Ship

Once high enough above the golf course, Haley and many of those on board caught quick sight of that which lay beyond the crest of Castine's pine-topped hill.  Even as they drifted down over the treetops, the second tsunami wave wrapped itself around both sides of the peninsula.

From what she could tell, the neck that once had connected Castine to the mainland was no longer even there.  The wave rushed in and carved the recent division even deeper, colliding with itself in the middle.

Further up, where dry land still remained, some old state route ended abruptly just ahead of a pair of cars flashing their hazards.  One vehicle lay knocked on its side, prompting the Mayor to order the ship to fly in low and slow, likely wanting to see if anyone there might be in need of help.  Both cars turned out to be abandoned.

“We’re an island now,” Bach exhaled his own observation as he stood behind her.

Haley only nodded, barely registering what he'd said.  Whether he noticed her voiceless acknowledgement or not, it didn’t really matter.

“That’s… There used to be a line of houses in a bit from the western shore of the neck.  I don’t see them.”

“Too much of a funnel through here,” Haley replied.  “On both sides.  Sometimes the wave that wraps around to hit the back side can be worse than that which hit the front.  I hope no one was home.”

Bach nodded absently.  “Yeah.”

Haley doubted he really believed it any more than she did.  “You should probably warn your father about this.  Tell him that there may not be any help coming by road tonight.”

“I just did, actually,” he came back.  “Sent him a whisper.”

“Good.”

The ship drifted on while they watched the bobbing figment icon draw closer.  It signified the location of the other, larger seafaring husk.  They followed what little remained of old route one-sixty six as far as where it split — the very stretch that she, her sister, and Mitsuki arrived by when taking their ride into town.  Completely severed where it bent its way through the neck of the peninsula, it had been the only passable road in or out.  Even as Bach and Haley watched, the new wave made further work of the coastline, carving away more sections of road, forest, and people’s front yards.  

“Such a mess,” Bach said, again as if to himself.

“Aye.”

“I haven’t really ever seen this area from overhead… and its dark down there… but, it seems to me as though there has been just a huge amount of damage.  There’s a lot of places I should recognize, even from this angle.  Houses and such.  But many aren't even there anymore.” 

Haley put voice to the concern that welled up within her, “How are you handling all this?”  She hoped she hadn’t asked him too personal or too difficult a question, but she was having a hell of a time reading the tone of his voice.  While she felt much empathy, Haley’d need to know that he could put his head into the business she was bringing him out to the city for.  

Bach leaned into the railing as he looked down over the edge of the ship, eyes darting from moonlit spectacle to moonlit spectacle, from scarred landscape to swirling debris-choked waters.  The strange thrum that rose up from below spoke of falling and twisting trees, gurgling water, and glacial erratics being ground stonily against one another.  

Bach never did answer.  Not before the hovercraft drifted to a halt, anyways.  They had arrived, coming as close as they could to the figment icon bouncing maybe twice the ship’s length off their port side.  Toppled trees lay all over someone’s back yard, hiding the ceti husk somewhere beneath them.

The ship rose again, though only so high as to the clear the tops of what few massive pines had stood their ground before the first wave.  Swinging his ship out over the water briefly, the Mayor must be using their safe advantage in order to surveil possible opportunities for landing.

From what Haley could see in the darkness below them, the tsunami here preferred to channel itself further up the narrow inlet, only side-swiping this particular stretch of land.  Whatever stray juts of sand, rock, or trees that had been here before had already been forever wiped off the map.

“I think we’re safe to land,” someone shouted, probably Mayer Edgecombe himself.  Other voices rose up from around the ship, mostly just to acknowledge the first.

“I think they’re just going to look for a spot to land,” Haley offered to Bach, who’d still not answered her last question.

“Yeah,” he replied rather absently.

Haley felt compelled to place a comforting hand on his shoulder.  At her touch, Bach stiffened but did not pull away.  Given his reaction, Haley hoped that she’d only manage to surprise him.

She opened her mouth as if to say something, but nothing came out — especially not after he gave her an unusually direct sidelong look.  When he looked away again, Haley sidled up closer to him so that she could leave her hand where she’d put it without having to reach out quite so far… and then nearly fell into him, bumping his shoulder, as the ship swung around once again.

“He’d probably be better off landing this thing further up the hill, right on old one ninety nine,” Bach said.  “I can run down what’s left of the Wardwell Point Road, and cut through the woods if I’ve gotta.”

He straightened up, so Haley let her hand fall away.  Whether he’d taken any comfort from her gesture, Haley still could not read.  

“The water doesn’t look like it’s reaching as far in, this time around, as the icon,” Haley observed, trying to bury her momentary frustration with Bach's impenetrable outer shell.  “Maybe the first wave will have been the worst of it, after all.”

“That’d be nice,” Bach replied before walking off.  

Perhaps he meant to seek out the Mayor and make his suggestion after all.  He could have just reached out across the wireless, Haley thought to herself.  Odd how it seems he doesn’t often think of that first.  “Anyhow,” Haley remarked to herself, cutting off that train of thought.

They’d both been looking on from nearer the bow of the ship, so Haley had to follow the walkway alongside the crew cabins and bridge in order to follow after Bach.  The rail felt sturdy enough in her grip, and came up past her waist, but she still felt awfully vulnerable walking such a narrow path… especially with nothing but thin air beyond.

Before she’d even reached the rear deck, she felt in her stomach the ship's motion as it curved about and pressed forward once again.  Clearing the walkway, she passed one of the vertical ladders that led into the upper bridge, even as Bach reappeared and began to climb down.  “He’s headed for the road,” he called down, having seen her there.

“I thought that might be the case,” Haley replied, waiting for his descent.  Stuck on this ship for the time being, she felt out of touch, unable to do anything of any particular import.  That had her feeling not quite frustrated, but certainly restless.  

Bach dropped the last foot to the deck even as Laney and Mitsuki approached.  “Ladies,” Bach greeted, not quite pulling off cordiality.  Haley almost snorted out a laugh, but stifled the instinct when his eyes locked onto hers.  

“Haley,” he began, half-gesturing for her to follow as he turned toward the rear of the deck.  “I’m going to tune into that husk out there for a minute, just so as to see what its situation is.  If I need your help, can you be the ape again?”

Even as Haley fell in behind him, she beckoned to the other two women to follow as well.  To Bach she said, “Of course.  It’s the only one I’m authorized to use, anyhow.”  

“You may not have to at all.  I’m just saying.”

“Aye, I know.”

Bach found a seat and reclined loosely, letting his legs bear much of his weight while he propped his back against the round metal railing.  He barely made rear-end contact with the seat at all.

“Alright… back in a sec,” He said as he closed his eyes.  In just a few moments, a further slackening of his posture suggested the departure of his senses.  It was a wonder to Haley that he didn’t slide straight off the minimal bench.

“He is too familiar with you,” came a whisper over the wireless, from Mitsu.  The stare the Japanese girl levelled at her said about as much as she had with words.

Laney noticed the glare, and barged into the channel between them.  “What’s up?” she asked, broadcasting while maintaining a similar bodily silence.

Haley shook her head.  “Mitsu’ll never get used to some western habits.”

Laney’s eyes widened, if only briefly.  “Oh, Mitsu.  You mean when he called Haley by her first name.”

Lady Hayato nodded with palpable irritation.  “This is inappropriate.”

Haley chirped out an audible laugh before stifling a second one.  She glanced at Bach briefly, thankful that he still appeared wholly senseless.  “It’s okay, really.  We were friends once, actually.”

This time, it was Mitsuki whose expression spoken of momentary surprise.  “Once?  And not now?”

“I don’t think he remembers me,” Haley answered over the wireless.  “We were just little kids at the time.”

Laney broke in, “Before Dad died?”

Haley nodded before answering, “before his mother and brother died, too.”

Laney looked a little stricken just then, so Mitsuki was next to broadcast a whisper in response.  “Neither of you talk much about that.  How long ago was it?  What do you mean about his mother and brother?”  Her wireless whispers bore even less accent than her natural voice would.  

Laney hugged herself, arms under her chest, as she looked over at her friend.  “The same accident took them all,” she replied.  “I was too young then to remember much now.  Only really remember being sad.  Maybe four years old.  And if that’s true, Haley would have been eight, or just shy of that.  So that would put it a good bit over twenty years, now.”  She turned then to stare Haley right in the eyes.  “I didn’t realize how long it has been.”

Haley bobbed her head.  “Aye, it has been forever.”  After a moment, she offered Mitsuki a little more detail.  “It was bad enough losing Dad,” she began, “but ever since then, Mom couldn’t face her old friend’s surviving husband.”

She gestured to Bach.  “Dean Kavanagh, I mean.  His dad.  Mom became the recluse you now know, and Bach and I lost contact.  We were all very young at the time, so there wasn’t much we could do about it.”

Mitsuki nodded with the slightest of bows, as she often tended to do.  “But he does not remember you.”  She said it without the intonation of having been a question.

In Japan, Haley had long since learned from her young friend, it’s generally frowned upon to call another person by their given name unless invited to do so, or after having long been friends.  Even after having spent years, off and on, living in the Union, Mitsuki had not yet softened much to the ease of familiarity westerners had with one another.

For some reason, Haley thought she rather liked it Mitsuki’s way.  There was something attractive in that kind of polite formality.  On the other hand, she didn’t mind being called by her first name, either.

“I don’t think he does,” she finally replied over the wireless.  “I’m not sure I want him to, either…”

“You’re afraid that if he remembers you, then he’ll end up thinking about the accident?” Laney asked.

Though she'd not really thought it through quite so far as that, she could only agree.  “Pretty much.”

“He’s coming to,” Mitsuki whispered even as her connection to their private conversation popped.  Haley and Laney both abandoned the ethereal channel shortly thereafter.

The trio turned on Bach as his eyes slid open.  Pulling himself up from his slouch, he let his head fall heavily into his hands.

“I’m back,” he announced, as if they hadn’t noticed.  “The larger ceti husk is just wrapped around a big pine.  Some of the smaller trees nearby are knocked over, but the big one stayed put.  We can’t get near it with the hovercraft, but I can pull it out of there without any help.”

Haley nodded.  “Sounds good, then.”

“Right.  I’ll go get it.”

“Aye,” she acknowledged before adding, “You’ll ruin your posture if you sit like that.”

Bach’s eyes bulged for a second before he shifted again to sit upright.  In the weak light of the diode lamp hanging over the rear deck, it almost looked as if he'd blushed.  Haley wouldn’t needle him about it, though.

“Whatever,” he shot back.  “I’m taking the ape out now.”

“Aye,” she replied quietly.  Haley bowed her head to her sister and compatriot before turning toward the ladder that led up to the bridge.  She could just as easily have cast the Mayor and ethereal whisper but, at this point, any kind of distraction would be welcome.

She’d only then realized that she’d rather hoped for reason to go help Bach out.  Ultimately, she wanted most to be doing something useful!  Anything would do!  Instead, she climbed the ladder, padded her way toward the bridge, and ducked inside.

Though this hovercraft represented quite a lot of money — as luxurious a thing as it may well be — the bulk of its value would be tied up in its propulsion and all its clever aerodynamics.  The rest of the ship was modest, cramped even.  There certainly had been no exception made for the bridge.  Three people standing inside at once would be uncomfortably crowded.  Its purpose was to offer a commanding view as well as direct control of the ship.  That, and little else.

“Sir Mayor,” Haley said in greeting, catching his attention.

Turning to meet her, the man with the wild pure-white hair smiled broadly.  “Oh!  Hello there, Lady Druid.”

Haley found herself reflecting briefly on their mutual formality, especially after having talked Mitsuki down when it came to Bach.  Perhaps some of those same notions had bridged the Pacific after all.  In any case, Haley could not recall ever having addressed this man by his given name.  Certainly not at any point during her unusual tenure as Archdruid of Overjordan.

“Sir,” she replied.  “Sir Kavanagh is going to be using the ape to go fetch that last husk.  He said it’s not stuck… just inaccessible by air.”

The old man nodded.  “He indicated that he might be doing that a few minutes ago.  I’m glad to hear, though, that it won’t be any more than a matter of time.”

“Aye,” she trailed off.

Apparently, the Mayor took that as a possible end of conversation.  “Is that all, then?  We just wait?”

She nodded.  “We wait, Sir.  One other thing, though.”

“Mmhmm?”

“You well know that I’ve ordered the city be moved out over the Northeast Channel?” 

“Yes.”  Mayor Edgecombe replied without so much as an iota of negativity.  That is, at least so far as Haley could read, leaving her feeling quite relieved.

“Has that begun?”

“Oh sure.  Your offices called me even as I was getting my ship ready to go out and help.  I told them to go ahead.  You could have overruled me even if I said no, I know, but I didn’t really see reason to.  Can I ask the plan?”

With the ship firmly touched down on solid pavement, the Mayor had little else to do but latch upon her with his full attention.  Unlike Bach, this one was not shy with eye contact.  Haley wouldn’t have considered herself shy, either, but under his amiable gaze, she had to fight off the temptation to break out in self-embarrassed grins.

“Well,” she began by way of reply, “I did finally get the report that I’d feared might be the case.  Excessive concentrations of methane in the air, and not far from where the George’s Bank drops away into the deep Atlantic.  I think an electrical storm ignited much of what was in the air.  Still, it’s methane in the water that has me concerned most immediately.”

“We saw that,” the Mayor jumped in.  “The fireball.  That was quite a thing.  We even felt a slight shockwave a couple minutes later.  Luckily it happened right on the horizon from where we were.”

Haley nodded.  “I ordered Liam, my second, to pull back all hovercraft when I saw that.  I guess he was smart enough not to call you back, too.  I hope we didn’t lose anyone out there, because of that ignition.”

The old man looked almost as if about to laugh, and then as if he sucked it back in again.  “I share your hope in that.  We’ll get a head count over the next few hours, I’m sure.  But, no… we got the call from your Liam about returning to dock.  We just ignored him.”

“Hah,” Haley breathed out.  “I see.  I’m glad for that.”  After a moment of regaining her train of thought, she continued.  “At any rate, the city’s draft is too deep for most of George’s Bank, and her gardens too delicate for a dragging along the shallows. We’re going to have to get as close as we can get, and try to oxidize whatever concentrations of methane remain in the gulf.”

“Any that gets carried away by the gulf stream isn’t going to be of much concern,” she continued, “and certainly will be out of our hands anyways.  More crucial, circulation in the Gulf of Maine itself isn’t nearly half as strong.  We could be talking about a bacterial bloom and the resulting anoxia that follows.  The whole gulf project could be set back well beyond square one and might wipe out most all of the remaining fauna in the region.”

“Jehosaphat!”  

Haley bobbed her head in reply to his outburst.  “I think we can mitigate the problem, if not prevent it entirely.  Even if we oxidize much of the methane, it’ll discharge a lot of carbon dioxide straight into the water, as if we hadn’t enough of that in there already.  We may have to seed the whole area with green buggers.”

“Right, right.  I’m glad, then, that I put the city under way without hesitation.”  The Mayor smiled, likely only for her benefit.

She smiled back.  “Me, too.”

“I suddenly feel confined in here,” Mayor Edgecombe announced.  He walked past her and out the rear door, gesturing for her to follow.  She did, and came up beside him as he leaned on the upper railing, looking down over the ship's rear deck.

The ape had gone, leaving the smaller ceti husk behind.  Someone had since tied the artificial beast securely against the rearmost railing.  The Mayor looked up, but then half-turned his head towards her.  “From the sounds of it,” he said to her out of the corner of his mouth, “you may need to vent the Emerald Pool, then?”

Haley nodded.  “It’s a possibility,” she answered.

At the heart of every seafaring city lay a vast reservoir of water, artificially saturated with specialized algae and bacteria bred to filter ocean water of excess carbonic acids.  Some of the oxygen that resulted would then be returned along with the better part of the cleansed ocean water while what remained would be released into the air.  Some fraction of the water would be retained as source of fresh sustenance for the citizenry at the same time.  Such was the delicate balance that mandated a population cap for cities like Overjordan.

“We can grow new vats of algae,” Haley continued, “and we can fall back on the old desalinization sumps and offset the difference by buying water from the mainland.  What we can’t do is let this disaster get any worse than it’s already likely to be.”

The old man stretched.  “We’ve got to do what we can do.”

“Aye,” Haley replied quietly.

“Well,” he said before a pause.  “Well, we’re on it.  The city will take probably two days to reach the channel.”

Haley winced.  “I knew that would be the case, but I’m anxious to be there and dealing with this mess.” 

Leaning more of her weight against the rail, Haley bent over its side, letting her shoulder length hair fall around her face.  She remained like this until she started to feel light-headed, and then pulled herself back up again, not particularly caring about what a spectacle she might have just made of herself in front of the Mayor.

“It’s just as well, though,” she continued.  “I don’t know all that much about breeding indieware posses, but it might take just as long, if not longer.”

“Indieware?”  The Mayor, of course, knew about the stuff — about as much as she did, really — but that’s not what he was asking about, Haley knew.

“Aye.  That’s why I’ve brought Bach along… him and his husks.  I’m going to ask him to grow as many indies as he can, and we’ll use the husks to distribute the stuff straight into the submarine methane plume, probably armed with some kind of oxidizing agent.”

Mayor Edgecombe boggled a bit, turning to look directly at her.  “He can do that?”

Haley returned the gaze.  “I believe so.  He didn’t even hesitate to agree to come.”

“Is it okay to distribute nano-industrials into an environment so directly?”  

“It’s going to have to be, under the circumstances.  From what I’ve learned over the last couple years, our indieware population requires constant replenishment.  And their remains are biodegradable, so I doubt there will be any lasting harm.  In any case, no living thing is going to be doing a whole lot of breathing down there in the middle of a methane plume, anyways.  If we recycle any biomass in the process, it’ll likely already be dead.”

The Mayor seemed almost to wither in resignation.  “I suppose that is true.”

Haley let the conversation end there.  For a while, the pair just leaned over the upper railing, and watched as people milled about on the back deck.  The ship really didn’t need much further tending.  With the first husk secured, and the hovercraft at rest on the pavement, there was little to do.

Eventually, Laney and Mitsuki reappeared on deck, so Haley dismissed herself from the Mayor’s company.  “As soon as Bach has the other husk on deck, Sir, I think it’ll be safe for you to launch.”

“Alright then,” he replied before returning alone into the bridge.

Haley slid down the smooth metal ladder and hit the deck a little hard, but enjoyed the momentary rush just the same.  She regained herself and crossed the deck to join with her sister and good friend.  “Ladies,” she called out in greeting.

“I hope he’ll be back soon,” Laney said by way of return in greeting.  “Sir Kavanagh cancelled the husk's fig buoy a little bit ago, so I guess he’s found it.”

Haley swung an arm over her sister’s shoulder.  “I don’t know how big this husk is… only that it’s bigger than that one over there.  There’s no telling how long it’ll take the ape to haul it out of there.”

Laney grumbled, but did not reply.  The trio stood and waited.  Some of the ship’s crew meandered over to speak to them from time to time, but the conversations usually died quickly.  Everyone was in a mood.  Everyone wanted to talk about the tsunami and, at the same time, did not.

The whole thing felt very strange and, with the ship at rest, there wasn’t even the rustle of excess wind through pine needles to stave off the distant sounds of rumbling tsunami.  Had Haley not known what was going on out there, she couldn’t even imagine what she would have made of it — that heavy and bizarre gurgle interrupted only by the random splintering of tree trunks.  “God, that sounds creepy,” she commented aloud.

Haley saw Mitsuki bob a nod in wordless reply even as she felt Laney, still under her arm, flex something akin to the same.  A good twenty minutes passed, maybe more, before a new sound arose from the darkness.

“That’s got to be him,” Laney supposed.  

Even in spite of the distant growl of the tsunami, the sharp snaps of dead pine-limbs would have drawn attention at any time of day.  Someone among the crew must also have heard, as the hovercraft’s searchlight quickly darted off toward the starboard tree line.

Soon thereafter, the ape-husk appeared between the two large trunks, its massive profile made even more intimidating by the large new hump it bore upon its back.  In any other day and age, Haley guessed to herself, such a sight would have stir a blind panic among any who would see it.

Suddenly free of the resistance of low-lying brush, Bach's husk stumbled forward.  It regained itself, though, and closed the gap between the husk and the side of the aeroship.

What surprised Haley then, as she watched, was the way in which the larger seafaring husk reached up and grabbed at the side of the deck on its own.  Like the smaller model, this thing had the shoulders, arms, and quasi-wings of some impossible flying reptile.  Similarly serpentine in body shape, this model had only one large and horizontal fin, very much like some small whale.

The greater ceti husk pulled itself forward even as the ape shoved it up from below leaving Haley and the others to dodge out of the way as it flopped down upon the deck before them.  The artificial ape climbed up the side shortly thereafter and then it, too, collapsed in a relaxed pile.

Haley turned and watched as Bach’s living body came to.  He stood, weaving his way dizzily toward her.  “Got it,” he said weakly, still acclimating once again to his own natural form.

Haley belted out the one question on her mind.  “Did you just pilot them both at the same time?”  She’d never heard of such a thing!

Bach blinked as he came to a stop before the trio of women.  “I guess I did.”

“How?”

“Not easily,” he shot back, sounding almost annoyed.  Whatever bothered him, though, passed quickly enough.  His next words were spoken with improved mood.  “It was really confusing, but I managed somehow.  At the moment, I didn’t see what else to do, except drop the ape and put you inside.”

“I would have,” Haley protested.

“I know,” he said.  “I know, but at the moment I was just… I dunno.  I was focused on getting the whole thing over with.  I just sorta did it without thinking.”

Haley felt a little hot in the face after having nearly squealed at him, but the moment passed.  In fact, feeling rather impressed, she said as much.  “That’s quite something.  I’ve never heard of dual piloting before.  You looked dizzy when you returned to your body, though.”

“Oh?” was the whole of his reply to that.  Seemingly satisfied with himself, Bach meandered off toward the door to the lower cabin.  That’s where the beds were after all.  “I’m going to lay down, if that’s alright.”  

Since he’d not really intoned it as a question, Haley did not think to reply.  Instead, she moved to clean up after him.  Rather, she claimed the ape’s empty mind long enough to push the larger ceti husk off to one side where the crew could tie it down against a railing.  This task required quite a lot of keratin roping, but they found enough to finish the job.

With that out of the way, she seated the ape husk opposite the rest, and wove its arms through the railing.  The crew proceeded to tie her tentative shell down, as well.  Once secured to her snug satisfaction, she blinked back out of the husk and reclaimed her own living senses.

The hovercraft lifted off shortly afterward.  A sudden burst of wind shooting off in all directions set the pines to bending and whispering.  That is, until the ship had cleared them.  When much of the crew retreated into the inner cabin — when the wind to either side of the ship took to howling — Haley pulled her gang inside as well.  A ship such as this could likely pull as much as a two hundred kilometers per hour through the air and, given the evening's circumstances, probably would.  No one would want to be out on deck for that.

Inside, Haley found that the lower cabin actually curled itself back around another set of stairs, and used up nearly all the space directly under the back deck.  More room presented itself down here than she’d thought to expect.  She wandered for a while, exploring, but eventually found Bach as curled up as he could be on a thin leather bench along one of the outer walls.

Mitsuki and Laney sat on a similar bench across the way, chatting with that Kalitzakis woman.  Haley realized then that she’d never even thought to wonder where the black-haired lady had hid herself this whole time, much less why.  Whatever the case, Haley felt more like sharing the company of a softly snoring man, just then, than she wanted for idle conversation… or any kind of conversation, really.

At some point, she must dozed off as well.  When she came to, still sitting not far from Bach’s head on what space he'd left along the green leather-covered bench, all of the other women across the way had gone.  All except for Laney who lay sleeping as well, hands tucked behind her head with elbows jutting out to either side.  

Haley nearly jumped clear out of her skin when Bach spoke suddenly.  All he said was, “I think I know who you are now.”  For a long time, Haley could not answer.  She just stared down at him, instead.  He’d not moved an inch from where he lay, and his eyes were still closed.  When he took to snoring again, she quietly got up and left him there.