The junction with C Conduit goes smoothly and without incident, and soon we are flying down another railed corridor, somewhere deep in the innards of the October, heading bridgewards. LOLcat is staring intently at the tunnel ahead, as though she’s trying to out-think it and is losing, and as I squirm uncomfortably and wait for this damn tram(n?) ride to be over with, Alan is chatting at me about his favorite topic, viz., bunnies.
“All I’m saying is,” Alan is saying to me, “once we release the rabbits into our controlled breeding ecosystem, we’d be free to harvest them at will. It’s not as though we don’t have garden space. It would take a burden off the food-synthesis system, provide a more efficient use of the flexible carbon stores, and, additionally, well, you know my views on organic meats.”
I sigh. I cannot believe Alan is still harping on this. “You actually think,” I say, “that using the synthesizer to feed the hydroponic system, then feeding the plants to little bunny rabbits, then harvesting them, is more efficient than replicating the meat directly?”
“Don’t be silly,” says Alan. “We’re not going to be feeding the hydroponic system with anything.” He nods to himself. “We’re going to use it to make our dirt.”
“Dirt farming,” I say.
“Mm hm,” says Alan, gazing out at the brushed-metal walls as they whip past.
“Great,” I say. “Just great. Your brilliant plan for resource conservation has us catapulting ourselves screaming and flailing back into the fegging dark ages. What are you going to suggest next, replicating a bunch of coal and building a big furnace on the engine deck?”
“Don’t be silly,” says Alan. “Fossil fuels are murder on the air envelope. Isn’t that right, Mister Bunny.” He strokes his sidearm, comfortingly.
“Casting all this aside,” I continue, “this is all, once again, ignoring the fact that WE DO NOT HAVE ANY RABBITS ABOARD THIS SHIP SO WOULD YOU PLEASE STOP SUGGESTING COURSES OF ACTION THAT INVOLVE US HAVING THEM?”
“I’m just saying,” says Alan. “Dominic is always pushing the envelope on what the synthesis system is capable of. If he can design an entire rabbit from the ground up out of flexible carbon, how long before he’s able to pump the spark of life into it?”
“Great,” I say. “Maybe he can replicate some more fegging crew members while he’s at it. Less mental ones.” Dominic Rush is our synthesis chief, a huge, skinny guy with night-black skin and brilliant white teeth and he’s always, always smiling. Additionally, he’s gayer than a fruit basket glued onto a May-pole. He joins me and Alan and Norway for our semi-weekly Dungeons and Dragons sessions, and if there’s one guy on the October who’s going to someday figure out a way to synthesize life out of whole cloth, then, brother, he’s the one. I have to give Alan that. I shake my head and change the subject. “Cripes, Alan. Why don’t you go be obsessed with the pod of dolphins we inexplicably have on our Marine Biology deck, which we also inexplicably have?”
Alan chuckles. “You know full well that Stephanie would kill me if I so much as touched those decidedly insolent sea critters. And besides, have you ever tried eating dolphin?”
“I can’t remember,” I say.
“Neither can I,” says Alan, wistfully.
“I’m still not buying,” I say, “that your rabbit plan is more efficient than our current system.”
“Well,” says Alan, “let’s run a projection. LOLcat?”
LOLcat whips around, smiling hopefully. “Pls can serve yu nau?”
“Yes,” says Alan, as I settle back in my seat, rolling my eyes. “I’d like you to give us flexible carbon efficiency plots for protein replication: direct synthesis versus a ground-up biological mockup like the one I’ve recently described to Engineer Oh.”
“O.K. did it,” says LOLcat. “Ur bunneh idea iz moar good.”
“Oh, be quiet,” I say. “You’re just making that up.”
LOLcat looks cross. “SERIOUS CAT IZ BEING SERIOUS,” she insists, stomping her foot and producing the little magnetic hum common to real object / hologram intersections. “Iz bettur.”
“You’re just saying that because you want rabbits around to play with.”
LOLcat nods. “Bunneh tiem,” she says, solemnly. “Monch on they li’l earz. Nom nom nom.”
“I rest my case,” I say, pulling out the PCP again. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to run an actual plot on–”
…but I never get around to doing it, because at that moment, the peoplemover encounters the deck breach leading down into the Labyrinth.
A hot wind rushes at us from below as the metal floors fall away into the twisted mess below, the product of some unknown catastrophe on board either prior to or concurrent with the incident which wiped all of our brains clean, leaving us in our present sorry state. Alan’s previously well-tamed hair is blown out of place and we are surrounded by the red glow of a proximal inferno. Gripping the safety rails of the pod tightly, I lean over the edge and stare down into…
…an ancient ziggurat, surrounded by a sea of fire. Chanting echoes up at us as we sit, bathed in the wind from the flame beds. Lines and lines of chained wretches dressed in rags form ragged rows leading up the titanic steps on the near side of the pyramid, goaded on by the whips of great red-cloaked men in monstrous headdresses, who bellow at the top of their lungs the one order they are allowed to give: Up, pitiful ones, Up. And in a mind-bending spatial twist, the entire scene, the great panorama below me, is mounted normal to the plane of gravity, putting the scene on its side, so that rather than being above the temple, I am, instead, at its base… and gravity itself is dragging me in, towards it, where taskmasters wait with their barbed lashes and one of them fixes his glowing, coal-like eyes upon me and mouths my name and my eyes are drawn up, up, to the top of the pyramid where I see the fate that awaits me, and it is–
–gone. The peoplemover clears the deck breach, and we are back, slipping along a railed corridor, as if the Faustian vision we experienced were nothing but a dream, and a bad one. Our pod coasts on silently, humming.
We sit, not talking, for a while.
“It’s getting weirder down there,” I say, at last.