Arrive

The unexpected light touch upon his shoulder brought Bach instantly awake, bolt upright and cheek-first into the inwardly curving hull wall of the ship.  With a thump off to his right, someone fell to the floor, squeaking out a feminine 'ow' after the fact.

“Sorry,” Bach apologized as he turned away from the  apparently wooden wall, nursing the sensation of tiny scratches left upon the left side of his face.  “What happened?”

Lady Hayato collected herself, tucking her legs behind her and rising fluidly up off her knees.  The whole motion struck Bach as coming off so oriental as to be downright cliché.  He wondered for a moment if that kind of tidy motion was something they taught specifically to young Asian children… or perhaps just Japanese children?  He’d no idea whatsoever, and sure as hell wasn't about to ask.

Instead of answering him, Mitsuki apologized as well.  “Sorry for startling you, Sir Kavanagh,” she said.  “We’re a few minutes out from landing, and Lady Diaz and I both thought you might like to be able to see the city as we slow for approach.”

“How long has it been since we left the mainland?” Bach groaned out, feeling little rested.  He asked, but quickly realized that he never really even knew what time it had been at the time of their departure from Castine.  With everything such a blur of event and consequence, Bach had not once thought to summon up a clock figment.  Of course, he probably wouldn’t have, anyway.

“A bit over two hours, I think.”  Though this young woman spoke with a noticeable accent, she did so with an excellent command of American grammar.  “We did stop once,” she continued.  “Maybe an hour ago, we landed in the water… picked up some people stranded in a raft.”

Bach pulled awkwardly up from the bench, repelling away from the curving wall even as he stood straight.  “Oh,” he replied at first.  His eyes refused to stay open while his wits stayed just out of reach.  “Okay.”

“Are you alright?” the woman asked.

Bach waved her off, “I’m tired.”  He took an experimental step forward, and nearly fell, betrayed by his legs.  “Gah,” he exhaled.  “And I think my feet’re asleep.”  He waved Lady Hayato off once more, when she reached out to steady him.  “Thanks, I’m fine.”  He stood straight again.  “I just didn’t expect that.  Forward deck?”

The young Japanese woman nodded ever so slightly in reply.

“Alright,” Bach breathed out as he tried another step and did not stumble.  Making for the handful of steep steps that would double back on their way up to the ship’s open rear deck, Bach heard Mitsuki fall in behind him.  The stairs themselves proved a new challenge, but one that he surpassed even in spite of feeling like the walking dead.  Only now did it occur to him that, given the urgency of the situation, he might not be able to count on a whole lot of sleep these next few days, to say nothing of time off or any form of relaxation.

If anything, as Bach more or less pulled himself up the steps by the railing, a pang of guilt welled up within him.  For the past few years, working under his father at the family plant and offices, Bach had grown accustomed to getting his work done and then leaving it at the door on his way out.

Though his mind picked over what should be a heap of after-hour memories, he could not really think of anything specific or important he’d done with all that free time.  At the same time, however, he could summon up no legitimate excuse for such a feeling.  He’d always dithered his time away before, and there would be no value in doing the same in the days… hell, perhaps even in the weeks to come.  

“What?”

Bach missed a step as he stopped to look down over his shoulder at Mitsuki.  “What what?”

Stuck behind him, she had to stop as well.  Looking up at him with a look that spoke to Bach of defiance, she answered, “You said something, but I could not hear.”

Bach hadn’t realized he’d said anything out loud.  “Did I?”  He couldn’t even think of what it was he might have said.  That, or just why she would be wearing that almost-scowl upon her face.  “Must have been talking to myself,” he offered as he turned ‘round and up the second flight of steps.

Lady Hayato did not reply, but as Bach turned up the second flight — as she topped the first and turned to follow after him — he caught her leveling another flat look against him.  Bach could think of nothing to do but offer her a quick grin, but that only resulted in furrowed brows.  At the moment, though, he was far too tired to wonder at what was going on with this one.  Maybe I'll ask Haley later, he thought.

Almost as soon as Bach topped the last few steps, climbing out into the open air, the ship’s motion sent a chill wind blowing over him.  Though not one for getting cold easily, being hit with such a difference in temperature shocked Bach right back into his senses.  He’d thought he’d been awake already but, as of that moment, those few previous minutes felt not the least bit unlike a dream already half forgotten.

“Whoa,” he exhaled to himself.  The brisk wind spoke of the ship’s significant speed.  And yet, even as he tried to, Bach could sense no motion under his feet or in the pit of his stomach.  Speaking over his shoulder, Bach felt compelled to comment.  “It's a smooth ship.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Lady Hayato’s shallow nod.

Half circle of a turning stairwell later, Bach cast his eyes back and forth, realizing only after a pang of embarrassment that the ship’s bow would be found walking into the steadily whispering wind.

Bach stepped backwards just a bit, allowing Mitsuki to top the stairs before motioning for her to precede him to the front of the ship.  Again she nodded, and turned her back to him as she walked purposefully away.  He followed, and found himself having to measure his pace, so as not to step on her heels.  Almost immediately, he felt slightly ashamed when, bearing the full brunt of the wind, she clutched herself tightly and shivered.

After such summer heat, Bach thought.  He might have blocked that wind for her, if he’d thought of it.  Too late to switch places now.

Though Lady Hayato could walk straight along the narrow railed path alongside the upper cabin, Bach took to shuffling after painfully kneeing one of the guard-rail posts.  Mitsuki hadn’t so much as looked back even to see what the matter was.  Or, if she had, it could only have been while he was too busy cursing at himself to notice.  Either way, she'd moved on and was quickly out of sight.

Slow to follow, Bach looked out over the water slipping lazily by.  Though still dark out, the sky bore that tinge of morning crawling up over the eastern horizon.  With the ship a good ways above sea level, Bach couldn't quite judge how fast they might be going.  The water could easily be slipping past very swiftly if they flew nearer the surface.

Whatever their speed might be, Mitsuki had said they were only minutes away.  Recalling that compelled Bach to hurry forward, if with quite a bit more care.  Even in spite of the effort, he bumped his knee yet again, aggravating the dull ache left over after the first time.

Once free of the narrow walkway, Bach almost stumbled out onto the forward deck — a small space that tapered off at the front, crowded now by what must be the majority of the ship’s passengers and crew.

A hand waved at him from amidst that congregation.  “Up here, Bach!”  Recognizing Haley’s voice, Bach could not keep from grinning to himself.  Some among the crowd looked back toward him with eyes and expressions likely as tired as his own, even in spite of their easy smiles.  As the small gathering silently parted for him, Bach felt drawn toward the frontmost corner where Haley now stood.  “Come along,” she called out.

Bach nodded to those he passed, wordlessly thanking them for allowing him easy access to what likely would be the best view the ship had to offer.  Someone patted him on the shoulder, though he wasn't sure who, after looking back.  No sooner would he walk by someone than they would crowd back in behind him.  Never one for such a gathering, this had Bach feeling just the slightest bit claustrophobic.  That was, until the view over the edge of the bow presented itself to him.

He’d been to Overjordan before — several times, even — but never by hovercraft.  Always before, he’d travelled by boat, at sea level, and at a crawl compared to their speed now.

Haley shouldered up close beside him, immediately putting him ill at ease.  “There she is,” was all she said.  Even his awareness of her proximity could not keep his attention long away from the spectacle rushing up to meet them.

Overjordan, or so he once had been told, had been so named for its assigned location some few hundred meters above the Jordan Basin.  Seafaring cities such as this could, and often did, slowly roam the surface of the ocean, sometimes even according to the season.  That did not mean, however, that they must, or always did.  Overjordan, for example; she rarely left her post halfway between the coasts of Maine and Nova Scotia — her station not all that far from the mouth of the Bay of Fundy.

Though the city sported a somewhat irregular perimeter, its shape reminded Bach of something like a hubcap — at least, the part of it that remained visible above the surface of the ocean.  Built like an iceberg, a fair bit of its mass and volume lay beneath, providing storm-proof stability in the face of even the most tumultuous waters.

Docks, artificial tidal gardens, and cetacean shallows defined Overjordan’s artificial coastline, just inside of which buildings grew steadily taller as they planted themselves closer to the city’s center.  And at that center arose one wide cylinder that easily consumed half of the city’s total diameter, likely rising no less than twenty stories above the crowded halo of otherwise ordinary looking structures.

Bach never before had reason to enter into the city’s central block, instead always having business in the outer quads, or meeting with city employees at the core’s outer wall.  Even as he leaned carefully over the ship’s edge, they passed over the city’s periphery and, soon thereafter, over the core’s edge itself.

Gaining sudden perspective, Bach realized only then how high they’d been flying this whole time.  Having walked the narrow path along the ship’s edge not long before, only now did he feel a wave of nervous nausea flow over him.

Though he pulled back out of instinct, Bach steeled his nerves as best he knew how and leaned out again over the edge.  Below, vast greenhouses doubled as food production and solar power generation.  At least, that’s what Bach had once read, years and years ago.  Maybe even back during his college days when seafaring constructs like this were a new and oft discussed topic.

“We’ll dock with that central spire,” Haley said, pointing past his shoulder — something that came as a bit of a surprise to Bach, having nearly forgotten anyone else was there, so rapt was he with all that he saw.

“Ah,” he breathed out.

Looking forward now, rather than down, Bach took in the handful of towers clustered about the city’s absolute center.  If the core bulge of the inner city towered twenty stories above the buildings in the outer city halo, these spires rose twice again as high above the sea of darkly-tinted green that spanned out a good two kilometers or more around them in all directions.

From a distance, these spires may well stand out, but as nothing more remarkable than a wireless tower might appear on a distant hill.  Now that they slid closer to him than he'd ever been, he realized these were actually buildings.  Delicately tall, but buildings all the same.

“The view from the top must be something else entirely,” he found himself commenting out loud.

“Aye,” Haley agreed.  “Believe it or not, though… the top four or five floors are devoted to communications and network administration.  It’s a rather mundane occupation for those getting the best seat in the house, but the Mayor’s offices are directly below those.”

After a pause, she added, “We druids get an observation deck, but even as the Archdruid my office is down inside the core city.  I don’t even have a proper window.”  She complained, but with a tone of voice that spoke of a humor beneath — or so it seemed to Bach, at least.  

Somehow, that didn't sound right to him.  “Isn’t the point of a city like this just to serve your department’s mission?”

“Funny how that works,” she muttered, words barely audible above the wind.  Adding some volume to her voice, she chose instead to deflect his question.  “Since this is the Mayor's ship, we’ll almost certainly be docking with the command spire," she said while gesturing foward.

As the ship slowed in its approach, other hovercraft became visible.  Though most were already docked, there was one negotiating the load-bearing prongs of its own hangar.  It looked to be a smaller ship overall.  Bach could not help but wonder who else in this city would be prominent enough to have earned a private dock along the central spire.

“We’ll be pulling in a quarter turn from that ship that just landed,” Haley stated.  “That’s probably one of the Mayor’s lieutenants returning from my temporary conscription last night,” she added, unwittingly addressing his curiosity.

“Those hangars must be able to support a lot of weight,” Bach speculated.

“Aye… though hovercraft are made from the lightest weight materials out of necessity,” she replied.  “Even a complement of crew can weight a few tons, and the ships probably another five to ten, depending.  But yeah, should the electrical line to the ship run dry and, then, should her capacitors drain… well, the hangar would need to bear her full dead weight.  Normally, though, a charged ship will sleep almost weightless in the hangar’s arms.”

Bach thought that sounded almost romantic, but said nothing of it.

“It’ll take a moment for the ship to nestle in,” Haley related as they made their final approach.  The ship had slowed enough now that little wind remained, so her voice now sounded rather loud to him.  “I realize that you might want some rest,” she said, “but we need to get you working right away.”

Bach could have groaned had he not controlled himself.  He ached for uninterrupted sleep — not to mention, escape from any thought of the previous evening’s traumas.  Given that these events had yet to really catch up with him, he had to wonder if he were simply numb… or am I experiencing some quasi-lucid form of shock?  He didn’t much like the thought of that at all.  “Do we have a plan?”

“Fair question,” she replied before a thoughtful pause.  “Eh… I can tell you what I think it is we need to do.”

Even as she said this, the spire loomed up before them.  Drawn to the spectacle, Bach watched as the ship aligned itself with a cleft carved right out of the side of the building.  Near the lower end of that cleft, a pair of strong looking pincer prongs passed out of sight as the ship drifted in over them.

“We’re about to get off,” Haley said after another moment.  “We’ll talk about it on the way down.”

“Alright.”

The ship slowed to a halt before starting its landing maneuvers.  After a very careful descent, the hull of the hovercraft slid into place between the prongs.  A railed walkway slid steadily out from the hangar-cleft, snapping into sockets to either side of the ship’s bow.  Bach assumed that this connection also fed the ship’s capacitors with electricity for future trips.

Haley stepped forward, unclasped a pair of hooks on the upper lip of the bow, and waited as the disattached metallic point in the center slipped down into a like-shaped pocket at the apex of the deck.  She practically jogged out toward the glassy double doors that lay nestled into the cleft at the far end of a railed walkway.  Someone on the ship barked out, “Everyone ashore who is going ashore!”

Bach thought the phrase terribly misplaced as he followed quickly after Haley.  Though he never had thought of himself as fearing great heights, he made absolutely certain not to look down — not here of all places.  About five meters separated bow of ship from the doors in the building’s vertical nook, and that seemed an awfully long way just then.

Haley pulled open both doors, and held them for Bach as he closed the distance between them. “Thanks,” he said as he grabbed at one.

Inside, the place could only be described as immaculate — all glass and metal and green grass, except for some kind of light-weight faux polished marble used as walkways to either side.  Various plants hung from pockets carved right into the walls, separated from each other by no more than half a meter for as far down the curving hall as he could see.  “Wow,” he breathed.  Plants inside a building was one thing, but this many and live grass used as a flooring?

Haley only smiled, though broadly and with a charm that Bach thought must be very difficult for her to summon under the circumstances.  He returned the gesture as Haley sauntered backwards out onto the lane of grass running down the center of the hall.  “We’ll just grab my people, then hit the ‘vators.  Can talk there.”

“Okay.”  They did not have long to wait.  Almost immediately, Mitsuki Hayato pulled her way through one of the two double doors, carrying one of his three metallic cases.  “Sour,” he cursed out loud.  “I forgot all about those.”

Haley chuckled softly.  “That would be unfortunate as they are what we need most, I think.”  Even as she said this, she flagged her young Asian friend aside, suggesting with an outstretched hand that the other woman wait with them.

After Mitsuki, half a dozen others streamed in through those doors — some of the ship's crew from what Bach could tell, minus a disheveled looking middle-aged couple clutching blankets close about shoulders.  Mitsuki nudged his arm with her elbow, whispering to him, “those are the ones we picked up.”  Bach nodded to this, not wishing to look too directly at them for fear of seeming impolite.

Directly after these folk came Haley's sister Laney, carrying both of the remaining cases.  Not far behind her, the black-haired Khloe Kalitzakis looked just about ready to leave her skin after having walked the plank between ship and tower.

Laney approached and handed Bach one of his cases, seemingly content to hold on to the other.

“We needn’t the Mayor for this,” Haley announced as she turned to head deeper into the tower.  While some folk chose to walk along the faux marble sidewalks, Haley charged right down the grassy lane.  So did everyone who followed after her, Bach included, after a moment's hesitation.  If not for her lead, he’d almost certainly have assumed that the grass was not for walking on.

Haley lead them to a shaft at the center of three converging hallways.  Sensing her approach, twin rounded doors pulled open, revealing the elevator within.  She let the rest enter before following in after them.

“Department of Rural, Urban and Industrial Development,” she requested with an even tone.  The doors slid shut and an ornate golden arrow figment icon, pointed downward, blossomed into being right before the seal that ran between them.  There came that initial sense of motion that diminished as the elevator reached its best speed.

“I always wished that the ‘vators were on the outside of the tower,” Laney anncounced without prompting.

“Mm,” came the reply from both Haley and Mitsuki at once.  Before anyone else could comment, Haley added, “At any rate… Bach.  Mind if we leave your husks on the ship 'til we know what we’re going to be doing with them?”

“I suppose so.  It’s not like I’m getting any of them in through those doors, much less across that plank.”

More than one of his companions chuckled, and only then did he realize the fact that here he was, one man surrounded by four women.  He was at once both pleased and terribly self-conscious, hoping he smelled fresher than he felt.  It took all the force of will he had, tired as he was, to chase off the worry.  No one of them were any better off than he was in that moment.

“As for the plan,” Haley continued, “I can only tell you what we need to accomplish.  Your ideas on this will matter a great deal.”

She took a breath, then launched into it with some intensity.  “We can’t leave unusual amounts of methane to remain in waters as poorly circulated as those inside the gulf.  Any that strays off the continental shelf will get blown along the gulf stream, which mitigates the problem somewhat.  But that which stays in the gulf must be removed before it feeds a massive bacterial bloom of methanophiles.  They would suck additional oxygen out of the water, kill most other life and, if left long enough… God only knows how long… it could lead to another generation of bacteria who secrete toxic gases.”

Haley paused to breathe again.  “Anyhow, the only idea I’ve thought of would involve using hydroxyl radicals, since most everything down there will already be dead anyways.  The stuff would break down the methane rapidly, and without reducing the native oxygen.  The byproducts are carbon dioxide and water.  Granted, we already have too much cee-oh-two in the water, but if we disperse a major algae culture into the surroundings, we might be able to tone the consequences down enough to forestall major catastrophe.  That’s an idea anyway.”

Bach took that for cue to reply.  “So you want to disperse an uncommon substance into the water by force, delivered by my indieware nanites?”

“I think so,” Haley replied.

“It would also help us if we can locate the highest concentrations of the methane directly,” Laney interjected.  “And most cetaceans can’t easily dive so deep.”

“Hence the ceti husks,” Bach offered up what he felt must be the conclusion the younger Druid had in mind.

“Aye,” Haley said, answering for her sister.  “I assume we may be able to find a means by which they can be used to target dispersal of your nano machines.”

Bach had to think about that.  “I’d guess that it can be done.  I’m not very familiar with hydroxyl,” he said, pulling the conversation back, “but it’s pretty common for recycler nanites to carry what we call solvent spears.  In this case, it would either be your hydroxyl, or maybe something that carves hydroxyls from local substances.  I say that because if this stuff is as reactive as you make it sound, we may have difficulty delivering the substance to the methane before it reacts with something else along the way.”

Haley nodded to him from across the elevator.  “Aye, I recognize the issue there.  It’s no good to us if a nanite’s solvent spear, as you call it, gets used up before breaching a methane molecule.”

“Yeah.”

“How much of your indieware will we need for this?” Haley asked.  “How long will it take to grow?”

Bach reeled from the question.  “Hell… I have absolutely no idea how much we’ll need, or how many generations.  Non-template nanites can only refuel so many times before dying off, so we may be talking about several batches here… multiplied by how much oceanic volume we are talking about… multiplied by how quickly you want to tear up God knows how much methane that may be in the water. That part I’m not educated well enough even to guess at.  That’s your line of work, I assume.  But certainly, you can spread the same amount of indieware through a larger swath of water, but it’ll recycle the methane at a slower rate.”

“Sure, that makes sense,” Haley replied.  “So, we’ll definitely have to scout the problem.  Can you start work before we know all the details?”

Lady Kalitzakis jumped in to repeat Haley’s earlier question.  “How long do they take to grow?”

Bach supposed she did have some stake in this, too, what with her physically visiting Overjordan as proxy for Representative Abraham — and for however long as may be necessary.

Still, he floundered a bit under the weight of two questions.  “Under ideal conditions,” he tried, “with the best of nanite soups… maybe ten kilograms per template per hour.  Since that only ever happens in our growth labs, we're probably only talking somewhere between seven and maybe nine kilos per template per hour.  And there’s no guarantee that all three cases contain recycler templates.  About a quarter of our holdings are in assembler models, not to mention one wetware template.”

Before Bach could move on to the second question, Laney jumped in with a third, if pertinent, one of her own.  “How many is a quarter?”

“Two.”  Bach felt like he was losing control of this conversation.  That is, until he realized that he’d never actually had any to begin with.

Haley spoke up next.  “So, if worse comes to worst, we may not even be carrying a recycler template with us.”

Bach could only nod to that.  “Best find out,” he said softly.

Holding up the one case he already held, Bach hovered his free hand over the seal behind the handle.  “Bach Kavanagh asks for content query,” he said to the metallic briefcase.  By prefacing the request with his name, he saved it the time in having to ask.

Almost instantly, an eye-bending figment appeared in the air — the fragment of his signature already in the case's internal memory.  Most of the women darted their eyes away from looking at it, though Haley looked on without so much as even blinking.  How she managed that, Bach could only guess at.

Summoning the answer fragment to this ten dimensional signature question, Bach pushed the two together.  Ethereal as the tactile response may well be, the sense of resistance still told Bach’s fingers just when to stop.  The two incomprehensible shapes merged into something like a blue-tinted soap bubble, successfully indicating that he truly was authorized to know the contents of this slightly dented aluminum briefcase.

“Content is one unit of American Telepresence model 13a mass-recycler nanite master template,” it replied audibly only for those tuned in to the wireless.

Several relieved breaths let loose throughout the elevator.  “That’s one,” Mitsuki said.  The others only nodded.

“Here, give me that,” Bach asked of the young Japanese woman who'd just spoken.

She answered only by handing him the case.  He passed the one he'd held back to her.  Repeating the steps, however, produced a strange result.  “Bach Alan Kavanagh is not authorized to ask the contents within this seal.”

“What sour hell is this?”  Bach cursed and tried again and, again, the case refused him.  Locking eyes with Haley momentarily, all he could offer was an apology.  “Sorry.  I’ll snag my Ol’ Dad later.  We’ll see what he can do about it.”

“That’s alright.  Let’s check the third case,” Haley said, voice thick with forced understanding.

Even in spite of her good nature on such a critical matter, this really irked Bach something fierce.  Since when was there a sealed briefcase at the warehouse that he was not authorized to access?

The question nagged at him even as he handed the blasted thing off to Khloe, who stood nearest on his left.  Collecting the third case from the younger Diaz, he again repeated the ritual.  Again, most eyes darted as far away from looking at the figment signature as they could manage.

“Content is one unit of American Telepresense model 4b mass-assembler nanite master template,” reported the briefcase.

If anyone in the elevator had not cursed out loud, Bach couldn’t tell amidst those who did.  “Sorry,” was all he could offer.

“Not your fault,” Haley offered him another round of comfort.  “We’ll just have to move forward on the assumption that we can only produce as little as seven kilograms… um, I guess about three hundred pounds of the stuff a day.  That doesn't sound like a whole lot to me.  I think we have about twenty thousand kilos of the stuff in the city's digestive tract alone.”  For a moment, she looked as if she'd talked herself into a funk.

A new motion in the pit of Bach’s stomach suggested to him that the elevator was slowing in its descent.  In echo of that, Khloe said as much. “We’re slowing down.”

“Almost to the offices,” Laney replied.

“Aye.  Khloe, if you will?”  Haley stretched out an arm.

The raven-haired woman’s eyes darted from one visage to the next for several moments before her eyebrows shot up.  “Oh, sorry,” she said, handing the Archdruid the mystery briefcase.

“No problem,” Haley said disarmingly.  “Laney, if you would take the case from Mitsu.  Thanks… Mitsu, I’m going to send you along to my office.  Please address any outstanding messages you can, starting with the most urgent, of course.  And get the rest of the staff on what remains.  Except for one.  Get someone to arrange for and guide Lady Kalitzakis here to a prime aparment somewhere in the core.  She’ll no doubt be wanting to rest.”

“Yes thanks,” Khloe said even as Mitsuki replied with an accent-heavy “Certainly!”

Haley smiled at the pair.  “Thanks… and take a nap, yourself, once you are satisfied with what’s on my desk. Laney and I will escort Sir Kavanagh to the city recycling caches, and then to an apartment of his own.”

Even as she paused for breath, the elevator doors popped silently open.  Mitsuki motioned for Khloe to proceed her out the doors, but then stopped to hold them open when Haley spoke up once more.  “And for Heaven’s sake," she added with a pause for emphasis, "get as big a damn breakfast as you can possibly stand to eat, and sooner rather than later.  Okay?”

Both of the black-haired women nodded and replied “Okay.”  They left, and the doors slipped shut.

“Can you make it for a few more hours?”  Haley locked eyes with Bach as she asked this.

He could not look away.  “I’d not feel right sleeping while there are no nanites growing.”

Haley smiled broadly, and slapped him companionably on the shoulder.