“Out of all the Euthanasia Wars, China’s was the worst.”
Herrigan stopped in the center of the amidships ballast pumping compartment to give Lauren a disbelieving look. “Euthanasia Wars? As in more than one?”
“Yes. That’s why there are two countries where the United States used to be. Several nations fought them as recently as ten years ago.” She gave Herrigan a little push aft before continuing. “But China’s was the worst.”
“Did they still have that stupid family planning policy with one kid each?” Herrigan asked, taking the hint and continuing on his way. “Even we never went that far and we had limited oxygen in the early days.”
“Yes, the one child policy still existed and yes, it was a big contributing factor to what made the war so vicious. The population was so heavily skewed towards young men at that point that, when the government started putting down the elderly, there were riots.” Lauren shrugged, although Herrigan couldn’t see it. “I guess they figured they weren’t going to put up with a society that didn’t care about whether population manipulation stiffed them out of a wife and wanted to kill them once they got too old.”
“No one saw this coming?”
“Some people think they didn’t, some think they had plans to deal with it that weren’t enough, and the possibilities go on.” Lauren paused a moment as they moved through a compartment with a few other crew in it. She didn’t want too many people hearing her story. It was common knowledge on the surface but that didn’t mean they liked talking about it. Once they were in the next compartment she continued. “Early on, while people were still picking sides, there was a mutiny on the nuclear submarine Guan Yu.”
“Nuclear powered or armed with nuclear weapons?” Herrigan asked.
“Both. It left port one day and no one heard from it for nearly two weeks. Then there was a string of massive detonations in or near the Aleutian Trench and-”
“Wait.” Herrigan tried to stop in the middle of the aft auxiliary electrical compartment but this time Lauren didn’t even let him come to a full stop before pushing him on. He didn’t let a little shoving keep him from his question though. “How can you have a nuclear winter caused by undersea detonations?”
“That trench is right along the tectonic plates. The detonations caused massive instabilities resulting in new volcanic eruptions and, in turn, warmer seas and much more violent storm seasons. To say nothing of the earthquakes and other problems.”
“The Big Shake was caused by this Guano ship? I remember that. I was six.” Herrigan tilted his head to one side. “But that was nearly forty years ago!”
“The most recent wars ended ten years ago, some of them have been over longer.” Another shrug he was in no position to see. “And some of this stuff has taken a long time to sort out.”
“And that was enough for an ice age?”
Lauren sighed and rushed through the next part. “Okay so some radical enviroterrorists released huge clouds of sun scattering nanoparticles into the upper atmosphere twenty years or so before that to try and combat global warming and the two may have stacked together to make undesirable results.”
“Like an ice age.”
“Yes.” She bit out the words. “Like an ice age. Now you know why your ship is illegal in most ports the world over. Can we please get my boss and work something out before he causes an international incident?”
“You realize we run on a small reactor. Can’t even melt down creditably, much less cause an explosion.”
“And you have no idea what the ice age has done to people. To civilization.” They were stopped outside a door marked “O.P.” that didn’t quite muffle the sound of shouting from inside. Lauren realized there was an edge in her own voice and did her best to reign it in. “People are going to be weirded out by this. Try to cut them a little slack.”
Herrigan gave her a strange look and said, “Right. Slack.” Then he grabbed the handle on the door, cranked it around to unlock it and pushed it open.
Chaos greeted them.
Bainbridge lay sprawled on the floor, he was soaking wet and covered with some kind of dull red lace or ribbon. An old man in a black jacket, the first of the color she’d seen, was yelling at him about meltdowns and responsible fissioning and qualifications all while shaking a stepladder at the harbormaster like some sort of geriatric lion tamer.
The captain, first mate and a third crewman faced off against the two harbor security men that Bainbridge had brought with him. The XO, Gwen, had pulled a knife from somewhere while both guards had drawn their ionizers. With a sudden twitch of panic Gwen wondered what would happen if they used the electrically based weapons in an environment as damp as Erin’s Dream. Especially with Bainbridge already sopping wet.
It was surprisingly easy to concentrate on the question since all shouting stopped as soon as the door banged open. Herrigan took advantage of the silence to say, in a surprisingly stern tone, “Put down your weapons, you two. You’re under arrest.”
The two security men looked at him in disbelief, something Lauren was sure was echoed on her own face, then one of them started to point his ionizer at Herrigan only to step back in surprise when a huge black blob appeared on his arm with a soft whuffing sound.
While Lauren had been distracted by what was going on in the compartment Herrigan had apparently drawn his own weapon, which was clearly not an ionizer, and was now carefully pelting the security men with whatever it was his gun fired. Whatever it was it crackled like popcorn and swelled up quickly, turning from a small black dot to a large sphere in just a second or two. The guard tried to bat it away only to wind up with his hand stuck to his sleeve.
Almost as fast as things had started it was over, with both security men tangled in a mess of black sticky foam, glued to themselves, the floor and sides of one tank and even each other. Neither one had their weapon pointed at anything important. Lauren cleared her throat and addressed them. “Why don’t you gentlemen go ahead and put the safety on your weapons? If they go off now there’s a good chance you’ll be the only ones hurt.”
“What’s that?” Bainbridge demanded, his tone not quite matched by his new reddish hairstyle. “Don’t be ridiculous, Lauren!”
“Mr. Bainbridge, we’re bordering on an international incident.”
He pulled a handful of red seaweed off his shoulder and tossed it aside, “The Living States of America won’t care if we impound an illegal nuclear vessel and arrest it’s crew.”
“No,” Lauren said, glancing at Herrigan. He nodded slightly and she said, “But the Alcatraz Pact might.”
“The what?” Bainbridge asked, going suddenly still and pale.
Lauren tried to remember if she’d ever seen him so disturbed. She didn’t think she had. “Former penal colony? They live under the ocean, around the Marianas Trench? Do you know something about this you’d like to share with the rest of the class?”
“There have been rumors…” The harbormaster glanced hurridly around the room, as if viewing it’s occupants in a new light. “I didn’t think the Marianas ghosts were real, though.”
The ship’s captain cleared his throat. “Deputy Cartwright? Could I have a moment?”
“You told her about the Pact?”
“Just the name.” Herrigan glanced over at Lauren. At his insistence they’d moved the whole discussion back to the galley for the moment, in part because as soon as Bainbridge had remembered they were sitting next to an active and leaking nuclear reactor he’d gotten very, very nervous and edging close to some kind of breakdown. “Oscar, we’re running blind here and we’ve already made a lot of mistakes. We just didn’t know enough about the current situation up here to pass as surface men. It was better to tell her the truth than let her draw some kind of weird conclusions.”
Oscar looked skeptical but all he said was, “It’s your call to make. Just be ready to explain it when we get back. You cousin might not appreciate it, to say nothing of the Chief Zeke or any of the other Ward leaders.”
“I can handle Sam and he can handle the Chief Executive. The other Wards…” Herrigan shrugged helplessly. “We did start as a settlement of political dissidents. When have the Wards of Alcatraz ever agreed on anything?”
“Just remember that if the Warden ever calls you up to Alcatraz proper for an explanation. You’re deputized, sure, but I dunno if that was ever meant to cover something like this.” Duffy’s tone was light but his expression was grim. This was all new territory for everyone involved. “Let’s go talk to our friends, shall we?”
Bainbridge had put himself back together fairly well over the last ten minutes and he once again looked less like a frightened man and more like a self-satisfied official, albeit a damp one. He harrumphed a bit as the other two men settled in across from him, breaking off a quite conversation with his assistant harbormaster. “Gentlemen, I think I have a better grasp on the situation now.”
“Excellent,” Duffy said with a quick and easy smile. “I hope that means we can set aside all this talk of impounding my ship.”
“Unfortunately, while I am convinced that you had no ill intent in bringing your ship and its…” The harbormaster hesitated for a moment. “Its dangerous power source here, that doesn’t mean I can just allow you to retain possession of it. It’s still my intention to impound Erin’s Dream until the government can decide exactly what to do with it.”
“Now wait a minute,” Herrigan said, holding up a hand. “Does the prohibition on nuclear power apply to warships as well? Because the Alcatraz Pact views all existing subs as part of its Reserve Navy as well – we just don’t have the resources to maintain a full Navy and a healthy construction fleet – so Erin’s Dream counts as a deep patrol sub in our books.”
“That’s preposterous! Little better than privateering.”
“There’s some similarities, sure,” Herrigan conceded. “But it’s not against international law as far as I know. ‘Course, our knowledge of surface law is out of date, hence our problem here…”
Bainbridge’s expression grew thunderous even as his voice grew quiet. “This ship is armed?”
“Maybe it is, maybe we have to install the right modules before we ship out.” Duffy spread his hands casually. “We’re not actually required to tell you, I believe.”
“Well think again-”
“Actually, sir, he’s right.” Lauren handed the harbormaster her tablet. “U.N Security Counsel approved it in 2033 in order to help deal with African and Indonesian pirate vessels, since good Navies were out of the price range of many countries involved. The laws are still on the books. And they’re right, warships can carry nuclear reactors.”
“There you have it.” Herrigan folded his arms over his chest and did his best to match Bainbridge’s grim expression, although he felt mildly ridiculous just having to argue about something as fundamental as keeping ahold of his livelihood. “Our ship is legal and safe. An attempt to impound it would be a blatant disregard of the rights of Marianas Trench Colony citizens. Our reactor is spinning down right now and will be ready for patching by the end of the day after tomorrow. Give us a little breathing room and we can be out of here in a week.”
“Marianas Trench Colony?” Bainbridge quirked an eyebrow. “Is that the official name for you fellows?”
“Not many people like it,” Duffy said. “Since all that’s really be done is scrubbing the word ‘Penal’ out. For all that it says pretty much the same thing most people like ‘Alcatraz’ better. Maybe because we picked it ourselves.”
The harbormaster braced himself against the table, as if to shove it away, but all he did was say, “Foreign warships are expected to declare themselves when they arrive in port, not sneak in and tie up with the civilian ship. Particularly not when we find they’re leaking radiation into my harbor. And-”
“My engines aren’t leaking nothing into your waters!” Old Phil bellowed from the other side of the galley where he and his grandson waited with the two security guards Bainbridge had brought along. He made as if to cross over to the other foursome’s table but the younger Phil restrained him. “You’ll be throwing-”
“You will all stop interrupting!” Bainbridge shouted. Herrigan bit his tongue and did his best to make the statement true. He was sure Duffy was doing the same beside him. After a moment’s quiet the harbormaster went on, his tone once again quiet and dangerous. “Furthermore the Alcatraz Pact has no relations at all with the government of Australia, the U.N. or any nation thereof. Correct me if I’m wrong.”
“No, you’re right on target there,” Herrigan said.
“So we could just as easily interpret your presence here, undeclared and possibly armed, as a declaration of war. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Duffy suddenly turned to one side and spat, a sure sign he was getting seriously angry. Lauren and Bainbridge started slightly at the sudden move and Bainbridge’s lip curled down in disgust but otherwise the silent tableau held. A part of Herrigan’s brain was already mulling over Eddie’s actual armament, the potential capabilities of the destroyers they’d spotted in port as they came in and whether the reactor could actually be patched when the ship wasn’t in port. If the harbormaster did decide to try and take possession of the ship was there really anything they could do to prevent it? Erin’s Dream wasn’t helpless but a daring escape under the nose of a working military port wasn’t exactly something she was designed for, either.
“Mr. Bainbridge.” The three men turned to Lauren as one. “Let me point out that the crew of the Erin’s Dream had just cause to suspect they wouldn’t be viewed in a friendly fashion. On top of that, they have still dealt with us in a fair fashion, to the extent they knew how, and haven’t threatened us in any way.”
“Except for attacking two security guards,” Bainbridge pointed out.
“In my defense,” Herrigan said, “Riot foam is proven nonlethal technology that came down with us from the surface. They were never in any danger.”
Lauren leaned in closer to the harbormaster, saying, “And they are a salvage vessel equipped with a nuclear reactor. If they wanted to be nasty I’m sure they have equally unexpected methods to do it with.”
Bainbridge mulled it over for a minute then finally said, “We would still have to notify the Commonwealth. I’ll admit I’m inclined to let you go, if for no other reason than to make sure rumors of nuclear reactors in private hands don’t get out. But I can’t just let you wander off without approval from Canberra.”
Herrigan and Duffy exchanged a look. The captain asked, “What do you think, Harry? You’re the closest thing to a government officer on board.”
“And don’t I know it.” He said it more to buy time to think than anything else. Ultimately there was no way for Erin’s Dream to escape New Darwin if the local authorities and the Australian Navy were determined to keep them there. Even a fully equipped war sub was meant to fight as much by stealth as power and, as much as he loved her, Herrigan knew he couldn’t count on his ship for even a quarter of the firepower of an Alcatraz tactical sub. At the moment their only leverage was having the harbormaster and assistant harbormaster on board and effectively in their power.
Announcing the existence of the Marianas Trench Colony to the Australian government just to get permission to leave port didn’t really appeal to him. But sometimes being smart meant knowing when to back down and see what happened. “We’ll want to keep working on repairs while we wait to hear.”
“Of course, Mr. Cartwright.” The harbormaster clearly liked that idea. “The sooner that reactor of yours is patched the better. How long do you think the patching process will take?”
“Two days to finish cooling the reactor,” Duffy said absently, “Maybe another day to patch it and three more days to spin it back up. About a week?”
Bainbridge raised his eyebrows. “That quickly?”
“If you banned nuclear power nearly forty years ago then you’ve fallen a fair bit behind the times.” Duffy shrugged. “Phil could explain the process better than I could, but I’m pretty sure he’ll back my numbers. Will we know if we can leave by then?”
“I’d expect to have the answer in three to four days, if not sooner,” Bainbridge said.
“Four days.” Herrigan leaned back and glanced down the narrow galley at Old Phil. “Can we be ready that fast?”
He nodded gravely. “If I have to break my heart to do it.”
“I expect to be leaving port in four days, Mr. Bainbridge.” Herrigan pushed himself up from the table and waved for the rest to gather up. “Now you two are probably very busy people so I’ll see you on your way.”
To his surprise, Herrigan found himself out by the gangplank the very next afternoon, welcoming Lauren back to the ship. “I have to admit,” he said once the usual rituals were observed, “I wasn’t expecting you back quite so quickly.”
“No one was expecting an answer so soon,” she admitted. “But apparently someone in the Prime Minister’s office drafted a contingency plan for your reappearance about the same time the surface cut off contact with you and it only took a few hours of debate to settle on using it now.”
Herrigan absently rubbed his hand along his chin. “Really. After what, sixty years?”
“It may have been revised some.” She handed him a thick manila envelope. “The details are in there but the general gist of things is, they want you to take an ambassador down to you colony when you go home in order to facilitate opening friendly relations.”
He gently took the envelope out of Lauren’s hands and turned it over once or twice, as if that would somehow reveal that this was all a joke. “Who’s the ambassador?”
“We haven’t heard yet. I think that part is still being worked out.”
“Well.” Herrigan slipped the envelope into his back pocket and tried to think of what to say. He hadn’t really expected them to have a policy primed and ready. Hopefully he’d have at least another day to figure out what to do with an ambassador before one showed up on his doorstep.
“I need to be getting back to my work.”
“What’s that?” He jerked out of his thoughts and realized he’d been quiet for a minute or two while Lauren stood and waited. “Right. Sorry, didn’t mean to keep you. Thanks for letting us know the outcome so fast.”
“No problem.” She favored him with a very pretty smile. “Bainbridge is kind of chomping at the bit to get you out of his docks as soon as possible. Calm seas, Mr. Herrigan.”
“Wait.” She paused, turned halfway back towards the gangplank, her head cocked in an unspoken question. “I didn’t get a chance to ask yesterday. You didn’t seem to care much for us when you came on board but you still put in a good word with the harbormaster for us. Why?’
She thought for a moment, looking over the cluttered, kind of grubby deck of Erin’s Dream as if seeing it for the first time. Then she shrugged. “I suppose I just thought you should take second chances anywhere you can get them.”
Herrigan broke into a grin. “That you should, Lauren. That you should.”