Turning Point

by John Conway

Cinia was closing the hydro-valves for the day, and I rested on the terrace wall chewing a stalk of feed grass.  Every chance I got to rest in the late afternoon I took.  Cinia knew that.  In exchange, I did most of the heavy lifting in the morning, when Cinia was barely awake.

The hydro-valves were the hardest part of our regular duties.  Uncle Nye says it is harder these days than before, and soon enough we won’t be able to move the valves at all because of corrosion, and because there are no replacement parts for anything anymore.  I suppose he is right.  But to me, it is just the same way it has always been—a cold, pitted wheel that required an enormous yank to budge.

Cinia closed the last valve at the end of the lower terrace and started back.  I sat and tried to feel the breeze one could sometimes feel as the lights started to dim.  The mist and clouds were forming in the center, obscuring the view up the cylinder.  I thought about Grandpa’s old stories—stories of an open sky, of a planetary surface that stretched away to nothing, curving down in the distance.  Grandpa had never seen anything like that himself.  But he loved the tales that were passed down from long ago.  And according to the instructors, the tales were real.

Then the lights went out.

“Cinia, are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here.  What happened?”

“I don’t know.  Hold on.”

A clustering of emergency lights went on, seemingly scattered at random around the cylinder.

We learned days later that the power crew had exposed the core of the nuclear reactor and was forced to jettison the entire unit.  We reported for radiation exposure testing a week later.  I was fine.  Cinia showed some contamination, and they looked worried, but they said “no problem.”

That was the first in a series of catastrophic failures.  It became evident that we would have to survive on far less than what we’d grown accustomed to as a society.

That’s when the competition started; resources became scarce.

(c) 2010 John Conway

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