The phone in Jo’s pocket beeped and vibrated. She pulled it out and looked at the screen. It read: “13” and “4/7”.
“Oh crap,” she said. “Another roof breech.” She instinctively looked up. “We’re practically underneath it!”
“You’d better go look, then,” said Erik. “We’ll talk about the,” he looked around and lowered his voice, “we’ll talk about the incident later. I’ll be in the office, okay?”
“Okay!” Jo turned to run off to the breach, then stopped and turned back. “Rich isn’t there, Erik.”
“I know,” he said. “There’s probably a dozen people there looking for him.”
“Are you going to tell them what happened?”
“Not yet. I think … we should probably tell Agatha first. Y’know, people’s representative.”
“So you’re … doing Rich’s work?” Jo asked.
Erik shrugged. “Sort of? Make sure things keep moving until we find a new normal. Someone has to be the mediator, right?”
“But you have your own work. You can’t do it all.”
“What else do we do?” he asked.
“We should…,” Jo caught herself, and remembered her situation. “You should elect someone to replace your role on Council. Then you take over as the lead, I guess?” She chewed her lip for a moment. “I assume you’ve already replaced me?”
“Actually, no,” said Erik. “We hadn’t gotten to that yet.” He looked at her eyes. “I suppose you could return…”
Jo shook her head. “No. The tribunal decision needs to stand. We shouldn’t reverse it. It … I … that would suggest that what I did doesn’t matter.”
“Things have changed,” Erik offered.
“The present has changed. The past hasn’t,” Jo smiled grimly. “I’m still at fault. You can imagine Agatha’s objection if you bring me back.”
Erik nodded soberly. “Yeah, maybe you’re right. We’d need elect two more to Council,” he mused, quickly adding: “You’ll stay under me.”
They both looked at each other in mild surprise, both faces slowly evolved to display the same sly grin. “Espero que sí,” Jo finally said. “I’ll see you later!” She turned to leave, stopped, then quickly spun to kiss Erik gently on the cheek. Saying nothing more, she took off to the nearest staircase.
As Jo hit the stairs, she could hear the unmistakeable sound of a breech in progress above. It meant that it was fresh, it hadn’t been barricaded, and it was going to be nasty. She had to fight against a flood of people trying to get away from the imminent hole, fleeing to the lower levels. She dug into one of her other pants pockets and fished out an old pair of swimming googles. She had them on by the time she got to the top.
The wind was whipping around from up one of the hallways, which led towards the canyon wall, where the ARCH’s roof met the rock. She followed the breeze, until she saw the large crack that had formed. There was no-one else there, nor any equipment prepped to work the problem. One of the population must have called it in. Though her goggles were scratched, she could see that one of the clips that held the roof panel in place had cracked, and part of the roof panel had peeled up. It wasn’t a simple patch: the roof panel would have to be removed and replaced with a new one. And in the gale force wind, it was going to be a tough job.
The floor was starting to accumulate sand at a fast pace, the grains being rammed through the gap at a terrific rate. Jo tried to get close to get a sense of how badly the clips were damaged, but she could feel the sand trying to tear her skin free, the pain eliciting a vision of Henry blown off his feet and disappearing into the sandstorm. She backed off and went to go find the portable wall.
The portable wall was usually kept at the east end of Block 4 on the top level, as the wind patterns tended to cause more damage to the eastern side of the ARCH. The portable wall folded into an eight foot by eight foot by four foot block, mounted on a set of four large wheels. This made moving it around easier, as the wall was also quite heavy. She pushed the block down the hallway, back towards the breech in the roof. The hallways on the uppermost levels had long since had their panelling removed, most of it used for repairs in other areas, or burned for cooking heat during a blackout years earlier. The bare metal studs and struts made it easier for Jo to clip in the portable wall’s anchor, preventing it from moving around while she unfolded it.
The wall was erected in stages. First, it was brought across the width of the hallway (and angled in cases where the wall was wider than the hall), which would keep the base in place. Braces were then extended to the floor to keep it from being pushed around. The next level was then lifted up into place, which was locked to the walls, with more braces folded and locked into the first level. This continued until the wall had reached the ceiling. It was never a perfect fit, nor was it meant to be — the wall’s purposes was to protect the supporting team behind the wall, while others were working to seal the hole.
She pulled off her goggles and looked through the plexiglas window. It was easier to see the damage, and it wasn’t good. “Panel, pre-clipped,” she said to herself. Near the walls, the panels were different sizes, owing to the canyon wall’s irregularities. The one that was being slowly torn away looked like it was fairly standard, but it was hard to tell with the deformation. Like all panels, it was numbered: 4-953. “Two people,” she cursed. There was no way to avoid the problem of needing the panel to be held in place while another secured the clips. She reached for her phone, and texted out a reply: “10 4-953 1 2”. The codes were kept simple so people could easily remember them. It wasn’t a hole, it was critical, and she needed a second person.
Jo ran off for the suits. They were kept next to the portable wall when not in use. There were two, both former motorcycle suits, one slightly larger than Jo, and one quite a bit larger than Jo. One had once been black leather, with a dark red helmet; the larger one was all white. The white had been mostly chipped away, the black scraped clean from the shoulders, arms, and hands, as well as the upper back and front. She gathered the suits and helmets, and raced back to the wall.
The next part was the panel. Jo bolted for the workshop, hoping that the page had already been received. With luck, she would only need to grab the prepped panel, return to find someone waiting, and get the new panel in before too much sand had fallen into the gap between the portable wall at the outside edge of the ARCH. In the past, the task of removing the sand had been an annoying burden; now it was a real threat to the ARCH’s safety.
The workshop door was open and work was proceeding inside on … she didn’t bother to look. “Did anyone get my text? I need a roof panel!”
“Yeah!” one of the guys replied, hauling a piece of metal sheeting that had a hole that would match the piece she needed. “Phil just left with it!”
“Ah, nuts!” Jo cursed, spun, and bolted for the stairwell. How did I not see him? She bounded up the stairs two at a time, accidentally landing on someone’s hand along the way. She threw an apology over her shoulder as she rounded the bend and continued up.
Phil had already arrived at the portable wall by the time Jo returned. He was suited up in the white suit. The black suit had somehow figured out how to stand on its own. “Hey, Phil!” called Jo loudly as she approached. She made it within a few paces of him before a hand stopped her. The hand was attached to Carl.
“They’ve got it,” he said curtly. “You’re not needed.”
“What?! This is my assignment, Carl!” shouted Jo over the wind. “I already set the rest of this up. You’re the one who doesn’t need to be here!”
“They’ve got this,” Carl repeated, jabbing his finger into Jo’s shoulder. “You’re not wanted. Is that more clear for you?”
“What the hell has gotten into you?” Jo demanded. “You run the tunnels, I do maintenance. Why the hell do you need to show up here?”
Carl pressed right up against Jo, partly to be heard but mostly in presence. “We don’t trust you.”
“I’ve made almost every roof repair in the last year! I can patch this, all I need is one more person—“
“So you can kill them?”
“To give me a hand keeping the patch in place, ¡cabrón!” she shouted. “The tribunal determined it was an accident!”
“And what about Batesworth? Was he an accident, too?” he shouted back.
Jo mouthed an unheard curse. “He died because someone sabotaged the box!”
“You couldn’t stand that he put you on trial, could you?” Carl sneered. He caught Jo’s inbound hand before it struck him. “So predictable. You have a temper, Jo, and its getting people killed.”
“Fuck you, Carl!” she screamed.
Carl produced a heavy wrench in his other hand. “Leave!”
“Have it your way, Carl!” said Jo, pulling herself away from his grip. “Try not to let the place collapse, okay?”
Jo walked away, her body at a noticeable tilt from both her momentum and the wind. Carl was turning into a real pig. No, that wasn’t fair to pigs, pigs at least had personality. Carl was more like an obstinate donkey … or a llama. Though with Carl, he spat words.
As she started stomping down the stairs, Erik’s conversation returned. We’d need to elect two more to Council. The Council was already stacked in Carl’s favor, with Erik now the outsider. Jo shuddered at the thought of Carl being in charge, of having any more power than he already seemed to possess. How hard Carl had managed to pass Batesworth’s interview? Batesworth had rejected anyone who didn’t work well with the rest of the team. Carl was a late addition to the class, too, and had never really blended well with the others. He’d resented Erik’s seniority as the TA from the first day and had tried to wrest control of the projects at every turn. Batesworth had kept Carl in check for years. With Batesworth gone and Jo off the Council, Carl was a wild animal let loose from its cage.
The lineup outside the Engineer’s Office had no less than twenty people waiting to have their say, get their needs fulfilled, whine about someone they disliked (something Jo was preparing to do), or whatever else it was that people had talked to Bateworth about. Erik sat at his desk, Batesworth’s office left open and vacant. Jo walked over to Batesworth’s chair and sat in it, looking through doorway at Erik. Erik glanced at her and scantly waved. Jo waved back. Then, spying some evil looks from others waiting to talk to Erik, she held up her hands, indicating that she wasn’t trying to skip the line, which of course, she was.
A moment later, the person meeting with Erik — presumably an Engineer — left and Erik stuck his head around the next person. “That was quick,” he remarked. “I think that’s a record, even for you!”
“I didn’t fix it,” she replied. “Bob and Phil are.”
“‘Are’? As in, ‘not fixed yet’?” he asked. “Why aren’t you up there supervising, then?”
“Carl’s supervising,” she replied. “He told me to go away.”
“Carl…?” To the protest of the line, Erik walked over to Jo. He looked back. “Sorry, folks, this is important. We’ve got a roof breech. I’ll only be a moment.” Instead of going into Batesworth’s office, he went right for the Council room, Jo followed and closed the door behind them. “What is Carl doing with a roof repair? He should be getting the tunnels ready!” Erik exclaimed.
“That’s what I said! Then he ordered me to go away.”
Erik looked confused. “You’re the best roof repairer we have. Sending you away is moronic.”
“Stupid is as stupid does…”
“Hey,” cautioned Erik. “Carl might be difficult at times—“
“—but without him in the tunnels, we wouldn’t be as far ahead as we are now.” Jo stared at Erik for several moments. “I know what you’re going to say—“
“Then don’t make me say it. You’re parroting Batesworth. You don’t believe that the tunnels are in good shape and know the delays are all Carl’s doing, so don’t tell me that things are good. The tunnels are Robert’s baby. We owe him, not Carl.”
Erik sat in one of the chairs and tilted his head back. “I’d kill for an aspirin,” he muttered. “You know I have to try play politics here, right?”
“Why the hell are we dealing with politics, Erik? We’re supposed to surviving, not negotiating. Playing to Carl’s ego just helps his ego, nothing else.”
“That’s your opinion,” Erik pointed out.
“Stop doing Batesworth on me, Erik!” Jo shouted. “You’re not Batesworth. He was objective to a fault. We don’t have time for objective!”
“Do you think Carl won’t get the roof fixed?” Erik asked.
“That’s not the point, Erik!” she whined.
“Actually, it is. Why else did you come here?”
Jo eyed Erik. “It almost feels like I don’t know you. I thought you were on my side, here?”
“I’m on everyone’s side, Jo, you know that. I’ve always been the middle guy. You’ve always wanted things your way. You’re usually right, so it’s not that you don’t have your reasons, but you can’t stand there and tell me that you’re the only one who can do it.”
“Well… no,” Jo admitted. “It’s just that…” Jo tried to remember what the point of her argument had been. “It just seems wrong. Why is it all suddenly changing?”
“I won’t argue with you, there. You might as well be the one leading the tunnels, if he’s going to be fixing the roof,” Erik chuckled. Jo humphed. “Look, I can’t tell Carl not to do what he did. So long as the job’s being done well, the only thing wronged here is your pride.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” Jo frowned.
“I know,” said Erik, standing up. “It’s an adjustment period. Once we get settled down in the tunnels, we’ll find a new normal. Until then, let’s just try to keep things calm.” Erik placed his hands on her shoulders again. “Okay?”
“Okay,” Jo mumbled.
“Thanks,” Erik smiled. “How are those girders coming along?”
“One’s in, Donner and I are trying to get the second one installed,” she said.
“Thanks, again,” said Erik. “The sooner that’s done, the safer I’ll feel.”