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Novels Science Fiction The Banshee

The Banshee: Chapter 14

The Engineers in the workshop are speaking of getting shares. So why does no-one else seem to know what they’re talking about?

Jo pounded on the workshop door, each time cringing from her weakened hands hitting the metal. The slot slid open and a pair of eyes peered out.

“¡Hola!” said Jo. “We need some brackets.”

“Uh huh,” said the eyes, which were attached to Bob. “We’re busy.” And the slit slammed shut. 

“Batesworth sent us!” Jo shouted at the door. 

Donner’s face screwed up. “He did? When did he—“ He found his face covered with Jo’s hand. 

The slit opened again. “Brackets for what?” 

“Girder mounts on the reservoir wall, so we can keep the ARCH from sliding,” said Jo. “Francis didn’t tell you?” The slit closed again. Heavily muted voices discussed something, then the locks on the door disengaged. The door opened and Jo stepped through, waving Donner to follow. 

The workshop was busy, two people working at the grinder, one turning with the other sharpening pickaxes. One man was walking in the hamster wheel that powered the bandsaw while another was slowly cutting away at a sheet of metal. The room rumbled with the sound of the smelter. 

“Where’s Francis?” asked Jo.

Bob looked like someone has just asked him to translate into Swahili. “I was told to get more shoring!” He threw his hands up and walked over to a stack of premade shoring sections leaning up against the wall. He heaved one up and headed towards the door. “I dunno, ask Phil!” 

“Ask Phil what?” asked Phil, appearing like a gopher from the shelving. 

“Whatcha need?” Phil asked, coming around. 

“Five flat shackles for mounting girders, eight shackle pins, and eight one-inch concrete bolts,” said Jo. “Preferably steel.” 

Phil whistled. “That’s a lot, Jo. We might have a flat shackle for girders, but if you want concrete bolts, you’re talking a plate on a wall?” Jo nodded. “We’ll have to cast that. I’m not even sure we have enough scrap to melt.” 

“We do,” said Francis, exiting the storeroom. He drew the heavy bolt and locked it into place. “Barely, but I’m pretty sure we’ve got the stock. You got specs?” 

“I can draw them out,” said Jo. “Three of the brackets will need to be dual, and three will be mounted to the support struts.” 

“Oof,” Phil blew. “I think we might have the bolts, we had to make a bunch for Smiley. But those dual brackets will be beasts, that’s going to take a couple of days, at least. Building the negatives will be hard.” 

“I can help with the wax model,” offered Jo. “Anything to get us casting quickly. We don’t have a lot of time.” 

“We can’t get you casting for a few days,” said Francis, shaking his head. “You heard Rich, he wants people moved in those tunnels. We’re turning out the shielding as fast as we can.” 

“C’mon, Frank, we need those brackets!” Jo protested. “Rich said this was a priority, too. We have to do something before the slip goes too far and the girders won’t fit!” 

“I told you, the smelter’s in use!” he shot back angrily. Jo looked at the smelter, which although hot, looked decidedly unused.

Jo bit her tongue. “How long until we can get something?” 

“A few days,” Francis replied, turning away. “I’ll let you know as soon as we can deal with it.” 

“Frank, we don’t have the time!” Jo argued. “The slip is moving nearly two centimeters a week. At that pace, we have only a couple of days—”

“Go away, Jo!” Francis ordered. “We’ll move as quickly as we can, but I can’t do anything for you now!” 

“Now you listen to me!” Jo marched after Francis. “I have a priority need, here!”

Francis wheeled around. “Why is this about you, huh? What about ‘we’? What do you think we’re doing here?” 

“All I do is ‘we’, Frank!” Jo spat, walking up to her opponent. “I make sure things get fixed so we have a roof over our heads! And I can’t do that if you block the things I need! No brackets, and the struts could give way. How many thousands do you want hurt, Frank?”  

Francis shoved her hard, sending her onto the floor just in front of the smelter. “I said leave!” The smelter seemed to roar in agreement. 

Donner raced to help Jo, she waved him off and propped herself up. “What’s up, Frank?” she asked, rubbing the shoulder she’d landed on. “You used to be a part of this team, always helpful. I could rely on you for pretty much any weird thing, no matter how small. Something’s changed. ¿Que esta pasando, amigo?” 

“Nothing. I have work to do,” he said, not turning around. “And my name is Francis!”

“Sure, Frank,” Jo muttered. She flipped up onto her knees to stand, and then spied a small circle of dull yellowy metal on the floor. She picked at it, breaking it loose. It had a bare lustre, though shone when she scratched it with her thumbnail. “What’s this?” 

“What’s what?” Francis asked testily.

“This isn’t aluminum, or steel,” she held it out. 

Francis looked at the blob in Jo’s hand, and looked a good shade whiter than before, a notable effect since no-one had stood in the sun for years. He snatched the small pebble of metal away. “It’s nothing. Just some brass from brazing solder. Now will you let us get back to work? Take some wax,” he threw his arm towards some dark orange blobs that sat on a shelf, “make your shackle models, and we’ll cast them as soon as possible. I’ll … I’ll make it a priority.” 

“Scout’s honor?” Jo snarked as Francis walked away. She went over to the shelf with the dark orangey wax. She picked up three, and one to Donner. “Grab that patternmaker’s ruler?” 

“The what?” Donner followed Jo’s finger and failed to find her target. 

“See that ruler that has two scales?” Donner picked up the indicated tool. “Yeah, that. C’mon, kid, we have some carving to do.” They walked to the door as Phil came in behind them. 

“Seriously, Phil, what’s going on with Francis?” asked Jo.

“Well, y’know,” said Phil. 

“No, Phil, I don’t know,” Jo replied. 

Phil looked around and leaned in. “It’s something about how the shares are being given out. I think Carl told Francis they’re keeping more and that’s got a few people real upset.” 

Jo blinked absently. “Shares? Shares in what?” 

Phil blinked flounderly. “Y’know, uh, the tunnels — the rooms! — the shares in the spaces, the space we get, y’know, our rooms.” 

“Really?” Jo asked. “Francis hasn’t mentioned that. Or Carl.” 

“Well—“

“Or Professor Batesworth.” 

Phil stammered silently. 

Jo nodded. “I’ll make sure to ask them at the next Council meeting. Thanks for the info, Phil.” She and Donner walked out the door, which was quickly closed and latched behind them. 

“What was that about?” Donner asked when they were well beyond hearing. 

“Un buen pregunta. Even with what Dawn said earlier, Frank’s in a weird mood,” said Jo. “And if that was brass, I’m the Queen of Spain.” 

“What was it?” asked Donner. 

“I’m not sure. I know what a drop of brass brazing looks like, and that wasn’t brass.” 

“So … what do we do?” asked Donner. 

“About Frank? We are doing nothing. Right now, I need you to start carving out the models for the shackles. You know what they need to look like,” said Jo. 

“What if I make a mistake?” asked Donner. 

Jo cast Donner a sideways glance. “It’s wax,” she said. “We just melt it and carve it again.” 

“Oh, right,” said Donner, feeling a little foolish and a lot relieved. “What are you going to be doing, then?” 

“I need to have a chat with Professor Batesworth. I have a feeling I’m out of the loop on something.”


Jo knocked on Batesworth’s door frame. “Rich? Got a minute?” 

Batesworth was hunkered over his desk, looking at something Jo couldn’t see. He opened a drawer, tucked whatever it was away, closed the drawer, then turned to look at Jo.

Jo tucked her hands in front of her. “Reminiscing?” 

“A little,” Batesworth admitted. “Are you here to complain about Carl? Because you can go right back out that door, I don’t want to hear it.” 

Jo restrained a bristle. “I don’t think so?” 

Batesworth looked as if he were leaning back in his rigid chair. He folded his arms. “If it’s not Carl, then it’s something collapsing.” 

“We’re working on bracket moulds for casting now. We should have something mounted soon, that should help keep things in place.” 

“Well, you’ve got your act together,” said Batesworth, adding “for once” just enough under this breath that Jo could hear. “So this is a social call?” There were never social calls in the ARCH. 

Jo breathed through the comment. “I was wondering if you could tell me what my share is? No-one else has told me.” 

Batesworth’s eyebrows knitted. “Share? You mean like a stock market share?” 

Jo shook her head. “I don’t know. I was talking with the guys in the workshop while we were getting our pattern blanks, and they mentioned that Francis and Carl are changing the shares and people were getting upset.” 

Batesworth’s eyebrows knitted further, a deep groove forming between them. “So this is about Carl…”

“Not … exactly. Not why I’m here, anyway. I just want to know what the shares are about. They said it was about rooms? I didn’t think we were allocating personal spaces like we did before.” 

Batesworth shook his head. “I swear you kids keep finding ways to confuse me more every day.” 

“I’m 31, Rich, I’m not a kid anymore.”

“None of you have real-world experience beyond this project—“

“This is not a project anymore, Rich! It hasn’t been for a decade! You keep saying that we haven’t changed, but you’re just as much stuck in the past! We all are! All we’re doing in here is getting older.” 

“Fair point,” Batesworth nodded. “Running around an endless loop certainly does wear on one’s perspective after a while.” They looked at each other a moment before Batesworth’s memory triggered. “Shares.” 

“Yes.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” 

“So we’re not reserving spaces for Engineers?” 

“We’ve never discussed it in Council, nor has Carl ever mentioned it to me at any time.” Batesworth leaned around Jo. “Erik?” 

“He’s out.” 

“Ask Erik, maybe it’s something that Carl’s brought up with him and it hasn’t come to Council yet.” 

“I doubt that, Erik tends to bring things like this to Council. He doesn’t like it when one of us makes plans without involving the rest,” said Jo. “And it sounds like Carl and Francis have been discussing this quite a bit, it’s got Francis on edge.” 

“You’re being nice,” said Batesworth. “You keep calling him ‘Francis’.” 

“You had a point, Professor, I am being una joda.”  

“I’ll assume that means you’re apologizing for your comments earlier.” 

It was Jo’s turn to pause. “No. I won’t.” 

“The Council made a decision—“ 

“That doesn’t mean the decision was right!”

“It’s not your place to challenge it, Ms. De Leon!” Batesworth commanded. “Judgement was passed by a tribunal. Do you or do you not recognize the validity?” 

“Of the tribunal or the trial?” 

“They are one in the same.” 

“No they aren’t! One is a group of people and one is a process carried out by that group of people!” 

“You can’t have the latter without the former, and there’s no point in having the former if you have no intention of the latter.” 

“Oh, this is pointless!” said Jo. She turned to leave. “¿Por qué vine aquí?” 

“You were asking about ‘shares’, whatever those were.” Batesworth saw the look on Jo’s face. “Something wrong?” 

“You know Spanish? You know what I just said?” 

“Vivo aquí diez años. ¿Crees que no aprendo un poco de español?”

Jo smiled. “Cercano, pero no del todo.” 

“I’m sorry?” Batesworth asked. 

“No, I am, Rich. I didn’t give you credit for trying. Your Spanish might not be fluent, but that’s miles better than just about every other gringo.” She added with a nod: “Gracias.”

“De nada,” smiled Batesworth. “Remind me about the shares tomorrow in the Council meeting. Maybe Carl will be able to shed some light on it.” 

“Will do.” Jo again turned to leave. 

“How are the repairs coming?” Batesworth asked. 

“Like I said, me and Donner are carving out the shackles for the walls. Even if we finish quickly, we won’t have them before tomorrow.” 

“Donner?” 

“Remember the kid by the reservoir the other day?” 

“Ah, your help,” nodded Batesworth. “Then I won’t keep you. Hopefully you get those shackles quickly and we can stabilize the slide. Which also reminds me…” 

“Yeah?” 

“Don’t ever call me a ‘hijo de las mil putas’ ever again.”