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?’