"I had a sister, Whom the blind waves and surges have devour'd."
Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare
Beenan: Vomitar bajo el agua
Once upon a time in America, Patricia’s father told her, you could say what you wanted in public, buy cheap land in the mountains, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service wasn’t the second largest division of the armed forces.
That was before the Antarctic Volcano field. That was before the Ronne-Filchner ice shelf slid.
That was a hundred feet of water ago.
This is now.
Terminal Lorraine was fifty miles from the Houston dikes, inbound, seventy feet of water under her keels, passing over Fort Jacinto Military Reservation, the old northeastern tip of Galveston Island. The sky was mostly clear, blue diamond with white puffy cumulous clouds scudding northward, and the sun beat down hot enough to make the deck uncomfortable. A trio of ocean going shrimp boats were passing to the north on their way out to the deep water. A giant container ship had passed them earlier, headed for Houston, and was slowly shrinking in the east.
Patricia could’ve saved time by passing more to the south, but their escort and client, the hundred-foot-long work boat Amoco Mechanic drew a lot more water than Terminal Lorraine did and they didn’t want to risk running into the top of one of the old Baylor Medical School buildings.
Terminal Lorraine handled rough water pretty well, for a trimaran, but when the wind and seas aligned on her rear she developed a corkscrewing motion that got Patricia every time.
Toni, Patricia’s new crew, was telling her a joke, and Patricia was listening carefully, trying to distract herself from simulcasting lunch.
"So, during the Deluge, the mayor of San Franciso, sees the water rise and he says, ‘Oh, my god!’ The mayor of New York sees the streets filled with water and he says, ‘Oh, my god!’ The mayor of Miami sees water everywhere and he says, ‘Oh, my god!’ Then the mayor of New Orleans watches the fish swim through his office and says, ‘I do de-clare. Humid, today, eh?’"
Patricia had heard it before, but she laughed anyway. Toni did a great Cajun accent and Patricia was still trying to get her to relax.
The fathometer dropped back to one hundred and forty feet, meaning they were past the old shoreline and over Bolivar Roads, the historic mouth of Galveston Bay. The Amoco boat turned again following the old Texas City ship channel, and Patricia adjusted the sails, letting the thick Dacron rope run through her fingers, while Toni brought the boat around to the new heading, then re-cleated the sheets. Toni had only been aboard for the two last two days and Patricia was mostly happy with her, but she wished her regular crew could’ve come.
Terminal Lorraine’s two outer hulls were elegant forty-feet-long fiberglass blades, each sporting a single unstayed mast forty feet high. She carried fully battened "junk" sails, Kevlar reinforced mylar with composite ribs that stretch the width of the sail. They were easy to handle single-handed since they’re self-reefing. In high winds the crew just lowered them a span or two and the bottom battens stacked neatly.
The pitch was a little better on the new heading and Patricia faced into the wind and breathed deeply, trying to settle her stomach. She smelled saltwater, sunscreen, the barest hint of diesel exhaust, and her own sweat.
Toni looked sideways at her new boss. "You okay, Patricia? You look a little green."
Thanks so much for the reminder. Patricia shook her head, irritated. "Not your problem. Mind the helm."
Toni shrugged and her face closed up a little.
Patricia was pleased Toni didn’t get seasick—the topside hand needed to ride out rough weather sometimes—but she could keep it to herself. She’d learn, hopefully.
Toni was sixteen years younger than Patricia, a sun-browned blond with big breasts and a small nose, unlined face, a long and lean body that was a head taller than Patricia—hell, Toni was everything Patricia wasn’t. She seemed to live in Speedo suits and T-shirts. Her parents were from peninsular Florida, but she’d been born during the Deluge, and, as a cash-poor Displaced American, she really didn’t have a chance of getting land outside the wetfoot ghettos or a homestead in the Nevada "Displaced Citizen" projects.
Toni’s sailing experience was extensive, since she’d lived all her life on a forty-five foot ketch, and, though she didn’t have any experience with multi-hulls, she was doing all right.
"We gonna hit them in the ass," Toni said.
Patricia looked forward again. They’d picked up a knot of speed on the new heading and the distance between them and the work boat was dropping. "Pass them to port."
"Passing to port, aye, Moth—Captain."
Patricia laughed. "Do I really remind you of your mother?" Toni’s mother was twenty years older than Patricia, in her early fifties. Patricia had met the woman briefly the week before and thought she looked a lot like Toni—the same build, and the same face if you accounted for the difference in mileage. Certainly she looked nothing like Patricia. "You’ll make me feel my age, Child."
Toni shook her head. "No. It’s habit. Mom would skipper. Dad did maintenance. I was crew. Our boat was already forty years old before the Deluge so it’s over sixty, now. Everything was jury rigged." She shrugged. "Keeping it afloat was a full time job for Dad. Parts."
She didn’t need to say anything more. Most yacht and marine supply warehouses and manufacturers went underwater that year.
"That’s pretty cool about your Mom," Patricia said. "My mother gets seasick driving across bridges."
"She does? How does she handle the storm surge on the strand?"
"She doesn’t. She lives in Austin. Won’t go near water." The old familiar guilt rose up inside Patricia. "We used to call her the ‘Ruler of the Queen’s Navy.’"
"I don’t get it," Toni said.
"HMS Pinafore." Toni still looked blank so Patricia explained further. "The song is about the Lord High Admiral who is appointed to the post after an extremely successful legal and political career landside. He sings, "Stick close to your desks and never go to sea, And you all may be rulers of the Queen’s Navee."
"Oh, they said you spouted Shakespeare."
Patricia froze and counted to ten, before saying calmly, "Well, yes, but that wasn’t William Shakespeare—that was William Gilbert. Anyway, when my parents divorced, she stayed in Austin and I came out here with my Dad."
"How old were you?" She looked wistful.
"Wow. And she let you go?"
"Let me go? It wasn’t that simple." Patricia shook my head. "She was very busy. She was a full partner in a firm and in her first race for Congress. She didn’t want a messy and public custody fight."
"I wish I could get my mother out of my hair."
"Would you have your parents divorce?"
"No, they’re happy. Did your Dad remarry?"
"No." He just slept around a lot. "Uh, he dated. He could recite Shakespearean verse for hours. It was his schtick. He was very popular." Patricia could recall a host of temporary ‘aunts’ who came and went like candles.
The vhf crackled. "Hey, Beenan?"
Patricia picked up the mike. "I hear you, Mateo." Mateo was the tool pusher on the Amoco Oil boat.
"We’ll be on station in ten minutes."
"Right—we’ll power up."
Patricia went forward, bare feet quickstepping over sun-heated white textured fiberglass, following the deck above the middle hull of the Lorraine. The middle hull was slightly less than thirty-five feet long, a big titanium pipe four feet in diameter, with stubby wings in the middle, a big ducted fan with a vertical and horizontal stabilizers at the rear, and a transparent acrylic nose. It was a stupid design for a sailboat hull, but a darn good submarine.
"You ready for this, Toni?" Patricia called back.
Toni shrugged. "No prob, Boss."
"Okay. Just remember she’s a lot more lively without the sub attached," Patricia said. "And if that INS Fastship drops back by, just show them your papers and cooperate. Mateo will back you up."
There was an Immigration and Naturalization Service patrol boat, a hundred and ten foot ex-coast guard Fastship, about six miles northwest of them. The INS Fastship had already queried Mateo’s people by VHF but they were used to Amoco Mechanic working this area and Amoco still had a lot of clout, even if their largest refinery was underwater.
It was the INS that made Patricia leave her regular crew back home. They were floaters—displaced aliens, and the INS had a mandate to keep them out of the US Exclusive Economic Zone. They were fair game anywhere within two hundred miles of the coast. Toni, as a mere wetfoot, was legal here.
"You told me a hundred times already," Toni said, but smiled. "Besides, why would they mess with Assembly Woman Beenan?"
Patricia felt her face twist like she’d bitten into something intensely sour. "First, I’m just an alternate on the assembly and second, why should the INS care? New Galveston is only vaguely associated with the US. What the INS should care about is that we have the legal right to be here."
Toni looked skeptical. "Yeah, they should."
"The youth today." Patricia shook her head and lifted the fiberglass hatch on the personnel tube. "Christ, I remember when my dad used to say that to me!"
"When do I meet your dad?" Toni asked.
Patricia froze in the mouth of the personnel tube, silent for a moment. Then she said, "You don’t, Toni. Full fathom five my father lies; of his bones are coral made. He went down four years ago, in the Cobia, our second submarine."
"Uh, I didn’t mean—" Toni’s mouth was open, searching for words.
"Of course you didn’t. How could you know?" Patricia flashed her a grin she didn’t feel and pulled the hatch shut, muttering to herself, "Those are pearls that were his eyes: Nothing of him that doth fade, but suffer a sea-change into something rich and strange. Sea nymphs hourly ring his knell, the son-of-a-bitch."
Patricia was still pissed at Dad.
He was into act four of Comedy of Errors, calling back and forth on the Gertrude. She took the part of Angelo and left him with Antipholus of Ephesus arguing over just who had the golden chain. That’s the trouble with identical twins (and there’s a lot of them in Shakespeare and two sets in Comedy of Errors.) It’s never clear who you’re dealing with.
Dad had just said, "As all the metal in your shop will—" And she hung there, waiting, waiting, waiting. It’s ‘answer’. As all the metal in your shop will answer. But he never completed the sentence. He did not ‘answer.’
The personnel tube was a short fiberglass shaft that protected the pilot hatch of the submarine from flooding while it was on the surface. It ended with a pneumatic gasket snuggled tight to the titanium hull of the sub. With her feet still on the bottom rung, Patricia contorted in the narrow tube, reached down and snaked the transparent acrylic hatch open. The thing was two inches thick and getting it open in the narrow space was always awkward, even with years of practice.
Patricia’s Dad had never seemed to have trouble with it. Longer reach.
She dropped through the hatch and latched it shut above her. She was in the back of the pilot’s station, a space reminiscent of a sewer culvert, stuffy, barely three and half-feet across on the inside diameter and lots of that was taken up with boxes, plastic conduit, canisters, and oxygen tanks, all mounted to the walls. Carefully, she eased forward and sat in the backward facing chair, tucked her knees up, and spun it until it faced forward. It locked with a loud ‘click’ that reverberated in the confined space.
The front half of the chair stuck out into the acrylic nose of SubLorraine. Patricia’s feet were bare so she pulled on a pair of socks before lowering them to the plastic surface to avoid smudges. Surface water foamed greenish white along the top of the nose and green below. She could make out the outer hulls through the water.
It was on the warm side of comfortable and Patricia could smell her own armpits, a whiff of ozone, the vinyl chair cover, and something like blue cheese. Her stomach gave one minor heave, then settled. It was time to pull the charcoal filters and bake the volatiles out of them again.
She pulled her sunglasses off and put them in the baseball cap, then stared at her distorted reflection in the acrylic dome: spiky red hair matted from the hat, oversized blue eyes, pronounced cheek bones, small breasts under a worn green tank-top, bicycle shorts, and a long nose with perpetual sunburn. She straightened in the seat and tried the confident look—the grownup woman of business. Christ—you’re starting to get crowsfeet and you still look like a kid!
It was hard for her to climb into SubLorraine without thinking about Dad. They never found Cobia so she didn’t know went wrong. It made her very careful.
First things first: life support. Carbon dioxide scrubber fan on. Oxygen tank at full, valve on auto. Emergency tank full. Now if she’d just changed out the charcoal filters. Ah, well. At least it was only her own farts—not somebody else’s.
She didn’t notice that her motion sickness had vanished, dropped like last night’s pajamas the instant she stopped waiting and began to work.
She took the computer off of standby and called up the diagnostics on the electrical system. Green lights all around. She’d spun the flywheels up two days before, when they’d powered out of the Strand, and they were still spinning at eighty percent capacity, about 48,000 rpm. The reserve kinetic energy was probably enough for everything they’d be doing today but still, she wanted them at full capacity, just in case.
Dad always did.
She flipped the snorkel switch, opening the intake and exhaust doors for the turbo generator, then hit the start button. There was a slight shudder after the turbine sped up, when it ignited. It was a forty-five kilowatt natural gas-burning jet turbine generator, spinning on compressed air bearings and self-cooling from intake air. It could only run on the surface since it pulled in several hundred cubic feet of air every minute and the exhaust temperature was over 550° F, but it could spin up all three storage flywheels from a dead stop to full speed ahead in less than five minutes.
While the flywheels were spinning up, Patricia flipped on the rest of the subsystems. GPS, sonar, pressure depth gauges, CO2 monitor, vhf, Acoustic Telephone, external strobe lights.
"You there, Toni?" she asked over the VHF, speaking loudly over the roar/hum of the generator.
"Try the Gertrude."
The speaker from the acoustic telephone said, "How’s this?"
"Radical," Patricia said, over the same system. "Receiving?"
"Loud and clear, assemblywoman."
"Wise ass," Patricia said, aloud in the chamber, but didn’t transmit. "Try this." She switched the acoustic phone back on. "Hang on for a minute."
"You mean wait?"
"No, silly woman--I mean hang on to something."
Patricia kicked in the big ducted thruster at ninety percent and Terminal Lorraine jumped forward. She tested the control surfaces, first shaking the boat side to side, then porpoising it up and down.
"My, how refreshing!" Toni’s voice sounded like she was talking between clenched teeth. In a more relaxed tone she said, "We passed Amoco Mechanic and you put enough water into the cockpit to soak me."
Patricia grinned and shut the thruster down. "You’re dressed for it. Drive check complete. Flywheels fully charged. Shutting down generator. Securing snorkel doors."
Five minutes later the VHF crackled and Mateo’s voice said, "This looks like it, Beenan. We were about here when we picked up the diesel plume but we haven’t been able to trace it any further topside—between surface contaminants and wind dispersion, it hasn’t worked."
"Gotcha, Mateo. I’m switching on the HCD now." One didn’t so much "turn on" the hydrocarbon detector as access it through the instrumentation buss. Patricia tapped through a menu on the touch screen and a small readout window appeared. "It’s running from zero to two point three parts per million, Mateo. You have any sense of the normal contamination here? I mean, we are talking about Texas City."
"That’s pretty much background for here, sweetie."
"Gross. Any higher and you guys wouldn’t have to drill for oil. You could just filter this stuff." She dragged the HCD display window to the corner of the display, where it wouldn’t obscure the flywheel readouts. "Okay. What’s the current doing?"
There were a pause then he came back. "Tide is on its way in, maybe one and a half knots, but other than that, who knows? There’s so many structures down there that the currents are all over the place."
"Okay. I’ll start hunting. Out."
Patricia switched back to the Gertrude. "Toni, bring her into the wind."
Toni didn’t answer but Terminal Lorraine slued around until she was facing due south. Patricia buckled her seat belt and shoulder harness.
"Into the wind, Patricia." Toni’s voice said.
Before Lorraine lost headway and her bows were pushed back around by the water and wind, Patricia hit the button on the sling control.
The water completely covered the acrylic nose and Patricia counted to five slowly, then gave a gentle push backwards, reverse thruster. The hulls above slid forward and the sling passed by. She waited until the twin rudders were well ahead, then killed thrust.
In her usual configuration, SubLorraine was slightly buoyant, though Patricia could change that in either direction. As she sat there, she was wallowing on the surface, the waves trying to push her around. She was also slowly rolling over to starboard.
Patricia could see the sails on Terminal Lorraine cutting hard to port, back across the wind. "How’s it going, Toni?"
The Gertrude came back. "Whoa, baby! I’m doing thirteen knots."
"Told ya. Hang with Amoco Mechanic, right?"
"Starting my run."
She put the thruster on twenty-five percent and SubLorraine submerged, her inverted wings giving her negative lift. Patricia put the stick on its side and did a quick barrel roll to test the trim, hanging upside down for a moment by her seat harness. SubLorraine was slightly bottom heavy but not so much that she needed adjusting.
The GPS beeped as it lost signal, the water cutting out both the satellite signals and the VHF. Upright again, Patricia cut northwest and descended to ninety feet, moving four knots. At this depth the visibility dropped markedly but the forward sonar was giving her a pretty good picture of the old ship channel and, five minutes later, she acquired the old breakwater, off to starboard, its top just level with the sub. Patricia eased over until it loomed out of the murk, big car-sized hunks of rock and concrete less than fifteen feet away, then ascended ten feet and edged over it, a nice visual road into Texas City.
The hydrocarbon count kept flickering up and down, though the peaks began edging up to three and a half parts per million. Patricia had a pre-Deluge Digital Video Disk US Road atlas in the drive and she called up the street map of Texas City. She was too deep for the Global Positioning System to work but with the breakwater as a reference, she hit the old shoreline near the junction of Bay Street and Ninth Avenue.
She’d worked Texas City before, both legally and ill. The Flood Salvage Bill, passed seven months after the Deluge, retained property rights to the original owners for thirty years which could be extended by ongoing salvage operations or permanent moored or seabed occupation. That was back when they still thought the waters might recede.
In its previous life, the titanium hull of SubLorraine was a high pressure heat exchanger pulled from the effluent side of a catalytic cracker unit at Marathon Refinery. That was twelve years ago, at night, and Patricia’s Dad towed it home submerged. The serial numbers were gone now and the hull’s papers of provenance pointed to a company well under the Sea of Japan.
The flywheels came out of several Galveston City Busses, legally salvaged under contract. They’d pulled up fifteen, but the containment chambers were flooded on twelve of them, the interiors corroded, but the three they still used were intact. The turbine generator was the auxiliary power unit from a computer firm in south Houston but it went astray when the company evacuated its equipment during the Deluge. It ended up in the gray market out on New Galveston.
Patricia cruised up Ninth Avenue, ten feet off the silty road. This put her above most of the abandoned vehicles and junk scattered by the first flooding, but under the existing utility wires. Visibility improved slightly though current eddies around the buildings kept her constantly correcting her path to avoid drifting into a store front or light pole. The sonar screen made the street look almost normal, like people should be on the sidewalks and the cars should be moving, but through the port she could see mullet eating algae off brick walls and once, after ninth street turned into Palmer’s Highway, a shark cruised across the intersection at Center Street low and smooth, on the crosswalk.
The HC gauge spiked up to fifteen parts per million and when it dropped back down again it didn’t get below five.
B. I. N. G. Oh, and bingo was his name-oh.
She eased up to fifty feet of surface water, looking out for power lines, and banked hard to starboard, heading north. The meter dropped back to background levels almost immediately, surprising her. The Amoco plant, once the country’s largest refinery, was this direction, as well as a few others, and they were the expected source.
Perhaps the plume was hugging the bottom, a heavy crude fraction, heavier than water. She descended again, coming down to the bottom at the Bayou Municipal Golf Course. The readout dropped further, undetectable quantities below the limits of this field meter.
She turned around, passing a golf cart up to its hubcaps in silt, past three skeletal cottonwood trees and over a fiberglass pole with a flag that moved slowly in the current. Hole number seven—dogleg to the right, the water trap is a real mother.
Dad missed golf when they’d moved to the Strand.
The count slowly picked up as Patricia crossed Palmer Highway again and she started an east-west grid fifty feet below the surface bounded by state road 146 on the east and route 3 on the west. It took her another fifteen minutes to zero in on it, somewhere near where Texas Avenue merged into Preston street.
Oh, well, she thought. It’s probably another gas station tank that’s failed from corrosion. This should make Mateo feel better. Amoco wouldn’t be liable for this leak and could claim recompense for pumping out the remaining fuel. As she descended, she reduced her speed to less than a knot. There were a lot of power lines in the area and she had no intention of spitting SubLorraine on one of the poles.
She was easing up a side street a couple of yards above the silty asphalt and watching the meter go berserk when the forward sonar reflected an image across the street about two hundred feet away. It was odd because the map showed clear road, there, and the obstruction was rounded, rising thirty feet or so above the road. Still, it wouldn’t be the first time storm currents had rearranged the landscape.
She crept up to it, keeping just enough headway to keep SubLorraine neutral. Several Sandbar sharks scattered, surprised as she loomed out of the murk and then the hulk loomed out of the murk at her, covered with weed, but surprisingly, surface weed, like you’d get where the sunlight is stronger. Then she saw the keel.
It was a ship. Well, a shipwreck, lying on its side, keel toward her, pushed right up against the bulk of a warehouse.
She killed my forward motion with reverse thrust and, deprived of negative "lift", SubLorraine started drifting upward, slowly rolling to starboard as she rose. Patricia waited until she was clear of the wreck, then eased the sub forward. There was no weed above the ship’s waterline—not even a tinge. This boat had sunk recently—very recently.
She was about one hundred and thirty feet long, an old coastal freighter with a lot of rust on her even before she sank. Her cargo holds were still closed, locked in fact, with stainless chain and brass padlocks that gleamed faintly through the murk.
She turned on the video camera and the external flood lights and began narrating into the mike. Her voice was shaky and she hardly recognized it.
"The wreck is located in Texas City near the intersections of Texas Avenue and Preston Street. She’s on her side in seventy feet of water with about forty feet of clear water above her starboard rail. As you can see the vessel came down between these two warehouses, then rolled over, with the bridge crushing this section of the second structure."
She took a deep breath before continuing. "There are several shell holes along her waterline, probably twenty-five millimeter cannon fire. The bullet holes scattered across the bridge bulkheads and windscreens are probably fifty-caliber. Most of the bridge windows have simply starred, but one has given way completely and that’s where the sharks are gathering.
"The presence of sharks makes me think that the crew went down with her."
She moved the submarine back to the bow where she read the faded paint. "Open Lotus, Shanghai." The leak—diesel fuel oil—was there, in one of the forward tanks, visible, a two inch hole—possibly another 25 mm cannon shell—poked inward, dark fluid oozing out and up.
She turned off the camera for a moment and switched on the Gertrude. "Toni, do you read me?"
"Tell Mateo that I’m working an area of higher readings but it looks like I’ll be a while."
She moved SubLorraine back to the street on the deck side of Open Lotus, then flooded the forward and aft ballast chambers. The sub settled slowly, this time bottom heavy for sure, onto the silty roadbed. She bumped, first on the two safety skegs which protect the ducted fan at the stern, then onto the thin ventral fin just forward of the lockout hatch.
Patricia shut down everything but the Gertrude, the CO2 scrubber, and the floodlights and camera, now zoomed in on Open Lotus’s number two hold cover, then unlocked the seat and swiveled it around.
She squeezed past the black boxes and canisters and conduit, and passed under the pilot compartment hatch, coming to another hatch, also acrylic, that divided the rear of the pilot’s compartment from the lockout chamber. She pushed it open easily—both compartments were still at surface pressure—and squeezed through.
The lockout chamber was four feet long and no wider than the rest of the sub. It has separate life support—scrubber, oxygen, plus tanks of helium for mixed gas decompression. Patricia latched the hatch behind her and duck walked down to the gauges.
They were about seventy feet deep, no biggy, but Patricia had to add a couple of atmospheres to equalize pressure. She unlatched the hatch in the floor and rested one foot on it. It held firm, supported from without by four hundred and fifty two pounds of pressure difference spread across the two foot hatch. She twisted the valve to the air bank, a heavily pressurized section of the hull directly behind the lockout chamber. Air shrieked in, attacking her ears with both noise and pressure. She swallowed, encouraging her ears to pop, doing the descent in thirty seconds. The hatch dropped open and her foot dipped momentarily into the cold water, soaking her sock.
She felt foolishly surprised that it was wet and couldn’t remember if she had a spare pair in the pilot’s compartment. I could go back to the boat for more. She laughed, a short explosive "Ha" totally without humor. Stop stalling.
Her gear was clipped to the back of the chamber: rebreather, emergency pony bottle, dry suit, polyfleece undersuit, weights, fins, gloves, mask. Below it, in a closed plastic bin mounted on the wall, were tools. She put her hand in the water, held even with the hatchway by the pressurized pocket of air. The water was cool, sixty-nine degrees per the readout, but not that cold and she didn’t want to take the time to worm into the drysuit.
She took off the socks and went with the mask, fins, and the backup pony bottle, a little ten cubic foot tank pressurized to four K p.s.i. She strapped the tank to her waist, spit in the mask and donned it, put on the fins and dropped her legs out the hatch. She took the big bolt cutters from the plastic bin, put the regulator in her mouth and dropped through the hatch.
Dad wouldn’t have liked this. He wanted divers to be tendered or partnered. Solo diving is dangerous.
Tough. If you were here, I’d do it your way.
Her first thought was that she should’ve gone with the dry suit, but that quickly passed as she adjusted to the chill. SubLorraine sat two-and-a-half feet off the bottom on her "tripod" and Patricia had to scrunch down to clear the hull, wiggling clear and kicking up some silt, rising around her in a dark brown cloud. She rose well off the bottom to clear the silt, kicking strongly up to offset the weight of the bolt cutters. Except for some padding on her butt, she was pretty scrawny, negatively buoyant if she didn’t take deep breaths, but she didn’t want to kick up any more silt between the camera and the ship. She wasn’t thrilled to be swimming into the camera’s view, but, if necessary, she hoped to edit that part out.
She settled to the ship’s deck and braced one foot on a ventilator, the other on the railing, and tried the bolt cutters on the padlock hasp. The chromed surface was barely dented, but the chain was softer and, though she had to make two cuts to get completely through a link, it dropped clear and she was able to snake the free end through the latch. She looked around, nervous, checking for sharks and other less nameable things, then released the two starboard latches on the hold cover.
It wasn’t very heavy, but it had a lot of surface area, so it lifted slowly as the water flowed around it. For a second, as she strained to lift it high enough for the floodlights and camera, she didn’t notice what was she was uncovering.
Vomiting underwater is dangerous—you can clog your regulator—but fortunately, she spat the mouthpiece out in time. It was two violent spasms, clouding the water tan with unidentifiable chunks.
The crabs and smaller fish must’ve entered through the ventilators or the cannon holes, but the bodies hadn’t been down long enough to look ‘nice’. There were too many to count but it was all too clear that their number included women and children. Some of them were still bloated and bobbed at the top of the compartment—what used to be the starboard side. The rest either hadn’t reached that stage or were beyond it. They floated along the bottom of the compartment, mostly upright, their shoes holding them down, like guests milling around a party.
Part of her expected to see Dad among them. To see him drift forward, a drink in his hand, eyebrows raised, to quote devastatingly from Coriolanus or say something snide about solo diving.
She got the regulator back into her mouth and cleared it while backing away. The metal hold cover slowly dropped back down and Patricia saw the worst thing of all—there were fresh scratch marks on the inside of the hatch, near the latches. Someone had been alive when the boat went down.
It took all her courage to move close enough to secure the latches again.
They’re dead, Patricia, they can’t hurt you.
Oh, yeah? The dead have hurt me every day for the last four years!
She broke a record swimming back to the lockout hatch. She stood on the bottom, her upper torso inside the sub, and threw the bolt cutters back into the tool box. There was nothing more she wanted than to climb back in, seal up, and get the hell out of there, but she grabbed the big tank of salvage foam, then ducked back in.
It took her two minutes to swim to the oil leak, insert the nozzle and block the leak with expanding plastic foam, and swim back. The pony bottle expired as she squirmed under the sub, but she didn’t care anymore. She was shaking with cold and breathing oddly, short ragged gasps. There really wasn’t any difference in the air, but her imagination was supplying the scent of rotting meat. She pulled the hatch up as quickly as she could and turned on the compressor, pumping the lockout chamber’s atmosphere back into the air bank.
It took ten minutes to bring the pressure down, long enough to strip off her equipment and wet clothing. There was a scrap of Hamlet droning in her head. The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets.
As she put the polyfleece undersuit on to try and warm up, she recognized the pattern of her breath.
Big girls don’t cry.
She curled into a ball by the forward hatch and rocked back and forth.
The hell they don’t.
Beenan: Juego de esconder
Patricia found a railroad tank car near the intersection of twenty-fifth street and the SP railroad line bearing a diamond shaped flammable sign with the DOT code UN twelve oh two: light diesel oil.
It wasn’t full of air or it would’ve floated away during the Deluge, but it wasn’t full of water, either, since it’d drifted about three hundred feet from the tracks. The worst case was that it had a pocket of air and the rest was water, but nosing up to the valve manifold, she got a slight jump on the hydrocarbon meter.
Most important of all, it was a good four miles from the wreck of the Open Lotus.
She flooded her tanks and settled to the bottom beside it, then popped the radio buoy, two short antennae, one for the VHF and one for the GPS, connected to a reel of coaxial wire. It only worked in two hundred feet of water, or less, but here was no problem.
"Mateo, I think I’ve found your leak." Her voice was hoarse from throwing up, strange to her, despite her best efforts to act normally.
He came back immediately. "Well, it’s about time, girl. What have you been down there?
"My nails. Shut up and home on my signal. The GPS says twenty-nine thirteen point three north, ninety-four fifty-four point seven west. Get close enough and you can’t miss my little orange antennae buoy."
"We’re moving. What’s the leak? That’s not near the refinery."
"It’s a railroad tank car. I don’t know how much is left, but the DOT code is for diesel. It’s not linked up—you could probably winch it to the surface and deal with it there."
"No, darling. If it has a gas pocket, it could expand as it rose and force the oil out. We’ll drain it in situ."
"Your call, Mateo."
It took them ten minutes to get overhead. She tracked them on passive sonar, but my the time they were close, she could hear their big diesel engines right through the hull.
Their divers must’ve suited up as they traveled because they touched down on the sub hull just five minutes after the engines revved back to station keeping RPMs. Patricia waved through the bubble and one of them took his mouthpiece out and blew a kiss. She stuck her finger in her mouth like she was gagging and both of them shook their heads, then they kicked off to the tank car, trailing an orange tender line that rose up through the murk.
Once they were by the valve manifold, they pulled it tight and tugged. The line immediately slackened and they began pulling it in, keeping it tight. After a minute the end of the rope appeared, tied to a four inch flexible hose with a quick connect valve. The divers took a minute to clean the algae and scum off the output valve, then one of them swam halfway back to Patricia and made a circling motion with one of his hands.
"Mateo, looks like they’re ready for you to pump. You got enough capacity for this thing?"
He laughed into the mike. "You kidding? We only call a tanker when we find something big. I can drain this thing, separate out the water, and still handle twenty more."
The hose shifted downward and the diver opened one of the other manifold valves, to let water replace the outgoing material. The pumps on the workboat sucked the tank empty in fifteen minutes, a definite no-decompression dive for the boys out there.
"You gonna pull the car up?" she asked Mateo. In a remediation job like this they were entitled to recover associated equipment.
"Nah. It’s probably ninety-percent rust. Doesn’t seem worth it."
The divers finished disconnecting the hose, pantomimed blowing kisses with their hands, and followed the hose up into the green murk.
"So, any more chores while we’re in the area?" She asked this lightly, dreading the answer.
"Sorry. We’ve got some salvage work over at refinery but we’ve got all that stuff located. Can’t justify the expense."
Thank god. "What? You drag us two-hundred miles from home for this piddling little job?" It took all she had to sound pissed.
Mateo came back. "You know the drill, darling. If I can do it without outside contractors, I have to do it with my boys alone. I thought you’d like it—after all you get travel time, both ways, plus you milked this job for over twice the bottom time I estimated. You’ll make out. Considering how small the recovery was, we’re going to lose money."
"Milked? That does it, Mateo. You’re definitely off my Christmas card list. You there, Toni?"
"I’m here, boss."
"Good, cause we’re leaving these raggedy ass bozos behind. Give me a minute to wind in my antennae, then start home—bearing one thirty-five. Keep it under three knots and I’ll be there shortly."
"You got it, boss."
Mateo came back on the VHF. "Now, darling, don’t go away mad...just go away."
"You’ll never drown, Mateo."
"I have great comfort from this fellow: methinks he hath no drowning marke upon him; his complexion is perfect gallows."
"You’ll never drown because you were born to be hanged. Go do your salvage job, bozo. I’ll see you next time."
She blew the ballast tanks with high pressure air rather than pump them out. She didn’t like to do it, since it took a long time to replenish the air bank, but she was in a hurry. The radio buoy clicked into its slot about the time the sub started drifting off the bottom and she kicked the thruster in at one hundred percent, zero to thirteen knots in twenty-seconds. The flywheels, already down to forty-percent, dropped farther as she pulled over four hundred kilowatts from them.
She didn’t care. She switched back to the Gertrude and said, "Start singing, Toni."
"Start singing. I want a homing signal for the passive sonar."
There’s a little switch on the Lorraine’s Gertrude that runs an automatic pinger, but Patricia didn’t want that. She needed something warmer, human—something alive. Later, she couldn’t remember what Toni sang, something bluesy, perhaps, and she could remember thinking Toni had a nice voice but mostly she wanted something she could run to.
She nearly overran Lorraine, dropping the thrust to nothing when the hulls came out of the murk, and she had to use a little reverse thruster to match speed. The sling was still trailing in the water, pulled down by streamlined weights. She nosed SubLorraine into it without thought and hit the switch to tighten the winches, concentrating on matching headings until the wings met the frame guides and eased the submarine up to its mating collar.
She pushed the seat back around and opened the top hatch.
Toni, at the helm, waved as Patricia popped out of the personnel tube. "Did it get that cold down there?"
Patricia frowned, then realized she was still wearing the polyfleece undersuit. "Umm. Cold…yes." She looked around. To reduce speed, Toni had let out the sheets on both sails. "Let’s get some speed on."
Toni switched on the autohelm, and trimmed the sheet on the port side. Patricia took the starboard sail. The boat crept up to eight knots, taking the wind two points off the starboard bow. Patricia picked up the binoculars and began sweeping the horizon, finding what she was looking for all too soon. The INS Fastship had moved further south from its previous position. Not toward them but not away, either.
Patricia wanted to go back below, fire up the turbogenerator, and run the thrusters at one hundred percent, but even then they could hope, at best, to achieve twenty knots. The INS Fastship with its jet turbines and water jets had a top endurance speed of thirty-five knots and a short duration pursuit speed of forty. It had a semi-planing monohull with a slight concave bottom that generated lift at the stern, reducing drag.
Toni watched Patricia, perched on the edge of the cockpit. Patricia put the binoculars back in their cabinet and said, "There’s five lithium hydroxide cartridges in the starboard storeroom, the one forward of the galley."
"Put them in the sub, in the lockout chamber. Then get together some grub—stuff we can eat uncooked, put it in the lockout chamber, too." Patricia could still taste the vomit in the back of her throat despite several drinks of water on the way back. Food didn’t sound appealing at all. "Oh, and get your stuff."
Toni stared at her. "My stuff? What’s going on, Patricia?"
"I’m sorry, Toni. This isn’t fair and it isn’t right, but I found something when I was down there and it could get us both killed."
Toni frowned, her head askance, her lips pursed. "Take off your sunglasses."
Patricia pulled them off, blinking in the bright sun, and looked at Toni.
Toni’s tan paled two shades. "You’re not kidding."
Patricia shook her head.
"What did you find?"
"Survival first. Information later."
Toni swallowed and turned away.
Patricia checked the GPS and adjusted the autohelm, then went down into her cubby in the port hull. Her satphone and portable workstation were stowed in the locker above her bunk. She hooked them together, then took the video data cartridge from the polyfleece jacket and slid it into the workstation.
She was sweating like crazy and, while part of it was the polyfleece, part of it wasn’t. Still, you work on the factors you can control. While the workstation booted, She stripped, then put on some fresh underwear, light shorts, and a long sleeved T-shirt.
The entire video file was twenty minutes long but it contained stretches of stillness while she was cycling out and in of the lockout chamber. She trimmed it to the original narration and the footage showing the shell and bullet holes, then the entire sequence from the opening of the hold hatch to the closing. This gave her a file of just over three minutes running time including a lovely shot of herself vomiting. She couldn’t edit it out—she was in the frame the entire time the hold was open.
The file was twenty-megabytes of full-frame, six hundred line video. She started it compressing and climbed back up to the cockpit.
Toni was carrying her duffel, her portable stereo, and a plastic bag to the personnel tube. "How’s it going?" Patricia called.
She shrugged. "Okay, so far. I’ve got the lithium cartridges down there and this is food." She held up the plastic bag. "What about water?"
Patricia nodded. "Good point. There’s a bunch of water jugs under the sink. They should be full."
She looked to the southwest. "Better hurry."
The INS Fastship was easily seen naked eye, now, and it’d changed aspect, much narrower, indicating it was heading toward them. While Patricia watched, a tiny dark shape separated from the main mass and rose into the air. She felt nauseated and it had nothing to do with the boat’s motion.
Toni was watching, too. "What is that?"
She looked blank.
"A surveillance drone—a remotely piloted vehicle. They’re coming to check us out." Patricia turned back to the port hatch. "Hurry!"
Besides enhanced video the damn things were wired for radio capture. If it got overhead before she finished her phone call, they’d know she was broadcasting. Her satphone provider was based in Houston and subject to the surveillance provisions of the Emergency Immigration Act. The INS might have the escrow keys to decipher the phone call.
The file wasn’t finished compressing but it was close. She connected to her net provider and started cee-ceeing everybody she could think of: The Houston Post, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the UN Refugee Monitoring office in New Galveston, the New Galveston Assembly, the Chicago Sun Times, and even the INS themselves: national headquarters on D.C. Island. After a moment’s hesitation, she added the honorable Katherine Beenan, US Representative from the state of Texas, then started to delete it again.
No. Mom can just deal with it.
The compression finished and she attached the file and hit send.
The connection was good, one fifteen kilobaud, and the file had compressed to a quarter of it’s original size so it took just a little less than a minute. As soon as she had the upload confirmation she killed the connection and took the phone and workstation on deck.
Toni was just coming back on deck from the starboard hull, carrying four gallon-jugs of water. Patricia looked for the drone and couldn’t see it until she craned her neck back.
Well, there wasn’t any doubt that they were its target. It was making a slow circle overhead, about a thousand feet up and Patricia knew it could stay there for about twenty-four hours on it’s fuel load.
Patricia followed Toni over to the personnel tube and lowered the jugs, then the workstation and satphone to her. Toni stowed them, then started to climb back out again and Patricia said, "Stay there, okay?"
"If we have to bug out, it’s going to be very soon."
Toni swallowed. "It’s a little tight down there. How about I just stay here in the hatch?"
Oh great! She’s claustrophobic! "Sure. Just so we can get going quickly."
Patricia went back to the cockpit and slung the binoculars around her neck. She didn’t really need them to see the growing bulk of the INS Fastship.
The VHF crackled and a voice said, "Boat on my Bow. This is the INS vessel Sycorax. Lower your sails and prepare to be boarded."
She used the binoculars. They had a boat swung over the rail on the port davits, men already aboard.
Make your decision, girl. Tough it out or run.
The guilty flee where no man pursueth. They could be doing a standard screen for illegals or boat safety or smuggling or a non-compliant toilet.
Or they could be coming to find out if she’d seen what she’d seen and to keep them from ever telling anybody else.
She turned the VHF off. If it ever came to court, she could always claim she’d never received their hail.
The autohelm was slaved to the GPS and as long as the winds remained favorable and the batteries held, Terminal Lorraine would head for the Strand. Patricia turned on the underwater telephone and set it to ping every minute. As long as they didn’t sink her, or turn off the Gertrude, or any of a number of more likely and less sinister things, they’d be able to track the boat from the sub.
If Patricia messed around any more, the cruiser would be within audible hailing range and she wouldn’t be able to pretend not to have noticed it.
"Out of my way, girl," she said to Toni and dropped through the tube into the sub and slammed the hatch. Toni had gone forward, to get out of Patricia’s way as she climbed down, so, of course, she was now in Patricia’s way. Patricia jerked her thumb back toward the lockout chamber and said, "Move!" Her voice wasn’t kind and it wasn’t soft, but she was more interested in keeping Toni alive than being diplomatic.
Toni moved awkwardly past in the tight cylinder, unable to avoid rubbing against Patricia, then Patricia broke past and scrambled for the chair, spinning it forward and hitting the sling control and then reverse thrust, dragging SubLorraine back, even before the sling was fully distended.
As she’d hoped, SubLorraine was negative, now, with the extra crew and gear. Patricia pushed the stick forward, but left it in reverse thruster. This sharply tilted the front of the sub up and the ducted fan pulled them down. Behind her, she heard Toni swear sharply as the girl slid backwards and banged against something in a cascade of bags, water bottles, and other equipment.
The hulls of Terminal Lorraine passed out of sight and the surface receded in front of Patricia. She killed the thrusters and switched off the active sonar and kicked in the directional hydrophone of the passive sonar. The high whine of the Fastship’s turbines was loud in the speaker and bearing thirty degrees off the sub’s stern.
Without the reverse thruster, all the extra weight in SubLorraine’s forward section caused them to tip forward, causing yet another slide of equipment.
"Quick. Shift everything to the back of the lockout chamber."
"Why are you whispering?" Toni asked.
"Because they might have passive sonar...so don’t bang around. Okay?"
They were back over Bolivar Roads in waters a hundred and forty feet deep. The bottom was also nice and silty, something Patricia wouldn’t mind hitting at the rate they were sinking, but she didn’t want to hit it nose first. They could get stuck.
Toni shifted back, practically climbing up the sub, dragging water bottles and Patricia’s workstation with her, but the nose stayed down. Patricia watched the pressure depth gauge. They’d been dropping slowly, at first, but now that the nose was pointing further down, the depth was increasing by ten feet a second and had just passed seventy-five feet.
Patricia could’ve changed things several ways. She could’ve blown ballast. She could’ve used reverse thrusters. Instead she flew the sub down, using the forward speed to glide, so to speak. A few seconds later, they passed a hundred feet and Patricia pulled the stick back. The nose came sharply up and she leveled the sub. As her speed dropped, SubLorraine began sinking again, this time more slowly, on an even keel. They’d lost most of their headway when the sub skidded into the bottom, kicking up a cloud of silt which removed what little vision they’d had through the water and blocked the dim green light from above. The interior of the sub dropped to deep darkness relieved only by the glow of display panels.
"Are we okay?" Toni hissed from the back of the lockout chamber.
Patricia turned the speaker down on the sonar and said, "Yes. Now let me concentrate a minute, okay?"
They could hear the INS Fastship’s turbines and water jets through the hull, now, growing steadily louder.
"How could they possibly hear us over that racket?" Toni said.
"Signal processors. They can subtract their own noise profile. So hold it down." Patricia turned her seat halfway around, so she could reach the sonar controls, and waited, her legs propped against the bulkhead.
The Fastship passed a hundred yards to the south of them. The bearing from the pinger on Terminal Lorraine was merging slowly with the bearing of the INS Fastship’s turbines. Then the turbines revved back, dropping substantially in volume and the sound of outboards came through the speaker.
"They put an auxiliary in the water. They’re going to board her."
"Isn’t it about time you told me what’s going on?"
Patricia tried to think of a way to tell her—something simple, something that wasn’t as horrible as the truth. In the end, she chickened out. "Turn on my workstation—in the tan case. There’s a file on the desktop called ‘wreck video’. Play it."
She plugged a headset into the sonar and listened with one ear piece pressed to my head. Her other ear could hear the muted sound of her own narration from the workstation.
"--presence of sharks makes me think the crew went down with her."
The rest of it was silent, thank goodness, but her memory readily filled in the images and she shivered again. She half expected them to emerge from the murk outside and press their mangled hands and bodies against the port.
Toni’s face was clearly lit from the glow of the screen and Patricia watched her frown increase in intensity, then saw her entire body flinch back from the screen. "Jesus!"
Toni was silent long after the video stopped playing. Finally she asked, "We’re not going back there, are we?"
"No!" Patricia was surprised at the intensity in my voice. She was the one who talked about keeping quiet after all. She whispered, "No. Definitely not."
"It was horrible, but why is it dangerous to us?"
Patricia pressed the headset back to her ears again. The outboard motors were still revving, possibly keeping station with Terminal Lorraine after dropping men aboard to search the boat. She pictured faceless men rummaging through every compartment aboard her and felt like some sleaze bucket was groping her in a crowd.
She answered Toni’s question. "Did you hear me talk about the shell holes in the wreck? The machine gun holes? The standard armament on a Witch Class Fastship—that thing that was coming after us—is fifty caliber machineguns and twenty-five millimeter cannon."
In the earphones, the Sycorax revved up its turbines and Patricia picked up the sound of its wake deepening.
"You’re saying the INS sank her?"
She pronounced it "ins" like "ins and outs". She’d been an "out" all her life, so it made sense.
"It’s possible. I don’t know. I’m not taking the chance. I’ll apologize all they want once we’re safe on the Strand, but I don’t want to deal with them out here. Not without witnesses."
"Why would they do that?"
"Kill us? Or sink that ship?"
Toni waved her hand irritably. "Sink the ship."
"I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t know they were in the hold. Maybe the crew fired on them. But she was deliberately sunk. There was no other reason for cannon fire at the waterline. And the only reason to sink her would be to keep it quiet."
Toni muttered something.
"I said I wouldn’t put it past them. I’ve heard stories," Toni said.
The bearing on the Fastship shifted and Patricia tweaked the settings on the hydrophone, refining the angle. As it moved the frequency changed, first dropping, the raising again. "Doppler shift. She’s coming back."
Toni’s eyes widened. "The Fastship?"
"Well, it’s not Santa Claus."
The bearing stopped changing and Patricia knew they were retracing the boat’s path, the old ship channel. Then she heard a ping, strong and loud, about 25 kilohertz.
"Dammit! They’re actively sounding the bottom and we’re right in their path." The titanium hull would return a strong, distinctive signal.
Patricia swung the seat forward and kicked the engine in—only ten percent power, at first, since SubLorraine was chewing through as much silt as she was water. The nose came up and the sense of dragging stopped. Patricia pushed the thruster to ninety percent and cut starboard, to the southeast and they came out of the silt cloud into the murky green. If the Sycorax had passive sonar, they’d hear SubLorraine for sure. At ninety percent thrust, the engine hummed like a loud dishwasher and the blade tips cavitated enough to be audible.
Patricia risked one active sonar pulse, forward, and got a strong return at five hundred yards. It was the old stone breakwater lining the ship channel on the north end of Pelican Island. She pulled the nose up until the gauge showed one hundred and five feet of surface water.
"What’s happening?" Toni asked, a hint of panic in her voice.
"I’m running for Galveston."
"Huh? You can go submerged all the way to the Strand?"
"Not New Galveston." New Galveston was the official name of the Strand. "Old Galveston. Drowned Galveston."
The bearing on the Fastship had been changing, as they continued up the channel, but now it stopped shifting. "Shit! They’ve turned toward us. They must have passive sonar."
She dropped the thrusters back to ten percent and banked hard to port, changing course forty-five degrees. At ten percent thrust the sub’s noise signature would vanish into the background wash of surface waves and shrimp clicks. Unfortunately, their speed would also drop to less than two knots. Patricia didn’t want to use any more active sonar. That’d be like ringing a bell and shouting "come and get it!"
The bearing on the Fastship began shifting slightly and Patricia hoped they were headed for that last contact. She was looking for the old ship channel between Pelican Island and Galveston proper, a deep, narrow channel.
The water clarity was not great but at their current speed Patricia saw the breakwater in time to avoid running into it. She cut further port, following the breakwater west. Bearing separation on the INS Fastship increased and she felt slightly better.
A weed shrouded tower with navigation markings loomed out of the gloom and she cut hard to starboard cutting up over the corner, then dropping down into the old ship channel, pushing down to a hundred and thirty feet.
The noise signature from the Fastship disappeared, cut off by high sides, and Patricia pushed the thrusters up to fifty percent, figuring that if she couldn’t hear them, then they couldn’t hear the sub.
She was tempted to shut down, pull out the sleeping bags, and stick there, on the bottom, until they went away. With the lithium hydroxide cartridges that they’d added, they had enough life support for five-and-a-half days. They were more limited by power since they’d have to surface to recharge the flywheels, but still, even at their current reserves, they could stay on the bottom for a day and a half before they had to start hand cranking the circulation fan to pump air through the CO2 absorbent.
But at the end of the five days she and Toni would still be here, deep inside the EEZ and two hundred miles from home.
After ten more minutes Patricia shut the thrusters off and pulled back on the stick, rising thirty feet from momentum alone. When she swept the hydrophone around, the Sycorax’s turbines showed up immediately, fifteen degrees starboard of the stern, which meant they’d given up on the other bearing and were heading out.
"The Fastship is moving out to sea." Patricia put the hydrophone on speaker. The whine of the turbines filled the sub, loosely organized white noise. Patricia shifted the phone slightly and the noise diminished.
It came after a moment, a clear high frequency ping. "That’s the Lorraine. Heading for home." Patricia checked back on the other bearing. "Shit. Less separation. They might be shadowing her—waiting for us to come back."
She dropped back into the channel. Two more minutes at fifty percent brought them to the end of the channel where the bridge crossed over to Pelican Island. Without slowing she raised the sub out of the channel and cut port, up above the docks, past the container gantries, and into the rail yard.
She kept it ten feet above the tracks, weaving between old box cars and switch towers. She kept checking the passive sonar but what bits of noise she got were scattered and reflected by the many flat surfaces around them.
Patricia had already pulled the nose up. A nasty tangle of telephone poles and high tension wires blocked the edge of the yard at Avenue E and they barely cleared it, raising above the sheltering buildings before she cut power.
"Back seat driver." Patricia kept the power down and coasted fifty feet above the bottom. On the sonar, the Sycorax’s turbines were revving up again and her bearing shifted, then became constant.
"Dammit! They heard us. I bet they have a navy sonar operator."
She dropped down into Avenue E on the other side of the telephone pole tangle and kept it low, barely ten feet off the street, trying to maximize the acoustic barrier of the drowned buildings. She ran at twenty-five percent, fast enough to keep moving, but slow enough that she could avoid any obstacles that twenty years of currents had put across the street.
After a bit she cut across to Avenue J and continued southwest past rows of skeleton trees and caved in Victorian houses, then into the downtown area where some buildings reached as high as the surface.
She rose forty feet as soon as the sub was among them, drifting along dark windows. She heard Toni shift forward behind her, to get a better view. SubLorraine tilted slightly and Patricia corrected with the stick.
"I don’t care where you sit, Toni, but pick a place and stick with it. The trim gets out of whack when you move forward or back." She kept her voice soft.
There was a sharp tang to Toni’s sweat overwhelming her deodorant and when Patricia looked back at her, Toni’s eyes were wide open and her mouth a thin line.
"Is this okay?" Toni asked, her voice tentative.
"It’s fine," Patricia said. "There’s a sleeping bag tucked under my seat base. If makes a fair butt pad." Patricia pumped some water out of the forward trim tank. The tendency of SubLorraine to nose down ceased.
She used the headphones to check her bearing on the Sycorax. The turbine/water jet noise was breaking up as they put more and more submerged buildings between them and it.
She pushed the thrust up to ninety percent and ran at eleven knots.
"Won’t they hear us?" Toni asked, an edge of panic in her voice.
"The ambient noise in this area is particularly high—surf against the old buildings. With luck our noise profile will be blocked and distorted by the buildings and lost in the background roar."
Patricia looked back at Toni and grinned a grin she didn’t feel. "Hopefully."
She had other worries. They were dropping below twenty-percent on the flywheels and the sub was going to have to surface at some point and to run the turbo generator. The noise profile running full out was bad enough, but the noise from the turbo-generator could be heard through water a good thirty miles if you had the right equipment and it was clear the Sycorax did. Worse, the exhaust plume was two times hotter than boiling water and it would stick up into the air like a giant arrow pointed right down on them—a glowing finger on any IR scanner.
SubLorraine covered another seven nautical miles before Patricia got a positive ID on Sycorax. The cruiser had moved outside of Galveston, deeper into the Gulf, and were paralleling the Island, moving roughly in the same direction as the sub and about fifteen nautical miles away. Patricia had been stopping every five minutes to listen and, now that she had them, there was the possibility that they had SubLorraine, but their bearing didn’t change.
She tried to find the Gertrude ping from Terminal Lorraine and finally found it, but not where she’d hoped. After five minutes of listening, she confirmed the worst. It wasn’t headed toward the Strand—it was headed back toward the coast. Shit, they’ve impounded her.
Considering the range, Patricia thought twenty percent thrust—four knots—would be safe. She put the compass on south-southeast and slowly descended to a hundred feet of surface water once they were past the old shoreline and out into the historic gulf. They still had ten percent of usable PE in the flywheels and that meant a half-hour at their current consumption.
Patricia engaged the autopilot and turned the seat ninety degrees. This put her shoulder right next to Toni’s knee. She slumped in the seat and put her feet up on the bulkhead. "So, what’s to eat?"
Toni’s mouth dropped open and her eyes went wide. "Eat?"
Patricia wasn’t really hungry but she was worried about Toni. "Yeah. Eat. Food, preferably. I’m wasting away here." She wanted to give Toni something to do, to take her mind off the tiny quarters.
"How can you think of food now?" Toni’s voice rose in pitch but her shoulders dropped, relaxing some.
Good, good. "Well, I pay attention to my stomach and there it is—hunger."
Toni rolled her eyes up and turned away. "If I get you something to eat will you tell me what the hell is happening?"
Ignorance isn’t bliss. "Sure.
Toni put together cheese and crackers. "I figured the cheese would spoil first. We can switch to peanut butter later." She sliced the cheese using the cardboard cracker box as a cutting board, neat quick strokes with a stainless steel rigging knife. As she worked, the crease between Toni’s eyes slowly eased.
Better. Patricia called up a chart of the northwest Gulf. "Okay, here we are, just off old Galveston, about sixty miles from the Houston Dikes. We’ve got enough fuel to get to New Galveston." She pointed at the dot representing the Strand, about a hundred and sixty nautical miles from their current position, just outside the EEZ. "But, we’ve got to avoid the INS until we’re in international waters and, frankly, I’m not sure if it’s safe even then."
Toni nodded, chewing mechanically.
"The Sycorax has pretty good sonar equipment and that airborne drone. If they keep after us, they’ll find us every time we surface to spin up the flywheels. On the other hand, by the time they get to us, we can be submerged again and, hopefully, safe." Unless they have torpedoes or depth charges.
"How long can we stay submerged? And breathe, that is."
"Well, that’s the crux of it. We’ve got about five days of life support. We can make it on that, but not if we have to creep along to avoid making too much noise. If we could run full out on the surface, we’d make it in by tomorrow, but we’d be sitting ducks." Patricia put air between her cheeks and gums and squeezed it out, making a quacking sound.
Toni blinked surprised. "Are you sure they’re really after us?"
Patricia reviewed the data in her head. "I’m sure they’re after us. I’m not sure whether they want to just talk to us and check our papers or they want to kill us and keep us from telling anybody else what we’ve seen." What I saw. Maybe I should’ve left her aboard and run for it. Maybe they would’ve left her alone. Patricia looked at Toni’s face, smooth, untouched by the hand of time. And would you like to be the one to tell her parents if they didn’t? "I don’t want to risk it."
Toni shrugged. "Well, if they just wanted to question us, we look guilty as hell, running like this."
Patricia shook her head. "I do. It’s my name on the registry. Unless you left your ID aboard, they have no idea who you are." Unless they dust the boat for prints.
An alarm sounded—a light tone. Patricia sighed and shut down the thrusters.
"What was that?" Toni asked.
"We’re below five percent on the flywheels. We’re going to have to surface and run the turbogenerator to get anywhere."
SubLorraine drifted slowly to a stop and listed slightly to port as she lost dynamic stability. Patricia shifted her weight to starboard and closed her eyes. With the engine off and the gain turned down on the sonar speaker the only sound was the faint whirring of the circulation fan and, because Patricia was close to her, the sound of Toni’s breathing.
"Aren’t we going to surface?"
Patricia opened her eyes again. "Eventually. The longer we wait, the farther away they’ll get. That’s my hope. That’s my plan."
"Why do you even do this?"
"What are you talking about?"
Toni shrugged. "You’re richer than Midas and you take on these stupid jobs for Amoco when you’ve got all that stuff back on the strand."
Patricia sighed. "I am not richer than Midas. And I got a good rate for this job."
"You’ve got the Elephant Arms Apartments and that school and the garden thing and this sub and that boat. Don’t tell me you’re not rich."
It must look like riches to you. "Yeah, I’ve got that stuff, but I also don’t make that much from them. I’ve got over thirty people working for me and they all have salaries, health plans, and retirement packages. And If I don’t keep bringing in money with jobs like this, the whole mess breaks down." And I don’t even want to think what happens to them if I die out here.
"Oh." Toni tried to stretch and her long arms hit the bulkhead before she’d even started. "D-dammit! This thing is so tiny!"
Patricia reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. "Shhhh. Here, trade places with me." She swung the seat toward Toni and squeezed past her, hoping she wouldn’t freak as Patricia crowded her even more. Toni moved into the seat quickly. Patricia lifted Toni’s feet up onto the edge of the cushion and turned the chair a full one-eighty, so she faced, and actually stuck out into, the acrylic nose of the sub.
This far off the coast the water was relatively clear, free of silt in the top hundred feet of the water column. When you sat in the front of SubLorraine you didn’t feel like you were contained in a narrow steel culvert—you felt suspended in an enormous green-blue vault.
The water was changing color, gathering more blue as the amount of suspended silt dropped and the visibility increased. It was far less confining than the back seat, like sitting in an enormous cathedral, the moving waves above defracting shafts of light down into the vast space like the glow of stained glass touched by the sun.
"Try deep breaths, now. Deep breaths." Toni shuddered and then visibly relaxed, taking Patricia’s advice and breathing deeply. There was a med kit aboard but short of major pain medication, Patricia didn’t think there was anything she could use to tranquilize Toni. Make a note: add valium to the first aid kit. Also, screen for claustrophobia in future employees.
"I’ve no intention of dying out here. I’m way behind on the routine inspections of the Strand submerged structures and I’ve got to get back by Wednesday for a shift of playground duty."
"What? Don’t you have people to work there?"
Patricia grinned to herself. That’s it. Get her out of her own head. "We’re always short-handed. "Sing me that song," Patricia said. "The one I homed on."
"Huh?" Patricia could see Toni’s reflection, surprised, distorted. "’DNA Blues’?"
"Is that what it was?"
"Sing it now."
The dome acted as a acoustic reflector, focusing sound back at your body adding an almost tactile resonance to anything you say while in the seat. Toni started out weak and tentative but strengthened as she felt the reflected vibrations.
Patricia had wanted to distract Toni, to keep her calm, but it ended up helping Patricia, too. She hadn’t realized how tense she was.
Big surprise, that.
When Toni finished, Patricia could see a smile flash in Toni’s distorted reflection.
"Nice. Very nice," Patricia said, earning another brief glimpse of teeth. "I’m going to need to use the sonar set, now."
"Do you want me to move?" There was some anxiety in Toni’s voice.
"No. Just hand me the headset. You can work the controls for me." It would be awkward but it had the double advantage of keeping Toni in the less claustrophobic nose and give her something to do.
"What are we doing?"
"Looking for a…" Miracle? "…a decoy. Well, not exactly a decoy—some nice noisy traffic heading our way that can hide our sonar signature. Sort of a moving screen." Patricia took the headphones from her and told her how to kick the nose around until we were pointed back toward the coast. The hydrophone for the passive sonar sat in an acoustically transparent dome on the keel of the hull directly beneath the pilot’s seat. The lockout hatch and the fan duct distorted sonar reception from the aft quarter and Patricia wanted as much range as possible.
"Okay. That handle right under the edge of the seat is the hydrophone direction control. I want you to twist it around until it’s pointed about plus thirty."
"Plus thirty. How can I tell?"
"Look. There’s a dial and a pointer."
Toni tilted forward. "I didn’t see you do this."
"You do it long enough, you don’t have to look. It clicks every five degrees." Patricia checked the headset. "Turn the volume up a little." She reached past Toni and took the clipboard wedged between the O2 tank and the bulkhead, then put the headphones fully on.
There were seventeen candidates in the first ten minutes. By the end of the half-hour, there were only two. Of the other fifteen, six were going into port, five were fishing boats rattling their nets across the bottom, and four were fast transports, moving at over forty knots. They were noisy enough, with their turbines and waterjets, and they were going in the right direction, but even if the sub could intercept one, they couldn’t keep pace long enough for it to hide them.
The remaining two were diesel powered with big screws whose bearings changed more slowly than the rejects. One of them had an odd hull sound, far in excess of the other and Patricia had a notion about it. "There’s our boy," she said. "But we’re going to have to haul ass to catch them."
"What is it?"
Toni kept her voice brisk. "Right, then. Let’s do it." Her shoulders were hunched up again, though, as she squeezed past Patricia.
Patricia strapped in, then powered up and eased SubLorraine back to the surface. Sycorax was south of them, perhaps seventeen nautical miles, but moving very slowly, playing a waiting game.
"Here we go."
After their time of quiet, the turbogenerator sounded like God’s own coffee grinder, filling the interior with noise. For the five minutes necessary to spin the flywheels up, Patricia couldn’t check on the whereabouts of the Sycorax either, for the noise overwhelmed her one hydrophone. What she could do, however, since she was on the surface, was get a good GPS fix and take a listen on the VHF radio.
"—below me. Stand to and prepare to be boarded. I repeat, submarine below, open your hatches and prepare to be boarded."
"Jesus, Joseph, and Mary!" Patricia leaned forward and craned her head up. Distorted by the thin wash of water overhead, a large orange and white shape hung above. As she watched, a dark blob detached itself from the larger shape and dropped, splashing into the water about twenty feet ahead of them. When the bubbles cleared Patricia saw a wet-suited figure kicking his way toward the sub.
"What is it?" Toni asked, reacting to Patricia’s voice.
Patricia kicked the thruster in pushing the lever all the way up to the stop while she gave the sub full port rudder. They surged forward and she felt Toni grab the back of her seat to keep from falling back.
The diver jerked to a stop and kicked back for a moment before he realized the sub was turning away from him. Then he was gone, well behind them.
"HEAVE TO IMMEDIATELY OR WE WILL OPEN FIRE," the voice on the VHF said.
The flywheels were only up to forty-percent and Patricia was wondering how long she could push it when a sheet of bubbles cut through the water in front of her like a bead curtain.
She didn’t bother to shut off the turbogenerator. She just pushed the stick all the way forward and prayed the safety interlocks would work.
There was a heavy thud that shook the entire hull as the float operated flap valve on the snorkel intake flipped shut onto a jet engine sucking several hundred cubic foot of air a minute. The sudden vacuum sucked exhaust gas back up into the combustion chamber stopping the turbine dead. Red lights came on and alarms sounded but the fan kept thrusting. When the nose of SubLorraine was fifteen feet under and the stern barely awash there was the a loud bang, as if someone had struck the hull with a ball-peen hammer, and then another.
Then the sub was deeper and the only things that comforted Patricia were that the gauges wasn’t showing any water in the engine compartment and those bastards didn’t dare drop explosives while their diver was in the water.
The sub pointed straight down now, Toni perched on the back of Patricia’s chair and moaning, while Patricia hung in her seat, the seat belt pressing into her bladder with painful intensity. She shut down the thrusters and let SubLorraine coast deeper, gaining speed.
"It’s going to be all right, Toni. Deep breaths."
"That's easy for you to say!" Toni's voice was shrill with more than a hint of panic.
They'd probably found the sub visually, Patricia thought. This far out, the water was clear enough that, looking down from altitude, the helicopter spotted SubLorraine’s shape even a hundred feet underwater. She was going to fix that. The bottom here was just under three hundred feet and she was going to get right down on it.
"Patricia--could we level out anytime soon?"
"It's all relative. Become a fish. Surrender the chains of planar thinking. Jeeze—surface dwellers!" They passed one hundred feet and Patricia picked up the sound of turbines and waterjets to the south on the passive sonar. Sycorax was headed their way.
Toni was muttering, "I'm not a fish. I'll never be a fish. I eat fish. And I like gravity under my butt, too."
Patricia called up the instrumentation menu and enabled a water temperature readout in the corner of her panel—sixty-seven degrees Fahrenheit and dropping very slowly, perhaps a tenth of a degree for every ten feet down. The gulf is a soupy mass of water, hot-to-warm but you get deep enough and you can find cold water underneath. Sometimes there's a gradual transition between the cold and the hot and sometimes it's sharp as a knife. Patricia was hoping for the knife.
The sub passed two hundred feet and she rolled it ninety degrees without changing the nose down attitude. The hull was creaking, sharp popping sounds that were probably audible all the way to Houston, as the pressure increased. Patricia wasn't worried about the hull--it was designed for half a mile of water column—but the noise worried her.
Apparently it bothered Toni, too, because every time the hull popped, she whimpered.
"Don't worry, girl. The noise is a normal adjustment to pressure changes."
Toni muttered, "Normal for you maybe.
Patricia adjusted the hydrophone on the passive sonar. The Sycorax was still coming on strong.
Then it stopped, the sound cut off sharply to nothing.
Patricia looked at the temperature readout--48 degrees Fahrenheit. "Yes!"
Toni cursed again as Patricia pulled the nose up sharply, headed due east, and kicked the thrusters back up to forty-five percent.
"Yes, what? What is it with the yes, already?"
"We've got a thermocline and we're under it. A thermocline reflects sound. Our sound, underneath, doesn't make it to the surface. I can't hear the Sycorax either, but we can rise above the thermocline to check them. They can't drop below to check us. We can make progress without them tracking us."
"What about that helicopter?"
"We're too deep, now, for them to track us visually."
The hull popped again and Toni whimpered. "Too deep."
"I've had this sub over two-thousand feet down, Toni. The hull sounds are normal adjustments to changes in pressure."
Toni didn’t speak for a moment and when she did she said haltingly, "If you say so."
Just don’t spaz on me, girl.
Patricia didn’t want to tell her their real problem. Patricia’s original plan had been to close with some noisy and heavy surface traffic that was slow enough for the sub to match speed—then keep it between them and the Sycorax, a sonic barrier. Now, though, since they hadn’t been able to fully charge the flywheels, they didn’t have the reserves needed to reach the barges she’d identified earlier.
She called up the charts again and plugged in the GPS data she’d acquired on their brief stay topside, looking for anything, something that might give them an edge.
"What’s that?" Toni asked after Patricia had centered the chart on their current location. She stretched her arm over Patricia’s shoulder to indicate a small square south of them which read "DP52: submerged structure: surface clearance fifty feet."
Patricia didn’t answer her for a moment. From the mouths of babes. Finally Patricia said, "It’s an oil rig."
Patricia closed on the rig slowly. She didn’t want to come this far only to crack open the nose on a massive steel column. The rig towered above them, ranging from fifty feet of surface water at the truncated end of it’s mostly salvaged derrick to it’s legs, buried in silt and sand at two hundred and ninety-five feet. The sub, approaching at a depth of two hundred and thirty feet, was well below the majority of its mass.
"As it is above, so it shall be below."
Toni, looking over Patricia’s shoulder, said, "What are you talking about?"
"Refugees." She gestured
There were fish everywhere. Schooling horsehead jacks, ling, solitary grouper, three swordfish cutting through shimmering clouds of pinfish, and a hammerhead shark cruising the outer edge of the schools. Patricia felt Toni’s breath on her ear as the girl craned forward to get a better look.
The rig, sea life, water, everything, was painted in shades of blue, the other colors of sunlight filtered out by the water column like a painting from Picasso’s blue period. As they cleared a massive triangular brace and entered into the deep shadow between two of the rig’s legs, Patricia switched on the two floodlights which tipped SubLorraine’s wings. Fish, suddenly painted vivid hues of yellow, orange, and red, scattered, fled to monotoned anonymity beyond the beams scope.
"Ohhhhhhhh," sighed Toni. "Do it again."
"Later," Patricia said. "Hang on tight, we’re going up." She pulled the stick back and heard items sliding down the floor of the chamber as the sub climbed to the vertical. The thermocline held, here beneath the rig, but she was moving the sub slowly, stealthily and merely noted the temperature rise as she passed two-hundred feet.
Toni swore for a moment, beneath her breath, and Patricia spared a glance behind—now below—her.
"Give a girl some warning, why don’t you!" To keep from first sliding, then falling to the back of the sub, Toni had braced her feet and was pushing her back against what had been the ceiling, chimney style, one hand on the back of Patricia’s seat, the other holding on to one corner of the sleeping bag she’d been sitting on which dangled down the length of the sub toward the lockout chamber.
Patricia turned back around, quickly, worried that she’d run into something but the space beneath the platform was vast and, even though the riser assembly led down through the middle of the space, they were nowhere near it. She let her head drop back against the headrest, easing the strain from her neck. The sub was pointed straight up now and the rest of the loose gear had slid or dropped to the lockout chamber hatch.
"There. Do you see it?"
"That shiny thing?"
The bubble was a flat mirror, reflecting the floodlights back down at them, increasing steadily in brightness as they rose. There was a cross current but the bubble was sheltered from it by the massive beams that formed its walls, and the silver surface seemed flat as glass. Without changing their orientation, Patricia killed the thrusters and let the sub coast upward, slowing. When they were ten feet short, she stopped them dead with reverse thrust.
"Wave in the pretty mirror," she told Toni.
Their reflections, distorted by the curved acrylic nose, stared back at them, doppelgangers suspended above in an outlandish electric light fixture. Patricia pumped a small amount of water from the forward ballast tank and the sub crept upwards. Their reflection grew as well, dropping slowly to meet them until, at the last, even Patricia began to worry what would happen when the two subs collided, but, of course, they didn’t. Instead, the acrylic nose of its reflected twin and the mirrored surface rippled out in circle after circle of distortion around a widening hole.
"Why so slow?" Toni asked.
"Didn’t know how much clearance there was. Didn’t want to break anything."
The chamber above had at least six feet of clearance between the surface of the water/air interface and the lowest of the steel beams above. Patricia could’ve risen normally, in a horizontal configuration, but at least now she knew there were no nasty surprises waiting to smash them from above. Shepumped water from the rear trim tank and the stern began to rise.
"Well, what now?"
"We’re going to run the turbogenerator to recharge the flywheels," Patricia said.
"Oh! Cool. You’re going to use the bubble for air so we don’t have to surface."
"Right. There is a problem, though."
Yeah, several problems.
Patricia put on the full outfit this time—dry suit, rebreather, and the fully enclosed helmet with its built-in Gertrude so she could talk to Toni while she was outside.
She’d gone over the procedures with Toni several times before closing herself in the lockout chamber. She dropped out of the chamber clutching her two-pound sledge and a waterproof bag holding Toni’s portable stereo.
"You read me?"
Toni’s voice came back clearly in the headset. "Oh, yeah. You’re really going to replace my stereo, right?"
"Cross my fingers—" hope not to die.
The stereo floated, buoyed by air trapped in the bag, and as Patricia pushed it clear of the hatch, it slithered up the side of the sub to bob at the water-air interface. Patricia followed, venting a bit of nitrogen into her dry suit to counteract the tendency of the hand sledge to pull her toward the bottom.
"I’m moving to the back of the sub now." She let her helmet push the stereo along in front of her, bobbing along, while she slid her free hand along the side of SubLorraine and kicked her fins.
"Confirm fan locked out, please."
There was a pause and then Toni’s voice came back. "Confirmed. The thruster display says ‘disabled.’"
Patricia wedged the floating bag with the stereo into the shroud surrounding the thruster fan, then slipped off her fins and clipped them to a ring on her rebreather harness. She used the horizontal stabilizer as a step and hauled herself awkwardly up onto the sub, the weight of her rebreather, ballast belt, and suit becoming suddenly onerous as she lifted them above the supporting embrace of the water. The rear of SubLorraine settled noticeably lower in the water eliciting a started query over the Gertrude.
"It’s okay, Toni. I’ve climbed on top and it’s just my weight. The snorkel is still above water."
Toni had not wanted to be left alone in the sub but there was no way that the snorkel was going to open by itself. Not with the engine compartment being at surface pressure and the air bubble at two atmospheres gauge.
Patricia turned her attention to the snorkel, an integral part of the vertical stabilizer. Just behind the titanium pipe of the snorkel there was an ugly hole in the composite skin of the stabilizer. Patricia shuddered. If the bullet had hit the snorkel instead… She decided not to tell Toni about it.
The intake was covered by a solenoid driven titanium flapper valve with a Teflon seal. A float and water pressure actuated arm would close it—had closed it—in the event of unexpected submersion. At depth, the solenoid was insufficient to open the valve against water pressure.
Unless it gets a little help. "Toni, on my mark, activate the intake valve." Patricia adjusted her grip on the sledge. "Three, two, one, mark!" She brought the sledge up to the overhanging lip of the flapper valve. It didn’t budge. "Again, three, two, one, mark!" This time she felt it move slightly but the pressure differential was still too great, sucking the titanium piece firmly down onto its seat. Patricia began to worry about cracking the valve. If she flooded the engine compartment on submersion, they wouldn’t be going anywhere but down.
"One more time." Again, she counted to the mark and this time she used both hands on the sledge, throwing her body back to increase the impact.
The cover flipped back and there was a shrieking whistle
"Whoa. I heard that," Toni said on the Gertrude. "Hell, I felt that."
Patricia inspected the flapper valve, frowning. There was a hairline crack on the edge but it didn’t seen to extend as far as the seat seal. Fingers crossed. "It looks like we’ve got step one taken care of. Give me a minute to prepare for step two."
Patricia didn’t want the stereo too close to the sub. The noise levels would be bad enough but there was the possibility that the exhaust gasses would raise temperatures in the bubble enough that the waterproof bag would melt. She retrieved it from the fan shroud and opened the bag while she was still perched on the sub. They’d disabled the write protect on one of Toni’s Grand Mal mini disc while the stereo was still inside, but Patricia still had to turn on the record button.
"It’s my favorite disc, you know," Toni said over the Gertrude.
"I’ll download you another copy when we get home. Are you ready?"
"Snorkel and exhaust are green. Why shouldn’t I be ready?"
Patricia bit her lip, then decided to tell her. "I’m not exactly sure what’s going to happen, Toni. The partial pressure of oxygen at this pressure is three times what the engine is used to. It may burn hot or the extra air mass may cool it more efficiently or it…it might overheat really quick." Patricia pushed the record button on the stereo and sealed the bag, before sliding off the sub into the water. "So watch your readouts. Hell, better yet, turn the display screen sideways and we’ll both watch the readouts."
She shoved the floating bag toward the front of the sub, then put her fins back on and kicked after them. At the front of the sub, she shoved the bag farther away, then bled nitrogen from her drysuit until she was neutral, hovering just outside the seam between the acrylic nose and the titanium hull.
"Can you see it okay?"
Inside, Toni had rotated the plasma display ninety degrees and, while slightly distorted, Patricia could read it fine.
"Drop your knee and it’s perfect. Okay, do it."
The jet engine whined up to speed, then coughed suddenly before catching. Patricia held onto a recessed mounting bolt with one hand and crossed her fingers on the other. The temperature readouts climbed steadily, reaching normal operating temperatures more quickly than usual. The noise level was tremendous, even through the rubber helmet and headphones.
Here kitty, kitty, kitty. You hear that, Syco Witch?
"No explosions," said Toni. "That’s good."
Not yet. "Always a plus," Patricia said loudly, to be heard over the sound of the turbine.
The exhaust temperature readout passed five-hundred and fifty degrees Fahrenheit. Patricia lifted her hand a cautiously poked her bare fingers above the water’s surface. The air temperature was rising rapidly as exhaust gasses swirled into the enclosed chamber.
On the readout screen, the temperature readout on the recuperator housing was in the yellow and heading for orange. The storage flywheels were up to sixty-five percent but Patricia expected the turbine to fail catastrophically at any time.
She looked at her watch. It’s not worth the risk. "Okay, shut her down. We’ll see if that will do it." The relief from the noise was palpable. "God, that’s better. Time to see what we got on the recorder."
She swam over to the recorder under the surface. When she reached her hand up to take it, the plastic surface of the upper bag was hot and slightly sticky.
She rolled it over, to cool it. She’d been planning on taking it back up into the air pocket to check the recording, but the air was so warm that she decided against it, returning, instead, to the lockout chamber and muscling the buoyant bag back under the surface, to pop up through the hatch.
Perched inside, legs down in the water, she pulled off her helmet and wiped down the bag closure before opening it.
She put it in play mode and specified track one. Even at low volume, the sound of the turbogenerator was perfect. When she boosted the bass and increased the volume, it was scary.
"Okay. Let’s see what we can do."
Timing is everything.
"Are you sure this is going to work?" Toni asked.
Patricia laughed. "Hell, no."
"It’s not going to work?"
Patricia laughed again. "No. I’m just not sure it’s going to work."
The sub was perched on the truncated gantry, a mere fifty feet below the surface. The water around them was dimming as the sun neared the horizon and Patricia was no longer worried about being picked up visually by aircraft, especially profiled by the dark mass of the rig.
Patricia was back outside, again, perched on the top of SubLorraine, right behind the acrylic nose, feeling like a bull rider right down to gripping a cinch strap. She’d tied a heavy mooring rope to the forward lifting eye, and had the coiled excess tucked under her butt as she gripped the rope close to the hull. They had the settings on the Gertrude turned all the way down but even so, they intended to stop using it when the Sycorax closed on the rig. The acoustic telephone translated voice frequencies up into the kilohertz range to broadcast through the water and passive sonar could certainly detect it. An operator could even drop the frequency back to hear what was being said.
"She’s still coming strong and her bearing hasn’t changed a bit."
Patricia closed her eyes. "Yeah. I can hear her now. Get ready. Remember—no more than five percent thrust and watch my hand signals."
Patricia checked her chronograph. They were pushing it. They had less than two minutes until their diversion happened and if Sycorax wasn’t in place, the diversion would be useless.
Come on you overpriced heap of scrap.
The stereo, still down in the air pocket below the rig platform, started up precisely on time, full volume. Patricia could hear it clearly through the water, unaided.
Hopefully the very expensive sonar equipment on the Sycorax could, too.
She’d programmed it to repeat the first track on the disk five times which, with a slight stutter every time it repeated, should give them ten minutes of turbo generator noise.
"No more Gertrude, Toni."
Toni answered by holding her thumb up where Patricia could see it.
The noise from Sycorax was growing, threatening to overwhelm the sound from the stereo. Their signal processors probably filter it out. She kept twisting around, her eyes to the southeast, looking for the dark shadow of the Sycorax’s hull.
The sound of the Sycorax grew and grew, to the point where she was feeling the pressure waves on her skin, an oppressive, ominous force. Where are you, dammit? Five minutes into the diversion, she saw it, more southerly than she’d expected, long and narrow and big. Even as she acquired the visual, the Sycorax throttled back completely, surprising her by how tiny and tinny the stereo reproduction of her own turbo generator sounded by comparison.
The Sycorax still made noise even with her jets shut off. She’d been doing over forty knots and she didn’t exactly stop on a dime. The hull wash sounded like distant surf and she coasted past faster than SubLorraine’s top speed.
Stop already or come back.
Almost as if her captain had heard her, Sycorax dropped her deflector plates over her jet nozzles, and kicked her jets back in. The reversed thrust dropped the forward motion quickly, bringing Sycorax to a stop at the far edge of visual range.
Patricia stuck her hand forward where Toni could see it and pointed her finger forward. Come on, girl. Let’s see what you can do.
In less than three minutes, they’d run out of diversion.
It took most of that three minutes to close on Sycorax. Patricia clung to the rope and streamlined her body with SubLorraine, trying to minimize drag. The closer they got to the INS Fastship the less sure she was about the plan.
Can they hear us? Are they still listening to the decoy? They must’ve heard us when we were really running the generator. Can they tell the difference?
Toni headed SubLorraine straight for the stern of Sycorax, keeping at fifty feet. When they passed into its shadow, Patricia waved her hand and pointed up. Toni didn’t waste time waving back but pulled the stick back.
Too fast, too fast.
Toni must’ve felt the same because she kicked the thrusters into reverse. SubLorraine drifted to a stop ten feet below the intake grates of Sycorax’s massive water jets.
Down below, the tinny sound of the recorded turbojets stopped and after a few seconds of silence she heard the bass and drum intro of Grand Mal’s "I Don’t Like the Clothes you Wear."
Too soon! Patricia kicked hard off SubLorraine, uncoiling the rope as she went. She approached the water intakes with dread. The grating was stainless steel with six-inch spacing and the constant flow of water and small debris had polished the leading edges to knife thinness. If the Sycorax were to start up its jets right now, she suspected she’d be pulled through the grid like cheese though a grater.
She threaded the rope through the aft edge of the grate, tied a bowline, then tucked, rolled, and kicked off the Sycorax’s hull.
Almost immediately she heard the turbines above whining as they increased in rpm’s.
They must’ve figured out it’s a decoy and they think we ran for the Strand. Oh, god, oh god, oh god!
She got as far as the nose of SubLorraine when the rope suddenly went rigid tight and SubLorraine jerked forward, knocking into her shoulder. As she slid underneath the sub’s nose, she saw Toni looking down through the acrylic with a horrified expression on her face.
The ventral fin struck Patricia in the knee, next, and she nearly passed out from the pain, but flailed around to grab it. The water was moving by very fast, now, tugging at her helmet, her equipment. The lockout chamber hatch was right behind her but it was closed and unless they stopped, there was no way she’d be able to open it against the rush of the water. Hell, even if she could open the hatch, to do so, she would have to let go of the ventral fin.
This was such a stupid idea!
She wouldn’t be able to hold on much longer. She felt one of her fins flutter as the streaming water caught the edge of the foot pocket and then it was gone, torn off like tissue in the wind.
She shifted her grip on the fin and freed one hand to flip the Gertrude power switch as high as it could go. Hope Toni doesn’t answer. She used her thickest central American accent, half Nicaraguan guttural, half Belize sing song. "Yo, Beenan. Look at them run! They bought it!" Then, cranking the control down to the halfway mark, she answered, using her own voice, "Can it, you idiot! They can still hear us!"
With a little bit of luck, the sonar operator on Sycorax might think the second signal came from a different source, because of the difference in amplitude. In any case, Patricia hoped they would think they were cruising away from their quarry.
The drag was increasing and, even with both hands on the ventral fin, the water pulled at Patricia’s helmet, rebreather, and limbs like some relentless giant. Her other swim fin tore away and she wondered, abstractly, if she would be swept clear or break her back on SubLorraine’s fan shroud.
She could feel the space between the finger joints increasing and her fingers slowly unbending. Sorry, Dad.
Then the noise slowed, the massive overwhelming drone of the water jets and turbines wound down to a mild droning and the pressure eased, slowly at first, then more. She risked one hand to reach back to the hatch, and pulled the purge lever, venting the excess pressure in the lockout chamber into the water. It sounded like someone farting loudly in a bathtub and Patricia wondered what the sonar operator would make of it.
She freed the hatch and it dropped slightly open, but, as she suspected, the water was still holding it mostly closed. She pulled on it, but the best she could do was pull it down forty-five degrees. Come on! The Sycorax was still slowing, but her Captain could speed up again at any moment, either to turn back to look for the source of the Gertrude transmission, or to return to their original course.
The Sycorax slowed even more and the hatch came down further. Now or never, girl. She let go of the ventral fin and clung to the hatch latch, streaming down current before she transferred her grip to the trailing edge of the hatch opening. Here she found she could wedge her body between the hatch and the hatchway, forcing it open by worming through, twisting to get the rebreather through. She’d gotten her helmet and torso up into the chamber when that sound started again, turbines and water-jets revving up. The pressure on the hatch increased sharply, pinching her thighs between the hatch and the hatchway. She used her weight to push down on the hatch and pulled one leg, then the other through. The act of pulling her right foot through before the water forced the hatch shut, tore her dry suit boot open, abrading the skin raw on her instep. Blood mixed with salt water splattered drops on the acrylic.
Shit! Just what she needed. Her suit was patched in a dozen places already.
It took longer for Patricia to squirm out of her equipment that it took the pumps to bring the lockout chamber back down to surface pressure.
Toni was incoherent. "But—you—. How—?"
"Shhhhhh," Patricia whispered when the hatch was opened. "They’re listening. Mind the helm."
They had to keep a slight downward pressure on the horizontal dive controls to keep SubLorraine from swinging up and bumping into the bottom of the Sycorax.
"What’s our speed?"
Toni turned back around to look at the readout. "Uh. Thirty-three knots."
Patricia whistled silently. "She’s never gone so fast." She unclipped the first aid kit from the bulkhead, working as quietly as she can.
"What do we do now?"
"We wait. The Sycorax makes a stop at the Abattoir every Wednesday, when the INS transport brings the latest deportees in from Texas and Arkansas." The Abattoir was the nickname for the Abbott Base Refugee and Detention Center, the INS’s processing and detention camp at New Galveston.
Toni’s expression darkened. "Yeah. I’ve seen ‘em. Why the Sycorax?"
"Three years ago there was a bad riot. They want the extra firepower. You weren’t here, then, were you?"
Toni shook her head.
"A lot of people died, guards and inmates. That’s when they started calling it the Abattoir." Patricia found some gauze and began wrapping her foot. "This is Monday. We just have to imitate a hole in the water for thirty-six hours and the bastards will tow us home."
Becket: Centro de interés
Thomas hitched a ride to the site on an INS helicopter from Houston Intercontinental, skirting east of the Houston Dikes and travelling the entire way over brown gulf waters spotted with the shadows of clouds and occasionally interrupted by local boat traffic and the projecting tangles of taller pre-Deluge structures not yet pulled down by storm surge and the persistent wear of waves. Closer to shore the ever-present fingers of telephone poles and power line towers climbed from the water, getting shorter and shorter until all but the tallest utility towers rose above the waves.
The gray naval tender and a smaller ocean-going shrimp trawler were anchored in an otherwise unremarkable stretch of that same brown water.
But their very presence is the indicator. Their very presence defines the focus, the locus of this investigation. It made Thomas stir inside, coming back to life, just to think about it. He tried to put the scene in context with the video but it wasn’t the same. The video had been taken eighty-five feet below the surface of the water.
There was a landing pad on the fantail of the naval dive tender, but the pilot didn’t land—just hovered a few feet above while Thomas hopped down, then turned to catch his bag, dropped by the copter’s crew chief.
It was hot and humid and the sun shining off the water hurt his eyes. He’d been traveling all night in uncomfortable dress whites, now wrinkled and sweaty, and he felt like hammered shit.
His XO, Lieutenant Graham, met him at the edge of the platform, but remained silent while the noise and wind of the helicopter followed that vehicle away to the east. Graham was a slight black man and he looked cool and comfortable in khakis.
"Sorry I’m late, Jazz," Thomas said, speaking first. "They kept me on the stand all afternoon."
"Yes sir, I know. I called Admiral Rylant yesterday, uh, five pm D.C. time. He also said the sitting court threatened the honorable counsel for the defense with contempt if he didn’t show some substantive reason for continuing the cross exam. Did prosecution rest?"
"Yeah. I may get recalled during the defense, though. Hope not—I was just giving context to the video."
"Hmph. Why didn’t they plea bargain? We got the bastard cold, with the cocaine, with the weapons, with the cash."
Thomas shrugged. "He wasn’t offered a plea bargain. The decision came down from the Attorney General. They want him made an example. He’s a senior officer of the INS and they want to send a message."
"That you better not wear the uniform and be a bad guy?"
Thomas laughed. "Maybe. But certainly that you better not wear the uniform and get caught." He pointed at the large ocean-going shrimp boat moored next to the dive tender. "What’s that for?"
Graham started moving again, walking forward toward the bridge of the tender. "Got it from Houston impound. We’re using its freezer as a morgue."
The remnants of Thomas’s smile dropped from his face. "Oh, yeah. How many so far?"
"The divers are still bringing them up, but the rough count is forty-seven from the hold. The freighter’s crew is iffier—the sharks have been pulling them around so I’m not sure we’ll get a good count on them. Certainly we’ve got at least three different crew members. It remains to be seen if the other parts match up."
"You got facilities lined up?"
"Yeah. Harris County will lend us their morgue and lab. Most important, they’ve got a freezer semi-trailer for overflow and we’re going to need it."
"Who’d you get for examiner?"
"It’s still up in the air. You asked for Lawson but the FBI says he’s too busy with something in California. The old man says they’ll push them for someone of similar quality."
They reached the steep stair, almost a ladder, that led up to the bridge. "Might as well leave your bag here. We’ve been hot bunking it with the crew so I don’t know where we’ll end up putting you."
The bridge was dark, tinted shades pulled down over the front windows and the two khaki clad officers inside were facing a pair of video monitors mounted at the back of the room. They turned around as Thomas and Graham entered.
Graham did the introductions. "This is Captain Nathan Elmsford," he said, referring to a man with the brass oak leaf of a Lt. Commander. Captain, in this case, was his job, not his rank. "And this is his exec, Lieutenant Martin Callard. My boss, Commander Thomas Becket of INS CID."
Captain Elmsford shook hands. "Welcome aboard, Commander." His eyes lingered on the right side of Thomas’s face. "That’s quite a scar you got there."
Thomas smiled, causing them to stare even more. His smile was a lopsided affair, the scar tissue that covered most of the right side of his face was stiff and unresponsive at the corner of his mouth and right eye. "What can I say—I thought it was an electric razor." He said it deadpan, used to this reaction.
The two naval officers smiled uncertainly.
Thomas continued. "It’s good of you to extend facilities to the investigation."
"As if we had a choice. I go where I’m told." Elmsford gestured at an active screen, which showed a irregular dark shape framed by squares. Looking closer, Thomas saw it was the freighter Open Lotus and the sunken warehouses which he’d seen once, already, on the footage from the Beenan woman. The angle was very different, though, and he realized that the camera must be on the hull of the dive tender staring down through the water.
Two divers in Mark VII rebreathers were rising toward the camera, each pulling a long dark bag behind them.
Elmsford said, "And frankly, I’d have been glad not to. I’ve got some pretty tough personnel but this—" He shook his head. "My lead diver woke up screaming this morning. Nightmares."
Thomas closed his eyes briefly. "Does he have kids?"
"You got that right. Anyway, we’re professionals. We’ll do our job."
"I never had any doubts. Have you found any ordnance?"
"Projectiles. Jacketed slugs. Anything we can use for ballistic matching."
"Ah. We haven’t been looking but we can. In fact, I had to pull some of my men off the hold detail—the bodies were too much for them. This’ll give them something to do while the rest of my divers build up some surface interval after we finish recovering the bodies."
"It can’t have been easy on anybody." Thomas took another look at the screen. A different pair of divers had left the hold below, another pair of body bags in tow. Thomas exhaled air between clenched teeth. "I’ll let you guys get on with it, then. Uh, I know you guys are crowded, but do you have someplace I can bunk?"
Elmsford and his XO exchanged looks, then Elmsford said, "Certainly. You can hot bunk with one of us, if you’d like, but the owner’s cabin on the shrimper is downright luxurious. It’s just that nobody wanted to sleep near the…you know."
Thomas looked at his own XO, Graham, who suddenly found his own shoes extremely interesting. "I see," Thomas said. "Well, I’m not particular." He offered his hand again to the two men and turned to leave.
"It’s not the dead who worry me."
The shrimp boat’s owner’s cabin boasted a double-wide bunk, A/C, and a stereo, as well several oil-painted female nudes more photorealistic than impressionistic. Thomas left his bag and followed Graham to the aft deck, where his people were using the shrimper’s gantry to transfer the body bags from the water to the refrigerated hold.
"Who are they, Jazz? Where are they from."
Jazz shook his head. "I have no idea. The crabs have really done a job. I know this, though. They weren’t poor. Their clothes are Chinese knockoffs of American and European fashions. Good dental work. Some crowns. But whoever put them in the hold took their ID. There’s not a purse or wallet to be found. No jewelry, no luggage. A few toys but they’re generic."
"Crabs and fish, but I think we’ll be able to get some plantar prints from those who wore lace-up shoes. We’ll have to go after birth records, then."
Thomas nodded. "Okay. Have the medical examiner try for stomach contents. Give me an idea of their diet and we’ll know where to send the footprints."
They walked to the edge of the open hold. The humidity of the hot gulf air was mixing with the cold below, making fog. A ladder leaned against one corner of the hatchway and they climbed down into the fog.
"That feels good," Thomas said, as the cold air enveloped him.
A voice from below said, "The first five minutes is nice. Can’t recommend it for much longer, though."
At one end of the hold a plywood table had been rigged, three feet wide by seven long. The speaker was one of two figures standing at the head of the table. He was holding a camera against the mouth of a corpse in a zipped open body bag, taking shots for dental matching. It was easy to do since the crabs had eaten away the cheeks and tongue. As he worked, the acquired images began appearing on the screen of a portable workstation set on two crates against the wall.
"How are you doing, Leo?" Thomas asked.
Master Chief Investigator Leo Bernstein was the unit’s forensic supervisor, a slightly heavy man with male pattern baldness eating up patches of his hair. He wore a field jacket and a decidedly civilian sweater over his undress denims. "I’ve been better. I’m going to get pneumonia going in and out of this hold."
The other person at the table, First Class Investigator Barbara Mendez, said, "Maybe you shouldn’t go back and forth. Why don’t you just stay down here so that nasty hot air doesn’t throw your metabolism into unbalance." Mendez was using a measuring tape to record the length of the corpse, then recording the information on the workstation with the dental and facial shots.
"I’ll give you unbalance," Bernstein told Mendez.
Thomas said, "You trying for the plantar prints?"
"Not here. Don’t want to mess them up. We could just as easily rip the skin off by removing the shoes and socks. If it were one or two I’d go ahead and do it, but I won’t really have enough supplies until we get them in the lab."
Thomas nodded. "Okay. As soon as the navy brings up the last body, we’ll get this bucket moving over to Houston. You can finish cataloging underway."
"Aye, aye, sir."
He and Jazz climbed out of the hold and walked back to the owner’s cabin. "You got any word on the submersible that found this mess?"
"Our Fastship Sycorax has been trying to intercept it, but it gave them the slip yesterday and they haven’t been able to reacquire it. You think they had anything to do with this?"
"Do they carry twenty-five millimeter cannon? How about fifty caliber machine guns? What became of their surface tender, anyway?"
"Sycorax put two ratings aboard. They sailed it back to Buffalo Bayou."
"I don’t suppose they found a cannon aboard?"
"No sir. No weapons of any kind."
"Well, then, I don’t think they had anything to do with it."
"Then why did they run? Doesn’t that sound suspicious to you?"
Thomas shrugged. "If I had to guess I’d say it sounds like they’re scared, Jazz. But it doesn’t mean they did it. But I don’t like to guess. I’d rather ask them." He stretched and a jaw popping yawn reminded him how little sleep he’d had. "I’m going to get some sleep. Wake me up in four hours, okay?"
Floating morgue or no, he was asleep in five minutes.
Jazz’s voice, vibrating the walls of the cabin greatly amplified, woke Thomas. He stared blearily at his watch. It was less than two hours since he’d closed his eyes.
"--is Lieutenant Hamilton Graham of the INS. You are intruding upon a crime investigation and are subject to arrest for obstruction of justice if you do not leave the area immediately. I repeat, if you do not leave this area immediately, you will be arrested, detained, and your vessels confiscated."
Thomas stumbled to the head and splashed tepid water across his face, then opened his bag and took a clean set of khakis out and dressed quickly.
He stepped into the shrimper’s pilothouse and found Jazz talking into a handheld radio. "I don’t care if they’re from NBC. I don’t care if they’re from CN-fucking-N. If they don’t pull that boat back I’m going to throw their asses in the Abattoir faster than you can say ‘citizenship check’."
"I hope you’re on a secure channel, Jazz."
Jazz turned and blushed. "Yes, sir. Scrambled and spread spectrum. Sorry to wake you up." He pointed at a thirty foot cabin cruiser sitting two hundred yards away. "They started to put divers down. They’re from NBC News out of Houston."
Thomas looked closer and saw a Zodiac inflatable pulled up by the boat’s stern. "Who’d you send?"
"Ensign Terkel and Seaman Guterson. Captain Elmsford lent us the boat and a rating to crew."
"Good of him. You send for help?"
"Yes, sir. Buffalo Bayou Station is sending a patrol hydrofoil but it won’t be out here for another thirty minutes."
Terkel’s voice came from the radio in Jazz’s hand. "They’re going, sir."
Jazz answered. "Escort them until they’re at least a half mile out before you come back."
Jazz put the radio back in his belt holster.
"Is this the first appearance of our friends from the fourth estate?"
Jazz looked confused, then said, "Oh, the press? No, we’ve been buzzed by news helicopters out of Houston. The crew from CNN tried to land on the pad of the dive tender but Elmsford put three men out there with M-22’s and they sheered off."
"How many people got the damn video? Damn that woman, Beenan."
"Any word on that sub?"
"None. They haven’t heard her since yesterday. Sycorax forwarded her audio signature to the Navy and they’ve been listening on the SONUS net, but there’s been no trace."
Thomas frowned. Did they sink her? "See if you can get someone from the New Galveston Unit to keep an eye on her residence in the Strand. Does she have an apartment?"
"An entire apartment building. Uh, I asked them for a profile, which they’ll be sending, but she owns an entire hex. Her father was one of the original investors, even before the Deluge."
Thomas whistled. "A hex? What’s on it?" A hex was the basic flotation unit of New Galveston, an inverted hexagonal cup two hundred feet across the flats. They were the floating city’s equivalent of a block, over thirty four thousand square feet of area.
"He said she has a twenty unit apartment, a day care with a K-6 school, and a garden co-op. Patricia Beenan is also an alternate for the city assembly."
Thomas whistled. "Rich woman. Beenan. Beenan. I know that name from someplace else."
Jazz nodded. "Katherine Beenan, U.S. Congresswoman from Texas. She’s on the Joint Immigration Oversight Committee."
"Right! Any relation?"
Thomas sat down heavily on the padded bench at the back of the pilot house. "Perfect. It’s perfect. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect situation. Well, maybe if the president had a stake in it, or maybe the pope. Or perhaps if you caught the President and the Pope in bed having sex with sheep and they both had a stake in it. And the sheep were on the committee."
Jazz waited patiently for Thomas to run down.
Thomas finally stopped. "I don’t suppose there’s any chance of getting a cup of coffee, is there?"
Jazz lifted the radio. "Coming right up, sir."
"Well, send it to me on the tender’s bridge. I’ve got to go talk Elmsford into raising the Open Lotus."
Convincing Elmsford to raise the Open Lotus took about five minutes. Getting him authorization from his chain of command took the rest of the afternoon with many calls back and forth to Washington. By the time Thomas had finished, his satphone was on its second battery and his voice was a croaking husk.
He was sitting in the tender's ward room when Jazz came in. "We've got what seems to be the last body, Commander."
"Okay. Get that shrimper headed for Houston. You take it and the unit. Leave me Guterson and have him secure our gear on the tender. When we get Open Lotus afloat, we'll take it to Buffalo Bayou." He paused, thinking furiously. "I'm hoping we'll need someone to work with waterlogged documents, but I guess we shouldn't ask until we find same. Tell you what. Get on your phone when you're underway and get me some travel history on Open Lotus. Find out who owns it and where it's been. Give me twice daily reports unless you've got something hot. Then call at any hour."
"When shall we expect you, sir?"
Thomas shook his head. "I don't know. I might go out to the Strand. I'd like to find out more about the Beenan woman."
Jazz blinked, suddenly very still. "You don’t have to go out there. I could go for you."
Thomas grimaced. "Stop it. Just stop it. You have your orders."
Jazz was about to say something else when Captain Elmsford stuck his head in the doorway, then came the rest of the way in. "Got a present." He set a Styrofoam cup on the table and slid it across to Thomas. Partway, it tipped over and four pieces of metal tipped out.
"Fifty caliber, like the lady said."
Thomas picked up one jacketed slug, nearly perfect in its shape. "This can't have hit anything hard."
"It was on the floor of the bridge. If I were to guess, I'd say it was fired as the boat was sinking and it hit water first, then settled."
Thomas shook his head. "Okay. I guess the next thing is a ballistic check on every INS fifty-caliber machine gun in this region. I want our people to do it, Jazz. Don't let the local personnel retrieve the rounds, you understand?"
"Aye, sir. I'll put Ensign Terkel on it. Shall I get a helicopter out of Buffalo Bayou?"
"See if you can get that hydrofoil assigned. That model came on line after the Coast Guard was brought into the service so they have the M-30 instead, right? So they’re a clean base of operations."
Jazz shrugged. "Unless they brought one on board special."
"That scenario works for anybody in or out of the service. We know we use the M-61A1 twenty-millimeter canon and M-2 fifty-caliber machine guns. If we don’t hit pay dirt then we can cast the net wider."
"Uh, dig wider? Mixed metaphor and all that," Jazz said.
Thomas grinned. "Do you really want to start doing body cavity searches on all those victims, Jazz?"
Jazz straightened. "No, sir."
Behind him Elmsford looked slightly green.
"Any other ideas, questions?" Thomas asked.
Jazz shook his head.
Elmsford said, "This is a pretty busy area. A lot of traffic moves through here. Commercial fishing, freighters, tankers, you name it. Someone may have seen something, even at night."
"Gotcha," said Jazz.
Thomas added, "We look for witnesses."
Jazz safely away in the shrimper, and Ensign Terkel safely away on the hydrofoil, Thomas put seaman Guterson to work with Thomas’s workstation, organizing a summary of results to forward to the old man, Admiral Rylance, director of the INS Criminal Investigation unit charged with Internal Affairs.
Thomas slept, using the dive tender’s exec’s cabin. Lt. Callard offered it freely, saying he’d be on duty until midnight. When Thomas’s wrist alarm woke him at eleven forty-five, he found Guterson waiting with a fresh pot of coffee in the officer’s wardroom.
"Lieutenant Hamilton called thirty minutes ago. They’re at the Houston Dikes and they’ll be transferring the bodies immediately, using the refrigerated semi-trailer the county provided."
"Good. Have you secured a bunk, yet?"
"Yes sir, they’ve set me up in the decompression chamber aft. It’s not being used right now." Guterson, a young blond, kept his voice deadpan but his eyes were a little wide.
"How…cozy," commented Thomas.
"Yes, sir. I’ve got the draft memo to Admiral Rylance done. It’s on your desktop." He was referring to the virtual desktop on Thomas’s workstation.
"Fine. Get some rest, then—if you can. I’ll see you in the morning."
Reading the summary was chilling. Besides the three crewmen, the preliminary age and gender IDs were eighteen men, twelve women, and seventeen children dead in the hold. Alone, in the wardroom, Thomas felt the weight of their deaths. Fifty in all. What a horridly even number.
He took his coffee cup out onto the deck. The clouds had dissipated during the evening and stars dotted the sky from horizon to horizon, fading slightly to the northwest, where the night lights of Houston painted a false dawn in the sky and a faintly visible line of yellowish lights on the horizon defined the near edge of the dikes. It was still hot, but far more bearable with the sun down and a light breeze from the south.
He’d been raised on this coast in a series of small towns with names like Ingleside, Port Aransas, Port Isabel, and Orange. His father had been a Coast Guard Officer. My childhood is well and truly drowned, he often thought but he never said so, since it wasn’t exactly an uncommon experience. Ninety percent of the planet’s population had lived in the first hundred feet above sea level before the Deluge. With the exception a few dearly bought square miles like those at Washington Island or the lands inside the Houston Dikes, the former homes of billions now rolled below the waves.
The images from the video tape pulled at him in a way he didn’t understand. The drowned warehouses juxtaposed with the ship and its cargo of death. Not death. Just the dead. The death had been carried on another craft—a craft with weapons and men who operated them.
Something inside of him was making a connection between his drowned childhood and these drowned men, women, and children. Something intangible and elusive.
He took his empty coffee cup back inside and spent the rest of the night reviewing the data, downloading the catalog of victim data compiled by his team, and finalizing the daily summary for Admiral Rylance.
…and while it is true that many service vehicles (air force and navy) use the 20 millimeter cannon, the INS uses it in combination with the M2 50 caliber machine gun still in service on our older vessels—inherited from the Coast Guard.
So, preliminary investigations have to treat INS involvement as a possibility.
He encrypted it and sent it off without any sense of accomplishment. He didn’t feel he’d lost any of the burden. Sharing the nasty details hadn’t released him. It was a burden that didn’t lessen on distribution.
N divided by 2 should be one-half N. But it’s not working that way. It’s bad math and it’s even bad therapy. Talking about it should lessen the load.
He shook his head.
Talking about it and talking about how it affects me are two different things, aren’t they? It’ll have to wait.
This time he laughed out loud.
I’ve heard that before.
Beenan: Llegando a casa
While Sycorax thundered overhead, sleep was possible, barely, if Patricia took cotton from the first aid kit and wadded it into her ears, but even then it was difficult. She could feel the noise from the Sycorax’s engines through the hull, even when laying on top of the sleeping bag, and her dozing was haunted by images of the Open Lotus’s hold.
She and Toni took turns resting in four-hour shifts. They stretched out in the lockout chamber, feet sticking through the open hatch into the pilot’s compartment, head pillowed on Toni’s clothes bag.
Fortunately, the Sycorax stopped to listen, sitting still for a blessed hour of silence at a time, then running at top speed for another hour to another listening spot.
They were twenty-five feet underwater and normally beyond the depth where Patricia could receive radio transmissions, but the giant steel hull just above them was acting as a radio guide, enabling Patricia to use the GPS to track their course.
Initially, the Sycorax hunted inshore, returning almost to old Galveston before heading southwest, some hundred miles off the coast, zigzagging along. Then, a full thirty-six hours after they’d attached themselves to her, the Fastship turned southeast, headed out to sea, toward the Strand.
By this time, Toni’s claustrophobia had worsened to the point that Patricia was considering giving her a life jacket and shoving her out the lockout hatch. The last ten hours she kept Toni in the pilot’s chair staring out into the clear blue, but unfortunately, most of that was night and the darkness pressed in as readily as the titanium hull, relieved only by phosphorescent tinafores.
It was late afternoon and the light streaming past their constant overhead companion took on a red tinge when the Sycorax finished rounding the southern seawall and entered the INS shipping channel.
Toni shuddered at the thought of entering the INS lagoon at all. "You know what the refugees call this channel, don’t you?"
Patricia did, but shook her head anyway, Talk, girl, all you want. Distract yourself.
"They call it La boca del Infierno, the mouth of hell. They have a saying about it."
Es un viaje sólo de ida hacia la boca del infierno, thought Patricia. "What do they say?"
"It’s a one way trip down the mouth of hell."
"Ah. Perhaps we shouldn’t take that journey?"
Toni twisted in the seat, looking at Patricia’s face. "I thought we couldn’t get away until they stopped again. You have to go outside to cut the rope, don’t you?"
Patricia shrugged. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. Our rope has been rubbing on that steel grate for forty-eight hours with a great deal of strain. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s lasted this long."
"I’m not sure that helps us. Unless you’re just hoping it parts at this exact moment?"
"Not exactly. Time to change places, again."
Toni’s eyes widened for a moment. "Uh, do we have to?"
"Well, we can stay with the Sycorax and wait until she docks at El Infierno."
"The hell you say."
They traded places carefully.
Toni sounded surprised when she said, "I have definitely been in this piece-of-crap submarine for too long."
"What makes you think that, my dear."
"We just traded places without me banging the shit out of some part of my body."
Patricia laughed. "Here goes."
Sycorax was headed up the channel at a sedate five knots, keeping her bow wake down in the enclosed waterway. Patricia brought the thruster on line and pushed SubLorraine forward, first matching Sycorax’s speed then pulling ahead, putting slack in the tow rope. When she was even with Sycorax’s water intake grate above, Patricia threw the thruster into full reverse.
Overhead it seemed like the hull of the Sycorax suddenly accelerated and they watched the rope come back overhead and go wire taut. The submarine jerked forward and behind her, Patricia heard Toni fall backwards cursing. Through the port, she saw the rope part from the grate. She shut the thrusters off immediately and pushed the control stick forward.
She’d trimmed SubLorraine to negative to help keep her from rising into Sycorax’s hull and now she coasted gently downwards.
Toni scrambled back up, saying, "Did it work? Oh, it did. I figured it must have. Everything else we’ve done that’s worked has caused me to bang myself painfully somewhere."
Patricia waited, watching the fathometer drop: thirty feet, forty, fifty, then she engaged the thrusters at ten percent and banked to the west. The passed under one of the great floating walls, moving from an ethereal blue light-filled space to dark green shadow. Above them, the great open hexes loomed, like giant honeycombs two hundred feet across. The seawall was made up of two rows stretching off in either direction. Large pipes, over fifty feet in diameter, dropped into the depths, OTEC intakes pulling cold water from over three thousand feet below.
The water was clear and the pipes in the distance looked like some surreal forest with a canopy of linked hexes above.
Beyond the wall a different canopy stretched, a barely translucent tight mesh which defined the floor of one of the mariculture lagoons. Here Patricia brought SubLorraine back up, to right beneath the canopy, and pushed the thrusters up to ninety percent.
"Won’t they hear us?" Toni asked.
"Doubt it. Don’t care. We’re out of their jurisdiction and the barrier should block our signature. I doubt they’re listening any more but even if they were, they’d have to plow through four hundred feet of seawall to come after us. They certainly can’t track us by drone or helicopter with this overhead. And I want a bath so bad I would…well, really bad."
It took them another forty-five minutes to traverse the Strand, moving under lagoons and floating walls, twisting around OTEC pipes and hexes which dropped deep into the water, the hexes increased submerged volume indicating how high above the water they rose. Occasionally they’d hit one of the directed outputs from the OTEC plants, jets of mixed warm and cold water used to keep the Strand in it’s present location—outside the EEZ and in water deep enough for OTEC operation—and the current would slew them around.
Finally, they were in the clear water of the Municipal lagoon, boat traffic of all kinds crossing the surface above them, from little water taxis to hovercraft ferries to a giant cruise ship whose keel stuck down far enough they had to drop another thirty feet to clear it.
Patricia had Toni pack up her belongings while she steered a course to the marina where Toni’s parent’s boat was berthed. Toni peered over Patricia’s shoulders then pointed up at one of the hull silhouettes lining one of the foam buoyed fingers of dock. "There. That’s the one, on the end of the T-slip where we get all the wake from outside the marina. That’s why it’s the cheap berth."
Patricia brought SubLorraine to the surface parallel to the forty-five foot ketch and gave it a last nudge over. "Go, girl. I’m not hanging out here a minute longer than I have to."
She almost wavered when the hatch opened and the fresh, salt-laden air hit her nose and she could suddenly tell how smelly the interior of the submarine had become.
Toni boosted herself up through the hatch, then reached back for her backpack. She looked liberated, the captive released. Patricia knew the look. She’d seen it a thousand times on refugees leaving the Abattoir with a work permit, free. No mires atrás—don’t look back.
"I’ll call you," Patricia said. "By the way, if anybody asks, you were shacking up with a hot date. You weren’t on the Terminal Lorraine."
"Right. Be careful." Toni flung her backpack over the lifelines on her parent’s boat and jumped, rocking SubLorraine slightly. Patricia took one more deep breath of clean air, then dogged the hatch.
Come on. It’s only for a little bit more.
She put SubLorraine back under by force of thrusters and diving planes, letting the buoyancy pumps catch up slowly. If she were returning from a normal trip, she would’ve been on the surface, strapped to Terminal Lorraine, and sailing or motoring across the lagoon to her own hex, a waterside module in the outer ring of the Matagorda subdivision.
"Perito," she transmitted using the lowest power setting.
There was a long silence and she thought he wasn’t there, was at supper or out drinking cerveza con sal with his friends.
But then the voice came back, hesitant, surprised, "Patricia?" His accent rendered it pah-treesia which Patricia had always liked.
"Well, it’s not the Easter bunny."
"¡Gracias a dios! It’s been three days!"
Every hour of that time settled on Patricia like a leaden shroud. "It’s been longer than that. I want you to shut the door on the pen and drop the harness. ¿Entiendes?"
"En seguida. I’m right under your extremo." She brought the sub beneath a silvery rectangle framed by silhouetted dock modules and waited for the harness to appear. It took a moment. The lighting changed on the rectangle above and then, a moment later, the harness frame splashed down through the surface, trailing bubbles as it sank.
Patricia eased SubLorraine into it, then flooded the tanks, settling the wings onto the harness arms and tightening the cable. "Okay, Perito. Hazlo."
As the cable lifted the sub, she shut everything down, locking the console with a password. It broke the surface, then lifted into a rectangular space lit with flickering strokes of light coming under the door, muted and twisted by the water. Perito waved at her, one hand on the crane controls. She smiled, very glad to see his wide Mestizo face.
She ached to move, to be out of the sub, but waited until Perito moved another sling under the rear portion of SubLorraine, stabilizing it. He walked forward again and gave her an okay sign.
The air in the pen smelled sweet and clear when she opened the lockout hatch. For good measure, she opened the top hatch to let air circulate through the sub. Perito brought a reinforced floor panel from the stack at the head of the pen, and put it across the water gap, resting it on both side docks. She lowered herself through the lockout hatch and onto the panel before Perito brought the plastic step stool.
She ducked out and crouched there, taking deep, deep breaths of wonderful, clean air.
"Are you all right, Patreecia?"
"I’m fine. I’m better than fine—I’m alive."
"Where is la rubia? Her parents have been here every day."
The anxiety on Perito’s face told Patricia a bigger story. Perito had recommended Toni for the job and Patricia was surprised that he hadn’t asked about Terminal Lorraine first. "I dropped Toni at her parent’s boat. She’s okay but I don’t think she’s ever going to get back in a submarine."
Perito’s sholders, raised and tense, dropped back down. "The Engineering Office has been calling about the inspections." He looked around and suddenly jumped. "¡Madre de Dios! What did you do to the tail?"
She turned. The hole in the vertical stabilizer was vivid, fracture cracks radiating through the plastic.
"Well, we were shot at."
She reached back in the sub and took out her satphone and workstation. "And I’ve been three days in the sub and it stinks and I stink and I really don't want to talk about it right now. However, I would like you to put the rest of the floor plates down and bolt them. And if you have to leave the pen for any reason, I want you to find someone else to watch it."
Perito looked around, staring at the door as if something hostile was about to come through it. "Okay. And Terminal Lorraine?" he asked.
"The INS have it. Hopefully, I’ll get it back." With a groan, Patricia began walking, dreading the four flights of stairs up to her apartment. "Anybody asks, I’m not back, okay?"
"Mis labios está sellados."
She nodded tiredly and started up the stairs from the pier to the hex proper.
"How long will we need to leave el submarino oculto?"
She called Moses using Celeste’s phone, a cheap voice-only model with the most basic of encryption sets. Unlike mainland phones, though, this models didn’t have its encryption keys held by the FBI.
"Bill Moses," the voice said.
"You really shouldn’t stay at the office so late."
"Patti! Where are you?"
"A neighbor’s. Did you get the video?"
Moses let out a breath, sharp, almost a bark. "Who didn’t get the video is more like it. It’s been all over the web and print news and Channel Seven ran the whole clip on the eleven p.m. show, Technicolor yawn and all."
Patricia closed her eyes and groaned. "What was the reaction in the assembly?"
"To the bodies or the vomiting?" Moses was on the New Galveston Assembly, the twenty-nine member council that ran the city. Patricia was his alternate for the Matagorda District.
"We were discussing the new industrial regs when Sylvia got the download and she interrupted the session. You weren’t the only one to throw up, you know. Paul Nagoya messed up his trash can.
"That idiot Landers wanted to know why you’d sent something so gross and actually proposed a motion to censure you. Before that fight started, though, Major Paine pointed out the significance of the weapons used and things really got nasty." Major Paine was the New Galveston Police Commander. "You know what a tightrope we walk out here, especially with the Federal Government in general but with the INS in particular."
"Yeah. Why was Major Paine there?"
"The new industrial regs. He’s got to enforce whatever changes we come up with. He was asked to consult. Where have you been?"
"You don’t want to know. Okay, maybe you do, but I’m still trying to put it behind me. I’m going to have to talk to the INS. The bastards took my boat but I got back here with my crew and SubLorraine."
"Did you break any laws?"
"I ignored a call to be boarded, but it can be argued my radio was off and I didn’t receive it. They shot at me once, too, but I can also argue that I didn’t know who was doing that and ran to save my life. We were in the sub at the time."
"Actually shot at you?"
"Warning shots first, then direct shots when I dove. I can show you the hole in the vertical stabilizer."
Bill whistled softly. "I’m glad you’re all right. We can work with those circumstances, I guess. Why did you ignore their call to be boarded? Did you think they were the ones who sank the Open Lotus?"
"I didn’t know and I wasn’t going to take the chance."
"Hell, there’s lots of precedents for running from the law because of reasonable fear of harm. Even if we admit you heard the call to be boarded."
"Well, I believe you but the Emergency Immigration Act’s search and seizure provisions make it really hard to get something back from the INS once they’ve grabbed it."
"So you want to talk to them and ask them nicely?"
"Yeah. But on our turf, not theirs. I won’t go mainland for it and I sure as hell won’t go out to the Abattoir."
She could hear Moses nod, his cheek rubbing the receiver. "Right. I’ll suggest a conference room here at the assembly and, if necessary, we’ll fall back on Major Paine’s offices. In either case, I’ll be there as your attorney and we’ll record."
"Not before tomorrow, though, okay? I’ve got to sleep."
"You got it."
Patricia woke up rested, clean, and in her own bed, but, alas, not alone. Sharp hard things poked her in the back and she rolled away from them with a groan and sat up.
A small black girl, dressed like Patricia, in panties and an oversized tee-shirt, whimpered in her sleep and shifted, questing blindly for the missing warmth with her knees and elbows.
Why me? Patricia looked blearily at the clock on the book shelf above her bed, six-thirty. She’d been asleep for six hours and, despite bad dreams, would gladly have slept for four more, but she knew she wouldn’t. Once awakened she’d never been able to manage the trick of going straight back to sleep.
I’m being punished.
Her bedroom was a loft over the bathroom with waist-high book shelf walls running around the three open sides, separating it from the rest of her apartment, a large open space with twenty-foot ceilings. There were skylights showing dim light above the main floor and one long expanse of window on the far wall opening onto a riot of greenery.
Patricia pulled the covers up over the sleeping girl, then stumbled down the stairs, one hand on the wall, then turned back to enter the bathroom, closing the door to keep from waking the child. After using the toilet, she eyed the bath, but she’d spent over an hour in it, the night before, washing off the accumulated stink of nearly three days in the sub, leaving it only when her water-soaked hands, puckered and soft, began to remind her of the bodies in the Open Lotus.
She contented herself with brushing her teeth for five minutes before pulling a pair of neatly folded shorts from one of the many drawers built under the stairway. The dirty clothes hamper was empty so Celeste had been through, already.
She stared at her vidphone. The message light blinked reproachfully. She turned on the menu and the screen lit up. Fifty-two calls. She sorted them by origin. The ID’s on twelve of them were news organizations, both local and mainland. Ten of them were business calls, mostly dating from before she sent the footage off. Twelve of them were from concerned friends who’d seen the footage. Six of them were from her mother’s office and another three from her mother’s apartment. The other seven were from New Galveston Assembly Members. Five of them were from Geoffrey.
It was too early to call most of them, though her mother, in D.C., would probably be up. She skimmed the business calls, noting the Engineering Office’s reminders about the inspections. She deleted the calls from Geoffrey, as well as the ones from reporters.
That many that remained were still too intimidating, but she called her mother’s apartment, hoping she’d already gone into the office. Thankfully she got the voice mail and left a brief message saying she was all right.
The last three phone calls to her mother, like her last meeting, in Austin, had been disastrous. There’s nothing more infuriating than someone who wants to help. She shook her head. That wasn’t quite it. There’s nothing more infuriating than someone whose offers of help imply you’re incapable of managing your own affairs.
She pulled the shorts on and, barefoot, walked out the door between the picture window and her dad’s bronze bust of Shakespeare.
Will, I need coffee.
She came out into a large courtyard formed by three stretches of building and a chest-high wall overlooking a stretch of dark blue water with more buildings on the far side. Her immediate foreground was a patio defined by knee-high planters filled with bushes, flowers, and small trees.
Beyond the planters, a large open space in the middle of the courtyard was inset with dark red rubber tiles surrounding an enormous play structure made of colored tubes, steel platforms, bubbles of plastic, and nets of rope. It stretched almost three stories into the air, higher even than the tops of the surrounding buildings, and was connected by walkways to the building on her right at the next floor and roof levels.
The building on her left was distinguished by more planter-lined patios. She walked through a gap between planters, cut across the corner of the rubber tile, and entered another patio, one with white plastic tables and chairs. She settled slowly into one of the chairs and rubbed her eyes.
Almost immediately, a slight black woman appeared in the door opening onto the building. "Bonjour, Madamoiselle. You are up with the birds."
"Bonjour, Celeste. Is there coffee?"
"Mais oui. A moment, I must send Philippe out to look for Marie."
"Don’t bother. She’s in my bed."
"Again! Merde! No wonder you are éveiller. Je regrette. I will beat her. I swear it."
Patricia suppressed a smile. Celeste’s idea of a beating consisted of a barely perceptible swat on the bottom followed immediately by hugs and tears, mostly Celeste’s. "It’s not important. She likes me, that’s all. If you’d sleep later, she’d stay in bed with you, but you get up very early."
"If you would just lock your door…."
She thought about the INS and shuddered. "Believe me, I did."
"Merde! When I picked up your laundry. I could have sworn I locked it after."
"I would forgive you," said Patricia. "But without coffee, my heart is hard and cold."
This time Patricia could see Celeste bite her lip to keep from smiling. "Directement, mon cher!" She vanished within.
Across the courtyard, Consuela, the principle of The Art of Learning School and Daycare, was propping open the doors. She looked up and waved at Patricia calling softly, "I saw you on the news."
Patricia’s original smile turned to a frown and a shrug.
Assembly Alternate Patricia Beenan, vomiter-at-large.
It was the late news, so hopefully not too many kids would be having nightmares. Now if I could do something about mine.
She tried to think of something to say—something witty or trenchant or even relevant—but it eluded her. In the end she just shrugged again and said, "You still need me this afternoon?"
"Yes. Just from four to six. Belinda has a sonogram at the clinic and you know how long the wait is."
"I’ll be there. We’ll talk."
Consuela nodded vigorously. "You can depend on it."
Patricia groaned and hid her face in her hands until Celeste returned, with a large double latté and half a baguette with butter and strawberry preserves.
"All right. I forgive you for not locking the door."
"Mercí. I breathe easier now. I must collect Marie before I go to the factory."
"Bién. If those clothes I was wearing don’t come clean—just throw them away."
"What a waste! Don’t be absurd. Throw away good clothing?"
Celeste walked across the courtyard to Patricia’s patio muttering to herself. In a moment she returned, followed by Marie, who was yawning and rubbing her eyes.
As they passed, Patricia ran her fingers over the little girl’s hair.
"Stop it, Tante," the little girl complained, stepping out of reach. She stuck out her tongue.
Patricia stuck her own out in return and Marie giggled as she was herded inside by her mother.
Other children, escorted by adults, began arriving for school, coming up from the public level by way of the stairway at the end of the courtyard, or from the inside stair that led up from the rest of the Elephant Arms. They trooped inside the day care center and then left, sans children, after. She knew many of them and they waved but only a few said, "Saw you on the news last night."
She couldn’t help but think that the presence of children protected her from more explicit inquiries. Thank god for small favors.
Marie reappeared, dressed in a tee-shirt, shorts, and sandals, carrying a cup of juice and buttered bread. She sat at the table with Patricia, silent and grave, eating steadily. Occasionally her eyes would dart sideways, toward Patricia, but she remained silent.
More small favors.
Celeste appeared again, this time carrying a child’s lunch box and her purse. She put the lunch box on the table and kissed Marie on the head. To Patricia she said, "I forgot to mention but vours vieux amour came by yesterday, after the television."
Perfect. Patricia groaned. "And did Geoffrey leave, too?"
Celeste laughed. "When you are done eating, would you escort Marie across?" She tilted her head toward the school.
"Mais oui," replied Patricia, trying for the Celeste’s Haitian accent and failing.
"Au revoir." Celeste left at a brisk walk, anxious not to miss the next ferry. She worked for Sony America, putting together video player chassis on the assembly line and it was a twenty-minute boat ride to the industrial park. After work, she would come home and do laundry and clean apartments. She was a woman of incredible industry and she made Patricia tired just to look at her.
As her mother disappeared down the public stair, Marie sat up straight and said, "Did you really find a whole bunch of dead people?"
Patricia rolled her eyes back and sighed. "Why didn’t you ask me when your mother was here?"
"She said not to."
"Oh, really? And what did you just do?"
"She’s not here," Marie said reasonably, as if that caused all previous instructions to evaporate.
"I believe I’m going to tell your mother about this little conversation."
"Tante! You wouldn’t!"
Patricia leaned back in her chair and cradled the hot coffee cup in her cupped hands. "And why not?"
"Cause you’re not that sort!" the little girl said forcefully.
She’s got your number.
"You know, you’re right. I’m not that sort. However, I’m also not the sort to answer your question. Your mother had a very good reason to tell you not to bother me about it. You really should listen to her. She’s really very wise for an adult."
"But I want to know!"
"It’s none of your business. Are you done eating?"
Marie narrowed her eyes and looked stubborn but there was nothing left on her plate but crumbs. "Yes," she said reluctantly.
"Very well, it’s time to go to school." Patricia stuffed the last piece of her own bread into her mouth and, carrying her coffee, shepherded the girl across the courtyard, into the school, and to her classroom door.
She crouched, putting her eyes level with Marie’s enormous dark brown ones. "Someday we’ll talk about it."
"When I’m older? That’ll take forever!"
Patricia smothered a smile. "No, when I can talk about it. It’s not easy, sometimes, to talk about certain things. Give me some time, okay?
The little girl nodded.
"Okay. Give me a hug. I need it."
She drank the contact like wine, savoring it, storing every trace of it. Reluctantly she let go and let Marie run off into the classroom.
Thank you, child.
It was the first item in her new collection.
That’s one memory to turn to. One memory to displace the floating dead.
She left the school sipping her coffee.
What else can I collect?
Becket: De vuelta al fuego
At breakfast Thomas’s memory swam with faces chewed by crabs and fish and the closest he’d advanced in his investigation was to wonder if the people who’d sunk Open Lotus actually knew what was in her hold.
He was about to go to sleep in Lt. Callard’s bunk when he received a call that caused him to shout for Seaman Guterson. "Get our things together. I’m getting us transport to New Galveston."
"Yes, sir. May I ask what’s happened, sir?"
"That Beenan woman has resurfaced. Literally." He laughed to himself. "And I want to talk to her."
Thomas was tempted to recall Ensign Terkel’s transport, the small patrol hydrofoil, from Buffalo Bayou, but ended up hitching a ride on a patrol helicopter to the sheltered water airport at Houston Galeria, to catch the noon SEA to New Galveston.
The SEA, Surface Effect Airplane, was a giant two-engine turboprop with downward drooping wings half a football field long. The wingtips ended in pontoons and the planes tail section drooped down to another float. It flew fifteen feet above the waves taking advantage of the decreased drag and thrust necessary when an aircraft gets down to one tenth the length of it’s wingspan. Unlike those aircraft, the SEA didn’t operate above this surface skimming height with the exception of emergency ‘jumps’ to clear unexpected obstacles. At two hundred and twenty miles an hour, it could climb briefly up to three hundred feet if it had to clear a ship, but it couldn’t sustain that altitude.
Radar and FLIR made this ability a last resort. Obstacles were usually navigated around rather than jumped. The surface effect increased fuel efficiency tremendously.
Thomas watched the water skimming beneath the SEA wings for five minutes before his head dropped back in the seat and his eyes closed. The attendant’s voice announcing their impending arrival woke him. He checked the time: twelve fifty-seven.
The edges of New Galveston, a.k.a. the Strand, were visible out his window. The extreme eastern border was reminiscent of the Houston Dikes, an area of raised walls against invading sea, but as the SEA skirted the low border, beyond it Thomas saw what looked like a series of vegetation cloaked hills, emeralds strung on a string, a Strand if you will. White towers projected from the summits, rising even higher. The SEA banked again, heading west about a mile away from the southern edge, passing between a large tanker and a cruise liner headed for the southwest channel, one of five channels that opened into the Strand’s low sea barrier.
He saw a large passenger jet coming in from the west, flying parallel with them toward the conventional runway atop the barrier wall. As it touched down, the SEA banked sharply north again, headed directly for the barrier. The barrier was a mere ten feet in the air and the pilot lifted the SEA slightly, then they were skimming across it, the runway, and dropping down into an interior lagoon, a truncated triangle over two miles across at it’s widest point.
They settled on the surface with a hiss and planed on the smooth water until their speed dropped. When the floats finally dug in, there was a sudden slowing and the nose of the SEA dropped briefly before rising again. They taxied slowly to their dock, one of many thin piers projecting out from the airport terminal. Other SEA craft, as well as smaller pontoon-geared aircraft, were moored alongside. The terminal, a sprawling structure made, like nearly all buildings on the Strand, of huge hexagonal prisms, stretched besides another conventional runway, this one running southwest to northeast atop an interior sea barrier--one separating the interior lagoon of the airport with the municipal lagoon of New Galveston.
He could’ve come on a conventional flight but the overall travel time, helicopter to Houston Intercontinental on the coast north of the Houston dikes, then wait for the next flight, was actually greater. That flight wouldn’t arrive here for another forty-five minutes.
The SEA pulled right over the end of the narrow pier, her wingtip floats straddling it, her tail section coming to rest against bumpers on its very end. The engines cut and the sudden silence, as always, surprised Thomas as the oppressive din lifted to be replaced by the chatter of passengers unstrapping, taking luggage from the overheads and beneath seats, and standing, just to be standing, since they couldn’t get out until the front of the plane cleared.
Thomas, still tired, sat back and watched his fellow passengers. There were executives from the maquiladora offshore factories, tourists coming for the duty-free shopping and pristine though artificial beaches, sportsmen coming for the deep sea fishing downstream in the nutrient-rich effluent of the Strand’s OTEC plants or its floating lagoons, and expatriate Americans, either displaced wetfeet who couldn’t find decent living in the shrunken States or fully-landed citizens who preferred the freedom of offshore living.
The INS also had a strong presence aboard. There were several in uniform and out, returning to duty at the Abbott Base Refugee and Detention Center. When they’d boarded, Thomas had spotted a plainclothes INS agent seated near first class handcuffed to a Latino, almost certainly destined for the Abattoir. He must’ve been more than just an illegal alien to be flown to the Strand. Most of the deportees were sent on the INS transport, a relatively slow, hot, and uncomfortable converted car transport that made a regular circuit, collecting illegals from all the gulf ports.
Thomas let Guterson retrieve their bags from overhead, while he stayed in his seat. They were way back in row forty-five and he was still tired from travelling and messed up sleep schedules. I don’t care what happens today, I’m going to stay in bed tonight. He’d made reservations for two cubes at the airport Hilton while they waited for the helicopter back at the site and he intended to stop there first, to get into civvies.
Going into certain parts of the Strand in INS uniform could be dangerous.
The passengers standing in the aisle began moving and Thomas stood, partially crouched to avoid the overhead. Guterson stepped out into the aisle with their bags, abruptly blocking a large man in a corporate suit who was trying to slip past, Thomas grabbed the workstation off the seat and followed the moving horde.
Behind him, he heard the executive muttered something under his breath and Guterson replied with exaggerated innocence, "Oh, were you trying to get by? I’m sorry. I thought it was our turn."
It was hot on the Pier, heat radiated up from the cement surface. As they walked in the long line of passengers toward the terminal Guterson pointed at the water beside the pier and then across the runway to the lagoon that held municipal New Galveston. "How come this water is lighter than that water?"
"First time on one of the floating cities?"
"We have ‘em all up and down the east coast, but this is the first one I’ve been on that wasn’t connected to land."
"Ah. Well, that water, over there," Thomas said, pointing across the runway to the deep blue water of the municipal lagoon, "is about a mile deep." He jerked his thumb back at the water beside them. "This stuff goes down to about thirty feet. There’s a huge reinforced membrane that stretches across to that other side."
"Why on earth do they do that? To stop airplanes from sinking all the way to the real bottom?"
"Well, that is the reason they put the airport over on this side, but it’s a fishery. They dump nutrient rich deep water from the OTEC plants in there. It feeds phytoplankton and then shrimp eat the plankton and fish eat the shrimp and bigger fish and so on and so forth."
Guterson craned his neck, looking for fish, Thomas supposed. "Wow."
Thomas could remember when there were less than a thousand people on the strand, before the Deluge, ten hexes, a small surrounding breakwater, and one OTEC plant, a far-fetched utopian project funded by visionaries consider more crackpot than practical. That changed rapidly when the Deluge came. Then, for almost a decade it was a morass of construction surrounded by thousands of boats, rafted together like Sargasso weed. The INS funded the Abattoir and flooded industries seeking new homes funded industrial development, beefing up the seacrete facilities and OTEC parts production. Now new hexes were floated every day.
The line slowly moved off the pier and into the welcoming cool of the terminal, but inside there were several delays in immigration control, including a tourist protesting at the top of his lungs.
"What’s with the loudmouth, sir?" asked Guterson.
"He didn’t cross his tees. You’ve can’t get onto the Strand proper unless they know you’ve got a place to stay and a way off when you run out of money. Or a job. Or city membership. He’ll probably be given access to a phone to arrange his lodging and made to buy a return ticket before they let him through. Or he can put up a guarantee deposit, but that’s even more money."
"Oh." Guterson looked worried. "Do we have a return ticket?"
Thomas laughed. "Don’t worry. We’re active duty INS. We’re exempt." The laughter died in his throat when he saw a squad of Abattoir guards waiting on the other side of the barrier. They were wearing riot gear—flak vests, visored helmets, holstered side arms, and carrying shock sticks. They stood in a tight bunch off to one side, watched closely by a pair of airport security. "Exempt. But not popular." They reached the head of their queue and the immigration officer briefly examined their ID’s before waving them through with a too-neutral expression on his face.
The plainclothes agent and the Latino prisoner that Thomas had seen on the plane were standing with the armored squad but none of them were moving yet, almost as if they were waiting for--
A khaki-clad Chief Petty Officer stepped forward and saluted, a crisp regulation salute. "Commander Becket?"
Thomas sighed and returned the salute. "Aye, Chief—" He eyed the man’s chest. –"Dallas. What can I do for you?"
"Admiral Pachefski’s compliments, sir. He’d like a few minutes of your time."
Thomas winced, inwardly. Rear Admiral William Pachefski was the commandant of Abbot Refugee and Detention Center—the Abattoir. Thomas looked around. "And where might the Admiral be?"
"In his office sir."
His office was several miles away at the other end of New Galveston. At the Abattoir.
"Surely the Admiral has a phone?" Thomas pulled his satphone from an outer pocket of his workstation carrying case.
The CPO looked uncomfortable. "Yes, sir. But he wanted me to bring you. Sir." The armored squad spread out slightly, half-surrounding them.
The Admiral would like a few minutes of your time, not including time in transit. Well, Thomas was used to this from Pachefski. They had history. He sighed and shook his head. "Well, then, we shouldn’t keep the Admiral waiting, should we?" Without pausing, he turned to Guterson and handed him the workstation, keeping the phone. "Mr. Guterson, please call Lieutenant Graham and tell him why I’ll be late for our conference call, then go ahead and check us into the hotel." There wasn’t any conference call, but Guterson didn’t know that.
"Aye aye, sir. When shall I expect you back at the…hotel?" Guterson’s eyes were just a shade larger than usual and he looked only at Thomas’s face. He had also avoided naming the hotel, as Thomas had.
Good man. Thomas turned to Chief Dallas and raised his eyebrows.
"Um. It’s fifteen minutes over to the Abat—the Base. If the Admiral’s business doesn’t take long, we can have you back within the hour. But there’s plenty of billets at our BOQ, sir. Ditto the EQ. No need to send tax money offshore."
And come and go under your watchful eyes. "That’s a good thought, Chief, but our current investigation requires immediate access to the Strand proper." He stared the CPO full in the face. "Now if we were investigating improprieties out at the Detention Center, you can be sure I’d be staying at the BOQ." A tidbit to relax your master. "Shall we go?"
"Aye, Sir. This way."
As Thomas walked away with Chief Dallas, he glanced back over his shoulder. Guterson, looking somewhat overloaded with all of their gear, was walking directly to a rank of payphones. Seaman Guterson, you are going to make investigator first class very soon.
As they walked along, Thomas introduced himself to the plainclothes agent. "I saw you on the flight. I’m Becket, CID."
The other man, still watching his prisoner, nodded. "Yes, sir. Knew it. I’m Chief Warrant Patterson, Houston Field Office."
"Knew how?" Thomas asked.
"Well, not to be insulting, Commander, but there’s only one face like yours in the Service. Even Armando, here, recognized you."
Thomas looked at the prisoner again. His hands were cuffed behind him now. The name or the face didn’t ring any bells. "Have we met?"
"No hablo ingles, Señor Cicatrizado." His Spanish was South American, Colombian or Ecuadoran.
Patterson looked appalled but Thomas laughed.
"¿Cómo me conoce?" Thomas asked.
"Todo el mundo lo conoce."
Thomas sighed. "So much for invisibility."
Patterson shrugged. "It’s true in the Service. Everybody does know you."
It was a curse. He’d gotten the reputation before the face, but now, with the face, Señor Scar just had to show up at an INS operations area and everyone knew that CID was there. It wasn’t always bad—sometimes it caused unsuspected perpetrators to do the most amazing things, exposing them.
The guilty flee where no man…
"What is Armando here for?"
"He was peddling fake ID’s to illegals. Green cards, driver’s licenses, social security numbers. They looked good on computer, too, if the check was cursory. But Armando’s standing mute on his associates, his source, so the Judge gave him ten years detention, then deportation."
Which meant life, really, since to be deported you had to have a country willing to take you. So, Armando would spend his time in Detention, then end up moving over to the refugee camp. At least it was co-ed in the refugee center. Unless Armando could find work on the Strand or sneak back into the US he’d grow old and die out here.
They left the terminal outside the immigration control zone and made their way past the civilian ferries and water taxis to a gated dock guarded by INS shore patrol. A sixty-foot INS hovercraft was tied there, floating on its inflated skirt and other INS passengers were boarding.
The armed detail went aboard in a clump, waiting their turn, stepping high to the deck. Armando stumbled, unable to catch the railing because of his handcuffed arms, and Thomas grabbed his arm to keep him from going down on his face.
Armando looked surprised. "Gracias, Señor."
Thomas shrugged. "Cualquiera lo haría."
Armando shook his head. "Muchos hombres no lo harían." Many men wouldn’t. Unfortunately it sounded like the voice of experience.
Thomas sighed. "Quizá."
There were rows of benches under a rigid awning behind the control cabin and the armored squad took over an unoccupied corner, waiting for Thomas, the two noncoms, and the prisoner to sit before distributing themselves across the remaining seats.
The CPO took off his hat and tucked it under his leg. "You might want to do the same, sir." He jerked his thumb at the two large ducted fans just now starting to turn at the back of the hovercraft. Thomas followed his advice just in time, taking his hat just as the fans generated a maelstrom of wind. The craft moved off, accelerating smoothly, until it was moving over forty knots, swinging north.
Conversation was impossible and Thomas was grateful. The last time he’d been here, he’d been investigating drug traffic passing into the refugee center with the complicity of a ring of INS personnel. His case had gone well professionally and very badly personally and he wasn’t at all happy to be going out to Abbott Base again.
He laughed to himself as he remembered the look on Jazz’s face when Thomas had said he might come out here. Jazz knew.
All right, I could’ve stayed at the Bachelor Officer’s Quarters but it was more than the inconvenience of the commute, wasn’t it?
Well, there were nice things about the Strand. The air was clean and the food was wonderful. If you stayed away from the Abattoir and weren’t out here during a hurricane, it was practically paradise.
They cut into Main Street, the open channel running east to west down the center of the Strand, moving between the large enclosed area that bordered the airport and another large algae farm to the north. Then they passed into the industrial park, a diamond-shaped lagoon over four miles north to south lined with factories, wharves, and commercial shipping.
The channel passed between North and South Portland, two "islands" floating out in the middle of the commercial lagoon, green draped structures over a mile per side. This close, one could tell that the hills were really steps, hexes within hexes, each circle rising higher as they marched inward to cumulate in center towers rising several floors higher than the closest ring. They were factory suburbs, a substantial step up from the Abattoir, but still more crowded residences than New Galveston proper.
The factory towns dropped behind them and Thomas shifted, turning, reluctantly, to look ahead, past the control cabin. On both sides of them the factories and wharves were closing in, toward a gap that was much narrower than the passage from the municipal lagoon. Here the gap between the walls was less than a hundred yards and towers lined both sides while crewed boats stood by below.
They official name was Abbott Security Passage, but the name used the refugees and prisoners was el ano del infierno—the asshole of hell. Since they hoped to pass through and out of it, it didn’t say much for their self-esteem.
Despite his best efforts, Thomas felt his shoulders hunching forward and the scar tissue on his face and neck began to ache. He forced himself to expand his chest and took deep breaths.
The ferry docked at Isabel island, a half-mile across complex similar to any New Galveston module, green draped terraces marching up to a central tower. This was the base housing for dependents and personnel.
After offloading, the hover ferry ran across to another module, the same size as base housing, but with very little greenery and here the exterior of the island was made up of hex towers raising higher than the interior: Abbott Detention Center.
Some of the guards, Warrant Patterson, and his prisoner got off here.
Then they made the run to the camp’s main landing, between the two islands, the north/south center point, which neatly divided the three-mile-long stretch of humanity in half.
It was always the smell that got to Thomas, first. He’d smelled far worse, of course, on refugee ships so crowded that the sanitary facilities had been quickly overwhelmed. At least you knew, at the Abattoir, that the sewage was being treated and the OTEC plants provided plenty of fresh water. If the algae farm provided a much higher percentage of the Abattoir’s diet than his own, it was a healthier one. But it was bland.
But you can’t put four hundred thousand people in that small a space without some odor.
The hex they were in contained the long narrow maze of egress control, the booths where day workers showed their passes and left, to be ferried to the maquiladora factories in the industrial park, or returning, processed through, back into the camp, to sleep and maybe to dream of bumping up, to the next stage, slightly less crowded and more sumptuous housing in one of the factory suburbs.
They passed through the personnel gate and the guards took up position, forming a triangle around them, to get through the crowd. This was Recruitment Square and, thankfully, it wasn’t an example of how crowded the rest of the Abattoir was, for people stood shoulder to shoulder, cruising the job opening announcements, elbowing in and out in a constant Brownian motion.
The guards blew whistles and the crowd parted quickly, anxious to avoid shock sticks which could cause a person to fall and be trampled by the crowd.
Becket inhaled sharply. Ah, humanity.
There was only one level of security to get into the administrative offices. Pachefski’s suite of offices was on the top floor facing due west but built into the vertex of a hex so the view faced out across a short expanse of water to face both the green terraces of Isabel Island and the grim walls of the Detention Center.
Admiral Pachefski was thin and tall with the incipient stooping of old age hunching him over somewhat. This posture and his mostly bald head always reminded Thomas of a vulture. His nickname in the service, though, was Mother Teresa. He’d had this post for over nine years, at his own request.
"Thanks for coming, Thomas. Have a seat. You can go, Chief." Both men waited for Chief Dallas to close the door behind him before talking.
Thomas, is it? Whatever happened to ‘you back-stabbing glory hog?’ That’s what Pachefski had called Thomas the last time they’d met.
"What’s this about, sir?" asked Thomas. Why are you messing with my investigation?
Pachefski gestured at a television monitor mounted in the wall. "I saw the video. They ran it on Channel Seven—that’s the local independent. This Beenan woman seems to imply there’s INS involvement."
Not exactly. She just talked about ammunition. That conclusion could be drawn. You certainly did. "It’s a possibility." Thomas thought about keeping quiet about the ammo found on the Open Lotus but decided that as soon as his men started taking ballistics specimens, the word would be out. "We did find both kinds of ordnance were used."
"Hmmm. And your next step?"
"Sir, you know I can’t discuss an ongoing investigation." Thomas paused a moment. "If I understood your concerns perhaps I could help you without compromising my duty."
Pachefski stood abruptly and walked over to the window. "I have almost four hundred thousand refugees over there, not to mention almost sixty thousand in Detention. We’re barely surviving here. I’ve got UN Refugee Monitors living in the camp. I’ve got Amnesty International observers. I’ve got dozens of news organizations watching our every move. And now this. Christ man, we’re drowning as it is."
Interesting choice of words. Thomas kept his face perfectly still. "I don’t see the connection." But you seem to. Is there something you know you aren’t telling?
"We can’t do our job out here when everything we do is constantly being questioned and challenged. If the INS is implicated in particular, the INS will be implicated in general. And that will increase the pressure."
That was your argument against my last investigation here.
"It’s not like the first years, when we’d get three thousand a day, but between births and new arrivals, the numbers are still increasing. We’re between a rock and a hard place. The conservatives want to cut our funding to make the refugee center a less desirable destination. When we do get more resources, the international watchdogs want it allocated differently, pushing for things we can’t afford. It’s hard enough to provide bare subsistence, much less the schools and clinics they’re clamoring for."
Pachefski shook his hands as if ridding himself of his tormentors. "If they’d spend just half the time they spend pestering me and my staff lobbying for international aid, their problems and mine would be solved."
This last was a bit unfair. The international aid communities poured millions into the world refugee centers, partly, Thomas suspected, to keep those refugees as far away from their borders as possible.
So you want me to suppress this investigation for the good of humanity. Or at least to keep your job from getting harder. Thomas steepled his fingers. Or is it something more than that? "I see your concern, sir. I would much prefer that this affair prove to have nothing to do with the service. It’s my most heartfelt hope."
Admiral Pachefski nodded but his eyes held doubt. "As it is mine."
Thomas shrugged and raised opened hands. "We’ll just have to hope the villains of this event are not ours."
Pachefski sat back down at his desk and leaned forward. "Hope? That’s a powerful force, but the Lord helps those who help themselves. Certain avenues of investigation may prove more…productive than others."
Thomas groaned inwardly. Don’t go there, Admiral. "That goes without saying."
"And if one were to find insufficient evidence that the INS were involved, then, of course, one could even conclude that criminals were involved, absolving the service completely."
This is embarrassing. "I’m sure that whatever conclusions reached by this investigation will be supported by the evidence."
"The selection of relevant evidence must be quite an art."
Thomas was angry now but his face was perfectly still. "Negative evidence would not undo the damage done by the release of the Beenan Video. Positive evidence of non-INS involvement is the only thing that will counter public suspicions of an INS atrocity."
Pachefski furrowed his brow. "I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right, of course. Positive evidence. We must see what can be found."
Found? Or manufactured? Thomas licked his lips, suddenly dry. "I’m sure our investigation will consider all possibilities."
"My intelligence office gets all sorts of news through the refugee community. Why don’t we walk down there and see what they’ve got?"
"I’d rather not, sir. I need to be getting back to the city."
"Ah, you’ve leads then? You should coordinate with my intelligence section."
I’m not opening my investigation up to you or your lackeys. It was going to get ugly, Becket could feel it. Pachefski was passionately loyal to his people and he demanded the same in return. Becket had never been his. He steeled himself for the coming fight.
The intercom chimed.
Annoyed, Pachefski thumbed the button. "I’m in a meeting here!"
A nervous voice returned, "It’s Admiral Rylant, sir. He insisted."
Pachefski’s face stilled. "All right, Ramirez. I’ll take it." He picked up the handset. "Hello, Larry." He listened for a moment, then held up the phone. "He’d like to talk to you."
Thomas stood and took the handset. "Yes, Sir."
Admiral Rylant’s voice said, "Jazz called me. Just give the phone back to him and leave. That, by the way, is a clear and direct order."
Thomas suppressed a grin. Rock breaks scissors. "Yes, sir. I’m on my way, sir." He handed the phone back to Admiral Pachefski and left the room.
There was no escort back to the dock and Thomas was glad. His uniform was enough to gain him passage, though he shifted his watch and wallet to the inside of his uniform shirt. He walked slowly, keeping aware, offering polite, "Perdón" and "Excuse" as they moved out of his way. At least once he heard whispered, "¡El Cicatrizado!"
Later, through security and waiting on the hovercraft dock, Thomas barely saw his surroundings, his head whirling with dangerous possibilities. I really thought he’d called me in to see if my investigation ranged into his territory, but it seems he has a much more active role in mind. But is he just trying to keep the service image clean or is it something more? Is he involved in this? Does he know who is?
Regardless, the scope of the investigation had just increased.