One man, two worlds; both hang in the balance
THE RIDGEWALKERS: INTRO & CHAPTER I
DARKNESS DESCENDED FROM THE LAST MINUTES OF LIGHT...
It is the time of power, the thin red line. The hunter reloaded after firing several rounds into a fast-moving shape holding a child. Cynthos was hit with a dart while shielding the child, protecting him as she collapsed in a small thicket of brush.
Myceium was also injured when a bullet ricocheted off a rock and hit her. The attackers on the ridge held a tactical advantage.
Curt, directed his men with clear commands. He still had two tranquilizer darts he could fire from his rifle.
Saxono wove through the forest and brush, quickly approaching the ridge. He sprinted across an open area, closing in on the rock outcrop above him where the gunmen were. Suddenly, he felt the sting of a dart and then a second. Curt’s aim was true, yet Saxono kept approaching until Kelly fired off several rounds, grazing his head and hitting both legs.
Saxono was pinned next to a log as the drug slowly began taking effect. He used his last remaining energy to get to a hidden place before he collapsed.
Pat pressed his mike. “Jed’s KIA, approaching threat, out.”
I jumped up, ran and grabbed the Glock pistol laying on the ground. My Coast Guard training came back to me in a flash. I flattened out, shooting in the direction of the attacker in military gear, forcing him behind cover. I fired two more rounds, pinning him down.
On the ridgeline, Curt and Kelly Pat momentarily hung back because of limited visibility. The thump, thump, thump of rotor blades from a helicopter whirled in the distance, getting louder as it approached. The full moon sat above the ridgeline, rising into the night sky.
Back on the ridge, Curt talked excitedly in his headset. “Secure perimeter, and prepare for package lift in five minutes.”
I never thought I would find myself again in a survival mode from the recent boat incident.
— From Ridgewalkers
Existence flourished elsewhere; humanity blissfully unaware of the distant planet’s impending doom. Budding forests teemed with life, and mountains continued harvesting prospect dancing along the skyline. An unusual visual in the sky illuminated the planets close, with starry patterns unlike that of earth. TeeGarden, remained over 12 trillion miles away, but not on this night.
The rock that had been hurled through the disk now traveled at warp speed in a traversable wormhole, into and through stellar space.
The wormhole broke up accordingly, twisting itself to an unpredictable location with that dull, shimmering rock streaking to earth as a small shooting star entering the upper atmosphere.
The celestial galaxy was alive and moving in the night sky as the rock descended downward, down into blue gray cloud. A roaring wind grew louder as clouds broke, closing from 9000 feet, descending fast, revealing breaking waves on a dark, angry sea. Fading in from 2000 feet above, a Fishing Trawler bounced about in a place known for rough, confused seas. The atmospheric rock hit the ocean’s surface a mile in front of the trawler, sinking to the black bottom, landing with a small puff.
A large school of cod swam over the top of the rock, fighting, feeding, and mating. Fearful, the school felt something unnerving out there. Large claw marks were revealed across the ocean floor. Unnatural, the fish knew they were survivors. Though careful, they realized too late an even darker force set upon them as a cloud of ocean bottom rose to engulf them as a net closes in all around.
Going against their instincts to retreat while trapped with hundreds of others, the school was inexorably being pulled to the surface. A sudden change of water pressure bulged their panicked eyes as the fish, forced together, and pulled tight in the net like a drawstring on a bag. All amidst the loud sound of gears and splashing waves, the bag was lifted aboard the trawler’s floodlit stern.
There was no escape.
In controlled releases, deckhands shouted, and the winch boom controlled the drawstrings on the net from above. Fish were poured down a hatch into the belly of the beast, the factory part of a trawler, one part of the bag at a time.
A back ‘aft’ bin held the fish as deckhands released them onto conveyor belts, being pushed along by processors, wearing orange or green Helly Hanson raingear with thick gloves on. A few worked the saws, three in a row, with conveyor troughs running from them, heads to the left, bodies to the right. Blood spattered everywhere as two hands grabbed each and held them sideways, pushing through the saw. Zip, zip, the body went one way, headed for “slime-line.” Processor’s gutted, washed and then placed the fish by size in aluminum trays, ready for the plate freezer.
Fish heads flowed with blank stares on a belt, stabilized by side rails, some not quite dead yet, moving upward and out a porthole, returned to the cold, infinite sea. Over and over, the cod went up in one net haul, their heads returned.
Fading into death, a codfish head traveled up the trough, taking its last blurry look at these beings in their water skins amidst the sounds of a factory, and the background of 90’s pop and mariachi music from Michoacán, Mexico.
Gina, the factory foreman in orange bib-overall Grunden raingear, began barking commands, organizing her crew for maximum output.
“Get this right! Move fast when those plate freezers open and we break the frozen fish from the pans and box them for the freezer hold. Speedo, dammit!” she shouted over the sounds of engine gears, mariachi music and the smell of fish guts. Everything remained in motion, synchronized with the crashing sea outside.
“Don’t think I don’t see you lazy slackers at the fiber stamping area, spending time pulling each other’s weenies and not getting shit done! You both want an hour in the freezer?” Gina quickly snapped before descending into the freezer hold.
She understood she had to drive her point hard so these crewmembers knew not to kill everyone.
“Alright morons, listen up! Move boxes evenly port and starboard, so nothing shifts. Don’t make us list, capsizing the ship, then we are food for the fish… not the other way around.”
To emphasize the importance to her crew, Gina brought home her point, screamed loudly and stamping her foot. “Don’t screw this up or we die!”
Travis, a fish processor, says, “then what?”
Gina stepped right in his face, his giggling halted.
“Then my ghost will come back and haunt your ghost hard, you hear me?”
Crewmembers, gaunt and somber, stood like frozen zombies as ice crystals from each breath froze on exhale. They had to keep moving, the freezer was a bone cold place.
Leaving the craziness and noise downstairs, the assistant factory foreman Gaspar, a strong, but short, dark haired man from Paraguay, yelled to Gina, “be right back with break food.” He made his way two steps from the factory through the raingear dry room, using the passageway past the staterooms and laundry machines up the stairwell to the galley. The boat movements rolled and pitched, with soft mesh half full laundry bags hanging from small hooks, now swinging in the passageway he walked past.
Alex Boldway, the night cook, saw Gaspar.
“It’s all set up,” Alex said.
Gaspar looks up at Alex with hands in the air.
“Hand down thermoses first.”
Alex passed down the large rectangle thermoses with coffee and hot water with a plastic bag of tea bags and sugar packets, ready to take back down for a fifteen-minute break. “I gotta get to these floors, they’re looking pretty bad.” Alex lamented
He also silently lamented how he wound up on the trawler. Standing near six feet, with short dark hair and mustache, keeping in good shape from a lifetime of hiking through the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Hungry for work and knew he had to do something once leaving his Coast Guard service. Alex was a hard worker. His reminder, the thing which kept him going was her picture in his pocket, close by. The now faded image brought fond memories, if but for a moment. Desperation goes to the strangest places.
Near midnight, mast navigation lights showing green over white, trawling at night light configuration, the fishing trawler Rebecca Irene is cod fishing near Unimak pass, separating the Gulf of Alaska with the Bering sea.
Alex decides to check in with the skipper up in the wheelhouse. Ascending the stairs, he pokes his head above the cabinet on the upper steps.
“Cap’n, got a plate down here if you’re hungry.”
“Thanks, Alex, I’ll be down soon.” The skipper was on edge, looking tense as sheets of rain pelted all the windows with a deep, low, persistent howl outside. Standing at five foot five, thin and strong with curly black hair. he needed a shave. everything moved in pitches and rolls illuminated by an array of electronics around the radar screen. the seas, thirty feet, with wind blowing south at sixty knots. Rough seas were not ideal conditions for bottom fishing but the 1995 cod season was closing the next day in the area trawled so they would have to move.
A new first mate stepped up on watch and relieving the captain. He headed downstairs for a late dinner and much-needed rest.
Deck hands wearing full Grunden rain gear and being pelted by sheets of rain began winching a large haul of cod, but the net hung up on something along the seafloor. Cables were straining and felt on the back deck as waves under the boat slackened and tightened as they pulled into the winch drums.
The trawler began dragging backward into a large swell as the back hatch was still open after the remaining net of fish were being dropped below deck.
The factory processors worked hard and fast to get the remaining fish into the freezer on the lowest deck, running athwart from port to starboard.
Alex finished and glanced at the aft deck access door. It was open so deck hands could grab a snack if there was time. He heard splashing that sounded close by, so Alex hopped over and dogged the door closed.
No sooner had he closed it and turned to walk away when a wave rushed forward. The door stopped the rush of seawater from entering the galley and staterooms. But this was just the leftover water. The main swell washed into the open aft hatch and flooded the lower deck in the fish processing area and the trawler began listing to one side.
Alex knew something was wrong, everything was flying at him, the lights flickering as the vessel started to flip. Alex stood sideways on a bulkhead hanging on inside the galley.
Everything momentarily went dark. the sound of rushing water heard clearly as he felt the boat slowly flip over.
Alex’s life flashed before him, transporting him to another time.
Darkness mingled with yells, barely audible over the bellowing sound of an angry, frothing cold sea.