Three o'clock, afternoon. Time to move the city again.
Peggy double-checks the clock and hits the clarion button. Even in the control booth, fifteen stories below street level, she can hear the alarm whine out of the speakers. It'll run for sixty seconds, and then the recording telling everyone to strap in for the ride will play. Children can repeat it syllable for syllable by the time they're three. Toddlers are also about the only people who pay attention to the words. Anyone older has the message soaked into their bones.
"Attention please. The habitation dome will be shifted west in... thirty... minutes. Please secure all belongings and ensure you are sitting in furniture equipped with a functioning, official safety harness. This message will repeat every five minutes until the shift is imminent."
The city may have thirty minutes, but Peggy has to get the transporter motor located under the city's base in gear starting now. She'll be flicking switches and throwing levers until right before they have to move.
Something about doing the energy gauge check always makes her think of her husband. He teaches kindergarten, and she knows in the moment that she's logging the pre-shift energy levels, he's leading the class in the "Tidy Up, Time to Rumble!" song. When the city shifts and Peggy's not working, they do the song and the actions around the house as they get ready. Peggy thinks it's brilliant. It takes all the scary parts away and makes the shift fun. Just as well, since it happens four times a day.
Up above, the city's windows only face from southwest to northeast. The citizens never see what the lead controller sees: the eastern horizon, the eight giant tread tracks leading back to it from the city. Fifteen minutes in, Peggy's just past halfway done her checklist. It's time to lower the scrims. They filter out the worst of the radiation, so the lead controller can look out the window without going blind... or getting poisoned by the sun's rays. The controller always drives the city facing backwards, watching the filtered windows for the one thing that terrifies anyone on the shift crew: a horizon. Max, the oldest member of Peggy's team, was lead controller during a breakdown once, thirty years ago. The sun was halfway above the horizon before the crew got the motor back in gear and the city was able to shift westward. Max always ends telling that particular horror story by saying, "I tells ya, I got this close to wetting myself, but I was too scared I'd fry more of the electronics."
By now her husband would be returning from the mandatory class trip to the toilets, so anyone who needs to pee can before they're strapped into their chairs. School chairs don't have any wiring, but the school doesn't want any little ones being traumatised by having to hold it through the "rumble".
Peggy pulls the lever that engages the drive gears with the motor. Usually she has to put her weight into it, but this time it swings loosely and settles into place without resistance.
Her eyes dart to the control panel. The engagement light isn't on.
"Dorothea, I've got a dead drive lever," Peggy says into the comm. "What can you do for me down there?"
"Now?" squeaks Dorothea.
"Now is when we hit it on the checklist," Peggy says, swallowing her frustration.
She should be keeping watch on the console, but her eyes drift up to the window. Through the filter, she can see the eastern sky is paling.
"Drive lever, drive lever... Keith!" Dorothea yells over the comm. "Tell me ticket 3092 got resolved! It's still open on the log."
Peggy bites her lip and wills herself not to say anything into the comm. Seven minutes to shift. Her husband will be leading the class in the "Sit In, Strap In, Move Along" song as he checks each child is secured. He's told her he doesn't usually start strapping in himself until three minutes before shift. Which, knowing him, is more like two minutes. He hates to sit still more than his young students.
"We're engaging manually, Peggy," Dorothea shouts over the comm.
"Tell me when to restart the checklist," says Peggy. She scans the list to see if any remaining tasks are safe to perform out of order.
"Try it again!" Dorothea shouts. She doesn't sound like she's anywhere near the comm. Peggy can see pink sky on the horizon. A trickle of sweat wanders down her back.
She squeezes her eyes shut and takes a chain from around her neck. A key dangles from it. Peggy unlocks a drawer in the console and pulls out a second, shorter checklist: the procedure for putting the domed city into emergency shutdown. If it comes to this, her husband, his kindergarten class, and everyone else above the streets will be trapped in their chairs, with radiation filters on all the outer glass, until the crew can get things fixed and move the city to the safety of darkness again. Or until the filters burn out, which is about half a day at typical radiation levels.
"Okay," Dorothea gasps into the comm.
"Continue the damn checklist! Two minutes, Peggy!"
I'm the one who told you something was wrong, thinks Peggy, but she verifies the engagement light is on. Her fingers and eyes fly through the remaining items. They are forty-seven seconds over time. Peggy can see an ugly, angry orange on the horizon.
"Cameras on!" she snaps into the comm. "Duck and cover!"
The control crew don't have time to strap into safety chairs. Instead, they have small, padded closets they lock themselves into. Peggy double-checks the forward-facing cameras and hits the big red drive button. Above and all around her, the city shakes into movement, rumbling along on its eight big treads. Peggy watches the light fade as the safety of darkness is retreated to once more.