Recruit

Bach slept almost not at all and, thanks to that, it had been one hell of a long night. Given so much as another ten minutes to think about it, he might have concluded dawn would never come again. Then again, contemplation… if not outright anxiety… these things had been what kept his mind grinding the whole time. Is Mitsuki alright? He had to wonder. How would Haley take all this? For that matter… was he really as smitten with her as Khloe seemed to think? Wouldn’t he know? Maybe he did. Not that it should matter… not with having to wonder and worry after Mitsuki.

This paranoid cycle easily defined every single hour since he’d retreated to a cot that offered a limited view of endless darkness through a small round porthole window. Dawn must not have been too far off, though, when a jarring motion throughout the ship brought Bach completely awake. He nearly fell out of his thin and uncomfortable cot.

“I can see this isn’t happening,” Bach complained to himself as he pulled up and away from the inwardly sloping ceiling. Stretching as he went in his near-delirium, Bach bounced off wall and railing on his way forward and all the way nearly to the top of the stairwell without having noticed anything out of the ordinary.

Only did the hubbub among others on the bridge—Khloe, her charismatic cousin Jason, and some unnamed red-headed member of the crew—really alert him to what was going on so early in the predawn morning.

“Was just about to make a slide for Bangor,” Jason began, “and there they were. I didn’t even get a transversal alert, so they had to have come in from behind… I guess.”

Say what? “They?” Bach rubbed at his eyes as he asked, opening them again to more than one finger pointed out through the one-way canopy off to their port side. For reasons unannounced, the redhead stood and pushed his way past Bach at the top of the stair… but, as he passed, Bach turned to catch sight of the naval aerofrigate alarmingly close to them. Being a significantly larger ship—clearly marked along the side in brightly reflective yellow lettering, A-FFT 39 Antrim—it occluded their entire view of the north, it was that close. “What the…”

Bach turned in time to see Khloe shoot her cousin a dour expression. “What do you want to bet that…” Khloe began, but got cut off by the appearance of a familiar face above the forward bridge dashboard in figment form. “Nevermind,” she huffed.

“Hoveryacht Registry em-ee dot seven one seven oh two delta… First August. You are ordered to remain stationary,” said the ethereal and disembodied head of Commander Walker.

Jason must have taken the connective wireless hook offered up by the frigate commander, given that the pair locked eyes almost immediately after his opening statement. “What’s up?”

Not the most professional of replies to what had been specifically called an order, or so Bach thought to himself. For that matter, the Commander let slip some of his own brief surprise over their tentative wireless connection.

This all seemed wrong somehow. Did a military vessel even have authority to detain a native civilian craft? The look Khloe sent him looked as if to be asking him the same question.

Walker regained control of his expression before replying. “My orders are to collect from your possession an item that can help us in dealing with the Boston problem.”

“Is that what they’re calling it?” Khloe asked out of the corner of her mouth, secure in knowing that he could not overhear her without her having joined in the connection.

Unwitting to her remark, Walker continued. “Rear Admiral Anders has received and reiterated permission to temporarily draft one Bach Kavanagh’s services. We shall board your ship presently. Any attempt to exceed ten kay-pee-aych may cause damage to your deck.” Having said this, the Commander’s visage winked out of existence.

Apparently taking the officer seriously, Jason stood and leaned over the ship’s console, adjusting various figment toggles. Sure enough, Bach could feel the ship’s previous motion slow. Jay turned and half threw himself down the stairwell to the deck below, soon to be followed by Khloe, asking “Have they the authority to do this?” as she passed. Bach staggered after her, still in a fog.

“Not usually,” her cousin replied. “This isn’t what we discussed,” he let slip… though Bach couldn’t make heads or tails of what he might have meant by that.

As they’d talked, the frigate corrected its speed and edged up to within feet of the yacht’s port side. It let unfurl some sort of clasp that swung downward and hooked itself through the yacht’s railing and, when the alignment was just right, fell into small rubber-lined indentations in the deck itself. The First August jolted forward a bit as the frigate hadn’t quite come to a full stop when these interlocking components snapped into place. Bach only just barely missed catching Khloe before she fell to the deck. He almost fell himself. “Sorry,” he said as he helped her back up.

“Yeah,” was the whole of her reply.

Already, figures appeared along the frigate’s higher deck, waiting as their own plank shot out of its constraints and pitched downwards onto the yacht’s deck. It fell a good five feet, given the difference between their respective hull designs. Three figures set out down the plank even before it had stopped bouncing noisily off the First August’s deck.

“Under the circumstances,” Commander Walker greeted as he planted his left foot first upon their ship, “I can’t really afford to take no for an answer. I’ve been ordered to conscript your services, Bach Alan Kavanagh, until further notice.” The two figures behind him then reached the deck as well, fanning out to each side… not quite brandishing sidearms, but quite obviously keeping their hands at the ready. “We’ll wait to get tied up with politics until after we have accomplished our objective.”

“What might that be?” Jason asked aggressively, taking a step closer to the frigate’s commander. The two guards tensed noticeably, but did not pull their weapons. In fact, the commander swung an arm out to one side, forestalling the guards’ stepping in front of their superior.

“I am not at liberty to say,” Commander Walker replied. “You only need to know that Sir Kavanagh here will be coming with us. We can provide for any and all of his needs.”

Bach hesitated, sending pleading looks Khloe’s way. She and Jason both could only shrug, though. They were simply too far off shore to tune into any possible undamaged or otherwise restored native wireless and, from what Bach understood, this ship didn’t come with a satellite uplink. Aside from the fact that the frigate had a grip upon Jason’s ship, Bach could detect no implicit threat in the Commander’s words or body-language. No, just irritation. If he was going to see to whatever it was they needed, though, he’d have to make other arrangements. "One thing, first?"

Commander Walker nodded after a moment's consideration, so Bach turned toward Khloe and her cousin. "Don't waste the trip we've made," he told them. "Stick with the plan but pick up the passengers," he stressed, "waiting in Castine first… then head for Bangor."

He hoped they could handle figuring out where they'd have to go and, after finding the one template they knew about, move on to Overjordan. Given that the guard had slipped in between himself and Khloe and her cousin, he couldn’t physically whisper to either that they probably should make no mention of Lady Hayato’s plan where it might find its way back to the Navy. Hopefully this would be common sense. “My Dad can help you find the one case and then work it in with the other templates already in use in the city… should this take me a while,” Bach added.

With that taken care of, and the commander not looking too irritated by the pause, Bach took his first step toward the plank. Both guards moved around, likely intending to follow him up as he, in turn, followed the commander.

Bach pressed forward and up the plank, almost jogging across the few feet that stretched between the two ships, given nothing but open air and a hundred foot drop to either side. He never looked back.

“Thanks,” the Commander said unexpectedly. “For cooperating, I mean. You made all that back there easier than it might otherwise have been. So… yeah.” He paused for a moment, waiting for the guards to top the plank. “Uther…” he began before turning to address the other guard, “Jameson, regain the plank. Disengage from the aeroyacht as soon as possible.” And with that, Commander Walker left the guards.

Bach had to jog a few steps to catch up. Something about the over-the-shoulder glance the Commander gave him said that he would not be following the naval officer for long. In fact, Walker waved down another figure in passing. “Seaman Apprentice…”

The woman he’d halted in her regular duties came to a sudden and very erect halt. “Sir?”

“Please see that Sir Kavanagh here is quartered until our return to Newton… and that he is not disturbed.” The Commander then left them both.

“Aye, sir.” The woman replied half to herself and only in the general direction of Walker's ever distancing backside. “Kavanagh, then?”

Bach turned to face the… what was it? Apprentice Seaman? His eyes refused to traverse her chest in search of a name-tag or any other obvious designation. The way she’d said ‘aye’ had him suddenly thinking of Haley. Had the Archdruid served at one time? His wits returned to him just then. “What?”

“Nevermind, Sir Kavanagh,” the woman bearing two stripes upon her shoulder said, abandoning any attempt at faux joviality. “A tactical laser aerofrigate isn’t exactly a luxury liner. I hope you won’t be expecting a comfortable ride back.” She turned and headed for an all too small hatch door with rounded corners. “This way,” she said with a continued and thick tinge of irritation.

Bach followed, and had to nearly bend himself over double just to squeeze through. He never had thought of himself as all that tall, but… well, perhaps he was, if this was any indication. Then again, even she almost had to bend down to fit through, too, and she couldn’t have much topped a hundred and sixty centimeters in height.

Passage through the ship appeared to involve passing through quite a lot of such narrow hatches. After an awkward pair of turns, the young woman led Bach into a room with two sets of bunks, one of which was occupied by a well built male with a closely cropped head of black hair. He looked up questioningly.

“It’s his room until Newton,” the woman told the man. “Sorry. Commander’s orders.”

The man—whose unbuttoned outer uniform read McKenzie and bore one more stripe than did this woman upon her shoulder—pulled himself out from under the bunk and dusted himself off. “That’s alright, Seaman Apprentice Kavanagh. I’m on duty soon anyways,” he said as moved to leave the room. Bach shot him a bewildered look that the other man returned as he shouldered his way out.

“How’d he,” Bach began… but no. He had no rank. He probably wasn’t and wouldn’t be considered any kind of actual navy personnel even as he worked for them… so how could the three-striped individual have known his name?

“Don’t be daft,” the woman said, quickly assessing the crux of his confusion. “Kavanagh is my name, too.”

“Oh,” Bach breathed out. He could only watch, suffering from some strange mental haze, as this other Kavanagh left the room and shut the door behind her.

He tested the hatch door only once, and though he did find it to be unlocked, a face stuck out through the opening was met with a glare from another guard. He was one of the original two, though Bach couldn't be sure which. He’d retreated too quickly to have thought to take in the man’s name-tag. Following this, there was little to do. In the age of wetware wireless connectivity, people just didn’t keep photos and letters around anymore… so there was nothing of fairly innocent interest in the bunk room for him to look at. Neither was there a portal to the outside, any reading material, or access to the wireless itself. Bach had to wonder whether or not that was standard procedure aboard a naval vessel… the suppression of the wireless… or if it was for his benefit alone. He rather suspected the latter scenario.

The next few hours would almost certainly pass very slowly if he didn’t do something. Eventually, Bach tried one of the cots… the lower bed on the bunk opposite the one that three-stripe McKenzie had been occupying. At least, in stealing this cot, he could not be bothered by having any idea whose it was. Given the almost flawless levitation of this aerofrigate, Bach dropped away into sleep almost as quickly as he had on the yacht’s enormous bed only a couple hours before.

This time around, though, the motion of the ship’s slowing descent woke him… and he was quite conscious by the time anyone came for him a good while later. Bach was beginning to wonder at what was going on by the time the other Kavanagh returned.

“Alright,” was all she said by way of greeting. “We’re moored… so to speak. It’s hard to apply the term when on dry land,” she went on before stopping suddenly short, likely realizing that she was getting chatty. “I will now deliver you to Rear Admiral Anders.” She stepped to the side of the far-too-narrow hatch door, stood erect and clasped her hands together behind her lower back. He recognized this body language as saying ‘out' quite plainly.

Eventually, they reached the final hatch that led out upon the deck and the suddenly immense outdoors. Two-stripe Kavanagh made straight for the gang-plank, forcing Bach to jog after her. His first step upon the keratin ramp, coming off his accelerated gait, induced an undulation that told him that it must be made of an older material of lesser quality. It also nearly dispatched his female escort off the side. She shot him a murderous glance after an almost-comical balancing act that involved some wild waving of the arms.

Bach tried to look sheepishly apologetic for her, and then went right back to wondering… if the keratin of the plank really was that old, maybe this ship dated back to the days before the military even admitted to having levitation engines. He’d been a teen at the time it had come out to the public, and there had been quite a lot of uproar both within the union and outside of it.

The surroundings he recognized from the night before… though things looked a little bit different in the daylight. Tendrils of thin smoke rose up from all around, a hundred times a hundred… like something he had no metaphor for. Whether these were camp fires or the last remnants of week-old damage, he could not tell… though he suspected it was some combination of both.

Two-stripe Kavanagh found the pavement and moved directly for the commandeered shopping center in the distance. Other ships dominated much of the extensive parking lot… three, maybe even a fourth half hidden around the corner of the building. One looked larger than the others and might have even been a destroyer. Bach really wouldn’t have known for sure even if he had time to study the thing up close.

The pair crossed beneath the bow of another frigate, marked A-FFG 12 Hathaway. Bach wondered at the ‘G’ in the serial number. Why not a ‘T’ like with the one he’d been brought in by? Oddly, it bore a lower serial number, but looked a little newer about the edges than did the Antrim. Bach felt like he had during the first few days in Haley’s company… wholly ignorant. He didn’t much like it, even though curiosity and interest pulled at him.

Without cars, the scale of the parking lot had been deceptive, Bach realized now that they were nearing the front of the building. This place must have been a mega-mall before the tsunami. In spite of the enormity of the place and the thousand cars it probably would have held on a busy day, it was now just as full of personnel. He and the other Kavanagh had to weave in and out of moving bands of activity that were all but bent on impeding their progress. Still… they finally made the sliding glass doors.

Bach found the inside of the mall to be ten times as busy as the parking lot had been, if such a spectacle were even possible. Even Two-stripe Kavanagh looked uncertain as to where to go from here… but, as luck would have it, Rear Admiral Anders found them, and almost right away.

“Dismissed,” the blonde-haired high officer said to the younger and much more junior woman. Kavanagh snapped her heels, saluted, and replied with “Lady,” before turning to disappear into the throngs of uniformed human flesh crowding around the entrance. Bach couldn’t imagine himself having to abide by all these stuff military conventions he saw unfolding all ‘round him. Hell… he planned not to, if they made any attempt to impose their like during his supposed ‘conscription.’

“That it?” Anders asked suddenly.

Bach lifted the dented briefcase briefly. “Yeah.”

“Right. With me then,” the Rear Admiral said as she paced past him and out through the still open sliding glass doors. For her, the crowd parted as if instinctively.

Bach could only follow. “What do you need of me… or this?”

She did not answer… neither right away, nor before reaching that largest of ships moored upon the parking lot pavement. Only as she approached did it lower a ramp for their ascent up and onto its deck. From as far toward the ship's stern as this particular plank jutted out, Bach had trouble reading the serial number and name of the ship much further up along and toward her bow. Something ‘erson,’ and that was all he could make out at so sharp an angle.

At the top, men were already moving to wheel the plank back into its dock just as he and and the Rear Admiral stepped off. Another man in a hat… the only thing separating him from anyone else, or so Bach could tell… approached rapidly and saluted to his superior. “Lady Anders,” he greeted her.

“Captain. Can we be away?”

“Aye, Rear Admiral. Right away.”

“If you will, then… Make again for Eagle Hill, and remain there until we know something more.” Then she turned to Bach. “We have things to discuss.” Again, she walked off without so much as a glance backwards to see whether or not he followed. Bach exchanged a quick look with the captain who only shrugged before moving away, himself.

Bach followed Anders toward and through a hatch… it being no wider than those on the smaller frigate that had brought him to this place. After a handful of turns and one long walk through a series of other hatches, the Rear Admiral stopped short before a much more reasonably sized metallic door. She pulled the handle, pushed the door inwards, and indicated that Bach should precede her within. He nodded and did so, only to have her follow him in and close the door.

The room itself could almost have been described as normal. There was a single bed in the corner, a desk that appeared to be screwed straight into the floor, and various other items that might be found in either a bedroom or personal office. This place likely served as both, Bach assumed. Though the bed had nothing on the one in the back master bedroom of Khloe’s family aeroyacht, it looked absolutely luxurious compared to the bunks back on the Antrim.

“Is this my room?”

“Mine, actually… when I’m on board, that is. This is not my ship, per se, but they do keep executive suites handy for when carrying superior personnel.” Though Anders stood barely as high as his shoulders, Bach could see in her someone that had long since become accustomed to getting what she wanted. Her stare was direct, and… if anything, devoid of the need to challenge him.

“I see.” A subtle sensation of motion told Bach that the ship had lifted from the ground. “We are headed into the city, then?”

“Sit,” Anders commanded, gesturing toward a flimsy chair in the corner. “By the way… if you haven’t sensed it already, you’ll have in-ship wireless access. So feel free to tune in.”

After a nod and a pause, she launched into the topic at hand. “Let us just say,” she said without waiting for him to sit, “that we have a bit of a problem within the city. Of course, everyone knows that Boston had been largely devastated by the tsunami that came without warning.”

Bach nodded his understanding, nervous about interrupting.

“Right,” she continued. “It is a bit more complicated than that.” She paused then, and took a seat in her own much more comfortable looking chair. If anything, she looked uncertain… which struck Bach as probably worse than the alternative. “I suppose you can’t just consign that… that template thing over to us?”

Bach might have let his jaw drop at hearing that suggested. Any attempt to do such a thing would be considered a felony pretty much anywhere in the world. “Of course not,” he almost whined. “The case and plug inside of it are both assigned to American Telepresence, and even as authorized operators, neither I or my father have the authority to transfer usage rights without a writ from both the state and the union… not to mention, with the affirming signature of a witnessing druid.”

The Rear Admiral sighed. “I’d picked that much up off the wireless, myself,” she said. “I’d just hoped, as a certified nanite operator, you’d know of some way around all that bullhockey.” The blonde-haired officer appeared to shrink into her faux-leather chair for a moment, though she continued to stare him straight in the eye without pause. “I’m in a very difficult position here, you have to understand. If it is impossible for us to use these nanomachines of yours, then you must use them on our behalf. That will make you privy to things you almost certainly will want not to have ever known about. Beyond that… well, I’m certainly not an expert on the technology by any means. I have no idea how we are to accomplish what must be accomplished.”

Bach wasn’t sure what the hell it was she was talking about… but it did not sound good. Neither part of it. “What must be accomplished?” he asked.

The woman pinched her nose… something that reminded him absently of Haley, if anything. Not that two resembled one another in any way. “Sorry… I’m just trying to think of some means by which I can get your assistance with this without you knowing the particulars of what it is you are assisting me with. Suffice it to say, to know said details would be… damn it to hell," she cursed, interrupting herself. "It would be detrimental to everyone involved… not least of which, yourself.”

Bach liked this less and less, and he’d not liked it at all from the very start. “I have to guess,” Bach said, “that my doing nothing would be just as… um… detrimental.”

“It would be to all those poor souls down below in their tent cities, yes. The logistics required to keep evacuating them further and further from the cities is proving to be beyond both the state and union’s resources… given that the whole east coast is a mess. Crime is rampant. My ships are getting all dinged up from the random shots being fired at them by handguns hidden in amongst a sea of angry refugees… not that they represent any real threat to us.”

“I’m not sure how that…” Bach began to say before the Rear Admiral cut him off when she leaned over her own desk with an arm extended.

Between two fingers and her thumb materialized what would otherwise have looked to be a perfectly normal paper document. They didn’t make those anymore, though. “This is a classified information nondisclosure agreement,” Anders said. “Pretty standard and binding form between yourself and the North American National Union. Put your sig into that and I can talk to you about our problem.”

Bach grabbed at the ethereal sheet of paper. The first couple paragraphs seemed awfully legalese, but understandable… but, following those, there came a storm of references to various acts and section numbers and codes. Bach raised his eyes back toward the Rear Admiral, who only returned him a dismissive shrug. With his free hand, Bach poked at a few of the references to other documents… but they read almost as incomprehensibly as the rest. “What does all this mean?” Bach gave up and finally asked.

“Boiled down,” Anders began, “you agree not to talk about classified information that is revealed to you, under penalty of union and military law. I suppose I can’t make you attach your signature to the agreement,” she said, “but I sure as hell can’t tell you anything unless you do.”

“Will I have to do anything… um…” Bach wasn’t quite sure what he needed to be asking this middle-aged woman.

“The only thing,” she stressed by way of reply, “it requires is that you not talk about classified information.”

That didn’t sound so bad, Bach thought. Then again, the way she’d talked about his not wanting to have known… maybe he didn’t. Still… “if I can help with a serious problem,” he announced, “then I will.” Bach produced his eye-bending signature and quickly merged it with the figment document… both of which promptly disappeared.

“Thanks,” the Rear Admiral said. “Now this one…” Again, she produced another document.

“You’re kidding,” Bach complained.

“No,” Anders replied. “You needed to sign the NDA before I could even divulge the existence of this,” she stressed, “unclassifiable confidentiality agreement. This one is very simple.”

Bach reached for this new figment and pulled it close enough to read. In fact, it was very simple… and rather scary. In clear language, it stated that he could not talk about certain unclassified information… that it used that term seemed strange, to Bach… under severe penalty. It wouldn’t even say what. “I don’t know about this,” he warbled uncertainly.

“Again,” Lady Anders said, “you’ve got to bind your sig to this agreement before I can talk to you about what’s going on in Boston. And it seems as though you won’t be able to help without full disclosure. Yes,” she dithered, “the penalties involved can be quite dire… but if I, with my high rank and grandkids to lose, can sign the damned thing, you can too.” She sounded almost angry, and yet… not at him. If anything, this had Bach feeling even more skittish.

“Fine,” Bach finally agreed. “If all I have to do is not talk…”

“Aye,” Anders confirmed.

So, with that… Bach nodded, and again winced his way through the merger between his ten-dimentional signature and the ethereal document. “There you go,” he said.

“Thanks for that,” she said even as she stood. “Here is the city,” she began to say as she summoned a figment map across the surface of her desk. The thing looked up-to-date, if Bach had to guess, given than many tiny towers leaned over at precarious looking angles. It was a wonder they remained intact, frankly. “Here,” she said while pointing to an area near the inner harbor, “is there containment was breached.”

No sooner had she stabbed the figment with her finger than did small virtual names appear around it. Charlestown lay across the water to the northwest while Boston Central lay to the southwest. To the east of her finger lay New Logan City.

“Containment?”

“Aye,” Anders replied, as if that were answer enough. “Your goddamn tsunami caught some… god, it sounds so cliché to say this… but caught a secret lab unawares, and its contents got loose amidst all the destruction. We couldn’t get anyone in there to do anything about it for a good day and a half, by which time the stuff was well advanced and out of any hope of control.”

“Stuff?”

The Rear Admiral didn’t quite reply, instead waving a hand over the metropolitan area. Angry red hues dominated stretches of land that feathered away from the point she’d marked as the origin of the ‘problem,’ whatever that was. “These are the estimates of spread as of the turn of the last hour.” Apparently uncertain as to the time, she then summoned a figment clock that hung briefly in the air before vanishing once again. “Eleven hundred, that is.”

Bach’s frustration mounted… and yet, he wasn’t quite ready to vent it upon a woman of such advanced rank and influence. “What stuff, again?”

Hunched over the ethereal display as she was, Anders didn’t so much as turn her head upwards… instead rolling her eyes to look at him from under her thin brows. “Nanites, of course. They got loose and are spreading quickly across the metropolis… eating up buildings and bodies as they go.”

She hadn’t just said that… had she? “That’s impossible,” Bach finally uttered after no short span of surprise. “Strictly contained nano recyclers like those in the digestive tract of Overjordan are allowed to process just about anything that passes amongst them,” he described with incremental calmness. “But without a constant supply of soup, they’d have died out within hours. Beyond that, their populations cannot expand. Nanites cannot make other nanites… well, except for those inside templates like mine.”

Almost as soon as it had begun, the Rear Admiral fell back into her chair and weathered Bach’s outburst. She then sighed as she pinched the bridge of her nose once again. “I barely understood any of what you just said,” she began, “but I was afraid you’d say that last part.”

“Why,” Bach drawled out, words thick with concern.

“Suffice it to say,” Anders replied, “these aren’t… well, they aren’t publicly available nanites. In fact, these don’t technically exist. They’re not classified… they’re unclassified.”

Bach didn’t want to hear any more. Nano-device technologies had been around for a few decades already but, in a rare bout of wisdom, the world’s unions and nations had agreed on some very strict regulations early on. Amongst these were the inviolate rules that nanites could only be created in batches and only via templates. These laws ensured that the term ‘spread’ could never be used legitimately in the same sentence as ‘nanite.’ And yet… she’d just shown him that they were, in fact, doing just that. ‘Goddamn sour madness,’ he wanted to shout at the woman.

Instead, he tried to calm himself. “These undermine the most taboo of the Dubai Conventions,” Bach practically seethed. “Capitol punishment is not out of the question for someone having made a self-replication strain of nano machine.”

“Don’t look at me,” the Rear Admiral deflected. “I didn’t know these things existed until about half a year ago myself. I don’t know the first thing about how they work… just that I was yanked in and given all the same documents to sign that you just did. That and, as of last week, that it is now my task to contain them… and remove them in as spotless a way as I can manage.”

“I see why I’m needed, then.”

Anders only nodded.

Bach felt dizzy. “I don’t even know where to begin. Those conventions existed for a very good reason.”