… continued from Circuit Breakers
Anna peered through the open doorway into the elevator cab interior, no longer dark, but now well-lit. The low seats and couches they had observed earlier through the window appeared surprisingly comfortable, a far cry from the stone benches of Ar-Danel, each accompanied by a side table and small console. Surviving cushions remained mostly mold-free, if a bit thin and stiff. A musty odor persisted, surprisingly mild given the centuries this chamber had remained sealed up, disused. Along the convex back wall, next to one of the closed doorways, an alcove sported what to Anna’s eye appeared like nothing so much as a bar. After so many weeks of effort to get to this place, weeks of intense focus upon this singular goal, she finally felt she could relax just long enough to let the wonder of where she was wash over her.
A working space elevator! Well, it remained to be seen if it was fully operational, but the signs so far were encouraging. After some experimentation, Anna and her crew had deciphered the written labels for power, light, and ventilation, and possibly also the color codes for more or less temperature. Some of the other labels remained a mystery for the moment, though she suspected she knew which ones were probably indicators for up and down, concepts Ca-Tren certainly understood, but perhaps these were written with more technical terms.
Laxmi pressed past Anna into the cab, a bundle of gear in her arms which she added to the pile of their equipment already moved inside. A sense of bemusement displaced Anna’s wonder and awe. Laxmi was now the impatient one, eager to move forward, while Anna wanted to study the alien technology, now that they had powered it up. Then her bemusement gave way to concern.
“Laxmi, Jaci… we need to talk about our next steps.”
Laxmi turned to look back at her. “Isn’t it obvious? We go up. Isn’t this what you wanted, why we came here?”
“Yes, but…” This would be the delicate part. “We still only have the two e-suits, and… well, what do we do about Ca-Tren?”
Jaci’s face fell. “We cannot take her with us, away from her home, her people.”
“No,” Anna agreed, “and yet, we cannot just leave her here with a broken sailboat. We would be abandoning her to her death, or more likely, to capture by the Orta. They will come here eventually, you know that.”
“Can we repair the boat?”
Anna paused. “I don’t know. We haven’t seen much material around here that we could easily use. We could probably jury-rig something, but it will take time, and even then, I don’t know how seaworthy it will be. You’ve seen how sudden and fierce the storms here can be.”
“She’s proven herself a competent sailor.”
“Yes, but not in a boat with holes in it and just barely held together by seaweed.”
Laxmi spoke up. “What do you think the Orta would do to her?”
Anna thought a moment before replying. “They were civil enough when they found us at sea. But this time they would know that she had deceived them earlier. I don’t think we can predict how they would react to that.”
“They’re also water-breathers. We don’t know if they can support an environment for her in their small craft.”
“We have to fix her boat!” Jaci became animated, pointing back at Ca-Tren. “It would be unconscionable to take her from everyone she has ever known. Even if we make it back to Aniara, we don’t know that we can support her needs on board.”
“We could support her,” Laxmi said. “We have been breathing her air, eating her food, and she has even tried our emergency rations.”
Ca-Tren chose this moment to whistle, silencing the three humans. She looked at Jaci, squawked, and pointed with her wing at the tablet on his belt. He took it into his hands.
I know you are discussing me. It is not hard to guess what you are arguing about. Let me make it easy. I want to come with you.
“Ca-Tren, no,” Jaci replied. “You’ve already done so much for us, we cannot ask this of you. We will repair the boat…”
The boat is beyond our means to repair. You know this. And we cannot leave it for the Orta to find.
“Then we must…”
I have already moved the boat to deeper water and sunk it, while you were busy in here.
“Ca-Tren, no! We could still get you home…”
I do not wish to go home. Was that not clear when I left Ar-Danel with you? I knew then your goal was to go up into the sky and fly back to your home. I wished then to go with you, and I still do. The Kwakitl have always dreamed of our lost flight, of soaring into the heavens. Would you deny me this? I shall be the first of my people in generations to return to the skies, because of you. I dream of exploring what is out there.
Anna stepped forward and squatted down before Ca-Tren, looking the young avian in her inscrutable eye. A smile stole over Anna’s face. She understood Ca-Tren’s longing all too well, for did it not match her own?
“You understand, then, that it is very likely you may never be able to return here? Or if you do, it may well be many years from now? You would be alone among humans.”
I understand this.
“You would see the stars, though, in a way that you never could from the ground.”
“Anna!” Jaci stepped forward. “You shouldn’t encourage her.”
“And why not? It’s clear she wants to go. Besides, you heard her, she has already removed any other option from the table.”
Jaci. Ca-Tren stepped up to him, and he knelt down to her level. It is my choice. I choose to go.
He sighed in defeat, then smiled. “Very well. Then I am happy to have you with us.”
“We still have another problem,” Laxmi said. “We have only the two e-suits, and now there are four of us. Plus, I’m not entirely sure if Ca-Tren can wear one; certainly the helmet will not fit over her beak.”
Anna nodded; she was ready for this question. “That’s true, but I have a plan. If we can get up to the ring station, I believe I can remotely pilot the lander from Aniara over to us. Then we can take turns shuttling from the station into the lander. We can wrap Ca-Tren inside a suit long enough for that transfer, same as we did our equipment to get it through the water to here.”
“You were already planning for her to come with us, weren’t you?” Jaci glared at her accusingly.
“I thought it likely she would want to, yes.”
“How could you do that?”
“I didn’t do anything. I just prepared for what I considered the most likely outcome. It always remained her choice.” Anna stepped through into the spacious cab, then looked back out at the others. “It seems all the decisions are made, and all the gear is loaded, so, shall we go?”
Jaci looked at Laxmi briefly, then at Ca-Tren, then all three of them followed Anna into the cab.
“Do you know how to make it go?” Jaci asked.
“No, but I will in a few minutes.” She stepped up to the primary control console.
“How reassuring,” he sighed.
Anna just laughed. “Let’s try… this one.” She circled her finger around a luminous dial, one that she was fairly certain meant up. Below that was its matched pair that she presumed was for down.
As with the utility panel outside, the yellow dial changed color, but instead of turning turquoise, it turned a deep maroon, and one of the other dials flashed brightly, alternating between yellow and maroon.
“Ah, of course. That one means door.”
She circled the door dial, and it began flashing the alternating colors at a faster rate. A chime sounded in the cab, followed by an electronic series of chirps, whistles, and recognizably Kwakitl squawks from an unseen speaker.
“Let me guess,” Jaci said. “‘Please stand clear; the doors are now closing.’”
The double doors between the cab and the outer chamber both slid closed with a satisfying thunk, followed by a short but audible hiss. The door control dial turned turquoise and flashed once, while the up dial stopped flashing and settled back into a yellow color.
“Um, should we be taking seats?” Laxmi asked nervously.
“Probably,” Anna said, and then she circled the up dial. Like the others, it changed color to turquoise and flashed once.
Another chime sounded, followed by another automated announcement in Kwakitl, and then the floor lifted gently beneath their feet. Through the large view windows to either side of the door, stretching the length of the outer elliptical wall, Anna saw the departure lounge slip away below them. There was a brief moment of darkness, and then the cab rose out of the building, treating them to an unparalleled view of the drowned city with all its towers and spires, rapidly diminishing below, and the wide expanse of the turquoise sea beneath a turquoise sky.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Anna breathed quietly to herself, “next stop: orbit.”
… continued with Ascent to the Void
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