Walkabout

Pearce Kelly was lost among the underdecks, alone on one of his famous walkabouts. It was an exercise he’d learned from his grandfather—Grandpa Kelly—who in turn had learned it from his grandfather, Xavier Ballad. Great-great-grandpa Ballad had lived out most of his life on Earth, signing on as the Progeny Asunder‘s inaugural Navigation Officer in his early fifties. Things had changed in the intervening years, though, and there wouldn’t be a need for a human crew again for quite some time. Pearce, like his fellow passengers, lived a comfortable life that was largely without purpose beyond raising the next generation. Most everyone was perfectly happy, but Pearce was restless. Whenever he felt adrift, he went for a walkabout.

According to Grandpa Kelly, a walkabout was different from a regular walk in that you couldn’t return home until you’d discovered something. Usually it was an internal discovery—and understanding or some new insight; that was the whole point—but today was entirely different. He found himself somewhere new. Pearce had followed behind a maintenance bot to get into the restricted underdecks and then made his own way down to Deck 7. He’d never been this far down before—probably no one had in generations.

But, being a restricted area meant only for bots for the next few centuries (when they reached the Turnaround Point), there was little in the way of lighting. He’d been making his way by feel for some time and was now thoroughly lost. He passed through an open hatchway and his shuffling steps gained a peculiar echo. “Hello?” he ventured, and he was surprised at just how clear and loud his voice resonated in this new space. This chamber must be enormous.

He advanced further, shifting blindly into the darkness without the cool touch of a bulkhead to anchor him. His foot slid into empty air over a ledge; good thing he was shuffling with care. He sat on his bottom, scooted to the edge, and tried to lower himself onto the platform below but he couldn’t find it. Must be a pretty far drop. This was no longer safe, he realized. He crawled forward in as straight a line as he could, but it was a long time before he bumped into anything. It felt like it might be a control console. Hopefully he could get the lights on. He ran his hand over the smooth control surface—

So much happened at once that he only could process his sudden vertigo. A low bassy note rattled his organs against his bones like he was caught between a thunderclap and an earthquake. A golden light enveloped him as teal sparks blinked in and out like a field of electric fireflies. And he was floating. Oh God he was floating!

A great mechanical orb was suspended from the chamber’s faraway black dome ceiling, tethered by long conduit lines that hung and sagged like the tentacles of a jellyfish and disappeared into the far dark reaches of the room. And Pearce was still floating, up and up toward that shimmering sphere that called to him with a brassy growl that sounded like the battle cry of a phalanx of archangels storming the gates of hell. And he didn’t know how to make it stop.

Pearce had discovered something, alright. But he very much wanted to un-discover it now.

Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Tiago Sousa, used with permission.

2 thoughts on “Walkabout”

    1. Gosh Len, you’re usually the one telling me to be nicer to these poor characters, not stealing their brains! I’m writing a piece today, I’ll be sure to give them an extra rough time just for you haha

      Liked by 1 person

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