It was my goal to release this last night but I was working on my 3rd edit deadline for my novel Time’s Tempest and time quite literary got away from me. But here it is, a day late but still well worth the read 🙂
The Platinum Hall Debacle – Lost Chapter 3
prequel to The Chronicles of Xannia: Time’s Tempest by M.J. Moores
The smell of bad B.O. in the morning was not the pick-me-up I needed as I stood under some stranger’s arm waiting for the public transport to find my stop. Holding my breath didn’t work, it only meant a bigger nose-full when I finally gave in to my lungs’ pleading – and breathing through my mouth just irritated my taste buds. No, the only thing that even remotely seemed to work was breathing into the sleeve of my shirt as my arm grew ever more numb gripping the stabilizer above.
The driver announced, “Haver and Jeddy.” I slunk between bodies as I made my way to the front of the public hover transport. Perfumed body spray, hair gel, and shampoo made a second-wave assault on my olfactory senses. It was times likes these I wished I owned my own rider. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the credit on one when the CTF gave Contractors free local travel.
The transport jostled the strips of meat hanging from the standing-room-only bar as it came to a stop. The doors swung open and I jumped to the sidewalk. My feet slipped out from under me and I turned just in time to clutch the handrail on the transport’s door. The driver glared at me.
“Quake.” I said through a locked jaw as the ground beneath me tremored but the transport remained still.
His eyebrows relaxed and he nodded. Several rider alarms sounded in the immediate vicinity but I dared not let go of the handrail to cover my ears. I ground my teeth instead. Finally the earth stopped moving and I regained my footing. The transport whooshed air and hovered away. I shook my hands to loosen the muscles after gripping the bar so tight and walked over to the vacant lot where my new job waited.
The building that used to stand between the two reflective modern complexes, currently blocking the rise of the Alpha sun, had been one of the few remaining spiritual centres from before the time of the quakes. Last month’s scale-topper undermined the wood and rock foundation dedicated to the old sun guardians Zola, Zita, and Zerameteth. The Kronik was supporting a fundraiser for the centre to help them rebuild, so they were holding a concert at the renowned mobile Platinum Hall outdoor stage.
A brisk wind tickled the hairs at the nape of my neck as I crossed the street to the makeshift site office. The bulk of my black hair was braided and wrapped around the crown of my head under my CTF cap. The small mobile trailer managed to stay upright during the quake due to a jack at the nose and a set of portable stairs at the side under the door.
Being a mild winter this year I wore my black, long-sleeve work shirt and matching pants. There was no doubt in my mind that this would be a dirty job today. I jogged up the dust laden steps and knocked on the office door. With a glance, I noticed a dozen other workers taking spotlights and speakers from the backs of two industrial-sized cube-riders with wheels. Must be too heavy a load for hover models.
My eyes climbed the four massive lighting support towers at the back of lot. The safety rigging clanged against the bars at the base of each tower. The Hall was outdated technology but the biggest mobile stage to be had. The fact that the Kronik used it thirty years ago to address the masses gave it unheard of prestige.
“Enter.” A voice called from the other side of the door.
I turned the knob and walked in. A large man of Metek decent with dark green skin and gold s-shaped coliths sat behind a small desk surrounded by four state-of-the-art portable view monitors and multiple desktop projection relays. What looked like a 3D schematic of Platinum Hall hovered just above the centre of the desk. Behind me, held aloft only by the jack supporting the narrowed end of the trailer, were two large shelves of field manuals and boxes of small parts.
“Who ’r you?” he didn’t even look up. The badge on his grease-smeared navy shirt read L. Keverit, Site Manager.
“Your Contractor from the CTF.”
He raised his eyes and scowled, “I don’t need uur help. Get ’em to sen’ me some’n else.”
At first I thought he was racist against Matins with the way he said ‘your,’ but as his eyes travelled up and down my frame I realized he meant my gender. I slid up the sleeves of my shirt to expose my biceps and leaned on the front of his desk to make them bulge. That usually set any new employers to rights.
“The CTF didn’t send me, I accepted the job posted. I’m fully capab-”
“I don need some kid runnin’ ‘round ’ere half-cocked and full o’ ’erself messin’ up my sched’le. Beken use’ly comes. Send ’im.”
Okay, maybe not my gender – my age. “Beken’s on Assignment. If you wanted him, you should have requested him. As it is,” I stood up and pushed my sleeves back down my arms, “You’ve hired me by default and there are no trade-ins.”
Keverit pushed his chair back and stood up. His head nearly touched the ceiling. I knew what he was going to say so I spoke first. “And you can’t fire me without due cause. Your Contract is set to Automatic Agreement.” He must have previously gone in to the CTF and shaken hands with Niless, the Facility’s Assignment Liaison. An AA was a convenience offered to respected repeat posters.
I’ve a Hall to finish by 2nd sun-down. Ur bein’ ’ere’s not ’elpin’ matters any. Gid out thar n’ make urself useful.” I turned to leave. “And don’ be touchin’ no spotlights. I don’ ’ave time to be fixin’ stupid mistakes.”
It took every ounce of willpower for me to walk out that door and not slam it behind me. The after quake rumbled through, causing the safety rigging to clang against the towers like a fire alarm. It was a brief aftershock so I went over to silence the gear. I inhaled deeply through my nose and released the bitter, dusty air slowly out of my mouth. I didn’t dare talk to anyone on crew until I calmed down. I learned quickly on Level 1 at the Facility that patience was not one of my virtues, but I did learn how to get past my gut reactions if I intended to succeed. Time, distance, and breath control. That and a firm reminder from the Committee last month. I shook my head to wipe away the memory.
By mid-morning I’d raised the sound tent on my own, prepped nearly a hundred power cables from the central generator to each of the four structural tower legs, organized the jumble of lights and speakers taken from the rigs, and acted as an additional safety spotter from below. But I was bored, and there were no more menial tasks to complete. In fact, I only got in the way of the other spotters as enough of them had been hired. I was hired to do the work of two lighting technicians.
I watched the rest of the crew work but they were clearly behind schedule. The Boss Man hadn’t so much as sniffed the air outside his office. Instead he chose to direct the action via his walkie to the lead technician. His order for me not to touch the lights was in direct violation to the contract. He might not like the fact that I was young and a woman, but I was Facility trained. No one questioned the abilities of a Contractor.
I walked over to the empty safety gear resting on the edge of a staging tarp. In full view of everyone I stepped into the four-point harness. I let the buckles and clasps clank together as loudly as they wanted to before making the proper connections and reefing on the tension straps, to make it small enough to fit my body.
No one had started the fourth tower yet, so I scanned the back plates of each spotlight and found the first one in the series for the upper support arm between towers three and four.
I passed several crewmen on my way over to the fourth but no one said anything or looked at me strangely. I nodded to one of the available spotters and latched a light, the size of my torso and weight of my pet lynx, on the metal hook at the small of my back. The heavy support waistband remained rigid and held the extra weight. I slipped on my fingerless gloves, clipped my harness to the rigging line and climbed.
About damn well time, too. This is what I signed up for. This is what I’m meant to do. Scaling the tower took me half the time it did for everyone else. At the top where the arms connected I swung under the cross-bracing, instead of climbing over like the others. The weight of the spotlight pulled at my back and abdomen, but I didn’t have to worry about it banging the metal beams if I crawled over. I noticed during my organization of the inventory that every light had its place and there was a place for every light – these things weren’t mass-produced anymore and backups apparently didn’t exist.
A sensor on the light beeped when I drew parallel with the locator beacon on the rigging above me. Hooking my legs over one of the rungs I hung upside down and reached back to the clip on my waist. In one smooth motion I released the latch and swung it up to hook onto the ring next to the sensor. The beeping stopped. Grabbing the bracing structure above me, I slipped through to the inner grid-work and lay on my stomach inside the arm to properly clamp the light in place.
Heights never bothered me, so the mini-people running around below were just part of another day on the job. I doubled checked the clip and the clamp before dropping to dangle from the bars. Using my hands, I swung back to the tower one rung at a time.
Rather than climb down the three-storey triangular structure, I gripped the round tubing on the outside of the ladder-like frame and slid the whole way instead. Within the next hour, I nearly completed the entire arm by myself. The cool air dried any small beads of sweat that broke out on my forehead and the constant climbing kept me as warm as a summer day.
As the rest of the crew worked on running power cords up to the various lights on each arm and leg of the Platinum Hall’s framework, me and two other guys worked on the fourth arm close to where it connected to the tower. I swung under the crossbeam, hung from the crook of my knees, and reached back. I unhooked the light just when the entire structure decided to vibrate from the ground up.
“Quake!” several guys yelled from below.
My torso bucked as I held onto the spotlight with both hands. The backs of my knees ached with the pounding of the metal, which I gripped as hard as I could. My safety line was pulled taut by my spotter, in case my legs gave out on me. The metal clamp I held sliced into the flesh of my knuckle joints threatening to dislocate my fingers.
* * *
Click the cover image for a free e-copy of the complete Lost Chapter.
M.J. Moores is a high school English teacher turned author, editor and freelance writer. Her love of books stems from being one of the top readers in her class at the age of 7. Her passion for writing ignited at the age of 9 when she learned that both kids and adults enjoyed her adventure stories.
M.J.’s first science fiction novel The Chronicles of Xannia: Time’s Tempest will be launched October 1st, 2014. In anticipation of this achievement she is offering readers one free Lost Chapter a month until its release. The Lost Chapters are glimpses into the world of Time’s Tempest looking at scenarios spoken about but not delved into during the course of the main story.