The lights went out. The artificial climate control shut down. The emergency klaxon blared in short bursts accompanied by red flashing lights, the only thing visible. The whole ordeal ended almost as soon as it started. Alyse panicked. She knew as well as everyone else on the bioship, any mass failure was investigated with the utmost rigidity. The punishment for jeopardizing the lives of everyone was most severe.
Alyse promptly repaired the line she’d accidentally snipped and packed up her tools quickly. Breathing rapidly and in short breaths, she tried to crawl out of her access tunnel. Normally she made the climb with ease as if she were born part spider monkey. But now, as sweat dripped into her eyes and slicked her palms, she briefly thought she’d never be free. Once she broke out, she flipped the switch, turning the bright white lights used for maintenance off so that the entirety of the tunnel only radiated the dim blue emitted by the equipment. She hurried to clock out early.
Alyse took refuge in the cafeteria, hoping to take her meal early. The bioship held little room for privacy for her rank. Her best option was to hit up various places during their off times. She tried to move through the conveyor as normally as possible, filling her plate with the same foods and amounts she’d usually eat. Her steps to the far table felt mechanical, and she held her tray in a vice grip, trying to quell the shaking. Mercifully she reached the table and the entire hall remained empty. She expected the authorities to show up at any moment. Each second that passed when they didn’t compounded her anxiety. She pushed the peas around their tray compartment and nearly flung a spoonful across the entire room when a hand landed on her shoulder.
Brynn had snuck up on Alyse, or Alyse’s head had been pounding too loudly she didn’t notice. Either way, she wasn’t alone anymore.
“Knocked off early today?” asked Brynn.
“Yeah, finished quickly,” Alyse replied.
Brynn knew something was up. Alyse never finished her work early. She enjoyed it, preferred electronics to people.
“So,” Brynn sat next to Alyse, “I’d think with that power surge earlier you’d be pulling a late-night, double-checking, triple-checking, everything.”
Alyse’s fork clanged against the metal tray as it dropped, “It was my fault,” she whispered.
Brynn leaned in, eyes wide, “What? No, no, no. It can’t be your fault.”
Any calm Alyse had cultivated drained from her along with the color in her face, “I mean it shouldn’t be, but it was!”
They conversed in whispered but intense voices, “It was hot as hell in the tunnel and I guess my hands were all sweaty. I went to replace a bad wire, but my hand slipped and I snipped the wrong one right as everything went out,” she buried her face in her hands, “I repaired it as quickly as I could, but it’s useless.”
Brynn took in Alyse’s story with an analytical mind, “Alyse, how could that one wire have been responsible for the whole system? I mean, it doesn’t sound very likely.”
“Yeah, I mean it shouldn’t have, but it happened right after the line was cut.”
Brynn wrapped her arms around Alyse’s shoulders, “It could just be a coincidence. I mean it definitely sounds like one.”
Another tray banged down loudly next to the two girls, “Whew! I’d hate to be the guy caused that outage earlier,” Dunn exclaimed as he sat down. He worked in a similar department to Alyse, but the two didn’t cross paths often, except in the cafeteria where he usually sat with Alyse and Brynn. The two supposed he just didn’t have anyone else. They didn't really mind him.
Alyse whimpered. Dunn caught wind of her peculiar response, “Wait? Alyse, do you know who did it?”
Before she could speak, Brynn broke in, “No, we don’t.”
Dunn eyed them with playful suspicion, “Now I think y’all know who did.”
Brynn’s icy eyes pierced through Dunn’s spirited demeanor before he could continue.
Dunn didn’t always come across as the most intelligent guy, but they knew that was far from true. He was boisterous and fun, but he was also the best engineer on the whole ship. So when Brynn gave him that look, he knew they were serious.
He leaned in and lowered his voice, “Shit, ladies. It was one of you?”
“I didn’t say that,” Brynn responded quickly, “And anyway, if it was, it’s best you don’t know. That way you can’t be involved in anything.”
The three huddled together as the cafeteria began to fill up. Alyse looked around nervously, watching for any guards to head her way. She noticed Canu had also joined them, silently, his typical mien. Alyse didn’t mind him there. She didn’t really know him well. She didn’t think anyone did. Canu was an observer, not a blabbermouth. She reckoned his head must have held more secrets than she could comprehend.
“Hey Ghost, get in here,” Dunn motioned for Canu to come over.
“I don’t like it when you call me that,” his voice was always soft, so no one could really tell if he whispered or not. Dunn always called him Ghost on account of he could sneak up on anyone. Dunn didn’t think he purposely tried to creep people out. It was simply a side effect of his natural demeanor.
“If it were one of you two,” Dunn stated, “there’s no way it was on purpose.”
“It doesn’t matter if it was intentional or not. Not to the council anyway,” Brynn responded.
The two went back and forth for a while, not a heated argument, but a logical discussion. Alyse’s trembling limbs only grew worse, forcing her to stop pretend-eating. Canu sat, not paying them any mind, and munched away on some fries. After a minute or two of Dunn and Brynn speaking exclusively, Dunn turned to Alyse.
“Well, I’m guessing since you’re being awfully quiet, you think you did it, huh?”
Alyse’s heart sank, “I don’t know how. Really I don’t, but I snipped the wire and the lights went out,” tears now threatened her eyes.
“Alyse, you know as well as I do, one chicken-picken wire isn’t going to shut everything down,” Dunn’s face softened, “Come on, they’ll find who did it, and it won’t be you.”
“Find who? And why won’t it be her?”
The four sitting at the table let out a collective, audible sigh.
“Mind your own business, Epps,” Dunn spat at the large fellow trying to situate himself at their table. No one liked Epps. He was rude, confrontational, and just plain unpleasant to be around. Yet somehow, he always found his way to their table. The four of them tried to huddle around and squeeze him out. But Epps either couldn’t understand what a clue was, or refused to.
He sensed the fear in Alyse, like a wolf on a rabbit, he asked, “Oh Alyse, what did you do now?” His voice dripped with glee.
Dunn shoved him back, “This’s got nothin’ to do with you, now bugger off.”
That line only drove Epps further into their thicket.
“This’s got to be ‘bout that power outage, hadn’t it?” Epps pushed, “Oh Alyse, Alyse, Alyse. Been naughty have we? You know what they do to people who screw with the systems, and it’s not pretty.”
Brynn held Alyse close while Dunn attempted to shield her. Alyse went completely numb. She knew what the punishment was, she knew she was at fault. No matter what Dunn and Brynn said, Epps was right.
Epps continued to goad her, taking pleasure in every word, “Little Alyse, I always liked you, but well, won’t be around much longer will you?” he chuckled.
Dunn’s face burned red as he pushed Epps back, “Hey, piss off!” The two men stood up, looking as they were about to fight. Dunn tried to relax his body, remain in a neutral position. He knew a fight, or even what looked like the beginnings of one, would draw a crowd. That was the last thing they needed. Brynn, flipped her legs around, straddling the table’s one shared seat, ready to move Alyse away quickly. So far no one noticed the two posturing men, but Epps was big and loud, and rarely remained unnoticed for long.
“I know who really did it,” an almost foreign voice spoke up. He spoke loud enough for Dunn and Epps to hear him, and for Canu, that may have been his version of yelling. But it was quiet enough not to draw attention.
Epps leaned over the table, face-to-face with Canu, “What’d you say, Ghosty?”
“I said I know who really did it.”
“Well, speak up then,” Epps invited Canu, “Didn’t e’en know you could talk.”
“I don’t think you’d want me to do that,” Canu remained calm.
“And why not,” Epps’ pudgy face now sat inches from Canu. He appeared to be enjoying the moment, feeling as though he were intimidating the wraith-like boy. But Canu remained unphased.
“Because I know who did it, and I think you know who did it.”
“An’ how d’you know?”
“As much as I loath the name, in many ways, I suppose I am like a Ghost,” Canu knew Epps was likely to be trouble from the moment he’d first seen him, “I’m silent, I observe everything,” he knew despite Epps’ brash manner, the dolt had been studying up on programming. Canu didn’t know why, but it wasn’t Epps field. So he focused on him, trying to piece together what he was getting at “I can get into anywhere, and people rarely notice when I’m around. Like in a remote hallway near an emergency access panel while someone’s testing out their new coding skills.”
Epps’ eyes nearly bulged out of his head. He jumped across the table in one motion. Canu, however, moved equally as swiftly away. Before Epps could make another move, a set of guards flanked Epps. Each one took hold of one of the giant’s arms and forced them behind his back and into cuffs. The whole cafeteria looked on, chattering in astonishment.
As they lead Epps out of the room, Dunn stepped over and clapped Canu on the back.
“Would you look at that,” Dunn stated, “Perfect timing.”
“Actually,” Canu began, “As soon as Epps started torturing Alyse, I sent a message to the council. They actually took quite a bit of time getting here.”