Atlantic Bridge – 4 –
Oct 3rd 2062 Atlantic Ocean “The Necklace Islands”
THE factory ship Archangel bucked and heaved against the heavy swell that battered her bulkheads. Even with its state of the art computer adjusted gyroscope, it was having trouble keeping up with the ocean’s moods. Marius Cassel was having an equally hard time keeping his dinner down, but his overriding thought was one of anticipation as he neared Plaza 24, an enormous concrete and steel structure that thrust out of the boiling sea like a giant fist. Plaza 24 was special. It was the intended bridging point of the greatest gap in the island chain. Without this, the span between the two nearest islands, Plazas 23 and 25, was almost 4 miles. Even with the latest Polyflex technology, this was a span too far. 2 miles was about the limit without supports, which was still pretty incredible. Underwater survey teams had finally found a point on the ridge formed by the cataclysm that would serve to begin building a platform that could link the two. It had been a Herculean effort, painstakingly raising a safe platform in the dangerous waters, the ridge being over 500 meters down at this point. Cassel was here to see how things were moving along. As Archangel manoeuvred alongside, it became clear just how severe the swell was as the hull of the factory ship scraped up and down the landing pontoon, sometimes by as much as 30ft. A figure covered from head to toe in oilskins and harnessed to the railing threw a line down. Archangel’s bosun, accompanying Marius Cassel out on deck, grabbed the rope and offered it to him.
“Tie this round your waist and wait until we draw level again, and then jump aboard. Time it right or you’ll lose a leg, no second chances,” Added the bosun, grinning.
Cassel smiled lamely back and waited for the next mighty surge of the waters. The ship rose on the swell incredibly fast and before he knew it, he’d jumped aboard the pontoon and the oilskin clad figure was unhitching the rope and swiftly fitting another safety harness to him. Within moments he was clipping and unclipping his way across the lower deck of Plaza 24 to a small hatchway in the side of the central column, as the waves licked hungrily below them, and the factory ship pulled clear back out into the open waters. Once inside with the hatch secured, the din of the ocean decreased considerably. Marius began peeling off his waterproofs , and was somewhat taken aback to see the wearer of the oilskins revealed as a blonde, green-eyed woman of around thirty, wearing blue jeans and a thick maritime sweater.
“Annie Shaw, Oceanographer, and all-round dogsbody” she announced grinning.
“Ah, Miss Shaw!” replied Cassel, shaking her proffered hand. “I knew you’d been seconded to 24, but I didn’t expect to be fished out of the Atlantic by you personally!” he laughed.
“You’d be surprised what I have to do round here,” she said dryly, “I’ve even been known to make the coffee, but it was so bad there was very nearly a mutiny!”
He caught her looking him up and down. “What?” he asked.
“I think I’d better get you one of these,” she said, indicating her sweater, “or the crew are really going to take the piss out of that jacket and tie. With that she turned on her heels and indicated that he should follow her up the metal stairway to the next level.
“It’s Versace,” he grumbled to himself.
Dr. Annie Shaw’s passion was the ocean floor, and she was happiest exploring it up close and personal. The job ran in the family, both her father and grandfather before her had been outstanding in the field of ocean research. When the chance to work on the Unity Project (as it had become known) came along, she nearly bit their hand off. Fiercely protective of her private life, she simply lived for the job. Her last known boyfriend, a marine engineer had died in a diving accident on a project they were both working on in 2059. She’d never married, and she’d never dated since. She was fun to work with and cheerful around her colleagues but she nevertheless made it clear that there was a line over which it was not a good idea to cross. Everybody got the message.
They emerged into a rather more pleasantly appointed conference area, a group of workers urgently discussing some aspect of the project sat together in a huddle. The whole place had a “temporary” feel about, which was normal, as this area would be given over to maintenance once the Plazas were operational. A large pot of coffee was bubbling way in the kitchen area. “Want some?” Annie called over her shoulder.
“Did you make it?”
“Not guilty!” she grinned.
“Two sugars, please” Marius replied.
She plonked an industrial size mug down in front of him, motioning for him to sit, and then she pulled a sweater identical to her own from a nearby locker.
“Thanks” he said, with a wry smile, shedding his jacket and loosening his tie. “It’s just that I’m so used to dressing for meetings and the like.”
“Mr. Cassel,” Annie began..
“Okay, Marius, we are stuck on a lump of concrete, somehow attached to another hunk of rock, 1,000 miles out in the Atlantic. Exactly where does your tie fit into the “Extreme Weather Clothing” remit?”
“Tourniquet in case of massive bleeding?” he offered hopefully.
Several thousand miles away, Bert Dwyer was being waved through security at Buildcorp, Inc., and was already on the phone to its boss Cal Mooney. Dwyer’s initial hostility had gradually melted away and was rapidly being replaced by a schoolboy’s enthusiasm for a problem that needed solving. He had to admit it, sharing cutting edge ideas with a like-minded Cal Mooney gave him a frisson of excitement he’d not felt since his early days.
“Cal, I’ve brought along a polyflex sample, can we rig a test bench where we can try and coat it with your lacquer?”
“Done and waiting Bert., park in Blue Area and follow the signs to RDL 1, Floor 1,” Replied Mooney.
Dwyer commanded his Earset to end call, and pulled up his Bentley Six Wheeler neatly in a parking bay.
Mooney was at the lab door to meet him, eager as always.
“Bert, a pleasure, an absolute pleasure to get you down here at last!”
“Yeah, yeah, share and share alike, Mooney, lets see the colour of your money,“ answered Dwyer, but he couldn’t hide his enthusiasm.
The two men disappeared into the confines of the lab, united in the pursuit of a solution.
Plaza 24 Atlantic Ocean
“So, Miss Shaw, can I get a progress report?” queried Cassel.
“Most people opt for a donut with their coffee,” she teased, adding “and it’s Annie, by the way” before sitting opposite him and bringing him up to speed.
“We have forty of the retaining pinions on the West approach sunk, sealed and completed and forty-three on the Eastern approach, ditto. A total of seventeen to go, we’re a little behind schedule, but Plaza 24’s got to take a lot more stress than any of the other platforms or islands. The spans arcing out from this point are each nearly two miles long! I still can’t get my head round how that works.”
“What’s your clearance on the project, Annie?” asked Cassel.
“Level 1, UK/US.”
“In that case, you can know. The secret of its structural integrity lies at molecular level. It’s called Polyflex for a reason. In its initial form, Polyflex is a highly resilient substance, but is prone to the same stresses and strains that affect Carbon Fibre, for example. By bombarding it with a low frequency harmonic pulse, the molecules that comprise it can be made to “flex”, that is, stretch and interlock with each other in such a way, that their rigidity and structural integrity is uncompromised. Laboratory models have indicated that, in theory, a span of over three miles, with no intervening supports, is achievable, before the molecular realignment becomes unstable.
We’re going with a two mile span as a safe margin of error.”
Annie was looking at him eyes wide. “That’s just incredible! I bet Brunel would have killed for some of that!”
Marius Cassel smiled. Isambard Kingdom Brunel had been one of his heroes, the Nineteenth-Century Great British inventor whose bridges and ships had revolutionised world travel. “I see you’re a student of history” he said.
“Well, what’s a girl to do of an evening out here?” she laughed, “I’ve got my History books by the bed!”
They both took sips of coffee, each envisaging the finished bridge in their mind’s eye.
Cassel pondered for a moment. “How many vehicles can be waylaid here in the event of bad weather?” “
Annie didn’t miss a beat. “There’ll be room for five hundred, but we’ve had to allow a significant area for refuelling tanks. Even the latest Audi Tripstar won’t be able to get across this thing without a top up. We’re looking at the integrity of the ridge itself, it might be possible to excavate an area for fuel holding below the artificial platform, which would ease matters topside.”
“Mmm..” mused Cassel, “perhaps you could take me through some of the geo-survey data you’ve been collecting. We need to be doubly sure the ridge’s cohesion won’t be compromised by further deep drilling and excavation. I’m concerned about the stress factor transmitted through the pinions and platform to the ocean rock itself. We can’t afford a weak link in this particular chain, Annie.”
“Agreed. Shall we say my office, deck 7, 9am?”
“Let’s say 10. I want to subject myself to a Full Benefit.”
On the Plazas, the work crews had nicknamed the enormous multi-item breakfasts served in the staff canteens as “The Full Benefit”. They were dripping in cholesterol and god knew what else, Eggs, Fried Bread, Sausages, Tomatoes, Beans, you name it, if it tasted good, it was on the plate of a Plaza Full Benefit.
Annie laughed loudly. “My god, a sucker for punishment! Okay, 10am it is, but don’t expect any sympathy from me. Take the elevator to 4, and staff office will allocate your quarters. I’ve got to head back down to the pontoon to collect some water samples. Until tomorrow, Marius.” With that she disappeared down the metal staircase again.
Marius felt oddly disappointed that she’d left, but he gathered his thoughts and headed for the elevator, anticipating a nice hot shower. He wondered how Dwyer and Mooney were getting along. Their success was vital to the project. For the first time since he’d come up with the germ of an idea that became the Unity Project, he was uneasy.
© Kev Moore 2008 All Rights Reserved