Continued from yesterday’s Redistributing the Future.
The world was spread out below like a hand-drawn map. Buildings that had seemed to loom over the street were pressed flat. The climb hadn’t been hard. All three of them were lean. Getting enough food to survive was an accomplishment on its own, any excess hoarded jealously. Everyone outside the arcologies clung to life by their fingernails, scavenging to survive.
And now Jules found himself clinging to the side of a rail bridge, a bridge that had hung in the sky for his entire life. A blood vessel in the continent spanning network of arcologies, giga-factories, macro-construction facilities, and launch bases. The thin woven cable swayed in a gentle breeze. Jules had secured it to the bridge with a heavy drone, the cable’s not insignificant mass slowing the drone’s ascent considerably. Once attached, Otto had anchored the other end around a cinder block that had conveniently lain nearby. Lou had clipped a small motorized handle to the line, leaned his weight on it.
“Everything’s set, boss,” Lou had said, “Time to fly.”
Jules had secured a loop of rope to his belt, and clipped its carabiner to the handle.
“Good thing I’m not afraid of heights,” Jules had said sardonically. He had grabbed the handle with both hands and hit the activation switch. The motor had whirred to life and whisked him off his feet. Jules had watched as the alley shrunk to a black thread between grey boxes. When he looked up, the narrow band of the bridge had gained depth and detail. It was an ovoid tube, a few fins sticking out with mesh webbing between them.
Now he crouched on a narrow rail, three hundred and fifty metres above concrete and asphalt, waiting for Otto and Lou to catch up. Everything about this job seemed to be a metaphor for his life. Dragging himself up, against a constant force pushing back down, only to balance precariously, not daring to move.
“Friggin’ height is messing with my head,” Jules said to himself, knowing the words would be carried away by the breeze.
“What?” hollered Otto, now only a metre or two below the bed of the rail-line.
“I said, ‘get yer ass up here’,” Jules replied, trying to keep his voice down. If there were acoustic sensors they would have already gone off, but better safe than sorry. The irony of the thought made him chuckle, until he wobbled on his perch and grabbed the nearest handhold.
Otto carefully slid off his backpack of tools and handed them up to Jules, then hauled himself onto the maintenance rail. He stood, back against the hard plastic shell of the main line. His face showed no fear, totally at peace with the fact he could plunge to his death at any moment. While Lou came to complete the triumvirate, Otto strode along the narrow rail. He removed a large c-shaped clamp from another satchel he carried. The ridged device had come from an old object printer Otto maintained. He knelt and secured the clamp to the rail. He walked the same distance along the rail in the opposite direction and attached a second clamp.
“You honestly believe those are gonna stop a drone if it comes in at full speed?” Lou said, panting as he pulled himself onto the rail.
“I tested in my shop, man. I dropped an engine block on them and it barely left a scratch. That feedstock we jacked last month from the truck, you remember?” Otto pointed at Lou.
“Yeah, what was so special ‘bout it?” Lou hadn’t been in on that one. A batch of home brewed beer he made with enhanced hops had turned on him.
“That wasn’t just some plastic filament,” Otto said, “It was long chain fullerene feedstock. Almost indestructible, nearly weightless.” He was visibly pleased with himself.
From another bag, Lou had extracted their cutting rig. The train tube was kept in a vacuum, and as soon as they compromised the shell, alarms would sound. The train itself would be moving slowly at the top of the arc, but not slowly enough to give them time to cut all the way through the bridge shell, and into the train itself. They had to cut the hole in advance, without alerting the Arcolytes.
After a series of horrifyingly dangerous prototypes, Lou had constructed a rig that would do what they needed. It was a plastic bubble, cutting tools already inside, that would adhere to the outside of the bridge shell. A pump attached to the bubble would produce a vacuum inside, and Lou would manipulate it all through a pair of absconded chem-lab gloves.
“Clock’s ticking, dudes,” Lou said as he secured the edges of the bubble. He started cutting, shards of plastic getting sucked toward the pump intake. They all felt the bridge shake. The train was on its way.