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Short Story: "In the Company of Vipers"

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"And now we've stopped. So?"

"If it goes slow like that, it also flies lower in the tube. When I "looped into New Orleans, the pod ran into something and had to stop."

She shrugged. "Well you're here, so they obviously cleared the blockage. What does that have to do with anything?"

He shook his head. "Actually, they didn't. This leg of the network is very poorly maintained. That time, the hacker collective took control of the drive and worked the pod free."

She smiled in relief. "Then we're saved, right?"

"Not really. They've decided not to help out any more."

"What? Why?"

"They've been accused of terrorism."

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She shook her head in confusion. "They've-- I though you were the terrorist."

He removed his glasses. "I'm not. Neither are they. We were trying to rescue the people at that resort, not kill them. Look. The point is that this section of tube is in disrepair. Sure, some pieces have fallen off their mountings, but this is different. I mean, look around: the pod's not even level. Something serious must have happened to the tube. If this were a train, we would have been derailed."

Phoebe pulled out her phone. "I'm sure that whatever it is, the HyperLoop company will deal with it." She was about to look up the number when she glanced at the screen in disgust. "Select service provider? Dammit. Alex canceled my phone service!" She looked at Alphon. "Can we use yours?"

"It's risky," he said. "When I became public enemy number one, Ferd gave me a tricked-up phone like his." He pulled it out and looked at it briefly. "He said it sneaks through the holes in the cell companies' routing software. The hacker collective uses them to avoid being tracked and monitored by the intelligence goons. As long as the calls are between members of the collective, it's completely private and off-the-record. But here's the catch: if I use it to call anyone else, the call has to enter the commercial cell phone network, so it's visible, and the person on the other end gets tagged as a terror sympathizer. Worse: if they know who's calling, I could get dead real fast. We all could. For right now, I think we ought to start by checking in with Ferd."

While Alphon did that, Phoebe turned her attention back to the woman with the flashing MedAlert. Her name was Mayzee, and she was on her way to see family before a major surgery. She'd gone to New Orleans to ask a mystic she trusted about her future, but came away disillusioned when he folded the reading without a word, and refused to tell her what he'd seen in the cards.

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"Do you suppose he saw how this ends?" Phoebe asked, glancing around the pod for emphasis.

"It wouldn't surprise me if he did," Mayzee said darkly. "Fortune tellers can be notoriously cagey about telling people they're going to die a horrible death."

"I don't know," Phoebe said with a forced grin, "maybe he just didn't want to spoil the experience for you. Sometimes, good things come out of a bad situation. When I was ten, for instance, my mom lost her job. I could tell how much that hurt her even as a kid, but I didn't realize until much later that she looked back on it as a blessing in disguise. It pushed her into turning her back on corporate jobs entirely and setting up what, for me, was a geeky wonderland. Her Maker lab made her deliriously happy. Who knows, you may look back at this mess we're in and laugh."

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Ever since I learned to speak binary on a DIGIAC 3080 training computer, I've been involved with tech in one way or another, but there was always another part of me off exploring ideas and writing about them. Halfway to a BS in Space Technology at (more...)

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