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Chapter 52

Airomem panted as she inched across the power line, every one of her movements creating reverberations that whipped down the line and back, threatening to unbalance her and cast her into space. She inched her hands forward, careful to maintain contact with the cord, and gripped tight each time a particularly violent vibration raced towards her. Then she shimmied her legs upwards, all too aware of the electrical hum trapped underneath her as her shins glided against the insulation. Then she repeated the process, her eyes glued to the other end of the ship to prevent her pupils from being lost in the blackness below, and curses streaming from her clenched jaw.

Just moments before, she had made the leap, crossing from the solid metal of the ship to the power cable, suspended in space for what felt like years. Her hands had been extended outwards until her fingertips grazed the cable and she latched on, gripping fast as her legs streamed behind. Then they arced forwards as the wire became taut under her momentum, her center of gravity swinging as she fought for control. The full load of her momentum snapped against her shoulders as they bore the tension of her swinging body until she pulled herself tight along the wire. For a moment she had paused, trembling, knowing that without the tether, one wrong move could mean death.

And now, she was slowly approaching the other end of the ship, each movement taking her closer to the midpoint. Images flashed through her mind of space debris, smaller versions of The Hand of God that would punch holes in her faster than she would be able to react. Thoughts that perhaps the wire was not secured tightly on the other side, and that she might yank it free. Or that the old oxygen tank on her back might have become defective through years without use, and that it might run out prematurely.

But with each pull against the cable, she pushed these thoughts away, forcing herself to concentrate on the next foot forward, then the next steps of her plan. And praying that she had not forgotten any of the steps in the procedures.

After ten minutes, she was halfway and she paused from her suspended position to look beyond the ship. There, reflected in the glass of her helmet was the new planet, with the burning star just beyond, its light illuminating her red hair. After hundreds of years, this was their final destination. And she couldn’t help but wonder what they had left behind, and if this new world would prove any better.

By twenty minutes, she was three-quarters of the way there. And by twenty-five, the other end of the ship was ten feet away, and waiting. She would have to jump, clearing the last remaining gap to avoid the same short circuit problem that she had encountered earlier. But now, instead of her feet firm on the ground, she had only a swaying cable, and the closest handhold was thirty feet away, a tethering point just visible to the left of one of the windows.

The ship shuddered as she hesitated, and she cast a nervous glance to beyond the bridge, where the white light intensified temporarily. The longer that she waited, the more of a chance there was for something to go wrong, something she had absolutely no power to predict.

Gritting her teeth, she extended her arms forward as she arched her back. She hung there for an instant, like a string pulled tight and ready to snap, quivering under the tension. And then she launched herself forward, opening her arms wide as she drifted through space, her expression turning to horror as she streaked off target.

Halfway across the tethering point was now several feet beneath her, with the lip of the ship falling at the same pace. By the time she reached it, it would be too far to grip with her hands, and her toes would just barely graze the metal plating. She drew in a sharp breath as she saw the result of her trajectory, a beeline between two stars countless miles away, and felt adrenaline rushing just under the surface of her skin as the realization that not only would she be doomed if she missed, but so too would the Nectians.

In desperation, her hand flew to her belt where it found the coiled tether, and she whipped it towards its contact point. It sailed past the target, slamming into the side of the ship instead and skittering away, then retracting back to her side as the spindle drew it back in. She aimed a second throw, but it was too late, as the angle of opportunity for the opened hook to catch had closed, and she was now directly over the ship, the smooth top surface too flawless for her hook to catch. Eddies of the ship’s artificial gravity below caught hold of her and she started to fall face first, her emotions flaring as she crashed against the metal and bounced back upwards, her fingers scrabbling along the surface but finding no purchase.

She slammed downwards again once more, skidding across the slick metal, turning a full circle as she started to slow. Ahead, the edge approached, but she was still moving too fast, the fabric of her gloves doing little to reduce her speed, now just above a jogging pace. Then the metal fell away once more, and the ship began to depart, leaving her behind in the void.

But there, on the flank of the ship and just at her eye level, was the mirror of the tether point she had tried to connect moments before. And as she drifted away, the gap between her and the ship growing larger with each second, she cocked her arm backwards for one more throw and let the hook fly, watching as it struck metal and danced around the contact.

 

Chapter 53

There’s no sound in space – meaning that the tether was silent as it soared. The click Airomem waited for was purely imagined, and she had no way of knowing whether the connection was successful. But she could see the hook lodged into place, and at her belt, the wire started to spool away from her, the umbilical cord back to the ship and her sole chance of survival.

Further and further, she travelled, too scared to move and dislodge the hook, her form rigid as it waited for the wire to run out, her hip bone registering a slight vibration with each full revolution of the spindle. And in that moment, her rotation carried her around to face the planet, now slightly larger than the last time she had looked at it. The planet where she would lead her people – the Lear and the Nectians. The planet that was the culmination of Dandelion 14, that she and countless others had spent their entire lives tending to the power room to reach.

At that moment, she knew that if the tether connection broke away, she would become a slave to the planet’s gravity, pulled in until she crashed down long after her death. Inferior to its will.

So she squared her shoulders, glaring down her nose at the new world. The new world that belonged to her. And she raised her chin, just as the tether caught and whipped her into a spin, the breath nearly knocked out of her by the jerking motion. Then, at her belt, she felt the vibration again as the tether started to retract.

Click, one revolution of the spindle, drawing her closer to the ship.

Click came the second rotation, followed by a third, then a fourth, the frequency increasing with each vibration as she accelerated. She stretched out her hands, releasing a small sigh of relief just as they made contact with the metal, her fingers clutching around a handhold, the tether at her belt still pulling with a slight tension. Breathing hard as she realized she had made it to the other side, and step one was complete.

She blinked, looking left and right down the row of windows, her toes extending just over the glass of one below her. And, consulting her memory, she tried to determine where the nearest collection of apartments would be. Most likely left, she realized, though there would be some on the right as well, though about twice as far away.

Leaving her tether in place, she crawled downwards until the window was eye level, and looked inside.

Directly in front of her were farms, farms that were disturbingly empty. A few figures walked in the distance, but there on the left, just as she had predicted, was a hallway that led a row of apartments branching away from the end of the farms. Taking care to ensure at least one of her hands always firmly grasped part of the ship, she started scuttling over the outer edge, watching as the hallway approached with each passing window. Then she breached the internal wall, and there was a stretch twice as long before the next window began.

In moments, she was in front of it, one hand against the glass, squinting to look through, a triumphant smile flashing across her face as she recognized the structure of some of the ship’s smaller style of apartments characterized by the wall-mounted bed, receded shelving, and sliding door closet.

And in this one, there was even an occupant – a child whose eyes bugged out as he stared at her, held frozen in place, strands of his dark hair sticking up in the back as if they too were astonished. She raised her hand in a wave, and slack-jawed, he slowly raised his own, opening and closing his fingers as if he couldn’t remember how they worked. Then she moved to the next window, peering inside to see the door closed and the room vacant.

Thinking back to a short time before, she recalled what the procedures book had said, in the Emergency Boarding Procedures section.

Upon designing the ship, special precaution was taken to limit the points at which people and objects could enter and exit. These points form a natural weakness in the hull, as well as a general opportunity for problems to arrive, and as such were limited to two – one on each end of the ship.

However, this design possesses faults: it does not consider emergencies that may occur to maintenance workers on distant areas of the ship, the potential for the exits to become inoperable, and other unforeseeable circumstances. As such, the following section is provided as a guide in absolute emergencies, and should be used only as the very last resort in the most dire of situations. For this method to even be considered, no fewer than three hundred lives should be at risk, and the full council must make a unanimous emergency vote.

This certainly qualified as the most dire of situations, Airomem decided, and she began checking the room inside for the aspects denoted by the next section of the procedures.

First, the target room should be small and must have a closed door. Clutter within should be kept to a minimum, and there should be no occupants present. The window must not be damaged, and there should be no objects of high value in the room, including any sort of ship controls. Water vessels should not be present if possible, nor any sealed containers.

Continuing to scan the contents, Airomem nodded and moved on to the next section.

When designing windows for the ship, layers of ultra-strong plastic were interlaid between the transparent ceramic compounds, allowing for a barrier to retain the pressure of the ship even if the window should shatter. As you prepare to make your incision, be sure to puncture these internal layers, and prepare for the event of shattered glass. Make the incision short, keep tight hold of your cutting tool, and ensure your body is clear of potential fractures and pressurized gas. Utmost caution is to be used, and remember – this method is not simply a last resort due to the damage to the ship, but at the high potential for injury or death of the technician.

Swallowing, Airomem’s hand fell to her tool belt where she had stored the Omni-cutter, and she held it as far as possible away from her, inching along the side of the ship until only its tip brushed the corner of the window. Pulling the trigger, she watched as the white spark danced at the edges of the prongs, and her finger hovered over a second button on the side of the tool. The button, as she had read in the procedures, would force the arc outwards in a short parabola, stripping away anything in its path.

She paused, her grip growing tighter on both the tool and her handhold, her teeth clenched, her second tether secured moments before to a point just a few yards away. And with a sharp breath, her finger danced forward, pushing the button inward as the arc leapt away from the prongs and rushed into the waiting glass.

 

Chapter 54

It was the planet that drove me back into action.

Until this point, talk of departure from the ship had simply been talk. In a way, it was like the stories – I knew them to be true, but they still existed just beyond my own experience. I walked the same halls as they had occurred, yet they were removed. Facts lacking physical sustenance, like a smell without a taste.

But seeing the planet made me realize that we were actually leaving, that it was an event and not only a story, as the realization shifting from the informational part of my brain to the tangible part with a clunk.

“It’s incredible,” Hannah had breathed when she had seen it through the window, the light reflected off of it playing across her face.

“It’s a countdown,” I’d responded, my knees wobbling as I stood, the slim portions of food and water sapping away at my strength.

Each day, the light under our door grew dark, and Nean’s voice had floated through the clamoring of those outside.

“Rations!” he shouted to those outside. “Rations they fed us while we were hungry, instead of actual meals! Instead of the feasts that you have now! And now, we shall feed them rations, so that they can experience what they put us through!”

Then scraps of food would be forced through the crack under the door, mixed with water to form a sludge of the unwanted bits of vegetables, the hard stems and rotting parts that others had cast away.

At first, I’d recoiled in disgust against the far wall, my nose pinched as the smell wafted from the pile into the room. But then the thirst had begun, and I’d soaked a shirt I had found in the closet in the mound, then squeezed the sour liquid into my mouth. And eventually, I started picking through the bits of sustenance, my standards decreasing with each passing hour and the intensifying growls of my stomach, minimizing my energy to preserve my strength.

But now, with the planet still shining in Hannah’s eyes, energy started flushing back to my body and mind. And casting my eyes around the room, I stopped searching for a way to escape.

Instead, I remembered the way Airomem had fended off the horde of gardeners as I had fallen down, helpless from Nean’s strike from behind. How Tom had blocked me from the blow of the Esuri’s knife, and how I had felt when I had brought the gravity crashing down upon the Agrarians and Aquarians.

So I searched for a way to fight.

In general, the ship was engineered in ways to make it difficult to detach furniture and objects – but remembering Airomem’s story of Sitient sitting upon his couch throne, as well as bits and pieces of junk that had accrued over the centuries, I knew it was possible. I rummaged through the closet, finding only smooth wall, bundles of clothes, and a few shoes. Then I tried the bed, but it extended as a single shelf, its interface seamless with the wall with no parts that could be removed. The paneling around the window also refused to budge, though I applied far less effort in trying to remove it, fearful of opening a hole into the outside.

But finally, I found something – something that, while not perfect, would suffice.

The vent set into the wall above us.

Standing on the bed, I stared at it, examining the vertical bars which split the flow of air as it traveled outwards. Placing my hand against them, I pushed, feeling them barely flex inwards under my strength. Beneath me, Hannah stared upwards, watching as I rocked the vent back and forth in place, gaining little ground in actually removing it.

“Try this,” she said after a few minutes, handing me up a sock. “Wrap it around one of the bars, and try to pull it free.”

So I wove the fabric between the metal and yanked, pulling one of the bars outwards such that it bent in the middle. Pushing it back in, I repeated the action, the center of the grate heating up with each flex until it snapped, the sock flying loose so suddenly, I nearly toppled off the bed. The two halves of the thin bar now stretched away from the vent, their ends jagged, and with several more cycles, they broke at the base to come free.

Two sharp points of metal, each about as long as my middle finger, and about a tenth as thick. After a few more minutes, I had broken away another bar to make four, and jumped off the bed, handing two of them to Hannah.

“Our only chance,” I said, holding one of the miniature spears up, “is to catch them by surprise if they open the door, and to make a rush for the exit before they recover.”

“You do realize,” she responded, her face skeptical though she clutched the rods, “that fighting kitchen knives with these is suicide.”

“No, Hannah,” I answered, pointing to the floor, “this, staying on this ship, is suicide.”
Next Chapter: https://leonardpetracci.com/2017/05/08/the-bridge-chapters-55-57/

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Don’t forget to vote for  The Bridge!  It takes 2 clicks.

I’ll be providing the entire story here for free for a limited time.  In return, I ask that you tell a friend about Chapter 1!  The only way others find out about my work is through word of mouth.