I believe this failure of the original bridge design was the outcome that was desired. But the real question is: who or what is it that wanted this result? This is a question I cannot answer.

But it seems that we are under intense surveillance, that nearly everything we humans do is observed by hidden devices reporting to unseen masters. I suspect it has been this way for centuries, perhaps even millennia: the persistent stories throughout human mythology of multi-eyed gods and omniscient deities seem too close to be a coincidence, not to mention the report of lights in the sky which have been a part of our history for a long time.

Our world is bound by a network of autonomous robots - not individually very bright - making observations and reports on everything and everyone. Almost all the time, these robots are invisible, undetectable to human senses and those of the machines we have so far learned to build. It seems sometimes that the cloaking sometimes fails and the devices employ a failsafe mode. They become dazzlingly bright so that observations by eye or camera are confused or, in extreme circumstances, the machines simply self-destruct.

There was something about the construction of the bridge that provoked the robots or their unknown masters to intervene: to cause accidents and injuries - even deaths - to delay the construction work and, when that approach was unsuccessful, to sabotage the fabric of the bridge itself.

But why were there so many appearances of these dazzlingly bright objects around the bridge, if their normal mode was to remain totally hidden? Was it deliberate, that the appearances of unexplained objects were designed to delay the completion of the bridge and perhaps to throw enough public doubt to prevent the large-scale use of the new material?

Or were the frequent appearances a fluke, even an accident? Were the pervasive observation devices, which normally circulate unseen around our everyday activities, somehow affected by the bridge's design? Perhaps some property of the anisotropic carbon fibres, exacerbated by the large-scale deployment of the material, was upsetting the cloaking technologies used by the silent observers and causing them to deploy emergency measures?

Might there be other, as yet undiscovered, properties of carbon nanotubes, incorporating features of other exotic materials and allotropes of carbon? We may never know. Oh, certain physicists I have encountered since have wild ideas; they talk of magnetic monopoles and standing gravitational waves, of focussed nuclear effects and advances in solid-state electronics and computers. But carbon nanotubes remain just a laboratory curiosity, with any commercial use decades, even generations, in the future.

The new bridge is now in place, and carrying road and rail traffic exactly as it was designed to do. Not my design, of course: this one will have been a lot more expensive, not least because they have had to construct a third tower in the centre of the straights just to support the extra weight of the steel cables themselves.

I go and look at the bridge sometimes, driving out to the raised observation point that a thoughtful designer had included in the plans. From that vantage-point, I can see the triple towers, spires of steel reinforced concrete topped with lightening conductors, the roadbed of steel girders and plates, and the bulky couplings used to connect the cables to the ferro-concrete foundations and the support towers. To all appearances, it is a triumph of the bridge-builder's craft.

For me, it is a symbol, a marker of failure. The peoples of this world are slowly lapsing into stagnation and introspection, doing only what we have done before and that barely adequately. There is no new thinking, no far horizon upon which we fasten our gaze and our ambitions.

It now seems likely that there will be never be any large-scale construction using exotic super-strong materials like carbon nanotubes, and thus any progress towards building a useable space elevator like that I described earlier has diminished to zero. This implies that the human race will never get low-cost access to space, not even near-Earth orbit, and therefore, as a species, we are effectively marooned on a single small rock about a hundred million miles from the nearest star - the Sun.

We're here for good, kids.

Part 6

...Then a Miracle Occurs Book Cover If you have enjoyed this story, then why not take a look at the others in this collection? An eclectic mixture of science fiction and mystery/ghost stories under the title ...Then a Miracle Occurs.

Four Square Less One Book Cover You may also enjoy my earlier collection of fifteen interlinked short stories under the title Four Square Less One. Can you work out the hidden connections between all of the stories?

New Bridge to Lyndesfarne Book Cover Bridge at War Book Cover Death on the New Bridge Book Cover Bridge of Stone and Magic Book Cover Why not take a look at my Lyndesfarne Bridge series of novels: New Bridge to Lyndesfarne, Bridge at War, Death on the New Bridge and Bridge of Stone and Magic.

Findo Gask - Goblin Detective Book Cover I am now working on a new series of Private Eye fantasy novels. The first is called Findo Gask - Goblin Detective, featuring the eponymous Private Eye, Findo Gask himself.