Chapter 27: Consequences

“…Whoa,” Lindsi said eventually, staring out at it. She didn’t doubt me, though I didn’t even know how I’d recognised half those component parts. She looked stunned, but not the awful shock and dread I could still feel in my bones. “Another spaceship…”

It was an impossible, ridiculous thing to say, the preserve of books and games and television. The Ship just was. It always had been and always would be, it was home, it was life in the infinite blackness of space. To build another would be… it would consume the Ship itself in the process. And just like that I knew where that feeling of dread had come from.

They can’t. They can’t!

“What?” Lindsi hadn’t realised yet. I could see the puzzlement in her eyes, hear it in her voice beneath the lingering surprise. “Why not?”

What do you need to build a spaceship, Lindsi?

“I guess composites and metal and stuff? Reactor components and… oh. Oh.” Now she had it. “And resources. A whole lot of resources. Right?”

I nodded. All the resources we don’t have in the Domes. Everything you’re short of in Engineering. All the people who could be working on fixing the Ship, so our maintenance teams aren’t pushed to the limits, they’re all here. If they finish this it will gut the Ship! I looked out over the parts and tried to imagine them fitting together. Just the fact that they all fit into Cargo told me something. It won’t be as big as the Ship. It won’t be able to hold as many people. If anyone leaves on it they’ll be leaving the rest of us to die.

“Are you sure?”

If we’d found an asteroid or something, something we could mine, it’d be fine. Now that the shock was wearing off, I could see the grandeur of the idea. Part of me wanted to see it fly. But there’s nothing out there, is there? We’re in deep space. Passing within a light-year of a star was a historic event. It had only ever happened twice, and both those times had been long before I was born, part of my history lessons. I still remembered the images and information the Ship had recorded as it drifted gently by, its course curved by those systems’ gravity before it came free of them again and flew on. Both times, probes had been constructed and deployed to herd raw materials from the icy debris on the outskirts of the systems back to the Ship to replenish our resources. Every molecule of those fragments had long since been processed, becoming part of the ever-circulating cycle of life all around us. Otherwise why would it be such a big secret? Why wouldn’t the Ship be able to see what was happening here?

Lindsi frowned. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I don’t know much about what goes on outside Engineering, but I haven’t heard of us capturing any asteroids or anything.” She folded her arms, more like she was cold than anything else; I could see it was starting to scare her. The same thing I’d felt instinctively was sinking in. “Do you think they know that?”

They know enough to keep the Ship in the dark, I said.

“So what do we do?”

I… I hesitated, lost. I have no idea. We couldn’t just go down there and demand they stop construction. We certainly couldn’t sabotage the work: there were too many people down there and anything serious enough to stop them would be bound to hurt someone. We could try and tell the rest of the Ship, but would they believe us? And would they even have the knowledge to realise what it meant? I wish I could ask the Ship. It might know what to do.

Lindsi frowned again, and this time she was silent for a little longer. I stared out over the construction work without really seeing it until she suddenly spoke.

“Maybe we can.”

I looked at her, surprised, and she went on.

“You could see what that camera could, right? You must be in contact with it somehow. It’s already spoken to us before — there must be a way to get it to talk to us again! Maybe we can bypass some of the locks on the terminals with that auth code, as long as no-one’s worked out we’re using it yet. There’s got to be a way.” I got the feeling that she was saying it as much if not more because she wanted there to be as because she really believed there was, but all the same, it gave me hope.

We could try the Bridge, I said. From what she’d told me before, I doubted there would be anyone there. If we could reach it, we wouldn’t have to worry about being interrupted.

“Yeah,” Lindsi said. “At least we should-”

She was cut off by a shout from all too close to us down below.“You! What are you doing up there?!”

Lindsi and I looked at each other for a shocked instant, then down almost as one. Standing on the floor below and staring up at us was the foreshortened figure of a man in a uniform that looked kind of like Security, but also kind of not.

“Come down now and explain yourself!”

Lindsi looked at me, fear and resolve in her grey eyes, and turned around. There was no way for a normal person to get off this rooftop without walking to the access hatch, so that was believable enough in itself to anyone who was watching us. I saw her head lift — and she almost flinched backwards in shock! Moments later, I saw the same thing she had: back the way we came, on the rooftop we would need to jump to to get out of here, there were already several figures standing and waiting for us, half-silhouetted against the lights in the high ceiling! It wasn’t possible! How could they have known?! The access hatch started to open, and there wasn’t time to try and debate it — Lindsi spun back around and leapt from the edge, out into the open space, and I followed her.

She hit the ground hard and rolled back to her feet, taking off running without even quite stopping moving. I ran after her, only vaguely aware that my steps weren’t quite right, that I was probably either above the floor or through it and probably wasn’t running at the same speed we were moving, and not really caring about any of that anyway. Lindsi ran faster than she should have been able to, not inhuman, but certainly Ship-class sprinter, and I wasn’t having any trouble keeping up. Shouts came from behind us, telling her to stop, and I glanced back, but all I could see was the slightly faded landscape that meant Lindsi wasn’t looking, sharp-edged blackness filling areas she hadn’t seen from this side. She leapt over a hurrying group of people in those strange half-Security uniforms, and I saw they were carrying stunners just moments before they disappeared beneath her and I ran through the spot where they’d just been. I heard a stunner go off, but it must have missed, and Lindsi swerved around a woman pushing a trolley stacked high with crates.

“Which way?!”

I don’t know! I pointed pretty much at random, across the open space; it was the way we were running anyway. People flashed in and out of my vision as Lindsi glanced from side to side: it was disturbing and bizarre, but there was nothing I could do but stay alongside her. Keep going! We can outrun them!

And we ran, dodging the other way past a knot of stunned engineers, racing around the back of the habitation module I’d noticed before, and as we turned the corner and an ocean of blackness suddenly became washed into life, we saw another group of half-Security uniforms, ready, waiting, stunners aimed. We barely even had a moment to react, and Lindsi was already starting to go right — but the stunners went off and this time some of them hit, and as her eyes shut and she collapsed to the floor, my entire world turned into faded shades and all the people except Lindsi herself vanished.

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