Gabby tapped a finger on the holo-tab, scrolling through the checklist. She mumbled to herself to combat the interminable silence, “Done. Done. Done. Done.” Her shift was winding down, but she could squeeze in one more scan without a problem. Her team had been troubleshooting the anomalies for six shifts without a clue. Not one fritzed wire or crossed link, no cute little rodents sizzling in the circuits, or hideous viruses spewing garbled data.
“All systems operable,” the maintenance system announced. “Do you wish to proceed to level thirteen, mod seventy-four?”
“Not if I can help it,” she muttered, heading for the lift-port.
“Repeat,” the disembodied voice instructed.
“Yes. Mod seven four.”
“Proceed to the lift-port.”
“Obviously.” She pinched her fingers together in the air, minimizing the program. Trying to have a normal conversation with Opie, the ship’s original Operations AI, was like cooking with nutri-sims, the epitome of unsatisfying.
She hummed through the silence in the lift and exited on the thirteenth level – gray walls, gray floor, gray ceiling, same as every other level. Tracking the numbers on the doors, she strolled the corridor, the shipboard sounds muted, peaceful, sedate, boring. She’d just turned twenty-five, a fifth of her lifespan ticked off. Done. Done. Done. The thought of another hundred years of checklists punctuated by the same telebooks, revolving holofilms, and regurgitated musi-tunes tempted her to hack the entertainment database for some merciful sabotage.
At the panel to mod seventy-four, she punched the code into the slanted access plate, but the door didn’t budge.
“Greetings, Gabriela.” The pleasant voice of the modernized communications system chimed, breaking the ship’s silence.
“Hi, Darling.” The annoying name made her wince every time she said it.
“I’ve detected an anomaly. Do you still wish to enter?”
Gabby hesitated. She raised her hand and spread her fingers, opening Opie. “Safety analysis.”
“Perfectly safe,” Darling replied.
Opie ran through his data protocols. “Recommend initiating Safety Code SC-Six.”
“He’s a worrywart.” Darling sighed. “Of course, I understand if you’re anxious about missing the shift’s nutri-sim offering. Turkey and stuffing.”
“Open it.” The panel glided into the wall, and Gabby peeked in. At first glance, the mod’s interior appeared normal – a quietly blinking octagonal room, ten feet across, each gray wall dominated by a thin plasteel door that shielded the circuitry.
“Straight ahead,” Darling said.
“Don’t sound so giddy.” Gabby entered the mod and tapped the code from the plasteel door into Opie’s scanner.
The holo-tab blinked. “Anomaly detected.”
“How irritatingly repetitive.” Darling huffed. “Is he always like this?”
“Well, are you going to open it?”
Gabby aimed her loc-key and hit the switch. The hidden pins clicked and the door released. She tugged it open and inhaled.
Beyond the gray portal the anomaly stretched forward in a rough passage constructed of actual stones and washed in gold and blue from the peculiar lights. At the end of the corridor, a cerulean brightness drew her eyes, a color seen only in images of a lost Terran sky. Yet neither sight could compete with the beauty of the sound. Beyond the elegant arches, voices and music soared, a sacred chant that welled in her chest, rose to her throat and caught in her lashes.
“Safety Code SC-Two Initiated,” Opie announced.
“Well, there you go,” Darling tsked. “He’s called security. You’re going to have to decide.”
“Decide?” Gabby stared down the length of the anomaly, the sapphire light and harmonies beckoning.
“To stay or go,” Darling whispered in her ear. “How much time do you have?”
“Seventy-three seconds,” Opie replied.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Opie,” Darling chided him. “One hundred years, Gabriela. You have a hundred years.”
Gabby stepped into the golden passage and closed the door behind her.
Many thanks to Sue Vincent of the Daily Echo for her #writephoto prompts that spark the imagination. She posts them on Thursdays. Join the fun!