Exit

Though she’d said she knew how to use a husk, the fact of the matter was Haley had no real practical experience with the things.  She understood the basic principle… treating them as if they were her own body, that is.  She’d seen them in use before, in factories or quarries, or on farms both above and below the water line.  She’d even tuned into a handful, if only for purposes of inspection.  All in all, this would be her first time doing anything more than flexing mechanical muscles or experiencing artificial senses.  

Wading downhill against the ebbing tsunami surge had proven challenging at first, but educational as well.  Gaining confidence in this strange and startlingly strong body, Haley pushed aside any further worry, and set herself to tearing away at the debris blocking the warehouse exit.

Old metallic sheets, once likely having been part of a wall, wrapped themselves around fibrous keratin pipes, shattered biocrete and shards of old wood… all of which jammed tightly together, blocking the doorway.  All that water pressure had focused itself here, not unlike through the nozzle of a garden hose.

She, herself, had been blasted through that very exit by that focused flow, though she recalled little of the experience.  One moment, she had been waving her arms and cursing for a little damn order from the people pushing themselves into a knot around the exit.  In the next, she’d been pressed heavily and painfully up against another building, out in the light of day, desperate to stand and keep herself above the rushing torrent.  

And now… now she piloted the very man-made beast that had plucked her right up and out of the water.  Given its strength, even the badly deformed debris crammed into the doorway offered little resistance to her pushing and pulling.  Even as she yanked out one long, dented piece of keratin piping, much of what remained broke away before the sea water still vying for a way out.  Though the torrent in the streets had declined a great deal, Haley watched with a visceral unease as at least another half-meter of water, if not more, gushed out through the newly reopened exit.

Almost immediately, a survivor appeared in the doorway, caught up in the renewed torrent.  Haley chirped out a meaningless curse of surprise even as she reached out to catch her sister, of all people.  “Laney!”  The younger woman grappled the ape-husk’s arm tightly, so Haley hadn’t too much difficulty in raising her up and out of the water's rush.  

Almost immediately after her, a man helplessly slipped into view, splashing and grabbing but unable to prevent himself from being sucked out into the street.  Acting almost purely on gut instinct, Haley dropped into the water with a half-sitting crouch, shot out the other arm, and grabbed for the far side of the doorway.  Effectively acting as a net, Haley let the water levels equalize even as people found themselves pulled into and caught safely upon the husk’s body.  This would have to do, since she had no third arm to spare.  

Given the stalemate, Haley focused her attention upon her sister.  “Are you alright, Laney?”  

“Sore… Cold!”  The younger woman’s voice broke with her shivering.  “Wh…who is that?”

“Its your sister,” Haley replied.  “I’ll get you and the others out of the water as soon as it’s safe to move again. We’ve gotta wait for it to level off, or people will get swept out and down the street back t’ward the bay… if not straight into debris along the way.  Hold on just a couple minutes.”

It wasn’t long before a third and then a fourth individual —  another man followed by another woman — were carried through that doorway against their will.  Still, the rush of water had slowed, and they were able to hang onto the doorway itself.  It couldn’t be more than a few minutes longer before the levels would be equal and the flow would head back the other way as the wave continued to retreat.

As the rush of water finally abated, Haley straightened her husk of a body and let the clump of people sort themselves out, now that it felt safe to do so.  “Water’s still moving,” she told them, “but if you try to move now, it’ll be no worse than trying to wade across a brisk stream.  Laney, I need you to get these people up that road toward the hilltop,” she instructed, pointing up past where her own living body lay senseless beside Bach's on a small shingled roof.  “I don’t want to risk waiting so long that a second wave comes in right on top of us.”

Even as Haley cupped her sister’s shoulders for support, she let Laney attempt to stand in the water.  When she could, the younger woman exhaled in distinct relief.  “Yeah, I think we can do this.”  

Haley stepped back, putting her husk of a body between the survivors and the flow of the bay's water down the street.  If any one of these people lost their footing, she’d best be well positioned to do something about it.  She looked on as her sister pulled the first man upright, and pointed him up the adjoining street toward the hill and mercifully dry safety.

The man, probably a local, stumbled with his very first step.  Haley reached out instinctively, but Laney caught him first.  “Think my ankle’s twisted,” he let on, his voice bordering on shrill with obvious pain.  

“I’ll take him up,” Laney offered.  

“That’ll have to do.  I’ll motion the sure-footed to follow you up.  Get going.”  Haley trusted in her sister’s capacity for action when and where the need arose.

“Right.”  With that, the younger woman was off, having pulled the man’s arm over her shoulder.  Putting herself on his downstream side, Laney leaned in to hold him up against the sideways flow of bay water, taking the first wading step for him.

Fortunately, most of those who remained inside were better able to fend for themselves.  The second man who’d been sucked into the doorway was next out… a military man, from the looks of his tattered dress uniform.  He stayed behind as well, holding himself by one edge of the doorway, reaching a steadying hand out to all who passed.

Out from behind him waded Mitsuki Hayato, a personal friend to Haley and Laney both.  Calm as ever, she fended off any assistance from the military man, and waved her way past Haley’s ape-husk, quickly making up the distance between herself and Laney and the injured local.

After something of a pause, a woman with coppery red hair, wearing a local police uniform, noisily sloshed through the still thigh-high water on her way out. Haley’d seen and briefly spoken to this one back when she'd been keeping an eye on the spectator line, not long before all hell broke loose.  

Then, an unexpected but familiar voice spoke up from beside her.  “Haley?!”  

Halfway through motioning the officer on through, Haley froze in a moment of fear.  She might have missed someone who’d slipped by her in the steadily moving waters!  Expecting to have to reach for someone in distress, she instead saw Bach standing in the middle of the waning torrent, oblivious to its presence.  It was his figment self image standing there.

“Hey, Bach… where are you?”  Moment of uncertainty passed, Haley reached out as a new face emerged from the doorway.  She’d not let this new distraction keep her from guiding people to safety.

“I found another industrial husk inside the warehouse… checked on the people inside… then went down into the fallen half of the building.  Found one body, and a knocked out woman who’s still alive.”

Haley could have cursed.  So there'd been a fatality after all.  She’d hoped for better, but had not expected it.  Perhaps there would be only just the one?  Not very likely, she had to admit to herself.  

“Do you need help?”  Odds were, with as well as things were going here, it may not be entirely unsafe for her to leave these people to wade up the hillside toward dry land.  

“She’s unresponsive… so I don’t think I can just help her climb out… I may have…”  Bach’s figment self-image trailed off, his attentions interrupted.  Almost at once, Haley felt and heard a metallic groan warble through the nearby warehouse walls.  Ripples emanated out from the building, evident even in the already choppy moving water.  “This place just moved,” Bach said with distinct concern.

“Moved?”  Haley shared the alarm she'd heard in his voice. “The water level on the street has been coming down pretty rapidly the last couple minutes… wave’s receding fast.  For all we know, the pressure of the wave might have been holding the remains of the building in place.  Now that it's going out, not only is the pressure holding it up dropping, but the wave may actually take to pulling at the building instead.  If you are going to be able to get her out at all… it’s going to have to be now.”  

The figment Bach cursed to himself.  Just then, it struck Haley that his avatar closely resembled his true appearance.  Most people had enough of a self-image problem that they ‘fixed’ their online selves.  But he did not, leaving Haley to wonder...  But enough of that!  If they were going to get the unconscious woman out of the building, it could not wait for idle thoughts.

Even as they had talked, another three people found their way through the door, including the congressman she’d met not more than a couple hours before.  “Everyone head as far uphill as you can go!”  They’d be alright.  She turned to Bach, declaring “I’m coming inside!”

“Not yet,” Bach contradicted her.

“Why?”

“If there’s going to be more waves,” he answered, “we shouldn’t count on that little shed roof for long.  Who is to say that it would survive a second wave?”  

“Aye, that’s true enough.”  Haley stretched out an arm, motioning for the figment Bach to remain where he was while she considered the only real option left to her.  “I can probably carry the both of us up the hill… then come back?”

“That’ll be best, I think.”

“Right, then,” she confirmed for him.  “I’ll get to that.”  Turning her husk away from Bach’s avatar, Haley waded rather effortlessly uphill.  It certainly came easier now than when she’d fought her way down before.

Looking back, more or less to check if anyone else was coming through the warehouse exit, Haley instead found the street empty behind her.  Perhaps, save for the woman stuck in the fallen half of the warehouse, these poor souls wading up the street beside her would be the last of them.

For a moment she dared to hope, and then chided herself for it.  A glance up ahead showed her the slim and distant black-haired figure, Mitsuki, emerging from the water’s edge.  Laney and the injured man were not far behind, now only ankle deep in the receding water.  A quick head count told of ten survivors, from what she could tell.  "And one more inside," she said, giving voice to her train of thought.

Given the unnatural strength of the ape-husk’s body, Haley quickly passed the military officer.  If he’d left the doorway, that left her feeling a little more certain about the vacancy of the warehouse.  Better satisfied, she crossed the distance to the tiny shingle roof, and paused to look down at her own living body.  “When did you do this,” she asked of the scruffy-looking dirty blond of a man who had his arm under her neck, and hers under his.  Clever notion, that!  

Still very much aware of the passage of time, Haley cut the moment short, and pulled the two senseless figures apart.  Though she felt herself being physically scraped across less than smooth roof shingles, Haley tried to ignore the confusing double sensation.

Typically, her disembodied forays across the wireless involved herself only as a figment, much as Bach had appeared to her on the street a few minutes before.  Under these circumstances, the act of tossing herself across her own shoulder induced a fair bout of nausea, what with the sensations in the pit of her stomach disagreeing with the perceptions of her mind.  At the very least, she gave wordless thanks when the motion sickness passed.  She then quickly tossed Bach over her other shoulder, momentarily amusing herself with imagining his momentary and disconnected dizziness.  

Carrying Bach and herself up the sloping street, Haley easily outpaced other survivors struggling to force their way through the water.  Even given the strength of this artificial body, each passing step came easier than the last, much as they would for the others.  The depth of sensation felt through this husk, she thought to herself, is actually quite remarkable.  Too much time spent in one of these could have one feeling alien in their own living body. 

Once out of the water, Haley found herself surrounded not only by some of the first people out of the warehouse, but many others as well.  She turned her attention on Laney and Mitsuki, to whom she handed the senseless bodies she carried.  Bach, tall and broad as he was, would tower over either one of the young women.  Still, they’d have to make do.  Haley handed him to her sister.  “Ladies, if you’ll take care of us,” she stressed,”‘til I get back.  I need to take this husk back down to the warehouse for one more survivor.”

Mitsuki spoke up, “There’s one already inside.”  Her once thick accent had grown much more natural over the past year or two, Haley noted.

“I know,” she replied.  “He’s down below, and may need help getting that survivor up and out of the fallen wreckage.”  Laney and Mitsuki both nodded wordlessly.

Haley then noticed that many of the survivors were clustering nearer to the receding water line, standing on wet pavement.  “Also, please get these people well past the height of the wave wet-line.  It's not unlikely that there will be another surge, and could rise higher than the first just as easily as not.”

“Sure,” Laney replied with a grunt, already busying herself trying to drag Bach up the hillside.

With somewhere else she needed to be, Haley turned around and waded back out into the still-receding waters.  Even as she descended the shallow hill of a road, the water drained away at a similar pace.  This might make her return to the warehouse that much easierk but it also marked time until a probable next wave.  Discarding all caution, Haley nearly dropped to all fours as she leapt through the moving shallows, nearly running her husk into the warehouse wall.

Though the escaping water had cleaned out the stray debris, the door itself stood just a little bit too short and narrow for her husk's wide body.  At first, she tried to slip through like some crazy living primate of similar girth might easily be able to do.  Instead, she found the husk not to be quite as flexible as she’d hoped.

So, it came down to an act of vandalism, then.  That, or whatever the term might be under the circumstances.  Haley wondered about that even as she pried the walls back.  Damn good thing they consisted mostly of metal or fibrous keratin panelling.  Both would bend rather than shatter.

Once wide enough, Haley entered through the opening, though she cut the husk’s polymer skin on a rough edge as she passed.  A quick glance showed her only cosmetic damage which diminished even as she watched.  Some of the almost translucent skin was missing, sure, but the cut itself had quickly resealed.  “That’s neat,” she commented to herself.

A man’s voice echoed from within the building a short distance off, “Hello?”

Haley craned to her right, and found the source she recognized as Dean Kavanagh, Bach’s father.  Though his hair had thinned out somewhat… though he now wore his face clean shaven, she still remembered this man.  Sure, she’d seen him back at the demonstration, but it was the loose set of childhood memories of him that stood out strongest in her mind.  “Sir Kavanagh?”  

The elder man shot her a quizzical look.  He carried a sealed metallic briefcase by the handle, and clutched another to his chest.  “You’re not Bach.  Your voice sounds familiar, though.”

“No… It’s Haley Diaz, Sir.  Bach gave me access to this husk.  He’s tuned in to another, down in the fallen half of the building.  Sir, you shouldn’t be in here.”

Dean ignored her, replying instead, “He did?  Yes, I knew he was going to go below.”

“Sir Kavanagh, this area is not safe.  Other waves may still come, and…”  

Dean cut her off, “More?  But I have to stay!”  The man came off as more than a little agitated.  “I can’t find the others.  I can’t find the others.”  That he was repeating himself had Haley nervous for the man.

“Others?”  Haley asked, but Dean did not reply.  Instead, he moved to wade past her.  “Sir Kavanagh, please.  We’ll look for whatever it is you are missing when the waves stop coming.  I need you out of the building!”  She stretched out an arm, prepared to grab at him if need be.

He stopped and looked at her again.  After too long a moment, he replied, “Alright.”  He even moved for the door without further coaxing.

“Good.  I’m going to see about helping Bach.  He found someone down below, after all.”  Haley reported this even as she turned away from the elder Kavanagh.  Little more than perhaps a quarter-meter of water slipped noisily across the floor.  The man ought have no trouble making his way to safety.  

Though she’d been through this building earlier, Haley really had no real idea as to the place's general layout.  There stood a wide door roughly opposite that of the street-side exit.  Haley felt certain that had to be the right way, and so crossed to and through the opening.  Here, the floor felt ever so slanted to her, if not yet insecure.  Likely, beneath the building, this was just about where solid ground ended… where pylons started supporting the building’s weight above open water.

Sure enough, once past the door and around a sharp corner, everything presented quite the mess.  Haley could find no words to describe the way in which floors and walls had been tossed on their side, shredded along a shallow and zig-zagging rupture.  Pockets of darkened sky could be seen above, peeking through where old floor and old ceiling had met, buckled into, and peirced through one another.  Off to one side, the up-ended floor cut lower than elsewhere.  If Bach had found his way down, it would almost certainly had to have been there.

Not a moment after having come to that conclusion, Haley saw a human head and shoulders appear just beyond that precipice.  A young pale-skinned woman hovered in mid air momentarily, with long wet black hair hanging suspended as if weightless.

To say that their eyes met would be misleading, since her husk  hadn’t eyes in the traditional sense.  Still, the experience came about as close to that as it could get.  All sense of time crawled almost to a halt.  Even as Haley pushed her husk of a body forward, she watched as the woman’s arms floated upward, also momentarily floating free of the Earth’s gravity.

Just like that, all sense of time's hestitation passed, and the woman fell away.  Haley bounded across what remained of the room, feeling as much as hearing the crash that followed.  Far too heavy to just have been the woman, from the alarmingly crunchy sound of it, whatever else had fallen had not landed on anything good.

“Ahhh. Ahhh haaahhhhwwwaaah.”  

Haley quickened her pace.  That feminine cry didn’t sound so far away as to be down below.  Sure enough, as she approached, Haley caught sight of two slender human hands clinging to the sharp edges of that steeply-angled and ruptured floor.

Leaning carefully out over the edge, Haley caught sight of the rest of the dangling woman, dressed from the neck down in a flowing frock of unsual design and color.  Through she had a grip on the edge, her flailing legs and feet made no attempt to find purchase on the steeply sloping floor.  Perhaps another twenty or so feet down, another husk picked itself up, turning its head from side to side, probably trying to locate this very woman.

Haley found all the volume she thought this husk could muster.  “Up here!”  She then reached down, and grabbed for the woman’s waist.  “I’ve got her up here!”  

The other husk, built much broader and somewhat larger than hers, looked up at them both.  “Hey!”  Bach moved over a bit to where he might catch the woman if she fell, but the husk he wore relaxed visibly even as Haley carried the woman up and over the floor's angular edge.  That put him out of her line of sight.  Regardless, with his living body safely on land, that which happened to his husk below was really of little concern right then.  First, there was this young woman to deal with.

“My name is Haley Diaz.  Are you alright?” 

“My hands hurt,” the other woman said even as she collapsed on the floor, clenching them tight.  Then she added, “The front of my legs felt really itchy… but,” she trailed of, saying no more about it, probably distracted with the painful cuts across her palms.  She made as if to stand, but slipped instead, likely due to the good few centimeters of water still flowing across the floor.  “Ow.”

“Did your leg hurt?  Can you stand?  Walk?  What’s your name?”  

“Khloe,” the other answered, even as she tried to stand again.  “Yeah, I think I can walk.”  Khloe walked about in a circle and almost slipped again.  From her lack of any obvious limp, Haley assumed that was almost certainly only due to the wet and uneven floor.  

“That’s excellent.  Wave’s pretty much passed, now.  Even if another comes, I think we have enough time to get you out of here.”

The raven-haired woman nodded, and moved back toward the steeply angled jut of old flooring that came up to her chest even here where the rupture cut the lowest.  She peered over the edge, still nursing her hands.  Haley looked as well, and then called out, “Is anyone else down there?”

Below, the other husk looked up again.  “There’s a body,” it yelled back with a flat approximation of Bach’s voice.

Haley didn’t have an immediate reaction to that.  Instead, after a moment, she turned back to Khloe.  “Lady Khloe, can you find your way out?  It’s just around that corner, through the wide doors, and opposite those to the street.  You’ll know which door since I had to bend the walls to get in here.  As of right now, passage should be pretty easy for you.  If your legs and feet really aren't hurt, that is.”

Rather than answer, she replied with a question of her own.  “You mean to retrieve the body?”  

“Do you know who it is… was?”

“Someone in military dress.  I saw him at the demo, but never got around to talking to him.”  Khloe didn’t quite come off as concerned.  More curious, if anything.  Haley felt a passing irritation with her for that, though she could not put a finger on why.  

“Okay,” she replied.  “We’ll try to get him out, but I need you to get yourself out, most importantly.  Once outside, take the street that heads uphill not far off to your left.  There’ll be people up that way, for sure… maybe someone who can take a look at your hands.”  

The other woman nodded and, without further words, made for and promptly disappeared around the corner.  Even if another wave might still be a while off, the recent shift in water flow could easily drag the remains of this building out into the bay.  Morbid curiosity could wait for another time.  

“With that taken care off,” Haley trailed off in private commentary, looking back over the edge.  “How are we going to get him out?”  She assumed it was a he.  Haley didn’t recall seeing any women at the demo wearing military dress uniforms.

The other husk had moved off a short ways, but turned even now, carrying something distinctly human in shape.  Bach called up, “I hate to suggest this, but I can think of no other way than to throw him to you.  I couldn’t make it all the way up the wall last time.”

“For the love of,” Haley cursed to herself.  “I don’t like that idea!”  Not that she had a better one.  She hadn’t confidence enough in this husk, after only so short a time in its use — not when it could mean dangling the damn thing over the torn edging of floor before having to climb back up again.  Hell, even if she tried, the distance down to the bottom was too great for them to simply reach out to one another.

“I won’t tell if you don’t!”

“I’m going to have nightmares, you know!”  She would, too.  People would understand if told that this had been the only way to get him out.  That wasn’t what she disliked so much about the idea.  It felt… wrong.  But what else was there to do?  “Aye.  I don’t see another way.  Not under the circumstances.”

“Okay.  Be ready for anything.  This husk is pretty strong!”  

At the very least, Bach demonstrated some appreciable concern over this… this… “God!  Just send him up!  Let's just get this over with!” 

“Yeah.”  As delicately as could be hoped for, Bach’s husk turned the body, and held it upright under the arms.  “I guess,” Bach paused.  “I guess this is it.  Ready?”

“Still ready!”  Haley’s husk leaned as far out as she dared, both arms outstretched and waiting.  Bach experimented a bit with the dead man’s weight, bobbing him and down.  Then, with the third heave, the body was airborne.

Haley might have said she was ready, but that was then.  Bach was right, though.  The poor soul rose straight up, as if he weighed next to nothing, and might have found itself lodged into one of the gaps between the tatters of ceiling.  She caught him, though, around the waist.  Guiding his momentum clear of the jutting edge of floor, she somehow managed to set him down carefully… almost gracefully.

“Oh god,” she complained out loud, far too nauseous to be impressed with herself.  Returning briefly to the precipice, she yelled down, “I’ve got him!”

“Alright,” came the reply.  “I’m dropping this thing, then.  You good? Up there?”

Haley thought about that for a moment.  “Think so.  I’ll see you up on dry land!”

“Okay!”  

Before turning away from that edge, Haley saw the other husk first relax, and then topple onto its side.  It hadn’t mind enough left, without Bach, to adjust for the debris shifting under its great weight.

Returning to the body, Haley stepped close and turned the fallen  military man around so that she could hold him with both of her massive artificial arms, preferably with his face turned well away from her.  “I hope they appreciate this.”  She barely felt his weight as she lifted him up.

Moving swiftly for the corner, Haley made the distance to the wider doors straight away.  Once through, though, she had to stop.  Not too far from the exit she’d widened on her way in, Dean and Khloe stood wrestling with each other over one of those same metallic briefcases that he had clutched earlier.  Another two cases lay strewn about, not far from the struggling pair.  “What’s going on?” she called out with all the husk’s volume.  “You both should be up the hill by now!”

Both stopped and turned toward her voice.  At first, they both just looked straight at her, as best as she could tell.  When Dean, wide-eyed, suddenly relinquished his grasp on the case, Haley realized that he’d noticed the body she carried.  

As did Khloe.  “That him?”  

Haley crossed the wide and open room, prepared to usher them both from the building.  “Aye,” she replied.  “Nothing can be done for him, now.  But I sure as sour hell am going to do something about the two of you if you don’t get out of here right now!”

“I was headed out,” Khloe attempted by way of excuse, “when I saw him.”  She pointed with the hand still holding the dangling briefcase.  “He just ran up to me, shoved one of these things into my arms, and told me to wait.  Said he’d be back.  I told him!  I told him he had to leave, and then when I went to pull him outside, he tried to take the case back.”

Not quite acknowledging her accusations, Dean cried out, “I need to get the others!”

Haley bit off an impatient “others?” even as Khloe asked the very same thing.  “Sir Kavanagh, whatever these are, they’re not worth your life.  Let’s get you out of here and to dry ground.”  When Dean shook his head, and moved toward one of the other cases still on the floor, Haley lost her patience.  “Lady Khloe… just grab another case, and we’ll go.”

The other woman nodded and did as she was asked.  Haley gestured toward the door with her free arm, and watched as Khloe fled, now with two cases in hand.  Haley then rounded the full bearing of her husk’s hopefully ominous-looking attention upon the elder Kavanagh.  “I’ll carry you out, too… if that’s what it’ll take.”

Dean just looked at her, dismay written across his face.  “But… but, I just need to run back to the offices!  I can carry everything I need to carry!”

Haley reached out an arm.  “No.”  With artificial palm spread wide with what should have been a calming gesture, she wanted nothing more than to have him safely out the door and up the hill.  Instead, the man bolted, rushing right past the one remaining case on the floor and off toward a pair of what once were swinging doors.  “Oh, what the…”  Haley tried to catch him, but could not.  Though the body weighed next to nothing under this husk's arm, it still proved too awkward to move so fast while trying to carrying it.

Then again, it quickly turned out that she wouldn’t have to.  Dean slipped on the still-wet floor and flipped onto his back.  Haley winced even as the man hit his head.  Biocrete may not be as hard as concrete or most hardwoods, but that still had to have hurt.

At first, she let a moment’s breath pass, hoping he would get back up.  When he did not, she cursed and moved toward him.  He still breathed, though.  “Knocked himself out,” she commented to herself, with a sigh.  “Hope it isn’t serious.”  

Haley juggled the weight of the body long enough to scoop the living fool of a grown man into her other arm.  She turned, and walked right past the case on the floor.