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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Dark · #2264434
Imagine a world where you cannot come within five feet of concrete without dying
"Is she still alive, what happened?" asked Martha. She looked with some concern at her friend Sally's pale face. They had placed Sally's stretcher on the table inside Martha's large pavilion tent so that she could examine her.

         Martha, a curvy, green-eyed, brunette of medium height, had been a junior doctor in the world before the fall. Now as the only person with any medical training she was the camp doctor. The biggest guys in the camp could not decide which of them should be in charge despite a few fights over the matter. In the end, she had been voted in as the person in charge. She had done alright so far she thought but it was sometimes tough to keep the peace.

         "It was an old sewer, three feet under the ground, we thought we'd be safe in the fields but they must have built this one to connect the farm nearby to the grid. We were having a race, we did not check the GPR 1 map before we did that for the local concrete structures. She only grazed the danger area. Maybe she got to within six feet of the underground pipe," said Jim, Sally's boyfriend.

         Martha checked Sally's pulse and noted her grey skin still had pink streaks. Sally had been lucky, one foot more and she would have been dead from her exposure to concrete.

         "Bugger, OK, but she should recover with just a six feet exposure. She is going to be pretty useless the next week and it'll be a month before she is back to normal," She nodded to herself, confirming her diagnosis. "Yeh, give her about a month. You are going to have to take up her duties until then."

         Martha noticed that Jim looked relieved. He was all smiles as he accepted the extra work. Martha calculated it was at least thirty hours a week of toilet duty, dishwashing, firewood gathering, and other assorted scavenging tasks. He will be pretty grateful when she is fit and healthy again, she thought to herself.

         Martha reflected that it had been far worse in the first few days when people were literally dropping dead all around her and they were still working out that concrete was the reason. When simple things like crossing roads had still not been worked out and the wooden or metal bridges across the concrete highways that boxed off areas of open space had not yet been built. Martha turned back to her research, as Sally's stretcher was carried out of the tent and to her own sleeping section of the camp.

         It was only seconds later that Tony Mosquera, the camp engineer, burst into the tent, an excited look on his face.

         "We got it," he said.

         At six foot four inches, with his chiseled dark Latin looks and five o'clock shadow he could have been a male model, thought Martha to herself. But his boyish enthusiasm was contagious and she found herself smiling back at him though she had no idea about what he was on about.

         "What did you get? Can you be a little more specific Tony?" asked Martha. She had to wait for him to catch his breath, he had clearly run all the way from wherever it is he had come from.

         "Well...," Tony said, but then paused to catch his breath again. Martha was genuinely intrigued by now.

         "Well, you know how I managed to work out a program to link the activities of six military-grade drones so that they could work together. And you know how I managed to put hooks on ropes around each so that they could lift cargo of almost one ton working together," said Tony.

         Martha wondered why engineers had this compulsive habit to explain how they did something as if it was just as important as the result. Nonetheless, she was inclined to humor Tony and her curiosity was blooming by now. Tony had after all provided the camp with a GPR map of the whole area to a radius of fifty miles in every direction mapping every known piece of concrete around. Then he had managed to build a wooden/metal windmill from scrap combined with car batteries and solar panels which now powered the camp. His ideas worked and were worth listening to.

         "Yes Tony, go on, " said Martha.

         "Well, I sent recon drones into the biggest police station in Hamburg and we found a bomb disposal robot that is rechargeable and runs on batteries. We flew it out of the concrete zone using the big drones and we have it now in the back of our truck out there." Tony waved his hand in the direction of the entrance of the tent.

         "Oh really, that is fantastic news, " said Martha, inclined to give Tony a hug but resisting the temptation due to her position as Camp Leader. "So I guess that means we can send it into supermarkets to raid supplies."

         "Yes we already did that and we just brought you back a remotely controlled HGV 2 with about two tons of canned and dried food in its container," said Tony.

         It suddenly occurred to Martha that Tony had just put an enormous target on the camp, as they now had pretty much-unlimited food supplies for the next five years, while everyone else out there was starving. In fact, this robot and Tony's drones could probably open up all the resources of the city, indeed all the cities to them

         "Tony, have you told anyone else about this?"

         "No," Tony scratched his head as if confused by the question.

         "Did you put the robot inside the closed SUV or the open pickup?"

         "Yeh me and Paco used the white electric SUV."

         "Good so no one but you guys knows that we have this right now. Can you run out there and get Paco in, we need to discuss this."

         It was about thirty seconds before Tony returned. The man with him was the largest in the camp and in a Neanderthal community would have been the chief by virtue of brute strength but he was a gentle, kind, and practical man not interested in that kind of responsibility. Slightly shorter than Tony but much bigger in build he filled the entrance of the tent as he came through it.

         "Hi Paco, thanks for your help with this, have you spoken to anyone about it yet?" asked Martha.

         "No, I needed the toilet real bad and did not have time," Paco shook his head.

         "OK, good, let me explain my thinking here. What you guys have done is fantastic and changes everything for us quite radically. But now as a result we might be in some danger. I have reports of mass starvations among the survivors in the other camps. The wildlife in the local area has been pretty much hunted to extinction, even birds. If news of this spreads people will come raiding our camp and could even kill us all, take our food and the machine. If we are going to be able to help these other groups we will need a workable and defensible system in place before doing so. So I want you guys to pull everyone off food scavenging duties for now and start designing a camp wall and fortifications. I guess you are going to have to build it out of wood or stone blocks but so also you will need to fireproof the result. When we are fortified and armed then we can start organizing food for the other camps."

         Paco and Tony nodded understanding Marthas' thinking and Martha could already see that Tony's mind was thinking through the problem.

         "I can daub a wooden fort with a fire retardant, we can use electric fences with barbed wire. I can deepen the well and improve the windmills and battery setup for reserve power, we can use plastic cisterns for reserve water supply. But our best defense can be a concrete wall over which we stretch drawbridges of wood. So long as the draw bridge is two meters above the concrete we can cross and then withdraw the bridge when we need that to be a wall to keep people out. We can use large JCBs 3 to collect the concrete and remote-controlled trucks. We can fit our walls in with existing highways to set a concrete perimeter against intruders. We can use HGV containers for both supplies and accommodation since they are made of steel. Hamburg has thousands of these. We can drive the HGV remotely. I can piggyback the feed across my drones and control the truck from outside the city. Then we will be able to collect containers from the port area which we can use to build our city and store our supplies and equipment. We can even change the camp name to Metal City."

         "Heavy Metal City!" blurted Paco with a grin. Martha saw that he was wearing an Iron Maiden T-Shirt.

         "Metal City will be fine," said Martha. She rolled her eyes. "If you can get us those containers? How are you going to fuel up the HGV for the trips, we are pretty much empty on diesel now and you know that normal petrol has already expired and is worthless at this point?"

         "We can use the robot in the gas station to run the pump."

         "There is no electricity, remember, so no pump."

         "Oh, right then we set up our own pump and get the robot to run a tube into the reservoirs. If we run out then there is more diesel in the depots at the docks. All the diesel fuel in Northern Germany is now pretty much ours for the taking."

         "Well the diesel will not last forever, but if we can turn it into a pile of metal containers, food supplies, and useful infrastructure, then we can build that city, store our provisions and start to rebuild our world without concrete," said Martha.


It was three weeks later before an expedition could be launched into the city. Two of the drones failed in the meantime and Tony had to scavenge for extra parts. In the end, he doubled the number of flying drones as a result and accumulated a collection of spare parts from the city shops, military bases, and warehouses he raided.

         Tony decided to reconnoiter the route first before sending in the HGV. He set up a control room in the HGV container he had brought back. This was now emptied of its stores and contained his equipment. He set up three big monitors at one end to which he fed the drone feeds. He loved spending time with Martha and he so desperately wanted to impress her. He was already in love with her. In his mind, she somehow combined sexy with intellectual seriousness in a way that was completely irresistible. But he knew he had to be professional and that the stakes were too high to mess around right now. But maybe later he would try and share his feelings with her. The thought terrified him right now though. So he focused his attention on the job and what he could do for her and the others.

         Martha, Tony, and Pacco sat down on a big couch before the monitors with Tony and Pacco with laptops and remote controls on a small table just before the couch.

         They watched in awe as the drones navigated streets they themselves had walked down just three years before but which had been pretty much deserted ever since.

         "We should have organized popcorn," Martha exclaimed as the drones approached the Elbe.

         Tony smiled in response, some memories and reflexes from the old world were still in place.

         The drones made their way to the biggest container port on the Southside of the river approaching from the big fly-over bridge on that side.

         Tony was surprised to see that there was activity in the port. A naval ship with Chinese writing on the side was sitting by the quay. Men in camouflage were walking over the concrete dock.

         "Zoom in on those guys and start recording the feed," Martha said. Tony did as he was told and increased the quality of the footage to HD 4.

         "Have they seen us? Perhaps we should withdraw before they see us?" Martha said as the picture became clearer.

         But it was already too late and the Chinese destroyer's guns could be seen directed on the lead drones and then they fired leaving only white noise on each of the monitors.

         "Shit," said Tony. He immediately recalled the remaining supporting drones, shutting down all remaining communication with them so that they could not be traced, and putting them on an auto sequence that would land them. He could collect them later from a place some ten miles from the camp.

         "What are the Chinese doing in Hamburg?" asked Martha.

         "And how come they can walk on concrete without dying?" said Pacco

         "Maybe 'cause they bioengineered our sudden deadly allergy to concrete in the first place, and not just for us, for the whole frigging world," replied Tony.

Word Count & Notes

1  GPR = Ground Penetrating Radar
2  HGV = Heavy Good Vehicle or Big Lorry
3  JCB = In German Baggers, these are large Excavators characterized by a digging bucket on the end of a two-part articulated arm
4  HD = High Definition

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