Navigating the streets was harder than anything we’d ever done before. Although we left our path behind us as a muted trail of ‘visibility’, we couldn’t see motion except within Lindsi’s field of vision, and we nearly ran into people more times than I wanted to think about, sometimes having to detour around places too busy for us to get through, so we were moving on a zig-zag path at best. Something had been bothering me more and more subconsciously, but I couldn’t work out what at first, only managed it as we finally drew close to the strange shaft of light and vision, slipping quietly down another little alley between two low buildings.
We’re level with the lit area — it must be just around the corner! I told Lindsi, coming back to her from the mouth of the alley. The stress lifted from her face for a moment as she grinned at me.
“Good work,” she whispered. “How does it look for people?”
I saw a whole lot of people go through, I told her, but it looked like a lunch break or something: most of them were carrying food. It’ll probably die down pretty soon. I glanced back and forth, then braced myself and stuck my head through the far wall to look out through the blackness to the lit area. There were still people crossing back and forth, although not as many as there had been a minute ago, and I pulled back, turning to Lindsi. I hope.
“I guess we can wait,” Lindsi agreed. “I don’t suppose there were any helpful signs this time?”
I shook my head. We’d been half-hoping to come across some sort of sign that would tell us exactly what was going on in here — you know, ‘Disease Prevention Facility Biohazard Containment Building’ or something — but what little we had seen meant almost nothing to us. It all seemed to assume that everyone here knew exactly what this place was all about, which I guessed made some sense, but really wasn’t helpful.
I leant ‘against’ the wall, and Lindsi followed suit, probably a bit more realistically. Something was bothering me, and I ran my memory of the lit area back through my mind again. It looked almost like any old square near some shop or office in a Habitat Dome, except for the odd, sharp shadows. And then I realised — it looked like I expected a Habitat Dome to. People were wearing all kinds of clothes: light coats; uniforms; overalls; even sturdy, protective-looking suits… but none of them, not one, wore a biosuit. And in Lindsi’s Dome, one of the first things I’d noticed was just how many people were wearing them.
I straightened up, startling myself with the realisation, and frowned, thinking back over everyone we’d seen, as best I could remember them. No — not a single biosuit. I turned to Lindsi, saw her looking at me questioningly.
I haven’t seen anyone wearing a biosuit since we got here. Everywhere else, I’ve seen lots of people wearing them… but here, nobody is.
Lindsi frowned. “That is strange. Just about every job outside the Dome requires you to have a biosuit issued, and half the ones inside as well. Something this secret can’t be that safe, can it?”
I wouldn’t think so, I told her. I don’t know what they could be doing. I paused as something else struck me. And some of them looked to be wearing protective suits or something, but they weren’t biosuits. They were too… too bulky.
Her frown deepened, and she was silent for a few moments. I wondered what she was thinking.
“I’d like to get a closer look somehow. I want to see them for myself.” She glanced at me. “Any ideas?” It almost sounded like she already had something in mind, and was asking me to see if I’d come up with the same thing. I thought for a little, wondering what she must have been thinking. She couldn’t see that strange visible space, but I could. We couldn’t just walk there, we’d be seen, or at least Lindsi would, and there was no way she could even try to look as though she fitted in even if we could find some sort of clothing to wear as a disguise, with her deep, almost metallic blue face. Still thinking, I looked around again. The alley was just a bit of semi-forgotten space, a shortcut between two buildings, not wide enough to really be used for anything. And up above…
I paused, looking up.
Maybe if we could get on top of these buildings? If they have rooftops… It isn’t exactly likely to rain in Cargo, or anywhere that isn’t a biodome, so there wouldn’t be any need to keep water out. They might still need them for soundproofing and other reasons, though.
Lindsi grinned. “That’s exactly what I was thinking,” she whispered to me. “I got over that fence before… let’s see how high I can really jump.”
I hadn’t exactly forgotten that, but it surprised me slightly all the same. She winked at me, looked up at the two walls on either side of us, and pointed to the one she hadn’t been leaning against. Both buildings were about two floors high, but that one seemed a little lower, and I nodded. Stepping out to the middle of the alley, she crouched, looking up at her goal, and I could see her weighing it up in her mind, see her second thoughts and sudden doubt.
“Don’t laugh, okay?” she whispered, glancing back at me. I saw her tense, heard her take a deep breath — and she leapt.
Whatever being fused with her biosuit had done to her, it was certainly impressive. She shot off the ground as though she were jumping in low gravity, grabbing the edge of the roof easily, if with a bit of a thud as her feet hit the wall, and pulling herself up. Moments later, I saw her turn around, still kneeling, and peer over the edge at me, grinning disbelievingly.
It looked an awfully long way up from where I was standing. I shook my head and reminded myself that didn’t matter! I wasn’t really standing on the ground, I couldn’t be, not if I’d put my head through walls and even walked on air back in the water filtration systems of our Dome. So, looking up at her, I braced myself and jumped, willing myself upwards — and it worked.
It was more of a drift than a jump, really. Lindsi had moved like the real person she was, slowing every second as the Ship’s gravity generators pulled her back towards the ground. I just kept moving at about the same pace all the way up, until I reached Lindsi’s level and coasted to a halt. She was watching me, and I looked down, past my feet. I didn’t even look like I was standing this time, still in a sort of half-jump pose with one knee bent and one foot back, and the ground was an awfully long way below me. I drifted forwards and ‘dropped’ onto the rooftop beside Lindsi.
“That’s still impressive,” she whispered to me, and I smiled a bit.
You should have seen yourself. I made a vague hand gesture like the motion of someone jumping, and she grinned.
“Right, let’s go.”
I nodded. The rooftop was flat, and there were a couple of windows in it, giving the illusion of space to the rooms below. We’d have to avoid those. A small air circulation unit hummed very softly to itself in one corner. Apart from that and the access hatch beside it, the roof was pretty much featureless. Facing away from the side we’d just climbed up, we had to keep going almost straight ahead, and that meant we’d have to go up again — but that wasn’t going to be too hard. Glancing at Lindsi, I began making my careful way across the roof.
Three buildings and two changes of altitude later, we’d done it. Staying ahead of Lindsi, I’d climbed — sort of — each building first, getting up onto the blackness of the rooftop and waiting for her to join me and bring some sort of reality to my surroundings. On the last one, there had been a sharp edge of existence on the far side, and I’d run across to look down into the mysterious visible patch below. We’d done it!
I turned around as Lindsi pulled herself up and colour and light swept across behind me. She tiptoed carefully across the rooftop, getting close before she whispered “Is it there?”
I nodded. I can see this edge of the roof, I mean, I could even before you got up here. The lit area is just down there.
“All right then,” she murmured. “Let’s see what we can see…” She knelt, then dropped flat, worming her way cautiously to the edge of the building and peering over. Some of the strange, sharp-edged shadows shot away, and I dropped down beside her. I knew intellectually that no-one could see me, but I still didn’t feel right standing up right next to her while she was being so careful. Side by side, we looked down into the square below.
It wasn’t, really, all that impressive as open areas went. There were a couple of miniature trees in chunky square pots, and a small row of flowers in a trough against one wall. People were still passing through, moving back and forth on their own business and not thinking to look up. Why would they? There should have been nothing to see up here other than the Cargo ceiling beyond the tops of the buildings; nobody but Lindsi and I had any idea she was up here. She frowned down at them for long minutes — there were definitely fewer people going through than there had been before — and then turned her head to whisper to me.
“I must be missing something. I don’t suppose you have any idea why you could see this place?”
I shook my head. Not really. It just looked lit by a shaft of impossible light. I thought about it for a little while she studied the people below. It was just like the areas you could see, only… well, obviously, you couldn’t see it. That meant something. It had to. Something had to be able to see it. If I can’t see, I mean not properly, something must be able to. So…
“So wherever the ‘light’ comes from must be something you can use to see!” Lindsi finished for me. “Do you think you can find it?”
I can try, I said, already thinking about it. Whatever it is, it’s high up. It can see onto this roof. It must be… it must be in the ceiling! I looked up, only to see that Lindsi hadn’t looked up since she got up and half the ceiling was still black. Er, look up?
She looked up, and the blackness fled. It was the same as everywhere else, really: the old Cargo ceiling with its marks and stumps and bits of pipework where, once, long before I’d been born, countless things had been stored in here from floor to ceiling. I glanced down, and I could just about see the grey shadows where Lindsi couldn’t see any more, and nor could whatever else was letting me see. That gave me an idea.
Okay, keep looking up. I can see these sort-of shadows down there… I think I can use them to see where it’s coming from!
Lindsi nodded, and I got up, lifting off into the air and, bracing myself a bit — I still couldn’t quite get used to flying around four floors up without worrying about suddenly falling out of the air — drifted out over the square, looking down to see the ‘shadows’ where neither Lindsi nor the other watcher were looking, then doing my best to sight along them as I headed up to the ceiling. It had to be… somewhere… here!
I’ve found it! I called back to her. I had to have, there was nothing else here but beams and girders and bits of ventilation shaftwork — but there, tucked into a shadowy corner where it was difficult to see, was one of the Ship’s cameras. I looked into it, just like I’d always used to when I got up close to one for whatever reason, and wondered if the Ship could see me. Of course it couldn’t, only Lindsi could see me… and how did that work, anyway? I turned in place, staying near the camera, and looked down. The grey ‘shadows’ were almost invisible now, the part of the roof that was still bright probably cut off by the edge of the girder right next to my head. I focused on Lindsi, looking back at her looking up at me. There was no way she could risk talking to me this far away, so I just pointed up at it and headed back to her quickly.
It’s one of the Ship’s cameras. It must be, that’s the only thing up there, and it looks just right! It’s in the right place, the shadows were almost completely gone!
“So you can see what the Ship can see?” Lindsi asked in a whisper.
I guess that makes sense. I mean, it’s keeping me here, so…
“I guess so.”
My mind was already running further ahead. But does that mean there are no other cameras anywhere in here?
“It must do,” Lindsi said.
That’s not right, I told her, frowning. The Ship has cameras just about everywhere. Otherwise how would it know when things went wrong? I shook my head. There must have been cameras in Cargo. It’s too big. Someone must have disconnected them. I paused. Someone didn’t want the Ship to see something. To see whatever’s in here.
“Then we’ve got to see it for ourselves.”
I looked at her and nodded, recognising the determination on her face. I wasn’t alone. I could see she had to be feeling the same way.
Without any better idea of which way to head, we turned away from the wall, deeper into Cargo and whatever was so secret it had to be hidden even from the Ship. It was making me tense. What could it be? What was so big, so important, so dangerous? What needed to take so much power, so many resources? Why was it such a big secret?
Lindsi had to take a bit of a run-up, but she leapt over the street and landed easily on the building on the other side. I drifted across behind her, faster than I had before, and we looked at one another before setting off across the rooftops.
We didn’t have far to go before we noticed that they cut off short ahead of us. The only reason we hadn’t seen it before had been that we were too low down. Either all the buildings in the centre of the Cargo hall were a lot lower — only two or three floors at best — or we were getting close to something else.
It was something else. It was difficult to see what at first: we could see the far side before the near one, with the angle we were approaching from. It didn’t seem to make a lot of sense: lots of open space, with curved metal constructions surrounded by scaffolding. It looked like parts of something, scattered around a wide open space like some enormous child had been called away in the middle of playing with a construction set. But I could see people, tiny at a distance, walking in between them, carrying things, pushing trolleys, working — and now it was clear where some of the general faint echo was coming from — on this and that.
“What is it…?” Lindsi asked me, or not really me, I think she was more asking the air. We were standing on the edge of a rooftop and we were both just staring.
I don’t know, I said. And I didn’t, I’d never seen anything like it before. But at the same time I could feel realisation building, I could feel the shapes starting to somehow make sense one at a time. Drive assembly. Reactor enclosure. That one was surrounded with hazard signs and in its own open space. Telescope array. Probe docking bank. Habitation module. I didn’t know how I knew, but I knew, and I don’t know how I looked but I felt like I must have gone ghostly white as I turned to Lindsi, because it felt like the bottom of my stomach had just gone into free-fall without the rest of me.
It’s a ship. They’re building a spaceship.
The Fused by V. L. Bending is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.