Gather

The meeting of local powers rapidly unfolded in the midst of the Kavanagh’s old-fashioned living room.  Popping into existence were Mayors and Sheriffs, Representatives and Senators… even one bleary-eyed White House staffer who likely had no idea just what the hell might be going on.  The first wave would not have travelled that far south as yet. 

Chatter had been escalating ever since the first arrival and, from what Haley could gather, few of them knew all that much more than did the bewildered staffer.  It was a wonder that government ever actually got any work done.  But she had to remind herself that she was, technically speaking, working in a branch of that same continental institution.  

Haley's mounting frustration got the better of her.  “Folks!”  Many of the closest among the figment congregation stopped to look in her direction.  Though feeling instantly on the spot, she pressed forward after receiving the slightest of nods from Representative Abraham.

“Sorry.  Hi,” she began.  With every new set of eyes focused upon her, Haley felt her face grow hotter.  Just then, Bach appeared in a doorway, clear across the room.  He looked startled at the suddenly silent throngs of virtual people standing in his living room.  But then his eyes caught on hers, and lingered there for a moment.  Though she could read nothing from his face, dimly lit from where he stood, she found an extra bit of courage for herself in that contact.

Feeling bolstered, Haley tore her gaze away and called physically for attention, raising both arms with palms outstretched and open.  “My name is Haley Diaz, and I am Archdruid for the city of Overjordan and the Gulf of Maine.”

Various greetings flowed in from around her, though all were courteous enough not to interrupt her outright.

“If anyone here remains unaware, there’s been a tsunami.  Cape Cod, Boston, the Maine Coast, and the Maritimes… all were struck by the first wave some time ago, and each within minutes of each other.  We’re still waiting to see if more waves will come.  For those of you from southern coastlines… if you have not been struck already, you will be.”  Haley halted there, allowing the ethereal masses time to digest and react.

When the resulting buzz slackened enough, Haley would have continued if not for one particularly pertinent question.  “Why haven’t we heard of this?”  Whoever had asked, Haley did not know, though they must be present from well south, almost certainly.

“The answer is that there’s been no seismic event.  This was not caused by a submarine earthquake.  To be honest, I can’t think of any reason why anyone would have anticipated this.”

Again, chatter erupted.

Haley felt compelled to break back in.  “One possible cause,” she said, amplifying her voice via the wireless, “has me particularly concerned.”

It took another few moments to regain the crowd’s full attention, but she waited for it nevertheless.  “I’ve already commandeered many of my city’s assets for use in scouting out possible points of origin, primarily along the edge of the gulf where the continental shelf drops away into the depths.  Rather, the only line along which I can imagine a sudden submarine landslide might possibly be significant enough to displace this much water.”

“Aside from battered coastlines, why is that a problem?” someone asked.

Haley found herself stuck between contradicting impulses.  On the one hand, the worst case scenario she feared could not be easily dispelled from her mind.  And if she were right, she’d need to move fast to have any hope of staving off further consequences.  On the other hand, though, she had no desire to stick her neck out based on what could prove to have been merely an assumption on her part.  In such a case, she would not be directly removed from her post.  No, but she might be silently compelled to retire.  For one to rise so quickly, and at such a young age… 

Haley pushed that train of thought away.  Worse not to err on the side of caution, not that what she had in mind could be considered cautious by any stretch of anyone's imagination.

“Though I’d not have expected large concentrations of the stuff locally, a sudden methane dissociation might loosen the steep slopes along the edge of the gulf.  Think avalanche, except as much as a kilometer down.  If this is true, the consequences go well beyond coast-bashing tsunami.”

Haley breathed, and continued.  “Methane is lighter than air, and so it follows that it is that much lighter than water.  If there’s enough of it, it will rise to the surface quickly in a storm of bubbles that can sink most any ship caught in them.  Rather, the density of the water drops so far and so fast that ships cannot remain afloat, literally falling through the oceans's surface.”

“That’s why I’ve sent hovercraft to look for any tell-tale signs.  Beyond that,” she continued after another brief pause, “methane can explode in the air, if it reaches high enough concentrations.  And even if not for that, it’s a very potent greenhouse gas that oxidizes into two other potent greenhouse gasses that stick around for a hell of a lot longer.”

Groans and chatter emanated from the ethereal gathering.  Haley pressed on, in spite of that.  “Worse yet, methane gas can both directly and indirectly sap the water of oxygen.  First by oxidizing, but then more by way of feeding large blooms of methane-eating, oxygen-breathing bacteria.  A new dead zone forming in the less-circulated waters of the gulf can lead to a massive die-off, wrecking all our ecosystem reconstruction efforts.  Finally, if anoxia sets in long enough, a second generation of bacteria can bloom there… bacteria that give off poinonous fumes.”  

Haley could tell the environmentally well educated from those that were not, given how high some eyebrows raised versus how low others furrowed.  That is, where eyes did not glaze over entirely.  One among the many figment attendants accosted her, “Isn’t this the sort of thing D.R.U.I.D is supposed to prevent?” 

“By and large,” Haley replied.  For most of these people, dealings with Druids such as herself meant little more than yet another step to take between themselves and an approved building permit or product line.

With chatter increasing once again, Haley interjected, “Folks, please!  This isn’t the time to talk about causes or symptoms.  This has already happened.  This meeting is only about what you need to know, or need to do, or need to prepare for.”

Haley hoped that she hadn’t spoken with too much anger in her voice.  That could put people on the defensive, which would be less than useful at the moment.  At the very least, the crowd did quiet some.

“Lady Diaz?”  Liam’s voice spoke to her as if he’d been standing right there next to her.

“Everyone… a moment,” Haley said with an outstretched and open palm.  “You have a report, Liam?”

As soon as she had replied, her second in command materialized in that animated way he had of seeming to step out from an invisible mist.  Haley might enjoy such embellishments herself, but avoided them while on duty.  Not that it mattered all that much.

Liam jerked back a step at seeing the crowd of other virtuals, but continued even so.  “Yes, Lady.”  He paused, appearing to steel his resolve before he continued.  “There are reports coming in of unusual amounts of methane, as you thought might be the case.”

“Sour,” she cursed out loud, not particularly concerned at being overheard.  “Whereabouts?  Do you know?”

“Not too specifically, Lady Diaz.  First report came in from roughly forty one degrees and thirty minutes north by sixty six degrees west almost on the dot.”  Even as he replied, Liam’s glance darted all about the room.  Everyone was so intent upon him and his report that he looked as if ready to wilt on the spot.  

“Hold up,” she replied.

In her mind, Haley summoned up an image of the Earth.  This figment blinked into being, hovering not far over the flat palm she held up at the end of an outstretched arm.  It wasn’t a particularly accurate representation, stripped of clouds or fine surface detail.  It need only serve as a rough map.

The figment planet grew over her hand for a moment before she tossed it down to the floor.  Even as it continued to balloon, the bulk of its volume sank beneath the hardwood living room floor until only one slim edge of the world remained visible.  As it grew, the people standing the closest promptly gave way, so as not to be caught standing in the middle of the figment.  

“Map,” Haley addressed the virtual Earth.  "Show me forty one point five north by sixty six west.”  After a brief moment, the world rotated before them, finally easing to a halt not far off the New England shorelines.  Haley asked for a beacon to be placed at that location, and then there was.

She then asked the map to have the ocean surface stripped away, showing the landmass that lay submerged.  Sure enough, that first beacon hovered animatedly not far from the edge of George’s Bank, where shallower waters drop away into cold and dark Atlantic depths.  “That makes sense to me,” she said as much to herself as she did to the congregation.  “Liam, there are other reports?”

“Quite.”

“Toss a few, if you will.”  She directed him to do this, and then turned on the crowd.  “Folks, this cuts it.  This is what is called a slump.  Not only has methane been released into the water, but in concentrations enough to reach the surface.  That’ll have lasting consequences.  More immediately, the dissociation of the solid clathrates above the gassy deposit has loosened the steep slope down from the George’s Bank.  As such, a swath of sediments fell away in a landslide large enough to cause this evening’s tsunami.”  

No one challenged her assessment directly, but as Liam threw down beacon after beacon, the chatter around the room did escalate once again.  The intolerable buzz threatened to drown out Haley’s thoughts.

“Haley!?”  When Liam lost his pretense at deference, Haley new something was particularly wrong.

Haley would have asked after him, but the words died in her mouth.  The sky outside the south-facing picture window  flashed yellow-white for a split second before darkening almost immediately into the most bizarre of reds.  Silhouetted against that distant light stood separate and bubbling storm clouds.  Above and well beyond those, thin and wispy high-altitude clouds lit up from beneath.  Haley could not help but burst for the hallway and the front door around the corner.  Even as she went, she heard the following footsteps of the few living souls actually present in the house.

Haley slowed to a staggered halt at the edge of the steps down from the front patio.  From there she just stared.  Though not nearly as bright now, the red hue lingered for several seconds at least.  Bach and Sandy were on her heels immediately, and also stopped to watch as the light bled away into renewed darkness.

“I beginning to fear that might happen,” Haley said for anyone who cared to hear it, before sprinting back inside.  Very few of the figment attendees had followed, instead only confused by her sudden departure.  They could only be experiencing the Kavanagh’s living room as it resided in public memory on local layers of the wireless.  Unlike most of these people, Haley stood here in the flesh, and could see that which these people had their eyes closed to, for want of wandering the web.

“Liam!”  Haley called out as she returned.  “Is the Mayor of Overjordan present?”  She did not recall having seen his face or crazy white hair anywhere among those at the impromptu gathering.

“I don’t think so, Lady Diaz.”

She wanted to curse again.  “Fine… I want you personally to knock on his door if you have to.”  Her subordinate just blinked at her, so she clarified her command.  “The city must move!  Take her out over the Northeast Channel, but no farther.  Don’t wait for me to return.  Just get it done.  Plus, please call back all craft at or above sea level.  I want a tally to make sure we didn’t just lose anyone out there.”

Liam looked incredulous, but bowed and vanished.  If anything, the poor fool dreaded having to deliver her order himself.  Though she’d never utilized it before, as Archdruid of the city she had the authority to order a move such as this.  She and the Mayor could fight about it after the fact.

On the other hand, she guessed to herself, she knew him well enough to suspect he'd not take offense at her sudden seizure of control.  Not under these circumstances, anyways.

“Folks!”  She yelled, looking for order.

Congressman Abraham also barked out calls for attention, adding his more easily recognized persona of authority to her own.  Once she had the crowd's full attention, she launched into what she had to say.

“All Mayors and Sheriffs present… all Congressfolk here from more southern locations… have your coastlines evacuated, and now.  From our living position here on the coast of Maine, we just witnessed what was probably a large fireball some ways off over the horizon.  Likely in proximity to the George’s Bank.”

“I don’t know, off the top of my head, if it’s too late now for that to have been a buildup and release from the slump that triggered the first tsunami.  Rather, I don't know if this means that there might even have been a second slump.  Even if there hasn’t been, that the sky would light up from, god, maybe a two hundred to two-fifty kilos away… that means that there was a hell of a lot of methane in the air.  And that probably means a large initial dissociation.”

When little by way of understanding registered on most faces, Haley felt she had to spell it out.  “What I’m saying is, all coastal communities up and down the eastern seaboard must be prepared to be hit several times, and possibly right on into the morning.”

With that, the buzz of chatter exploded.  Several people simply vanished.  Others lingered, talking to one another via their shared position on the local web layer.

She caught sight of Sandy moving for a faux-leather recliner not far from the couch where Dean Kavanagh now snored.  That, at least, had Haley feeling a bit better about his condition.  Not to be too easily distracted, she crossed the living room and caught the congressman’s elbow in her grip.  

He looked up, briefly startled.  “Sorry?”

“Sir,” she replied.  “Sorry, but I can’t stick around here.  I especially can’t get caught up directing emergency operations on the mainland.  I have to slide back to Overjordan as fast as I can.”

“Right,” he answered, letting himself fall into the chair after all.  “That’s fine.  I can deal with the mainland.”

“Thanks.  I’m also commandeering Bach, some husks, and some indieware templates.”  She pointed to the sleeping elder Kavanagh while saying this.  “Please tell him.”

“Alright.”  Then, after a moment’s consideration, he added, “Send me Khloe if you see her.  She’s around here somewhere.”

Haley nodded her understanding, and left the Congressman to relax and project himself out across the net, much as those remaining figments of people here had been doing in order to attend this meeting.

Luckily, Bach still lingered in the hall just outside his own living room.  He’d been looking in her direction even as she first turned to head his way.  That is, until he quickly looked way, and that struck her as odd.  There’s been no hesitation in the man’s actions all day.  What does a big and broad fellow like him have to be shy about?  Haley’s thoughts on the matter trailed off as she closed the gap between them.  “Bach?”

He turned to face her.  “Yeah?”

“Best get straight to it, I guess.”  She paused, wanting to find any easy-to-swallow way to say it.  When she could not, she just let all what she had to say.  “I need your husks, yes.  But I need you and some of your templates as well.  To come with me, that is.”

“Alright.”

“But I really need your…” Haley stopped.  “You said yes?”  She’d not expected that.

He only nodded.

“I’m sorry,” she said, putting voice to her surprise.  “I didn’t expect you to just go along with it like that.”

He looked away from her again, out the still open front doors.  “If what you said is true,” he began, “about the oxygen being sucked out of the gulf by that… well, knowing what I know about indies, it would occur to me to breed some posses with scripts to break down the methane in the water.”

“Aye.  That’s what I was hoping might be possible.”  In saying this, she found herself admitting to Bach that she really didn’t know if any of this would have panned out.  Still, to hear him give words to the very thing she’d been considering… it felt good.  “That’s what I was hoping for,” she half-repeated.

“We’ll need a lot of raw materials for this.”

“Overjordan has at least a year’s worth of nanocache soup in reserve.  Is that enough?”  Haley knew the basics at least —  that nanoscopic machines had to be built of the right substances, though a wide range of materials could suffice.  Beyond that, she knew nanoware could not replicate on their own.

So, if they were going to distribute the stuff over a large area, they’d have to continuously be growing what they’ll need, and primarily with what they have on hand… at least to start with.  

“I don’t know, really,” Bach said before amending his answer.  “I don’t really know what a year’s needs for a self contained city the size of Overjordan amounts to.  I suppose, even if it is not enough, we can attack the problem enough to slow it down… get more soup delivered for more indies to be grown.”

“I guess so,” was all the reply Haley had for him on that matter.  She knew, of course, that they’d have to play it by ear.  The whole evening had been like that.  “I sent for a hovercraft to shuttle us back to the city.  A larger one just in case your sea-going husks are very heavy,” she said, even has he shook his head 'no' in reply.  “Oh, well that’s good.  Makes things easier.”

“At any rate, it may only be a short while out at this point.  I know Khloe brought two of those metallic cases of yours, up from the warehouse, before your father slipped.”

“Actually,” Bach replied.  “The more templates we bring, the faster we can grow posses.  Though, not every model we have will be useful to you in this task.”

“Sounds like,” she thought out loud, “if that’s the case, we should probably get what we can out of the warehouse now while any of it is left standing.  If you hadn’t heard me say so… no.  No, I did tell you before that more waves are probably coming.”  As if to herself, she added, “I wish we could know when one was about to hit.”

Bach, probably not having any answer for that, replied instead on the former matter.  “We’d have to go in, ourselves.”

Haley did not like the sound of that at all.  Not with the building already in a weakened state and the probability high that another wave was on its way — possibly even imminent.  “Why?”

Bach pulled himself up from leaning against the wall.  The wooden floor creaked under his shifting weight.  “The ape outside… it would be like a large man trying to crawl through a small ventilation shaft.”  For a moment he stood… almost leaned as if into a first step toward the front doors.  “We really should not go in there,” he finally said in sudden turnabout.

“I’d tend to agree,” Haley admitted.

“There’re no doors to the outside from the offices.  That part of the building is too old.  If someone goes in there, and another wave comes through, they’d have to double back just to get out.  God, I dunno.  I keep thinking there’s any number of ways to tackle this.”

“The ape husk might be able to bust through the windows and tear a hole in the wall, but would still end up fumbling around trying to get into and out of the various offices.  The cases holding the templates would float so, for all I know, they aren’t even where they would have been originally.  Meaning, the husk would be too out of place to be able to sniff around looking for them.”

He paused, but eventually continued.  “And should another wave come, and the ape husk gets swept off or damaged, we’ll have a hell of a time hoisting the ceti models onto your hovercraft.”

Haley had to interrupt.  “I saw one.”

“Yeah.  Lady Kalitzakis left two back in the kitchen,” Bach replied, obviously not getting what she meant.

“No.  I mean, there’s one more, at least, just lying on the floor in the main room.  That is, in the room where the survivors were holed up.”  She’d walked right past the thing while carrying the unconscious elder Kavanagh away from the ruins. 

Bach turned on her, and looked her right in the face, if only for a moment.  Turning away once again, he admitted, “That’s something.  Wait here,” he started, but then cut to a new thought.  “Actually, would you mind taking the ape down to retrieve it?  I’d like to bring it with us to the city, but still better that it be lost than either one of us.”

“Sure.”

“There’s a little seat next to the door you can use.”  Bach gestured into a darkened corner.

Haley moved in the indicated direction, but had to feel around in the nearly pitch black corner before she found the perch in question.  It was a light thing, and Haley picked it up and brought it into the dim light streaming in through the open front doors.  “Thanks,” she said even as she sat down.  “I’ll be right back.”

“Wait,” Bach held out an open hand, and then brought it back close to his side.  “Let me check something.”

Haley didn’t know what he was on about, but nodded her assent even so.  She watched him as his expression slackened and eyes lost their focus, as if staring through her.  Though she felt a little weird about that at first, Haley did find it a good opportunity to study the man.  He’d left, sending himself up and out onto the virtual layers of the local wireless in search of something.  He wouldn’t be aware of her as she stared right back into his eyes — eyes that refracted the dim and angular light streaming in from the street, making them gleam in the darkness.

Something about what she saw… Haley could almost remember.  She knew she’d known this man when she was a child, and he not much older.  Perhaps they had played together, or walked together, or had done something together anyways… something in the dark, barely illuminated by the stretched rays of a nearby street light.  She couldn’t place this almost-memory, but the scene felt so familiar.  

Bach’s eyes blinked back into focus, but before he could realize that he’d been staring right at her the whole time, she leaned forward from her seat and simply asked, “Don’t you know who I am?”

He’d looked just about ready to say something, and then as if he’d just had the very words stolen from his lips.  “Huh?”  It was all he could manage.

She shouldn’t have asked.  The sting she felt over his confusion told Haley that much.  “Never mind.  What were you looking for just now?”

Bach straightened himself, and looked away again.  Doesn’t he know he doesn’t have to do that all the time, Haley wondered to herself.

“Oh.  I looked for the ceti husks.  As I thought might be the case, one of them is still in the warehouse, or under it anyways.  In our makeshift tide pool.”

Haley had seen something like that, in the first of larger warehouse rooms they’d passed through while guiding the crowd to possible safety though the building.  That had been before being sucked out upon the street by the first tsunami wave.

“Where’s the other one?  There’s two, right?”

“Yeah.  Second one is washed up on dry land, a couple miles up the inlet on the east side,” Bach answered.

“Sounds like that one we’ll have to get last, and using the hovercraft,” Haley offered.

“Yeah.  Though that means it’ll be even more important to have the ape with us.  The one that washed away… its the heavier of the two.  Would take at least three, maybe four strong men to pick it up.”  After a moment, Bach added more.  “Anyways… I may need the ape’s help down at the warehouse, to get the first husk loose.  You might even have to bring it uphill, so it doesn’t also wash away.”

Haley gave a single deep nod.  “Right then.  I’m heading that way now.”  She reclined a bit, not that the chair offered all that much by way of comfort.  It would have to do.  “I’m off.”

She closed her eyes, opened them again, and saw Bach’s poorly lit frame standing not far inside the open doors.  She’d found herself outside, crouched on his front lawn.  She stood, waved as he turned toward her, and then bolted down onto the street and beyond.

At first, she tried to run as a human might — something that only came naturally, being one herself.  The husk’s artificial joints and muscles, however, wanted to be used differently.  She was forced to adapt, eventually finding that running on all fours better suited this model of mechanical beast.  

Someone jumped back and screamed as she careened onto what looked to be named Pleasant Street by a bent street sign.  “Sorry,” she called out with the husk’s synthesizer.  She got the distinct impression that it had been a man, but was not inclined to stop and find out.

Being the very street at the bottom of which sat the warehouse, Haley all but rolled down the hill in a carefully controlled cross between falling and sprinting on all fours.

A time or two, she even had to call out ahead of her.  People were still milling around downhill of the water line left by the first wave.  She warned them off with as few words as possible.  “Get uphill” and “it’s not safe here” and “there may be more waves on the way!”  Have people no sense?

“I’ll be back in a sec,” she heard Bach say not five feet from her living ears.  Given where her senses were in that moment, his voice sounded as if he’d spoken out across the night with the voice of some impossible apparition.  “Gonna collect what template cases we have in house, and will be back here in a minute.  Let me know when you find the moon pool.”

“Alright,” Haley answered.  "Oh, send Khloe to the Congressman, if you see her." 

Bach replied, "Right."

Splitting her senses that way had been momentarily distracting.  She’d reached the warehouse door — the very same she’d pried larger earlier in the day — and had to pause inanimately, and that just in order to gather her wits enough for a reply using her living voice.

Now fully with the husk once again, she went through and found herself wishing she could see in the dark.  Then, just like that, she could, and better than before she’d entered.  “Figures this thing would have some enhanced vision options.  Well, that’ll make things a little easier.”

If she remembered right, the largest open warehouse room would be through a pair of swinging doors off to her left.  Those, she recalled having seen before all hell broke loose.

A quick scan of the room showed her that the case she’d seen earlier remained where it had fallen.  She crossed the handful of paces to where it lay, picked it up, and then doubled back toward those double doors.  Beyond, she got her first real look at the large room.

Though she had passed through here before, she had paid it no more mind than she needed in order to guide people through as quickly as possible.  Now, the whole far wall was gone — the part that once would have been hanging out over open waters.  In fact, as far as she could tell, only half the room remained.  

Haley measured her paces to the torn edge, or as near to as she dared given the husk’s greater weight.  Peering over the edge, she could tell that, below, the water level was awfully low, and still lowering visibly if not all that fast anymore.

“It’s probably nearing its lowest point,” she said to herself.  “God, if the tsunami's wavelength is this long, it’s a damn big one.”  If anything, this might mean that the first wave would not be the worst.  She called out with her living voice, “Is anyone around?”  

She heard footsteps approach her, and then two voices in harmonic tandem.  “Haley?”  

She easily recognized them both.  “Mitsu… Laney.  Hey, see if you girls can rouse someone from the living room.  Maybe the Representative.  I think there’s definitely going to be more waves, and they may get worse before they get better.  Someone’s gotta get this town to high ground right now and keep them there the whole night."  Haley added emphasis to that last point.  "And someone needs to make sure word spreads to all coastal towns.  Okay?”

“Sure,” said her sister even as Mitsuki replied with her own Japanese “Hai.”  

“Thanks.  And be ready.  Transport is on its way, and we’re taking some stuff with us.”

“Okay,” Laney replied.  Haley heard them move away in a combination of footsteps and creaking wood flooring.  Even as they left, though, another heavier set approached. 

“That you, Bach?”  It still took some concentration to get her body to speak when her mind wanted to be in the husk a quarter kilometer away.

“Yeah.  I’ve got the cases.  Khloe was sitting in the kitchen just staring at them.  Sent her back to Ol’ Sandy, like you asked, though.”

“Sounds good. I have one myself.  The one I remembered seeing on my way out with your father.  I’m in the room with the moon pool.  Or what’s left, anyways.”  Haley turned her husk’s eyes away from the moonlit seascape.  “Floor’s ripped apart maybe only three meters shy of the edge of the pool.  I can see straight down to something below.  Looks flat, but covered with mud and seaweed.”

His reply did not come right away, but it did come.  “That's probably the biocrete base pad.  Is the water really that low?”

“Aye.”

“Like it was before the first wave?”

“Almost.  It’s pretty damn low,” she reported by way of reply.

Again, he did not reply immediately.  “Let me tune into the ceti husk," he finally said.  "I’ll see what I can see.”

“Okay.”