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Blue Loops

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Stanislaw and Daniel stood in the blue gloom of an abandoned cinema. Pallet carriers trundled across the roof and dumped their loads with muffled clangs. Rather than being demolished, the cinema had been subsumed into the structure of a depot that rose half a kilometre above their heads. The cinema was the first built for leisure on the space station, yet few now knew it existed.

"Been a nightmare to get here," said Daniel to his father.

"I know, the links are bad. But the depot workers manage to get in every morning.”

"Yeah, on the belts! I hate riding the belts."

"They were designed for carrying ore, not people. In the old days, before your time, workers came in on the mag-line."

"Yeah, well, they should fix it. It’s never worked since I’ve been alive. How long has it been down?"

"fifty-eight years. And they won't Daniel. They won't. Ever. Even though the station is over fifty miles wide now. The lines are buried, deep under the superstructure. We’ve grown too much, buried the things that made this place work for people." Stan paused. Daniel could tell the reminiscences were just about to pour.

“I went on it as a child, before they started to decommission it section by section. It was fast Daniel, and smooth. And designed... retro. When you shot out of the tunnels you could see the planet in the distance... the cities sparkling at night, the high pink clouds by day. I used to go round and round without checking out my travel token. The guards walked through but I avoided them. I could spend all day on it, I knew every station, every curve and tilt.”

Daniel smiled, indulgently.

"I could take you on a tour of the old lines, and all the old places,” continued Stan. “First stop on the very first mag-line was an all-comers church in sector two. Now it’s Justice HQ. They took down the spire and used three of its main walls to support the new building. Have you ever noticed how the first three floors of Justice HQ are a different colour? The church was made of ceramographite bricks, an innovation then, super-low density, easy to bring up from Falon. They could be shaped by the masons with laser chisels, hence the figures over the windows. There’s character in those figures. Early asteroid landers, core-crackers, mythical beasts. But when it came to build Justice they'd moved to on-site extrusion of polymer sheets, hence the God-awful blandness that we have to put up with now. But the church is what holds it up. First wave. Important to the community. Next stop - the prison. First wave again, though it’s barely recognisable now. You can’t see the beautiful sculpting on the lower levels. Hidden by cladding. Awful.” He paused. “But you’ve seen the prison haven’t you? Your cousin."

Daniel nodded. He had visited cousin Harry during his six-month incarceration. It had made a strong impression. It had instilled a deep a sense of respect for law and order.

Stan continued,

“The mag-line connected all of us. It ensured freedom of movement. There was no segregation then. But then the corps bought off the sectors, set new boundaries to milk tariffs. They’re forgotten now. No-one pays any attention to the old infrastructure. Or the old people.”

Daniel had heard it before. His father hated the corporations, despised their failure to maintain the historic quarters. He moaned about the way those who had given their lives to the station during its initial development were abandoned to squalor. Early wave neighbourhoods were peppered with degraded buildings, broken towers, fractured aerials and peeling seals; wires hung motionless in a place without weather or wind. The old places were falling apart and nobody cared.

“Why did you ask me here Dad? I’m supposed to be packing. I’ve got to leave for the far-side at 0500.”

Daniel had a contract with Falon’s largest energy company. Plans had been approved to construct an eighteen-kilometre wide solar funnel projecting from one side of the station. It would draw energy in, securing services for all, and a mighty 80% overspill would be channelled to the energy hungry population of Falon below. Technical employment was guaranteed for the next three generations. The only losers would be the residents of sectors 9 through 12 who were going to lose their view of Falon, and more importantly Sector 13, which would be dismantled to make way for the sun-funnel’s foundations. Plans showed cables thicker than one of Falon’s ten lane highways angling through the sector and sinking deep into the station’s underlying structure. The physics of the fulcrum demanded it.

“I’ve got something to show you Daniel.”

Stan unfolded a self-drawn but highly detailed plan of the space station. Overlaid was a blue lattice – the buried mag-line. Near the planet-side sectors, the first parts of the station to be built over two hundred years before, the lines radiated out from a central point in a planned way. Further out, as the station spread, the blue lines looped and curled, taking detours around massive factories or privately owned agricultural greenhouses.

“Look at them Daniel. The lines connect everything, all the old places – the swimming pool, the trash compressor, the hospital, all abandoned, just like the cinema… essential to what has been built above, yes, but weak in themselves. They are on the brink of crumbling, like spots of decay in a growing tooth. And if they meet they will form a fault line.”

“But they don’t connect any more Dad.”

Stan gave Daniel a look of disappointment, like he wasn’t getting it.

“Daniel. This station is crumbling in more ways than one. Its government, what government there is, has long been corrupted. It is a floating scab, where the worst excesses of Falon are distilled and made real, where men and women are used as cheap labour and only the profit matters. It is taking you away from me. It will destroy Sector 13. It has to stop.”

Daniel laughed. “I knew you were unhappy Dad, but I never figured you for a revolutionary…”

“The injustice can be stopped Daniel. The perfect opportunity has arisen.”

“Go on.” The younger man seemed nervous now.

“It just needs you to take it. Will you?”

“Do what, exactly?”

“Break the station in two.”

“How?” asked Daniel.

“The mag-lines are the key. The carriage tunnels may have collapsed or been filled under the new builds, but the electromagnetic couplings are still in continuity. And look, at the hub, down here... that’s where the power came from. Send a pulse up the line from there and it will travel to all the old destinations. The surge will cause them to crumble from within. That’s what we must do Daniel. Do it, and the base skeleton will be weakened. Nothing will happen until the sun-funnel is activated. Then, the stress communicated through those massive cables will split the station along the fault line that neglect – not us – has created. If we don’t do this now it will happen anyway in another forty years, perhaps longer, perhaps a hundred. I’ve done all the calculations.”

Daniel stood to leave. He was shaking his head.

“Where you going son?”

“To pack. This is stupid.”

“This station has to fall Daniel. It’s a slave ship with no destination, nothing more.”

“I don’t see unhappiness. I don’t see punishment. There’s no sense of rebellion on the streets, in the accommodation blocks. People take holidays. There’s a middle class. We, people like us, are well off. You’ve just developed a grudge against the corporations. I don’t want to hear any more. It’s not bad over on the far-side. The new builds are better. There are green spaces. This is home for my generation.”

“But what are you building for?”

“I don’t need a justification for my life. I just live. I am OK. My kids are OK. This stupid plan of yours would kill thousands. Are they to be sacrificed? Is that it?”

“No. There will be time to leave. The separation will happen slowly. Over a month. There will be time to evacuate.”

Neither spoke for a minute. Then,

"So will you?" asked Stan.

"I can't Dad. I'm not like that."

"And will you stop me, now that you know?”

Daniel paused. He had made his decision. He had made it a week ago when, under instruction from Justice HQ, he entered his father’s home and searched the shelves, cupboards and private places until he found the diagram.

The cinema was flooded with unfiltered, external light. A row of shutters high in a high wall had been activated for the first time in many years. Dust drifted in vertical sheets onto the rows of seats.

"I'm sorry Dad.”

Justice officers ran in. They need not have hurried. Stan was going nowhere.

"Son?”

Daniel looked away.

"Son?"

Daniel walked out. The system had always served him well. His family’s privileges were being further enhanced due to today’s actions. But he would come to visit Stan. He just hoped the old man would be put in the prison’s lower section, the section with character, where lovingly sculpted ceramographite bricks depicted the heroes of yesteryear.

 

The End

BIO:

Philip Berry lives in London. His short fiction and speculative poetry have been published with Liar's League, Daily Science Fiction, Metaphorosis, Nebula Rift, Headstuff, Chrome Baby and 365 Tomorrows among others.

 

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