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The Subtle Grace of Gravity

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There are plenty of rooms on the ship that have windows, but they've always been given to Security, and to those whom Security values or desires something from. Still, they can't keep the stars entirely to themselves. There are cleaning crews and service technicians who must be allowed in to do their jobs, and word spreads through them, in brief whispers exchanged in the corridors, in notes and hearsay and rumor that's half-garbled and entirely contradictory by the time it trickles down to Enjolras's ears.

There's a planet outside, an actual planet, is the first whisper, vibrating with excitement, with hope.

No, it's just a sun, look at the way it glows.

It's a planet, I saw it with my own eyes, with swirls of clouds just like the old stories say.

It's beautiful, they say, and, Maybe we've finally found it. Can you imagine? I never thought it would happen during my lifetime.

Enjolras sits with Éponine in the cramped barracks they've taken over for their own, the original, assigned inhabitants long since bribed or traded or simply hacked and reassigned to other lodgings so that the whole group could be together without trying to squeeze the whole dozen of them into storage units or access rooms scarcely big enough to fit three.

They've sliced through the walls to reveal the wiring running inside and hacked into the ship's mainframe, and they sit together now cross-legged on Éponine's bunk, their knees pressed together, their fingers flying over their datascreens as they hack their way into the old archives.

Enjolras clears the path, lines of code flying under his fingers and breaking down Security's encryptions one by one, making way for Éponine. She comes through behind him and sorts through the files, a torrent of it, but her fingers fly as fast as Enjolras's do. Her 'screen casts a flickering blue glow across her face that makes her skin look even paler, and makes her mouth look dark as a bruise as it pinches flat in concentration.

Eventually she sighs and shoves her datascreen off of her lap, stretching her wrists out as she scowls. "The data's corrupted. There isn't enough of it."

Enjolras glances up from his hacking, letting his fingers still as hers have. "Encrypted? If I missed a key--"

"No, it's not garbled, it's just not there." She pulls her thighs up to her chest and leans an elbow on her knee, raking fingers through her hair. "And it's not the older data that's incomplete, either, like you'd expect. We have full logs of our bearing and speed for the first"--she makes a frustrated gesture--"hundred years or so. Two hundred, maybe. But the newer the data is, the more holes I'm finding. They'll record bearing but not speed, or the reverse, or they'll just note down half a set of coordinates. It makes no sense, what's the point of such shoddy record-keeping? Why bother at all?"

Enjolras eases out of the slouch he'd sunk into while working, grimacing as his back voices all the protests he'd ignored while the job had preoccupied his attention. "You think there's more? Could they be storing it somewhere else?"

She drops backwards on the bed, still cross-legged to keep room for him, and stares up at the bottom of the bunk above hers. "If it were connected to the network, we'd have found it. We're good, you know we are. We wouldn't have missed it. Separate storage, maybe? Isolated from the mainframe, so we can't hack our way to it."

"We're going to have to go exploring."

She pushes up onto her elbows and grins at him. "For a hacker, you sure do love an opportunity to get away from the 'screen."

"Tell me what we need," he says, gripping her knee. "Tell me what to look for and I'll find it."

Éponine sits up and reaches for the datascreen again. "I'll make you a list of things to look out for, and holes in our blueprints big enough to house the kind of equipment they'd need to store the missing information."

"Is there that much information missing?" Enjolras knows programming, and he's never met an encryption he couldn't break, but it's Éponine who knows the computers themselves.

"The ship should be keeping real-time recordings of our bearing, speed, and coordinates. Factor in how many decades the incomplete information goes back and... Yeah. We're talking a few dozen zettabytes, at least. It'll take up a big chunk of space. Bigger than a dormitory, at the very least. It's not going to be tucked in a service closet somewhere."

Enjolras's pulse quickens. There aren't many holes that size left in their blueprints. Security would limit them to their assigned quadrants if they had their way, would keep them all ignorant, but they've been able to piece together most of the puzzle, these past few years, through hacking and through more old-fashioned methods of reconnaissance.

There aren't many holes left that are big enough for the drives that would be required to house zettabytes of data. Enjolras's fingers tighten on the edge of his datascreen. "The void," he says, and he can scarcely keep his voice from shaking with excitement. "I'll search in the void."

Éponine's mouth goes tight and unhappy, but she doesn't protest because she knows he's right. "You'll take equipment."

He lets out a breath and nods.

"And you'll be careful, Enjolras, because if you get yourself caught we're all going to come break you out, and you wouldn't want to put your friends at risk like that, would you?"

"I won't. I promise." He pulls the datascreen out of her grip so that he can clasp hers hands. "I'll be careful."

She doesn't look much reassured, and he supposes that's probably warranted. He's known for a lot of things, amongst their group, but being cautious probably isn't top of that list.

"I'll send a message to Feuilly," she says, extricating her hands from his. "His shift ends soon. You'll let him load you up with whatever toys he cares to, and you won't voice a word of complaint."

There's no room for debate in her tone, so Enjolras doesn't.

It's been ages since any of them pushed at the boundaries of the void, the biggest gap in their knowledge of the ship and its layout. It's deep in the belly of the ship, down past the cargo holds and storage blocks where they've never found anything of import. But this section of the ship, bigger than an entire living quadrant, has defied their abilities to map it. More often than not, they can't even get close before Security shows up and they have to retreat, or risk official detainment.

But this is important. If Security is hiding information from them, it's worth the risk.

"You needn't look so excited," Éponine says, dry, but her lips are curled into a wry smile. "You'll probably get yourself sentenced to detainment for life over this, you know."

"I'm not going to get caught."

She sighs and shuts her datascreen off. "If you sounded less certain about that, I'd be more reassured." She stretches out on her bunk again, pushing at him with her feet until he slides off and makes room for her. "Go on, back to your own bunk. I'm going to catch what sleep I can until Feuilly's off. Goodness knows, you're not likely to let me rest at all once you've got the void in your sights."

He squeezes her shoulder before he moves away. "I won't run off without you, I promise."

"Damn right you won't," she says, and makes it sound as much a promise as a threat.

He shuts off the lights illuminating her bunk before he leaves her. They've all developed the ability to sleep at a moment's notice no matter how uncomfortable the conditions -- they've had to, by necessity -- but she'll sleep sounder without the lights shining on her face. And she's right, they're all likely to need as much as much rest as they can get. The void's never yielded its secrets easily.

Enjolras should follow suit and rest as well, but he can't. He sits in his own bunk with his datascreen on his knees, hacking through Security's files, searching for any hint as to what they're hiding in the void. He's done it a hundred times before and come up with nothing, but once more won't hurt.

If nothing else, it'll keep his restless mind occupied, and keep him from breaking his promise to Éponine and running off before they have a chance to plan this properly.

And maybe, just maybe, this time he'll learn something useful.

*

Feuilly gets a thoughtful look when Enjolras explains the plan to him. "The biggest danger is getting lost," he says. "Or getting found and detained, which may as well be counted as the same thing. Either way, we're not likely to ever see you again."

Enjolras nods once and lets him work through it, lets him follow whatever idea it is that's put that considering expression on his face.

"Two days," he says at length. "Give me two days for fabrication and I'll have something made up for you."

Two days feels like torture when every minute that passes carries them closer and closer to the planet. Soon they'll have passed it entirely and it will disappear behind them just like the others. If they're going to figure out what planet this is, where they are, what Security knows that would cause them to pass up nearly half a dozen likely-looking planets in the past generations and why they won't share that knowledge with the rest of them, then they're going to need to do it quickly.

Enjolras doesn't push for faster. If he did, he knows Feuilly would try to give it to him, and he'd risk relying upon hastily-finished equipment with him. If he gets detained by Security because his equipment failed on him, he knows the others will get themselves detained as well trying to hunt him down and break him out. He'll risk a lot, but he won't risk that.

"Two days," he agrees with a smile, and if it's a little strained, Feuilly is kind enough not to mention it. "I look forward to seeing what you come up with."

*

Two days later, Feuilly has an array of gadgets to lay out before him, running through each in turn and explaining its purpose and use. The standout is a small unit tucked inside the casing of a disassembled datascreen battery pack, innocuous enough not to raise any eyebrows should Security stop and search him but, as Feuilly demonstrates, housing a powerful homing beacon inside.

"You turn this on," Feuilly says, showing him the hidden catch that will activate the beacon, "and we'll be able to find you, wherever you are in the ship. There's an alarm here--" he shows Enjolras another camouflaged switch "--if you activate that, it'll let us know we need to come get you straightaway."

Enjolras takes it from Feuilly and turns it around in his hands, testing the catches and his ability to find and differentiate them with a touch.

"There's a failsafe, of course." Feuilly shows him that, too. "If you're not back to these coordinates within an hour of setting out, the alarm is activated. If anyone tries to circumvent the alarms without following the proper protocols, it'll send up the alarm as well."

Enjolras smiles at him, and clasps his shoulder. "You thought of everything," he says in approval.

Feuilly turns a little pink, but his pleased flush is tempered by the depth of concern in his gaze. "I did my best," he says quietly, and Enjolras knows it's more than just self-deprecation.

"I'll use it," Enjolras promises. "Let's run through it again, make sure I've got it down."

*

They take another two days to plan, until Enjolras can reach into a pocket where Feuilly's beacon is resting and tell the alarm trigger from the activation catch by feel alone, and the rest of the group has been briefed on the plan. They wait until shift change, when Security will hopefully be preoccupied with the extra people in the halls and less inclined to notice one wayward worker venturing out of their assigned quadrant.

Enjolras activates the beacon and leaves the receiver with Combeferre, pressing the device into his hands and helping his fingers find the control buttons. "One hour," he says. "I'll be back. I promise. If I'm not--"

"--we send out the hounds," Combeferre finishes for him, smiling a crooked smile, his eyes fixed on a point just to the side of Enjolras's face. Enjolras has seen others squirm beneath his gaze before, unnerved by the sense that Combeferre won't look at them and unaware that the scars clouding his eyes meant that they saw nothing at all. But Enjolras knows Combeferre will have Feuilly's echo transmitter tucked in place over his ear, carefully hidden behind his dreadlocks, so Enjolras knows he can see his expression, can read it when Enjolras smiles and shakes his head.

"You stay safe."

"I can't promise that," Enjolras says with a sigh. Combeferre is his best friend, his first friend, so he can admit that where he wouldn't with the others. Combeferre understands that there are things that are more important.

But Combeferre reaches out and grips his hand, tight enough to know he means it as a warning, not a comfort. "I don't want to have to break into Security to drag you back home," he says, his voice hard. "And I don't want to have to sew you up if Security decides there are easier ways of dealing with a trespasser than hauling you all the way back up to detainment. You stay safe, Enjolras. The void isn't going anywhere."

Enjolras curls his fingers around Combeferre's, holding on to him in return. Combeferre can see shapes and movement, with the help of Feuilly's transmitter and an implanted receiver, but touch is still an easier, more direct way to get his point across. "What about the planet?" he asks quietly. "The void's not going anywhere, but the planet is. We need to know what's down there. We need to know why."

Combeferre sighs and looks unhappy, but doesn't argue. "Go on," he says instead, pulling his hand from Enjolras's. "The beacon's timer is already running down. Might as well make the most of what time you've got."

Enjolras nods once, clasps his shoulder, and then rises and leaves.

*

It's easy to make his way to the edge of the void, beacon in one pocket and datascreen in the other. They know these halls well, know where it behooves them to take a side corridor to avoid being noticed and where it's safe to join the after-shift crowd making their way back to their quarters, flowing along with the tide.

The edge of the void lies halfway down a long hallway whose end they've never managed to reach, always waylaid by the unfortunate arrival of Security's guards come to chase them away. This hall is empty, despite the crowds just beyond it, and that only serves to make the hairs on the back of Enjolras's neck stand on end. Whatever's down here, it's not living quarters or work stations. And all these people just walk by it every day, oblivious to the fact that Security is keeping secrets from them.

He stops a third of the way down the hall, crouches down against the wall and pulls his datascreen out. He already has a few lines of code preprogrammed into the device, so all he has to do is hack his way into the wireless signal and activate them before anyone notices his presence.

There's no sign that the code worked, but the lines of code on his screen scroll happily past and he sees nothing in them that would suggest it failed to disarm the hallway's sensors as it was intended to. So he rises, slips his datascreen back into his pocket, and continues down along the hall. With every step, his shoulders draw tight, braced for the pounding rhythm of boots on the floor behind him, for an authoritative cry, for the cold steel of Security's magcuffs circling his wrists.

For once, there's nothing, even as Enjolras reaches the end of the corridor, farther than they've ever made it before. The hallway ends here, intersecting with another running perpendicular. Enjolras only deliberates a moment before he turns left, taking the one that will lead him deeper into the void.

Ten minutes later, he's left the known areas of the ship far behind him when his datascreen vibrates and pings a warning against his hip. He stops and pulls it out, sees that the lines of code have stilled on the screen behind the warning flashing NO SIGNAL, slow and steady.

A chill crawls down Enjolras's spine, and a thrill of excitement follows quickly behind it. In the whole vast expanse of the ship, Enjolras has never before found a place where the wireless signal didn't reach. It's pervasive, omnipresent. It's how Security communicates with them, how they communicate with each other. Being without it feels as foreign and alarming as suddenly finding himself in a room without oxygen.

For there to be no signal down here in these halls, it must be blocked. Shielded. This isn't poor design, this is intentional. Enjolras's breath quickens, and he slides the datascreen back into his pocket and continues, keeping his ears tuned for any hint of Security's approach, and his eyes always scanning for anything that might give him a clue as to where the missing servers might be housed.

At half an hour, Feuilly's beacon gives a warning buzz against his hip and Enjolras knows he should turn back, should start making his way out. They've made significant progress in filling in some of the missing pieces of map in the void and that matters, that's important, even if he didn't find the servers. But the corridor ahead of him is darkened, the lights overhead flickering unsteadily as if to suggest he's reached a part of the ship that's so deep and so distant that it's been abandoned, wireless signal unnecessary, the wiring shoddy or power supply unsteady and not worth repairing, the hall ahead of him long and empty and not worth the time it would take to follow it to its end.

Perhaps an ordinary citizen might be fooled. Or perhaps Security underestimates them all, but the fact of the matter is that the ship is far too overcrowded to afford to waste space. An empty, abandoned corridor raises more questions than it answers. Enjolras feels in his bones that this is it, and so he ignores the beacon's warning and works his way down the hall.

Halfway down its length, doors slide out of the walls, clanging shut with the hiss of hydraulics. If Enjolras had been half a meter ahead of where he was, he'd have been smashed between them.

There's a control panel on the door, but no controls, just the same words flashing across the screen, cycling through almost too fast to read. DO-NOT-ENTER-STAY-AWAY-TURN-BACK-LEAVE-AT-ONCE-DANGER-DANGER-DANGER.

Enjolras huffs a breath of disbelieving laughter. The more desperately Security tries to keep him away from whatever it is they're hiding down here, the more they tip their hand about its importance.

He pulls his datascreen from his pocket once more and plugs it into the diagnostic terminal tucked just beneath the edge of the control panel's screen. Half a dozen quick lines of code send Security's warning scrambling away into jittery lines just before it goes black. The hydraulics hiss as they vent the air pressure keeping the doors sealed shut.

They don't open automatically, but without the pneumatic pressure behind them, Enjolras is able to pry them apart through sheer muscle power, opening a gap wide enough for him to squeeze through and continue on.

The corridor ends in another door, another control panel. This one flashes red. CAUTION-ATTENTION-CUIDADO-ATTENZIONE, and a dozen other languages Enjolras doesn't speak, but he can guess well enough their meaning as they blink across the screen, over and over again.

Enjolras's six lines of code have little effect, this time. He frowns and bends his head over the datascreen, his fingers flying, code filling up the screen as he tries to hack past the protocols. Whatever data Security's got hidden away here must be even more valuable -- or even more damning -- than they'd already considered, or else why would they try so hard to scare people away?

Just as Enjolras is starting to think he'll have to retreat before his beacon goes off and come back later with studier equipment, the control panel beeps and the red warning screens fade away to emptiness. He shoulders the doors open and steps through into a room as bright and cold as an operating suite.

After the constant light of the corridor, the brightness of the room is blinding. Enjolras squints against it, one hand coming up to shield his eyes, and so he sees nothing -- but he hears the ragged gasp.

"No no no no no no no no." That's a man's voice, a human voice. Enjolras takes another step forward, drawn by the panic in it. "What are you doing here you can't be here you have to go."

Enjolras starts to drop his hand, to search for the other man. As soon as he does, the lights in the room flare even brighter, blinding, painful. He spins away, throwing an arm up to shield himself. "Who are you?" he asks even as the light brings tears to his eyes, making everything blurry and indistinct. "Why are you being held prisoner here? What can I do to help you?"

There's a long, long pause. When the man breaks the silence it's with a laugh, harsh and brittle. "I'm no prisoner."

"Those doors were locked."

"They're not to keep me in. Can't you read?" His words are harsh but the panic is slowly seeping out of them. The lights are fading, not growing dim but at least easing back to a brightness that's not quite so intolerable.

"I've yet to see anything in here worth those dire warnings," Enjolras says.

"You don't see anything at all." The man's words are weighted strangely, as though there's a double meaning to them that Enjolras can't understand.

He lowers his arm slowly. He still has his back to the man, but the doors are right ahead of him and they're metal. No one's cared to bother polishing anything down here to a mirror shine, but still, they're smooth enough. Enjolras sees his own slightly-blurred reflection, and behind him there's another shape, someone else standing backlit by the room's lights, thick wires coming off of his head like hair, like snakes, and trailing across the ground to turn into an indistinct blur behind him.

"What have they done to you?" Enjolras asks on a breath, horrified.

The man just laughs again, harsh again. "You think you know everything. What I am now, I've no one to blame but myself. Don't," he snarls as Enjolras turns around, and the lights go painful and blinding again, so all Enjolras can see of him is an indistinct, backlit shadow.

"I'm not afraid of you."

"You're a fool."

"What's your name?"

He's quiet for a long, long time, long enough that Enjolras wonders if he means to answer at all.

"You're a man," he says gently, stepping forward. The man makes a harsh sound, and the shape shrinks back. "You must have a name."

"Grantaire," he says at last, thoughtfully. "That's what you call me, I think."

"Grantaire?" Enjolras echoes it, uncertain, because he's quite sure he's never called this man anything before in his life.

"It means something. I don't remember what." Grantaire's voice goes sharp with frustration.

Grantaire, Enjolras thinks, and something that has been stirring in the back of his mind flares brilliantly to life.

No one's seen the hull of the ship in centuries. Her name is forgotten. She's called R on official paperwork, has been all Enjolras's life. Security would maintain that it stands for Republique, and Enjolras and his friends like to claim it stands for Revolution, but at the end of the day, all anyone calls her is R.

Grand R.

Enjolras stares at the blurred shape that is the man and loses his breath. "You're the ship?"

Grantaire is silent for a moment. "You're a quick study."

Enjolras has a hundred questions, a thousand. He sorts through them all and comes up with one. The most important, the most perplexing. "Why do you lock yourself away down here? All those dire warnings, and you're just a man."

"I'm not just anything, not anymore. I'm--" Grantaire makes a sharp, frustrated sound. "I've lost the words for it. There's a quantum-- something. Damn it." He takes a breath, starts over. "Men go mad when they look at me. Or blind. Or drop over dead on the spot. You can't be here. You can't see me."

"I'm not leaving you like this."

"You don't have a choice," Grantaire says, and flares the lights so high Enjolras can't see anything and tears flow like rivers down his cheeks.

"Stop that!" He storms forward toward where Grantaire's voice had been coming from, close enough he can feel the blistering heat coming off the lights. He grabs Grantaire by the arms and shakes him, growls, "Stop that," once more.

Grantaire gasps and kills the lights, dropping them straight into complete darkness. He vibrates like a wire against Enjolras's hands.

"How long as it been?" Enjolras asks him quietly. "How long since you've had actual, human company?"

"Forever," Grantaire says distantly, dreamily.

Enjolras gives a sharp exhale. "No wonder you've forgotten that you're at least as much man as you are machine." He tightens his hands on Grantaire's arms, feels his pulse batter against his thumbs. "I'm going to get you out of here."

Grantaire chokes on a laugh. "Oh God, you can't." He moves, sliding his hand into Enjolras's, guiding both their hands up to the wires buried in his scalp. "I'm tethered."

"I'm a hacker," Enjolras says. "I've been hacking the ship's protocols -- your protocols -- since I was old enough to fit my hands to a keyboard. You've never stopped me before."

"What are you going to do? Cut me free, lead me out of here?"

"Yes."

"Harm or kill half the ship's occupants before you believe me?"

"We'll find a way around that."

"We?" Grantaire echoes quietly.

"Me, and some friends of mine. We've been working against Security for a while now. We're going to make sure everyone on this ship is free." He slides a hand up, touches the edge of Grantaire's jaw lightly. "That means you, too."

"You're mad," Grantaire says, but he sounds in awe.

"I have to go." Enjolras regrets it more than anything, but he's already used up most of the hour on the beacon's timer. They'll come after him if he's not back by the time it goes off, they'll come here, and they won't be careful or quiet about it. If Security knows that they know about Grantaire...

He insists he's not a prisoner, but that void on their map isn't his doing. Security wouldn't be working so hard to keep people away from this room, if they didn't have something to hide.

They can do this. Enjolras has no doubt about that. But they need to sit down together, them and their datascreens, and start making a plan. They can do it, but he doesn't doubt that it'll be the most difficult thing they've ever done, either.

"Please," Grantaire says, and Enjolras doesn't know if he's begging him to go, or begging him to stay.

"I'll be back."

"You shouldn't."

"We're going to figure this out."

Grantaire sighs like he already knows the battle's lost.

"If there's any information you can give us, anything that isn't public knowledge, it'd help--"

"Just go."

Enjolras grips his arms again, just for a moment. "I'm coming back. Don't lock me out."

Grantaire says nothing. And the beacon's already buzzing insistently against Enjolras's hip, its last warning before it activates the alarm, so there's nothing Enjolras can do but release him and turn and walk away.

The doors hiss shut behind him as soon as he steps into the corridor. The lights that were flickering and unsteady on the way in now shine bright, leading him out.

He goes. As soon as he gets out of the void and the wireless signal reappears, he messages Combeferre to tell him he's on his way back and not to worry. He tells him to gather the others.

Enjolras is still only halfway back when his datascreen pings at his hip. He stops long enough to pull it out and look at the alert that's come in.

1 new message. From:

It should be impossible to send or receive a message without a source attached. Everyone on the ship has their own ID, their own account. Everything anyone does is recorded and logged, Security has seen to that.

Enjolras opens the message with unsteady hands.

Information scrolls across his screen, blueprints and schematics racing by too quick to make sense of, more than enough to fill in the void in their map and flesh out the details in those areas they've already charted. When they've finished loading onto his unit, the datascreen displays the actual message:

Don't get caught, it says. Don't get hurt.

Thank you,

R.

Enjolras grins fiercely. He forwards the message to the rest of his friends and hurries to meet with them. They've got a lot of planning to do, before they can even hope to win Grantaire his freedom.