Chapter 19: Need to Know

Lindsi and I woke up bright and early the next morning. We’d spent a long evening first compiling our message about the water systems and loading it onto a data stick — Lindsi hadn’t wanted to send it from her home terminals — and then working out what we should do next. The system, the Ship had said, was breaking down. Too many resources were being abstracted, too many constructions serving no functional purpose. We’d seen for ourselves that an awful lot of power was being allocated to “Miscellaneous” and “Unspecified” uses. Reluctant to try getting up to the solar strip and the atmospheric purifiers again so soon after having been caught there last time, Lindsi had come up with what seemed to me like an even more dangerous plan.

To be fair, she agreed it probably was, too. Dangerous enough that, today, we were going to be leaving. I didn’t go into the room with Lindsi and her family this time, waiting around outside and fidgeting. What she was going to do made me uncomfortable. The fact that I’d got her into this made me uncomfortable. And I could only guess what she was feeling.

It was quite a while before Lindsi strode out, rubbing a hand across her face. She looked around and saw me, but kept walking, so I hurried to catch up.

How’d it go?

“Well… what do you expect?” She was tense. “I said I was going to go stay with a friend for a while, work on some stuff. But my parents are really worried about me. They wanted me to promise not to get into any more trouble, and you know I can’t do that! I said I’d take care of myself and that was not what they wanted to hear!” She clenched her jaw and shook her head. “Let’s not talk about it right now. We have things we have to do.”

But I saw her look back over her shoulder any number of times before we were out of the Dome, leaving through the forgotten crawlway in the scrapyard. I didn’t comment. I wasn’t even sure if I could have done what she was. I hoped I could, but how could I know? The only thing I had to lose was my life, or existence, or whatever you want to call it, and Lindsi herself. I no longer had a home, or a family, or any other friends. I felt detached, like I was floating, as I watched her get further from home with every step. Until this was over, she might not be able to go back.

Safely outside without anyone questioning us, we stopped for a moment as Lindsi looked back at the closing hatch.

“I wonder how many more of these there are.”

Hundreds, probably thousands, I said. They go everywhere. Everything has to be accessible for maintenance one way or another.

She nodded thoughtfully, and I guessed she was thinking about how useful they would be. They were an awkward, cramped, but mostly hidden way of getting around the Ship, bypassing most security… at least as long as no-one had locked them. Even then, it would probably only be a simple, easily-overridden lock.

“Well… let’s get going.”

I followed alongside as she started to walk. We were headed for Cargo, a name only really still in use because it was what was engraved on the signs. Once, who-knew-how-many generations ago, the Ship had had things loaded aboard it from somewhere else. I’d tried to picture it before, but never really felt that it was real, a strange and painted place, a sphere of rock spinning in space, its air held on only by gravity, bound to a star and to all the things that could go wrong with it. I suppose the Main Reactor is our star, of a sort. Controlled, tamed, and kept in the heart of the Ship, it burns the same interstellar fuel that elsewhere collapsed into stars, fusing it into heavier elements through the same reactions, and generating the power that sustains our lives. But it seems a much safer, more certain, more elegant method than relying on a star, at least to me.

Now, Cargo was home to whatever engineering projects didn’t belong anywhere else. That had been the case when I had lived, at least, but now, I’d learnt from Lindsi, it was restricted. Nobody seemed to know what happened in there, and the people who worked there apparently weren’t allowed to talk about it. Lindsi and I had decided it was about time someone finally found out. Whatever the big secret was, it was almost certainly part of what was endangering our Ship!

Cargo is below the Engineering decks, and is made up out of a series of cavernous halls which have been refitted so many times I’m not sure anyone but the Ship knows what they originally looked like. Lindsi said that, like Reactor Control, the auth-locks don’t let most lifts stop there. We were going to have to find another way in. Whatever was in there, whatever someone was keeping secret, we needed to know — and so did the rest of the Ship.

< Chapter 18 | The Fused | Chapter 20 >

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The Fused by V. L. Bending is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.