Sometimes I think the deftest “world in peril” stories are the ones that tell us enough about how things have gone wrong but don’t tell us everything, and “Heavy Lifting,” from A.T. Greenblatt (found in Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction) has that balance down perfectly. It was all the more enjoyable in knowing of the scarcity, the structural weaknesses, and the worry the characters were facing than it would have been in knowing exactly what had brought this community to the brink.
The story picks up with a team trying to recover a hacked robot. Someone has managed to get the robot to take off, and it’s up to one person in the field and one person at her desk to try and recover the robot—which isn’t the first hacking attempt for this particular robot type, not the first successful attempt, but is the first attempt that has resulted in the robot bursting its way out of the fenced-in community, which adds a layer of desperation to the programmer at her desk (and her partner in the field).
There are some really clever plot points at play here, too. With more access, the programmer could simply stop the robot in its tracks, but no one has seen fit to give her that access, so she has to use skills she’s got to work around the problem, making things harder than they should be. That she’s also a character who uses a wheelchair and crutches to get around, and notes most of the buildings in their community have stairs at the entrance wasn’t lost as a parallel. More, the ending of the tale left me smiling in a similar way—I won’t ruin it—and all the more so as the character revelations piled up. “Heavy Lifting” does a great job of juggling the narrative, its theme, the POV of a disabled character, and that larger social context without dropping a single ball, and the result is a really enjoyable story.