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Short Story: "In the Company of Vipers"

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"Could you back up a bit?" Phoebe said. "What did you find out from Ferd?"

He held out his arm so it was bent downwards at a forty-five degree angle. "Think of my arm as the tube. The bottom end is in the water. This pod is inside, and it's floating. The airship can't raise the tube, so the only way to get out is for us to go down. We can do that by cracking the door and letting some water in."

"I get that. What did you find out from Ferd?"

Alphon didn't answer immediately, so she let the question linger. Watching his face, she realized that whatever it was that Ferd had told him, he needed to work up the nerve to repeat it. When he finally did answer, it was in a hoarse whisper. "Those two men we saw. One of them was a rookie. Neither of them had ever tried to sever a tube like that before. Well, no one has." Some earnestness returned to his voice. "It was one of the design flaws I'd researched for my thesis. The carbon fiber in those things is woven under enormous pressure. Because the bacteria had weakened the structure, when they cut through the moorings of the expansion sleeve, a slice of the tube sprang free and pretty much cut them in half." He looked away and swallowed. "Two men. Dead. Killed trying to save the three of us. And the world saw it, thanks to that IndyMedia cam. So now we're the top news story, and the commercial media are out there now to cover the horror show."

"What's the HyperLoop company going to do?"

He nodded and took a deep breath. "The government told them to stand down. The military have been called in, but they're not saying what they'll do when they get here."

"So why not just wait?"

He stared at her in disbelief. "Wait? We're accused terrorists. Well, at least I am. The last thing I want is for the military to save me. No, we've got to get out of here before they arrive. At least that way we can face the media on our terms."

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Phoebe thought it over. "Okay, so we sink the pod. Then what? I don't see what that gains us. Once we've gotten enough water in here to drop out of the tube, we're no longer floating. Wouldn't we just sink to the bottom? How do we get out?"

"There's a chance. If we're careful about how much water we let in, the pod will slowly sink lower in the water. Ferd said the front end of the pod is already sticking out of the tube a bit. As we let the water in, more of the pod will emerge, and it will start to level out. So here's the idea. If we move to the rear of the pod while we're doing it, we can help to tip it around the edge of the tube, and then it'll start to float up towards the surface."

"That's nuts," Mayzee said. "If you let the water in, it's going that way." She pointed at the front of the pod. "What good would it do for us to move to the other end?"

Phoebe thought about it for a moment, and recalled some of the experiments she'd done as a kid at her mother's maker lab. "No," she said, "I think he's got a point. All right, let's do it. How do we crack the door?"

"The crank is behind the center windowscreen." He ran his hand along the top of the bezel, and smiled when he found the latch. "Okay. That released the stiffeners." When he threw the matching bottom latch, the screen rolled up into the top bezel, revealing a dedicated control panel, a crank that had been folded flat, and the port that it fit into. He pulled the crank off it's mounting, reconstituted it, and stuck the end into the port. "When I turn this, the lower edge of the door will break its seal. It's going to be messy. You two get as high as you can towards the back of the pod."

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Once they were in place, he slowly turned the crank until a spray of water spread across the lower edge of the gull-wing door. As the water pooled in the front end of the pod, all three exchanged worried glances. A moment later, the pod shifted. There was a scraping noise as they dropped lower in the water and the angle flattened a bit, at which point he hurriedly cranked it closed again.

"That's good. That's good," he said, relieved. "The nose of this thing is free of the tube. From here, it's just a matter of finding the midpoint."

"Just?" Mayzee squeaked. "How're you going to do that? This isn't a game, you know."

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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