This one is a sort of follow-up from last week's story, although not really a serial per se. Thanks to my brother Steve for the ideas for both.
"But to never see the stars, or the moon," said Dorothea. "That's gonna be hard."
"It'll be a generational thing," said Max. "You have to think long-term." He gave a lopsided smile. "Maybe people will learn how to make a mess, like they did before the cities were made to be mobile."
Dorothea snorted. "Some traditions should be preserved, if you ask me."
"We'll be one of the first ones to decide. How are your readings doing?"
Dorothea glanced down at the device on her wrist. "We won't be glowing in the dark any time soon. Actually, they're lower than we were told to expect."
"Would you let little kids run around in the sunshine?"
Dorothea snorted again. "Of course not. How are the oxygen levels?"
"We won't be turning blue." Max pointed down the tunnel. "Shall we?"
They turned on each other's helmet lights and headed to the elevator shaft.
Max admired the job the coring crew had done on the sides of the tunnel. The foreman had sent out a special team to smooth the walls, floor, and ceiling, make it look and feel more like a structure in the domed, moving city.
"And what's with the idea that we're going to keep driving the city around?" said Dorothea. "I don't get that."
"We'll just keep stripping it for parts until there's nothing left that's inessential," said Max. "Makes sense to me. It'll be nice, carrying over stuff."
"Maybe." They reached the elevators.
Max pulled up the metal cage door on the elevator. They stepped inside, and Dorothea hit the button for the living quarters level closest to the surface. The elevator headed down, moving quickly enough that Max and Dorothea both felt their ears pop every few seconds.
"What the —" Half a minute before they should have reached the correct floor, the water started pouring into the cab from the door area.
"The excavation flooded," said Dorothea. "Everything below us must be underwater. We have to reverse this thing —" She pounded almost randomly at the control panel.
"No!" said Max. "If you hit the emergency button, it'll pause and we'll be trapped in here."
"We have to head up again while the system's still working."
"We will, but we have to let it stop at our floor first."
Their descent had slowed with the higher resistance of the water, but it was still now up to their waists.
"We'll drown," said Dorothea. "We have to — " She eyed the top and walls of the elevator, as if planning to hack her way out with the spanner she held.
"I read about something like this in a book once," said Max. "When the water gets to shoulder height, take the deepest breath you can and hold it."
"What'll that do?"
"It'll let you live until we can start going up again."
"Got a better idea?"
"It's so cold," said Dorothea in a small voice as the water levels reached chest height.
"Now!" said Max, and took a deep breath as if to demonstrate. He fought the urge to panic as the water closed over his head.
The water was cold, cold enough to make any sane person want to thrash about and reach the surface... but that was over the top of the elevator cab now. Max hit the button for the elevator to ascend back to the tunnel at the surface. He felt the cab lurch and shudder around them, but they didn't move.
Dorothea pushed her way over to the control panel and hit the ascent button again, only to receive the same reaction in response. Fighting the urge to take a breath, Max pressed the button a third time and held it down. The elevator repeated the same lurching and shuddering motions, then with a final lurch began to rise.
Max stood with his hands balled into fists, face tilted up to the ceiling of the elevator cab, willing the water level to come down. It was only when the water level dropped to around his ears and he got to gasp in some new air that he let himself check on Dorothea. She was in the same position he was.
The elevator clunked to a stop at the entrance tunnel, and they scrambled to disembark before it decided on its own to descend again.
The air in the tunnel was dry but chilly. Max and Dorothea leaned against one of the tunnel walls and rolled up into shivering balls of cold.
"The rest of the team was down there," Dorothea said through chattering teeth. "On the lower levels."
Max glanced towards the elevator. "I don't see how there's a way," he said. "There was an emergency sink at the bottom of the shaft. If we were in water as far up as we were, then the sink is full and so are all the floors." He shivered out a sigh. "You got any sensors still working?"
Dorothea checked her gear. "Radiation and... chronometer."
"When's the city due to pass over us?"
"Thirty minutes. The emergency blankets were in the living area down below, right?"
"Yeah." Max paused. "We'll just have to tell them what happened."