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Short Story: "In the Company of Vipers"

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Alphon had finished his call, and he was keeping a doleful eye on the dark windowscreen on his side of the pod.

"So?" Phoebe asked him after a beat. "What did you find out?"

"A lot, but first things first. You know the fantasyland these things normally show? The vid stream is geocoded, and each frame is keyed to the precise location of the pods. That's how it synchs the bogus scenery to the position of the pod, regardless of what speed it's going." He glanced at the front and rear of the narrow pod. "The supports that these tubes hang from along through here are in soggy ground, and the ones we're between right now have tipped over.  Well, the reason these screens went black is that when that happened, the tube shifted. We're off-course. "

Mayzee glanced uncomfortably at the low roof, as if she could see through it.

"Tipped over," Phoebe said, "how far?"

"That's what we're trying to find out. I told Ferd how to patch into the security chipcams on the skin of the tube." He caught Mayzee's frightened expression, and spoke directly to her. "I know about them because I troubleshoot infrastructure like this for a living, or at least I used to. Anyway, he's geocoding a couple of them so we can get the feed on our windowscreens. They should go live in a few seconds."

A few rapid heartbeats later, Phoebe found herself looking out a "window' that was angled down at the filthy lake at about a forty-five degree angle. The reflected sky was littered with clouds from the tropical storm that was tracking through the Gulf. The sensation of looking both straight out and down at the same time was disorienting. Then a frame inset itself over a portion of the screen, showing Ferd in her mother's Maker lab.

"Are you seeing it now?" he asked.

"Yeah," Alphon said. "Is this the view directly to the side of the tube?"

"Uh-huh. But I've also got this." The image changed to an aerial shot, looking down at the tube. "It's an IndyMedia camera-drone that was close enough for us to borrow for a while. If anything happens, they plan to stream it live."

"If anything happens," Phoebe echoed. "Look, you two, if we're in danger, shouldn't you be focused on determining the situation? How stable are we up here, and how do we get out? This isn't hypothetical, you know. We're hanging out over the lake, for god's sake."

"Yeah," Alphon said, "I was just getting to that. The tubes have expansion joints, which allows them to flex. In some places, that's insurance against earthquakes; here it's protection from hurricanes. From what I can see from that drone, the joints flanking us are at their maximum extension. They're what's holding us up at the moment. Worse, the supports we're between are now hanging from the tube, and that's putting even more stress on the next set of supports out. Can you get us a look at them?"

While Ferd turned the drone to sight along the tube, and then swooped down to show the expansion joint and the tipped support, Mayzee pushed into her seat and re-fastened the restraint. "I don't know," she said, "That all sounds like an accident waiting to happen."

"It's not really an accident, ma'am," Ferd told her.

She peered suspiciously at Alphon, who was watching something on the windowscreen behind her. "Hey guys," he said, "I think we've got company."

Phoebe turned to look. The camera on that side of the tube was now angled up, so it was mostly just clouds and sky, but at the bottom of the screen there was a HyperLoop maintenance drone -- a large, logoed quadcopter equipped with a variety of cameras, sensors and manipulators.

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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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...but the danger of being branded a terrorist is ... by Philip Zack on Saturday, Jan 25, 2014 at 9:41:27 PM