The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

New Bridge to Lyndesfarne: Chapter 39

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Kevin and Tanji were standing on a slight rise on the shore, looking out towards the coastline of England, and somewhat sheltered from the pleasant late summer breeze by the dunes behind them. From their vantage point, they could see both the old and the new bridges, now lit by the dying light of a colourful sunset.

The weather in the area was so variable, thanks to the unpredictable effects of the crossing, that dramatic sunsets like this were rare. It was overcast and even gloomy more often than not, exacerbated by the haze that made geographical features on the other side so difficult to make out. Tonight, however, the colours of the clouds were so vivid and unlikely, Kevin thought, that a painting using the same shades would be derided as obviously exaggerated.

The new bridge was now carrying traffic, and the residual work - largely cosmetic - was rapidly nearing completion. This had not required any significant input from him, and he had effectively handed over all responsibilities for the completion to Craz and Tweedledum, and their respective construction organisations.

New Bridge to Lyndesfarne

Many of the finishing touches involved the landscaping of the surrounding areas. By now, the bulk of the earthworks have been done, and good progress was being made on the planting of many trees and shrubs on both sides. The varieties had been carefully chosen to be resistant to high winds and salt spray, as well as being quick-growing even in the poor soils around the coastlines. Kevin was not sure whether the planting was intended to enhance the attractiveness of the setting or to disguise the towers and cables. It still all looked a bit stark at the moment, he thought, but give it a few years and it will seem like the New Bridge had been there forever.

There was also further construction work, building the new warehouses and trans-shipment facilities needed at either end of the new crossing. He had heard from Bret that there had been much celebration when the new portal (once again, concealed within the main warehouse building) had been commissioned. Kevin had got the impression that portals were not fabricated very often, and had attempted to clarify the point with Tanji.

"Oh yes," she had replied, "Portals are very difficult to make - lots of very time-consuming skilled work is always required. These days, only one or two new ones are opened each year."

Old bridge arch

Even though the newer crossing was the most efficient link from Lyndesfarne to England, the Old Bridge was still being used, although Kevin was not entirely sure why this might be. For certain routes, he speculated, it would be slightly shorter to take the old bridge, and with the traffic being shared, the time taken to cross would be similar. Additionally, the existing warehouses at each end were still in use; not all operations had moved to the new sites. Perhaps it just made a change to be able to choose between the two crossings, he mused; or maybe it was just a sense of tradition amongst the wagoners.

Kevin had made quite a few changes in his own life over the last few months. He had resigned from the company who had employed him since he had left University, and become an independent consultant. This particular breed of professional had, in Kevin's experience, a rather mixed standing, being imbued with a range of faults and frequently made the butt of much wry humour.

Nevertheless, he was slightly surprised to find that he had a considerable, if understated, personal reputation in the industry. Once it had become known that he was available, he found that he had no problem whatsoever in getting offers of interesting, not to mention remunerative work; indeed more work than he could possibly undertake.

Kevin was even more taken aback when he found that his combined knowledge of the worlds on both sides of the sea crossing was also in considerable demand. His thoughtful insights, mostly ideas which had occurred to him in bored evenings during the long years of the bridge's inception, and based on his very technical background, now seemed to be bearing fruit. I really did think that no one was interested, he mused, but wrong again.

One consulting activity he had already found time for was recommendations for security improvements, usually working closely with the Guardian organisations on both sides of the straights.

On a couple of recent occasions, he had visited a Guardians training centre not far from the crossing, and on the England side. It was located in a rather grand Edwardian country house set in its own grounds. In some hard-to-define way, and much like the crossing to Lyndesfarne itself, the Cliviger Grange Centre was rather hard to find unless you were specifically looking for it. Only a small and distinctly overgrown sign had indicated its presence. Even so, considered Kevin, the feeling of remoteness made for a secluded and rather peaceful setting for the discussions.

The purpose of his visits was to attend a series of workshops on improving security and logistical efficiency. Kevin had thought that these were likely to be conflicting aims, but he had managed to make a variety of suggestions for improvements, very diffidently at first, but then with growing confidence.

One simple idea which had received a surprising amount of interest was adding more surveillance cameras. Naturally enough, there were already many very well-hidden cameras on the England side of the crossing, monitored by Guardians in that control centre disguised as a Tourist Information office. The wrinkle suggested by Kevin was to use number-plate recognition, a technology already widely available in Kevin's world for a variety of road traffic monitoring, charging and enforcement purposes. If one ignored the incongruity of adding number-plates to horse-drawn wagons, this approach meant that there could be fewer checks on registered vehicles, so that the staff on the ground could concentrate on unexpected vehicles.

Another area where he appeared to be regarded as uniquely qualified to offer advice was on plans for further logistical improvements, optimising the flow of materials between the two worlds. At the second of the meetings, he found himself reprising his thoughts about rail-based haulage on the England part of the bridge, and asking for suggestions for more efficient transportation on the other side.

To his surprise, Bret, who had attended this meeting as a large-minute filler, immediately piped up with the idea of floaters - the same magical technology that had been used to deliver blocks of construction stone to the construction site.

After some positive and exceptionally fruitful brainstorming, Kevin and Bret were commissioned to work together on a design, together with a business case and an outline plan, for an improved transport system.

It seemed that it might be possible to retro-fit the New Bridge with railway tracks on one side and guided floaters on the other, so that goods could be rapidly moved half-way across. Of course, there were some complexities: there would have to be some means of rapid trans-shipment, manually executed, in the very centre of the bridge. Additionally, the Old Bridge would need to be used for all foot travellers, and to allow for the continued use of horse-drawn transport for some purposes, since it would be too dangerous to allow people or horses close to rapidly moving railway carriages.

Yet another idea Kevin found himself explaining to the workshop was the use of passive Radio Frequency Identity tags. These so-called RFID tags were already widely used in his own world to discourage theft of high-value items from shops, as well as tracking the movement of goods (usually on pallets or in crates) as they moved from vehicle to warehouse. To make the tracking effective, various scanners and computers were required, which were beyond his own competence to specify, but this was an area where he anticipated that specialist skills could be easily brought in.

Nevertheless, through the agency of the Guardians, Kevin had commissioned some experiments, and the early results were very promising. It seemed that the tags were sufficiently simple and robust that, although the electronics were disabled on the crossing to Lyndesfarne by the sprites irremovably placed in the gap between the worlds, the tags always seemed to work perfectly when returned to his home world.

Kevin had explained this concept at some length to Bret, during one of their frequent informal discussions. Bret had a certain amount of difficulty with the concept at first but, once the idea had got through, she had made a few suggestions to her husband. Eosin had taken to the idea with enthusiasm, requiring just a few days of intense effort to create some marker sprites, and then embed them in some magic tokens which could be permanently attached to goods or at least to the packaging and pallets crossing the new bridge.

Eosin's real vocation was in the construction of new sprites to be released into the interstices of the crossing, to recognise and counteract the effects of the new magical items that were being created all the time. This was a task that required both real talents and dedication to duty, and Kevin had been given to understand that Bret's husband had a real talent for this work.

Eosin was confident that the sprites in the tokens would be "pacified" - this was apparently the best translation of the effect - when crossing to Kevin's world, but would reliably be activated on their return. The upshot of all this toil was that the logistical capacity of the New Bridge could be increased many times, but at the same time with an increased level of tracking and security.

Kevin found that it was a pleasure to be working closely with Bret again. The two of them got on very well, and Kevin was eternally grateful for Bret's timely intercession on his behalf.

Apart from being enormously personally satisfying, all this consultancy work had led to a considerable improvement in Kevin's personal wealth. Money had never been particularly important to him, and he was not entirely sure what to do with his new-found prosperity. He toyed with the idea with getting a better, or at least newer, car, but had not yet bothered. He was still regularly driving to and fro to Manchester, although this was necessary less frequently just at the moment. In reality, he was practically living in Lyndesfarne with Tanji, the two of them having taken over a small suite of rooms at her Aunt and Uncle's place. The Manchester flat, mused Kevin, was rapidly becoming somewhere where he kept his possessions, especially those which would be pacified if he were to take them with him.

He felt some much more secure in the knowledge that the two worlds were not really that dissimilar, that the physical rules actually the same, and it was people who had deliberately made the worlds different. The magic of Lyndesfarne was genuinely comprehensible, and he was now beginning to think of as just another kind of engineering, based on a further set of physical principles which just happened to be manipulated in a different way.

Kevin knew that machinery could be made to work in Lyndesfarne and magic could be made to work in England, although he was not quite sure how the deliberately inhibiting effects of the barrier could be reliably avoided. Something to be investigated, he considered, when I get the time.

He had even stopped thinking of the two sides as the Island and the Mainland, in his own mind. Kevin had finally realised that there were just two countries, small parts of two worlds, so very similar in many ways and separated by as little as a couple of bridges. There was so much more to be discovered, wonderful and exciting possibilities to be explored, ideas to be taken forward to implementation. Belatedly, he realised that life would never be quite the same again, and that he really did like it that way.

Kevin turned and looked at Tanji, who was standing just a few feet away, also admiring the sunset. It was beginning to get a little chilly, and he drew his cape closer around him, automatically making the simple gestures which would keep it in place. He moved to stand behind her, putting his arms around her, and feeling her turn her head and press her cheek against his chest.

Lyndesfarne Lantern

As the sun set completely, the lights from the bridges began to stand out. The traditional oil lamps on the causeway and old bridge were being lit in the time-honoured way. On the new bridge, magical lighting had been installed on the Lyndesfarne side, with electric illumination on the other section. Even so, the lights had been designed to be fairly dim - not as bright as conventional street lighting at home - and constructed to mimic the oil lamps that had lit the causeway for centuries.

On both bridges, the hurricane lanterns that hung on the swaying wagons making their journeys made for a quietly changing glow, which looked so very romantic in the twilight.

"You know," he said softly to Tanji, "If I didn't know better, I'd say it was all magical."

She glanced up at him, grinning, and then dug him sharply in the ribs.

"Ow! Oh well, I guess I deserved that," he said, grinning widely in his turn.

She reached up and kissed him firmly on his lips.

"Let's go home," she said.

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