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Short Story: "Bait"

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Philip Zack     Permalink
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He laughed in quiet amazement. "You sly devils, you. I should have taken a closer look at the attitude control software when I had the chance. I wonder what other secrets you're hiding in there?"

The pod stopped several more times as they hit something in the tube. Each time, the compressor came back on long enough to lift it free of the obstruction, one section at a time, while the wheels in the other sections moved them forward, and then shut down again. Finally, they reached the air lock, and emerged into the humid air of the New Orleans station, where the doors lifted and Alphon stepped onto the platform.

A passenger emerging from the next section of the pod turned to look at him in exasperation. "What the hell was that? I thought these things were supposed to be safe!"

"I don't know," he said, shrugging into the backpack he'd picked up in Chicago, "and I study Hyperloop systems for a living. Well, at least we got here."

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"Maybe so, but there's no way I'm riding one of these cans back to Memphis."

Alphon turned and headed for the exit. Getting to the Post Office was going to entail yet another mode of transport, because of how fragmented southern Louisiana had become in recent decades. After about an hour's walk, which took him across the old interstate highway bridge and through Algiers, he reached an airboat rental he'd contacted en route. The sales agent chatted him up relentlessly, probing for some clue about where he'd be taking the boat, and insisted that he purchase the optional insurance rider that covered chemical damage, in addition to the standard liability coverage.

"Chemical damage?" he asked, glancing uncertainly at the line of airboats.

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The agent shook his head and gave him a withering look. "From the water." The tone was one you'd use for a backward child. "Or do you believe the tripe they spout on the news about how clean the Gulf is?"

"Sorry. I'm from the west coast."

"Well that explains it, doesn't it? The Pacific Ocean is all pristine, I suppose. Look, son, without the Gulf Stream to scour out the crud leaking from all those offshore wells out there, it just collects and festers, along with the rest of whatever's tossed into the Mississippi by the industrial morons upstream. It's toxic. Fish can't live in it, and machinery doesn't survive very long either. So I gotta insist that you sign that insurance form there, or you ain't taking my boat out."

Once the paperwork was finished, and Alphon paid with cash, the agent walked him out to his rental and briefed him on its use. "You sure you won't tell me where you're going?" the man pressed, one last time.

A few seconds thought about the specious official explanation for the failure of the Barrage and about the dead link he was tracking made it an easy question to answer. "I doubt that would be safe," he said, for the first time really feeling the scale of the deception he was challenging, "for either of us."

He was still feeling confident in having hid his trail thus far by paying cash for everything, money he'd withdrawn before boarding the Amtrak for Chicago, when he realized that he was about to use his phone for navigation. He'd remembered to keep it powered down thus far so it wouldn't give his position away, but then absently pulled it out for a map. Stowing it back in his pocket, he pulled out the sticky note he'd been carrying, and entered the location of the Post Office into the boat's onboard nav.

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It was nearly closing time when he arrived, so he lashed the airboat to one of the hooks embedded in the dike surrounding the building, and hurried inside. It was an old building, and the patchwork of repairs was clearly evident. A heavyset woman with a cleverly laid out set of tattoos on her left arm was kneeling by a rack of post boxes, replacing one of the doors.

"Excuse me," he said as he approached.

She rose, looked him over for a second, and smiled. "We don't get many visitors down here. What can I do for you?"

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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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