Under the Weight of Time (Desert Trilogy #2)

By Eric Freyer All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Thriller

Part 3: The Plan | Chapter 16: The Lift

Part 3: The Plan

16. The Lift

They all gathered around the solitary table to talk—that is: Beckett, Anya, Oona, and Icarus. Tools that no longer had a purpose hung from the walls. A white vat filled with packaged foodbin meals rested on the ground in the corner underneath a tower of crates. Icarus always had extra meals and no one was ever going to ask where they came from.

“Mind if we grab some lunch, pop?” Oona mentioned before they got into their plans.

“Oona,” Icarus looked her dead in the eyes, “please stop asking, and just get some damn food in you. You look like you’ve lost 20 pounds!”

“Ha! I wish,” Oona said hovering over the crates of food. “What’ll it be?” she asked the room. “White slop, or the ever mysterious pink slop?” She held the carton containing the pink one up to the light.



“…I’ll try the pink one.” Beckett’s voice was small.

“Like hell you will!” Oona said as she threw him a package of white.

“Maybe next time we can get some chicken or something?”

Icarus scowled at her.

Oona held her hands in the air. “Just a joke, a joke.”

Beckett ate greedily. Imagining the inevitable climb back up all those stairs he made him even hungrier. He watched over his bag of food, spotting Icarus waiting patiently for them all to finish their meals. Icarus spun his beard between two fingers, and stared longingly down at the maps on the table. Beckett was sure the maps only happen to be where he was looking, not what he was looking at. Countless times his eyes would narrow and his lips would purse, as if he were about to say something. He caught the new guy watching. Beckett moved right back to eating.

The floorboards creaked between smacking lips, and a cool air rushed in from somewhere below. There has to be more space down there. Beckett couldn’t imagine going even further down, but he knew there had to be a mecha down there. Plumbing, water, electricity, who knew what else. He looked over at the stairs leading only to the ceiling. It greatly interested him to see a necessity of interior architecture situated in such a way to make it altogether obsolete. In any other setting this would make him feel uneasy and off balance, like the whole mechanics of the room were just slightly tweeked. But down here, nothing needed to make sense. He had to keep that in mind for later. He found he hadn’t touched the food in front of him for quite some while so instead pushed it aside and approached Icarus.

A few grunts of satisfaction, and the static hush of the incinerator, indicated everyone else had finished their food.

A chair leg rubbed against the floor.

Oona joined Beckett and Icarus at his maps, hovering over an amber glow. “So I’m guessing you’ve filled him in on our plan?” Oona said, talking to Icarus, but about Beckett. She took a seat, wiping the corners of her mouth with her shirt.

“Not yet, Oona.” Icarus said. “I’ve only just been showing him some of my maps.”

“They really are fantastic,” Beckett smiled boyishly.

“They better be, with the amount of time he puts into them.”

“Have you ever wanted to map below?” Beckett spilled out before he realized what he was saying. The room stayed silent. They all darted eyes back and forth to one another. Beckett had brought up something they were reluctant to admit having knowledge of, or were only too confused by what he asked. Either way, they weren’t going to talk. Beckett tried changing the subject.

“So you got me here,” he eyed Oona specifically—she looked startled, “now what is it you want me to do?” He tried saying it in the nicest way possible. He was ready to get this over with and get back home.

“There is a man,” Icarus started to the other’s surprise, “whose name we believe to be Raymond. He’s a janitor, and he works at headquarters.”

He gave that a moment to seep in.

“Oooh no.” Beckett started to rise out of his seat. He knew what was coming next, “I knew this was a bad idea.” He backed away from the table.

“Please,” Oona said rising to her feet, “give him a chance to explain.”

Beckett felt her cold hand on his wrist and stopped. She looked more beautiful then he had remembered. Her eyes were longing for something. She was desperate, that much he could tell.

He sat.

“Thank you.”

Icarus continued: “Now, this man has a very special gift; something not easily obtained through practice, but acquired at birth. Do you understand?” He paused to look around. “There may be many other people who are capable of this very same talent, but may not know it since they’ve never used the device before.”

Beckett sat dumbfounded. He hadn’t the slightest idea what the old man was talking about.

Oona uneasily shifted in her chair. “Just get to the point.”

“Do you know what it is he can do?” Icarus asked, leaning out through the golden cone of light.

“Not a clue,” Beckett answered.

“He can carry!” Icarus said slowly, making sure to pause between each word.

“Carry? You mean…dreamcarry? That’s impossible. Headquarters destroyed every one of those things ever made.”

Almost destroyed every one. There’s at least two out there, and this man Raymond has one of them.”

The obvious question arose: “And whose got the other one?”

Icarus moved to the side to display a carrying device resting on a shelf behind where he was sitting.

Beckett rose from his seat to get a closer look. “I’ve never seen one in person before.” His eyes glinted diamonds. “I was too young to ever have.” His fingers played with the idea of contact. “They were banned when I was only five, and my family never had the drive to drop the money on one when they were legal.”

Its wires were neatly wrapped and zip-tied so as not to tangle. Its headpiece meticulously hung on the wall by a few tacked in nails. The box itself was a clean white, not even a smudge of dirt. Compared to Raymond’s, this was a porcelain doll.

“I can’t use the thing like I used to,” Icarus announced, “takes way too much out of me. Plus, the bad dreams don’t make it worth it. They’ll eat away at your soul if you let them.”

Anya cringed.

“So how do you know this guy’s got one? Did you see it?” Beckett asked, taking his seat. “You said yourself, many people might possess this ability, but would never know it unless they had a carrying device of their own.”

“I’m assuming he’s got one,” Icarus corrected. “What I’m certain of is that he can carry, and has carried recently.” Beckett looked confused so he continued: “You see, when someone can carry, it leaves behind a certain kind of residue; a residue that adheres to the body, you see?” He pressed his fingertips into his chest. “When this said residue comes in close proximity with another harboring the same kind of film, there is a change in the way everything feels. I can’t explain it much better than that, but please believe me. If one were to use this ability, the feeling becomes more pronounced.” He paused to looked at his feet. “I’ve never felt it so strongly.”

“But you have felt it before?” asked from the shadows.

“That is for another day,” Icarus trailed off.

“But what does that have to do with anything?” Beckett asked, lost in a dream of what- ifs.

“We are hoping he can carry someone’s dream that works at headquarters that would then lead us to the perbitor.

“And that is…?”

Anya interjected: “That’s how they’re gonna pull us off the map.”

“A highly advanced cloaking device,” Icarus stated, “and teleportation tool as well, if you know how to use it.”

“And I’m guess you know how to use it?” Beckett looked up at Icarus with shadowed eyes.

“I’ve been hiding from headquarters since I was in my forties. I worked on developing the perbitor myself. Once I figured out headquarters’ plan to run people out of the city, I quit. Although one cannot just simply quit working at headquarters. The only way to stop working there is to disappear. And disappear I did. I acquired a new ID implant, and have spent most of my time down here. I effectively made my own prison, I realize that now. I always need to keep a disrupter in my pocket,” from his pocket he revealed a skinny silver tube with a white blinking light on its top, “and a watchful eye in my skull.”

“Okay,” Beckett said trying to piece all of this together. “So say we get him to carry someone’s dream who’s part of the administration, how is that going to help?”

“There are two of these perbitors. We need one to disrupt the waves of the other. We are hoping their dreams can lead us to them.”

“But people want to leave. Why don’t you just let them go?” Now he was only playing devil’s advocate.

“You really think that everyone whose going to leave is going to do so willingly?” Oona pointed out. “Do you really think they won’t try and get us out of this place?” she motioned to Anya.

“And the ones who want to go, are too desperate to see otherwise,” Anya inserted.

“People will be leaving any day now. I’ve watched them building their carts and wagons,” Oona said. “I can feel the shift.”

“We need you, Beckett, to find this janitor and get him on our side.” Icarus gently put his hand over Beckett’s.

“How the hell am I even supposed to do this?” Beckett said, pulling away from the old man.

“Don’t you have meetings or…weekly checkups, or something?” Anya said. She was getting nervous about staying in one place for this long, even though this was maybe the safest place in the whole city. “All you need to do is be there when Raymond’s there, and get him to come to one of our little meetings.”

“We’ll take the rest from there,” Icarus finished.

Beckett could feel their eyes waiting for a response. He didn’t dare look up. He felt his mind turn to shapes in the room, colors on the wall, the itch under his shirt. It wouldn’t allow him to form one coherent thought about what he had just been told.

“Damn!” he said, trying to snap himself out of it, and stall for more time. He pushed away from the table and started to bite his thumb. “And just what makes you think I’ll be able to find him? Headquarters is huge.”

“If his schedule is consistent he will be arriving to work tomorrow at 8 o’clock.”

“But I need to work tomorrow.”

“Then you will find him after! Please…” Icarus swallowed his anger.

Anya and Oona glanced at each other.

“I only mean that it’s our only chance.” Icarus finished, feeling slightly embarrassed by his outburst. “You had to have come here for a reason,” Oona said deeply.

“I know…I know…it’s just…” Beckett rubbed the back of his neck, “We’re talking about going against headquarters here.”

“You won’t be doing much going against if you don’t want to. Just maybe sliding him an address and a time. One sentence, max.”

“Then you’re out of there.”

“Never have to see or hear from us again.”

Beckett glanced over at Oona whose eyes were fixed on his own.

“I guess I could make a call or two to set up a meeting in person. Tell them we need a few more tech heads to help with the scaffolding holograms. God knows we need it.”

“That’s the spirit!”

Icarus shuffled over to Beckett and grabbed his hand. “Thank you. Thank you.” He was genuinely humbled.

“Well I really must be going.” Beckett felt sick. “I think the sooner I make the calls the better. You’re sure no one can hear us down here?”

“I’ve had this place littered with sonar disrupters. I haven’t had a problem in all of my time down here.”

“Okay it’s just that…” He watched Anya sit by a large vanguard-transponder, fiddling with its knobs. She was obviously shaken by something. “Is she okay?” he said quieter.

“Yes,” Oona said quickly, trying to cut off any further prying.

Beckett got the hint.

Icarus was still hanging on to his last statement. His back was bent with anticipation, and his eyes stared wide like moons.

“Well?” Icarus finally blurted out.

“When I came down the stairwell, I had something that gave me the willies.”

No one said a thing.

“About three times during my descent a voice came on over some kind of speaker system.”

“What did it say?”

“It just asked me if everything was okay…or if I was lost, or,” he shook his head, “something like—I can’t remember…”

“Well they watched you, that’s for sure. Did you come directly here?”

“No. I thought of that too, and first went to Tironan Park to look at my site.”

You went to the park, by yourself?” Oona said.

Anya looked up for a moment.

Beckett nodded.

“Yes, very impressive,” Icarus was aggravated. “Oona please see that Beckett gets back in one piece. Blend him into the scenery a little if possible.”

“Sure, sure.” Oona said timidly, careful not to step on any toes.

Anya looked up, unsettled. She didn’t want to be left alone.

“Goodbye Icarus.” He took the man’s brittle hand. “Anya.” He nodded


He turned to Oona. “We better get going.”

Anya looked down, trying to hide her sad eyes.

Together they walked to the cloaked door. Oona pushed Beckett behind so she could go first and make sure no one was around to see them emerge. When Beckett saw her feet disappear through the ceiling, he followed.

They walked through the park in silence.

“I can take you to a lift,” Oona said all of a sudden, as they passed by a mother in a black bonnet trying to feed ground meal to her infant child.

“Really? Those still exist down here?”

“If you know where to look,” she trailed off. “There’s one I know about, kind of in a rough part of town, but I know the guy who runs it, clean as a whistle. You’ve got any money on you?”

Beckett rummaged through his pockets and produced two twenty mark notes.

“That’ll do.” Oona snatched the money from his hand.

She led him away from the park and down towards a section of city Beckett had never flown over. The street signs disappeared after not too long, and the streets themselves became clouded by the holographic vat-nests that hung from the sides of buildings so as to project a more adequate view for its tenants. It was hard to remember the last time Beckett had contemplated whether what he saw from his apartment window was real, or just a holographic projection. Everyone would like to think they lived in a part of town that didn’t need to rely on the vat-nests. But the truth of the matter was, that no one knew one way or the other. It was better not to think about it.

Piles of rubble created a maze that made it all but impossible to walk down the road in a straight line. Oona grabbed at something on her waist—a stun device no doubt. She hadn’t looked back at him for some time. Beckett imagined that behind any one of these piles could be a perfect spot for someone with less-than-angelic thoughts to hide before their attack. But the piles of debris began to spread, loosen, and give way to an open square before any such thing happened.

Beckett could hear a commotion. The breeze through the plaza pushed a lonely air, unaccompanied by the people he thought to have heard. Loud cracks and deep thuds came at him as they stepped out from behind the last pile of junk. Glass broke, fire cracked, and the edge of the vat-nests made the empty streets undulate before them. Oona looked back, she knew he had seen it too.

“Don’t tell me they surround whole areas with the stuff.” He was referring to the vat-nests. He had always imagined it as a floating blanket of sorts, not a cage.

Oona nodded, and stepped carefully to the side. She led him around the plaza to the edge of the sidewalk, careful not to fall too close to the nest. An undisclosed entrance was between two doors labeled 1C and 1D. Oona pulled out a cylinder from underneath her shirt. It wasn’t a stun device after all. She whipped it forward, and a long pole extended from its tip. Beckett watched in fascination. She began pressing sections of the nest, it swiveled in waves under the pressure. Beckett began to feel dizzy while watching her prodding. It was hard to watch something that looked so real be shattered by touching its implausible boundary; a boundary that looked only to be empty space. Her pole poked and stuck. In one swift push a rip in space opened to a darkened lair, lit only by fires blazing in cacophonous steel drums.

“C’mon,” Oona said to the dumbfounded Beckett.

He wearily stepped in, careful not to touch the borders of the door.

From the inside, looking out was a reversal of what was seen from the outside looking in, but without the light. Everything was there: the buildings, the streets, the windows, but it was as though the sunlight stopped at the edge of the nest.

Men, women, and children huddled around the steel drums as their only source of light. It was unbearably hot in here with no way for the heat from the fires to escape. A gathering of people circled a brawl of two partially unclothed men, rolling in the trash that had decomposed to all but liquid on the floor. Some cowered in corners, cooking up their synthetics with long flames, while others walked around hopelessly addicted to their federally funded, ocularly administered, synthetic implant systems.

“Beckett!” he heard from a distance. “Keep up!”

Beckett ran over to Oona who had gotten a good deal ahead of him. Her face was lapped by flame and smoke.

“Why do people stay here?” Beckett asked as he got close.

“No one will bother them,” she answered simply. “They can do anything they please.”

“And the fires?” Beckett felt like ripping his clothing off, as he was already covered head to foot in sweat.

“It’s their only source of light.”

“Geeze,” Beckett said looking around, “what a way to live.”

“You’re telling me.”

They paused while speaking to one another. Beckett watched as the fires licked the bottoms of the vat-nests, while the shadows of the hooded figures danced behind the light from the flames.

“There should be another door over here somewhere. Just stay close. Most of these people are too fucked to do anything to us, but you never know.”

“Jesus christ, this place is hell.”

Oona gave him a stern look.

“I just mean—”

“I know what you mean.”

Oona took out her pole once again, hidden there under her shirt, and extended it as they got close to the edge of the nest once again. They walked along its wall and down an avenue towards a holographic fountain in the distance. It was hard to make out any of its detail. It looked like what Beckett supposed a mirage would look to a weary traveler; swaying, melting, and being rebuilt again, all at once.

The hopeless crowds began to lessen the more they neared the fountain. Oona still poked at the edge of the nest. Each time she did a jolt of red and blue light would diffuse from around its tip, dissipating into the dank underside it was covering.

A man with a blackened face, who had maybe never bathed in his entire life, exposed his ivory white teeth, illuminating the edges of his lips. His eyes were a light blue, bordering on silver—a clear indication of someone with an ocular synthetic addiction.

“That’s a fancy looking tool you’ve got there,” the man said.

Beckett froze.

“You wouldn’t know yourself,” Oona said calmly. She kept walking.

“Maybe not, but sometimes you’ve gotta go with what’s in your gut.” He walked in front of her path.

“Leave her alone!”

“Beckett, stay out of this!”

“That’s right little man. This is between me and this fine piece of ass right here.” The man paused and looked down at Oona with insanity plastered behind his eyes.

“I wouldn’t get too close if I were you.”

“Is that so?” He took a step forward to show he wasn’t afraid.

That was the wrong move.

With her free hand she reached into the backs of her red pants and pulled out what looked like a pencil, aimed it at the man, and pressed its only bottom, all in less than a blink of an eye. The man lurched at her but was stopped mid-pounce as a streak of white light shot out from its tip, hitting the man square in the chest. He fell down with a deadened thud, breathing slow. His eyes were still open.

“I told you to fuck off!” Oona spit in his face, obviously shaken. “Let’s go.” Oona said towards Beckett. But Beckett was too stunned, and too turned on to move just yet. “I said, let’s go!”

She moved with greater haste in her step, and fell to within a block of the fountain. Her pole seized in its path along the nest. “Here!” She pushed and opened to another area.

A light shone in from the open doorway. It composed soft, white squares that widened the farther in it reached. Beckett stepped through and heard the sound of feet stepping on glass. He turned around and saw an old woman with one leg hobbling towards them. Her hair was falling out in clumps and she had all but three teeth left in her head. Her eyes, puffy and filled with tears, tried looking at the door, but was blinded by the sunlight she had never before been exposed to. It must have burned her eyes like mad. She began to scream.

“The light! They have found a way! The light!”

“Quickly, Beckett, before she gets us killed!”

Beckett stepped through, and Oona slammed the door shut with her pole. They were back outside—or so Beckett thought. To the spaces he had concocted in his head, they should, on all accounts, be back out in the mid afternoon light. The illusion all but subsided as he stepped through. It was the same dim, orange glow instead, encapsulated by a dingy smell of rubber. Quick, screeching crescendos sounded from the other side of the nest; an endless ruby nightfall. Bot-skimmers skirted across the floors and under burnt garments. A wall embedded with a plexiglass window exposed a labyrinth of conduit. The yellow wall, stained with smoke and time, grossly framed the convoluted and serpentine display of masked power, as masses of insects crawled amongst their silver linings. Beckett looked up to see a sky no longer the empyrean spectacle their human race had wanted to live so much closer to. Instead, the sky was projected as a frantically moving procession of ascending and descending containers, squirming metallic sonnets.

“I don’t understand.” Beckett said, feeling more uncomfortable than he had in his entire life.

“There is nothing to understand, it’s all a hologram.”

“I know, but why is it like this?”

“Just the residual effects from the nest we just passed through. A kind of secondary reflection from something the computer is subconsciously working out. It seems to be in some sort of moral dilemma or existential crisis. It’s confused. The computer is picking up that there are observers on both sides. It knows that it must prioritize, and instead finds it better to project one side with nonsense, instead of what would be a slum. It’s a nice gesture to say the least.”

“So we are inside?” Beckett gulped, as a container seemed to snap and free-fall to the ground before a contraption that looked like a metallic flower snatched it up.

“Just try and keep it out of mind. Stare at the floor if you need to,” Oona said as she saw the same container pirouette into a hunk of catastrophic metal. She was saying it to herself just as much as to him.

Beckett felt her cold hand grab his own. It was strong. His hand collapsed into her’s. He gratefully allowed her to drag him through the rest of the way while he concentrated on the ground, making sure not to trip over any passing bot-skimmers.

“You there!”

“Don’t move,” Oona whispered to Beckett. She was stopped dead in her tracks, her hands raised in the air. She shifted nervously between feet.

“Graksan!” She waited for an answer. “I’ve got a customer for you!”

“Graksan hasn’t had customer in six months!” Its voice was covered in saliva.

Beckett never liked hearing anyone refer to themselves in the third-person.

“So you should be glad, Graksan!” Then Oona whispered for only Beckett to hear: “Don’t make any sudden movements or loud noises. And don’t speak!”

“Yes, Graksan should be!”

Well this is getting nowhere, Beckett though to himself.

“He just needs a lift to 100, that’s all!”

Between moments of speech, silence was overcome by billows of steam and pillows of raging fires from above. The metal carts still danced around their invisible promenade.

Just when Beckett thought their efforts were for nothing, he watched as a thin magnifying sheet exposed a face so huge and gnarled that Beckett had to look away. A sharp fang dripped yellow mucus.

“Come closer! You know it is hard for Graksan to see, Oona.”

Oona shuffled closer while keeping hold of Beckett’s wrist.

They reached a wooden podium decorated with gothic renderings of demons and gargoyles. Beckett looked up to finally come face to face with the beast the magnifying sheet just pulled away from. A small man, no larger than Beckett’s torso, stepped forward. His implanted bifocals made his irises look smaller than they should. Scars ran along the front of his chest, and his lips faded to a sickly yellow the closer they got to the edges.

“This him?” Graksan said, eyeing Beckett.


“And he has money?”

“Yes.” Oona produced one of the twenty mark notes.

The small man hobbled over to Oona and snatched the money out of her hand. Oona tensed as he did. Beckett didn’t understand why she was so frightened of him.

“Very well. Let’s go.” He looked up at Beckett. His nose flared. “He doesn’t smell.”

“He’s from above…hence the lift.”

“Oh right, right.”

Graksan spun on his heels and walked off towards a mound of porous blue. Oona looked back at Beckett with a tinge of annoyance.

“What?” Beckett spread out his arms in surrender. Oona walked off without answering.

As they reached closer to the blue—which at first looked no larger than five feet tall—it began to uncompress and loosen. A bot-skimmer drove directly into the bottom of an expanding pore and disappeared after taking careful note of the direction in which it needed to go. The foam turned iridescent with every expansion from the clouds of flame overhead, modifying its color from an azure, to a faded chartreuse, with highlights of vermilion red. It was a breath of fresh air from the hellfire otherwise surrounding them. Beckett hoped Graksan wasn’t going to follow the bot in, but of course, he did.

Oona looked back towards Beckett; she couldn’t look away for too long. A smile and she flicked her hair. Her eyes longed for something. Beckett’s heart danced. They had reached the opening.

Oona pushed at the foam. It fell around the edges as she held it up, motioning for Beckett to step through. He ducked his head, taking a moment to watch the structure slowly melt around Oona’s arm.

The inside was a nice change of pace from the chaos outside, though no less unsettling. He watched the material expand and undulate into even larger coral patterns as they moved through. A barrier of dark blue rose to the right. Beckett noticed along the banister rested mannerist balusters.

“Where does that go?” Beckett said, pointing up the stairwell.

Oona shrugged.

Graksan stood in a melding of foam, his back hunched beyond the illusion his bones allowed, patiently waiting for them to approach.

Beckett wasn’t so sure he wanted to go any longer. He stood absolutely still, trying to comprehend the purpose of the mass of blue foam. It looked ridiculous. There could be no reason for it.

“Should I even ask what that stuff is?” Beckett asked to either of them.

Graksan grunted, Oona did something similar.

“You’ll see once you’re on the lift,” Oona said as she maneuvered through a section hanging particularly low.

The deadened sounds of a locomotive filled the room. But they were not anymore aware of its source than of what a locomotive was.

“Just a seize, it’ll ease up,” Graksan said in true arrogant calm, becoming visibly more impatient by the second.

Beckett had no idea what he meant by a seize, but was becoming ever more fascinated by the utility of whatever it was he was standing amongst. He took a deep breath and followed Oona over to where Graksan was standing.

“Come along,” Graksan urged the two of them.

Oona looked back to see if Beckett was there behind her. She was just as apprehensious as he felt. Beckett presumed another extreme change in scenery and wasn’t sure he was going to be able to take it. But when he stepped through the wilting blue, he was standing in a small metal cube with only one button labeled 100. Beckett was relieved. He bent to his knees and let out a deep sigh.

A window, now covered only with the blue foam, was installed opposite that of the entrance. Beckett instinctively walked over to it.

Oona was already in and had wedged herself deep into a corner. Graksan stepped inside after they had both settled, dropped the foam to let it hang back towards the ground, quickly gazed over at Oona, and pressed the button labeled 100. A door emerged on hydraulics from a space in the opening, shutting before any of the foam was able to get in. Beckett saw it try.

The moment Graksan pressed the button they began to move upwards. Beckett eagerly looked out the window so see if the blue would pass. Oona was too afraid to look at anything but the floor.

“You okay?” Beckett asked, having trouble peeling his eyes away from the window.

“Yeah. Just don’t like heights.”

“Ha! Guess you really are from the floor.” It came out before he even had time to stop himself. Saying someone was from the floor was far from a nice thing to say. But Beckett had said it, and he wished the second it came out he hadn’t. Oona just continued to look at the ground as if she hadn’t heard him. Beckett clenched his jaw. He felt pale. This was a turning point in his life he never meant to initiate; a rock never meant to be overturned.

The foam peeled away from the window, Beckett heard it do so. It sucked and stretched until it lost hold completely.

Beckett’s legs felt weak. Outside the blue—deep below where the bottom of the lift ended—rose trees, 10 stories high, saturated in neon-green veils. Cages covered their reaching branches. They proceeded far away from where the lift was situated, falling deeper and deeper into the vast cavern. Instead of hanging minerals one would witness in a natural cave, there were bundles of carefully tied cables; the roots from the buildings above. By the bases of the trees scurried hundreds of miniature droids followed by bot-skimmers picking up their debris. The floor looked like it was moving.

“What are they doing?” Beckett asked as confused as ever.

“Can’t you see?” Graksan replied dully.

Beckett strained his eyes. It was hard looking through the misted, grate- reinforced window. Beckett looked back at Graksan in surrender. They had gotten too high for him to make it out.

“Mineral cable! They are harvesting it from the rock. There’s no other way to get light down here so they need the trees.”

Beckett remembered the abandoned bioluminescent tree project implemented years back. He had no idea they had found another use for them.

“But there’s no light for the trees,” Beckett suddenly realized.

“They use a charge gun or something. I don’t know,” Graksan said, obviously at wit’s end. “I just operate the lift. I don’t ask questions.”

Oona still hadn’t moved.

It was hard for Beckett to imagine anyone having such a fear who lived in this world. He suddenly wanted to run over and cradle her in his arms, tell her that everything would be alright. But he wasn’t able to tear himself away from the window just yet.

The glow from the trees began to diffuse into a cloud all of its own.

The lift rattled them back and forth. Quiet gasps escaped Oona’s mouth.

The blue foam still had yet to be explained, but Beckett was hesitant to ask any more of it. He could see it below them still, as one great mass of color. That was all. No contour, no shape, no shadows. He figured it could be insulation, or protection, or even nutrients for the trees. He turned away from the window and sat down next to Oona.

“Pretty neat, huh?”

She didn’t answer. He wondered why she had gotten on if she knew she was going to be so frightened. “I appreciate you doing all this for me,” he tried.

She turned to him and forced a smile. Her eyes were watery.

“You didn’t need to come, you know?”

Oona nodded.

“So why did you?”

“I just…” It was the first time she had spoken since they had started moving. Beckett had forgotten how much he loved her voice. “I just wanted you to think I could do it.”

Graksan looked down from a moment. He almost let go of the button. People who lived above don’t understand what the little things like this mean. Graksan was used to it because he had done it hundreds, if not thousands of times. But he remembered when he first started out, just how truly frightened he was. This was only Oona’s third time up. She was being more brave than he had been on his thirtieth.

“I didn’t mean…”

“I know,” Oona said sharply. “It’s like we’re from separate worlds. Mine is on the ground, and yours in the sky. Maybe the two aren’t meant to cross over.”

Beckett wanted to argue with her. To tell her that that was all lies, that all people were meant to be together, not separate. But he couldn’t. He knew he would only come off as sounding hypocritical and nescient. He had no right, trying not to forget that the very first time he had even stepped foot on the ground outside of a secure zone was only just this morning. “You’re right. We are very different. But that doesn’t matter to me.”

“Well it matters to me!”

After a long silence Beckett got up, longingly looking back out the window. There was nothing more he would be able to say to Oona now. He would have to give her time to herself.

Now only a cable ran along the length of the window. It danced along the black backdrop, highlighted with hints of green here and there. Bots programmed to mimic spiders dangled from unseen ceilings to make sure the wires had no chance of coming loose. Their shadows hung like stars, and Beckett was mesmerized by how alone they seemed. He guessed they must be 500 feet off the ground by now, though there was little way to gauge how fast it was they were moving. Because of this lack of background, there was little to no perception of depth to grasp. Beckett felt a slight tinge of vertigo, and, for the first time, could feel a fraction of what Oona felt. He looked back at her. To his surprise she was standing, both palms flat against the featureless wall, her large, puffy eyes fixed on his. He forgot to breath. The air smelled strong. She inched forward and motioned for him to move aside. He stepped back and watched her approach like the blind approaching a crosswalk. Her feet burned. She saw black come into focus and tried to concentrate on the metal reinforcement instead. Grakson breathed heavy, feeling every ounce of her trepidation. She grabbed hold of the railing. All she saw was the dark. Slowly the same wisps of cable, like smoke from an extinguished match, came into focus. She looked down…Nothing. She had waited too long to face her fears, feeling a twinge of disappointment. Her breath fogged the small window.

The lift shook its riders.

“Almost there,” Graksan announced.

An eerie and comfortable calm resounded inside. Beckett reveled. Oona didn’t notice. Graksan stood with his finger on the button.

The lift lurched to a halt. This time Oona only bit her lip. The door slowly peeled away.

Graksan took a deep breath. “Go out, make your first left, then second right. If anyone asks what you’re doing there, just say you got turned around.”

“But where am I?”

“Just another building,” Graksan answered dryly—or was it despondently?

Beckett began to walk out when he felt a tug on his sleeve—“You’re just gonna leave me here?” he heard a voice say quietly from behind.

He turned around, and grabbed hold of her hand. Her eyes melted to an arctic sprawl.

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

They walked out together and into a hall full of cleaning supplies and old newspapers, leaving Graksan behind like a stain on the wall.

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