Castaway Resolution – Chapter 25

Chapter 25.

Sergeant Campbell surveyed the forest from ground level and found himself shaking his head. Doesn’t stink too bad yet, but it will, and that’ll be just the beginning.

If their columns had been located on the northern edge of the continent, it might have been better in some ways; the wave wouldn’t have had a chance to pick up much debris, it would have been more water than anything else. But they’d been kilometers inland and south, and what had reached them had been a set of massive waves of mud and wreckage. Mud, filled with broken rock and torn branches and dead creatures that had failed to flee in time, was many centimeters deep, in some places maybe a meter deep. Undergrowth had been completely stripped away or crushed.

At least getting the Kimeis out of their possibly-dangerous home had been easy; plenty of rope had been stored in an upper room of Campbell’s column, so it had just been a matter of throwing it up, getting it braced in the largest window, and letting everyone slide down carefully.

He turned back to contemplating Sherwood Tower, and saw Xander coming back from his inspection. The expression on Xander’s face told him what he didn’t want to hear. “No good, huh?”

Xander screwed up his face. “I. . . don’t know. The real damage is near the entrance, where the water came in, ruined the floor, and then started pouring through. Stuff would get jammed in the opening and then broken by the force of the water running behind it, and that kept stressing and wearing at the column. . .”

“Will the column repair itself? I know there’s some parts of the island that do that, right?”

“Dr. Kimei — Akira, I mean — isn’t sure. There are living cells in parts of the column, but we’ve seen these islands weaken and try to cut out dead parts before, so if the columns do that. . .”

He remembered their island practically drawing a dotted line labeled tear here around where they’d settled and imagined the equivalent on the Kimei’s column. “Damnation. Then they do have to move out.”

“I think so. We made ours pretty roomy, so they can probably squish into a few rooms for a while.”

“A while, yeah, but we’ve got to get things working again fast. What about equipment and supplies? What’d we lose? Everyone?

Tavana’s voice replied. “Sakura and I, we have finished the hike to the shore along the line we guessed. There are small pieces of the shelter but nothing worth keeping. The excavator. . . we cannot find a trace of it except a few drag marks we think it made, but even that we cannot be sure.”

“So it’s down and out in the sea. Never getting that one back,” Campbell said. “Anything at all we can recover?”

“Nothing,” Sakura answered. Her voice sounded numb, a tone of shock the sergeant remembered hearing on other disaster-struck worlds. “Nothing that was below about three, four meters. You saw what happened inside your column too. The shelter and everything in it. . . gone.” She went on in a whisper he didn’t think they were meant to hear: “It was all so beautiful and alive and now . . .”

“It will be again, Saki,” Laura Kimei said. Her voice held less shock and more determination. “In fact, it is, not that far from us. Compared to the size of this continent, that impact wasn’t all that big. Our real problem was that we were very near the point of impact and we’re on the very narrow end of the continent. The modest ridge of mountains to the west of us broke the wave’s impact on everything past that; there’s only minor damage beyond the mountains.”

“Well, that’s encouraging,” Campbell said. “Means that if we have to we can mount expeditions to go there to get supplies. Or move there, if there’s no other choice.”

“There are a lot of downed trees,” Pearce said. “If we have to move, we could probably build rafts to transport everything a lot easier than walking.”

“Good thinking.” Campbell took a breath and asked the question he’d been dreading. “Dr. Kimei, what about the medical equipment? Your nanoprogramming station and such? Last I knew it was in the shelter.”

She was silent for a moment. Then she sighed. “Yes, the station’s gone. And I don’t think there was a spare in the cargo.”

He closed his eyes, gave a quiet curse.

But,” Laura went on, “Xander and Tavana had managed a backup download of the station’s programming, and the nanopacks I’d already produced and programmed were either in the upper storage area of Sherwood Tower or were on board Emerald Maui. If we can find –”

Got them!” came a shout from Melody.

“What? Who? You mean Hitomi, Whips, and Franky?” demanded Sakura.

“I mean I’ve found Emerald Maui,” Melody said. “It didn’t sink! It’s in what looks like mostly one piece, anyway.”

A connection ping later, everyone’s omni displayed a satellite image. Magnified to the limit of the SC-178’s admittedly inexpensive and small telescopic capabilities, in the very center of the image was a tiny shape, a blunt streamlined shuttle-shape with a long outrigger sticking out from one side.

“Where are they, Mel?”

The image zoomed out, showed a blinking red dot where Emerald Maui was. The dot drifted to one side of the display as the scale increased, and then the edge of their own continent came into sight. “They’re about a hundred twenty-seven kilometers from us, almost due south right now.”

“If they’re alive, why haven’t we heard from them?” Laura asked tensely. She paused, then asked quietly, “Do we have any evidence they are alive?”

Campbell frowned. Emerald Maui didn’t seem to be damaged enough to make it likely its passengers were dead, but things that would kill humans — or Bemmies — didn’t have to hit hard enough to break the hull of a landing shuttle. “I . . . don’t know, Ma’am. I wish I did.”

“Wait, Sergeant,” Tavana’s voice said. “Until the wave hit, we had telemetry from the ship, yes?”

“Yes. But we’re not getting anything now, is that it? What would that mean?”

“Well, that is a different point than I was going to make, but yes, there is something in that as well. But what I meant was, I am reviewing the data, and I see that Whips triggered the outrigger morph and tail morph to retract.”

Xander grinned. “Ha! And since we can see they’re extended now, at least one person — probably Whips, since he was hooked up to the ship with authorization — had to be alive after everything was over, to extend them again.”

“Yes, that is what I think.”

Campbell felt a tiny trickle of hope, and heard a deep, shaking breath being taken by Laura. “Then why aren’t they answering?”

“That’s what’s got me worried,” Akira said. “Someone was alive enough and conscious enough to extend the outrigger; why in the world wouldn’t they make contact?”

“They would,” Maddox said promptly. “So they can’t, somehow. Sergeant, you’ve been in ships like that a lot of times before, what could make you unable to talk to people outside?”

“Huh. Lemme think. Honestly, the only times I remember we couldn’t do it was when someone couldn’t talk, or where for some reason there wasn’t power to the comm unit.” He rubbed his chin, thinking. “But if they got the outrigger extended, there’s power. Can’t imagine the main ship comm’s wrecked — how you could have that happen without killing everyone inside I just can’t figure, at least not when we’re talking about a tsunami and not a freak accident like what happened to Outward Initiative.” He thought back over his career. “I remember a few times when we couldn’t call out, but that was when we were underground, usually inside some building without molded multiresonance antennas. But that doesn’t apply to Emerald Maui.”

After a pause, Sakura — her voice slightly more engaged, less dead-sounding — spoke. “Maybe it does apply. The antennas have to be on the outside of the ship, right? Wouldn’t that mud-wave and all the bashing around strip the antennas?”

Campbell blinked, then grinned. “By God, you might have it, Saki. Xander, could you do a model with Tav’s help? Could a wave like that damage the exterior antenna integrated array?”

Xander was smiling, shaking his head. “Count on Saki to see the obvious. No, I don’t need to model it, Sergeant. The conditions it went through, I’d bet on it. That’s the answer. They’re almost certainly alive, but they can’t talk to us.”

“Great!” Laura said, and Campbell could hear the relief in her voice.

“Not so fast,” Caroline said. “I’d really like to believe that. But. . . if that’s the case, all Whips has to do is get outside and his omni will be able to connect. Why hasn’t he done that?”

Campbell’s feeling of relief faded, and he saw Xander’s smile dwindling. Because that was the question, wasn’t it? There was no way that Whips wouldn’t want to contact them as soon as possible.

So why hadn’t he?