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Amina stands at the front of the emergency access ladder and sighs. Wrapped in protective bandages, her hands are not completely useless, but the idea of supporting her entire weight on them while climbing into the spin is a most unpleasant one. Just in case, she pulls her leather substitute protective gloves over the bandages before beginning the descent.

It’s just one floor, she assures herself. Just one floor and they’ll be able to take the elevator. That’s not so bad, really.

As much as possible, Amina tries to put her weight on her wrists instead of actually grasping the poor excuse for a ladder with her hands directly.

It is an intense effort, and the still air in the shaft feels close and claustrophobic. When she reaches the tram station below Amina is already sweating.

Drenched and filthy, Tiphanie stands at the open doorway to the emergency access ladder. She tries in vain to brush out her hair with her fingers while keeping her hard hat secured under one arm.

“Looks like you had fun,” Amina comments mildly.

“Tons,” Tiphany responds, her voice much more dry than her clothes. She drips quietly.

Vasko waves a quiet hello, and allows himself to be introduced to someone who has already learned of his existence over the wire. It’s a polite fiction, pretending that they are not actually able to communicate privately. He self consciously wipes the grime from his palms on his soggy coveralls.

Once Adah returns, with the split open leg of her pants cut completely off so that it would not be flapping around and in the way, Vasko helpfully triggers the tenant elevator to open and selects the last floor, all the way at the bottom of the spin.

The group files inside and selects not to complain about the smell of stale urine, drooping ceiling tiles, or peeling wallpaper. They ride downward in vaguely uncomfortable silence.

The elevator lurches and vibrates on its way to the bottom, making a terrible grinding noise that clearly discomforts all four of its riders, Tiphanie most of all. It lurches violently and shakes its passengers onto the filthy and smelly floor.

The electrician jams the emergency stop button. The terrible grinding noise increases dramatically in volume, reaching a terrible crescendo of violent screeching as the elevator grinds to a slow halt between floors. Heavy titanium bolts thrust into the elevator’s passage walls, propelled by a pneumatic force strong enough to puncture the bulkheads. The elevator parks violently.

“What was that for!” Adah exclaims, angrily gesturing at the doors as they squeal slowly open. She gives Tiphanie a confused stare, not quite comprehending the particulars of their current position.

Shaking, Tiphanie looks up at her from her braced position against the wall, a hand still jammed against the emergency stop button.

“Something’s about to give,” she answers, the fear in her eyes lending credence to the truth of the reply.

The brakes on the elevator are an extreme destructive response to the terrible risk of a failure. Tiphanie would not have hit them if she were not completely sure that they would have continued to fall into the spin and the final bulkhead so far below. With so many systems offline in the server reboot, there is no way for her to be sure that the automatic failsafe would correctly trigger on its own. With the risk of damage to the exterior bulkheads carrying the fate of explosive decompression, the electrician knows full well where she would prefer to defer the damage.

And that’s most certainly the walls of the elevator shaft, and definitely not the exterior. Swiftly increasing velocity could push their most definitely not pressurized compartment into the exterior wall with force enough to puncture straight through. Tiphanie does not desire a relief for her claustrophobia to that extreme.

With the elevator stuck between two floors, the doors that open give a choice of a few inches worth of the floor above, or a somewhat greater quantity of the floor below. Neither is their desired destination.

The gap to the floor below is just barely enough for each of them to squeeze through. Adah scoots through first, followed quickly behind by Vasko.

Vasko stands at the open door to the elevator shaft, looking with deep concern into the passage that leads further down before then reaching up to assist as Amina scoots slowly out. Tiphanie requires additional assistance, as she is too short to easily reach the floor below without risking tumbling down the elevator shaft to their narrowly escaped doom in the spin below.

Amina shakes her head to dismiss the fear inspired by the view. Emesis is not the solution to this problem. Her fear of heights does not put her in a good position right now.

Tiphanie communicates with Markos up above them about the status of the elevators. The computer technician agrees that the separate system that runs the tenant elevators is operational, but something may be mechanically wrong with their cabling. Of everyone present, the only one with the technical skill to diagnose and repair any issues with this system is Tiphanie.

And the control and maintenance structures for the elevator are, in fact, up on the same floor as where Markos is already at work. That is several floors upward and in toward the gate.

Not trusting the tenant elevators at all, Tiphanie sighs, and agrees with Markos that she needs to be up there to get the work done.

And that means climbing the emergency access tunnel the whole way.

Amina and Adah wish her luck as she climbs into the shaft ahead of them. The former is thankful that she only requires two more floors at the mercy of the poorly designed access tunnel. She does not envy Tiphanie the climb.

As Vasko climbs into the tunnel ahead of her, Amina remembers that they still have repairs to finish. And that means they still need to get down to the furthest spin-ward level. They need to reach the dock.

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About the author

XombieHamster

Bio: XombieHamster is an author of sci-fi and fantasy fiction that typically includes a narrow scope of personal consequences, soft magic systems, and a high likelihood of dead people being uncharacteristically chatty. Anticipate alliteration, puns, and satisfyingly happy-ish endings.

She works in healthcare IT by day and night, and plays tabletop roleplaying games by night and day.

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