While I was writing this scene, I kept flapping my hands around, trying to imagine two buildings on floating platforms connected with a rope. I wanted to picture what happens when one pivots and sinks. I think I need to build a better model and test it out in the bathtub. Maybe I’ll toss in some Lego minifigs just to make it more exciting. Lego eel? Why not!
I love the fact that someone has already built one.
“What is it?” Japeth’s voice had ratcheted up into the hysterical range.
“Remember those things I told you about? The things that made you say I should get a real job? Well, they’re here.”
“Tube fish? But, but they’re small, harmless.”
“These are ten feet long and unlikely to be harmless. I think the feeding tendrils are envenomed. Did they touch you?” Persephone remember how drowsy she’d been in the car last night.
“No,” Japeth replied. The raft tipped suddenly. They both staggered. “I don’t think we need to worry about the venom though. Those things are pulling the raft down.”
Japeth was right. The whole apartment was listing five degrees to port. Their floating composite foam foundation groaned like an old ship hull in a storm.
“You have a roof hatch?” The colony world had weather that required those kinds of safety features, at least in the floats.
Japeth nodded. The hatch was in the bedroom. It was an old-style manual with a plastic ring pull and a drop down ladder. The two women climbed out onto the flat roof of the apartment float. From there, Persephone took stock of the situation. The raft had listed further, the edge closest to the city completely submerged. The silt around the raft looked like it was boiling. Periodically a black snack like body would break the surface, roll and then vanish back into the muddy glop.
“Now what?” Japeth grabbed for Persephone to steady herself. The raft had lurched a few more degrees towards vertical.
Persephone looked around for a way out. The nearest floating building was six meters away, too far to jump even with a running start and Japeth’s roof didn’t provide all that much of a runway. She took a grapnel from her utility belt and tossed it towards the nearest roof. It landed and Persephone slowly pulled it back. It didn’t catch, just skittered into the water. She cursed the slum lords and their cheap-o plastic tiles while she tried to pull the grapnel back. The movement seemed to attract the tube fish. Several of them surfaced and tried to swallow the thing. She cursed, let it go and pulled another from her belt. This time she aimed for a ventilation stack sticking out of the neighboring apartment. The line caught and she secured her end around a similar stack.
“No way. There’s no fuckin’ way I’m going across that,” Japeth said.
“Come on. We used to do this kind of stuff all the time.”
“You did. I was the tech guru, remember? And then I got a desk job.”
“You want me to go first?” Persephone volunteered.
“Tight-rope walking? Over tube-fish infested waters?”
“No dumb-ass. Hand-over-hand it.”
Japeth blinked. Then reached for the line. She hesitated for a moment, long enough for the raft to lurch again. That was enough incentive for her to swing her feet down and hang from the line. She started inching along, her feet swinging.
Persephone watched and couldn’t help but call out suggestions. “You’re doing great. Just great. But seriously, You don’t have to keep both hands on the line. You’ll go faster if you reach and swing, reach and swing.”
“Shut the fuck up!” Japeth yelled.
“They’re blind, not deaf you know,” Persephone called back. Japeth inched along a little faster. Persephone waited for her to reach the neighbor’s raft before starting her own crossing. The cant of her raft had started to pull the two floating buildings closer together. She now had a slight uphill climb since the attachment point near her was dropping. Make that a moderate uphill climb. Those things were fucking strong and they seemed to work together. Persephone grasped the rope and swung her legs down. She tried to move quickly using the reach and swing technique she suggested to Japeth. She quickly realized that it didn’t work. The plastic line was slick and the angle of her climb was now too steep. She kept both hands on the rope and slid them one at a time. She made it to the other side just as Japeth’s apartment raft reached vertical. It sank into the silt taking the grapnel and ventilation shaft with it.
Japeth groaned. “My home. My clothes. Everything.”
Persephone put a hand on her friend’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry. I…I don’t know how they found me. If I knew they were coming, I never would have come here. You know that right?”
Japeth looked at her, her eyes wide and red rimmed. “Just get the bastards. Okay. Find them and kill them.”
Persephone stared down at the muddy water. It was placid now, the only movement coming from the rain drops breaking the surface. Were the creatures still down there? Did they realize that the women had escaped? “Finding them isn’t a problem. I mean this has to be eXime right? They must have tracked the break-in to me and to Albion, but there’s no way they could have followed me here…” Persephone trailed off while she mentally tallied everything she remembered about the break-in. Before she fried it, the security camera on the sixth floor had gotten a nice clear shot of her face. She had to assume they knew who she was, but how did they know she was associated with Albion and how had they tracked her to Japeth’s? She’d spent all day inside trying to research how best to extract money from Albion. They could have traced her network activity, but that seemed unlikely. She’d used anonymous protocols to shield her identity. “No. I was inside all day,” she continued her thought process out loud. “Even if they were hunting with remote drones they couldn’t have seen me.”
“You were outside when I got home. Throwing jerky into the canal. Remember?” Japeth said.
Persephone winced. The image came back to her. Sitting at the edge of the raft, dangling her feet in the water, the jerky, the rat. She didn’t remember seeing any drones, but the things were stealthy. She should know. Then another possibility popped into head and she wanted to smack herself. “Arch called them guard dogs,” she said.
“Old Sol animals.”
Japeth glared at her. “I’m not ignorant. I went to school you know.”
“How far away is the eXime compound?”
“Dogs track by smell, right? What about these things?”
“Do we really need to have this discussion here? I mean they may come back. Pull down this raft as well.”
“Good point. You know who owns this raft?”
Japeth didn’t. They rapped on the roof, but no one answered.
“No one home. Not too surprising. If there was anyone in there they should have called the cops by now. All that shouting and getting jerked around when your raft went down.”
The strained look had left Japeth’s face, but it came right back at the mention of her submerged apartment. Persephone switched her goggles from visual to network mode, brought up a dialing directory and selected a taxi services that operated out of the floats.
“You have a transponder signal, ma’am? The dispatcher asked.
Persephone gave them the frequency for Japeth’s apartment. “There’s a small problem, though It’s under water.”
“Ma’am?” The dispatcher’s tone hovered somewhere between polite and skeptical.
“No really. We had to abandon ship. Some kind of structural failure. We climbed out onto an adjacent house boat. There’s no one home and we don’t know their operating frequency.”
“Any injuries? Do you need emergency services?” Persephone had to talk him out of transferring her to the Float’s emergency line. She didn’t want to answer a lot of questions and get carted off to a hospital. Finally, the dispatcher grudgingly agreed to send a skiff.
“That frequency you gave me will still work. Transponders are rated to depths of 100 meters for salvage purposes. It’ll get the driver close enough. Just shout and wave when you see the boat with our logo.”
Persephone closed the call and informed Japeth that there was a boat on the way. Her friend looked at Persephone, then at the water and back again.
“You think it’s safe? I mean what if those things attack the boat?”
“Do you want to stay up here all night?”
Japeth admitted that she didn’t. A decicycle later they heard the puttering noise of an approaching boat. The yellow inflatable cab emerged from behind a cluster of residential buildings, its search-light bobbing. They hailed the craft and scrambled down off the roof to meet it. Perspehone told the driver to take them to the Sky Ark docks.
“Big explosion in that part of the city, ma’am. District is locked down.”
“East Bay then.” That was near one of Persephone’s apartments. It was time to risk a trip home. The tube-fish were unlikely to be able to track them there. After all, Persephone’s apartment was in a high rise building firmly affixed to the concrete foundation that supported center city. No silt, no drifting, no where for the creatures to swim. Unless they came in through the sewer lines. Just in case, Persephone was extra careful to keep her hands and feet inside the cab at all times and she left Japeth to wait in a coffee shop while she cased out the place.
“It’s the building right across the street. I’ll call you as soon as I know it’s safe.”
Her apartment building was a fifteen story ring built around an open central lobby. The doorman recognized her with a polite nod and she walked in. The lobby had an artificial light system that claimed to mimic real Old Sol sunlight. It was currently set in its dusk phase with just the faintest hint of stars. Imitation gas lamps lined the walkways and lit up the plants. The place was advertised as possessing all the ‘romantic charm of a fairy garden’ complete with ‘lush foliage and the soothing sounds of many fountains’. Persephone gave the central fountain a wide berth and summoned the elevator. This one was glass and gave her a nice view of the lobby on her ride up to the eighth floor. She was relieved to see that there was nothing moving down there.