Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
If the Skipper found out what I was about to do, he’d probably dock me a week’s pay, but it’d be worth it. I figured with the gravity generator off-line for the next four hours, I could probably get in three runs. I popped open the access panel at the mouth of the ship’s mile long ventilation shaft. The schematics had referred to it as the “Trunk Shaft”. The escaping wind created by the bank of centrifugal blower fans nearly sent me flying backwards into the maintenance lockers. Gripping my tether line and fighting the wind, I carefully pulled myself inside, and closed the panel door. The steady fifteen miles per hour wind felt much stronger than I expected. I turned my helmet light on and looked down the shaft. I could only see about a hundred yards, but it didn’t matter; I had memorized the location of every reducer, every Dyson Booster Ring, and every cross vent. I aligned myself head first, let go of the tether line, and nudged myself into the middle of the ten foot diameter shaft.
It was slow going at first, but as the wind gradually pushed me along, I started picking up speed. I was probably doing 5 mph as I passed the Bridge’s cross vent. If I wanted to abort, that was probably the last chance; as I’d be moving too fast from here on out to grab a vent corner. After about a minute, I shot though the first reducer. You wouldn’t think that a diameter reduction of only eighteen inches would make a difference, but it did, at least psychologically. Before I knew it, I went through another reducer, and a Dyson Booster. I briefly turned sideways, and my feet and hands slid along opposite walls. The cross vents were flying past every few seconds. That meant I was traveling at maximum speed. My heart was pounding like a drum as the current swept me past another reducer and booster. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time, like falling down a bottomless elevator shaft.
Despite my diligence, I clipped my left elbow going through the next reducer, but hell, it was better than my head. I needed to be sharp for the next thirty seconds, as I had to count the number of cross vent openings. If I missed the bungee line that I had strung across the shaft, I’d slam into the T-Fitting at full speed. Okay, twelve, thirteen, fourteen… I twisted myself into position and grabbed the bungee line. I quickly found the end and wrapped it around my chest just like I had practiced, and hung on. When the slack ran out, my upper body was yanked “upward”. Like a boa constrictor, the line started compressing my lungs as the bungee cord began to stretch. I was “falling” feet first now, and I used my arms to take some of the load off my chest. This was almost as much fun as the fall. I had to smile to myself when I came to a complete stop less than twenty feet short of the Engineering vent. I released the cord and it snapped up the shaft. The air current nudged me the final way and I pushed myself gently into the Engineering cross vent. Ten minutes later, I was making my way through the ship to start my second run, when my crew chief spotted me.
“Hey Garnerin,” he yelled, “I’ve received a half dozen calls about unusual noises coming from the ventilator shafts. Would you mind starting your maintenance shift early and looking into it?”
“Er, no problem Max. I’ll get right on it.”
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