We made our way down the spire through back corridors and little-used lifts or even stairwells. Lindsi was striding purposefully, her head down to shield her face from unwanted scrutiny, but nobody gave her a second glance as long as she looked like she knew where she was going. Every now and again she paused for a moment with her fingers on her wrist, murmuring “maps” to me the first time she did in a quick explanation. I kept pace, and although I didn’t really think I’d seen a lot of the corridors we were using before, I managed to keep track of where we were and which way we were heading, even before we reached the base of the spire and started heading inwards, to the very heart of the Ship.
It took us a while to get down, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It’s across the ramscoop that’s the really long walk. Lifts and stairs in the spire are one thing, but the ramscoop is kilometres across. It has to be to fit the Habitat Domes, and to gather enough fuel from the near-emptiness of space. You don’t really realise a lot of the time, until you start walking across it rather than taking any of the rapid transit pods, and then it takes ages.
I took the lead again near the ‘base’ of the spire, feeling more confident the closer we got to the Bridge. Well, maybe not confident, exactly, but at least a bit more sure of myself. I knew where we were going, and the Bridge… in a strange way, it was a bit like home. I knew it wouldn’t have changed. The Ship showed me pictures once of the original Crew, like a photo of a myth. They were on the Bridge, and they looked like they were laughing and talking to each other. They looked happy. Something had been strange about that picture, but it’d taken me a few moments to work out what. They were on the same Bridge I was standing on at the time. Everything was identical, except that I was the only person there, the consoles were mostly in standby, and it was a little more dusty. I didn’t even know how many years it must have been since the Ship had saved that image, but the Bridge hadn’t changed.
The closer we got, the more I found myself speeding up. It felt like coming home, and I wanted to see something familiar again. Everything else about the Ship was so different to the way I’d known it. On the Bridge, maybe we could be safe — and maybe we could find answers.
Lindsi, on the other hand, was slowing down. I didn’t realise at first, I knew I was going faster than I should have been, but as I stopped at an intersection to glance back and beckon her on, I saw her expression. She was tense, and apprehensive, and tired, and worn down. But she was determined, and she kept going.
The door to the Bridge was locked, which didn’t really surprise either of us. Lindsi lifted her hand to the access panel, and hesitated.
“Suddenly I’m not so sure about this…”
It’s just the Bridge, I said, quietly. The only people there will be us and the Ship. And I could only really hope that the Ship would respond to us once we were there. I’ll check, if you want.
Lindsi said nothing, and I took that as an affirmative. There could be anything on the other side of that door. Just because I felt it would be safe didn’t mean it was. So I took a deep breath and stepped through.
The door sort of tingled as I passed through it, like any solid object that wasn’t Lindsi did, and then I was on the other side in time to see the lights coming on. There was nobody there, unless I counted, and the chairs and consoles and floor were all dusty. I scuffed at the floor automatically to see my footprints in the dust, but of course I couldn’t. Even though I’d just deliberately walked through a door, I guess my subconscious still expected me to be able to touch things. I shook my head and turned around, stepping back through to where Lindsi was waiting for me, one hand still on the access panel, her fingers resting lightly on the buttons.
The lights came on when I stepped in. There’s no-one there.
She nodded, and I put my hand over hers, reciting poor Celia Sandell’s auth code for her as our fingers hit the keys almost together with the kind of sparkly warmth that meant I was passing through Lindsi instead of an inanimate object. Part of me wondered how much trouble Officer Sandell was going to get into if anyone found out how many strange places her authorisation had been used in lately, but it was a lot more important that we had it, had some way of getting access to places, than that she not get fined a few lux or whatever. It wasn’t like it was her fault that we had her code, or that she’d done any of this herself — and if she had, it would’ve been the right thing to do anyway. Once the code was entered, the door opened automatically.
Inside, the Bridge was just like I’d seen it less than a minute before. The door opening stirred up a little of the dust on the floor, and the lights were all on, waiting. It really hadn’t changed at all. Slowly, hesitantly, Lindsi stepped inside, looking all around her. I walked alongside her, a lot more confidently. She jumped and glanced over her shoulder as the door automatically shut behind us, but I’d been expecting that and hardly twitched.
It’s okay. Bridge doors don’t lock open.
“I guess that makes sense.” Still, she stood just inside the door for a few moments longer, twisting to see everything, her feet staying firmly planted in the dust. “What do all these consoles do?”
It felt good to have a question I could actually answer. Sensors, here. Star charts and navigation, here. Course control and attitude adjustment, here. I was walking all around the Bridge, pointing at everything. Part of me wanted to touch the consoles and see them light up under my hand like they used to, but I didn’t. Life support, here. Engineering, here. I was leaving the central chair for last, set slightly back and slightly higher up so it could see all the others, at least in this quadrant — the Bridge is circular, looping around the Intake and the high-speed lift shafts that surround it, no doubt locked down now. All the primary stations are on the side I was walking around in, with all sorts of other useful posts in the rest of it. It was designed so the whole Ship could be run from here. Dedicated subsystem stations are around the back. I pointed around the curve of the room, and Lindsi nodded.
“What about that one?”
I smiled, I couldn’t help myself. That’s the Captain’s chair. I was standing almost directly in front of it, a little over to the other side of it from Lindsi, and quite close. She’s taller than I am, and as she stepped forwards slowly, leaving footprints in the dust, she frowned.
“Is there supposed to be a flashing light on the chair?”
What? Where? No, there wasn’t, and the fact that there was anything at all startled me. I ran up the tiny slope — no steps to trip over on the Bridge, not when the Crew might be in a hurry — and spun around to peer at the controls that the console had blocked from my view before. Lindsi was right: a single orange-yellow light had lit up, glowing and fading in sequence. It cycled too slowly to look like an alarm, and it was occupying a roughly hand-sized area of the right arm of the Captain’s chair. The chairs all have touchscreen surfaces built into the arms as well as on the consoles in front of them, and the one in front of the Captain can be rotated away to give whoever sits there a clear view of the rest of the Bridge.
I’ve never seen it do that before, I told her. Normally there are just controls there, when anything’s on at all. I shifted my weight, feeling a bit self-conscious, admitting to being a kid playing with things I didn’t entirely understand the functions of. The Ship used to talk me through its status reports if I sat down there. I used the arm controls to page through the different displays, mostly.
Lindsi nodded, looking a bit like she was chewing the inside of her lip as she thought. She’d come up to join me, standing on the other side of the chair, on the far side from the flashing light.
“Status report…” she murmured to herself. I watched, wondering what she was thinking. She looked hesitant. “Do you think it would show me them?”
It’s worth a try, I told her. We’d got onto the Bridge, so even if the consoles were locked as well, we had some chance of being able to bypass it. And I wanted to know what that light meant. I needed to. It was like it was waiting for something. Maybe the light means it’s waiting for some kind of activation code?
“Maybe.” Lindsi took a deep breath. The first time I’d come onto the Bridge I’d had fun walking around and running my hand over the inactive consoles, wondering what they’d done, half pretending to be Crew even before the Ship spoke to me, and that only made it more of an adventure. Lindsi looked more scared, tense and nervous. I found myself wishing I could show her the place the way I’d seen it. “Can’t hurt to try, right?”
I shook my head as, moving gingerly and avoiding touching any of the dark control surfaces, Lindsi eased herself around the left arm and sat down in the Captain’s chair, dust and all. A little cloud of it drifted up around her, and she waved it away, closing her eyes for a couple of moments and trying not to sneeze. Nothing happened. It was really a little anticlimactic, but she looked slightly more confident as she opened her eyes again. So far, so good.
I leant forwards slightly as Lindsi slowly, deliberately raised her right arm and rested it on the comfortable cushioning of the armrest. Her hand was the last to lower, settling slowly onto the control surface and onto that glowing and fading orange-yellow light like she was providing it with a palmprint. The light faded back to brightness, and turned gold, then a light day-blue before darkening through to the tone of her suit and fading to black.
“Identification confirmed.” And it was the Ship’s voice, that same strong, cool, deep voice I’d always known, the voice that had guided me through its functions back on the Bridge a century ago, the voice that had brought me into the future and told me what to do. “Captain Lindsi Davison recognised.”
“Captain?” Lindsi and I squeaked almost together in synchronised shock.
The Fused by V. L. Bending is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.