Chapter 20



            "Engineering and Robotics—especially with microbots doing maintenance—have increased mechanical safety beyond the real need for redundancy. We still build it in. What we haven't been able to do much about is the fragility of bio-systems, and the ability of humans to mess with them. We need multiple redundancy here. We can get that partly with size and species diversity, and party by simply having a number of habitats, strung together. This will also give us a crack at avoiding the other area of which is never considered for redundancy—social systems. Humans are even more likely to destroy their own habitat than engineering disasters are."


Transcript of Dr. W. Andrea Asiago's address to the new-formed Interstellar Colonization and Exploration society, considered by many to be the germinal point of the Slowtrain Project. From: A CONCISE HISTORY OF HUMAN SPACE COLONIZATION. P233, Chipattari, H, and Shah, G.D. (Ed)




            Howard was relieved to be discharged from the hospital, even if Lani still had that Jersey bull look in her eye. "The local elevator banks are out. I'd forgotten that," she said, as they came to the closed doors a few yards from the hospital gates. "We'll have to take a taxi down to the public transport-system and those cost…"

            "I want to walk," he said, firmly. "I would like to walk, and I feel in need of it."

            "But you've just been to the hospital," protested Lani.

            "My legs were in no way injured," he said with a smile. He had enough on his conscience without impoverishing her further. Besides, the pill they'd given him had left him feeling as if he was on top of Eden. A bit muzzy headed, but fine.

            She sighed. "We don't have a lot of choice, anyway. There isn't a vehicle in sight. They're all driving people up at this time of day, with the elevators out. This place is falling apart."

            "At least we are walking down," he soothed.


            Lani spent the walk feeling guilty. She'd only agreed to do it because the bank balance was perilously low. As a single young woman she'd lived pretty fast and freely. It was now becoming rapidly apparent that she'd spent more on beer and boys than was wise. At least he'd taken her arm for the walk. They stopped to rest at the next elevator station. A dispirited-looking crew were emerging from a door next to the shaft. She and Howard got several wolf-whistles. Well, Howard did. Still, it made a girl walk tall. "You watch it. He's mine," she said.

            One of the repair-crew raised an eyebrow. "I did watch it! It's gruesome. And if you play with it it'll grew some more. Hello, Lani. Big piece of beefcake you got yourself."

            Lani recognized the blond under the helmet… funny how it changed someone's face. "Hello, Dee. So this is where you got to after school?"

            The woman came and flopped down on the bench next to them. "It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. And the pay's good even if it doesn't have the glamour of the force."

            "Besides you never could fight your way out of a brown paper bag," said Lani, grinning. "Hey, leave him alone. He's mine. Besides he doesn't like it, see."

            "He's yours? Entirely? Not just trial? Wow! Bid sealed, the lot?"

            Lani nodded proudly. "Paid for, too. I'm settling down."

            "I'm still playing the field," said Dee with a chuckle. "I heard about this one. I heard that the other one has a tentacle instead. They've got him up at the Vats and they're charging the girls a dollar a look, or ten a time. I reckon you could get twenty…"

            "Stop it. You're making him cringe and he's all mine. You haven't gotten any less coarse, have you, Dee? You've got a mind like a sewer."

            The repair-crew worker shook her head, cheerfully. "Nope, just as coarse. Not much else to think about on the job except fried electronics, and sex is more fun."

            "So what's up with the elevators-bank?" asked Lani, more to stop Howard actually getting up and running away than out of any real interest.

            The blond repair-worker shrugged. "Search me. It's none of the electronics modules. We've tried pulling and replacing all of them in case it was something that wasn't showing up on the tell-tales. We had a job getting out the people who were stuck, I'll tell you. Took about four hours, and the car stinks like hell. It stuck just here, where the control module is too, so we have to work with the pong in the background. At least all the others came to a stop at the nearest floor."

            "Could we have a look?" asked Howard, for once pressing against Lani, as a defense, presumably to the predatory Dee. Well, you could understand that.

            "Sure," said Dee, getting up. "Lovely bouquet in there, mind you. I'll just take him in there for a little while, Lani. You have a nice rest."

            You couldn't help laughing at Dee. She hadn't changed an iota. "Holy Susan. You never give up, do you? Put another hand on him and I'll take it off at the wrist, you maneater."

             "Huh. Just selfish, that's all you are," said Dee, her lips quirking and eyes full of mischief. "Come and have a look."


            Howard's eyes took in the mechanical guts of the elevator with fascination. It was safer than looking at that scarlet woman anyway. His ears were still burning. And now she'd assumed a posture which no decent woman would put herself into, not even in private! His nose told him about other things besides distressed trapped passengers. It told him of hot metal. It reminded him of a bearing which had seized in the corn-mill.

            Surely this couldn't be as simple? The “car,” as she'd called it, ran on rails. The central ratchetted rail in between the rails was obviously what provided movement. It was quite worn, he noticed. He sniffed at each of the wheels… and then realized that his nose wasn't even necessary. There were little pieces of metal—fragments of roller, on the rim of the third wheel.

            He coughed diffidently. "I think you should look at this."

            "I am, big boy," said the lewd woman.

            "I mean at this wheel. The bearing has gone."

            The scarlet woman got up and came across to where he stood. "That stuff is tough, big boy. It's the electronics that doesn't last forever. Oh."

            "Nothing actually lasts forever, except God's love," said Howard stiffly, but she was too busy looking at the wheel in the light of her helmet headlamp to notice, and giggling to herself. She turned around and punched him on the arm. "You could just be right, beefcake! Heh. And we've spent days testing the electronics! I reckon I could just get a bonus out of you two."

            "Well, I think you owe us a ride down in the cargo-elevator, if that's still working," said Lani. "And keep your hands off him, Dee."

            "Tch. He's big enough for both of us, aren't you, big boy?"

            "No!" protested Howard, backing off and nearly falling down an elevator-shaft.

            They got their ride down to the transport system, which took them close to Lani's home. It would appear that no one walked any distance here. If Howard was any judge, they'd have to start soon. Things were plainly beginning to break down. Anything will, eventually. Maybe that was what that scarlet woman had had in mind with his morals.

            When they got home, the part for Lani's scoot awaited them.