The Mechanism
(Prologue) By Filipe Golin Year 10, Bottisham Village College

It was dark. The humidity made his shirt stick to his skin. A thick fog covered the passageway. The bitter air made his eyes sting, and the rough floorboard caused him to lose his step.

The light pattering of coolant produced a bass line to the complicated hissing and grinding of the Mechanism. His imagination filled the halls with orchestra. The piano had just started its solo — it was romantic-era, so the emotion and the dramatic crashing of the piano sent shivers down his spine. But this was long gone. No one had played a piano in years, if not decades.

He crawled through the maintenance ducts and the ventilation shafts, all over the entire Mechanism, fixing, working, maintaining. He was an engineer. The engineer’s job was to keep the Mechanism running, to keep it at full performance and make sure it didn’t explode. He knew how it worked. The ultimate goal was to heat water to over 100 degrees and push steam through a turbine. He didn’t know why it worked. There was a central room that was always locked. Many people before had tried to open it, but nothing seemed to work: hammers, blowtorches, iron blades. Nothing prevailed. It was futile.

He heard shouting down below him, deep in the vastness of the Mechanism. It was overly complex and easily simplified, but no one would change it. No one even dared. The music was picking up again. The violins upped their tempo and volume, a canon, a series of them. He imagined the sound echoing along the tunnel walls. The echo, the resonance. He was at peace. But just like that the dream was ripped away from him. The shouting was closer, calling his name.

Descending the endless ladders and chutes, he finally reached the exterior of the Mechanism. The rooms outside were of a white concrete, well lit and ventilated. He breathed a breath of air, and even if it was better than in the Mechanism, he could tell this was manufactured here. It smelt simple, and basic; the failed attempts to make it fresher only made it smell even more synthetic. Before descending once again into the main break rooms, he looked out of the window — darkness. A speckle of light here and there, an eternal night. He reached the break rooms, and a smell of food and people blasted through the door. There were two hundred and seventy-five people here, all manning the ship. On the far end of the rooms, past the grimy tables, were some stalls, with people handing out a beige sludge: lunch.

After the standard meal he decided to take a pause. The longest time he was allotted was 10 minutes. He was hesitant, but decided to finish his weekly relaxation time. He went up near the front, to the rooms behind the cockpit, and sat there for a bit, looking out of the few circular windows. He saw the blackness again. A few more specks. Stars. Planets. This was space.