Out of Water – Chapter Seven

Randal and Sam gave a combined heave and dragged Walker up and out of the access hatch, the Chief Engineer giving a grunt as he rolled himself around into a mostly upright position and dusted himself off and all three men exhaled and shook out aching muscles. Hathoway bent over them in an attempt to see in the hatch but without Walker’s flashlight it was all shadows save a few glimpses of nearby wiring with the rest fading into darkness. The military man shook his head ruefully and stepped back. “Deep hole, that.”

Walker grinned, his face mostly back to it’s normal color in spite of being held mostly upside down for the last few minutes. “About two stories. You’re not really supposed to get in to the wiring this way but someone did, and not too long ago at that. Risky move, since he couldn’t have brought most of the appropriate safety equipment in this way so he’d have been working without a net as it were.”

Hathoway raised a skeptical eyebrow. “As opposed to what you were just doing?”

“I put those two,” Walker jerked a thumb at the other two Chiefs in turn, “on the list of approved safety measures before we started.”

“And I approved it,” Randal added, “which makes it doubly official and, more importantly, fast.”

“Honestly,” Sudbury said, sounding a little exasperated, “don’t you three have some kind of minders to make sure you don’t go pulling stupid stunts and getting killed? What good do you do the public if they lose the benefit of your expertise?”

There was an uncomfortable moment as the three Chiefs exchanged a mystified look. No one said, “What do you mean?”

But it was pretty heavily implied.

“If you’re worried about having too many eggs in one basket,” Sam said, “I could call a deputy and have the two of you escorted back to the offices. Or maybe a hotel? We do have those down here and I’m sure-”

Sudbury waved him off. “It’s tempting, but I do have half my delegation to worry about. That doesn’t explain why you three are down here.”

“Same reason,” Randal said. “Bigger scale.” He took one of Walker’s arms and pulled the engineer to his feet. “What did you find down there, Matt?”

In reply Walker dug a fist sized gizmo out of a pocket and showed it to the group. “This was spliced into the network line. I don’t know what it does for sure but at I guess, given what we’re looking at, it used a high amplitude light pulse to shut down the fiber optic network in this section.”

Sudbury cleared his throat and, when he had the group’s attention, asked, “Why would knocking out your network cause a… what did you call it? Breach lockdown?”

“That’s the term,” Walker said. “The thing about breaches is you have to know they happened in order to lock down the area around them. If the local control programs lose touch with the network they can’t be told a breach has taken place. So they trip a lockdown until they can reestablish contact with the network.”

“How many people would know they could do that?” Sam asked.

“Anyone on the Ward’s engineering and structural team in the last three years since the safety protocols were rewritten.” Walker thought about it for a moment. “A handful of the upper echelon contractors. That’s it, at least that I know of.”

Hathoway took the device from Walker’s hand and looked it over. “Has this kind of trick been used before?”

“A fish over in First Ward tried it as part of an escape bid five years ago,” Walker said. “The new lockdown system is one reason why it failed, and why we adopted the new model.”

“A fish?” Sudbury quirked an eyebrow. “I would think they would be on the outside, not in here.”

Randal grunted. “People aren’t meant to live under thousands of feet of water, Ambassador. They can go wrong in the head in a lot of ways. In the old days it was mostly due to the close quarters but there were always a few people who had to work on the outside, expanding the colony, and since we’re still growing now we see those kinds of head cases the most often. Usually they form a kind of extreme agoraphobia after all their time in small construction subs in the middle of the great wide ocean. But some people seem to think the sea is where they belong and they try and get back there.”

“Most of them think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring the rest of us along, too,” Sam added.

“You mean a crazy underwater crane operator is trying to drown everyone in the section?” Hathoway demanded.

“No.” Randal said evenly. “We don’t use cranes down here. Otherwise, yes.”

Out of Water: Chapter Six

The main lights were out all across the plaza outside, leaving only the dim emergency lighting around the outside of the circle and the soft glow of the phosphorescent moss growing up the central planters to see by. It was surreal, if peaceful, but definitely no the way things were supposed to be. Herrigan stepped away from the office window and nearly stepped on Sonny, leading to a short moment of shuffling and cursing by way of apology as the two men fumbled in the dark and cramped room. Finally Herrigan got his flashlight pointed upwards between the two of them and said, “You’re right about the power being out everywhere. I don’t see how that translates to sabotage.”

“It doesn’t necessarily. Most of our power comes from tidal generators, not geothermal, so it goes out all the time. You can practically set your watch by it. But the communications lines?” He swiped water from his shoulder. “Festering things are supposed to withstand eight Rictors, Harry. Eight. That’s the kind of earthquake the Big Shake was. The come lines don’t just go out.”

“All right, Sonny, I hear you.” Herrigan rubbed his jaw absently, trying to think of what to do. Normally it would be a no-brainer, and the fact that he hadn’t jumped to it already was probably part of what had Sonny so upset as it was, but the addition of the Aussie girls was making the mental math harder than normal. “You still get a lot of contractors down here? Or did they stop coming when the construction jobs moved to Ward Four?”

“Still plenty of building here in the Luft,” Sonny said, half annoyed and half defensive. “Besides, our customers are loyal. We still got lots of roughnecks, if that’s what you’re asking. But you should have been able to tell that – half of ’em came with their lights still in their pockets, didn’t they?”

Given how dark a colony at the bottom of the ocean could get when the power went out Herrigan wasn’t sure the number of people carrying flashlights said anything at all about the people themselves, other than how many of them had good sense. But then, in the old days, when all electronics were hard to make, it was the people who worked on the unfinished periphery who carried flashlights the most so it wasn’t like there was no precedent. And pointing out how irrelevant that old idea was no wasn’t going to get him anywhere so he ignored it and Sonny and stepped back out into the bar, leaping up on the serving counter and raising his voice to call, “Who here works construction?”

A smattering of cheers, jeers and general affirmative profanity came in response. He grinned and said, “Great! You two, yeah you with the collar and your pal with the dead urchin on his head, you’ve just been deputized! Come over and see what you’ve won!”

Herrigan hopped off the bar and turned to Ramon, who was arguing with Holly about something.

“We use this stuff everyday, Newcastle,” Ramon was saying, “And I’m telling you that we can’t rewire it remotely. Or without someone who knows what they’re doing, the fiber optics can be tetchy.”

“Fiber?” Holly pinched the bridge of her nose. “Your network is fiber based?”

Lauren leaned in and asked, “Can’t you work with that?”

“Not trained on it, and it is notoriously touchy for what I had in mind.”

“Which was what?” Ramon asked, sounding genuinely curious.

“Not important,” Herrigan interjected, hoping to head of any questions that might raise unfortunate questions. Like where Holly had been trained in maintaining computer networks or even why Lauren was so tanned. In retrospect taking her out in public had been a bad idea but hopefully other things would be on people’s minds. “Ramon, I want you to go and check this section’s perimeter hatches and have the engineers lock ’em down.”

“Which engineers?”

On cue the two men Herrigan had pulled out of the shadows in back of the bar got over to them. Both were hard faced, grimy men in faded blue jackets and the weathered hands of people who worked for a living. The only distinguishing features were the flared collar on one jacket and the long and freakishly unruly hair on the other head. “These boys, who are probably the closest thing to engineers sealed in this section at the moment.”

“That’s right, ma’am,” collar man answered. “I’m Mag Teng and if it’s grown out of ceramic I can put it together or take it apart.”
“Ben Hornsby,” the other said. “My thing is pumps and atmospheric control – not sure I’m your best choice but I’m happy to help.”

“You sound perfect to me, Ben,” Herrigan replied. “I want you two and Ramon to go around and lock down all the hatches on the perimeter. Disable the hatch mechanisms if you have to, but if you can just lock them shut so we can get back out easily that’d probably be better.”

Ben nodded slowly. “Yes, I think we could do that pretty easily. Those doors are hydraulic and we could just cut the control circuit out of -”

“You lost my at hydraulic, Ben,” Herrigan said, shaking his head ruefully. “So long as you get it done.”

“Sure,” Mag said, “but why lock the doors more? Shouldn’t we be trying to get out?”

Herrigan jerked a thumb at Sonny. “Barkeep thinks this might be deliberate sabotage. Only reason I can think of to sabotage something on this scale would be to try and hit the McClain plant in the bottom half of this section.” He pause for a moment to think, then looked at Ramon. “They are still putting that in, right? No one changed their minds while I was out of port?”

She nodded. “Yeah, it’s been running for a few weeks now. That’s what you think this is, some kind of industrial espionage? Don’t you think locking down a whole section over that is a little extreme?”

“Can you think of a better reason to cut power to and lock down a whole section?”

“Sure.” Everyone looked at Mag Teng in surprise. He shrugged. “A fish out of water.”

Out of Water – Chapter Five

“What was he thinking?”

“Bringing the Aussies here or taking them out for drinks?” Sam asked, watching as Randal paced back and forth along the back of the ops deck. “You’ve been harping on both for the last ten minutes.”

Randal flopped down in one of the nearby chairs, drawing an irate look from one of the nearby engineers as it rattled and squeaked on it’s stand. “It’s more a question of whether it ever happens, at all.”

Sam leaned back against the wall and laughed. “Aunt Kitty would say no but mostly because he’s not thinking about her. ‘Course a man can’t always make decisions thinking of his mother so that’s not exactly a strike against him.”

A flat look from Randal. “What are you talking about?”

Fortunately Sam didn’t have to answer because a his phone chimed. With a silent request to Randal to put the conversation on hold he answered. A minute later he put it away and said, “One of the deputies saw Herrigan going into Orpheus. I told you it’d be one of his usual watering holes.”

Randal just grunted and started punching at the console’s touch screen while calling out, “Ambassador Sudbury? I think we’ve found your people.”

The ambassador walked over from the engineering console he’d been looking over with the Ward’s Chief Engineer, saying, “Very informative, Mr. Walker. I hope one day you’ll have a chance to visit Melbourne and demonstrate some of your techniques there. Australia is thinking of starting a space program and the kind of pressure chambers you build here could easily be adapted for it.”

“That was kind of the point to building this place, at least from the structural point of view.” The Ward’s third elected official tagged along with the Ambassador, brushing a sheen of sweat and condensation from the top of his bald head. “But I couldn’t go any time soon. I just started my term a few months ago and leaving the Ward before it’s up is a big no-no.”

Sergeant Hathoway grunted. “You mean you can’t move around as you like?”

“He’s the man in charge of keeping the Ward’s hull and life support intact and us alive,” Randal replied. “It doesn’t exactly leave a lot of time for you to go on vacation. He’s on call at all times until the end of his term. That’s why Chief Engineer terms are so much shorter than ours.”

“I would think that leaving the Ward and inspecting the hull would be a natural part of such a position,” Sudburry said.

“Oh, I can do that if absolutely necessary but for the most part I got staff for that kind of thing.” Matt Walker offered a half shrug and a charismatic grin and said, “It’s not the job I was expecting when I ran for it but I think that’s true for most Chiefs. If you want some names of people that could give you good pointers on Alcatraz engineering I got a list I could give you. Third Ward is famous for our construction teams.”

Randal pushed away from the console and climbed to his feet. “Can we go get your missing people before we look in to that? I’m sure the Ambassador is going to see a lot here he’d like to share with the surface but he’s got a lot of time to work out the details of what all that is. For now, I still need to figure out what we’re going to do with an Ambassador and how to bring it up with the other Wards.”

Walker grinned. “That’s why you’re the Chief Executive and not me, Holman. It’s time you started earning your keep.”

“My keep?” Randal shot Sam a wounded look. “You hear that? He thinks I don’t work. I’d like to see him go to Inferno Ward and negotiate with the Dante some time.”

“Yeah, yeah, I hear you.” Sam grabbed him by the shoulders, turned him towards the door and gave a gentle push. “Stairs are that way, Randal.”

They hadn’t gotten much farther than a few steps when a frantic pinging sent Walker moving quickly to see what was wrong. A few seconds later, he said, “Sam? Where did that stray cat of yours wander off to?”

“I didn’t think you had cats down here,” Halloway muttered.

Sam ignored him. “Down at Orpheus. Section K… 47 I think?”

“42,” Randal corrected, digging his heels in to stop their progress. “What’s wrong?”

Walker looked up from his console, his face grim. “K-42 just went into breach lockdown.”

——-

There was the split second of heavy silence that always falls over a group of people when something unexpected happens, adding to the oppressive feeling of the total darkness in the bar. Then the room lit up as a half a dozen pocket torches sprang to life. Lauren let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding as primal panic receded into the background. Across the table Herrigan switched on a light of his own and stood up, looking around the room.

A voice from the doors called out, “The doors are sealed. My money is on breach lockdown.”

“Sonny!” Herrigan yelled, his voice carrying over the hubbub that was building. “Where’s your emergency lights?”

A voice drifted back from the direction of the bar. “The boss hasn’t had the backup power serviced in months. My guess it’s on the fritz.”

“Cartwright? That you?” Lauren leaned to one side and saw a tall, short haired woman maneuvering through the crowd. Like Herrigan, she was wearing a bright yellow jacket, the color easily noticeable in the dim light, and she moved with an air of command.

“Ramon! My favorite swill drinking hornet.” Herrigan motioned for her to join them at the table. “Glad to see you.”

She laughed. “Not as glad as I am to see you. Half the deputies thought you were dead.”

“Not you, though?”

“Nope. Yuan is going to owe me twenty bucks.” She grinned and shone her light across the table. “And you brought friends! New crew?”

“Long story.” Herrigan tossed Lauren and Holly a sideways look, a moment of uncertainty crossing his face. “Ramon, we need to get a handle on this. Can you and Sonny patch into the network and find out what killed power?”

Ramon shrugged. “Sure. But I don’t know if there’s any point to it, whether it’s a false alarm or not breach lockdowns are the engineer’s problem, not ours.”

She turned and worked her way towards the bar. Lauren leaned in and asked, “What’s breach lockdown?”

Herrigan dropped his voice and said, “Areas near the hull, like this one is, can seal themselves in to a number of watertight chambers in event of a hull breach. Makes sure half the Ward doesn’t drowned because one wall had shoddy construction.”

“Do you get false alarms on that kind of thing often?”

“It depends. New construction has a lot of issues with them for a bunch of reasons. But Ward Three hasn’t built down in two or three years.” He shrugged, “The system is very sensitive, though, since lives depend on it. There’s usually at least one a month somewhere in the Ward. They usually only last a couple of hours.”

Sonny’s voice came over the crowd again. “Hey Harry! C’mere.”

Herrigan glanced at the two women at the table with him, then motioned for them to follow as he made his way to the bar. Ramon was huddled at one end with the barkeeper and he joined them there. “What’s up?”

Ramon glanced around and said in a low voice, “We don’t have access to the network outside this section.”

“I didn’t think the lockdown process cut communication lines,” Herrigan said slowly.

“It doesn’t.” Sonny folded his arms over his chest. “And the main power lines are out throughout the section, which shouldn’t happen either. So what do you think, deputies? My gut says sabatoge.”

A Break!

Hello people! This is a brief post to let you know what’s up right now. Basically, I’m taking this week and next week off because I’ll be in the process of moving.

Originally I’d hoped to only take one week of doing this but the last week I’ve been pretty stressed and haven’t been able to focus much on anything but getting ready to move and therapy drawing (which is a thing where you destress by drawing stuff). Also, leaving the characters (and the reader) quite literally in the dark over what was going on struck me as a great time for a cliffhanger break.

See you in a bit!

Out of Water – Chapter Four

Lauren and Herrigan had gotten half way out the door of the Third Ward offices when Lieutenant Holly Newcastle, Australian Army, caught up with them.

Herrigan managed to suppress a disgusted sound. Not because he disliked the Lieutenant or had really wanted to go somewhere alone with one of the Australians but because the young woman – more of a girl in his mind – kind of creeped him out. In spite of a month plus of reminding himself that a lot of the ideas trenchmen had about the surface were based on hyperbole and out of date information there were some things he hadn’t gotten past. An intense dislike of professional armies was one of them.

Oscar had pointed out the irony of that coming from someone who was a Deputy Justice and a militia officer and so, technically, in the same line of work. But in Herrigan’s mind fighting wasn’t his job, it was something he did to keep his job. In theory, fighting was Newcastle’s job.

“Lauren?” Holly poked her head past Lauren’s shoulder, a quizzical look on her face. “Are you going somewhere? Ambassador Sudbury doesn’t want any of us wandering alone.”

She sounded more like a schoolmarm than a soldier to Herrigan’s admittedly untrained ear. Lauren didn’t seem to mind because she smiled back and said, “Herrigan just thought we should take a break and grab some refreshments. We’ll be back in a little while.”

“Forty five minutes, tops.” Herrigan put in.

“What kind of refreshments?” Holly asked, clearly skeptical.

“Well.” Lauren gave him a questioning look and said, “If there’s any kind of civilization left down here hard liquor will at least be on the menu.”

“Guaranteed.”

Holly clasped her hands together and said, “Take me with you! If I have to listen to one more word about the complexities of getting all your stupid Chiefs in one place and I’m sober, someone’s going to get shot.”

“Wait.” Herrigan’s brow furrowed. “Who gave you your gun back?”

“My sidearm hasn’t been returned yet. That’s another thing that bugs me.”

It wasn’t going to get fixed any time soon, that he was pretty sure of. But mentioning the fact probably wasn’t going to be helpful so Herrigan ignored the issue of arming her for the moment and considered her request. Ultimately, he didn’t see what it could hurt. “Well,” he said, “you’re probably not getting your gun back until you’re sober again but I’m not one to take booze from someone who has to deal with the Chiefs. Let’s go.”

——–

The sign said that the bar’s name was Orpheus. Holly gave Herrigan a skeptical look. “Orpheus?”

“Third Ward’s very own roving bar,” He said with a grin.

It was Lauren’s turn to look skeptical. “Does it move places?”

“It did in the past.” Herrigan waved at the circular hub room they stood in, ringed with what she guessed were store fronts and other public buildings. “This plaza only opened a couple of years ago. Before that, Orpheus was located one floor up. Whenever the Ward built a layer down into the Trench then the owner would buy up a business plot there and move shop. Orpheus is always as close to the underworld as it can get.”

Holly snorted. “Figures. Randal mentioned that one of the other Chief Executives was named Dante and from Inferno Ward. Are all the naming conventions down here so cheerful?”

“Most of ’em. It fits a place like this, don’t you think? Besides, Inferno Ward is where the Geothermal plant is, so it fits.” Herrigan stepped forward to open the door for them, then turned back and said, “By the way, until we can officially announce that we have Australian visitors to the public you might want to save those kind of questions for when we’re alone.”

Lauren took a quick glance around. Fortunately the plaza was fairly empty at the moment and she didn’t think anyone had overheard. “Good point. Lead the way, oh native guide.”

They pushed through the doors of the bar and in to the dimly lit interior. So far she’d mostly experienced the inside of a salvage sub and the docks and stairwells of the colony itself but even that small sampling had been kind of alien.  But pubs were apparently a universal constant. Orpheus was just a big room with booths, tables and a bar along the side wall. There were a few new wrinkles. Alcatraz itself wasn’t as humid as Erin’s Dream had been but humidity was still higher than she was used to and the near ubiquitous Spanish lace dangled from a number of supports throughout the room.

The people there were about what she’d come to expect from the trenchmen, dozens of men with close cropped or shaved heads, women with bobbed hair, all dressed in brightly colored jackets of various lengths. Between the unusual colors the people wore and the plant life trenchmen scattered everywhere the room felt a bit like a tropical rainforest that had somehow gotten lost and wandered down to the bottom of the ocean.

Herrigan led them to the side of the room, towards the bar. They’d gotten most of the way there when a loud, clearly inebriated voice called, “Hey, Harry! Over here!”

Towards the back of the room an arm clad in bright blue was waving lazily. Lauren vaguely recognized some of the people at the table as faces of the crew they’d come in with, although she probably couldn’t have put names to faces. Herrigan muttered something under his breath and said, “Be right back. I need a word with them.”

Lauren and Holly shared an amused glance as Herrigan hustled away, leaving them by the bar. Almost at the same moment a tall, gangly fellow stepped over to them and asked, “What’ll it be, ladies? Any preferences? Or did Cartwright promise you a drink from his stash?”

“Harry said he’d let us sample some of the best drinks in the Ward,” Lauren said, hoping to avoid ordering anything by name.

“The stash it is,” the barkeep replied. He pulled out a fairly normal looking glass bottle and set it on the counter, followed by three shot glasses. “You’re welcome to sit here at the bar until he gets back to you, or his favorite table’s open if you’d like some privacy.”

“Thanks,” Holly said as she took the bottle and headed towards the table he’d pointed out. As they got away from the bar she dropped her voice and asked, “How often do you think he brings ladies here for privacy? That sounded like a pretty practiced spiel to me.”

Lauren shrugged and made a noncommittal noise as she looked the bottle over. The label announced the drink was Selkie, which she’d never heard of, and it was mostly full. As soon as they got to Herrigan’s table, a booth near the back corner of the room, they poured half a glass in each glass and studied the result.

Holly turned her glass slowly in one hand, then carefully sniffed at the beverage and pulled a face. “It’s… I don’t know.”

The liquid sloshed in the glass but didn’t cling like wine or brandy would. Lauren didn’t smell much from it either, beyond a vague hint of the sea that could easily have come from the room around her. “It’s green.”

“Yeah.” Holly nodded. “Green.”

“It’s Selkie. Distilled seaweed and other flavors.” Herrigan slid into the booth on the other side and scooped up the third glass, downing its contents in a single gulp. With a grimace he set the shot glass down and refilled it, then looked at the ladies. “Not going to try?”

Apparently unable to back down from the challenge, Holly downed her glass with equal speed, then nearly fumbled it onto the floor as she half-choked swallowing. Curious, Lauren took a much more restrained sip of her own drink. It didn’t burn like some well aged whiskies she’d had but it tasted a lot more like grass than she cared to think about. “Must be an acquired taste.”

“I think all booze is, to be fair.” Herrigan downed a second glass but didn’t refill it. “We brewed with what we could spare, back in the day.”

Holly wiped her eyes and swallowed hard, then smoothed the front of her shirt and exhaled sharply. “It’s certainly unique.”

Herrigan smirked. “Suits its makers.”

She bristled at that and pulled herself up a bit in her chair. “Mr. Cartwright, could I ask you a question?”

He shrugged. “Sure, why not? I’m probably not going to give you the best answer, but if you wanted that I’m sure you’d have asked Sam or Randal.”

For a moment Holly paused to gather her thoughts, perking Lauren’s interest. The lieutenant wasn’t an airhead but she didn’t give the impression of a deep thinker, either, and Lauren couldn’t figure out what in the last few minutes could have prompted such a serious attitude from her. Finally Holly looked Herrigan in the eye and said, “Why -”

And all the lights in the bar went dark.

Out of Water: Chapter Three

“Seriously, Sam?” Herrigan flopped down in one of the chairs in his cousin’s office and started to put his feet up on the desk.

Sam caught one ankle on his way around the desk and shoved Herrigan’s feet back towards the floor. “What’s the matter, Harry?”

Herrigan threw a glance at the doorway, which by longstanding Trench tradition had no door in the spirit of not dealing behind closed doors, in the direction of Randal’s office just down the hall. “Kind of feel like there might be better things to be doing with our time. Like maybe keeping an eye on the first ever foreign delegation to our colony?”

“That’s just it. This isn’t a colony, it’s a prison.” Sam’s legs claimed the space where Herrigan’s had been headed a second ago. “Think about it. How to run this place internally has been a point of contention since the inmates started running the asylum. We can’t take ourselves seriously enough to run a coherent government, how can we expect Australia to take us any more seriously knowing that?”

“If they can’t take us seriously that’s the Aussie’s problem, not ours.” Herrigan kept his voice pitched so hopefully he couldn’t be heard down the hall. More than a dozen years on subs had taught him to control his voice in a controlled space so he was sure he couldn’t be overheard normally but he still wasn’t sure what to expect of the delegation. The crew’s consensus from time spent in New Darwin was that the surface was ten to twenty years ahead in terms of miniaturized infotech, he was willing to bet the delegation had listening and recording devices the trenchmen hadn’t even spotted yet. “Anyways, so far as I know the whole colony doesn’t have to negotiate with them. Just one Ward. Preferably ours.”

Sam raised his eyes towards the ceiling in silent supplication. Herrigan wasn’t sure if it was for patience or his quick and accidental death. Or maybe the patience to wait for the accident. “Did it ever occur to you that they could just blow us up instead?”

“They wouldn’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” Herrigan favored his cousin with a dangerously toothy grin. “Sam, did you ever realize that Erin McClain was an Alcatraz native?”

“Yes…” Sam waved for him to get to the point.

Herrigan leaned forward, his grin dissolving into impatience. “Sam. Have you forgotten that twenty years ago we still used scrap metal to shore up barely functional underwater mines that only met our building needs on a good day? Without Erin McClain we wouldn’t be able to grow ceramics out of seawater. Or if we could they probably wouldn’t be up to resisting pressure at this depth.”

“I get it, Harry, everyone’s heard of Erin McClain. She’s a celebrity down here, saved us from-” The pieces clicked into place with an almost audible snap. “Australia doesn’t know how to make magnetically aligned ceramics.”

“To be precise, no surface nation knows how to make magnetically aligned ceramics.” Sam leaned back in his chair like a cat that got the cream. “McClain building techniques are ten times as strong and four times as cheap as concrete equivalents, and a lot lighter to boot. Even if McClain Tech chooses to build stuff here and ship it to the surface instead of selling the tech to firms on the surface they’ll make a mint, new construction on the surface will get a lot cheaper and no one will want their supplies to the new wonder bricks cut off.”

“McClain ceramics don’t come in bricks. You know that, right?”

“My point is, if we show them what we have to offer reasonable people will see that cooperation is a better way to get it than violence.” Herrigan jerked a thumb in the direction of Harold’s office and the delegation. “As far as we can tell, they’re reasonable people.”

Sam laughed. “Reasonable people don’t round up the folks who disagree with them and toss them on the bottom of the ocean.”

“The good old U.S. of A. did that, not Australia, and they don’t even exist anymore. Place is broken into two countries now and they’re too busy with each other to bother with us.” Herrigan climbed to his feet and started towards the door, pausing to look over his shoulder. “Relax, Sam. Oscar and I hashed this over a lot and the crew put it to a vote, if we didn’t have confidence in this we would have left them on the surface.”

Sam let him get all the way to the door before he said, “That won’t hold up for long, Harry.”

The other man paused in the doorway and turned back. “Beg pardon?”

“That’s a really good song and dance routine you just ran now.” Sam mimed applause. “It might even fly with most people. But try it with a Chief, especially one from another Ward, and they’ll know you’re blowing smoke. That’s an issue but not the biggest one. You went up, Harry. We don’t have many laws down here, compared to the societies that we left behind at least. But not contacting the surface until the Chief Executives say it’s okay? That’s a big one. Someone’s going to call you on it, Herrigan. Not me, probably not Randal. But sooner or later, someone will. Be ready.”

——-

Lauren stepped out of the Chief Executive’s office feeling more than a little exhausted. On top of a new place and a new culture there were a bunch of new security and secrecy protocols in place. Randal wasn’t sure what people would make of outsiders suddenly showing up in their very insular community so he wanted to take things slow. Ambassador Sudbury was okay with that, and Lauren thought she probably would be too. But before she decided she just wanted a break from it all.

Once upon a time she’d thought there was a lot of fuss in being assistant harbormaster.  Now she was sure it wasn’t anything compared to being a diplomat.

She headed aimlessly down the hall out into the reception area for the office suite where Randal and the other leaders of Third Ward had their offices. To her surprise, she found Herrigan leaning against the receptionist’s desk, staring pensively into the distance. “So that’s where you got to.”

Herrigan glanced up. “Yeah, I’m still here. Sam just had a few things he wanted to has out with me.”

She leaned on the desk space beside him, glad that the secretary had been called into Randal’s office so they wouldn’t be interfering with her job. “Randal did mention you were a ‘Deputy Justice’ and would be our escort in town.”

He pinched the brightly colored fabric of his jacket sleeve. “I wear the yellow for a reason, it’s true. But before any of that gets started I need a drink.” He shot her a grin. “Want to come along and absorb some local culture?”

“Sure.” She answered his grin with one of her own. “Sounds like a great way to kick things off.”