’t really get into trouble for it, but…”
But you can, and so would everyone else. I sighed. I really wasn’t finding much to like about this future. So what now? I wouldn’t have blamed her, really, if she’d said she just wanted to go home… but she didn’t. I waited as she thought, her arms folded, expression set in a frown.
“Just under twenty days,” she said instead, slowly. “Part of me just wants to go home and get on with my life, but I keep thinking it. Twenty days. I want to say this is too big for us to handle, I want to say I can’t do it and go home, that it isn’t worth getting in this much trouble. But I hear that voice again, in my head, you know? Twenty days. If I don’t do this, if we don’t do this, that’s how long we have left. Nobody else is gonna do it for us. Nobody even fixed the water, and that was easy. ‘But what if I get into trouble?’ just isn’t a thought we can afford any more.”
You’re right, I whispered, feeling her words spread through me like a little glow of warmth. She wasn’t giving up.
“But we are going to have to think carefully.” She looked around like she was checking if anyone was spying on us, but this alley certainly didn’t have any cameras in it. Still, her voice dropped to a whisper as she went on, leaning towards me. “What I just said, it made me think about this all over again. This is bigger than us. And it’s bigger than our Habitat Dome. So far we’ve been fixing the Dome, but that won’t help either if the entire rest of the Ship shuts down. We need to do something about Shipwide critical systems.” She paused for barely a moment, still looking right at me. “What do you think are the most important systems on the Ship?”
It’s still power, I said instantly. Without power, nothing else works. The reactors and ramscoop are the basis of everything else we do.
“Then we know where we have to go next,” Lindsi said, determined. “I don’t know what state those systems are in, but I have to find out.”
I nodded, and found I was almost smiling, even with how serious our situation was. Lindsi was right, this was far more important than either one of us. And we had to do it — but we didn’t have to do it alone.
The Fused by V. L. Bending is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.