Chapter 22: Nothing For It

After staring for a while at the eerie, unnatural sight, I turned away quickly and hurried back to Lindsi. She was still right where I’d left her, sitting with her legs stretched out and, while a bit tense, at the same time looking slightly relieved to be able to straighten up, at least mostly. When she saw me coming, she looked hopeful, then worried. My expression had to look pretty odd.

“What did you find?” Her voice echoed a little in the maintenance shaft, but no-one was around to hear it. Mine, of course, didn’t.

I… I don’t know. I shrugged my shoulders uncomfortably. It’s pitch black on the other side of the hatch, except I can see the hatch itself. And I could see… I trailed off, trying to figure out how to even describe it to her. Lindsi leant forwards, curious.

“What?”

It was the strangest thing. As if part of the area was illuminated by a single spotlight, but the shadows — the shadows were all wrong. Like there were lots of light sources, lower down than the big light, but I couldn’t see the light they cast outside the spotlight at all. I’m not even sure it was a spotlight. I don’t know what it was, but it was really strange. Like part of the Ship had just been sliced out and hung in space somewhere. I saw someone walk into it and then out of it again. I couldn’t see them at all except when they were in the spotlight. It was like the rest of the area didn’t even exist.

Lindsi listened to me with an incredulous expression, her eyes widening a little as I spoke, but she sat still and didn’t interrupt until I was done. Then she frowned a little, focused on me, and I was oddly glad of that. It proved I was real, at least to one person.

“Was there anything special about the area you could see?”

I shook my head. It was made up of pretty standard-looking components, mostly. There weren’t many windows, and I don’t know if there were signs. I should have looked for that, but I hadn’t even thought to. I didn’t think to look. I’m sorry.

“It’s okay,” Lindsi told me. It wasn’t, but it made me feel a little better. “I don’t think I would’ve either. What about the person you saw, who were they?”

It was a woman, I said. I didn’t see any badges or insignia. She was wearing grey, but it was smartly cut. No biosuit.

“That narrows it down a lot.” She seemed serious, not sarcastic, and tapped a finger against her lips thoughtfully. I remembered how my Habitat Dome looked, so many people wearing biosuits so much more advanced-looking than my own. “Most people working on pretty much anything outside the Dome are issued biosuits. Dome maintenance, too.”

The Ship’s trying to protect them, I guessed. It still issues the biosuits, right?

“I think so?” Lindsi shrugged a little uncomfortably. “They turn up perfectly fitted to us after a scan procedure.” She looked at her hand, forever deep, almost metallic blue. I wondered if it felt more like a suit glove or more like skin to her. “If she hadn’t got a biosuit, she’d have to be doing luxury work, or else something pretty much entirely clerical. That doesn’t really feel like it fits with this whole restricted access thing…”

I shook my head. No, it doesn’t. There’s got to be something more secret in a space as big as this than just… filing cabinets.

Lindsi laughed, briefly but genuinely, and looked back at me again. “You bet. So we’re going to have to find a way in and see what’s really there. If nothing else, I should be able to feel my way around, and whoever that woman you saw was had to be navigating the darkness somehow. If that’s what it was…”

I agreed with her doubt. It seemed so strange, so unnatural. What else could it be? You’re right, it wasn’t normal, proper darkness, but — I don’t know what could have caused it at all.

“Only one way to find out, I guess.” She blew out her breath in a sigh. “Say, I don’t suppose you noticed whether that hatch cover was bolted or locked?”

I didn’t see any bolts, I told her.

“Bother.” Her lips pressed together in a thin, determined line. “Well, I guess we could see if we can talk to the lock. I have a map, so I must still be connected to some part of the computer system. Maybe that auth code will get us through. If not…”

If not, I supposed I could go walking into the darkness again and look for a clue, but the idea sent a chill down my spine. I nearly got lost out there as it was, and if I’d gone much further, I might have got out of line with the hatch without realising it. If I did, if I lost Lindsi, I had no idea how I was ever going to find her again.


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