The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Bridge of Stone and Magic: Chapter 30

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The New Bridge to Lyndesfarne, in Kevin’s entirely biased opinion, was one of the most impressive and certainly the most unusual engineering construction he had been involved with in his long career. The most novel aspect, of course, was that it spanned not just the straits between island and mainland, but also two different worlds, quite possibly - Kevin had been forced to consider - in different universes.

The entire structure could not have been built using any technology that Kevin was aware of, since half of the bridge was actually in the Other World where, by careful design, any technology significantly more advanced than jointed wood or masonry would not function. Kevin and Bret - with their teams of designers - had been forced to construct what was effectively two half-bridges, each using robust technology - or magic, which was nearly the same thing - from their own world.

On the England side, Kevin had devised an elegant steel-reinforced concrete tower, supporting high-tensile steel cables which in turn held up the roadway. The cables were tethered by a massive concrete construction which was itself anchored to the bedrock on the shore. The smooth curve of the roadbed, arching gently out from the shoreline and bisected by the slender support tower, presented an impressive sight, an elegant working example of engineering forces in balance.

On the Lyndesfarne side, Kevin was much less clear how things worked, although the general shape of the bridge was the same. As far as he knew, the supporting tower was built from blocks of magically-enhanced construction stone, blocks which melded together a few hours after they had been laid. The roadway was constructed of the same material, or something very similar. The support for the roadbed was entirely magical; huge triangular fans of what looked from a distance like translucent sheets or sails linking road and tower. From close by - on the bridge itself, for example - the magical supports were entirely invisible, and there appeared to be nothing at all holding up the impossibly slender structure.

Kevin had often visited the New Bridge after it was opened, and not just to admire his own handiwork. On this occasion, he was inspecting the warehousing arrangements for goods exported between the two Worlds, and exploring the possibility of further improvements that he could suggest. This was as the result of a task Kevin had undertaken shortly after the plan for the New Bridge was complete: the design of the mechanisms for the transport of goods. The original and unimaginative approach, planned before he got involved, was simply to replicate the mode of transportation on the Old Bridge: the use of heavy wagons of wood and wrought iron drawn by horses.

Quite apart from the anachronistic appearance of horse-drawn carts on a high-tech steel and concrete bridge, Kevin felt that there must be a better solution. Horse and cart transport was not very fast, and the relatively small carts had to be loaded and unloaded at each side. Even with fork lift trucks (on the England side) and magical assistance in Lyndesfarne, this took up a fair amount of time.

Of course, any technological solution could not work all the way across, just as a magical approach would be useless for half the journey. Kevin’s insight was that there was no particular reason why the same approach had to be used all the way across the bridge. If trans-shipment could be made swift and easy in the centre of the bridge, two different solutions could be used on either side.

In a surprisingly short time, the entire New Bridge had been retro-fitted for the new transport. On the England side, a railway line had been laid, which was used by custom-built low trucks, each just big enough to support two standard wooden pallets standing on a bed of steel rollers. A short train of these trucks was pushed or pulled across half of the bridge by a battery-powered engine adapted from the tow trucks used in airports. Two sets of rails were provided, to allow transport in each direction, together with a complex set of points and switches allow trucks, once emptied to be moved to the other line and reloaded.

Kevin had correctly concluded that the steel rails could not extend into the transit region, the short distance - perhaps no more than ten feet - where neither magic nor technology were totally reliable. At the edge of the region, the rail tracks stopped. There, the pallets were man-handled off the rollers on the trucks and slid onto a set of greased rollers fixed in the centre of the bridge. These rollers were manufactured using the lowest level of technology Kevin could think of: wrought iron axles supporting hard oak cylinders set in a framework of wood and iron. On this bed of rollers, pallets could be rapidly slid from the mechanical to magical transport, or vice versa.

The Lyndesfarne transport itself was something that Kevin could not help but think of as a magical conveyor belt. Once slid off the wooden rollers, the pallets were supported by an insubstantial strip of magic, glittering brightly with the swirling orange sprites that marked the presence of powerful enchantments. Brief gestures from the operators sent the pallets on their way without further guidance until they reached the far end of the bridge. Pallets arriving in the opposite direction - it turned out that very similar low-tech pallets were in widespread use in both worlds - and loaded onto recently emptied trucks for the journey to the warehouse in Kevin’s world, a process which now worked with a commendably high degree of speed and efficiency.

Chain link fence The warehouses on the England side of the crossing were in the centre of a compound that adjoined the New Bridge. The compound was surrounded by a high chain-link fence with two gates: one used by the trucks and one where the twin railway lines exited to cross the bridge. The warehouse buildings themselves were built with the standard industrial construction technique: a frame of steel girders roofed with epoxy-coated corrugated steel sheets. The sides were clad with thin walls of machine-cut stone chosen to keep the visual impact of the buildings to a minimum.

Inside the main warehouse, fork-lifts were in continuous operation loading pallets onto the railway wagons and unloading others. Some merchandise was immediately reloaded onto Heavy Goods Vehicles for transport, while other goods were not loaded directly onto trucks but needed to be stored until a complete consignment was ready. One end of this warehouse was dense with high racking storing a wild assortment of goods. Other buildings were used for long-term storage, for goods which did not need to be transported immediately. At the time, Kevin was surprised to note that this included large quantities of some very fine champagnes, although he would later come to realise just why this was so.

Kevin’s eventual suggestion for improvement was to extend both inbound and outbound railway tracks further into the main warehouse, terminating closer to the loading bays for the heavy trucks. This also allowed fork lifts to be deployed on both sides of railway wagons, thus allowing a further reduction of the time taken to load and unload.

There were always HGVs moving along the short spur to and from the New Bridge, which joined the old Lyndesfarne road and itself linked to the main north-south highway a few miles away. The old road somehow looked narrower and more winding than it actually was and probably had been, Kevin considered, deliberately designed that way. But all this had been established long ago, before the advent of motorised transport, to give the impression of a meandering back road which went nowhere in particular.

Kevin’s next port of call was the warehouse on the Lyndesfarne side of the New Bridge. He could have taken up the offer of a ride in the cab of one of the electric tractors used to propel the rain of carriages. Instead, he elected to walk since it was such a pleasant day. Even so, he knew that the weather in the vicinity of the crossing was notoriously variable, liable to change unexpectedly. This was because the two sides of the crossings were actually in different worlds, subject to different weather systems, and the atmospheric turmoil that this created.

There was a footway running the length of the New Bridge for the use of pedestrians, although those in the know where encouraged to use the Old Bridge which lay on the more direct route. In principle, anyone was free to cross to the Other World, although the Guardians stationed at both old and new bridges were careful to discreetly discourage the passage of those who might be confused or upset by what they found on the other side.

Although the sun was high, the light sea breeze was cool. Kevin found it pleasant enough striding along carrying the little rucksack that contained his few essentials including a waterproof jacket in case the weather took a turn for the worse. He was passed by the rumbling trains every few minutes, the near-silence of the electric motors punctuated by the squeal of the wheels on the rails.

The very centre of the New Bridge was sixty feet above the waves. Kevin stopped at the transit section where the complex transfer machinery was installed. A shelter of wood and tile had been erected around this area to keep of the worst of the weather - which could be pretty horrendous, he knew - although the walkway remained open to the elements. The workmen nodded politely, but otherwise left him alone, returning to their task of man-handling the pallets.

From this vantage-point, it was almost impossible to see either end of the bridge, even in this fine clear weather. The supporting cables and roadway disappeared into the haze in either direction. It was eerie, and Kevin shivered slightly despite that warmth of the day. There was a sense of being all alone out here, with just the sea and the wind and the seagulls for company.

Below the sea was relatively calm, so Kevin was able to observe a strange effect in the water’s surface. It was almost as if a line was drawn across the sea, a near-continuous streak of white foam and bubbles separating two regions which were, he could discern, a very slightly different shade of blue. He had heard about this phenomenon. It was a visible representation of the boundary itself, where the seas from the different worlds came into contact. Normally, wind and tide and waves mixed the waters so thoroughly that nothing was apparent but today was sufficiently clear and calm that the slight differences in currents in the Two Worlds was enough to leave a visible trace.

The line of disturbed water bisected the triple arches of the Old Bridge, discernible in the distance. The dark stone of the causeways on either side was partially visible, the far ends soon disappearing into the haze. Walking figures and the occasional horse-drawn wagon could be seen making the crossing, as Kevin had himself done so many times in the past.

Kevin stood watching the traffic on the Old Bridge for ten minutes, his solitude if anything enhanced by the rumble and clank of pallets being moved about just behind his back. The waves splashed below, the seagulls screamed and both worlds seemed impossibly far away. Here, in the very centre, he considered, one was not properly a part of either world, but cut off, floating, somewhere in between.

Kevin shook his head and re-shouldered his rucksack, then set off for the Lyndesfarne shore. Nominally, he had intended to check out the warehouse on the other side as well, although he had not really expected to be able to suggest any improvements there. As he approached the low stone-built building that formed the transit point between cargo portal network and the crossing, he recognised with growing happiness the figure that was waiting outside.

He was delighted to see Tanji, who had arrived early, and his earlier funk in the centre of the bridge was already forgotten. It had almost slipped his mind that they were scheduled to go on another of the tourist visits that Tanji took such delight in arranging for his entertainment.

"Ready to go?" she asked.

He smiled warmly, somehow relieved to be back in at least one of the real worlds.

"Yes," he said.

She took his hand and they walked away from the warehouse and towards the passenger portal building entrance.

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