Sideways in Hyperspace: Chapter 8: Wanderlust
Constellation Project Colony
UNDSV 15-18 Jericho Ridge
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1.95 Light Years from Sol
The central tower’s lighting was dimming as day smoothly began to wane into night. Regan McKinley and Seth Fiegal left the downtown heat behind them and climbed the side of a valley that had been sculpted like the rest of the terrain into the colony’s floor. As the light of the day faded, they could begin to see the walls of the colony arcing upwards before disappearing into the summer haze. Regan was used to the view and it failed to impress her, she spent most of the trip texting Lily Emerson, only putting her phone away to creep under the overgrown brush and japanese knotweed to get to the hole in the fence of the municipal water tower.
Surrounded by brush, the tower was a hundred meter tall construction of rusted iron and corrugated steel built sometime during the late 2150s. Thick hoses constructed of some flexible nanomaterial connected the top of the metal bulb to the central tower far above, but their exact terminal was lost into the evening haze. Regan had used this place as a hangout for years, and it was pretty much the go-to hideout for her circle of friends. No one had ever bothered them there in all the time they’d gone, and despite the no trespassing signs, they always felt pretty secure.
The metal legs of the tower, the ferrocrete platforms, and the smooth ferrocrete pad beneath the tower were all covered in layers and layers of graffiti that Lily and Regan had applied over the years. Regan perched in her usual spot atop one of the giant raised ferrocrete feet of the tower and lit a cigarette, waiting for Lily Emerson and Harper Jordan to show up. It was summer and the light would stay bright for a long time, even if Regan had planned on trying to make her curfew of sunoff, which she never put any effort into actually doing.
Regan had just finished her first cigarette and realized she was in the process of lighting a second when the silence finally got to her.
“So shit isn’t going well with Helen it looks like,” she said to Seth.
The boy looked at her but didn’t respond, he just took another drag of his own cigarette.
Regan pushed harder, “what are you going to do about it, like, really?”
He shook his head. “I dunno Regan. With custody and everything…” Custody of Caleb was the elephant in the room. Caleb was Helen’s, while Seth had been a product of his father’s prior marriage. If Helen divorced Seth’s dad, chances were that she’d get custody of Caleb.
“You could always go with Helen. She’d probably let you, right?” Regan suggested.
“I’m not sure if I want to go with Helen.” He laughed somewhat bitterly, smoke accompanying his exhalation. “You know, the truth is, my dad’s an asshole, but at least he’s honest about it. Helen’s constantly on this high horse where she thinks we’re this perfect family. And like, anything that makes us deviate from that must be someone’s fault. Someone other than her that is.”
“If it makes you feel any better, my parents are kinda the same, except that I’m the hate sponge for all their disappointments.” Regan shrugged and took another drag of her smoke.
“Yeah but you’re the hate sponge for everyone’s disappointments Regan.” A voice called from above the pair with a laugh. Harper Jordan was hanging from the ladder leading to the top of the tower, feet planted, leaning against the metal cage that enclosed the ladder at the bottom.
“Very funny, how’d you get up there without us seeing you?” Regan fumed.
“I beat you here and went up top.” He shrugged and climbed onto the chain link cage, lifting himself over it and dropping to the ground with a thump.
Regan exchanged a look with Seth, and the boy just pursed his lips in irritation.
“Why didn’t you text when you got here?” Harper asked.
“I figured we were the first ones.” Regan replied, “is Lily here already too?”
“Nah, I haven’t seen her.” He pulled a vaporizer out of a pocket on his jacket and blew a huge cloud of faintly sparkling blue smoke at her.
That managed to get a laugh out of Seth.
“So you guys hear the news?” Harper said, blue smoke still escaping with his words.
“That the Martians discovered aliens?” Regan replied. “Yeah, I heard, I assumed that’s why you wanted to hang out.”
“Wait what, aliens?” Seth blinked rapidly, “Like, actual for real aliens?”
“Yeah, remember like, a week ago, when the Martians suddenly started moving half their fleet without explaining anything?” Regan queried.
“They just announced they’ve met intelligent life and made contact with it.” Harper said.
“Well fuck. What does that mean?” Seth blanched.
Regan pursed her lips. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
“That’s great Miss Nihilism, but I mean for us,” Seth snorted, “This could change everything. There’s already all these new ships docked up on the High Ridge…”
“I don’t know Seth!” The girl replied more venomously than she’d intended. “You’re right, this could change everything, and everything’s already changing really fast. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and yeah, that’s pretty fucking scary.”
“Spookyscary. I’m texting Lily and seeing where she’s at.” Harper’s eyes wandered off as he focused on empty space. Regan was rather envious of his implants. She couldn’t afford her own, and her parents made a disgusted face when the idea of implants came up, so she was stuck with her phone for the foreseeable future.
Seth sighed. “I’m sorry Regan, it’s just kind of a lot, you know?”
“Yeah.” Regan exhaled. “You wanna get food or some shit? I don’t really wanna go home and deal with my parents for a while.”
“Yeah sure, but I don’t want to go back downtown, it was already weird with all the soldiers around, everyone’s going to be talking about this.” Seth said, “I just need some time to update my worldviews.”
“ Why don’t we just meet Lily at that deli up on Meadow Street.” Regan offered, “Its out of the way, and I think you can get sandwiches there?”
“Yeah you can.” Harper said. “Also Lily is stuck at home. We should probably go bust her out.”
“Ugh, is her mom drunk again?” Regan asked, taking a drag of her smoke.
“She hasn’t said it, but probably.” Harper sighed.
“Well it's gonna be dark soon, so why don’t we go rescue Lily, get something to eat, then, what?” Seth asked, “Cause I don’t want to go home yet either.”
“Lets just wander around in the woods or something.” Regan said. The light from the central tower was by now dim enough to begin to make out the tangled mechanical structures lurking beneath the light fixtures. Through the haze of evening air, the lights of Mt. Washington were coming on like distant fireflies across the vast gulf of air above their heads. Seth nodded and the two of them looked at Harper.
The other boy just shrugged, “Meh, it’s not like my grandma will actually notice I’m gone.” He said, answering their unspoken question.
The trio exchanged no further words, they just quietly collected their things and slipped out of their bolthole the same way they’d slept in.
Horizon Breaker Class Exploratory Mining Vessel
Hohmann Transfer Orbit
3.2 AUs from Epsilon Tauri
Owen blinked back the sweat from his eyes, unable to wipe the perspiration away in the cramped confines of his spacesuit. He took a deep breath and blew it out over his face, trying to keep cool. He fumbled through his gloves to attach another bolt into the erector set that was the Stonebreaker’s drive ring.
The ship was coasting across the Epsilon Tauri system on a long arcing transfer orbit that would eventually take them out to Tsukuyomi, the other planet in the system. Of course, if their schedules for the repair and refitting of the ship were accurate, they would be leaving long before they ever saw that world.
Which, Owen mused, was probably for the better: planetary satellites had spotted another gigantic alien mining ship there.
They rode the asteroid Murphy crashed them into for for a week, using it as cover from the worst of the debris that had inundated Amateru’s orbits. They had then used shaped charges to blow off a roughly plate sized hunk of the stone, and welded onto the still rather mangled bow of the Stoneburner, letting it act like a huge iron umbrella for the ship.
Owen lifted his arm and drew in the impact wrench floating on a strap attached to his wrist. He threaded his gloved fingers into the oversized trigger guard and adjusted his magnetized footing on the hull before quickly tightening the bolts on the joint assembly he was positioned at.
“Alice, pylon ten is fully anchored.” He said finally into his microphone as he pushed himself gently off of the hull.
“Good,” his daughter’s voice answered over the suit speaker. “Davis just finished up eleven, and Anders is half done with twelve. We’re almost ready to start anchoring the ring itself to the pylons.”
“Should we start moving the ring into position when Anders finishes his section?” Owen asked.
Alice didn’t answer him for a moment, when he was about to ask again to make sure he’d actually keyed up, Kaito’s voice issued from the speaker. “No. Everyone come inside as you finish your assigned work for now. Owen, please report to my office once you’re back inside.”
Owen frowned, something about Kaito’s tone made him rather uneasy. He changed frequencies and pinged Alice’s receiver unit. “Something going on?” He asked her. “We’re not in danger or anything, I just want to sit down and have a serious conversation where we go over all of our potential options at this point.” Alice said.
Owen was fairly certain he knew what that conversation would be about. Alice was still advocating that they try and talk to the aliens.
“Alright.” He said into his microphone, then sighed and shook his head once he stopped keying up. The old foreman reached the top of the pylon on his slow drift upwards, and he pushed hard off of it, expertly propelling himself back towards the airlock without using any of his thruster fuel. “I’m on my way.”
Constellation Project Colony
UNDSV 15-18 Jericho Ridge
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1.95 Light Years from Sol
When the Constellation Project was first conceived of by UN architects and shipbuilders in the latter decades of the twenty first century, the cold war with Mars had been underway for nearly fifty years. The actual construction of the ships and the real pressure to construct them didn’t come until later, when the outer planets broke away from Earth and Mars and began threatening the inner worlds with asteroid bombardment if they refused to accept their sovereignty.
The vessel designs predated the conflict in the outer system though. Instead, they were designed in every way to be a final middle finger to the Martian Socialist Republic. Each of the colony landscapes was modelled on a scaled down version of Martian topography; in the case of Regan’s colony, the strip of land she lived on was modelled after Valles Marineris.
Lily Emerson lived near the top of that valley, in what had been designed at one time as an area of relative affluence. The houses here were larger, but the sense of decay and neglect that suffused the downtown seeped up valley slopes as well. Lanes were lined with ancient willows, their fronds overgrown and draping into cracked and potholed street. As the artificial sun at the colony’s heart dimmed into a dull red glow, the streetlamps along the tree lined streets began coming on, casting areas of shadow and light around the thick branches.
Lily’s parents had divorced when she was ten: her father had come out as gay and ran off to join the UNDF and see the galaxy. In his absence, her mother simply collapsed in on herself. She worked from home, drank furiously, and took up religion. Never a good mixture in Regan’s opinion. She thought Lily had managed to weather it all like a champion though, and Regan generally considered the other girl to be a more emotionally balanced person then she herself was.
Regan pounded on the door of Lily’s two story home, hitting it with her fist, knocking like a police officer would, “Mrs. Emmerson open up!”
Harper and Seth stood a safe distance back from the door, arms crossed.
Regan continued pounding even as the door opened and she nearly fell inside. Lily’s mother stood in the threshold, spittle leaking from her lip.
“Regan?” She slurred out, “What do you want?” Her voice turned instantly bitter and accusatory. Despite being almost a head taller than Lily’s mother, Regan shrank from the intensity of her tone. She took a breath and tried to keep her voice calm and diplomatic.
“I want to hang out with Lily, can she come with us?” the teenager offered.
Regan thought the older woman might be considering it, but realized just in time how green her face was getting and just about managed to step back far enough to avoid when she puked on the carpet.
The teenager sighed and stepped past the intoxicated woman, shouting up the stairs for Lily, and then started helping her mother over to the couch, where she curled up forlornly, eyes staring into the middle distance.
Lily came downstairs, her green eyes going from Regan and her mother to the puke in the doorway, to the two boys still standing on the front walk. She sighed and went to the kitchen to fetch cleaning supplies. By the time the vomit had been cleaned up, Lily’s mother had fallen asleep on the sofa.
Horizon Breaker Class Exploratory Mining Vessel
Hohmann Transfer Orbit
3.2 AUs from Epsilon Tauri
Owen drifted hesitantly through the threshold into Kaito’s office. Alice and Kaito were both already present, and staring daggers at each other. They were standing, which was to say, floating, while their feet were magnetically secured to the deck.
“Did I come at a bad time?” Owen said lightly, stroking his beard as he floated in.
“I think this is a fine time Owen.” Kaito said calmly, his hands clasped at his wrists. “How long until we can return to Aldebaran?”
“We could have had the ring installed by now if you hadn’t pulled my crew inside honestly. Maybe seven, eight more hours for the engineering team to go over the junction linkups?” Owen offered. “But I was thinking, we might not want to go straight to Aldebaran.”
Kaito seemed to sputter a bit, which was all the encouragement Alice needed to launch into her idea. “Look, I know we can’t endanger the ship. All I’m suggesting is that we program a Lighthorse to stay behind after we leave and let it try and signal the aliens itself for a while. Then it can return to Aldebaran and tell us what it learned.”
Kaito ground his teeth together and growled out, “And what is your suggestion Owen?” Owen held up his hands. “I think we should take a detour to Gamma Tauri where the Jabberwocky is mining.”
Kaito blinked, and seemed to consider it for a moment. “Why?” He asked.
“Look, we know almost nothing about these aliens, but we know they’re at two of the worlds in this system, and the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg already went dark. I think there’s a good chance that if there’s aliens here, than there might be aliens in Gamma Tauri as well. If we go to Aldebaran, that’s five months one way in warp, than five months back out to Gamma Tauri to warn to Jabberwocky. But we’re only twenty days from Gamma Tauri here, we could pop over there and raise the alarm before heading back towards Aldebaran.” Owen explained.
Kaito nodded. “Captain Arrari would probably appreciate the heads up if there’s a chance these aliens will show up in Gamma Tauri. But we can just send a Lighthorse there, why take the whole Stoneburner?”
“In case we’re too late and the aliens are already there. Our showing up could be the difference between half their crew surviving and having a total loss of life.” Owen answered dispassionately.
“You think these aliens are responsible for the loss of the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg?” Kaito said.
“I’d be willing to bet money on it.” Owen nodded.
“I still think we should try communicating with them.” Alice insisted. “This could all be a big misunderstanding and they might be willing to work out shared mining access. We don’t know.”
“We’re not diplomats Alice, we’re not even access negotiators. We wouldn’t be handling a mining rights dispute between other humans, we’d defer it upwards within the company and I’m perfectly inclined to do that now.” Kaito crossed his arms.
“We absolutely would be handling it ourselves if it was other humans and you know it. You hate deferring things to the company.” Alice met his gaze with her own.
Kaito sighed and let his body go limp, not that it actually affected his postured since he was still locked to the decking by his magnetic boots. “Alice, this whole thing scares me, I don’t trust these aliens one bit, I don’t want to do anything that might make things worse.”
“You really think just saying ‘hey, we exist’ is going to make things that much worse?” Alice asked.
“It might!” Kaito insisted. “These are aliens! We don’t know how they think, announcing our presence might make them decide to start systematically exterminating our species.” “That’s a bit alarmist don’t you think?” Alice wrinkled her nose, “I mean how likely is that really to happen?”
“I don’t know, and that’s what concerns me the most.” Kaito answered. “I don’t know that the chance of it happening isn’t zero, I don’t even know what the chance of it happening is, and we don’t know enough to even start estimating what the chances of that happening are. But there is a chance it could happen, and as long as that’s the case, the safest thing to do is nothing.”
Alice looked imploringly at Owen, hoping she could find an ally in him.
“Sorry Alice.” He said with a shrug. “I agree with Kaito on this. We’re miners not alien diplomats. If you really want to talk to the aliens, I’m sure there’ll be a mission going out to do just that once we get to Aldebaran and tell everyone about this.”
“They might be gone by then.” She whined. “This is the chance of a lifetime. We could go down in history as the first people to make contact with alien life.”
“Or,” Kaito offered, “We could go down in history as the first people to be killed by alien life. We’re not doing it and that’s final.”
Alice deflated somewhat and grumpily snapped back with “Fine!” She spun and stomped out of the room, her magnetic boots banging on the decking as she stormed off.
Kaito and Owen exchanged a look between them, Owen shook his head and resisted the urge to chuckle.
“She’s your daughter, how do you deal with her when she gets like this?” Kaito asked Owen after a moment.
Owen did chuckle then, unable to hold it back any longer. “She’s your wife,” he laughed, “if you figure it out be sure to let me know.”
“Hah, I might keep that as proprietary husband information.” Kaito snorted.
“So how do you feel about that detour to Gamma Tauri?” Owen asked.
“I don’t really want to do it, but I’d feel awful if something happened to Jabberwocky that we could have prevented or tried to prevent, so yeah we’re going.” Kaito answered.
“I’d better go see to the warp drive than.” Owen nodded, and retreated from the office.
Constellation Project Colony UNDSV 15-18 Jericho Ridge Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory 1.95 Light Years from Sol February 2219
By the time the teenagers managed to slip out of Lily’s house, the night had begun to settle in fully. The sky had darkened to a bruised purple, lit only by the dull red glow of the waste heat radiating off the central tower, and the shape of the cylindrical colony became apparent as the light dimmed. The distant skyscrapers in the city of Mt. Washington created artificial constellations over their heads; the artificial stars twinkled in the twilight, their light distorted by the vast cavern of air.
“So we just gonna stay out all night then?” Lily asked as they wandered down the middle of a deserted suburban street.
“I think that's the plan,” Regan answered. “I definitely don’t wanna go home,” she shrugged, lighting another cigarette from her pack.
“Well, it’s kind of perfect out right now.” Lily said, stretching her arms. Regan had to agree with her. They could see all the lamps turning on along the distant country roads as the ground curved upwards to arch over their heads. The streetlights an ocean of glass away twinkled far above them, the central tower was a dark smear across the sky, and the temperature had fallen to that perfectly comfortable summer night level.
“I wish it was like this all the time, I might never go home.” Seth said with a laugh.
“Yeah, too bad about winter and all that.” Harper responded. Despite living in an artificial colony, there were still mechanically generated seasons and weather.
“I wish they could just keep it like this. Dark and warm, but not too warm.” Seth continued. “Just leave it on the setting it's on right now.”
“All the plants would die.” Harper replied automatically. “We have it set up the way it is for a reason.”
“Yeah I know.” Seth admitted, “I can dream though.
The deli loomed up out of the evening darkness as they approached, its brightly lit interior shining out into the night. Regan snubbed out her half smoked cigarette and they strolled inside.
The teens each took turns ordering food, then sat down in a corner booth to wait for it to be prepared. Besides themselves and the one employee working the counter, the place was empty.
Regan was browsing the social media streams on her phone when her mother started texting her in all capitals, asking where she was and demanding she return home at once. She just sighed and turned off her phone before she started getting calls.
“I’m going to be grounded to hell and back.” She grumbled as she shoved her phone back into her pocket.
“I think you actually have to pay attention to your parents for that to actually have an effect. It's not like they’d physically stop you from leaving.” Seth said, leaning against the counter as they waited for their food.
“Nah, but they’ll take my phone and my computer, make it a pain in the ass to do anything,” she shrugged, “it’s whatever, I’ll just use your computer.”
“Your respect for my property is truly astounding.” Seth answered with a chuckle. The deli’s solitary employee brought their orders out, and the teens quickly fled the empty store into the night. The street was quiet save for the humming of the street lights and the quiet, ceaseless chirping of a million crickets. Regan relit her cigarette as they strolled off into the darkness.
The group ate their sandwiches and walked in silence, wandering away from downtown Lincolnville and heading along the top of the valley where the land grew wild and sparsely populated.
“You know, I’m really pretty sick of this shitty little town.” Regan said after a long period of quiet, taking a drag of her smoke. “It's okay right now, at night, with you guys, but like…I really kinda hate this place.”
“I know what you mean.” Lily answered. “Nothing ever happens here, it's like this place is in stasis. Its 2050 here, forever.”
The designers of the Constellation Project colonies had envisioned each colony as carrying the seed belonging to one of the participating nations. A snapshot of life in 2050 in a particular nation was used as the template for the street layouts, the city buildings, and to some degree the larger landscaping. Colony 15 of Jericho Ridge had dropped American towns, forests, and farmlands onto scaled down Martian regolith, creating the environment Regan and her friends called home.
“This place didn’t even exist in 2050.” Harper responded with a laugh, “It was just modeled after..” He held up his fingers like quotation marks, “Late modern american living.”
“It was built in 2104 right?” Regan asked, she had always only half paid attention in history classes, “because of that war on earth?”
“The Gravity War wasn’t fought on Earth.” Harper corrected her, “It was the only war fought entirely in space. The colonies at Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune signed the Tartarus Accord and declared independence from Earth and Mars. Things got real tense and everyone thought the Earth was for sure going to get slagged, so the colonies were built as lifeboats for all the various UN nations contributing.”
“I bet it must really have been something else to see this place in its heyday.” Seth admitted. “It used to be better here.”
“Dude, this place was born shitty.” Regan retorted with a snort, “it was engineered to be shitty from the start.”
“You’re too cynical Regan. No, back before FTL was invented? People used to care about this place.” Seth remarked.
“Yeah, as a time capsule so that in a few hundred more years, someone could start up Planet USA. We’re just human seeds, nobody actually gave a fuck about us.” Regan unconsciously raised her voice as she started to feel the low, ever present anger at her circumstances.
“I dunno,” Lily said with a shrug, “I think it might have actually been pretty nice here back then. There were all sorts of little shops and things. Like that place the McGuires live now? Pretty sure that was a barbershop back in the day.”
“If you like living in an amusement park without the rides maybe.” Regan insisted. Regan turned and nearly walked into a chain link gate. The intersection they had just passed through terminated at one point with a gated off section. Signage on the fence and gate proclaimed the area as Constellation Project Engineering property. It was also liberally sprinkled with bright red ‘No Trespassing’ signs along its periphery.
Despite all the effort that had at one time gone into securing the location, it was now rather inadequately contained. Large sections of the fence had simply fallen inward, and the chain link had completely separated from the metal fence posts in several locations.
“Whoa what is this?” Regan asked, running her hands along the rough metal sign.
“Some sort of old colony project site.” Seth offered. He fished out a flashlight from his backpack and shone it into the trees beyond the fence. “It looks abandoned, let’s check it out.”
Seth and Harper started climbing over a fallen section of the fence, and Regan was quick to follow after them.
“Are you guys sure this is a good idea?” Lily asked. “What if there’s something dangerous in there?”
“We’ll be careful.” Regan said absentmindedly, already turning to follow the two boys as they started down the somewhat overgrown road into the forest.
Lily sighed and hiked up her skirt so she could follow them over the fence and hurried to catch up.
The trees on either side of the path were thick conifers that smelled richly of pine needles. Their dark branches blocked out much of the streetlight above them, giving the narrow lane an ominous, haunted feeling.
A low slung ferrocrete structure emerged ahead of them. The building had no windows, and the rusted doors were all set into the ground, giving the place the impression of being the entrance to some larger subsurface complex.
“What do you suppose this place is?” Regan asked as they crossed the overgrown lot surrounding the outpost.
“It looks like an access point for some sort of underground service, maybe electrical or water reclamation.” Harper replied, quick to be the font of information even when he wasn’t sure what he was talking about. He hopped down the stairs to the door well and shoulder checked the rusted metal. The hinges on the door shrieked in protest and the entire door deformed inwards on itself, separating the locking mechanism from the doorframe.
“Oi!” Lily shouted, “What have I told you about damaging government property Harper Jordan?!”
He shrugged and gently pushed the door open with his toe. “Its open.”
Seth was quick to follow him down and pushed past him inside, nearly falling down the stairs inside the door. “Whoa!” He said quickly as he grabbed onto the handrails to catch himself. “It’s like some sort of bunker.”
“Okay, this we definitely need to check out.” Regan said with a grin. “You have all the stuff right?” She asked Seth.
“Yeah of course,” He answered, “when I figured we’d be out all night it seemed prudent to bring the full kit.” The kit he referred to contained everything a group of teenagers might need to get into mischief. It contained electronic lockpicks, a crowbar, flashlights, rope, bolt cutters, spray paint, and all sorts of other miscellaneous items, any one of which would earn them more than a frown from the police.
Lily hesitated at the threshold to the room, “Something about this place feels weird, I don’t know if this is a good idea.”
“You think it might be haunted or something?” Seth asked her. Both Seth and Lily were avid believers in the supernatural.
“I’m not sure.” She said, running her fingers along the doorframe and slipping inside, feeling the ferrocrete surface. “I sense something though.”
“Spookyscary.” Harper said as he shut the door behind him, the last one inside.
Regan charged ahead down the stairs, which descended a surprising depth into the soil before terminating in another door, one locked by a working electronic security system. She tried to open the door anyway, in case it had simply been left unlocked, but it was secured.
“This one’s locked,” she said, examining the locking mechanism with her flashlight. The other teens started to crowd around the door as they descended the stairs but Seth pushed past them and crouched down beside Regan.
“Oh wow, this is like, original design, unaltered since the colony was built.” Seth said with some excitement. “I can’t believe there are any of these still in use.”
“So you can bypass it then right?” Harper asked him.
“Oh yeah,” He grinned, “I can absolutely bypass it.” He fished around in his backpack and extracted a small computing device. The electronic lockpick worked by assaulting the electronic lock system with requests for access at such a speed that it would either randomly guess the correct answer in short order or cause the computer in the lock to have a seizure and die. Newer systems were networked against that sort of intrusion, but older systems could still be accessed that way. Seth pressed the lockpick to the place a keycard would normally be placed, and activated it. There was a moment of collectively held breaths as they watched the duel between the lockpick computer and the lock’s computer, before the locking mechanisms gave way with a surprisingly heavy series of clanks and bangs.
“After you?” Seth said somewhat nervously.
Regan shrugged and twisted the handle on the door. As soon as she pulled the handle’s internal mechanism from the doorframe, the door flew inwards, ripped out of her hands by a sudden movement of air. The door at the top of the stairs banged open and a great gust of wind howled down the stairs, threatening to suck them into the darkness beyond. Dust and debris from the forest outside came spiralling down the stairs after them, giving the air a gritty taste and stinging their eyes. The temperature fell rapidly as the air settled again, depositing a thin layer of hoarfrost on everything around them.
“What the actual fuck?” Seth said, laughing nervously as he shined his flashlight into the room beyond the hatch. A breeze continued to blow in from outside, drawing air deeper underground.
“Okay, that’s actually pretty creepy.” Regan said anxiously as she crossed the threshold into the room beyond the stairwell. The room she found herself in was some sort of preparation atrium, not quite a waiting room, but something close to it. Lockers and clothing racks were mounted to the walls, along with rather utilitarian looking benches and changing cubicles.
“There’s something really weird going on here,” she announced finally.
“I thought you didn’t believe in ghosts Regan?” Seth teased.
“No I think Regan’s right.” Harper said quietly. “Something does seem weird about this place. Does it feel colder to anyone?”
Lily pulled her phone from her pocket and checked the thermostat. “Weird.” she said simply, eyeing the results on her phone suspiciously. “You know when spirits manifest, they consume energy out of the air to do it, which causes the temperature to drop. If there’s a spirit here, then they just drew a lot of power out of the air.”
“Lily, that’s completely ridiculous.” Harper said calmly, walking past Regan and into the next room. “It’s even colder in here,” he said.
“Have you ever seen anything like this?” Lily asked, snapping pictures of the frosted corridor on her phone.
“Only in ghost stories.” Seth answered. They walked down the short hallway where they found the first fork in their path. The hallway continued straight, but a stairwell forked off it at a right angle, descending further into the skin of the colony.
Regan didn’t believe in ghosts, but the place was measurably colder than the outside. It was like a freezer in there, despite there being no obvious equipment at work to cool the air. The hairs on the back of her neck rose, and she could feel the goosebumps slowly spreading down her back. The breeze continued down the stairs, whistling along the corridors, and it drew them onwards.
The door at the bottom of the stairs had been left open, but it was the room beyond it that caught all their attention. A huge row of tall windows dominated the space, looking out into an even more cavernous chamber beyond. The floor of that huge chamber had partly yawned open, stuck in a frozen grin, with only darkness and stars visible beyond it. A series of heavy duty hatches covered in warnings were placed on either side of the room. Their labels were obvious. ‘Airlock.’ ‘Pressure Warning’ ‘Vacuum Suit Required.’
Regan’s eyes darted around the room, before finally settling on the thing that bothered her the most about this entire arrangement: one panel of the windows were missing, in their place was a tarp of some sort, one that was now continuously flapping in the rather strong winds at the bottom of the building.
“Where does it go down there?” Lily called from the top of the stairs.
Regan looked back to the windows. “It goes,” she fumbled for words as her mind tripped over the implications. “It goes outside. It leads to space.”
Chapter 9: (Coming Soon)
Also Available at sidewaysfiction.wordpress.com