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Short Story: "In the Company of Vipers"

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"Okay, good," he said. "That means HyperLoop dispatch knows we're stuck here. What they didn't know until just now was that their tube's at risk. We're sitting on the edge of a potential avalanche, so to speak, and they've got to decide what to do."

"They'd better make that decision pretty quick," Ferd said. "IndyMedia's front-paged the feed. We're gonna have an audience."

Just then, an alert tone sounded in the pod, and all of the seat-back screens lit up with the HyperLoop logo. That faded to the harried face of a company PR flack. "This is Cuthbert Robbins," he said. "On behalf of everyone at HyperLoop Transit, I would like to apologize for the inconvenience and delay that you are experiencing. We are working to remedy the situation and to ensure that every passenger arrives safely. Unfortunately, we do not know how long this delay will last. Please remain calm. In the meantime, you may enjoy any of the content available on the seatback entertainment unit at no charge."

Once the screens cleared, Phoebe shook her head doubtfully. "Remain calm? Who does he think he's kidding? Judging from that performance, I'd say they're worried."

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"So am I," Mayzee said while massaging her leg. "What did your friend mean, it isn't an accident? Did you people have something to do with the Barrage and that resort or not?"

All three spoke at once. "It's complicated." What followed was a confluence of details that Phoebe, Alphon and Ferd hadn't taken the time to assemble before. Alphon described his work troubleshooting infrastructure failures, noting that he focused mainly on situations where a minor problem can cause catastrophic damage. It took a few examples before she finally understood why he'd spoken of an avalanche earlier. Ferd then jumped in with a brief history of the effects that climate change had had on sea life, and that when that's coupled with all of the resin-based trash being tossed into the oceans, mankind had inadvertently evolved resin-eating bacteria.

"That's what ties all of this together," Phoebe said. "My mother discovered that a biological counteragent had been developed forty years ago, but it was snatched up in the IP crackdown and suppressed. She and Ferd managed to get a sample. Without it, anything made with resin will start to break down if it gets seawater on it with that bacteria."

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"That's what happened to the Golden State Barrage," Alphon said.

"What about the resort, then?" Mayzee asked, still massaging her leg. "Were those mutant bacteria of yours responsible for that, too?"

The thought of all those people intentionally frozen to death under the ice was enough to cause Phoebe to change the subject. "If your leg's hurting that bad," she said, "it could be a clot."

Mayzee waved her off. "Even if it is, there's not much we can do about it until we get out of here. Anyway, I really want to know. Did those people die because of resins, too?"

Nobody answered immediately, but Ferd finally broke the silence. "Indirectly."

"Indirectly? What's that, your idea of spin? Either it was an accident, or someone's at fault, and the news seems to think it's vipers like you."

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"It's complicated," he said. "The bacteria mutated because global warming acidified seas that were already clogged with mountains of resinous garbage. And although these climate changes began as the unforeseen consequence of unfettered industrialization of the world, when the greedy money barons realized how much profit was to be made from not only blocking any attempt at mitigation, but by actually encouraging it, they plunged the whole world into a one-way trip to--."

Ferd's rant was cut off by another announcement on the seat-back screens. "This is Cuthbert Robbins again. We apologize for the delay. A repair crew are now en route to your location, and should be there momentarily. As a safety precaution, please secure your restraints and stow any loose objects. The crew intends to uncouple the tube joint nearest you, so that the pod can be extracted and airlifted to safety. Please be assured, we have done this on other occasions, and there is absolutely nothing to worry about."

Alphon angrily smashed his fist against the wall of the pod, causing it to shudder. "What crap!"

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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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