‘Flight of the Canary’ by Harrison Yue

A gravity well pulsed behind Hugh as he led the small convoy of builders across the divide. The warm glow of the planet’s core lit their surroundings; an extensive alloy based structure grafted into the walls of the planet. Hugh’s hooded eyes focused on the horizon that wavered in the distance.

The team clicked their heels and gravity lost its grasp, dispersing their shadow. They floated on either side of the support beam, detaching the small disk on their belts. Hugh attached it to the metal bar, watching the ghostlike string unfurl. A small orb-shaped droid, with thin sinewy arms floated to meet them, holding a large alloy beam in its clutches.

The workers hovered alongside the conspicuous orb as it sidled into place, firing off small bursts from its thrusters as it went. Hugh watched other groups moving in unison as more bots were dispatched down to them. He heard nothing. Bright lights erupted beneath him and his domed helmet darkened. Hugh checked the initial binds and patted the droid before it flew away.

“They’re installing the wells tomorrow.” Clint said as they suited up. “I think we’re almost done.”  Clint was like many of the part-timers; built to last and scruffy.

“Well you’re almost done.” Hugh interjected as he loaded his belt.

“I always forget you’re a full-timer. It’s the lack of stubble I think.” Hugh laughed slipping on his helmet with Clint. He had met Clint a few months ago. He was among the second wave of part-timers looking for quick cash, even though the money had drastically decreased thanks to the massive wells that kept the divide under control. Despite the added safety, the danger was too much for most.

Clint did not like the work, but it would look good on his resume, and the cash was enough. He felt fortunate to have met the lean, 18 year old Hugh who had shown him the ropes during his first few months. The two talked, but he had never gotten around to how Hugh had gotten here. He didn’t pry but often wondered why a kid would lie to get here especially since he was offered sizeable compensation for getting cut off by the cataclysm.

The reverberating voice signaled their shift was about to start and the last few slipped on their helmets and tested their boots. Thumbs gave the go-ahead and the door slid open. They once again walked across the metal beams and to Hugh’s delight he could see the familiar face of Monica.

She had hired Hugh as one of the original builders who could function without vomiting in the old suits. They had worked together and she had guided him and discovered his talent as a canary. He felt shifts of gravity known as pockets, which crushed unknowing builders. He always thought that it was because when the planet cracked open, he had been right next to it. He always seemed to be staring at her or up to her, the broad shoulders and granite like skin gave her a special kind of gravity.

Experienced men and women developed a sixth sense, but even they could be caught off guard. Hugh, however, had never been caught off guard. People enjoyed being with him because of that; their peripheral vision always keeping him in sight.

Hugh didn’t mind — his position didn’t matter as far as he was concerned. Respect was nice, but it got him little, other than a small cramped room to himself. He much preferred floating over the light of the planet.

Now, Hugh sat cross legged, floating over the core, watching the orange light pop and contort beneath him.

“Hey you finished over there?” Clint muttered through the radio. Hugh nodded not looking up. “Alright just making sure.”

“I’m your superior, Clint.” Hugh said with mock authority, his grin stretched over his gaunt features. “Do not question my decisions.”

“I’m just saying boss, you look like you’re about to go to the great beyond if you know what I mean.” Clint chuckled as he finished up his last bindings clipping his welder to his belt. “Kinda wish I could do what you do.”

“Let the powers at be cradle you in their arms. It’s not like you’ll survive a fight with gravity anyways.” Hugh looked up the tint on his helmet receding with the fading lights.

“I’m not stupid Hugh, you’re a canary and I’m a part-timer, you exist here and I exist on the outside. Ever been there? There’s trees and animals and food…” Hugh roared with laughter and gracefully somersaulted to prove his point before the two pulled themselves back onto the beams.

Hugh now stood ten meters away from Monica, and forced his feet to stand still as the last support floated between them. Monica stepped off the side mirroring Hugh. Together they worked quickly, welding power supplies flickering in the dark night, molten binding glowing dully as they climbed back up.

The bridge was built, but a quiet beeping brought Hugh out of his reverie to look down at a small screen embedded in the forearm of the suit.

“Time to head back.” He mumbled to himself. The others, in single file, began going home. Hugh pushed past the homeward bound and sat down alone on the beam watching Monica’s back slip into the wavering horizon.

 

The next day, Hugh’s gait steadily increased as he approached the connecting beam. Clint jogged to meet him putting a broad hand on the back of Hugh’s helmet. “Easy does it. Once the well is installed you can run across.”

Hugh nodded and, along with Monica’s group, they surrounded a large circular cage. The artificial well was being lowered by human hands, but it had been designed off world, by Ignos engineers with the help of a few local physicists giving them important details. Fat and beady eyed, with a knack for terraforming and planet construction, Ignos’ companies bickered endlessly over who would take the contract. Whoever had gotten it evidently liked an elegant design. The well was a sphere covered in small disks with the company logo emblazoned in red over each one. Hugh touched one of the plates the texture reminding him of notebooks.

When the well was in place, Hugh and Clint worked on their strut, welding it with care. The binder spread around the strut like luminous seafoam, before disappearing into the gaps. Clint attached another can of bind onto the welder and floated forward before Hugh waved him away.

“It’s secure enough for now, I don’t want to put too much in just yet. Besides, we’ll be told what to do after the test run.” Hugh said, climbing up the cage. He sat on the edge while Clint walked back to the dorms to get some sleep before the test.

The workers sat lazily around the cage with their legs dangling in it. They had been told it was harmless as long as they were not in the central mechanism. The machine vibrated, the plates turning sideways. The paper like disks spun like records as they flipped. Occasionally they could see glimpses of the blue core blinking at them. The wells were different, elegant in comparison to the massive, jury rigged creations built into the planet. Hugh found them comforting, whether because of design or their function he didn’t know.

The builders gave a sigh of relief, their feet felt more planted to the ground. They had to build the support structure for the installation of the living units next. Hugh remained on the edge of the cage, trying to catch the small flashes of blue light. When he looked up he saw that Monica’s eyes glued to him. She smiled, the tension disappearing as she turned with a quick wave to Hugh. Hugh needed some rest, but stayed just a bit longer, hypnotized by the spinning well.

The next day brought a surprise as Hugh led them out of the airlock. Shingler lizards were testing the skies. Their bright green wings breaking up the night, confetti fluttering above as they worked.

“That’s a relief, the species might be saved after all.” Clint said looking up.

They were only a few supports away from the well and Hugh found himself remembering the Shinglers scattering away from the tearing sky, as the ground spasm before crumbling away. The break had been like two massive hands tearing a loaf of bread in half. The memory made his stomach twitch anxiously, and he focused on the work at hand.

The shift ended with a sharp, digitized whistle piercing Hugh’s ears. Clint and Hugh climbed back onto the central beam, now reinforced with make shift railings. The flimsy metal swayed as if it could barely hold its own weight. Hugh was quiet as usual, tired, with his eyes fixed behind him on the retreating statuesque figure of Monica. The figure warped slightly in his eyes. He wiped the visor with his free hand, the disturbance stayed. Hugh stopped, feeling a retreating pair of part-timers run into him cursing away in closed calms as they stepped around him.

He gently took hold of the railing and stared down, the core shimmering away in his eyes. Glancing over towards the well, Hugh saw a plate stop. He felt his helmet closing in over his face as he began walking the other way, feeling the railing as he went, his stomach lurching. Clint sighed and walked over to him, but before he could pull his 18 year old compatriot back the other way, Hugh bolted.

“HUGH!” Clint yelled in surprise as his heavy footfalls joined Hugh’s.

“POCKET!” Hugh’s voice rang in the ears of those around him. The reaction was immediate. Some jumped over the side, while others simply hoped they wouldn’t run into an invisible wall. Those closest to the well slowed, the part-timers had never felt the waves of gravity before vomiting profusely into their helmets. The experienced fought through it, ignoring and occasionally pushing aside the doubled over forms of the young men and women. They were dead weight now.

Even in the vacuum, all felt the snap of the first death like a gunshot. A young man with his face obscured was bent in half, head touching his heels. The others around him followed; bones giving way, suits flattening, bodies contorting and blood mist pouring from shattered helmets as gravity flexed its muscles.

Clint chased after a demented Hugh, whose silhouette grew smaller and smaller. Suddenly, Hugh skidded to a halt, he felt his stomach drop. Hugh slid under the rail, neatly sticking the small disk on the beam. He floated down, watching as Clint tripped over his own feet. On his hands and knees, Clint reached to the side, towards the metal crumpled like foil behind him. Hugh searched for his knife and cut himself free.

Clint’s body was flattened in an instant, twisting around the beam sickeningly. His helmet had shattered, and his stunned blue eyes were fixed on Hugh. Hugh stared down at the winking core, his heart racing as he floated down grabbing onto a support strut with numb fingers.

Warning lights and sounds filled his helmet as he pulled himself out from the lower levels. Oxygen depleted, the emergency filter was salvaging as much as it could, but the power was almost drained. In the madness, he had made his pilgrimage. Hugh staggered to the sealed airlock banging against it until it opened. He fell in, strong hands pulled him further inside. Monica’s face burst into view. He saw grey hairs drifting over her eyes. Her face stayed in his mind’s eye as he blacked out.

***

“Construction across the northern divide is still on hiatus after the failure of the central well. The Ignos corporation LUKT tech made no comment, while associates claimed that they are working on trying to remove the defective well. As of now the confirmed causalities are 15 dead, and 20 injured. It marks the first deaths this year in the divide.”

Hugh sat in a small well-lit bar, staring at the blond woman but not hearing her speak. He swirled the now warm pint of beer in its glass, watching the amber liquid bubble mutely. He finished the pint and slipped off the stool, leaving a few grey coins behind. The door slid open and he shielded his eyes, making a note to get sunglasses or just leave his helmet on all the time. Once he could see, he walked towards the elevators situated in the middle of the plaza.

He had run to the other side and when he awoke, his victory felt hollow. Monica had visited him during his bed rest and said that the deaths weren’t his fault. He didn’t know if that was true or not, the pocket had opened so quickly that luck was more important than experience. Clint’s pained face flashed in his eyes as he entered the elevator.

“The pocket gave the planners a new idea, they want to try and put powerful wells near the core. They say that the anomalies are coming from there. They need experienced people and you’re at the top of the list.” Monica had said next to his bed in the small hospital room.

“Are the wells built?” Hugh had asked Monica.

“It’ll be a few weeks. The pay is good, but the view would be better.”

“The night sky was getting boring.” Hugh had stared out the window at the rising sun. “Let me think about it.”

“Alright.” Monica stood up and looked down as Hugh touched her arm gently. “It’s not a suicide mission Hugh.”

“It’s a funeral for the unprepared.”

“Are you unprepared?” Monica had narrowed her eyes at him. Hugh opened his mouth, but words caught in his throat and he stayed quiet. Monica stood up, “Alright, get better soon.” She patted his shoulder and left.

He hurtled down, feeling himself shrink. He was 10 years old again, going to school as he had done so many mornings. He had eggs and Kol bones for breakfast. His walk took 25 minutes counting the elevator. The divide had turned that walk home into 10 years.

The elevator door opened; a path stitched itself into the hard metal floor. He followed it bumping gently against people as he kept his brown eyes glued to the path only he could see. He pressed his hand against a door and the smooth metal retracted at his touch.

The numbers on the doors kept decreasing until he found it: 298. He straightened up his worn sweater and knocked. The door shot open, and a woman with bobbed blond hair looked at him. “I think I have the wrong door.” He muttered wiping his eyes. “My family used to live here.” He explained.

The woman pursed her lips, her brow furrowed. “I don’t know anything about them honey, I bought this apartment after the reconstruction.”

“Reconstruction?”

“An aftershock from the divide destroyed most of this unit, big story around here.” Hugh wanted to vomit. “I’m sorry. This is the right place I’m afraid.” She mumbled.

“Thanks for your help.” He stared at the number, watching each numeral sink into the core.

“Do you want to come in for something warm?” She asked carefully.

“No.” He paused staring at the woman, briefly seeing a small stocky woman with grey eyes. “I have to get back to work.” Hugh walked away.

He had taken over one of the private rooms for full-timers, one who had died during the disaster. Most of her stuff had been cleared out, but every now and then he would pick up small pieces of ripped up to do lists.

“Shift begins in 30 minutes; cafeteria is open for the night shift.” The metallic voice made him jump.

He was back in the airlock, slipping on the yellow shoulder pad over the skin tight suit. Monica walked over to him and he nodded in her direction. The two did their checks in silence. The airlock slowly unlocked, and he saw the twisted metal supports covered in frozen or drying blood.

“The bots carried away the dead, we need to remove what’s left.” Monica’s terse voice broke out. “But, first, a moment of respect.” The builders sat cross legged on the beam and stared at their feet for a minute, and then rose with Monica.

Hugh glanced down at the core and realized that it no longer winked at him. Instead, it bore into his eyes. He felt its light rushing through his ears and mind, making his fists clench. He tapped the small screen on his forearm rapidly, sending a private message to Monica: “I’m prepared.”

“I had a feeling you would be. Want to see the view?” She asked.

“Of course.” He said, “I want to see if the people it’s taken are still there.” She turned around and saw the lean 18 year old with cold eyes melting in the light of planet.

 

 


Harrison Yue is currently a full time student at Marianopolis College. He intends to continue his studies at the University level in Creative Writing, and hopes to eventually pursue it professionally.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Harrison Yue. All rights reserved.