285: Distant Echoes

on September 17, 2008 in Book 10

In Which A Shrinking World Expands Horizons

Despite her impatient act, Sooni didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get in the shower… she just stared at the timepiece, counting the minutes until Suzi arrived. She was quiet, and didn’t respond to my half-hearted attempt to get her talking again… it was like she’d used up her store of friendly conversation for the moment.

I didn’t want to push her… hell, I’d take silence over pointless belligerence any day. Instead, I turned on the TV and then sat down on the edge of the bed, flipping around looking for something interesting. I normally wouldn’t have bothered even checking the news and the morning shows, but I was curious if they were still talking about us. To my surprise, they were showing images of desolation along a debris-strewn coastline. A faint voice speaking some foreign tongue was all but drowned out by a Pax-speaking newscaster describing the scene. A hurricane?

The phrase “thousands dead” jumped out at me… especially as it was paired with the phrase “at least”.

“Oh, shit,” I said. “Looks like there was some kind of huge storm.”

“Where?” Sooni asked dully.

“They haven’t said… oh, the Far Reach Islands,” I said as the words appeared near the bottom of the image.

“Which one?” Sooni asked, sounding slightly more interested.

“I don’t know,” I said.

The scene shifted, showing an illusionary map of the Far Reaches, with the land rendered in green. Blue arrows rolled up from the southeast, and the southeastern shored of island after island turned an angry glowing red.

“It looks… it like all of them,” I said. Sooni came over and sat down on the bed. “What the hell kind of storm was this? Don’t they usually see hurricanes coming?”

A naga… a true snake-bodied person, not just a snaky humanoid like Celia, appeared on the screen, hissing and clicking. A translator spoke over her.

“The ocean just disappeared, and nobody knew what was happening. Then, it was towering over us like a giant… ten, fifteen lengths tall.”

“Tsunami,” Sooni said, awed.

“What?” I asked, looking at her.

The TV switched to a woman who looked like a cross between an ogre and a tiger, who was trying to describe the scope of the wave that had taken her children and husband. She spoke Pax, with a cultured, Metropolitan accent. She gave up, and just shook her head, saying, “All gone, all gone.” The image shifted back to a montage of ruined coastline, while the voiceover talked about “the wave” hitting.

All of that from one wave? I thought.

“That’s what it’s called,” Sooni said. She was staring at the screen. “A tsunami. There is a disturbance in the earth layer, and then, the water… it draws back, like a fist… like a great god taking in a breath. And then…” She gestured towards the TV. “That.”

“How can you have a name for something like that?” I asked. That idea terrified me almost as much as the existence of the wave itself… inside the TV, people who’d seen it, who’d lived through it were struggling to put into words exactly what had happened. My mind was taking the images of devastated coastlines and ruined cities and trying to multiply them by the miles and miles of coastline, and it just wasn’t working.

It was too big.

“My nurse used to tell us a story,” she said. “Oji-San and the Tsunami. There was a village by the sea, a village of fisherneko. The young men fished, and the old men and the women tended the rice fields up in the hills. One day there was an earthquake, but it was mild and nobody thought anything of it except for Oji-San, the old man who lived up on the mountain. Then the sea rolled back from the beach, and all the people ran out to see, to stand on the seabed and stare at the retreating waters… up on the mountain, old Oji-San saw them all running out there, and he told his son, ‘Get me a torch!’ When his son did, he went down to the terraces and started lighting the rice on fire. An alarm was sounded, and the people ran up, but by the time they got there it was too late to put the fire out. The son cried out, ‘My father has gone mad, my father has gone mad! He will burn us all!’ But Oji-San just pointed a long furry finger down at the bay, and the people looked and saw a great swelling wave coming up across the dry seabed. It smashed all the boats in the empty bay to pieces, it roared over the village and devoured all the houses, it surged up the hills and came within an arrow’s flight of where the villagers had climbed to. When the water receded, nothing was left… not a piece of bamboo, not a scrap of thatch. The only sign the village had ever been there was the house of Oji-San, high on the hill, and the villagers who had come to save his field.”

“So, that kind of thing actually happens in the east?” I asked. “I mean, this isn’t actually the first?”

“Not often,” Sooni said. “This was probably the first one to happen in the age of global television. None have ever happened in Yokan, in my lifetime. In the story, it hadn’t happened in years. That’s why nobody knew what it meant when the sea ran away.”

“How did Oji-San know?” I asked.

“He probably knew even older stories,” she said. “Stories like that one. My nurse told me all the nekos in the coastal village used to be told those stories, so they would know… some people remembered them, but most people forgot. My nurse knew a lot of old stories, but I don’t remember all of them. I always remembered that one, though.” She shivered. “I thought the sea was going to come crashing in through the walls at night. Our house was high on a cliff by the sea, but there was nowhere higher to go around it. Father said that we were safe, but… he also said that wind and water were forces above us, and bore no respect for the stations of mortal men.”

She shivered and hugged herself. She looked a lot more vulnerable, more… mortal… with her hair down.

“Well… we’re a long way away from any ocean here,” I said.

We watched the footage from the disaster scene… or scenes, rather… for a while, in silence. The thing that got me was that except when they showed them being carried out of flooded buildings, there were no bodies anywhere. It was like the tiger-woman had said: all gone, all gone. Thousands dead… and thousands of survivors who had suddenly lost their husbands, their wives, their parents, or their children.

I scooted a little bit closer to Sooni. Even now, I didn’t have a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings for her, but she was the nearest person, and the only one I could see. In a world where the sea itself could wake up and decide to roll over beaches and cities, it didn’t seem like I could take anything for granted. I wanted very badly to run back to campus and go around making sure that Amaranth, Steff, Two, and Ian were all still there… Dee, Hazel, and even Celia, too.

If getting teleported into the middle of a deadly maze hadn’t been enough to hammer home how random life could be, thousands of people being wiped off the face of the world in the blink of an eye was just about enough to do it.

The first time in the age of global television… if not for the advances in enchantment and transmitting information etherically, we would never have known. Whole towns could be wiped off the map and the people who never had any reason to go there or trade with them… more than ninety percent of the world, in other words… would never even know they’d been there.

The Far Reaches… here in an inn room in Enwich. It was like the world was shrinking.

After a while, there was a knock on the door.

“Hello?” Suzi said.

Sooni was at the door and had it open in an instant.

“Finally! What took you so long” she said. It seemed like all thought of the deadly tsunami and everything else had flown from her head now that she had somebody to criticize and lord over, but I sort of wondered if it wasn’t a case of slipping a well-worn mask in place over those feelings. “You are going to have to help me in the shower.”

“Shower?” Suzi repeated.

“Yes, shower,” Sooni said. She grabbed the cat girl by the back of her neck and pulled her through the door, barely stopping to close it before pulling her in the direction of the bathing area. Suzi’s fur was sticking up and her eyes were just about jumping out of her skull. She dropped the bundle she’d brought. “You don’t expect me to clean myself, do you?”

Even with my newfound insights, I somehow couldn’t feel sorry for Sooni… never learning how to wash oneself might have been sad, but bullying an unwilling slave girl into doing it was pathetic, in the very worst sense of the word. I turned up the TV volume as the water came on, and started flipping around again. The tsunami coverage was on most of the channels… a few of them had even picked up the Yokano word. Apparently, the event had actually happened the day before, but they were still counting the dead, still learning the full extent of the disaster.

It was still Saturday morning, and I’d had enough of ruined beaches and ruined lives, so I looked for some mindless animated entertainment. The pickings were slim as it was getting late, and I didn’t really know the Saturday morning lineup, but I found a giant golem fighting show that looked halfway interesting.

Sooni and Suzi were chattering away inside the shower. Sooni seemed to have dropped her objection to their native language… probably having realized that it was hard to have a meaningful conversation in Pax.

Either that, or they were talking about something Sooni didn’t want me to hear… but I kind of doubted that. Sooni seemed to be past the point of scheming and planning, for the time being.

She came out of the shower in the other robe, with her hair up in several towels. The room only came with two of the robes and a limited supply of large towels… so Suzi hung back in the shower area, probably dripping wet.

“I am not sure how I feel about shopping when I know that such a thing has happened,” she said. “But Suzi is of the opinion that we could show the victims no greater respect by huddling back in our dorm rooms than we would by continuing with the business of living. So, if you are still willing, then I am, as well.”

I looked towards Suzi, wondering if she’d really said that or if Sooni had just projected what she really thought onto her like a child with a stuffed doll. It was more than possible for Suzi to be perfectly eloquent in her native tongue, but I just kept picturing her trying to negotiate with Two for cookies.

“Oh, Suzi would be coming, too,” Sooni said, misinterpreting my glance. “I… I would enjoy being in a larger company at the moment, I think.”

I nodded. I would have rather had Two or Steff along for a shopping trip, but I understood what she meant.

“You know, there’s probably a hair dryer in there somewhere,” I said. “So Suzi can dry off and get started on your hair.”

“Oh, yes,” Sooni said. “I think I saw that by the sink.”

She headed back behind the glass screen, and I heard her fiddling around by the sink. I watched the distorted silhouettes as Sooni handed a thick rod to Suzi, who turned it on herself. I expected Sooni to berate her and demand she dry Sooni’s hair before taking care of her fur, but Sooni said nothing. I couldn’t see her face or her exact posture in order to comment on whether she looked patient or not.

I got dressed while Suzi took care of Sooni. Two had sent along my jeans, a t-shirt, and a sweater, but she hadn’t included my wonderfully warm winter coat. That was my fault for not mentioning it, I supposed. Well, I had the black coat Sooni had given me… I’d just have to keep the enchantment up on it if the weather continued on the way it had.

Sooni ended up with her hair in one of the simplest configurations I’d seen yet. It was basically a bun, but she had so much of it that it looked like she was wearing a great big hat. I couldn’t guess how many of those wooden sticks she had holding it in place.

“Are you ready?” she asked me.

“All set,” I said, stowing my money and my mirror in my jacket pockets. “Oh, wait,” I said, pulling out the mirror. “I should probably check this… I’m still not used to having it.”

“I’m surprised you have one,” Sooni said.

“Well, technically, it’s not mine,” I said, flipping it open. “It’s so my lawyer can get a hold of…”

I trailed off, as I saw the words floating inside it.

“You have twenty-three new echoes.”

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4 Responses to “285: Distant Echoes”

  1. Jackie says:

    Well now we know what Mother Khaele was talking about.

    Current score: 6
  2. pedestrian says:

    “If we could accurately predict the future, we would all die of boredom instead of accidents.”

    Current score: 3
  3. pedestrian says:

    If anyone wonders about what an omniscient deity could die of, my guess would be ennui.

    Current score: 2