The Banshee, Chapter 9

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“The bolts seem to be holding,” said Smiley. “Though I'd like to give it a day to make sure there ain't more shifting.”

“I'm not keen on using that tunnel for rooms,” added Carl. “If there's any more instabilities beyond just the fault…”

“I ain't seen faults do that before, but I ain't an engineer like y'all,” Smiley smiled.

“We're supposed to be expanding down that side, getting more rooms. Are you telling me we can't expand down there?” Batesworth asked.

Smiley looked at Carl. “Not yet. Not until we've done some tests. Could you imagine if we found a fault that loosens the upper half of the arm?” Carl answered. “We'd lose our ability to build the third level.”

Batesworth raised a finger. “That reminds me. When I was yesterday I couldn't help notice that the ramp to the third level ends at a blind wall. Have we not even put a pick into the third level yet?”

“Not there,” said Smiley. “We were gonna start, but the fault's not far from that wall. We didn't want to tunnel there. We had to build a ramp down the south end.”

“Inconvenient,” muttered Batesworth. “How many on the third level are ready?”

“None,” said Carl. “We had to pull everyone for the fault.”

“That's going to cut down on the number of rooms we'll have available,” said Batesworth. “Erik, have we run the numbers on how many rooms we need?”

Erik didn't look at his notes. “We need eighty rooms just to get everyone in there, two hundred for us to be not packing in like we are right now.”

“You have nearly two thousand people in there at any given moment, Carl!” Jo protested. “If they're not digging rooms, what are they doing?!”

“Shoring, mostly,” said Francis. “We don't have jigs so it takes a few people per section.”

Batesworth nodded. “I saw them. They've made quite a bit of progress. I think they would be better suited to installing infrastructure, however. Air and light.”

“There ain't many rooms we can do that,” said Smiley. “Once the shorin's in, we can deal with the lights and air. Otherwise we gotta tear it out. No sense in lights if the ceilin's unstable.”

“We have sixteen rooms roughed and ready,” said Carl. “No wiring or air yet.”

“Those need ventilation or people will suffocate,” said Batesworth. “How soon until we have that?”

“Thirty feet are good to go in now,” said Francis. “But the intake and exhaust are in use for the second level.”

“Can we branch them for the first level?” asked Erik.

“We had this exact conversation two days,” grumbled Jo. “Erik's had the room count for weeks, Rich, and you ask it like we've never thought of it before. We know the fault is a problem but we're not tunneling anywhere else, so there's no more rooms. Frank's team has stopped and started ducting so many times because of priority changes that hardly any of it is done. Based on your own numbers, Carl, we should have had the first and second levels complete.”

“We've been over this exact conversation, too!” shouted Carl.

Jo glared at Carl. “How many people did you see in the fault tunnel, Rich?”

“I didn't count them,” said Batesworth. “There were quite a few, though.”

“And guarded?” added Jo.

“Safety!” Carl retorted. “Or did your friend Kelly not mention how many she's seen because of collapses?”

“¡Díos mio!” Jo rolled her head, praying something would unwind.

“Pretty sure God's not going to help us,” said Francis.

“To Jo's point, though, are we able to move anyone into the first level?” asked Erik.

“Today,” said Carl. “Once the ducting is in. It won't be complete, but there should be enough air.” He looked at Jo. “We'll branch the intake and make sure there's an exhaust.”

Batesworth nodded. “Excellent. Erik, can you—“

“Move the Atrium first,” said Jo. Batesworth looked annoyed. “Yes, Rich, I know you want to move people from Blocks 5 and 6, but those two areas are fine. The Atrium needs to be emptied. We need the metal from the bedframes.”

“Hey, I have an idea,” said Carl, “why doesn't Jo tell us about her progress so we can interrupt her constantly?”

“Carl!” Erik warned. “Enough.” He turned to Batesworth. “We've talked about doing Blocks 5 and 6 before, and we came to the conclusion that taking people from Blocks 7 and 8 was better so we could start stripping the structure for spare parts.” He turned to Carl. “That said, we've also talked a lot about doing this in Atrium, because removing all those people would remove a lot of the weight. Which, as I understand,” he turned to Jo, “is turning into a bigger problem. How's our slippage?”

“Unchanged, today,” said Jo. “But up higher, it's bad.”

“Explain,” said Batesworth.

“We found a couple of mounting points in Block 3 that have given way entirely, more than ten centimeters in two spots. That's probably what's caused the deformation under Block 4,” explained Jo.

“You fixed it,” Carl stated.

“No,” said Jo. “The mount point is gone entirely, the girders can't be put back in. So I took the fallen girder to—“

“You removed a structural girder?!” Francis blurted, surprising himself. “But… you take that out, there's nothing preventing more slippage!”

“Are you out of your mind?” Carl added.

Jo tongued her teeth a moment. “Finished?” she asked, not waiting for a response. “I took the girder to the reservoir to use it as a brace to hold the structure underneath. We need to get the weight down to prevent more slippage.” She sat back in her chair. “Unless, Carl, you want to give me back my team so we can prep the upper levels for a refit,” she looked to Francis, “and you give me priority in your shop so we can recut the girders so they'll fit in the spaces.” She looked to Batesworth. “But we'd only be stopping the top sections of the ARCH from slipping. We're already seeing the middle part slipping independently. We've got a triple layer shit cake, Rich, and no amount of skewering and bolts is going to keep it from falling apart. If we keep the middle sections from sliding downhill, we might last long enough to get out of here.”

“Is that your professional opinion?” asked Carl.

Batesworth held up his hand to Jo's impending response and nodded to Carl. “That's a good idea, Carl. I am the only one here with certification.” He looked to Jo. “You said I hadn't picked up a hammer in two years. Prove to me you know what you're doing. I want you to show me. Everything.”

“How did this happen?” Batesworth yelled over the sound of the wind battering the roof. He pointed at the shattered mount on the rock face at the edge of Block 3. Erik picked at the rock with a screwdriver.

“How many tons is this place, Rich? A couple hundred?” Jo replied.

“What?” Batesworth craned to hear Jo's response.

“How heavy is the ARCH?” Erik called towards Batesworth, not looking away from the rock.

Batesworth shook his head. “I have no idea. Didn't you keep records?”

“Sure,” said Jo. “And they're all useless. All those drawing on the Council walls mean nothing anymore! We don't know how much metal we put into this place, and we've scavenged so much of the original structures that we don't even know where it all is!”

Batesworth looked around at the bare bones of the space. “I feel like I've never seen this before.”

“You haven't!” said Jo. “You've barely been out of Block 1. When was the last time you looked at the Atrium?”

“This morning, on my way to break—“

“You saw the space peripherally as you walked through it!” Jo challenged. “I mean look, as in examine, understand! None of us look at it anymore.”

“You do,” said Erik, rejoining Batesworth and Jo. “Every day. You know what's going on in the ARCH. You're the only one who does. It's not fair to suggest the rest of us can, too.” He turned to Batesworth. “That mount was always going to fail. The rock was unstable less than a couple of inches in.” He swept his arm along the rockface. “It's probably like that all the way down the side.”

“Who built this section?” Batesworth demanded.

“It doesn't matter, Rich! What's done is done!” said Jo.

“Every failure tells us something about how to do something better!” said Batesworth.

“Dammit, Rich, the classroom is gone!” Jo shouted. “Stop trying to be the teacher! We need to get people out of there before this gets worse!”

Erik stepped in between them. “Jo, tone it down. Professor, I think Jo's right. The number of emergency repairs has been increasing steadily. There's going to be a serious structural failure.”

“Have you both forgotten what you are?” Bateworth demanded. “Engineers do no talk about imminent failure, they talk about remediation! You've given up, you refuse to adapt! This is not what I've taught you!”

“¡Cómo te atreves!” Jo shrieked. “All I've done for months is adapt! All I've done is keep fighting! All I've done is try to keep this place standing long enough to keep people alive! You seem to think that this is a static building, one of your grand monuments! This is a house of cards, Rich, you know we never built this place to code, we didn't even give the concrete time to cure properly. This place was built on hope and prayers and we're still praying. This place needs more maintenance than we can provide, and we're losing this battle. We will lose this battle, Rich, there is nothing we can do to stop it at this point! All we can do is slow it down.”

Batesworth looked at Jo. Dust fell from a roof girder and handed on his head, scattering to his shoulders. He brushed it off. “Show me how you're slowing it.”

Batesworth shook his head. “Two centimeters.”

“Twenty-two millimeters,” corrected Erik, using a tape measure. “This is more than you reported yesterday. When did that happen?”

“I'm not sure,” said Jo, “but it's increasing constantly. Me and Donner have been getting all this in place for bracing the struts.” Jo waved her hands towards the girders and the drill, its bit still embedded in the reservoir wall. Donner looked up from his seat on the floor bolting together a mounting plate and waved. “If we're lucky, we'll have this put together before something else slips.” Jo looked at Batesworth. “But we need Frank to help, Rich. If he stalls any more, something's going to give and a lot of people will get hurt.”

Batesworth uh-huhed while he looked at the strut that ran up through the ceiling, following the lines of the cross members. “We had more structural support,” he said, his fingers pointing to beams that no longer existed. “Where did all of this go?”

“We took them for the newer blocks,” said Erik. “Everything that wasn't directly holding something up went to building more space.”

“I didn't allow that,” said Batesworth. “I'd never have allowed that.”

“It wasn't up to you,” said Jo.

“Batesworth looked alternately between Erik and Jo. “I have final authority, here. I didn't approve of this. You went against my direct orders and put this facility at risk.”

“Professor, that's not a fair statement—“

“Es estupido,” said Jo. “If we hadn't taken all of these, we wouldn't have Blocks 7 through 10. Three thousand people who wouldn't have a home.”

Batesworth continued. “It's not safe to have this without cross-bracing. No wonder the structure is slipping. There isn't a single building code in the United States that would allow this to have been done.” He turned to Jo. “And you're allowing it. This is a failure of engineering, this is why there are so many people at risk. You're constantly criticizing Carl for being slow to prepare the tunnels, but from what I can see you just want him to hurry up so no-one else will see your shoddy work. If you had your professional certification, I'd be revoking it!”

“¡Hijo de las mil putas!” Jo spat. Several of the growers within earshot gasped. “You're going to stand there and tell us that saving the lives of thousands means less than your precious standards?!”

Batesworth simply answered: “Yes”, then walked towards the stairs.

“That's it. I'm going to kill him,” Jo said as she watched Batesworth leave.

“Let me talk to him, Jo,” said Erik, placing his hand on her shoulder. “Maybe I can … talk some sense into him.”

Jo rested her cheek on his hand. “Oh, cariño, I don't think you could change his mind with a hacksaw and an ice cream scoop.” Donner quietly wretched.

“How much more work do you have here?”

Jo rhymed off her TODO list: “More holes, we need the brackets forged, get the girders in place.” She let go of Erik's hand. “If we're lucky, three days.”

“I'll go talk with Francis, make sure his team is ready,” said Erik, and headed towards the stairs.

“Te amo,” said Jo.

Erik turned back. “Huh?”

“Later,” smiled Jo and returned to the drill.