A Glimpse Isn’t Enough

Marissa walked carefully down the brightly lit hallway. Her oddly patterned clothing made her stand out against the plain gray decor, but it did a great job of hiding her from the security system. The door that she stopped at said ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ but she ignored the sign, despite being neither authorized nor personnel. Please have high enough clearance, please have high enough clearance, she thought as she swiped the stolen card. The pad chimed and gave her a green light. She slipped through, closing the door quietly behind her.

She pulled up a map on her phone. Just a few more hallways, then she could get on the train. She crept down the hallway, her shoes absorbing most of the sound, long practice eliminating the rest. Her phone lit up red; Marissa froze. There was a noise indicated to the right. She waited as the noise grew steadily louder and became distinguishable as footsteps. Just before she was going to retreat, to try to find someplace to hide, the footsteps faded.

There were several minutes of waiting before her phone gave her the green. She cut through a service hallway, the ceiling filled with conduit and pipes. She descended a narrow ladder down to a lower level. Then through another service hallway, this one even more crowded. Her phone was useless at this point, as it registered noises all around her, she just had to get a little bit lucky. She reached the ladder up to the train without incident. She should be hidden to anyone on the platform, even so, she lifted the hatch slowly to scout it out. Everything was perfect. Just a matter of unscrewing an access hatch in the bottom of the train, putting in her earplugs, and settling down to wait.

She didn’t have enough room to stretch out fully, and she was worried about moving, lest she make some noise to alert a guard. She tucked her bag behind her head, and resigned herself to a long, uncomfortable wait.

She fell asleep waiting, and dreamed of the night in her secret spot on the roof. She liked listening to the whirr of the various machines and feeling the slick solar panels. The night of the of one-minute blackout, she was alone with her thoughts, no friends or boyfriends to crowd her, just an amazing view of the city in all its bright glory. And then suddenly the city went dark and the sky turned on, as if all of the light had been pulled up by magic. It turned out to be a fault in the AI that coordinated the city’s electrical grid, and it didn’t even last a full minute, but the awe of it stayed with her. That was the first time Marissa had actually felt confined.

She woke up to her phone vibrating in her pocket; time to get out, she’d slept through the whole ride, and the whole day. She lay down under the train and felt it rumble past overhead. She waited until the sound had disappeared from her phone’s radius. All clear. No need to worry about sound anymore, just a race against time. She ran down tracks meant for trams, not foot travel, the trams themselves turned off for the day. She had to keep looking at her phone, making sure she didn’t miss her turns.

Finally she pulled herself onto a station in front of a surface access, meant for engineers so they could service the farming bots. The elevator required a card, but the stairs were old, built before modern fire suppressants had eliminated the need for fire exits. They were some of the last still in existence that had not been retrofitted meaning they could still be opened from the inside. Marissa stood at the bottom of them, looking up, they spiraled up, and up, disappearing into the distance, higher than she expected, but she still had time.

The climb left her legs aching and nearly doubled over from exhaustion, but she stood up and faced the exit, she wasn’t about to slow down now. The last door, she thought, this is finally it. It opened onto something almost completely unfamiliar to her: darkness.

She looked up.

The stars.

She had finally found them.

More stars than she remembered. More stars than she could count. A vast, unbroken expanse of stars. She sat down, totally engulfed by their majesty, as the door clicked softly closed behind her.

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