Northwest

Khloe waited for the others to hike up the plank lengthened down from the gleaming alloy-hulled aeroyacht, the so-called ‘First August.’  She’d seen the ship before, landed off at the periphery of one past family get-together or another, but this would be her first time aboard.  She’d have to hope that her quick exploration of its figment blueprints would be enough for her not to come off as wholly unfamiliar with the ship.  

Bach also remained behind, though that Japanese girl — Hayato, as she insisted on being called by pretty much everyone except those Diaz sisters — had gone on ahead, herding the volunteers into what would be cramped quarters.  The strange looking bird-fish husk lay nearby, sprawled across a biocrete path that meandered its way back from and then back into the depths of the gardens.

“I’m guessing you’ll have to pilot that thing up onto the ship,” Khloe inquired, still feeling compelled to be on better terms with this man who’d saved her life back in Castine.  He wasn’t unfriendly with her, really; just not friendly, either.  

The young engineer found himself thrust into a position not only of collaboration with D.R.U.I.D, but in having some practical influence over the globally funded organization as well — at least insofar as this new crisis and its future ramifications were concerned.  Khloe’d guessed, well ahead of having been told directly, that he’d be of particular interest to those high up amongst her far-reaching family connections.

That Bach was a close and personal friend to Representative Abraham made this new lead all the more convenient for the family elders… and all the less for her, personally.  If he was going to be foisted off on her as another long term project, then at the very least, she meant to be able to get along with the man.

Bach looked her way, squinting into the sun sinking behind her.  “Yeah,” he answered.  “It would take three or four people to drag it up, and what’s the point when it can get up there on its own?”

Khloe bobbed her head just enough to suggest that she’d understood.  He had a way of talking that did not invite further conversation, and that had her wondering if that’s how he wanted it, or if he was just terribly introverted.  He certainly was nothing like the congressman but, then again, they weren’t relatives, she recalled.

Sandy Abraham, from what she’d gathered, had been a college friend to Bach’s father, and had been instrumental in the resurrection of the Kavanagh owned industrial properties.  At any rate, if she could cultivate half the rapport the Archdruid had with him, then at least her time stuck watching over the broad and sandy-blond engineer might just be passingly tolerable.

The figure of a man wearing far too much white appeared at the top of the gang-plank.  Also opposite her from the sun, he raised a hand to shield his eyes from the glare as he looked their way.  He then raised it again, waving energetically.  The volunteers leaving for the mainland must have been settled in already.

Khloe smiled before speaking out of the side of her mouth.  “That would be my cousin,” she told Bach.  “Guess I’m heading aboard.”

“Fuzzy,” was all he had by way of reply as he fell in not too far behind her.  

The figure waited at the top, hands on his hips and squinting against the bright sun with a broad toothy smile.  “Hey brat,” he called down when Khloe had marched about halfway up.  “Welcome aboard!”

“Jason Cyr,” she returned with that twist of tone that made a greeting of someone’s name.  She pounced upon him, squeezing hard.

Her mouth might have only been inches from his ear, but with Bach’s footsteps reverberating off the gang-plank behind her, she’d not risk being overhead.  She broadcast a figment whisper to her cousin — a signal that likely crawled along the planet’s magnetic field and bounced off satellites in space, all just so a man two inches away could hear her privately.  “You know this was your Dad’s idea, right?”

She felt him nod, though he did not speak or whisper back.

“Sorry about that.  Do you two still not get along?”  Though she could not escape Oscar Cyr's oversight of her position within the family, neither could she get along with that creep of a middle-aged man.  None of this, however, reflected on his son, her good friend.

“His call,” returned Jason’s ethereal whisper, “was the first I’ve heard from him in months.  He played it diplomatically enough, though.  I was almost proud of him for that.”

Khloe chuckled with her living voice, and let her cousin go.  She wrapped one arm under his as she pushed Jason aside, taking that last step onto the ship’s short front deck.  Then she turned and slid that arm around his back and waist, beaming a broad smile down upon the engineer who drew near, having topped the plank.

“Bach,” she began, “this is my cousin, Jason Cyr.  Jay, this is Bach Kavanagh.”

Khloe felt herself being pulled forward just a tad as her cousin reached out with his free hand.  Bach clasped Jason’s hand and gave it a single firm shake.  “Hello,” he said… and left it at that.

Still, her cousin was not the shy introvert that Bach seemed to be.  “Sir Kavanagh?  You’re the one, then!”  

Khloe glanced sideways.  Word sure as hell gets around doesn’t it, she thought to herself.  Though she might appreciate being alive today, hers wasn’t exactly an experience she wanted to have to relive and relate with each family gathering.

“The one?”  Again, Bach with the too few words.  He even looked as if he didn’t know what the other man was talking about.

“You’re the one who pulled this brat out of the ruined building on the Maine coastline, are you not?”  Jay Cyr was nothing if not charm, though that appeared to move Bach not a bit one way or another.

How can he be so completely different around the young Archdruid?  If anything, Khloe wondered what sour bull-hockey was responsible for her not being able to charm him a tenth as well.  As far as she could tell, there was nothing particularly remarkable about the other woman other than those bizarre golden brown eyes of hers.

“Oh,” Bach breathed out, eyebrows suddenly high on his forehead.  “Yes, sorry.  My mind was elsewhere.  Still, it’s not something so terrific as that.  Using a husk, I was in no real danger at that point.”

Jason smiled even more broadly, if such were possible.  “Are you saying that I shouldn’t thank you for saving my little cousin’s life, just because you did it with a machine?”  He’d never quite let go of Bach’s hand and, with these words, sent a pulse along his arm and into Bach’s.

Bach looked momentarily stricken.  “No, I suppose that would be a strange thing.  You both are welcome, anyways.  I just didn’t see that there was anyone else who could have done it at the time.  We’re the only husk manufacturer in the Downeast area, and my Dad’s wetware connection was too busy keeping him off hypothermia at the time.  That is, to preoccupied to allow him such a bandwidth intensive activity as piloting by proxy.”

Khloe could have gaped, if she hadn’t any control over herself.  Bach had said more in the past minute than she’d heard from him since… well, since none of the morning meetings, come to think on it.  Is it me, in particular, that he didn’t want to talk to?  She tried unsuccessfully to banish the thought.

“Well,” Jason retorted, “it’s not nothing to us.”

Bach answered with a very shallow bow, almost nothing more than a dip of the head.  “You are welcome,” he said a second time before changing the subject.  “Is my husk the last thing we need before leaving?”

Khloe’s cousin bobbed his head, and untwined himself from her.  “Yeah.  We’ve stuffed the sardines in already, and left you some room to tie that thing down just behind the bridge where it won’t get caught on the wind.  It’ll make the ride a little smoother if we can maintain our aerodynamics.”

“Well enough,” Bach replied.  “Where will I be?”

“There’s seating for four inside the bridge itself,” Jason replied.  “Your eastern-looking friend can ride with you, me, and Khloe up where there’ll be a view.”

Bach nodded once again, seemingly prone to use of body language over that of his own voice… or so it appeared to Khloe, anyways.  Having parted from his cousin, Jason moved off toward the rear of the bridge where there'd be a stairwell entrance.  Khloe followed after him, and then upwards and on into the canopy.

The view presented itself better from within than it would have seemed when inspecting the bridge from outside.  The curved glass panes, and the translucent ceramics used to hold them in place, must be largely translucent one-way.  One could see out, but would have to plaster their face on the outside surface just to make out even the most pronounced of details within.  

Sure enough, on closer inspection, the one-way crystal canopy wrapped unusually far back on both sides, not only enclosing the bridge, but sheltering the view of the stairwells leading into it from behind.

When transporting family members of a particularly rich lineage, one had to take… precautions.  This design would allow someone the opportunity to duck out of sight of approaching vessels without being directly observed — perhaps to be replaced with a body double or some barely-qualified backup pilot whose job it would be to act very surprised when those accosting them thought so-and-so would have been aboard at that time.  Odds were, there would a well hidden panic room somewhere on board, probably little more roomy than a coffin, if that.

Khloe wound her way past rotating leather bucket seats, intent on getting a better view out through the sloping front pane.  From what she could see, Bach had moved a ways from the gang-plank, and now stood motionless.  Looking afield somewhat, she saw that the husk, in fact, was on the move.

Not well designed for operation on solid ground, the thing more or less pulled itself forward, using the long claw fingers that protruded from roughly halfway along its wing-fin appendages.  Khloe wasn’t quite sure what to call them, really.  In any case, the thing took a good while just to reach the bottom of the plank.  Though the ramp was likely made of the strongest woven keratin, it bent a fair bit under the husk’s weight.

“I meant what I’d said to him,” Jason declared as he sauntered up beside her.  “My father may be a money-grubbing jerk, but I," he stressed, "am beyond glad that that man down there saved your life.  I really don’t care that he didn’t have to risk life and limb to do it… just that it was done.”

Khloe nodded, not even looking to see whether Jason caught the motion or not.  “It’s rather frustrating,” she admitted.  “I want to be grateful, but he doesn’t open up to me at all.  Uncle Oscar’s basically intoned that Sir Kavanagh’s now my project, in addition to the Representative.  They are close, you know… Bach and Sir Abraham.  This, though… this is going to be damn tricky if he won’t say more than three words to me at a time.”

“Shy sort?”

“I guess,” Khloe twisted the words.  “He doesn’t come off to me as lacking confidence or being fearful of anything; just quiet.”

“There’s different things to be confident about.  I’ve known the type before.  When it comes to his work or his ideas or ideals, even… then he’s sure of himself beyond anything anyone can say.  He'll lean heavily upon an intution that has always served him very well.  And yet, being quiet in a world full of the sort of people who won't understand him, he is not at all certain about others.  Be it his being put off by their values or how he imagines they see him.”

Jason wrapped his arms together under his chest.  “I would actually venture to guess that, in this case, he’s actually acutely aware of you — because he saved you, probably — and that makes him all the more quiet.”

Khloe threw a glance sideways, but her cousin did not move to return the look.  “I’m pretty sure he’s enamored of the local Archdruid.  Saved her, too.  Sooner than he did me, actually.  Around her, anyways, he is much more alive.”

“Oh,” Jason said back, finally looking back.  “I didn’t mean to say that he’s fallen for you or anything.  Just that he’s particularly uncertain of how to act around you.  Hell, it might even be because he’s got eyes for this other woman you speak of.  Maybe he feels guilty — like he should be paying more attention to you because of what you two have shared — and withdraws even further away for having not.  I’m only guessing of course.”

“Of course.”

“In any case… wait.  You don’t have something for him, do you?”  His smile bent at one corner, thick with mischief. 

Khloe felt suddenly rather hot, but forced the sensation away.  “No,” she rebuffed her cousin.  “He’s cute enough, but is kinda rubbing me the wrong way.”  That much, at least, was true.  “He’s just business, now.  The elders recognize his connection to the Congressman, plus his talents for modern technologies — not to mention, some of his too-broad ideas on how to deal with this new mess — and see opportunities for making more yuan, euros, and dollars.  That and wrangling further influence, of course.”

The pair watched as the strange half-seal half-bat husk reached the top of the plank and turned to wend its way along the side of the ship.  Here, at least, it had railings to clasp on to, and made its way with a percentile or two more by way of grace; which is to say, almost none at all.  The living Bach still stood nearer the center of the forward deck, having not moved an inch the whole time.  

“That’s something, really.”  Jason said this, but Khloe wasn’t sure what it was he meant.

“Huh?”

“Oh.  I mean his piloting while standing like that.  Anyone else I know would be sitting or laying down if they could get away with it.  I haven’t run a husk in a while now, but my muscles would have long since given up, and I’d have returned to a face full of yacht decking and a major charlie-horse.”

Khloe giggled at the imagery.  “I see what you mean.  If I remember right, he even somehow managed to pilot two at once before we left the mainland for Overjordan.”

Her cousin’s eyebrows shot up.  “Wow,” he began before losing is words.  “Just… wow.”

Khloe didn’t know to think it was that big of a deal.  Relatively safe from being seen from outside, she turned to follow Bach’s progress from with the canopy’s inner curve.  Eventually, the passage of the husk eventually brought it below her angle of view as it passed beneath the canopy’s starboard side.  “So, are you suggesting something?”

Jason hesitated at her somewhat out-of-context question.  “Suggesting?”

“About how to pull Bach out of his shell, I mean.  If I’m going to be stuck working on him for a while, I really would rather not be the third wheel everywhere I go.  That, or otherwise be the cause of his incessant quiescence.”  

“Is that even a real word?”

Khloe shot her cousin a cutting glance.  “Yes it is.”  

As she lingered, the husk finally flopped into view at the base of the stairway leading up in their direction.  It turned its head and spoke with a flattened version of Bach’s voice.  “Where am I putting this thing again?”

Jason gave her a ‘might as well stay here’ kind of glance before jogging down the steps toward the husk.  He directed the thing off to one side, where some fibrous keratin roping already waited.  He even helped tie the artificial beast down once it had settled in.  Bach, himself, appeared soon thereafter and helped Jason finish.  Both then climbed their way up those steep steps.

“Still no Asian girl?”  Jason asked.  When she appeared a moment later, it seemed to Khloe as if by cue.  Everyone turned at the sound of someone climbing the steps, and then there she was.  “Hello,” Jason chirped, shooting out a hand to help her up the final step.  She took it without hesitation.  “I never did catch your name,” he said.

“Hayato Mitsuki,” she returned with a smile.  Khloe couldn’t think of any time when she’d seen the young druid as amiable as this.  “You can call me Hayato or Lady Hayato… or even Miss Hayato, if you are so old-fashioned as that.”

Once again, Khloe came to appreciate her cousin’s depth of savoir faire — not the least bit like his father.  Meanwhile, having just heard the young woman’s full name, she still didn’t understand it.  People usually referred to each other with a title and the person’s last name, not their first.  In that moment, she couldn’t hold back.  “Why not Lady Mitsuki?”

If anything, the youthful Japanese druid looked momentarily exasperated.  Still, she hid it quickly enough.  “Hayato is my surname.  Where I come from, it is spoken first.  Mitsuki is my given name, and it is not spoken except by family or by special invitation as a friend.  The alternative is considered impolite.”

“Oh,” Khloe breathed.  “Sorry, I didn’t know.”

“That’s alright,” Mitsuki returned.  “I’ve lived in the Union long enough.  I should be used to it.”

Bach stirred at this.  “I actually didn’t know that either,” he admitted.  “I’m anxious to be looking for my templates,” he said, changing the topic.  “Are we nearly ready to leave?”

At the very least least, it came as some selfish comfort to Khloe that this Hayato girl seemed to like Bach about as well as she did her.  

Jason bowed deeply, with a flourish of an arm as he did so.  “As you wish.”  Though farcical, the tone of his humor did not come edged with intent to offend.  Instead, Jay popped back up with a chuckle.  “My father told me to make this boat available to the Archdruid of Overjordan, but I hear tell that she could not come.”

“That’s right.  In all the excitement, she’d nearly forgotten about some of the less favored duties of her position,” Bach said with unusual eloquence.  “I’d have come along either way, though.”

Though she knew that Jason was already aware, Khloe offered up some explanation to her cousin, if only for Bach’s benefit.  “The plans for repair to the gulf, as well as for a possible early-warning or even prevention method… um… well they involve his templates as well as creative design expertise.  The Archdruid is largely just empowering him, and acting as consultant on the ecological aspects of the problem.”

“I see.”  Jason then indicated that everyone might as well take a seat.  “If you will, we can be leaving as of right now.  By the way,” he asked, “what is our first destination?”

Mitsuki answered before anyone else.  “We asked for volunteers from the Boston metropolitan area.”

“I see!”  Jason vaulted into the pilot’s chair — raised higher than the rest by little more than a handful of centimeters — and had the ship’s engine humming in mere moments.  “That’ll probably take us ninety minutes or so, from all the way out here.  By the way; sorry about my earlier estimate.  I didn’t realize that your city was so damn far out from the coastline.  For some reason I thought it was much closer.”

Bach chuckled into the first words of his reply.  “It usually is, but Haley ordered the city to get as close to the point of incidence as it could safely go.  Don’t sweat the delay.”

Khloe’s cousin bobbed his head by way of reply.  “Thanks for that,” he said.  “And we’re off!”

Even before he said it, the sudden bounce that Khloe felt in the pit of her stomach told of the yacht having left its resting spot.  The ship swiveled about, pitching slightly to their left as the scenery around them blurred on by.  Only when the city core’s artificial horizon dominated the view did the ship’s rotation slow to a stop — if then, only to be replaced by her being pressed into her leathery seat.  They were off, indeed.

Though careful not to make nice with the side of any of the skyscrapers beyond the lip of the core’s horizon, Jason did allow the craft to drop in amongst them, again incurring a slight nausea in the pit of Khloe’s stomach.

“No need for that,” she said almost inaudibly.  Her irrational fear of heights had never been so bad as to be debilitating to her.  Still, neither had she any desire to flagrantly taunt her fortunes.  In any case, it didn’t appear as though her cousin had heard her squeak of objection.  

Bach and Mitsuki — Lady Hayato, that is — appeared relatively well amused with the spectacle of flying between the tops of these few buildings.  Still, as they approached the city’s oceanic edge, the towers shortened enough that Jason could no longer weave in and amongst them.  Before long, all that lay ahead of them was uninterrupted ocean for as far as the eye could see. 

That remained true for about an hour.  Conversation had turned toward the lively pretty much as soon as there remained no further scenery to be had.  The ocean may well be nice to look at, but on a peaceful day such as this, it had nothing particularly new to offer them from one minute to the next.  So, attentions turned inward.

For a while, Bach proved his usual self, reluctant or otherwise unwilling to initiate.  Still, he warmed up to each new topic if, at times, only just soon enough to witness its demise.  For a while, Bach and Mitsuki even attempted to discuss how best to prevent future methane eruptions, but gave up eventually.

Sitting directly behind Bach as she did, he almost never set his eyes on her all the whole while.  This offered Khloe the opportunity to study the man rather directly, though certain things may not be quite so easy to glean from the back of a man’s head.  Of what she saw; he didn’t slump his shoulders, or stare into his lap, or look listlessly out across the monotonous open ocean waters.

No… if anything, he watched the others talk, save for Khloe herself, given where she sat.  Bach smiled with relative ease and laughed quite a few times, too.  He simply came off as content to listen, more often than not.

Khloe couldn’t make heads or tails of the man.  She was just about to try the frontal approach — to try engaging him in a specific topic — when her cousin sucked down a rather noisy draft of air.  Bach stood from his seat, prompting ‘Hayato’ to do the same.  He didn’t even seem to notice when she laid a hand on his shoulder to brace herself as she peeked forward between the two men.  She too then gasped.  At that, Khloe just had to look…

…And quickly wished she hadn’t.  The gain in altitude had to have been increasing steadily the whole while as they flew for, when they’d left, they were barely above the surface of the water.  Now, however… now they were at least a few hundred meters high.

At that height, it was apparent to her that the oft interrupted stretch of land below, curving from south to north, used to be Cape Cod.  Now it seemed little more than a chain of mud-brown islands.

These new islands trailed thick tendrils of liquified cape soil well westward and out into the bay.  Much of the old landmass had simply been washed out of existence by the previous week’s tsunami.

“Sour hell,” Khloe cursed under her breath.  

Jason fell back into his leather pilot's seat.  “I saw a few small places like that when flying over the Maine coastline on the way to Overjordan.  But… but God.  I don’t even see anything down there.  No buildings, no roads.  It’s all gone.  Even the land itself more often than not.  They’re gonna have to redo all the maps.”

Save for a single loud cough, and the ever present sound of wind from beyond the glass canopy, silence brought them across Cape Cod Bay and to the mainland proper.  Still standing, Khloe slid past Lady Hayato who’d since let herself fall back into her own seat.  Pressing her forehead into the glass, she looked down over the side of the craft.

For a while, they followed the coastline in a northwesterly direction.  Many of the suburbs below appeared to be largely intact, but light brown washes of drying mud tentacled their way inland wherever inlets had funneled the force of the tsunami.  From this height, Khloe could make out more than a few individual homes that had been swept away and half buried in silt and sand — sometimes perhaps a mile or more away from where they’d once sat.

Khloe had to query the wireless for their location, summoning up a simple color overlay to the world below.  “That’s Plymouth,” she told the others, though none dared a reply.  She looked toward the horizon up ahead, and saw Boston marked straight ahead and across quite a few miles of solid inhabited ground.  

With the sun having dropped away beyond the lip of the Earth, shouldn’t there be the first few lights shining up from down below?  Khloe blinked away the figment map, thinking perhaps that it had simply doused the street lights for her visual convenience… but no.

Even when looking down with nothing but her own living eyes, the landscape remained dark, save for various roads occasionally highlighted by the red, yellow, and green taillights — or the yellow-white headlights — of traveling vehicles.

“At least there’s some life down there,” she said more to herself than anyone else.  With more volume, she added, “But it doesn’t look like they have any power.  No… wait.”  She did see a few lights, now.  “There’s a few,” she said, bending her pointer finger into the glass with a distinct downward angle.  

Bach offered his guess.  “Probably those neighborhoods that have distributed solar… or old generators maybe.”  

“I suppose so,” Khloe admitted.  “That one’s pretty big… probably a school or shopping center of some sort.  Oh,” she then said, noticing something strange.  “That one there is on fire!”  Now that she’d seen that, it seemed as though thin tendrils of smoke rose from several areas, actually.  Some areas appeared wholly blackened.  “God,” she breathed.  “I think a lot of places have burned over the last week.”

It was almost a blessing that, as the western sky darkened, the damage which lay below grew less and less distinct.  Torn between a desire to witness — and not to — Khloe opted to retreat back to her seat.  From there, and as seen from this altitude at least, she’d not be able see much below the edge of the horizon.

Even so, there remained the dark silhouettes of distant skyscrapers still stark against the last dimly refracted rays of sunlight.  They stood like some kind of dark claws, and not every one of them pointing directly upwards.  Khloe could barely keep from staring into her lap.

“Whoa,” Bach exhaled.

“Yeah,” Jason said next to him.  “That looks really bad up there.”

Sitting directly behind him, Khloe could not help but watch Bach’s head turn toward her cousin.  “What?”  He seemed confused.

“What do you mean, what?  A dark and tilted Boston skyline looks pretty damn ominous to me.  ‘Whoa,’ indeed!  I don’t even see any native figments out there.  The satellite fed layers are still available, but there are virtually no local broadcasts.”

Bach looked ahead.  “Yeah,” he said after a moment.  “That’s damn scary and sour, but not what I was on about.”  Now he had everyone’s attention.

“What is it,” Mitsuki asked just as Khloe exhaled a “Huh?” of her own.

Bach wrenched his shoulder around so that he could face the pair of women.  Khloe looked him right in the face.  His eyes reflected the last blue light of the long-set sun, and shone in the darkness of the bridge cabin.  “I’m getting a beacon.”

“Beacon from what?” asked Jason. 

Khloe tried to smooth all expression from her face.  That bastard Oscar had told her there might be one here.  She’d nearly forgotten.  

“One of my template cases is up ahead somewhere,” Bach replied, only half turning to face Khloe’s cousin.

Leaning forward, Khloe reached out and put a hand on Bach’s shoulder without so much as even having thought about it.  “Why didn’t you know sooner?”  At the very least, the blond-haired engineer did not pull away from her touch.

“Probably for the same reason that Jason isn’t seeing local figment advertisements or warning signals below or off ahead of us.  The local branches of the wireless are down, and without that, the weak transmitter on the template casing isn’t being rebroadcast.  I’m only getting it now because we’ve moved into range of it directly.”

“Given the layout of the bay,” Jason offered with a sidelong glance, “it’s probably no surprise that a floating bit of debris would have been funneled into the Boston Harbor area.”

Bach nodded.  “Once we drop off the volunteers, we may well have results far sooner than I could have hoped for.”  

“Hold on a sec,” Jason chimed in.  “I’m picking up some unusual transversal out there.”

Khloe blinked.  “What does that mean?”

“Means that there’s something… no… I don’t see it, not even against the dim blue sky.  Whatever it is, it’s not above us yet.”  As if summoned, a spotlight flared into being, if still some ways off.  “There it is.  We’re being intercepted.”