Water Fall: High Voltage

Six Weeks, Four Days before the Michigan Avenue Proclamation

Circuit

“The obsession some people have with human flight mystifies me.”

“Circuit.” Hangman’s voice came distant and a little scratchy over the modified Bluetooth headset I was wearing. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of heights.”

“Try something for me. Ask ten people at random what superpower they’d want to have and at least half of them will tell you flight.” I looked down the side of the stone outcropping I was standing on and down into a shallow gorge carved by a creek that only existed during rainstorms. “I think people assume it’s freeing to be able to fly. Do you think it ever occurs to them that flight is little more than a constant, life or death battle against gravity? One wrong move and you’re just a mark on the pavement.”

“Much like the rest of life.”

“True. And to be fair, they never think of life in those terms, either. Yet more proof that the average American suffers some kind of brain damage at some point in their life, a troubling trend that I’ll assign someone to study as soon as I’ve achieved unquestioned authority.” I ignored the muffled snort from Hangman and backed up from the edge of the ridge a few steps. “Regardless, I suppose we have no choice this time around. Are all the connections ready to go?”

There was a moment of silence, then, “Everything looks green. Tell me, how were you planning to test all this by yourself?”

“I was actually planning to bring Davis along. This whole system is his baby and he’s been dying to find a practical testing ground for it.” I glanced towards the east, where the van Hangman was in had been parked. She couldn’t see me from there, of course, but some instincts are hard to suppress. “But since you volunteered I kept him at the Chainfall site. He’s not happy about it, but it’s a more efficient use of personnel.”

“You keep mentioning the Chainfall site…”

“Yes, I do.” I left it at that. “Review. How long do we have set aside for this test?”

“Twenty minutes, maximum, so that no one will notice the current drain.” There was a moment’s pause. “Twelve would be optimum, allowing for the most possible testing with the least chance of detection.”

“Excellent.” I took a deep breath and readied myself for the jump. “Activate the maglev system, please.”

“Maglev is active.”

As Hangman said it I felt the harness I wore tighten slightly and it suddenly felt like I was about forty pounds lighter. I pushed slightly against the electromagnets in my harness and the power cranked up. My feet bobbed off the ground a half inch and I grimaced. “We have buoyancy. How do things look?”

“Eighty percent green,” Hangman replied. “Some circuits in the yellow, two leaning towards orange. At what point am I supposed to become worried, again?”

“Let me know when we’re in the orange, and where,” I replied. “Red means we’re borderline failing, and I want to avoid those spots until I can overhaul it.”

“We’re orange at relays 12 and 27. You’re good everywhere else.”

I quickly ran through where the bad connections were in my head and plotted out a route that would avoid them. Then I grit my teeth and dashed towards the ridge. There was a moment of primal fear as I went over the edge and pushed out along the magnetic fields covering the ground below, forcing more power into the electromagnets we’d spent the last few days installing. As the power increased my own harness produced fields of the same polarity. The opposing fields pushed me back upwards and over the ground at a fast run.

It was a lot like what a rubber ball must feel like when it’s thrown along the floor. I grunted in discomfort.

“Something wrong?” Hangman now sounded like she was trying not to laugh.

“Are you watching this somehow?”

“External camera with a telephoto lens,” she said in amusement. “Very graceful, Circuit.”

“Thank you,” I said, trying and failing to keep discomfort out of my voice. “I’m sure this gets easier with practice.”

“I’m sure.”

And it did, although only slowly. I estimated that I’d only be able to get through two thirds of the relays I’d set out before we needed to shut down, even pushing the system as hard as I could I wasn’t getting much above fifteen miles an hour. Davis had assured me that I would get at least thirty, but prototypes are just prototypes. There was time to make tweaks if I could find any that were practical while we were still in the field.

After about five minutes of fiddling I was confident enough to start talking again. “Anything new I need to know about?”

“A few more yellow connections,” Hangman said. Her amusement was gone and she was all business again. “Nothing beyond that.”

I swept over the highway, twenty feet below, keeping an eye out for headlights. Reports of a flying man over the interstate probably wouldn’t be considered credible, but it’s best to be cautious. “I’ve been thinking about what you said.”

A brief pause. “Which part of it?”

“Organization.” I tweaked the potentials a bit and dropped down to below tree level, slowing my speed and practicing fine control. Not pancaking into a tree trunk was great for my concentration. It just wasn’t focused on the subject at hand.  “Never planned to have you on hand, been trying to work you in.”

“That?” She laughed. “Well, of course you wouldn’t have counted on that. I didn’t know about it until a few months ago.”

I threw my hands up and slammed into the side of a birch tree, bending it out of my way with a grunt. Once I was clear and my ears stopped ringing I said, “No?”

“I’d thought about it for a while,” she said. “But I didn’t work out a way to make it happen until a few months ago. And even then, I wasn’t sure it would work. There were a lot of variables. We’re approaching the nine minute mark.”

“Noted.” Trying to maneuver through the trees was feeling more and more like a fools errand so I eliminated permutations of my plan that called on approaching under cover of the forest and pushed my way back above the treetops. “Let’s return to the original subject.”

“Organization,” Hangman said without hesitation.

“Specifically your place in mine,” I said, angling my way back towards the ridge I’d come from by a different route. “My first instinct would be to observe you for a time to see exactly what your strengths are.”

“Except you’ve employed me as an informant for two years, so you should know that very well,” she said. “That means the next logical step would be to give me tasks of increasing sensitivity in an effort to gauge how trustworthy I am.”

“Irrelevant. You already know enough that your trustworthiness is academic.” I bobbed back and forth in an attempt to get a better handle on precision maneuvering but the system still felt very sluggish and the harness dug into uncomfortable places so I gave up on it. Some tweaking was still needed apparently. “You’re here now and I have to deal with you. That’s at least half the reason you’re here in the first place.”

“Friends close and enemies closer?”

“And the unknown closest of all,” I added, powering down my harness and coming to a stop on the top of the ridge. “Power down the system and meet me at relay 27. You might as well learn how to strip down and overhaul these things, in case we need it tomorrow.”

“On my way.”

——–

“Okay, we’re close now. Are you going to get to the point now, or do I have to sit in your lap or something?”

I gave Hangman an irate glare over the connection board we were currently up to our elbows in. “Are you paying any attention to the theory here?”

She gave an exasperated huff. “Yes. Magnetic fields, when they overlap it creates something like an electric circuit which you manipulate to create a maglev effect all quite genius.”

“Also not my invention,” I felt compelled to point out. “This was cooked up by my head engineer-”

“Maximillian Davis, yes.” Hangman crinkled her nose. “What kind of name is Maximillian, anyways? Were his parents touched in the head?”

“Possibly. As I’ve never met them I couldn’t say for sure.” I stopped rummaging around in the innards of the maglev point and leaned on the edge of the machine, which was basically a waist high reinforced plastic box. “Okay, I’ve obviously managed to bore you. Or, at the very least, chosen to focus on the less interesting but more important details.”

Hangman mimicked my pose and smiled slightly. “They’re usually about the same thing.”

“Then let’s talk about you for a minute.”

“That is one of the subjects I find most interesting.” She leaned closer until we were practically nose to nose and whispered, “What do you want to know?”

I felt almost cross-eyed looking at her so I straightened up, putting a little space back between us, and spread my hands. “I plan on expanding my organization soon. And not just a small expansion, either. I’m looking at a large scale adjustment in personnel and scope of operations. I can’t take the same amount of time and care in vetting new additions to my roster as I have in the past.”

Hangman straightened with an annoyed look on her face. “So you want me to come up with some kind of mass background check system for you?”

“Why?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “Do you have a problem with that? Feel it’s beneath your skills?”

“No!” She struggled for a moment with whatever was bothering her, then sighed. “Okay, fine. I’ll get started on a rough protocol tonight straight off. When do you want to see a final draft?”

“By the time we get back from this little job.” She looked a bit taken aback by that so I said, “You were the one who pointed out we’re in the big leagues now. We’re facing Project Sumter, a branch of the U.S. Federal Government. There’s a lot of ground to make up if we’re going to compete.”

“And you plan to do this through strength of numbers?” She shook her head. “I have to confess, Circuit, I am a little surprised. And disappointed.”

“The numbers are necessary, but not the key,” I said in a soothing tone. “Another key aspect of this gambit is information security, so I’m afraid I can’t say much more than that.”

She shrugged and leaned back over the open top of the maglev relay. “I have to admit, I knew it wasn’t all glamour and high adventure but this isn’t exactly what I expected.”

I laughed. “The mundanely of large scale data mining doesn’t appeal to you?”

“No. Well, yes, but not what I was talking about, exactly.” She looked back up from the connections we’d been testing for the last ten minutes. “It’s just… you do so much of your own legwork. Carting these gizmos around, positioning them yourself, leeching electricity off obscure public grids…”

“It’s more like a shoestring budget, basement office operation, isn’t it?” I asked ruefully.

She wrinkled her nose. “Not exactly what I was going to say, but…”

“You’re not wrong.” I went back to testing my share of the connections. “But when you joined up you told me I needed you because you were a true believer, not someone like Simeon or Heavy, who are just in it because they want a paycheck and maybe, possibly think I’m an alright guy, too. Well, if you really think this is worthwhile the shabby beginnings won’t bother you that much. So are you going to do this or not?”

Hangman sighed. “Right. One crazy gizmo, fully functional, coming up.”

“Maybe that’s part of your problem,” I said with the hint of a smile. “This isn’t just any crazy gizmo. It’s both a lever, and a place to stand.” The smile grew until it was all teeth and malice. “And with them, we shake the world.”

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