Here’s a scene I finished up a few days ago. Simon is going through rehabilitation, which largely involves walking the corridors of Iapyx in order to build up his strength and flex his joints. This scene gives a picture of what the city is like, and also shows some of the mysterious glitches that have started to affect Iapyx while Simon was recuperating. Also, after my discussion about the world being under constant barrage by solar flare, it shows the colonial response: rather than a central power system, the lights and everything else electronic is powered by batteries which constantly have to be replaced. This creates a caste of people hereafter known as the Battery Boys.
How many people does it take to change the light bulbs on Iapyx? Lots. And they’re more important than you think.
I started on the middle level, with its access to the Great Hall. The park setting offered trees to walk past, and a bench if I needed to rest (which I did, frequently). Then I walked along the perimeter, where I could peer out the little windows at the gantry cables and the city’s umbrella roof angling over the fog forest below. I paused and stared whenever I saw an ornithopter depart or come in, and bittersweetly wondered when or if I would fly again.
And nobody challenged me. As I walked with a cane, wearing slippers and a hospital robe over my clothes, people just thought of me as a harmless patient. Which I was. So long as I wasn’t causing any trouble, or getting into dangerous spaces, nobody needed to have to bother with me. So, when I got tired of the middle level, I tried the ones below, challenging myself to follow the steam and water ducts that laced themselves through the ceiling. I couldn’t help but notice that the maintenance crews had let some things slide. A number of lights were flickering, putting some of the corridors in shadow.
The workers went about their duties around me. I saw two battery boys come striding down the corridor, carrying the wooden ladder between them. They barely glanced up at the flickering light and set out the ladder and opened it in one smooth motion. Then one of the two held it while the other climbed it. Reaching up, the boy on the ladder — actually a girl — snatched the battery from its slot and tossed it down. The boy at the bottom caught it in one hand, redirected it to his case, and snatched another battery from within. He tossed it up to the girl, who caught it, and snicked it in. The light flicked on and shone brightly. Then the girl jumped down, and the two swept the ladder up between them and marched on to their next lamp. I watched them go. Then I gathered my breath, pushed myself away from the wall, and started back for the Infirmary.
There was a whoosh and a click. I looked around. Ten feet away, in the middle of an otherwise empty wall, was a pneumatic message tube. The LED showed that a canister was in the hatch. I frowned. This was a public intake area, not an outlet. Who’d be sending a message here?
Had to be another glitch, I thought.
I limped over, opened the hatch and pulled out the canister. My frown deepened. No address label. Then… Muttering a silent apology to the patron saint of privacy, I opened the canister and took out the paper inside. It was a single sheet, folded into a square. I unfolded it.
“DUCK!” it said.
There was a bang, like a hundred balloons bursting at once. The shock of it made me drop the canister and throw myself forward, into the wall. The noise was followed by a hiss that sounded as though it came from the mouth of a gigantic snake. Rubbing my nose, I turned.
A hundred metres away, a thick, white cloud billowed up through the corridor. Inside, people shouted. Someone screamed; I think it was the battery girl. Steam, I realized, pressing myself up against the wall. People were running to escape; others were running to help. The cloud washed over everythng; over me. Water beaded on my skin and the air heated up. And still the horrible hissing continued. A burst pipe.
Alarms started ringing. I couldn’t see the corridor through the clouds, and I knew running in would have been foolhardy. Other people were coming; I could hear them, but they wouldn’t be here soon enough. I looked around helplessly. There had to be something I could do.
The steam cleared enough so I could see the pipes lacing through the ceiling. I could see the big pipe that carried the steam from the solar vats to the battery re-generators. Follow that pipe along, down the wall, and—
There: a valve; a huge wheel with a handle. I staggered over, gripped it in both hands and strained. My fingers chaffed. The muscles in my arms protested. I grunted and moaned, but I couldn’t think of giving up; not when I still heard the girl screaming. Then, just as I offered a silent prayer, I felt the wheel shift. It was the only encouragement I needed. I heaved. It turned. I turned it until it wouldn’t turn anymore. Behind me, the whoosh of steam ebbed, then stopped. A shocked silence descended upon the corridor. As the steam cleared, I heard people groaning.
Then I realized that my hands had cramped. My arms felt as though I’d broken them. I let out a grunt of pain and staggered back, into the arms of a maintenance worker.
“Whoa,” he said, looking me up and down. He caught sight of my insignia. “Whoa, cadet! You all right?” I was breathing too heavily to speak. I just nodded.
He glanced at my handiwork and slapped my arm. “Quick thinking, there. I think you saved a few lives.”
“Good,” I wheezed. “What happened?”
He looked down the corridor in the direction maintenance and medical crews were already running. His face darkened. “I don’t know. An accident of some kind. We’ll find out.” He looked at me. “I promise.”
I felt the folded paper in my hand. I kept my fingers closed over it.