– Stop, you are going to mess everything up!
He hadn’t even finished the sentence when the hydraulics made a strange hissing sound, got stuck full extended and all the oily liquid that propelled the whole system started to ooze from its gaskets. A greasy pool formed on the ground, the generator choked with a loud groan and the elevator stopped abruptly between the first and second levels.
– Drat, drat and double drat! – cursed René throwing his hat to the ground and stomping on it with a great display of unnecessary fuss. – I told you it was not necessary to recalibrate the flux condenser, you only had to run the test again with the same parameters.
– And then the elevator wouldn’t have made it to the first floor, mate!
The man with a reply was Elías, a sturdy operator with wide moustache, even wider shoulders and jeans dungarees stained with all kinds of lubricants, oil, grease and other less obvious materials. He wiped his hands with a filthy cloth hanging from his back pocket and stood up, letting air go through his nose with a stern face while he poked several times the hydraulic system with the metal toecap of his right boot.
– Now things work by hitting them, you monkey wrench? – shouted René at him, picking his hat from the ground and hitting the other man in the back of his neck with it.
The Scrapbridge dwellers who happen to pass nearby stopped for a second, amused by the comic scene in which that noisy, skinny and not imposing at all little man was giving an ear-bashing to an operator who was, literally, four times bigger than him. Nudges and soft chuckles spread through the gathered crowd before everyone got back to their daily business in the Covenant Square or wherever they were heading. René and Elías were well-known among the city neighbours, two former Junkers who had put an end to their travels all along the Wasteland and retired some time ago to live quietly in the Beam quarter. So the couple’s quarrel, as serious as it might seem, did not take anyone really by surprise as it was their usual way of getting along in their relationship.
– I was just testing the… you know … I was checking the pipe and all that. Maybe it’s not well anchored.
– Halfwit! Dumbrain! It strikes me as a real shock that you ever made a living as a maintenance mechanic! Unspectacular piston much more likely!
Indeed, during their days adventuring out in the Wasteland Elías had been a Piston in René’s band, hired muscle acting as bodyguard for the rest of the group, not much adept at ranged or close combat. René was a simple Gear, quite edgy, nervous and a bit paranoid, although with a great instinct to find hidden caches and quite a good head for math. Elías had saved his ass more than once and, in return, he had taught him a lot of useful and practical things that had allowed the Piston to be promoted from unskilled worker to foreman of a maintenance crew. The friendship forged between them evolved into something bigger, so when things started to be real scary out there they opted to retire together while they could.
– Drain the circuit entirely! Drain it all and start all over again, Elías – said René with a quick gesture, pointing to the elevator’s hydraulics.
– Are you sure that this system will be enough to take the elevator up to the Gross Way? I don’t know if it will hold out enough for such strain, it’s quite a distance…
– Of course it will, trust me. My numbers are solid. Hydraulics is as trusty, exact science, you only have to know how to apply it in the correct scale. And the citizens from Scrapbridge will thank you a lot this improvement in their elevator’s system, which no longer will be propelled by pulleys, ropes or unreliable turnbuckles, not to mention the effort spared by animals, neighbours and other draught beasts… Wouldn’t you like to be remembered as one of the rebuilders… no, no, one of the “improvers” of this settlement?
René smiled for the first time, absent in his mental calculations, dreams and projects. Helping to reconstruct Scrapbridge had became his full-time job as part of the volunteer crews who toiled to clean rubble piles, rebuild damaged areas, shore up sagging areas and put back to work all the city’s basic infrastructures after last month’s explosion. Elías wasn’t even able to say “hydraulics” correctly on the first try, but he trusted his partner’s brains and his vast experience.
– All right, but if we don’t make this elevator work with your “hydromic” system, the Council will not allow us to use it on the rest of them, and we will be back to fix turnbuckles and counterweights. So enough fancy words and help me drain this thing, ok?
Elías tapped his partner’s shoulder with his glove, taking him out of his daydreams. They looked at each other and smiled, both recalling on their own the dark hours they had to suffer on the day of the attack, when they were both working separately and for some long hours they didn’t have any news from the other, if he was well, injured or… worse. From that day jabbing and pestering each other had became the norm between them, maybe as an unconscious way of releasing all the tension accumulated, of showing their affection by constantly poking each other and give full rein to the huge relief they had felt… much for great rejoicing of their most gossiper neighbours, who had in their pretended arguments an endless material with which to spread rumours for years. Well, they could go fuck themselves.
– Hell yes! – exclaimed René with half a smile showing in his lips. – If I leave you alone again, you will fucking ground what’s left of Scrapbridge in a blink.
– I like it when you talk rude like that, you little brat. – answered Elías nodding and smiling as well.
– And who might have taught that to me, I say? You goddamn lowlife, I curse the day I tried to put some sense and knowledge in that bloody bald head of yours…You corrupted me!
They rolled up their sleeves poking each other and laughing out loud, and then they knelt down by the hydraulics system they were trying to fix. Drain and start again. A wonderful new day in Scrapbridge, but a new day… alive.