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Gabriel: Thursday, 17 September, 5:31 a.m. MDT
The line was the Earthís shadow, rolling slowly across the sky like a lifting blanket as Earthís face turned to the sun. But sunrise was still a good half hour away and west of the shadowís terminus, a few stars were still visible.
The others were nearing the cliff edge now; he heard their grunts and gasps. Gabriel stood and helped Jax, then Mark, over the lip of the cliff. Then he straightened with a groan, hands at the small of his back.
A chill autumn gust smelling of sage, dead leaves, and New Mexico dust cooled the sweat from his cheeks and neck. He licked his chapped lips and tasted salt and iron. His shoulders ached, and his feet; every muscle in his body hurt. The mud of Rio Abajo--tainted with the gluey stink of wood-treating toxins--lingered in his nostrils and clung to his gloves and hiking boots.
Gabriel pulled off his black silk mask, used it to wipe the grime and sweat from his face and neck, and took another look at the fiberboard manufacturing plant in the canyon below.
Ugly was too kind a word for it. An obscene geometry of mercury lights glared onto two aluminum prefab buildings with cheap, green fiberglass windows and turned the surrounding scrub and pine trees and cacti to monochrome plastic. The stacks of lumber piled high behind the buildings bled sap onto the ground near a jumble of drums and carboys. The dirt parking lot on the other side was empty. A twelve-foot-high chain link fence with barbed wire coils atop it surrounded the plant, and Gabriel could see the gaping hole theyíd made in the fence from where he stood.
On this side of the river, which was mostly hidden by cottonwoods, junipers, piŮons, and ash trees, a gravel logging road wound off up the canyon. A short stretch of river was exposed alongside the plant. Pipes appeared from beneath the asphalt at the plantís fence, ran down the riverís bank, and disappeared into the rocks and weeds at the riverís edge.
Factories were generally disgusting, but Woodland Products was bad even for a factory. Looking down at it, Gabriel felt almost physically ill.
It was bad enough that Woodland Products razed old forests in the Jemez mountains to the east. Say "habitat preservation" to company officials and theyíd call you a nut case or a communist. Gabriel knew that from personal experience. But there was more. With the waste waters from its fiberboard manufacturing process, Woodland Products Inc. was creating a plume of blight and destruction. Regardless of the evidence brought against them, theyíd refused to stop discharging their poisons, their creosotes and phenols and aldehydes, into Rio Abajo. And theyíd bought off enough public officials that no one could touch them.
Ecological criminals. Neither legal means nor peaceful, civil disobedience had done any good. Gabriel had, finally, had enough of playing by the rules. Woodland Products had it coming.
He turned. Jax and Mark were lifting up a large, flat boulder nearby, revealing the hole theyíd dug earlier. They dropped their ski masks into it and Jax dropped in the wire cutters heíd used on the fence. When they left this spot, they wanted to look like hikers--backpackers out for three days of camping. Which was also why they had left the car a county away, in the Jemez wilderness.
Gabriel removed the radio transmitter from his pack and began inserting batteries. Meanwhile Mark and Jax took their turn at the cliff edge.
"So," Mark said, "who do you want to play you?"
Jax thought it over. "Keanu Reeves."
"No, Iím Keanu Reeves. You have to pick someone else."
"All right, all right. Alec Baldwin, then. Or maybe Pierce Brosnan. Anybody but Bruce Willis. I hear heís an asshole."
Mark shrugged. "Hey, if the shoe fitsÖ"
Jax glared. "Well, only if Gabriel is played by Ricardo Montalban." He lowered his voice. "This company is polluting the environment with the richest Corinthian leather."
"Nah," Mark said. "Antonio Banderas is the only one to play Gabriel. Heíll probably get the big sex scene."
They both laughed.
Gabriel smiled, too, but didnít laugh. All the months of careful planning, the fear, excitement, doubts--all were gone now. He had moved, finally, to some serene, purposeful place in his mind.
"Detonatorís ready," he said.
The dry air had a bite to it and the silk gloves Gabriel wore provided little insulation. He pulled the collar of his denim jacket up and came over, bringing the detonator, to crouch with Mark and Jax at the cliff edge.
Jax pointed his flashlight at the detonator in Gabrielís hands: a small box with vertical and horizontal joysticks and an on/off switch. It was a cheap radio control set, designed for flying model aircraft. Gabriel had had Jax buy it with cash the week before in Lubbock, well away from the target. Mark had converted the small receiver so that, instead of twisting ailerons and rudder, it fed a minute amount of current to a blasting cap.
"Ready?" he asked. Mark and Jax looked at each other, and, somber now, nodded.
He took a breath. "Then letís do it." He held up the detonator. "Who wants to do the honors?"
Mark and Jax exchanged glances.
"Be my guest," Mark said. Jax held out his hand, and Gabriel gave him the detonator.
"Hold on till I give the signal," he said, and pulled the cellular phone, taken from its charger in the office of the plant manager below, out of the waistband of his jeans. He covered the mouthpiece with his bandanna and switched the phone to active. It took a second to get a dial tone. He looked up.
Dawn was near. Overhead, a wedge of sandhill cranes flew southward--and among their chorus of deep-throated warbles was the trumpet call of a whooping crane. That brought a startled smile to Gabrielís lips. There were only a handful left; he couldnít ask for a better omen. He dialed 911.
"Listen--record this if you can; I wonít repeat any of it."
"What is the nature of your emergency? Are you in need of police, fire, or ambulance services?"
"Yes. Youíll find out if you let me talk."
"What is the address of your location?"
Gabriel closed his eyes, started the speech heíd prepared. "This is Wild Justice. We have judged Woodland Products Inc. and found them guilty of grievous crimes against the ecosystem. With the collusion of the state and federal governments, they have destroyed old-growth forests and desert habitats. They have poisoned the waters of the wilderness and have killed aquatic and desert species. They have flagrantly ignored warnings, demonstrations, and lawsuits and have continued to pollute. They are guilty of the crimes of murder and rape. Rape of the Earth."
There was a heartbeatís pause. "Who? You judged who?"
"Woodland! Woodland Products Inc.! Clean out your ears." Gabriel forced himself to lower his voice and calm down. "For these crimes they have been sentenced to the fate they have already inflicted on many other species. Annihilation."
Gabriel turned and looked down Abajo Canyon, to the street-lit glow of San Carlo two miles away. "Look out your west window, operator. The one that faces Calle del Monte." He paused. "Are you looking?"
A longer pause, a reluctant, "Yes."
"The sentence is now to be carried out. Woodlandís fiberboard manufacturing plant in CaŮon Abajo, and its rape of Mother Earth, are a now thing of the past."
He nodded to Jax. The younger man put his hand on the right-hand joystick and shoved the switch.
The concussion knocked them all to the ground.
The explosion was far bigger than he had expected. Theyíd packed half their dynamite around flammable tanks of formaldehyde, cresylic acid, and diesel oil, but the other half was under the plantís huge propane tanks. Gabriel scrambled to his knees in time to see a fireball climb several hundred feet above the rim of the canyon. Twisted corrugated roofing and siding tumbled in lazy circles in the sky. Billows of black smoke rose from the torn roof and tongues of flame licked the twisted edges of gaping holes.
Someone, Jax or Mark, whispered, "Jesus."
Gabriel shook his head, swallowed hard. Exultation rose in him. No more wheedling, picketing, pleading for mercy on behalf of the planet--
With a smile, he turned his back on the burning plant. Just right, he thought, and made a fist. Yes.
The phone. Heíd dropped it. He snatched it up and put it back to his ear. He barely heard the operatorís voice over the ringing in his ears, but the voice stopped when he said, "We are Wild Justice. This is the first. There will be others."
Gabriel turned the phone off and threw it in the hole, followed by the gloves. Jax added the transmitter and his gloves, then they all shoveled loose dirt in, stamped it down, and pushed the boulder over, to cover everything.
Whiffs of black smoke scudded by. Its chemical stench made Gabriel gag. He sprinkled pine needles around the boulder and then eyed the sky. The sun was rising in a crevice in the Jemez mountains, flinging sharp shadows far across the desert hills and erosion-carved mesas. Above the sun hung a faint, argent sliver of moon and the morning star. Angel-hair clouds of spun copper and gold drifted high above.
As they shouldered their packs and headed eastward up
the ridge the thin wail of sirens rose from behind them, in
Emma: Wednesday, 30 September, 7:32 a.m.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Houston, Texas
The day started out bad and got worse.
Eighteen minutes before the press conference, in the suite where Emma sat drinking coffee and chatting with Dennis MacNichols, the firmís Chief Financial Officer, her chief landside engineer in Melbourne called on her cell phone.
She glanced at her watch, surprised. Angelo never called before nine-thirty, and it was only eight-thirty, Florida time.
He said, "We had a break-in last night."
She winced. "What did they take?"
"Computer equipment, mostly. The AutoCAD station, the plotter, a couple of fax machines. They only hit the engineering area. Nothing else seems to be missing."
She covered the mouthpiece and repeated the news to Dennis, who scowled. "Iíve been telling Pendleton we need better security."
"Guess heíll believe you now." She said to Angelo, "Did we lose anything irreplaceable?"
"Nah. I had everything backed up and they didnít touch my Optical Disks at all." He paused. "Sorry for the bad news."
She sighed. "Oh well. Iíve been wanting to upgrade, anyhow."
"Right. Uh, howís the conference going?"
"It hasnít really gotten started yet. Listen," she said, as the door opened, "Iíve got to go; Pendletonís here. Go ahead and get started ordering replacements. Donít look so sour," she told Dennis, hanging up and tucking the phone into her satchel as Brad Pendleton, billionaire, Gulf Streamís CEO and majority partner, entered the suite. "Weíre insured."
"Youíre starting to sound like me," Dennis said.
"Emma, Dennis." Pendleton measured at least six-foot- five or -six from stem to stern. This Emma knew from experience, because he loomed over her and she was six-foot even, barefoot. His frame was so lanky that his three- piece, pin-striped suit seemed to hang off of him despite all the strategically placed darts, nips, and tucks. He wore a Gulf Stream I logo lapel pin of diamond, emerald, and gold, with matching cuff links. His hair was the color of Florida sand, dusted with silver, and his face was deeply creased.
Ordinarily he moved with the happy and enthusiastic energy of a boy, but Emma noted that at the moment Pendletonís expression had a fixed quality to it, and his manner was subdued. Phillip Evans III, General Counsel, right behind him, looked downright grim.
Pendleton closed the door and looked around. "Whereís Thomas?"
"He had a commitment at Rice he couldnít put off," Dennis said. "A meeting with their board of directors about some possible funding."
Pendleton nodded, seeming distracted. Emma said, "You should be aware thereís been a break-in at Gulf Stream Melbourne."
That got his attention. "Oh?"
"It doesnít look too bad. Easily pawnable electronics, mostly. A computer, a printer, and some fax machines."
Pendleton exchanged a look with Phil. "The day keeps getting better and better."
Phil looked pained.
Emma asked, "What is it?"
Pendleton sighed and sat down at the table, folding himself into a chair. He spread his big hands across the polished, gnarled wood. "General Motors has backed out."
Emma gaped. Dennis crushed his cigarette, rising to his feet abruptly. His grey business suit shifted uneasily on his overweight frame.
"The hell you say!"
The timing was exquisitely bad. The press conference coming up in, now, fourteen minutes, was intended to announce the details of their recently formed joint venture with General Motors and Pacific Gas & Electric to produce a line of hydrogen-powered cars and buses for the California market, and the infrastructure to fuel them.
Pendleton spread his arms in a shrug, wordless.
Dennis sat down again, his face red as rhubarb. "Those bastards. They canít. Weíll sue."
Phil sat, too, and shook his head. "As Iíve told Brad already, we can try. But the contract gives them an out if the price of crude drops below twenty-five dollars per barrel. And it did, last week. Not for long, but long enough."
Pendleton rubbed at his forehead. "They were only looking for an out. Theyíve clearly decided fuel cell technology in passenger vehicles just isnít worth pursuing."
"But why?" Emma asked.
"They say that public perception problems with hydrogen have caused them to reconsider. A contact of mine gave me a copy of a public opinion analysis being circulated to top management over there. The scuttlebutt is theyíre investing in a new flywheel pilot project instead." He shrugged. "The truth is, though, Jim Morris left GM three months ago, and this project was his baby. I think his successor decided to dump this one and put his pet project on the front burner."
"Christ." Dennis slumped.
Emma eyed Pendleton, a sour ache gnawing her stomach. "I should have seen this coming."
Dennis glowered. "Nonsense. How could you have predicted this?"
"Do we have any recourse?" Emma asked Phil.
He tapped his pen on the table and gave her an arch look. "GM is one hell of a lot bigger than we are. A long, drawn-out court battle is going to hurt us a lot more than it is them."
Pendleton said, "It might be worth the fight, anyway. The price of oil barely dipped below our cut-off, only for a day or two, and itís above that, now. Theyíre not going to want to appear to be acting in bad faith."
Phil looked thoughtful. "True. Depends a lot on current case law. Iíll get my staff on that right away."
"Do that," Pendleton said.
"Whatís this bullshit about flywheel technology?" Dennis demanded. "Battery-powered cars canít compete with fuel cell cars. Weíve been over that before. Emma, you reviewed their earlier work."
Emma met Dennisís gaze, troubled. "Something might have changed in the interim. Iíd like to see this new analysis, if thatís possible," she told Pendleton.
"Check with Kyle in Melbourne. He can fax it to you this afternoon."
"Sure." Emma made a note in her electronic calendar. "Iíll have something for you by tomorrow morning." To Dennis she said, "Iím guessing, but they may be talking about an epoxy resin flywheel that was developed by the military sometime ago. Theyíre much more efficient than the old metal ones, and safer than metal flywheels because when they fail structurally, they just turn into a bunch of fuzz instead of shrapnel. I read a few articles about the technology last spring. The technology has been around for a while, but no one has been pursuing it.
"It looks like GM was persuaded to give it a closer look," Phil said.
Emma added, "Itís a fascinating technology. It has certain advantages to fuel cells."
Dennis scowled at her. "Donít tell me that."
Emma shrugged. "The juryís still out on alternate technologies. I believe fuel cell cars are the best bet; theyíre the cleanest technology. But they have their disadvantages over a lightweight flywheel technology. Theyíre heavier--so it takes more power to move the car. And hydrogen is no more dangerous than gasoline, but epoxy resin flywheels are safer than either."
Dennis ran his fingers across his balding scalp with a sigh. "Christ. Weíre already topped out in the NASA shuttle hydrogen market, and our hydrogen inventories are growing. Iíll have to look at our balance sheet, but this is going to have a serious impact on our finances." He sighed again, and looked at Pendleton. "What are we going to tell the press? Should you cancel?"
Pendleton shook his head. "We canít risk it. GM is going to issue a press release today announcing cancellation of the deal. The rumors will start flying if we donít implement some swift damage control. Iím going to go out there with Phil, read a brief, prepared statement, and eliminate the question-and-answer session--with the promise of a follow-up later, once we have a chance to re- strategize."
"What does Rambort have to say about all this?" Dennis asked. Rambort was PG&Eís Chief Executive Officer.
"I havenít spoken to him yet. I just found out myself." Pendleton shrugged. "I imagine heís baffled, or furious. Or both. I know I am. Iíll be speaking to him later on today."
Dennis said, "We have the hydrogen; PG&E can create the fuel distribution infrastructure in CaliforniaÖwhy not go it without GM?"
Pendleton shook his head. "We lack the capital. PG&E wonít pony up GMís share and we certainly canít."
"And we lack the know-how," Emma added. "Face it. Without an auto manufacturer to build the fleet, the deal is deader than a three-day-old corpse. And GM was the only one of the Big Three that had a serious interest in the technology."
They were all silent for a moment.
"Do you expect hostility from the press?" Emma asked finally. Pendleton gave her a long, thoughtful look, chin in his hand.
"I expect thereíll be an I-told-you-so reaction from certain members of the energy sector press--theyíve always been cynical about our chances for success. Weíve also invited members of the Big Ten environmental non-profits. Iím hoping they will be more sympathetic. The Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, and National Wildlife Federation have already issued statements in support of Gulf Stream."
"Thatís no big surprise," Dennis said. "Thomas tells me NRDC, the Center for Marine Research, and the National Coral Reef Alliance have all approached him about a joint research effort using Gulf Streamís scientific facility for a series of longitudinal studies. And I know the NCRA has ties with the Environmental Defense Fund."
Emma made a sour face at the mention of Thomasís name.
"But Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherds will be there," Pendleton continued, "and theyíve made some cynical remarks recently about big technology and my other business connections." He sighed. "Weíll have to see."
Emma frowned. "How can they bitch about Gulf Stream?" The OTEC plant was benign use of the sea to generate energy and theyíd gone out of their way to design it in an environmentally friendly fashion. The facility supported all kinds of marine and climate change research and theyíd signed voluntary compliance agreements with Florida, to operate under US environmental laws even though the plant was in international waters.
"Some people think any technology is wrong," Phil said.
"Itís just so infuriating. You canít win at this game. No matter what you do, theyíre convinced youíre bad because business is bad."
"Anything else," Pendleton asked, "before I go out there?"
They shook their heads. He gestured at Emma.
"Whatís the word on that tropical storm?"
"Itís been upgraded to a hurricane," Emma said. "But itís heading more northwestward now--away from us and toward the Gulf. Weíre watching it but not overly concerned."
"Good." Pendleton glanced at his watch. "Itís press time."
"Do you still want us there?" Emma asked.
He shook his head. "Donít waste your time. Get started on your analysis. Dennis, you brief Thomas on whatís happened as soon as he gets back and then get started on the financials. I have a conference call with the other two partners tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. Iíll want reports tomorrow morning by eight, from you three and Thomas. Include recommendations for ways we can change our business strategy. They are going to have a lot of questions."
He stood, and took hold of the back of the chair. "This isnít good news, folks, but weíre not dead in the water yet. I want your ideas, alternatives--other hydrogen markets, plant modifications to produce other materials, ways to restructure the company to trim expenses, legal strategies. Weíll talk tomorrow."
Emma was seven feet underwater when the next bad news came.
Emmaís main motivation for attending the conference in the first place was that it let her finally arrange a large enough block of time away from work to get her dive certification. Sheíd felt guilty taking time away from the analysis she was preparing for Pendleton, but decided, screw it; sheíd been trying to get her c-card for too long.
The assistant instructor, wearing only mask, snorkle, and fins, kicked down to where Emma and her dive partner were experimenting with buoyancy control a foot off the bottom of the deep end. He signaled surface with his thumb and, surprised, Emma and her partner complied.
When her head broke water, she saw Gulf Streamís computer systems manager and her sometime administrative assistant, the normally unflappable Gloria Tergain, kneeling at the edge of the pool.
Right now, Gloria had none of her usual serenity. She was out of breath and had a rather wild expression.
"What? Whatís wrong?"
Gloria laid a hand on her chest and caught her breath. "You wanted to be updated," she panted, "on Sophronia."
"Where is it?"
"Itís turned again, and sped up. The eye is passing over southeast Cuba now." Another breath. "It looks like itís going to rip right up the Bahama Banks, now. Landfall on Nassau or Andros expected in twenty-four to twenty-eight hours."
"Shit. And then right over the top of Gulf Stream I." Emma stripped off her diving equipment with a swift efficiency that would have amazed her if sheíd thought about it. Gloria grabbed the equipment as she handed it up-- another Gulf Stream-acquired ability, assisting divers. She heaped the rental equipment on the pool edge as Emma rocketed out of the water.
"Have the Streamers been put on alert? Does Pendleton know? And Dennis?"
"Yes, theyíre on alert; I donít know if Pendleton knows but Dennis does--he sent me after you--"
"Where are you going, Tooke?" her instructor bellowed from the pool. "We ainít done yet! Get back in the water!"
Emma threw an apology over her shoulder in his general direction and grabbed Gloriaís arm, dripping all over her beautiful outfit that sheíd bought especially for the convention. With a guilty grimace Emma let go, but Gloria was too distracted to notice.
As they hurried toward the locker room a dour little voice inside Emmaís head whispered, youíre never going to get that damned certification, are you?
As she drove back to the hotel she reached Pendleton by phone.
"Yes, Dennis already gave me the news." He sounded concerned. "Give me regular updates. Interrupt me, if necessary."
Dennis was wrestling with a huge, rolled-up map of some sort when Emma and Gloria entered his suite. The map appeared to be winning. Dennis was wearing white linen slacks and a Hawaiian shirt with big, raucous parrots on it, turquoise, red, and yellow. It was over-large and hid the folds of fat around his middle. The sparse tufts of black hair on his head were standing out as if heíd just received an electric shock. He was cursing.
A look of relief passed over his face when he spotted Emma and Gloria. "Emma, thank God! Whereíve you been?"
Thomas Reynolds was there, too, slouched in the easy chair by the glass doors. Thomas was a Ph.D. chemical oceanographer with several impressive fellowships on his curriculum vitae. He was almost embarrassingly handsome: hair of gold monofilament; lips curved as sensuously as a longbow; heavy-lidded, deep amber eyes; a tall, slim bone structure clothed in a distance swimmerís lithe musculature.
Emma dumped her soggy tote bag on the couch and pulled out a satin wrap against the a/cís chill.
"Whatís the latest word?" she asked Dennis. "Have you sent for a copy of the Storm Response Plan? Whoís the on- scene coordinator?"
Dennis looked alarmed. "Has anyone taken care of that yet? Whose responsibility is it?"
"Itís all right, Iíve sent for the plan," Thomas said. Gloria looked surprised and opened her mouth, then gave a little shake of her head at Emmaís curious glance.
Dennis swiped at his hair, blew out a breath. "Good thinking."
"Theyíre faxing the relevant pages from the Melbourne office," Thomas went on. "Melbourne reports that Gulf Stream has already started implementing the protocols. Flo is coordinating."
"Flo." The first good news sheíd heard so far. Emma pulled the wrap on and tied the belt. Some of the tension in her belly eased. "Iíll want a copy of the fax as soon as you get it."
Thomas gave her a smile and a nod. "But of course. Gloria, take care of it, wonít you? If thatís all right with you, Emma."
Emma raised her eyebrows with a glance at Gloria, who shrugged slightly. Emma had the feeling she knew exactly what was going on.
"But of course," she replied, with a wolfish smile. You son of a bitch.
"Give me a hand with this damned thing, wonít you, Emma?" Dennis said. "Why they make maps that wonít stay open is completely beyond me."
Emma held out her hand; the map flipped shut when he passed it to her, with a snap like a window shade closing. Gloria cleared the coffee table. Emma pried the map open and pinned the curling corners down using a glass ashtray brimming with cigarette butts, the room service menu, a copy of the Houston Post, and a horror novel.
The map was a National Weather Service hurricane tracking map for the Bahamas and the east coast of Florida. Emma tossed Gloria her room key and sent her for Emmaís notebook computer, with its hurricane tracking software. Meanwhile, Emma borrowed a mechanical pencil from Dennis. She ripped a page from his Newsweek to use as a straight-edge. As she was about fold the page she took a closer look, and her jaw dropped. There, glaring up at her, was an out-of-focus picture of Gabriel Cervantes, being taken into custody. "Well-known radical environmentalist questioned in connection with bombing," the caption declared.
Shit. No way. It just wasnít his style.
There you go, Gabe, she thought with a sigh. Being harassed by the authorities, no doubt, just for being the worldís biggest, most opinionated asshole.
The others were looking at her.
"What is it?" Gloria asked.
"Nothing." Emma ran the fold through Gabrielís face and pinched the crease decisively closed with her fingernail. She used her fifteen-mile pinkie knuckle to estimate the Gulf Stream facilityís position off the east coast of Florida.
"What are Sophroniaís latest coordinates?"
Dennis grabbed a piece of hotel stationery by the phone on the end table, and glanced at his watch. "About ten minutes ago, the eye was at twenty degrees, fifteen minutes, and thirty-two seconds north; seventy-five degrees and twenty seconds west, moving at ten-point-two knots at a heading of, letís see--is that a three or a five?" Dennis squinted and held the paper at armís length. Emma glared; he gave her a sheepish smile. "Iím sure itís a three. A heading of three hundred thirty-nine degrees. Thatís according to the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables."
She marked the hurricaneís location, did some quick calculations on the hotel stationery pad, and then traced Sophroniaís projected path onto the map. She stood back, sucking on the metal stub of the mechanical pencil. Thomas stood up so he could see the map past Dennis.
Gulf Stream I was a circled X the diameter of a pencil eraser, and the path of Sophroniaís eye came within a hairís width of the circle. Emma had marked Sophroniaís projected path with time increments in four-hour segments.
"Wow, that doesnít look so good," Thomas said. He peered at the map. "It might really hit the facility."
Emma blinked at him, gave a snort, and opened her mouth. Then she caught Dennisís warning glance and cleared her throat instead, avoiding sarcasm by milliseconds.
"Itís a crude estimate--but it does look like weíre almost dead in the path of the eye. Unless Sophroniaís path or speed changes in the next twenty hours."
Thomas gave Emma a wordless look. Then he shook his head with a frown. "Itís changed twice already. Itís bound to change again."
"Maybe." Emma pushed her hair back and released a breath. She sat on the edge of the table, rechecked her calculations, and then her tracings. Nothing changed. "Weíll retrace the path more accurately when Gloria gets back."
She gave Dennis what she hoped was an encouraging smile. "Besides, well, I built Gulf Stream to withstand a hurricane. I just wasnít expecting it to be tested so soon."
She grabbed the notepad, dropped onto the couch and tucked a leg under herself, started making a checklist of things to do. Then she tugged her lip. "I should head out tonight."
Dennis looked at her. She could tell that he didnít want her to go at all, and they both knew there was no way he was going to stop her. "Pendleton needs that report for his conference call tomorrow."
"So Iíll finish it tonight and have it delivered to his suite."
"Why not book a flight out tomorrow morning? That will leave you available for any last-minute questions Pendleton might have, and youíll still be able to reach Gulf Stream before nightfall."
Emma eyed Dennis. He was right; sheíd be working on her report for most of the night. She would likely have finished in time to catch a late evening flight if she hadnít tried to take that damned diving class. She slumped in her seat.
"Why canít we ever have just one crisis at a time?"
When she returned to her hotel room later, a message in her voice mail from Dennis asked her to drop by after dinner for a little chat.
His door had a Do Not Disturb sign hanging from the handle, but the door was also slightly ajar. She knocked and someone inside, someone with a deep voice, made a noise. She decided to assume it was Dennis telling her to enter, and pushed the door the rest of the way open.
The room was dark, sodden and warm, filled with the sour-sharp smell of ozone, with breezes and traffic noises. Headlights from the street flickered across the walls and bedspread. Tires on wet pavement made sounds like ripping cloth. The sheer curtains that covered the wall with the sliding glass door billowed above the air conditioning unit. Then she saw the glow of his cigarette: he was out on the balcony, seated in one of the white, wrought-iron chairs.
Emma stuck her head around the glass door. Enough reflected light came from the streets and the mall across the interstate for her to make out his form, but not to read his features. He gestured at a chair next to his.
With sunset the clouds had opened up and dumped rain on the city; the chair was still wet. Emma sat anyway, lifting her hair from her neck, and strips of cold spread across the seat and back of her cotton summer dress. It felt good. The western sky still held a trace of color; piles of thunderheads spat faint lightning and streaked rain across the distant strip of dull yellow along the horizon.
"Thanks for coming," he said.
A draft carried cigarette smoke to her; she pinched her nose and waved a hand. "Dadís told you a hundred times, youíre begging for lung cancer with that habit. Or a heart attack."
"I pay Mike to lecture me about my health. You, I donít."
She made a face at him that he probably couldnít see. "Your message was cryptic. I take it you want an update on the hurricane?"
"Oh. Yes. Have you talked to Flo? How are the preparations coming?"
"I called her about a half hour ago. Sophroniaís still headed right for them. ETA between ten a.m. and noon on Friday."
"Whatís the status of the preparations?"
"Weíve had one stroke of major good luck--the trawler just went into dry dock in Port Canaveral yesterday for repairs, so it and the crew are out of harmís way. Weíre having a tug pick up the hydrogen storage barges this morning. The onboard staff are finishing Phase I of the Storm Response Plan right now with evacuation of non- essential personnel. Flo and the rest are in the process of shutting down operations and battening everything down." Emma paused. "I plan to fly out tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. Iíve arranged for a charter plane from Tampa to Melbourne, and helicopter transport from there, which will put me on Gulf Stream by 3:30 tomorrow afternoon."
Dennisís eyes glinted at her; he took a drag from his cigarette and blew smoke upward. "Itís not necessary for you to put yourself at risk."
Emma shook her head. "Thereís no real risk unless Gulf Stream sinks, and that wonít happen. The beanpoles are tightly moored and most of their mass is well below any significant wave action." She slouched down in the chair. "Frankly, Iím more concerned about flooding and wind or wave damage."
"What do you mean?"
"The storm will threaten the reef and the mariculture farms. And the chemical storage tanks and hydrogen flare have been designed for up to 180 mile-an-hour winds, but itís still a little nervous-making." She paused. "We could also get some damage to the modules, depending on how well my bulkheads and storm windows hold up." The ends of her hair snagged on the chair; she flipped it all over the back again.
"I donít see why whatever you need to contribute canít be done via telephone," Dennis said. She couldnít see his expression but she could hear the frown in his voice.
"Look. With this GM fiasco, now is the worst possible time for us to get hit with costly repairs to Gulf Stream. I know the physical structure, and the facility design, better than anyone. I should be there. It could make a difference. I appreciate the concern, Dennis, but you really have nothing to worry about."
He fidgeted; his chair skittered on the concrete. "What am I going to tell Mike if something happens to you?"
"Thatís irrelevant." Which it wasnít, perhaps, on one level, because Dennis was a long-time friend of the family. But Emma was not about to grant the point. "I mean it. Pendleton gave me operational control of Gulf Stream; itís my decision."
"Yeah. OK." After a pause, Dennis sighed. "Thatís not what I wanted to talk to you about, anyhow."
"I want you to stay out of Thomasís face when he issues his report to Pendleton tomorrow."
She stiffened. "What are you talking about?"
Dennis didnít answer.
"Come on. Give."
Dennis seemed to be looking at her, though she couldnít be sure. The silence stretched. He lit a cigarette, cupping the flame in his hand, and the light revealed deep lines in his face. After a moment he said, "Emma, youíre not going to like what Iím about to say."
"Well, stop upsetting me with all these dark hints and just say it."
"You know our biggest income stream right now is the scientific grants we get."
She snapped her head around. "Youíre not suggesting that we modify our entire five-year plan to accommodate his grandiose schemes--"
"Hear me out."
Emma slapped the arm of her chair. "Iíve already heard it. And Iíll tell you right now, itís a stupid plan. I killed it six months ago and Iíll kill it again. Iím not going to have the hydrogen plant and all my engineering research projects gutted to turn the Engineering module into a haven for his petty projects. Damn it, we can make money with our hydrogen! If we have to, weíll convert over to fertilizer manufacture."
With a grunt he stood, went to the rail, and leaned his elbows against it, silhouetted against the Houston skyline. "Not profitable enough to justify the expense."
She eyed his silhouette. "The plant generates twenty- six hundred megawatt-hours per day of electricity; weíd be wasting power in fistfuls by converting the Engineering module to scientific research instead of hydrogen production and engineering research."
The tip of his cigarette flared. "And do what with your precious hydrogen? If thereís no one to buy it at a price we can afford to sell it, weíre out of business. Is that your aim?"
"Donít be ridiculous! Thereíll be markets for our hydrogen. We just have to look a little harder." She pinched her lip. "Besides, we have other important income streams thatíll hold us for a while. The existing Mariculture projects are already profitable. The seafood, the pearls, the guar all sell like crazy. And Flo has developed some great new markets for the guar and for biomass methane.
"And my engineers have several bench-scale pilot projects going: wave energy conversion pumps; calcium carbonate piping molded with sea water, chicken wire, and a little electric juice; I just OKíd a proposal to extract precious metals from sea water--"
"All of those are maybes. Uncertain markets, deals not yet made." His sigh made her neck hairs stand up. "We canít handle maybes, Emma; we need funds now. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Reynolds has the contacts and professional credibility to get those funds quickly. To put those funds to use he needs more space. And space is at a premium at Gulf Stream. Research labs are worth a lot more right now, per square foot, than your hydrogen production plant."
"What have you got against research?"
"I donít have anything against research. Ninety percent of the projects I just listed are ongoing partnerships with university researchers. Look at Tetsuoís marine biology research and Floís Mariculture division-- theyíre inextricably linked.
"Reynolds doesnít look for ways to benefit Gulf Stream as a whole. He looks for ways to increase his own turf at everybodyís expense. Not to mention being an incompetent, arrogant asshole and a liar--"
"Emma." Here it came, as predictable as heartburn after Tex-Mex. "Lay off him."
She slouched in her chair, grinding her teeth. "Yeah, yeah."
"I mean it. He has powerful connections with several national and private funding institutions and we canít afford to alienate him. Lighten up."
"Iím serious about him being a liar," she said. "You should know that it was Gloria who initiated the on-land response procedures today, not Reynolds. He was lying to you. And thatís just one example of the way he climbs over the backs of others and tries to make himself look good at othersí expense."
"It doesnít matter who initiated the procedures." Dennis sounded weary. "They were initiated. Reynolds is a jerk, fine. But heís a valuable jerk. He brings in more external funding than you do."
"Dammit, Dennis, thatís not fair. Finding funding is in his job description--not mine--and I still get external funds."
"We need him, Emma." Dennis stabbed out his cigarette. "Lay off. I mean it."
She pressed fingers against her lips. Getting side- tracked on Reynoldsís incompetence had been a mistake.
"Hereís the bottom line. The whole purpose behind Gulf Stream is sustainable energy. That OTEC plant is Gulf Streamís heart. Generating energy from the sea. Turning it into useful power." She lifted her hands. "It was our vision. You were there; you were part of it, too. Energy from the sea, benign technology, supporting a sea-going community set up to study and protect marine life. Diversity of projects, of income streams, to protect us from failure."
"But if a part of our vision has failed, if itís not profitable, we need to change that vision." He sat down next to her again, laid a hand over hers. "Even if the OTEC plant fails, commercially, it doesnít reflect on you, you know. The markets just arenít ready yet. Itís not an economically feasible technology. Not quite."
Emma slid her hand out from under his.
"If Gulf Stream doesnít earn its way," Dennis said, fanning the air with his cigarette, making tight, glowing circles with it, "weíll go down in history as the worldís biggest high-tech boondoggle this side of Biosphere II."
Emma shook her head. "Youíre missing the point."
"I donít think so. Iím asking you to search your heart and look past the personal. Weíre facing some tough choices, Emma." He took a deep drag from his cigarette; the ember flared and lit up his face again, briefly. "Youíre in charge of Gulf Stream, you know, even more than Thomas and Flo. Everyone looks to you for answers. We need your leadership now."
"I wonít support it."
But her heart wasnít in the protest.
He crushed the glowing ember of his cigarette into the ashtray balanced on the arm of his chair. "At least think it over."
She was silent. She felt him looking at her.
Why did he wield such influence on her? They were supposed to be peers. But he had a good deal more business experience than she; if he was right, how could she put her own agenda above the continuance of Gulf Stream as a commercial venture?
"Please?" he said.
Emma rubbed her arms, sighed, nodded numbly. "OK."
He nodded slowly, and tapped another cigarette out of the pack. "Thank you. Oh, before I forget--Pendleton wants us to stick around for a ten-thirty meeting after his conference call.
"He does? Even with the storm?" That surprised her, briefly, out of the depression that had settled over her. It would upset her travel plans. Sheíd have to change them tonight but she could catch a noontime plane and still be at Gulf Stream before dusk. "Whatís it about?"
"I donít know. He said he had some announcement to make. He specifically asked for you to be there and it was after he knew about the storm."
She looked at him, sitting there in his porch chair with his eyes glinting at her.
"See you in the morning," he said.
Emma didnít reply. She hung her thumbs in the pockets of her dress and left the room, feeling as battered and hagridden as if sheíd been through a hurricane already.
At Emmaís knock, Gloria came to the door. She wore a flannel nightgown and her hair was down, tumbling in a cascade of red streaked with white, around her face and down her back. Her mouth foamed with Uncle Malcolmís All-Natural Baking Soda Toothpaste and her hand clutched a toothbrush. She had the lights off and at least thirty votive candles burning in little glass cups on the dinner table, the dresser, and the bedside table. The scent of sandalwood drifted out around her.
"Can I come in for a minute?" Emma asked.
Gloria made a mushy, indistinct sound and motioned her inside, then closed the door and went into the bathroom to spit out the toothpaste. Emma sat down in a chair at the table. Set in front of the dozen or so candles was a geode with indigo crystals inside. She picked it up and turned it over.
"Praying Sophronia off in another direction?" she asked Gloria, who came out drying her face with a hand towel.
"Whatever aid the Goddess is willing to give, my dear. I donít presume to dictate to her, only petition."
Emma tossed the geode from hand to hand. "Itís not working so far. At least, not since seven-thirty."
Gloria tossed her head back and laughed. "Give me time. Itís a big storm and Iíve just gotten started." She tossed the towel on her bed and sat in the chair across from Emma. "You upset about Sophronia? Or something else?"
Emma growled. "I want to throttle that bastard."
Gloriaís eyebrows went up. "Thatís a switch."
"Heís putting pressure on me over Reynoldsís proposal to gut the Engineering module and replace everything with more of his projects."
"Anything I can do?"
Emma shook her head with a sigh. "Afraid not."
"Maybe Flo can help."
"Yeah, maybe. But this is no time to distract her with office politics."
"Oh!" Gloria jumped up and picked up some faxed sheets and some small objects from the dresser. She handed her the fax. "These are for you." They were the Storm Response Protocols: several pages of names, phone numbers, and instructions.
"And so are these." Gloria dropped two sea shells into Emmaís palm. "For your collection. I found them on the beach in Galveston this morning."
Emma held one of them close to the candles, studying it. It was a shell the size of her palm, in the shape of a childís top. Beads the color of butter and a thin ribbon of maroon encircled it.
"What kind is it?"
"A top shell of some kind. Iíll have to look it up when I get home." She gave Gloria a smile. "Itís pretty."
"And that one is really weird," Gloria said as Emma held up the second shell. "It must be a genetic fluke."
It looked like a shell that had come off its spool. A rusty brown, it was a coarse, heavily weathered tube a good five inches long. Emma smiled. "Not a fluke, though Iím surprised you found it here. Itís a worm shell. A West Indian worm shell, if Iím not mistaken. Thanks."
She slipped the shells into her pocket. At the door, she turned. "Just for the record, you were the one who initiated the landside storm response, werenít you?"
Gloria gave her a wry smile and a shrug. "It doesnít matter."
"Yes it does. Good work. Good night. And donít stay up all night meditating. You need your rest."
Gloria blew her a kiss and sat down on her bed. She was tucking her legs into a lotus as Emma pulled the door closed.