A Star Curiously Singing by Kerry Nietz


2000 AH, Day 36, 1:34:07 a.m.

[chute sleep]

I AM DREAMING, and yet I’m not.

The night is cool, calm—the opposite of the big stew that has just happened. Like the Abduls’ god was throwing everything he had down on the city. All flash and action. On the horizon I can still see the bursts of lightning, the power in the moving tempest.

The driftbarges took it the worse, of course. Seventeen of ’em rendered inoperable, according to messages on the stream. Unable to shift their precious cargo from sea to store.

Barges are really land boats—angular hoverlifts on two sides and a large bay in the middle for product storage. The bay is fitted with arms able to lift the product, stack it. They’re built tough because they have to be. Anything that travels the streets has to be tough.

I am many stories above the streets. Seated in my personal transport on the strings—the cables that crisscross the upper levels—I scan the cityscape ahead. The streets are the reason for these too. Downriders travel the strings. Shiny, sleek, and compact, they carry people like me, and our glorious masters, to places we need to be. Without complication.

Complication is always waiting for me to arrive. Like the barges.

“Your presence is needed there immediately!” my master’s voice says just now in my head.

That will take some explanation, I know. Don’t worry, freehead, we’ll get to that.

As my downer nears the stockyard, I see the mess the storm has made. To the east—my right—is the great river. A waterway snaking endlessly from north to south. To the west is another sort of river, but this one isn’t moving. A long line of dead barges, loaded with valuable supplies. A clogged roadway. Ahead of them, maybe a kilometer away, I can just see the receding taillights of the last barge that is functioning. A lumbering automated giant, able to unload itself while Abduls sleep. Useful equipment, when it works.

The yard is still dark. No one has gotten the lights back on yet? Odd, since I’m not the first to arrive. Masters hate stoppage, so everyone who owns a stalled driftbarge has awakened his personal DR and sent them out here. Soon my downrider will touch down and I’ll join them. There are nearly a dozen debuggers here already. I can sense every one of them in the stream.

I’m implanted, you see. Got a metal teardrop in my head. Keeps me connected to the information stream, helps me do my job. It does other things too. Things not as helpful. For me, anyway.

The work lights flicker on then, illuminating the yard below and the red downrider pylon ahead. Ten downers are nestled at the landing, though only one on the same string as mine.

That’s good, because deboarding gets a little shaky the further you are from the pylon, and I’m not a fan of shaky. I’d live at street level if I could. My downer stops, the transparent canopy slides back, and I step out. Reach back for my supply bag…

“Are you there yet, Sandfly?” my master asks, speaking straight to the implant again. He’s not as anxious as he may seem, though. Not really. He just plays the part for appearances’ sake. If he were actually upset he would’ve tweaked my head.

I respond in the affirmative, tell him I’ll update him when I can. He goes away then, promising to leave me to my work. He probably will, probably sleep the whole night away.

I take another look at the yard. I see at least three bald heads already scaling barges. For some reason these three have picked barges near the end of the line instead of near the front—those that will need to leave first. Low-level debuggers, I think. Have to be.

Or fixing only what they’re responsible for and leaving. Just as likely.

###

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