Friday, March 26, 2010
Modrith shuddered in revulsion at the very thought of the warzone to the East. It just wasn't far enough away for his liking. For anyone's liking.
The rain came in with a sighing hiss like ten thousand snakes in a crock of boiling water. Sizzling red hail mingled with tiny violet frogs fell with the heavy drops, raising a pernicious mist from the soggy ground that threatened to seep its way into everything that wasn't tightly sealed against its watery trespass. Modrith unfurled his umbrella and set it to hovering just at his left shoulder. That way he could still manage the shock-prod if any of the ass-clowns got uppity or started to pantomime their displeasure at being out in the rain. He hated mimes. On general principles he jabbed the prod into the nearest ass-clown. The cart lunged over another rut and they picked up some speed. He just hoped that they wouldn't go sliding off the road with all the squished frogs under their wheels. They were too far East, too close to the fallout from the weirdzones, he'd told Gadrox that. But no one listened to him.
Rounding the far edge of a switchback, one of the countless myriad of the things cut all along the escarpment, ridges and tumultuously tumbled and jumbled terrain of the Great Rift, Modrith spotted Gadrox and the others just ahead. They were already hard at work digging up the foundations of another eidolon that stood there impassively observing everything they did. Circling himself from an instinctive dread of such things, Modrith brought the cart up and backed it into place with the skill of a long-time teamster. Then he set about making sure that the old mass compensator was firmly in-place and still operational. It had belonged to his grandfather and his grandfather before him, back to the days when the family had been respectable mechanics working on the docks and not vagabonds, cut-throats and thieves. But that was back before the war before the last three, and on another world. Things change.
He slid back down from the deliberately rickety-looking cart (which was far from it) and walked up to Gadrox who was standing back under a tarpaulin that only half-way covered the workmen digging up the eidolon. As per custom they only nodded and avoided the use of each other's names while in the company of non-union labor. A few choice gestures passed between them and they both understood the other well enough to get the job done.
The day-laborers grunted and swore in some brusque and unpretty language that was unfamiliar to Modrith as they heaved buckets of displaced soil, rocks and gravel up out of the deep trench they had dug all around the base of the eidolon. Grunting his approval of their work, Gadrox took up a crysteel prybar and started to jab away at the anchor-plugs that mounted the upper sculpture to the lower base. One after another of the heavy plugs snapped off at his insistent, expert strikes. Tossing aside the prybar, he took up a phase-saw and began to cut through the topmost layer of the base. There was no other realistic way to remove the thing as they were molecularly bonded, but one could cut through the material of the anchor-platform and make it into a sort of mini-base for the eidolon.
As Gadrox reached the half-way point in his cutting process, Modrith started bossing the day-laborers around, getting ropes slung over the eidolon to stabilize it and heavy mats slid into place to help them ease it into the back of the cart. For once the drone-workers got things right, did what they were told and everything went smoothly. The eidolon gave out a sharp crack and Gadrox shut off the phase-saw. It teetered ever so slightly, then right on cue they started heaving on the lines, the pulleys of the block and tackle groaned and the eidolon tipped slowly, smoothly into the bed of the cart. In moments it was done. Modrith supervised the wrapping and padding of the eidolon for transport, lashing down everything so it wouldn't shift and take them careening off and down the steep embankment of the service road. Gadrox got everything else gathered up and packed away into a battered old foldbox, then sprayed the site down with randomizing fractals so as to play merry hell with whomever tried to determine just who had stolen the eidolon. The spray would make random connections to hundreds of different people and so thoroughly obscure the probability-trails and connections that it would take days for the best precog to sort it all out, and as everyone knows the best precogs were off serving in the war. The second-raters left behind weren't up to the task. It'd take them weeks, months or even longer to sort things out into some kind of sensible pattern. By then they'd be long gone. And the results would be so open to interpretation that the Union's lawyers could punch holes through any charges brought against them.
It might be dark days and the worst of times for some, but for Modrith and Gadrox these were the best of times. Business was booming. The market for authentic eidolons, even those lacking in registered records of provenance, was a far more lucrative one than many of the other enterprises they'd attempted off and on over the years. It sure beat the hell out of marching down in the mud like those poor bastards headed off to war and it was a damn site better in terms of the actual pay-off than tomb-robbing ever had been. And that was with all the surly ass-clowns, raining frogs, and the peculiar sussurative portents of doom that tended to lurk around the older eidolons. Superstitious nonsense. The curses inscribed into the base of each eidolon were just there to frighten children, not professionals. Besides, their work was nearly done for the day and it was time to head back home. Maybe they'd go for a drink at the Tavern of Three Bells later on.
(This story is dedicated to Telecanter)