Chapter 23: In Case of Emergency

We crawled back to the hatch, and Lindsi crouched beside it, finding the panel with its simple keypad inset just beneath the touchplate.

“Could you… take another look at the outside?”

I can try. I stuck my head through and looked around. Dull grey, hard to make out, shadowy, kind of wireframey around the edges. I pulled back. What am I looking for?

“I don’t know, really.” She seemed a bit abashed. “I was just hoping, I don’t know, there’d be something that would give us a clue. I guess they wouldn’t really stick the access code on the outside of the hatch or anything, though.”

That made me smile a little. I pictured it as a little sticky note, incongruously bright against the dull grey and black on the other side. Probably not. Then it hit me, and I twisted towards her again. But there might be an emergency release! If something went wrong in one of these passages and the maintenance crew needed to escape in a hurry, they’d have to leave by the nearest hatch no matter where it went! I bet they’d be briefed on where to look for something like that.

“You’re right!” Lindsi’s voice rose slightly from its whisper, and she hastily silenced herself again, leaning forwards as close to the hatch as she could get and cupping a hand to her ear. I listened, too, but couldn’t hear anything beyond the faint electronic hum from some components further back and the distant drone of fans.

Do you hear something?

She shook her head, relaxing slowly. “Nothing. I just worried for a moment someone might have heard me. Okay, so… If I was building a maintenance passage, where would I put an emergency release…?”

Under a cover, I mused, continuing her train of thought. But in a standard place, easy to reach… I found my eyes drawn to the right-hand wall, apparently as uninteresting as the left-hand one, and I noticed Lindsi was looking that way too. She lifted her hand slowly, held it out — I pulled to the left so she wouldn’t go through me — and ran her fingertips down the wall, near the end of the passage.

“Right… here!” She’d found an almost-invisible depression in the wall, and hooked two fingers into it. It resisted, then she pressed against the wall, and it clicked. A panel suddenly swung open, revealing a small handle that looked like it should rotate. That probably meant it was entirely manual, so it could be used even if the power had failed in the area! Elated, I watched as she yanked the toggle beside it, hearing a click within the hatch itself that had to be the locks coming undone, then began cranking the handle. It creaked, and we both flinched, but it also dragged the hatch upwards by a good ten centimetres in a single rotation. Lindsi and I looked at each other in silent celebration, and then, unable to help ourselves, looked at the crack.

It was grey and dingy through there, and we couldn’t see much, but it wasn’t as dark as the way I’d seen it only a minute or so ago. I frowned.

It looks lighter through there now.

Worry tightened Lindsi’s expression. “Do you think someone heard that?” she whispered.

I’ll take a look, I volunteered, sounding braver than I felt. I still hadn’t convinced my instincts that other people really couldn’t see me, that I couldn’t possibly get caught. If I shout, run.

She nodded, and I stuck my head back through the hatch. It wasn’t what I’d expected to see at all. Everything was pitch black, the same as it had been before, except the little patch of… yes, dusty, dull grey flooring that we could see through the crack. Even on this side, it looked exactly the same, but cut off at its edges as if someone had taken a precision laser to it. I couldn’t help but stare at it, strange, impossible, until a weird tingle in my right foot reminded me Lindsi was still back there and I pulled back hurriedly to look at her. She looked like she’d just tried to tap my heel, and probably gone straight through it.

I can’t see anyone, I told her, but that was almost the least of my worries. It’s just that little bit we can see through the hatch. It’s grey and dusty, and away from it, everything is completely black. It’s… it’s just like the lit area further on, only smaller, and I swear it wasn’t there before!

Lindsi stared. She looked like she wanted to say something, but couldn’t risk speaking, even at a whisper. Then she steeled herself and leant forwards, gesturing me to move out of the way, and I realised she was going to try and peer through the gap herself, even taking the risk that someone might see her. With nowhere else to go to get out of her way, I ducked right through the hatch and back into the blackness, turning quickly to face it. Even as I did, I saw something else completely crazy! The visible patch was growing, expanding towards my feet; I stepped back, but it stopped before it got to me, blackness building vertically between me and the hatch like — my feet tingled, and I realised I was in a wall that somehow seemed to be building itself as I watched! I shot out of it and back to the wall that I at least vaguely knew existed, the one with the hatch in it, turning around and watching in disbelief as a wall seemed to rise out of nothing less than half a metre from the hatch and the visible area spread both left and right. The light still seemed to be spilling out from the hatch, at least, presumably from Lindsi’s light. I kept watching in disbelief until it seemed to stop, and I hadn’t even realised I was still pressed back against the wall beside the hatch until I heard Lindsi’s whisper.

“Are you still there? I don’t see anything…”

I bent down to the hatch, shaken, and looked inside. Lindsi looked back, her face right up against the gap.

I don’t know what just happened. The floor just expanded and a wall seemed to build itself out of nowhere! Didn’t you see any of it?

“No,” she whispered slowly. “It looked like it had always been there. There’s no blackness… or I can’t see any from here.”

We looked at each other and knew we were both thinking exactly the same thing. What was happening here?!

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