I stood out in the middle of the junction as Lindsi came slowly closer along the wall. I didn’t look into the darkness, not quite, but I kept an eye on its edges. It moved with her, just like I’d thought, until she was finally right at the corner itself. She looked at me, but all I could do was shrug. There weren’t any people in the patch I could see… but that didn’t really mean much. I couldn’t hear anyone nearby, either. There were sounds in the distance — low voices, or at least voices far enough away and around enough corners that I couldn’t make out anything in particular. Movement, too. Nothing caught my attention particularly, and I wished I could tell Lindsi something more useful, but an uncertain shrug was all I had.
After a moment, she leant slowly around the corner — and the darkness shot away from me, a narrow alley replacing it, light shining in from an open space maybe ten or twenty metres further on. I could see one of the lights that illuminated it, mounted on a bar sticking out from the wall at the mouth of the alley.
I’ll go have a look, I told Lindsi, and she nodded. I knew I wouldn’t be able to see anything that she couldn’t, but I could get a lot closer than she could to whatever she could see. I knew she was watching me as I walked cautiously along the alley, one hand on the wall, and peered out.
Even though I thought I knew what was happening, it was still strange and unnerving to stand somewhere and see those perfect lines of blackness marking out the edge of Lindsi’s vision. The walls of the alley funnelled her sight into a narrow cone, so I seemed to be standing on a bridge of normality in the middle of some huge hole in the Ship.
There wasn’t, disappointingly, all that much to see. The floor was dull grey, less dusty out here where I guessed people walked more often, and there were a few windows here and there in the wall ahead. Just slightly offset from being directly across from the alley was a door into the building opposite, with some sort of sign by it; I hurried over, still looking from side to side even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to see anyone coming, and stopped to read it.
CRIMSON ACCESS ONLY
I glanced back to Lindsi and found myself wondering if she could read the sign too. If I could only see what she saw while we were here, did that mean I could only read what she read? She was watching me with a tense look, and I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. The blackness to either side of the perfectly solid floor was still unnerving, enough to make me jog back to her rather than walking, still looking around in case I caught anyone emerging from the darkness.
“What did you see?” she asked me.
It says ‘H-3 administration’, whatever that means.
Lindsi shrugged, clearly having no more idea than I did.
And ‘crimson access only’?
She shook her head, whispering. “Beyond that it sounds like some kind of security level, I have no idea. It’s not a usual code.”
I frowned, turning to look at the view ahead again: facing away from it too long made me feel like someone was watching me. Everything is… different in here. It’s almost like another Ship. Putting words to the thought was almost enough to make me shiver, but it was exactly what I felt. As if we’d somehow stumbled into a strange alternate reality, or onto a fantastical sister ship travelling through space alongside our own. Somewhere strange, somewhere… alien. I’d been into a lot of the Ship at one time or another, and I’d never felt like this. I knew it had to just be the strange blackness, my inability to see, getting to me, but I couldn’t shake the feeling.
“It makes me uneasy,” Lindsi whispered back. “I’d kind of got used to you looking out for me.”
That made me smile a little, despite myself. So what do we do?
“What else can we do? We keep going.” Her jaw set, determination overriding fear. “We have to know what’s happening.”
I nodded, and hearing her say it gave me a little extra strength of my own. She was right: we had to know. We couldn’t fix the Ship if we didn’t know what was wrong with it, what we were doing, and it seemed as if there was only one way to find out. Even if it meant going deep into this strange, unknown place that had once been the cavernous inside of one of the Cargo halls.
I’ll go as far ahead as I can see and keep watch, I told her. It might help give her just that little extra bit of advance warning if someone did come along.
“Thanks,” Lindsi whispered back. “Maybe you can point me towards whatever that lit area you saw before was?”
I can try, I told her, and looked around. It took a moment to figure out which way it was from here, and then, just like that, I caught sight of it, hanging in the blackness like an island. I saw someone walk through it before, so you’ll have to be careful. It’s that way. I pointed, and she nodded.
I walked out to the edge of her vision again, over to the far wall, and looked around as she edged cautiously forwards along the alley. My view expanded slowly as she did, and it didn’t get any less unnerving, a razor-sharp line slicing off the edge of the Ship and hiding it in blackness. As she moved up to the mouth of the alley and glanced first one way, then the other, I saw the blackness flash away — and, in the direction she wasn’t looking, the colours dim slightly, fading just enough that I could tell. I was still frowning at it when she looked back, and suddenly, everything was exactly the same as it was before. She looked at me quizzically, but I shook my head. It made sense, or at least I thought it did. If I could only see what she saw, even if my memory or the Ship or whatever was doing it could fill in what she had seen, it couldn’t be up-to-date. At least I could tell the difference.
Slipping through the quiet, street-like corridors, we made our way warily towards the visible patch, and whatever we might find…
The Fused by V. L. Bending is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.