Sunday, February 15, 2015
First 5 Pages February Workshop - Taylor Rev 1
Name: Carissa Taylor
Genre: YA sci-fi
I inched forward on my stomach, craning my neck into the darkness of the duct, pollen dust filling my nose. My hands faltered in the dim light. I wasn’t designed for this. For life on the Asteris. For life on Earth either. I was designed for another planet entirely.
One I’d never see.
I paused, flicking the lavender-green light of my beam against the void. It flared back at me, tracing the impurities in the ductwork in spidery streaks of yellow and blue. Soon they’d grow into cracks, then fissures: a lacy web out of which the air would seep. Away from the ship’s cycling system.
But air wasn’t the resource I was here for. My charges were much less predictable.
I dragged myself onward. Wrist, forearm, shove; wrist, forearm, shove; every movement calculated and heavy against the leaden press of the walls. The air was stale with the hot scent of over-clocked computers and fried autorations. Humid and oppressive. Someday, chasing after these stray beehives was going to be the death of me.
Back on Earth there’d been keepers who’d just let a few swarms go. Let them set up a new hive and a new life somewhere else. But here on the starship Asteris, we couldn’t afford to sacrifice a single pollinator. And a fire-scrub was set to sweep the ductwork in less than 72 hours, incinerating everything in its path. One bee might be explained to the Council, worked off in a month of rations sacrifice. A whole colony reduced to baseline? Disaster. It wasn’t like I could put in an order to Mech level for 30,000 bees. Breeding took time and resources, and meanwhile, I’d have to pollinate Ag sector five by hand.
I adjusted my sensor glove, the webbing dark against the dull gray sheen of my outstretched hand. Beyond it, beyond the safe semicircle of lilac glow, a blackness so long I couldn’t see its end. I double checked my light. If something went wrong and– my throat hitched. I pushed out a slow, measured breath. Calm. I could do this. Jesry had done it, and he was seventy years old.
Only Jesry hadn’t had any reason to be afraid of the dark.
At the next intersection, I saw the first signs of the bees. Tiny flickers of pollen dusted the duct ahead in a path of farlight that no one else on the starship would see. No one but the bees and I.
I was only cyborg on the outside – and by the strictest definition, my skin wasn’t even cyborg… just metal-infused - but that was exactly enough to matter to most people. It was why I was here and not a GenPure. My ability to see in ultraviolet was the reason – they said – that I’d been assigned the job of beekeeper. But it wasn’t the real one. The real reason wasn’t about my strengths at all. It was about my weakness.
Gold dust streaked the walls and floor where they’d brushed by on the way to their new home. Clumsy little things. Sometimes I wondered how they managed to survive, bumping around like that. As if to prove me wrong, one sailed over my left shoulder, executing a perfect turn in the bend of the vent.
I narrowed my eyes at it. Now I had them.
Another bee. And another.
They were coming faster now. A group must have left the hive at around the same time.
I edged to the right, trying to leave passage for the bees. My light flickered, the tunnel in front of me wavering. I froze. A vision flashed: me, alone, in the dark, with a swarm of bees.
“Amelia?” I said. “Vitals.”
My lungs clenched. I had to stay calm. To think rationally. My light wasn’t out … yet. The blood pounded in my temples. I could almost hear the bees massing. Waiting for their moment.
“Amelia?” I tried again. “Vitals?”
Her voice flooded my earpiece with the incredible calm of the pilot that was her namesake.
Heart rate: elevated. Core temperature: 97.6 degrees. Blood levels: normal. Need anything else, Violet?
“Amelia: set vitals to auto-report in 15 minute intervals.”
People thought that I was slightly overmuch obsessed with Earther lore. But from the time I was nine, when I heard the story of the first woman pilot, I knew I wanted to fly. I also knew that was impossible.
Normally Amelia only reported to the MedBay on an hourly basis, but in here I needed to be more cautious. In here, there was no way of knowing whether or not I’d been stung once, twice, or a thousand times. I’d never realize until it was too late.
I stared at my hand, its pale silver hue luminous beneath the stringy black webbing of my sensor gloves. Without the gloves I didn’t feel anything. All my nerve endings were buried deep beneath my titanium-enriched skin. On that level, me inheriting the job of beekeeper made sense, sure. It made sense unless I was stung by fifty of them at once without knowing, and my windpipe collapsed. Which, coincidentally, was a scenario becoming more and more likely by the minute.
I was only cyborg on the outside, but most of the time that was where it mattered.
I scooted up a few inches and flicked my light around the corner. The empty glare fractured and bounced back at me. A split. There was no way of knowing which way the bees had gone.
I sat back and waited. My flashlight flickered again. If the light went out, I wouldn’t be able to see my hands.
I’d be touchblind.
People take for granted the importance of sensation. Most kids take two years to learn to walk. I took seven. There were certain movements I knew by heart now. I’d practiced them over and over in front of a mirror until I could do them with my eyes closed. Sitting. Standing. Walking. Lying down. Getting up. Lacking the sensation to feel what I was doing, I made checklists. Which muscles to activate and coordinate, contract and release. I could jump, step sideways, push my hair behind my ear.
But there were certain things I didn’t have a checklist for. I didn’t, for example, have a procedure for “trapped in air vents, need to back up and around corner to escape.” I don’t know. For some reason it wasn’t included in my copy of Holden’s Physical Therapy for the Neurologically Challenged.
If I couldn’t see, I wouldn’t know how to move. The beam wavered again. Instantly, I reached back, groping the thigh pocket where I kept my spare light.
All I felt was smooth bioprene against my leg.
I checked again, running my fingertip sensors along the inside of the pocket, digging into the corners. My chest clenched. Nothing.
It must have fallen out. And because my family couldn’t afford a whole body sensor-suit, I hadn’t noticed. I’d crawled right over it and left it somewhere back there in the abyss.
Heart rate: rising. Blood levels: normal. Amelia reminded me.
“OK!” I yelled at her, as if she wasn’t doing exactly what I’d asked. “I know!”
The dark seemed to well up around me, a black wave waiting to surge.
I clicked off the UV, switching to Vis-only: less power drain.
I was just about to choose a passage at random, when a bee buzzed by my ear and into the right-hand tunnel. I wrenched myself forward contorting my body around the tight angles of the ductwork. According to my handheld, I was nearly on the outer perimeter of the starship.
“You’ve got no place left to hide,” I said, gritting my teeth as I wriggled around the bend.
But I was wrong. As I shone my light down the corridor, ten meters away, the beam flashed back at me.
A dead-end and no hive.
This was. Not. Happening.