Deva knew that the man in charge—the one they called Super—was testing her, so she didn’t back-chat or complain. She donned the overalls he handed her, rolled up the sleeves and legs so they kind-of fit, used the tool-belt to tighten the material in around her waist. When the others on the team—all large men—threw the usual comments her way she countered with a meek smile as she continued with her work.
And she saw their raised eyebrows when it became apparent that she knew what she was doing.
“You done this kind of work before, then?” said one of them, an older guy the others called Gruff.
“More used to refit docks, but you get what work you can, right?” She carefully hammered the chock in place, free hand resting on the edge of the girder to feel for any movement. “Always something more to learn.”
He brought up the pump-drill. “Sure is. Now you back up, girl. Don’t want to get your hair mushed.” He triggered the drill, and the girder vibrated as he forced the hole through. Dust fell where it touched the crumbling stone roof, the one they needed to support.
The work was constant and tiring, and after a couple of hours her clothing held enough moisture that she could have wrung them out. Grime coated her hands and face, and the gritty texture in her mouth wouldn’t disappear, no matter how often she sipped from her water bottle. But it was the same for everyone. Tough conditions, but the pay was good.
Someone cursed, on the next gantry along—a long stream of words that turned the air blue. Some imaginative variations too, Deva noted.
Super’s voice called out, demanding to know what was up.
“Cable’s stuck on an edge.” The speaker was tall and thin, with a straggly beard and shaved head. Probably a couple of years older than Deva, and his attempts to act older weren’t fooling anyone.
“Then free it.”
“Too far down to reach,” Baldie yelled back. “Wheeler’s packed in, too.”
Super sighed, muttered something about bloody tech.
Wheelers were motorised micro-carts that pulled cables along the hollows running through the girders. They weren’t used that often, but the hollows were smaller than average. But so was Deva.
“How far along?” she called out.
Baldie looked over, eyed her up and down. “Three, maybe four metres. Like that makes any difference.”
Deva calculated, then she smiled. “Got an idea.”
She swung herself onto the outer edge of the gantry and dropped down in a controlled fall—and, yes, that was technically a violation, but she knew it looked impressive, and none of this lot would care if she injured herself. Except maybe Super, and then only because of the paperwork.
She raced up Baldie’s gantry, hopping over the safety rail. He frowned, backed away like he was afraid of her. She wondered how many women he’d been with, knew it couldn’t be many.
Deva pulled the pulse file from her tool-belt. “Might as well sort out those edges while I’m in there. Oh, and I’d appreciate a hand afterwards. You okay pulling my legs?”
He nodded, despite the confusion clouding his face. Deva didn’t explain. She tapped her shoulder switches, turning on the lamps, and then reached up, peering into the girder’s core.
“Three metres, I reckon,” she said. And before he could respond, she swung her legs up and wriggled into the hole.
Tight spaces were always a comfort to Deva, but there was still that moment of panic, that fear of getting stuck. Her heart hammered, and she wiped the moisture from her forehead. Then she snaked deeper into the core, arms stretched in front.
“Someone forgot to treat this edge,” she said when her hands felt the rough join. “No problem, though.”
The pulse file vibrated and whined as she ran it over the metal. Sparks flew and danced on her hands. Within seconds the warm metal was smooth beneath her fingers.
She wriggled further on, grabbed the wheeler at the end of the cable. There was no power light, so she guessed it was dead. The cable itself was caught on a second edge.
“Cable sheath’s frayed,” Deva said as she filed the metal. The edge was rougher, and she closed her eyes as metal shards of heat peppered her face. Then she grabbed the cable. “Done. Can you reach my ankles?”
She heard a muffled “hang on,” then grunting and crashing—Baldie was clearly having problems climbing up—and then fingers tightened around her ankles.
“Okay. Start pulling.”
She slid through the girder easily, one hand holding the file and the other gripping the cable and wheeler. In only a minute or so she no longer felt metal under her boots, and a thump told her that Baldie was back on the gantry’s floor.
“Cheers,” Deva said as she shuffled the rest of the way out before dropping down next to him. She replaced the file—after giving it a quick inspection for damage, because it was important to respect tools—and turned off her lamps. Then she passed the wheeler and cable over to Baldie.
“She got it?” Super shouted from below.
“Yeah,” Baldie yelled back. “Looks like the wheeler’s done for, though.” He glanced at Deva, almost like he was accusing her.
“Then get another! And check the girders properly next time, like you’re supposed to. And girlie?”
Deva looked over the safety rail, saw Super looking up at her. He nodded. “Good work.”
She returned the nod, knowing that such open praise would keep others off her back, for a while at least.
“Just doing my job, boss.”
And it made her day to see how he fought—and failed—to hold back a smile.
Do You See?
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