The Prologue

 

               

   

       Five gargantuan whirlpools called gyres swirl through the earth’s oceans unrestrained. Debris floating into one of these global currents will finally end up in its stagnant center. In the past, this flotsam was biodegradable, quickly disappearing without a trace. That is no longer the case. The industrial revolution erupted like a demented volcano in the 1900's, ushering in manufacture on a massive scale. The resulting waste coming out of the factories was tossed into landfills and rivers, ponds and oceans without a second thought; an endless flow of poisonous lava. The centers of all five of the gyres were overwhelmed by manmade debris, and that terrible flood became a deluge.   

       The gyre in the northern Pacific Ocean was deemed the worst of the group with the highest amount of rubbish. Those in power remained indifferent to the possible repercussions coming out of their carelessness, and they barreled into the millennium at breakneck speed. The environmentally aware nicknamed the fouled center of the gyre in the pacific, the Trash Vortex. It’s estimated to be twice the size of Texas. No one really knows exactly where the actually border of this listless eye really ends, but thousands of miles of open water has been overcome with crap within that circling current. Whether it’s a ripped drop cloth, or a vinyl console wrenched from the inside of an automobile, most of it cannot degrade. After twenty years or so, the console would disintegrate down to the smallest particle industrialized plastic polymer can go, and no farther. In this neustonic state, it is biologically inactive, yet tiny enough to invade and sicken the bodies of the living and interfere with the oxygenation of sea water. This degradation of the water and the biological intrusion is widening out across the oceans. Seals basking on the glacier ice at the North Pole hundreds of miles away from the vortex, now have tiny pieces of plastic imbedded in their blubber. 

       In the middle of the gyres, the flotsam slowly sinks down in a column beneath the surface, and birds, fish, mammals and algae ingest it to their peril. The inorganic and biological dreck pounds through the watery heart of the world without end, and the Trash Vortex has become a colossal beaker jam-packed with stuff that should not be there. A contaminated soup of our own unbridled excess had been percolating out there for years. Has the impossible taken place? Life of a different sort could have awakened in an elemental and negative charge, and rooted itself in the badly wounded salt water to gestate and grow large enough to pull us to heel; a Frankenstein lurching out of the sea in a corporeal answer to an unsanctionable question none of us want to accept.  

 

 

                         The Second Coming

 

               Turning and turning in the widening gyre

               The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

               Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

               Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

               The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere 

               The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

               The best lack all conviction, while the worst

               Are full of passionate intensity. 

 

               Surely some revelation is at hand;

               Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

               The Second Coming!  Hardly are those words out

               When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

               Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

               A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

               A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, 

               Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it 

               Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. 

               The darkness drops again; but now I know

               That twenty centuries of stony sleep

               Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

               And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

               Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 

William Butler Yeats (1920)

    

 

  

 

 

PART ONE

 

 

4:22AM Monday      February 11th, 2004     The Ocean Swan; 6 degrees North of Kiritimati

 

       Six months ago, Walter Pratt had signed on as the ship’s cook. Making breakfast for the seven men in the crew that morning was a juggling match for him as The Swan crossed the Pacific to unload their cargo at Mutsa Ogasana on the coast of Japan. The captain of the ship had turned the freighter south, out of the shipping lanes. He had been trying to avoid the storm, but the strategy hadn’t worked. Walter held onto the top of the anchored work table in the middle of the galley as the floor slanted at an obscene angle and the salt container flew out of his hand and hit the ceiling. He wasn’t going to be able to cook anything until it got calmer out there. 

     The diesel engines were pounding and growling under his feet, and the gale howled on the other side the porthole, but it didn’t mask the sound of gunfire. Wally took off his apron, and swayed to the other side of the galley to hang it on a metal hook. Opening the door of the ship’s pantry, he carefully stepped inside and sat down on the floor. The pantry was six by eight, and it was stocked with produce and grain, and Walter was busily arranging bags of potatoes and onions around his legs, torso and head. He was concealing himself, and he hoped that everyone on board had forgotten he was even there. 

     Running a day late from a paperwork snafu in France, it had been a disconcerting voyage from the get-go. The bureaucratic stall holding up the difficult job of lifting three nine ton casks off the dock and into the hold of the ship had finally straightened out, but the Swan should have left the dock hours ago. Captain Zack decided to go through the Panama Canal, as it would shave off quite a lot of time from the trip. That option hadn’t worked out very well either. A low-grade disaster, in fact. During the ship’s sedate ride through the canal itself, members of an environmental group called Green Peace illegally boarded The Ocean Swan to put up signs, and wave to the crowd, and it was a mad house on shore. News vans and trucks, and thousands of protesters lined the narrow waterway, and Zack dropped his head into his hands and groaned. They should have gone around the horn for a lot of reasons.   

     After the irritating and temporary invasion and scrutiny at the canal, the freighter docked at Puerto de Balboa for two days. She had to refuel and load in more supplies before the next ocean crossing. On the second night there, at one in the morning, the crew heard odd noises on the deck, and they all got up and looked around. Not finding anything, no one had an explanation for the strange sounds. Walter realigned a bag of onions right in front of his face, and the answer to that puzzle came to him. Every single one of the non-violent Green Peace group had left the ship before they’d left the canal, so what they’d heard in the middle of the night had been stowaways getting on board. Armed and dangerous ones.     

     When the Swan was roped to the commercial dock in Balboa two days ago, five eco-terrorists, dressed in black with duffle bags on their backs, crept on her at 12:55 AM. Like stygian mist, they were close to invisible on that moonless night. Their leader lifted a hatch on the front deck, and gestured to the rest to get through this opening and into the body of the ship. Following his direction, they gathered in an enclosure at the bow of the ship. It was called the chain locker, and hundreds of feet of anchor chain got stored there. Closing the heavy metal door behind them, they’d stay there for at least twenty-four hours while the ship was under power. With rations and plastic bottles to pee in during the interim, they’d hide there until the Swan was many miles off-shore before going into action. They’d wait until the only reinforcements the crew could rely on would be the frightening depth of the seawater rolling beneath them.  

     After the length of time they were relying on had passed, the well-armed group emerged from the locker. It’d been cramped in there, and they stretched out the kinks in their muscles for a couple of minutes before trotting down a narrow passage under the foredeck. They stopped in front of the bunk room, or the ‘fo’c’sle’. Harris, the leader, silently pointed at two of the men in his team. They would surprise most of the crew while they were still asleep. The other two stumbled off on the tilting floor of the corridor to hunt down the man on watch, meanwhile Harris would silently sneak into the wheelhouse and subdue the captain on his own. 

     And the two madman left in front of the bunk room door began their assault by slamming it open and flicking the ceiling lights on at the same time. Startling and blinding the half-asleep with this simple boom and flash, their unpretentious foray worked without a hitch. The brigands herded the crew up the stairs to the mess hall pointing rifles straight at them. Rebellious ideas in their heads were snuffed out by the proximity of the guns. Pushing them inside the messhall, one of the masked men ordered them to sit along on the bench against the wall. The finger of his right hand trembled. It was only a hairsbreadth away from the trigger, and these muscular roustabouts remained powerless under the one-eyed stare of the barrel of his AK47. His companion tied their hands behind their backs without a problem, and when the situation was secure, they radioed out to the others. 

 

     Shawn was on watch, and seeing armed men race towards him on the transom didn’t make him very happy. They were dressed like rejects from a grade B Zorro movie, and he would have laughed at them if they weren’t holding machine guns. He instantly tried to get to the wheel house and radio the military base in Panama for help, but when he was halfway through the hatch a bullet plowed into his left leg and he was knocked off his feet. Whoever shot him must have been very good…with luck on his side. He’d dealt with a slippery heaving deck, a gale force wind, and rain and darkness. Aiming the gun couldn’t have been easy. They got to him in seconds, and one of them held him down while the other closed the hatch. Then they picked up the injured man by his armpits, hauling him back across the transom and up the stairs to the entrance of the mess hall. They violently threw him through the door. A big wave hit the port side of the ship knocking one of the pirates off-balance. His mate grabbed his elbow in support and they turned around and wrenched the hatch-door closed against the resistance of the wind. Meanwhile, their new captive was painfully crawling to the communal bench leaving a trail of blood behind him.           

     “Shawn, are you alright? What’d those sons-of-bitches do to you?” One of the men on the bench then changed the direction of his protestations towards his captors, “Hey, come on! Let me loose! There’s a first aid kit under the counter over here.” Hands tied, he frantically nodded at where it was.        “Let me free so I can help him, damn it!”

     One of them was named Victor, the most sociopathic in the bowl of mixed-nuts, and he stared down at the handcuffed man with contempt. In Vic’s head, everyone on that bench was responsible for destroying the world. Why should he be worried about the well-being of the man he’d just shot? Of course, not all the eco-terrorists were quite that chilly. His cohort chimed in.   

     “Come on, Vic. We can let him bandage it. It doesn’t matter to us either way.”            

     “If you think we should let him free, you better ask Harris first. He’s got to be done with the captain by now. I don’t know why we haven’t heard from him yet.” 

 

     Captain Zack was brooding over the glowing radar display. The southern jog hadn’t worked. The squall tailed them towards the equator like a lap dog. He was half-heartedly listening to radio chatter coming out of the speaker above his head. He had not heard gunfire, and he didn’t hear the door behind him open either. Harris struck Zack on the head with the grip of his gun quite energetically, and the captain slipped off his cushioned chair like pudding. He ended up lying face up on the floor, and Harris didn’t want to turn the unconscious man over on his back. Using the plastic restraints he had in his pocket, he tied his wrists together in the position he was in. It didn’t matter. Facing down or up, there was nothing he could do to stop them anymore.   

     Before the mission, Harris learned everything he needed to know to navigate the freighter without help from anyone. Opening the navigational charts on the counter behind him, it only took him five minutes to find their bearings. The ship was no longer going to Japan, but they couldn’t get to work in the teeth of this storm. Glancing over at the radar, he calculated the quickest track he could find to get out of it, and then he turned back to the charts again. This nameless monster was barreling due south, so he needed to go west-northwest. They should be out of the worst of it in twelve hours, and Harris typed in the new coordinates into the auto-pilot. The Ocean Swan would stay on its new path without any more of his attention, and he deftly nudged the levers next to the captain’s chair. He increased their speed by a hair. Bending over, he checked the pulse of the mound of pudding on the floor. He saw some color in his face, and his eyelids were fluttering slightly indicating he’d probably wake up soon. He answered the ongoing buzzing coming out of the radio on his belt.

      “This is Harris. It’s over and done. The ship is ours. I assume your objectives were completed without incident.” 

      Victor responded to his leader’s statement with cold composure, “Yes, everything is done. The crew is in the mess hall, and you’re right, the boat is ours.”  

     “Hey, what about letting me see to Shawn’s leg, you assholes!” 

Harris could hear the screaming in the background.        

     “It was only a flesh wound, boss, just a nick. I had to stop him from getting to you and the captain. No worries.” 

     Harris knew about Victor’s disregard for anyone who didn’t understand his idea of the truth, and he probably wasn’t telling him what was really wrong with the guy.              

     “Vic, let him take care of the injury. Think about it for a minute. Our prisoners will be more compliant and less aggressive if we give them a little bit of leeway. I’m ordering you to be more-easy going, okay.” 

     And he abruptly cut the connection, and leaned back in the captain’s chair. Staring through the safety-resistant windshield into the black turbulence surrounding the ship, Harris stayed in that position for a very long time before he ordered two of his men to transport Captain Zack to his own quarters. Traveling along the thin corridors and down steep steps before they got to his cabin, the captain hung there as dead weight between them until they tossed him onto his cot. They attached plastic restraints on his ankles, looping a small chain between them to anchor him to the leg of the bunk. In consideration, they gave him just enough play in the chain to get to his privy on the other side of the tiny cabin. Then they left him still unconscious on the bed. Coming to forty-five minutes later, he found himself cuffed and chained to the leg of his cot. Why he was in that position was a question he couldn’t answer, no matter how hard he tried. Why would anyone want the poisonous crap he was hauling around? The ludicrousness of his plight didn’t change the fact he had to act. There was a threat to his life and those of his crew, and he had to get his boat back. He began to think over his limited choices. Tied up in his cabin like a calf in a rodeo was not something he would tolerate. The so-called cuffs were only plastic after all. The motherfucker who’d knocked him out must have been pretty stupid, because his expensive lighter was still nestled in the back pocket of his jeans. Getting off the cot, he stayed on his knees and twisted around and rubbed the pocket against the edge of the wood under the mattress. The lighter popped out onto the cot. Turning around, he grabbed at it, and when he snagged it, he flicked it on with his thumb. He angled the flame towards the thinnest part of the plastic around his wrists. Some of his skin was very close to the ongoing heat, but he had no choice in the matter. He’d deal with the discomfort. He needed to be free. After three hours of stopping and starting with second degree burns on his left wrist and part of the pad of his right thumb, he’d finally stretched the plastic out enough to get his left hand out of the cuff. It was easy to undo his ankles without any pain or needed patience. With the extended length he had with his arms free, he’d been able to reach his footlocker. It was in the small closet in the far corner of the cabin, and he knew there were wire cutters in it. After two powerful snips to the heavy plastic around his ankles, Zack violently kicked the chain and the cuffs across the wooden floor. Still boiling with frustration, this small freedom wasn’t even close to his ultimate goal. 

     On a high shelf in the locker next to the porthole, were an array of different sized bandages and the EPIRB. All commercial crafts are instructed to have the Emergency Position-indicating Radio Beacon on board. It was mandatory. The one on the Ocean Swan was the size of a paperback book. There was nothing on it but a red button and a small light. Zack took it off the shelf and instantly hit the button. As the light lit, so did his hopes. The instant signal he’d started was bouncing off a satellite to be picked up by any coast guard station or military base within a thousand mile radius. A hail from an EPIRB is a dire one; screaming out across the wild and salty as far as it can go: The ship was grievously damaged and she is probably sinking. Getting the digitally advanced radio message, the military bases automatically send the stricken craft’s coordinates out on a single-sideband wave to any vessel in the immediate vicinity.  Hearing that reintroduced hail, those within range tried to get there as fast as they could. 

     Hitting the panic-button, Captain Zack knew the cavalry was on their way, yet that hadn’t been enough to calm him. He didn’t know how far away the closest ship might be, and he curled up on his mattress to worry and wait for help. With a collection of fervent prayers from the bottom of his heart straight to heaven, the hours crawled by like slugs ‘till they stopped in their tracks and died. As he pled to God that their rescuers would show up sooner than later, he was terrified it was already way too late.

     On her new west-northwest journey, the Ocean Swan kept bucking thirty-five foot waves. It took her twenty-four hours, not twelve, to reach the tranquility the eco-terrorists needed for their project. As soon as he realized it was finally flat enough, Harris lowered their speed to five knots, and he left it there; didn’t want to use extra fuel if he didn’t have to. Just enough to remain stationary in a sea with waves cresting at ten feet, and they’d face those waves and maintain that relationship for as long as they needed to. It’s time to get to work. Well, almost time. It was three hours until dawn, and he wouldn‘t use the hydraulics in the dark.

     When the sun seared above the horizon, Harris woke up his team, and sent them all out on their respective duties. Wilson, who had experience with on-board hydraulics, place himself into the metal seat welded to the deck in front of the controls. He started by opening the oversized hatch doors in the middle of the main deck. Looking through the large window in the wheel house, Harris knew the other men were busy arranging a web of steel around one of the casks inside the hold itself. They wanted to toss all three of the containers into the Pacific, and then escape, believing this absurdity would shock the world into stopping the dangerous practice of shipping radioactive waste across the Atlantic and then the Pacific…only to go through the entire trip all over again. In their badly disjointed reality, they didn’t think they were hurting anything. They believed the lead containers would remain impervious down there on the bottom forever, and none of the radiation would ever leak out. In this ridiculous forecast of theirs, ‘real’ terrorists might commandeer a freighter just like this one and free the glass rods inside the casks to poison a city with them or something.  

     When their heroic plan was done, they’d get away from the Swan in a dinghy to rendezvous with a larger boat waiting for them a couple of miles away. Harris had been updating the captain of their escape-boat about their changing location on the sideband, and he had just ordered him to come in close as they were about to escape within the hour. It was time for the final act, and after that definitive communication, he shut all radio contact with the rest of the world down. 

     In the beginning, Zack hadn’t wanted it. He hadn’t wanted to move that poisonous junk. However, he was going belly up financially, about to lose everything, including his ship. Since, the power companies were eager to pay through the nose, offering him an exorbitant fee, what was he supposed to do? Either he did it or he would fold. 

     Looking out of his porthole, it was getting brighter outside. He couldn’t figure out why the hatch-doors were wide open. Why would they want to get to the casks in the middle of nowhere? Whatever the reason, it seemed he had no way to stop them. He had no gun. Nobody on the Swan did. As he watched, the winch rotated over the hold, and he actually cringed. They’d set up the metallic net around one of the casks, and Zack’s fists clenched with frustration. Besides the physical danger they were in, a more terrible truth made him feel even worse. He’d be sent straight to the poorhouse if those bastards stole his transport. 

     And things were getting worse by the second. Now sweating bullets, he looked out towards the horizon, and he noticed an itsy-bitsy speck out there. Was it what he was waiting for? Stepping over to his locker, he grabbed his binoculars. His hands were trembling, and it was hard for him to get them in focus, but when he did, he smiled. It was a frigate…military. Couldn’t read her name on the bow, but he guessed it was American or British. It was the help he’d triggered the EPIRB to bring, and it was almost there. It would knock those dopes right on their asses. Flatten them in a New York minute, and this sudden optimism gave him the courage he needed; the mettle to go into action and work alone. He’d stop what they were doing…or slow them down anyway, before the hammer falls. It was obvious the whole group was very busy, so when he slipped out of his cabin and down the passageway, no one noticed. Besides, he needed to hold onto to his radioactive gold, and he’d come up with a plan to do just that. 

 

     Harris’s attention was glued to the main deck, and he was blind to the small blip on the radar screen behind him, nor did he acknowledge the speck slowly growing on the horizon line. It was a Navy frigate, and it was bearing down on them at thirty-seven knots. Not the fastest clip the USS Nickolas could truly do, but it was adequate for the circumstances. At the moment, the eco-terrorists didn’t know they only had forty-five minutes left before everything they were doing would end abruptly. 

     Wilson was controlling the hydraulic winch, and Harris was on a personal intercom with him, while the rest of the men helped by giving him last minute advice. After fifteen minutes of their careful coaxing, the nine ton barrel, wrapped in a steel cradle, hung twenty-five feet above the deck by a thick cable coming from the crane. In this particular part of the transfer, Harris had to make sure the freighter remained stable in the unpredictable appearance and height of the waves. The ship was still on auto pilot, but one of his hands stayed on the jog lever. A sudden shift in the wind or the arrival of a rogue wave would call for an instant course correction. 

      Captain Zack was silently opening the wheel house door behind Harris, wanting to return the same thing the bastard had done to him the day with gusto. He was holding a book about piloting in his hands, and it was a big book. Those extra twenty pounds would help him to seal the deal. He’d gotten so close…inches away, when the asshole twisted around and ducked, and punched him hard in the belly. Harris was twenty years younger than Zack and that gave him an edge. However, the captain was bigger and he had a lot more experience under his belt in hand to hand combat, and at that point, he also had a lot more adrenaline in his blood stream. Balancing the factors involved, it turned out to be an even match, and the men wrestled back and forth across the small room. In way too close, their punches had little effect. Harris shoved Zack against the closed door, and he’d leaned backwards and raised his right hand for a killer blow into his opponent’s thorax. He’d used up half-a-second to get the distance he needed, leaving a chink in his defensive armor, and Zack used it to push him backwards like a human piston. Harris was then off-balance, and the captain aimed his own punch at the bridge of his nose. And then the ship lurched over a ten foot wave, and Zack missed, hitting him in the throat instead. It also threw Harris straight into the jog lever, and the boat rudders were instantly wrenched twenty degrees to port. After being punched hard in the gullet, Harris’s head crashed into the shelves behind him with so much force he was out for the count, falling unconscious to the floor. The ferocious fight had ushered in the exact opposite of his previous diligence in stabilizing the Swan. The freighter had plunged sideways and an even bigger wave hurtled into her broadside, tilting the deck in a steep pitch. The tension on the cable holding the cask in the air increased as the downward slope had turned into a tighter and tighter angle. 

     And then it snapped. The thick steel of the cable lashed across the deck as if it was alive, and the lead cask bounced off the starboard rail and into the ocean as if it was made out of papier-mâché. After an extraordinary recoil like that, the container sank so fast it didn’t look natural. The Ocean Swan had been moving sideways across the surface of the water, and in the first millisecond of the cask’s descent, the stern of the ship had raced right over it. One of the ship’s swirling props, edges sharp as a razors, had sliced into the lead of the cask like a hot knife in butter. It was only a small wound, but the cut was certainly deep enough to matter. The prop had gotten in. It had nicked the glass skin of one of the twenty-eight rods packed tight inside the barrel. As it tumbled end over end to its resting place on the bottom of the Pacific, the small scratch in its side would be the last ingredient to generate something; awaken and animate an unknown force remaining hidden in the vast depths for years. Now, it didn’t matter whether the poisonous rods stayed where they were in the lead-lined cask or somehow got completely free of it, to somersault the rest of the way down to the sandy bottom like oversized radioactive toothpicks. 

     His fight with Harris was clearly over. Captain Zack had his wheel house back, for the moment anyway. Using the jog lever, he turned the Swan back into the waves again, before checking Harris out on the floor. He was knocked-out cold. Zack was confidant the outlaw was out of the running for a good long time. Re-setting the autopilot, he left the wheel house. He’d really screwed things up royally for the pirates, and he was happy he’d stayed in one piece in the process. Nevertheless, it seemed prudent to hide again, and he squeezed himself into a crawl space in the short corridor coming out of the wheel house with the intention of stay there until soldiers from the frigate had gotten on board. 

 

     Three of them had been standing on the deck, while another two crouched in the hold when everything went nuts. Wilson was in the chair welded to the deck, slack-jawed as the cable snapped and a clump of frayed steel threads sprouted out of the end of it; a snake’s head moving wildly above their heads. Ducking out of the way of the cable, Victor tried to get Harris on the radio, but he’d gotten no answer. Seconds later, Wilson was tossed out of the chair, and in the process of getting back on his feet, he was bowled over again in a different way. He saw the USS Nicholas closing in, and it was maybe only ten miles away. He knew they’d be on top of them in half-an-hour, and he whistled to his cohorts and pointed to the northeast. They all saw it too, and it was more than likely their goose was cooked. They’d pick up their skirts and run anyway, and Vic came up with new orders to his cronies in the hold.   

     “You guys get to the chain locker and get our wet suits. We’ll meet you at the stern as soon as we can. Something must have happened in the wheel house, and I’m going up there to check on Harris.”  

     Wilson and the other men on the deck, followed Victor to the wheel house. Being in a hurry, wasn’t the correct description of their frantic demeanor as they burst into the room. Panic was already skittering through their eyes when they saw Harris motionless on the floor. Victor kneeled and checked his pulse. He tried to wake him up with a very brisk slap, but their leader stayed dead to the world. Vic looked up at the others, shaking his head and a mournful expression took over on his face. There was no time to revive him, and they couldn’t bring him along as dead weight. Since there were no other options, they left him behind to continue their frenetic race to meet Billy at the stern of the ship. They had to put on the wetsuits, inflate the dinghy and use their own small beacon to signal the getaway boat exactly where they’d be when they got into the water.

 

     “Sir, I still can’t get anything out of them on the radio.” 

      The communication officer turned around on his seat, relaying the news to Captain Peterson on the bridge of the USS Nicholas. 

      Another officer scanned the entire length of the Ocean Swan with a pair of binoculars, “I can’t see anyone on any of the decks and I don’t see anybody in the wheel house either. They’re running at five knots into the waves, so it’s got to be on autopilot. What are your orders, sir?” 

     “Rustle up a copter for us, Lieutenant. We’ll know soon enough what’s going on over there if we drop six men on her in battle gear.”

     The USS Nicholas had three SH-60 Seahawk helicopters on board, and only eleven minutes elapsed after Peterson’s order before heavily armed soldiers shimmied down ropes from the belly of one the copters hovering over the main deck of the Ocean Swan. Whatever control the eco-terrorists may have had on the ship was clearly washed away at that point. 

     Three of the soldiers un-cuffed the crew in the mess hall, and the others went to the wheel-house to find Harris on the wooden floor. Captain Zack appeared in the doorway, hands up, and he told them who he was and what he’d done to the man in black unconscious at their feet. He went on to tell them he had no idea where the rest of the violent lunatics had gone, suggesting that when they do find them, they should simply throw them over board. 

     The officer who’d come along with the men from the USS Nicholas radioed Captain Peterson telling him what they’d found out so far. He was ordered to search the rest of the ship; top to bottom. Flush out whoever might be left. Peterson got off the line with him, and connected to the helicopter pilot, telling him to grid-search the water around the freighter for the rest of the criminals. The pilot quickly located the remaining eco-terrorists. They’d been floating just seven hundred feet away from the freighter. The poor sods had pulled the cord and inflated the dinghy. They got into it and paddled away as far as they could, knowing it was already over and they really wouldn’t get away. A motorized launch holding more armed men emerged from the Navy ship to collect them. None of them picked up a gun or raised a hand in protest, knowing what would happen to them if they did. They were tossed into the brig on the lowest deck in the frigate, while their still insensate trail-blazer lay chained on a cot in the clinic. 

      Bouncing off the steel-rail of the Swan and into the ocean, the grievously punctured cask tumbled downwards to end up sitting on the edge of a volcanic rift, one hundred and seventy-five feet wide and two and half miles deep. And it lay on this gently sloped sand for six hours before its impressive weight began to make a difference. It started to slowly slide closer to the nearby abyss…inch by inch. 

   

     Peterson quickly learned about the fate of one the casks that had been stored in the hold of the Ocean Swan. He deployed their unmanned submarine to search for the lost container. The cameras on the small sub relayed information to the screen on the bridge of the frigate, and someone was watching the ongoing feed. So far, it was nothing but grainy static. The purring motor of the sub propelled it over the bottom for hours before they saw it, and it looked fine. They assumed it was unblemished. Why shouldn’t it be? The damaged side of the cask was squashed into the sand, nevertheless, not knowing about that abysmal problem hadn’t diminished the worry hounding the Captain. The container was sitting on a volcanic rift, and the blurry image of the situation did not underline the gravity of it. The sonar of the bottom did, and Captain Peterson wanted to retrieve it as fast as he could. He wanted to put it back into the hold of the Ocean Swan, and send the freighter on its merry way back to Japan. Mulling over how he might achieve that goal, he remembered what had happened when the EPIRB had gone off on the Swan. A research ship called the Equinox, had been racing to her coordinates. He’d turned them away, assuming they could handle the emergency without any help…and ninety-nine times out of a hundred, his decision would have been the correct one. How on earth could he have known this was to be the long shot? The cask was three miles down and they didn’t have the equipment to bring it up, and the Equinox did, and that vexed him. He was about to ask them to turn around and come back. It would take at least two hours for them to arrive, and he didn’t think anyone had that extra time. 

     The instant the Equinox got there, The USS Nicholas gave them the exact coordinates. Their science team quickly sent the drone to the bottom to scope things out. The images coming up were extremely informative in a bad way. There was nothing there. An empty hollow pressed into the sand elongated to a wide track ending at the edge of the rift. There was no way to get to it now. The radioactive glass rods were forever out of reach. 

     During its second unlucky voyage, the lead barrel rebounded from one side of the narrow chasm to the other, radiation flooding out of the gash in its wall in a nonstop flow. The cask ending up wedged between two stony outcroppings jutting eight feet over a volcanic fissure. The devilishness of its position was so awful it almost refuted the concept of coincidence as an ongoing plume of scalding water jetted out of the crack right below it, passing over the curved metal of the container like affectionate fingers from hell. Magma bubbling just under the earth’s crust at that particular section of the ocean floor was responsible for the ongoing infernal level of heat. The spent fuel rods would hang there forever in those lightless depths. Nothing could unseat it but an earthquake. Any molecular relationships in this upwelling boiling river would begin to warp out of true, and that abnormal deformation would expand and reach hundreds of miles of the Pacific Ocean. 

     On the surface, Captain Peterson came up with a different list of things to do, beginning with a call to an Admiral he knew for guidance. An older and wiser oracle, he hoped the man would help him with a logical assessment of the facts, and how he should deal with it. With the input he got during the call, he then explained to the liberated crew of the Ocean Swan that they’d be paid for three casks when they got to the nuclear plant on the coast of Japan. The American government would take care of the discrepancy, and the Japanese authorities don’t care what happened to the missing cask. They would remain tight-lipped over its disappearance, and the crew and the captain of the Ocean Swan would be just as reticent. They didn’t want this to go public, afraid that the ongoing transport of nuclear waste over the oceans may stop. Officers at the highest tier of America’s military would simply skew the story, permanently removing any evidence of what had taken place, and slickly re-write the historical truth. If no one knew about it, what had gone wrong hadn’t really happened. Everything would be fine. Right as rain. 

     Walter’s camouflage had worked. He’d lived through hours of isolation, nibbling on some of the provisions around him and creeping out of the pantry and into the head on the other side of the galley when he really needed to. When he heard a helicopter engine, he’d hoped it was a sign they were about to be saved, and when the door of the pantry slammed opened minutes later, he peeked out from behind a bag of potatoes. A man in a Navy uniform was towering over him, and Walter wriggled out from his pile of bags with his hands up and a smile on his face. 

     Navy officers interviewed everyone in the crew while they scoured every inch of the freighter to remove anything that would support what had taken place. After a day and a half, their job done. The USS Nickolas disappeared into the distance, and the Ocean Swan resumed her trip to Japan. She was a little bit lighter…and maybe a few feet higher in the water, but everyone on board forgot about why that was. Zack was more than thankful that his payment was going to stay the same. 

     On the second morning of their renewed voyage, Walter was leaning against the jamb of door leading into the mess hall, drying his hands off with a work towel. He’d just served a sedate meal to the men, and he was enjoying the sunlight beaming in on him, and then he looked up. There was only blue sky up there, occasionally dotted with a cumulous cloud. It was supposed to stay tranquil for the rest of their trip to the coast. He could hear them babble as they ate their meal, and they sounded giddy, yet their optimism couldn’t help him. Walter’s spirit was in turmoil, and lowbrow humor and calm seas wasn’t enough to soothe him. Only the men on the Navy ship had known exactly where the Swan had been at the end of the debacle. At 37’ N 145’ W they’d been right in the center of the stagnant eye of the Northern Pacific Gyre in its slow migration north, and what difference would that make?

     Even though Walter hadn’t known about that possibly devastating trivia, things weren’t lining-up properly in his head nonetheless. As if a bad moon was rising, his powerful premonition would not go away; an unspeakable thing would soon be let loose on land and in the sea. Of course, it was only a feeling, and he kept on trying to ignore it as hard as he could.