For a full minute, she stared, her mouth slightly open, her toes just over the edge of the ship. And for the first time in her life, she felt small. The Lear had always stood above the other tribes, and she had stood above most of the Lear. She even felt more significant than the stars, tiny pinpricks of light that she sailed between, that she commanded to fall past her as she fed power to the engines.
But this, this was something completely alien to Airomem. Something that would soon change her life forever. Had already changed her life forever.
She drew a sharp breath as the lights above her flickered, and she peered over the edge into nothingness, extending her leg outwards and feeling the force of artificial gravity fall away with each passing inch. She’d have to crawl along the side of the ship, moving in a “U” shape over Agrarian territory, crossing atop the bridge, then moving over the Nectians, a process that would be extremely slow going. And she frowned when her eyes turned towards the bridge, and bright white light illuminated her mask.
There, she could see just the uppermost tip of the third part of the ship – a metallic dome that rose behind rectangular metal of the bridge. On the other side, the white light emanated in bursts and spasms, illuminating the edges of the bridge and casting long shadows on the rest of the ship. Sparks accompanied the glow – long, trailing arcs of light that showered the top of the bridge, danced on its roof, and dripped off its surface as remnants of artificial gravity took hold of them.
Her shoulders sank as she looked upon that, raising her hand to look at the fabric separating her from space, wondering if it was made to withstand sparks like that. She could be impaled before coming anywhere close to the Nectians, or the temperature could rise higher than she could stand. Effectively, the bridge was no longer a passageway but rather an obstacle.
Her muscles tightened as the precious seconds dragged by and she fought to come up with another solution. Perhaps crawling under the bridge would help, but she did not know the extent of construction in that region. She could try to leap through the sparks, but as Prometh had said, losing contact with the ship likely meant she would float away, then suffer a death of eventual suffocation or thirst. But if there was a guide wire, maybe, maybe she could make it.
And her heart fluttered as it came to a realization.
All she needed was a guide wire. And long ago, when the ship had lost power, Necti had connected the halves to bring back power. There, nearly as thick as her arm, and spanning the gap directly between the two halves, was the cord he had once laid. A cord coursing with enough electricity to char her to the bone, that waved loose in the void. And that might be her only way across.
She swallowed and looked left again, considering chancing her way among the sparks just as a thicker ball of molten metal sailed from the repair site and skidded along the bridge, slag spraying away as it made contact and rolling to a red hot stop just on the edge. Airomem watched as it cooled, imagining that it had struck her in the back and had melted the material of her suit away in fizzling hunks as it sought her skin. Her mouth dried and she turned back to the cable, her thoughts fighting adrenaline for control over her body.
It would be impossible to crawl across, she realized, since her tether was metallic. That meant that if the insulator covering was not sufficient, current could flow through her body back to the metal of the ship, short-circuiting the electronics. Shutting off all the lights and killing her in the process as she lit up like the filament of a light bulb.
She tapped her foot, eye spanning the gap, and wondering if she could make the jump with the tether behind her as a safety in case she missed the other side. But if she misjudged, even just slightly, she would come back into contact with the wire. And this time, the momentum could carry her around the wire, tangling her with the cause of her death, and leaving her crucified between the two parts of the ship for eternity.
Considering her options, she frowned. To the left, she would likely die from exposure and heat. To her right, the cable would fry her from the amperage through her tether. Either way, the risk was too high.
But there was one way, she realized, one way just short of death. One way that meant she followed none of the safety precautions provided to her by Prometh or the procedures. A way insane, yet the least so of her options.
The only way.
So she reached behind her, and unclipped the tether, watching it recoil back into the spindle on her belt.
She took two steps forward in a running start.
And Airomem jumped.
In the meeting room, Prometh spread the map he had showed Airomem against the tabletop, speaking with Praeter and Tela as they peered down at the track he had marked.
“When we give the command,” he said, “the power room will cut all power to the ship, and our window will be opened. All the Lear must glide single file down the hallways, as fast as possible, before the Agrarians have a chance to react. The head of the group should be soldiers, ready to stun anything that moves, then soldiers should be peppered throughout the line to prevent disruptions and provide general aid. Then, the end of the line should be capped by soldiers, to ensure no one is left behind and that we are not attacked from the rear.”
“And you expect our citizens to naturally know how to glide?” criticized Tela. “This is a pile-up waiting to happen. We’ll be lucky if they make it down the first corridor without broken bones.”
“He has a point, Prometh,” added Praeter, clasping his hands together over the map. “We have difficulties enough mobilizing them now, and we still have gravity and light. This could easily lead to disaster.”
“We’ve considered that,” said Prometh, “and I currently have engineers cutting through the electrical lines of the main corridor. Within the hour, conditions within will replicate those during the final stages of evacuation, and nearly everyone will become accustomed to weightless travel. On your mark, Praeter, they will finish the conversion to weightlessness.”
“We’ll need to communicate the message first, then –” started Tela, but he stopped mid-sentence, his mouth still ajar.
“What is it?” pressed Praeter as Prometh’s gaze followed Tela’s, his voice filled with awe.
“We’re here,” he gasped, eyes glistening. “All my years, I have waited, and we have truly made it.”
There, in the corner of the window, they could just see the shape of an orb among the black of space. Beyond it, they could see a star far larger than any of the others they had ever encountered, a mammoth among pinpricks, their new power room.
In unison, their chairs screeched backwards as they rushed to the window, similar to like when they were children and a classmate spotted an interesting constellation or star cluster.
“It’s enormous,” breathed Tela.
“It’s beautiful,” whispered Prometh, his gaze upon the star. “Absolutely stunning.”
But Praeter’s fingers were clenched on the edge of the window, and when he spoke, his voice came hard.
“What,” he barked, “in the name of Dandelion 14, is that?”
Though he raised a finger, there was no need for him to indicate as a dark form passed in front of the star, the silhouette inching slowly along until it moved over the planet. It was a slim figure, bearing the shape of the suits from the power room, with its legs clasped around a cable that ran between the two sides of the ship.
“A hero,” choked Prometh. “A hero, for the stories to remember.”
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