"Sink or Swim"
Part I

November, 1999
Stallions Gate, NM

Admiral Al Calavicci closed his eyes as he held the tip of the cigar to
the flame, then reached for the slip of paper, smiling slightly.

It had been years since he'd spoken with Bruce Knox - they'd been
friends for a long time, even back to when Al was still married to Beth.
Then, a couple of years before Starbright, they'd started to drift apart
as Al buried himself in work, and, later, alcohol. Al had talked with
him a few times since then, but never for long.

Needless to say, when he found out he had a message from Bruce, Al was
both surprised and delighted. Now, he began to feel slightly
apprehensive as he sat behind his desk and contemplated what he was
supposed to say.

In the end, though, there was nothing for it but to just call and see
what was on his friend's mind.

"Knox residence."

Al blinked in surprise, feeling ridiculously astonished to hear his
friend's voice again. Something was off. "Bruce?"

An immediate concern registered in the voice on the other end. "Al?
Thank God..."

Al leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on the desktop. "I
don't hear from you in years and now you sound as if someone's died-" He
broke off, realizing the comment would be in incredibly poor taste
should it happen to be true.

"Do you remember Karen?"

Al resisted the urge to reply sharply, reminding himself that the man
sounded upset. Of course he remembered Karen; how could he not?! True,
he hadn't seen her in years, but he remembered her.

She was his goddaughter.

Al hadn't been married when she was born and so a friend of Janet's
(Bruce's wife) had been chosen to be the child's godmother. They'd been
living nearby when Karen was born and Al had fond memories of her as a
little girl: she was always laughing, exploring, singing, whatever
caught her sparkling green eyes. And Al adored her.

"Of course I do. Bruce, what's going on?"

"Al..." His voice trembled and he swallowed audibly. "She's gone. She
took off last night and-"

"Gone?" Al interrupted, worried. "What do you mean? She ran away?" He
stopped for an instant to do the mental math. She was born in March of
`83, so she'd be about...16.

"Oh, Al, I really messed up on this one..."

Al sighed. "Okay, what happened?"

"I - we got into a fight last evening."

"About?"

Bruce ignored the question. "She's got a friend in Santa Fe - you live
near there, don't you?" The tone was pleading, but Al was instantly
reluctant.

"Oh...Bruce, I don't really think that-"

"Will you talk to her? If I give you the address, will you make sure she
doesn't get hurt or..." He exhaled heavily. "Please, Al."

Al rubbed his face with his free hand. They were old friends; he was
Karen's godfather; he owed them that much. "Where am I headed?"

"There's something else you need to know..."

~~~~~~
September, 1986
Gulf of Alaska, AK

The barn door turned out to be anything but, although Sam could quickly
see how it got its name. As the flickering white mass arose through the
ocean, it began to take on a massive, solid form. Sam's companion had
practically laughed in delight, leaving Sam even more amazed when he
realized that the source of all the excitement was...

A fish.

No fooling.

It was a huge fish, at least 6  feet in length and it felt like it
weighed a ton. Sam immediately realized the purpose of the stick in his
hand as the man reached over the side and plunged the nail into the pure
white side, pulling hard to lift it over the rail. The leaper watched,
amazed.

"Stop gaping and help!" the man yelled.

Sam scrambled to obey, leaning over and attaining a solid hold of his
own. They hauled the animal over the blue painted edge and into a bin to
their right.

"Five more of those beauties and we've got it for this area."

"Oh..." Sam said uncertainly. "Good." *Okay, Al, any day now...*

"Beats all the chickens we had earlier." He glanced behind himself, then
shook his head and rolled his eyes.

*Chickens?*

"Do you want to coil?" someone called from behind and Sam suddenly
realized there were more than just the two of them out on deck.

A man with dusty blonde hair and agitated hazel eyes sat on the other
side of the table. He was behind some kind of reel and Sam immediately
grasped that the line being pulled up was fed through to this man. He
hoped.

"Allen?"

He turned at the female voice just behind him to his left. A woman who
looked to only be in her mid-twenties stood, clad in the same orange
rain jacket as the other two, and smiled hesitantly at him. "Y-yes?"

"Steve wants you." She pointed to the man behind the reel and he noticed
she held a knife in one hand and a blue laundry basket in the other.

Shaking his head, he plodded as best as he could in the violent rocking
motion towards Steve. This leap was getting weirder by the minute!
Obviously, the woman thought he hadn't heard over the wind and waves and
motor...

Steve stood up from behind the machine and Sam noticed he had been
seated on a plastic tub turned upside down. "You take over," he
instructed. "You seem to be having trouble keeping your feet and we
already lost one good-sized halibut today because you let it fall off
the line before you had a secure hold on it."

The tone of the man's voice wasn't as hostile as the other's had been,
but it was stern, like a teacher scolding a student. Sam gathered he was
new at this game.

Sam took his place behind the device and the other man started the motor
running again.

"Careful how you coil that line, Sam. If you don't lay the hooks in
right, they'll all tangle and you'll spend hours when you have to bait
up again."

"Al!" By this point, Steve was over on the starboard side of the boat
helping Sam's new tormentor and the woman was standing at the table
slicing fish open, singing a song to herself that Sam couldn't hear over
the noise. "Thank goodness you're here."

Al, dressed in a deep blue jacket with gray trim to accommodate his
charcoal shirt and tie, pulled the cigar from his mouth. "Yeah, you look
a little lost, here, Sam..."

"No kidding! Al, I have no clue what I'm doing and...on top of that..."
He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead.

"Sam! Watch what you're doing!" Al yelled and Sam reopened his eyes to
see the line rapidly becoming a confused tangle before his eyes. He
glanced up to see that neither Steve nor... what's-his-name noticed.
"Just dump that snag in the middle and...Sam..." Al wrinkled his nose.
"You're starting to turn a little green, there."

"What am I doing here, Al?" Sam asked tightly.

"Look up at the horizon as much as you can," Al instructed patiently.
"It'll help a bit." He shook his head. "This is a little wooden boat.
About 67 feet, Sam. They get tossed around in this weather like a cork
in a-"

"_Al_..." Sam pleaded.

Al raised an eyebrow. "Sorry. But you know what they say about motion
sickness: it won't kill you, but you'll wish it did."

"Thanks. Don't tell me," Sam started, trying to get his mind off the
sloshing motion of his stomach (especially difficult as Al kept calling
attention to it). What he wouldn't give for dry land! "You were a
fishermen, weren't you?"

"Briefly," Al stated. "Actually, some of the old Navy vessels have been
converted for commercial use up here."

"Where is here?"

"Alaska."

Sam almost fell off the tub, and it had nothing to do with the motion of
the boat. "Alaska?!" Al nodded his confirmation. "Are you serious about
the Navy thing?"

"Sure," Al assured him, waving the cigar around. He was the only steady
thing in the rocking of the scenery around Sam and the leaper made a
mental note to see if Ziggy could at least _simulate_ the action. No
reason he should be the only one with motion sickness. "I don't know a
whole lot about it, but it's been done."

"Al, can you help me out here? I don't know the terminology, I don't
know what I'm supposed to be doing..."

"Okay," Al said, pulling out the handlink, "first thing's first. It's
September 5, 1986 and you're in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska in what
looks like...oooh, an approaching storm. Winds up to 40 knots, seas
reaching 25 to 30 feet..."

Sam thought he might be sick. Literally. "Do they know?"

"What?" Al asked, then caught himself. "Oh, sure they know. They've got
weather reports coming in constantly and they all have GPS systems, so
they know where they are. That's part of the reason, I think, that
they're trying to get this set in so fast. But she's slowing them down."

Sam looked up at the woman who was writing something down on a
clipboard, glancing up at the two men across from Sam from time to time.
"What? How?"

Al shook his head. "We'll come to that. Your name is Allen Gorbsky.
You're 24 years old and you have been out on draggers and pot boats for
about three years now. This is your first time on a longliner."

"What's that?" Sam asked, faintly impatient.

"We're getting to that," Al assured him.

"So you keep saying," Sam grumbled to himself, but kept working.

Al looked curiously at him and Sam wondered if he'd heard the comment.
"So, that should work to your advantage, because you're not entirely
supposed to know what you're doing, anyhow, and nobody should expect you
to be as fast or as good at it as Elliot over there."

"Elliot?" Sam questioned, swallowing hard as another wave of nausea
assaulted him. At least the fresh air was helping. He sucked in a deep
breath. "Al, I'm getting too old for this - by the time you're done
beating around the bush, I'll be dead!"

"Oh, su-ure. Miss the days when you were my age?" he inquired without
batting an eye.

"Elliot?" Sam repeated, choosing to ignore the tangent by denying it
ever existed.

"Yeah, Elliot McPoland. He's been at this business for a good twelve
years, now. He's 32, never married, although he's got two kids...with
two different women." Al raised his eyebrows, but, mercifully, refrained
from comment. "He grew up in Milfred, Arizona, and came up here when he
was 16. Went a couple years to some small community college just outside
of Anchorage before ending up at a plant on Kodiak Island, sorting fish.
>From there on out, he got a job on a longliner and has been alternating
between a few boats ever since."

"What about me?"

"You? Well... We don't have a whole lot more about you than I already
mentioned."

"Steve?" The boat lurched again and he swallowed harder.

"Steve Anderson. He's the skipper of the boat, the captain, if you like,
and he's owned this baby for 15 years now. He's married and spends the
off-season in Newport with his family."

"Rhode Island?" Sam asked in surprise.

"Oregon."

Sam shrugged and opened his mouth to get out another question, but,
before he could say anything, Elliot cried out "Tub change!" and in an
incredible flurry of activity, Steve was in motion and suddenly beside
him. The yet-unnamed woman stood off to the side, as if just straining
to remain out of the way. Sam could sympathize. Steve pulled out a,
well, what could only be an empty tub and slid it under the huge reel,
pushing aside the full tub that was already underneath it. Sam remained
silent while he untied the rope between the two tubs, then turned to Al
as the man returned to the other side of the boat.

"Al, do you have anything useful to tell me?"

Al scowled halfheartedly. "Okay, Sam, sparing you the details of the
fishing industry in Alaska, you're on a longliner."

"Is that the name of the boat?"

"No," Al countered in a tone that made Sam feel like an idiot. "It's the
type. The name is the..." Al laughed. "You're never gonna believe this
one. It's the F/V - fishing vessel - Miss Adventure. As in M-I-S-S.
Cute, huh?"

"Appropriate," Sam corrected.

"Well, a longliner is a fishing vessel where, as you've probably already
figured out, they use a long line." Sam rolled his eyes. "Miles long,
and they set an anchor at both ends, a hook every couple feet or so with
bait on it - herring or squid. They set the line and then come back five
or six hours later, then they pull it on board. This boat in particular
is fishing..." He smacked the handlink. "Oh, black cod and halibut.
Oooh, Sam, halibut! That's some good fish! I remember-"

"Is that the fish I pulled on board earlier?" Sam asked, interrupting
the story before it could begin.

"Yeah." Al came around to the right side of Sam and stood on tiptoe, a
feat Sam would not have been able to achieve given the rocking of the
boat. "Wow, you've got a few barn doors in there."

Sam sighed, unable to decide if it was easier when Al already knew what
was going on or when they both had to learn together. At least he wasn't
so damned cocky when it was the latter. "What's a barn door?"

Al looked quizzically at him. "A really big fish."

Even Sam had to admit that should have been obvious, given the context.
Before he could ask any more questions, the woman came up to him, gave
him a lopsided grin (he immediately wondered if she'd seen him talking
to "thin air"), and squeezed around behind him. She took up a position
on the other side of the contraption that was pulling the line up,
opposite from Elliot. Sam couldn't fathom what she was doing.

"What about her?"

Al glanced at the woman. She was short and steadier on her feet than Sam
could imagine being if _he_ was leaning over the rail to do...whatever
it was she was doing. A few wisps of brown hair hovered around the
outside of her hood, but he was unable to see much more of her features.
She clutched a clipboard in one hand and some shiny metal objects in the
other.

"Oh, her? She's your observer." The absurdity of the statement caught
Sam off-guard.

"I beg your pardon."

"Well, actually, she's Steve's observer." At Sam's increasingly
perplexed look, he clarified, "She's a biologist. Her job is to observe
you and to take samples." Al stared at her and Sam cleared his throat.
"Oh, right. Her name is Kate Praissman. She's been up here doing this
for almost a year now - she's only 22. She's been on board this boat
for...a little over a week. It was just supposed to be a few days, but
apparently this bad weather on the way is just more of what they've been
getting for the past week, ever since they left port."

"So?" Sam asked, wiping his face with the small piece of exposed skin on
his arm.

"So?" Al echoed, still gazing in the direction of the young woman. Sam
rolled his eyes.

"So," he repeated patiently, "what am I here to do?"

Al glanced back at the readout, and his eyes darkened. "In three days,
Kate...is lost at sea." He refocused on her. "Sam, they never found her
body."


[Either nobody's read the end of "Rebirth" or you're all just not
speaking to me.... Hope you enjoyed it anyhow...and hope you like this
one.... -amkt]