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Earth Girl

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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‘What are you planning to do with that wall?’

‘Keep it, sir. Nice stable barrier at that side.’

‘Good plan.’ The private circuit hum stopped.

I moved back to my group of rocks, using my hover belt to float just above the rubble. This area was an especially nasty mess of jagged lumps of concrete, with spears of broken glass sticking upwards. I had one hand on my hover belt controls, increasing my height to go over a lump of distorted metal that was blocking my path, when I felt another tug from the lifeline. It lifted me wildly high in the air over the distorted metal, and then suddenly dropped me on the other side.

The poor hover belt had cut out when it was out of operating distance of the ground. It cut back in again as it came back in range, but I was falling too fast by then. I hit the ground before it could stop me, and the impact suit triggered. Its material went suddenly rigid, protecting me from the spikes of glass, then the hover belt brought me back up above the ground again.

‘Jarra?’ Playdon’s voice demanded sharply. ‘Are you all right?’

‘I’m sorry,’ wailed Joth. ‘I thought the hover belt would lower her when I let go.’

The shock of the impact suit doing a full scale trigger always takes your breath away for a moment. I eventually managed to speak. ‘I’m all right.’

The impact suit material relaxed and I could move again. I floated my way across to a safer spot, where I could check myself, my suit, and my hover belt for damage. Hover belts are always vulnerable in a situation like that, but my checks showed this one had been lucky and missed being hit by the glass spikes.

‘Joth, you let Jarra go when she was way above the operating limit for the hover belt,’ said Playdon. ‘Fortunately, there’s no serious harm done, but remember that everyone. Hover belts have their limits. If a hole opened up in the ground beneath Jarra, or there was a landslide, she would fall just like she did just then.’

Playdon paused. ‘Jarra, check your hover belt and run suit diagnostics please. Hitting a pointed edge can cause damage.’

‘The belt is fine. The suit has already triggered an automatic test, sir,’ I said. If there was a grim edge to my Military calm voice when I said that, then it was justified. If the suit was running an automatic diagnostic test, then I’d landed dangerously hard on something sharp. The idea of having someone on tag support was to save me from things like that, not cause them.

‘We’ll wait a few minutes while that finishes then,’ said Playdon.

The hum on my suit comms told me that Playdon was back on my private circuit. ‘Sure you’re not hurt, Jarra?’

‘I’m sure, sir. I expect I’ll have the odd bruise from the impact suit triggering.’

‘Good, but that was potentially nasty. It wasn’t the first mistake either. I felt Joth was generally overeager and intervening too much. Would you agree?’

That was a polite way to say it. I could have said a few strong words about me being a tag leader and not a doll on the end of Joth’s beam. A good tag support shouldn’t do anything at all until their tag leader is in trouble. That’s when they act, and they act fast.

‘I’m afraid Joth gives me bad tag point itch, sir. Sorry, what I mean by that is …’

‘I know tag point itch, Jarra. If you’re experienced enough at tag leading to have that, then you’d better pick your own tag support. Who would you like on your lifeline?’

I thought rapidly. I didn’t know most of the names of the class. The Betans were no use. The Deltan, Fian, was intelligent and seemed to pay attention to things. I hadn’t been listening closely enough to the endless discussions about who knew what to remember if he was experienced with lift gear, but a tag support beam is easy enough to use. The critical qualities for a tag support are that they pay attention to their tag leader’s movements, and have the sense to know when they need to use the beam and when they don’t.

‘Fian, sir.’

‘Right,’ said Playdon. ‘I’ll do a little tactful shuffling of the team, to make it less obvious that I’m dropping Joth. I don’t like to hammer a student too hard on their first day on a dig site, but he isn’t tag support material.’

The hum changed as Playdon swapped back to team circuit. ‘While we’re waiting for Jarra’s suit diagnostic to finish, we’ll do a little shuffling. Amalie, hand over your lift sled to Dalmora for a while. Stay with her and make sure she knows how to use the controls. Fian, go on tag support. Joth, hand over tag support to Fian, and then come over to the sensor sled and take a look at the displays.’

People moved around.

‘Suit diagnostics have finished,’ I said. ‘It’s fine.’

‘Jarra, can you please come over to the tag support sled?’ said Fian. ‘I need to lock my beam on to your tag point.’

‘It should already be locked on,’ Playdon interrupted.

‘I’m not seeing the green light,’ said Fian.

‘I disconnected it before I swapped over with Fian,’ said Joth.

Right, I thought, bitterly. What nardle brain just disconnects the lifeline of a tag leader in the middle of a danger zone? The answer is an exo who wants to kill her. Honestly, I’d have been a lot safer with Lolia on my lifeline! I bit my lip to stop myself saying something extremely rude.

‘Jarra,’ said Playdon, ‘please pick the safest route back to the clearway and move cautiously.’

I floated my way carefully back to the clearway and headed over to the tag support sled.

Playdon was totally silent until I reached the clearway, and then he started talking. He didn’t shout, but the tone of his voice had everyone frozen and listening. ‘Basic site safety rules are that everyone works from the clearway when possible, failing that from a selected safe area. Only tag leaders enter the danger zone. A tag leader must have a lifeline attached, and their tag support sled manned continuously, while they’re in a danger zone. You never detach the lifeline from a tag leader in a danger area. You never leave a tag support sled unmanned when a tag leader is in a danger area. Is that clear?’

He paused. ‘Please wait everyone.’

Fian locked the lifeline beam on to the tag point of my suit, peered at his arm to check his comms settings, and whispered to me. ‘Did I get Joth into trouble?’

I set my team circuit to listen only while I whispered back. ‘No, Joth got himself into trouble. You couldn’t let me carry on working out there without a lifeline. If there’d been an accident …’

We all stood around in silence.

‘What are we waiting for?’ Fian whispered after a while.

‘I think Playdon’s talking to Joth on his private circuit,’ I said. My theory was that Playdon had changed his mind about hammering a student hard on their first day on site. Joth’s first mistake had been bad enough, but disconnecting the lifeline was criminally stupid.

Playdon finally returned to talking on the team circuit. ‘Jarra, please continue working when ready.’

I double-checked the green light on the tag support sled, just in case Fian was another homicidal maniac, and then swooped across the rubble to start tagging again. Things went nice and smoothly for a while, and I began to relax a bit. Fian wasn’t hampering my movements the way that Joth had done, and didn’t seem to be actively trying to kill me.

I was starting to wonder if Fian had fallen asleep, when there was a very minor rubble slippage. I skidded sideways as the hover belt got confused by the ground beneath me moving. The tug on my lifeline that stabilized me was only there for a second, and I was released the moment the hover belt recovered, but it told me that my tag support was alert and doing his job.

Playdon had one brief chat with me on my private circuit, and asked about my tag point itch. I said it was fading nicely, and Fian was a big improvement on Joth.

After a while, I reached the point where everything visible that was sizeable enough to be worth tagging had been shifted, and it was time to get rid of the layer of small debris smothering my working area. ‘Drag net time, please.’

I headed back to the clearway. It’s not totally necessary to go to the clearway while the heavy lifts do a drag net run, but it’s generally safer since things can get messy. After being tossed around like a rag doll on my lifeline earlier, I preferred not to take any chances.

Playdon moved Dalmora back to sit with him for more training on the sensors, and told Joth to take a break for a while. Joth rejoined the rest of the class who were sitting on the two big transport sleds and watching the show. I could imagine what he was thinking. He’d had a chance to make team 1 and blown it entirely. He could think himself lucky if he got a heavy lift spot for team 4, because he could well end up with the rejects in team 5 or 6. I felt a moment of sympathy for him, but only a short one.

Amalie and Krath each had a heavy lift sled to themselves again now. If I was Amalie, I’d be sighing with relief. She must have wondered if Playdon was thinking of giving her spot to Dalmora, but it was probably obvious to her now what had really been going on.

I suddenly realized that I was making too many assumptions here. These were a bunch of clueless exos. They wouldn’t have the faintest idea about team selection, or how important it was to be on team 1 or 2, or at worst team 3 or 4. If you got dumped with the dregs in team 5 or 6, then you were doomed to spend most of your dig site time sitting and watching the action rather than taking part in it.

Playdon started explaining the drag net phase to the class. Up until now, we’d been using heavy lift beams focused tightly and locked on a tag point to shift a single heavy object at a time. Now it was time to fan out the heavy lift beams, and drag them across the area to clear away the smaller rubble.

I went across to the tag support sled, which is where a tag leader is expected to be when not working the site, and watched the drag net in operation. Dust clouds swirled in the glow of the heavy lift beams, as the armies of tiny rubble bounced their way over to join the heap of rocks that the heavy lifts had dumped earlier. Most of the rubble was behaving itself, though the odd larger lump was bouncing around a little unpredictably. There are always a few awkward rocks that are too small to bother tagging, but are on the large size for the drag net.

‘Am I doing the right thing?’ asked Fian, nervously.

‘Fine,’ I said. ‘I even quit itching after a bit.’

‘What?’ he asked.

I didn’t have time to explain tag point itch, since they were ready for me to start tagging again. I headed back out, celebrating the fact that Playdon hadn’t taken advantage of my time out of the danger area to replace me and try someone else tag leading. I couldn’t underestimate the fact that he knew I was an ape, but surely I was safe as tag leader for at least team 2 or 3.

We made steady progress down through two more layers of rocks, and were nearly at the level of the possible stasis box. I was just tagging a large rock, or chunk of concraz if you’re pedantic about these things, when the sensor alarm shrieked. Playdon or Dalmora had hit the panic button.

I instinctively reached for my hover belt controls, but I was already shooting up in the air on the end of the lifeline beam, and swinging across towards the clearway. Something exploded back where I’d been working, sending huge rocks flying across my dig site, but I was already safely out of their reach, hanging high in the air above the tag support sled.

I hung there for a few seconds, before being gently lowered to the clearway next to the tag support sled. ‘Thanks for the save,’ I said, politely.

‘What the chaos was that?’ Fian’s stunned voice asked on the team circuit.

‘Probably a home power storage unit cracking open as the rubble shifted on it,’ said Playdon. ‘The ruins are full of them, but most have bled out safely over the years. You get the odd one that’s still dangerous, so if the sensors show an electrical spike building up you hit the panic button first and ask questions later. We’ll do some more scans before continuing.’

That meant a break of at least five minutes. I stretched out on the bench at the back of the tag support sled, as is tag leader’s privilege, and relaxed.
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