Hallowed Memories, chapter 8, part 3

March 22, 2015

Just short of the gorge’s mouth, the boatmen dropped Yarec off at the base of a vehicle ramp that ran right up from the river’s edge to the clifftops.  This time, with the first step Yarec took on land, he felt off balance.  It was an unaccustomed sensation, though it eased as he walked up the ramp.  Yet even a momentary equilibrium problem was a concern; near-perfect balance was a necessity in Yarec’s line of work.  His delicately crafted inner ears could detect tiny changes in orientation, but after many hours on the river, they seemed to have been thrown out of whack.

Yarec stumped up the slope, and at the top it flattened into a concrete roadway, running over to the nearby motor pool building.  Yarec veered off this path into the stubby grass.  It was obvious that the green lawns were only occasionally manicured, and they were dotted with fast-growing weeds.  Different species grew in different clumps, each patch presumably descended from a single progenitor seed that had happened to germinate there.  One particular variety of weed, with spindly stalks and rather pretty little lavender flowers, attracted Yarec’s attention, and he moved to pick a shot of the blossoms.  He bent down beside one of the plants, and a spray of tiny white dots leapt into the air.  They only came up a couple centimeters, but they took Yarec totally by surprise.  Before he could react, before he could focus on any one individual speck, they fell back into the thatch of grass and disappeared.  What were those?  Yerac asked himself.  Jumping insects?  Spring-loaded seeds?  What?

Whatever the specks were, they had killed Yarec’s interest in the flowers.  Who was I picking them for, anyway?  He kicked past the plants.  He was ultimately heading for the administration building, but Yarec detoured around the whole curving string of buildings, so he could approach from the seaward side.  As he came around the last structure, he saw heavy machinery at work on the clifftops overlooking where the ocean pen had been.  Beside the dredging cranes sat a heap of silvery fish, whole and in parts.  As Yarec watched, a hinged metal scoop brought up  new pile of them, intermixed with kelp and other organic matter.  The crane disgorged the lifeless catch onto the heap beside the rest, and the pile was beginning to reek in the sun.

There was also other activity going on outside the complex, including a large number of workers scurrying one way or another.  There was another hub of movement not far from the dredging equipment, where technicians were apparently doing major repairs on a piece of heavy-duty electrical equipment.  Radiating out from its humped bulk were streaks of black, where the grass and soil had been fried by electrical discharges.  One of the machine’s sleek metal walls had been completely dismantled, leaving a hole large enough so that the repair workers could walk in among the circuitry without ducking.  The metal casing itself was scarred with oxidation, which had burned right through the gray-green enamel coating the surface.

Portable fencing blocked off access to the work areas, and there were numerous signs and placards, set on stakes in the ground or mounted on the sloping walls of the buildings.  They issued various warnings and sometimes gave complicated technical instructions, which Yarec decided it was not his job to try to understand.  He meandered out to the rim of the cliffs and gazed westward across the Pacific.  The sea itself looked gray and unsettled.  The wind-pocked surface smote again and again against the low cliffs, fighting an unwinnable battle against the mussel-clad rocks.  Floating on the billows now were shreds and streamers of man-made material—long lines of white netting, which were still anchored somewhere underwater, tying their useless bodies to this location.  Yarec imagined the frustration of the ocean, which had been pounding at the plastic nets men had set in the water for years, never wavering in its attempts to break them free; the artificial enclosure was gone now, but the sea was sullen, for the intruding handiwork of mankind had only been removed thanks to the spectacular pyrotechnic failure of yet another piece of human technology.

While he had been working, Yarec’s mind had succeeded in focusing only on his mission.  He had sublimated his general dissatisfaction into an ire directed toward the imbecility and incompetence he so often beheld around him.  Now, however, he had resorted to distracting himself with musings about the anthropomorphized rage of the Pacific Ocean, and he realized that his personal troubles would soon be occupying the bulk of his attention once again.

Yarec turned back toward the buildings, and he saw a group of armed guards striding toward him.  As he crossed the lawn, some of the regular employees of Kruppeen Eningeering had been watching him suspiciously.  Yet Yarec had moved with such assurance—looking like he belonged precisely where he was—that he had not been accosted or questioned.  Evidently though, someone had, quite properly, reported their misgivings about Yarec’s presence to the site security office, which had sent a deputation to question him.

The character in front was Rorke.  As Yarec turned, he and Rorke recognized each other.  Rorke’s tense expression relaxed, and he waved the rest of his group back toward the building with a shrug.  Rorke waited for the guards to depart, then stepped up Yarec’s side.  His indigo trousers looked like they had not been changed in several days.  Nor had he apparently shaved, and the dry lines of his face seemed to have deepened markedly since Yarec had last seen him.

“Hello, ban Silfien,” Rorke said—surprisingly softly, Yarec throught.  “I should send word that you’re here.”  Yarec nodded, not particularly interested.  “We got word the other night,” Rorke went on, “they want you back immediately.  I don’t know why.”

“Really?” Yarec groaned.

“Yeah,” Rorke said, with his voice almost down to a whisper.  “They’ll send a copter down here immediately.”  Yarec was hardly listening.  Rorke added, “I suggest you leave before it gets here.”

“What?” Yarec was momentarily bewildered.  “What?”

“I think there are other places you’d rather go than back out to sea,” Rorke explained, although Yarec looked suspicious.  “Just hear what I’ve got to say.  I saw your wanted poster, about the woman.  She came right by here a couple weeks ago.”

“What?” was all Yarec could say again.

“She was on a ship, sailing south.  It stopped here to trade some surplus electronics for food.”

“Did you find out where they were going?” Yarec asked, suddenly feeling breathless.

“I didn’t realize she was the one you were looking for,” Rorke said.  “She was just one of the crew.  I saw her when they were loading and unloading the goods.  It didn’t mean anything at the time, but when I saw the file you left on her, I recognized her straight away.”

“What was the name of the ship?” Yarec panted.

“Relax,” Rorke said.  “I would have told you when you were here before—before all this.”  Rorke gave a disgusted flick of his wrist, indicating all the damage in view.  “But I didn’t see the wanted poster until the day after you left here.”  He gestured again toward the commotion going on a hundred meters away along the clifftop, then scraped his knuckles roughly back and forth through his stubble.  “I haven’t had a lot of free time lately, but when I recognized that girl you were looking for, I went back and followed up with the ship.”

“I insist we keep really good records.  Everyone who wants to stop and do any business here, we collect registration and communications information.  The work we’re doing here is too important to let people hang around without being able to find out exactly who they are.  So I was able to get in touch with the ship by radio relay.  The captain told me they had dropped her off in South America.”  Rorke held out a tiny memory device.  “Here’s the map and everything.  Assuming she was telling the truth, this should help you find the gal you’re looking for.”

“Wow, that’s really slick.” Yarec said in amazement.  “Thanks!  Thanks!” he gasped.

“Yeah, don’t mention it.  I could tell you were a square guy,” Rorke grinned a little, then rubbed some more at his bearded cheek.  “Old girlfriend?”

“Uh, my wife, actually.”

“That’s a little more unusual.”  He rubbed his hands together.  “How about that.”

“Yeah, it’s a story.”  Which I’m certainly not going to tell, Yarec added to himself.  Instead, he said, “I hadn’t known that I had a wife actually alive out there.”  It was a misdirection, but Yarec found himself surprisingly reluctant to tell an outright lie about this topic.

“I kind of understand,” Rorke said.  “My own wife departed a few years back.”

Departed?  Yarec paused to make a sympathetic face.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t know that,” he said.  “And again, thanks so much.  I won’t forget this.”  Yarec already had his computing lamina out and interfaced with the memory slip Rorke had handed over.  “Amazing,” Yarec murmurred.  “Thank you.”

“Maybe you can pay me back some time.  I’ll come to you for help when you’ve got lightning shooting out of all your generators.”

“Sorry,” Yarec said.  “I know you can’t have had much free time to do all this for me.”

“Not your fault, drifter,” Rorke laughed.  “But as I said, I suggest you don’t wait until they send a helicopter to grab you.”

“How come?”

“The army wants you back right away.  I don’t know why, but I didn’t like the way it sounded when we got the order.  And Laurelei will insist on sending you back.  She’s like that.  She works really hard not have any friction with the company’s sponsors.”  Rorke paused, then added:  “If I were you, I’d just take a car and leave.”

“You want me to steal one of your cars?”.

“I wouldn’t stay ‘steal,’” Rorke chuckled.  He dug in his pocket for another device.  “Here’s a general key.  Borrow one of the small passenger vehicles, and the motor pool won’t even notice for who knows how long.”

Yarec took the key and nodded.  “Get going,” Rorke said.  Rorke reached out to shake Yarec’s hand.  He had a very firm grip.  Then the men parted.

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