Chasing Liberty

Liberty's torch...glowed. Yes, glowed was the word. A glow that was not registering as electric, nor chemical. And...greenly. And just perceptibly pulsing, that uncategorized light in the torch that greened the way one hundred fathoms deep in the Atlantic.

That preliminary report of Lady Liberty slumping had been shelved six months ago. Moving merely two-point-seven centimeters in over one week was the why. Somebody figured there was plenty of time. Gene was reassigned. Some anonymous field agent scribbled a note last week that her right foot had reached the high tide line. The note was mis-filed. Then came Hurricane Faye over the weekend. The Coast Guard only noticed she was gone at first light, Monday. The sea had done something to her, all right. Lady Liberty was not slumping any longer.

It was an odd procession accompanying the Statue of Liberty, awakened, by all reports suicidal, and shambling in a murk of kicked-up silt farther and farther over the continental shelf. Ticonderoga, a U.S. submarine, paced her in the slightly clearer murk behind her silt cloud. Mir, a Russian, shadowed Ticonderoga. And, unsuspected as a ghost, Pete Postlethwaite, British, rode in Mir's noisy propellor wash.

None of them suspected I was monitoring their water ballet. Their ship's systems. Communications. If they detected anything, I was a fish. An agent piloting an Agency fish that could outswim anything manmade.

I kept the fish on auto-pilot. There was no public in danger. No real estate to protect from damage. No need to engage the target. In another hour the Lady would reach the edge of the continental shelf, the drop-off to abyssal depths; and if the Lady were in fact suicidal, the situation would resolve itself.

If not for that strange trembling green of her torch in the deep and the dark, the continental shelf under the Atlantic shipping lanes between New York and the Old World, as they called Europe, certainly might pass for some splendidly desolate pass low over the moon. If not for the kicked-up silt, too, of course.

I wasn't actually busy, during that stretch of monitoring. The fish swam itself. I hadn't even cards for solitaire. My mind wandered, some.

Reflecting some. I might have flown to the moon, in the uncategorized vehicle the Agency kept in Nevada. Last November, I might have lifted off from the desert, spooking any passing locals, no doubt. In pursuit, my voice might have crackled. Had that private collector's marble Hercules somehow managed to cajole the spacebound ride from the Pegasus, which wouldn't budge from its pedestal. It was still a wonder, that some nameless genius two millenia dead had smelted the heart of a meteorite for the luminous eyes for that Hercules.

Because my mind had wandered, as far as the moon, I only caught the tail end of the scrambled and secure communication, the charismatic new American President encouraging his man on the spot under the Atlantic.

"...America's counting on you and your crew, Captain. Be plain with me. Can you do it?"

"Yes, Mister President. Yes, we can."

"Good t'hear, Captain. America's hopes go with you."

"Thank-you, Mister President."

One mile ahead, through the cloudy distance, I could just make out the walker and its lamp, the green dot in the dark.

The fish chimed the detection, instantly returned me to the escalation emanating in the American's chatter.

"Torpedo door open. Firing solution uploaded."

The chiming continued. They must also have detected the American's starboard torpedo tube flooding, the door opening, and the Russian's response was immediate, its screw RPMs spooling toward maximum, announcing themselves to those Americans and the ocean one hundred miles around.

It was necessary to act. I keyed the translator. A tool useful even in dealings with Americans. "Captain, Ticonderoga, what are you doing?"

"...I am United States Navy submarine, Ticonderoga. You have been detected. Identify yourself."

I quite reasonably deduced Ticonderoga actually had detected the Russian, blattering ahead after Liberty's pale light.

"The Agency, Ticonderoga...if that helps. I'm an agent, if that helps. What do you intend with your torpedo, Ticonderoga?"

For a moment I had toyed with telling him my name, Maria. That American submarine skipper had that super-serious military man tone in his voice that simply appealed to my playful nature. But the fish was recording everything, and I thought wiser of playing here.

"I am United States Navy submarine. Do not obstruct my vessel."

"Ticonderoga, the Agency has unique resources and can be useful in your mission here."

"Ticonderoga intends to return Lady Liberty to America. Close channel, Ensign."

Typically American, that skipper. Shoot first, apologize later. I should have said Maria. Setting guidance to manual and taking the yoke, I turned the fish to intercept.

Sudden and jarring, the proximity alarm chirped, as the British boat swung clear of the Russian's masking wake. I lifted the fish and spurted it ahead, away from the international incident jostling into their positions that no one should have needed navigation projections to predict. The Russian, already but a distant silhouette, taking his position between the walking Lady and the American. The British settling in, between the American and the Russian.

The formal ship to ship posturing commenced.

"...Do not obstruct."

"...Pete Postlethwaite, here. May we be of some assistance, perhaps?"

The translator had difficulty translating the Russian. He seemed...cordial. A balalaika trilling in his voice.

Not the songs of whales, these. Yet gratifying, still. Nobody should be torpedoing anybody else so long as they chattered to and fro. But escalating stupidity, and any hostile exchange of munitions under the Atlantic, would spell unimaginably worse in the world above. The real worry. It necessitated Agency intervention.

It was sound reasoning these enforcers of their respective national interests would stand down, each go their way, if the focus of their interest ceased to be of any interest. If the Lady could even be reasoned with, which was doubtful, her agreeing to go with any one of these would doubtless annoy the others. The drop-off too distant, still. I had an alternate play, a suggestion, if the translator could just ascertain the correct component frequency.

Copper occurs worldwide, but the same as any substance it has its range of dialects. A specimen from one part of North America as unique as one from the other side of the continent.

Nearing, darting past the worst of the silt cloud that swirled about the statue's broad slow-twisting skirt, the fish's lights spotted vast breaks. Much of her copper cladding clearly gone below the waist. I positioned the fish high, burbling the holding jets in the green torchglow, beside the Lady's face. Beside the Lady's ear, as it happened.

The translator peep confirmed multiple frequencies. Copper from multiple origins. Interesting — but I wasted no time.

"These three wish to have you."

"I wish to dissolve. I wish to return." The voice was emotionless, of course, only the translator interpreting.

"You can return here. Stop. Stand. Wait. Dissolve. It will come for you, here."

Quite suddenly, the fish seemed to slip ahead. The Lady had stopped walking. The All Stop sounded, throughout the crowding international incident. Then, the long distance calls reached out around the world.

As I hovered the fish before the Lady's darkened face, absurdly it seemed...rude, if I shone lights on copper eyes that shouldn't see. Left the lights off. Didn't need lights anyway, I told myself, seeing as the fish held guidance. And I was busy. Had no time for odd feelings. Needed an assurance my play should work.

"Lady, you...will wait here." — Almost a question.

"I will wait. I will dissolve."

Peep — The data pack confirmed. The fish had recorded the entire encounter. Even had certain top secret phone numbers.

But this entire encounter beneath the Atlantic likely would only see the most cursory review. The data pack held those component frequencies, the usual minimal and incomprehensible communications, but no answer. And though my superiors would ask it during debriefing, even from a field agent, currently an undersea agent, my undersea agent's best guess of why, really they didn't expect anything useful, or new. The file would be filed away. Probably mis-filed, these days. I hated the idea that chasing Liberty under the Atlantic should disappear into the files only because the agent on the spot didn't think to try something the theorist properly should. Figured I should then.

"Lady. Why do you wish to dissolve?"

The data pack peep'd, like it was confirming a mistake. Already I pictured those higher-ups with their clothing allowances, after my debriefing and leaving the room, and laughter running around the big table.

Ticonderoga had closed her torpedo door. She was disarming the weapon.

Mir blattered past Ticonderoga, close enough to set-off Ticonderoga's proximity alarms, the Russian cheerily singing farewells over the ship to ship.

The Pete Postlethwaite sidled northeastward into the deep gloom. But not far. Not under power. Allowing the Gulf Stream to carry the British boat clear of conventional tracking systems.

Only Ticonderoga obviously remained. The bridge crew muttered course calculations and headings. The American, too, preparing to depart.

"Sorrow of ages." said the Lady.

The fish peeped. The data pack had updated.

Ticonderoga swung widely about. Seemed...sullen, if a ship could seem sullen.

Remembering the Pete Postlethwaite, and more curious than suspicious, I nulled the helm, and immediately began that northeastward drift, away on the Gulf Stream. The silt already was settling. The dark deep clearing. Small fish and tiny ribbony sea things clouded about that green light, fluttering in the Lady's torch held high under the Atlantic, and trembling only over the crown of the unseen face.

It was no living thing. Odd, that I had to remind myself.

The End

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