Of the nineteen women in the group shower of the Science District women’s dorms, only one enjoyed the tingle of the UV showers.
“I wish I could do this every day,” Anala said, looking back and forth, the whites of her eyes glowing several shades of purple. The words Another Perfect Day beamed at them from one wall.
“I wish we could stop doing this,” Velena replied, and a few women grumbled in agreement. “You know, people used to use water to shower with.”
“That sounds nice,” said Katie, a new arrival to the Science District and the newest Structural Integrity scientist.
“That sounds wasteful,” Anala scoffed.
“You’re weird,” Velena said.
“Yeah,” Katie agreed.
“Nobody asked for your opinion,” Velena snapped. It was one thing for Velena to comment on her friend’s peculiarities but she wouldn’t suffer a stranger’s insults. Everyone knew that Anala was the brightest and toughest woman in the room and Velena was proud to be her friend.
The ground swayed gently under their feet.
Khatzi walked over to where Velena was standing. “Earthquake?”
“No, not today,” Anala groaned. “I have to speak to the governor today, and I’d better not be late.”
Khatzi’s eyes widened, bright green set in UV purple. “You’re speaking to the governor? What about? You’re not getting married, are you?”
Velena rolled her eyes. The thought of Anala wanting to get married seemed too far-fetched to consider. Anala was too involved in her work to worry about the business of procreating. Busy or not, Velena was being pressured to marry a descendant of Sky Town’s founders. The fat, old man had already lost one wife who’d disappeared or died. She didn’t know or care which.
Anala smiled. “People see the governor for other reasons, Khatzi. Trust me, you’ll find out soon enough.”
“Sounds exciting,” Khatzi breathed. “Oh, I wish I could work with you and then I’d be able to make a real difference.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Velena said. “You’re in Agriculture. Growing food is very important. It’s not like you’re in Structural Integrity or something really useless.”
Before anyone could say more, the fans kicked in, loudly and violently pushing the air around the room. Anala shook her hands through her brown hair to free any debris.
The ground swayed again, knocking some of the women off of their feet, crashing into those around them. Velena and Anala both stayed steady and upright.
The fans died, the room went dark, and nothing but the phosphorescent stripes painted on the walls were visible. They stood quietly for a moment.
Anala felt for her friend’s shoulder and gave it a push. “Well?”
“I’m working on it,” Velena answered. “I just have to find the control panel for the lock.”
“We’re locked in?” Katie asked. She started to talk aloud, her voice getting high pitched and agitated. “No, we can’t be locked in, the locks are the only weak point in the buildings. They have to be in case of emergency. The layers of thermostet, plastic, and self-healing alloy bands make the buildings indestructible. The doors are weak.”
Khatzi interrupted, “Why don’t you tell us something useful, like how to get out of this room?”
“I did,” Katie squeaked. “We have to go through the door.”
“If I could see you I’d slap you,” Khatzi said.
“That’s the only way,” Katie muttered. “There aren’t any weak spots in the room and if there are, you don’t want to go through them.”
“Keep talking,” Khatzi said. “I’ll just listen for your voice.”
“We’re trapped here aren’t we?” Katie asked before going quiet.
“Katie!” Anala snapped. “We’re a room full of scientists and three of us are from Energy. You are a scientist and you will not embarrass yourself and panic just because the lights went out. You’re supposed to know more about this building than any of us. How did you even get a job in the Science District?”
Velena tried to pry the control panel open with no real luck. “Does anyone have anything I can break this open with?”
“I’ll do it,” the amused voice of Janie McDermott said. The tall, older blonde held up her sizable fist. “I had to do it once before and if I hurt myself I can treat it.”
“Go for it,” Velena said.
“It would make a lot more sense for you to have to treat someone else,” Anala said, too late.
The control panel door popped when Janie’s fist hit it.
“Nice one, Janie,” Velena said, swinging the door open.
“Thanks, now what?”
The little panel door swung free of its hinges and crashed to the floor. Someone let out a scream of surprise. Anala sighed.
“Now I just slide this wire out,” Velena said, slipping her finger into the familiar nest of wires. The lock fell open loudly. “And we’re free.”
It took a few of them to slide the heavy, smooth faced door open, but once they did they poured out into the locker room. The women scrambled in the dark to find their clothes.
“That was a big one,” Velena said. “They keep getting bigger.”
She felt Anala brush past her, muttering in agreement and then almost lost her balance when Katie crashed into her. The girl let out a little scream again. “Someone pushed me.”
“This is going to ruin my schedule,” Anala said in a low, aggravated voice.
“Don’t blame me, I didn’t make the earthquake happen,” Velena said, finding her clothes and pulling them on.
“No, you didn’t, but if your department could do something about the old broken power system, we could stop sucking the energy out of the planet, and it would stop shaking us around.”
Someone gasped. Velena guessed it was someone else from Alternative Energy, or maybe one of the younger girls who didn’t know that Velena and Anala had been friends since they were young. The younger ones wouldn’t know that they were both considered to be different, direct to the point of being rude by most. Velena ignored the gasp and grabbed her breakfast, a bland food bar and a syringe of fluid. She grabbed Anala and headed into the hallway.
Velena opened her mouth wide. “You know as well as I do that we have ideas, but the government doesn’t approve any of them! I’m supposed to be researching alternative energy, but I get to clean up after earthquakes instead. We only have permission to preserve the old broken system since there is no actual evidence that our power lines cause these earthquakes!” She took a deep breath and reached out. Her hand landed on Anala’s face, feeling her expression in the dark. “Why are you smiling?”
Anala’s voice went quiet. They were farther away from the others, but she did not want to be overheard. “I’m smiling because if I don’t, there is no future. If I let things get bleak I have failed to make the world a better place for our descendants. I’m also smiling because I’m going over Dax’s head and talking to the governor about an idea I have. If this goes wrong, I’ll trade places with you. I’ll take your problems and you can take mine.” Anala patted her shoulder, a smile still plastered on her face.
“I don’t know which is worse,” Velena muttered.
“Dax is. Think about it. I’m stuck with Dax as my boss for life; you’d only have to be married to Jodir for a few years. If this goes wrong, we can switch places. I’ll just stop showering and scowl all the time and he won’t know the difference.”
Velena scowled and wiggled the metal bar she kept in her pocket into the control panel. It popped open and she gently slid one wire out of place. The lock dropped open with a loud clang and they pushed the door open. “Should I bother replacing the shower lock?”
Anala sneered at her in the dark. “I think it would be just fine if you didn’t. I don’t think I’d like to get stuck in there again. Especially if you decided not to show up that day.”
“You’re the only one who likes showering. Everyone else skips out whenever they can but you would do it every day if you could.”
“I’m not normal, then. I’m fine with that. I’d rather be abnormal than wait for our city to fall out of the sky like all you normals.”
Velena scoffed. “Normal? That’s why I was put in Great Minds a year before you were? Because I’m so normal?”
“And what have you done with that Great Mind since then?”
The white walls of the hallway looked gray in the darkness, the lights that normally shone through them were out with the power. Velena traced the wall with one hand and held onto Anala’s shoulder with the other, slowly making her way down the familiar path in the unfamiliar darkness.
“At least we won’t run into Jodir this morning,” Velena whispered.
“He hasn’t actually gotten approval to marry you yet, and he’s already had a wife. They won’t let him have another.” Anala said. “The rules are too strict.” Sky Town had been around less than a century, but there weren’t many resources in the clouds, and it had suffered greatly in the last few decades because of that. “Besides, you can always just say no.”
“I really don’t think that’s an option,” Velena responded. “Alright, I found the control room. I’ll see you later.” Velena groped her way into the room with the panel of controls. The rooms that happened to have tiny floor windows would be the only ones that got light when the power was out. The rest would have to endure the darkness. Unlike the showers, the rooms did not have phosphorescent paint.
They normally went together to the RaPort door, waited for it to open, and got on. On earthquake days Velena went into the main control panel for the building and flipped the main power switches to reset the power. She was always half afraid, half excited for the day when the switches wouldn’t do the trick and she would have to think of something else to restore power. The rapid transport system, or RaPorts, had a much more reliable power line. They wouldn’t stop running unless they lost power completely and that wouldn’t happen unless the thick line was cut. At thirteen, in her first year as an Energy tech, she had come up with a system to protect the RaPort line above all others so that no one would get stranded in the little car so high above the earth.
As she felt around the familiar power control panel of the women’s dorms, Velena felt her ear vibrating. She jumped, startled at first, then touched the communicator speared through her earlobe.
“Darling? Are you alright?” Jodir didn’t give her the chance to properly answer before he started talking. She shuddered.
“I’m fine. This happens twice a week, of course I’m fine.” She hated the communicator. Her ears weren’t pierced when she was being raised because her fosters thought that piercings were a symbol of religion, which was highly illegal in Sky Town. Jodir bought her the communicator as a present and when she tried to decline because her ears weren’t pierced, he gently took her earlobe and very cruelly stabbed the communicator’s post through it.
“Fine,” he said, sounding relieved. “I’ll see you later then, Darling. Mart already has the power back here.”
Velena silently went to work, jiggling wires and flipping switches and pouting. He’d made it sound as if Mart was better than her at her job just because he probably wasn’t trapped in the shower before he had to reset the men’s power. He could hop right on the RaPort, which still ran in a power outage thanks to Velena’s innovation, and restore power to Residential District 6, where Jodir lived. She got the power back on quickly, and the women still stuck in their locked rooms could leave again.
Anala went to the government building, groomed and polished in comparison to the residents who had dressed in the dark and looked it. Her suit was crisp and clean and her hair was pulled back, exposing her long neck, making her look older and taller.
Velena went to the small, nearly empty Alternative Energy lab, and as soon as she walked in, she and the leader of Energy, Finn, headed for the powerhouse.
One of the smaller lines had snapped during the earthquake, which added stress to the already strained power system and caused the outage. They started to draw the broken line up and as Velena peered down the dizzying distance to the earth. With cold wind blowing against her face, she thought bitterly at what a waste her life as a researcher was.
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