NaNoFeed: In the Wreckage of Folly (Excerpt with space archaeology!)

A colleague on Twitter, Lev Mirov (@thelionmachine) mentioned space archaeology. Which my NaNo 2014 project is full of… so here’s another excerpt, behind the cut because it’s lengthy.

“Oh,” Martisset said, as they stepped through the door that hadn’t opened in a century and a half. They were opposite the door to the evacuation route, where Mavra and her crew lay entombed. “Oh. I had no idea …”

A vault soared above them, so airy as to make Jehen feel unsheltered, exposed even though she wore an environmental suit. Curved structural members supported three floors of concourses.

“It’s beautiful,” Martisset said, “but it doesn’t look the least like a dome.” And then tourist dropped out of her tone, to be replaced by engineer: “There are no compartments. No safety doors. It’s all one big open space. What were they thinking?”

Antares yr Iskri said, “I saw the plans when I was studying civil engineering at the Academy, and Ancient Sea drown me if I believed them. No safety features at all. No backup atmosphere, no way to split off rescue compartments, no way out if you were trapped on one of the upper concourses … as if the terraforming were going to be complete, and no worries about breathable air.” She gestured with one suit-thickened arm. “And that.”

In the center of this soaring aerie, a circular pit tiled in still-brilliant blue and violet, was inset into the floor with pipes poking up through the drifts of yellow dust. “The fountain.”

“The fountain,” Martisset echoed, as if she hadn’t heard right.

“Tempting fate,” Antares said, “as if that weren’t the setup for every tragedy on record. The real ones and the fictional ones.  The hubris of Clan Desnaray — but imagine if it had worked — this would be their palace now.”

Jehen thought about that, how much would be different. She herself probably wouldn’t be standing there. She wouldn’t exist. Her parents, if they even existed, would be living light-years apart. The temporary work crew would have dispersed back to Karis and the Inner Colonies whence it had been recruited, settled there, perhaps elsewhere.

Not stayed for a hundred fifty years in the barely livable wreck of someone else’s ambition.

They threaded their way through the wreckage, using the visualization projected on the helmet displays. The deeper they went into the structure, the less it resembled the almost-living assembly place. The sand of Sarronny had drifted in through cracks in the outermost wall, covering the debris of the evacuation …

“Just how did they evacuate?” Antares asked.

Mavra Two-Eyes pointed out the flexible foil wall shining in her handheld light. “That’s not original spec,” she said.

“Construction walkway. After the Revolt we scavenged them from the worksite, and built a back way to Domes One and Six. It was a makeshift, of course, and we drilled the evacuation three times a week for ten years, until the hull-breach actually happened. Then everyone was ready.”

“No casualties,” Antares said.

“Except for the work-crew trying to repair the breach, no,” Mavra said. “No one was living in the uppermost concourses, because we’d already figured out that wasn’t going to be safe.”

Martisset said, “There’s a considerable oral history of the breach.” Including the song sung at the yearly festival of the supply ships, the exemplary tales taught to children by way of training, and several storytelling dances.

“And of course, it lives on in Worst Case,” Jehen said. The contingency game was the universal pastime of everyone in Sarronny Dome, from the oldest to the youngest. Like dance, it was one of the practices that separated the living from the dead. When you stopped running contingencies and solving worst-case scenarios, you were dead.

“These people have raised worrying to an art form,” Antares said to Martisset. Over the comms, so of course Jehen and Mavra heard it as well.

Mavra laughed. “That’s why we’re still here.”

Yasmin added in Ship’s Voice, “And that’s why your Ships all hail from Sarronny. You wouldn’t have gotten here alive without us. But Temn yr Astok doesn’t that reckon that enough to make it worth keeping the treaty.”

They trudged on in silence, the handheld lights swinging to illuminate one or another point of interest. Their route across the ground floor paralleled the still-extant construction walkway tube.

“If you want to see the breach, we go upstairs to the first concourse,” Mavra said. “The breach started on the far wall. You can see the welds there. That’s what Mavra’s crew sealed off. Then it propagated to the interface to the Dome Six airlock, and a structural member collapsed. On this side of the wall, but it wasn’t good.”

“On a second pass, perhaps,” Martisset said. “I think … the gravesite.”

“That’s this side of the Dome Six airlock.” Where, according to song and story, the welding crew transformed the airlock doors back into a solid wall, so they would never open again, saving the evacuees who had poured into Dome Six, and dooming themselves. They had held off as long as possible, to let everyone else reach safety.

The beam had collapsed, just as in the song. Under it, a figure twisted away, its leg crushed. Under a layer of yellow dust, the Sarrony coverall showed plainly; the face, dried to leather on the skull, turned away as if in sleep, and the arms crossed on the chest.

Placed there, so had the story, by Mavra, as she sang the Last Song for her dying workmate after giving him her last dose of painkiller to give him a merciful death.

They located two other bodies by the main cache of welding equipment, and one more, by the comms, welding torch set to one side, and face turned toward the comm-plate, as if she had fallen asleep there. From under the welding mask, in back, trailed dusty braids, interlaced with shiny cord and beads. Mavra the Hero had liked red and blue beads. She had finished the job, too, for the switch on her rig was plainly off, and her gloves placed to one side. Her right hand, fallen free of the deadman switch, sported no ornament at all.

She had set her equipment aside, properly turned off, and listened to the Last Song before she died, as the last breathable atmosphere dwindled inside the temporary structure.

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