Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer
Below level one-one, there have been several issues with the life support mechanisms. High temperatures, pressures, and an abundance of certain harmful chemical compounds have rendered these levels uninhabitable. You will require a blue keycard to pass the environmental filters, and even so, such an action is not recommended.
“Ash!” Peter yelled, scanning around for his companion. Ash and Peter were regular visitors to the zero-levels, part of a small cadre of ‘smokers’: people who explored and mapped the zero-levels. They repaired essential machinery, looted non-essential gear, and created maps. The only real danger any more was the smoke, and that was most of the appeal in and of itself.
The grating underfoot was heating up. His helmet was analysing the smoke: as they penetrated lower, the percentage of sulphur was increasing. This was level zero-three, the last level that had been reliably mapped. Any further down, and the corridors couldn’t be relied upon to stay in the same place from day to day. Peter dragged his fingers across the wall to his left. A long string of plastic stretched away from his fingertips, and he swore. The wall was searing hot, and he’d just reduced the integrity of his gloves. The choking smoke was only getting thicker.
Ash was nowhere to be seen.
Peter’s helmet picked up and amplified a skittering sound coming from beneath his feet. There was a hole to his right. In the smoke, forethought was a luxury that most couldn’t afford. It had killed a good number of people that had paused when they should have jumped. He dropped through the hole, landing safely on zero-two.
The visibility was down to about a metre, so Peter upped the power on the primitive radar built into his suit. A faint return came back from the corridor to his left. Ash. He chased it down, radar traces mapping the outlines of the corridor onto his visor.
He was moving too fast. He never saw the floor fall away beneath him. He crashed down onto zero-one, and promptly blacked out.
Pain screaming along his arm and across his back dragged him back to consciousness. The skin of his suit had melted to the floor where he’s struck it. The radar unit was damaged, emitting at only irregular intervals. Someone dragged him to his feet, something clacked against his visor.
“You’re in a bad way, Peter. I’ve found somewhere safe to rest, but you have to trust me. Do you trust me?”
Ash took hold of Peter’s good arm, and started to drag him along, running through corridors that were slowly drifting, semi-liquid due to the heat. Peter dimly wondered how he could move with such surety. Suddenly, their run sloped downwards. Zero-zero. Still, Ash didn’t stop. With a last burst of speed, he dragged Peter through one more corridor, and down through a hole.
They fell – not far – onto a soft surface. The smoke was gone. In a daze, Peter stared upwards. Another suited individual was pushing a hatch shut and sealing it. Ash propped himself up, and pulled Peter’s helmet off him. The small compartments and corridors that Peter had known all his life were missing: they were laying on grass, the air was sweet and clear. Soft light permeated the area. There were trees in the distance, showing up sharp against the bulkhead. There were plants growing in neat rows.
“Welcome to Agriculture One, Peter.”