Suspect

Bach rushed forward at the sight of Haley’s husk carrying not only the military man's body up the hill, but of his ‘Ol’ Dean’ as well.  “Is he alright?”  Right behind him came the other officer, ready to retrieve his lost comrade as well.

“He slipped, hit his head.  Seems to be okay, given his green distress ping, but I wouldn’t know for sure.”  Aside to the officer, Haley added, “My condolences,” while handing him the body.  To this the middle-aged uniformed man nodded gravely before pulling the body off the pavement to be laid down upon grass under a nearby tree.

Haley then delivered Dean into his son’s arms. Other locals had gathered near, and more than one knelt or hovered attentively, acting as if they might know a thing or two about how to handle his situation.  Something in Bach’s posture spoke of uncertainty.  At least, that's how Haley read him.  He set his father down on the grass and continued to linger over him even as he let others swoop in for a closer look.  “Breathing regular.” 

“Aye,” was all the reply Haley had for him.  “Do you have any idea what he’d be so anxious about?  What would he risk his life running back and forth for in there?”

Bach didn’t answer right away, instead laying his father on the ground.  Without so much as even looking at her, he finally did reply. “Old brushed aluminum cases?”

Haley nodded her husk's head.  “Aye, From the looks of it.  Actually, I think Khloe has two of them now.”

That brought his attention to her in a hurry.  “She does?”

“Left with such,” she answered.  She had to ask, “What’s so important about those cases?  Your father was very upset… wasn’t listening to reason.”

Bach’s eyes widened, if only briefly.  “Really?”  

Haley'd never really encountered anyone in such a state before.  “Aye.  Thought for a moment that I’d be carrying him clear even if he hadn’t knocked himself out.  I certainly didn't know what to make of it, then or now.”

“Oh.  Well, they hold various master templates.”

“You mean, nanite originals?”  

“Yeah.”

“I see.”  That maakes a little more sense.  Any two of those cases could buy back the whole building, if that’s what they hold inside.  “Sure as hell hope he hasn’t given himself a concussion.”  Maybe… maybe if she hadn’t pressed him, he’d have had what he wanted, and would have willingly walked out with her.  

“His wetware would have pinged worse than green if he was in any real danger,” Bach relayed.

Even knowing that full well, Haley stayed on for a moment longer, out of concern.  She also wanted to be rid of this artificial body.  “I’m returning to myself,” she offered Bach by way of warning.

“Alright.”

Haley blinked her mind’s eye — at least, that’s how she imagined it — and found herself looking up into her sister’s face.  Mitsuki hovered nearby as well, standing above Laney as they both looked on.  “Hello,” Laney greeted her.

Haley sat up, feeling stiff and tense.  “Hey,” she replied as she stretched and groaned, if not without a certain measure of pleasure.  “One could forget having ever had a human body, using one of those things.”  She suddenly felt frail.  And that was something that had never really occurred to her in the past, despite her much-felt lack of towering height over… well, pretty much anyone.

Her sister chuckled, likely just glad to have Haley back among the living.  Then she got serious.  “Mitsu and I have been on the wireless.  It’s too damn crypt out there.  When it isn’t crazy, that is.  I asked around the offices, and they don’t know what happened yet.  Not as of five minutes ago, anyways.”

Haley took that as cue to stand.  “No epicenter yet?”

“Not that they are sure of.  They think it was close, though… and yet, there are no significant seismics registered at all.”

“Mm!  I don’t remember feeling anything,” Mitsuki broke in.

Neither did Haley, now that she'd thought on it. "How could it have been so close without our feeling it?”  She asked this, and then immediately thought better of it.  “How could it have started somewhere far off without our getting any warning?”

“That’s what I thought,” Laney returned.  “There’s a general warning out now, but none of the mid-Atlantic monitors have registered anything yet.  That’s why they think it started nearby.  Hasn’t had long enough to propagate out that far.”

There could really only be one other at least somewhat reasonable explanation.  The idea must have registered in the expression on her face, as both of the other two drew in closer, faces painted with expectation.  She offered up her alternative, “Maybe a landslide or… maybe a slump.”

Laney’s thin and dark eyebrows shot up even as Mitsuki’s furrowed.  The young Japanese woman asked, “a slump?”  

“Hold on,” Haley asked her before casting a whisper out across the wireless web.  “Liam?”

The others crossed their arms and waited.  After a moment, a short and wiry man with sandy hair appeared on the grass before the trio.

“You called?”  He wore the uniform of a Druid, and then noticed that no one of the three women did the same.  “Mingling with the natives, then?”  This man knew his job more than well enough, but Haley could do without his attitude most times.  

“You must know we have a problem here,” she challenged this figment figure, appearing a likely thirty pounds slimmer than his living self back in the Overjordan offices.

“Sorry,” he returned, catching her impatience.  “I’ve heard from Laney already.”

“I suspect a landslide, maybe even a full slump.  Liam, send out any hovercraft that might still be docked at the city, and have them scour the edge of the gulf.  And if there are any cetaceans out there, be absoltuely sure to bring them home.  The water might get anoxic if worse has come to worst.”

“Also, come to think of it, get anyone you can grab and have any longitudinal wave measurements from the city matched against first wave report time-stamps from anywhere along the Maritimes or New England.  Hell, from anywhere at all, really, if available!  Get me a triangulated point of origin!”  Haley cut a flat palm through the air for emphasis.

The figment Liam blinked, but then nodded.  He vanished into thin air even as he replied with an “Yes, Lady Diaz.”

With that taken care of, Haley turned back to Mitsuki.  “Sorry Mitsu.”  Though the young black-haired woman was of an age with Laney, an she demonstrated a great aptitude for the various aspects of D.R.U.I.D education and responsibility, Lady Hayato had come late to the occupation.  Rather, she still had quite a lot to learn about things quote-unquote eco-cultural.  “A slump is an underwater landslide caused specifically by a sudden venting of gasses long since trapped beneath the sediments.”

“There are gasses under the ground under… uh… under the water?  Is that right?”  Mitsuki still occasionally struggled with her American grammar, though she worried over it far too much in Haley’s opinion.  She did just fine.

“Yeah… that’s right.  If that’s what has happened, there’s worse to come.”  The other two women stiffened as Haley admitted her fear.  “We need be returning to Overjordan.”  How exactly… well, that would have to be figured out, and sooner rather than later.  They'd been given a ride to the mainland, and had no way back of their own.  Not this soon, anyways.

Now intent upon her surroundings, Haley realized that her companions had carried her living body quite a ways off from more crowded spots.  Scanning about as she strolled downhill, looking for any familiar face, Haley sensed Laney and Mitsuki following after her, if silently.  She had to think, and they knew it.  There really were only a few possible scenarios that made any real sense to her, but she wasn’t quite ready to presume too much.

“Ah ha!”  Haley spied the salt-and-pepper hair of the man she’d been hoping to find — the same congressman she’d met earlier that day, now standing under a streetlight and surrounded by a crowd of locals.  Sister and friend closely in tow, Haley broke into a jog.  “Sir Abraham!”

The man turned to look for whomever had called his name, likely blinded to the deepening darkness beyond where he stood under a still-functioning streetlight.

Other heads turned as well, one of which she recognized clearly as Bach.  Haley waved as she approached, but neither of them showed any recognition on their faces until she also stepped into the light.

“Oh, hey!  Lady Diaz.”  The representative bowed his head and shoulders slightly in greeting.  “I should thank you for before.  I’m told you piloted the husk that cleared the exit for us.”

Haley exhaled as she slowed to a stop.  “Aye,” she panted.  “T’was me.  Though, Bach here gave me access to use that beast of a machine.”

“So he said.”

Bach nodded his head.  “I had to do something.  Worked out alright, I think.”  

“It did,” Haley agreed before focusing again on Abraham.  “Sir Congressman.  This is important.”

He and Bach both furrowed their brows, immediately intent upon her.  “What is it, Lady Druid?”  At the elder man’s equally formal reply, Bach’s expression reversed itself toward momentary surprise.  Haley could not help but notice, or be surprised herself.  “You know what I am?”

The congressman grinned widely, showing perfect teeth.  “Naturally.”  When Haley had only confused silence in return to his reply, he continued.  “Kavanagh the Elder is my good friend.  College roommates, in fact, and I was there to help him resurrect that old family plant.”  He nodded sideways and downhill toward the ruins of the warehouse even as something of momentary regret passed briefly over his face.

“I met you a few times before your father’s passing, Haley.  You couldn’t have stood much taller than my elbows at the time.  I guess you wouldn’t remember.”  After a pause for breath, he finished off, “Of course I was pleased to discover that you’d grown and gone on to do great things.”

Haley felt an immediate charm.  Still, he'd guessed accurately.  “Sorry, I don’t remember,” she admitted even as she massaged the back of her neck nervously.  Even feeling as though she'd somehow let the man down, she could not help but smile anyways.  When she saw the perplexed expression on Bach’s face, though, she laughed outright.

“I’m sorry,” the younger man began, realizing all eyes were now on him.  “I’ve known Sandy my whole life, but we’ve only just met.”  Bach looked straight into Haley’s eyes while saying this.

While that wouldn’t normally bother her, feeling as stung as she did just then, she strongly wanted to look away.  You don’t remember…  Somehow, she resisted the urge.  It really has been ages… decades, come to think of it.  Why should he remember her?

Just as suddenly as it had come, under the Congressman's warm smile, her jovial mood now fled.  It’s just as well, she thought.  Terrifying amounts of work would have to be done, if she were even half-right right about her suspicions.  “It’s alright,” she said along with a conciliatory gesture of the hand.  “It’s no big deal.  I’m worried about the here and now.”

“Right, right.”  The congressman snapped his back and shoulders straight, all business in that moment.  “What is the matter?  Aside from the obvious, that is?”

“To be completely honest,” Haley began, “I have reason to suspect that this evening’s tsunami, and any secondary waves that might still follow, are potentially the least of our worries.”

Sir Abraham looked grave all of a sudden.  “Oh?”

Haley gave the man a single and vigorous nod.  “There came no warning, meaning it probably originated close by.  Yet, we felt no quake.  I have my people trying to find the source, but this much water isn’t displaced by nothing at all.  Something out there had to have moved in a rush, and quite a lot of it.  If I’m right, then there might have been a massive out-gassing somewhere along the edge of the Gulf of Maine.”

“Out-gassing?”  Both Bach and Sandy asked this as if with the same mind.

Haley continued to address the congressman with her reply.  He could get things done on the mainland, after all.  “Methane is a likely culprit.”

“Oh,” the congressman trailed off.  Does that mean he understand what such a thing might entail?

Bach proved, at the very least, that he didn’t.  “What does that mean?”

“It means a lot of things, possibly” Haley replied, still feeling a little unwilling to face down the young man who did not remember her.  “Methane concentrated in the water can directly and indirectly lead to hypoxia or even anoxia.  Rather, a lack of oxygen in the water.”

“In other words,” Sandy stepped in, “the gulf re-establishment projects could be in serious jeopardy.”

“Right,” Haley added.  “And, besides that, if enough methane seeps into the air, it can become explosive.  And, even if not that, it’s a greenhouse gas that, even after it oxidizes, produces two other,” she stressed, “greenhouse gasses that stick around a lot longer still.”  Anoxia in the gulf would be disastrous for multiple reasons she didn’t exactly want to get into here, in front of a crowd of people who spent their lives living along its edge.  “That’s my jurisdiction out there, and I need to be dealing with it.” 

“Well, wait a minute,” Bach cut in.  “If you really are a Druid, shouldn’t you be here, helping us out?”

It isn’t an unfair question, but… “I don’t want to sound unfeeling, Sir Kavanagh, but perhaps you misunderstand a Druid’s role.”  She said this, and then thought better of it.  None of this was his fault.  “Sorry… if this were a normal tsunami, I’d be happy to put my people to the task.  But right now, worse may be going on out there,” she waved a sweeping hand out toward the bay, now hidden by the moonless dark.

“Besides, I’m not here officially.  The Downeast is another Druid’s territory… not mine.  The city of Overjordan will gladly lend aid to coastal towns later, but if there is any significant amount of methane in the waters, then we have to move on that first, well before the gulf becomes yet another dead zone.”

Bach looked torn.  He understands, Haley was certain, but likely feels helpless as well.

In the space of time she waited for his possible reply, she studied him.  Tall, broad, and sandy-haired.  He’d grown up well… not the pencil thin older boy she remembered that would always complain as he escorted her on her ceaseless explorations of the Maine woods.  Does he remember that much, at least?  Does he just not make the connection between that distant memory and the woman standing before him now?  What did it say about me?  

Just as Bach opened his mouth to speak, a sudden notion struck through all of Haley’s clustering worries.  “Wait!”

Bach stopped short.  “What?”

“I’d heard talk of seafaring husks that would have been in today’s demo.  Is that true?”

At first, Bach’s only reply came as a gaze.  Then, “We have ceti models, yes.”

Haley could have jumped.  “Extra fuzzy!  Can I have them?”

“Have… them?”  Bach looked incredulous.  “What do you mean, have them?”

“American Telepresence will be reimbursed, of course,” Sandy stepped in.

Haley should have thought to say as much.  “Right, sorry.  I might not even need them for very long.  A few weeks, maybe.  But if there has been a venting somewhere out along the edge of the gulf, then it may not be safe to send out ships to surveil the aftermath or assess our next steps.  I could call in dolphins to help, maybe, but if they’re caught in the bubbles, they could sink and drown… or even suffocate at the surface.  Your husks… well, they’re expendable.  Replaceable.”

Bach’s expression had softened before she’d even finished.  “Yeah… actually, I would hand them over even if they wouldn’t have been bought or replaced.”  He ruffled his unkept sandy hair, and looked away.  “It was just hard to hear those words, in particular, after everything.  Didn’t mean to react that way.  Besides, orders would probably skyrocket after prototypes of ours saw real action.”

Haley understood.  “Thanks, then.  I'm not against a little mutual benefit.”  Too many things to do, she thought to herself while turning back to the congressman.  “While I may have authority for certain things, Sir Abraham, I’d just as soon have a little pow-wow about this sooner rather than later.”

“Come to mention it,” the congressman deflected, “I have Khloe on that already.”

“You mean the survivor from the warehouse ruins?”  Haley felt some surprise.

“My assistant.  And yeah, she has always been surpisingly resilient.”  Sandy nearly beamed.  “At any rate, I sent her on ahead to the Kavanagh’s estate.  The street’s milling with locals who needn’y hear o’er much of what may have happened. Neither do various community leaders and heads of state need be distracted with constant chatter.  Bach and I actually were about to see if Ol’ Dean need be carried in, before anything official came about.”

Bach nodded, “Yeah.  Under a husk’s armpit, if need be.”  The sandy-haired young man smiled as he said this, but it looked to be a fragile smile.  At least, so it seemed to Haley.  His family business lay in ruins and his father lay unconscious with what could easily turn out to be a mild, but potentially persistent head injury.  Given the green hue of the man’s figment distress beacon, his possible concussion would not be so critical an injury that local or state level emergency services could be spared from more pressing emergencies all up and down the coastline.  Bach put a good face on a difficult evening, in spite of himself.  “Ol’ Sandy, if you would see Lady Diaz to the house.  I can see to my Dad.”  

Sandy gave the younger man a half-hearted salute, and nodded.  “Sure enough.”

Bach turned on his heels, and bounded down the street, presumably to where they’d set his father down to rest.  The Congressman turned to Haley, laying a hand on her shoulder.  “I believe you already know the way?”  

Haley nodded.  “Aye.”  It had been some time since she’d had any reason to visit Castine, but the old Kavanagh house was not a place to be so easily forgotten.  “I’ll just have some words with my people, and then be along.”

“Well enough.”  With that, Sandy wandered off in roughly the opposite direction that Bach had.  In all unadmitted honesty, though Haley would almost certainly remember that old house on sight, she wasn’t quite so certain where in town it stood, exactly.  At the very least, the Representative had just given her a direction to search.

“Liam?”  Haley called out across the wireless once again.  Mitsuki and Laney, who’d remained at an unnecessarily respectful distance during the previous conversation, meandered their way closer to her.  This might involve them, after all, as they well knew.  

The trio waited… and waited.  Laney kicked at a stray rock in the street.  Nearly a minute passed before the too-slim figment of Liam Eisan, Second Druid of Overjordan, appeared before them.  “I’m here, sorry.”  

If anything, his unusually tactful greeting had Haley more nervous than if he’d spoken with his typical lack of respect.  “I don’t mean to rush you, Sir Eisan, but I’m not long ‘fore meeting up with I don’t know how many mayors, governors, sheriffs, or congressmen.  I could use some kind of news.”  

The ethereal man worked his hands nervously.  “Lady Diaz, I don’t have too many specifics.  The team is pretty sure that the event is local, but… but we haven’t narrowed it down to any less than a two hundred and fifty kilometer search radius, as of yet.  We only have that much due to the timing of reports coming in.  Reports which say that Cape Cod and western Nova Scotia were hit within a few minutes of each other.  The Maine coastline was not at all far behind… a matter of a few more minutes, if that.”

Haley knew the gulf pretty well.  “Your search radius must center on the edge somewhere then?”

“That’s right.”

“Any details on damage?”  

“Very few.  Bits are crypt out there right now.  Anyone who is broadcasting is doing so in turmoil.”  Liam could not keep his focus on her, perhaps trying to split his consciousness between many wireless data feeds at once.  “Boston’s a real mess, from what little is leaking out.”

Haley did not want to think about that.  Even back during her days as a child, she remembered, that city had taken to perching right on the water’s edge.  These days, it engulfed much of the old harbor.  “If the event is local, that means that the tsunami will be side-swiping much of the eastern seaboard, the Caribbean, northern Brazil, as well as western Africa and Europa.  If our seismic warning systems didn’t fire, then none of theirs will have either.”

Liam grinned. “We’ve already started sending some burst communiques, Lady Diaz.  That was one of Laney's first suggestions,” he said with a deferential bow of the head to her younger sister.  

Well, that’s something.  “Good, then.”  Haley really hadn’t idea enough of just how much of a disturbance a submarine landslide might cause.  Rather, she couldn't be sure just how big it was.  This could just make for a few unusual laps against foreign beaches, or perhaps even hit them worse there than it had here.  “We’ll make no assumptions.”

“Right, Ma’am.”  

Haley winced.  She hated being called that.  

“Are all the hovercraft in the air?”  Haley, Laney, and Mitsuki had come by way of a friend's boat, and returning that way would be dangerous, had their ride even stuck around.  If methane effervescence was occurring somewhere out there, it could sink any ship intact.

Haley might have been able to direct operations remotely via the net — appearing as a figment avatar wherever she might be needed — but there’d be no way to deliver one or more of Bach’s ceti husks over the myriad layers of wireless.  “We’ll need one aeroship diverted here to Castine, if all are already airborne.  Otherwise, send one straight to us.”

Liam again looked a bit squirrelly.  “Truth be told, only a handful have launched so far.  I’ll send one your way right now.”

She felt no particular irritation over his admission.  It had only been a few minutes since she’d last summoned him, and this would be a very busy and very confusing night for everyone involved.  “Make sure it’s big enough for a couple-few tons of cargo, Liam.”

The figment Druid blinked, but nodded.  “Alright.”

“Off to it, then.  Unless something dramatic comes up, ping me every thirty or so, will you?”  

“Alright,” he agreed, and then simply was no longer there.

“Ladies?”  Haley gave the other two an appraising look and, when each nodded in return, she turned and headed across someone’s grassy yard and made for a side-street beyond.  She’d seen Sandy turn northeast once he’d hit that same car-lined stretch of road, and so she followed suit.

Though the part of town this far up the hill had not lost power, modern low-energy consumption mandates had the streetlights set rather dimly.  Haley lost a fraction of certainty with each and every step.  Realizing then that she was being less than clever, what with too damn much going on, she slowed her pace and let her eyes slide shut, reaching out across the wireless.

“Local Kavanagh residence?” She asked both vocally and of the wireless itself.  Haley opened her eyes once again and, not more than maybe a hundred meters further on up the hill, a giant bouncing figment arrow pointed down toward their destination.  “Stupid,” she cursed to herself.  “I must be stressed out.”

Mitsuki stifled a chuckle behind a closed fist.

Leading the other two, Haley set a faster pace further up the street.  When it seemed the road would take her too far past the figment icon, she nearly struck a course uphill through someone’s vegetable garden, but abandoned the idea when a narrow lane presented itself just on its far side.

“There we go,” Haley said to herself.  Once up the lane, the trio had to double back, but only for about one lawn’s width.  “Now this is looking familiar.”

Laney questioned her, “You know this place?”

“You don’t?”  When her sister only shrugged, Haley answered this for herself.  “Hell, I was barely more than a bratling back then, myself.  I guess you wouldn’t remember.”

Even as she spoke, ornate wooden doors opened, letting light spill out across the estate’s spacious front patio.  Representative Abraham appeared, in silhouette, and beckoned them to come forward.  Haley did not hesitate, and took the front steps in a pair of running leaps.  “Sir Abraham,” she greeted in passing him on her way inside.

Familiar, and more familiar, Haley thought.  Even eerily so.  The style and grain of the woodwork, the lack of paint, old brass door handles.  Haley would not have expected to remember this place so vividly, and yet, it was like nothing had changed.  Time very well could have forgotten all about this century-old house.

Even after the other two women had entered, the congressman left the doors wide, himself remaining out on the patio.  Haley wondered at this, and went to coax him inside.  That is when she saw the large shadow in the street just beyond the reach of the dim streetlights, indistinct now that her eyes had taken to adjusting to the indoor brightness behind her.  She knew what it was right away but, even so, the approaching ape-like husk could leave nightmares in its wake when witnessed like this.

The artificial beast stopped short of risking the old wooden steps to the patio.  “Someone come get him,” it said with Bach’s voice, referring to the still unconscious middle-aged man that it carried.

Sir Abraham was there in a blink, with Haley not far behind him.  Between the two, they managed to take Dean Kavanagh’s limp frame from the husk’s massive hands and hoist his arms over their shoulders.  He was not a fat man by any stretch of the imagination, but muscle weighed more and Bach’s father must have plenty of it.

Haley almost fell once, trying to shoulder her half of his weight, but regained herself.  She waved an attentive Laney off to one side so that they could pass through the front doors unimpeded.

“I’ve no mind to try carrying him up those stairs,” Sandy admitted as they neared a long flight up to the second floor.  If nothing had changed in the twenty-plus years since Haley had last been in this place, then all the bedrooms were on up there, and the stairs were neither short nor shallow.  “Couch in the den, then.”

“Sounds good to me,” Haley allowed, wishing to herself that she knew a little more about whether or not his being so completely knocked out was a bad sign or not.  She couldn’t imagine herself being carried around town, much less dragged around like this, and all without waking up.  “Do you think he is going to be okay?”

“Probably,” said the congressman.  “I still don’t sense that his wetware is particularly upset.”

“True, I suppose.”  While they could help the body keep clean of tumors and various arterial clogs — not to mention attacking infections, keeping the bloodstream warm, operating as a first line of defense against nanites alien to the body in question — the posses of microscopic machines that inhabited the bodies of the willing could do little more than chirp up a storm across the wireless when anything serious had occurred.  “Still, he’s been out a while now.  I saw him hit his head, and mine hurts just trying not to remember it.”

The older man chuckled even as they approached a long faux-leather couch in the next room.  Haley let the congressman manhandle the unconscious elder Kavanagh, turning him onto his back.  “That’ll have to do,” he said, slapping his hands together in that way people do when trying to brush away dust or dirt.  After sticking his hands in his pockets, Sandy turned toward and, for a lingering moment, just looked at her.  “Artful figs, little Haley.”

Taken aback, Haley’s face flooded with warmth, if only briefly.  “Oh, this?”  She reached up and touched the ethereal emerald hovering above and between her eyebrows, looking up but not quite able to see it.  “I’m so used to it that I forget it’s even there most all of the time.”

So far as Haley could tell, in looking back at the elder man, she couldn't be sure if he wore any figments at all.  Out of raw curiosity, she tentatively blocked out his passive broadcasts.  All that changed about him was his hair, going fractionally grayer than it had otherwise been.  Subtle…

“Doth they signify anything in particular?”  

Haley pulled herself back from her momentary reverie.  ‘Doth,’ did he say?  “Not that I remember.  I just liked the way these looked when I was a lot younger.  Back when wetware became affordable.  And now they’re just a part of my psyche, I guess.  My personal sig is the same shape and color as this gem.”

The older man nodded even as he closed his eyes.  “I think they work for you,” he said, still breathing a little hard.

Haley could only smile slightly, feeling mildly embarrassed and self-conscious.  She could give praise and attention with ease, but receiving it wasn’t entirely the same story.

“Thanks,” would have to be reply enough.  Even as Mitsuki and Laney wandered into the room, another figure appeared out of thin air not more than a pace from where the congressman stood.  “Sir Abraham,” Haley elbowed the man, and his eyes snapped back open from momentary relaxation.

“Representative,” greeted this newly materialized figment of a woman who was either dressed in, or otherwise imagined herself to be wearing strictly formal attire.

“Lady Mayor Haskell,” the congressman returned.  “Thank you for seeing me under the circumstances.”

The white-haired woman nodded almost to the point of bowing before him.  “Never mind.  I’m glad to see someone is trying to organize a reaction to this evening’s incident.  I would be understating the case if I were to say that my shores are in turmoil.  Most of my island has been stripped bare!”

Sir Abraham shook his head.  “No doubt.  Others…”  Even as he began to speak, another individual materialized out of thin air.  This time it was a man whose age Haley could not have guessed at, even assuming his avatar actually bore his true living appearance.    

“Is this meeting about to start?” asked the new arrival.  A third person blinked into being right next to the second, before anyone could begin to reply.  

When a fourth appeared — and then a fifth — Representative Abraham dared his reply.  “Looks like it, Sir.  Let’s collect as many as we can before we set too much in motion.”