The crowd moved. It was alive and it was flowing toward home on this side of the causeway. It was shift change and the other side snaked its way to work. The giant boa made its way through the atrium, and Deena looked up. The atrium was one of three, and the open space went from the level below all the way up to the rim, where the artificial sunlight was bright. Walkways crossed through the golden light and green plants grew everywhere up there. She inhaled, and amidst the smell of grease and sweat was the hint of chlorophyll.
The temple she was sworn to was near the rim, so she had lived in partial sunlight most of her life and good gravity. As the population grew, the wheel of the ship expanded and the blessed and the rich lived in the new quarters of the rim. One of the temple maidens, a friend of Deena’s, had left the temple and found a home axis-ward. Deena took one of the elevators down several levels.
Down here close to the axis, they only had ordinary lighting. Why waste artificial sunlight on the unholies?
She had snuck out of the temple today. Deena’s cooking duties in the kitchen were light, so she could risk being away. She wanted to see her friend down here near the axis. She had promised to introduce Deena to some axians, the unholies that actually lived and worked in the freefall of the axis, the heart of the ship’s mechanical systems.
Deena navigated to her friend’s level and cubicle. Walking was easier and her step had a bounce in it. The gravity was already lower here.
The halls were dim and grungy. This part of the ship had been around for generations. She walked through one section, and she shivered in the frigid air. Around the next turn, hot air blasted her face. The heating, cooling, and ventilation in this part of the ship didn’t work as well as it once did. In fact, several generations ago, the unholies had complained until the Blessed had heard them. The Blessed had responded by shutting down life support. Unholies didn’t complain anymore.
People lingered in the halls after their workshifts rimward, having a drink with friends and relaxing. There wasn’t enough room in their cubicles have friends in. Deena found Maria leaning against the bulkhead next to her cubicle door talking to her husband.
“Deena!” she squealed and embraced her. “You made it!”
“I enjoy your company!” Deena said. When they were together, troubles were set aside and they had fun, even if it was only the three of them playing card games.
“We have plans tonight! Big get-together in the axis!”
“This is your chance to meet axians.”
Maria and her husband Dan hustled Deena axis-ward. Deena did not like the feeling of her weight slowly disappearing.
“From this point on,” Dan said, “Use the handholds. There won’t be enough gravity to keep you planted on the floor.”
Deena nodded. She pulled herself along in the quiet corridor. “Where’s all the axians?”
“There aren’t many and they stay in the axis. Since they’re born here, going rimward can snap their bones.”
As she moved, her body swung about and it was difficult to keep moving forward. She also felt like she was falling backwards, toward the rim. Her brain thought she was falling off a cliff and her heart raced. She grabbed a handhold and couldn’t let go.
“Come on Deena,” Maria said.
Deena shook her head. Maria spoke to Dan. He nodded and turned a corner. A moment later a long, slender axian floated down the corrider to Deena.
“Hello, dear,” she said. “I’m Myrna.”
Myrna was about the right age to be Deena’s mother. Myrna’s hair was dark and shiny and her face was smooth and kind.
“I can’t let go,” Deena said.
“Yes, it happens. Earthbound instincts kick-in when we least expect. Do you feel ill?”
Deena shook her head and she clung to the bulkhead.
“Just the fear?”
“That’s the easier of the two, really,” Myrna said. Her long, cool fingers brushed Deena’s hair out of her face. “Look at the next handhold and reach with your right hand.”
Deena’s hand shook as she reached out. Myrna steadied it and made sure she connected with the next handhold. Myrna helped Deena along, and Deena felt safe with the tall woman gliding at her side.
They reached what looked like an empty cargo hold. “This is the place,” Myrna said as others drifted in.
Deena clung to a rung on the wall, as did the others from rimward while the axians filled the center of the space. Myrna floated next to Deena, a reassuring presence.
Deena studied the axians. They were physically different than the gravity dwellers. What about their insides?
“Myrna,” Deena said, “what else is different about the axians?”
“You’re wondering if we’re a different species?”
Deena pondered this. Axians and others could have children together. “You’re not. But it seems like you’re the start of a different species.”
“You’re a smart woman. We are indeed diverging from you.”
Maria tumbled in next to Deena and grabbed the rung. “Whew, almost missed it!”
Dan had manuevered to the center of the space with the help of the axians. “You’ve heard whispers, but now I’m here to tell you in full voice that the Axians are our allies. This time when we ask for better living conditions, the Blessed can’t turn off our life support.”
Deena was shocked. This was treason. Everyone in this room would be executed. “I need to leave,” she said to Myrna and Maria.
“Stay,” Maria pleaded.
“We also have,” Dan continued, “an ally in the main temple.”
Deena gasped. That’s where she lived and worked. Who could Dan know… “Oh shit! I’m not doing this!” she hissed at Myrna and Maria.
“It’s not a lot,” Maria said. “We just need the…”
“I don’t care! It’s a really good life. I live in the sunlight and greenery. My HVAC works, and I eat well. I’m not risking it. I also like being alive.”
Everyone in the room looked at her. Deena shifted her grip on the rung, and looked at the door. Several Axians blocked it.
She looked at Maria. “Were we ever friends?”
“Yes,” Maria said.
“No,” Dan said simultaneously.
“I’m a prisoner,” Deena said.
“Honored guest,” Maria said.
“Hostage,” Myrna said.
“Myrna’s the only one I trust. She’s honest.”
This is an idea I’ve been toying with for awhile, and it’s definitely in flux. It’s part of a longer piece of work.