Hovering between standing and falling down

The palace wavered, but that was nothing new. The columns moving back and forth, tilting one way and then another, was how this place had always been known for. Silver towers adorned with white spires.

It was a very vertical place.

Mai didn’t like it. She didn’t care what other people claimed. It all looked ready to fall over, as if someone was trying to balance a match on its head. This was not the type of place that she wanted to leave her charge, not for any amount of time.

Zlhna’s dark eyes were wide as she stared up at it.

Mai couldn’t protect Zlhna against a building. A building had no blood to stop. A building had no desires. A building would just follow the whims of the earth.

“We aren’t stopping here.”

“Oh, but Mai. We must.”

Unclenching her muscles, Mai followed her mistress into the danger. As she always did.

Taking another chance

Robin wasn’t a very strong fellow, but he liked to think he was smart. That was what tipped his hand into trying to figure out how to stop the compactor from crushing his friend.

In times like these, having a manual around would have been great. As there wasn’t one obvious in the immediate vicinity, Robin turned his attention to the controls themselves, hoping that something about them would seem natural. They didn’t. Robin tried to read over what words were available to him now. He knew the definitions of most of them and could guess at some of the acronyms. There wasn’t a “switch off” button or lever or anything though, and the rest of it didn’t make sense to someone as out of context as he was.

He’d already taken a chance in deciding to work on turning this off. There was little he could do but continue on that path and take a few more chances. Really, he couldn’t make it worse. Unless he did something, Jay would die.

One minute. If it started, would he still have some time to shut it off? Robin doubted it would move quickly. The machine was huge. Reminded him of some movie, with main characters trapped inside with a lot of junk. He couldn’t think of it now though. He couldn’t really think. His intelligence wasn’t going to help much if he couldn’t use it!

Robin tried a few things, changing what the screen would tell him. Turning something off should have been easy, there should always be a big button. His heart pounded so fast in his chest that it actually hurt.

“Activation canceled.”

The rumbling sounds began to slow down, a reversal of the noise that he had long since started blocking out. Robin blinked at the screen, then ran for the panel. While he now had a lot more time to figure out how to open it, the feeling didn’t translate to his body and he rushed through the process anyway. The stench of the dump assaulted him further when he finally got the hatch open enough for a person to pass through. “Jay!” he called again.

Maybe it was the sounds before that kept him from hearing a response, because now he could hear Jay clearly. “Robin? Thank god. Are you all right?” Had Jay been conscious the entire time? It was so dark.

Robin laughed, hoping it only sounded weak to himself. “Of course I’m fine, Jay! Hang on, I haven’t found a rope or anything yet. I’ll have you out of there in a jiffy!”

While his hands still shook, Robin had Jay out of there within ten minutes and so felt much better.

Not a situation he wanted to repeat though.

Taking a chance

“Three minutes until-”

He wouldn’t listen to that. The security system shouldn’t have been telling him that. Then again, Robin wasn’t used to such levels of technology. He also wasn’t used to being told how long he had to solve a puzzle. Actually, what he was most used to was having to pull Jay out of a sticky situation. Failing this time, however, would lead to his death. Jay’s death. Something Robin didn’t think he could handle. Too much responsibility. For someone who was his boss, his best friend.

“Thimba, was it? Are you still there?”

Nothing replied to Robin’s tentative call. Perhaps it was just a computer talking now and this Thimba was long gone. Jay should have explained this a little more than not at all. Jay had never spoken about his past, now that Robin thought about it. Though he and Thimba seemed to share some sort of knowledge of each other, whatever that might be. Whatever that would lead to this right now. Robin was fairly certain Thimba was an escaped convict that Jay had helped catch at some point, before Robin had met him. That made the most sense. No one else other than a criminal would go through this to kill someone!

Well, that was the definition of a certain type of crime, anyway. Murder certainly wasn’t legal anywhere.

Jay was much better at keeping calm in situations of great stress. Robin would have put his life in Jay’s hands any time. Now he was worried he wouldn’t be able to return the favor. “Jay?” he called down, hoping the other would be able to hear him. Or was awake. Maybe not, maybe if everything was going to go badly it was best that he was unconscious. Robin couldn’t see him, but he knew he was there. The hatch was stuck and it would be a hassle opening it further. Especially with the limited time he had left.

There were two options. Stop the machine or get Jay out. Robin didn’t know how to work the compactor. He also didn’t know how to open it up properly and where to find a rope or something to toss down. He had three minutes to figure out one of these options and if he chose the wrong one he wouldn’t have time to figure out the other one.

“Jay?” Another useless call out to the person he needed to save. Unless Jay was already dead down there. Robin couldn’t stand it. He tried not to panic, but it wasn’t a decision his body wanted to allow.

There was nothing for it. Robin made a decision.

Proximity

Jay forced his eyes open. The frequency of his being knocked out lately was both ridiculous and couldn’t be good for his health. Proximity to Robin had this effect on everyone around him.

Speaking of Robin, Jay looked around himself. The shorter man was nowhere to be seen. Jay pushed himself to his feet, rubbing the side of his head. It was still dawn, he hadn’t been out long. At least that meant he didn’t have to worry as much about brain damage. At least, not through blunt force trauma.

After taking a moment to compose himself, he saw it laying on the ground. A blue and gold fountain pen, bleeding into the dirt. Pressing his hand against the building wall, he squatted down and picked it up. It stained his fingers black, but he recognized it. There was a particular smell that this ink had that he had never smelled from any other pen.

Thimba had made it here. Where was Robin?

Jay knew he was beginning to panic. Hand gripping tight to the pen, he began his search. He found Robin not all that far away, sitting on a pavement bench, blinking as if that would keep him awake.

“Robin!” He knelt down in front of him, trying to see Robin’s eyes in the dim light.

“Robin?”

“Jay.” Robin’s words were slurred. “He took… the… I couldn’t…”

“It’s all right.” Jay slung Robin’s arm over his shoulder and helped him to his feet. “Let’s go.”

Perhaps it wasn’t proximity to Robin this time which had gotten them into trouble.

One of many worries to have about living in space

“Maddy? What’s that?”

They looked at their child and then at the direction they pointed at. “They’re replacing parts of the air filtration on the ship. Those people are carrying the parts to do it.”

The child nodded as they both watched the labor force work quickly and efficiently to move the machinery through the crowd to wherever it was they were taking it to. They normally didn’t mind seeing this, it was always nice to know that repairs on the ship were being made immediately, but at the same time… They wondered how many times lately they had seen new parts for air conditioning. Not only in the ship’s city center, but down on the forest level, the business quarter, and even near their own apartment. They hoped it meant upgrades and not a sudden failure of all the systems.

“Maddy? Where is the air filtration?”

“Everywhere. You know there is no air outside of the ship walls. We have to create everything we need in here.”

As if that answered all questions in the known universe, their child nodded resolutely. “Okay.”

They took their child’s hand and continued to walk through the crowd, suddenly wondering if living here was safe.