The North Sea
Sunday 23rd April, 2051
It’s a dark and stormy night, but as a certain yellow submarine emerges from the depths robotic arms unerringly pluck it from the water and transfer it to the forward deck of the MV Blue Shimmer. In the dark, crew members direct other mechanical appendages to secure the sub and attack it to various umbilicals, before the top hatch pops. The sub’s pilot, Angelo, directs his passengers to the glowing light of an open doorway, then times his shout between wave crashes. “Over there, be careful but run!”
Mac steadies himself, then clamps a secure hand around the doctor’s arm as he drags him at speed towards the open door, feeling uncomfortable in his new clothing, his old bundled under his arm. Pacoy swiftly but carefully runs the directed course. Able takes up the rear, his legs a little shakey – but more from the virus than from the waves.
As Mac and Doctor Wahlen run towards the door, Wahlen slips despite Mac’s guiding arm. He lands with a woof atop a stanchion, knocking the wind out of him, and Mac feels the transmitted cracks of several broken ribs travel up through his arm. Mac winces out of momentary sympathy. “Feel like gettin’ trampled by a horse, did that? We’ll get you rosy enough when we get inside.” He tugs on the doctor’s arm. “Come on, move. You got work to do.” As Mac drags the Doctor around, he sees that the man is white as a sheet, still unable to breathe, and that there’s a trickle of bright red blood at the corner of his mouth. Amazingly, considering he probably has a punctured lung, Wahlen stays conscious. He grabs Mac’s arms like it is a lifeline and staggers into the ship’s superstructure away from the raging elements.
Mac groans inwardly as he stops yanking as hardly on the doctor. “Oh, this is better than getting drunk in a barrel… Guys, herr doctor is in a bad way here!” “I’ll be alright” Walhen manages to wheeze. The blood trickle is already slowing. “I need somewhere to lie down, is all.” Able grimaces at the blood upon the doctor’s lips, his thoughts more upon their chances of success if he’s seriously injured than any true concern over his well-being. “While that may be true, we’ll get you checked out just in case.” Pacoy ponders the image of Mac getting drunk in a barrel before yelling to the doctor. “In good time Doc, lets get moving, then we’ll patch you up!”
Angelo is right on Able’s heels. “There are cabins through here, second on the left. I’ll fetch the Captain, he knows some first aid.” He turns and climbs a ladder swiftly, heading up to the wheelhouse. The indicated turn takes the team into a short corridor with four sets of cabins opening off it, each holding two bunks. The other two small rooms seem to be a store and a small galley. Mac carefully guides his charge towards the nearest possible bunk. “We’ve not come all this far to be stopped by a raindrop.”
Wahlen’s breathing is already easier as Mac lays him down on the narrow bed. He looks up at Able, “I’ll not escape so easily, I’m afraid. I’ve Umbra nanites working in my system, constantly repairing damage. Rossum insisted when my drinking became too much for my liver. As long as I get sufficient calorific intake, my body will repair itself over a few days.” Mac snorts to himself. “This group wouldn’t know proper caloric intake if it got slapped with a wet fish.”
Just then, Angelo returns with an older man. The new arrival does a double-take at Pacoy as he hears the Doctor’s words, then throws a small medical kit at him. “Cousin, if the man is right then tape him up and feed him soup. I have ship to steer and it’s not exactly a Summer breeze out there!” He turns back to leave. “Oh, I’m Captain Navarro, by the way. Settle in, we’ll have you to your destination sometime tomorrow, God wiling.” Then he departs. Angelo hovers, watching.
Able seats himself on the bed opposite Wahlen. “We’ll check you out still in any case – we need to check for any locator beacons or other traps, anyways. May as well do a full medical checkup in the process – especially if you’re going to be suffering from a condition similar to my own.” Wahlen nods. “Logical. And if you have any painkillers in the interim…”
The Blue Shimmer is not a tiny boat – it’s designed to haul a 30 foot minisub around – but even so the heavy North Sea swells are making it roll and shimmy. Wahlen seems unaffected, but…
Mac suddenly keens to the harsh rocking of the boat, a rarely felt queasiness creeping up his neck, causing him to snatch a container of some sort from off the secured shelf and retch into it, for once glad that his stomach wasn’t more full. Pacoy looks a little green, and clutches his belly as adjusts to the motion. When everyone was getting a quick bit to eat and a change of clothes, Angelo gave Pacoy some advice about seasickness, which he followed – :shotgunning” a carbonated beverage then burping up all of the gas makes it impossible to vomit. Unfortunately, it does nothing for the nausea, and the rapid release of gas felt like a jab to the gut.
Able watches as a strange look comes upon Mac’s face; it looks almost like a mixture of gas and confusion, mixed with maybe a little bit of pain. He glances back to Pacoy, who is showing more typical symptoms of nausea, then back to Mac. “Huh. Your creators really thought your simulation through, didn’t they?” Mac groans. “It’s handy when you have to fake a hangover, but what I don’t understand is why it’s still so unpleasant.” He spits, then steps into the galley briefly and comes back with a mug of imitation coffee, nursing it as he clutches to the wall for support.
Angelo laughs at Mac and Pacoy’s antics, then grabs the medical bag from Able and rumages in it, coming up with common dramamine tablets. “These will help,” he grins. “These, or I could fry you up some eggs and a couple of slices of pork belly!” He positively cackles at the last bit. Able glances down at the tablets. “The pork might be best for Mac.” Despite the nausea the thought of trying a few Filipino dishes to test out just how thorough Mac’s systems are brings a smile to Pacoy’s face. Science!
Mac nods. “Not big on meds – they don’t do too much for me. Could I get four helpings of the eggs and pork? That’ll put me right as rain in a thunderstorm.” He smiles at the mere promise of food, straightening up and feeling more chipper, though still sore at his Mother for her odd trait choices. “So, now that we’re in a bit of a safer spot, what does the doctor think we’ll need to set his mind poison right?”
Wahlen grabs the medical bag, opens some painkillers and dry-swallows three. Then he takes out a roll of bandage. “Would someone mind wrapping my ribs up for now? I can’t easily do it myself.” Pacoy nods and begins helping the doctor wrap his ribs.
Mac watches on, and casually remarks to Pacoy, “Yaknow, it feels like it must be nice, having family of sorts all over that you run into. Is it?”
Wahlen continues as he is wrapped. “I have the formulae I require on my internal computer, of course. I wouldn’t travel without them. I’ll need a supply of peptides and some basic non-organic elements – phosphorus, arsenic and zinc, in oxide powders. I’ll also need a gene sequencer, a nano-level 3D biochemical printer and a biochemical replicator. After that, about 17 hours from start to finish, I’d estimate.”
Pacoy smiles and answers Mac without looking up from his task, “Well, not traditional family family, but I image it isa hell of a lot less creepy than when you run into a brother.”
Wahlen looks curiously at Pacoy and Mac. “Why is that, young man?”
Able steps out of the cabin for a moment to get some privacy while he accesses the ‘net, putting Wahlen’s requirements together to see if there are any locations that rent access to that sort of equipment out within a reasonable distance.
Pacoy takes mental notes on Wahlen’s list – it’s back to school time. “Mac has an odd family, kinda New Age Mormon, but not quite. It’s okay for us to rib him, but you’re not there, we aren’t friends, helping hands aside.” “Understood,” Wahlen nods and shuts up, as Able’s Net search reveals that the nearest place he could hire such equipment without jumping through innumerable bureaucratic hoops and security checks would be in Oslo, Norway.
With a destination in mind, Able steps into the room, looking to Mac. “Mac, do you think you could look into something for me? I don’t have much experience with the financial side of these things – but I’ve located a place that rents the equipment we need. See if you can find out what their price is – and, if it’s in the tens of thousands, whether they’d be willing to consider alternative payment methods.” Mac nods. “Yeah, slice of apple pie that’s been just pulled out of the downtown diner by a smokin’ hot pair of legs. Used to listening to people procuring services, should be simple enough. Not the first time I’ve had to deal with paying to get one of you fixed up.” Mac steps towards Able, looking at him intently. “What do you need?”
“Hold on a sec, guys,” Pacoy gets an idea as he finishes wrapping Wahlen’s ribs, “I’ll talk with the crew – keep it subtle, but I’m sure these guys will have a line on where we can find quality ‘off the books’ medical supplies.” Angelo, who’s been listening intently, speaks up. “Could you write all those down for me, please?” Able is about to send Angelo the list he cooked up, complete with links to places to procure them, when he realizes what he said – ‘write them down’ indeed. Like he had a pen. Mac digs through his rolled up jacket and comes out with a mildly soggy notebook and his pen, which he then meticulously unscrews, dries, and scratches out a perfectly legible list, handing it to Able, before nodding towards Angelo.
Able looks to Pacoy. “We don’t need just medical supplies, Pacoy. We need an entire state-of-the-art laboratory. Those machines aren’t cheap.” He sighs as he slumps against the wall. “Not too long ago, I’d have just walked into a laboratory like I owned the place. Maybe taken the owner or manager, stole his mind and face, and stashed him somewhere while I did the work needed. But I’m tired, Pacoy. I don’t want to steal anyone’s memories any more. I don’t want to wear another man’s face. I want my own life, my own identity – and the more of my mind that’s dedicated to replicating others, the less it’s able to hold on to my own self. So, yes, I want to do this as simply as possible – and if that means paying a few million for access to the laboratory equipment required, then I’m willing to part with the slave master within my own mind to accrue the funds.”
Mac looks at Able, eyes full of some construct of sadness. “You’re still in there, and as long as that’s the case, we’ve got hope. The only thing against us right now is time. You get me the information to contact the lab, I’ll get us in there. You have my word.”
Angelo speaks up. “I’m pretty sure they’ll have all this where we’re going. I need to send an encrypted short-burst though, so we won’t know for maybe an hour.” Mac looks over. “And where are we going, Captain?”
“I get that Able, we are all willing to do what it takes for you, I was just suggesting that guys who run port to port know how to get there hands on stuff. I’m not unwilling to pay – I just want all of our options in the open before we commit.” Pacoy answers, mildly upset at the insinuations he perceived, whether they were there or not. Able takes a deep breath, his voice as shaky as his hands as his eyes bore a hole into the bulkhead. “Thank you.” He sends a beam of the places he found to Mac, then slowly sinks down the wall to the floor.
Just then there is an almighty crack, like the world’s largest whip, followed by a grinding that transmits through the very fabric of the hull. As he turns away in panic, Angelo shrugs, “I’m not the Captain, just the pilot – and you’re going to meet The Finn.”
Seconds later, a small speaker in the corner of the cabin comes to life. “All hands, all hands, Baby Yellow has slipped a tie-down and is shifting in the storm. All hands on deck!”
Mac takes one look at Able, then at Wahlen as he rushes out towards the deck, stuffing his gear in a locker on the way out. As he runs down the corridor towards the external door, Mac is intercepted by a wizened old sailor in waterproofs. “Can you use a remote waldo, or can any of your friends? That cable must’ve hit Enrique, we can’t find him! If not, follow me – we need to rig new cables and try to tie her down before she capsizes us!” He opens the door to the storm and pushes out. Mac turns and shouts back, “Hey Pacoy? They need someone to operate a something or other, you know, the guy in the red and white who always is getting lost? Able, if you’re not feeling up to it, don’t worry about the cables, I got those!” Mac rushes after the sailor. “I can!” Pacoy shouts as he follows, “Point in the right direction!”
For a few minutes, Able just sits there, staring down at the floor. His mind stays mostly blank, and as the action and noise around him continues unabated, he could almost swear that he could feel just the barest hint of a soul peeking out from deep down in the depths of his brainwashed mind. For just a moment, it feels familiar, comforting – natural; and then it washes away with the next wave, and Able blinks – coming to see the world around him once more. Able stands up, holding out a hand to Doctor Wahlen. “Stay here. We don’t want you to get any more hurt.” He steps out into the hallway, then begins heading down to the submarine bay – back to the only other part of the ship he knows.
As Pacoy heads for the door, Angelo slides down the ladder from the wheelhouse. “You can operate remotes? Great! Follow me, the waldo station is midships by the sub mooring.” “Waldos aren’t my specialty, but I can handle one, no problem,” Pacoy answers as he scurries behind Angleo.
Outside, the storm has calmed a little, but only a little – and while there’s not as much wind or rain the sea is lifting in long, rolling swells which make footing difficult on the soaked deck. Ahead, the team can see that the submarine is sitting at an angle across the deck, unmoored at the stern – and as a new wave hits, the sub lurches further and the whole carrying ship tilts alarmingly to starboard. Angelo loses his footing and slides across the deck, slamming into the gunwhale hard enough to bruise but at least not going over the side. “Geez!” Pacoy shouts as he rushes over to offer a hand. Mac curses his new shoes, but fights to keep his balance as he struggles to get into a useful position.
Ahead, the old sailor stands as if rooted to the deck. He grabs the loose end of a cable from a massive winch, then slams over a release and begins to pay out new cable. Over the wind he points to a small cabin, like the cabin for a mechanical digger mounted amidships. “That’s the waldo command. You others, help me pay out this cable! If your pal can grab the sub and drag it back straight, we’ll tie it down and tighten this winch!” Able moves forwards, helping Mac towards the cable. Mac grabs onto the winch like an old yardboy, blinking the water from his eyes. “You be careful out here pal, I don’t want to have to go swimming after you if this gets bad.”
Pacoy nods to the old sailor and rushes into the cabin, giving the waldo controls a quick test-feel before reaching for the sub. The neural controls of the waldo are clunky and clumsy, nothing as elegant as Pacoy is used to, but other than some uncomfortable metallic grinding noises, the task goes basically as planned.
With Mac and Able’s help, the old man pays out the cable and makes it fast to a sturdy cleat on the sub’s skin, then he kicks over the handle on the winch again and it engages, pulling the cable tight until the sub is safely secured. Only then does he wave to Pacoy to disengage his robotic grab-arms.
The old man gathers you all up and shepherds you to safety, along with Angelo, who is nursing a sprained wrist. He offers his hand to each of you. “Danny Matapang. Thanks. I’ll be happy to sail with any of you again – especially you, cousin.” He grins at Pacoy. “Glad to be of use!” Pacoy gins back, honestly proud to be of service to the crew.
Able shakes the man’s hand. “I’m not sure how much help me and Mac truly were – you seemed to have those cables well under control. Pacoy, though…” He turns to his compatriot. “Good work.” Mac nods. “That’s what he gets, fiddling with his geegaws and gizmos all day long. Gets to be good with his hands, not as much so with the ladies.” “There’s a learning curve for sure, Mac, but trust me – the skill translates,” Pacoy smiles as he makes tight circles rolling his right wrist, “Master Level.”
: Mac groans as he retrieves his gear from his locker, fishing out his pocketwatch as he reviews the data Able sent to him. “Say, Danno, we got any good way of placing an outgoing call on this tub?” “C’mon, the Captain will want a report,” Danny says, and leads the way up the ladder to the wheelhouse. “That’s where the comms are anyway”. There, Captain Navarro is sitting in his chair, cables leading from the base of his skull to the ship’s computerized control interfaces. He smiles, rather sadly, as you all appear. “Good work, Danny, and you people too. You are my welcome guests, and I owe you one. It’s a pity about Enrique, but he couldn’t have felt a thing when that cable hit him, and he’s buried in the sea as he would have wished.” Danny explains in short sentences the status of the ship and sub – safe, but both in need of minor cosmetic repairs – then relays Mac’s question about outgoing calls.
The Captain makes an apologetic wide wave of his hands. “We’re under tight comms discipline here. We wouldn’t want the Brit authorities to find us, eh? They still have quite a zealous Navy. We’re under orders to communicate with our destination only, and then only by encrypted burst transmissions.”
Mac looks oddly at the captain. “And where is our destination? We are, you see, under a bit of a tight deadline.” “I’ve been instructed to deliver you to the Piper Theta. We’ll be there by this evening, by God’s grace. Our radar says the edge of the storm isn’t far off now.” The Captain looks puzzled. “I thought you’d know who was our Charter. I was told you had a human package that The Finn needed to interrogate. Was I wrong?” Able sighs. “No, you’re not wrong – though we hadn’t been given many details on what was to come after our rendezvous off the coast.”
Navarro sighs in sudden understanding. “Ah, right – a rush job, was it? Well, I can tell you this much – we aboard the Shimmer are primarily smugglers for hire. We can use the sub to get goods where they ought not to go. Right now we’re under contract to collect you and deliver you to an old oil rig North East of here. It’s the base of the group known as Mutate and Survive. I believe your captive has information that the Finn very much wants to know, about what exactly he’s been doing at a very secretive and well fortified lab complex.” He smiles. “Don’t worry – I’ve been dealing with The Finn for many years. He’s tough as an old boot but a good man, an honorable man, rare though those be nowadays. He’ll make it right for you, whatever you need from him, in return for your cargo.”
Able frowns. “So long as he understands that the man is our charge – and that we need his cooperation, not just his knowledge. He can have his interrogation – but the man is ours.” Mac nods. “Until Able is fixed. Then, you can take him to the horses for all I care.” “I think if he can share his toys, we can all play nice, it should work out better for us in the long run.” Pacoy agrees.
Navarro smiles again, “That’ll be between you and Finn, but as I said, he’s an honorable man. Now, get below and get cleaned up, have some food and rest. We’ll be there by tonight and you can find out for yourselves.”