The inner door to the dome’s airlock slid shut behind them. Sweden pushed Antigua to the floor and cast about anxiously looking for a way out.

The airlock was fairly sparse. A row of three lockers containing environment suits lined the left side. The opposite side was dominated by a large perspex viewing port looking in to a small docking bay that currently housed Argentum. The war-horse was in standby and connected to the dome’s power supply by a thick cable that plugged in to a socket on his left flank.

Sweden stared at the robot in awe. He had assumed that his vision of Antigua riding an iron horse had been a dream.

“How do I get in there?” he asked Antigua hurriedly.

She looked up at him, surprised that he seemed keen to ride something that must have seemed so strange to him. She turned to look at the lockers, all three notification panels showed full charge on the internal power supplies for the enviro suits. For a moment she considered showing Sweden the way out without having him suit up but she changed her mind and decided to see where this turn of events would take her.

“You will have to put on one of those suits first.” she said, indicating at the lockers with her chin.

Sweden walked over to the first locker and peered in at the suit.

“Why?” he asked.

“They will protect you from the light.” she answered, “We’re very close to the edge of the Firewall, if you went outside without wearing one you would be dead inside of five minutes.”

Sweden absorbed this for a moment. He had seen what happened to the intrepid fools who had ventured close to the firewall. The leather gear they wore had protected them from the heat, to a point. However, anyone who ventured close and returned to tell of it suffered a horrific wasting sickness. First they were blinded by a white cloud that formed in their eyes. Then their skin would start to bubble and blister. Eventually great swathes of flesh would begin to melt from their bodies and they would have to be killed to spare everyone in the hold from their agonizing screams.

He shook his head to clear the memory. No time to dwell on it, this woman was clearly a powerful sorceress and had used some terrifying spell to get him here. He yanked open the locker and pulled out the suit. The synthetic fibre felt strangely alien to his fingers. He examined it closely for a minute trying to decipher precisely how he was supposed to put it on. Eventually he figured out that you had to climb into it legs first. He set his sword aside and with some difficulty he shucked it on. The suit detected his presence and hummed to life. For a moment Sweden was helpless as the suits internal actuators held him rigid and the suit sealed itself and ran diagnostics.

“I can’t move!” He shouted, his voice muffled by the suit helmet.

“It’s just adjusting itself to your body type” Antigua said, “It’ll finish in a few seconds.”

Sure enough after a few moments the actuators relaxed and Sweden felt the tension holding him release. He swung his arms and legs about and was surprised by how well the suit fitted and how free his range of motion was.

He picked up his sword, bent down beside Antigua and cut the bonds that tied her feet.

“Get up.” He commanded as he stepped back to give her room.

She scrabbled awkwardly for a moment before she managed to push herself to her feet.

“You’ll have to untie my hands.” She said holding them out to him “I won’t be able to get the suit on otherwise.”

“I’m not bringing you with me.” he stated matter-of-factly, “Now show me how to get to that horse.”

“You can’t…” She paused.

She had been about to explain that the horse wouldn’t work for him but she thought better of it.

“Fine.”

She walked over to the airlock hatch. There was a small circular indentation in the surface of the hatch.  She placed one hand over the indentation, pushed it in slightly and twisted her hand to the right. A scan-line traced the surface of her palm and the hatch opened with a hiss.

A fierce white light filled the room. Antigua turned away from the glare as the airlock quickly began to heat up.

“Hurry” she said, “You can open the dock from the outside. There’s a big red handle. You can’t miss it.”

Sweden stared in horror at the light beaming in through the hatch. He turned to Antigua and was surprised to find he could no longer see her. The suits visor had reacted to the light streaming in by turning opaque. He could make out details through the hatch but everything inside the relative darkness of the airlock was blacked out. He took a deep breath and ducked out though the hatch into the light of the firewall.

Antigua closed the hatch behind him and moved to the perspex window. This ought to be amusing, she thought.

 

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