Thursday, September 20, 2012

Disaster Aversion

by Travis Perry

Adagio Mayor Edard Jonzn’s mind raced for a solution. A tsunami coming in, the west water gate damaged and open—open at his command, no less. The tidal wave would push into the harbor and sweep east across it—he saw it in his mind’s eye—to the lower land on that side…where his office stood…which held the conference room where the Avenir governor and the Zirconia deputy mayor, “Lieutenant” MacBane, ostensibly still waited.

Jonzn barked some quick orders over the phone to his engineer and sprinted out of his ashbrick office, through the white-conch painted doorway into the next building over, which held the conference room. At the polished bronze table sat the Avenir governor in his own chair, resplendent in his fancy nanoweave suit, his eyes wide in shock, his face drained white, along with two of his so-called Ministers.

“Where’s MacBane?” shouted Jonzn.

“I…I don’t know,” said the governor. “He left.”

Jonzn charged back out of the room, out of the building, his heavy belly jiggling in his too-tight gray suit made of Zirconia cotton. Down the hill toward the nearest sea dock he ran.

MacBane stood outside his personal submarine, in the act of stepping into in, its motors already powered up, as Jonzn shouted down, “Wait! I need your help!”

The Zirconian official paused, clearly considering pushing off without Jonzn. Instead, he answered, “Hurry up! The bay is already receding.”

Jonzn saw it too…water pulling back, out of the bay…only to come back not long from now with a vengeance. He hit the end of the dock and literally jumped into the sub, landing on his hands and knees and scrambling back up to the nearest seat.

“Seal the hatch!” shouted the pilot from the single seat right behind the two round windows on the left and the right sides of the nose of the sub. “Shove off—I’ll get it!” snapped back MacBane and the pilot did as he was told, the boat flying forward on the surface of the bay, twin propellers thrusting it ahead in a roar of biomass diesel. Water sloshed ankle-deep into the vessel before the Lieutenant sealed the door, which swung down from an overhead hinge.
onzn had always called himself an agnostic, but was seriously reconsidering the value of prayer…Dear God, dear God, dear God…let there be enough water to make it to the gate!

The submarine drove forward on the surface, headed for the west gate. Jonzn explained his plan in brief words.

MacBane tapped his lips with the end of the bugizzard cigar he’d been chewing. “It might work. There’s a hook near the tail for the chain. But if there’s not enough water at the gate…” his voice trailed off.

The chief engineer and five of his men were fixing the heavy steel chain to two rings on the inside edge of the western watergate—only the inside of the gate had the walkway where they could access it—just as the submarine pulled up alongside, careful not to get too close to the shore on the left side. MacBane broke the seal of the door and swung it up enough for Jonzn to shout instructions, new water sloshing in. 

The bay had receded but there remained for the moment enough water by the gate for the submarine to function. The engineer crew hooked the chain to rear of the sub and without further command the pilot pushed his throttle lever ahead as the lieutenant resealed the door. Once the chain pulled taut, confirmed by shouting and waving engineers, the pilot pushed the lever as far down as it would go and the engines roared like thunder.

The watergate, designed to roll on a track with relative ease, began to move…just a bit. The submarine jerked and shuddered as its propellers bit into the still-receding water…and the gate moved more, more quickly now. It needed to make it just over four hundred meters.

“Dear God, dear God, dear God,” chanted Jonzn, his hands pressed to either side of his stubble-whiskered plump face, rocking back and forth in the passenger seat to the right of MacBane. A round portal window on his side of the sub faced away from the action of the moving gate, but gave him full view of Adagio and its harbor…which was mostly dry land by now…fishing vessels stranded on a downward-pointing curve.

Now the gate must be moving quickly, for the submarine started accelerating and the chain hadn’t broken or come loose. Jonzn’s prayers ceased and a smile tugged at the corner of his lips, in spite of his still-pounding heart.

Then the submarine hit ground with a horrible scraping and ground to a halt. The gate, however, contained considerably more inertia than the submarine. It kept plowing ahead, its end now visible in the pilot’s portside window as Jonzn looked forward.

The chain, which had gone loose as the massive gate caught up to the ten meter submarine that had pulled it, went taut again as the huge wall of the water gate passed it, rolling smoothly on its track. The chain twisted the sub around violently, now pointing tail first, and the rolling gate jerked the vessel along behind and began dragging it through the mud and rocks that once had been deep underwater in Adagio harbor.

As the submarine jerked and scraped with the horrible scream of tortured steel, Edard Jonzn instantly rediscovered the value of prayer. As he bounced, the submarine scraped, as he prayed and cursed, some part of him still looked out his portal window, which now faced the gate. The gate was beginning to slow, it was slowing, the dragged submarine acting as its brake…it would not make the last hundred meters or so to closure with the east gate…it would not make it…dear God, dear God.

And Jonzn then noticed some sort of structure on the floor of the harbor not far from the gate. A stone archway…as if some ancient civilization had built something in the bay, now revealed by the emptied water. But Jonzn knew that wasn’t the case, there had been no ancient civilization…or he thought he knew.

Looking through his portal window, the only one looking out that side of the sub, Jonzn saw stepping through the doorway a man with golden hair and a golden sword in his hands. In a single effortless motion he slashed the chain dragging the submarine and stepped back into the arch. Then both the man, and it, vanished from view. Jonzn’s mind assumed the sub had moved somehow so the arch was no longer in view. But later he realized that wasn’t what happened at all.

The gate kept rolling, slowly rolling, to closure, meeting the east gate at the center of the harbor.


The gate had closed just before the tsunami hit, saving Adagio. And not too hard, either, since Jonzn realized that in his original plan, the submarine would have been trying to slow the gate as it hurled shut and probably would not have been able to undo built up inertia in time—dragging the submarine for over one hundred meters had barely managed to slow it just enough. If things had worked the way he’d planned them, he would have smashed the ends of the gates to smithereens,  the west gate rolling closed far too fast, which would have been its own disaster, destroying the center where the gates met…like how the Zirconian submarine had been destroyed. He owed Zirconia, more than ever, for the use of that vessel—that was for sure. He tried to put out of his mind the other help that had come literally from the middle of nowhere.

He and his chief engineer stood over a rough metal table in the engineering gatehouse, examining the ends of a sliced chain. The man turned to him, “Boss, what I can’t figure is how you would have done it. Maybe with explosives or something you could, not that you had any on you that I know of—but it wouldn’t turn out like this at all.” The separated pieces of chain were perfectly smooth, mirrored metal, as if cut with a high-powered laser.

Jonzn took three quick drags on his cigar and laughed. “Now, now, you can’t ‘spect me to give up all my secrets, Fred. Maybe I cut that chain out there and maybe I didn’t. I didn’t get in the position I’m in by tellin’ everything I know.”

With a grin he added, “Which won’t keep me from taking all the credit, of course.” He winked at the engineer, puffing cigar smoke.

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