Look at me, turning up again like the bad penny I am.
If you’ve ever had to listen to me meander on about writing (in a non-work, possibly NaNoWriMo capacity), you’ll be aware that I’ve been noodling around with a post-apocalyptic concept for a few years now.
I keep tackling it from different angles, trying to find the right one.
I have my lead character now, and it is not the one I’d originally planned. This has meant a lot of reshuffling and cutting, and losing some set pieces I liked.
Here’s one of the ones that didn’t make the cut (mostly because it is objectively Not Good):
The Juice Rat
The valley floor was hard, crusty and lightly rain specked. For now at least, the weather was on her side. She could have done with a touch more rain to keep the dust down as she scuttled across the wide expanse towards the tall fence enclosing the wind farm. She was too exposed already. An eyeball check of the valley hadn’t shown up any patrols, but that didn’t mean they weren’t lurking out there ready to swoop. She was surprised to find herself alone out there, conditions being what they were, seemed like the perfect time to be making a juice run. Others should have been availing of the opportunity too. Maybe she’d lucked out and missed out on a sweep and all the other power rats had been rounded up, leaving her free to hook a line at her leisure. Or maybe there was a welcoming party of the bad kind inside the fence. Or maybe everyone was just too busy enjoying the nice weather to think about stealing power today. Or how about maybe she should just focus on that darn fence and how the hell she was planning on getting through it and worry about the other crap if and when she had to. It didn’t appear to have been breached recently, no obvious areas of weakness visible from where she was now. And it was damn high. At least 20 feet with some not very neighbourly razor wire running along the top. She sighed. Friendly types the EPOW! Corporation. Real Christian.
There were no signs warning of patrols or guard dogs, they didn’t need any. Each upright along the entire length of the fence was topped with a crucifix. EPOW! was a Christian company. They wouldn’t kill you, or cut your hands off for trespassing or stealing from them, which was good to know if you were a juice rat, but they would prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law which meant being swabbed and tagged just for starters, and there was no way she was going to let that happen to her. Right now, outside the fence, that was moot. Getting through or over the fence was the pressing issue, and more so now that it had started to rain. It wasn’t too heavy yet, but the heavy blades inside the farm cutting through it were making a faint plaintive sound as the wind started to whip up. If it got much heavier she wouldn’t be able to work on the fence properly. She didn’t like the feel of wet metal against her climbing gloves, it made her teeth hurt.
She pulled the cutters from her belt, unwrapped them and stood back to assess the fence again. Her grandfather had told her that power used to be so plentiful that farms, companies and cities used to have fences that were electrified, yet here she was in front of one owned by a power company, secure in the knowledge that they wouldn’t waste their precious juice on keeping people away from the local motherlode of it. Wouldn’t make sense in the cost benefit analysis, and EPOW! was no different from any other company in that respect. God still came after the bottom line. Not that they’d ever admit it, but it wasn’t like anyone was going to force them to either. People needed what they created from the wind, and some like her needed it so badly they’d steal it if they could. She needed to stop thinking about what used to be called “the politics” of her situation, and work on getting herself out of it. She flexed the cutters in her wrist and walked over to one of the high fence supports, examining the base of it, and the tension of the wire where it was attached. There had been some serious storms of late, and she was hoping that the wire had somehow loosened itself from the uprights during one of them. No such luck, the bolts were still sitting firmly atop the wire, their saucer shaped nuts keeping the wire tight and protected. Another sigh. All very well of the General to send her out on an errand, but this was starting to look like an impossible task.
She shook out the bunched muscles of her shoulders, well aware that the more time she wasted thinking and assessing, the more likely it was that someone would see her. Johnny had talked to her about something called exponentials once, when he was teaching her about power, and force, and risk. Her risk here was “increasing exponentially”, and she didn’t like it.
She tried flicking the wire beside the upright but it didn’t respond. Not even the vaguest hum. She was tempted to wonder about how they managed that, keeping it so tight, seemed to go against all the laws of science and sense, but shook her head to clear it of all procrastinatory notions. She turned and looked across the barren land behind her, clear. No dust clouds to warn her of approaching vehicles, and everything inside the fence was quiet too. Eerily so. Maybe they were all at worship, or bible study or whatever those freaks did when they all went into a room together to “Praise Him”. If they were, she had limited time before the patrols were back out, all hyped up on God (and the corporate platinum) and looked to hook themselves some rats to prove their fealty. Time to move.
She hunkered down at the base of the fence and moved away from the upright, shuffling along twenty yards into the expanse of fence. She hooked the cutters around a low link and wished she had a God to pray to, some luck in the bank that would see her through this. She bore down on the cutter handles, grunting from the effort, but the wire wouldn’t snap. Time was, wire would melt away like butter from the blades in her hand, but not anymore. She resisted the temptation to stand up and kick the fence. If it was this hard to start with, it was only going to get worse, and she’d need all of her energy to cut a hole big enough to squirm through. No use wasting it on temper.
She adjusted her position and flexed both her hands, before cupping her left hand again under the cutter handles, and bearing down on it from above with her right hand, and all her upper body weight behind it. No satisfying “ping” of release, the wire held firm.
She removed the cutters and examined the site of her efforts. The metal had a small indentation in it and no scratch marks around it, so the cutter blades hadn’t slipped. That meant they were still sharp, but something was very wrong.
Everyone knew that this was a new fence, but even new chain-link should have easily given way under the combination of her sharp blades and that amount of pressure.
What if it wasn’t just a “new fence”? What if it was made out of a “new metal”? Some super-resilient alloy cooked up in one of the eastern metal labs. Those guys were always tweaking alloys, it was only a matter of time before they came up with something that would be of genuine use to the ones who footed their vast research bills – given that they were probably operating in constant fear of their livelihoods. She couldn’t blame them for making life harder for people like her, not when they relied on EPOW! and companies like them to keep their jobs.
Again she sighed and stretched out her fingers. No point in cooking up worst-case scenarios. Damn thing was just a wire fence, and thin wire at that, less than two mili-ms in diameter. No matter what the alloy, she should be able to cut through it. Should. Unless there was something wrong with her cutters. She gripped them in her right hand, squeezing the handles so she could examine the blades. She hadn’t thought to check them earlier since Jas had sharpened them before she left camp, and they had been safely wrapped through her climb here. The freshly-honed edges gleamed but a couple of years of regular sharpenings had taken their toll. Keeping them wrapped in c-oil cloth kept them safe from rust, but nothing could mitigate the effect of the whetstone. The blades were becoming feeble, and she wondered just how many runs they had left in them before they retired themselves from active duty. Or were put out of action by a tougher than usual wire, or a user who hadn’t mastered the proper grip yet, and caused them to seize up, or slip, nicking the already perilously thin blades.
She knelt forward, then slumped back onto her heels and wondered just how urgent this particular juice run was. Urgent enough to risk their primary access tool, with no adequate replacement in sight? She needed time to weigh the situation up. Trouble was that time is an even more precious and rare commodity than the juice she was so desperate to obtain.