"Sink or Swim"
Part II

September, 1986
Gulf of Alaska, AK

The rest of the set was pulled in relative silence. After the "barn
door" Sam helped over, the line "went dead", as Elliot put it, and,
although it put Elliot and Steve into a fowl mood because they'd have to
set another line, it made Sam relieved. Mainly because, after the line
was pulled in and the equipment secured, they had to cut out the stomach
of each fish, a task that disgusted Sam, in spite of his medical

When they finally retired inside the cabin, Sam was incredibly grateful.
He was even more grateful that Al was still present.

"Well," Elliot started, peeling off his rain gear and casting a look at
Kate, who was seated at the galley table, "working hard in here, are
we?" His tone was a shade beyond teasing. She'd gone inside as soon as
the last empty hook had come up, leaving them to finish pulling in the
line, clean the fish and the deck, and put away all the gear.

"Oh, yeah," she crowed, seemingly undisturbed by his prodding. "Reading
a book." He smirked. "Hey," she protested, casting Sam a smile, "that
can be _really_ hard work in this weather, you know?"

Immediately, Sam liked her. Now that she was in a relatively normal
setting, he could see more of her. Her hair was long, a lighter shade of
brown than Sam's own, and she had it loose, spilling about her shoulders
like a curtain. She wasn't exactly pretty, but there was a
self-assuredness about her that seemed to say `if I can handle _this_, I
can handle anything.'

Even Al grinned. "Kid's got spunk," he announced. Sam knew his partner
liked her, too.

Steve just ignored all three of them, apparently used to the banter.

Elliot glanced out the porthole. The weather had picked up considerably
and they were being tossed around mercilessly. Sam's stomach still
bounced around with it. Al's promise that his body would adjust in "a
mere 20 hours or so" was little comfort. Come to think of it, Kate was
looking a little unsteady herself, but she seemed to be doing a better
job of covering.

"The gale gods are displeased," Elliot said. "We must cast the observer
into the sea."

"It could only bring relief from being cooped up with you," she replied,
still unperturbed. Al laughed.

"That's what the last four said. Observers are a dime a dozen."

"And $250 a day."

Sam hung up his rain gear, watching as Elliot grabbed a frozen meal from
the freezer, tossed it into the microwave, and then retired to a room
off the galley. Through another door, he could see a set of bunk beds
built into the wall of a small space. To his left was a flight upstairs
that led to...he could only guess.

Sam sat across from Kate, more to steady his stomach than anything else.
"So...what exactly do you do?" he asked her.

Al sat down on his chair and watched Sam. He'd been unusually quiet the
past few minutes.

"First time working with an observer?" she asked in understanding.

Sam choked back a laugh.

"Oh, I guess I shoulda figured you didn't know why I'm here." She
grinned. "Steve's good about this, but I think Elliot may have had a bad
experience with an observer before."

"Sam, the boats you've been on were all too small to need an observer,"
Al informed him. "I doubt Allen ever _has_ worked with one before."

"I've never been on a boat big enough...I guess," Sam repeated

She nodded, as if she dealt with this all the time. "We work for the
National Marine Fisheries Service. Well," she amended, brushing her hair
behind her ear, "not really. Here's the deal: the boat is required by
NMFS to have an observer. Boats 60 to 120 feet have to have one thirty
percent of all fishing days, and boats over 120 feet have to have one
100 percent of the time. This is a thirty percent boat. So Steve calls a
contractor and the contractor sends me. He pays them, they pay me, and I
report to NMFS."

Sam glanced at Al, but he was engrossed in arguing with the handlink.
Presumably, he already knew what Kate was talking about. Either that, or
he just didn't want to admit that he didn't. It seemed that, just
because Al had worked on a fishing vessel, it didn't necessarily mean
he'd worked with a observer.

"There are exceptions," she continued, looking slightly more pale as she
went. The constant motion _was_ getting to her, too, then. "I'm a
Groundfish Observer, so I don't go on crabbers or salmon boats. And if
you guys weren't fishing black cod, I wouldn't be here for the halibut.
But, basically, I just collect data. Then NMFS uses that data both for
scientific use and to determine when to close a fishery." Before Sam
could ask another question, she stood up. "Excuse me, I think I need to
pop a Dramamine or two." Her grin was lopsided. "I hate doing that, but
we're obviously not going to be fishing anytime soon, not with this

Sam nodded and gazed at her as she stumbled out, timing her movement
from one part of the cabin to another with the motion of the boat.

"Well, Sam, there you have it," Al proclaimed.

"There I have _what_?" Sam demanded, a little angry. "I don't know when
she dies, I don't know how. Don't you have any more data?"

Al shook the link and it squealed in protest. "Well, the Coast Guard did
a full investigation, of course, but we haven't been able to get into
the records yet. All we know is that the weather gets really bad and
Steve can't get the boat into shelter at the snap of his fingers,
y'know? You're a good eight hours from shore in _good_ weather. You'll
only make six knots in this soup, four as it gets worse."

Sam leaned against the back of the booth and sighed deeply. Elliot came
out of his room, grabbed his dinner, and returned to his small quarters.
Sam glanced in the room before he shut the door. It was dark, another
bunk bed in the corner, but the top bunk was filled with what looked
like luggage. Sam furrowed his brow.

"Al, where do I stay?"

Both eyebrows went up and he pulled out the handlink, banging it against
his hip to get it going. "Well, Ziggy says there's a room off the
wheelhouse, so-"

"Off the what?" Sam interrupted, leaning forward.

"The wheelhouse." Al looked up at him. "The bridge," he clarified. "On
these little fishing boats, it's the wheelhouse. Then you have the
galley, the head, the rack..."

"Rack?" Sam was beginning to be irritated. He hated feeling slow.

"Bunk." Sam exhaled in frustration. "Anyhow, there's a small room off
the wheelhouse, so Steve probably gets that because he's the skipper."
He glanced up the stairs, indicating to Sam the location of both
locations. "You probably sleep in there." He pointed to the room
straight back, door closed.

"No, Al, that's where Kate went."

Al shrugged. "So? Doesn't matter on these vessels - observers rarely
even get their own staterooms on the bigger boats, certainly not on
these dinky things." Before Sam could stop him, he'd walked through the
door. He returned to his friend's disapproving gaze. "She's passed out
on the bottom bunk and so you've probably got the top one. Geez, Sam, a
few hours on board and you're already sleeping-"

"Don't!" Sam warned. Al rocked on his heels and grinned. Sam made an
exasperated face: to say that Al had a bit of a lecherous side was like
saying that halibut had a bit of trouble breathing on land.

And he still wasn't letting up, either. "You lucky dog. A rate of fifty
guys to one girl and you get the only one for _miles_."

"Al," Sam admonished.

"At least she doesn't have to stay with that nozzle." The cigar
indicated the other door as he abruptly changed tracks. "If I was really
here, I'd-"

"Al," Sam interrupted again with practiced ease, "I don't get it - what
did she mean about Elliot?"

Al switched tracks and faced Sam again. "Having an observer on board is
like having someone looking over your shoulder every minute."

"I can't imagine."

Al ignored the comment. "Remember how I said she was slowing you down?"
Sam nodded, glancing behind him to make sure he wasn't being overheard.
"Well, regulations say if they catch any halibut they're not going to
keep - they call `em chickens - they have to shake them off the line so
their jaws aren't torn. It really slows them down, especially if they
have a lot of them, but they usually ignore that regulation. Well," he
amended, "on most boats, anyhow. But if they don't do it while the
observer's on board, it ends up in their logbook and the boat could be

"I think I understand," Sam stated. "Basically, she's the outsider."

"Yeah." Al glanced at his watch. "Oh, Sam, I've got an errand to run in
town; you gonna be okay for a while?"

"Steve said we'd get a couple hours before we had to bait tubs, whatever
that is."

Al waved a hand through the air. "Oh, you can handle that, no problem.
That's just baiting the hooks. It's time-consuming, but you can get the
gist of it really easy. Plus you're not supposed to be as fast as the
rest of them." The silvery light of the Door crawled up behind Al. "Oh,
and, by the way, you're the cook. Have fun!" He waggled his fingers at
Sam and the Door slammed shut.

November, 1999
Santa Fe, NM

Al slowed to a crawl and glanced at the map again, then grunted and
pulled it over the steering wheel so he could drive and navigate at the
same time. He'd found the right area, but couldn't seem to find the
right apartment complex.

Why on earth did he agree to do this, anyhow? What did he know about
this situation?

But Bruce had pleaded and he had agreed and Al always kept his promises.
So when the small cluster of  buildings pulled into view, leaving his
sparkling Ferrari distinctly out-of-place, he tossed the city map aside
and slid his pride and joy into a space as far away from any other
vehicle he could find.

A quick scan revealed the number and building he wanted and he set out
in that direction. It had been a long time since he'd seen Karen and he
wondered absently if she'd recognize him, or, more importantly, if he'd
recognize her.

The apartment he finally arrived at was nothing to write home about,
except maybe to plead for money. A ratty welcome mat with a pineapple
picture on it was coming unraveled at the edges, and the word ‘Welcome'
now seemed more like a hopeless jumble of symbols from a foreign
language. He wiped his feet on the mat anyhow, even though it probably
just soiled the soles of his shoes further, and knocked on the door.

The soft sounds of talking reached him and then the peephole darkened as
someone inspected him. Someone grumbled and Al's heart skipped several
beats out of the mere surprise. The door scraped open and a boy - he
couldn't possibly be more than 20 - stood in the slight opening. He wore
no shirt, a pair of jeans that hung loosely from his hips (much to Al's
distaste), and a toothpick hung from his mouth.

"Sorry," Al said halfheartedly, "I was looking for a Carrie Martel."

The kid sagged against the door frame, running a hand through his
disheveled dusty-brown hair. "I'm Cary."

"Cary?" a tearful voice called. A female voice.

Al recovered from his shock and he pushed his way into the house,
ignoring Cary's protests. "Karen?" he called, moving further into the
place, ignoring the cluttered appearance of the place. Cary obviously
didn't have a lot of money and-

He stopped dead in his tracks.

Curled up on the couch was Karen - all fears about recognizing her were
laid to rest: he'd know her anywhere. However, judging by the way her
frightened green eyes took him in, she didn't know him.

"Karen?" he repeated, taking a step closer. She pressed further into the
corner of the sofa, clutching herself and he whipped around to face
Cary. "What did you do?" Cary backed up a step, then seemed to recall
that he was in his own home, and straightened. "What did you do to her?"
Al repeated fiercely.

"Who _are_ you?" Cary countered. "Get outta here or I'm calling the

Al's eyes blazed. "What, did you rape her, you bastard?" He had
effectively backed Cary into a corner.

"No!" Cary protested. "She's my friend, how could I-"

Al hit him. Cary staggered against the wall and Karen shrieked, moving
for the first time from her position. "Stop!" she cried, grabbing Al's
arm as Cary, pitifully unable to defend himself, cowered against the
wall. "Stop, or I'm calling the cops!"

Al turned to her. "Karen, what are you _doing_ here?"

She squinted at him. "Who are you and how do you know my..." Her eyes
caught the light of recognition, then anger. "What are you doing here?
Did my father send you?"

Al caught her wrist as she turned away. "Yes. Karen, he's worried about

"He didn't seem to be the other night," she protested, but it was weak.

The rage vanished behind a curtain. "He is. You know he is. Karen,
please, can't you at least talk to me?"

She hesitated and he saw the little girl who used to curl up in his lap
when she got in trouble with her parents, who used to stare, mesmerized,
at the sunset, who used to laugh when he tickled her.

Al held her tightly and, suddenly, she was five years old again.

[Just a quick, but heartfelt thank you to those who have written about
Rebirth. I was amazed at the number of comments I've had just in the
past few days. THANK YOU! (if I'd known doing that would have gotten
that kind of response, I'd've done it a long time ago... ;-) -amkt]