Gifts From the Wind

The hydronets looked like the white sails of a thousand three-masted ships above the arid desert skies of Solace. Maisie craned her neck to look up at the taut structure stretching a kilometer into the air, viewing it through the filter of the ocular shifters integrated into her fragile biological eyes. There was a tear in the fabric. She clipped herself into the safety harness and began the long climb up the ladders, which were staggered and each one 100 meters tall. The wind was fierce; it was good for the harvest.

The hydronets of Solace supplied water to the small population of farm workers at the nearby settlement, but most of it was collected and sold offworld. Ironically, Earth was their biggest client by volume; they’d started with more water than anyone, but they’d done their best to make it undrinkable. For a small desert planet, Solace had become quite wealthy.

At long last, Maisie reached the tear near the top of the net. Up close, she could see the net’s fine details. It was not solid like a sail; it was a web with very fine holes, like a hexagonal screen. The individual strands were coated with fine microstructures. Spiraling ridges around each thread formed an elaborate geometry to catch moisture from the wind and funnel it to the central column for collection.

She saw the source of the tear at once: a Solace Crane—a type of long-legged four-winged bird that was native here—had flown into the net and gotten itself tangled. It hung upside down from a broken thread, dead.

Maisie adjusted the configuration of her harness and swung out over the tear, lowering herself from an overhanging jib arm. She repelled down and reached out for the bird, and the damn thing furiously came to life, batting its wings and squawking a high-pitched throaty call. It scared Maisie half to death and she lost grip of her controller. She went careening through the air as the jib extended and her harness line slowed her to a safe stop, leaving her hanging a half-kilometer above the sand. She took a moment to catch her breath and then looked up miserably at the hundreds of meters she’d added to the tear in the hydronet during her fall. As she examined the damage, the Solace Crane clawed its way free and flew away, gliding with the wind.

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