Monday, September 10, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 33 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 33 -- Isolation
The wind woke him. He felt it in the hull. Over the night, the wind direction shifted. Coming from the south, their hundred and ten foot anchor line had gone slack and the Reprisal had drifted twice that distance north before feeling any resistance.
It’s slipping. He dressed in a hurry, and headed topside. It was pre-dawn, and the clouds were rolling in. The most obvious difference from last night was that the ship had turned around. Tethered from the bow, they were facing south, into the new wind.
But when he’d set the anchor, it was from the opposite direction, so the tines had pulled loose. They were drifting north, dragging anchor as they went.
In a few minutes, the ship would be near the entrance to the breakwater.
Just my luck I’ll get there when the ferry arrives.
He went to the bow and started the winch. The anchor might snag again, but he didn’t count on it.
The gears whined as the line wound smoothly on the drum. Then, the chain and the anchor, still smeared with mud, appeared. I’ll clean it later.
Back to the helm, he pushed the throttle and turned the ship northwest.
“What’s up?”
Marvin was in the hatchway, looking particularly shaggy and unshaved. “Anchor came loose.” Tommy explained the winds.
“I’m thinking I’ll just move on out. With the winds behind us, we’ll make twice the speed we’ve been doing. I think we should take advantage of it.”
Marvin rubbed his chin. “Probably a good idea. Anything I can do to help?”
“Anchor needs to be washed off and stowed, but that can wait a little.”
“No need.” He kicked off the slippers he was wearing and walked up to the bow.
Tommy began the process of rigging the sails to run with the wind. Before too long, he turned off the engine and concentrated on setting a true course.
He wanted to stay fifteen to thirty minutes from shore, for safety’s sake, but well into deep water. The winds would shift on him, he knew. But if he could find an optimum path, he could set the autopilot and spend more time on other things.
He fingered his own chin. Shaving hadn’t been an issue, although he’d bought his own razor back at home, and played with it from time to time.
There was some scratch. Maybe he’d let it grow.
Once he dropped off his passengers, he could no longer rely on the story that he was just a crewman, under the authority of some older man. He’d have to play the role of captain in his own right, and that would be a whole lot easier if he looked twenty-ish, rather than seventeen.
When a light squall started splattering the deck, Tommy sent Bert down to get his rain gear. Bree brought it back up.
“Is this what you wanted?”
“Yeah.” He put it on and adjusted the hat. “You’d better stay dry, too.”
She looked at the sky. “Is it going to be like this all day?”
He shrugged. “I only know what the radio tells me. Nick was going to order a navigation package that would download weather maps from the satellite, but we never got around to it.”
A gust of wind whipped some spray into his face. Bree squealed as she caught it too. “I could really use a weather map!”
She dashed into the protection of the hatchway and closed the door.
The rain came down steadily for an hour, and then began to let up. In a perverse way, he enjoyed it.
It wasn’t the first time he’d stayed at the helm in the rain. He listened to the weather radio, but since the announcement was on a loop, it quickly got boring. As soon as he found himself talking along with the meteorologist, and mimicking the click that happened when the live report switched to a canned announcement about lightning protection, he realized he’d had enough.
That weather module. The one we were going to get. It downloaded the weather maps from satellite radio. It would also give me access to music and talk radio channels.
But how could he buy the thing, and subscribe to the service, while staying off the grid? It might be impossible now.
I really need my laptop. I could get weather details that way. There were lots of things he could get, if he had a networked computer.
Once the rain stopped, first Bree, and then Marvin took watches at the helm.
“I’ve got an idea.”
Marvin looked up from the GPS, following the course Tommy had marked. “Oh?”
Tommy scratched Bert’s head. They were both taking a break.
“Yeah. The problem is that we’re isolated. That’s a good thing, in that it makes us invisible. But it’s a bad thing too.
“I really could have used better weather reports this morning. That anchor business could have been avoided if I’d known when the winds were going to change. It could have gotten nasty, if it’d blown us up against the breakwater.
“And there’s other things. We’re just blind out here!
“Is there an alert out for us? Do police and harbormasters have our pictures, just waiting for us to show our faces? Has anyone noticed our disappearance?
“The thing is... we can run from everyone, and run ourselves ragged. It’s like the proverb. ‘The wicked flee when no man pursueth.’ I hate being like that. I don’t feel wicked.
“Maybe it’s only the company hunting us. Maybe they’re holding their cards close, and haven’t called in the officials. It would be good to know that.”
Marvin nodded. “I feel that way too, but there’s no help for it. We’re cut off. We chose to do that. You tossed your cell phone, too.”
“Yeah, but there’s a difference. Cell phones are tracking devices. We aren’t totally cut off. I mean, I could make a phone call right now, if we really, really needed to.”
He looked startled, “How?”
“The marine radio. I could probably raise the Marine Operator and they’d make the call for us. Not that we want to do it. For one thing, it’s on a public channel. But what I mean is that there are other options.”
“Like what?”
“Like getting a laptop, with an Internet enabled cell phone.”
“A cell phone? That’d just put us back where we started!”
“No, it wouldn’t. The Cleaners aren’t scanning all cell phone traffic everywhere listening in for our voices. They’re scanning for known ID numbers, already linked to us in the databases. That’s why we had to get rid of the phones, once they were compromised.
“But there’s nothing wrong with cell phones themselves.
“You see. I could buy a cell phone with a false identity, and then, every time we’re near a port city with cell phone coverage, we could get on the Internet and check for the information we need -- weather maps, police advisories, etc.
“That way, we’d know, ahead of time, if we were running into dangerous situations.”
Marvin shook his head. “I don’t know. It seems to me the risk of getting the equipment would outweigh the advantages. You might be walking right into a trap.”
Tommy nodded. “It might be, if we went where they expected. But the way I figure it, the company is limited in resources. They can’t watch every place in the country. If they have half a brain among them, they’re concentrating on port cities.
“If they have Dek, then they know we’re on a sailboat in Lake Michigan. And even if Dek didn’t turn on us, it looks like they suspect anyway, with those helicopter overflights.
“They could have a limited watch on port cities, checking all the sailboat traffic as it arrives. They could just hire people to do that, not telling them what it’s about.
“But the thing is, with the dinghy, I could land elsewhere -- not at a port, and take the motorcycle overland to a city big enough to have the phone and the laptop.
“After that, I know enough hacker tricks to keep the Internet traffic anonymous. We could even make anonymous phone calls, if it came to that, using VOIP software on the laptop.”
Marvin nodded, seeing his plan. “Okay, I understand what you want, but is it really necessary? Why not just stay like we are? We’ve got food and water. We’ve got the wind. It seems to me that it’s an unnecessary risk.”
He looked Tommy over carefully. “Unless there’s something else. Some secret?”
Tommy nodded, not meeting his eye. “Two things, really.
“For one, our path has some flexibility, but we can’t get into Lake Superior without going through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie. And that’s where I would have company agents waiting, if I were in charge. I promised to get your family to safety, to Thunder Bay, but unless I can be satisfied that the locks aren’t a trap waiting to spring on us, I am not going to take the Marissa that way.
“Sorry. But that’s it. I have to have reasonable intelligence confirming that it’s safe for us, or else I take you somewhere else. Somewhere without an obvious trap. At the lock, we’d be caught, under the lights, and monitored from every direction by security cameras.
“As far as I can see, it’s a much safer bet to avoid Lake Superior altogether, and find a safe destination somewhere on Lake Michigan or Lake Huron. It’ll be dangerous enough going under the Mackinac Bridge, but at least there we’d have options of darkness or fog or riding in the wake of a big ship or something.”
Marvin was silent in thought for a while.
“Two things. You said two things.”
It was Tommy’s turn to be silent. He hadn’t wanted to mention it. It was Nick’s secret, and he hadn’t been told to share it.
“Yeah.” He looked off to the far east. Distance and clouds made the land invisible, but he knew it was there.
“Nick left me a message, right before Ruth took him away. I’m supposed to contact him, over the Internet.
“I know there is more to his plan than I was able to learn. I know that he has more to tell me. I have to make the effort -- to contact him. I have to know that he’s still alive!” 

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