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The wave eased after a time.  Though the wave hadn’t pushed all that far up the hill, it had washed down streets parallel to the shoreline with unceasing intensity.  The flow had pinned Bach, his ape-husk, and the unconscious Lady Diaz up against a wall all the while.  As the water’s pressure lessened against him, he experimented against it and found that he could make some actual headway.

This new motion stirred Haley back to consciousness, and Bach felt her arms tighten not only around the neck of his husk, but through his own living arms as well.  “What’s this?”  For someone who’d been through so much more than he had, she spoke with admirable steadiness.

Bach spoke in duality, both as himself, and through the husk’s own synthesizer.  “Torrent is waning.  I can gain some ground against it now.  Wanna reach the building corner and get you uphill.”  Under better circumstances, he might have had concentration enough to funnel his thoughts through only one voice box at a time, but… well, this is not now.

If she’d been confused by the dual voices, she showed nothing of it in her expression or in the tension he could feel in her arms twined through his.  If that was her pulse he felt against his skin he’d not have thought to call it ‘racing’ by any stretch of the imagination.  But then, as if to put the lie to his impressions of her, she stiffened as a wide-eyed wildness flashed across her face.  “No!  We can’t go… there are still people in there.”

Bach had found more than ample time to think about just that, bracing his husk against the seemingly endless wave.  “The warehouse, you mean?”  In spite of her outcry otherwise, Bach continued toward the corner of the building.  

The young woman nodded.  “Right.”

“How many?  How close to the exit?”  

It must have just dawned on her that he’d yet to turn around.  Bach felt those arms of hers tighten again, though she didn’t move to let go either.  “Come on!”  She squirmed about, trying to get a better view.  “We can’t leave!  Another wave will almost certainly come!”

This stopped Bach, if only for a moment.  “Really?  Another wave?”  Still, he decided to press on anyways, having gone halfway already.  Another wave would only mean being stuck back in that corner again… at best.

“More often than not,” she let on, still squirming from side to side, dissatisfied with only the over-the-shouder view she could get.  “We don’t know near enough… but, yeah… usually more than one wave.  Stop!  We can’t leave…” 

Though he admired her determination in this, there was one fact plain to him.  “I can’t do much about anyone else while carrying you!”  He’d not meant to put quite that much edge into what he’d said, but there was no taking it back now.  

“Oh.”

“I’m almost to the corner,” he offered in compromise.  “So how many do you think are still in there?  How many of those do you think were by the exit?”

She took some time before finally answering him.  “A lot got out, but there may be more than a dozen still inside.  I think,” she began before trailing off for a moment…  “I think most were near the exit, but there were still some standing close to the open wide doors, watching for… guiding anyone through who’d fallen behind.  Someone pushed me out.  I would have still been in there.”  

Having heard that, Bach did not want to mention that he’d seen the way in which the far side of the warehouse had been caught up in and mauled by the wave’s attack.  He reached the corner in silence.  Taking care not to dislodge the young woman, Bach craned his husk neck for a look up the street.  The view held promise.  

Not far up at all he saw a dry patch, a slanted shingle roof jutting out of the next building up.  It was close enough that he could leave her up there, and come back to the warehouse door in much less time that he’d dared hope for!  Bach and his husk nearly lost their footing when rounding the corner, what with the water flowing suddenly with him rather than against.  

“I’m going to put us there,” he said with a nod of the husk’s head.  Haley looked and quickly found the same spot he’d noticed.

“Yeah.  I can get down from there when the wave recedes.”  Then, after something of a pause, she asked, “Us?”

“Yeah.”  

“You aren’t going back?”  Tension tightened her arms again.

Have some faith, he wanted to shout… and didn’t.  “This’ll also be easier if I’m not distracted with carrying myself on my own back.”

Of all the things he might have expected to hear in reply, the chuckle he received hadn’t been among them.  “I suppose that’s true,” she returned a moment later.  

Though the strength of the torrent had eased in pressing against him, having to move with the flow proved a lot more difficult.  Even so, he stumbled to within reach of the small shingled roof and nudged upward on his left arm.  Haley took the hint, looked over her shoulder again, and dared to reach for the man-made outcrop of dry purchase.  Once she had a toe upon it, she nearly jumped right off his arm, and perhaps found a bit more spring in the thing than she’d expected.  She landed a good ways further up the roof, and less than gracefully.  For a moment, Bach even thought she might sprawl right off again and into the water.  Thankfully, she shot out her arms and caught herself, stopping flat upon her back.  

With her taken care of, Bach wondered at how he would safely get himself up there, as well.  He did not want to trust the husk’s weight to this small roof.  Not with her already on it, and with nowhere else so close to go.  

Snapping both sets of eyes tightly shut, Bach instead put every effort into casting himself out across the wireless.  Looking for other people this way — he’d always avoided it, but this sure as hell wasn’t the time for such personal taboos.

At first, nothing came to him — lack of practice, really.  But then the world bloomed into being around him.  Lower Castine, the street corner, and the warehouse stood intact and just down the street a ways, as if nothing had happened.

Of course, this place did not actually exist as anything more than as part of a communal imagination — a replica of the real, meant to join together the experiences of those merely connected to the wireless with those fully immersed in it.

It may be a while before this too-clean image of the real world reflected this early evening’s disaster.  For now, though, that didn’t matter.  A look around told Bach he wasn’t the only one searching for others in this way.  Figment images of other people — likely townsfolk, but just as easily a concerned friend or relative from halfway past the horizon’s horizon — walked or floated around the virtual streets, looking for god knows who.

“Lady Kalitzakis!?  Dad?  Ol’ Sandy?”  He shouted these names, hoping that his living body hadn’t done the same.  His wireless self-image raced down the figment hill toward the same door of the warehouse that Haley had been thrown from.

After her curious request earlier in the afternoon, Khloe had been authorized for use of the very husk Bach now clung to.  If she was out there and alive, she could take over its operation, rescue him from the water when he let this one go, and free him to connect to a second husk.  But, no answer as yet.

Bach’s ethereal momentum slammed his avatar into the warehouse’s figment door, feeling it every bit as much as if both he and it had been real.  He pulled back, yanked the virtual door open, and stepped inside.  “Is anyone in here?”  He asked this, knowing that his seeing no one now did not mean there couldn’t be someone there in the real word — someone tuned in and seeing his image standing there — hearing him call out.

As if out of the void itself, a young woman appeared —  Asian girl he’d seen often in tow behind Haley,  back before all hell broke loose.  “Hello?  Whose is there?”  Though she had a bit of an accent, she spoke understandably. 

The girl’s avatar self-image stood a little taller than he thought she did back in the real world, and she sported highlights that glowed with unnatural light in her long, straight, and otherwise black hair.  Beyond these embellishments, she remained easily recognizable.

“Hey,” he began, “Are you inside the warehouse?”  Though it may seem a stupid question, what with the both of them standing inside the virtual representation of the place, there was no actual guarantee that her living body was there at all.  

“Yeah.”

Bach wanted to ask every question he had, and then some, but if more waves could come, and with this one still only just starting to wane, he hadn’t the time to indulge.  “Is Khloe Kalitzakis inside with you?” 

The girl shrugged, “I don’t know who that is.”

“Um… long black hair, maybe three quarters as long as yours, and slightly wavy,” Bach described.  “Was wearing a… god, I dunno… some kind of red or brown dress that fastened around her neck right up here.”  He said this while enclosing his throat, by way of demonstration, close under his chin with both of his hands.

The girl’s eyes widened, and she nodded.  “I think I saw her before the water came into the building, but she’s not here now.  There’s a bunch of people in this room with me,” she said, looking around as if she could see them where he could not, “and a few are hurt.  Water is high.”

Bach struggled a bit with her accent, but gleaned the general idea.  What she’d said did not bode well, and Bach swore to himself in hope that Khloe’d be alright.  He did not want to contemplate the possibility that anyone might have been in the fallen half of the warehouse when it broke away.  

“Okay.  I’m just up the street, outside.  Have someone named Haley with me.  She says more waves might come, so I’m going to see what I can do to get you guys out of there.”

At the mention of Haley’s name, something passed across the Asian girl’s face.  Recognition?  Maybe relief?  “Okay.”  Since she seemed disinclined to say more than that, Bach nodded and then let go of the illusory world.

It took some concentration, but he managed to keep the ape-husk’s eyes closed while opening only those of his living body.  And so he found his gaze at a level with amber-eyed Haley, stretched out, chest down, reaching out from across the rooftop.  A darkened line across the painted wood below the roof’s edge told Bach the water had receded — ten or fifteen centimeters, or thereabouts.

“What are you doing?”  Haley’s sudden question had a bit of an edge to it.  Had she been trying to reach him all the while he’d been outside of his body?  “Are you there?”

Bach knew then he should have said something to her before taking off like that.  “Sorry, I was on the local layer.  Trying to find someone.”

She looked at him for a moment, but assented with a nod.  “Tell me next time.”

“That just occurred to me,” he admitted.  “Anyhow, I’m going into the water for a second.”  Hopefully, he’d not be in the chill of the stuff so long that his wetware would cut him off from the wireless — something it might do when forced to focus on preventing potential hypothermia, among other things.

“What are you going to do?” It wasn’t an unfair question that she asked.

“Gonna drop off, and then put myself on the roof.  The water’s not as bad now, and it’ll wedge me into this corner anyways.”

That seemed explanation enough to satisfy her, as she only nodded.  Each time she did that, Bach couldn’t help but follow the movement of the floating figment emerald that had, while he was away, reappeared above and between her eyebrows.  That meant, at the very least, that she’d reconnected while he was preoccupied. 

Bach turned the husk ‘round to face downhill toward the water’s flow.  This way, when he dropped off its back, not only would the wash push him into the building’s corner, but he’d have the husk in front of him to grab on to if he needed it.  Once turned around, he let his arms slip and fell into surprisingly deep and energetic water.  Even as he struggled up for breath, he appreciated just how strong that ape-husk really was.

The damn churn of the water wouldn’t let him surface!  He had  a lung full of air still, but he had to do something.  Tuning back out of himself, he merged fully into the husk, and so found himself looking down at his own struggling body, barely visible as anything more than a dark mass in the dirty and swirling water.

He had to calm himself.  The urge to struggle only made operation of the husk all the more difficult —  made it want to flail even as his living body did.  Still, he managed a moment’s serenity, somehow, and plucked his body right up out of the water with both arms.  Strange sensation, that.  He let himself down upon the jut of roofing without much concern for delicacy before he let completely go of the husk’s mind.

An unexpected hand on his shoulder brought his living eyes wide open.  Kneeling close, Haley asked him “You there?".

Bach coughed up a little water, but managed a ‘yeah’ for her.  Sitting up, he needed a moment to regain his wits.  “Sorry.  Had to breathe.”

Though chilled, Bach’s clothes were made of the same hydrophobic material most clothes were woven from these days.  They felt dry to the touch, despite his having been thoroughly submerged.  Banishing all thought of how his dunk in the water might otherwise have turned out, Bach knew he’d feel warm again in no time.  He knew he’d have no trouble tuning back into the wireless.

“Where’d you go?”

“Went down to the layer’s warehouse… see if anyone was there… see if someone I knew who had authorization could merge with this husk long enough to haul me up out of the water.”  Bach took a moment to relate whom he’d seen — though he did not know the girl’s name — and what she’d said.

“Mitsuki,” Haley blurted out after his description of the girl.

“What?”

“That’s her name.  Mit-soo-kee.  She’s a friend.”  She said this, paused, and then breathed out, “Glad she’s alive.  What of others?”

“Said there were others, some hurt.  I think that’s what she said.”  Though he allowed himself another stiff breath, Bach jumped in before Haley had anything further to say.  “You know how to use a husk?”  He asked, knowing that there really wasn’t all that much to it.  Still, he wasn’t about to volunteer her for anything without asking first, not after what she’d been through so far!

“I do.”  She said this, and waited on him with a challenging gaze.  

That seemed confirmation enough.  Bach lay himself flat on his chest and reached out toward the back of the ape-husk’s head.  It had relaxed once he’d pulled his mind free, and sunk down into the water somewhat.  Still, he managed to get close enough to summon up its figment menu of an interface.  Again, Bach had to match his personal key to his signature already stored within the machine — had to prove his authority to add a new identity to its accepted list of pilots.  He called out over his shoulder, “give me your question, then… I’ll waken this one to you.”

To her credit, Haley did not hesitate to comply.  She had her eye-wrenching figment ‘question’ out in a blink and hovering above an outstretched palm.  She shuffled up next to him and lay down as well, hand and ten-dimensional signature already reaching toward the husk.

This one knows what she’s about, alright.  Spared from having to juggle her question while also flipping through the hovering menu figments, Bach made quick work of readying the thing for her use.  Once done, a waiting yellow halo appeared.  “Push your sig,” he instructed. 

She did — had been moving, in fact, to do just that even before he spoke.  Her question mercifully disappeared from his vision as it fell into the halo and, a mere moment later, it flipped over into a neon green.  “Fuzzy,” she said, not a more than a dozen centimeters from his ear.  

A bout of passing awareness of her proximity brought a flush to Bach’s face — a flush he hoped she’d not seen before it was gone again. “I think you should take him down to the warehouse,” he said, half trying to distract himself.

“What are you going to do?”

Fair enough a question.  “Aside from trying to tune into some of the models probably still in the warehouse, I don’t really know yet.”

The woman gave him another measuring look, but nodded even so.  Without further comment, she pushed herself up off her chest before sprawling backwards to again face the darkening sky.  Not a second passed thereafter before the ape-husk rose to life.

The sudden motion drew Bach’s attention and, even as he watched, the husk turned to look briefly back at him… and there he saw that trademark hovering emerald just above its equivalent of a forehead.  That, and those sinuous iridescent tendrils of tattoo that — or so his wetware enhanced sense of vision told him — caught the day’s dying light just so, cutting one shade of red into thousands.  A glance behind him showed Bach that those same figments had abandoned her living body.  

He considered her for a moment.  If he were to make himself as prone and vulnerable as she had, spread-eagle across the small roof, and if he had to share that space… yeah.

Decision made, Bach lay down beside and close to her.  He snaked his left arm under her right, and further on under her neck.  She either was not present enough to notice, or did not object.  But once he had her neck under his elbow, he rested his on hers before closing his eyes.  This way, at least, if something happened to one, the other would know about it pretty darned quick.  Each would serve as the other’s physical anchor.

Bach stretched his awareness out across the local wireless.  He even found himself looking down upon the town as if from on high.  He saw a virtual representation of Haley and the ape-husk struggling down what otherwise looked to be a clear and empty street, and still a ways off from the warehouse door.  There appeared to be several clusters of figment people nearer the top of the hill — all survivors greeting relieved friends and relatives from all over the world, perhaps.

Ay Tee registered husks, ping please.”  He heard his living body say this, even as he broadcast the same request across the wireless.  Immediately, several hovering icons burst into life.

After a hasty accounting, Bach thought that some must be missing, perhaps crushed in the ruins of the seaside half of the warehouse.  The ape-husk reported its whereabouts, but also as being ‘in use,’ which Bach knew full well already.  A few others lay strewn up and down, or otherwise near to Main Street — likely the prototypes that had been in the public lot when the wave struck.  A blessing there, all still healthy enough to respond to his inquiry.

Still, for the moment, those did him little good.  Instead, Bach turned his focus toward the figment icons indicating responsive husks in the still-standing part of the warehouse.  It came as a stroke of luck that there had been any in there at all, given how infrequently they had them sitting around waiting to be purchased.  Today, though… today, there were three.

Bach’s hovering, virtual self wafted toward those beacons the warehouse.  Once close enough, he chose the largest to inhabit.  A real work-horse, that model — practically the size and strength of a rhino, if not even remotely reminiscent of one in form.  This kind of beast had been designed to move mountains.  

Opening its eyes, Bach could make out very little at first.  Everything came as a blur, hazy and indistinct.  That is, until the frothing water surface dipped below the husk’s eye lenses for a moment.  Then all became grey and sudsy.  The damn thing’s sitting submerged in sea water!

He pulled himself upright and cleared the surface for a better view.  Though still dark — what with the outside sun having only just set — this husk’s depth of vision allowed him to see where his living eyes might otherwise strain against the gloom.

The whole place had taken on a strange and dangerous tilt, even at this end where it had its foundation on solid land.  The wave had pushed its way indoors, from the look of it, and entered far faster than than it could exit again.  The place was filling up still, even as the wave itself had taken to retreat.

Bach tested his way upwards along the slant, finding the submerged floor to be slick but otherwise intact.  He saw no signs that his heavy passage caused any alarming movement either in the floor under him, or along the wall he kept close to.  So emboldened, Bach realized that the water wanted to push him in his intended direction anyways.

Reaching a door that led from this storage bay and out into a larger room above, Bach had to remove quite a bit of debris before he’d be able to pass through.  That task came easily enough to his impossibly strong arms, but cost him an agonizing amount of time even so.  

The commotion must have caught the attentions of those in the room beyond for, even as he pulled away the last fragment of metallic debris that had barred his way, a human face appeared from beneath the water.  That Asian girl again.  “Mitskee?”  

Where, a moment before, her face had borne an unlikely calmness in looking up at him, now there bloomed a bit of color in her cheeks.  Her eyes darted away.  An odd reaction, but one Bach could puzzle over at some other time.

Looking past her, the next room still had more of air above than water below.  Possibly two person’s worth of dry purchase stretched up in one corner, and was already occupied by the looks of it.  The water rose still, especially now that he’d just removed an obstruction, but otherwise swirled and lapped more calmly here than it had back in the storeroom.

Several folk were treading water.  Most he did not recognize other than as half-remembered faces he’d seen around town, from time to time.  “Is everyone in this room?”

The question brought Mitsuki’s attention back to him, and she shook her head.  “Saw someone swim off to the offices, or so he was saying.  Hasn’t come back yet.”

Query answered about as well it probably could be, Bach gestured that the Asian girl should give him some room… and pulled his hulking husk of a body through the door he’d just cleared.  Some few of the others drifted closer, but remained at a wise distance.  Now that he could see it, the street-side exit also looked to be clogged tight with debris.  He turned toward Mitsuki, “You are Haley’s friend?”

“Hai,” the girl answered, nodding as she did so.  Bach had to guess that whatever it was she’d said had probably meant ‘yes.’  

“Alright.  She also has a husk now,” he said, adding “a good bit slimmer than this one” after a sudden worry that she might not know just what a husk is.  “If you can still get on the wireless, then please let her know that door’s jammed full of junk… that it needs to be cleared.  Tell her this room looks calm for the moment.  I’m going to try to find anyone else who may be stuck.  That’s while I have the power to do so, I mean.”  

Almost as if in answer, there came a thud at the debris-blocked door.  “Ah, never mind the rest,” he told Mitsuki through the husk’s synthesized voice.  “Just let her know I’m going to look for others while I can.”

The girl nodded, and swam off in the direction of the clogged exit.  Bach moved toward the crowd gathered in the driest corner of the room, wanting to get an idea of just who was stuck in here.  A heavy-industrial husk such as his came with a few extra doodads and Bach put one to full use, flooding wherever he looked with wide beams of blueish light.  All faces, save perhaps Mitsuki at the door, turned toward him, and some shielded their eyes from the sudden and steady source of brightness.  

Right off, Bach noticed the blazing copper hair his long-since ex, Officer St. Laurent.  She shivered with cold, but looked otherwise alright.  Turning his head slightly, he saw one of the military men, dress uniform in disarray, but otherwise appearing to be none the worse for wear.  Haley’s sister?  The one that looked like her had what looked to be a cut across her cheek, and appeared just a bit dazed.  Still, her eyes were open, and she had no trouble following him as he swung the lights to either side of his head back and forth, checking every upturned face.

Then he saw one more that was familiar to him.  “Ol’ Sandy!”

The man swam forward, not looking injured in any obvious way.  So far, so good.  Bach dared to hope the building itself would be among the day’s few casualties.  “Bach in there?”  His dad’s long time friend — and, more recently, a congressman — asked this as he drew close.  “You in there?”  

Bach nodded the husk’s heavy head.  “Yeah.  Is dad ‘round here?  Or… your assistant?”

Perhaps it had been ill of him to have asked, as the man’s expression went blank for a moment.  Then his focus returned to him. “Lady Kalitzakis was nearer the wide doors when the sea struck.  Waving in the last few stragglers.  She ran for the rest of us, but then the building just went crazy.  The floor dropped down at an angle, and she slid down with it.  Then the whole floor shot upwards, like a wall.”

“Damn.”  Bach couldn’t say more than that.

The man continued though, “I think she was alright at first.  We could hear her yelling for some minutes after the building stopped moving, but not for a while now.”  He looked stricken.  “Your dad, though… he swam off.  Said he thought he could get into the offices.”

Bach wouldn’t have known what good he could say regarding Khloe, but at least he could ask after his dad. “What for?  Why’d he go there?”

“He was all up in arms about his precious templates.  Thought he could get to ‘em.  That was only a couple minutes ago.”  The congressman went on to say that he’d gone as far as the door to the hall of offices with Ol’ Dean, but was told to head back — was told to stay with the others and make sure they were safe.  That sounded like the sort of thing his dad would say.  “Old fart probably thought my time would be better spent assuring the constituency.  That’s my take, anyways.”

Bach only nodded, not really listening all that closely.  His dad’s old friend was probably right about that.  Likely, Ol’ Dean didn’t see any need for help.  Still, Bach didn’t like it.  This water must feel like ice to these poor people.  He could feel the cold through the husk’s polymer skin — through the wireless web itself, though it could not harm him where his living body lay.  If not for the wetware in their bodies, the whole lot of these people could quickly succumb to hypothermia.

Indecision tore at him.  In all likelyhood, his dad was fine, off trying to save something of the family business.  Bach could understand that.  Those templates — those original and solely reproducible editions of microscopic machines called nanites, one class of which included the wetware inside his own body — were easily as expensive as the whole building itself, and could be the foundation for rebuilding the family business at a later time.  

Bach didn’t like that his father had gone ‘round that way all alone, though.  That, or his swimming through cold water had the old man’s wetware so busy keeping him warm that he’d essentially be net-deaf — ‘senseless’ as folk say these days.  On the other hand, he wasn’t in any more danger than the rest of these people and, according to Ol’ Sandy, Khloe had survived the initial collapse of the seaside half of the building.  There really was no other choice to be made.

“Sir Abraham,” he addressed the man formally. “Someone named Haley is just outside, using a husk to unblock that exit.  Make sure everyone is ready to go on through when it’s clear.”  After a pause Bach added, “And get yourself out of here too.  I’ll send Dad back to you in a minute.”

“Alright.”  Ol’ Sandy agreed, if with an air of resignation.  Perhaps he thought Bach had dismissed the Lady Kalitzakis as a lost cause, but Bach had something else in mind entirely.