"Sink or Swim"
Part VI

November, 1999
Stallions Gate, NM

Al left the Imaging Chamber feeling more confident that Kate was in good
hands, especially now that Sam was doing better than before. Which only
left one major problem to deal with at that moment. With little more
than a nod to Gooshie, he went straight to the elevators and then to his
quarters. He pulled off his jacket and slung it over the back of his
chair, then seated himself and turned on the monitor.

"Ziggy?" He stretched his arms and hands, then rested his palms against
the base of the keyboard.

"Need anything, Admiral?" she purred. "I believe Tina's still out on her
shopping spree, but Lt. Commander Simmons is off duty."

He smiled faintly; he'd learned long ago that you could either get
irritated at the computer's haughty tones, or you could be amused at
them. He regularly rotated between the two. "Yeah - can you pull up the
file on Cary Martel I asked you to run down earlier?"

"Any particular format you'd like it displayed in?"

He loosened the shimmering tie and sighed. "I don't care." Data flashed
across his screen abruptly.

Cary Martel. Born: September 4, 1981 in Clayton, NE. Occupation: none.
Currently resides in Santa Fe, NM. Mother: Victoria Martel, deceased.
Father: unknown.

Al scrolled down a page, his eyes widening as the header "Arrest Record"
caught his eyes.

"Arrest record," he grumbled angrily. "Yeah, I'll give you a record, you
nozzle." According to the file, Cary was 18, but Karen was still a
minor. "Arrested once, two years ago, for possession of heroin on school
grounds." He leaned back, dismay written across his features. "Oh,
please tell me that's not why you went to him, Karen..." He wiped a hand
across his face and resumed his research. "Brat never graduated high
school. There's a big shock. Dropped out when he was 16..." He scrolled
down again. "Currently under investigation for the possession and
possible distribution of several illegal drugs," Al read. It was no
surprise - how else could he be unemployed, living alone, and paying
rent? At least Al had a legitimate reason not to bring Karen back to
Cary's apartment. The question was, would she be upset at this
information, or did she know it already? For all the trouble she'd
gotten herself into, he could still tell she was a sweet kid - maybe
even a little naive. Maybe a little too easy to manipulate.

Even so, "nice kids" got into this stuff and close family and friends
never knew until it was too late. Al made up his mind at that moment to
find out. In spite of the evidence, Al suspected she was still in the
process of being pushed into something she didn't want. He doubted she'd
crossed the line, yet.

He glanced at his watch and decided to give her another couple hours'
sleep before he went to her with his findings. The grief that had been
brought to the surface that afternoon was deeply rooted and he knew
she'd need time to sleep off that emotional exhaustion.

"Ziggy? Is she asleep?"

"She, Admiral?" the computer replied innocently. "According to staff
records, there are at least 25 `shes' currently within project grounds.
An estimated eight of them sleep here on a regular basis and, for five
of them, the quarters here at the project are the only residence they

Al ground his teeth. "Karen. Is Karen asleep?"

"There are two females with the first name `Karen' at this-"

"Ziggy," Al warned sternly. Amusement was quickly giving way to the
aforementioned irritation. "You know who I mean."

"Yes, Admiral. She progressed into an unconscious state shortly after
your departure and has been ever since. Would you like me to estimate
the time she will waken?"

"Naw. I'll just wake her up in a couple hours myself." He considered the
monitor for a moment. "You said Deb Simmons was off duty?"


Kate had gone back to bed and Sam saw no very good reason not to follow
suit. His rest was interrupted much too soon as he took over wheel
watch. He found himself wishing Al had left him with a few more
instructions, but Steve had set the course already and there was really
nothing much to do but sit up there and hope there wasn't too much more
he needed to know about how to run a small boat in a big storm. Still,
if what Al said was true, they were going to be getting worse later on.
At least it was going to get better before it got worse.

Through the five hour shift Sam had been allocated, he could see the
swells begin to decrease. It still wasn't calm, but at least it was
tame, especially compared to what they'd had earlier. Steve had told Sam
to wake him when the swells dropped to an estimated ten feet or so so
they could set the line, whatever that meant. By the time hour four came
along, he was unbuckling the seat belt in the skipper's chair and
knocking on Steve's door.

There was a pause, then a voice muffled by sleep emerged through the
thin door. "We ready?"

Sam hesitated. "I think so."

"Go get Elliot up. And wake Kate up, too, in case she wants to watch the
line being set."

"Okay." Sam descended the stairs with considerably more ease than
before, eyed the trash bag filled with dented, but still unbroken,
aluminum cans with restrained humor, and knocked on Elliot's door. "Time
to get to work," he called.

The door opened and the unexpected happened: Elliot bounded out yelling
at the top of his lungs, "Okay! Now we get to do some fishing!"

Kate cracked the door to her stateroom and shook her head. "I hate
morning people," she muttered and smiled woozily at Sam. "What's going
on?" Elliot had moved to the galley and was fixing himself a sandwich.

"Oh, Steve said it's time to set the line. He wanted me to ask if you
wanted to watch."

She sighed, reluctance plain on her face. "I guess I should, at least
for a few minutes."

Sam hesitated. Dizziness and the half-asleep look on her face had him
worried. "Maybe you shouldn't go out - I mean, things are a lot calmer,
but... Maybe you should take advantage of that by getting something to

Her grin was lopsided. "Oh, I can watch you okay from in here."

Steve came down the stairs, shaking the last of sleep from his face, and
smiled dimly at Kate. "Morning. I'm going to get myself a frozen pizza
from the engine room - you want one?"

She sat at the table, trying to cover for how lightheaded she looked.
"Sure, thanks, Steve."

He nodded and opened the hatch in the floor next to the door that led
out to the deck and descended the stairs there. Sam was glad he wasn't
supposed to know anything about how to run things down there, especially
as he'd seen both Steve and Elliot make several trips up and down the
steep steps.

Elliot pushed past him with some microwaveable snack in one hand and a
sandwich in the other. "We're fishing!" he crowed. Sam sighed. "Now you
get to do some work, doncha, Kate? Oh, wait, no you don't. Wish I had
your job."

"Nope. You'd need a degree."

"Wanna come out and help?" he asked cheerfully.

"Wanna give me your salary?" She was trying to be lighthearted, but Sam
could see her annoyance. She obviously wasn't as good at hiding how she
felt in the early hours. Or was it the dead of night? Sam honestly
couldn't tell, even by looking out the porthole. How many hours of
sunlight did Alaska get in September, anyway? From what he'd seen it had
been enough...

"Nope." His smile was ingratiating and it remained plastered to his face
while he pulled on his gear. Sam and followed suit while Steve went back
up to the wheelhouse, then walked out on deck.

Setting the line turned out to be incredibly (and thankfully) easy. They
pulled the tubs to the back of the boat, tied the end of one line to the
start of another, and lined the tubs up. Then they threw over an anchor
with a long line and a set of buoys attached to it. Another line went
from the anchor leading to the first tub. Steve started the engine and,
once the anchor had found its hold, just the motion of the boat pulled
the line out from the stern.

The instant sharp hooks began flying off the back, flocks of gulls and
fulmars and a few albatross clustered around, trying to peck off the
bait. Elliot picked up a metal bar and began banging against the boat to
scare them. Sam took his cue and did the same every time the pests drew
too close to the line.

It couldn't have taken more than 20 minutes until the line was set and
Sam was helping stack the empty tubs and then going inside. Steve met
them inside the galley. "We're gonna head northeast," he informed them,
marking his course with his index finger along a map pinned to the wall
beside the stairs, "and then stop right about...here. The weather's
coming in about five or six hours, so this should bring us to the
position we set given current and wind in about four hours and we can
find our buoys and pull it then."

Sam nodded and Elliot did likewise. "Who's taking the first shift?"
Elliot questioned.

"I'll sit up there `til we pull the set and then after we get underway,
you can take the first watch."

"Sounds good. I'm gonna go get a few more hours."

Sam nodded. Elliot had taken the longest shift of all of them earlier.
He glanced around for Kate and noticed her sitting on her bunk, a
three-ring binder open in front of her, and a calculator in her hand.
*At least she's doing something instead of sitting in her bunk being
miserable.* "What are you doing?" he asked curiously as he pulled off
his sweatshirt.

"Paperwork," she replied without looking up. "I'm not a biologist - I'm
a secretary..." The tightness in her voice revealed she was putting on
another top notch performance.

"Guess it comes with the territory," he managed.

She glanced at him, smiling apologetically. "I really do like it,
though, paperwork and all. I love...getting out here and getting my
hands dirty. Beats a cushy office job..."

"Well, some of the hardest jobs are the most rewarding."

"It's not so much the work itself that's so difficult, though it can be.
It's more that you never know where you're going to be the next day or
who you'll be with. I've really lucked out, but you don't know if you're
going to be around people who hate you or who just tolerate you, or who
are genuinely friendly. It's so unpredictable. Which is both its charm
and it's trial..."

*Sounds like leaping.* He nodded solemnly. "Hey, Steve says another four
hours and then we pull this set, and then we go into Juneau."

"What if you don't fulfill your given quota with this set?" she asked.

"I think he's going to go in anyhow. There's a gale coming."

Her face fell and he realized just how out-of-the-loop the observer
ended up being. "Another one?"

"Yeah... But it's just 20 hours into Juneau," he said hopefully.

"I am going to be _so_ glad to see dry land," she said lightly. "I've
never actually kissed dirt before, but..."

"I'll be right there beside you," Sam laughed. "I think even Elliot was
starting to turn a little green."

"Elliot..." She rolled her eyes, prompting another chuckle from the

"Yeah, he's sorta...well, he comes on a bit strong sometimes."

"Makes you wonder who the skipper is," she agreed. "He's not so bad,
just, yeah, just a bit on the strong side. But, then I guess he's been
doing this the longest, and when you know what you're doing..."

Sam thought of his blunt commands of him when he leaped in, then again
whenever he took over wheel watch for him, and had to agree that he was
far too commanding for one of the underlings. Not that there was a whole
lot of structure with just three people to begin with. Still, the one
thing that was apparent was that a boat was certainly not a democracy
and even Elliot clamed up and obeyed when Steve told him to do
something. "That makes you and I the slow ones on board, right?"

"Speak for yourself," she teased. "Besides, I don't have to answer to
anyone while I'm working. I do later, but not now. Don't have anyone to
question my methods."

"Must be nice."

"Yeah..." She tossed the calculator aside and packed up the binder and
her other tools quickly and shakily. Then she leaned her head against
the wall and managed a weak grin. "Well, if you're up to cooking, I
could do some eating."

He clapped his hands together once, grinning. He didn't even need to
work up to that suggestion, apparently. "I could cook your pizza," he

She looked embarrassed. "Oh, I completely forgot about that. I'm sorry -
I can do that myself."

He stopped her by holding his hand up. "It's my pleasure. Come on -
Elliot's asleep. Let's go scour the movie shelves and see if we can't
find anything better than Revenge of the whatever it was he was watching
last night."

"Sounds like a date."

He raised an eyebrow. "Really..."

"No, not really. I'm married." She grinned sweetly and walked past him
into the galley, leaving him to shake his head and wonder how she'd
gotten herself killed and how he could be 100% certain it wouldn't
happen again.