Aeon Thirteen

Aeon Thirteen by Jeffe Kennedy

Publisher: Quintamid

Date Published: Mar 2008

THE DISCOVERY OF SCHNELL, the natural man, rang through our small world like an ancient gunpowder shot. The kind the books said made the ears ring and heart pound. So, yes, my heart thumped, pumping hot blood to my ears; my fingers trembled, weak and burning; and I definitely heard some kind of high whine when Casidy and Tomas first pulled Schnell out of the cubby, deep in the machine bowels. We were on the routine maintenance checks assigned to the younger people, those of us no longer children, but who aren’t full Techs. That day, we had descended to Level 137, which is the lowest that remains accessible. I understood even then, before Schnell taught me my own history, that there were levels built beneath that, but as far as any of us were concerned, our dungeon–Tomas and I favored the books with castles and prisoners in need of rescue–was the bottom of the world and anything below that might as well be mantle and magma. Actually, all of Obidion should be called the dungeon, since that’s the ancient word for an underground holding facility for criminals, but that’s a fine point. Tomas and I always volunteered for lower level duty, ever since the day when we were ten and found the secret compartment off an old chamber. Tomas had been showing off for me, kicking the old metal walls to make bigger and bigger dents. With a soft whoomp, one dent became a hole and old air sifted out. Inside we found stories, more and better than any we had made up. Walkways in Obidion wound on narrow footing between the arching walls of machinery. The maintenance consoles doubled as handholds, so we stalked along, hands outstretched on either side gliding along the gleaming metal rails, our feet narrowly planted one in front of another. If I looked up, I could see the intermittent walkways of other levels, lights ascending to an infinite perspective. There was something of a drop-off beneath us, but if I shone my wristlight down, it was clear that the metal banks curved together, seams that knit irrevocably. The bottom of the world. Or so we thought, until we heard a voice inexplicably below us. “Faustus!” Tomas yelped. “Calling from the pit of hell…” “Whoever that is,” Casidy said, not a volunteer for this level and not a fan of our games. She pushed past him, “Just some Tech who came down here to fix something and got stuck.” “But who?” I asked. “Anyone away from Core without assignment longer than two hours would set off the Recover Alarms up top–we’ve been down here longer than that.” “Well, no one has passed us, and no one lives down here,” Casidy said. “Nobody but us chickens,” Tomas inserted, to be met with Casidy’s blank glare. “You should have read some of those old documents we found, Casidy,” I said. “Maybe you would’ve learned something.” “Those were interdicted texts in a sealed-off area,” Casidy began, her voice pitching higher, until another, louder shout interrupted her. I lagged behind, my precognitive heart already beginning its symbolic pounding, while Tomas and Casidy scanned the walls and floor with their wristlights. They located the old hatch, and blood whistled in my ears. Tomas wanted to try kicking it in. Casidy overruled him and searched the Core database for the computer command to open it. And blue eyes blinked up from below. They each grabbed an arm, helping him lever up and out of the narrow mouth. His gangling legs doubled up to his chest as his feet thunked up to the walkway. Once his purchase was secure, he flashed eggshell teeth and turned his hands over, changing the grip so that he clasped their hands, and with one pull stood beside them, raising locked fists up in triumph. There they stand in my mind still: pale, hygienic Casidy and rippling dark Tomas, flanking the red-haired giant, hands raised above their heads like children clinging to their father. They were as stunned as I, though they had done more than stand and wonder. None of us had ever seen a new adult person before. And unencoded people existed only in stories.

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