Here you go, a little more of Barium and Cesium for you. Same deal as usual, it picks up immediately after where it left off last time. Enjoy!
My head slams into something and my glasses are knocked askew and I stagger and fall to my knees. I stop, stunned, and try to put them back on. I can barely even sit down all the way. I can’t imagine how Mariel could fit in here.
“Come on,” Cesi pulls on my hand again. “Turn on your MR map, dummy. It has a false-light layout of this space.”
I try to do what she tells me, and get something sort of fuzzy and dim. There are crosshatched spaces that change color as they get closer to me, a kind of map of sorts. It’s barely enough to go by. Maybe enough to not hit my head again.
I squeeze Cesi’s hand. “Where are we going?”
She tugs again, invisible in the dark. The false map doesn’t even try to show her, it’s like she’s not even there. “Mariel mapped these spaces with drones. This direction should take us out to a normal transit corridor three levels up and one over from her place.”
“With drones?” But that means—
“Yeah, I know. I checked all of the route, we should be able to fit through all of it. Even the narrow bits.”
“Narrow bits.” I follow the map of our space, not daring to let go of Cesi’s hand ever. If I let go, I might struggle to find her again. I’d feel entirely alone here, stuck in the darkness between the walls. This is not something that I need to keep thinking about. In fact, it’s something that I really need to not keep thinking about. I can’t help it though. “Are these the narrow bits?”
“No. These aren’t the narrow bits. This is just… normal.”
We’re moving as fast as we can, eeling our way through the tight spaces, but it isn’t all that fast. We’re still close enough to Mariel’s place to hear her voice raise in a sudden shout, and then what sounds like her personal stunner goes off. There’s a sudden reply, more discharges, but they don’t sound like stunners. They sound like pocket flares, those little plasma guns that are debatably legal. There aren’t any more shots.
I start shivering. I hope Mariel is okay.
This is what our parents thought was safer than staying on board ship. This is the better alternative. This is terrible.
We don’t stop moving. We don’t have the luxury.
Somewhere behind us there’s a clunk, a bang, and then a light. It’s not shining directly on us, but the lambent glow indirectly lights the both of us just enough to add some gray shapes to the cross-hatched forms that fill my false-light map. I can barely make out the silhouette of Cesi against the shapes.
<Quiet.> Cesi’s text pops up in my HUD. I squeeze her hand to show my agreement.
“Think they went through here?”
The voice echoes through the wall space. There’s some quieter reply that I can’t make out.
“Yeah, well, they could probably fit through here. They’re not big, you know.” Then quieter, muttered but still amplified to reach my ears by the constraints of the space, “Even if they are stick-limbed spacer kids.”
I don’t even know how to describe the feeling that washes through me. Stick-limbed spacer kids? What does that even mean? I’m a spacer, sure, and proud of it. I guess maybe my arms and legs don’t look like an Earther’s, quite. But this is the first time I’ve ever heard someone say that like it made me bad, wrong, twisted. Subhuman.
I swallow down the hot acid I can feel rising up in my throat. I blink a few times and wait for the flush to leave my face, but I don’t stop moving. I don’t stop following Cesi. She has to know where we’re going. I hope. My MR display isn’t showing any mapping path or anything like that.
“Hey, wait.” The voice behind us speaks again. “What if we just,” it gets more muffled, and I strain to make it out. I lose some words. “…Their glasses?”
There are more voice sounds, then maybe something like general agreement.
What could they want to do with our glasses? Would they hack them? Spoof our maps?
Wait. They wouldn’t have to.
All they’d need to do is find our location with respect to the closest sets of network nodes. They could pinpoint us, through the walls, and wait for us to come out. We’d walk right into their waiting arms.
<Cesi,> I pull my fingers from hers to type faster. Being scared and alone doesn’t matter as much as saving us does. <We have to turn off our glasses. Definitely any network connection, maybe turn them off completely. They’re going to try to pinpoint us with them.>
I can hear her breathing get faster in the darkness. Then her signal disappears. She’s already taken my advice, even before I did. My heart is flipping and flopping back and forth in my chest. I know I have to do it, and I can’t make myself do it. If I don’t, they find us. If I do, we’re lost, stuck inside the walls of Titan Station’s Bear ring. I just have to trust that Cesi remembers the route out from here.
I do it. It’s this horrible convulsive push, forcing myself to do it despite myself. Everything goes black, not even enough light bleeding through the open wall segment far behind us to show me the outlines of anything. Not even Cesi.
I stumble forward, hands outstretched, trying to find her. My hands hit suit, a body underneath the tough material, and I can hear Cesi hiss. There, safety. Her hands find my arm, grab my wrist firmly. Then she tugs again.
Faintly, in the barest of whispers, “This way.”
Behind us, sounds of frustration from those strangers fall away into the distance.
I feel hope blooming, rising brilliant like Saturn around the edge of an asteroid.
The feeling crumbles.