Z. A. Crum
The Master stood above the void, still holding the axe he had brought with him from below. It had taken him years to scale this far, roughly one third the way towards the Cap. Inwards, pylons extended over the void, connecting to a massive ring.
The Cord pulsed through that ring, and others like it, all the way from the Spire down to the Abyss. The Cord illuminated this construct, yet denied its denizens any heat. That came from far below, past the towers of this end, past the Wall and past the Arcology.
The Master glanced down, worried. He knew he had been followed, at least to the Wall. Whether or not his pursuer knew the secret to passing through the wall was unknown.
He was not one to dwell too long. Hefting the axe over his shoulder, he scanned the ruins of pylons-once towers, to find his way upward.
Space stretched out below them, circular and black. Beyond that, stretching out to the horizon, pulsed the living mass of light and dark. A gaseous spheroid so large it’s horizon lay at right angles to the battered personnel ship. The ship, and the four of them inside, descended towards the unseen surface below.
To the passengers, it felt eerily like descending into the eye of a god.
As the blackness grew, and the living mass began to disappear behind it, the relief of the two passengers became evident. That living, killing mass drew closer, separated only be the darkness below. The circle of black surrounded them, banishing the light to the edges.
Below, dim but distinct, pulsed a ring of landing lights. They flickered, giving the ship’s computer a signal to home in to. Far above, muffled by a mass of machinery, attitude jets fires in sporadic bursts, slowing their descent. The four suited individuals, shifted slightly as inertia pulled them in various directions. Their expressions lay hidden behind opaque, reflective masks. One of the individuals, his suit red, glanced at another, in orange, and nodded.
The man in orange nodded in return, and looked back at the small display before him. The ship lay the circle of lights, venting gas as it slowed to a near stop. Beneath them, the desk clanged and shuddered as they made contact with the featureless structure below.
The four shifted, preparing for their departure. Seconds later a hatch opened, revealing an empty lift. The one in red and the one in orange, guided the other two towards the lift. The other two complied without emotion, shuffling slowly into the lift.
The hatch closed, and the lift descended into the rocky bowels of the Spire.
Fifty-Two woke from his sleep as the small recreational transport descended onto the top side, the flat side, of the Spire. As he stumbled out of his rack, he motioned the clock to play all messages.
“Oh boy,” he said, holding his head. Two months ago, at the urging of Fifty-Three, he’d rewired one of the wall units to produce what he thought might be moonshine. “Okay, what’d you got for me?”
The message flickered quickly: “Yellowheads inbound.”
“Got it.” Yellowheads, the name for the space suits incoming tourists wore. Although they varied from red to yellow. He grabbed a breakfast bar and left his room.
The common area, a private area maintained solely for the Spire’s permanent personnel, lay in half light, it would gradually be illuminated to full light over the next two hours. Halfway across the room, he glanced at the tables in annoyance. Night shift had left trash scattered across the tables and the cabinets opened. He backtracked without thinking, cleaning the tables and closing the cabinets before heading out.
As he entered the control room, Fifty-Three glanced up from a display. Around him, the circular control room hummed with machinery that lay beneath the deck. Several monitors showed the transport docked far above them. Between the control room, which sat near the tip of the Spire, and the expansive plain far above them, lay a massive amount of rock. Early studies had shown the Spire to be a chiseled out asteroid. One could spend hundreds of years exploring the Spire.
Yet what brought the tourists, like the ones inbound from above, to the Spire, was what lay far below them. They called it the Artifact. A dark cylindrical wonderland buried in the glare of the Eye below it.
“Ready?” Fifty-Three handed him a coffee.
“Thanks,” he said, running a hand through his hair. He grabbed a small display, brought up the welcome aboard presentation and followed his companion out another hatch. Several hallways later they stepped into the landing bay viewing area. Here, the Yellowheads dropped down from the surface and into a separate containment area.
A quick glance showed an image of the lift descending from the surface. Four men, which was standard, although Fifty-Two had seen at least one wealthy individual come in solo.
“Red and orange.” Fifty-Three said. He nodded. It happened, the yellow suits had been the original model, but time and progress had introduced new suits. As usual, two of the suits moved around, while the other two stood still, facing the hatch.
The lift descended, slowing until it halted before the room adjacent to theirs.
A hatch light flickered to green, yet another light remained red. Through the hatch window, the two shifted anxiously.
Fifty-Two glanced down at his display in his hand, the biometrics and identification routine blinked as it processed the new individuals. The screen blanked, and four rows tiled downward with thumbnailed pictures of each individuals. They had to trust the AI, since the tourists desired anonymity.
The last red light turned green and the hatch cycled, opening for the four suited individuals. As the hatch opened, the four individuals appeared. They shuffled slowly, the two in front most of all, but even their handlers seemed at odds with the unfamiliar environment.
Fifty-Two stepped forward, his face nearly touching the glass pane that separated the two rooms. “Welcome aboard the Spire, gentlemen. My name is Fifty-Two and this is Fifty-Three, we will be your hosts during our stay at the Spire. Due to potential contamination issues, we ask that you remain in your suits until you have entered the guest quarters facility.” He motioned to his left where a hatchway led to a hallway.
“As I’m sure you know, the Spire is a government facility. While on board please remember that the rules set out in the following documents,” he sent them the documents as he continued, “must be followed at all times. If, at any time, there is an emergency, don your protection gear and proceed to the Debarkation Bay. At no time should you return to the Landing Bay. Thank you for your time, and have a nice day”
He nodded to the visitors and motioned for them to proceed. One of the Yellowheads, there was always one, started in the wrong direction. The other grabbed his arm, pointing towards the hallway labeled “Guest Quarters”. With a nod he changed direction and the four of them left the landing bay.
After they left, Fifty-Two sighed. “Good lord, there’s always a dumb one.”