Sunday, January 17, 2010

Near the Top of Skyladder Eight

Near the top of Skyladder Eight the Earth looms overhead, too large to block out with a single hand span, but far enough away that Lia could see all of the planet at once. Lia loved to come out here and just lie on her back atop her small shelter, looking up at it.

"You ought to come inside, pateta" Mapi would call to her whenever he caught her at it. "It's not safe out there."

"I'm fine," she'd say. "It's safer out here than in there."

Mapi never got used to it. He wanted walls around him. Lia loved the emptiness.

When they first arrived, their super senhora Kato, a small woman from Japan whose Portuguese was barely intelligible so she talked to them in English, told them that if they managed to fall off the shelter, they'd probably not be retrieved again.

"Here your acceleration from Earth away almost Earth surface acceleration," she said. "Too much energy to launch rescue."

Lia never forgot her tether, but even with a tether Mapi only went out when it was his turn to run the spiders.

Today it had been her turn, but now the spiders were safely stowed in their cocoons and Lia was taking a break. Far above her a bright light started to flash. The ribbon of the Skyway wasn't visible from this far away, but capsules launched from there needed to signal ahead so that workers and spiders had time to get out of the way. She checked the schedule. This capsule was going to pass them in an hour or so, going about 500 km per hour.

"Hoy, Mapi," she said.

"Now what?" he replied after a moment.

"Capsule in an hour."


"What's the problem?"

Lia heard a click, then Mapi's voice again.

"Bibi, capsule in 45!"

"Shit," was Bibi's reply. "My spider is still stuck. Hey, do you suppose Lia could lend a hand?"

"What's the problem?" Lia repeated, this time for Bibi's benefit.

"One of the spiders got hung up somehow. I've been trying to cut it loose, but I don't have very good skills."

Lia was already in motion. Cursing capsule launch control under her breath, she hurried back to the waldo rig. She strapped herself in and launched a connection at Bibi's net.

"I'm coming over," she said. "Can you pick me up and put me on the stuck spider?"

"Sure," Bibi said.

Lia's vision swum for a moment, then cleared. She checked her status. Leg number 6 wasn't disconnecting, for some reason. Visual inspection showed no damage, but the leg wasn't responding. Lia found Bibi had already brought out a cutter, but leg number 5 was holding it. Bibi was amazingly clumsy when it came to understanding how spiders moved. She switched the cutter from number 5 to number 7 and then to number 8, and started cutting the leg free. Bibi would have to repair this stretch after the capsule passed.

"Bibi, did you already let CLC know that there's a problem?"

"No. Do you think that's necessary?"

Lia sighed to herself. If Bibi asked her, then it meant he already had his black mark for the pay period, and couldn't risk another. This was really a problem with CLC, but if Bibi didn't dare mention it then no one would know that they messed up. Again.

"Never mind. I'll do it, without bringing you into it," Lia told him.

"What are you going to do, pateta?" Mapi wanted to know.

"We can't have CLC launching capsules off schedule and without notice," she told him. "I'll lodge a complaint. I'll tell them I was late with the spiders, and had to hurry because of them."

"They'll check the logs," Mapi reminded her.

"They'll find that the spiders were not put away until thirty minutes before the capsule showed up," Lia told him. "That's a simple thing to do."

"They'll also find that you took them out after the launch."

"Since they didn't give notice, they can't very well blame me," Lia said.

Bibi's spider was free, and she passed control over to him.

"Thanks, I owe you," he said. Lia disconnected from Bibi's net, and hooked up to her own spiders. A few minutes later she was herding them across the ladder. Ten minutes later the spiders were again safely cocooned.

"Um, Lia?" Mapi sounded worried.


"I think you missed the capsule's launch. It'll be here in five."

"Impossible!" But when she looked up the flashing lights on the capsule were already bright enough to trigger protective opaquing on her lenses.

"Are you cocooned?" Lia asked.

"I'm getting strapped in, now," Mapi said. "What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to hold on for dear life," Lia told him.

She imagined she could feel the ribbons hum around her as they stretched in response to the hurtling capsule. She checked her straps. All were tight. She was going to get hit with six gees of brief acceleration, about like falling out of a six story building. In a cocoon it was no problem. Strapped up like this out here, it was very much an issue. Straps didn't distribute the acceleration across enough surface area. Her bones would snap like twigs. She tried to align herself as best she could with one of the ribbons holding the waldo rig, hoping the force wouldn't kill her. Maiming would be bad enough.

The capsule's lights were almost on her, and she shut her eyes, just before she was struck by a crushing blow.

When she regained consciousness, Mapi's worried face swum over her.


She tried to say yes, but only a croak came from her throat.

"Deus seja louvado!" Mapi breathed with relief. Then he collected himself.

"Both arms broken in two places, both shoulders dislocated, broken collarbones. No internal injuries. You'll be patched up as good as new in no time. Pateta."

Lia didn't try to say anything this time. It hurt to smile, just a little, and she closed her eyes again.

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