If you’ve just joined in, start at the beginning here.
The next morning, Lucas woke to the sound of someone knocking on the door to his assigned room. He pulled on the grey sweatsuit they’d given him and opened the door. The small common room outside his room led to three other bedrooms—but Ash and Paxton had been assigned quarters somewhere else.
Amelia stood in the centre of the space. She smiled when she saw him. “Good morning.”
“It’s hard to tell around here.” He waved up at the green-tinged lights. They weren’t sophisticated enough to follow a programmed day/night cycle.
“Well, this place is a work in progress.” She shrugged, unfazed by his attempted insult. “Making this a home is work you could be a part of.”
Lucas leaned against the frame of his bedroom door and nodded. She’d talked to the three of them at length the night before about them permanently staying at the facility. Paxton and he had said no but Ash remained non-committal.
“You should re-consider staying with us,” Amelia said. “We’re looking at acquiring a bigger ship and it’ll need a crew.”
Lucas ran a hand over his face. “I have a wife back on Earth.”
“We can get her up here.” She gestured around. “The two of you can start a fresh life here.”
“This facility is far from a family home.”
“Perhaps. But if we work together, we can change things,” she said. “You could take part in the change our civilization needs.”
He smiled. “You goals are lofty, yet you keep guards posted in the halls.”
She returned his smile. “The three of you are employees of The Conglomerate. Keeping you under guard is prudent.”
“So what happens to me if I refuse your offer?”
“We don’t wish you any harm. There’s a doctor here who can wipe your mind. It’s a low risk procedure that would ensure you remember nothing of your time here.”
“Then what would you do with us?” Lucas was sceptical. Amelia seemed nice enough, but mind wipes weren’t foolproof. A much better and permanent option would be just to put the three of them out of an airlock.
“You would wake up in Lunar City remembering nothing.”
“That sounds dodgy,” he said.
“Those are your options.” Amelia stood and wiped the wrinkles out of her pants. “I’ll give you some time to think on it.” She turned and left through the door to the hall. Lucas caught a glimpse of the guard before she closed the door behind herself. A grinding sound told him she’d locked him in.
Alone again, Lucas walked the perimeter of the room, studying the walls. The place was old, and the algae infestation suggested weak spots existed that he might be able to use for escape. In his search, he went through the other bedrooms before returning to the common space.
“This is ridiculous,” he said out loud as he flopped down onto a chair. The synthetic surface groaned as he settled into the lumpy foam. He released a long exhale and let his head relax back as the ventilation breeze cooled him off.
“Wait.” He jumped onto his feet, then stepped on the chair to get a closer look.
The grates of the ventilation system let out a steady stream of air. No one could live on a lunar habitat without taking care of how to keep breathing. That system had to be one of the first the insurgents had overhauled. If the facility was as big as he suspected it was, they needed a lot of air—meaning the ducts might be big enough for him to fit through.
The vent panel came down easily when he yanked on it. But there was no lip to grab to pull himself up. Lucas jumped down from the chair and looked around.
He went into the closest bedroom and flipped the bed. A series of metal bars held the metal frame together—it would do. Taking care to be quiet, he picked up the cot and carried it to the common room. After standing it on end, he braced it in place by shoving the chairs up against it.
“Good enough,” he said, trying not to think about when Amelia might return for his answer.
He climbed up and pulled himself into the vent—it only went one way—towards the corridor. And he’d been right, the duct was just big enough that he could wiggle through.
The pile of furniture he’d left behind was a dead giveaway to where he’d gone, so he needed to get moving. Inching his way forward, Lucas was painfully aware he could get caught at any moment. He needed to move fast yet he didn’t dare make any noise.
Through the next grate, the corridor outside his door was visible. His guard leaned against the wall while cleaning his fingernails with a knife. All Lucas could do was hope the guard didn’t look up as he pulled himself on. In short order, his body ached from the confined space, but he kept going until he reached a T-junction where the smaller branch joined a main arm.
With no real clue where he was headed, Lucas made an awkward turn to the right and continued along. He passed several other branches, but stayed on the main path.
After what felt like hours of wiggling his way forward, the main arm took a ninety-degree turn. He bent his way around and continued on to the next vent. Below was the corridor, but the guard outside his door wouldn’t be able to see here.
That doesn’t guarantee no one else is here. Lucas’ thoughts waffled between taking the risk of leaving the vent or continuing on at his painfully slow pace. He took a deep breath and decided to risk it—at some point he needed to get out of the vents.
Taking care to grab the vent cover securely with both hands, he pushed it down. It came free easily and he didn’t drop it. He turned it just enough to bring it into the vent with him. With an awkward wiggle, he traversed the opening so he would be jumping down feet first.
He reversed direction, letting his legs hang into the corridor visible to anyone who came by. But no one sounded the alarm. With one last push, he dropped to the floor. Staying in a low crouch, he surveyed his surroundings. No one was in sight.
“Now what?” he whispered.
Colonies of the escaped algae were consuming the dingy corridor's lights, casting a sickly green glow that was barely enough to see by. Spatter patterns stained the floor and walls in a way he didn’t want to think too hard about.
Turning right—the direction he hoped was away from the guard outside his room—Lucas started walking.
The first door opened easily, exposing an unlit space inside that reeked like a rotten aquarium. Obviously no one had cleaned out that space yet. He closed the door and moved on trying every door he came to.
At the end of the hall, a door was locked with a sliding bolt—just like the bolt on his door. He opened it and stepped inside.
Ash stood from where she’d been sitting on a chair like his room had had. Her brows knit together when she saw him. “What?”
“No time to explain, we need to get going,” he said, waving her to the door. “We’ll find Paxton and get out of here.”
She paused for a moment, long enough that Lucas wondered if she didn’t want to go. Then she nodded and followed him out into the hall.
“Do you know where she is?” Ash looked both ways down the corridor.
“We’re in an accommodation wing of some sort.” He started moving the direction he had been going before. A thought came to him. He halted and turned to Ash. “Why didn’t you have a guard?”
“I don’t know,” Ash said. “Maybe they don’t consider me a flight risk.”
Lucas nodded as he tried to process what that meant. “Let’s go find Paxton.”
Around the next corner, two doors down on the opposite side of the hall, a sliding bolt secured another door. Again there was no guard.
Lucas turned to Ash. “I guess they figured I was the only one who’d try to escape.”
“Seems they were right about that.” Ash frowned at him. “You sure about this? They did make us a good offer.”
He slid the bolt clear. “I need to get back to Camila.”
Ash pursed her lips together for a moment, then nodded. He opened the door.
Inside, the lights were on, but no one was in the common room. Lucas strode over to the only closed bedroom door and knocked.
“I don’t want to stay,” Paxton said from within.
“It’s me, Lucas. We’re going to get out of here.”
A moment later, the door swung open and Paxton greeted him with a grin.
Lucas gestured to the exit. “Let’s go.”
“We’ll have to figure out a plan on the fly,” Lucas said, turning to Ash.
Ash’s expression was serious. “I paid attention on the way in, I can get us to the shuttle bay.”
“Right, then all we’ll need to do is hot wire a shuttle.” Lucas nodded. “Lead the way.”
To be continued…