Newton

The figment of a human head appeared just above the bridge dashboard, partially interrupting the view of dark and tilted skyscrapers off in the distance.  Appearing distinctly male, and making no effort to project an image of anything below the jaw-line, he looked only straight ahead, unable to actually see any one of them.

The one-way projection spoke aloud, “This is currently restricted airspace.  Turn around or otherwise recalibrate your flight plan toward an alternate destination away from the city.”

Jason swore under his breath.  “That figures.  We probably should have called ahead, huh?”  When no one answered, he directed his attention toward the animated figurehead.  After a moment of silence, its eyes found Khloe’s cousin, if only him.

Jason had accepted the virtual hook that the figment avatar offered, establishing a connection between them.  “We’re sorry, officer,” Jason replied.  “We do have a registered vector into Boston, though.  Could you please check again?”

The head’s expression furrowed toward the irritated.  “That’s impossible, Sir Cyr.  Boston is incapable of receiving traffic at this time.  Wait…”  As if distracted by the sight of someone neither Khloe nor any of the others could see, his eyes veered away and his eyebrows shot up.

Finally, he locked eyes with Jason once again.  “I have it now, Sir Cyr.  Don’t know how I missed it.  Still, the fact of the matter remains unchanged.  Boston cannot receive you.”  After a pause, the disembodied head asked a question.  “What is your business here?”

“We carry ten passengers, mostly native to this area; volunteers from the gulf city of Overjordan.”

“Volunteers?”

Khloe rolled her eyes.  Lacking a direct connection to her, the officer speaking to them could not have noticed.  His ship reared up nearby on Khloe's side, matching their movements.  At least they had the good manners not to shine that spotlight right into the bridge.

“Yes… to help with issues on the ground, of course,” Jason answered.

Mitsuki spoke up, knowing full well that the officer would not be able to overhear her, given the limitations of the link between the two ships.  “Make no mention of our taking refugees back with us to the city.”

Khloe had to ask, “Why is that?”

The Japanese druid gave her a direct but unreadable glance.  “We don’t know how long this search is going to take, nor how many of Bach’s coworkers from American Telepresence will be able to come along.  We can find room for refugees once we are ready to return to the city.”

“That’s fine,” Jason said quietly.  When the head turned to him again, he dithered his apologies.  “Sorry, Officer.  Conversation in the cab.”

“Well enough,” the head replied.  “Just ten?”

“Just ten,” Khloe’s cousin repeated by way of reply.

“Hardly worth the effort,” the ethereal head said, seemingly thinking the same thing about the time he now had to spend confronting unwanted air traffic.  “There’s nowhere for them within the city limits.  Your best option is to adjust your course toward the beacon I’m about to create for you.”

No sooner had he said so than did a giant iconic arrow appear above the landscape a good ways west of the city.  Khloe squinted off that way and, especially given the final darkening of the skies, could actually make out the lights of suburbia.  “That’s as close as we can allow you and your volunteers to get.”

Khloe might have gone off on the man had she the connection with him, but her cousin remained ever the diplomat.  “If that’s as close as we can get,” he replied with perfect composure, “then that’s exactly as close as we’ll get.  Thanks for the marker.”

“Aye,” the head returned, his voice still carrying in the air after his visage had disappeared.  

“Asshat,” Jason bit off the curse.  

“Damn sour,” Khloe offered her own foul language in addition to her cousin’s.  “Who are they to turn up their nose at even one volunteer?  And why cut off access to the city?”

“The place did look every bit the ruin,” Bach offered, his first words spoken in a good long while.  “I don’t even want to imagine how many dead might still line the streets down there, even a week later.”

“Just like we were in Castine,” he continued, “Boston had to have been taken by complete surprise when the wave hit.  And with so much of the new city having been in or on the water itself… and with the harbor funneling the force of the tsunami right into the heart of the city…  Well, it had to have been the end of the world down there.”

Khloe supposed that had to be true, and could find no words with which to reply.  In a soft dip to their collective left, the yacht banked westward.  Dark as things had become, the city now to their starboard side glowed dimly from within.

Even so, Khloe could make out no pinpoint lights.  “I think there are fires inside the city as well.”  At least, that’s what she thought it must be.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Jason replied even as Bach answered, “Probably.”  The two men gave each other a quick and surprised glance.

The other hovercraft — almost certainly a N.A.N.U navy aerofrigate, being of larger design — continued to match their course, making no obvious attempt at putting any real distance between them.  As such, it frequently blocked Khloe's view of the distant city ruins.

“I guess they mean to see us to the beacon,” Jason observed.  The trip itself took a while, what with Jay giving up after the first few attempts to pull ahead of the ship shadowing them.  The frigate took each time as opportunity to demonstrate that they could easily outmatch their pace.

As they neared the figment icon, Khloe at first took some consolation from the ever increasing indications of civilization below.  That comfort ebbed, however, as the First August descended toward its destination.

“God,” Bach exclaimed.  “If they didn’t want us seeing the damage to Boston, why direct us here?”

“There’s probably a million people down there,” Jason answered first, pulling half out of his seat to get a better view over the silhouette that was his ship’s pointed nose.  “There’s no hiding this when most all of those people down there can reach out across the wireless.  Here, at least, the media feeds can hype up survival stories, or enthrall the world with endless missing persons lists.  ‘Have you seen so and so,’ and the like.”

Though he sounded cynical, Khloe knew that her cousin was almost certainly right.  Humanity disappointed her most days, and this event would likely do nothing to improve upon her esteem for the species.  “Whatever will sell,” she slurred half under her breath.

“Mm,” was all the reply her cousin had for her.  The other two remained quiet as they plastered their foreheads against the glass.

Below stretched endless acres of what could only be a tent metropolis.  Nearly every road, save the most central of highways, had all but one of their lanes given over to temporary habitation.  Parking lots had come to be glowing hives of humanity.  Solar lamps lay strewn about wherever Khloe looked, and no few cook fires roared up as well.  They could even smell the mingling scents of smoke and cooking pots as they slowly descended — that is, where the unfortunate scents of poor sanitation did not overwhelm her sensibilities.

Now that they were close, their beacon dropped animatedly to the ground, highlighting a biocrete parking lot that stretched at least three acres by five.  Its entrances had been blocked off, ensuring that it continued to serve as some kind of crisis control headquarters — that it did not get overrun by refugees.  

“There they go,” Jason observed.  Khloe turned to see the naval hovercraft peel off back eastward, toward the city ruins.  “Ah,” he said then.  “And we have company on the ground.”  

Sure enough, when Khloe swiveled back to look, she could make out tiny figures casting long shadows across the lot below.  On closer inspection, she could make out a couple other ships already resting at its edges.  “They’re waiting for us.”

“Looks that way,” Mitsuki offered just before Jason uttered a barely audible “Yeah” under his breath.

“So what are,” Khloe stressed, “we going to do, then?  Can we afford to pass up the opportunity to grab one of Bach’s precious templates?  How hard will it be to find the rest?  How many are there?”  She had to ask.

“Don’t know,” Bach replied, presumably to every one of her questions.  “We only got lucky this time.  I’ve done a query on the wireless and I’m only getting one of the missing template cases to show up — well up past Bangor on the Penobscot.”

He had to add, “in Maine,” when Khloe only shrugged past the unfamiliar names.  “It probably washed ashore somewhere that didn’t get hit too badly by the wave.  So, I can sense its signal piggybacked on the native wireless.  We have three now at the city, not including the one that will not open, so… um… as many as five are lost.”

“And only one of those is currently tuned into the web,” Mitsuki half asked, half observed.

“Yuh,” Bach returned.

This really hadn’t answered her original question, though.  “Can we afford to pass this one up?”

“I’d really like not to,” the engineer replied as he looked away.  “They cannot just be replaced, regardless of what we need them for.  Every single template on Earth is a precious and guarded item.  They won’t allow us to build replacements until we can account for and prove that the missing are destroyed or otherwise unrecoverable.  Still,” he trailed off.

“Still what?”  Khloe didn’t know where this anger was coming from, so she made every effort to suppress it.  Maybe the naval officer’s attitude still rubbed her the wrong way, even now.  That, or maybe the sight of so many displaced people having turned the suburb streets into villages unto themselves.  Has the world grown so overpopulated that these people have nowhere better to go?  

“No, it’s nothing.  If the city is off limits, then we can’t get at the template, wherever it is in there.  If we could get special permission… or… or maybe if Ol’ Sandy’s request could get through committee, they’d just get it for us.”

“Take your seats, people.”  Jason waved an open palm over his shoulder, not even looking back to check whether anyone took notice.  “We’re going to land almost immediately.”

Khloe sat down and held on to each armrest as the ship dropped from the sky, turning its nose upwards only at the last moment.  It then settled backwards, not unlike a falling leaf, before there came a mild thump.  Loose dirt and year-old leaves scattered away from or otherwise wafted above their ship as their maneuvering fans slowed to a halt.  Having long since become accustomed to their ever present thrum and whine, the renewed silence outside came to Khloe like a sudden stroke of deafness.

After some moments motionless, Jason stood — as then did all the rest — and headed for the stairwell at the back of the bridge.  “Let’s drop our cargo,” he said without waiting on anyone.

Mitsuki followed him and was, herself, followed by Bach.  Khloe took up the rear, nearly stumbling down the steep steps.  

“You alright?” Bach asked as he turned to look up toward her.  

She’d not expected that, what with how little attention he’d paid her since they’d come to Overjordan.  “Yeah… just getting back my land-legs, I guess.”  She smiled down at him, a gesture that he returned somewhat.  Seemingly satisfied, Bach turned and continued downward.

Upon reaching the rear deck, Khloe wandered toward the busy side of the yacht.  Already, figures on the ground approached while others remained standing, silhouetted against the light streaming out of the commandeered shopping center beyond.  

Myriad noisy footsteps announced the passengers who took to crowding about, no few around her.  Only the gang-plank facing toward the figures below was lowered and, before anyone could disembark, two of them paced upwards.  They stopped nearer the top, effectively preventing passage by anyone who did not wish to risk the four meter drop down to the biocrete lot.

At the front stood an athletic looking woman dressed in what appeared to Khloe to be a naval dress uniform.  Behind her stood a bear of a man who looked to be of local law enforcement.  Jason and Bach both stepped forward to confront them at the top of the plank.

The woman spoke first.  “I’m told by my Commander Walker that you bring volunteers to us?”

Jason nodded.  “That’s right.  Only as many as we could carry, aside from my ship’s crew.”  He made a sweeping gesture that included Bach, Mitsuki and Khloe.  The naval officer needn’t know they weren’t the actual crew.

The blonde haired woman smiled broadly, putting Khloe immediately at ease.  “Welcome to Newton,” she said.  “It may take us a while to process your passengers and figure out exactly what to do with them.  They’re all citizens?”

Various heads bobbed around the deck as Jason gave each a cursory look.  Once satisifed, he turned back to the female commander.  “All from Overjordan,” Jason offered her.  “So I suppose it’s possible that we might have some who aren’t.  Even so, from what I understand, most of these have ties to this area.”

“Hence their volunteering,” the officer suggested.

“Right,” said both Bach and Jason at once.

“May I?”  The blonde-haired officer asked, indicating with a wave of her hand that she hoped to officially board the First August.  

Jason grinned his way through a bob of his head.  “Of course… um?”

“Rear Admiral,” the woman offered.  “Anders, that is.  And this is Major Bentley of the Massachusetts State Police.”

The immense man bowed ever so slightly.  “Folks,” he greeted.

“Technically,” Anders declared without prompting, “he’s in charge around here, though I would otherwise outrank him.  I’m just added muscle,” she said through a chuckle, “what with how stretched thin the homeland authorities are right now.  Of course, I’m sure you wouldn’t have guessed that in seeing us standing next to one another… the muscle bit, I mean.” she joked.  “He doesn’t appreciate my humors,” Anders added in response to his embarrassment.

A few laughs rippled through the crowded deck, but they died off quickly enough.

“All those disembarking will come with me,” Bentley said.  Even as the Rear Admiral boarded the ship, he remained on the plank, waiting for the volunteers to line up.  He then turned and paced downward, causing even the rigid keratin construction of the plank to oscillate with his passing.

The passengers followed, some giving nods to those that would be remaining onboard while others uttered quiet farewells or even shook hands.

“We have a need,” Bach said all of a sudden. 

“Hmm?”  The Rear Admiral only tilted her head toward him, still guaging the disembarking passengers.  “A what?”

Khloe and Jason exchanged glances.  Even Mitsuki appeared apprehensive.  What’s he doing? Khloe had to ask herself.  

“Bringing these volunteers to the mainland is only the first of our errands.  We’re also hunting down missing items that the city of Overjordan needs in dealing with the damage to the gulf.”

“I don’t understand,” the naval officer returned, trying to maintain her wide smile.  “What item?  What damage could there be to the… the Gulf of Maine, you say?  In case you can’t tell, the damage is here.”  She kept her tone under control, but her smile waned with every successive word she spoke.

Bach looked momentarily striken.  “Yes, of course.  I did not mean to belittle all that has happened here.”

In response to that, the Rear Admiral’s eyes tightened somewhat.  Still, Bach pushed on.  “In the wave, several of our nanite templates were washed away,” he began, being inspecific as to who had lost the templates, or from where.  Khloe thought that was wise.  “Since then, we’ve determined the cause of the tsunami to be ocean climate related, and one that can…”

The officer cut him off.  “Climate change?”

Bach blinked.  “Of a sort, yeah.”

The middle-aged woman brought a hand to her face, pinching the bridge of her nose tightly.  “I’d thought I’d heard the last of that bullshit when I was graduating from the naval academy,” she said.

Khloe’s jaw nearly dropped.  Sure, she’d grown up in a world in which people grumbled about the old heat waves — as much as they did about the epic amounts of snow that fell every winter.  She’d even had this conversation once with Haley and her sister on one of the few occasions when they’d been able to find time for hospitality.

“That’s because of all the water vapor in the air,” she recalled the Archdruid stating over orange juice swirled absentmindedly around the bottom of a rounded glass.  “After all the melting glaciers and polar you-name-it, the downslide in the multidecadal oscillation cloaked the underlying temperature increases while all the extra vapor in the air fell as rain and snow.  That is… where it fell at all.”

Odd that I should now so clearly remember something that I’d not quite understood at the time.  She’d been complacent, having been born and raised during those supposed ‘good years’ that, come to think of it, did seem to come rife with flooding from all parts of the world.

She’d come around, now — especially after having only just barely survived the latest in consequences of the same climate shifts that this military woman now disparaged without hesitation.  Whatever, she chided herself, pushing the whole train of thought out of mind.

“How could you…” she began, intending to ask after how the older woman could not believe, given all that had happened.  Instead, she was cut off with an angled chop of the Rear Admiral’s hand through thin air.  Bach gave Khloe a look that she caught and returned, if not quite grasping at what lay behind it.

“That’s enough,” she said, not with volume, but in a tone that suggested she’d brook no dissent.  Khloe knew then where the pins on her shoulders had come from.  “My problem is here.  What does yours, whatever it might be, have to do with this place?”

“Well,” Bach replied, “just before being intercepted by your Commander, um… Commander Walker… we picked up a short range radio pulse emitted by one of our lost items.  We believe it washed into the Boston Harbor area.”

The naval officer’s eyes popped wide for a split second.  “And?”

Bach glanced toward Mitsuki, of all people, perhaps looking for support.  Khloe wished, irrationally as it seemed to her in that same moment, that he’d looked to her for that instead.

Frustrated with the whole scenario, she tried to establish a short-range connection to her cousin.  He glanced her way, and shook his head.

Khloe shrugged her shoulders in a way that asked ‘why not?’ when she caught the Rear Admiral’s eyes on her.  “None of that, please.  If you’ve something to say, you can sure as hell say it with your living voice, thank you very much.”  

“It’s nothing,” Khloe dithered.  Normally, wireless conversations would be wholly private.  Here, though, given the lack of a stable network to ride locally, she and her cousin’s back and forth would have had to have been via radio.  That would be easy for nearly anyone to pick up, if not necessarily decipher.

Khloe hoped, at least, that they hadn’t the means of decrypting wetware signals.  Given her own family’s long standing relationship with various militaries, it would not have come as much of a surprise to her if they’d come to acquire the means.  Perhaps Jason had come to the same conclusion, still watching her out of the corner of his eye.

“Very well… as you were saying,” the Rear Admiral switched, turning to Bach once again.

Bach hadn’t seen anything of what had passed between Khloe, her cousin, and the Rear Admiral.  He’d only heard her vocal intervention.  Still, he recovered from his confusion.  “Um… well, simply put, we need to get at it.  We need to go in there and get it.”

He made no mention of the fact that there might be others to find further up the coastline.  As far as the naval officer was concerned, this may be the only one.  Khloe approved.

“That’s not going to happen,” Anders announced with finality.  

“But,” Bach began before trailing off.

Jason jumped in.  “Can we request, then, that you retrieve this sealed case for us?  Then we won’t have to enter the restricted area, and yet still accomplish our mission.”

“Your mission?”  The older woman came off as incredulous.  “I’m sorry, but I’m sure it’s perfectly wonderful playing with your dolphins out in the gulf — that and whatever sour other things you people do out there on the high seas.  My duties are to real people, not to mention the unsuspecting dead still being pulled from the mud-caked streets of central Boston.  The rest of the world already knows about last week’s continuing disaster.  They don’t need to see all the damn gory details.”

She was on quite the tirade at this point.  “I haven’t the time or resources for your mission”, she said, sneering her way through the final word.

“There must be,” Jason began with a smile, likely hoping to rebuild some semblance of diplomacy between them.  Again, the Rear Admiral broke in, cutting him off this time.

“There mustn’t be anything but what I say must be, unless I get orders from one of my superiors.”

Khloe watched Bach’s shoulders slump somewhat.  Her cousin, though… Jason only stiffened.  Though he may not be the son of a… wait… Khloe just realized then that, all things considered, he probably was the son of a bastard anyways.  In any case, he’s not anything like his father… except when it comes to a fight, and there sure as sour hell’s a fight now.  Still, whatever had just occurred to him, Jason chose to keep it to himself.

Instead, it was Bach who replied.  “If there’s nothing to be done about it, there’s nothing to be done about it.”

Khloe didn’t particularly want to believe that this man felt defeated — not someone who’d saved her life.  He may be quiet and distant, but he had to have some kind of quality in him, right?


“We’ll head to our next waypoint by way of Maine,” Bach continued, “and then return to the city.  We’ll make our request formal via our Mayor and Archdruid, as well as through Congress.”

The Rear Admiral gave Bach a good long look, perhaps trying to measure the man.  “That’ll do,” she acquiesced in tone as well as in words.  “When I get orders telling me that I need to recover a critical item from the city, I will.  Until then, my orders are to keep order as the refugees are taken care of, and keep people out of Boston.  That’ll have to include you folks.”

Bach nodded more willingly than did either Jason or Khloe.  “Alright.  As soon as we find a working local wireless, we’ll send our requests.  Is there any reason why we can’t leave for Maine at this time?”

“No reason,” Anders replied.  “In fact, you’re using up precious space on our only landing field on this side of the city.  There’s so many goddamn refugees, you know.  Follow the Yankee Division highway around,” she stressed, “the city and come no closer than that.”

“We’ll be out of your hair then,” Jason offered with the tiniest of bows — barely an incline of the head and shoulders, if that.  It looked like the sort of thing that Mitsuki might do, or so Khloe thought.

“Right.”  Without further conversation, Rear Admiral Anders departed down the gang-plank, never even looking back.

Jason had that plank reeled back into its socket under the ship’s deck, and made straight for the stairwell that led back up to the bridge canopy.  Khloe broke into a prance to catch up.  The others were not far behind while those few of the ship’s original crew who, until that point, had lingered at a distance, now made for the shelter of the cabin directly beneath the bridge.  

A slight sense of static in the air announced the ship’s main levitation drive revving back to life.  Quickly thereafter, the propulsion fans took up their chorus of white noise as well.

Khloe felt the ship bounce upwards, tilt, and then press westwards.  They found the highway quickly enough, and turned northwards to follow it at perhaps no more than twenty-five meters of altitude at that.  There was traffic to be seen going either way in what would normally have been just the southbound lanes — as, even this far from the abandoned metropolis, the northern lanes had also been devoted to endless aggregations of tents.  The spectacle went on for as far beyond the tip of the ship’s bow as Khloe could see.

The sight of it struck at something deep within Khloe.  Sure, she’d lived most of her life in and around the Union capitol city beltway.  She knew, statistically, that huge sums of humanity lived within that artificial border.  That, and many times more who lived beyond.

Perhaps it was because of the privileged upbringing — during which she had the luxury of bypassing the masses in her day to day travels — that she’d never really stopped to boggle at just how many people really existed in this nation… hell, in the world!  Where before, they’d all hid away in their residential towers, now… now they stretched out to the horizon.

Not more than a minute of renewed flight had passed before that same naval aerofrigate, or another of a similarly sized class, pulled up and followed them from just inside the so-called forbidden zone.  Though it did not blaze its searchlight to life, it still could be perceived as a shadow against those stars above the eastern horizon now made brilliant by the lack of light pollution from the city and suburbs below.

“We’ve company again,” Bach observed from his seat on the starboard side of the bridge.  

“I know,” Jason replied.  

Khloe had been churning inside ever since that Rear Admiral had imploded on them.  “We aren’t actually going to abandon this opportunity for something that might take weeks to work out using the normal channels… months, maybe, given the crisis.”  She hadn’t quite put it in the form of a question.  

All eyes found her, though Jason’s could not linger long, having to keep the ship manually aligned with the highway.  Bach finally answered her challenge.  “What can we do about it?”

“Go in there anyways, of course.”

He rolled his eyes, “of course.”

“I think so too,” Mitsuki offered.  Khloe wouldn’t have expected that — and, apparently, neither had Bach, if the height of his eyebrows were of any indication.

“If only they knew who they were talking to,” Jason complained.  “In any case, I’m for sneaking in there, as well.  We can go as far afield as we need to by way of satisfing Commander Sunshine over there.  Then we'll turn around and come in real low over the bay… maybe drop that animated machine of yours, Bach.”

Bach tilted his head.  “There is that, but for a couple problems.”

“Huh?”  Khloe and her cousin breathed out their confusion in tandem.  “Problems?” Khloe asked additionally.

The far-too-introverted but relatively handsome engineer faced forward as he spoke, if louder in making up for his indirectness.  “Without being able to take advantage of established wireless rebroadcasters in this area — be they human beings or physical towers — piloting my husk will require either relative proximity and line of sight or radio connectivity.”

“With all the pre-millenial towers in those ruins,” he went on to say, “and their steel skeletons, use of the magnetic field for carrying the signal will be… well… far muddier than usual.  If I lose contact with the cetacean husk, I could not reasonably expect to get it back.  Then the navy would have proof, even if we do manage to get in and out without being noticed, that we had actually been there and against the no-fly orders.”

“Chances are slim,” Mitsuki added, “that we can so quickly find and recruit a connected cetacean to rebroadcast for us.  Besides, if we resorting to using radio, it can be tracked to us.  Otherwise, if we try a line-of-sight alternative, we’ll be forced into the city itself.”

Bach nodded at that.  “All good points.  I hadn’t thought of that bit about asking a dolphin or whale to act as a wireless hotspot for us.  I have to imagine, though, that the water in the city is less than clean at this time.”

Since Mitsuki held a druid’s degree herself, this was almost certainly something she knew a good deal about.  At least, Khloe thought so.  “Hayato, are they that hard to find?”  She asked, having no real idea.

The other woman turned toward her.  “With waters as churned up as they are, they'll be avoiding the area, unless they are specifically on the job helping with things in the bay.  Besides, dolphins are honest to a fault.  If we asked one, it would almost certainly be happy to help… and then just as happily tell the navy all about his or her little adventure this day.”

Still, something had been left unsaid, so Khloe asked after it.  “You said ‘problems,’ plural.”

Bach nodded.  “Yeah.  Even if we don’t have connectivity issues, the template itself is likely to have been washed onto dry land and half-buried in mud… or even driven into a deep dark corner of some half-twisted building in the heart of the city.  A seafaring husk like mine isn’t particularly up to any of those challenges.”

“The answer,” Mitsuki announced unexpectedly, “is to drop the husk right into the ocean somewhere up past where that frigate stops following us… and myself along with it.”

All eyes turned toward her in surprise.  “I have blood-enhancing nanites that’ll keep me warm,” she confessed, “and can keep close contact with the husk.  No need to involve the ship.”