Herrigan shone his flashlight into the ground floor window of McClain Magnetic Engineering, Second Branch, and peered around the room. Down by his elbow Lauren asked, “What do you see?”
“Looks like a reception room.” He hopped down off of the bench they’d picked up on the sidewalk and dragged half way ’round the building and straightened his jacket. “My guess is we won’t see anything important on the ground floor, McClain was notoriously paranoid to the end of her life and her company kept the mindset after she died. All the important stuff is probably interior with no direct outlets.”
“So why are we here again?” Holly asked.
“I’m here to look for signs someone’s tried to break in using the outage as a cover.” Herrigan waved a hand at the two of them. “You guys are here because I didn’t want to leave you in a bar full of roughnecks. You’re kind of important dignitaries here, you know.”
Lauren smirked. “So you bring all visiting dignitaries to a bar full of roughnecks.”
“So far,” he said sheepishly.
“Where are all the people?” Holly had hopped up on the bench and had her hands cupped around her face, trying to peer in. “It’s still working hours, right?”
“There’s people in there ’round the clock. We don’t have very strict ideas of day and night down here for obvious reasons, so work shifts aren’t really scheduled with that in mind. But my guess would be there’s safe rooms in there for emergencies.” Herrigan clipped his flashlight into a loop on the shoulder of his coat designed to keep it pointed more or less in front of him. “Remember, Sonny said this started as a breach lockdown.”
“What are the odds that’s what this actually is?” Lauren asked.
It was a question he had to give real consideration. So far he’d just been reacting to what was going on, trying to get a handle on the situation. So far Herrigan still wasn’t sure what was going on and that made it hard to get out ahead of things. But there were things he could rule out.
“Honestly, I think the chances of this being the result of an actual hull breach are pretty small.” He helped Holly down from the bench and the two of them picked it up and started walking it around the building to the next window. “If it was we’d still have contact with the rest of the Ward, it would take a truly freak accident for a hull breach to cut communications. And even if that did happen, the Ward engineers would be moving through, checking compartment integrity and reopening them as fast as the could safely do it. Compartments on lockdown aren’t the best place to be.”
“How many of these compartments are there in lockdown?” Lauren asked. “Maybe they just haven’t gotten to this one yet.”
“Depends on how old a place is. Long story short, in this section there’s nine separate compartments. Most big buildings, like this one,” he jerked his chin in the direction of the McClain building, “can lock watertight and take the pressure at this depth, too. And this is McClain central, so that’s pretty much a given in this case.”
“Any relation to the Erin McClain you said your sub is named after?”
Herrigan chuckled. “One and the same. Not everyone here was a fan of her but when Eddie was christened Erin had just passed a few years ago and naming stuff after her was kind of in style.”
“You never changed it?” Holly asked.
“Bad luck to change a ship’s name like that.” They stopped at the last window and set the bench down again, then Herrigan unclipped his flashlight and climbed up on the bench once more.
As he was surveying another empty room he heard Holly running one hand along the side of the building. “What is this place made out of?” He couldn’t quite squash a laugh and Holly followed up in an embarrassed tone. “Sorry. I know I’m asking a lot of questions.”
“Didn’t mean to sound condescending,” Herrigan said, leaving another empty window behind him as he climbed down again. “Just thought the question ironic. This here,” he rapped his knuckles against the smooth ceramic surface, “is genuine McClain clamshell.”
“Clamshell?” It was Lauren’s turn to ask.
“Magnetically Aligned Ceramic, or MAC, is the technical term, which is about all I know about the technicalities of the stuff.” He offered a helpless shrug. “All most people know about it is that it’s a ceramic that uses the same principles of molecular construction as a clam uses in its shell, just with tougher materials, which is why it can hold up to pressure down here. It’s strong, quick to make and doesn’t require metal.”
Lauren frowned. “I take it you don’t have much in the way of metal on hand?”
“I don’t spend eight months a year on Eddie because I like the company. We do a little underwater mining but salvage is our main source of metal since we lost contact with the surface. ”
“If you don’t mind another question,” Holly said, “How do you molecularly construct something?”
“Since MAC came after McClain got a handle on functional nanotech I assume the one requires the other…” Herrigan trailed off when he realized both women were staring at him. “She was one woman in a technological backwater. How can you guys not have cracked working nanotech yet?”
Holly looked personally offended. “Hey, you guys still run your telecomm network on fiber optics.”
“Well the US didn’t exile any politically disruptive communications experts. Not our fault.” Herrigan caught up one side of the bench and Holly sighed and grabbed the other, a barely audible grunt escaping as she hefted it up again.
There was a moment of silence as the three digested that, dragging the bench back to its original resting spot. As Herrigan and Holly got it settled Lauren asked, “Do you need to go in and check on the people in there?”
It was a question he’d been asking himself a lot over the last half hour. The windows and entryways were intact and, just as importantly, the markings that fluoresced under the UV function of his deputy’s flashlight were still there so they hadn’t been replaced by particularly resourceful intruders. “I don’t think so. There’s no sign of a break in and the company can afford really good anti-flooding measures. I’m more interested in running down Mag’s theory about why this is happening.”
“A fish out of water.” He’d explained the concept on their way over but Lauren still sounded a bit skeptical. “You really think there’s someone who’s gone crazy enough to want to flood the whole colony? He can’t expect to survive.”
“There’s six confirmed cases on record,” Herrigan replied with a shrug. “Two of ’em partly succeeded. The experts can’t say why they do it for sure, so I’m not gonna hazard a guess, but we know it happens.”
Holly nodded once, as if he’d just confirmed something in her mind. “Then we should find him ASAP. Where would we start looking?”
“Somewhere near the hull,” Herrigan said, considering his options. “And now that I think about it, I might need your help with it…”