One

761285

Hecate Strait. Jul 8. 2033

54°00’19.6″N 131°41’06.5″W

 

Tendrils of mist rose skyward as fog clung to the tranquil water of Massett inlet. A large raven perched alone on the high crags and waited—as he so often did—for the arrival of a small wooden boat with tanbark sails. As if on cue, a single mast appeared from the mouth of the bay. A crisp pop echoed from the cliff wall as the sail embraced the fresh breeze of Dixon Entrance. Even with the bird’s keen eyesight, the girl in the boat looked like a small dot. Her name in fact, was Dot, and in spite of her almost-eighteen years, she handled the boat with expertise. The raven cocked his head and then without further ado, extended his wings and coasted downward in a lazy spiral. Landing on the foredeck of the small craft, he danced around to gain his proper footing and bowed. Dot responded with three short clicks and tossed a piece of candied salmon on the deck.

He didn’t need a pet-name, although the island people called him “Monk” and since food often accompanied the sound of this name, he accepted it. Dot was different than the rest however, she needed no name or label for him. They understood each other plainly enough for the raven’s purposes.

They sailed along quietly for some time and after a while, the sun’s warmth dispelled the last of the fog. An expansive channel opened widely around them. Dot rolled up the sleeves of her blouse and tied back her unruly hair then looped a short rope to the tiller and leaned back in her seat with a yawn. A sharp pssssssssh broke the encompassing silence as a glossy black fin sliced the surface of the water, growing ever taller as an orca emerged from the depths below. By the time his blunt rostrum and white eye-patch were level with the boat, his dorsal fin towered several feet above them. Monk flew up to the crosstree, not so much from surprise or fear but from disdain of being splashed by the orca’s wake. The whale kept pace with the sailboat as they tacked, his fin withdrawing now and then between loud blows. Noisy wavelets slapped against the boat’s hull, filling the vacancies of his presence.

As morning subtly gave way to afternoon, the wind calmed to a gentle whisper. Growing restless, the orca slipped below the surface. Dot watched the whale’s silhouette fade into the blueish-green, his white saddle barely discernable before it merged into the darkness. She smiled to herself, happy hunting Saka. Reclining against the cockpit rails, she snacked on a loaf of bread and fish. Monk descended and took his place next to her on the bench. After tossing several more bites to her companion, the girl adjusted her sail and nestled down, allowing the boat to drift idly with the breeze. The swells from Alaska’s Gulf caused the sailboat to bob along in a rhythmic motion and its inhabitants relaxed, each in their own manner.

As the little boat neared Rose Point, the current of Hecate Strait met the stronger tide of the Pacific, creating a wash-bucket effect that made sailing uncomfortable. Dot turned her boat toward shore. As they rounded Rose Point, she kept an eye on the jagged rocks cropping up near the water’s surface. The lee of Haida Gwaii provided relief from the confused sea-state, so Dot doused her sail and reached for a paddle. A glint of bright color along the otherwise charcoal-hued coastline caught her attention and she paused to scan the rocks. Whatever she spied seemed to have vanished, or perhaps it was just an illusion—a reflection from the sun. She continued toward a shallow embankment up ahead and the object came into view again; so out of place in the earthy tones of the shore that it appeared garish in its intensity. Swinging the paddle to the opposite side of the boat, she steered in the direction of the color. The boat slid between some shallow rocks and she braced herself as its prow came to a stop—the keel rested upon the gravely bottom. Dot sprang from the cockpit and waded knee-deep through the chilly water, coaxing her boat further ashore. Once she’d secured the line, she glanced around and made a series of clucking noises with her tongue. The bird replied in kind and adjusted his course toward the mystery object, his long wings made a whooshing sound as he flew.

The rocks were covered with a slimy green algae and Dot slipped into the water several times while scrambling up the embankment. Monk hopped from stone to stone, pausing long enough to examine the narrow cracks and fissures between rocks with his dagger-like beak. He ruffled his feathers and bobbed his head several times as Dot reached the crest of the boulders. She stood upright and wiped her hands against her pants.

The bright color that had initially captured her attention was a large, rectangular bolster, similar to what one would find on a ship’s settee. The plastic-y orange cushion was covered with dried strands of eelgrass that clung to the coarse fabric. Monk pecked at the seaweed and a small beetle scurried for cover. Suddenly, a dirty bruised hand appeared from beneath the foam and groped towards Dot’s feet. She gasped and stepped backward, toppling over the rocks behind her. The arm extended and a soft groan could be heard. Monk flapped skyward with several throaty squawks. Landing a safe distance upland, he eyed the cushion warily.

Regaining her composure, Dot reached for a stick and prodded the cushion. The moaning intensified and a faint voice whispered, “Bāng wǒQǐng bāngzhù wǒ.

Dot had no idea what the words meant, but she understood the pleading quality in their tone. With apprehension, she moved closer and wedged her stick underneath the corner of the cushion, taking great care to stay out of reach of the groping hand. She held her breath and upended the water-laden foam, flipping it over to expose what lay underneath. She gasped.

An Asian man of about thirty years lay prone among the rocks, his right leg was bent at an unnatural angle. One of his arms was pinned underneath a heavy piece of driftwood, the one stretching out in front of him was badly bruised and had several deep scratches. His clothes were shredded and stained in blood and dirt. Resting beside him was a sodden briefcase, saltwater had formed lacy patterns across the leather as it dried. Dot examined the bag, hoping to find a clue as to the man’s identity. She noticed a narrow brass plate with several strange characters etched into the metal, below them she could make out the words “Dr. Kim Chen.” She twisted the hasp back and forth to no avail, the case was locked tight. Lifting it closer, she investigated its base and sides, finally giving it a good shake—the case was intact. Just then, Dot perceived that a slender cable connected the handle to the man’s wrist.

In the course of her investigation she jostled his injured arm. The man stirred again and murmured, “Hē shuǐ.

Dot knelt beside his head. She could tell he’d been trapped like this for several days by the condition of the brittle seaweed and his parched lips. She straightened up to fetch water from her gear but as she turned to go, the hand grasped at her leg. “Qǐng, bāngzhù wǒ.

Dot backed away and climbed down the embankment. When she arrived at the boat, she paused to weigh her options. There was no possibility of moving the injured man. She couldn’t tell for sure how severe his many injuries were but even so, he was too heavy for her to move without help. Grabbing a pebble from the shore, Dot dropped it into her pants pocket. She stepped into the cockpit to retrieve her water bottle and snatched up the remainder of her lunch. Crawling over the transom, she walked down to the water’s edge and stooped near an outcrop of boulders. Dot took the pebble out of her pocket and began to tap it against one of the partially submerged rocks. She replicated her pattern for several minutes: two solid—pause—three solid—pause—two staccato—pause—one solid—full stop… repeat. Satisfied at last, Dot rose and, gathering her things, climbed back up the rocky bank.

Monk acknowledged her return with a nonchalant blink as Dot set her water bottle beside the injured man. She hoped he would have the strength to reach for it, but his arm remained motionless, the utterances had stopped. Panicked, she leaned over his face, tilting her head to listen for any breath. It was there, faint and uneven, but he lived. She sighed and slipped her hand underneath his neck. Gently, she tilted his head enough to drip small amounts of water through his cracked lips. He choked and sputtered, his eyes opened wide as he gulped at the reviving liquid. It reminded Dot somewhat of the chíin that Ol’ Pa used to throw onto the deck of his skiff each summer; their eyeballs bulging and mouths agape. The memory caused a shadow of a smile to play across her face as she held the bottle. At last, the man could drink no more so Dot placed his head back onto the rocks. His eyes fluttered closed.

Dot knew she was taking a big risk by remaining there with him. It was likely that the injured man was chipped and if so, he could be discovered by the Mossies. If he’d come ashore with any of the snakeheads or coyotes, then they would both be detained—or worse. Dot wished she had a personal scanner, but those were precious to come by, and usually in the possession of the fetchers who came over from the Greenwood. She found herself longing, for what seemed the hundredth time, to have a position among the select ranks of fetchers.

 

Mossies had been sighted in the archipelago with growing frequency over the past year. The HighTower trackers had been a fixture for almost a decade, although they were easy to spot and for the most part, avoidable. As HighTower’s presence along the borders became more prevalent, their reconnaissance methods became more advanced, and with waning oversight, their detention methods became even harsher.

The Canadian and U.S. solution to the escalating climate refugee problem had resulted in a contract with the private government contractor, HighTower Security Authority, or HSA. The crisis back in 2019 that caused the European Union’s collapse was enough to spur North America to close its entire borders to climate migrants. The Prime Minister in Ottawa and President in Washington D.C. granted full control to HSA’s director, and by 2020 HighTower had become synonymous with border defense. In the years to follow, the HSA had assimilated the departments of Customs, Homeland Security and Immigration, even the Coast Guard was requisitioned for offshore border patrols. The trackers—eighty-seven-foot former USCG cutters—ran along the Pacific coastline and the Inside Passage in search of unregistered vessels. If a ship did not carry a transponder chip, the trackers would fire a warning shot. If the ship did not respond, then it was typically destroyed. Only small vessels such as kayaks, native longboats and sailboats were permitted to cruise without these chips, and even then, there was a considerable risk of being boarded or fired upon.

Dot spent most of her life under the shadow of HSA’s scrutiny. The trackers in the northern islands recognized her little boat and paid her little attention. However, the Mossies were a different matter: The “Mobile Observation Systems-C” were HighTower’s “eyes in the sky.” MQ-9C drones deployed to scan for transponders and report undocumented watercraft to HSA’s marine traffic station. To be reported by a Mossie meant certain trouble. Recently, HSA had become disposed to skip warnings and simply sink any vessels that could not or would not identify themselves.

To make things worse, Tyee survivors continued to migrate, even after so many years. When the Tyee—the Cascadia Subduction mega-quakehit the Pacific Northwest in 2022, it destroyed hundreds of miles of coastline and decimated Seattle and surrounding towns. Suddenly there were tens of thousands of homeless refugees who were moving inland and northward. HighTower did not discriminate between nationalities. Their motto was: If it doesn’t scan, it doesn’t land.

Dot wasn’t really sure whether a specific person’s ID chip could be picked up by an overhead drone, but she didn’t feel the urge to find out right then.

 

Splashing noises from the shore below startled her and she turned to see Saka’s familiar markings as he spy-hopped several meters from the boat. She made her way downward as he emitted a series of noisy bursts, spray hung in the air above his head. Wading waist-deep into the water, Dot reached out to rub his nose as the orca swam near, then ran her fingers along his back as he returned to the deeper water. Clapping her hands three times, she waited for the Saka’s response. The orca rose higher out of the water and swayed his head to and fro—his giant flippers and dorsal fin now completely visible. Dot made a wide, pointing gesture with her left arm and swung her right arm in tight circles overhead, similar to that of a cowboy throwing a lasso. Saka rolled onto his side, exposing his expansive white belly. He slapped the water with his flipper and disappeared beneath the waves.

Dot returned to the narrow beach. The sun had already fallen behind Haida Gwaii and she knew that with its absence the temperature would be dropping soon. Her wet blouse and pants now clung to her skin. Shivering, she rummaged through the cockpit’s contents for supplies and found a raincoat, a flashlight and one tattered life-jacket. She sighed, this’ll have to do. Rolling her provisions inside of the jacket, she trekked back to the wounded man and began her vigil.

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