Meridian Park is in the centre of my Habitat Dome, and runs along its long axis almost halfway to either end. Back when I knew it, it was fairly well-kept, but some areas had been left to grow almost wild. It often seemed like half the Dome’s kids played there, me included. Some of the wilderness areas could be a little dangerous, in the sense that there would be fallen branches, mud-filled ditches, rotten wood, and all sorts around, but it never stopped me from exploring them. Actually, the closest I came to having an accident there was the time I found the hatch…
And then we reached what had to be the edge of the park, and all I could do was stare.
“Well, here we are. Meridian Park.” Lindsi turned to look at me. “You sure about this?”
The park looked dark and forbidding. It had been allowed to grow completely wild, choked with dead and dying vegetation, and more still struggling to hold on to life. All the paths were bordered with a mesh fence, but I didn’t think anyone would want to wander off them anyway. Nothing living in a Habitat Dome should be able to kill easily, but all the same, the tangled wilderness looked far too imposing. I swallowed, and tried not to show how shocked I was… and how sad.
Yeah. I’m sure.
We had to fix this. Somehow, some way. The dirty houses, dirty people, dull light — that was another thing we’d need to fix, I realised: if the solar emitters weren’t doing their job then that was another major problem. No matter what we did to the water supply, it wouldn’t help much if the plants still couldn’t make it in the half-light that shadowed my home. And thinking about fixing everything, I wasn’t thinking of what had happened to me. I wasn’t thinking of it like that, but I guess it helped… it was probably what Lindsi was doing, too.
“Okay. So where do we get in?”
I shrugged. Anywhere there’s a weak point in the fence, or where no-one’s going to see us climbing it. I might not have known much about this place, but where there was a fence, you usually weren’t supposed to jump it, and I’d seen how quick-tempered Security or whoever they were had been the day before. I didn’t really want Lindsi running afoul of them if I could help it. After that, I should be able to find the hatch. I’d better be able to.
“Which way is it?”
I frowned, thinking about it. It was hard to tell what corresponded to the places I’d known at all, but we were at the main entrance nearest my home, and that meant…
Left. It’s in this quadrant on the left.
“Right. Don’t suppose you know any safe ways to get through?”
I shook my head. I don’t think so. I’m sorry.
“It’s all right. I guess some things around here must get fixed every now and again. Let’s see…”
With that, she set off, following the main path into the park, and I followed her. All we needed was a hidden space or a rip in the fence, and the first really didn’t look like it should be hard to find around here. The bushes and trees might be sickly, but the whole place was choked with them. The only trouble was, it looked as though all the little paths had been fenced off too, leaving just the four axis roads that met in the heart of the park. If we didn’t find a side road, people would see us along at least one of them from a long way off, no matter where we were.
We walked a ways into the park, with me at least looking around as I went. I guess this must have been normal to Lindsi, but I don’t think she liked the atmosphere too much, either. Still, it seemed like luck was with us, if you can call it luck.
“There!” Lindsi ran ahead, and I chased after her. About halfway to the centre, she’d spotted a path that still existed, fenced off from the woods and leading diagonally off to the left. Narrower and darker than the main roads, we’d at least be harder to spot down there, and with the way the dying trees were overhanging it, the fence might even be down. She turned down it, and I followed.
It was dark and gloomy in there, and the undergrowth was growing through the fence in places, but as far as I could see it was still standing. Lindsi stopped a short way along, looking up and down.
“Well, I guess no-one can see us from here. Let’s go!”
With that, she turned to the fence, reaching up to grab the top. I watched her rather nervously… I’d have to get over that fence somehow, too, and I wasn’t at all sure I could climb it, but I certainly didn’t want her to see me walking through it! In the end, I just waited until her head was turned away, then stepped through. Lindsi landed on the other side shortly after, and looked at me with a surprised expression.
“That was fast! You’re pretty good at this.” She smiled at me, and I smiled back faintly.
“So, which way now?”
I thought for a moment, trying to remember this place as it had been, then pointed. That way, I think. It’s at the bottom of a rise.
“Right. Well, no time to lose, right?”
Just like that, she set off into the forest, pushing her way through the tangled underbrush. I followed in her wake, walking through it like it wasn’t there. My legs tingled slightly, but that was all I felt. Lindsi didn’t seem bothered by having to push through, either. Whatever had happened when her biosuit fused with her, it looked like it was still as strong as ever.
It took a lot longer than it should have to get anywhere, with all of that in our way. Several times Lindsi muttered that we should have brought along a saw or something, and I had to agree it would have been easier. In the end, we made it into a relatively open space, metal poles sticking out from the ground here and there.
“Is this it?”
I shook my head numbly. No. No, this isn’t it. We weren’t that close yet. This was somewhere else I knew. Lindsi didn’t notice, moving ahead to examine one of the poles, pulling plants away from around it. She followed the structure underneath for a while before realising what it was.
“Hey! It’s a roundabout!” She straightened up and looked around. “This place was a playground? That’s pretty hard to imagine!”
Yeah, I told her. There used to be a lot of places like this in this park.
Lindsi turned and frowned at me, silver eyebrows and grey eyes in her deep blue face. “How do you know all this? I mean, you know where all these things are, but you don’t know the first thing about what’s going on… and I’ve never seen a biosuit like yours, either. They’re all this colour.” She waved a hand at herself. “So how do you know these things?”
I… I looked down.
“You don’t have to tell me. But we’re in this together, right?” She gave me half a smile. “It’s not like anyone else would be going along with me while I’m like this. So maybe… maybe you can trust me?”
Yeah. I didn’t look up. I’m sorry, Lindsi. I… I’ll tell you soon, okay?
The flicker of a frown appeared back on her face, more puzzled than angry, and then she smiled. “Sure thing. Let’s get going, then. The Ship won’t fix itself.”
That way, I said, pointing, and she took off. I trailed her, wondering. Why couldn’t the Ship fix itself? Everybody knew it couldn’t do its own maintenance, but why not? It didn’t seem like a question that’d get answered anytime soon, but all the same, maybe I’d ask it. If it ever spoke to us again, anyway.
It wasn’t long before we reached the hill. I noticed the land rising sharply ahead of us and stopped dead.
“We are?” She looked around, frowning. “But there’s nothing here.”
I know. That’s why I didn’t think anyone else would have found it. Look for a ditch.
“A ditch? In this? You’ve got to be joking.”
I shook my head, and she shrugged.
“Whatever you say.”
She started moving forward, slowly, feeling her way with her feet. The dying bushes were so thick there wasn’t much hope of telling where any real features were any other way, or at least, I didn’t think so.
“…There! It’s right there!” She pointed at a patch of plants that looked pretty much like any other patch to me. “Now what?”
Now we follow it around. Um… left. It’ll get pretty boggy, though.
Lindsi followed the stream, and I followed Lindsi.
“This ditch of yours is getting pretty shallow…”
Yeah. It should open out somewhat into a big muddy patch, and in the middle, there’s a hatch. It’s probably under the mud.
“How did you find that?”
Ah… I fell on it.
Lindsi laughed, and I did too, somewhat embarrassedly. “You fell on it?”
Yeah. I was sliding down the hill and couldn’t stop fast enough. I smiled. Looks like it was worth it, though, huh?
“As long as it’s still here! Okay, so somewhere… here?”
I think so.
She looked around, arms folded. “It isn’t very wet right now. Maybe that’s a good thing. Okay… in the middle, huh? That’s… over here…”
I followed as she forced her way further on.
“You’re right! There’s a clear patch! Come and look!”
Of course — plants wouldn’t grow well on the metal of the hatch! I walked to her side and looked down. It was overgrown, but you could tell none of the growth was actually coming from there, and it was thinner here in general. There was a layer of soil, and if I was right, under that…
It isn’t far down. Just scrape up the soil a little.
Lindsi knelt, pushing the branches aside, and began to scoop the damp soil out of the way. In a surprisingly short time, she’d cleared the whole hatch, grimy but undamaged and instantly recognisable.
“So… how do we get it open?”
Um… there should be a panel on one of the long sides. I don’t remember which way up it is.
She got off the hatch and looked at it. It’d have a touchplate like most of the doors on the Ship, but there was a cover over it, I guessed to protect it from the mud. Once again, Lindsi proved more sharp-eyed than I was, spotting it almost straight away. She slid the cover back and rested her hand on the plate, and the lock in the centre of the hatch clicked open, the doorplates themselves dropping slightly before retracting into the framework of the deck. Below us, I could see a long shaft leading down, a ladder built into one wall. The cover was on top of what was effectively a tower, sticking up through all the soil of the Habitat Dome to reach the surface. You need a lot of soil to support trees effectively, and we had it, but right then I was almost regretting it.
“Hey, we did it!” She grinned at me. “Nice work! Now for the hard part.”
Yeah. The hard part. Lindsi and I had no idea if we’d even know how to fix whatever was wrong down there. We’d only be able to find out what it was when we got down, and hope that we’d be able to deal with it. Still, we had to try. I climbed onto the ladder, managing not to pass through it and wondering if I could sink through the floor just as easily as everything else. I almost certainly could, but it wasn’t something I really wanted to try.
Scrambling down a few rungs, I paused and looked up to make sure Lindsi was following. She climbed in behind me, pausing to use the touchplate by the ladder and close the hatch. The soft lights in the wall meant it didn’t go dark, but I couldn’t help feeling suddenly more nervous about this. The door closing made it feel like we were being trapped. Still, I wasn’t going to tell her that.
The shaft felt even longer than it had looked as we climbed down. It only opened out a short way above the floor: we could see a different light from below, and hear noises, but we had no idea what was down there until we finally hit ground. Or what passed for ground. It was actually a fairly high-up maintenance walkway, giving us a view of the vast, dimly lit area beneath our Habitat Dome. I stared out for a little. It didn’t look like this place had really changed much. The massive pipes that either came from or vanished into the ceiling would be what brought in dirty water and sent it out again, cleaned and purified, at least if the purification system had actually been working. That would be the series of tanks set around the base of the pipes… whatever was wrong would be in there. Our walkway was right over the top of one of them, but I couldn’t tell much about it. It had a fairly plain metal cover, and that was about all I could say.
“Wow…” Lindsi said. “Pretty impressive. Have you been down here before?”
Once or twice. I shrugged. I’ve never done any work here, though.
“Who has?” she asked, smiling a little. “Come on — let’s find out what we can do to fix all this!”
She started off, the dull clang of her feet on the metal walkway echoing around the room, and I hurried after her. There were steps not far along, pretty much the moment there was a clear path to the floor.
The pipes and tanks felt even bigger down there. Everything was well above our head level, and it felt old somehow. Lindsi paused to read a metal plate on the section we were next to.
“‘Filtration unit 3B 0039-92-160’.” She gave me a sideways look. “That’s not very helpfully labelled.”
Um… there should be a diagnostic screen around somewhere. If the sensors are still working properly, it should tell us what’s wrong.
She nodded. “We’ll try that, then.”
We wandered around the tanks for a little before finding one. On ground level, the whole place was a bit of a maze. I was glad Lindsi seemed to have a pretty good sense of direction.
“This has to be it!” She’d spotted a set of screens mounted on the side of one of the tanks, and we ran over. It was showing a stylised schematic of the filtration system, some areas coloured blue, some coloured orange, and one in red. A series of warning messages waited on the screen for someone to come down here and pay them some attention. I wondered how long it had been like this.
“Water quality below 50%.” She wrinkled her nose. “Blech. I knew that.” Her fingers rested on the controls, reading the messages, flipping them into the background. “…Obstruction detected… bypassed…” A frown crossed her face. “Looks like some of these systems have been cut out altogether. They’re not even being used any more.”
That’s why the quality’s dropped! I traced my finger down the schematic on the screen. Look, the only way to get through this system now is this tank here! I tapped it, or at least its representation. She didn’t notice my finger made no sound. Trying to force all this water through this one tank must mean it doesn’t have time to process it properly. When this place is fully operational, we’d probably have most of these online and one or two as backup. There’s just too much water for anything else to make sense. I pointed at the flow rate for that tank, highlighted in red. That has to be far too fast. We’ve got to get the others working again and at least take some of the load off it.
Lindsi nodded. “We should start at the end and work back, just in case everything automatically opens up. I don’t think I want to be part of the water supply!”
I smiled. Me neither. Okay, so… this one? I read the designation. 3B 0045-82-160?
“Looks good. We can’t clear up the problem of there being only one tank unless we’ve got more than two to put it into when we’re done.” Her face had taken on something of a serious cast. “Let’s go find it, then.”
Once you got used to the layout, individual tanks weren’t too hard to find, at least as long as you had some idea of where in the chain they were. Lindsi and I found it almost straight away, and climbed up the ladder on its side to reach the access hatch on top. It was labelled with warning signs, telling us not to open it unless the water was off to this area. Which it was. Lindsi had to get this one open manually, turning a wheel to disengage what sounded like some pretty heavy locks, but she managed it, opened the hatch — and promptly recoiled.
What? I asked, watching her from a few steps away.
“It stinks in here!”
Rather reluctantly, I walked over and looked down. It didn’t look like this tank had ever properly drained, and it was full of… well, gunk. At this end of the chain, it would have been fairly clean water, but it must have been sat here stagnating for who knows how long.
“We’re going to need some pretty heavy-duty gear for this,” she continued, a little glumly. I couldn’t say I blamed her. The Ship’s various units were all self-contained, so the equipment should be here, but I certainly didn’t want to have to clean that out!
Well, we’ll probably have to drain off what we can first, and we should probably check out the others as well before we get to work. That way, we’ll know what we need, and which ones we can and can’t fix easily, before we start. Right?
“Right.” She smiled. “You don’t want to clean that up any more than I do, do you?”
I had to shake my head, a little embarrassed. Lindsi just grinned at me and closed the hatch, standing up again. “Can’t say I blame you! Right, let’s get to work.”
The Fused by V. L. Bending is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.