Crush

Raw curiosity lured Bach, airborne in his prototype avian husk, closer to the water's edge before banking northeast along the steep bayside private properties.  As he passed them over, floating docks sagged until they lay haphazardly across exposed stone.  Wherever he turned the husk’s better-than-human eyes, living things skittered away from sudden exposure to the waning rays of the early evening’s summer sun.  

“This is no change of tide,” Bach remarked to himself.  What could cause such a phenomenon?  If anything, an impression came to mind of some impossibly large cork having been pulled loose somewhere in the Penobscot bay… as if the Atlantic were draining away.  Nothing this dramatic could be good.  With likely near everyone in town tied up in a crowd on the wrong side of the pier, does anyone yet know this is even happening?

The thought pulled Bach around, dipping hard to his left in a sharp banking turn.  He’d best assume nothing.  Even as he retraced his path back toward the waterfront, the ocean water continued to drain away with an alarming persistence.  Adrenaline surged through his living body, and though he exerted no real physical effort, his breathing quickened, even culminating in a nervous gulp. 

“As you can see, an energetic model!  Already out of sight.”  

The rush of his thoughts flew apart, struck dumb by the words his old man let loose, with wirelessly amplified clarity, for all to hear.  The demonstration may have been momentarily interrupted by his acrobatics some moments before, but — if they really hadn’t noticed the strangeness at the shoreline — if their eyes were so rapt with the menagerie of husks on display this early evening, Bach had to warn them!  Of what, exactly, he did not know.  But someone, anyone other than himself, had to see this!

Diving low as he approached the bayside pier, Bach banked right and, again, used his wide leathery wings to cup against the air.  He caught it with such force, Bach could only imagine that this must be what it felt like to so suddenly be yanked upward by a just-opened parachute.  

Bach found solid ground, but still with just a bit too much forward momentum.  To keep his avian husk of a self from pitching face forward into the pavement, he had quite literally to prance down to a halt, barely managing to stop short of bowling into one of the officers who jovially kept the native masses on the far side of the spectator line.  Pointing fingers from the crowd brought the officer’s head around, and Bach saw the poor fellow nearly jump clear out of his skin, what with his startled expression just then.

“Normally, folks, a husk pilot for a model such as this would take just a little more care in planning his landings.”  His father narrated in observation, covering for his son’s less than graceful entrance.  “Still, thanks to our patented resealing outer skin, these husks can take scrapes and bruises in stride.  This model…”

“Dad!”  Having regained his bearings, Bach waddled his avian body as quickly as he could back toward where his father stood near the center of the public lot.  He’d called out with some volume, at once through the husk's own voice-box, and likely again in echo from his real self about a block away.  The intensity in his voice halted his father in mid-sentence, bringing a startled expression briefly to his weathered face.

“What?” He asked, still broadcasting over the local wireless. Then, “Where are you?”  He asked after his son’s living body, of course.

“Parked alongside the warehouse,” he answered before changing the subject.  “Something’s going on in the bay… water’s dropping!”  Other folk approached as he related this — Ol’ Sandy and his assistant, the Lady Kalitzakis, as well as the amber-eyed woman escorted by her look-alike and the Asian girl.  At his words, these three stiffened and stopped in their tracks, eyes wide.  That didn’t leave Bach feeling two jots better about what it was he’d seen. 

One of them — the one who’d knelt over him when first he’d connected to this husk — mouthed something that Bach could not hear.  Pointing to the edge of the pier, her mouth moved even more, leaving Bach more than a little frustrated with his temporary deafness.

Ol’ Sandy Abraham — the congressman and his dad’s college friend — replied with body language that spoke to Bach of significant confusion.  Or, perhaps, a refusal to accept what he’d just heard?  Then his father spoke, now soundless to him.  Likely, whatever it was he meant to say, he’d no intention of broadcasting over the wireless for all to overhear.  None of this helped Bach understand the goings on, whatsoever.

Enough of this deaf business!  Covering ground as quickly as he could, Bach pranced the artificial pterodactyl back to where it had been when he’d first synced up with the thing.  He imagined himself closing his husk’s eyes and caught a brief confusing moment of double-vision, what with his impatience to be up and out of the car.

Warehouse walls and ancient aluminum fencing lined the road right up to where the gathered crowd prevented any easy possibility of entering the public parking lot.  “Excuse me,” he tried as he pushed his way trough.  “Coming through!”  Folk, for the most part, allowed him passage… some quicker about it than others.  Half the town had to be here and what felt like ages passed before he’d cut his way clear to the front.  Once there, he vaulted the makeshift crowd control barriers without any resistance from the on-duty officers.  Most, if not all, knew him by sight.

Bach bounded past the two military officers in dress uniform, distracted with closely guarded discussion between themselves — likely in regards the insectoid model husk they loitered over — and crossed the lot in a breathless sprint.  He caught the old aluminum alloy pier-side railing with nearly enough impact to drive the wind out of him… right next to the suddenly short young Asian woman who jumped aside with an audible ‘eep.’

“Sorry,” Bach breathed, presuming for the moment that she could understand him.  Though his head hovered dizzily as he recovered himself, Bach wanted to waste no time finding his dad and Ol’ Sandy.  As he turned back to look for them, he caught an eyefull of the the other women he’d seen.

Feeling momentarily gargantuan, he easily stood head and shoulders taller than this trio of women who, not twenty minutes earlier, cheerfully towered over him.  What the mind could be led to believe, and purely on perspective…  Bach let the thought die as he pulled away from the railing and toward his approaching father.  “Dad.”

His old man stepped passed him to get his own look over the side of the pier.  “I see what you mean,” he started, but then diverted in mid-comment, “What?  Did you sprint all the way over here?”

Bach answered with nothing more than a vigorous nod, more intent on getting oxygen back into his brain with one long breath after another.  He so needed to get back into shape.

“This is really bad,” someone declared in an unfamiliar voice.  Bach turned to find that it had been that first amber-eyed woman — the one with the emerald hovering before her forehead — who’d spoken.

As if by cue, a sound rose from somewhere above them, from some part of town further up the hill.  It started low, and gained in both pitch and volume.  He’d never heard it used before in real life, and yet it had long been a staple of ancient 20th century movies he’d grown up watching.  He knew this sound.

A siren called out across the town — a siren of the sort once used to warn of air raids or ballistic missiles that had never come.  Every one of the folk standing at the pier’s edge stopped to look up the hill. 

It was that same woman again who first reclaimed her wits, yelling out “we need to get everyone to higher ground!”

The others turned to look at her for a moment, all sporting various shades of disbelief on their faces.  Someone actually asked “what?,” though Bach didn’t bother looking for who.

“Tsunami.”  The way she said it… she didn’t yell or scream.  She just said it.  Somehow, those three calmly uttered syllables served only to magnify Bach’s upwelling sense of danger.  There, in her eyes, something shone — maybe something of fear, but also something of determination as well.  “We’ve got to get everyone up that hill, fast as possible.”  

After having stressed every word, she bounded off at a jog, followed almost instantly by her pair of compatriots.  Waving her arms, she shouted out to the town officers.  

“Let’s go, already!”  Ol’ Sandy barked out orders, leading those who’d remained at the water’s edge, dumbfounded by this unlikely revelation, to follow after the women.  

Ahead, the crowd of onlookers broke out into a milling swarm of confusion.  The occasional shrill or loud voice rose up here and there with questions like ‘what’s that’ and ‘anyone know th’ell is going on?’  

Someone had the wherewithal, in spite of the rapidly degenerating situation on the ground, to use the wireless web to its best advantage.  A series of enormous floating red icons appeared suddenly at the top of the hill — massive things, bobbing up and down as if never quite sure of their buoyancy in the air.  No one would miss the likes of those clear across to Isleboro, much less here.  

The town officers waved their hands — tipped with brightly glowing and attention-gathering figments, as well — sending folk nearer the front turning and pushing their way toward safety with certain futility, at first, as those nearer the back still had no idea what was going on.

“Everyone, make your way swiftly… calmly, but swiftly up the hill as far as you can go, as fast as you can go, without tripping over one another.”  So a web-amplified voice instructed — a feminine voice, probably even that amber-eyed woman again.  That one seemed to be in charge of herself, and not hesitant to take charge of others when and where necessary. 

Of course, all attempts at orderly evacuation quickly degenerated into chaos, if not outright panic.  Bach, Dean, and Ol’ Sandy caught up with the women and the ever more desperate officers.  The crowd had grown so thick during Bach’s flight that even as those farthest from the spectacle now distanced themselves, those toward the front could not budge an inch in spite of… or, perhaps, because of all the yelling and pushing.

“This isn’t good,” declared the woman with the figment emerald as she turned away from the crowds.  “Doesn’t matter how orderly they are.  This is going to take too long.”  

“Wait a sec,” Bach let out and, just like that, her eyes were on him along with everyone else’s.  Bach worked his mouth for a moment before remembering the notion he’d just had.  He pointed southwest.  “We can get some of them out through the warehouse.”

Ol’ Sandy and Dean stiffened their shoulders — their gazes following where his finger had led — and took to nodding.  “That’ll work for those of us on this side of the crowd,” his father agreed before turning to the closest officer, a more than familiar woman with practically metallic copper hair.  “Sarah,” his Dad said, summoning her attention, “some of the closest people should come with us.  We can get to Water Street through the warehouse.”

Bach dipped his head ever so slightly in greeting to his old college girlfriend, Sarah St. Laurent — now a well-liked peacekeeper in and around town.  She smiled as their eyes met, face full of the old warmth he used to know.

“Hey, Bach,” was all she said to him, though.  “Sir Kavanagh,” she returned to his dad, who’d first addressed her, “sounds fine enough to me.”

She turned her back on the lot of them, crossed to another officer, and spread the word.  Sensing motion, Bach turned to see that his father and the congressman already jogged for the open fence and the warehouse beyond.  

That same knot of women, led still by the short amber-eyed one, then swept past him as he stood frozen by abject indecision.  Even as the officers pulled away the makeshift barriers and started ushering the nearest rows of men and women to move westward, following the people already bounding off in that direction, Bach stood and considered a notion.

The lot had emptied of all the potential customers — either now jammed in with the crowd, or perhaps now heading for the warehouse — and that left naught but all the relaxing husks, mindlessly unaware of what was coming.  

“This is a damn bad idea,” he muttered to himself as he leaned into his first step toward the pier’s edge.  Some young man bumped into him then, probably meaning to dodge around the previously stationary Bach, apologizing even as recovered himself and ran on.

With two options now — or so it dawned on Bach — likely too much of the crowd had opted for the warehouse.  Even now, people knotted themselves up around the too-narrow opening in the old aluminum fence.  This serving only to solidify his intentions, Bach made directly for the very same ape-like husk that he’d been testing only hours earlier.

The thing relaxed in a hunch, unwitting and unaware.  That made it relatively easy for Bach to set his feet to its thighs and climb up upon its back.  Throwing his arms around the thing’s neck, Bach forced his eyelids shut, and reached his senses out across the wireless web.  He could only hope he could concentrate on this well enough to keep his death-grip ‘round the husk’s neck even as he took control of the thing.  Somehow, he did.  Perhaps this would not be as hard as he’d thought it would be.

Looking now through the eyes of the husk, Bach stood up.  His living body felt the motion, felt the rippling of the thing’s equivalent to muscle and skin.  He tried his best to block out those conflicting sensations.  This would be confusing enough without having to feel two wholly distinct sets of motion at the same time.

His new height, easily surpassing two meters, gained him a view over the lip of the pier — and so he froze.  There, to the south, off in the distance he saw a white line.  A swell was forming in the water that foamed over rocky shallows.  Still on the horizon though it may be, the wave approached!  He didn’t spare a neuron for wondering at how far off it might yet be.

Hanging on for dear life, Bach carried himself as he bounded across the lot toward the throngs of people trying to file their way through the limited opening in the fence.  As he approached, some of those closer to him noticed, and backed away, likely having no sure idea what to make of what they were seeing.  Still, that gave Bach and his husk an opening.

He closed the distance to one side of the fence’s opening, and gripped at the metal with his large and powerful hands.  He found he had more than strength enough, in this thing’s body, to rip the fence right out of the pavement.  He stepped backwards even as he pulled it up and away from the crowd.

Some few people streamed through the widened gap as he did this but, once done, he shot out a long ape-husk arm, and blocked any further bypass.  Most near him had the good sense to stop at least long enough to see what he was on about.

The swinging of his living body had him feeling more than a little queasy, but this sure as hell wasn’t the time to give mind to such a thing as that.  Bach pushed forward, one open hand outstretched in warning to the crowd as he grabbed with the other at the remaining half of the fencing most blocking their escape.  Again, he yanked it straight out of the pavement and pulled it away, careful not to get anyone’s hands or legs caught in the damn thing.  No sooner had he removed the obstacle than did the crowd surge on toward the warehouse and its gaping hangar doors.

Frankly, thought Bach, with a crowd as large as this, things will only get worse.  If they could be so harried as to so easily congest themselves around as wide a fence opening as that, then they’d have a hell of a time filing out through the street-side door at the far end of the warehouse.  Only one person would be able to pass through there at a time, proving a deceptive exit when the warehouse entrance facing the public lot had gaped so wide and inviting.

Maybe there is another way.  “Watch out,” he barked, probably in some strange duality between his own voice and that of the husk’s synthesizer.  People pushing the crowd forward did heed him, at least, and let him and the ape-husk pass through.  Though nearly as tall as he, this was just a solid brick wall that ran between one building and the next, parallel to the street.  He’d already torn two halves of a fence out of the pavement, so he might as well have at this wall if it could help stave off the human flow into the warehouse bottleneck.

So, Bach raised one large artificial arm, and let it fly against the wall, loosing a quartet of grey bricks to fall away.  A good start, Bach thought to himself.

He punched out a few more, and some along the top, so he could take a peek over to the other side.  Though a couple people rushed past, rather than directly uphill as they should be, a glance further down Water Street confirmed his real worry.  The number of people headed into the warehouse via the large sliding doors absolutely dwarfed the number of people coming out of the street-side exit.

“Damn,” he cursed.  This had been his idea, too.  At least the relative lack of people just opposite this side of the brick wall meant he could take all his ire out upon it, and without hesitation.

He might have simply bowled his massive ape-husk shoulders through it in one blow, but for the fact that his living body would almost certainly have been injured in the process.  He wouldn’t be doing anyone any good if a stray falling brick knocked him — and consequently, his husk — unconscious.  So, instead, he let artificial fists fly against the brick and mortar structure.  Blow after blow sent what remained of old grey bricks falling or flying in all directions.

Someone had to have noticed since, before long, he had quite the crowd forming a circle around him, albeit at a respectfully safe distance.  Some picked up and tossed aside bricks that had fallen inwards rather than out.  And in no time the wall was simply gone. Well, for the most part.  Gone enough, at least, to let the crowd flow through.  How damn many people wandered down to see this demo, anyways?  The flow of human flesh didn’t so much as ebb, much less cease.  Not that Bach could see, anyways, even having a vantage point well above all other heads.

Not knowing what else to do, Bach moved through the breach and stepped warily southwest, down the street.  He wanted to be out of the crowd’s way, as well as see what kind of mess he’d made of things with the folk funneling through the warehouse further on down toward the proper end of the block.  A glance backwards — an awkward maneuver, what with the wild swing it put his living body through just then — told him, at the very least, that the original crowd had thinned significantly.  Some good news, anyways!

He really had no concept of how badly this might turn out.  What is a tsunami wave like?  He’d heard of them, sure, but they’d always been a terrible tale told of distant parts of the world.  He’d never even so much as heard of such a thing ever happening here, much less anywhere along the Atlantic coast.  

Are the people headed up the hill even safe?  How far would they have to go?  Hell, his family’s plant and warehouse sat not only at the water’s edge… they’d each grown out over the water, during the expansion about ten years back.  They’d become much of the old pier which, to the best of his knowledge, may not be solid beneath. Will the buildings’ being up on stilts save them?  Or doom them?  What would they do if they, he and his dad, were to lose either building?

What if people die?  In the warehouse?  Because of my too-quickly given suggestion?

This speculative tailspin ensared Bach with indecision.  Pacing this empty stretch of Water street between the two steady flows of evacuation, he could think of nothing more to do for either.  Instead, concern finally won him over — concern for the mess that must be the third throng of folk pushing their way out through the narrow warehouse exit.

He moved closer, startling some few of those folk as they all but fell out through the door, but could see nothing of good that he could do.  The door was the door, and the wall to either side had layers of plated keratin or sheet-metal, with maybe even ancient concrete or brick on the inside.  If he tried to widen the exit, he’d only slow people down and, in so doing, could just as easily produce jagged edges that could injure folk trying to renew their surge through that bottleneck.  

A visceral knot of helplessness yanked mercilessly at his insides.  This had been my damned idea, and how many remain trapped and waiting on the inside?  His mind numbed, not wanting to even venture a guess.  

Just then, a deep rumble ground itself out loud through the air — an almost hollow sound, despite its great volume.  After a startled witlessness, Bach thought it sounded as if two great stones had ground against one another.  How far away could they have been?  

He hadn’t time enough to really consider the question.  Instead, something… moved.  That’s all the thought he could assemble before the far end of the warehouse — the end that perched out over ocean water — lurched and shuddered.

Not a second later some structure or another cried out in metallic agony.  Likely, the old aluminum pier wall had just been shredded as the predicted wall of water pushed through it and under the whole of the public waterfront.

Bach had only time enough to glance back up Water street.  He’d just time enough to see salty bay water break upwards through the pavement and biocrete that had long ago grown well beyond the natural shoreline.  The sea water had literally funneled in from beneath, and pushed its way upwards and through.

In that one moment’s glance, people had still been there, and then were not.  Bach saw some simply fall into the water as it swept their legs out from beneath them.

Still clinging to the ape-husk’s back, Bach listened to the rumble build angrily under the warehouse.  And, just like that, the far side of his father’s warehouse fell away for a moment before it suddenly reappeared, jagged edged, tossed upwards at some impossibly crazy angle.  

From inside the closer end, yells and screams rang out even as some woman found herself thrust through the doorway, pulled down as ocean water took precedence on its own way out.  The building groaned and twisting metal screamed as the thunderous gurgle of unstoppable water assaulted both his and the ape-husk's ears all at once.  The duality of the sound hammered at his wits.

The woman who’d just been mowed down by the blast of water found herself caught up against another building across the street.  Even as Bach looked on, she made every effort to stand herself upright, though she never quite succeeded.

Salty bay water continued to flow out through the door, proceeding furiously up and down the now appropriately named Water Street.

When it hit the ape-husk's legs, he stumbled for a moment, nearly losing his living body’s grip around the thing’s neck.  Still, he found that with some effort, the husk could hold its own against the force of the water, if barely.  Even so, the flow of water pressed the husk up against the building opposite the remains of the warehouse.  At the very least, that gave him all the more leverage to crawl forward against the wave’s fury.  He kept his living body above the rush, except for once when a short-lived crest of water caught at his foot, quite nearly pulling him free.  

Bach made the struggling woman his immediate goal.  It wasn’t really that she had to hold on to the building, no.  She’d been forced right up against it, but was having noticeable difficulty keeping her head above the torrent.

Step after laborious step, Bach inched his husk forward.  It felt like trying to push the weight of some massive boulder straight up the side of some impossibly steep mountain.  

He’d not been that far from the woman when she’d fallen, and the distance between them closed with each pace he won versus the vigor of the flow.  After what felt like forever, Bach found himself within the ape-husk’s reach of her.

At first prod, she’d nearly gone under — startled, if such a thing could still be possible under these circumstances.  Luckily, she did reemerge, and Bach, now another step closer, reached out and grabbed for her.  That the woman had a slender waist probably saved her just then, as Bach closed the ape-husk’s two-handed grip all the way around her.

Though the flow of water endeavored to prevent it, Bach managed to pull the woman toward him.  Once close enough, she lunged for and wrapped herself around his upper arm in a death grip of her own.  Pulling her the rest of the way in, Bach pinned her securely against the husk’s broad and pliant polymer chest.

A quick scan of the immediate area didn’t offer Bach all that much by way of obvious opportunities.  If this is as bad as the flow's going to get, Bach decided, now that he had a good grip on her, I'd best just stay for the time being.  All he could think to do was wrap the husk’s other arm around, and secure his living body against its back.  The pressure was a bit much, at first, but better that discomfort than falling away into the water.  If he lost contact with the husk it would drop this poor lady without hesitation, mindless as it would be without a pilot.

So they waited.  Bach could see over the woman’s shoulders though the ape-husk’s eyes, but she certainly could not see his living self from where she perched.  For all he knew, she probably had no idea that anyone, other than the machine itself, was even there.  With little else to do but brace himself against the torrent, he watched the woman by proxy.  Breathing rather hard, she shivered occasionally.  No surprise there.  The ocean ‘round here never warmed much, even when summer was at its worst. 

Though the husk did not feel discomfort the way a body might when forced to endure positions for extended periods of time, Bach still shifted his position out of pure human instinct.  This act hoisted the woman up somewhat, which was just as well since, spurred by that motion, she decided to try for her own better grip.  Lurching upwards, she threw her own arms around the husk’s neck and quite literally smacked Bach upside the head.

“Gah,” was all he had to say, thankful that neither he nor she were so startled as to lose their grip and fall away.  She pulled back from the strange unexpectedness of human contact, if only for a moment before she latched on all the harder, pushing and weaving her arms through Bach’s.  This brought her head over the husk’s shoulder to where she likely could see his face — if not he hers though the husk’s six tiny eyes.

Whether or not she could see him directly, the woman still called out, “Who's there?” 

“Bach,” he answered, with dual voices.  

“Kavanagh?”  This she asked between gasping breaths.

Somewhat taken aback by her recognition of his name, Bach felt a sudden urge to see her face.  He absolutely refused to relinquish control of the husk, lest it relax and let her drop, but he did risk opening his living eyes.  The double-vision lasted but for a moment, confusing as all hell.  Thankfully, his mind quickly and instinctively blocked out the husk’s eyes, unwilling to accept such conflicting inputs.  

Across from him, a tan face lay tilted, resting a feminine cheek across the husk’s broad polymer shoulder.  Intense amber eyes stared back at him from beneath heavy and exhausted eyelids.  Given the chaos, not to mention the numbing effect the cold water had on her wetware, this woman had lost those distinctive figments of hers.

After several moments lost staring into those eyes — eyes the color of which Bach had previously thought certain must be virtual as well — his wits returned to him in a flash.  She’d asked a question!  “Oh, yeah.  That’s me.”  Better late than never, he hoped.

She coughed.  “Ah.  I know of you.  You’re piloting this thing?”

Bach could only nod.

“Well,” she began before coughing again.  “Thanks, I’m Haley Diaz.”

“Diaz?”  His mind raced.  He knew this name.  But from where?  

She nodded, and no more.  Though she still breathed visibly, her eyes were shut tight.  Likely, her newfound sense of safety let her psyche slip away into enviable unconsciousness.  After a while, free of the terribly cold water, her body ceased to tremble.