“Don’t. It’s too dangerous,” cried Hetty. She pulled Marlin’s leg to keep him from climbing the tree, her light brown curls shaking with her head. The gang called Marlin ‘Beep.’ He was a little scared, and didn’t try hard to escape her.
Beep’s brother, Dexter, poked his head over the edge of the treehouse platform. “We know what we’re doing, Het. Jake built a zip line in the Poconos with his dad. Let him up. Come on, Beep.”
Beep twisted himself free, using the boards nailed to the side to pull himself up.
“You’re gonna break your legs,” said Hetty. She grimaced, then climbed after him.
The fort was crowded. Jake pulled on a cord through the back door and fed it to Emmet, who coiled it around his arm. Dexter, long hair and an Iron Maiden T-shirt, stood next to him. Beep and Hetty squeezed in behind. Emmet was the biggest, and they called him meatball. Jake was the second tallest, but also the skinniest.
“I got it,” said Jake. He untied the cord from a thin silver cable. “The very first line in the Muck-About Gang’s zip net.” He handed the cable to Emmet and grabbed the trolley wheels.
“It’s too thin,” said Hetty. “It’ll break.”
Dex laughed. “It’s galvanized steel, ditz.”
“Be nice to her,” said Emmet.
“Aw, I don’t mean anything by it. She just doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
“I wonder if the Internet started this way,” said Jake. After seating the trolley onto the cable, he handed it to Dex to hold in place. “A few guys just trying to make a couple computers talk to each other.”
Beep nodded. “Maybe we’ll have the whole neighborhood cabled up in a few years.”
“Why do you have to laugh at everyone,” said Emmet.
“Chill out, jackass,” said Dex. “I like the idea. We can zip all over the city, and we’ll control it. We can contract other kids to make deliveries, send messages, and water bomb the Peterson sisters.”
Emmet screwed up his mouth, chuckled and nodded his head, which moved his whole upper body, more like a repeated bow than a nod.
“We’ll probably put the drones out of business,” said Beep.
“Right.” Dex grinned.
“You’re all going to fall on sharp rocks and bleed to death,” said Hetty.
Jake hooked up the winch and wrapped the cable around the tree, clamping it, then cranking vigorously to tighten the cable. “This will change everything.” He puffed with effort, so Emmet took over the cranking. “We’re so used to connecting through our computers and cell phones, but with our zip line network, we’ll go back to more physical interactions. Experience reality more.”
“Yeah,” said Dex. “Our ’tweeting’ will be with real birds.”
“When we say Internet of Things, we mean it’s an Internet of things,” said Emmet.
“Holy cow!,” said Dex. “Emmet just made a joke.” He grabbed his gut and laughed.
The joke wasn’t funny to Beep, but the fact that Emmet cracked it was. Beep chuckled along with Dex and Emmet smiled.
“Instead of virtual reality,” said Jake, “We’ll have end-to-end reality.” He patted Emmet on the back. “That’s enough. Not too tight.”
The cable was now a soft downward arc across Jake’s back fence, through the wooded area, and into Emmet’s back yard where it wrapped around the big oak just above the platform for Emmet’s treehouse.
“Guys, it’s a million feet off the ground, and look how far it is,” said Hetty. “You’re going to get stuck in the middle, and then you’ll get tired and lose your grip and fall on a spiked tree stump and die.”
“We’ll be fine,” said Beep. He was getting excited to try it, even if a little scared.
“Don’t go, Marlin.” Hetty held on to his arm. “You’ll die, I just know it.”
“He’s the smallest,” said Emmet. “He’s going to test it before the rest of us go.”
“No!” Hetty stamped her feet and started crying.
“This is why the Muck-About Gang is all boys,” said Dex, which only infuriated Hetty more.
Beep pulled her clasping hands off his forearm. “It’s okay, Hetty. Jake’s the smartest guy in the world. It’s going to work.”
“But what if your hands slip?” she said.
“They’re not going to slip.” Beep didn’t want to admit it, but the thought of his hands slipping is what scared him the most.
“Okay,” said Jake. “It’s ready.” He held the trolley and beckoned Beep to grab hold.
Beep braced himself and stepped to the back door, hooking the doorjamb with his foot as he took hold of the trolley’s handles.
“Just step off and let gravity do the work,” said Jake. He touched a nylon cord wrapped around the trolley. “This is tied to the bungee brake. We don’t have it rigged to bring it back, yet, so you’ll have to drag it with the cord.”
“All right,” said Dex. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Beep looked at the ground between Jake’s fort and Emmet’s. He imagined slipping and falling on the fence. He wondered how many sharp rocks were on the ground along the wooded area. He wondered how hard it would be to hold on.
Emmet grinned. “You da man,” he said.
Hetty whined. “Marrr-liiin!”
Jake saluted. “One small step for a Muck-About. One giant leap for the Muck-About Gang.”
Beep worked up his courage, seeing all the things that could go wrong, almost paralyzed with uncertainty.
Dex scoffed. “Don’t chicken—“
Beep unhooked his foot and pushed off slightly, letting his body dangle, holding tightly to the trolley’s handles. The cable lurched, and the trolley slid in a spurt, but smoothened out into a constant glide. Over the fence, between the trees, he flowed like water through a glade, then slowed slightly as he reached Emmet’s yard. He lifted his feet and landed on the side of Emmet’s treehouse like a very short jump off of a box. He dropped his feet, planting them on the platform, and grabbed the edge of the roof to steady himself.
He grinned wide and let out a whoop. Uncoiling the nylon rope, he took a mental note that they needed to install some kind of handle to grab for the arrival. He pulled the trolley back to Jake’s house, stepping around bushes and hopping the fence.
When he scrambled into the treehouse, Hetty pawed him and whined. “Are you okay? Did you sprain anything? Did you spill your cookies?”
“I’m great,” Beep said. “It was fun.”
“All right,” said Jake. “Next victim.”
Hetty pushed Beep away. “Can I go? Please?”