Monday, 12 August 2013

The storm is chasing

There was rustling in the trees, sharp cracks as a tiny, warm blooded scurrier snapped twigs tinier than itself. The air was clear, sharp and dry. The sky was cloudless and the moon hung luminous and bloated, yet precariously perched in the gravity well - close enough to orbit and distant enough that it would never fall into gravity's trap.

The snow lay untouched for acres around, the frost made the trees sparkle mimicking the stardust above and the icicles hung, raindrops frozen in time, waiting for warmth to return their freedom.

All this beauty. All this fragile, glorious nature, wondrous in this moment will never be observed by anyone who cares because at this precise moment a vehicle is crashing through the trees, mowing down anything foolish enough to step in its path and destroying silence and fragile beauty alike.

The engine bellows, the black smoke churns out of the rear and the skaters run alongside, deflecting debris with their grav-shields and shielding the windows from prying eyes.

They have been running for 3 days straight and are reaching the end of their tolerance. Skaters are a hardy lot, but this batch were ordered for desert climates and the manufacturer assumed Saharan rather than . As a result the performance of the product suffers over extended periods of time operating in temperatures below 12 degrees. The issue is with the lawyers, but there is no immediate alternative and the skaters are obliged to fulfill their current contract in -30 degrees.

They charge rapidly over the fields - clear of the forest, they expand the perimeter around the vehicle and use their grav-shields to boost its speed. In this way they had been able to cut the journey by about 20% as they no longer had to navigate around slow or rough ground. It was high cost, of course - a third of the skaters would not complete the journey and the passengers in the vehicle were subjected to a horrendous ride, but someone somewhere had decided that speed mattered more than money or comfort.

As they were employed by a government organisation, everyone taking the journey was simply too shocked to protest.

29 hours ago an additional incentive for speed had made itself known. They had expected the blackness of night to give way to the pearlescent green lustre of dawn, instead of which it had remained black as the storm gathered on the horizon.

These storms rarely occurred - the oily black cloud dispensed both electricity and debris at high intensity. Ordinarily they broke when they crested high ground and the clouds gathered density in valleys, eradicating all life from the area, but in this case only small fragments seemed to be caught. The bulk of the storm crept along the ground behind, lurking ominously on the horizon for the majority of the day. It was when the skaters hit the forest in the early evening and had to slow, allowing the vehicle to touch ground while they protected the soft, lightweight body from the falling trees that they knew they would have trouble remaining ahead.

The storm wouldn't be slowed by anything under 300ft tall and the forest was significantly smaller than that. Fortunately, none of the skaters had been wounded or exhausted by the rigours of the woodland, and the ground was clear for the next ten miles. At the end of that was the pit-city; their destination.

They needed to retain a full complement of skaters for at least the next five miles to make it to the end without falling victim to the storm.

Sadly, at that precise moment, two of the lead skaters and one at the rear fell away from the pack and tumbled into the snow. The remaining skaters dropped the ports for those skaters and the shared bandwidth became an analysis machine for the the nanoseconds required to diagnose the fault. The two leaders had been bearing the brunt of the windchill and eventually succumbed; the rider at the rear had been subjected to a power drain from the sustained use of his grav-shield dissipating the debris that was sucked into the rear of the vehicle by the cumulative gravity distortion.

Adapting to the conditions the skaters rebuilt their formation with a recharge unit focussed on the three requiring most energy. Inside the vehicle, one of the three passengers checked over the readout and tutted in frustration. A measured voice came from one corner: "They weren't designed for these conditions. They are learning them, and they've done surprisingly well so far."

"I just don't understand," said the tutter, "why, given the scale of this development, they weren't required to have an inbuilt live comms to assess ongoing damage instead of waiting for a fatality."

"Because some bright spark failed to forsee a situation where a skater required for one set of conditions would be operating in a wholly different set. And the skaters have to suffer the consequences." The deep, drawling tones came from the depths of an armchair-equivalent. It housed the brain of Salinda Cotra - the clone brain - and she rarely participated in what she termed the petty, insignificant squabbles of the two legged egos. However, over the course of this journey as she had learned the details of the appalling mismanagement of the skater development project she had become ever more vocal and irritated.

The other two exchanged glances. The drawls indicated a good portion of her facility was given over to some calculation, so they quietly, carefully and respectfully hooked her up to the various vitamins, sedatives and incapacitors that the vehicle was equipped with.