Castaway Resolution – Chapter 17

Chapter 17.

“That’s good, Francisco, Hitomi, keep doing exactly that. We’re making great progress,” Whips said.

Hitomi flashed one of her bright smiles and Francisco nodded seriously. “Si, it is going well.”

Now that he was finally recovered, Franky had really wanted to show he wasn’t lazing around any more; that, along with the real need to move emergency provisions and stow them inside Emerald Maui, provided a perfect opportunity to let him and Hitomi work together. Whips was supervising them while he worked on carefully removing the damaged propulsion unit from the former lifeboat.

Whips watched as the two youngest colonists continued to carry in rations and stow them away in their assigned crates. Franky’s artistic eye for detail and Hitomi’s obsession with precision were actually very useful here; together they would make sure every package was stowed exactly the way it was supposed to, they wouldn’t forget to secure the layers as instructed, and they wouldn’t move to the next storage crate until the one they were using was full and properly secured. Whips would, of course, help them whenever something really large needed to be moved or carried.

He turned his attention to the crumpled drive jet. “All right, Sergeant Campbell, Dr. Kimei, this is the last chance. I am about to cut one of the main supports. Once I do that, this thing is never going back on Emerald Maui.”

“Just to verify,” Laura’s voice responded, “nothing you are doing will reduce Emerald Maui’s seaworthiness. Correct?”

“That’s right, Mom. . . Laura,” Whips said. “Had Xander and Tav check me on the cutting plans three times. It might actually make things better; this engine’s basically dead weight and the outrigger morph has to work around it right now. It can probably morph faster and be a more unified outrigger support once the jet’s gone.”

“Then I say go ahead. Sergeant?”

“I concur. Honestly, even your best models didn’t convince me ol’ Maui was ever gonna fly again. Take the parts we need for the distress probe.”

“All right! Proceeding.”

The last permission acquired, Whips turned his focus to the engine’s supports and fastenings. Have to be really careful with this, he reminded himself for what was probably the fifteenth time. This is the heart of the distress probe.

More accurately, it was one of the key pieces of the distress probe, but probably the one with the most uncertainty to it. It had been agreed upon fairly early that they could afford to remove the ejection charges from Emerald Maui, and the maintenance manuals had shown that those were surprisingly easy to access (for heavy manual labor and a lot of cursing values of “easy”). Testing on a couple of them had verified both the power and reliability of the self-contained rockets. A triad of the bare-bones omnis that Emerald Maui had contained a case of made up a sufficiently powerful and self-monitoring control and sensing “brain”, and a careful repackaging of the power coil stack from one of the three excavators (which would henceforth serve as a spare parts source for the other two) had provided the energy storage for the probe; it was currently hooked up to the main reactor output, to verify the maximum capacity storage and internal discharge rates.

My job’s still easier than making the Trapdoor coils. Whips had one eye check on the kids’ progress — still going well — and then returned to focus on the support. The precision laser cutter glowed its readiness, and Whips’ omni projected the exact cut path for minimal structural impact and maximum usability. He gripped the customized handholds and began the cut.

The cutter proceeded smoothly through the extremely tough carbonan and titanium matrix. “Tav, how’re the coils coming?”

“Now that the doctor is helping? Very well!”

“Did you thank Melody for the suggestion?”

Oui, many times. She is watching now, even.”

“Glad it looks like it works,” Melody said, with an audible attempt not to sound too proud of herself. “I just thought of it when you said that usually coils are laid down and customized with nanomanufacturing approaches.”

That was true enough, Whips thought. But making the jump from “nanomanufacturing” to “my mom the doctor could program nanomanufacturing devices” was a little different.

She’d been right, though. The rather stupid nanodust available from the Nebula Drive, combined with some of the internal nanorepair installed on the heavy machinery, provided the potential foundation for assembling high-precision coils with nanomanufacturing. What Mel had seen that no one else had quite put together was that a modern medical professional had the tools and knowledge to specify nanooperation on a detailed and very tiny scale — a scale more than sufficient to produce the coils in question. With Tavana, Xander, and even Whips to help, it had turned out that Dr. Kimei’s expertise could transfer to that domain very well.

The main support gave forth a musical chime as the last portion of it was severed. Whips stopped and evaluated the situation. One more cut on the other side, and then I can unfasten the rest with less destructive approaches.

“Whips, can you move the next box closer?” Hitomi asked. “We just emptied the last one.”

“Down in a second,” he answered. He inactivated the laser cutter and put it down safely on the upper wing before he let himself slide down to the ground, using his two long side-arms to grip and slowly ease him over the edge; when you massed as much as he did, even short falls were to be avoided.

He did his usual grab-slide-grab walk to the loading area, and tossed the empty box aside. A quick movement wrapped his arms securely around the next crate, and he was able to use his rear gripper-pushers to help drag it up the ramp. “This one’s heavier than the last,” he muttered. His griptalons hooked into the top and pulled it off, and he lifted his body to get a glimpse of the inside. “Oh. Dried and smoked capy. No wonder. That’s a lot of meat.”

“Thanks, Whips!” Francisco said. “These go in the red-marked storage areas, right?”

“You got it, Francisco,” Whips agreed. He snagged one of the broadfrond-wrapped packages before he headed back down the ramp; as an omnivore with a marked preference for meat, this kind of thing was his favorite snack.

Feeding the woodsmoke-flavored meat to his grinders a little at a time, Whips clambered back onto the damaged wing of Emerald Maui and resumed cutting.

It took about an hour to finish. He felt the universal tool in its wrench configuration suddenly exhibit more resistance, and knew he’d reached the last few turns; the stress was torqueing the bolt in its threads. “Hitomi, Francisco, you both still inside Emerald Maui?” he called.

“Yes,” Franky answered. “We are resting right now, on one of the cases.”

“Okay, stay there. I’m almost about to finish this, and when I do the jet engine will fall straight down. I don’t want anyone getting hurt.”

“Okay, Whips, we’ll stay here. Can we watch through the port?”

“Of course you can. Let me know when you’re there, then I’ll do the last few turns.”

“Wait. . . okay, we’re both at the port!”

Whips gripped the wrench tightly in both arms and pulled. The bolt turned grudgingly, a faint screech and vibration warning Whips that they were deforming and stripping the threads. He winced, his engineer’s instincts jabbing at him, even as he reminded himself that it didn’t matter, they weren’t going to be using that hole for anything again.

Without warning, the wrench swung around, there was a sharp snap! sound, and the heavy engine assembly plummeted with a thud into the mound of soft dirt that had been placed to catch it. “Done!”

“Our engine?”

“It’s out. We’ll have to get one of the excavators to haul it to our work area, but I think it’s all intact.”

“What, you can’t carry it home yourself?” Sakura’s voice asked over the link.

He gave a hooting chuckle. “I might drag it a little ways, but no, it’s way more than I could really carry. If Maddox wants to –”

White, harsh light suddenly flared behind him, so bright that the daylight looked dim and he had dark, dark shadows standing out before him; the protective ports of Emerald Maui had gone black in automatic response.

Slewing around, Whips shuttered his eyes to slits to see a massive, brilliant streak of light brighter than the sun curve down and across the sky; there was another flare visible over the rim of the horizon, and then the sky was clear, with a whitish trail marring the blue above.

“What the hell was that?” Campbell’s voice demanded. “Whole forest lit up!”

“Meteor — biggest I’ve ever seen,” Whips said. He triggered a query to the SC-178 satellite in best position to observe the area. “Wonder if it hit anything.”

The satellite responded immediately, giving a clear image of the area.

Whips blinked. It looked like a bulls-eye, with rings around it.

Rings that were expanding.

“Oh-oh,” he heard himself say, then commanded the software to perform some quick estimations.

He looked at the results. “Screaming Vents,” he whispered. “Everyone,” he began quietly, then triggered a full emergency alert. “Everyone, listen! That meteor must have been huge. We have incoming waves that are. . . ten meters, maybe higher.”

There was an explosion of color from the forest; dozens, hundreds of the quadbirds were taking flight, heading away from the impact point.

“Mother of God,” Campbell said. “Get back here now.”

“No time,” Whips said, feeling a sense of terrifying unreality washing over him as he realized the full situation. “We’d never get to either of the Columns in time. There’s. . . five minutes, maybe less, before it gets here!”

“The kids –”

Whips looked around. “The only chance is for us to ride it out in Emerald Maui.”

“You’ll have to throw off the mooring ropes,” Xander said. “Don’t make Emerald Maui have to fight against the water, it’ll lose.”

“Right,” Whips said.

“Whips, what was that? What’s happening?” Hitomi was standing at the base of the ramp, looking in the direction of the impact, where the white trail was slowly twisting. Was there a wrinkle on the horizon already?

“Hitomi, Francisco, get back inside the shuttle now,” Whips said. “Choose one of the acceleration couches and strap in. Strap in right, like we were taking off.”

¿Qué?” Francisco asked, a touch of fear in his voice. “What is happening?”

“A big, big wave is coming and it’s probably going to wash us out to sea,” Whips said, as he slid quickly off the wing again. “It’ll be fine if you’re strapped in, so hurry!”

“Do what Whips says, Francisco,” Sergeant Campbell’s voice said over the omnis. “You too, Hitomi. He’s in charge there. Do exactly what he says.”

The two swallowed visibly, but ran back up the ramp.

Whips turned and got all three arms around the jet engine. Digging his grippers into the soil, he heaved, yanking it a meter towards him. Stretch and pull, another meter, though his support segments were complaining.

“Whips, what do you think you’re doing?” Laura said after a moment.

“Trying to save our chance to send a distress call,” he answered.

“Don’t be stupid!” Sakura snapped.

“I’m watching. If the waves look like they’re getting too close –”

“– Then it might be too late,” Laura interrupted. “Get inside that shuttle, now.”

“Only a few more meters to go,” he said, stubbornly hauling on the heavy engine.

“Whips, you will need time to secure that damned thing,” Campbell said emphatically. “You can’t have it banging around inside the shuttle when those waves hit!”

He felt his hide ripple in chagrin. He hadn’t thought of that, and Campbell was right.

But still, there might be enough time. He knew where the holdfasts were, and there were securing lines right there, and. . .

“Whips, your responsibility is for Hitomi and Francisco,” Laura said, and her voice was hard and cold. “You will not take a chance on leaving them alone in Emerald Maui!”

Sky and Vents, she’s right, and I can’t argue it. With a hooting groan of frustration, Whips let go and whirled around, squirming toward the fore end of Emerald Maui. He hit the quick-release hooks on the mooring lines, all five of them in sequence, then headed towards the ramp as fast as he could go. Vents, I almost forgot. He sent another command to the shuttle, and saw the outrigger-wing and the tail-vanes reconfiguring, folding up, melding as closely as they could to the hull.

In the distance, there was a vague hissing sound, and he glanced over with one eye, to see water streaming away from them, towards the horizon — a horizon that didn’t look quite right any more. “Oh, crap.”

The water level was actually dropping; he remembered that this happened sometimes on Earth, but he’d thought that a floating continent wouldn’t show that kind of effect. As he reached the loading ramp it dawned on him; this was, compared to the floating continent, a local event.

Water could recede. And it could come back.

Or, a part of him thought in calm horror, the part of the continent that’s now above water might just snap off in time to be hit by the wave and dragged across the rest of it.

“Are you both strapped in?” he shouted up the ramp. Even as the two called back “Yes!”, he was triggering the ramp to raise and seal. Was the front airlock. . . no it was still open! He sent another command out, saw that one closing too.

Have to strap myself in fast. The external monitors now showed the approaching wave, something that might well subside to invisibility, a ripple, in a hundred kilometers or so, but not now, not yet, and with the massive skirt of the pseudo-continent to guide and raise and focus it. . .

He gave another Europan curse as he realized that Emerald Maui had never had any of its hold-downs configured for Bemmies, unlike LS-5. He began feverishly dragging out the straps, rehooking and distributing them for his very inhuman body shape.

There was a rumbling whisper in the air now, and the water was rising back to the shore. Rising over the original shoreline, foaming around Emerald Maui’s keel. “Get ready, Francisco, Hitomi!”

He had one line fastened across himself, but there were two more to go. The water rose swiftly, streaming around the aft part of the ship, making a rippling fountain where it struck the mostly-circular casing of the removed jet engine.

Whips ground his interior masticatory array in frustration as the engine began to slowly move under the pressure of the water. So close. Just five more meters and it’d be inside.

But there hadn’t been time, and while Whips yanked the next securement line tight he admitted that to himself. He’d have been maybe to the base of the ramp before the water started to hit, and then. . .

The light dimmed, and his gaze snapped towards the porthole. Francisco looked too, and screamed.

A massive green-and-white-and brown cliff of water towered above Emerald Maui, blocking out the brightness of sun and sky.

Whips twined all three of his arms around the third securement line and gripped hard. “Hold on!

And then the world spun and whirled and heaved as the tsunami smashed down on Emerald Maui.