This story is a work in progress. Chapters will be posted as I finish them, look for the next chapter in September 2018. The story takes place The Wrecked World. It is the first story set in that universe.
By Peter Sartucci
This story is a work in progress. Chapters will be posted as I finish them, look for the next chapter in September 2018. The story takes place The Wrecked World. It is the first story set in that universe.
Late March, 2076 A.D. (Year 52 since the Day of Retribution.)
The Emir of Ashanti, Achmed Mahamoud Nuer Abbeb, third of his line, stared down from the Ebony Throne. Young for his position, only thirty and four years old. His black eyes were hard and cold. Secure in his power, handed down to him from the grandfather that the Divine Malak set on Ashanti’s throne on the Day of Retribution. Intolerant of heresy.
Nijad trembled, standing alone on the travertine floor. There could be no harm in letting the Emir see his fear, and besides, he could not stop the trembling.
“You wished to say something, scholar?” The last word had a delicate consideration to it, suggesting that the Emir might possibly doubt his worthiness for the title. Elsewhere in the room, lips drew back from teeth. Nijad’s family had no shortage of enemies in the court.
“I wish to bring your attention to a new discovery, oh Exhalted Protector of the Faithful,” he answered. He fumbled with the smaller of his two bundles of crumbling papers, made sure the ancient photograph was uppermost.
A servant took it from him, examined it for possible poisons, carried it to the Emir. Whose eyes widened as the image caught his attention.
Gold will do that, thought Nijad, especially a very large amount of gold. He allowed a bud of hope to grow in his heart. His life hung by a thread, a thread that would snap the instant the Emir ceased naming him ‘scholar’ and instead named him ‘heretic’. But if that life had value of the monetary kind – much might be forgiven. For wealth plus an unexpected chance at revenge – why, the Protector of the Faithful might not just forgive, but reward, too.
The Emir carefully and methodically read through all of the material, while Nijad stood and sweated and waited. When he finished, the hard eyes returned to Nijad’s face.
“You have a plan that can bring this within my grasp?”
“Protector of the Faithful, I do,” Nijad answered, twitching the larger bundle of papers in his hand, and was silent. It hardly needed to be said that the throne room was full of spying eyes, some of which were bound to be in the pay of the hated Europeans – even the pig-eating British.
Nijad was relying on that in more ways than one.
The Emir tilted his head slightly, nodded. “Good. You shall present it to me in one hour’s time.” He clapped his hands.
Nijad dared breathe fully for the first time in a month. I will live, he thought, and that thought was wondrous as a child’s smile. The world is made new; and the New World awaits. Praise Allah! May his Malak smile on my purpose!
Chapter 1 - Will.
Early April, 2076 A.D. (Year 52 since The Wreck.)
Junior Agent (Foreign Service) William Tynford, born in the shadow of Winchester Cathedral and raised on a raw estate carved from the wilderness south of ruined Sheffield, had once imagined that he would love an escape to a land that knew not winter. The New European Empire’s territories in former Morocco sounded like a dream come true. Seven months on the job later, that illusion was now thoroughly shattered. Heat, bugs, boredom, more heat, dust, more boredom – Africa was Hell without the social polish, and with disappointingly lousy hunting, too. So he’d been delighted by the abrupt courier assignment that now returned him to Britain.
He just hadn’t known how unpleasant a fast trip on a small packet boat could be.
He finished the latest dry heaves and wiped his mouth, managed to stand upright again with the aid of a stay. The pilot-lieutenant commanding the swift courier, probably not more than four years older than the Foreign Service’s Junior Agent Tynford, grinned at him. The single crewman on the tiny deck merely sneered. Obviously both of them had cast-iron stomachs and had never known sea-sickness in their lives. The fact that he’d been fine all the way around Iberia and across the Bay of Biscay meant nothing to them – getting seasick in the supposedly-placid Channel had disgraced him utterly in their eyes.
Will hoped they both got eaten by sharks. Small ones, that had to take many bites to finish the job.
“Portsmouth in another hour!” The Lieutenant called into the screaming squall. Spray flew as the bow chopped across another wave and the little ship slid down its backside. Will’s stomach had nothing left to give up but considered trying anyway. He fought it to a draw.
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” he shouted back into the wind. Good manners required that at least a minimum of formal acknowledgement had to be made, even to a grinning sadist.
Will very carefully worked his way down the weather lines to the tiny companionway, and went below into the stinking cupboard that pretended to be a cabin. He’d need the whole bloody hour just to get his things back together.
They called him back on deck just before the little sloop passed wrecked Termagant on the tip of the Isle of Wight. Will joined the formal salute to the shattered hulk, marveling again at its size. To think it had once dived into the depths for months at a time, before the Wreckers came. He joined the sadists willingly in the ritual Defiance, raising his own fist beside theirs and shaking it at the glittering star that always hung a few degrees above the western horizon. Unfortunately it didn’t make his stomach feel any better.
The harbor at Portsmouth was unreasonably calm, sheltering behind the Isle. Will didn’t look a gift horse in the mouth but was simply grateful that he could walk off the cursed tub under his own power, diplomatic satchel hung over his shoulder and valise clutched in his left hand. The Foreign Service’s dockside factor cast a practiced eye at his papers and then obligingly hustled him through and over to the railway station. The earth wobbled perilously under his feet until his body remembered how to walk on land again.
“Half a mo,” he told the factor and seized the chance to step into a privy at the station. Its well-maintained facilities weren’t half as important to him as the opportunity to privately rearrange the Very Secret leather pouch that had worked its way into a most uncomfortable position. He’d been intermittently damning the grinding codpiece ever since the seas grew boisterous west of Guernsey, and fondly remembering the intrigued looks bestowed upon his, hmm, lower abdomen, by various women on the docks at Tangier.
He hauled the little pouch out of his trousers and resettled it to the side, where his coat would cover the bulge. While he didn’t mind being packed back to Winchester, it was a little deflating to know that he went solely as the bearer of a several-page encoded note packed into a sewn-shut leather pouch that he was ‘Required!’ to wear next to his skin in a distinctly uncomfortable place. It was accompanied by a firm and slightly hair-raising set of instructions about what to do if there seemed any possibility he might be intercepted.
Will would have to have been three-quarters dead not to wonder what all the fuss was about. He was dismally sure that nobody in the whole Foreign Service was going to tell a Junior Agent even the slightest juicy detail.
Before he boarded the cycle-train for Winchester (and the express pass did not excuse him from pedal duty – the Tangier Superior could be a right cheap bastard about little things) he wanted to be certain his hidden burden wasn’t going to chafe him bloody. Feminine admiration for his supposed endowment was all very nice, but there were limits to what even a young man could endure for its sake.
The cycle-car was a new model, impressively swift, with a clever gearing system that was a joy to examine but somewhat less fun to actually operate. His pedal-mates were mostly sturdy tradesmen types who took the fine engineering, and the brute work, for granted. Still, as a third son of very minor gentry, Will had never cherished any illusions about his own middling place in the Empire of Europe. Besides, the exercise was welcome after the enforced near-immobility of the tiny ship.
Calisthenics, after all, were the most supremely boring form of exercise.
By the time they reached Winchester Central Station he rather thought he’d underrated them. At least on board ship he could change his posterior’s position at will.
He was also very glad that he’d moved the damn codpiece. He hadn’t gotten to use his personal equipment nearly as much as he hoped to, yet, and didn’t fancy damaging it in the service of the Superior’s bloody great haste and cheapskate budgeting.
At Winchester’s central Foreign Office he successfully delivered the grinding thing, and the diplomatic satchel as well. He then was relieved of his valise and his travel-coat and good hat and sent down a hall. He found himself detailed to wait on a hard bench in a stark room while the pouch’s contents were decoded. That consumed a boring chunk of time, followed by an agitated flurry of action as a gray-haired functionary led him off again by means of a firm grip on one arm. A sealed envelope was clutched tightly in the man’s other hand. That human free-pass towed him through layers of bureaucracy with astonishing speed. Will was almost becoming gratified by the attention when he realized where he was being led, and his heart fell down into his woolen socks.
“The Minister?” he echoed, humiliated by the slight squeak that crept into his voice. Surely the damn pouch couldn’t have damaged him enough to cause that?
“Of course,” the gray functionary told him, one Robert Angredsson who spoke with a Hampshire burr. “This way.”
And ten minutes and several dozen yards of corridor later, there he was. In what the Tangier Superior had been known to call ‘The Presence’. Will stiffened his spine and prayed to the loving God that he wouldn’t disgrace the name of Tynford.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs was mostly bald. What hair he had left was snow-white, and Will vaguely remembered that he’d served Good King William for two dozen years before that unfortunate riding accident had caused Queen Anne the Second and King Erik the First to ascend the Combined Thrones of the New European Empire. You just knew that the thought of replacing the Minister couldn’t possibly have ever passed through Their Majesties’ minds. It would be against Nature, or God’s Plan, or something.
The Presence leaned back in his big leather-covered chair. The old pre-Wreck swivel mechanism underneath softly squeaked as he slowly rocked to and fro, all the while perusing the newly-decoded message. Will found himself counting the squeaks, wondering how the antique swivel could take it without simply wearing out. Pre-Wreck engineers had had such lovely alloys to work with; it could make a modern engineer cry with frustration. The textbooks at college had hinted at such delightful possibilities, now foreclosed under the new laws of physics governing Earth’s surface. Once it had been possible to do so much...
The squeaks stopped at a hundred and six. Will hastily dragged his attention back to the present.
“Samuel tells me you have a talent for engineering in awkward places,” the Presence spoke.
“Sir?” Will answered, bewildered. None of his schoolteachers had been named Samuel, at least as far as he knew. Perhaps a middle name?
“Engineering. In awkward places,” the Presence repeated. Patiently.
He thinks I’m a moron, Will thought in dismay, and wished for a lightning bolt to kill him then and there. As there were no clouds in the sky, most unusual for England in early April, God clearly had no intention of obliging. “Ah, yes, sir, I took top honors in my Applications class, sir.” Accompanied by just-scraping-by in three other courses, and mostly-average work in the rest, or I’d have made it into one of the Engineering battalions instead of the bloody Foreign Service. I really hope this Samuel didn’t tell You about that in whatever private chat You’ve had about me. Why in the name of all that’s holy would You even care about Junior Agent Will Tynford, anyway?
“It happens that such a talent may be an important factor in the near future,” The Presence told him gravely, drawing a fine page of linen paper from a drawer and moistening a quill. He used quite nice quills, too, a pre-Wreck point mounted on an actual mahogany stem that must have come all the way from Burma. Several cryptic strokes later, he blotted the paper, folded it, and handed it to Will. Who took it with as much trepidation as he would a live adder. “Robert will take you to a place to refresh yourself. Give this to the attendant there. Be prepared tomorrow for a meeting, not before noon but I would suspect not too long after. I will see you then.”
“Sir?!” Will squeaked, paralyzed. But the Presence dropped him from his attention with an almost audible thump and returned to the message. Robert Angredsson rescued him with that vise-like grip on his elbow and towed him back out into the blessedly empty corridor. Around thirty steps later Will finally relaxed enough to ask “Where are we going?”
He then wondered if it was a major breach of protocol for a Junior Agent to address a senior functionary of the Foreign Office without an honorific. Possibly an executable offense? But he took solace from the thought that they probably wouldn’t have him beheaded before this meeting tomorrow. His stomach rumbled a little – he’d broken fast on the ship before dawn, then lost it all, and the sun was well past noon by now.
The gray eminence looked at him sideways – how did the man manage that without moving his head? Surely it was mechanically impossible for human eyes. “You don’t actually need to know that, do you, Junior Agent Tynford?”
“No, sir,” Will answered, and meekly followed.
He was led up flights of stairs, put in a room with a slightly stale scent of disuse, subjected to eagle-eyed examination by a peg-legged steward who clearly found him barely adequate, and surrendered the paper to that worthy. His traveling valise appeared, followed later by the coat and hat – cleaned, amazingly enough. The room had a hard single bed with yellowed linen and a limp feather pillow that probably predated the Wreck. Other than that, a solid chair, a plain wooden table, and a rickety wash-stand holding a discolored plastic pitcher and basin, the room was empty.
The Foreign Service was housed in a seventeenth-century building very close to Winchester Palace, but the room’s fourth-floor window only looked west into an interior courtyard lined with more bureaucratic windows. Will was distracted from his deflated contemplation of it by the return of the peg-legged steward, bearing a tray with a small loaf, a jam-crock and a steaming teapot.
“Sit. Eat.” The steward directed, so Will did. The bread was fresh and the jam very good, heavy with berries; the tea was something herbal. For a meal that was basically bread and water it actually went down quite nicely; his hunger helped. The silent man cleared the dishes away and departed, firmly closing the door behind him. There was no sound of a lock, so Will thought he could probably walk out and explore the upper floor of the Ministry. Then he considered what might happen if Angredsson found him doing so – with those eyes, who knew what the man was capable of? He settled for stretching out on the bed-covers and letting his meal digest.
He woke when the steward returned with a wax candle in a holder, a filled water pitcher, a towel and washcloth, and a book. The sun had leaped a dozen degrees closer to the horizon and clouds had rolled in, darkening everything to a proper English spring afternoon. It wasn’t raining but the skies promised that it would soon.
“You are to read the noted passages in this book,” the steward informed Will, handing it to him. “There will be questions tomorrow.” He reset the washstand with quick economical motions, left the candle on the table.
“Questions? About what?” Will asked groggily.
“The book,” replied the steward. “There is a dubyacee two doors down the hall when you need it; do not leave the room for any other reason. I will bring your breakfast at dawn.”
And off he went again.
Will grumpily stretched – the nap at least had been good. He got up and washed his face, dried his hands on the thin towel, and sat down at the table with the book. It was very old, clearly pre-Wreck, and the spine was cracked in several places. The title on the cover said “Specifications and Schematics of Security Vault Design.”
Idly he began to page through it. There was some interesting material here. A passage caught his eye.
At some point he lit the candle.
It had nearly guttered out when he closed the book on the last page. Intriguing mechanics still ran through his mind as he fumbled out of his clothes and into the bed. He stared out the window at the baleful orb of the geostationary Wrecker glittering in the clear night, as it had all of his life and his father’s before him.
“Bastards,” he whispered fervently, meaning it more than he ever had before. “You took so much from us. But someday...”
He reached over and pulled down the shade, then rolled over and dreamed of reinforced concrete and labyrinthine corridors.
Cheery pre-dawn light probed the room mercilessly, damn the luck. Will woke with a pounding headache and a distended bladder that threatened imminent revolt if he didn’t do something about it right now. He stumbled out into the corridor in his smalls and found the promised water closet – twentieth-century plumbing, and passable toilet paper too, huzzah! Feeling much better, he hurried back to the room to find the peg-legged steward setting another tray on the table. The man removed its lid with a flourish and a set of wonderful scents assailed Will’s nose. Scrambled eggs and cheese, toast, big rashers of apple-smoked bacon, and genuine tea! His status with the steward must have risen during the night.
“Eat,” the man instructed.
Will didn’t bother to dress before digging in - the room wasn’t terribly cold and anyway seven months of African heat hadn’t unseated his two decades of inurement to Midlands winters. His mother’s ancestors had endured a thousand years on Iceland. He tried not to shovel down the repast too speedily – the bacon was certainly worth lingering over – but all too soon the plate and mug were empty.
“Mister Angredsson will be with you shortly,” the steward intoned, pursing his lips and casting a dubious eye over Will’s rather limited selection of clean garb, which had gotten laid out neatly on the bed while he ate. The man produced an extravagant fluffy towel and handed it to him with instructions: “Wash and dress. The missus will take care of your laundry.”
The man left him a little peace for washing up, returned as Will was buttoning his shirtsleeves. The steward bundled up the laundry efficiently, vanished with it for several minutes while Will returned to reading the book. There was a diagram on page hundred-twenty that he wanted to study again. He just had time to become absorbed in it when the steward returned.
“Mister Angredsson will see you now.” The peg leg slapped the floor smartly as the steward stood aside. Will hastily got to his feet as the gray eminence entered. He wasn’t quite sure why he found himself standing at military attention. Angredsson was dressed merely in a nondescript gray suit of indeterminate style and cut, not a rank bar anywhere on him. Maybe it was the steward’s obvious deference? The one-legged man had ‘sergeant’ stamped into him bone-deep.
Angredsson inspected the open book approvingly, nodded, and said “Bring that along. You have a meeting downstairs in ten minutes.”
“Sir? I thought that was to be after noon, Sir?” Will asked, glad that his voice didn’t squeak.
“Not that meeting. You will be seeing the Chief Engineer and one of his staff. Two of the Naval cadre will be there too.” Angredsson nodded judiciously and turned on his heel.
Will quickly gathered up the book and followed him out the door.
The rest of the morning passed in a blur of faces and questions. The Empire’s Chief Engineer was gray and bewhiskered, with a neatly-trimmed beard and bushy brows that strove to eclipse it. His speech contained an unusually large number of Icelandic words, but Will’s immigrant mother had fed him the language of the cold island along with his milk. The staff member turned out to pull double-duty at Winchester College, he’d been one of Will’s teachers for basic mechanics. Will was devoutly grateful that he’d done quite well in that class – could have been even better if he hadn’t been quite so tired during the mid-term exam, unfortunately. The staffer’s gaze subtly indicated that he remembered that, too. A Navy lieutenant was there as well, evidently summoned from his ship only this morning and barely hiding his bewilderment over just why. He maintained a strict air of deference to an Admiralty official who wore a desk rank but asked many questions. A secretary quietly took notes, stopping only whenever Angredsson made a peculiar hand signal.
A surprising number of those questions concerned Will’s work on the Royal Pier hoist repair in Tangier. He was more than a little boggled that the Admiralty man even knew about that, until that worthy mentioned that the project supervisor of the new Tangier mole was his brother-in-law. They also asked about the flooded quarry problem that Will had so neatly solved – he was proud of that one, the local settlers hadn’t really known how to use the new pumps coming out of the Winchester recasting mill. Three other minor diversions from the general boredom of Tangiers that the Superior had permitted him also made the threshold, for no reason that was obvious to Will.
At some point a nondescript man slipped into the room and sat quietly in a corner, listening but not speaking. None of the others acknowledged his presence and Will soon forgot he was there. The questions had become absorbing. The staffer produced sheets of Swedish paper and newly-sharpened pencils and began asking him how he would build a heavy hoist from scratch, how he’d pump out a flooded basement, how he might rig a pile-driver to cut through a foundation, or shore up a ruin. Will sketched some alternatives, excitedly consulting the book for information on reinforced concrete, which the two men seemed to consider very important.
Eventually the Admiralty man and the Chief Engineer ran out of questions. They conferred with the staffer for a moment, then the Chief Engineer announced to the air, “He’ll do.”
Will was shocked to realize that noon had arrived. His stomach suggested that sketching and talking might be heavier work than he’d expected. He wondered just what he would ‘do’ for in these men’s estimation. If it involved actual hands-on engineering such as they had discussed, it might be a lot of fun.
Angredsson cast a measuring look at the crack of sunlight streaming through the east window; it had nearly disappeared. “Time to break for lunch,” he announced. He added “Please remain seated where you are, gentlemen,” and rang a bell. The secretary gathered up everyone’s notes and sketches, but left the book with Will.
The peg-legged steward wheeled a cart through the door – did the man do everything around here? Will suddenly noticed that the silent man had left the room at some point. He wondered what purpose his presence had been supposed to serve, then forgot about it when the steward placed a platter on the table before him.
He ate a delightful lunch of beef sandwiches, an excellent cheese, pickles and dried fruit. There were even oranges from Tangier that had probably ridden north in the hold of the same courier that delivered him. The Admiralty man and the Chief Engineer swapped news about their daughters, who evidently were of an age and attended New Cheltenham together. The staffer and the lieutenant were silent. Will couldn’t imagine himself spontaneously conversing with Angredsson uninvited, so he followed the examples of the other two.
While the steward cleared the table, Angredsson beckoned Will, the Chief Engineer, the Admiralty man, and the Lieutenant into another room. This one had several comfortable chairs and couches arranged in a horseshoe around a large low table; a hanging chandelier above the table blazed with candles. The room also held the Minister for Foreign Affairs, seated at the right hand of an imposing blond man with a familiar face. Will had seen it on the coinage.
“Your Majesty.” Angredsson bowed deeply.
Will hastened to join the others in doing the same even as his heart threatened to seize up. Omigawd! Mum always talked about us someday being presented at Court but I never expected this!
“Be at your ease,” the King and Emperor answered; his English had a very faint Norwegian accent that gossip said he struggled mightily to erase. The imperial finger pointed at the lot of them, then indicated couches on either side of the table. “I don’t have very much time for this so we are going to rush through it indecently fast. Sit.”
The Chief Engineer and the Admiralty Man took the right-hand couch, leaving Will and the Lieutenant the left one. The Lieutenant managed to maneuver Will into going first and he found himself sitting closest to the King-Emperor. Will was desperately conscious of the grease stains on his sleeve, his country accent, his weak grasp of proper manners. He found himself bolt upright, trying to manage a sort of sitting parade rest and failing miserably.
Angredsson unrolled a large set of papers on the table. The Emperor of most of Europe and a good slice of North Africa made a slight gesture.
The Minister leaned forward and tapped the uppermost paper, actually a huge parchment. It looked like a map of a coastline, heavily indented and annotated. The lines were precisely drawn and it smelled of new ink. Will couldn’t help gawking at it a little. There was an oddly-shaped bay, several peninsulas and two islands, one large and one medium. A scattering of much smaller islands also decorated the map, and a large river emptied into the bay. Part of the bay ran off the map to the right. There were many notations about water hazards but almost nothing about the land.
“Lieutenant McLeod, do you recognize this?” The Minister enquired.
Will found himself profoundly relieved not to be back under inquisition. McLeod manfully suppressed a twitch and answered.
“It looks like a fresh copy of the new map of New York Harbor that the Princess Beatrice surveyed last year, sir.”
“Summarize your role in that particular effort, Lieutenant.”
“Ah.” McLeod cleared his throat. “Sir, I supervised one of the shore survey crews, sir. The one that encircled Manhattan, sir. Then on the return voyage the Chief Draftsman used me to –“
“Enough.” The minister rolled back the shiny new map to reveal a much older one beneath it. This one was flaking away around the edges, yellowed and faded with odd creases pressed into the paper. It really was paper, too, not parchment. It showed a closer view of an irregular arc of land webbed with roads and bristling with docks and piers – more berths than Portsmouth, Southampton and Bristol combined, never mind a frontier port like Tangier. “This?”
McLeod craned his neck to look at it. “That’s the southern tip of Manhattan, sir!”
“Good. Have you set foot on the island?”
“No sir. Aside from being a cusp-point, it’s a rather bad ruin, sir, a great many collapsing buildings, and Captain Karlson preferred that we avoid trouble, sir. We only circled it in the gig, very carefully, and took all our sightings from never less than a hundred yards off the shore, sir. Umm, in the Harlem River we had to get a bit closer – lot of wrecked bridges there. We managed to stay out of arrow range most of the time, sir, and nobody from Beatrice actually landed on Manhattan Island at all.”
McLeod didn’t elaborate on that, but Will could guess what was implied. The tales of the Wreck were gruesome. Its interstellar perpetrators had slaughtered billions of human beings around the globe when they rearranged the laws of physics and pulled the floor out from under industrial civilization. Too often the survivors had turned to cannibalism to get through the fabled Dying Times. The Woodsmen in Britain were not nearly the worst example that he’d heard. Will carefully suppressed a little shiver at the memory of certain rumors and stories.
The Minister rolled back that map too, Angredsson carried both away. The third sheet was clearly modern, a pencil sketch of some large structure done from two different angles and with four ancient photographs carefully attached around the double image. They still retained a surface gloss that looked a bit like sun on running water; Will had to squint to make them out. All four seemed to be views of the same building, a towering construction of stone blocks that looked like a strange fusion of different eras.
“I dare say nobody in this room has ever seen this, then,” The Minister continued. “This was the Federal Reserve Bank of New York City, as near as we can reconstruct it from the Library. I had to drive the Chief Librarian to distraction last night in order to extract this information, he probably won’t forgive me for at least a year.”
“What is a Federal Reserve Bank, sir?” asked Will, momentarily forgetting himself. His bowels clenched and he immediately wished he could drop through the floor.
“A Depository,” the Minister answered, as if Junior Agents spoke to him uninvited all the time. “In this case, a depository intended for gold. To be more specific, one reportedly containing approximately one fifth of all the gold ever mined in the history of the world. Roughly twenty times more gold than we have so far found in the entire Empire.”
The Admiralty man drew in a sharp breath. “Dear God! The currency!”
“Yes.” The Minister nodded at him narrowly. “If all that bullion were dumped into the Imperial economy, the resulting inflation would be ruinous. The spender could strip us of our portable assets before we knew what was happening. The Exchequer has been aware of this danger for quite some time, but dared to hope that no one else with the capacity to cross the Atlantic knew about it. One of our unspoken goals in maintaining interdiction of the American coastline is to keep the Emir’s hands well clear of any chance of finding that gold, in addition to all the rest of the useful resources there. Not to mention the good will it earns us with what’s left of the Americans...”
There was only the briefest pause in his speech, but Will caught the slight glance that went between the King and the Minister.
Something important there? He wondered. Something about the bloody hermit republic of America? Pretty clear I’m not going to be told!
“Which will be important once they reclaim their own eastern coast,” the Minister continued.
“Unfortunately, a week ago our Superior Agent in Tangier intercepted word that some clever boyo down south of the Sahara has figured it out and alerted the Emir. And dear Achmed simply can’t pass up any temptation to do us injury. He’s quite convinced that the Wreckers came for the sole purpose of putting his line on a throne, and thinks it ought to include all of Africa and Europe.”
The assembled men snorted as one; even the King twisted his lips slightly. The Third Emir had inherited his attitude from his father and grandfather before him, Will remembered hearing. Enmity between Ashanti and the Empire was grown deep, and Ashanti ruled most of the western bulge of Africa and south to the Congo - too big to be easily spanked. On the other hand, they had more to lose these days, too, so lately the Emir had been making an actual effort to control his subject’s fondness for piracy and brigandage across the border of European Morocco.
“I had a long-term plan underway to eventually salvage the gold,” continued the Minister. “That’s why Their Majesties’ Government funded the Beatrice’s American Coast survey last year, despite all the complaints about unmet needs closer to home. Long-term plans need a foundation in knowledge. I must admit, I thought the actual salvage would be an appropriate project for my successor to arrange, some decades hence. I certainly had no intention of diverting the necessary resources at a time when the Empire has so many other issues on its plate.
“But Achmed has moved it up to top priority. He’s assembling an Ashanti fleet to go fetch the gold.”
“So we must beat him to the punch.” The Chief Engineer nodded decisively. “How much time do we have before he moves?”
“That we do not know,” the Minister acknowledged regretfully. “Fortunately, it does not matter. The issue before us is much clearer – how fast can we launch our own expedition? And the answer to that is not less than three days. Preferably not more, either.”
“Three days!” The Chief Engineer looked introspective for a moment. “What exactly are we going to need in order to extract the gold ourselves?”
“You’ll have to answer that question for me, Montgomery,” the Minister replied. “Here is the only source of information about the Bank itself that I have been able to locate.”
Angredsson set a large flat book on the table and opened the flaking cardboard cover. Everybody but the King-Emperor and the Minister leaned forward eagerly. Will had to restrain himself from touching it as his fingers twitched; he noticed McLeod’s doing the same. Angredsson slowly turned the pages – there were not many. The photographs were impressively well preserved. After several minutes the last page was turned and the Chief Engineer sat back and massaged his temples gently.
“We will not be getting in through that door,” he pronounced. “Ninety tons? Fifty-two years with no maintenance? It would take God Himself to open that now.”
“What about the ceiling?” asked the Admiralty man.
“The only way,” agreed the Chief Engineer. “Batter through it with sledgehammers and chisels, half an inch at a time. Dirty bloody nuisance, and exhausting to boot, but the outcome’s as sure as sunrise.”
“But sir, it’s three floors down and fifty feet below sea level, sir,” McLeod said dubiously, forgetting his earlier hesitation. “Manhattan gets a lot of rain – some of those old roads are proper creeks and even rivers, now, I saw plenty of them pouring into the harbor. Sir, that building’s bound to be flooded, sir.”
“Pumps,” Will told him promptly. “With long hoses,” he added as McLeod doubtfully measured the building’s width by his fingers. “It can be pumped out if we can get enough of the new rubberized hoses, and enough pumps. Say ten of the big four-inchers with dual tandem bicycle operators for power – that’s forty men. How long is the front elevation – two hundred-forty feet? And sixty to ninety feet wide and eighty feet deep, that’s around one and a half to two million cubic feet of interior volume – some of it occupied by walls and floors and by the gold, of course, so call it one and a half million cubic feet of water. Ten four-inch-diameter apertures each moving around ten cubic feet per minute, that’s a hundred cubic feet per minute total or roughly six thousand cubic feet of water each hour. Call it a little over ten to twelve days to empty the whole thing. There’ll be some down time for switching teams and maintenance and such, so two weeks is probably a safer estimate, and if there’s continued water input then it’ll be longer.”
He looked around at the eyes staring at him and added, “Sirs.” In a much smaller voice. This must be the part where they dismantle me into small pieces, he thought as dismay rose up to choke him.
Chief Engineer Montgomery nodded. “I check your math and come to the same numbers.” He looked pleased. Will’s heart began beating again.
“But can you gather that many pumps in three days?” The Admiralty man asked him.
“I’ll have to damn well strip Portsmouth Yard of most of their big pumps to do it,” Montgomery fretted. “There’s not enough time to fetch in anything from Bristol or Rotterdam, never mind Oslo or Stockholm, and Southampton’s only got a couple to spare. And I doubt we have enough hoses, so I may have to rob a couple spares from the Winchester City Fire Watch. They’ve got twice as many of the four-inchers as the Portsmouth fire watch, or the Yard. Can’t risk our most important port burning down just because we sent their biggest fire hoses across the Atlantic!”
“What about manpower?” inquired the Minister. “The Beatrice can be diverted, but will she be enough?”
The Admiralty man frowned thoughtfully. “She hasn’t the capacity to carry more than two hundred extra men, and that’s packing them in. I can free up a pair of sloops to send with her, maybe another thirty men each. Call it two hundred sixty men for the expedition, maximum, if they are to leave in three days. We can spare that many. ” He looked to the Chief Engineer. “Will that be enough?”
“Hrrumm,” Montgomery muttered under his breath. “Forty men on the pumps, at least two shifts with four hours on and four off – better make that three shifts with four and eight, or they’ll start keeling over – a hundred twenty men just for the pumps. Once the water’s out they can cut back, shift most to swinging sledgehammers and pulling rebar. Add some mechanics, sixty or so guards against the savages, a couple dozen foragers to keep them all fed, cooks, a medical crew – hmmm, tricky, but possible.”
“So your consensus is, it can be done?” asked the King-Emperor, his first words since they sat down.
Will wanted to shout YES! but restrained himself.
The Chief Engineer and the Admiralty man looked at each other, nodded in unison.
“It can be done, your Majesty,” Montgomery stated. “I’m not sanguine about the expense, but I suppose it’s cheaper than letting the bloody Emir get his hands on the gold.”
“Indeed. Then make it so, gentlemen,” King Eric ordered. “The Queen and I will take thought for the command aspect tonight. We will meet again here in this room an hour past noon tomorrow, and the highest secrecy shall be maintained. If at all possible, I’d like this expedition to reach America before the Emir even knows that it’s left.”
The King-Emperor began to rise and they all scrambled to their feet, bowed as he turned to leave. He paused briefly at the door.
“The highest secrecy, gentlemen,” he reminded, and left.
The Chief Engineer surveyed the book and drawing on the table, then looked at Will. “You’d best get busy,” he remarked. “I’ll expect a complete preliminary design by an hour before noon tomorrow, so that we have time to go over it.”
Will stared at him, dumbfounded. “Sir?” he squeaked. “What design?”
“Of the excavation, of course. Yes, I know it’ll be obsolete the moment you set foot in America, that goes without saying, but having no plan at all means you have nothing to modify on the fly,” Montgomery explained. “And that simply won’t do. So get busy.”
“I should mention,” interjected the Minister of Foreign Affairs, “That you, Agent Third Class William Tynford, have been seconded to the Chief Engineer’s Office for the duration of this enterprise. Kindly do us proud, young man.”
“Glk,” Will answered, as his throat closed up completely. The Minister smiled and took the Chief Engineer’s arm as they followed the King, their heads close together in earnest conversation.
“McLeod, you know the Beatrice’s capacity,” the Admiralty man said. “See to it that everything the engineers need can be fit into her. You’ll have a little extra room in the sloops. And you’ve actually seen Manhattan, so try to communicate your best impressions of the place to Tynford.” He too followed the others.
“Son of –“ McLeod started to say, then checked himself and looked at Will. “Say, did you just get a promotion?”
Will blinked. “Ah, I think so.”
“Son of a –“ McLeod started to say again, when Angredsson took his arm in that vise-like grip.
“Gather up your materials, Agent Tynford,” he said blandly. “You and Lieutenant McLeod have a great deal of work to do.”
Angredsson turned the room with the big table over to the two of them, along with a plentiful supply of paper and pencils and the maps and books. The peg-leg steward checked in on them now and then through the afternoon. Will suspected this was intended more in the way of a security guarantee than any indulgence of their whims, and sure enough, the man appeared not to hear when Will asked if they might have tea.
“Well, I suppose it can’t hurt to try,” he shrugged philosophically to McLeod.
“You’ve got nerve, I’ll give you that, Tynford,” the Navy man answered. “Oh hell, we’re going to be shipmates soon enough – what’s your given name?”
“Will,” Will answered promptly. “As in William. You?”
“Mike.” Unnecessarily he added “Irish mother, you know.”
“Figured that – you’ve the look. Mine came from the hind end of Iceland.” Will extended a hand and they shook solemnly.
“Yah, you’ve got the blond hair.” Mike McLeod grinned briefly. “I hear that’s in fashion, now that the Union of Thrones is complete.”
“Bedamned if I’d know, I’ve spent seven months in benighted Tangier.” Will shrugged.
“Right, I caught that too. Sounds like you weren’t completely bored.”
“True, just ninety percent of it.” Will made a ritual face like a man gagging.
Mike McLeod laughed. “Now about Manhattan Island, I’m cudgeling my brains for good memories. It’s pretty big, you know – more than nine miles long and three wide, shaped a bit like a long arrowhead. Practically the whole thing’s built up, just block after block of wrecked buildings. More on the other islands, too, and a lot even on the mainland.”
“A whole island covered in buildings – that must be amazing,” Will remarked enviously. He’d seen ruined London from a distance once, and there were half a dozen skeletal relicts in Portsmouth that were still being slowly dismantled for their steel. One was eight stories tall, and rumor said it had been larger before the Navy salvagers began feeding it to the insatiable shipyards. Winchester, alas, was largely free of interesting Twentieth Century ruins, which had contributed to its being chosen the new Capital. Rumor claimed that the Empire’s salvage crews in Wrecked Rotterdam lost a man a month to collapsing Twen-Cen towers and roads.
Mike opened the maps that the Minister had previously displayed, tapped the arrowhead-point of the big island in the middle of the harbor map.
“Oh yah, and that’s not the half of it. There’s a lot of amazingly tall towers, a lot more even than you can see from the Thames in London. Most of ‘em are in two big clusters – one here on the south end, one a little south of the middle. The north cluster’s anchored by a giant tower in the middle of the island that must be eighty stories tall or better.”
“Eighty? Sure you don’t mean eighteen?” Will asked, suspicious.
“Eighty,” Mike affirmed. “The little buildings are eighteen stories tall and more. I counted windows in the big tower from several angles, and though we couldn’t see the base of it from the harbor, enough of it showed over the other buildings to be sure. At least eighty stories. And if you think that’s a lot, listen to this – there’s the skeleton of a tower on the south end that’s over a hundred stories tall.”
“Get out, you!” Will said indignantly. “You expect me to believe that?”
“Don’t care if you do or don’t,” Mike shrugged. “You’ll see it for yourself soon enough.”
Will paused, his hands slack on the map. “That’s right, I will, won’t I?” he muttered, staring at the lines and squiggles.
Astonishment coursed through him like a hot rum punch.
“I’m going to America!”
Chapter 2 – Rachel & Rita.
April, 2066 A.D. (Year 52 since The Wreck.)
Rita slowly raised her bow, taking up the strain with trained muscles. Her sister Rachel stayed perfectly still beside her. The spikehorn buck continued browsing on the shrubs spilling from an old frost-split planter, ears flicking away flies. He paused for a moment to look around and Rita held the draw until he went back to eating. She aimed just behind his left shoulder, pulled the string back past her ear and let her arrow fly.
Got you! She exulted silently.
It had the sweet certainty of a true shot. The arrowhead ground down from an old metal spoon hit exactly where she’d aimed and twelve inches of shaft followed it into the body-cavity. The buck leaped, knowing he was hurt but slaved to instinct. His hooves clattered over frost-heaved concrete and scattered clods of old leaves and broken glass.
“Sweet shot!” Rachel was already moving. “I’ll take him down!”
Rita slid the bow back over her shoulder into the carry-straps with practiced ease. Ahead Rachel had her knife in her hand, legs pumping as she ran. Rita tysked; her year-younger sib had a tendency to be reckless. They looked enough alike to be twins, much like the rest of the Harral family; curly brown hair, round faces that smiled easily, dimples on their chins, long-limbed and solidly built. More sedately, Rita picked her way through the hollow shell of a passenger van and out the other side, disturbing a nest of quail that scattered with frantic peeping.
Even mortally wounded the deer was still faster than any human but all either girl had to do was keep him in sight. Not that it was easy – Rachel vaulted over a rusting car wrapped in wild grapevine and dodged a tilting row of parking meters without slowing down. Rita took a slightly longer route that required she leap over a gap in the street where a cave-in had begun; the tail of a small car was almost vanished into what was probably an old subway tunnel. The slab on the other side shifted when she landed but she bounced on to the next before it could slide. She caught her balance back on the roadway and glanced east down the crossing street; it ran straight to the East River and humped up onto the tattered deck of the Williamsburg Bridge. A slow-moving storm of gulls obscured the towers and fraying suspension. More of the deck had fallen away since the last time she hunted this area.
Then both girls converged on the deer.
The buck’s initial rush slowed rapidly as he lost blood – his trail was liberally splashed, he wouldn’t last long. He jinked around a building-corner with Rachel close on his heels, she had to windmill her arms taking the corner herself when thin sod ripped under her boots and slid over a manhole cover. She bounced off the aluminum side of an old bus with a muffled ‘bong!’ and kept going while pigeons exploded through the broken windows. Rita came around the corner just in time to see the buck stumble, trip and fall in a thrashing heap.
Rachel held back – a spikehorn could break your leg with one kick if it connected, and they were four long miles from home. Two more spastic kicks and the deer settled down to trembling. Rachel darted in and cut his throat with a single slash. He kicked once more and died.
They both paused in the sudden stillness, listening. Rita’s eyes roved while her sister did the same. She inhaled carefully, listening, looking, smelling.
The ruins creaked around them as the ruins always did, the constant counterpoint to their whole lives. Scents of mold, decaying leaves, rotten plaster, rust and old ash mingled with fresh blood and sweat. A row of tall apartments next to her slowly shed bits of broken glass and brick; the brownstones beyond it sagged inward where their roofs had collapsed years ago. Last winter’s storms had brought down part of the face of the building opposite, exposing rows of mud-swallow nests on inside walls – deserted now. Pigeons cooed and crows croaked in the still spring air, but there had been something else....their eyes flicked to each other and Rita silently loosened her own blade in its sheath.
It came again, a shuffling sound. Rita drew her knife – it was a good one, made by some master named ‘Buck’ who had cunningly etched his name into it in blocky letters. Her uncle Herman had given it to her for her Bat Mitzvah just six years past – and taught her four ways to use it to kill a man fast. If the Bronks were sneaking around this end of the island then sure as God made little fishes she and her sister had killing-type trouble.
Then the questing nose of a raccoon poked out from under a nearby car.
“Did we wake you, little bandit?” The mask-shaped black patch around this one’s eyes was especially pronounced.
The beast looked from Rita to Rachel and back, crawled all the way out from under the old car.
“Fearless,” Rita commented, sheathing her knife.
“Why wouldn’t he be?” Rachel answered, squatting next to the buck. “Nobody but you and me and Ephraim much hunts the south end of the island down here in the crazy streets, and he’s young; we might be the first humans he’s ever scented.”
“She,” corrected Rita, pointing to the row of teats exposed when the raccoon stood up and sniffed the air. “Looks like she’s nursing too, must be kits nearby.”
The mama raccoon padded over to sniff at the dead deer.
“Away, you,” Rachel scolded and waved her knife in mock threat. “Our kill, not for little ‘coons.”
The raccoon skittered back two paces, then fled as Rita also moved forward to reinforce their claim. She unwound a rope from her pack frame and handed one end to Rachel, then flung the other over an old lamppost conveniently near. Rachel tied her end to the buck’s hind legs and the two of them hauled the animal up. The post groaned but held.
Rita grunted and rubbed her left shoulder afterwards.
“You all right, Sis?” Rachel asked, taking out a hone to put a fresh edge on her knife.
“Just a little sore from fight practice with Herman and Ephriam yesterday.” Rita scowled. “Chaim gave me one of his scoldings about ‘Women’s work and Men’s work’, so I pushed myself harder to show him up.”
“He’s as two-faced as ever,” Rachel nodded. “There isn’t a woman in both minyans not used to plenty of hard physical labor, and half of us to fighting.”
“Yeah, but he thinks we can all just hoe the fields and somehow the wild game’ll still get brought in and the Bronks kept on their side of the river.”
“Idiot. I wish one of them would sneak up on him sometime and scare the stupid out of him.”
Rita made a tut-tutting sound, slightly shocked – Chaim was their minyan’s Rabbi, after all. Diplomatically she said “But that’d put one of the murdering bastards way too close to Home, Sis. Chaim hasn’t been farther from Home than Ninety-sixth Street in years.”
“I know; all he does now is walk out to the cornfields and read his Talmud while he pretends to scare the crows for a few hours, then walk back.” Rachel scowled harder, then carefully added “Last night Mama suggested I should marry him.”
Rita paused where she was, a quarter of the belly-cut made and blood running over her hands. “No! He’s, what, forty-five if he’s a day, right? And he’s got five wives already!”
“And all of them cows with forgive-me-for-existing carved on their souls.” Rachel glared as she chopped viciously at a joint, trying to separate the deer’s forelegs from the carcass. “I could handle Anna and Mary as senior wives, but Judith and Sephie would drive me to rage or despair in a month. As for Rivka – gah, it’d come down to who’d poisoned the other one first, ‘cept I’d probably just cut her sanctimonious throat.” She cut harder and Rita stopped her own work to hold the carcass still. “And not one living son among the lot of them, and only nine daughters. Been three years since the last birth, too – you wonder if Chaim can even get it up any more.”
They both giggled over that and went back to breaking the carcass. For a while there was nothing but the sounds of flesh and bone and cartilage giving up their unity. Their eyes kept darting aside from the work to check the surroundings for anything unwanted. Aside from the unlikely chance of a Bronk invading their turf, there were lynx and cougars on the island and the dreaded possibility of bears, already well-established across the Hudson. Eph had killed one only last year, caught it crossing the ruined George Washington Bridge on the stringers.
“Who would you like to marry instead?” Rita finally asked, her voice even more hushed that usual out here in the island wilderness. “Avigdor? Moishe?”
Rachel made a face. “Avigdor’s cute and a good fighter, but I couldn’t stand to be a co-wife with Gisele or Martha or Rebecca, much less all three of them. I’m not an obedient little shadow like Dora, so the other three would gang up on me, which is the last thing you want in your co-wives, eh? So he’s out. Moishe’s too full of himself – thinks he’s God’s gift to woman-kind, acne, buck teeth and all. I could get along with all five of his wives but he’d be more of a trial that I’m willing to take on, even split six ways.” She shrugged. “Ephriam would be acceptable; I could even cope with John.”
Rita pointed out what they both knew perfectly well. “They each have eight wives already, the limit allowed.”
“I know, I know; but I get along with all sixteen of them. Eph and John’re the best odds on getting a boy baby, they’ve each made four healthy sons!”
“And twelve daughters for Eph, fourteen for John.” Rita shook her head. “But two of John’s boys are withered, you know they aren’t going to seed any boys themselves. Or girls.”
“And the eldest healthy one has eight betrothals already and he isn’t even mitzva’d yet.” Rachel snorted her disgust. “I’d rather wait for Eph’s eldest son, even if he’s only eleven – I’m only six year’s older, that’s not so bad. And Joseph is a fine strong boy, when he gets a few years older I bet he could give me a couple good baby boys.” She carefully separated the deer’s liver and popped it into a waxed leather bag made for the purpose. It would be grilled for tonight’s supper, the hunter’s reward.
Rita sighed and went back to peeling the deerskin. “None of us have good odds on that. We really need some new men in the minyans.”
“Only ones in reach have human bones through their noses and earlobes, and wear ground-up rust mixed with rancid bearfat for decoration.” Rachel pretended to retch and made an aversion sign. “Besides, a Bronk would just rape us and cut our throats after; no way to get a baby there.”
“Though I suppose if we kept him tied up and just used him for stud, that might work,” Rita considered meditatively.
It was Rachel’s turn to be shocked. “You wouldn’t; would you?”
“No,” Rita admitted. “I don’t mind taking care of babies, but keeping a full-grown man in a diaper and cleaning up after him, especially one that stinks as bad as the Bronks do – just no. And if he ever got free? Oh Hell no.”
Rachel blew out her breath in a relieved whistle of agreement.
They finished breaking the deer and packed the choice parts into their carry-racks, two tubular-aluminum frames with leather straps and pads.
“Still,” Rita commented as she washed her hands under the water Rachel poured from a canteen, “We’re going to have to do something sooner or later. Having only one healthy man per eight women is a nightmare. One per fifteen, or one per thirty, would be a disaster.”
Rachel sighed in agreement as they shook the water off their hands.
The deer had dressed out at a little more than eighty pounds – it completely filled both of their carry-racks, tubular-aluminum frames with leather straps and pads replacing the long-vanished nylon. They helped each other shrug them on and left the butcher-site to the mama raccoon and the crows and other scavengers that had gathered. Carefully they began the four-mile trek towards Home.
Overhead a faded pair of street signs still bore the words ‘Bowery’ and ‘Broome Street’. Moldering buildings loomed as far as they could see, not so tall as in some other places on the island but dense enough to put them both in shadow even though the sun was not far short of noon. Rows of glassless windows gaped; birds flew in and out of some until a hawk stooped on a pigeon just fifty paces ahead. The puff of feathers and a shrill cry heralded its victory; the other birds hid. The hawk and pigeon came to rest atop the front part of a low car, among morning-glory vines that twined their nearly-closed blossoms over leprous chrome and faded enamel. The predator tore fiercely at its prize and bolted whole strips.
You must be a mama hawk with babies to feed, Rita thought, carefully giving the birds a wide berth as she sought out safe footing. Sure enough, before the pigeon was half eaten the hawk flew off, belly bulging and wings laboring, making a line for an untidy nest of sticks just visible inside the skeleton of an old marquee.
They paused at the first crossing, glancing both ways in caution. Easterly a straight road lead to the East River and the ruins of the bridge, its towers still lordly above the waters that were hidden from here. Westerly the passage plunged into old streets where the facades had come off several buildings, scattering bricks and rubble. Rusty hulks of cars choked both routes, as they did most streets on the island.
“Ever thought about looking somewhere else entirely for a husband?” Rita asked, waving a hand vaguely east.
“Off the island?” Rachel shuddered artistically. “Bronks to the north of us, Joiseys to the west, the Hiders to the east and the ocean south. No, I never have.”
“I’m starting to,” Rita told her, and left her little sister to mull that one over as they plodded north up Fourth Avenue towards Home.
Several minutes later a man eased his way out of a ruined storefront behind them. He glared up Fourth Avenue where the laden two had just vanished from sight.
“You sneer when you say ‘Bronks’”, he muttered angrily. “Soon we will teach you better.”
Stealthily he made his way toward the East River and a waiting canoe.