Excerpt: Chapter 28 Swim
The water was still warm, this late into the fall. Emily waded out into the breaking waves. She had scouted this beach to be sure she could swim without encountering underwater hazards like the remnants of old buildings. The tide was going out. It felt so good to be free of her troublesome life in this god awful town.
She was a strong swimmer. As a teen, she trained relentlessly with her coach, a man named Bobby Takeuchi who won gold in the freestyle during the second to last Olympics. Bobby was old then, but a powerful athlete and a wonderful mentor. Many hours in the pool were spent working on technique. If there had still been an Olympics, Bobby said Emily would have been a natural competitor.
Beginning with an easy breaststroke, she made her way over the tops of the breakers into the rolling ocean. She heard the first of the explosions behind her, knowing it was from the center of the courthouse. Most of her clothes were left on the dock, along with her scant jewelry. No one would look for a body. She was not that important.
Carefully set fires had driven the people out of the targeted structures. There should be few undesired casualties. New Atlantic didn't have a fire department. Buckets of sand and water were all that were available to those who wanted to put out the flames. Strategic standers-by would have encouraged the people to flee from the smoke. Hopefully, there would be no heroics.
A second boom sounded over the water. That would be the courthouse in the east wing. There would be fires burning all over town soon. People standing in the muddy streets watching their homes fill with smoke. The casinos, the shops, and the church would be fully ablaze before she had made it past the southern point to her right. The ocean was peacefully indifferent. It felt so good to swim again.
She wanted to check in with her son but knew she couldn't. She had had her suspicions about Barnabas' attack on Reverside, but didn't fathom the scope of it. When the Interconnected went dark, her co-conspirators were shocked. Luckily, all their plans were in place, long gathered explosives were ready and well hidden, incendiaries had been planted, and detonators could be triggered by close proximity. Still, the implications of the blackout were alarming.
The bombs themselves were gifts from Tuckahoe tribe. They were painstakingly printed to replicate chairs and tables found in the courthouse, church, and casinos in New Atlantic. These had been replaced skillfully by the team over the course of a year. The explosives themselves were a latticework of unstable carbon compounds woven throughout the furniture, keyed to blow apart at a specific voltage. The detonators were deep inside the structure and could only be triggered by a specific code delivered by one of the augmented members of her team. She had been told these items could catch fire and burn to ash without giving away their true purpose and without exploding. The technology was beyond her comprehension, but she trusted the super-mods who had created them.
The incendiary elements were smaller, and similar, but were designed to ignite rather than concuss. These were disguised as bowls, platters, pictures and other stationary objects which would avoid notice. The team members who delivered all of these to their staging locations were servants and waitstaff who could move objects without notice. Preparation had been uneventful. Emily had no doubts about the complete destruction of New Atlantic.
The difficult part of the plan was convincing the un-augmented members of New Atlantic the fires and explosions were the work of sabotage by a rival family. Stories had been planted in advance about the rivalry between the Yoniver and the Reynolds families. The arrival of Gladys Reynolds to New Atlantic had been the fortuitous trigger they needed to link the attack to another Neo-Feudal enclave. This would make the next step far easier.
Members of Livings-town and Trenton were already making their way to New Atlantic to help with the rebuilding of the town. With any luck, given the advances in technology, and improvements to the lifestyle which awaited them, the majority of the inhabitants would choose to join the Interconnected, and the shoreline of the Jersey would form a crucial link between the tribes of the Northeast and the Delaware.
Emily lengthened her stroke, remembering her training; compress, breathe, duck, extend, drive. Soon she would switch to freestyle as she made the turn around the point. She kept a keen eye out for structures below the waterline. To the left of her, she could just make out the tops of the remaining Atlantic City hotels. Some were no more than brown metal I-Beams rising up from the waves. She swam to the right, away from the sunken city. Rusting metal could result in a cut or a gash and make her journey treacherous or worse. Sharks often cruised these waters as did many forms of jellyfish. The diesel and coal pollution from the harbor kept many of these away, but she was getting into cleaner waters. The salt of the ocean washed away the contaminants. She had come a mile so far, by her estimate. She was not as strong a swimmer as she once had been. She flipped over and floated on her back, paddling gently with her hands, and kicking lightly until her breath returned again.
The point broadened to her left. Viewed from the water, it lost its sharpness. The shore was ragged and cluttered with the half-submerged remains of old houses. She could gauge her progress by the dwindling view of the docks in the harbor and the distant sounds of explosions from the town. No doubt, it was pandemonium there. The team had estimated Brady, the brutal head constable of New Atlantic would run to Barnabas' office to send a report by way of the mysterious goggle device which had shown up there in the past two years. Alternatively, he might assign someone to drive to Reverside to warn them. That would be unfortunate. Emily hoped he would be in the office when the final explosion hit. A fiery death was a just repayment for the years of abuse meted out by that sadist. Brady's survival would make things hard for the town's transition. Most of his constabulary had gone north, the rest were expected to meet with a series of unfortunate accidents engineered by her team. Brady himself would be difficult to dispose of if he didn't die in the office.
A final explosion, close to the water sounded, and Emily stopped her stroke to turn and see the tiny windows of the seaside building engulfed in flames. She would never know if the objective had been reached. Her team couldn't reach her now because of the blackout. She was hoping she was witnessing the final end to a truly horrible human being. She crossed her fingers beneath the water.
Barnabas should arrive in time to see his town in flames and ashes later tonight or sometime tomorrow if he didn't follow his predicted route. Ambushes were planned for his return along the road he had taken to Ramapo. If he managed to avoid those traps, several models had been run to predict whether he would be able to regain control of the ruined town without the help of most of his constables. The chances were 90% he would fail. There was a 55% chance that, upon seeing his town burnt to the ground, his beloved courthouse gone, he would flee to seek asylum from one of the nearby families. If they were wrong, the members of Livings-town were tasked with his removal. There should be little love lost for the despot, charming though he was. Emily knew how people talked about him behind his back. ["Such is the righteous fate of all tyrants,"] Emily thexted to no one.
Soon she was past the point, and swimming across a large open bay. She was tired. She rested often, gazing up at the cloudy sky. She marveled at her life's trajectory. Perhaps she would run out of energy out here on the water and drown. She was not the teenager who swam so confidently anymore. She was strong for her age, but still, not so strong as to easily endure such a long swim. She estimated the distance to be ten miles at a minimum. This was a marathon for her.
If she were to die in the ocean, she regretted only that she wouldn't have a chance to find Matthew again. He would be getting her message soon if he had not yet received it. She hoped he would understand it and come find her. If all went well, they could live their lives in peace and protection. Her life as a spy had been difficult but exciting. She believed in Fish's mission. After his death, she supported Reyleena in helping her continue her mission. Their way was the only civilized way forward for a human society, and she was proud to have fought for their cause. She was all done with it now. She found interconnected life exhausting. She longed for something simpler. She hoped Matthew would understand and come find her.
Back to the breaststroke, across the wide bay, her arms ached, her lungs hurt, her whole body was yelling at her to stop. She let her mind wander to distract her from the exertion.
As a child, she had ridden horses with her mother in northern California. Her horse was named Rosy. She was a gray mare, not of particularly good breeding, but when they had met, it was love at first sight. Her friends had all chosen better steeds, but she never regretted choosing Rosy. She preferred long leisurely rides to the steeplechasing and eventually dressage training her friends undertook. She just liked to be out in an open field, galloping, walking, sitting by a tree, stroking Rosy's nose. Her mother didn't press her to take the courses her friends took. She knew her daughter had a rebellious spirit and a love of solitude.
One day Rosy and she rode out beyond the set of fields and pastures encompassing their usual riding route. Through a short path near the cliffs along the Pacific, they emerged onto a field full of wind turbines facing seaward. The long white arms spun slowly in hypnotizing circles atop long white stems. Rosy stopped to chew the grass, and Emily sat and watched the majestic circles spinning slowly below a bright blue sky.
Walking along the cliffs toward them were five men. They looked ragged, dirty, and menacing. They waved a friendly hello. Emily smiled and waved back, but then felt a sudden panic. Rosy, sensing her fear, shook her head and neighed. The men came closer, holding out their hands, trying to dispel her fears, but Emily had heard stories of an attempted assault on her friends, and friends of her mother. She quickly brought Rosy around, trotting back through the woods, carefully so as not to catch a root under hoof. Behind her, the men's attitudes changed from friendly and reassuring to shouts of anger and accusations. She thought she could hear them shout "one-percenter", "Aristo", and "Defiler" after her as she rode away to safety, and then galloped back to the stables.
Soon she was in her mother's car, the driver taking them home. There she allowed herself to break down, shaking and crying into her mother's scarf. Her mother produced tissues for her and tried to be reassuring. She never shared what had happened. It was the moment she first understood she was hated for who she was.
The water was cooling. Streams from the open ocean filtered into the bay, lowering the temperature. Perhaps she was just exhausted, unable to maintain her own inner heat. Everything hurt now. She no longer felt certain she would make it to the shore. She didn't want to float on her back again, worried she wouldn't have the strength to turn and swim again. Narrowing her focus to moving forward, she just kept her strokes coming one after another, breathing between each stroke, unable to hold her breath for longer than one swing of her arms.
Then she felt a hand grab hold of her arm, and pull her up. She thought she had been caught by one of Brady's men until a message came to her mind.
["We have you. Relax. You've made it."]
This was Tando « Lasha « Marsheka « Goesha « etc, from Tuckahoe tribe. She was lying in a small sail craft, coming about and heading for the shore. There was another man in the boat with them.
["I'm Mark,"] messaged Mark. ["Long distance communications are down, but we can communicate privately. Barnabas' attack was successful and worse than we thought. How did the counter-attack go?"]
["Flawlessly,"] Emily sent back. She was gasping. They wrapped her in a blanket and put her head on a backpack. ["New Atlantic will be yours. It is all in ashes."]
["New Atlantic will be ours, you mean?"] Tando replied.
["Yes, of course,"] Emily sent back. ["Ours. There should be no resistance. Everything went off just as the models predicted."]
["This is good news, Mary,"] Mark sent back, using her alias. ["You've done so well. We can't send you ratings now, but hopefully, the interconnection will return. We're all hoping for a reboot."]
["You should rest now,"] Tando jumped in. ["There'll be a horse waiting for you when we get to shore. You can stay with us a night if you like. You look worn out."]
["That would be great,"] messaged Emily as Martha. She felt herself sliding into a deep sleep. ["Rosy."]