One Night at Kedasi (10)
10. An Interlude with Air Traffic Control
Paul took pride in is work for the Private Cay Docking Company. A fifteen year plaque commemorating that pride and service sat polished on the edge of his desk. In those fifteen years, he had never once seen a mess like the readout currently in front of him. Almost a hundred red alerts flashed, representing the crushing wake of a faulty elevator. The thought of it made him sick. If people didn’t trust the elevators, then they wouldn’t trust the docking company. Private Cay’s reputation was everything, and if it suffered, Paul suffered. Specifically, his income would suffer. With six kids, child support payments for each, and legal fees from the divorces, income was important.
Sweat beaded on his brow, and he mopped it with a company-issued towel he kept in his side drawer. “Cristina, get me a status update!”
The poor woman swirled around the various monitors in her station, desperately looking for something that might have changed. Nothing had of course. The maintenance techs were still doing their best to piece through the charred wreckage and see if any poor souls had been aboard when the elevator crashed. Cristina tapped at screens furiously, switching between technical readouts and news feeds. “Nothing, sir. Would you like me to get on hold with customer support again?”
Paul chewed the inside of his lip. It would be the second time that day, but elevator malfunction was not to be toyed with. “Patch them through to my desk. In the meantime, get the dockyard moving again, but keep traffic to a single launch tunnel. We can’t afford any more mistakes.” Yes, that was good, no mistakes. A single launch tunnel would snare the queue, but it would ensure that everyone got out of the docking bay safely. He took a deep breath, searching for the confidence that calling customer support required and motioned to Cristina.
There was only a brief trill over the intercom before a pleasant man’s voice, clearly synthetic, came over his speakers. “Hello and thank you for calling Ventner-tech. You ask for the future, and we deliver.”
“Ventnertech,” he grumbled. A mad scientist had one good idea, and suddenly they were letting him innovate all forms of major infrastructure. Paul made peace with God every time he stepped into an automated vehicle run by the bastards.
“Yes, Ventnertech!” answered the cheery voice, with a complete lack of understanding for Paul’s displeasure. “How may I be of assistance today?”
Paul paused at that. What did they need? “Uh—” he faltered. “Well, one of your elevators seems to have come off the rails and caused some serious damage to my docking bay.”
There was a trill to indicate processing. “I’m sorry to hear that, sir. Would you mind telling me the make and model number of your elevator?”
“Make and model?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
Paul tapped through the elevator protocols, trying to quickly search a long list of data. Of course, the make and model were nowhere to be found.
“Are you still there, sir?”
“Yes, dammit, I’m still here. Just give me a moment.” A message chimed from Cristina on his screen with the full schematic readout for the elevator in question. He mouthed a silent thank you. She wasn’t the brightest bulb in the bunch, but she was learning. “Alright, I’ve got the numbers right here.”
“I’m hearing that you have the make and model number. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” ground out Paul, resisting the urge to swear at the synthetic again.
“Fantastic, what are they?”
“It’s the Hollywood Tower make, model M-7-8-9-4-2.” Paul had been to New Hollywood on vacation once, and never had he seen anything remotely resembling one of his docking elevators. Bunch of pinheads with their clever names.
“Ok, I am seeing your model. How can I help you today? You can say: help me with my elevator service, when is my next service date, or where can I purchase a similar model?”
It took all of Paul’s effort not to smash his head into the screen in front of him. Warp speed travel happened in moments, and yet customer service was stuck hundreds of years in the past. It had to be a deliberate choice. “Help me with my elevator service, I guess.”
“One moment.” There was a pause, filled again with the low level processing trill that must have been specially designed to get on one’s nerves. “I’m seeing your elevator isn’t scheduled for service for another nine months. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“The elevator doesn’t need servicing, it’s fallen straight off the fucking rails. People might be dead!” He immediately regretted using such language, but there were occasions when it slipped out. You could take the boy out of The Undercity, but you couldn’t take The Undercity out of… Oh fuck it.
Processing trill. “Let me connect you to a live customer service representative. One moment.” Without waiting for a response, the line switched over to hold music so old, it might have been one of the original artifacts carried over from Earth.
Paul let out an aggravated sigh and pressed the mute button. “Status, Cristina! Where are we?”
Cristina pulled up a screen showing the bottom of the elevator shaft. Ordinarily, it was a wide expanse with multiple doors leading off from a shining central concourse. Currently, it was filled with acrid black smoke and a group of men and women in orange hazmat jumpsuits. They were all staring and pointing at one of the doors that was shooting a consistent gout of blue flame. “Uhm… That sir. That’s the status.”
“Sass me again and it’s going in your permanent—"
“Hi sir, I’m sorry, I didn’t intend to offend you,” came the voice of the suddenly available customer service representative.
Paul cursed whatever God had sought fit to throw the dice for him in his life. “Hi, yes, I’m sorry, that was for my subordinate. We’ve got a little bit of a situation down here at the Private Cay Docking Company.”
“Yes, I heard that from our synthetic assistant. It said that you’re in need of scheduling maintenance?”
If Paul’s blood could have literally boiled, well, he would have been dead, but the metaphor would have been quite apt. “No,” he ground out, trying not to shatter his teeth with how hard they were gritted. “One of your elevators has fallen off the rails and caused catastrophic damage to our docking system.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line. “Are you sure it was one of our elevators?”
Paul tapped his fingers on his desk, one, two, three. The man was testing him, but he would not fail. “Yes, quite sure. The model number is—”
“I’m sorry, for catastrophic failures, I’m going to need to transfer you to a manager.”
Before Paul had a chance to argue, the hold music was back. He rubbed at his temples. No amount of pay was worth staying on the line with customer service for more than a half hour. On a big screen in the center of the room, green ship identifiers were slowly moving from their berths into designated launch tubes. Good, at least traffic was running, even if it was running slowly. Every second the dock was closed was incalculable – at least for Paul – sums of money that vanished into thin air.
“Pull up a view of the launch tunnel, please.” It didn’t hurt to be polite. Wasn’t that always what his therapist said? There was something about anger, resistance, and heart attacks in there as well, but at the moment, Paul couldn’t be bothered.
“Yes, sir.” Cristina’s reply was quick and hid just a sliver of anger. Paul knew he wouldn’t be dealing with the repercussions immediately, but they would come.
The traffic screen disappeared, replaced with a real time feed of an octagonal launch tunnel. Cargo docks, while important, weren’t aesthetically pleasing, so they had to be built far below the higher reaches of the city. As such, several long docking tunnels ran out from underground, spitting spaceships out just beyond the city limits. It wasn’t efficient, but it worked well enough. The status elite didn’t care so long as they didn’t have to see the ships, and their overnight interstellar goods arrived on time.
A bulky, swine-shaped ship slid into the docking tunnel. Red-hot exhaust vents in the makeshift ears, made it look like a hog straight out of hell. “I swear, the designs get more bizarre each year.” No two ships were alike, and the pilots seemed keen on reminding Paul of that. Sure, there had been days when uniform bulky models got the job done, but as warp technology got cheaper to install, pilots had to find another place to throw their money. Whether it be sleek vessels that looked equipped for murder, or cartoon hogs, every ship left a unique mark. Never mind that they all did the same thing.
“Hi there, sir, my name is Margaret, and I’m one of our senior account managers here at Ventnertech. It sounds like you’ve had a catastrophic failure with your elevator unit.”
“Yes, that’s correct.” Paul winced, anticipating the next question.
“Are you sure it’s one of ours?”
“Yes, I have the model—”
“No need, we can pull that off the synthetic transcript. Let me find the emergency camera from that unit and see what happened.”
If you had the cameras, then you knew it was your goddamned elevator.
“Oh my. You might want to look at this. May I have your permission to use this line to transfer security footage?”
Paul’s eyebrow raised. “Yes, of course.”
The Ventnertech logo, an hourglass with ever changing sand, popped up on his screen and was quickly replaced by a camera feed from inside the elevator. Paul’s heart froze. He was looking out at the very same swine that had just entered the docking tube. The ship was unmistakable. In the video, a large group of hooded figures approached and fired on those in the docking bay. Then out of nowhere, flashes of light thundered out of the ship’s tusks, spraying neat cubes of matter all over the docking bay. The lights only lasted a few seconds, but a gout of oil from off screen was enough to let him know that they had hit the elevator unit.
“Sir, I don’t think this is going to be covered under your standard use warranty. Might I suggest contacting your insurance?”
If Paul had been angry before, he was volcanic now. No one used illegal guns in his docks, no one. “Cristina, stop that ship!!”