The Structure, Part V (S3E8)
Part I can be found here. Part II can be found here. Part III can be found here. Part IV can be found here.
Celestograph by August Strindberg
The Structure, Part V
A few hours later, with miles of gloomy, featureless hallway passed, at least according to Razin’s monitor, Tamblyn called them to a halt. Thoman and Alia opened a crate and started to hand out the small, but highly nutritious, wafer cakes that would serve as dinner. Raxton had thought to bring a lamp, complete with portable stand, as you would see on the elevator platforms on the ship, and he busied himself with setting this up. They were all glad to have a source of light other than their flashlights and the low ambient light that seemed to have no obvious source. But Tamlbyn noticed that even this light, powerful though it would have been on the ship, barely illuminated a ten-foot-by-ten-foot area, into which they all huddled.
“What does the spark say?” Tamblyn asked Father Pedra, quietly. By some unspoken rule, they had spoken in no more than a loud whisper since leaving the wreckage — something about the silent atmosphere around them discouraged anything more than that.
“It hasn’t made a peep in an hour or more, even when asked directly. It seems He has little to say about these halls.”
“No surprise there,” Liz muttered, with a hint of acid. She was not exactly known for her faith — in fact, if Tamblyn recalled correctly, she had been Vice President of the Freethinkers’ Club when they were in university together — but she was usually respectful of those who were. They were all under great stress, but Liz was likely especially bitter due to the feeling her skills were not useful to the expedition so far. Tamblyn decided to simply ignore the comment.
“But you still think this was the right decision?”
“He was most insistent about that, yes.”
Tamblyn let them rest for a half hour — though that felt luxurious in comparison to the interminable walking earlier — and then they packed up their miniature camp. Thoman took some photos of the process, which he hadn’t done since a brief spurt of excitement when they started out. It didn’t take long — partly because there was not much to put away, but mostly because Alia was just as methodical at camping as she was at firearm maintenance.
They continued walking, chatter completely cut away now. Liz still waved her flashlight around, hoping to see something, anything, of interest, but the others had long since given up. So it was that Liz was the first to notice the hallway, ahead and to their left.
The party came to a stop in front of the hallway, their flashlights peeking down it like children peeking their head behind their parents’ door. From what they could see, it looked virtually identical to the hallway they were currently in, albeit slightly darker. Distantly, though, Liz claimed she could see some kind of symbols or carvings on the walls. “We should go down it,” Liz said immediately after.
Father Pedra stepped up. The spark of the divine had started squeaking furiously as soon as they stopped in front of the hallway, and got steadily noisier the closer he stepped towards the hallway. “If I may, the spark says we should continue. In fact, it says we should not, under any circumstances, consider stepping even one foot over the threshold.”
Tamblyn nodded. She was just as interested in the markings as the others — well, maybe not as much as Liz — but she also had faith in the spark. Still, she knew she not command them all as easily as Alia and Raxton, so she put it up to a vote.
Liz, of course, wanted to go down the hallway. Thoman voted that way as well — “recording that stuff is what I’m here for, isn’t it?” Raxton, despite appearances, was deeply faithful, making the sign of awakening each time the good father passed him carrying the spark, so he voted to do as it said. Razin was ambivalent and Alia said she would simply do as ordered, either way. So, ironically, it still fell to Tamblyn to decide.
“We continue. If He feels that strongly that we’re not to go down that hallway, then we won’t.”
Liz and Thoman looked disappointed, but the group began to move on. Tamblyn had only taken a few steps, though, when she noticed Liz had fallen to the back, looking behind her shoulder repeatedly. Tamblyn stopped, bringing the group up short. She walked back to Liz, who by know was staring intently down the hallway.
“What is it?”
“I thought I saw…” She trailed off.
Tamblyn looked down the hallway and saw a ball of light floating around at the end of the hallway, illuminating the strange symbols on the walls. “We’re not going down the hallway,” she said, with finality.
“Yeah, yeah,” Liz said distractedly, “but that light… I need to know what it is.”
Liz looked at her old friend, then back down the hallway. Then she sprinted down the hallway.
“Liz!” Tamblyn sprinted after her, barely noticing that the ball of light extinguished itself as soon as Liz crossed into the hallway. Tamblyn almost did likewise, but she was brought up short by the frantic screaming of the spark of the divine. She watched as Liz sprinted away down the hallway, vanishing amid the darkness at the end of the hallway.
She turned and rejoined the group, her heart racing, the spark of the divine only calming when she was back among them. She caught her breath, before looking at the grim faces around her, knowing that she looked even worse.
After a moment, she spoke up again. “Onward?” The other members nodded, their faces showing the effort of avoiding the topic. Tamblyn walked to the front, leading them onward into the featureless hallway. Alia brought up the rear, aiming her weapon behind them every few seconds in case something should surprise them from the adjoining hallway.
“The hallway is getting narrower,” Raxton said.
They stopped and flashed their flashlights all around them. Nobody could perceive a difference between the hallway ahead of them and the hallway behind, but they all felt it — the hallway felt narrower now than before, despite being just as tall. “Actually, now that I mention it, I swear the hallway was already narrower by the time that…” Raxton trailed off, noticing the stricken look on Tamblyn and Thoman’s faces.
“Perhaps we’re getting close to where the spark wants us to go,” Tamblyn said. “Let’s continue. We still have at least an hour or two before we’ll have to make camp.” What she did not mention was that, as they had walked down the hallway, she had not yet felt the need for sleep.
They continued. After another half hour or so, the hallway could fit maybe five people abreast, despite showing no signs of tapering. They once again stopped and looked behind them, but as far as they could see, the hallway was the exact same width the whole way. After another 15 minutes, the hallway could only fit three abreast. Ten minutes after that, again with no noticeable change, it could only fit two abreast, so they began to walk in pairs. Five minutes later, they had been reduced to single file, the hallway barely accommodating one person with their arms outstretched.
They didn’t need to speak to express the claustrophobia — even if they were all used to the confines of the generation ship, this was something else entirely. Soon they could not even stretch out their arms, but every time they looked back behind them, the hallway appeared to be uniformly wide. Even if they wished, it was beginning to look too late to turn back.
As they took step after step, the walls closed in. Soon it was all they could do to drag the crates behind them, the sides scraping against the walls. Tamblyn felt herself start to hyperventilate.
And then, all at once, she stepped into a vast chamber.
One by one, the team popped out behind her, spreading out and enjoying the feeling of agoraphobia. Behind them, the hallway they had come through was nowhere to be seen — only a vast, silvery wall, running for miles in both directions, a slight curve visible as it disappeared into the distance. Tamblyn craned her neck to look for the top, but it vanished into the brightness above them.
Compared to the gloom of the hallway, the chamber was almost uncomfortably bright — an overpowering light source glowing in the air far above them, reminiscent of the growing lamps of the Gardens but on a far grander scale. Beneath their feet, dirt — real dirt — spread out as far as they could see, small green plants sprouting up here and there. It looked like nothing more than the historical slides they were required to study in grade school — the great, lost grasslands of Terra, from whence their ancestors came.
They continued walking, stunned by the place they found themselves now in. On the horizon they could see something standing out of the ground — only when they got closer did they realize it was a tree, standing proud and majestic, the wild form of the paper production plants that the workers of the Garden tended back home. Alia gently fondled a bough hanging down from the tree, mouth open, until Razin snapped at her.
“We should rest,” Tamblyn said, “if we can. We have a tent to block out the brightness, don’t we?”
Thoman nodded and leaned down to unpack it from the crate he carried with him. Raxton took his turn to hand out the dinner wafers. The others, except for Razin, relaxed, taking in the scenery, planning next steps, avoiding the topic of Liz.
Razin, however, went straight to work. He began obsessively measuring with his wristbound device, checking the oxygen content of the air, the nitrogen content of the soil, reverently plucking a leaf from the tree to subject it to analysis. He found that, as he expected, everything about the chamber was even more hyperoptimized for plant growth than even the Gardens. Ignoring dinner, he wandered farther afield, finding patches of grass — studied historically in university, of course, but never present on the generation ship — and wheat, and then other fruits and vegetables, many of which he had never seen before, nor had his device.
He returned with a few apples — a precious rarity on the ship — and turned down the proffered wafer.
“Are you sure that’s safe?” Tamblyn said.
“Of course it is, it’s an apple,” he said, taking a bite out of it. “In fact, according to genetic analysis, it’s 99.9% identical to the apples aboard the ship. The 0.1% appears to have something to do with nutritional value.”
“So you’re saying that…”, Tamblyn looked around, as if someone might be watching, “the aliens eat human apples?”
Razin shrugged. “Or maybe humans eat alien apples.” He stopped chewing for a second, thinking. “You know, we could live off the food here.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I suppose you’re about to say that we should continue on tomorrow. But there’s everything you need for human — er, and rodent — life, right here. Who knows how many miles this chamber goes on for? Who knows if there’s enough edible along the way?”
“We need to find a way off the ship.”
“Do we, though?” He looked around. “This looks just like ancient Terra, you know. We could all just… start a life here.”
“We continue. The spark said so.”
Razin looked unconvinced, but left her to continue eating his apple. Alia shot her a look, but said nothing.
They bundled into a pair of tents, set up at the base of the tree, blocking out just enough light that they could get a few hours of restless sleep. When Tamblyn awoke the next morning, she found Razin already up, his spacesuit gone, a walking stick from who-knew-where in hand.
“I’ve marked out a little plot of land,” he said, as if he was founding a city on old Terra. “I was thinking we could all mark out plots of land.” He looked around sheepishly. “As a biologist, you know…” He lowered his voice. “We do have a breeding population.”
Tamblyn looked at him coldly. “I said we’ll continue.”
“Then you’ll have to do so without me.”
She fingered the pistol still in its holster. “We may still need you.”
“I don’t care. I’m not walking any farther.”
She pulled the pistol and drew it on him. “You’re coming with us.”
He simply raised an eyebrow. “Am I?”
She felt a hand on her shoulder and flinched. She turned to see Father Pedra looking at her. “We had best get moving soon. Thoman is just taking a few pictures.” He nodded at Razin. “We hope you enjoy your solitude.”
“I will, you fools!” he shouted, suddenly turning and walking off.
“We might need him later,” Tamblyn said angrily.
“We might have needed Liz as well. Yet now she is, presumably, with her savior.” He laid a gentle hand on Tamblyn’s shoulder. “This expedition was supposed to be voluntary, and it was supposed to have risks.”
She sighed heavily. “You’re right. We had best move on. Does the spark indicate which way to go?”
He shook his head. “No, which I take to mean we can walk any direction we want.”
Tamblyn nodded. “Then let’s hope He is looking out for us.”