Part Three - Building Bridges

Chapter One: Cilicia

The sun always rose early at this latitude, bringing instant silver light to the frozen landscape. Brent liked to watch it come up over the horizon, adding its sharp illumination to the dim orange of the twilight. Introducing well-defined, dark shadows that highlighted the man-made structures that adorned the otherwise flat and featureless terrain. Only moments ago, those same structures had seemed blurred and indistinct in the dull peachy light of pre-dawn.

Along with its blue-white light, the same sun provided only the illusion of heat. A psychological trick that made Brent feel warmer even though his mind knew he could not really sense any difference. The inside temperature would not rise by more than a few degrees during the day. In this part of the world the ice was still permanent. Hours later, the onset of dusk would be equally impressive but equally short-lived.

He'd already been up for an hour, working on some repairs to the schooner. Now that the spectacle of the rapid sunrise was over, he returned to his task of smoothing off the new starboard outrigger with an electro-plane. Sailing had become a popular sport over the last decade but it was highly competitive and damages to the vessels were frequent. Particularly to the sails and other appendages that were vulnerable, both to the harsh environment and to collisions with other ships.

Another hour and the repairs were complete. He'd applied a layer of tough white paint and the Jolly Spirit was ready to sail again. She could probably do with new paint all over but there wasn't time for that now. Perhaps he would get a chance to apply another coat before the next race in two day's time.

"Are you coming in for breakfast?" His wife Maree was standing with her hands on her hips.

"Of course," he said. "I'm not late am I?" he twisted his wrist to glance at the display woven into his thick sleeve.

"There's plenty of time. Is Yonny with you?"

"No. Isn't he in his room?"

"Not when I looked a minute ago."

"Well, he's bound to be around somewhere."
Brent started packing away his tools while Maree went back into the bode, calling for their son.

Yonny was lying in bed, wide awake and thinking of his best friend. Yesterday at the learning centre, he'd noticed the crusty split in Rill's lip and the multi-coloured puffy bruise just under his eye. It had not been the first time that something like that had happened. Rill had said something about a bad tackle while playing edgeball but Yonny didn't believe him. Neither Rill nor Yonny even liked edgeball. It was a rough game that was usually played by older and bigger boys.

Like most eight-year-olds, they preferred adventures. One of their favourite pastimes was to take the pipe to Olsen and then skate over to the port terminal, where they would watch through the thick carbo-glass as the boats and ships arrived and departed. Their parents forbade them to leave Hansteen by themselves but it would hardly seem like an adventure if they stayed confined to the bode area. Anyway, they were only breaking one little rule. Well, two if you counted persuading the pipe wagon's computer to let them on without paying the fare. A little trick that their classmate Xan had taught them once.

There was often some half-believable excuse but Yonny was pretty sure what Rill's real problem was. He'd seen the way Rill's father shouted at him given the slightest provocation. Like forgetting to switch off the radiators when he came in for dinner, even though Mr Songbird had said that energy was almost free these days. He sometimes even pushed Rill around when Yonny was there. It made Yonny angry. Why didn't that bully pick on someone his own size?

He got out of bed as he heard his mother calling him for breakfast. Wrapping himself in a thick robe and donning his slippers after unplugging them from the night-charger, he padded through to the living room and took his usual seat at the table.

"What ever is the matter, Yonny?" his mother asked.
Yonny frowned. Why would she think anything was the matter?

"Nothing. What d'you mean?"

"You've got a face like an eclipse," she observed. "Didn't you sleep well?"
Yonny just shrugged his shoulders and started eating his porridge.

"Can you take him to the learning centre today?" Maree asked, looking at her husband. "The Delta pipetrain's broken down again."

"No problem," said Brent without looking up. "They really should get that line sorted out properly. Did they say when it would be fixed?"

"I think they said at least seven days."
He made an annoyed hissing through his teeth, then turned his attention to his son.

"Right then Yonny. Get your things ready."

Fifteen minutes later they left the bode, wearing their heated one-piece i-suits to protect them against the harsh conditions. Though there was no wind, the temperature was still twelve below zero. It would not get above minus eight even when the sun was at its highest in the sky. Once they got outside the confines of the dome, the temperature would plummet to minus fifty. In such an environment, an i-suit by itself would not provide sufficient protection for very long.

Brent hoisted Yonny up and pushed him into the cockpit of their quike, before climbing in himself. He closed the bubble and started the electric motor and heaters. The vehicle's four bulbous wheels began to turn and the spiked tyres gripped the packed snow. As they gained speed the skis deployed, providing extra stability and sensory feedback to the wheel suspension units. They began to head south towards the D terminal and ultimately the learning centre.

Brent noticed his son's sullen mood. Usually Yonny enjoyed the treat of riding in the quike and was full of observations and questions. Today he just stared at his feet.

"How would you like to drive?" Brent asked.
Yonny sat up straight. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped. "Really?" he said.

"I'll tell you what. If you help me work on Jolly Spirit after learning today, then I'll give you some driving lessons."

"Aw, great Dad." Yonny's depression had instantly lifted and he started firing questions about the quike's controls.

"Not now son," Brent said firmly. "First you help me paint the schooner, then we'll have your first lesson after supper. It'll be something to look forward to."

*

"Good morning class," the education director said. "Who can tell me where we are?"

"You mean you don't know, director?" Yonny countered.

"Don't be cheeky young Wilsen. Anyone else?"
A young girl with red hair in a pony tail raised her hand.

"Yes, Hella?"

"We're in the learning centre, director." This triggered some chuckles throughout the small class. Hella frowned in puzzlement but then joined in.

"Very amusing," said the director, "but now we're getting somewhere. Can anyone tell me which learning centre we're in?"

"Duh," someone muttered.

"What's that Xan? Speak up so we can all hear."

"We're in the Amundsen Learning Centre," announced the boy, with confidence.

"Very good. And why is it called the Amundsen Learning Centre? Yonny perhaps you'd like to tell us?"

"Because it's in the Amundsen Dome, Mr Songbird."

"Excellent. Tremendous. Outstanding progress boys and girls."
Hella was beaming. Too naive to understand the director's sarcasm.

"Now, why is our dome called the Amundsen Dome?"

There were blank faces, some frowning. It was obviously something that none of them had thought about before. Jarn Songbird could not believe that these kids had lived in the Cilicia settlement for up to eight years and never asked about its place names. But then they'd never known anywhere different, so perhaps it was not surprising that they took such things for granted.

"Dear me. Don't you kids know anything? It was named after a famous explorer called Roald Amundsen. He was the first person to ever reach the North Pole of Earth."
The class did not look particularly impressed by this fact. But then why should they? Exploration outside the domes was commonplace. There were even sporting competitions outside these days. Songbird decided to change tack.

"How many domes are there in Cilicia?"

"Four!" the class said in unison.

"What are their names... Xan?"

"Amundsen, Olsen, Hansteen and... Erm..."

"Help him out Yonny," suggested Songbird.

"Heyerdahl," said Yonny.

"Good. Who can tell me which dome your houses are in?"

Once again there were puzzled expressions all around.

"What are houses, Mr Songbird?" asked Hella.

"A house is a bode," said the director. "It's the old-fashioned name for it. Bode is actually short for abode," he paused to send the spelling to their tutors, "another name for your homes. So where are they?"

"Han-steen," chorused the class.

"Why do we live in domes?" he asked. Yonny's hand went up. "Yes Yonny?"

"Because it's too cold outside."

"Very good. Why is it so cold outside... Hella?"

"Um. I don't really know. I suppose there's no heating out there."

Hella could be really thick at times, thought Yonny. Everyone knew why the world was cold outside. Even Rill would know the answer to that question. He realised that his best friend wasn't even here today. First the cuts and bruises yesterday and now absent altogether today. He sighed and wondered what Rill's father had done to him this time.

"Pay attention Yonny!" scolded Songbird. "You can tell us all why it's so cold outside."

"It's because we're too far away from the sun," he answered.

*

Brent was having a busy day. As soon as he arrived at the Hansteen power sub-station where he worked, he was sent off to deal with three customer complaints about service interruptions. Something almost unheard of in this day and age. It was suspicious that all three customers lived within half a kilometre of each other, so Brent suspected that there was a fault common to all three complaints.

Nine years ago his job had been far more interesting and involved cutting-edge technology. Back then he'd worked at the Freeman station which, to this day, was still responsible for almost all of humanity's energy requirements. He'd worked at Freeman for two years, totally immersed in his work. That was, where he'd met Maree. Since that day, his work had very much been a secondary part of his life.

At this moment his work seemed to be reduced to dealing with simple domestic power supply faults. It didn't matter though, because he was happy here. Cilicia was a peaceful and relatively safe place for him and his family. If they had stayed on the Freeman station it would have been a much more dangerous place to bring up the boy. There would always have been the risk of a shield breach and the lethal radiation doses that would have resulted.

Brent was a practical man but he did not even pretend to understand the strange, complex physics and even weirder mathematics behind DJK Technologies' almost magical ability to distribute incredibly cheap electrical energy to even the most remote human settlements. These days he was simply grateful that they lived a safe distance from that awesome and terrifying power source.

He consulted his wrist pad to check the addresses of his customers. The first two lived on Byron Street and the third one was just a block away on Milton Street. All three were just a stone's throw from Junction Road, where the Wilsens lived. With a bit of luck he would finish early and be able to return straight to his bode without having to go back to the sub-station.

*

Thin filaments of frost spread in random fern-like shapes across the glass of the cockpit, as the dome air was recycled and the colder outside atmosphere was let into the huge airlock. Maree switched on the de-icing unit and almost immediately the thin fingers melted into water and rolled down the glass. The technician gave her the thumbs-up signal and she engaged the quike's motor to move off through the massive terminal doors and out into the world.

Brent had been right about Yonny's mood. He'd hardly said a word since she'd collected him from the learning centre. Now he was staring out of the cockpit with a sulky expression on his face.

"Do you want to tell me what the matter is, Yonny?" she asked.

"Where's dad?" was his only response.

"He had to work late," she said. "Quite a few neighbours have been having power failures. Your Dad is sorting them out."

"Can I vone Rill?"
She looked at her sleeve display.

"He'll still be at skating practise, won't he?"

"He wasn't at learning today."

"Oh. Is he ill?"

"I don't know."

"All right then."

He reached forward and put the vone call through to Rill's bode. Rill's father answered, his scowling face appearing on the view screen.

"Yeah?"

"Is Rill there please?"

"Who's asking?" Bryce Deekan's eyes narrowed, as though he was having difficulty making out who was on the other end of the vone. Maree was sure he knew perfectly well who he was talking to. He was just being difficult.

"It's Yonny."
Deekan's face screwed up into an even deeper frown.

"Well you can't see him. He's had an accident and gone to the medical centre."

Maree felt something dark and heavy press down on her chest. Yonny said nothing for a few moments. They all knew perfectly well what Rill's accident was really about.

"Can I visit him?"

"Yeah, I s'pose so. He's in the HMC. Ward A."

"Thanks. Bye." Yonny ended the call and turned to his mother.

"Ma, can we go and visit Rill?"
She gave a long exhale.

"Yes, alright. You'd better vone Dad and tell him we'll be late."
She turned the quike east and headed towards the Heyerdahl dome and the medical centre.

*

Brent ran the automated fault-finding software a second time and found no problems. He'd checked all of the couplings and connections twice. They were solid as a rock. The bode's power system was fully functional and he could not think of any reason why it should have failed. Yet the log clearly showed that there had been an interruption lasting for several minutes, early in the day. He called the distribution centre for a second time.

"Hello, Capsten? Wilsen here. I just wanted to double-check that..."

"No? Are you absolutely certain? I've had several problems reported here in Cilicia. The log times all coincide..."

"I understand. I just wanted to be sure that there wasn't a problem with any of the ERB conduits..."

"Okay, thanks," he blew out a frustrated breath. "I suppose it must be a local problem then..."

"Right, bye."
He went to tell his customer the good news and the bad news, before setting off home. He'd have to investigate further but that could wait until tomorrow.

On the approach to the Wilsen bode, he heard the vone signal coming from inside. He'd forgotten to divert his calls to his wrist panel. He quickened his pace to a trot, got to the door and keyed in the entry code. He was too hasty and got it wrong, causing him to have to slow down and enter it a second time. The door opened and he rushed inside just as the vone signal stopped.

"Bugger!" he said out loud and went to see if the caller would leave a message.

*

The wind was picking up and sending swirls of snow up in front of the quike. Visibility was dropping rapidly. Maree switched on the cockpit bubble's ultrasonics but the snow was still managing to stick to the glass. After a few minutes the visibility had reduced further and she could hardly see more than a few metres in front of the vehicle. They hardly ever had wind in Cilicia. The government must have decided to start using the polar atmospheric processors again. They could play havoc with the weather sometimes. She slowed to a halt.

"Yonny, I think we're going to have to turn back, " she said. "It looks like there's going to be a storm and we're not even half way there yet."

"Okay," he mumbled, but didn't seem happy about it.

"We'll go and visit Rill first thing in the morning," she promised. "The weather will have cleared by then."
She spun the quike around and accelerated hard. If it did turn into a full-blown storm, then it would not be a good idea to get caught up in it.

*

After he'd played Yonny's message, Brent noticed the vone making a peculiar whining noise. It was not one of it's usual tones and he did not know what it was supposed to signify. Nothing was indicated on the display. Perhaps there was some kind of fault with the unit. The whining was getting louder and soon seemed to fill the room. Brent felt the ground trembling slightly and eventually realised that the noise was not coming from the vone unit but from outside the bode.

He went to the window and looked out. Further up the street, a huge tracked vehicle was slowing to a halt outside on of the other bodes. His mouth opened in surprise. Brent knew of the existence of these vehicles but he'd never actually seen one. He remembered a netcast documentary about them that had been shown when the family had first moved to Cilicia but surely they were only used in emergency situations. Perhaps this was a training exercise.

*

Leaving the Hansteen terminal and heading for home, Maree felt an enormous relief. Another hour and it would be sundown and the temperature outside the domes would soon plummet to dangerously low levels. Being outside at night was not recommended. If the quike's fuel cells had failed, then survival would probably be measured in minutes rather than hours. As they rolled into their street, a huge police tank was blocking the road, red and blue lights flashing and dazzling. Other than ships, Maree had never seen a vehicle that big anywhere in Cilicia.

"That's Rill's house," said Yonny.

Maree looked and realised he was right. It was the Deekan's bode. Bryce Deekan was being manhandled out of the door by two i-suited officers bearing the Cilicia Police emblem. His shouts of abuse could clearly be heard, even through the thick glass of the cockpit. He was put into a headlock and dragged over to the tank, before being released and then shoved violently into one of the tank's side hatches.

She noticed Lowra Deekan who was just sitting on the plot divider, staring at nothing.

"Wait here, Yonny," she said and opened the quike's bubble.
When she got to Lowra, she saw that silent tears were rolling unchecked down her cheeks.

"What's the matter? What's happened?"

"Rill's dead. He killed him." Lowra's voice was matter-of-fact and devoid of any emotion.

Yonny, who had followed his mother against her instructions, just stood there not knowing what to do. He should cry or something but somehow he just couldn't. The two women were hugging and consoling each other, as Yonny just turned and stared at the disappearing police tank, his small fists clenched and his teeth grinding together.