DIVA: Jetbird and the Kid #4
deucexm at gmail.com
Sat Dec 12 00:24:34 PST 2015
It has been a long time coming... but the DiVerse has once again returned to the front of my brain, then to my fingers, then to a text file, and after some reviewing it can finally make another appearance! I do hope you enjoy it.
Jetbird Leone and the Black Mamba Kid: A DiVerse Alpha Chronicle
by Colin Stokes
Chapter 4: Poison Knows Him
Without ceremony, the Kid dipped his left index finger into the first overflow
tank, withdrawing it and putting it against his lips with a quiet "hmm" as he
analyzed the tarry semiliquid. It wasn't looking very promising.
The filtration system - by design - deposited hazardous waste into the overflow
tanks when its internal mechanisms couldn't cope with the load. Normally, a site
with class 2B contaminants would have either dry tanks or at most a thin layer of
oily sludge at the bottom of the first tank. This one was full to the brim, and
worse, the Kid could taste some disturbingly exotic chemicals in this sample -
definitely /not/ 2B material.
"Is that safe?" Miriam murmured quietly, leaning over to Jetbird. "Just
touching that... stuff... like that?"
"Not for folks like you 'n I, Ms. Miriam," he returned with an easy smile.
"We'd be headed straight to the boneyard if we did. The Kid's a special case,
though - he knows poison, and I reckon poison knows him too, well enough not to
The Lawson lady didn't look entirely reassured by this, but nodded nevertheless
as she interlaced her fingers and maintained her otherwise steely composure,
letting the professionals do their work.
The Kid, for his part, was already thinking three steps ahead as he meticulously
licked his finger clean of the corrosive tar. "I need the trunk, Cor," he began,
turning around with that curious intensity in his gaze, the one that always showed
up when things started to get complicated. "All the jars and cans - /everything/."
Jetbird knew that look when he saw it, and what it meant; it never failed to
bring a bright grin to his face. "With pleasure!" And with an abruptness that
startled Miriam, he turned on his heel and dashed off, his boots echoing on the
stone stairs as he took them two at a time.
"... does he always do that?"
"More or less," the Kid replied, with a certain gravity in his voice as he
continued. "Ma'am, there's things in your tanks here that shouldn't be. Frankly,
they shouldn't be /anywhere/ this side of the frontier."
Miriam's lips set in a hard line. "So you're saying I've got a saboteur after
all, then? I suppose it shouldn't surprise me, but still-"
"I'm afraid it's worse than that," the Kid interrupted, drawing a raised eyebrow
from the Lawson lady. "Anyone with the know-how to get their hands on this stuff
wouldn't give it up just to ruin a little town like yours - er, no offense, ma'am."
She shook her head quickly, brunette locks fanning out for a moment. "None
taken. But it still begs the question of what it's doing here, does it not?"
The Kid nodded, brow furrowed. "I'll have to get Cor's eye on it, but I suspect
you drilled too deep, past the survey level. If that's the case, then not only do
you have less water than you initially thought, but there's a massive vein of
contamination beneath you; this stuff y'got is rich, and I do mean /rich/."
"If that's true..." Miriam began, starting to piece things together. "If
nothing /else/ affected the water, nothing natural anyway, then perhaps I have a
saboteur after all; a water-thief." Her lips curled in disgust.
"It's possible, I reckon," the Kid drawled quietly as he heard the loud thuds of
the chest's wheels hitting the steps. Possible, but unlikely; it'd take a sizable
effort to drain enough water to force the drill deeper, which wouldn't go unnoticed
in a quiet town like this one. Either the water had for some reason diminished
since the original survey, or - even more unsettling - the contamination had
expanded. Or both to some degree, perhaps. He didn't say any of that, though;
better not to mention it without good evidence.
With a final crashing sound that echoed loudly in the stairwell, Jetbird brought
the chest onto the bottom floor and carefully maneuvered it into the filter room.
"Special delivery!" his voice rang out cheerily. "Now then, what's gotten into
you, Kid? Or should I wait to ask without the lady present?"
"Opportunities," the Kid replied simply, walking over to the chest and releasing
the safety locks to let the lid quietly hiss open. "I need a depth reading on the
drill," he continued, retrieving a folding table and placing it next to the
overflow tanks, then selecting several empty canisters and an armful of tubes and
little boxy, fist-sized mechanisms. Setting them on the table's surface, he looked
over at Jetbird with an expression a shade darker than usual. "May be too deep."
"Just like the dwarves, eh?" the Leone returned with that same bright tone as he
stepped over to the filtration system, gently laying one hand on the top of it
while he closed his eyes and mentally blocked out the rest of the noise. It was
running, which made his job easier; merely a question of determining how far down
that lovely vibration went. There wasn't even a need for his sounding hammer.
"... 'Dwarves'?" Miriam inquired, quite confused, as she looked over at the Kid.
The Kid merely shrugged. "Cor says things," he returned, unperturbed, flipping
a switch on one of the mechanisms and causing it to spark to life. The little box-
thing started draining sludge from the overflow tank through a tube connected to it
and into one of the canisters, venting a little cloud of black dust into another
tube that fed into another canister; first stage processing was all set up now.
Down, down, down... Jetbird could feel the pump straining, its groans echoing
off the walls of the shaft where it had drilled through the dirt and rock in its
way. He smiled as the image took shape in the calm darkness of his mind; always
such a wonderful thing it was, to see a mechanical system form. He could see the
glimmering outline of its filtration system under his hand, and the pipe stretching
underneath... the wires carrying the blue lightning to power the drill... a design
that could easily be improved, he mused, as he measured it from top to bottom. If
he just had the tools, and the materials - though so many materials were nowhere to
be found on this world, even though he knew everything about them. Life these days
seemed to be all about finding suitable replacements for what he /really/ wanted...
"Four seventy 'n some change," he finally said, his eyes still closed. "There's a
bit o' noise at the bottom, so it's hard to pinpoint exactly, but no more than four
eighty for sure."
"Four seventy?!" Miriam exclaimed, aghast, her composure slipping for a rare
moment before she recovered. "... I hate to ask this of you, but you're- you're
/quite/ sure of that? No possibility that you're... mistaken, perhaps?" It was
more of a plea than a real question, and they all knew it. Miriam hated herself
for asking it, for sounding weak, but if there was any chance...
Jetbird opened his eyes slowly and shook his head. "'Fraid not, ma'am. The Kid
here can tell you I'm a fair hand when it comes to machinery, and I wouldn't steer
you wrong in any case. That's well below your survey, though, isn't it?"
Miriam nodded, a tiny wrinkle in her forehead belying the stress behind her
otherwise calm expression. "Indeed." Most surveys didn't bother with anything
below three hundred, and though her family's surveyors went to three twenty most of
the time for the sake of completeness, there was simply no way they could have
expected something like this to happen. "You can /do/ something about this, can't
you? You two seem like just the men for this sort of work..."
"We certainly are!" Jetbird returned brightly, lifting his hand from the
filtration system, which continued to grumble and growl like a burdened animal -
which, in a way, it was. "Though I s'pose you might say we /already/ are, given my
colleague's activities," he added, turning to look at the Kid. "How does it go?"
"It goes," the Kid returned in his dry drawl, the processing chain having
branched out to three stages by now. In four separate canisters, four substances
were slowly accumulating: the original black powder of the first stage, then a
slightly more coarse reddish-brown dust, then a fine gray powder, and finally -
after the three processors had completed their extraction - a dark amber liquid
with some particulate matter swirling inside it. Miriam recognized it as the stuff
that /usually/ rested in the ground this far away from the frontier. "Not my best,
but it's passable for the short notice."
He knows poison, Miriam thought to herself in awe, and poison knows him...
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