Ruby’s world, the artificial jungle suspended from a web of synthetic cables, threatened to collapse around her. A larger than normal storm had driven a drifting ship towards the support stanchions that held up the web.
She swam with War Tooth, the military outcast cyborg orca of the local pod, to secure it and save everyone she knew. But securing the ship was only the beginning of Ruby’s fight for survival. The seas and all the creatures living in it was a bigger threat to her survival than any wayward ship.
The Web is an exciting cyberpunk struggle to survive in a world that’s surrendered to global warming and rising seas that is sure to excite.
By Meyari McFarland
The web shifted under Ruby’s feet, synthetic proteins and spun fiberglass cables twisting and moving as she did. Around her the plants of the hanging garden grew and shifted towards the sun far overhead. Only dim grey-green light drifted down to her at this level of the web, filtered by layers of leaves and the crisscrossing web that supported all of their lives.
Ruby couldn’t see the sun but the plants knew it was there, hidden behind the ever-present storms that swept in from the Pacific Ocean to pour rain down over what used to be the Puget Sound.
Rain from the latest storm coming in pattered down through the web’s many levels of vegetation. The web was an artificial jungle that humanity had created as the sea rose up over Seattle, people’s desperate attempt to keep this plot of land despite the ravages of the rising sea. For all its flaws, Ruby loved it. The web was home, better than boats or land or leaving the Earth entirely to go live in space.
She shivered. Ruby’s warm-suit had a tiny leak just below her shoulder blades that let the rain and cold seep in though it was just that one spot that felt cold. Ruby ignored it as best she could. Her hood protected her well enough despite the wet chill that never faded out on the web.
If it wasn’t rain from above dampening her skin, there was fog or waves from below. Why bother fighting the wet when it was a constant? It would be nice to get back to the nest for dinner, though. At least there she could get dry and warm though without food gathered from the garden there wouldn’t be much for dinner besides fish.
Ruby gathered tomatoes and peas, sampling a couple tart pea pods before slipping the rest into her harvest bag. Her elongated toes gripped well enough that Ruby didn’t even glance over when someone else bounded downwards, catching a strand of her web to slow their descent. It was probably just one of her cousins anyway. They never got as much work done as they should.
A second person bounded towards the waves and submerged buildings below. Then a third, a fourth, and then several at once. Ruby frowned, finally flicking on her comp system despite the irritating static from the storm’s lightning strikes over the sea.
A dozen warnings flashed on her retina’s, flickering so fast that Ruby barely managed to register that there was a ship drifting out of control towards the web. Her section of the web. Right underneath the nest that she shared with her parents, brother and young cousins.
Ruby spun and ran for the closest down-anchor that led to the farthest out sky scraper foundation for the web on Fourth and University, the site of the old Fairmont Hotel. Food could wait. It would wait. It had to. The last time debris had hit the web Ruby had been ten years old. A larger than normal storm surge had broken several old buildings loose from their submerged foundations, crashing a huge swathe of the web.
She’d been asleep, curled up in her sleeping net with her little brother Pike in her arms. The net had lurched, dropped and then swung so hard that Ruby’s back had smacked into a support strut. Ruby had screamed, broken ribs causing enough pain that she nearly dropped Pike.
Their nest had lurched again, then again, silencing both Ruby and Pike’s screams for a moment. Then the bottom of her world had dropped out from under her, free-falling Ruby and Pike down towards the ocean below as their section of the web collapsed entirely.
“I’m safe,” Ruby panted as she ran along web lines and dropped levels recklessly, risking dislocated shoulders with every leap and drop. “I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe.”
It got darker as she got closer to the sea, not that it mattered. Ruby could smell the salt that always crusted the support stanchions. Her eye implants automatically increased the amount of light they gathered, giving her night vision. The closer she got the more shouting she heard. People were arriving from all over the web. Most had as little as Ruby did, bags and comp systems and nothing more.
“It’s coming on a storm surge!” Pike bellowed up at the crowded web lines. “We need to get buoys out and a line onto it somehow. We’ve already got a winch system set up to tether it and ground it against the outer buildings. As long as we can hook the damn thing we can keep it from dropping the web.”
Ruby tapped the slender rings around her fingers together, shifting her retinal displays so that she could see infrared. The web disappeared, becoming pale grey lines clustered with hot red-yellow bodies. Beyond, Ruby could see the waves, ice blue-black mountains of water threatening them all. They were at the outer edge of the web, close to the wave generators and broken rooftops of the skyscrapers that had once been the heart of downtown Seattle.
The skyscrapers were barnacle-encrusted black skeletons of their former glory, nothing more than urban reefs for the sea life that Ruby, Pike and Father harvested. So far, she couldn’t see the ship but a flick of her fingers gave her the web scanner’s view of the ocean. The ship was approaching quickly. If it kept direction and speed the damage would be horrific. Given the storm surge coming in, it would crash directly into the main support stanchion Ruby perched on.
Ruby scanned the crowd, triggering her system to tell her who was there with another tap of her fingers. Father wasn’t. Mother wasn’t. They were probably working to evacuate people further into the web so that a repeat of the collapse, and the loss of life, wouldn’t happen.
“We need a good swimmer,” Pike shouted. He held up his broken arm, the one the shark had nearly bitten off a month ago. “I can’t go.”
“I will,” Ruby called.
She snorted at his automatic head-shake, passing off the harvest bag to old Mrs. Morishita. Logically, Ruby should go. She had the eye mods to be able to see underwater, even in this darkness. More importantly, she had the gills and lung mods for swimming deep. None of the others perched on the web had the mods necessary to survive the swim out to the farther skyscrapers. More importantly, even if her warm-suit had a slow leak, it would still keep her alive in the chilly waters below.
“No one else is available, Pike,” Ruby said as she clambered down to his side. “I need a jet. Do we have a strong one?”
They should. Hopefully. Given the storm, the other fishers had probably taken their jets further into the web, hauling them up and out of the range of the storm surge so that they weren’t swept away. But not everyone had the luxury of getting higher. Some fishers lived low and waterproofed their homes. One of them might have a jet she could use.
“No,” Pike sighed. “But we do have an orca that’s willing to help.”
“Orca?” Ruby gasped. “Pike!”
“They don’t want the web to fall,” Pike explained. “They’ll get tangled even worse than they do already if the web falls. You know they hunt under here.”
He waved towards the portion of the web that used to be their home. Tumbled stanchions, broken and worn by a decade’s worth of waves, stuck up out of the surging waves. The web tangled under the water, a few cables drifting across the surface deceptively like seaweed. Seaweed wouldn’t cut you in half if you got tangled in it, though.
An orca, military barcode vividly white against its black eye patch surfaced a few yards from Ruby’s perch. It cleared its blowhole impatiently before slapping its tail against the surface. Ruby winced as she recognized the jagged edge of its dorsal fin.
“War Tooth?” Ruby demanded.
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