Sunday, 25 July 2010

Chapter Three - Scene 6

Quebec, Canada                                                   Tuesday 9th March, 5.25 p.m.

“DOES that hurt?” The doctor’s question was rhetorical. The sharp intake of air and tensing of the muscles made an answer unnecessary.

Felix relaxed with the release of the probing fingers. Lying on the couch in the Ski Center’s medical room, stripped to the waist, he waited for the prognosis. The past two hours had been a trial for him. A rueful expression appeared on his face as he recalled his accident. He was still astonished at making such a stupid mistake. ‘Imagine running into a tree.’

Thinking back, he remembered his father preparing him for the long trip down. To hold his ribs in place and keep them from excessive movement, John had taken off his own jersey and strapped Felix’s right arm against his chest, knotting it on his back like a giant bandage. The extra bulk under Felix’s jacket had increased the warmth and given additional security. It helped reduce the pain when he twisted his body.

John had led the way down. Five meters behind Felix had followed his father’s tracks. Often they stopped, his father calling him before he committed himself to a pathway. Stepping back up over his own tracks, John would set off in another direction, always looking for the easiest way down through the trees.

Sometimes skiing, often snowplowing, but never cranking hard or jumping turns, they had picked their way down. It had begun to snow again. The late afternoon sun had filtered through the mist and trees, giving an eerie half-light, merging trees and shadows. Ahead of him, his father had been forced to slow his path finding.

They had rested many times. His father had rallied him with words of encouragement, adjusted the woolen ‘bandage’ and cleant his goggles. The pain in his chest had eased to a throb. He knew not to twist, brake or jump. His mind went into a daze. ‘Keep moving down. But keep it gentle.’ It was awkward using only one pole and trying not to turn his upper body. He had fallen twice. Both falls had been unexpected, when a ski had caught an edge in the soft snow. The pain was excruciating. The second fall, close to the end of the run was particularly severe. He had almost blacked out. But John had been there, helped him to his feet, handed him his pole and held him steady until he relaxed and was ready to continue.

“Well Felix.” The doctor’s voice snapped him out of his thoughts, “The X-ray shows you have two cracked ribs on your right side. They are clean fractures to be precise. Nothing to worry about.” He smiled down at him. “Of course they can hurt like hell, so we’ll strap you up. You’ll have to give skiing away for the rest of the season and keep your physical movements quiet. Otherwise no problems.”

“Thanks.” Felix met the doctor’s eyes briefly. Lowering his head back onto the pillow, he shut his eyes to close out the brightness of the lights. ‘Interesting,’ he thought to himself. ‘Dad told me I had cracked two ribs. Not one but two ribs.’ Reflecting back to the scene of the accident, he tried to recall the events after the crash.

It seemed like a dream now. Lifting up his left hand, he reached up to touch his right cheek. The skin was smooth and undamaged. ‘Did I really puncture my cheek on a branch,’ he wondered.

The doctor started taping his chest. Felix lay quietly, thinking how little he knew about his father. After his parents had divorced five years ago, when he was thirteen, his mother had taken Brigitte and himself to Calgary. They had lived with Memere and Pepere in the big house overlooking Lake Louise. It had taken a long time to settle in. Making friends had taken awhile. It had been easier for his sister, being three years younger.

He sat up as the nurse helped him on with his shirt. He hadn’t seen much of his father, only on holidays, and they only lasted a few days or a week or so at the most each year. He smiled to himself, recalling the hiking, skiing and canoeing trips. And that had been only during the last three years, because John had been in Japan prior to that.

Standing up, he smiled at the nurse. She was nice. If he was staying longer . . . He went through and sat down in the waiting room. His mother had always made out that his father was so different, that he accepted Eastern culture too easily and changed too much. Anyway she didn’t like Tokyo. Too many Japs, odd manners, impossible language, not enough white people. Real people! At the time he had accepted this criticism. But now . . . now he wasn’t so sure. He didn’t really know his father. They were never close. Today, though, that was something else. His body stiffened for an instant as he recalled the adventure. ‘I suppose I was lucky,’ he thought. ‘Here I am safe and well, apart from a couple of cracked ribs. Could have been a lot worse. No more skiing for four weeks. So what, it’s the end of the season. Hey, I wonder what we’ll do until I go back.’

“Felix, I’m sorry I’m late. How are you?” His father’s inquiry woke him from his daydream.

“Fine Dad. Fine. They’ve taped me up like a mummy,” he grinned. “The X-ray showed I’ve fractured two ribs, just like you said.”

“Good. That’s good. You’re looking much better. Let’s go and have something warm to eat and drink.” John paused, looking Felix straight to his face. “We’re going to have to reorganize the remainder of your stay here I’m afraid. I’ve just received a call from the university. It looks like I’m going to New Zealand. I’m leaving tonight!”

Chapter Three - Scene 5

San Francisco                                                     Wednesday 9th March, 6.28 p.m.

“I HOPE I haven’t left anything behind,” Carrie wondered aloud.

“Too bad if you have. It’s too late to go back now.” Amber laughed. “Don’t worry so much.”

Amber’s old Ford Capri was travelling smoothly as she drove Carrie over the Golden Gate Bridge. The glowing Pacific sunset, yellow to orange, down to red at the horizon, stretched away to their right. A palette of colors reflected off the water at the end of the spring day.

“I’m trying not to.” The two hairpins in her mouth muffled Carrie’s reply. She looked in the mirror on the reverse of the sunshade, adjusting her long blonde hair.

“Well, no delay with fog this end. That’s a good sign.” Amber carried on the conversation in her lighthearted way. “Pity you won’t be here for Saturday night. I had a great guy for you . . .”

“Come on Amber,” Carrie cut in. “Just because Dave’s away on a three month course, it doesn’t mean I’m looking around!”

“Well you’ve got to take every opportunity. WATCH OUT, BLOODY ROAD HOG!” she shouted at the driver of a car cutting in front of her. “It’s hard to find a decent fella let alone keep him these days. Now you’re going to miss Steve, Steve Newman. He’s ideal for you—brilliant programmer . . .”

“Cut it out Amber! You know how important my work is to me. Dave’s a good friend and our relationship suits me fine at present. I don’t want to start another one. You know that!”

“I know. I know. I’ve heard it all before. But mark my words my girl you’re going to fall one day. And when you do you’ll wonder what’s struck you.”

“It’ll come when it comes.” Carrie took the opportunity to change the subject. “Do you think what I’m wearing is OK?”

Amber looked to her right at Carrie’s slim willow-like figure, and felt a twinge of envy as she thought of her own short stature. “You look great. I always say you should travel in casual gear, and jeans. That top and the pink jersey will be fine.”

“Thanks.” They were now on safe ground. “What do you think of my T-shirt?”

“Well as Greenpeace doesn’t have a standard uniform I suppose “No Time to Waste -- Greenpeace” written over your boobs is as good as anything to show what you do!”

“Yes I thought so,” Carrie replied briefly before lapsing into her own thoughts. Twenty-five months had passed since she had completed the assignment with Project Jonah and joined Greenpeace. She had been lucky to head up the Whale Division of the Research Center. Of course, her Ph.D in zoology and thesis on ‘Methods of Whale Stock Assessment’ had been the clincher.

Amber was concentrating on her driving as the dusk turned into darkness. Carrie indulged herself, thinking back on how she had critically assessed the six methods of assessing whale stocks and concluded that even when results from each were combined, the level of error was still too high. Then she had proposed developing a combination of the ‘La Jolla Model’ and ‘Whale Marking’, which would be superior to all of them. This had been the basis for STROW’S development. It had been operating for six months, getting better each month as their techniques improved. And now, because of its accuracy, differences such as lower numbers of bull sperm whales, immeasurable in the past, were quickly and accurately reported.

“Is there anything else you’d like me to do?” Amber’s question startled Carrie.

“Oh. Um. Yes there is.” Carrie’s thoughts returned to the present. “Could you ring Mom and tell her I left safely. She asked me to do it from the airport. But I might not have time.”

“Sure, no problem. Anything else?”

“Ah, if you have a moment could you ring through to where Dave’s staying in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Don’t worry if you don’t speak to him. But could you leave a message that I’ll be away overseas for a week or so.” Carrie’s instruction tailed off.

“What. No ‘I’m missing you so much’, ‘My love for you is for ever’ or ‘I’m waiting for your passionate thrusts’.” Amber burst into laughter at her flat-mates embarrassed silence.

“Just ring as I asked.” Carrie’s smile was hidden in the darkness. “And please leave out the extras.”

“Right on. No worries. But you remember to enjoy yourself. I know it’s a big adventure but enjoy yourself. Try and have a good time.” Amber’s words echoed in Carries ears as the car turned off the freeway to San Francisco Airport.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Chapter Three - Scene 4

Quebec, Canada                                                                                           Tuesday 9th March, 2.22 p.m.

JOHN Daroux carefully propped his son against the trunk of the tree. He had removed Felix’s skis and made him comfortable, supported by the soft powder snow. Felix sat desultory and forlorn, the shock of his accident wearing off. In his right hand he held his father’s handkerchief, carefully covering the gash in his right cheek to staunch the flow of blood.

Interrupting the quietness, John, keeping his voice calm, asked, “Felix, are you comfortable?”

“My chest, Jesus, it’s on fire!” Half sob through pain.

John raised his eyebrows in surprise. ‘It may be worse than it appears,’ he thought to himself. Still keeping his voice steady, he shifted to a kneeling position as he spoke. “Felix, I’ll need to check you out as you may have other injuries.”

“Be bloody careful,” interjected Felix through clenched teeth, “and try not to take too long. It’s getting damned cold up here!”

“Just sit there quietly, close your eyes and relax. I’m not going to touch you and it won’t hurt, OK.” John Daroux’s voice was quiet and insistent. “Just relax.” Silence from Felix, indicated that his son was fighting a battle against pain.

Carefully, John arranged his legs into a semi-lotus position. He sat upright, hands resting on his knees, fingers lightly clenched. Closing his eyes, he took three deep breaths, expelling each slowly. He counted himself down. As he relaxed, his mind switched to his right brain and the alpha waves swept over him. His consciousness retreated.

Mentally, he visualized his son’s body. Starting at his head he pictured his brain, eyes, nose and mouth. They were all clear. But the jagged edges of the hole in his cheek glowed like a red star, confirming the injury. ‘It will have to be attended to immediately,’ he thought.

He continued checking over the rest of Felix’s body. It was all clear except for two red spots on his right rib cage. ‘Looks like he’s cracked a couple of ribs. Can’t do much about that at present.’ Counting himself back—three, two, one—John opened his eyes, clear in his own mind about the steps he had to take.

“Felix, I think you have cracked a couple of ribs on your right side which will account for the pain there.” Pausing, watching his son’s face carefully, he carried on. “I can’t do much about that, but I want to have a go at healing your cheek. It needs immediate attention . . .”

“Come on DAD!” Felix forced out his interjection. “This sounds like the hocus pocus stuff Mum said you picked up in Japan. I don’t believe . . . “ He didn’t finish his sentence because the pain shot through his wounded face.

“I know son. I know. But you’ve nothing to lose and it’s a long way to the bottom where we can get proper medical attention. So just relax.” John’s voice was persuasive and calming, overriding his son’s apprehensions. “I want you to stay relaxed and to picture in your mind your wound healing. Do you understand?”

“Yeah, I hear you.” Felix’s lack of conviction was clear to both of them.

Undisturbed, his voice soothing, John continued. “Relax Felix, relax. Keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them. Hold the handkerchief lightly on your cheek. You will feel your face become warm. It should tingle as the healing process takes place. Expect it. Welcome it. But remain relaxed and keep your eyes closed.”

Arranging himself again in a semi lotus position, John closed his eyes and counted himself down to his level. Quiet and relaxed, he focussed on a vivid mental picture of his son.

Going first to his heart, he imagined his hands encircling it, holding it quietly, slowing down its pumping so as to lower the blood pressure and minimize the bleeding. Directing his attention lower, he pictured Felix’s spleen. Ordering it and visualizing it, in his mind’s eye, he saw it emptying its reservoirs of blood into circulation, and intensifying the production of leukocytes.

Shifting his attention to the site of the wound he observed that the tissues had been shredded, the cells, nerves and capillaries torn apart. The hole was open to invasion by a host of disease germs. Imagining a vivid ceremony, he pictured an elaborate written order being handed over to his son’s body, instructing it that a constant supply of leukocytes, phagocytes and macrophages were to be directed to the wound to devour the bacteria, consume the dead cells and dispose of other debris.

Urging the body to react quickly, he further ordered the release of lymph and plasma to keep the wound moist. Now that the preliminary process of cleansing the wound and protecting the body from infection had been initiated, the healing could proceed in an orderly manner.

Vividly picturing the cheek, he instructed the immediate creation of a new component from the blood on the wound site. Called fibroplast, it began acting as a kind of scaffolding and reinforcement. A living substance, it began to fill in over the surface of the wound, creating a patch. Emphasizing urgency in the healing process, John pictured the patch strengthening over the fiber trellis. A constant supply of material was now being transferred from other parts of the body. Tissues were being broken down and muscle changed into amino acids. The materials were being transported directly to the wound site.

“My face, my face. It’s so hot.” Felix’s cry broke the silence of the snow-covered hillside.

“Just relax. Keep your eyes closed. The healing process is working.” John’s voice was muffled as he broke temporarily from his deep meditation.

Now he urged the body to concentrate on creating granulation tissue. The drilling of capillaries and nerve terminals.

He could see the muscle fibers growing, meeting and splicing together. New skin was being formed under the scab by the skin cells. Elongating and stretching out until a fine covering formed. The new skin cells knitted together in an orderly way as the wound fully healed.

In his mind John became aware of a peaceful feeling coming over him. The red glow around the wound had disappeared. Felix’s face now had a healthy glow. His breathing was regular and relaxed.

The psychic healing had worked.

Counting himself out, John opened his eyes, and instructed his son to do the same. Gently reaching out, he lifted Felix’s hand away from his cheek. The gash had gone. In answer to the look of amazement in his son’s eyes, John smiled as he said: “There’s not even a scar for you to boast about to your friends!”

Chapter Three - Scene 3

San Francisco, Sausalito                                                                   Wednesday 10th March, late afternoon

THE seal point Siamese kitten sat quietly for a moment. It was waiting and watching. Oblivious of the view of the bay it was mesmerized by the crumpled ball of Christmas wrapping paper. Tied tightly with string, attached to the center of the window frame above, it could swing freely just above its head. Unerringly, the kitten’s paw patted the ball, stopping its swing. The warm, low sun silhouetted its body with a halo. Its whiskers were bright, the veins clear in its transparent ears. It had been playing by itself for the past half-hour. Suddenly, letting the ball dangle, it jumped down and ran through the doorway of the apartment towards the sound of voices in the bedroom.

“Well that should be enough clothes. Its autumn there isn’t it? How long do you think you will be away Carrie?” Amber Jones, sitting on the bed, looked up at her flat-mate who was cradling a pile of clothes in her arms.

“I’m not sure.” Carrie’s reply seemed to justify the look of concern on her friend’s face. “Maybe a week, perhaps two. They’re not sure. Do you think this is enough?”

“Yep. It looks enough. You’re going to be on a boat most of the time aren’t you? It should be cruisy.” She giggled at her own joke. Reaching down with her right hand, she scooped up the kitten nuzzling at her leg.

“You’ll miss your mommy won’t you little Lucy?” she crooned as she held it to her chest.

“It’s all happening so fast.” Carrie sat down on the bed placing the clothes in a separate pile. “I didn’t expect to go so soon. You know I’ve never been on a major field trip before. And to go to New Zealand.” Her voice lifted with excitement. “That’s fantastic! They’re really advanced with their research on baleens and maybe I’ll have a chance to see how they tag them.”

The kitten wriggled free. Amber looked across at Carrie, glad that at last she was showing some excitement. Ever since Carrie had received the direction to go to Auckland, she had been in a tizz. Vacillating between her eagerness to accept the challenge and her natural reluctance to change, Carrie had needed her help.

Working in the computer section of the Whale Division of Greenpeace’s Research Center, one of Amber’s jobs was to prepare the monthly STROW. Carrie had worked late the previous night to analyze the results in time for Petra van de Roer to present to the weekly executive committee meeting of International. The disappearance of nine bull sperm whales over the last two months was very odd. Carrie’s suggestion that the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctica might be involved was a brilliant piece of deduction. But unsubstantiated. It needed investigation, urgent investigation, and Carrie, the research specialist had to go.

“Shall I take my pack?” Carrie’s request was for guidance as well as support.

“Don’t think so. You shouldn’t need to do any hiking as you’ll be on a boat most of the time.” Amber’s giggle was infectious. “You can borrow my suitcases if you like.”

“Oh great! Thanks Amber, I would appreciate that.” Her quick reply expressed her relief as another decision was made. “I’ll need my wet suit though won’t I?”

“Yes you’d better take that.” Then, as an afterthought, Amber smiled as a joke came to her mind. She looked at her tense flat-mate sitting in her white robe, nervously running the fingers of her left hand through her long blonde hair. “Maybe you’ll have to protest in an inflatable!”

“Do you think so?” The response was immediate as she sat up with a start, her voice rising an octave.

“Who knows. I’m only kidding. You’ll find out when you get there. So don’t worry about it now.” Amber’s voice was soothing. “Look, you have less than an hour before we leave. I’ll get the suitcases.”

“Thanks Amber. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come home with me. It’s all such a rush.” Her voice lowered. “I do hope Alan and Sandra can carry on while I’m away. You . . .”

“C’mon Carrie. Cut that out” Amber interrupted. “They’re very capable of looking after the Center while you’re away. Now get yourself into gear, girl. You haven’t much time left if you’re going to catch the seven o’clock shuttle to LA.”

Carrie reached out and caught the kitten hugging her close so her cheek lay against the soft fur. “Will you miss me while I’m away?” she whispered.

The room was quiet. Stillness broke only by gentle purring.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Chapter Three - Scene 2

Quebec, Canada                                                                                          Tuesday 9th March, 2.13 p.m.

FELIX was working hard. Timber cruising for him was as pure a form of skiing as you could find. Cranking hard, he made two high-speed survival turns to drop into a little meadow. Flattening out for a moment, the small area gave him a chance to collect himself. Then it fell away into dense forest. Ducking under the branches of a snow-laden birch, he bounced off an old stump. A quick turn in the air, just enough to get his heart pumping. And then down again. He felt a stream of sweat starting to trickle down his back. ‘Outrageous!’ He let out a howl of delight.

Further back, at a slower rate, John Daroux was experiencing the true essence of “skiing trees”. Nobody was witnessing the highly personal relationship between skier, mountain, snow and epinette.

John wondered how Felix was going. He’d been impressed by the improvement in his technique. Obviously the result of much practice. ‘The sign of a committed student,’, he smiled. Still he had learnt from Felix to exaggerate his unweighting motion and keep his speed up and to use the snow more as a natural brake.

Braking to a stop, he recalled what a ski instructor had once said. “You can’t fake it in the trees. Either you’re good enough to make it down in one piece or you bite it big.” ‘Yes,’ he thought, ‘that’s right. It’s a real test.’

Further down the mountain Felix, trying hard to slow his speed spotted an old windfall directly ahead of him. ‘Jump, damn it . . . too fast . . . slow down.’ More survival turns as he scrambled to get back on line. Sharp branches poked at his goggles. ‘Left! Left!’ he screamed to himself. Cranking hard, he forced his skis across the hill. Suddenly there was nowhere to go. WHOOMP! Arms clutched at a birch trunk. ‘Hold on, oh God.’ Air expelled from his lungs in an explosive gasp as his head slammed against the tree trunk. The impact caused his body to rebound and collapse onto the snow. He lost consciousness.

Observing the deep ruts beside the old windfall, John Daroux braked quickly. Sensing the beginning of a steep pitch, he slowed to a stop to check his run. Peering down through the lifting cloud, he scanned the gully. His gaze was attracted to a red blob to his left. Uncertain, he raised his goggles and stared again. ‘My God, that looks like Felix’s jacket.’ His mind raced. ‘What’s happened?’ Lowering his goggles, he pushed off around the windfall and down into the gully towards his son. ‘He’s not moving, God. What’s happened?’

Braking to a stop, John stepped off his skis jabbing his poles upright in the snow. Goggles pushed up onto his forehead, he kneeled down. Reaching out under his son’s arms, he lifted him away from the tree. Gently lowering him to the ground, John, his voice urgent, cried, “Felix! Felix can you hear me! Are you alright?”

A shudder of awakening as Felix returned to consciousness. “Ohhh Jesus,” expelled from his clenched mouth as his eyelids opened.

“Felix, it’s alright. You’ve had an accident. Where does it hurt?”

An anguished cry mixed with blood and spit escaped from his clenched mouth. “My face! JESUS my face!”

He turned exposing a bloody gaping hole in his right cheek. John caught his breath at the sight of the puncture from the jagged edge of a snapped branch. Shocking. Hideous.

Blood from the disfigurement soiled the purity of the white snow.

Chapter Three - Scene 1

Quebec, Canada                                                                                     Tuesday, 9th March, 2.06 p.m.

FELIX Daroux led down the testing run. The younger of the two men, Felix skied through the epinette of sugar maple, birch and spruce. Windfalls, stumps and heavy timber reached out and grabbed at him. Inviting gullies, waterfalls and drainages were by-passed as he threw himself off a rock. Three turns and he was gone.

The other skier followed, letting his skis ride high up the far side of the gully before cranking them back down, spraying snow as he came off the lip. Then another on the near side. He worked hard to slow his speed, just in time to see an old windfall directly in his path. Planting his pole he jump-turned and edged to an abrupt stop. Looking down he saw Felix pushing his tall body up from the snow, laughing.

“Hey Dad, that’s the best high-bum drag I’ve done in years!” Gasping for breath and readjusting his goggles, Felix looked up. “I told you this run would blow your socks off!”

“Yeah!” John Daroux drew out his reply. “For you this zero run is more like the death flight of a Kamikaze pilot!” The skepticism of age toward youth was lost on Felix. Carefully circumventing the windfall, he joined his son.

“It still looks good, Mon ami.” Felix grinned as he pulled his gloves back on.

“Pity there’s so much cloud around,” John Daroux commented, looking up as it began to snow heavily, his large frame matching his son’s. “I must say I prefer Mont. St. Anne on fine days.”

“Come on! Where’s that young, fit father I used to know?” Without pausing, he added, “Hey this is the best run on the mountain and there’s no one else here. Fantastic!” With that he pushed off.

Still catching his breath, John Daroux shook his head at his eighteen-year-old son’s impetuosity. ‘If we keep going at this rate I could have trouble surviving to the end of the Spring Break.’ Pausing a little longer, he smiled. It had been hard to drag Felix away from the slopes of Lake Louise. But he had won this time. Jeanne, his ex-wife, had taken both children with her when she had remarried and moved to Calgary in Alberta over three years ago. Having Felix with him now, as well as for the summer break, was a big concession on her part.

“What the hell,” his lips whispered to himself, “enjoy it while you can.” Propping himself up, he pushed off. His skis floated in the powder as he focussed his attention on following his son’s tracks.

Chapter Two - Scene 6

Southern Ocean                                                                                                                    Early March

“CAPTAIN, Captain.” The first officer’s voice stirred Dan from his musings. “Shishi Maru, three hundred and fifty meters off starboard bow.

“Moving to the center of the room, Yasuguro Dan stopped and turned to look forward. From the great height of his command position atop the bridge deck of his ship the Taiji Maru, a twenty-five thousand ton supply and factory vessel, his professional eye inspected the killing ground.

Yasuguro Dan was a typical whaler from Taiji. Short and stocky, he had a flattened and unremarkable face. He was fit and healthy from his demanding, active outdoors life. Only the gray tufts of hair above his cheekbones, beside each ear, revealed his true age. At fifty-three he had over thirty-year’s experience in the whaling industry. A long time. Hands behind his back, he paced across the bridge. He was waiting, and while he waited he let his thoughts roll back.

Since the seventeenth century, when his forebears devised the capturing of larger whales by netting, Taiji had remained the leading whaling village in Japan. A feeling of pride rose within him. Located on the southern coast of the Kii peninsula, his village had always hunted dolphins and pilot whales that passed close by on their seasonal journey to and from the Arctic feeding grounds. Crews in rowing boats were guided by scouts on the cliff top above their village. Signal flags were used to direct the crews, who rounded up the small creatures, driving them into their bay where they could be slaughtered. The ingenious method they developed three hundred years ago progressed to the capture of larger whales ranging from minke to sperm. The hunting techniques had changed accordingly. The rowing crews would surround the whale with a large net. Caught like a fly in a spider’s web, the whale thrashed about until it was exhausted. Sure, other coastal villages had copied the method, but Taiji, the inventor, remained the leader. By classifying whales as fish, their meat became widely accepted, as the Buddhist ethic against killing animals prevailed. It was marvelous how a use was found for every part of the whale. Blubber was turned into oil for fuel, or mixed with vinegar and sold as a pesticide to control insects in the rice paddies. Oil extracted from the bones was used for cooking and sugar making. The gut, tendons and sinews were dried and used to lash wood together or tie armor in place. The baleen, a horny material from the whale’s palate, called whalebone, was incorporated into the tips of fishing rods, pipes and puppet strings. Entrails, which were not eaten, were boiled down to make soup stock. Any unused material was subsequently turned into fertilizer. Nothing was wasted. Even the whale teeth were fashioned into tools or carved into ornaments. Ornaments with magical qualities, able to pass on the great power of the sperm whale to the wearer.

Beams of sunlight burst through the cumulus cloud highlighting the foam tops of the swell like spectators’’ togas at a gladiators’ fight in the coliseum. Wheeling around overhead, several gulls looked down on the scene, preparing to dive for scraps. Below them the two protagonists were locked together, as if in death throes, as the whale chaser and its prey rose and fell with the swell. Lashed along side the chaser, the whale’s smooth, black skin, shone like polished ebony in the rays of the lowering sun. The once mighty leviathan lay floating in a red slick of its own blood.

Through his binoculars, Yasuguro Dan noted that only one harpoon was lodged behind the whale’s head. It had been a clean kill. No need for a second harpoon or even electrocution. ‘That is good,’ he mused, ‘the meat will be good.’ Looking further he saw the bloody slash on the massive body. Slit open immediately after death to let the sea cool the body to prevent bacterial decomposition, this allowed the meat to be used for human consumption.

‘An excellent kill,’ he observed to himself. This extra sperm whale, making ten in all, was a bonus on top of their good season. They had achieved the full limit of 330 minke whales. The little rogues, only a fifth of the size of this massive sperm whale, were legal prey in this part of the world. Yokohama Fisheries, his employers, in Yokohama had reported to the world their official kill some days ago.

He stamped his feet, more in frustration than for warmth. Since the restrictions on commercial killing in the 1986-7 season, the industry had stagnated and life had lost a lot of challenge. Thinking back further, he remembered the early 1960’s. He had been twenty-five years old then. It was the peak killing season when over sixty-six thousand whales were taken by all whaling fleets. Now it was less than half of one percent. ‘Can the industry survive?’ he wondered.

The voices of his officers and crew disturbed his thoughts. The massive bulk of the factory ship turned into the wind. Preparations for the transfer of the dead whale were being made. It would be hauled up the sloping stern and hoisted onto the cutting deck. Reaching for the microphone, he nodded to a crewmember to patch him through to the whale chaser.

“Number four? Number four? Do you read me? Over,” he said in his clipped manner.

“We read you loud and clear. Over,” came the immediate reply from Nisso Sasaki, who had been waiting for the call.

“Congratulations Captain, you have made a good kill. Makko kujira was an excellent choice. An extra bonus for us all!” He paused. “When can we make the transfer? The light may not hold for much longer,” he added. “Over.”

“Ready for transfer,” came Nisso Sasaki’s curt reply.

‘Efficiency or just pique,’ thought Yasuguro Dan. ‘Sasaki always was sensitive to the suggestions of others. Typical Ayukawan. Arrogant, ambitious and determined. Always out to prove themselves.’ He smiled to himself. ‘Sasaki is a good operator. He runs a tidy ship and he has the best record for kills. But, he has to be kept on his toes.’

A line, which had been passed to the whale chaser, was securely attached around the whale’s tail, below the massive flukes. Watching the operation from his elevated position, Yasuguro Dan thought through the next phase of the operation. The huge lifeless mass of the whale’s body would be winched, tail first, up the sloping stern onto the working deck.

The first task was to cut off the head, severing it from the body just below the skull. A difficult job that required careful dissection, first by the fleshing knives and then by the long bladed chain saws. By maneuvering the huge weight of the whale with lifting tackle connected to chains, which were attached by hooks to the body, the gruesome butchers would be able to hack the head from the body. Then the bulk of the body would be dragged further in. Before it came to a standstill a gang of flensers would attack it. Armed with long-handled, razor sharp knives, they would slice great slits down the length of the whale. Wires would then be attached to the blubber and cranked in by the winch so that strips of blubber would be torn off the underlying flesh. The remainder of the carcass, like a great-unpeeled banana, would be turned over and hauled up further where it would be skillfully trimmed of its meat. The bone-cutting men with their chainsaws would dismember the skeleton.

Yasuguro Dan watched as the whale began to be winched up the stern. The transfer was going smoothly. Mentally he continued his review. The blubber, meat and bones would be processed separately. The meat would be quickly cut into standard portions and size and then transferred below to the preparation room. Here it would be carefully checked, graded and marked before being quick-frozen. This retained the good eating qualities desired by his people.

The tongue, subcutaneous blubber, oil-rich organs and internal tissue would be reduced in rotary steam cookers. These horizontal cookers contained a rotating drum with baffles that broke up the blubber and facilitated the removal of oil. The process normally took only two to four hours.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the deck, the bones would be dragged up a slipway to a large steam saw that would cut them into manageable pieces. These would be fed into a pressure cooker where they would be cooked for twenty-four hours to express the high quality oil. The solid residue would be ground up as bonemeal. But because of a shortage of men, this operation would be left for several days.

Yasuguro Dan took two steps forward to obtain a better view aft through the rear windows of the bridge. The tail of the enormous headless body, being hauled by the heavy winch, was now below him on the main working deck. The flensers were at work. He admired their artistry in this mammoth dissection as they cut in through the delicate pink blubber to expose the whale’s flesh.

As he watched, the leader and two of his team thrust their sharp cutting spades deep into the whale’s guts. Withdrawing them, they carefully smelt the blades for any trace of ambergris. With cries of exaltation, they lifted their bloody blades high inducing the others to join them. The whaleman’s ultimate hope, ambergris, was there. Yasuguro Dan acknowledged the leader’s salute, and turned to smile at the other members on the bridge on hearing an excited crewman shout, “Ambergris!”

Further back toward the stern, another team was attacking the massive head. The lower part called the ‘junk’, contained spermaceti in a matrix of tough white fibers. The steam of the chainsaws clouded his vision as the junk was cut off and put to one side for later treatment. Then the upper part of the head, the ‘case’, would be carefully opened to reveal the huge reservoir of pure spermaceti. This would be sealed in casks for later refining.

But his main attention was fixed on the removal of the jaw. The scream of the chainsaws rose above the overall din as they hacked though the bone and flesh. Finally, the severed jaw, covered in blood and gore, was pulled from the rest of the head. Immediately a crewman, with a swift flick, dug a steel hook into the jaw and attached it by a chain to one of the deck fittings. It was anchored and so could not be lost. Yasuguro Dan, his passive face set, watched attentively, and wondered, ‘How many teeth will there be this time?’

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Chapter Two - Scene 5

Amsterdam                                                                                              Monday 8th March, 6.38 p.m.

‘THE UGLY specter of whaling again.’ Mark Stafford, hands behind his head, tie loosened and top collar button undone, leant back in the chair. After all these years, Greenpeace thought this area of conservation was finally under control? But today’s report had changed that. ‘Why? Damn it. Why now?’

He put his feet on an open drawer of his desk and gazed out his office window at the final sunlight vanishing into dusk at the end of the autumn day.

His thoughts reviewed the past as the only possible indicator of the present. When the major whaling nations came together in 1946 they negotiated a convention to regulate whaling. From this, the International Whaling Commission emerged. It held its first meeting in 1949. But it didn’t have any authority or power to control. So little happened to save the whales. In fact, competition between the whaling countries to take as many of the big mammals as possible led to the early years of IWC control being dubbed the Whaling Olympics.

He poured himself a mineral water and took a sip. The tide didn’t begin to turn for the whales for another twenty-three years. The United Nations Human Environment conference in Stockholm in 1972 called for an immediate ten year moratorium on commercial whaling. Mark smiled to himself. He remembered that. It made front cover of Time, which he had read on his first overseas flight to England. Funny how some things stick in your mind.

Anyway, for the next decade, the IWC resisted the pressure, and finally agreed to a moratorium in 1982. It was not put it in place until 1985. ‘Jesus, that’s thirty-six years. A third of a century!’

Thank God for Greenpeace. David McTaggart had based a good part of Greenpeace’s original mission on the saving of whales. However, Greenpeace maintains that two serious loopholes created at the original whaling convention meeting in 1946 are still unplugged. The first, the ‘Objection’ clause, allows any member state to formally object to a decision and, therefore, not be bound by it. The second was an article allowing any member state to kill whales for ‘scientific’ purposes regardless of any protective measures that might be in place.’

‘Now what had Petra told him? Yes, that’s right, using these two loopholes, the whaling countries had killed nearly fourteen thousand whales in the first five years of the moratorium. And more than ninety per cent of these had been the little minke whales.’

Darkness had entered the room like a shroud covering the remains of a dying species. Mark continued his reverie, brought on by his natural instinct of abhorrence of the ‘justified’ slaughter of these magnificent mammals. ‘Japan, Norway and the Soviet Union exercised their rights to object and continued whaling after the moratorium came into effect.’

‘At the same time, Iceland and Korea, who did not object, began long term scientific whaling programs. Both their programs ceased in 1989, for which Greenpeace could claim considerable credit.’ He smiled to himself. We are good, dammed good. Our efforts forced Norway and USSR to quit full-scale commercial operations in 1987 and Japan abandoned large-scale whaling the next year.’

‘But it may have been too late. IWC estimate that there are somewhere between two hundred and eleven hundred individuals left of the largest animal that ever lived--the blue whale. Before the advent of industrial whaling it was estimated that there were two hundred and fifty thousand of this giant mammal in the world’s oceans. And of the sperm whale, which once numbered in 1964 about three hundred and thirty thousand in the southern oceans, somewhere between two hundred thousand and two hundred and ninety five thousand remain.’

He paused. A shiver of disgust and dismay ran through his body. ‘Such appalling carnage in the guise of commercial progress!’ He finished his Perrier. ‘The position with whaling was always tenuous at the best. At the 1990 IWC conference it was agreed to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the effects of the moratorium. However, with the scientists unable to agree among themselves about the relative health of the whale populations, other conservation groups back up Greenpeace’s fear that there could be a return to full commercial whaling. God forbid that Japan has started now!’

His mind reeled with the enormity of the possible consequences. Suddenly he recalled David McTaggart’s words, written almost thirty years ago. “Few men had the opportunity that I now have to set a precedent in international law, which could apply at least one brake against the otherwise apparently unstoppable gallop towards some kind of nuclear holocaust.”’

‘Perhaps this is my opportunity to apply a brake against the extermination of whales.’ Mark felt the surge of pride and the glow of anticipation. ‘Yes, we’ll get the bastards this time.’ He smiled in expectation. ‘Greenpeace has won through in the past and we will win again.’

He looked at his desk clock, its numbers luminous green in the darkness. ‘I’d better give David a call. I want to know how good this fellow Daroux is, and whether he’s available.’

Chapter Two - Scene 4

Southern Ocean                                                                                                                 Early March

LOOKING up, the whale could see the darkness fading away, being replaced by a vast umbrella of intensifying brightness. The shimmering underside of the surface was a short memory as he broke through for his first exhalation. A thunderous blast heard over a kilometer radius. His spout, a powerful column of water broken up into extremely fine particles, like the mist from an atomizer, squirted forward, signaling his surfacing.

He had ascended to a point close to where he dived. Unlike a human diver he did not suffer from gas embolism, commonly know as the “bends”. His blubber re-routed the nitrogen in his blood before it reached the nerve fibers, so it was released gradually as he surfaced. Additionally, nitrogen was trapped in the large number of his nasal sacs and sinuses. Lined with an oil-mucus emulsion, the nitrogen and other inert gases were dissolved easily.

He drew in his first breath. Panting, he began to blow quickly every twelve seconds in an effort to catch his breath. ‘What was that sound? Danger? Suddenly the throb of some strange unnatural being. Enemy?? It is very close!’ Without waiting to fully recover, he dived. Throwing his mighty flukes high into the air, showing off his black tail with the variably pigmented underside, he slid back into the security of the depths.

Unknown to him, the spotter in the crow’s nest carefully reported the sounding while the crew on the bridge of the whale chaser checked the echolocation sonar. They knew it was only a shallow dive and the vessel changed direction to intercept him.

Surfacing after a short time, he heard the dreaded throb again. ‘Escape!!’ after only three blows he sounded. ‘Must escape’

In an effort to throw off his pursuers, he dived seven times in succession. But now he was slowing. Desperate to escape, he was becoming powerless and too exhausted to do so. The high frequency pulses emitted by the whalechaser’s sonar, and the scattered sounds of the human shouts, vigorous and excited from the hunt, devastated his sense of security as he slowed down.

Panting, he had to rest on the surface. Unprotected. The sound--so close--must escape!

Startled by the deafening explosive blast as the harpoon fired from the gun, he arched his back. The shocking, sickening thump of the harpoon penetrating his blubber had no immediate effect on his massive forty thousand kilogram body. Somewhere in his body the head of the harpoon sliced its way through the blubber. Suddenly the claws opened as the string came on the whale line. Resistance acted on the trailing edge to open the flanges, gripping onto the underlying muscles in his body. The barbed tips spread outward in different directions ripping into his flesh and lodging the grenade deep inside him.

Looking on from above, the chaser’s crew waited expectantly. Knowing.

Then, by delayed action fuse, the penthrite grenade exploded, completing the awful violation of his body by spraying shrapnel through his vital organs. The explosion caused massive internal injury, and for a moment the force of the blast suspended his final dive.

‘Dive! Dive!’

By instinct he completed the dive, desperately seeking to escape the destruction of his body. Racked by pain, drinking his own blood, his nerves shattered, and losing his ability to swim, he sounded, taking two hundred and seventy five meters of line with him. But the shattering effects of the strike restricted his movements. Not able to sound properly, he surfaced, fighting against the pull of the manila whale line.

Above and behind him, Sasaki checked his watch. Twelve minutes of the battle had passed and the whale, tired and exhausted lay on the surface, his speed reduced so that he barely made any way. Suddenly the stricken animal let out a last bloody gasp. In the flurry, a final agonized outcry. The giant’s spout rained blood over his body and the surrounding sea. His death throes had ended. He lay motionless on the surface of the battlefield, rolling and twisting in the sea washed by his own blood.

Chapter Two - Scene 3

Amsterdam                                                                                                 Monday 8th March, 5.03 p.m.

“MARK, sorry for the interruption, but I must talk with you immediately.” Petra Von de Roer had knocked on the open door as she had walked in, her lips tight, on her attractive face.

“I understand Petra. If it’s short you won’t mind if Jill stays?” Mark Stafford replied, looking up from his discussions about the executive committee meeting with Jill Evans, secretary.

“No, please don’t go Jill.” Petra’s face was firm. “It’s about this sperm whale business. I thought you would like an up-date.”

“Fine. Shoot”

“I’ve checked with Carrie and she is flying out Wednesday and will be in Auckland on Thursday. I’ve alerted the Auckland office and they are expecting her. It’s our lucky day as the Albatross is still in New Zealand. It’s leaving tomorrow to check drift-net fishing in the Tasman Sea. Jacques is prepared to let us use it for five days. NASA is going to send us a satellite report pin-pointing the position of the Japanese whaling fleet. All going well, Albatross should be able to intercept them around Campbell Island about three hundred nautical miles south-west of New Zealand.” Petra paused for breath, as she regained composure from her excitement.

“That sounds good Petra.” Mark took the opportunity to have his say. “Now, about the investigation team. You’re sending down Carrie Ardley as the whale expert. I haven’t met her. What’s her background?”

“Ja, I thought you’d ask. Here, I’ve got a printout for you.” Petra handed over the two-page computer printout.

Mark quickly read it through. “I see,” he murmured to himself, loud enough for the others to hear. “She’s twenty-eight, unmarried, doctorate in zoology, had a stint with the Peace Corps in South America, been to Europe with Project Jonah on a year’s assignment and with us for just on two years. Yes definitely the expert.”

Looking up at Petra, he said, “I still want some experience in the team. I think she needs a male counterpart, older than she is, and experienced in the outdoors, in the use of water equipment. You know, diving, rafting, canoeing. Fit, intelligent, preferably some negotiating skills, he can leave immediately, and of course, must be fluent in Japanese. Who have we got for this position?”

“Petra’s eyes opened in astonishment. “What do you want? Superman? I don’t know of anyone in the organization who meets those requirements. Do you?”

“No I don’t. But you should check through the computer just in case and . . .”

“Mark,” Jill Evan’s voice cut through his comments. “I think I may have your man.”

“Great Jill, lets hear it.”

“Well, when I was working with David McTaggart before you took over, Mark, we made a trip to Montreal. David and I had lunch with a good friend of his, Guy Chiriaeff. Guy is the dean of one of the business faculties at McGill University. At lunch we met one of his lecturers. He would have been in his late thirties then, tall, a big man. He looked fit and I think he mentioned canoeing as one of his interests. But the most interesting thing was that we had lunch at a Japanese restaurant and he ordered for all of us. He spoke fluent Japanese. I was most impressed.”

“Fantastic Jill. What a marvelous memory you have for young and interesting men.” Mark’s eyes were twinkling as he smiled his appreciation. “There you are Petra, give David a call in Rome. Keep it personal. Don’t use the network. Check him out. He may be our man. By the way Jill, what is his name?”

“Oh, I remember that,” Jill replied, a look of approval on her face. “His name is John, John Daroux.”

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Chapter Two - Scene 2

Southern Ocean                                                                                                          Early March

“STEADY as she goes.”

On the bridge of his whale chaser, Shishi Maru Four, Captain Nisso Sasaki gave his final order to the helmsman. He had timed his vessel’s arrival to coincide with the surfacing of the bull sperm whale. Knowing that the animal frequently surfaced within a few hundred feet of the point where it began its dive, he checked the sonar dial again. The green dot indicated the whale was now rising from the sea floor.

Reaching with his left hand for the radio telephone, staring past the helmsman, he called “Taiji Maru, Taiji Maru, do you read me?” The bridge was silent, the noises of the sea and boat but a background murmur to the scene of expectancy.

“Number four, Number four, we read you, over,” broke the stillness of the three waiting men. The vessel’s first officer had joined Sasaki and the helmsman as preparations began for the start of the end of the chase.

“Taiji Maru, I wish to speak with Captain Dan, over,” replied Sasaki, emotionless in front of his crew, his request formal, detached and objective.

“Captain Dan, Captain Dan,” repeated the voice, “will do, over.” The radio crackle ceased abruptly. Tense silence returned.

Gazing out at the long gray swells Sasaki’s mind filled with memories of the traditional rivalry between whalers from Ayukawa, his homeport, and those from Taiji. Yasuguro Dan was from Taiji. A fishing town on the southeast coast of Honshu, Japan’s main island, it lay one hundred and fifty kilometers due south of Osaka. His own hometown, Ayukawa, was nine hundred kilometers further north in a northeast bay on the same island. Both areas had whaling histories, extending back hundreds of years. Musing further, he marveled at how the whale catching methods had developed over that period. Shore based fleets now replaced by whale chasers hunting in packs, roving the feeding grounds of the oceans. The old style cumbersome netting of these leviathans, replaced by modern cannons firing harpoons with exploding heads. The shore based processing factories now superseded by the efficient whaling fleets consisting of a whaling factory ship, a refrigeration vessel, an oil tanker, catcher boats, scouting boats and meat carriers. The factory ships, twenty five thousand tons of floating abattoir, were designed to process sixty thousand kilogram mammals—cutting, gutting, slicing, stripping, rendering them down to oil, bone powder and meat. Their industry was efficient, more efficient than the Soviets and right up there with the Norwegians.

Sasaki allowed a smug smile to form, rivalry forgotten for the moment. Japanese whaling was the best in the world. And, he Nisso Sasaki from Ayukawa was the best whale catcher in the fleet. Eighteen years difference in age—Yasuguro Dan is an old man. Why should I be waiting for an answer from the master of the factory ship? The old man from Taiji. When I get back to Yokohama, I’ll report this delay. He’s too old for this. It’s time he was replaced with a younger, more able skipper--one from Ayukawa.’ His smile broadened in anticipation . . .

“Number four, this is Captain Dan. Do you read me.” The brisk clipped voice that broke the silence brought Sasaki back to the present.

Sasaki’s quick reply matched that of the inquirer. “Makko kujira ETA for surfacing sixteen minutes from now. Estimated length fifteen meters, weight forty thousand kilograms.” Reading from the dials, he continued, “Wind north-north-east eighteen knots and rising, sea moderate, eighteen meters between swells and regular, barometer steady at one thousand and twelve millibars. All stations ready. Message ends, over.” Sasaki released the button on the handset.

There was a brief pause before Yasuguro Dan replied. “Message received. Our ETA your co-ordinates in thirty-five minutes. Carry on. Good luck. Over.”

Replacing the handset, Sasaki reached for his jacket and lifted it over his head. Protected from water and the cold, he felt warm in his waterproof jacket, trousers and rubber sea boots. Picking up earphones, he fitted them over his head and clicked the cord into the radio receiver strapped to his chest. The throat microphone allowed him to communicate directly with the helmsman and first officer on the bridge. Adjusting the jacket hood, he turned to the others. “You know what to do. Let’s make this a good one,” he said. Tone flat. A command not a statement.

Opening the bridge door, he stepped out on to the sloping catwalk linking the bridge to the bow. Gripping the rails tightly with his hands, he walked to the harpoon firing position, carefully matching his steps to the ship’s roll. The wind pulled at his hood and cuffs.

Arriving at the firing platform atop the high, flared bows of Shishi Maru Four, he looked down the eight meters to the water below. Behind him, between the platform and the bridge, was the forward mast. Positioned twenty-two meters above sea level in the crow’s nest a sharp-eyed crewmember was already in place, scanning the sea with binoculars. Like Sasaki, he communicated with the bridge by radio.

Attaching the safety harness to his waist, Sasaki took up his position, feet astride behind the cannon. He swiveled it around on its bases so that its ninety millimeter barrel faced towards him. Carefully, he checked that the seventy kilogram, one-point-eight meter long, steel harpoon was correctly loaded, noting the wire loop through the shaft connected to one hundred and thirty meters of nylon forerunner. Attached to a two hundred meter length of manila, it[what?] ran down under the firing platform then rose high to a sheave under the crow’s nest. Then down around a drum winch into the hold between the mast and deckhouse. His hands fondled the four ten centimeter barbed flukes tied in against the shaft. They would pivot on hinges and fly out after the harpoon was embedded in the whale. He smiled in anticipation.

Finally, he checked the grenade containing one hundred and seventy grams of explosive powder. This was screwed into the tip of the harpoon. It had a fuse set to detonate the grenade three seconds after the harpoon had entered the whale’s body. Swinging the gun back into its firing position, he took hold of the pistol-like grip, finger on the trigger. As he locked his body in with the movement of the boat, he spoke into the throat microphone, “Gun ready. Time before it blows?”

“Two minutes to first surfacing.” The first officer’s voice, loud with tension, filled his ears.

“Tell look-out I want its size and position within its first three breaths. And he is to count aloud the breaths after each surfacing. Over.” Sasaki’s command was brief, compelling and controlled.

“Start the count-down to surfacing now.” The first officer relayed the instruction to the lookout.

“Fifty-four, fifty-three, fifty-two,” the first officer’s voice intoned through his headphones.

Alone on the platform, like an actor on the stage, Sasaki mentally ran through the procedure that would evolve as the hunt went through its various stages. It was critical that they assessed the whale’s length accurately. The rule of thumb was that for every third of a meter of a sperm whale’s length, it would spout once at the surface and spend one minute submerged during the subsequent dive. At fifteen meters this bull would remain on the surface for less than ten minutes. This had to be extended by chasing him to exhaustion.

He reflected that the manila rope could not stand the strain of being stretched between the wounded and dying whale fighting its last fight, and the whale catcher bouncing over the waves. The whale had to be played as a rainbow trout is played on the finest tackle. The line had to be let out or taken in, as the pull on it varied. To prevent sudden tugs from snapping it, the line ran through a sheave that was attached to a rope. The rope ran to the masthead, and then down through a series of accumulation springs in the hold. As tension in the whale-line increased, the sheave was pulled down, the springs stretched, and the strain on the whale-line decreased. The movements of whale and the catcher would be continually moderated by the play in the accumulated springs.

“Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen.” The first officer’s voice stabbed through Sasaki’s thoughts as he made his last minute check. Everything was in order.

“Four, three, two, one, BLOOOWS,” came as a high pitched shout.

“Sixty meters straight ahead—makko kujira fifteen meters,” the first officer relayed, now calm.

“Makko kujira where are you?” Sasaki whispered to himself. Lifted by the swell, the range of his view opened to reveal the tell tale sign of the sperm whale. The fine mist of its spout rising seven meters to the left at fourty five degrees, indicated that the whale catcher was coming up fast behind the leviathan. “Now I’ve got you,” Sasaki said to himself. The engine noise would frighten the whale into a series of shallow and short dives until, exhausted, it would lie panting on the surface, unable to escape.

“Tsukamaeru zo!” Sasaki shouted to himself as the frightened whale dived early before full recovery, “I’ll get you soon!”

Eight minutes passed before the catcher began to slow down and maneuver into the final killing position. Sasaki, waving with his left hand, directed the chaser’s course.

“Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven,” the counting of the breaths continued, in his ear, as he sighted along the rod above the gun barrel.

“Thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four,” the voice over the microphone continued, like a death chant. The whale’s back began to hump out of the water. Sasaki felt his mouth become dry as his concentration increased with the approach to the ideal position. The area behind the head became exposed. He tightened his finger on the trigger.

“Now! Now!”

A cloud of smoke signaled the WHOOMP of the explosion as the harpoon fired out at fifty kilometers per hour into its prey.

Chapter Two - Secene 1

Amsterdam                                                                                                 Monday 8th March, 12.42 p.m.

“AN urgent report has been received that requires this committee’s immediate attention. I would like to raise it now. Any objections?” Mark Stafford’s quiet voice made the question a command at the resumption of the executive committee. He paused briefly, “That being the case, I will ask Petra to carry on. Petra?”

“Thank you Mr Chairman.” There was excitement in her voice.

Graham Williams felt the level of interest of the other eight members’ rise in expectation. ‘What can this special report be about?’ he wondered as Margrethe Rasmussen, International Campaign co-ordinator, nuclear, sitting on his right, leant forward.

“We have received a special report from the Whale Division of our Research Center in San Francisco,” Petra announced, her manner intense and determined. “Briefly, it explains that this month’s regular STROW, which you’ll recall is an abbreviation of Satellite Transmission Report on Whales, reveals the grave possibility that some.nine or more bull sperm whales have been slaughtered.”

“Mon dieu!” Jacques Phillippe’s exclamation exploded across the room, “NINE bull sperm whales. NINE. How can that be?”

Graham felt the tension of pent-up anticipation become anger as the committee members expressed their shock at the announcement. Before it could develop into a general outcry, Mark Stafford intervened.

“I realize this is a great blow to you all, especially since the killing of sperm whales was banned by the International Whaling Commission in 1976. However, please hear Petra out.”

“Most of you will recall that over the past six months our Whale Division has carried out a test identification program on two hundred bull sperm whales. Each of them has been fitted with their own small transmitter-receiver identification monitor. Fired in behind its head under the blubber, each dart contains a microchip that has a unique number for each whale by which we can identify it. The transmitter-receiver can be tracked by GPS, sector by sector or all at once, right around the world. The individual numbers are received back at our Research Center where they are plotted on charts.” Pausing to catch her breath, Petra continued, her gaze passing from member to member.

“There are two major uses of this system. One is to register the various contacts between the bull whales and the other cows and calves in the pods. This procedure is carried out at mating and allows us to assess the total population when they are all together. The other use is to track bull whales as they journey to and from their feeding grounds in the Arctic and Antarctic. This later check is carried out monthly and we refer to it as STROW.”

The anger of the committee, first aroused by the announcement, had turned into steely professional interest as she continued. “The February STROW showed that in the southern sector two bull whales did not report. This is within the allowable deviation. However, the March report completed yesterday showed a further seven bulls did not report. This decrease in numbers is greater than what we expect from natural causes.”

“HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?” shouted Jacques, his eyes blazing in concern.

“Well,” continued Petra, her voice lowered with intensity, “there are three possible causes. First lack of food. We have ruled that out. Second, an oil spill of substantial magnitude that suffocates the whales. As no such spill has been reported, we have ruled that out also. The third alternative is that they were hunted and killed.”

“Hunted? Killed?” Jacques in his excitement reached over the table and thumped it with his closed fist.

Petra paused.

Graham could see she had control of herself. Her concern showed but she was objective and dispassionate. An admirable foil to the excitable Frenchman. She looked down at her notes, glanced up at the chairman and took a deep breath.

“The Japanese whaling fleet is in that sector for its annual catch of minke whales for their scientific research.” She let out her breath, bracing herself for the response.

“Japs, the bloody self-indulgent Japs! I should have guessed!” Jacques exploded, throwing himself back into his chair, clenched hands in the air.

“Hold on a minute Jacques.” The calming voice of Mark Stafford broke through the histrionics. Graham could only admire the extent of Mark’s control in restraining Jacques.

“We are surmising at this moment aren’t we Petra? Have we any evidence that the Japanese are actually involved?” Mark asked.

“No, Mr Chairman. At this moment we are not sure.”

“Well then Petra.” The situation had been diffused so Mark continued. “What are your recommendations?”

“This issue needs to be investigated immediately. The Japanese whaling fleet is now probably on its way back home and if we want to catch them with the evidence, we have to act now.” Petra’s voice was firm with resolve.

“Who, Petra?”

“I’ve contacted the author of the report, Carrie Ardley. She heads up the Whale Division of our Research Center in San Francisco. It was her attention to detail and prompt reporting that is allowing us to act now. I suggest she goes to our branch nearest the area concerned, which is Auckland, New Zealand.”

“Fair enough, I agree we need an immediate investigation.” Then with a small frown, Mark asked, “Do you think she has sufficient experience?”

Petra did not reply immediately and Graham, looking on at this interchange, felt the tingle of excitement as the adrenaline pumped through his body. ‘So this is how Greenpeace acts. Decisive and controlled.’ He waited for Petra’s reply.

“Carrie has been with us for several years, most of which have been spent in the assembling and assessing of reports. While her field experience is limited, she is the most knowledgeable person we have on whales.”

“Thank you Petra.” Mark gave a slight smile as he addressed the committee. “In my opinion a mix of enthusiasm, specialized knowledge, youth and experience are best. Normally, they are not all present in one person. I think we need someone else to be there as well. But,” he paused, “before we go any further I would like to put Petra’s recommendation forward as a motion. Do I take it you have seconded it Jacques?”

Graham looked across to see Jacques nodding his head rapidly, glad to be brought back into the limelight.

“Right, are there any comments before we put the motion?”

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Chapter One - Scene 7

Southern Ocean Early March

DRIVING headfirst straight down into the inky blackness, the whale continued his dive to the bottom. Torpedo shaped with an enormous box-like head, his fifty tons of locomotive power relentlessly aimed for the sea floor. At six hundred meters he felt his body crinkle under the immense pressure.

In twenty minutes he was almost at the sea floor. Slowing his rate of descent, he settled into a hovering position just above the seabed. Drawing in seawater through his blowhole, the temperature of the spermaceti oil in his enormous head began to reduce. As it congealed it occupied less volume, making him less buoyant. A position of suspension had been attained.

Automatically, his hunting strategy took over. Using his complex sonar system, he emitted bursts of rapid clicks from his head. The returning sounds pieced together a sonic landscape of the surrounding rocks, cavities, ridges of the seabed, shells and prey.

Motionless. Soundless. A submarine waiting in ambush, he watched the advance of his quarry. The giant squid architeuthis. This colossal invertebrate, measuring over fourteen meters, would be no pushover for him. Apart from its daunting size, it wielded huge tentacles bristling with suckers as big as saucepans, powerful beak-like jaws, poisonous saliva, an ink sac to create camouflage, and above all a highly developed brain.

Watching, sensing, visualizing, two tentative tentacle tips explored towards him. No movement. Deathly still. Spring coiled. Tension controlled.

Attack. Sudden. Swift. Calculated.

On the tremendous up-sweep of his powerful tail he surged forward. Lower jaw dropped, teeth bared. A deadly scoop. Timed to perfection at the precise instant, two enormous tentacles reached out. Feeling. Exploring. Extending tentatively.

Open jaws seized. Encompassed mouth and head of the squid. Lock tight. Crippling pressure. Intense pressure. Building on the attack, he gave a tremendous sweep of his flukes. Tail lifted upwards. Body arched through ninety degrees to a vertical position. The lid of a trap door opening ready to crash shut. Twisting violently, he wrenched free two further tentacles from the seabed. Body groaned as they lock themselves around him. Another violent flick of his tail brutally screwed his body to rip the remaining tentacles free.

Rolling. Twisting. Moving. Always moving. He is locked in deadly conflict.

Enlacing his body, the squid’s interminable tentacles strained to hold him in his mouth. Beak-like jaws began their deadly work. Encircled by the writhing arms his huge jaws tighten. Sixty lance-like ivory teeth set in a narrow lower jaw clamp the slippery writhing squid firmly in place. Huge teeth apply immense pressure, crushing and grinding. Vital organs at the squid’s narrow neck where its head is attached to its body are cut and severed. Unable to escape, its strength rapidly diminishes. The grip of its suckers began to wane. Tentacles relaxed. Beak-like jaws cease chewing. Severed head parts from its body.


The conflict ceased. The seabed resumed its placid calm. The fight was over. He shook himself free.

Conqueror triumphant, he consumed his victory meal.

Chapter One - Scene 6

Amsterdam                                                              Monday 8th March, 12.18 p.m.

MARK Stafford, his dark hair slightly thinning, a round jovial face settled on a plump body, looked carefully around the boardroom. Seeing Graham Williams standing alone, he excused himself and with croissant and mineral water in hand walked over to him.

“Well Graham, how are you finding the morning so far?” Mark’s question was open and objective behind his smile.

“Most impressive, thanks Mark.” A thoughtful expression on his face, Graham continued. “Bruce Harrison’s report on membership and fund-raising was revealing. I’d no idea that Greenpeace’s membership now exceeded five and half million. Obviously increasing the number of branches to thirty one by opening of five new ones in South America brought a great influx of new members!”

“Yes, you’re right Graham, the growth of our membership is mainly due to the strength of our branches.”

“What then would you say are the basics for the success of the organization now?”

“Hmm.” Mark paused for a moment, taking a bite of his croissant while he assembled his thoughts. “Well there are probably four ingredients. First, I would say it’s the quality of our research. We are always well prepared with good solid research before we tackle any problem. Then . . .” His shoulders straightened as his pride in the organization’s achievements showed through in his voice. “. . . I would say our next strength is in our lobbying power. At political, corporate and especially national levels in most places in the world we have the power to lobby effectively.” Now warmed to his subject, he continued. “Then we have a great ability in finding the weakest link in our adversaries and going for that. You’d remember how we went for Bayer about polluting the North Sea. Maintaining their squeaky clean image made them very sensitive to bad publicity. And we won,” he added with a chuckle. “Finally, I think we have tremendous strength in our flexibility. We are able to initiate, quickly, international pressure through demonstrations, protests, lobbying and direct contact with groups everywhere in the world. Our excellent communications and electronic mail network connecting all our branches and vessels has been one pillar of our success. Of course you know that already.” Mark paused and took a sip of water. “Well there you have it. A strong, growing, effective organization with a mission to save the world from killing itself.” There was a slight pause, “Hey, and it’s fun too!” He smiled at Graham. “You’ll really enjoy it here. We all work hard but we play hard. It’s a marvelous sense of achievement. I could carry on and on . . . but you know what I mean.”

“Yes I know what you mean. Thanks Mark. Now I understand the saying I’ve been hearing around Headquarters since I’ve been here.”

“What’s that? “ interrupted Mark.

“Oh, probably a play on Lawrence’s ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom.’ They call the mission the ‘Four Pillars of Pressure’. Seems to sum up what you’ve just said.”

“Yes you’re right,” chuckled Mark. “Don’t know where the saying came from. Probably from our esteemed Chairman David McTaggart. He likes creating sayings and events that have great PR value. For example, look at this photograph on the wall.” He smiled as he motioned Graham to turn around.

“This was taken from Warrior, the vessel we had in 1981 off the British coast when we were trying to stop nuclear waste being dumped in the Atlantic. Our crews had just developed the tactic of racing in on inflatables alongside ships, under bows, sterns and hoists to impede the dumping of barrels overboard. As you can see, it didn’t stop them and some containers fell onto the inflatables, capsizing them and sending them flying . . .”

“Mark, I’m sorry to interrupt but I have an urgent e-mail message from San Francisco Branch which I need to discuss with you immediately.” Mark looked around to the speaker Petra van de Roer.

“Right. Please excuse me Graham. I enjoyed our discussion but I’d better see what Petra wants. I’ll catch up with you later.” Mark’s manner was brisk and alert as he and Petra hurried into his office off the boardroom.

“Well, what do we have Petra?” Mark asked as he closed his office door.

“Let me show you Mark,” said Petra as she reached over his desk and switched on the computer terminal. She punched in the code that brought the report onto the screen. “There, read that,” she demanded.

Mark, now settled in his chair, quickly scanned the one page report, then read it through again carefully. “Well,” he said, “what do you make of it?”

“I think the conclusions are correct. They have gone too far. We must investigate immediately.” Hands on the desk, her body leaning forward, eyes blazing, Petra demanded Mark’s consent.

“Yes it looks that way,” he replied noncommittally, looking up at her. “Let’s discuss it, first thing after lunch. I’ll tell Jill to amend the agenda. By the way, who should carry out the investigation?” he queried.

“Well not me. I’m too busy with the drift-net matter off the South American coast. I’d like Carrie Ardley, who prepared the report, to work with our nearest branch. This is her specialist subject and while she has not had much field experience it would be good for her to follow this through, don’t you think?”

“Yes I agree. Why don’t you check it out with her now and make an oral report to the meeting. We’ll be starting in five or six minutes and I’ll think about whom else should go. OK?” Mark’s voice was calm.

Petra heard the quiet order and accepted the compromise. “Ja. I will see to it immediately,” she replied as she walked out of the room.

Chapter 1 - Scene 5

Southern Ocean                                                                                                                Early March

CAPTAIN Nisso Sasaki lifted his head slowly from the sonar screen. Giving his eyes time to adjust, he squinted out through the thick plate glass at the gray,-heaving swell. Turning his head without seeing, but knowing the helmsman’s place, he grunted, “Nothing there.”

Still holding onto the sonar cover, he reached into the pocket of his trousers for his cigarettes. He stood up, swaying to maintain his balance, and exchanged the cigarette packet for a lighter. Inhaling deeply, he thought to himself. ‘Damn, after three days it’s always nothing there.’

Stepping carefully behind the helmsman and adjusting his walk to match the moving bridge floor, he crossed to the chart table on the port side. Glancing down at the chart, Sasaki traced the track of his vessel, the whale catcher Shishi Maru Four. They had left the Antarctic whaling grounds three days previously on their journey back to Yokohama. Breathing out a fine stream of smoke, he contemplated the enormous whaling grounds, the feeding area for the baleen whales. In his mind he pictured their dramatic feeding frenzies. Skimmers and gulpers, they propelled themselves powerfully through the ocean, spreading their jaws, catching phenomenal amounts of water, krill and small fish in their dilatable mouths. Then they shut their jaws, lifting their enormous tongues to push the water out through the baleen plates to trap scores of wriggling organisms ready to be swallowed.

Looking down again, he pinpointed the position of the factory ship twenty miles to the southwest and astern. With his right index finger, he traced their proposed course along the edge of the Southern Pacific-Antarctic Ridge on the 1,200-meter depth line. The track of the mighty bull sperm whales. He checked the dial of the depth meter. ‘Still no change. We must be too far west,’ he thought to himself.

“Starboard five degrees,” he ordered tight-lipped.

“Starboard five degrees,” repeated the helmsman turning the wheel slightly. He recognized his captain’s frustration.

After a few minutes spent checking the various read-outs of the instruments at the control panel, Sasaki stalked back to the sonar. Gripping the light shield around the dial, he placed his head on the edge of the cover to view the screen. Waiting for his eyes to re-adjust to the darkness, he concentrated on the black background with the green shapes. The signal from the short burst of sonic energy showed clearly a bottom level of one thousand, two hundred and eighty meters. In between were only scattered groups of color indicating schools of fish close to the surface. Squinting, he peered closer. He was looking for a single light ascending or descending slowly over a ten to fifteen minute period. The unique signature of the deep dive of the large male sperm whale. ‘What was that . . .’ A speck of light moving down. He blinked his eyes and strained again, his instincts tightening his gut in anticipation. It was still there . . . ‘Yes . . .’ At the outer limit of the sonar’s range. ‘Yes, it is still there, descending at a regular rate’.

“Makko kujira,” he breathed to himself, as if not believing what he saw. “Makko kujira, MAKKO KUJIRA,” he shouted, drawing out the last word as he slapped the sonar case in delight. “Makko kujira at seven thousand meters,” he crowed, lifting his head from the screen. Turning to the helmsman, his face contorted by the grin of success, he shouted, “New course bearing oh-five-oh.”

“Oh-five-oh,” repeated the helmsman, smiling as he turned the wheel. “What’ll be our ETA?”

Sasaki’s excitement subsided, his eyes narrowing in suspicion. He resented the helmsman questioning him. Not answering, he turned back and peered into the sonar screen again. Eyes adjusting again to the darkened screen, he held his breath expectantly. ‘Would the small dot appear. Yes there it was, slightly larger and further down. It must be making a deep dive,’ he thought. At this depth the bull whale could be down for say an hour. ‘It’s probably over fifteen meters in length, a real monster. Maybe the biggest of the season.’ His mind raced in speculation. Realism returned as he calculated. ‘Ten minutes minimum on the surface—more than enough time for a kill.’ He smiled confidently to himself. ‘We’ll be there on time!’

He checked the screen again. The dot was almost at the bottom. Mentally he allowed fifteen minutes for the dive, half an hour for the feeding and ten minutes to surface. Estimated time of arrival fifty-five minutes. Standing up, he reached for the hand microphone.

“Taiji Maru! Taiji Maru! Taiji Maru! This is Shishi Maru Four. Do you read me? Over.”

Impatient for the acknowledgment, Sasaki wondered to himself if the Taiji crew had slackened off now the main whaling season was over. ‘Probably on automatic pilot with no one on the bridge or monitoring the radio. Lazy Taiji crew . . .’

“Shishi Maru Four, Shishi Maru Four, we read you loud and clear, over.”

‘Sounds like Yasuguro Dan, the old Taiji bastard,’ Sasaki said to himself. ‘I almost caught you out.

“Taiji Maru this is Shishi Maru Four, makko kujira, makko kujira diving oh-five-oh, depth twelve hundred, say again, twelve hundred meters. ETA fifty-five minutes, sixteen-oh-five. Preparing for kill! Over.”

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Chapter One - Scene 4

Amsterdam                                                                                             Monday 8th March, 12.05 p.m.

“THANK you for your kind words Mark.” Graham Williams controlled the tempo of his voice. “It is an honor for me to be here. The responsibilities and demands of this position with Greenpeace International are immense and somewhat daunting.” Graham allowed himself a wry smile as he shifted his gaze from Mark Stafford and met the looks of encouragement from the other members. “However, I’ve always sought challenge and this opportunity is, for me, the peak of my career. I look forward to working with each of you.” Graham paused for a moment and looked down at his notes.

Lifting his head again, turning to his right, he addressed Mark Stafford. “Mr Chairman, my report today is brief for two reasons. Firstly, I’m still in a settling-in period, and secondly, the number of outstanding issues at present is not high. However, I would like it to be noted that my section will be attending the forthcoming Cross Border Pollution Treaty discussions, the Trans-national Mission on Global Warming and the most important, the International Whaling Commission’s Annual General Meeting. I am particularly interested in the remit on research killing. I look forward to coordinating our efforts with other campaign committees and will report in more detail at future meetings. That is all Mr Chairman.” Pushing himself back from the table, Graham returned his gaze to the head table.

“Brief reports are always appreciated. Thank you Graham,” Mark Stafford noted with a twinkle in his eye, “we look forward to your input at future meetings.” Closing his agenda file, he announced, “Right. If there is no further business I suggest we take lunch.”

Chapter One - Scene 3

Southern Ocean Early March

FEEDING on schools of fish and squid, which had the misfortune to cross his migratory path, the large bull swam without haste. Leaving the frigid Antarctic, he was on his solitary annual pilgrimage to the harem, which awaited him North of the equator.
Diving, he scooped up squid and octopus from the sea floor, crushing and swallowing them in his huge mouth. Other floor dwellers drew back into dark crevices and remained immobile, while his immense presence passed lazily overhead. The seemingly unmoving ocean was momentarily in turmoil as he made a downward movement with his enormous and powerful tail. As his dark bulk disappeared into the lightless distance, his would-be prey began to emerge from their hiding-places, buffeted by the curls of current.
And so it was that during early March, at the end of the Southern Hemisphere summer, he continued his journey, propelling his streamlined fish-shaped body by fins and flukes in effortless grace.
Driven by a millennia-old instinct, he was unaware of the impending drama that was about to turn the hunter into the hunted.