11-14-2009, 04:31 AM
This is something I started a couple of weeks ago,for no reason I can think of. It's the beginning of a story set in a future,fictional Northwest Republic. The setting is Based on H.A. Covington's books;A Mighty Fortress,A Distant Thunder,and The Brigade,all of which I've read and enjoyed.
I have no idea if I'll ever finish this,nor if you people will enjoy it,but I thought I'd stick it up here anyway. This particular story-what there is of it,thus far-starts on the northern coast of Alaska,after that state has broken away from the U.S. and become part of the NW Republic.
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Tales from the Northwest Republic
Even if it was blasphemous,Reinhardt found himself wishing for an attack. Or incursion,or probe,or just about anything that would provide a break from the boredom.
Boredom mixed with a healthy dose of fear. The ice claimed a great deal of the area named the Beaufort Sea,and if a man went into the water here,his remaining life could be often measured in minutes. Even with all of the advances The Republic had made in sensor technology,cold weather survival equipment,miniaturized communication and navigation equipment,this sometimes frozen sea was still an indifferent and unforgiving mistress. In her darker moods,she laughed at human efforts to cheat her from her due,and she still regularly claimed men when she felt that their respect for her was less than she demanded. He sometimes wondered if She would be merciful enough to kill him quickly,or if she would torment him for a while,before she tired of his pleading.
Reinhardt grabbed his paddle,and paying more attention to the water than to his earpiece and the miniaturized screen on the deck in front of him,he started the last mile east before he was due to turn around and head back to the staging area. With a good three hours of daylight left,he was slightly ahead of schedule,and although the weather in this part of the world was always capable of treachery,it was a clear day and he wasn't unduly worried about a storm. With only a mile or two between him and the shore,he could always paddle hard for land,and shelter there until the storm-if storm there be-blew itself out. He was well equipped to do that,and had in fact done it several times before on this deployment.
While the idea of using a 16' long kayak for antisubmarine patrols generated a lot of overconfident smiles in what was left of the United States,and the remainder of Canada,the idea wasn't as crazy as it sounded. The Beaufort was a notoriously hostile body of water,and traditional ships had always had a difficult time,although submarines could and did make patrols. This couldn't be ignored,and some sort of measures had to be taken to prevent the Americans and Canadians-and what allies they had left-from using the waters off the northern coast as their playground. But ships were expensive,at a severe risk just from the environment,and if a shooting incident ever broke out,they would be the first and best target in the area.
A kayak was about as silent a craft as could be imagined,and given reasonable proximity to land,was a craft that was as survivable as any in these waters,and a lot more survivable than most. If there wasn't a war,of course,but wars tended not to be survivable anyway,so there was little point worrying about that.
The little boats were also fast-a skilled,and conditioned man could maintain 4 knots easily for hours on a clear day and in calm seas,although he ate a lot. Still,food would have been consumed by anyone up there. And the tiny craft were also capable of carrying a miniaturized,battery powered electronics suite,consisting of navigation aids,communication,and a relatively sophisticated sound detection system,with a microphones on the bottom of the hull,and one that was capable of being lowered to a depth of a hundred feet. What the boat didn't have was the data processing equipment that was needed to make sense of any signals,but this was done remotely. The data was recorded,and burst transmitted every 5 minutes,automatically,and it was picked up by the antenna at his staging area. There was also a shoulder stock mounted laser transmitter,to be used if there was a line of sight between the two parties trying to talk to each other,and this afforded a secure way to trade stories back and forth,as long as the boat pilot could afford to use both hands to keep his laser steady-something not always possible here.
So,all things considered,Reinhardt was about as secure as he was going to get while driving a 16 foot long boat,the design of which was well over a thousand years old,in an ocean that was cold enough to freeze one to death in less than half an hour. When he had pointed out the age of the design to his commanding officer,the reply had been short and to the point. He had been asked how old the design of an axe was. “Some things,Reinhardt,stay the same because they can't be built any better.”
And he knew that he was being monitored constantly by machine,and as well by human beings,when they could be persuaded to look away from their unending card game long enough to glance at a screen and some telltales on a few instrument panels. He sighed.
He honestly didn't know how he felt about that. Glad,yes,that he wasn't alone out here,and that if he got into some sort of trouble,someone would know,and might even be able to do something to help.
But there were a lot of days here when he envied the old esquimault,with nothing but a harpoon and a float,and a few willing comrades with whom he could hunt. He didn't envy them enough to give up the portable sauna they had,or shelter from the weather better than a snow house,but the envy was there,nevertheless. He tried for a few moments to think why exactly the envy was there,but gave up. He wasn't sure,and he wasn't sure he wanted to be sure. Enough. There was the work of the day to be finished,and then the chance to sweat away some of the grime that was beginning to show.
11-20-2009, 02:37 PM
The first indicator that the boredom was at an end was signaled by a warbling tone in his earpiece-the signal that told of a general broadcast for all the members of his detachment on the water,not a signal directed specifically at him. He waited for the voice signal,wondering what the Powers That Be were seeing fit to tell them. Weather alert? That was the most probable of the possibilities,or just possibly news of a wildlife sighting that was deemed noteworthy,since whales were capable of capsizing a small boat with a flick of a tail. He didn't think that it had ever happened,but there was a first time for everything,and the Polar Surveillance Group had always had its fair share of boat pilots who simply didn't return from their patrols,and no one could ever determine a cause. Sometimes the boat would wash up on the shore a day or so later,sometimes not. Sometimes remains were found,sometimes nothing.
It wasn't something that happened often,but Reinhardt had always wondered if there were a few whales out there who had finally had enough of humans,and took any opportunity to rid the world of what they probably regarded as interesting vermin.
For a time,two-man boats had been used,in an effort to increase the thin margin of safety to something approaching sanity,but the attempt had been abandoned. Two people could be worse than one person here,since the fact that there were other humans in conversation range made conversation inevitable. Conversations led to inattention,and inattention was universally fatal in this operating theater,if not necessarily immediately fatal. After a few incidents,a few fatalities,and one spectacular rescue that made headlines for days,the PSG had quietly sold the two man boats to various touring businesses,and returned to the tried and true one man craft. If someone was going to die of daydreaming,better that he only died himself,and didn't take a comrade along on the trip.
The warble stopped,and the voice message began. As he had half expected,it was a weather warning-the barometric pressure was dropping quickly enough to worry the detachment meteorologist,and that-coupled with satellite data indication a small cloud bank in the middle of the depressed area was enough to trigger an alert. The PSG command had little trouble recruiting,but once they recruited someone,they were admirably concerned with the well being,and functionality of the recruit-training a man to live and function up here took work,and resources. Citizens of the Northwest Republic were raised to respect work,and there was an ingrained dislike of any sort of waste. A dead boat pilot was a wasted boat pilot,unless some sort of heroic death was called for,and heroics were another thing frowned on in the NDF.
His face expressionless,Reinhardt listened to the 'cast,and after it concluded,made his decision. An easy decision,really-still at least a couple of hours from what passed for home,he turned his 'yak and headed for shore. His chances of reaching the detachment base before the weather turned were no better than 50-50,and he wasn't going to buck those odds. The shore was no more than 20 minutes away,and the Goddess that ruled here had favored him with a shallow gravel beach that wouldn't try to destroy his boat. As a gesture of thanks,he pulled unwrapped one of his sugar lozenges and dropped it in the water. Superstitious,of course,but he had plenty,and it never hurt to keep the Old Gods happy.
Landing in a tiny inlet,he exited his boat,and started his preparations to ride out a storm. There was a lot to be done,and since the cloud bank that had started all the excitement was now a dark line on the northern horizon,no excess of time in which to do it. The boat was secured first,then the shelter erected,and tied down securely,after which he got inside and started his heat source going. When finished,he made a singe brief transmission to the detachment commander to confirm his status change,and requested an update.
The commander replied that all boats were accounted for,and told Reinhardt to get set for a long storm-possibly a 24 hour blow. “This one fooled everyone,Rhine-it looks like a bad one,so get hunkered down,and don't move until you get the ok from here. I say again-DO NOT move. We have your position logged,and we can send help if you need it,but we'd really rather not have anyone moving around out in this,so use your head. No sneaking off to the beach with a fishing pole,hear me?”
“You got it”,replied Reinhardt,smiling for the first time that day. It was one of the few fringe benefits of being posted to the PSG-while fishing was as potentially lethal as any other activity in the Beaufort,the catches were often spectacular,and had provided the detachment elements with a number of meals that were much better than the standard rations,and in fact would have been envied by many at the Capitol in Olympia. An informal standard operating procedure had developed in the PSG-inspectors from wherever were uniformly fed a huge meal of freshly caught char or other fish,washed down with domestic rye liquor,diluted with ice melt. One or two had been professed vegetarians until given the chance to walk around in sub-zero temperatures. After a day,hunger had won out over ethics,and another fish entered the food chain.
The wind had risen while the boat pilot and the commander bantered back and forth,and by the time Reinardt signed off,it was a steady 25 knots,with gusts to maybe 30. Breakers possibly 5' were hitting the beach,and Reinhardt congratulated himself on heading for land when he did. The sea wasn't-quite-unlivable. An experienced kayak pilot could handle 5' waves,and in warmer water,the temptation to run for home instead of sheltering in place would have been hard to resist,but between the wind,the waves,and the water temperature,no sane individual would be out on the Beaufort now in a craft the size of the one he had just tied down on the shore. And besides the risk of human life,there was the equipment to think about as well. None of it was staggeringly expensive,but there was quite a bit of it,and besides the original cost of manufacture,one had to factor in the transportation needed to get it to one of the most remote corners of the world. If all this was taken into account,the sum to replace the boat and the man was an impressive one.
Not disappointed by the change in schedule,Reinhardt decided to treat himself to a hot meal,and a change into clean socks. The interior of the folding tent was beginning to warm a bit,and it didn't look like he was going anywhere for a while,so he dug the microstove out of his possibles pack and set it up in the alcove meant for cooking, He left his temporary home long enough to gather a few pans of snow,and when he got back inside,he lit the tiny stove and and set one of the snow filled pans on the burner to begin his meal. The added heat from the stove raised the temperature from barely liveable to comfortable,quickly,and Reinhardt began to remove some of his outer clothing layers and his footwear,and dug through his possibles,trying to decide what of the various packages of dehydrated stuff was the most appetizing. Oatmeal wasn't exciting,but he reckoned that he was capable of cooking it,and with some sugar and a few other additives,it was as good a meal as any and better than many,and it would do to warm him up and put him to sleep while the storm blew itself out.
Not quite an hour later,fed,with clean socks,and as repacked as was possible,in case he had to move earlier than he planned,he stretched out and contacted his base one more time before getting some sleep.
“Yeah,Rhine,no sign of letup yet”his commander informed him. “Keep your earbug in,in case something changes,but otherwise get some rest. We'll get hold of you when it looks clear to move,and until then no one goes anywhere. Just make sure you don't go to sleep with the stove on and start a fire or gas yourself.”
“Affirmative”,replied Rhine.”I already have the stove packed,so no worries on that end,Sir.”
“All right,see you when this is over. Don't let the polar bears get you.”
Three days later,the search for Reinhardt was called off,and he was presumed dead or in the hands of persons unknown- most likely American or Canadian operatives of some sort. The Northwest Republic had lost an experienced and decorated small craft pilot,a boat,and all the equipment that went with the boat and the man who had crewed it. And they had gained a mystery.
The BOSS team sent to investigate the disappearance of Staff Sergeant John Reinhardt was a scratch team,put together on short notice,however the Bureau had long since realized that incompetent investigators were far worse than no investigators at all,and insisted on a high standard across the board. No one got to investigate anything under the auspices of BOSS without knowing their job. And every individual BOSS screened for their investigation task forces was endowed with a highly developed sense of curiosity. It was a personality trait that the BOSS needed,cultivated,and rewarded handsomely on the occasions such reward was demanded.
The VTOL carrying the team landed at the PSG temporary base less than 24 hours after the search for Reinhardt had ended. Even in the Republic,that was fast-someone wanted to know what had happened,and wasn't going to be put off with anything less than the truth. Since BOSS was an organization that commanded a great deal of respect,and a lot of outright terror on the other side of the Republic's borders,getting the truth was sometimes a problem. There exists a natural tendency for people everywhere to shift responsibility,duck difficult questions,and generally have as little to do as possible with any kind of official investigator. The Bureau of State Security was hardly an instrument of oppression-quite the reverse,as a matter of fact-but there was very little chance of appealing any sort of ruling that a BOSS official made,and even upstanding citizens sensibly avoided activities which could bring them under official scrutiny. The Republic didn't believe in gulags,but detention wasn't pleasant. The alternative to detention was a lot worse-the Republic didn't believe in giving traitors a chance to breed,either,and was noted for a lack of squeamishness about how the chance to breed was ended.
Thusly,when the VTOL landed in a cloud of ice crystals,there was reason for caution on both the part of the team,and on the part of the PSG personnel. No one wanted to screw up,and both parties were going to be trying their best to not do that. The problem was that trying too hard not to screw up usually led to a screwup and everyone wanted to avoid that if possible.
The first impression the BOSS team got when the door opened was the cold. Clean,yes-stingingly refreshing,even,after the long flight in the heated cabin of the aircraft,but cold. It was the kind of cold that warned from the first moment you felt it-do not trifle here. Cold that sunk to the bones,and could freeze the fillings out of your teeth if given the chance. And it was a patient cold,patience like that possessed by only a few other things like gravity. It would wait,knowing that time was on its side,biding its time until the inevitable mistake finally took place and another foolish human was added to the tally. It might even preserve evidence of the mistake,as a warning to those left,but whether that happened or not,it would wait until circumstances suited,and another life would slow to a crawl,then stop completely.
Although none of them would admit it,every member of the team shuddered when the pilot of the VTOL increased his turbine power to the takeoff setting,and the big aluminum bird rose off the packed snow and headed back to the airfield at Barrow. Home,or if not home,then heat,hot showers,food that had been cooked instead of heated,and real beds with real sheets and blankets. The VTOL would refuel at Barrow and then head back south for Fairbanks,which had even better food and better beds than Barrow-an order of magnitude greater than they would be treated to here,and for a moment,each of the team members privately wished for a job as simple as piloting an aircraft. Navigating through the sky was relatively simple. A mystery like the one that faced them,was liable to be much more difficult,and the possibilities for error and wrong answers were never far away,or easily forgotten.
The PSG sailors were hanging back watching the team,as the VTOL gained altitude and banked to head for Barrow. All of them had a good excuse-the ice crystals that the prop wash blew around were moving at a speed sufficient to cut unprotected skin,and the prop wash by itself was enough to start frostbite. Taking advantage of this,they stood still while the team rose to their feet and began to clumsily walk towards the outpost which would be their home until they found what it was they had come to find and life returned to normal. Non of the team were used to the bulky protective clothing yet,since they had only been issued it within the last 24 hours. The boots-what the esquimault had called “mukluks”- were giving everyone trouble,and two of them came close to tripping on the short walk from the landing pad to the one structure that could be called a building. All of them finally quit looking around and concentrated on just walking,after which the progress quickened,and dignity reappeared.
One of the men manning the base-indistinguishable from the rest of the small crowd in his bulky outdoor gear-stepped forward and saluted,introducing himself as,”Senior Lieutenant Hank Barnes,sir-welcome.”
The team leader reached out to shake hands with the Lt.,and introduced himself as “Agent William Sikorsky,and please,no salutes are needed,Lieutenant-we're civilians,technically,and military courtesy isn't required,or expected. We're here to try to find out what happened to your man,and believe me,we don't want to be here any more than you want us here. I'm not going to do something as stupid as to promise you that we won't cause any disruption,but we'll make every effort to be as unobtrusive as possible,and get out of your hair as quickly as we can. If for no other reason than we're a huge potential liability to your command. You people do important work up here,and I don't want to be the one that causes that work to go undone,even more so since it looks like the most likely possibility is that Sgt. Reinhardt was taken by hostiles,and about the only place the hostiles could have come from is a submarine. Is it possible to get inside and I'll start trying to figure out what happened where I'm not freezing to death? And that damned vertol didn't have a restroom,and I know I speak for everyone I brought with me when I tell you that I need one.”
Barnes smiled,slightly and waved an arm in the general direction of the building. “In there,Mr. Sikorsky,through that entrance and the second door to the left. I'll get some of my hands to bring your luggage inside and I'll try and figure out where we're going to billet you.”
“Thank you,L.T.,on behalf of everyone who just got off that plane.” Making a “follow me” gesture,Sikorsky made his way into the building with his crew in trail,all of them eager to get under a roof and relieve obvious pressure.
Interior space,like pretty much everything else at a PSG outpost,was at a premium. There was one building-not exactly permanent,but it had doors and a window,and plumbing,and it housed the data processing equipment,the mess facilities,what passed for an infirmary,and the offices and administrative equipment that was required to keep track of the 40 or 50 people stationed here. There was a power generator with a heat exchanger,which had originally been intended to provide hot water.
On the coast of the Beaufort Sea,the heat exchanger was superfluous-the engine was more at risk of being frozen solid than overheating,and hot water was provided by a propane fired conventional water heater.
The building had never been intended to be used for housing. Personnel slept in small temporary shelters that looked a great deal like igloos,and in fact,the design had drawn heavily on the old indigenous snow house. But these were modular,constructed out of lightweight foam panels,and were capable of being wired for electricity and also had rudimentary plumbing connections,and when disassembled,could be stacked and bundled into a helicopter sling load. They were nominally rated as being capable of housing two,but since the outpost had been established,extra shelters had gradually accumulated,and by now the only people who bunked together were the newest people assigned,and the wait for a room of one's own was usually a matter of a few weeks rather than months. Unlike the more sociable races,white people needed space and some privacy. The billeting of men in individual shelters was a policy of the PSG,instituted after several close calls and,finally,a knife fight at close quarters that resulted in a murder,an execution,and some equipment so bloodstained as to render it fit only for condemnation. Cabin fever wasn't a joke,and could have consequences ranging from comical to lethal. The PSG was happy to give up comical if that was what was required to get rid of the lethal. Duty in the Beaufort was hazardous enough as it was,without provoking armed men into a killing mood.
Thanks to Reinhardt's disappearance,there was a vacancy in the personnel domes,but since that one was scheduled for a thorough going-over as a routine part of the investigation, Barnes summoned all 3 ensigns at the post,along with the solitary midshipman on a semester-long duty cycle,and instructed them to make room for the BOSS team by vacating the two structures that the four of them occupied,and to house themselves wherever they could find a place,for however long a time as would be required. In the NDF navy,ensigns and mids were considered to be the lowest of the low,and no one would dream dream of inconveniencing petty officers or other well trained,long service enlisted men if there was an ensign or mid anywhere near that could grab the soiled end of a stick. A short time after Barnes' directive was issued,4 just-made-homeless young men were trooping around the encampment looking for a place to sleep,and the luggage of the BOSS team had been neatly stacked in front of two newly vacated,freshly swept domes.
Sikorsky,having attended to his biological needs,told his team members to move themselves into their new quarters,and do what they could to make themselves as comfortable as they could,while he followed after Barnes and began the investigation.
“Ok,L.T.,can you tell me what happened?”
“Sure”,replied Barnes. “It was just another day,until Reinhardt vanished. We run our small boat patrols 7 days a week,for as much of the year as the ice conditions allow. We usually have 4 or 5 boats out at any given time,and we don't shut down for dark,since we aren't ever very far offshore here,and since we have very good weather forecasting and monitoring,any of the boats can make a run for shore,which is exactly what happened that day.
Our weather guys saw a blow coming on,and we got on the horn and warned everyone to head for the beach. We had 100% accountability-everyone had checked in with position reports and status reports,and all our boat pilots had reported back that they were secure. We told everyone to hold what they got-the weather was worse than we'd consider normal,so we didn't want anyone getting ambitious-and this was done by voice,individually,to each pilot. And all of the pilots responded back that they ha no plans to go anywhere,and that they would wait until the all clear was sounded before they tried to move. I did all the notifications,and they're logged,and the recordings were preserved for any forensics people who might be interested,which I guess is you folks.”
“So how,and when did you find out that Reinhardt was gone?”,asked Sikorsy? When he didn't acknowledge a transmission?”
“Exactly so”,replied Barnes. “The last time I spoke to Reinhardt personally was when I told him to sit tight. I went off watch,and my relief reported that he made a routine comm check with everyone a couple of hours later. Reinhardt answered that one,and the watch chief said it sounded like he'd just woke up,which would make sense. Not much to do out there once everything gets tied down except read,sleep,eat,or suchlike. He probably fixed himself a hot meal and caught some z's. We figured the blow might go on for as long as 24 hours,which is a little unusual,but not nothing that hasn't happened up here any number of times. He didn't answer the next comm check by voice,but his nav gear responded when we pinged it,and the man on watch at that time-two watches after me,by then-didn't think anything was wrong,nor did he have any reason to think anything was wrong. We had 5 boats out,and two of the other pilots didn't reply by voice either,since they were fast asleep by then as well.
This is the kind of thing that always happens here,Mr. Sikorsky,and in fact,that blow is why we use ,those kayaks out there for surveillance,instead of powered boats. They have a lot more mobility,and with a skilled operator,they can shrug off waves that would have a powered boat upside down. And they can land almost anywhere if the weather gets bad enough to warrant it,and-again-they do it all the time.”
“What's the normal schedule for these patrols,if there is one?”,asked Sikorsky.”You have set areas,established routes,that kind of thing?”
“Not really anything that fancy”,said Barnes.”The ice governs where the boats can go,and we don't want to be too predictable,so we set out patrol areas,but leave the actual routing to the pilot when he gets there. The idea is to cruise around and listen for any intrusion,and if we had any kind of schedule,that could be clocked and used against us. There aren't any specific phase lines or that kind of thing-the boat pilots head for water deep enough that their mikes have a chance of picking up something besides wave noise,and then if we alert them to something interesting,they can try to get closer,and they can also drop their wired microphone down into the water. They don't have any data processing capability on their boats,but we have that here,and we can put them into the loop and give them realtime feedback on what's down there,or what isn't.”
“How often do you find something?”,asked Sikorsky?
“About twice a month,on average”,said Barnes. If we get a contact that looks promising,we alert the AOO-the aircraft on orbit. There's always-weather permitting-at least one of our patrol planes within a 5 minute travel radius,and if they have to do it,they have the stuff to actually drop on a submarine.
Some of the subs belong to us-they'll be up here on routine training missions,and we're never told in advance,so we get some intramurals every once in a while. The others are Uncle's,or Canadian,and once in a while,we'll get a Swede or a Norwegian. One Chinese a couple of years ago,and of all people,we had a contact from what turned out to be an Indian sub,about 3 years ago,and we never could figure out what the hell they were doing up here. But mostly,U.S. And Canadians poking around. Before we were here,they used to land special forces teams. They still sneak by us once in a while,but at least with us up here,they have to work a lot harder at it than they used to have to work. If the weather gets bad enough that we have to huddle up,it's almost always too bad to land anyone,and if we're there watching,we have a very good chance of seeing what's going on,although there aren't any ironclad guarantees in this line of work.
One thing that worries us is divers. If you try hard enough,you can get a diver out of a submarine,period. That's why we run a lot of shore patrols and low level aerial sweeps too. If a diver can get to shore,he'll have to cache his equipment,or dispose of it somehow,so we keep an eye out for that,too. That has to qualify as some of the most miserable duty in existence,making a foot patrol in this part of the world.”
“A good way to chasten misbehavers?”,Sikorsky asked?
“Far from it. The PSG is volunteer and invitation only,and as odd as it might sound,we have to turn people away. The vids account for a lot of that,because they make this out to be a lot more exciting than it is,but we get the adventurous types,although they aren't our first choice of people,and the kinds of people who enjoy working hard on their own. We don't let just anyone up here,because all joking aside,there really is a low level war still going on,and we operate on something close to a war footing. No incompetents allowed up here,I'm afraid. We rotate shore patrol duty,and everyone but me gets to take their turn. And if someone sprains an ankle or catches a cold,I've had to sling a rifle myself. In fact,I might be the only incompetent at this post-since I got the command slot last year,my small boat certification hasn't been updated,and I can't legally grab hold of a paddle until it's current. This might be one of the only places in the NDF where the commander isn't allowed into the boat”,he said with a grin. “I've been through the small boat course and all of the other related training,but there'd be all kinds of hell raised if I was to take off in a 'yak without being current. If I managed to drown myself,even more hell,although there's doubtless those who'd think it a good riddance.”
“Does that happen very often?”,the agent asked? “Fatalities?”
“A lot more often than I'd like to see”,replied Barnes. “We run as tight a ship here as possible-or at least I like to think that. But we have a job to do,and it's a job that has to be done,so once in a while we make a call that comes down on the side of expedience,at the cost of safety and maybe common sense. This is maybe the most hostile body of water on the planet,and anyone on it is already pushing the envelope of what can be done by human beings. Overall,the PSG covers about 500 miles of coastline in detachments like this,roughly every 20 miles. Those figures are straight line figures,by the way-if you counted every inlet and such,there's probably five or six thousand miles of this coast. Figure 25 outposts like this,with roughly 10 boats each,and those boats don't do any good sitting in their cradles,so we work like heck to keep them out where they're supposed to be. If there are 250 boats in the water up here,you're going to have incidents. Problem up here is that incidents turn fatal real quick.
We lose a couple of people a year,in a good year. Stuff happens-a freak storm hits and flips a boat,or a pilot gets overconfident and tries going between a couple of chunks of pack ice,or hell-he tries to do some fishing and the fish throws him off balance. Or he just stops paying attention for a few seconds,or dozes off and comes out of his boat. We drill-and boat drills are a religion up here-but there's still a difference between rolling a boat in shallow water where all your friends can see you,and doing it all by yourself 5 miles off the shore. In some ways,this job is a lot like flying-it only takes one mistake to kill you,and some of the time,it doesn't even take a mistake.”
It's always hard to assign a cause when it happens,and that's bad. Patrols are solo,which might not make any sense at first,but we found out that things just work better that way. If this was warm water,we'd probably use two boat patrols,but up here,rescue attempts have this really annoying tendency to wind up with two people in the water instead of just one. We have an automatic sensor on each boat that's supposed to alert the air assets that a boat has flipped,and send out an automatic SOS,but they don't work 100% of the time,and there just aren't enough boats up here in the first place to warrant a big R&D effort to build a better one. There's a couple of guys in the PSG tech section that work on that when they get time,but it's in addition to their regular duties,so an improved version might take some time. The thumb rule is that once you're out of the boat and in the water,you're dead. It doesn't always happen,and we've fished a few people out when all the gear worked right. We also had a guy that was able to get back into his boat after he came out. That was another time when everything went perfect,except for him coming out of the boat in the first place-but those are pretty much exceptions to the rule.
Most of the time,we have to chalk it up to pilot error,or an act of the gods. That makes writing the families a tough job-sorry,but as far as we can figure out,your kid died because he fucked up. Even if it's the truth,it isn't what Mom,Dad,the wife and the kids need to hear. I've had to write one myself,and even though I dressed it up for all I was worth,the message still boiled down to that.
What gets me about Rhine is that everything vanished. When we got to where he's been,it was like he'd packed his gear back into his boat,and paddled off. No debris or wreckage,no sign of a struggle that we could see,no bear tracks-and we've had one boat chased by an irate polar bear,believe it or not. And polar bears are almost pure carnivores,and they'll attack a human faster than a grizzly will,so yeah,we checked for an sign of bear. Again,none that we could see.”
“We kind of lean towards him being grabbed,just on what we know now”,said Sikorsky. “And please,call me Ski,like everyone else does.”
“Being friends now,huh?”
“L.T.,let's get something straight,right now. You have your job. I have mine,and both of those jobs involve finding out what happened to a member of your command. I didn't know the gentleman from Adam,but I'm getting paid to find out what happened to him. You get paid to try to see that the same thing doesn't happen to anyone else,and I'll bend over backwards to work with you. But if I have to proceed without any help from you,we can do it that way. Your call,not mine. Am I making myself clear?”
“Yeah”,sighed Barnes. “I was out of line,and apologies are hereby offered.”
“Plenty good for me”,said Sikorsky-”When does dinner get served around here?”
“Come on-I'll point you at our dining hall,which is also our rec center,meeting room,and social gathering place. I suspect that you folks will get a decent fish dinner out of this,but let's go find out for sure. They might have some whiskey there too,come to think.
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