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Short Story: "In the Company of Vipers"

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Hers was gentle, almost a caress. "One what, Alphon?"

"A collapse. I've built fragile systems since middle school just so I could watch them fail. Now it's my job. But it's always been about someone else, not me. They're always disasters. People die." He twitched as traces of thoughts and memories worried his face. "It's all so senseless, like that news intern swept under in Oakland. They drown, or they're crushed, or burned. It's why I look for causes: to save the next kid." He closed his eyes. "But, now what do we do? We're trapped in here. They think I'm a terrorist. They want me dead. Why would they want to save us?"

Phoebe snapped her fingers. "Alphon," she said. "Listen to me. They don't know you're in here. As far as they're concerned, we're just three trapped tourists. They'll get us out because it would be bad PR to do otherwise. Besides, you heard what Ferd said: IndyMedia front-paged the incident. It's public. People, at least some of them, know what happened. They have to follow through on the rescue now. It's like that avalanche you were talking about earlier."

"Avalanche. Then what do we do? How do we get out?" He looked up, dazedly, at the rear of the pod. "We're obviously still stuck in the tube."

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She nodded, hoping to prod him back into the moment. "Yeah. And we're just as obviously nose-down in the lake. What does that tell you?"

He frowned, and looked down towards the front of the pod. "That the tube and part of the pod are bathing in a dilute solution of mutant bacteria."

Phoebe completed the thought. "Which will eventually dissolve anything made with resin, like the tube, and probably this pod. How long does that take? How long do we have before the water starts getting in? How long do we have to get out of here?"

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Mayzee glared uncomfortably at her. "I don't understand why you're so gung-ho. Don't you get it? We're like rats in a broken sewer pipe. We're all gonna drown!"

Phoebe put her hand on Mayzee's shoulder to calm her. "We're not going to drown. How could we if we're going to get that leg looked at?" She turned to Alphon, who was looking a bit livelier. "Speaking of which, shouldn't you call Ferd back?"

"Ferd. Right." He braced himself against the seat in front of him, and released his restraint. Standing athwart the seats, he pulled out his phone and made the call.

While Alphon was busy with the phone, Phoebe climbed over the center rest beside him, and helped to release Mayzee, whose leg was beginning to look a bit swollen. She thought back to a medical vid she'd edited, and realized that the clot was blocking a vein: blood was pushing a detour through the capillaries and building up pressure. A lot could happen, and none of it was good. The vein could rupture. Some of the clot could break off and damage the heart. It was so much like what Alphon was talking about, but it was a lot more personal. Mayzee needed medical help, but she had to keep it from him for now, or he might freak out again.

Alphon stood there for a long moment after lowering the phone, just staring into space. "Well," he said abstractedly, "it looks like that's our only option."

"What is?"

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"Hunh?" he said, startled out of his reverie. His face was pale. "The door. We're going to have to crack the door."

Mayzee glanced at the gull-wing door, and then looked up at him. "Are you nuts? You just said we're nose-down in the lake."

He nodded in agreement. "We are. We're just not deep enough. In order to get out of here, we'll have to get this thing a lot further underwater."

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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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