Adrift

“Isn’t that highly illegal?”  Khloe simply could not help but ask.  All the while, Bach had proven tireless in his attempts to dissuade anyone from taking any part of this whole idea seriously.  His frustrations grew palpable as the rest generally dismissed his warnings.

Normally,” Mitsuki stressed through her thick accent, “yes.  But for me… this enhancement came as a matter of survival.  My blood condition would have killed me a good ten years ago, and still could if I ever went too long without my special mediware.”

“This is how you managed to stay warm and connected to the wireless when drenched in freezing gulf waters,” Bach said, not quite intoning it as a question.  “I mean, on the day of the wave.”

Mitsuki only nodded in that way she had, rather like a brief bounce of the head.

“I see,” Bach trailed off.  If Khloe had understood all that she’d heard, then this young Japanese druid had essentially been given special medically inclined wetware that made up for what her blood could not do — that is, the transport of oxygen.  Seemingly a simple task.  In her case, the process had gone from fatally inefficient to beyond human.  Though her skin might freeze, she’d never succumb to hypothermia.  She’d said she could also hold her breath for almost an hour.  Khloe couldn’t quite imagine it.

“If my name were Frank,” Jason jumped in, “then I’d say that I’m all for this plan.”

This did not surprise Khloe in the least bit.  Her cousin had always been rash.  Dashing, perhaps, but rash.  Maybe the two are the flip sides of the same coin, she thought. 

“I’m not the least bit comfortable with this,” Bach declared for about the eightieth time.  “We could get in a lot of trouble.  We could get Haley,” he stressed, “in a lot of trouble.”

Again with the first name basis between those two, Khloe noted, not quite certain if that bothered her or not.

“Can’t we go far enough inland, hop back on the wireless where it is still intact, and at least get Haley to opt in on this?”  Bach seemed bent on being a voice of reason — the lone one, if need be. 

“I’m with D.R.U.I.D,” Mitsuki answered indirectly.  “The only time military has authority to keep me or one of my kind out is on the battlefield, and then only during the battle.  Before or afterward, I can go.  And here there isn’t anything of the sort.  If I get caught in there, I’ll be immune, as will Haley be.  By going in alone, I can keep the rest of you immune as well.”  

“But,” Bach tried to get a word in, but found himself cut off by the slender Japanese druid.

“Sir Kavanagh,” she pushed, “I’ll swim in there myself if you won’t grant me access to your husk.  Since we’re essentially funding your company’s restoration, I think we’ve earned some right to ask, though.”  She’d been standing the whole time, inching ever closer to the steep stairwell leading down to the rear deck.

Though Khloe hadn’t been all that keen on the idea either, she grew irritated with Bach’s balking.  “Just go along with it,” she barked out.  “I work for a congressman and, beyond that, my family has some small amount of influence throughout the Union capital as well as with the military.”

Though both statements were true, Khloe knew she somewhat… understated these particular facts.  “You’ve only got one other template on the radar, so to speak, and even if we had every single one… well, you yourself have said that an early warning network is a huge undertaking, saying nothing of building a prevention mechanism.”  Though she’d barely any grasp on the details, she’d picked up enough to at least be able to say this much.

“Besides,” her cousin jumped in, “via relative line of sight radio the navy can intercept our communications if they want, and I’m still not willing to bet they can’t patch together and read all those scattered bits if we do manage to hook into a working localnet along the way.  If we try to contact your Archdruid, we could very easily be tipping our hand.”

Bach wilted into his leather seat for several moments before stirring back to life once again.  “Well enough,” he gave in.  “But this makes me very nervous; and not just the part about sneaking in under the military’s nose.  It’ll be dangerous in there.  Probably contaminated with God knows what, not to mention bacteria and other wonderful results of decay of the deceased… regardless of what may have died, be it fish or human.  Without native wireless, I can only pilot the ceti husk securely via riding the magnetic field, and that’ll be spotty at best.  Radio will lead the Navy right to us, as well as to Mit… uh, Lady Hayato.”

The Japanese druid seemed pleased at his self-correction.  “I could pilot it.”

Bach gave her a level look.  “Have you ever piloted any kind of husk before?”

“No.”

Khloe rolled her eyes.  Though, to be fair, until Bach had let her into that ape-husk of his on that first day they’d met, she’d never piloted one before either.  Not that she’d exactly tried anything all too complicated with it.  Absently, she had to wonder whether or not her signature might still be buried in that thing’s artificial psyche.  

“I suppose it’s not that hard to learn,” Bach said, mirroring Khloe’s own impression of her brief experience with the technology.  “Throwing you two into the ocean wouldn’t be ideal circumstances for a proper husk pilot’s education.  But… if you can hold your breath for as long as you say you can, then your odds are much improved.  I’d still prefer to pilot it until such time as I can’t any longer.”

“No.”

Khloe blinked at Mitsuki in surprise, as did the two men.  That sure was blunt.

“Why?”  Bach asked, almost shrill himself, if such a thing were possible.

“As I said, I can legally go into that city.  Haley and I can also demonstrate that Overjordan’s D.R.U.I.D chapter has acquired access to, if not ownership of, Ay-Tee assets such as that husk back there.”  She tilted her head toward the thing that lay tied to the railing behind and below the bridge canopy.

“If you are piloting it, however… that could be construed as your being present in the city, and violating a military blockade.  Until you get a degree in eco-eco management and pass all the tests necessary to enter into our ranks as a druid officer, you don’t have the same immunity that I have.”

“Sour hell,” Bach barked out with his arms tossed into the air.  He turned away from everyone, staring out through the glass.  Time dragged on before he said anything more.  “I think we’re alone now.”

“Oh?”  Jason sounded surprised.  “Let me look.”  He wandered over and pressed his forehead into the glass canopy.  “It’s dark down below the horizon, but I certainly don’t see him above it anymore.  Cuz?  Anything on the other side?”  

Khloe picked her way across the crowded bridge, and looked both forward and back.  “I see nothing.”

“Let’s keep on keeping on for a while, anyways.  We can head out over the water in a while.”  Jason returned to his seat, and Khloe did the same soon after.

Mitsuki, on the other hand, stood quite still — as though she might be making headway in some sort of staring contest with Bach.  The two were probably using line of sight radio to whisper their continued argument, if Khloe had to guess.

“I’m going to slow down,” Jason announced unexpectedly, bringing Khloe’s attention away from the engineer and the druid.  “Gunna drop as close to the landscape as I can legally get without pissing off anyone living down there.”

“Why?”  All three asked at once, even Bach and Mitsuki.

“Well we sure as hell can’t toss Miss Hayato,” her cousin declared, using the old fashioned title, “over the side at a hundred miles an hour.  Nor from a hundred feet up.  That, and if we suddenly come to a halt on their radar screens out over the water, they might get suspicious and come check us out again.”

“Works for me,” Mitsuki said.  “That will give Sir Kavanagh time enough to give me a first lesson on the use of a husk.”

Khloe eyed the engineer as he visibly resigned himself to the plan.  She stood and stole Bach’s front seat.  “Any sign that the frigate is still shadowing us?”

She asked this with her living voice even as she followed it up with another question, this time via a quick short range radio burst from her wetware to her cousin’s.  “Is there anything we can do to ensure that that Mitsuki girl doesn’t run into the military?  Their not being able to prosecute her doesn’t mean they won’t still haul her out of there.”

Khloe found that, in spite of the cold shoulder the young druid had given her pretty much since day one, she herself felt oddly protective of young woman.

“I dipped down to twenty meters just now,” Jason replied physically.  “Had to go back up to the legal thirty, but I didn’t see any silhouettes in any direction.  I’m not about to send out a ping, and give away the fact that we even care if they’re still out there or not.”

Following that, Jason latched onto the ethereal bridge she’d set up between them and replied to her silent inquiry.  “Dad has tons of pull in Washington.”

“Of course,” she broadcast via figment whisper.  “Can we use no one else?”

“Not if we want to get something done quickly.”

“Fine,” she whispered back.

“This ship’s got a transmitter tight-beamed enough to hook a satellite, so we can make a direct connection with him… get something going right now.  I’ll bet that within the hour, that Anders woman will be ordering her people to ‘take a break’ for the night, including Commander Smily.”  

Khloe's genuine surprise likely rippled back across their tentative connection, following his last figment whisper.  “Why then,” she challanged Jason across the ether, “didn’t we make that call to Overjordan then.  Bach would probably go along with anything that Haley okayed.”  Having said that, Khloe then had to wonder if the Archdruid would have actually done so.

Jason glanced at her a moment.  “You know them that well, huh?”  When she only blinked at him, he added more with a wry smile.  “First names and all.”

Oh.  “It’s nothing,” she replied silently.  “Still… why?”

“Do you think this Haley of yours would have actually said yes?”

She really didn’t know, and said as much.  “So what if she didn’t?  There are other templates to look for… even one that’s a sure thing.”

“Let’s just say,” he returned, “that our family’s investments won’t be worth a whole hell of a lot if civilization collapses.  You know, from a chain reaction of those whatever-the-hell-they-ares like last week’s out there in the gulf.  Dad basically told me to make sure that we find as many of these templates of theirs as we can easily detect.”

Khloe thought that was an odd way to put it.  “Easily?”

Jason only smiled, which almost certainly meant that if the Jjee’en extended family could get American Telepresence to give up on a few of those templates — maybe pacify them with legal replacements — there’d be nothing stopping them from digging up a few mudpiles up and down the east coast looking for freebies among what otherwise remained of the world's most strictly regulated of technologies.

“Yeah,” Khloe broadcast back.  “I get it.”  It wouldn’t have been the first time, in all the endless decades of doing business, that her ancestors had skewed events to their own benefit.  She felt dirty at the possibility of being a party to it, which then struck her as odd.  She’d never so much as thought twice about her family’s colorful history before — at least, not in this light.

“At any rate,” Jason whispered back, “I know you don’t much like dealing with him.  I know how you feel.  Why don’t you go down and keep those two from getting bored and walking in on the ensuing conversation.”  He didn’t need to add the part about how he shouldn’t be caught having any kind of conversation at all, much less with his rich father.  Not after having failed to offer to allow the others a call to Archdruid Diaz.

Khloe nodded and severed their temporary wireless connection, only then thinking to ask one more thing.  This much, at least, she could ask using her living voice.  “How long do you think until we cross back out over the water?”

Jason took a few thoughtful moments before answering.  “At this ‘sleepers cruise’ pace, probably another twenty minutes.  We made good progress before slowing down.”

“Alright,” Khloe answered as she turned to leave.  She took the steep stairwell slowly, and then encircled Bach and Mitsuki before deciding to interrupt them.  “Jay says twenty until our first chance to throw you overboard, Lady Hayato.”

“Alright,” the other woman said, looking up at her for a brief moment.

“I’m not sorry,” Khloe said without prompting, “to have missed all the exchanging of fig-sigs.  Those sour things make my eyes melt.”  She offered the pair weak smile, probably half-invisible given the surrounding darkness.  Still, she heard Mitsuki chuckle, and that was something, anyways.  Maybe the ice between us has melted a bit, after all.

Not wanting to further delay important crash-course training between those two, Khloe returned to the stairwell and planted her butt on the next to lowest step.  This way, at least, if either tried to return to the canopy, she’d have time to think up some excuse for preventing their passage.

At first, from what she could make of the intermittent bursts of conversation between Bach and Mitsuki, Khloe gathered that the young druid was having some trouble simply establishing and maintaining the mental link between herself and the animated machine.  A good ten minutes passed before the thing moved more than to jerk and relax again.

This went on for a while until she felt her cousin intentionally nudge the back of her skull with his knee.  She’d not even heard him climb down.  “We just crossed over,” he said.  “We’re adrift at about ten kilometers an hour.”

Bach pulled himself up from inspecting the ceti husk, groaning a bit as he stretched his arms and shoulders.  “Still sounds like a rough landing for Hayato,” he said, forgetting any title.  Khloe noticed no objection in the young druid’s expression.

“I’ll go in first,” she said with that accent of hers — the one where her r’s and l’s sounded reversed.  “How fast can this thing swim, anyways?”

“It’ll actually go faster under the water than it will constantly breaching the surface,” Bach answered.  “If you can hold your breath as you say, then… um… maybe half again as fast as the First August is now drifting.  It’ll still take you into morning before you can make your way into the ruins of Boston Seaside.”

“It’s probably just as well,” Jason observed.  “The more she crests above water, the more likely she is to reflect off someone’s radar.”

Mitsuki nodded to that, probably not having thought of it herself.  “All I have to do is hold on with my arms and swim with my mind,” she said.  Sounded strange to hear it, but the statement was true enough.  “Do we have a plan?”

“Don’t get caught,” Bach said.  “Get in.  Home in on the signal.  Use whatever combination of the husk’s capabilities and your own living muscle is necessary to get at it, but don’t put your life in danger.  Then get the hell out.”

“We’ll obviously have to wait somewhere outside the piss-the-Navy-off radius,” Khloe observed.

Mitsuki asserted the final answer.  “You guys won’t wait for me,” she said.  “Go get that other template case, and any that you might encounter along the way, should they turn up on a straight line between here and there.  I realize the odds are slim… just saying, if you do find one, I’m happy to wait a little longer if you end up getting it.”

The young druid paused, appearing to be steeling herself.  “There’s a rock sticking up out of the ocean along the Maine-New Hampshire border, out to sea a ways.  It’s called White Island.  It won’t have washed away in the tsunami, being bedrock.  I’ll wait there until you guys come to get me.”

As if to forestall any debate, she backed up toward where the railing parted for the currently tucked-in gang plank and cast herself backwards over the edge of the ship.  Just like that, the moonless night swallowed her alive.

Khloe rushed to the nearest railing, not far ahead of the two men.  No one had any sight of her but, when the cetacean-style husk took to scrambling for the edge, everyone knew she’d landed safely in the water.  

“Holy,” Khloe breathed out in surprise.  

“Guess that’s all there is to be done about that,” Jason commented immediately after.  “Let’s do what she said to do.”

He moved to head back up to the cabin, but stopped short.  “I’d actually suggest that we play the part we’ve chosen, adrift as we are, and get some sleep.  Suddenly jetting off may also raise a few eyebrows on the other end of naval radar figs.  I’ve slept on this bridge before, so you guys can go find cots under the deck, now that we’re free of added passengers.”

Khloe nodded her understanding and, when Bach made no move for the lower cabin entrance, she grabbed his wrist in passing.  He put up no fight, following after her compliantly.

Others of the ship’s crew watched them as they passed through the cabin and on into the ship’s underbelly.  She had to assume that her cousin wished to be spared the possibility that Bach would wander in on the sort of conversation that they’d not admitted to being able to have.

“Damn crazy,” she said, letting his wrist free.

“What’s that?” Bach asked weakly.  

“Everything, naturally.”

Of course, that Japanese druid vaulting backwards off the side of a moving hovercraft and into the frigid gulf…  Had she even stopped to think about how shallow those waters below might have been?  What if she’d knocked herself out or had broken her neck?

Her damn family would likely have stepped in and cleaned it all up, sure… but she’d likely have to abandon all contact with these people she’d now gotten to know.  It only occurred to her then that the very notion bothered her.  She had to wonder when her general annoyance with these people had grown into something else.  Whatever…

If she knew her way around a Jjee’en commissioned ship, then there’d be better than mere cots somewhere near the rear of the ship.  She opened doors as she went and, more than once, had to grasp back upon Bach’s wrist to keep him from wandering off on his own.  Then she found it; right at the back, after all.  “In here,” she announced.

“Huh?”

Even better… a rear balcony!  Money well spent, this ship… at least, she thought so.  “I’m not quite ready to sleep just yet,” she said.  “I’m afraid I’ll dream all night of dimly lit tents stretching toward every horizon.”  She even meant it.

“So… you want company.”  He said it almost as if it might have been a question.

“Yeah.  Not to mention, a good sleep when I am tired enough.”  She motioned to the bed as she passed — a full king-size, even.  “Room for two to not even know the other is there,” she half-suggested.  That had Bach glancing at it warily.

Khloe pressed on for the door to the balcony, though, and let it fly open.  The warmer air within the master bedroom immediately fled, though it was hardly cold outside by any stretch of the imagination.  Fall was still a long ways off yet.  “Come on,” she coaxed when Bach looked about ready to flee.

The balcony jutted from the stern, if not all that far.  Aerodynamics still had some part to play in the design of even the slowest of hovercraft.  Khloe sat down, sent her legs through the railing, and wrapped her arms around one if its supports.  When he didn’t immediately follow suit, she turned to give him a look.

“Must be nearly a new moon,” he observed.

“Mm,” Khloe acknowledged. "And clouds are moving in.  I only see stars in patches."

Finally, Bach sat down.  “So the refugee camps bothered you too, huh?”  

“Sure as hell,” she replied.  “There’s knowing that so many people live in a city and… and then there’s seeing it.  Boston’s really not even all that large a city anymore.”

Bach bobbed his head in that way he tended to do.  “I have to imagine,” he said, “that they’re not eating or drinking very well in those camps.  If I remember right, Boston had moved early on the vertical farm and vertical fishery concepts, and was able to handle a fair chunk of its citizens' desalinization needs as well.  Assuming those assets are out of commission,” he rambled, “then the burden falls upon the surrounding suburbs, none of which are well known as food producing areas.  Water, I don’t know.”

“You must have smelled,” Khloe half-inquired, “the fact that they’re lacking for sanitation as well, right?”

Bach only nodded to that.

Well, that right there was more than she’d thought she'd get out of him all night.  “Might not the number of people who died make up for the food not being produced?”  She almost hated to ask, especially in that way.

Bach gave her a look.  “That’s an unfortunate thought,” he said, mirroring her own distaste for the concept.  “But probably true to some extent.  I don’t believe that anyone can know, this soon, how the equation has changed.”

Khloe felt some continued embarrassment over her own question, but not so much that she could just abandon her thoughts on the matter.  This really bothered her, she realized.  “And this could all happen again?”  

“Yeah,” he said after a few moment’s silence.  “There’s countless gigatons of methane trapped beneath the ocean floors, or so I understand from what Haley’s told me.  It really doesn’t matter if each eruption of the stuff causes a tsunami, or if none do.  It would still cause climate havoc sooner as well as later.  Hell, it might even turn out worse, if people don’t notice it happening.  Then again, it might not matter if they notice or not, now that it sounds an avalanching problem.”

Khloe considered that a while.  “I thought… you know, with all the things people went on and on about what had been done to forestall all this climate change business… well, I thought that we’d done something to forestall all this climate change business.”

Bach shrugged.  “I sorta thought so, too.”  After a moment, he added more.  “I mean, I knew a little about these problems in the back of my mind, sure, but it’s like you said.  Solar power this and bullet train that… fibrous keratin, biocrete, and inner-city vertical farms and de-acidification of the oceans.”

“I was thinking the same,” Khloe admitted.

“If Haley is right, the damage had long since already been done, and it just took this long for it to filter down to where these deposits have always clung to a delicate balance of temperature and pressure… or whatever.  That, and some kind of climate oscillation on the order of decades has, until recently, been masking the symptoms.”

Again with the first name basis routine.  

“I have my own theory,” Bach continued.

“Oh?”

“Think about it,” he said.  “You live your life and, as a result, everything you do has a consequence.  You eat, so there’s less food to go around.  You breathe, so there’s less air, not to mention more carbon dioxide.  You live in a shelter of some sort, and so there’s less space for others to live in, be they human or animal or plant or whatever the hell else there is out there.  By the way,” he disclaimed suddenly, “by ‘you,’ I don’t mean you you… just… everyone.”

“I know,” Khloe answered, still wondering somewhere in the back of her mind why he was so quick to mention Haley’s name so often, but wouldn’t even use hers to her face.

“Anyways.  How many people were there in the world when we took to burning massive quantities of carbon fuels?”

Khloe really didn’t know.  “A billion,” she guessed.

“Probably thereabouts,” Bach replied.  “And now we’re going on nine.  So what if we only use a third as much of the fuel, per person, as we used to?  It still means we continually burn more and more.  It just seems to me as though, no matter how clever we get when it comes to techniques or technologies, our capacity to grow in population far outstrips our wisdom.”

“We breed too much,” Khloe said, not quite making a question of her words.

Bach didn’t reply right away.  “It’s not like it’s the fault of those who are born,” he said finally.  “But at some point we need to stabilize as a species… to live within our means.  I’ll never believe that that has to be a bad thing.”

Khloe almost wondered if he knew something about her family history.  In all likelihood, he did not, but…  still, for generations and generations, via myriad different surnames as family line mingled with family line, they’d invested and built and honed and sold.

‘Growth,’ the mantra went… always with the growth, be it in holdings or in product lines or in profit margins.  Bach made it sound like a bad thing and she wasn’t quite sure that she was prepared to disagree with his ‘theory.’

No, she thought.  Not after seeing all those refugee Bostonians filling up every spare inch of turf that could be found for them… and after how many had died in the unexpected aqueous assault?

An earlier thought returned to her.  “Boston isn’t even that big a city… nothing close to the likes of Tokyo or Mexico City or São Paulo.  And yet, it seemed like those tents went on forever.”

“I wonder where in the sour hell they got so many tents in so short a time.”

Khloe’d not even thought of that.  But she did just think of something else.  “What happens when winter rolls around?”

At that, Bach only looked at her, though his eyes did nothing to disguise the pang of realization behind them.  “Sorry I mentioned it,” she said, and honestly at that.

“No, It’s a real concern.  We should probably mention it to Haley, though… though I doubt it would have escaped her, on second thought.”

“Haley Haley Haley,” Khloe bit out, surprising even herself.  “I think you must be in love with her or something.”  Seriously…

Bach recoiled a bit.  “Sorry.”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Khloe pressed on.  “You don’t have to be sorry about everything.  You just mention her constantly and I think that Hayato girl looks just about ready to take your head off every time you do it.”

Bach chuckled, which Khloe thought to be positive turnabout.  “Yeah,” he said.  “I know what you mean.”  At least they were off the previous nightmare-inducing topic.  With any luck, she might be able to get some sleep this night after all.

When he said nothing more, seemingly content to stare out into the awfully wet-sounding featureless dark of night below, Khloe filled in the void.  “So?”

“So what?”

“Do you?”  This was like pulling teeth.

“Do I what?”  Bach came off as nearly exasperated.

How dense can he be?  I’d just mentioned what!  “Have feelings for her, you moran.”  She used the slang, but really never knew where the word had come from… ‘moran.’  Whatever.  She wanted to know all the juicy details!  

The tilt of Bach’s head showed her a surprised glance.  “I didn’t think you were serious,” he proclaimed rather loudly.  With less volume, having caught himself, he added more.  “No… I don’t know.   What the hell kind of question is that?”

He obviously was not comfortable, which made this all the more fun.  “Apparently a pertinent one,” she threw back, going for the jugular.  “I bet it is true, and y’er too shy to admit it even to yourself.”

“Shut up,” he deflected, barely audible above the slop of choppy waves below.  

“No way,” Khloe pushed on, going even so far as to reach out and pinch his ear.  He recoiled, and batted at her hand.  Maybe she had pushed a little too hard.

“Sorry, Bach,” she said, using his name intentionally.  “Sandy just asked me to look after you,” she said, not quite lying, but leaving off any mention of other ‘interested’ parties.  “If she messes with you, you tell me and I’ll punch her lights out.  Okay?”

Bach only huffed, and then stood.  “Fuzzy,” he said, clearly not meaning it at all.  “You can have the bed.  I’m perfectly fine with a wall-cot.”  He didn’t even wait for her to say anything before heading back inside.  

“Nevermind that I could much more easily fit on one of those things,” she said half under her breath.  Whether he heard or not, she suddenly didn’t care.  No sense of humor at all…