I woke up pretty much dead on time the next morning, awake and alert all at once. It was pretty weird, considering I normally lie in bed for a while before getting up. Looking across at the main household screen where it was mounted on the wall, I saw the time was exactly five — five o’clock, on the dot, daybreak. Every Dome has a symmetrical twenty-four hour cycle, dawn ending at local six, dusk beginning at local eighteen. Each Dome’s six hours out of sync with the next, so there’s never a time on the Ship when no-one’s awake.
By the sound of things, Lindsi’s family were already starting to get up. I sat up, swinging my feet to the floor, and stood. If I didn’t think about what was actually happening, it felt pretty good. Habit even made me think about breakfast, though I wasn’t actually hungry. Instead, I wandered out through the transparent door and into the garden, looking around at the horizon and sky. The very earliest arc of our local sun was just starting to shine over in the east, casting a slightly sickly yellow light across the buildings and plants. I frowned at it, thinking again about what we had to do. Lindsi and I had fixed the water, for now, but there was so much left to be done.
I shook my head. One task at a time, that was all I could face, and I had to face it. If nothing else, it was easier than facing everything else that had happened, so I forced myself to focus. We knew how to do the water now: given a day per Dome, we could clean out each filtration system, unpleasant though the job was. More important was figuring out the rest. How long would fixing the solar emitters take? How long would it take to fix the air purifiers, if they were broken? Even with the water back to more or less normal, it would take the plants a while to bounce back under perfect lighting conditions, never mind what we actually had to work with. The Ship had said life support was failing — and there isn’t much more vital to life than air. If the purifiers weren’t online, we wouldn’t lose much by checking them, either: they sit high in the upper regions of the Dome, where the emitter strip runs. Whichever of the two we needed to fix the most, we’d have to be up there anyway.
The next question was how we were going to get up there in the first place. The sky was already fading into being with the oncoming dawn, so I couldn’t see the complex web of beams and gantries, spiderweb-thin from down here, that made up the roof of the Dome in between its vast transparent panels. If the filtration systems had been off-limits, I was fairly sure they would be too. We’d have to find a way up that bypassed any alarms or gates or guards or whatever they had on the strut lifts, the only way up outside of hanging almost upside-down from a ladder on the underside of a strut. Lindsi would know more than I did about that sort of thing, and I figured I’d ask her after breakfast. I’d have to ask her why the security men hadn’t let her out of the Dome before, too. I’d almost forgotten that, until that moment when it came back to my mind. I remembered one of them saying something about a shift being over. A work shift? Probably. But what was wrong with leaving the Dome?
Now that I was thinking about that day, it kept on going. The Medical Bay hadn’t been locked, but no-one could have reached it if they weren’t able to access the Ship’s main hull in any case. What had the Ship been talking about when it said someone had noticed it talking to us? I assumed that was what it’d meant by ‘this power fluctuation has been detected’. Who would have been monitoring it? Why?
I jumped and turned to my right, seeing Lindsi standing beside me. She looked kind of solemn, more serious than she had the day before.
Morning, Lindsi. I hesitated, decided to take the risk of asking the obvious question. What’s wrong?
She glanced over her shoulder, folded her arms and looked out to the rest of the Dome, buildings, trees, and sky. “Mum tried calling in to Medical. They aren’t going to have a free minute to look at some peculiar blue freak for weeks, unless I turn contagious. I can’t decide whether I’m mad she called without telling me, mad that they don’t care, or glad no-one’s going to be poking me until I’ve had a chance to get my head on straight.” She sighed. “Anyway, it’s not important, right? More than three weeks and we… we shut down, don’t we. Mission failure.”
Yeah, I said quietly.
“So what do you say we fix next?” I could hear the tone in her voice, trying to keep her spirits up, moving on to stop herself thinking. I couldn’t blame her.
Air purification if it’s failing, and the solar emitters. That’s the next big component of life support.
“I like the sound of air purification,” Lindsi said. “It feels like I can almost taste it… or maybe it’s just all that filtration work, huh?”
She smiled a little more, and I felt momentarily better just for having caused it. “So, where do we head for the purifiers?”
Up next to the emission strip, I told her, waving one hand up at it, a slightly darker band across our bright blue sky. I think there’s supposed to be a set towards each compass point, but I only know for sure about the ones along the strip. You… probably haven’t gone on the strip walk, have you?
“Strip walk?” I noticed she was still keeping her back to the house even though I’d turned away from her, so anyone who looked out wouldn’t see her mouth move. Probably a good idea. I turned back, facing her again.
You can walk along the gantries on the southern side, all the way across the Dome — or you could. It’s a great way to really see the size of things. Everything looks so tiny from up there, but the Dome’s still huge. And the Ship’s even bigger.
“I bet,” Lindsi said. “I’ve only ever seen it through the Dome and the windows, of course. Don’t suppose you’ve ever been on a spacewalk, have you?” She sounded almost hopeful, and at the same time like she knew it was a stupid question. Not that I thought it was.
Just the tour walk. They used to take people out fairly regularly, and all school classes did a scheduled walk every year once you passed ten.
“Ten? Seriously? They used to let kids out of the Ship?”
Sure. It wasn’t that big a deal, at least not to me. The oversuit safeties wouldn’t come off without double authorisation from a teacher, so we were all mag-booted and sealed in. It was probably safer than being in a playground. I thought about it. Statistically, I bet it was a lot safer than a playground. I never heard of an accident on a school walk.
“I never would’ve thought of it like that.” She sounded almost wondering. “Do you think we’re going to have to work out in space?”
I’ve no idea… it depends what’s failing. We’ll have to ask the Ship, if we can.
Lindsi nodded, but the bright light in her eyes reminded me of the prospect of my own very first spacewalk. I’d been so excited, and it looked like she was, too. Maybe when all this was over, I thought, I’d find a way to get outside again. I suppose I could have just walked through the Dome, but that wouldn’t be any use to Lindsi.
“I guess we should get going, though, right? One thing at a time.”
Yeah. I looked up at the Dome. The west end of the strip is closer from here, unless there’s anything stopping us from getting to it?
“Not beyond the usual,” she said, shrugging. “Not that I know about, anyway.”
I followed Lindsi as she turned around and went back indoors.
“I’m going out for the day, Mum! See you later!”
“What?” Lindsi paused with her handle on the door as her mother came through from the living room. “Where are you going this time?”
She shrugged again. “Around.”
“Lindsi, don’t you think it would be safer if you just stayed here? After what already happened…”
“Yeah, well I don’t plan on going into the Medical Bay again until I’m called.” She seemed uncomfortable talking about it. “Look, I feel fine. Blue, but fine — better than fine. And I’ve got stuff to do. I can’t stick around here, even if it is safe.” She hesitated, shifting her weight. “The Ship’s in trouble, Mum. Big trouble. You know how the water was just yesterday — it shouldn’t be like that! It never used to be like that, but now we just put up with it.” Her voice dropped. “Maybe this whole business with my biosuit means I’m dying. Maybe there’s nothing anyone can do about that. That’s the worst case situation, right? If that’s true, then I have to get as much as possible done before it happens!” She waved a hand, gesturing sharply in the air. “Medical won’t see me for weeks. Those weeks — I’ve got to use them!”
“Can’t you just use them to be here with your family?” Now there was pleading in her voice. She was scared, too. But Lindsi shook her head.
“All I can do is sit here and think about what’s happened to me, and wonder what it’s going to do to me. I can’t sit still like this, I just can’t. I’ve got to go. You go back to work — don’t incur any more penalties than you already have, okay? Watch out for Kima. I’ll be back, I promise. Any time I start to feel like something’s really going wrong, I’ll stop whatever I’m doing and call in and head back, okay?” The resolution in her eyes wasn’t going to brook an argument. Her mother sighed, defeated.
“Just promise me you’ll be careful.”
“Captain’s stripes,” Lindsi said, and smiled a little. Her mother gave a sad little smile back as we stepped out into the street, and I thought I heard her say under her breath,
If Lindsi heard, she didn’t show it, and I don’t think she did. I followed her out, quiet, walking in her wake where nobody really wanted to step. It was pretty busy out at this time of the morning, everyone heading to work or school — everyone except for Lindsi. And me, though I didn’t really count. We turned west and kept going, through houses and shopping areas and overgrown parks, following the slightly darker line of the emission strip high above. Gradually, as we walked, it came closer, and closer still, and the side wall of the Dome began to loom over us. Compared to the width of the place, it’s not that tall, but that’s sort of like saying a tree isn’t that big compared to the Dome. It’s still pretty tall for anyone wanting to go up it, a little under ten storeys of vertical wall before the curvature starts. I said wall, but of course, it’s not flat or anything. The support struts jut out nearly a block, though they’re only a few tens of metres wide, and the walls are full of features like the sides of buildings. It’s hard to really envisage just how big it all is until you’re actually standing at the base of it.
We stopped under one of the support struts, leaning back to stare at it, an immense construction towering above us both, curving up and over to hold up the Dome itself. Air pressure helps with that a bit, I heard once, but the supports are still really important. The Dome’s heavy. The top half of the gravity field generator system is up inside these struts somewhere, too, one end of the gradient that sticks us to the floor inside the Ship. Top to bottom, gravity systems are embedded in the hull for maximum coverage, so pretty much all of the Ship has controllable gravity. I wasn’t really thinking about it as we looked up, though. In the Domes, everyone just takes gravity for granted.
“You know what?” Lindsi said, still staring up at the strut above her head. “Let’s find a lift after all.”
Seeing the whole thing close up like that again, I had to agree with her. Getting up to the top looked like it would be just about the hardest climb on the Ship!
Good idea. I don’t know where they are on this side, though, beyond that they’re built into it somewhere.
She looked down, looked at me. “Only one way to find out!”
Yeah. I thought about it for a minute as we started forwards again, towards the wall. The one I went up before had the lift on the inward side. You could see out of it. I studied the wall ahead more carefully. That could be it, up there, see?
Lindsi looked, seeing the same thing I had, a darker strip running up the centre of the curving strut. “Could be!” She started towards it at once, and I followed alongside. The streets were a lot quieter here, or maybe just because we’d taken so long to get here. I was glad of it: I didn’t have to worry so much about Lindsi talking to me, or my walking through people. Walls and plants I could handle, but I still wasn’t keen on the idea of walking through other human beings.
The lift was right where it’d looked like it was, a big box inside its recess, transparent-walled on all sides and broad enough to fit four people through the door side by side if it opened fully, with a large sign on it warning ‘LIFT ACCESS FOR AUTHORISED PERSONNEL ONLY’. The locking mechanism was visible inside the clear glassil, simple sliding bars that slid from one door into the other and hooked to an anchor there. Wiring ran from both locks to an opaque panel on the other side and to the control panel, recessed very slightly into the door at a standard height. I knew if we could open them, the inner halves of the doors would slide behind the outer halves, and most doors that opened like that could also be swung outwards at the far ends to get large equipment on board if it was needed. Replacement solar strip panels, for example. I hoped we wouldn’t need those. Chances were we’d have to have the Ship fabricate them — and the Ship couldn’t do anything.
“Erm.” Lindsi looked at the control panel, then at me. “Any idea of the codes?”
I shook my head.
“If only you could stick your hand in there and wiggle it around.”
I smiled despite myself. If I was solid I couldn’t get through to the mechanisms in the first place, though! Part of me still couldn’t believe I was saying things like that. The rest of me sat on it. Deal with it later!
“Say…” She was frowning in thought. “Can you see in there?”
I thought about it, and shrugged. I don’t know. I can have a look. The door was tough and pretty solid-looking. It was one thing to move fast through something thin, like I had through Lindsi’s window or that access hatch a couple of days ago, and it was one thing to put my hand through something, but it was something else altogether to slowly and deliberately stick my head into a door. I put my fingers through first, feeling the usual faint tingle where I did, then leant forwards, reflexively closing my eyes. My head tingled, and I felt my perceptions kind of blur: the background sound was still there, but came as if from underwater. Despite the weird feeling, I made myself open my eyes, looking around from my new perspective, down onto the panel mechanism. It looked about the same as it had from the outside, really, only I could see where the circuitry ran behind the panel, where the wires came from.
I can see it! I pulled my head back. I’m not sure how much that helps, though.
“Any sign of an emergency override or something?”
This time, I walked right through the door and into the lift. It was a whole lot easier, mentally. On this side, I could see the opaque panel was the housing for a pretty typical emergency manual override, and the control panel we could see from outside had a perfect mirror in here.
Right there! I called to her, pointing at it. She stepped forwards at once, putting one blue-gloved — no, dark blue — hand on the door and her expression turned to frustration as she realised that there was no way for either of us to get it open.
This is stupid, I muttered to myself. The Ship’s supposed to be accessible! What if the person inside can’t open the doors? There has to be an external release! One that didn’t rely on the Ship, anyway. You ought to be able to ask it to override and open most things, with the right authority, but with its own systems overridden I wasn’t sure I’d have access even though it had sent me here!
I was still thinking when I noticed Lindsi suddenly point in and up.
I followed her finger and looked almost directly above my own head. Opaque metallic strips made a pattern on the roof, as far as I knew completely decorative. Glassil’s more than tough enough to build a lift cage out of, so they probably didn’t serve much purpose save concealing wires or something. Then I noticed what she had: part of it outlined an offset square in one of the outer corners, big enough to fit a person through, and with a strange feature in its centre that looked suddenly an awful lot like a handle. An emergency escape hatch!
It’s a hatch!
Lindsi looked at the top of the lift, frowning, then jumped. Just like with the fence the day before, she caught the edge easily and pulled herself up without much apparent effort. All of a sudden she was kneeling above me, looking at the hatch. She gripped the handle and pulled up, harder than she needed to as it swung open fast enough to surprise her. Luckily, she stopped it before it flipped right over and clattered on the lift!
“I’m in!” She sat on the edge of the hole, hatch held up with one hand, and dropped into the lift, letting it fall shut above her. I suddenly hoped she’d be able to reach it again from the inside if all this went wrong. She was taller than me, but I wasn’t sure whether or not she could reach the ceiling standing still. I don’t think she’d thought of that, though. She went straight to the side wall, where the lift controls were.
“Top one, right?”
Yeah, I said. Top one.
Lindsi pushed the button, and the lift began to move.
The Fused by V. L. Bending is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.