Shark Snatchers In the 23rd Century

©2011 Garrett Clevenger 

 

Episode I:  Willy's Tale

Episode II:  Finn’s Finale

Episode III:  James Joplin's Journey

Episode IV:  The Lone Malone Leaves

 

 

Episode I:  Willy's Tale

 

Chapter 1: Willy, Finn and the Carcharodons

 

       It is not easy wrestling a big shark.  Whether a 300-pound goblin, a 500-pound tiger, or a 1000-plus-pound great white, sharks are strong, quick and have very sharp teeth.  This bundle of muscle would intimidate most people.  Those brave enough to enter a pool as a shark snatcher would be lucky to only lose a hand.  Many shark snatchers retire early, taking a seat next to the others grossly disfigured by their foe.

       Many boys have watched shark snatchers in action and dreamt of becoming a famous one.  To join the ranks of the toughest Carcharodon, named after the biggest shark they were able to snatch, a great white, Carcharodon carcharias.  Being young, they never thought they would be the one to lose an arm, their ability to reproduce, or worse, their head.  When they were young, they dreamt big.

       So it was with little Willy as his dad took him to this year's championship.  After a season of shark snatching, seven heavyweight shark snatchers remained out of the hundred-plus who started the season late last winter.  This year's finale was special as it was one of the few times a woman made it to the final round.  Snatching was still mostly a man's work.

       Willy and his dad, Isurus Finn, who had been an active shark snatcher before Willy was born, made their way through the throngs of musty bodies.  Snatchers and their families were given special seating at the stadium, but the less famous ones still had to mill through the masses.  Willy pulled his dad, who could not walk as fast with only one real leg.  His right leg he lost during his final shark snatch.

       Isurus Finn was named so after the last species of shark he successfully snatched, Isurus oxyrinchus, the shortfin mako.  It was a 10-foot, 700-pound creature, and he proudly hung its large teeth around his neck.  He could not help but remember that fight, and his final one, as he limped along, being pulled by his little son to the seating area.  He remembered being that excited watching the games with his dad, who too had been a shark snatcher.  This family had snatching in their blood, and their blood had been spilt snatching.

       "Dad!" Willy exclaimed as they entered the section reserved for snatchers.  "There's Carcharodon John!"

       Willy pointed up to the area reserved for the elite snatchers, the ones who were able to snatch the biggest of the sharks.  Carcharodon John was the current living record holder for snatching the largest shark, an 18-foot, 2300-pound great white shark.  That would be unbelievable if not for the video that Willy had watched at least 100 times.

       "Do you think someone will beat his record this year?" Willy asked his dad.

       "No," Isurus Finn flatly answered.  "None of the current snatchers are as big as he is, and they're definitely not as skilled.  Top Carcharodons are rare, born once in a lifetime."

       Willy was glad.  He was one of Carcharodon John's biggest fans, and did not really want a new idol.  He knew the games would be good regardless if a record was broken or not.

       Willy and his dad took a seat next to the other similarly ranked snatchers.  They were ranked by the size of shark they had been able to snatch.  There were other Isurus's and Carcharodon’s near them.  Behind him sat his friend Damon and his family, whose dad was still a snatcher. 

       He was a Galeocerdo, named after the 12-foot, 1000-pound tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, he had slain.  Damon, too, wore one of his dad's shark's teeth around his neck.  His was a bit bigger than Willy’s, but that did not matter to either of them.  Damon and Willy were best friends, as they had known each other since they could remember.  Their dads were good friends, as well.

       "Hey, Willy!" Damon said, "Who do you think will win this year?"

       "I'm betting Galeocerdo Shaun.  Did you see the 14-foot tiger shark he took down last week? That was amazing!" he replied.

       "Yeah, I'm with you," said Damon, as their dads nodded in agreement.

       Willy looked around the stadium.  They had a good view of the pools below, and the video screen in front.  It was playing highlights from this year's season.

       "Were you ever scared, dad?" Willy asked.

       "Being a snatcher?"

       "Yes."

       "Yes.  At the beginning, before my first snatch, I was.  I almost couldn't walk, and that was before I had my armor on.  My friend had just lost a hand.  There was blood in the pool, which I knew only made the sharks more aggressive.  I didn't think I could do it, but knew that if I did I'd be way better off.  When I did do it, and came out in one piece, something changed in me, and that fear disappeared.  I only wanted to snatch another shark, which I did, and was able to do, until," Isurus paused, as the fear of losing his final fight crept in.  "I hadn't been afraid for a while, but am now."

       Willy was confused.  "Why are you afraid now?" he asked.

       "I'm afraid now," Isurus thought, not really wanting to be honest with his son, then said, "I'm afraid because I see your eyes and know what you'll do someday.  I'm realizing what my dad must have felt for me."

       Isurus put his arm around his son.  The video screen was playing a bloody scene of a snatcher being eaten.  The usual cacophony of crowd noise was subdued as the spectators took time to remember that snatchers do not always leave the pool alive.  The family of the slain snatcher was given respectful, and sorrowful, glances.  Though they were compensated (an extra portion of bluefin tuna), they lost someone they loved to a sport designed to more than just entertain.  Not much makes that better.

 

 

 

Chapter 2: Sharkville, Zland

 

       By the year 2220, when Willy was born, life had changed considerably, while not changing at all.  A combination of dark ages and science fiction, where the have-nots far out number the have-mores.  Where the have-mores rule their kingdom utilizing cutting edge technology while the have-nots unwittingly ensure the have-mores will always have more.  It was the Roman Empire meets The Road Warrior and The Running Man, the brutal past in a brutal present.

       Humans had a huge impact on the planet during the 21st century.  With unprecedented global reach and use of natural resources, it was not long before habitat was destroyed, drinking water and air contaminated, and war to secure the last scraps left most of the planet unfit for humanity.

       During the 22nd century, those who survived lived simply in the refuge of the few hospitable areas.  New Zealand was becoming the dominant super power of the day, as they had more habitable land where the super rich concentrated their power.  A new society developed with the same class structure but a bigger discrepancy of wealth.  The ones with the wealth ruled, and they had knowledge and technology to help them increase their wealth and power.

       One thing they knew was that to keep the status quo, they had to keep the have-nots ignorant and happy.  As long as they had food and simple pleasures, they would not make waves.  Shark snatching filled both those roles.

       The land had been largely depleted of fertile soil.  A lot of land was radioactive due to fallout from the various nuclear bombs that had been detonated two centuries prior.  New Zland was better off than other places.

       The little arable land that was available required fertilizer to produce healthy crops.  Since there was not a lot of fossil fuel left, it was impossible to create synthetic fertilizer or pesticides, or run large machinery. 

       For 100 years during The Green Revolution, humans were able to make high-quality nitrogen fertilizer and power a mechanized agriculture.  It was a very energy intensive process and once fossil fuel became scarce, it became very expensive to operate these farms.  The high human population that was allowed to grow during the days of cheap energy was not sustainable.  Famine spread worldwide, and the human population dropped.  Industrial agriculture took its toll on the land, the days of cheap fertilizer were gone, but the need to eat remained.

       The ocean held a vast quantity of nitrogen stored in sea creatures.  As fisheries increased during the fall of the human population, it was only a matter of time until the remaining people tapped into that nutrient source to use not only as food for themselves, but to process into fertilizer to grow crops.  There were also plenty of large sharks swimming in the sea, perfect for another purpose.

       By the time Willy was born, a vast, highly mechanized fishing fleet had been developed to gather seafood from the far reaches of the ocean, and concentrate it at Sharkville's seafood processing facility.  Ocean trawlers held separate ends of mile-wide nets that indiscriminately swept up any fish in their path.  They scoured the ocean looking for the most abundant fisheries.

       Collecting the seafood was long, hard work.  It was very rewarding, though, as millions of tons of this resource was caught.  Once the nets were full, the fleet brought their catch back to Sharkville.

       The ships emptied their catch into a huge funnel that was located a half a mile from the shore.  The mile-wide intake funnel narrowed to a 20-foot diameter intake pipe that sucked whatever was funneled in.  All of this made its way to the enormous processing facility that sprawled along the coast.

       Hundreds of trawlers were traveling across the ocean collecting seafood at any one time.  They made their way far from New Zland's shores.  They followed the migrations of all the remaining fisheries.  Tuna, cod, herring and a few others.  That work brought in hundreds of millions of tons of seafood every year. 

       Seafood was the current predominant energy source, both in terms of calories eaten by people, whether direct consumption or as fertilizer for the crops eventually eaten, and as a fuel.  Fish oil was used to power the processing plants, the surveillance system, and the video screens at the stadium.  If it was not for this plentiful and rich seafood, Sharkville would not be the same.

       With all the seafood caught came numerous sharks.  Smaller leopard sharks, colorful carpet sharks, strange shaped hammerheads and the fearsome great white sharks.  The workers took great care keeping these sharks alive and ready to face the shark snatchers.

       At first it was solely a form of punishment and intimidation, like those persecuted by the Romans who were forced into a ring to face lions, bears and gladiators.  It was only natural for the jocks to gravitate towards shark snatching, especially with the handsome rewards bestowed upon the snatchers.  People would do what they could to make their lives better.

       The rulers knew that sports have always been a good reliever of public stress.  Something to focus on instead of the plight many people faced all while the rulers lived lavishly in their kingdom.  So they promoted shark snatching fervently, and created a whole culture and fan base to make it the most popular pastime of the day.  There was not much else to do on an impoverished land except work to survive, play simple games, and watch shark snatchers in person and on the video displays spread around the city.

       Shark snatchers were revered by the poor and used by the rich.  Kids who wanted a better life for themselves dreamt of being shark snatchers.  It was shark snatchers who got to visit the garden as non-workers.  It was they, and the rulers, who got to enjoy the best fruits of the farm.

       Seafood made great compost.  Soil erosion over time caused land-based nutrients to be leached into rivers that poured into the ocean.  Sea life was highly efficient in turning those nutrients into flesh.  The denizens of Sharkville were highly efficient in capturing that sea life and converting it into much needed fertilizer.

       New Zland had some great farmland.  With the addition of fish compost, bountiful crops were grown.  Organic farming was once again the only way to grow food.

       The rulers did not approve of synthetic pesticides, and since they had plenty of labor to tend the crops, they did not need to spray for weeds or bugs.  A busy workforce does not have time to foment trouble, and organic food was healthier for a people already bombarded by the remnants of a civilization passed.  They had to be plenty careful not to eat too much heavy metal and dioxin laced seafood.  They were already affected enough by the toxins in the environment.

       The farmers, though completely different in function than the shark snatchers, were only one step below them.  They were not revered like shark snatchers, but they served an important function for the rulers: to make sure the crops grown were secure and healthy.  The rulers appreciated having fresh salad greens every night, and knew that content farmers would produce better lettuce.

       These farmers lived on the farm, secure behind fences and a surveillance system.  The farm was between the processing facility and the rulers' fortress.  The fortress was perched on top of the hill that rose above the farm.

       The rulers could peer down to the farm below, could see smoke rise from the processing facility, could see ships emptying their nets into the funnel, could see the dots on the horizon of the trawlers heading out to sea, and could just make out the stadium and the shanty town and market that made up most of the city.  They could hear the buzz of the processing plant, and the cheers from the stadium echoed up to their ears.  They could watch the games on their own video screens, and keep an eye on the people who attended.  Cameras were perched throughout the stadium, the city, the processing facility and the farm, allowing the rulers a constant view of what happened below.

       The rulers were content that people at the day’s championship were excited and complacent with the way things were.  The people knew the brutality of life, and rarely thought about changing a system that seemed to be working.  They all had created a society on a contaminated planet, one that was trying to make life livable for people, and to prevent anarchy form breaking it down.  They knew that without a guiding hand, and food, people would make things worse for everyone else.

       There was plenty of seafood.  People loved shark snatchers.  Things were well enough compared to what the last few generations had been experiencing.

 

Chapter 3: Galeocerdo Grace

 

       Willy kept glancing up at Carcharodon John who was oblivious to any one stare.  He could sense the overall awe from the kids and many of his fellow shark snatcher’s wives.  He had his share of romping with his female admirers.  He knew he was tough and desirable as a mate in a very tough world.  What woman would not want a top Carcharodon as a father for their child?  Their child would probably have a better chance of surviving as a shark snatcher, and thus a better chance of enjoying the benefits of being a shark snatcher.  He was the dominant stag of his day, and proudly acted so.

       Willy looked to his dad.  He was proud of his dad, and was glad he was his son.  Isurus Finn still had his arm around him.

       "I wish mom were here," Willy sighed.

       His dad held him tighter.  "Me too," he replied.  "She'd be very impressed with how big and fast you're getting."

       Isurus Finn sighed, then said, "she was a brave woman, but I think even she would feel some of the fear I have."

       Willy thought for a moment, and then asked, "Can you tell me about her championship?"

       "I can say that I was scared then, too.  Grace was the second woman to ever make it to the finals.  There was lots of hostility from some of the men, and I was afraid they'd sabotage her.  I was more scared of them then of the sharks.  She was strong and fast, and smart enough to know when to leave the pool while still in one piece.  But if someone did something bad to her, how could she predict, or avoid it?  Needless to say, I was on the lookout, very nervous and high-strung.

       "I helped her suit up.  Made sure all the armor was working.  Made sure her knife was sharp.  I put it in the sheath myself.  I told her to be on guard.  That if anything weird happened, leave the pool. 

       "She was very focused on winning.  She seemed very at ease.  I think I had enough knots in my tummy for two.

       "Your mom was the first to battle that day.  The water was clean.  The crowd very excited.  There were occasional jeers towards her, but most people wanted her to win, and not just because she was the underdog. 

       "Shark snatchers can be boisterous and unpleasant, but not her.  People loved her because she was a pleasant shark snatcher.  And generous.  Most shark snatchers don't associate with the underclass, but she did, giving them treats and moral support.  She could relate with them given her grandfather's people's crusade, back before shark snatching became so popular.  In many ways, your Great-Grandfather James made shark snatchers who we are today by trying to buck the system.

       "Grace got in the pool and waited for the chute to open.  I knew it was going to be a big shark, but when I saw it through the pipe as it swam towards the chute, I almost screamed for her to get out.  It was a 13 foot bull shark.  Her eyes got wider and she fixed her stance.

       "The shark dropped in with a splash and an even bigger tail slam that knocked her off her feet.  She regained her footing as the shark swam around her.  She took her time to gauge it as the shark calmed and slowed down.

       "You don't want to make any sudden moves.  You don't want to panic the shark any more than it is.  The key to snatching is taking your time, and then striking quickly to kill it right away.  Any slip-ups, or blood spilt without a mortal wound, aggravates the shark and increases your chance of being bitten and eaten.

       "She crept up to the shark that was gyrating in place.  She aimed her spear towards its head, and plunged.  The spear sank and the shark bucked, slamming her down.  She bounded back up as the shark swam away.  The shark turned around and swam back, charging.

       "She pulled out her knife to stab it as it lunged at her.  She stabbed it, but the knife broke.  That is the worst thing that could happen.  The shark was inflamed, began flailing and knocked her down.  As she stood up, it charged her and slammed her into side of the pool.  As she was climbing up to get out, the shark bit her leg.  By the time I got to where she was, the shark had pulled her underwater.  I tried to jump in, but they held me back.  I guess they thought a one-legged guy wouldn't be much help.  The shark was shot, but by then, too much damage had been done.  She lost too much blood.  I broke free and jumped in.  I grabbed her and knew she wouldn't survive.  She was unconscious, her torso was shredded and her breath was fading away.  She died in my arms as I stood in the bloody pool.

       "I was crying so hard, and was so distraught, that I didn't notice what was happening around me for a while.  I then remember hearing people scream, 'No!  Too soon!'  It took a while for me to realize they were yelling at the video screen.  I couldn’t believe when I looked up to see they were replaying what had just happened.  It was horrific.  I screamed and passed out."  Isurus had finished the story.

       Willy knew what had happened, but he had not heard this much detail before, or remembered being so disturbed.  He had a feeling of sadness for what happened to his mom, but also a disgust at them for replaying the video right after it happened.  He had tears in his eyes and wanted to leave.  He looked at his dad, who had his head down and seemed detached.  He looked at the crowd, who was oblivious to their pain.  He looked up and around and saw Carcharodon John looking down at him.  The top Carcharodon smiled a proud smile and winked.  Willy felt his heart lighten, and smiled back. 

       He put his arm around his dad and said, "I'm sorry, daddy.  I don't want to scare you, too."

       "The last thing your mom said to me about you was that if you ever became a shark snatcher, I need to make sure you do it for the right reason.  The thing is, I don't know if there is a right reason," his dad said.

       The games began and the snatchers paraded.  The music blared.  The sharks dropped in.  Blood was spilt.  Willy was right.  Galeocerdo Shaun won the championship.  It was an exciting day of snatching, but Willy did not remember much after the story about his mom.  All he could think about was how scared Galeocerdo Grace must have been, how hurt his dad was, and what could possibly be the right reason for anything.

 

Chapter 4: The Bigger Picture

 

       Shark snatching events were always high energy.  There was the adrenaline of the fights themselves, there was the anticipation of seeing a famous snatcher, and there was plenty of food given away to the people.  Tons of seafood was piped in.  Everyone left with as much food as they wanted.  That was enough reason for people to get excited.

       The problem was getting the choice cuts.  It was a dangerous free-for-all, and more people got hurt or were killed trying to get the food than were snatchers fighting sharks.  You had to be tough just collecting seafood.

       Adjacent to the stadium were the fish pits, where the seafood was dumped for the people to collect.  The processors did their best to keep the trash and rotting meat out, but with all the garbage floating in the sea, and at such a large scale, it was not all fresh and clean.  There always was the unlucky person who grabbed an old octopus, a stinky salmon, or a pile of ancient, slimy plastic.  It could not all be filtered out.

       The games happened every weekend from late winter until late fall.  Training happened during the off-season and during the week between shark snatching events.  Special events such as team shark snatching, and others featuring old-time shark snatchers, showing off their skills, happened frequently.  The public was encouraged to come to all of them, and was lured in with the promise of food.  Many people did, not to just watch some shark snatching, but to bring home seafood.

       Most people were not aware that eating too much of certain kinds of seafood had risks.  Toxins built up in the fat of fish, and that in turn built up in the person eating the fish.  It was no wonder that many people in Sharkville had serious disorders, from birth defects and brain damage, to fertility problems and tumors.

       This did not bother the rulers, who always got the freshest and cleanest seafood.  They knew that the poor people's health problems only subdued any subversive behavior that otherwise may have ensued.  It also meant a higher mortality rate, and lowered birth rate, which was necessary to ensure the population did not get too big.

       The rulers were well aware that high populations led to overuse of natural resources.  They knew that over-exploitation led to widespread contamination, ecological collapse, and war, which made the land largely inhospitable.  The rulers did not want to repeat that mistake, so they did what they could to keep the population in check.  If the people eating too much seafood, which was abundant, helped that goal, then that was fine for the rulers.  It was better for small-scale disturbances that affected some people than for wholesale collapse that affected everyone.

       Along with toxic seafood, the rulers periodically provided the poor people water laced with sterility agents designed to increase miscarriages in women and lower sperm count in men.  They did not need to raise an army, so they did not need a large, expendable population.  As long as there were enough workers to run the trawlers, the processors, the farms, and the other vital functions of the city, and as long as there were enough people who wanted to risk their lives trying to make it better being a shark snatcher, the rulers could keep on ruling as they were, isolated in their fortress, trying to give their own kids a better life than otherwise may be, while exploiting and manipulating the underclass.  Shark snatching was a convenient, and entertaining, distraction for the poor people who could not see the bigger picture.

      

Chapter 5: Willy Goes Out to See

 

       Working on a trawler was hard, dangerous work, without the rewards a shark snatcher hoped to see.  There were storms with 30-foot swells to face.  There were the long, tiring nights on deck.  There were even active sea mines floating with other debris left over from a bygone era.  A ship could easily have its hull ripped open if it hit a mine.  Many a crew had been lost in unknown open ocean, perhaps becoming food for a shark a snatcher would one day get revenge on.

       Before the advent of the quick release nets on the trawlers, some were even pulled under by a too-heavy load.  A one-mile by 300-foot high net can hold a lot of seafood, and that weight, if joined by a pod of whales, or pushed by a storm, can exert a lot of force.  The nets were not made to break.  Once a trawler tipped, it was not likely to flip upright.

       Now, in an emergency, the nets could be released, but not easily.  It was bumpy and unpredictable being on deck during such an event.  Crewmembers that fell off may have to endure frigid water or a net swarming with sea life.  Those who were not rescued quickly might be left behind, as a speeding trawler was unlikely to turn around to pick him up.

       Willy knew these dangers, but decided to join a trawler when he was 18.  He figured it was a time to explore, do something meaningful, and challenge himself.  He was a big guy, so he was welcomed on board.

       His first couple of days were horrible.  He was seasick and homesick.  He knew it was going to be a long trip and was regretting coming on board.

       "Don't ya worry, mate," a crewmember said to him, as he leaned over the ship's side to vomit.  "It took me a while to be seaworthy.  Now I've been here 15 years, and I get sick if I'm on land!"  The man laughed as he put his hand on Willy's back.

       "Did you ever wish you stayed on land?" Willy asked.

       "Aye, mate, I did. 'Specially since I had a young son I left at home.  He's 'bout yer age now, 'spose.  I missed seein' him growin' up.  'Stead I've got these crow's eyes and calloused hands.  The name's Patrick, mate."

       Willy reached out his hand to shake Patrick's.  He felt they were indeed calloused, more so than his dad's.

       "I'm Willy.  Willy Galeocerdo Isurus."

       "Aye!  A double shark snatcher son!  We're honored to have you on board, Willy!  Most of the privileged class wouldn't step foot on a boat, let alone sail out to sea!"

       "After being out here, I can't say I blame them.  I don't know if I have it in me to do what you do," Willy admitted.

       "I think everyone feels that way, until they start doin' it.  It's amazin' what people are capable of doin', 'specially if they're doin' it for the right reason.

       Willy looked at Patrick and knew he had here someone he could trust, someone who would look out for him.

       "Thanks, Patrick.  I appreciate hearing that.  I'm still trying to figure out what the right reason is, but I'll give it my best in the meantime."

       "Aye.  I know what the wrong reasons are, and I suspect you do, too.  So from there it may be easier to see what the right reason is," Patrick added.

       "Sometimes it seems confusing and contradictory.  If the right reason for me to be out here is to try to catch fish we all can eat, then we'll be bringing back sharks.  If we bring back sharks, somebody's probably going to get hurt."

       "You've probably seen a lot of hurt bein' a shark snatcher’s son."

       "My mom was killed in a pool by a shark, during the championship 16 years ago.  Her knife broke.  My dad couldn't save her.  My dad already lost a leg to a shark, and now he lost my mom."

       Patrick took a step back.  "Willy Galeocerdo Isurus?  You're the son of Galeocerdo Grace and Isurus Finn!" he stammered.  His eyes were wide with disbelief and excitement.  "Peter!  David!  This sea sick lad is the son of Galeocerdo Grace!"

       The others walked over with their arms outstretched towards Willy.

       "Jumping great whites!  We have ourselves someone famous here," Peter said, shaking Willy's hand heartily.

       "Well, I'm not famous, but I'm glad to be their son."

       Willy no longer felt seasick, or as homesick.  He felt a surge of pride in his parents for being able to command respect in these hardened seamen.

       "Bein' the son of two great shark snatchers means you're built to be tough.  We normally press our newbies.  You may think bein' famous would get you off the hook.  It seems our job instead is to see how tough you really are!" David said.

       "Aye, mate.  If you can't handle life on a trawler, you certainly won't be able to snatch a shark," Patrick said.

       "I'm not planning on being a shark snatcher.  That's why I'm here," Willy said as the others laughed.

       "No, mate.  With your lineage, you'll be a shark snatcher, if you survive your trip on the trawler.  You may be here trying to escape your fate, but we'll see to it that you'll be trying to escape the boat before long."

       Willy felt a chill.  He knew they were serious.  Whatever fond feeling they had for him only meant they would test him even more.  He just hoped they would not let him die.

 

Chapter 6: Affection

 

       After a week on board, Willy found his sea legs.  He could look towards the horizon and not get sick.  But he still missed home.

       He would not be seeing his dad for 2 months.  The fleet planned to sail up towards Southeast Asia and catch the tuna migration, along with anything else they could snatch.  There were harpooning ships along for the ride, too.  If they were lucky, the fleet could bring in some prime gray whale meat.  They always also hoped to catch some big great whites for the shark snatchers at home.

       Willy was remembering the past year of his life.  A lot had happened, and he felt his life had changed.  He was not the innocent little boy he once was.

       He had still gone to watch shark snatching games regularly with his dad, though even things there were different.  They were not as exciting as he remembered them when he was younger.

   Damon's dad had moved up one row, one short of the Carcharodons.  He was now a Carcharhinus, named after slaying a 15-foot bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas. He had to quit snatching after losing an arm to a 16-foot great white.

       Carcharodon John had his record beaten 3 years ago.  Willy did not have the same affection for the new top Carcharodon as he did for the one he grew up with.  He would still look up to Carcharodon John at the games, and every once in a while he would wink at Willy.  He knew how to work his fans.

       The biggest thing to affect Willy was watching a shark snatcher that fought 15 years prior.  Willy watched the video of his mother’s death.  He never thought he would have as hearing the story was more than enough, he had heard so many good things about her from people on the street, and he had seen his dad suffer so much from her death.  Why would he risk being traumatized watching something so disturbing?

       Teenagers live dangerously.  They take risks.  They like grotesque things.  That was enough for him to order the tape.  As long as his dad was not around, he thought he would be ok.

       He invited some friends over, ones who had seen it before, to be with him in case he would panic.

       "You sure you wanna watch this, Willy?" Damon asked.

       "No. Would you if you were me?"

       "Probably not.  I don't like to watch my dad's last fight."

       "Oh, he'll be ok," Otto assured. Otto was a bit more provocative and sadistic.  His dad was a Carcharodon.  He liked to push Willy.

       "Are you doing it for the right reason?" Damon asked, knowing what Willy's mom last said about him.

       "I'm doing it because I want to see the reality of being a shark snatcher.  This is what surrounds us.   What took my mom's life, my dad's leg and his heart.  If I'm gonna become a shark snatcher, like everyone seems to think I'm destined to be, then I need to see if its worth it.  I need to feel what its like to see someone I love die.  If I'm going to put my dad through that, I want to know if its something I could bare.  If it destroys me, there's no way I'll risk destroying my dad if he has to watch me snatch and die.  If I'm going to snatch for the right reason, I need to see if there's a right reason not to," Willy said thoughtfully.

       "Works for me," Otto said as he pressed play.

       On the screen came the championship games from 15 years ago.  Willy was two then.  He sat in the shark snatcher section with his grandma, his mom's mom.  She had to be talked into coming, so that Willy could be there while his dad helped his mom.

       Willy thought he would have a déjà vu watching the video, but his two-year young brain had no memory.  He vaguely remembered his mom, but he suspected that was more from seeing pictures of her and hearing stories about her than actual memories.  He watched what unfolded with fresh eyes, yet with a knowledge of how it ended.

       The screen showed the packed crowd in the stadium.  Championship games were always the most crowded, but this one had the beloved Galeocerdo Grace.  Willy heard the chanting of the crowd.  "Galeocerdo Gra-ace!"  That gave him the chills and tears.  He could see his friends were touched, too.

       "You sure you should do this?" Damon asked.

       "Shhh!" Otto hissed.

       The camera zoomed onto individuals at the game, some holding pictures of Willy's mom standing next to the tiger shark she slain a few weeks prior.

       "Galeocerdo Gra-ace!  Galeocerdo Gra-ace!"

       The camera zoomed in on her.  She looked tough.  She was six foot, four inches tall, and 250 pounds.  She was standing next to his dad, who still had to look down at her. 

       He had his hands on her shoulder and was talking.  Willy could make out certain words they were saying.  He thought he heard his dad say, "Get out, fast!" maybe because he emphasized it.  She nodded her head.  He gave her a hug. 

       Willy thought he could read her lips.  He saw her say, "Willy."  She looked very serious, with almost a tear in her eye.  He saw her say, "right reason," as she said it slowly, gesturing with her hand like that was the point.  Willy was shaking now.  The crowd was getting louder.  The shark appeared, swimming down the pipe above the stadium.  The shape of that 15-footer was clearly visible.  The camera zoomed in.

       "Holy shark!" Otto exclaimed.  "I forgot how big it was!"

       The crowd quieted as the shark neared the trap door.

       He saw his mom brace for the shark.  The chute opened and the shark exploded in, knocking her down.  She got up and the crowd cheered.  She stalked the shark, went for the kill, and speared the shark. 

       The story he often thought about was now clearly visible to him.  He watched the shark circle around and charge.  He saw her stab the shark and the knife break.  Willy watched his mom scramble, fall over, and get slammed into the pool wall, as his dad rushed towards her.  His mom was dragged under water.  The pool turned red. 

       He heard the collective gasp of the crowd.  His dad was being held back as shots rang out.  The shark stopped thrashing.  His dad jumped in.

       "No!  No!  Too soon!  Too soon!" the crowd was shouting as a replay was shown on the stadium's video screen.

       "No!  No!  Too soon!  Too soon!"

 

Chapter 7:  Trawling

 

       Willy was looking out at the endless ocean, remembering those words.  "Too soon."  If those words had not been haunting him, he would not now be on this ship.

       Willy wondered.  Was it too soon to know?  Was it too soon to forget?  Everything takes time.  But time eventually takes everything.  If too much time was taken, it may be gone before the time was right.  Sometimes things were best dealt with at the present time.

       "Willy, mate!  We need your hand over here!  Quit daydreamin' and get to work!"

       That was all Willy thought he had been doing lately.  It seemed to him he had been working non-stop.  Maybe not helping the crew, but at least working his thoughts back and forth in his mind.

       "Sorry, Patrick.  I'm not used to all this work," he replied.

       "You will be soon, son.  We haven't even begun to do the real work yet, though. In a couple days, we should be on top of one of the biggest fisheries around.  That's when we'll know if you're really the son of shark snatchers, or just some daydreamin' teenager tellin' tall tales."

       For a moment, Willy wished he were making that up.  He thought his life would be easier if there were not the expectations his lineage dealt him.

       "Remember, Willy, when we start the real work, ya gotta stay hydrated.  Drink lots of water, not that fire water some of the other fellas drink.  We can't be havin' yer muscles lock or ya passin' out when things get rollin'.  We need ya alert and ready to respond.  If someone falls overboard, we have 15 seconds to save him.  If that person is you, ya better pray the other crew are ready, too.  If it's dark and stormy, be doubly cautious."

       Patrick had already told Willy this, twice.  Each time Willy could see his dad in Patrick's eyes, so he actually liked to hear it.  Patrick hoped there were other lonely fathers out there willing to watch out for his son.  These two seamen filled a role in the others' life that was much needed, and appreciated.

       The fleet found the schools they were after further south than was predicted.  This saved the crew a day, and they were ready to corral the fish.

       There were two dozen trawlers in the fleet, along with 5 harpooners that spread out to find whales.  Each mile-long net was spread between two trawlers.  All the trawlers lined up in a row forming a 12-mile long chain of nets.  The trawlers then fanned out, sweeping in a circle that spiraled out to maximize coverage. 

       Spotter ships had already set out to find where the fisheries were concentrated using sonar.  Sonic burst of particular frequencies were used to lure and concentrate sea life even more.  The goal was to get every swimming sea creature in the area from the ocean floor up to the sea surface.  The water around the trawlers began bubbling with life.

       It took a couple of days for the process to unfold and a week for the process to reach capacity, all while constant monitoring, above and under water, occurred.  Dive teams were sent in to check on the status, to find out what kinds of fish were there, how many there were, and to solve problems that happened.  There could be any type of fish to catch, and any kind of debris to avoid.

       Willy went on many dives.  They left the trawler aboard a small dingy, and motored across the water.  Their ship was close to the middle of the chain, so it seemed like the net went on forever.  All kinds of sea life was swarming about: fish, dolphins, turtles, whales, jellyfish, undeterminable creatures, and big sharks.  Sea lions were cruising around the catch, too.  It all was being kept together, for the most part, moving along with the trawlers as the catch grew and grew.                      

       "Alright, Willy.  When we dive down, you head towards the right, and I'll go left," Patrick told him on one of his dives.

       Their job was to look for any tears, tangles, dangerous debris, or other problems that would lower their catch.

       "I don't have to tell ya to watch for sharks, but watch for sharks," Patrick would always warn him.  "They should be well fed being surrounded by so much easy meat, but ya never know when a feeding frenzy will start.  I don't see any birds hovering above, so we're probably safe.  Just keep yer eyes open and yer wits about."

       "Got it!" Willy faithfully replied.

       They dove in.  The water was cold and shocking.  Willy swam on the surface, using his motorized propeller to speed him along. 

       He was amazed by how much sea life they had collected.  It was full of big and little fish.  Luckily they were mostly on the other side of the net, which was bouncing up and down with all the living weight it held.  He dove down to get a better look.

       As he was inspecting the net, he found a tear.  It was a few feet wide, and fish were swimming through.  He pulled out his rope and began to stitch it, fighting off the swarms of fish trying to get through.  The net was bumping so he had trouble working the rope smoothly. 

       He knew a hole like that could only form a few ways, one being a shark chewed its way through.  The rope did look frayed as if bitten, which gave Willy the chills as he realized there might be a big shark swimming on his side.  He looked around. 

       No big shark.  Just lots of other creatures he hoped a shark would try to eat first.  He knew sharks were inquisitive, so he kept his guard up.  He did not want to be surprised.

       Willy finished stitching the net, and continued his patrol, constantly looking for that shark.  He reached the end and began the return swim.  He did not see any more tears, just lots of sealife and benign debris. 

       He could hear the bustling about, a cacophony of swimming bodies banging into each other in an unnatural chaos.  Only humans could create such a concentration of diversity, he thought, and narrow it down to feed their own species.  The top predator, by a long shot.

       As a species, that was true, but he knew one on one, there were any number of individuals of another species ready to take him down.  From a tiny bacteria to a giant great white.  He felt humbled by that, and hoped he would not have to learn that lesson the hard way.

       He thought about the shark that chewed its way through the net.  That was a rebel shark, one not about to be snatched by a net, was not about to be swept down to Sharkville to face a shark snatcher.  That shark broke free.  It survived.  Its young would be even stronger and smarter than the ones hauled away.  Even the ones who defeat a shark snatcher in a pool were eventually killed.  It would never be able to strengthen its gene pool in the wild.

       Willy made his way back to the dingy and told the others what he found.

       "I wonder if that was the shark I saw on our side," Patrick said.

       "What kind of shark?" Willy asked.

       "Don't know, but it was big.  I wouldn't want to get too close to find out."

       They motored back towards the trawler, climbed on board, and reported their findings.

       "One of the crew on another dingy was attacked," David said.  "His leg was bitten as he was diving.  He had a big chunk ripped from his thigh."

       Willy and Patrick looked at each other.

       "Meeting a shark in open water ain't like meeting one in a shallow pool.  Seems to me you may be safer as a shark snatcher than a diver, mate."

       "Maybe, though the chance of encounter out here is low.  Being stuck in a pool, shallow or not, makes encounter inevitable.  That sounds more risky," Willy replied.

       "Aye, so it is.  So it is," said Patrick, winking.

 

Chapter 8: The Storm

 

       After the final inspection and preparations were completed, the trawlers picked up speed and headed home.  This was the tricky part.  Hauling millions of tons of seafood over thousands of miles of ocean was fraught with danger.  Going too fast risked tearing the net loose.  Going to slow risked losing more of the catch.  Some seafood was drawn into the hulls of the ship for storage.  Some was processed on board during the roundup.  The free-swimming sea life, on the other hand, might escape.  The captain's job was to minimize loss and escape.

       The fleet had sailed a couple of days when it was reported a typhoon was forming due south.  No captain liked sailing into a storm.  Doing so with a net full of fish drawn between another ship was even more dangerous than normal. 

       Moments like these differentiated the captains.  Each pair of trawlers had the independence to get back home whatever way they saw fit.  One of those captains was head captain, and the other attached ship had to follow his orders.  The head captain was based on seniority, which hopefully meant more experience and wisdom on how to sail safely and efficiently. 

       Seniority effected people differently, though.  One senior captain might avoid storms at all cost, knowing the violent nature of the sea had sunk many a ship.  Better to get home late than not at all.  Another senior captain might be restless and ready to get home.  Not as cautious as age often makes people.  Maybe there was a big bonus waiting for the first ship to make it back.  Maybe it was pride in being brave, and though it may be sloppy stupidity, it was a race to get home.  Who did not want to win a race?

       Willy's captain was the head of the trawler pair.  He decided to keep heading the same direction, storm or no storm.  Willy suspected the captain had too much pride to retreat from the storm.  He told Patrick that.

       "Aye, the captain is a proud man, but he's also one of the best captains I know.  I've been through several storms with him, and we always pull through with as much fish as the ships that diverted.  He knows time is precious and losing even one day can spoil your catch.

       "There's also the Great Pacific Garbage Patch we've gotta avoid.  If we veer off to the east like we'd need to do to avoid the storm, we may run in to it.  There's no telling what's there and we'd be likely to scoop up so much garbage the seafood would be worthless.

       "Either way's a gamble.  But it doesn't matter now.  The captain's made the decision," Patrick ended.

       Willy was a bit ensured, but still nervous with what laid ahead.  He knew he might be facing the most dangerous time in his life.  He was glad Patrick was there.

       "When we reach the storm, the captains will idle the ships after semi-enclosing the two ends of the net together to reduce fish loss.  We won't be very far from the other ship.  The swells will be big and may push us towards each other.  The fish will be dragging the net, which will pull the ships haphazardly.

       "If things get too chaotic, we'll have to dump the net.  That's the last thing we want to do, 'cause it's also very dangerous.  If we have to man the deck, we need to be roped in, as one wave can knock you overboard, and you'll be good as shark bait. 

       "The emergency release takes two people to operate.  Willy and me'll work the first one.  Peter and David, you'll release the second one.  If someone goes overboard, don't risk yer life trying to rescue him.  We'll hope he's still there when the storm breaks.  That means no one should get knocked over!"

       The team was silent.  No one wanted to get knocked over, but the thought of leaving a crewmate dangling over the edge in a storm was hard.

       The sky was getting darker with rain clouds, and the swells got bigger and bigger.  The storm filled the sky in front of them.  Willy could not believe what they were going to do.

       Willy heard the ship slow down as he saw the other ship circle towards them, stopping a quarter mile away.  Both ships bobbed like corks in water as the rain came lashing down.  Now they had to wait for the storm to pass.

       Willy could not relax as he was bounced back and forth in his room.  It seemed to get more violent by the minute.  He could picture the giant swells lifting and dropping the boats like a toy boat in a bathtub.  He waited for the crash of the other boat hitting theirs.

       When the alarm went off, it startled Willy from his trance.  He did not know how long he had been rocking.  It jolted everyone into action, who now had to hustle up to the deck of a ship on a violent teeter-totter.

       "The captain orders release of the net!  Release the net!  Release the net!" said the captain on the loudspeaker.

       The moment any crew dreaded was here.  Facing peril in order to surrender the catch.  A wasted trip, save for the cargo in the hull and refrigerator.

       "Tie yourself!" Patrick ordered, and they made their way to the release.  Waves splashed on deck, knocking Willy off his feet.  He scrambled up and grabbed the release.

       "Pull!" ordered Patrick.

       Grunting, the men used all their might to loosen the release.  It budged, and the ropes loosened then pulled away as the other team released theirs.

       "Hold on!" shouted Patrick, who forgot to tell Willy that when the net was released, the ship would have less tension on it, and thus would be more susceptible to being rocked by the swells.

       As soon as the net was released, the captain accelerated.  A wave hit the bow, knocking Willy down and then over the edge.  He was hanging from the rope as the bobbing ship sped along, pounded by the waves.

       "Willy!" Patrick shouted.

       "Help!" Willy screamed.  He tried climbing up, but the rocking, the waves, and his cold hands kept knocking him down.

       Patrick pulled the rope but could not lift Willy up.  The other men had already left the deck.  When Patrick and Willy did not return, they went back on deck to find them.  They made their way to where Patrick was and helped pull Willy up and on to the ship.  There was no time to lie there.  They scrambled off the deck, into the relative safety on the ship, as waves chased after them.

       Willy took a few minutes to calm down and warm up.

       "Thanks, you guys.  I thought I was a goner.  I thought you said no rescuing man overboard."

       "Aye, that was to keep you on your feet.  But I forgot to tell ya 'bout what happens when the net's released.  Ya may have disobeyed me, fallin' off the deck like that, but I would've felt real bad if we lost ya due to me not remembering to tell ya something important.  Ya may have survived dangling from the rope, but I wasn't gonna let ya find out," Patrick said.

       "Thank you.  I hope I would to the same for you."

       "Me too, son, me too."

 

Chapter 9: The Captain's Tale

 

       Willy laid on his bed in his cabin, sore from his flip over the ship.  His legs were bruised, his hands cut and raw, and his mind shifted.  He was tired, but also restless.  He was ready to be back on land, but knew he had a while to wait.

       The crew was upset at losing their catch.  They did not want to go home with only the fish on board.  They were far enough away from Sharkville to search out more seafood and sweep it up with their extra net.  That was what the captain decided to do.

       The two ships took a detour west through the Malaysian Islands.  There were not as many fish here as up north this time of year, but they could spend a couple of days trawling and at least not go back home with an empty net.

       The storm had passed, but the water was still cloudy from the upturn it caused.  There did seem to be a lot of sea life around.  The captain ordered the net to be splayed.

       The crew attached the net to the two ships, which then began trawling.  Two days passed and the divers were sent out to inspect the catch.  Willy was too sore to join them or do much work.  He limped around on deck, helping where he could.

       The captain called Willy up to the helm.  They had not spent much time together, so Willy was excited to talk with him.  He walked up to where the captain headed the ship.

       "When I was a youngster, I wanted to be a shark snatcher," the captain said.  "Just like all little boys, I s'pose.  I actually tried out and snatched a few smaller leopard sharks to get a feel for it. 

       "My parents weren't supportive.  They thought it was risky, and not really work.  They'd rather I do something more productive.

       "On the opening day of the season's snatch, I lost my courage.  A friend of mine was seriously wounded by a bullnose shark before my round.  It was horribly bloody and I was too intimidated to enter the pool.  I instead helped care for my friend, sort of using that as an excuse to back out.  I never went back to the stadium after that.  I joined the fishing fleet a while later, as that seemed less risky and more productive."

       "And now you're a respected captain,” Willy added.

       "Maybe not so much after what just happened to our catch.  I regret not bypassing the storm.  You probably wish I did, looking at your sore body."

       "It's easy to have hind sight.  Yeah, I'm hurt, but part of me is feeling like I needed to be knocked over the ship.  Strange as it may sound, I actually feel better in my head now."

       "Staring death in the face can do strange things to a man.  I imagine as a shark snatcher's son you've seen death from a distance, but maybe not have had it be there for you."

       Willy knew the captain was right.  He had been traumatized by the death of others, but he had never faced it with his life.  Somehow facing his death changed him, and he was less scared of death because of it.  He was a bit desensitized, and almost ready to face death again.

       "The crew still respects you, sir,” Willy said.  "They know life on the sea is challenging and unpredictable.  There's no saying our catch would have been any better if we avoided the storm.  Besides, we can make up for it if we catch a lot of seafood here."

       "I hope you're right, Willy," the captain said.

       Willy stayed up at the helm for a while.  They told each other stories of sharks they each had seen.  It turned out the captain had seen the biggest one.

       "Shark snatchers never see the biggest sharks.  They always get away.  They are out there in the ocean still, getting ever bigger," the captain explained.

       Willy could not believe that.  He thought the biggest sharks were reserved for team shark snatching.  Whenever a shark bigger than 20 feet was caught, a special shark snatching event was scheduled in the stadium.

       The large pool was brought out and the giant shark was airlifted in, one of the few times people saw an aircraft.  The shark was placed in the pool, and the best shark snatchers entered after a dramatic introduction of pageantry and pomp.  Depending on the size of the shark, two or more shark snatchers faced the beast that was not easily going to be snatched.

       The shark snatchers were more heavily armored than usual, and carried better weapons.  This snatch was meant to be dramatic.  Snatchers usually got hurt, some mortally.

       The biggest shark Willy saw team snatched was a 30-foot, 4000-pound monster great white.  It took 4 snatchers to slay it, and one of them was ripped to shreds.  The jaws of all these monsters were displayed at the stadium, and the one from that shark was not the biggest there.  The biggest was from a 35-footer that was slain before Willy could remember.  He told the captain this story.

       "Aye, that's a big shark.  But I've seen an even bigger one.  A few years back, the crew kept talking about a giant great white that had been swimming around the catch.  They said it was at least 40 feet long.  That's the shark of legends, and I couldn't believe it.  I wouldn't have, if I didn't see it myself.

       "One day, it leapt over the net, in the biggest shark leap I've over seen, and snapped it off one of the boats.  That ship almost tipped over in the process.

       "It's mouth was as big as a boat.  Some men in the dingy fell over in fear, then quickly climbed back in!

       "Earlier, there had been birds circling over all day.  We had an enormous catch, just waiting to be eaten.  Then the feed frenzy began," the captain told Willy.

 

       Willy had heard about feeding frenzies.  Schools of fish vanish into all the predators surrounding them, from sharks and other big fish, to turtles and sea otters.  The birds meanwhile dove down as torpedoes, grabbing mouthfuls of fish.  The fish in the schools got plucked one by one, concentrating the schools and eventually, there were no more left.

       "That shark must have been circling below, waiting for the right moment to burst through the water.  It snatched a sea otter in its lunge out.  When it landed, all our hearts sank, knowing the men were still out there in the dingies.  No one was hurt, but no one was going back out there after that."

       Willy’s heart was pounding, thinking how awesome that shark must have been.  There's no way he would want to be out there, either!

       "It was easily 40 feet long.  The crew tried to harpoon it, but missed.  That was the last we saw of it, but I always expect we'll see it again one day."

       "It would be incredible if we caught it,” Willy said, suddenly feeling excited about shark snatching, only from the safety of a boat.

       "Aye, but part of me wants to let it be.  Some sharks should just be left in the ocean, though I'd hate to see one of our men eaten by it," the captain solemnly said.

       The divers came back to the ship and reported that all was well and that the net was full.  They also said they captured a 27-foot great white.  Willy left the helm and helped the other men prepare for departure.

       He was more impressed by the captain than he was before.  It looked like their catch was well worth the delay.  Mostly, Willy was excited to be heading home.

 

Chapter 10:  Coming Home

 

       "Land ho!” Willy heard in the distance as he laid in his cabin.  He rushed up to the deck to see Sharkville not too far away.  The fortress, the farm, the processing plant, and the stadium and city were wrapped by a majestic mountain chain.  This was a view he had only seen once, when he left almost two months ago.  He realized how much he missed being away, and how much differently he felt compared to his first few seasick days.  He actually thought he would miss being on the open ocean.  Maybe not enough, though, to go back out.

       The processing plant was buzzing as usual.  The other ships from the fleet returned before them.  Willy's crew was the last to come home.

       It turned out, though, that they had a good catch compared to the others, despite losing their first net.  The detour the other ships took had a toll on their catch, and a few nets snagged mile-long tangles of trash that created a big mess.  They were still emptying and cleaning their nets when Willy’s ship entered the bay.

       His crew was ready to unload the catch into the funnel pipe.  The ships slowly approached the funnel and the seafood concentrated towards the pipes entrance.  It all was sucked in, a smorgasbord of seafood, some bad, most good, but all usable.  The ships then emptied their hulls.

       The giant great white the crew caught was unloaded into a holding pen designed for the mega sharks.  News of the capture had spread, and people came down to see it.  The dorsal fin was visible above the water as the shark inspected its new, temporary home.  Occasionally it lifted its head out to see the gawking people who gasped at the size of its mouth. 

       It would be a couple of days for the team shark snatching to occur.  That would be a special event as it had been a couple of years since the last shark this big was caught.  The people were excited, and wondered who would be on the shark snatching team.  Obviously, the top snatcher, Carcharodon Zeke would be.  There would only be two others joining him, as three snatchers would be enough to slay this great white.

       Willy’s dad had come down, looking forward to seeing his son.  Willy wrapped up his work on the ship, then walked off.  His dad waited for him on the dock, then saw his son limping in his direction.

       "Willy!" he shouted, to be noticed in the crowd.  Willy gave him a big smile, approached, then gave him an even bigger hug.

       "It's good to see you, dad!” Willy said.  "It seems like I've been gone a long time."

       "You were gone a long time, son.  I heard about what happened to you guys, losing your catch, and you almost being lost, too.  You don't look too good.  You're limping like me!"

       "You've seen worse.  I'll be fine.  Just a few bruises.  I'm actually feeling pretty good, “ Willy replied.

       "I'm excited to hear your stories," his dad said as he gave his son another hug.

       Patrick approached them, and reached out his hand.  "You must be Isurus Finn," he said.  "I'm Patrick, and very glad to meet you.  Your son made a fine sailor.  You'd be proud of him if you saw him in action."

       "Thank you.  I am proud of him," Isurus Finn said.  "I wish I could've seen him, though he don't look too good now.  I'm just glad he made it back."

       "Patrick was my dad away from home, dad.  He's the one who fixed my head, and saved my life."

       "Thank you, again!  I'm glad there was someone on board keeping an eye on him."

       "I have a son about his age that I don't see much, so it was nice to be able to act like a father out at sea," Patrick said.

       Isurus Finn felt sad for Patrick, as he missed his son while he was away.  At least he was able to be there for Willy while he was growing up.  He could not imagine being apart most of the time.

       "Maybe we can all get together sometime while you're on land, Patrick.  I'd like to meet your son,” Willy suggested.

       "That would be good with me," Patrick replied.

       "Great!  Maybe we should set a night to have dinner at our place, dad?” Willy asked.

       "Sure thing.  How about three nights from now?  That might even be the night of the team snatching on the great white you brought back."

       "It's nothing like the one that broke the crews' net the captain told me about," Willy said.

       "Aye, he told ya that story, eh? Tis true, me lad," Patrick affirmed, then said  "I'm sure I can talk my son into coming."

       Willy gave Patrick directions and a pass to their place.  They bid Patrick farewell.  Willy and his dad walked home as Willy told him stories of his adventure on the sea.

 

Chapter 11: A Really Big Shark

 

       The day of the team shark snatching arrived.  Willy and his dad sat in the stands watching the shark snatchers below get ready for the great white to be dropped in the pool.  It was exciting for Willy to watch a shark he sort of helped catch.

       Willy waved to Damon.

       "I wanna hear your stories on the sea soon, Willy!" Damon shouted over the buzz of the crowd, down to Willy.

       "I plan on stopping by your place in a couple of days,” Willy assured him, and gave him thumbs up.  "You're gonna love the shark we're about the see."

       "I'm gonna love seeing it die!" Damon joked back, but seriously.

       They heard the sound of the helicopter coming closer, echoing off the mountain.  It grew louder and louder, then appeared above the stadium, carrying its giant load.  The shark was still.  It was not meant to be flying.

       The shark was lowered into the pool.  When it hit the water, it was clearly not dead.  It thrashed around violently, trying to break through the pool walls.  Men pulled the chain the shark was attached to and held the shark as best they could on the wall, while others released the shark.

       The helicopter flew away as the crowd cheered.  They always loved to see a really big shark.  They always loved to see a giant shark die.

       This was an event meant for show, more so than the usual games.  This was not a competition between men, but between species.  A display of the toughest shark snatchers versus the biggest sharks.  The more the drama, the better.

       Shark snatcher clowns, who were suspended above the pool, teased the shark.  The shark leapt up to try to get them.  The clowns were pulled up just in time.

       It might have been as much anger as hunger that fueled their leaps.  Every time the shark tried to bite the clowns, the crowd went wild.  That only seemed to enflame the shark more.

       The shark began to realize it was not going to catch them, so it stopped leaping.  Now it was time for the clowns to be dunked.  They were lowered into the pool.  When their feet entered the water, they kicked to attract the shark that once again tried to bite the clowns, who were swept up before the shark could get them.  The goal was to entertain, but also to infuriate the shark, who would be extra dangerous for the snatchers when it was their turn to enter the pool, without any rope to yank them out.

       The shark snatchers began to bang on the tank, and Carcharodon Zeke threw a live 20-pound bluefin tuna into the pool.  The shark hesitated at first, then chased it and gulped it down.  It was ready to eat more.

       It was time for the snatchers to enter the pool.  The three were spaced evenly apart around the pool's perimeter, and slowly stepped in.  While this was fun to watch for the crowd, these men knew they were risking serious injury or death.  This was not fun for them, but one of the most frightening shark encounters they ever had.

       They each wielded a large, sharp, metal spear, and they each had a very large knife strapped to their side.  They were not going to mess around.  They wanted to kill the shark as soon as possible.

       The shark kept an eye on one or another, but could not see them all at once.  The snatcher out of view crept closer, but the shark was on the move.  The men were on guard.  They knew the shark could be quick, could be on them in a second.

       They moved this way and that for several minutes.  The shark was done playing and bolted towards one of the snatchers.  This was it.  They needed to kill the shark before one of them was killed.

       The snatcher being charged held out his spear and punctured it near the eye.  He was knocked over, as the others stabbed the shark repeatedly.  It was flailing, flinging pink water out of the pool.

       The shark charged another snatcher and was able to bite his shoulder.  His scream sent chills to everyone who watched.  The other snatchers pulled out their knives and began slashing and stabbing the shark anywhere they could.  The shark slowed down.  A few minutes later, it stopped moving.

       The injured snatcher was pulled from the pool as the other snatchers climbed on top of the shark.  They embedded their spears in its body and raised their arms in the air, doing the shark dance.  The crowd went wild.

       Willy watched the bitten snatcher being carried out of the stadium on a stretcher.  He put his arm around his dad, who was silent.  The snatchers kept dancing as the replay was shown on the video screen.

       "You're right, Willy!" Damon shouted down.  "I loved that!"

 

Chapter 12:  The Processor

 

       Willy heard the door knock on their house.  He opened it to find Patrick and his son.  He gave them a smile.

       "Welcome, you guys!” Willy said.  "I'm glad you came over."

       "This is my son, James," Patrick said.  "James, this is Willy."

       "Pleased to meet you, James."

       "Likewise.  I've heard a lot about you."

       Willy invited them into the house and introduced James to his dad.

       "This may seem strange," Patrick said, "but James is named after your great-grandfather, Willy."

       "Really?  That's an honor,” Willy replied.

 

       "My dad was part of the people's movement your James helped organize.  He often told me how much James meant to him, and how much James was persecuted for making a stand.  Naming my son after him was my tribute to someone who was trying to make the lives of poor people better.  Someone who was not appreciated by the powers that be," Patrick explained.

       Willy looked at his dad who said, "James did what he did for the right reason.  They didn't succeed in their movement because the wrong reason prevailed.  But who's to say things would be any better today if things ended up differently."

       "True.  At least we all wouldn't be right here now if things were different," James said.  "I'm pretty happy with the way things are."

       Willy offered them drinks as they sat down.

       "Are you feeling better, Willy?" Patrick asked.  "You don't seem to be limping, at least."

       "Yeah, and I'm getting more sleep.  I never really got used to sleeping on the water.  When I do lay down now, I get the feeling of bouncing on water before I fall asleep."

       "That'll last for a while," Patrick said.  "I've been sailing long enough where I don't notice it anymore."

       "Do you think you'll head out to sea again?" James asked Willy.

       "Maybe.  It wasn't all bad,” Willy joked.  "There's a lot to see out on the sea, and I'd love to catch one of the giant great whites the captain told me about."

       "Aye.  The captain can tell tall tales, but I've seen those big ones.  I was in a dingy when one leapt out of the water, and it left me wet with more than just water!  I'm sure there's a 50-footer lurking out there.  Sounds like you want to be part of a harpooning ship," Patrick said.

       "Maybe.  I probably wouldn't go out right away if I did."

       "What are you gonna do then," James asked.

       "Don't know.  I guess I'm waiting to see what comes up."

       "Are you interested in working in the processor?  That's what I do," James said.

       "Maybe.  I've actually thought about it.  It would be interesting to see what goes on there."

       "We're always looking for new people.  I can set you up with an interview if you want.  I'm sure they would hire you."

       "Yeah.  Why not?  That would probably be good for me,” Willy replied.

       The men ate dinner together, shared stories, and realized they had a lot in common with one another.  Willy planned to meet James at the processor in a couple days.  He still wanted to take some time to rejuvenate before starting work again.

       The processing facility was one of the dirtiest and most dangerous sectors in Sharkville.  There was a high turnover due to injury and people just not wanting to work there any more.  The facility was always looking to hire people to work this hard job.

       One could smell the facility from afar.  Most of the city stunk bad, but this very sickly seafood odor clung to the workers who brought the smell home with them, an oily fishiness that eventually was no longer even noticed by them.  They could not smell their own workplace most of the time.

       Willy met James at Plant Number 4, which dealt with the larger seafood.  There was much activity, countless machines moving about, and piles of seafood.  He almost slipped as he approached James.

       "Hey James, this place is impressive, if not disgusting."    

       "Watch where you step, Willy, the floor is slick with seafood oil," James warned, shaking his new friend's hand.  "I'll introduce you to my boss.  He's very interested in meeting you.  He’s a big shark snatcher fan, and a friend of your parents.  Grew up with your mom."

       That excited Willy.  He liked talking with his parent's friends.  This would give him more insight into his mom, someone he never met yet was said to resemble so much.

       James introduced the two men to each other.  “Willy, my boy!  You won't remember me, but I knew you when you were a baby.  You definitely are Grace and Finn's son."

       It was rare for people to refer to shark snatchers by their real name.  Only people who were close to them did so.  This touched Willy.

       "Thank you, Samuel.  It's good to meet one of their friends,” Willy replied.

       "I grew up with your mother in the same sector.  She used to beat me up.  We all picked on each other, so she became tough as any man.  She wanted to be a shark snatcher like us boys, which was rare for a girl.  She proved she'd be better than most."

       Samuel started to tear up from his reminiscence, which took the others back a bit, especially Willy.  They did not need to say that shark snatching also took her life.

       "I haven't seen Finn since you were a baby.  He changed when Grace died.  He had been such an outgoing, caring person.  I can't say I blame him for closing up after that.  I tried to be there for him, but over time we drifted apart.  How's your old man doing?" Samuel asked Willy.

       "Same as usual, it seems to me.  I didn't know what he was like before, but I think he's doing pretty well.  He can be tough to deal with sometimes, though.  I always assumed it was because he was a shark snatcher, who in general act like tough guys."

       James said, "I'm thinking Willy could help me sort out the sharks.  Give him a chance to see them up close, maybe kill a few that are still moving."

       Willy was unsure about that last part.  He did not really want to kill a shark.  That was a disjointed thought for him.  He was born to kill sharks.  If he could not kill one here, how could he kill one in a pool in front of thousands of people?

       "What do you think, Willy?  You wanna help James?" Samuel asked.

       "Sure.  That'd be alright," he replied, trying to hide his true feelings.

       James led Willy to his work area and explained the process.  After the catch was piped in, it was graded for size and distributed to the various plants.  Their plant got the big seafood.

       There were dolphins, seals, octopus, squid, whales and sharks among the other unknown animals.  There was also a lot of trash.  There were barrels and bundles of plastic, rotting who-knows-what and logs.  The ocean had turned into a trashcan where all kinds of debris still remained.

       "Our job is to sort out the sharks from that pile.  We need to tag them with the date and then load them on this cart.  We'll then transport them to the butcher, who will sort out the good meat from the bad.  We'll start here, and see how things go," James explained.

       "Sounds good.  Show me the way."

       The men geared up and drove the cart to a pile of seafood, where they began sorting out the sharks.  Willy had never realized how many different kinds there were, nor how beautiful.  He did not know the names of all of them, but he saw a camouflaged carpet shark, a thorny bramble shark, a flattened sand devil, a venom filled horn shark, a plain looking milk shark, a baby whale shark (but still big as any shark in the pile), a big-eyed bigeye shark and an odd looking hammerhead shark.  Willy thought there were at least 100 different species of sharks in the pile.

       "Whoa!  This ones alive!” Willy exclaimed as the predatory fish he picked up violently squirmed out of his hands.

       "Yeah, you gotta be careful because they can still bite you.  I've been bit.  That's why we wear our outfit," James said, adding, "You gotta kill it."

       "Why, won't it just die on its own?” Willy asked.

       "Don't tell me you can't kill a shark!  That would be ironic."

       "I can kill it.  I just wanna do for the right reason.  Why do I need to kill it?"

       "Alright, just put it to the side.  It'll die in a few hours.  That's not long to suffer.  Don't worry about it.  Just keep sorting sharks."

       Willy looked down at the shark.  Now he felt guilty for not killing it.  He dragged it to the side as it squirmed, thinking how to get out of this one.

       He went back to the pile to sort more sharks, occasionally glancing at the one alive.  "A couple of hours?" he asked.

       "Who knows?  It could be dead by now, or maybe not until tomorrow."

       Willy went back over and kicked it.  It squirmed.  "I guess I can't drown it," he joked.

       "I'd scramble its brains," James said.  "Let me show you."

       He walked over to the shark and said, "We gotta strap it down over there."

       They dragged the shark over and strapped it down.  James pulled out a thin knife and stuck it in the shark’s eye and scrambled the brain.  The shark spasmed and then went still.

       "It's better to put it out of its misery then let it drown slowly in the air.  We also don't want the butchers to be surprised by a live shark.  You'll get used to it.  I did."

       The men went back to work as Willy thought about what just happened.  This was going to be challenging for Willy.  He was not looking forward to scrambling brains.

       Willy worked with James at the plant for three months.  The two friends were both ready for a different job by then.  So they worked sorting the mammals.  Then they worked sorting all the other stuff.  Six months passed and they no longer wanted to sort.  They both were transferred to the butchery.

       They got a completely different set of gear, including a set of very sharp knives.  They got to see what was on the inside of all these animals.  They learned to cut the meat quickly and safely.

       They heard stories of men losing fingers and even hands in some of the equipment they used.  There was a lot of meat that was butchered, and a lot of activity around them.  Carelessness could cost a butcher a valued body part.

       "Willy!  Check out this shark!" James called out during a usual busy butcher day.  A 15-foot great white had been hauled in.

       "Holy shark!  How are we gonna butcher that thing?” Willy asked.

       "Like the others.  We'll take it out back.  We have special equipment for the really big ones," the head butcher said.

       The men hauled it out back and winched it into the air.  It weighed 2000 pounds.

       "Who will do the honors?" James asked.

       "Willy," the head butcher said, then handed Willy the big knife.  "We gotta gut it first as usual.  Slice it on the belly from above the head up to the tail.  The guts will pour out, so be careful."

       Willy climbed up the platform that had been wheeled near the shark.  He was amazed by the size, being so close.  It was more than twice as big as he.

       "Look out below!” Willy warned as he inserted the knife and sliced the shark open.  The innards mostly spilled out.  He had to use his hands to scrape the rest out.

       "Oh my god!” Willy exclaimed.  "This shark was pregnant." 

       Willy had pulled out a shark fetus.  On close inspection, he noticed there were actually two baby sharks there.  One had partly eaten the other. 

       "That's creepy!"

       The others gathered around. 

       "Sorry, mama," the head butcher said, putting his hand on the mother shark.  "You never know what you'll find inside a shark, but that is one of the strangest."

       They all pitched in to finish cleaning out the shark.  They rinsed and sliced it, packaged and labeled it, and put it in the refrigerator.  Great white meat was not the best, but it was good enough for the hungry people who would eat it.

       Willy worked as a butcher for six months, and then was once again ready to do something different.  He was transferred to rendering, one of the smelliest jobs at the facility.  It turned out to be one of his most insightful jobs.

       There were two rendering plants.  They took all the waste generated at the facility and turned it into precious compost, oil, chemicals, and heavy metals.  It was a hot and stinky process that involved high tech equipment that did not always work right.  Explosions, spills, poisonings, and other accidents took the lives of many people.

       Willy was truly amazed that seafood could be turned into something so completely different.  He began to appreciate the expertise the rulers developed.  How did the figure this all out?  He felt they were truly special people, being so smart.  He was thankful they were so good to the people.

       "I wanna go up to the fortress,” Willy said one day to his dad.

       "You can't do that.  Only a few people go up there.  You know the rules."

       "I know.  I appreciate why.  The rulers don't want their germs to spread to the people.  But deliveries are made from the processing plant to the fortress.  I want that to be my next job."

       "Well, I don't see why not, though I'm not the boss," his dad replied.

       Willy talked with the facility manager the next day.  He requested a new job.  The manager said it was time for him to have more responsibilities, that he had proven to be someone impeccable and trustworthy.  The manager was wanting to give Willy clearance to make deliveries to the fortress.

       Willy understood that what the manager was trying to say was that if the manager was wrong about him, Willy would be in big trouble.  Willy had better not mess up if he started deliveries.

       Willy went through the normal screening process for anyone given high clearance to the fortress: psychological evaluations, blood tests, DNA sampling and a background check.  It was intimidating for Willy to be subjected to such interrogations.       The manager called him in to discuss the results.  The decision stunned him.  He was denied clearance.

       "It seems that everything was good except your background.  They don't like that you're related to James McCurry.  They fear you'll have the rebel streak, that you'll sabotage something, that you're a security risk."

       "Wow.  I can barely kill a shark, and they think I'll take down the system?"

       "That's probably part of the problem.  You're rebelling against your shark snatching nature.  They look at that as subversiveness.  They're afraid you don't approve of shark snatching, that you're against the system.

       "That's ridiculous!  I love shark snatching.  I go to all the games.  I'm not against the system,” Willy said angrily.

       "Well, there's nothing you can do about this.  I'd just let it be.  If you're not against the system, then respect what the system concludes.  There are plenty of other things for you to do here."

       Willy sat back, frustrated.  "I'm just wanting to do things for the right reason.  Why is that so wrong?"

       The manager did not say it, but thought that was exactly why Willy would never get clearance.  He knew the right reason was not on the system's side.  The rulers did not want to give clearance to people looking for righteousness.  He knew the system was wrong, but he bit his lip, not wanting to rock the boat.

       "I like you, Willy.  I want you to keep working here.  I can find you something else."

       "Thanks I appreciate that.  But I like to try different things.  I think my time at the processor is over."

       "I understand.  We have a lot of turnover here.  Come back if you do want to work here again, OK?"

       "Of course,” Willy said, knowing he was not one to turn back.

 

Chapter 13: Great-Grandpa James

 

       Willy was pretty jaded about his security clearance denial.  What were the rulers so scared of?  He figured it was more than worry about disease.  Why did Willy make them feel dis-easey?  This was political.  Were they really afraid he could take down the system?

       Willy began to ask about his Great-Grandfather James, about the people's movement, and about his mother's beliefs.  His dad usually kept quiet about these things, but opened up when Willy inquired.  He was glad Willy was of an age to ask these questions.

       "I used to be pretty interested in that stuff, before your mother died.  I really did care about the injustice I see."

       "You mean like how there are all these poor people around, and yet we as shark snatchers live so well?"

       "The rulers live way better than we, I'm told.  We ourselves didn't always live this well, though.  We were poor people once.  We knew what it was like. 

       "I learned that you can rise above being poor by being a shark snatcher.  I worked hard, became famous, and then met your mom.  She changed my view of a system I took for granted.  

       "I ended up paying the price in the end, and forgot what she believed in.  Now I've realized I deserve to not be poor any more.  I'm due my pay.

       "The injustice is that I turned my back on her reason, the other poor people who are stuck and have no way out.  Not everyone can be a shark snatcher.  I was a lucky one, so to speak.  But I gave up feeling guilty about that long ago.  I once wanted to help the poor people, but now not so much."

       "What about my mom, and her grandfather?"

       "They believed that by helping them have a better life, the whole system would be better.  They did not understand why the rulers lived in the fortress and ate healthy food, while poor people lived in slums eating garbage.

       "Grace was a real folk hero.  She became a shark snatcher to honor her grandfather and use her fame to further his cause.  She made the rulers uneasy like Grandpa James did.

       "Things were a lot worse back in his time.  He dedicated his life to changing that.  He did change that, though it took a while after he died for it to occur.  The whole scene we now have is due to Grandpa James."

       "Great-Grandpa James led a rebellion?"

       "Yes.  They weren't gonna take it anymore.  They started with a boycott, which shut down large parts of the city.  There were other poor people in the city who didn't approve and led a counter rebellion.  The poor people began killing each other as the rulers watched from up high.  They never felt a blow.

       "James was finally captured after a bloody civil war.  The movement surrendered.  Grandpa was tried for treason, and he was sentenced to death by shark. 

       "It was a new punishment at the time, but his execution was the biggest and most controversial.  He was slandered by the rulers, and these poor people began to see him as an enemy to them, as someone who wanted power for himself so much he was willing to take down the system to do it.  The people turned out in droves to watch him be eaten.

       "James was placed in a pool with a knife and forced to fight an 8-foot tiger shark.  He fought it and won.  People were stunned and impressed and demanded more.  Another shark was dumped in his pool.  He fought it and won again.  He was the first shark snatcher, without any armor, weakened by the abuse he had endured while imprisoned.  Yet he killed two sharks, inspiring a whole culture to want to watch shark snatching, and a whole bunch of boys to want to be shark snatchers.

       "But he wasn’t going to be allowed to live.  They dumped another shark in his pool.  A 15-foot great white.  By that time he was exhausted.  The pool was bloody.  The shark was hungry.  Grandpa's time had come.  He slit his wrists, and sank into the water.  He died before he was eaten."

       Willy did not know this story.  It gave him the chills, and a whole new view of shark snatching.  Though shark snatchers became shark snatchers to rise out of poverty, they were also honoring his great grandfather by making a similar sacrifice.  It was a sort of offering to someone who was deemed subversive.  Someone now widely respected by those he tried to help, who realized he did help them despite the massive carnage that swept through the city.

       Willy realized what the right reason for being a shark snatcher was.  To honor Great-Grandpa James and his sacrifice trying to make things right.

       "Dad, I want to become a shark snatcher."

       "That's the last thing I want you to say, but the one thing I knew I'd someday hear.  You figured out what the right reason is."

       "Yes, I believe I did, dad."

       "Oh well," his dad sighed with a heavy heart.

 

Chapter 14: Willy's First Kill

 

       Shark snatchers could not compete until they were 21.  Willy reached that age during his shark snatching training that winter.  He had a steep learning curve, as he unusually had not tried to snatch a shark, let alone a big shark, since he was 14.

       Finn's nervousness gave way over time to excitement for his son.  He remembered his training and how challenging and rewarding it was.  Watching his son, he also remembered how girls paid more attention to him.  That, of course, only encouraged him to snatch more sharks.

       The first phase of training was with small sharks who had their mouths sewn shut.  The trainees practiced snatching the sharks, getting a feel for how to handle them.  Over time, the size of the shark was increased. 

       Willy was facing a 5-foot tiger shark.  This was his first almost real snatch where he would kill the shark.  He wore thick armor and wielded a spear.  The only difference was the shark still had its mouth sewn shut, lessening the ability of it to maim, but still could drown a man if he was careless.

       "Now when the shark drops, it’s going to be very nervous and curious, but it won't attack you until it's sure you're not too big a threat.  It will get more and more curious and eventually take a taste.  Your shark won't be able to, but the point is to take your time.  The shark usually won't attack right away.  Take time to get a feel for it and where to strike it.  You want to immobilize it as quickly as possible, which means spearing its brain," his coach said.

       Willy knew all this.  He had seen a thousand sharks snatched, but there was something way more different about doing it himself.  The time had come for him to do it.

       Willy stood in the pool, the standard 3 feet deep for this size shark.  He watched the shark swim down the pipe that zigzagged across the stadium.  It passed near him, so he could clearly see its eyes, its markings, and its sewn-shut mouth.  He was glad he could not get bit, but nervous as to the force the whipping shark could make.  The shark reached the end of the pipe and entered the waiting chamber.  5, 4, 3, 2, 1, the chute opened and in bound the shark, who zipped passed Willy. 

       This pool's diameter was 25 feet, half the size as a competition pool, but still big enough to have distance between them. Willy kept his distance for a while to let the shark calm down.  It swam passed him a few times, but lost interest.  It meandered about, and then settled down.

       Willy was encouraged to spear it.  He crept up.  The shark seemed to ignore him.  He got closer.  The shark turned his head back to see Willy.  Willy stopped.

       The spear he used was 5 feet long, the standard size.  Willy held it tightly.  Being in the pool with his spear brought back memories.  He often held his dad's spear, wielding it to spear imaginary enemies when he was a little boy.

       Willy waited a moment, crept closer, and lunged the spear towards the shark's head.  It only went in an inch, and fell out as the shark snapped away.  The shark thrashed and knocked Willy down.  It rammed into him as he was trying to stand up.

       Everyone around was laughing.  Willy retrieved his spear as the shark swam swiftly around.  Willy was mad.

       "When you spear it, the sharks gonna move and you'll lose momentum.  You need to pierce it deeply.  Come down from the top and pin it on the floor so that it'll hold still while the spear enters.  You gotta be quick and forceful," his coach said.

       Finn was watching from a distance, trying not to distract his son.  He knew Willy would be alright.   The shark might bruise him, but not seriously.  He was worried, though, because he knew Willy really did not want to kill sharks.  Willy thought it was cruel and a very odd thing to do.  Finn also knew that shark snatching would grow on Willy and after a while that would be all he would want to do.

       Willy crept up again after a few minutes.  The shark was way more wary of Willy now.  It did not let him get close.  Willy then tried a different approach.  He charged towards it.  It swam away then spun around to face him.  It swished its tail, and then charged Willy.  Willy dodged it, then stood his ground.  This was going to be an extraordinary fight.

       There were times when the sharks got very aggressive.  They always never just sat there and let the shark snatchers kill them.  They did fight back.  Rare times were when the shark seemed to have a fighting spirit, and would become the master of the pool.  All the shark snatcher could do was dodge it, kill it, or leave the pool in escape.

       Willy’s shark was that shark, only it could not bite Willy.  It just kept charging him.  Willy stabbed it as it passed.  It would come back.  He stabbed it again.  It came back.  This time, Willy leapt up as it charged, and slammed the spear strait down onto its head, piercing it through to the pool floor.  Willy landed on top of it as it squirmed, slowly losing its life.

       People were clapping when Willy looked up with a huge smile on his face.

       "Wahahahahaha!” Willy screamed, a very primal reaction to his first kill.  Everyone echoed him, and that echo rang out of the stadium, through Sharkville.  Excitement was stirring.

 

Chapter 15: Too Soon

 

       Training days became more crowded as news of Willy’s snatching ability spread.  The people liked when a natural was discovered.  He had snatched 15 sharks so far, ranging from 5 to 8 feet.  All, of course, with their mouths sewn shut.

       Willy somehow understood the sharks better than most.  He could read them and anticipate their moves.  He was also extremely fit and agile, and it was his moves that gathered attention.

       Most shark snatchers understood the need for making it dramatic, but the way Willy moved in the pool was artful, acrobatic, and very accurate.  He also invented a move where he fell to the bottom of the pool onto his back as the shark charged him, and he would sliced it open from the jaw to the belly.  People called it the butcher roll.

       The first time he did it was controversial, partly because it was so gory.  Guts dumped out of the shark creating a very disturbing mess.  Most of the people loved it and eventually everyone was encouraging him to do it again.  He did, again and again, improving all his moves.  Willy became a young master shark snatcher as his training days ended.

       On opening day of the shark snatching season, Willy thought he was going to collapse.  He was so nervous.  His dad came into his room as Willy was preparing for the big day.

       "Nervous?" he asked.

       "Dad, I can't do this.  The shark will not have its mouth sewn shut.  What if I slip?  What if it bites me?  I don't want you to be afraid, but I know I am."

       "I wish I could tell you don't do it.  There are so many reasons I can't.  I am so amazed, though, by your ability that I know you have to snatch."

       Willy looked at his dad.  "What if I die?"

       "You're not gonna die.  There is so much you will do.  You will be a famous snatcher.  Carcharodon Willy has a good ring to it."

       "Alright, let's go,” Willy ended.

       Willy would compete in the lightweight round.  There were 100 first time shark snatchers in his class.  He knew a few of them, including Damon.

       "Good luck, Willy!" he shouted to his friend across the pool.

       "Thanks.  You too.  I'm pretty nervous.  How you feeling?"

       "The same.  Couldn't sleep much last night.  I'm gonna learn your butcher roll one of these days!" he promised as he was led away by his coach.

       "I'm sure you will!"

       The crowd was roaring as the start of the games began.  There was the traditional opening ceremony.  Kids paraded through, performing plays of single and team shark snatching, the band leading the way.  Beautiful cheerleaders, some with big shark jaws around their necks, some with spears, danced around each other as only women could do with a sometimes too-close-for-comfort movement.  Spears and shark teeth are sharp.

       The first shark snatching of the year was Carcharodon Zeke facing a 15-foot great white.  This was his duty, to snatch the beast and defend his role as master of the games, defender of the people.  Afterall, that was James McCurry, the first shark snatcher these people knew still lived.

       The lightweight round went on.  Willy saw some impressive snatching, some retreating, and lots of blood.  Nothing too serious, at least for the men.

       Willy’s turn came.  He was armored and ready to go.  His dad led him to the pool.

       "Thanks for letting me use your spear and knife, dad.  Wish me luck?"

       "You're not gonna need it.  You'll do great.  People are gonna love you."

       He gave his son a hug, "Kill a shark, son."

       Willy climbed into the pool.  The shark swam into view.  A 6-foot bull shark, its mouth open as it sniffed its way down the pipe.

       "Those are big teeth,” Willy thought, as his hands got clammy.

       The shark dropped in the water and made a dash for Willy.  He jumped out of the way, not used to such an aggressive shark.  Bull sharks are not timid.

       "Whoa!” Willy exclaimed and took a very defensive posture.

       "Take yer time, son," his dad yelled out.

       Willy was very focused and did not hear much of what was going on.  He was on pure adrenaline.  This was primal.  Man versus beast.  Kill or be killed, and both parties knew that.  The shark circled around him, getting closer each time.

       On one pass, Willy stabbed the spear into its side.  It rolled over, with the spear sticking out, and swam away.  Willy pulled out his knife, turned and approached the shark, which spun around to face him.  It charged.  Willy dove out of the way.  It charged again.  He dove again.  As it charged once more, Willy dropped on his back to butcher roll it as it passed over him.  When it did, it bit his neck and carried him to the pool's wall.  It lifted him up.  Willy looked around, stunned.  He saw his dad.

       "Dad!" he tried to yell as his dad ran over.

 

       "The shark backed down and dragged Willy under.  The last thing he heard was his dad screaming "Noooo!" as Willy’s world blackened.  The shark was serrating his neck, cutting off his breathe.  He was drowning and suffocating and bleeding to death.  Shots rang out, but the shark did not let go.  It bled to death with Willy pinned underneath the bull shark, lifeless.

       "Nooooooooooooooooooo!"

       Too soon.

 

 

 

Episode II:  Finn's Finale

©2011 Garrett Clevenger

 

Chapter 1:  Willy's 26

 

       Isurus Finn sat on his roof, looking across the bay. Far away he saw the fleet heading home. It was a much better scene than the dream he had last night.

     He thought of Willy, who would have turned 26 this day. Almost 5 years had passed since the tragic shark-snatching where Willy died from the bull shark. The memory of seeing his son brutalized still burned in his mind while his heart was only colder. The feelings were made more intense knowing he could not wish his son happy birthday.

     Flashbacks of his recurring dream crept into his mind. "Wish me luck?" Willy would always say, "You're not gonna need it," he always answered, over-confident in his son's abilities, tempting the Fates. "Dad!" Willy's last words rang out as the shark mutilated him for all to see, forever archived in Sharkville's video library.

     Finn's nightmares were almost as bad as the real thing.  They filled every cell of his being with their vividness.  He would wake up soaked in sweat and shaking.  He could never forget seeing the two people he loved the most killed by a shark, and that would haunt his sleep as long as he lived.

     Finn warmed himself in the sunrise and wiped the tears for his son from his eyes.  He always prefered to be outside, and his roof was a sanctuary, one of the few places he could be alone, not having to fear bearing his feelings in front of others.  You never saw shark snatchers crying.  He did not want to be the only one witnessed shedding salty drops of water that poured from his eyes.

     Below he saw James walking up the road.  Finn sighed, dried his eyes and climbed down from the roof.  He wanted to look busy when James showed up.

     "Hello Finn," James said tenderly as he was let inside the house.

     He handed Finn a gift, wishing he could have given it to Willy instead.

     "Thanks, and thanks for stopping by.  I have something for you, too."

     Finn walked to his bedroom to retrieve a key.  He handed it to James.

     "This is a key to a safe I have in my closet.  I want you to have it."  He paused.  "I want you to keep the key.  In the safe are some things you may find interesting."

     This interested James. "What's in there?"

     "There are a few of Willy's belongings.  His knife, some of his shark teeth.  His journal.  A few not too interesting things.  Just things I want to get in the right hands if something happens to me."

     "Are you OK?  What's going on?" James asked, imagining the worst.

     "No, I haven't been OK for a while.  These demons don't go away," Finn explained as he pointed to his head.

     James nodded in understanding as he attached the key to his chain.  "I'll make sure to keep it safe, but hopefully I won't need to use it," he said as he gave Finn a playful nudge.  "You saw the fleet coming to shore?"  James asked, not sure what else to say.

     "Yeah, looks like all the trawlers made it back."

     "You wanna head down to the dock, see what they brought?" James asked, hoping to get Finn out of the house.

     "Yeah that sounds good.  I wanna talk with your dad, anyways.  It's always good to greet the captain.  Let me get ready."

     Finn gathered some things as James glanced around the room.

     "Looks like you could use a little cleanup," James teased, noting the mess that surrounded him.

     "Or a lot," Finn replied, embarrassed by the mess.  He did not have people over for that reason, too.  "The most important things are in the safe, so when I die, burn everything else.  It'll be easier than cleaning it up."  Finn did not tell James that one reason he left it messy was to deter thieves, and pesky officials, from bothering to look for anything of value in his house.  He did not want anybody but James to find what was in the safe, which James would find would be hard to find.

     Now James was really concerned and said,  "Why are you talking so grim.  You're not leaving us, are you?"

     A tear came down Finn's face.  "Lad, I've left long ago.  I don't know why I'm still here.  I don't have a good reason for staying.  I'm ready to go completely."

     James's heart dropped and he bowed his head to keep from crying.  Then he remembered the reason for Finn's sadness and cried.

     James and Finn had a silent, sad memorial for Willy.

     Finn sighed heavily and said, "Thanks, James.  Let's get some fresh air."

     They hugged, left the house and headed for the dock.

 

Chapter 2:  The Captain's Back

 

     The shore was swarming with people eager to meet the returning crew.  Finn, seeing the happy reunions, reminisced meeting Willy on his return.  He felt a sense of dread sweep down upon him.

     Finn and James boarded The Galeocerdo to meet James's dad, who was now a captain.

     "You ever think about trawling with your dad?" Finn asked.

     "You'd think I'd get special treatment being the Captain's son, but I know these guys enough to know they'd make sure I wasn't treated so privileged," James quipped.  "Seriously, though, I'm not cut out to be at sea.  I'm a landlubber to my hesitatingly happy dad.  He may wish I'd work on the boat with him, but I think he knows it's better I'm not.  I'd actually like to be a farmer.  I'm getting tired of the processing plant.  I'd rather grow real plants," he punned.

     "You've been there since I've known you," Finn added.

     "I'm on the path to being a manger.  That's OK, but I'm tired of the air there.  So sticky and nasty at times.  I doubt I even smell most of the odors there anymore."

     Finn could imagine not wanting to work there.  His house was several miles away on the hill and mostly upwind, but sometimes when the wind shifted, it would bring up pure putridness.  He wondered if even he did not smell all the smells, too.

     "So you're thinking of applying for the farm?  I hope being associated with our family doesn't ruin your chances."

     "I doubt it will.  You're not a radical, I'm not a radical.  There's no reason for them to turn me down.  I've built a good reputation working for the plant, plus my dad is respected.  They let him name his ship The Galeocerdo, didn't they?"

     Finn remembered that, and always wondered if anyone ever clued in to why Patrick chose that name.  He said, "That's another reason I like your dad."  He looked at James and smiled, the first time that he could remember.

     "Lost another tooth?" James joked, smiling back.

     "I still have enough to bite you, so watch it!" Finn warned as they walked into the captain's quarters.

     The men saw Patrick and saluted seriously.  He smiled and gave them both a hearty captain hug.

     "Welcome back!" Finn exclaimed.  "Tell us some tales!"

     "Aye, got some good ones for ya.  We've come back full as can be.  No men, nets or boats lost.  No storms met.  Some interesting scavenged cargo.  I would say an ideal trip."

     The captain purposely avoided telling about the giant sharks they caught.

     "I saw men making sure the ocean corral is sturdy," Finn said.  "You guys catch a big one?"

     "Aye, a 30 foot great white be the biggest.  Some 20 footers, and the usual smaller ones.  We should have good snatchin' comin' soon."

     The men looked out the window and saw them loading the giant 30 footer in to the corral.  The shark was not happy  Its churning strength made handling it hard.  When they released it into the corral, it swam fast and dove.  Occasionally ripples appeared on the surface near the edge of the corral.  It would then bob out of the water, gaping it's mouth at the gawking crowd.

     Seeing the shark in action was as good as any story the captain could tell.  Despite Finn's history with sharks, he was always transfixed by the really big ones.  He remembered Willy's desire to search for them at sea.

     "Where'd ya catch it?" Finn asked.

     "On our way back.  It must have been following us, lured by the blood and fish oil from our trail.  It dove out of the water one mornin' in a dramatic display.  The men were determined to catch it.   I gave them 4 hours.  Any more then that and the potential loss from waiting wouldn't be worth the price trying to catch it.

     "Some brave or perhaps foolish men entered the water, some not in a cage, to spot the shark.  They were able to lure it into a net.  It took 2 hours, almost as if the shark wanted to be caught it was so quick.  T'was definitely worth it to see it so active now.  It'll be a memorable slaying."

     The others agreed as the primal urge to see the spectacle warmed their blood.

     Patrick finished tying loose ends as the men waited, watching the giant shark.  It was getting agitated and started splashing people who stood near watching with its giant tail.  That made them scream with delight, and yell at the shark for more.

     "Ya landlubbers up for a drink?  My treat," the proud captain asked as he gave each a smack on the back.

     "That's why we're here," Finn seriously joked.

     "The captain opened his cabinet to reveal his alcohol collection.  Although he was a s staunch non-promoter of drinking on the job, he still treated himself and crew to a few sips when time was slow.  Taking the edge off of non-excitement, which at seas was seldom, did not happen often, so he had quite a collection of mostly full bottles given to him as gifts over the years.

     "3 years Captain now, Patrick.  You drinkin' more than before?"

     "Nay, my friend, only when times are good."

     Finn chuckled.  Good times were when he was drinking.  "Then I'm up for a good time.  Pour me your best and we'll go down from there."

     The captain poured them shots of his favorite whiskey.  "To good times, then," he offered as a toast, and they all downed their liquor.

     Patrick then offered his favorite story on this trip.  "Often times we run into all kinds of debris at sea.  Most of it is rubbish, fit only to sink and be forever buried.  Some is dangerous, perhaps radioactive and silently destroying our cells.  Little is worth anything, but we happened upon a bounty this trip."

     His eyes widened as he knew the others would feel similarly.

     "What was it, Pa?" James queried.

     "We found a cargo ship full of all kinds of supplies.  Up near Vietnam there was quite a lot of debris we passed through on our way towards Japan.  Pieces of wood, trash, a cargo ship," he paused to add emphasis.

     "Why would a cargo ship be floating out at sea?" James wondered.

     "Some speculated a seaonme swept inland after an earthquake somewhere and washed the debris we saw out to sea.  Anyways, some crew boarded it, found it abandoned but still holding some cargo.  We brought back what was valuable.  We left the ship.  It was old.  The cargo was dated at 2150.  It tested negative to radioactivity, and hopefully nothing else about it's toxic, but user beware."

     "What was on the ship?" James asked.

     "Lots of shoes.  Some toys.  Some electrical gadgets.  Tools.  Paper.  I've got a list of it all.  We'll get a finders share, but most will go to the pool.  Let me know what ya want and I'll make sure to get ya in," Patrick generously offered them.

     They both wanted shoes to be sure, but anything on that list seemed desirable.  It was not often bounty like that was found, and if nothing else, it could be traded for something else, like liquor, Finn thought.

     Patrick gave them a piece of paper and the list for them to scan and write down what they wanted, then refilled their glasses once again.

 

Chapter 3:  The Giant Great White

 

     With heads buzzing, the men left the ship.  The afternoon seemed more vibrant.  The crowd around the corralled giant great white had thinned, and the shark was calmer, though still active.  They walked to the gawking bridge, where those so inclined could get close and interact with the animal inside.

     A huge dorsal fin broke the surface of the water and came towards the men.  It dropped underneath for a few seconds then was replaced by a splashing tail that sprayed the men.

     "Ha, ha, ha!" James laughed.  "That guy's got spunk!"

     The shark turned around, its head bobbing above the water, big black eyes looking at the men.

     "Wonder if it knows you're the captain who caught him," James said.

     "He just sees us as fresh blood,"  Patrick responded.  "As somebody who he wants to harm before being harmed."

     "He's just provokin' people who've just arrived," Finn agreed.

     The shark was bored of them already and mellowed out, always watching the people coming and going.

     Finn put his hand in the water and said, "Still pretty cold.  Wonder how long a man would last in the corral with that shark."

     Patrick mocked pushed him in, jolting James, who grabbed Finn as both men's heartbeats quickened.

     Patrick laughed, "Depends on the man, I s'pose.  Whether he was willing to fight, surrender, or try to get out."

     Finn had been a fighter.  He wondered which way he'd go now.  He sat down and eased himself into the water.

     "What are you doing?" James exclaimed and grabbed Finn again.

     "Settle down!  I'm just testing!"

     The shark was on the other side of the corral, visible but not seeming to pay attention to them.  Finn put more of his body in until he was able to submerge himself.  He did so.  He come up and looked to where the shark was.  He felt cold, but was not with the adrenaline and alcohol warming him.  There was not much visibility in the water.  If the shark was submerged, it could not be determined where exactly it would be in the corral.

     "How long you think it would take for it to get over here?" Finn asked.

     "If it really wanted to get you, 10 seconds tops," Patrick replied.

     Finn bobbed in the water, holding on to the rail. He felt a huge weight lifted from him since he no longer had to hobble on his one real leg.  Finn bashed the rail and the shark submerged.

     "Get out!" James yelled.  Finn remained.  The shark's dorsal fin popped up, still on the other side, but pointing towards Finn.

     "He knows you're in the water here, Finn.  Get out!" James firmly said as he reached down to grab him, but Finn dunked underneath and emerged several feet from the edge.

     The shark swam towards him slowly.  As it sped up, Finn dashed for the edge and pulled himself up.  The shark slowed and changed directions, then made a big splash as it dove under.

     Finn was silent as he calmed down.  He kept wishing he could fight, he was afraid of being devoured, so he had no choice but to flee.  He wondered if he could do all three: fight, be eaten and thus escape his life which he no longer wished to be part of.

     The other men were quiet as they stared at him.  They knew people would tempt Fate with these large sharks.  People were not discouraged from swimming with them, taking a chance with one of the largest predators on the planets.

     Many of these giant sharks tasted human blood before being helicoptered to the arena where they would face certain death by the greatest shark snatchers.  Having tasted that blood only made them more aggressive and killing them more celebratory.

     There was no sign of the shark for a minute, then they felt a banging on the rail as they imagined the shark bashing into the corral wall.

     James and Patrick looked at each other, realizing Finn would probably be tempting this shark.  It collided with the side again.  Finn smiled.

     "You think the corrals strong enough to hold him?" James asked.  "This wouldn't be the only shark to escape."

     Several years prior, a 28 foot great white damaged the corral enough to escape.  If a shark perceivered, it could weaken a part of the corral.  Then they would have a giant man-eater close to their shore, which was enough to scare people from swimming in the ocean for a while.

     "Aye, but they've double reinforced it.  The shark would have to penetrate 2 layers before escaping.  It won't do it in the 2 days it'll be here," Patrick said.  "Let's get some food."  He wanted to pull Finn from his trance.  He helped him to his feet.

     Suddenly, the shark burst through the water in a great leap.  It landed 10 feet from the men, sending a huge wake over onto the bridge, knocking Finn off his good leg.  Pat and James caught him before he slipped into the water.

     "Wow!" Finn exclaimed, as the shark glanced out towards them.  "I'll be back!" he shouted as the men left the shore for a meal.

 

Chapter 4: Dreams

 

     Finn was swimming in the corral.  He held his spear and a broken knife.  He kicked with his legs with a power he had not felt in a long time.  He was a Merman!

     He could clearly see through the water as schools of fish huddled and swerved in chaotic bundles, sometimes breaking up like sparks from a fire.  Then they'd close as a tight ball.  He heard a loud rumble.  He realized the shark was bashing the side.

     The Merman swam in circles, searching for the location of the shark.  He spotted it as it banged the wall once again.  He dashed lower, getting lost in the milky depth.  He watched the silhouette of the shark as it swam slowly and without purpose above him.

     He planned to lunge from below straight through the head of the shark, piercing its brain with his spear.  He would then slice its belly and feel the warm contents engulf him.  He held his spear steady, bolted up and attacked the shark with such force that both he and the shark splashed out of the water.  They landed and the shark thrashed in death throes.  Finn wielded his knife and realized it was broken.  As he held the spear tightly, the shark transformed.  He was holding his dead wife.  Finn screamed and woke up.

     He was sweating, shaking and queazy. This was one of his more disturbing dreams.  He got out of bed after a few minutes and drank a glass of water.  He climbed to his roof to look towards the ocean lit with an almost full moon.  He judged it to be a couple hours before dawn.  

     He wondered should he sleep, or go see the shark.  He felt a repulsive pull towards it.  A fear and hatred mixed with a lot of respect.  He thought about swimming with it again.  He imagined it devouring him.  He shivered with cold and fear.  He saw a shooting star and thought he heard the familiar bang.  He looked down and saw his spear and an intact knife.  He picked them up, looked up, and saw the dorsal fin bobbing in front of him.

     What was a Merman doing on land, he wondered, as he dove into the corral.  The shark was circling him, not willing to be speared again.  They kept their distance from one another.  He heard a bang, but the shark did not make it.  The shark swam, searching for the source of the sound. 

     Finn saw another Merman swim below the shark.  The shark noticed it, too, and circled to investigate.  Merman Finn followed the shark who got nervous and turned to face Finn.  It made a dash for him, then stopped as Finn held out his spear in a threatening manner.  The confused shark hovered while the other Merman circled from behind.  He sank and made a dash for the belly of the shark in a wild butcher roll, slicing the shark from head to tail on it belly.  The shark swirled in agony as its blood and guts clouded the water.

     Finn swam through the cloudy water towards the shark, looking for the other Merman.  He reached out his hands to keep from swimming into it. When he bumped it, it did not feel like a shark.  Finn pulled it of of the murk and screamed when he saw it was Willy's body.  His reaction was to let go, but he then pulled it up and turned his head to see his face.  He screamed again seeing it was his own face.  He woke up again and saw another shooting star as he laid on his roof overwhelmed by his dreams.

 

Chapter 5:  Reasons

 

     Finn was fairly certain what he needed to do.  As he paced in his house, stepping over piles of clothes and other debris, he kept playing in his head his evolving plan, fine tuning to make it as effective as possible.  He knew he had one chance to get it right.

     He went back to his roof to sharpen his knife.  As he ground the blade to absolute sharpness he looked out towards the corral.  He thought he could see the shark, but he was far enough away where distorted vision played tricks with his eyes.  He was certain for a moment he saw the shark staring up at him, and that only encouraged Finn to carry out his idea.

     Finn did some stretches and practiced what he thought would be the best moves, although predicting how the shark would act was impossible.  It did not matter to him, though, as his pre-swim motion was meditative, and almost as real to him in his state of mind as his dreams, which were as real as it got for Finn.  Thus, he made his way down to the corral determined to do his duty.

     There were handfuls of people wandering around the corral.  The shark was not nearly as active as it had been the day before.  It only paid attention to people who tossed food into the corral.  It would at least investigate the offering, though often it would not eat what was given.  The shark was picky, as if it were waiting for something better.

     Finn walked along the galking bridge, eyeing the shark as it bobbed up to the surface, only to disappear for a few moments, then reappear somewhere else unpredictable.  The shark may not have been as violently agitated as before, but it still appeared distraught.  It did not like being confined.  This shark needed more space more than food.  It needed the chase, not dead fish.  It wanted bigger fish, in any case.

     Finn ran his bum leg through the water, sending ripples out that the shark undoubtably could sense.  He was teasing the shark as much as testing its senses and response.  This movement did seem to focus the shark, as it remained near the surface, eyeing Finn.  Finn wondered if the shark remembered him being the one the shark chased out of the water.

     The shark swam towards Finn, then abruptly changed directions and seemed to pay attention to some other newcomer.  Finn sat down and put his legs in the water.  He still had no shoes.  He remembered the cargo Patrick found, and the promise of some luxeries, causing Finn to pause his crazy contemplations.  Perhaps if life really was not so hard in general, Finn would not do what he thought he must.  Finn needed something else to hang onto, but shoes or other items were not enough.

     Finn lowered himself into the water with the thought there was nothing else to live for, so he may as well die meaningfully.  He dunked under the water, surprised to find it was easier to see under water than he thought it would be.  He saw the shark at the other end, seemingly oblivious that Finn wielded a knife and spear, waiting in the water.

     When people saw Finn get into the water, they started to gather around the corral, and they interested the shark more than Finn did, who assumed the shark did not know he was there, otherwise the shark would have come to investigate him already.  He finished his breath and rose back to the surface.  He did not see the shark.

     Finn panicked, then dove underneath.  The shark was still at the other end, though facing Finn.  Someone threw a live fish into the corral, as if to distract the shark from Finn.  It worked as the shark swam after it and gobbled it before it could escape.  This only made the shark hungrier for more.

     The shark swam towards Finn, who was nervous, yet comfortable with what lay before him.  He held out his weapons as he bobbed on the surface.  He was sure he could hold the shark back for a while, as long as he could see the shark.  He knew he must always know where the shark was.   The shark swam closer.

     Finn wondered if he should stab the shark in the eye or mouth.  He figured that an eye shot with the spear might maim the shark enough to deter it from attacking again, but if he missed, he may not be able to prevent a bite.  If he speared it in the mouth, he might have a better shot at actually preventing being bitten.  Then he could stab it in the eye with his knife.  He decided he wanted a fight, and he would attempt to take the shark down, instead of being more defensive.

     The shark was big.  A 30-foot, pure sleek, hydrodynamically tuned eating machine.  It was not only hungry, though.  It was also mad and ready to kill one of these pesky humans.  It swam fast towards Finn, but slowed and halted as it got within 10 feet.  It did not directly charge Finn, but sideswiped him and sent him flying through the water with the force of it tail as it swung it towards him.  Finn was tossed like a leaf in the wind and hit the piling on which the galking bridge was supported.  He was stunned, and took refuge behind the piling, his head bobbing above the water, catching his breath.  Has not used to such a workout.  He was not ready for that move.  He felt the cold and climbed onto the bridge.  The people around were silent as they watched him, some who knew Finn not surprised he did what he did.  They wondered if he would get back in. 

     Finn caught his breath as he watched the shark surface then submerged, back to its nervous pacing.  He felt a certain kinship with this animal.  Finn felt caged by his memories and often felt like attacking that which held him hostage.  He felt sympathy, knowing if he were the shark, he would feel just as trapped and frustrated, yearning to escape.  

     This shark was used to being the dominate animal, and now it was caged, repressed, unable to freely swim.  Finn felt the rage that must be building in the shark, and doubted his plan.  Why should he subject an innocent animal to his desire to die fighting a shark when that was not the shark that killed his wife and son?  Those sharks were captured, intimidated and meant to kill or be killed, anyway.  That was the point of the whole sport.

     Finn felt love for something for the first time in 5 years.  His heart had been dormant after Willy's death, and now he felt a deep connection to this great white shark, one that moments earlier he was prepared to kill, or die trying to.  He lost the one thing that he wanted to do, but gained a feeling he had not had for a long time.  He wept at his new confusion and at the fact that he was truly powerless in ending his misery.  Here was something now presenting a road block to his plan, and not one easily hurdled.  

     He remembered his wife's last words, about making sure Willy snatched sharks for the right reason, and realized that applied to him just as much as his son if he respected Grace's life.  He realized he lost not only his wife and son, but his reason.  He wondered how he could let that be taken when all along it was within himself.  The fact that he let that part of himself die because of self-symapathy and masochistic remorse made him even sadder.

     He knew that his wife and son's untimely death was due to situations beyond his control.  That they were victims of circumstance and not completely innocent considering they chose to snatch sharks knowing the risk.  But the loss of his reason was completely due to his lack of focus and inability to see that he could feel love again.  Now he felt it for the shark, and himself.  

     He would not allow himself to die, at least not without the right reason.  He realized his plan was not for the right reason, but merely to spite life.  He needed to die for a greater cause than that, if not to pay homage to James McMurray, but to pay respect to his wife and son's meaningless death.

     Finn got up and walked home, not paying attention to those that stared after him.  At least they would have a story to tell, though they preferred stories that had more blood and less love.  Everyone was an animal, not many were saints.

 

Chapter 6: Cleaning Up

 

     Finn walked into his house and looked around, seeing it as if for the first time.  He could not believe the mess and that he seemingly had been unaware he was being slowly choked by it.  He felt claustrophobic, dirty and ashamed that he had been living this way.  He walked back outside.

     The air all around was stale and smelly.  It was not a relief to be outside, so he went back in, poured himself some fishy liquor, sat down and cried.  He knew he could not go on as he had, that something needed to change to fit his knew perspective.  He no longer wanted to die, but he was too tired to do much about it.  He closed his eyes.

     He felt a warm tingle climb up his spine as he drifted into a dream.  He could have sworn he was awake though, as this did not feel like a typical dream where he was at the whims of his subconscience.  He felt like he, the everyday Finn, was in control.

     He opened his eyes and was surprised to find he was sitting into his chair, seeing the mess.  He got up and wished he had help cleaning it up.  He heard talking in Willy's bedroom, familiar voices he had not heard in a long time.  He sat in disbelief realizing Grace and Willy were there.  He wondered how this could be a dream when he felt so awake.

     They walked in.

     "Finn, aren't you going to get up and help us?" Grace asked.

     He got up, crying, and gave her a huge hug.  He knew this was a dream and did not want to let go.  He grabbed Willy as they stood shaking in each others arms.

     The scene began to shift, light poured in, and Finn's heart dropped as he submerged in the corral.  He was the Merman, heart freshly broken, with the giant great white circling him as he whipped in the whirlpool.

     He shot down into the mirk, heart racing, full of power, armed with a spear.  He felt deep resentment towards that shark.  He needed to kill it.  He knew he would never be free until he killed it, or it killed him.

     He gathered himself, trying to find the perfect launching point to lunge towards the shark, which was agitated, continuing to circle.  As Finn took off, the shark turned to face him, and swam towards him.  A game of chicken.

     The two dreamtures raced to one another and collided with waking force.  Finn jolted as he woke, opened his eyes to find his giant mess in his empty house.  He sighed.

     "I want to meet you there, again," he said to his two loves.  He remembered what Grace asked him and swore he would clean up this mess.  "I guess I'll do it, even if alone."

     He figured he could at least clean up the trash.  That would make space to sort out stuff he wanted to keep.  He might even find things he'd been looking for.  He would at least have something to focus on, give him something to do, something to hold on to.  Why would Grace and Willy want to live in this mess if they came back again, anyways, he wondered.  He sure obviously did not want to, either.

     Finn tidied up for a while, then their was a knock on the door.  His heart jumped.  He opened the door to find Patrick there.

     "Howdy, mate!" Patrick said.  "Heard ya had another swim with that shark!  Why didn't ya tell, me.  If yer gonna kill it, then I want to see!" he joked as Finn led him in.

     "I guess I'll tell you next time, if there is one," Finn responded. "Gotta admit I'm torn about it.  I was really affected by what happened.  To be honest, it was the first time I felt my heart not be sad, but in love.  I wanted to die, or least try to kill the shark in the process, but something else unexpected happened.  I felt love for that shark, though I know I have to kill it.  Ironic considering the ones I loved died by different sharks.  Now I gotta kill the one I love to get the ones I loved out of my head, and back here in this home."

     Patrick was perplexed.  He could not follow Finn.  He nodded, not wanting to interfere with his train of thought.

     Finn continued, "Everyday I've been falling apart since Grace was killed.  Since Willy died, there wasn't anyone else to at least help me put it back together.  I've been alone, admittedly at my own doing, closed off to what's going on around me.  I've not wanted to be here for a while.  That shark was supposed to be my escape.  Maybe it still is.  I don't know what I'm talking about."

     He did not know what he was getting at, but he knew something was there.  He liked being able to talk about this out loud to someone he trusted.  He thought Patrick could even help steer him.

     "Well, I'm not so sure I know what you're talking about, either.  I just wish ya wouldn't go swimmin' with that shark.  But far be it from me to keep ya from doin' what ya think ya need to do," Patrick offered.  "James said yer place was a mess, but it don't look to bad to me."

     Willy smiled.  "Well, it's still a mess, but it's not as bad as it was.  I just started cleaning it.  Something else I needed to do.  I guess that's why I'm talking the why I've been, as that's all I've been thinking about.  That shark has really shaken me up, and if nothing else, at least it got me to clean up this mess."

     "Let me help ya, then.  The least I could do for being the one to bring that shark into town.  Speaking of which, another reason I came was to bring you some of the things we brought back.  Hopefully it won't add to yer mess," Patrick said as he handed Finn a bag.  "This is some of the stuff I thought I'd carry up here.  Ya can pick up the rest the next time you stop by our place."

     Finn thanked him for the things, for lending a hand, and for bringing the shark.  He looked through the bag and pulled out a pair of shoes.  He put them on, glad the fit.

     "Did they pick the snatchers who'll be fighting the shark?" Finn asked as he took the shoes back off.

     "Yep.  Games on for tomorrow afternoon.  Ya got another day to decide if ya wanna try first," Patrick said as he winked.

     The men took a swig from a flask of liquor Patrick brought over and started to clean up the mess.  Finn told Patrick about his dreams, about seeing Grace and Willy in the house, and about Grace asking Finn if he was going to help clean up.  They did not miss the irony that Patrick was now there helping clean up.  They both felt humbled.

 

Chapter 7: Meet at the Corral

 

     Finn sat at the table with Patrick and James at their house.   They just finished a meal from the captain's catch.  He always had generous rewards from his fishing expeditions and was happy to share that with those he cared for.

     "I had a dream about Willy the other day, too," James said after hearing about Finn's dreams.  "We were in the processing plant.  We were working on sorting out the large seafood.  Sometimes we would play pranks on each other, like pretending a shark was biting our arm off.  The first time he did it to me I almost fainted.  I thought the shark was still alive so I started gouging it's eyes out.  He fell over laughing.

     "So in this dream, Willy's doing that for the umpteenth time, so I'm immune and don't do anything.  Meanwhile, his arm is really getting gnawed off.  Then all of a sudden, all of the seafood comes alive and starts attacking us.  It was horrifying, like it was our turn to be slaughtered and there was nothing we could do about it.  I woke up sweating."

     "Wow, that's a wild dream!" his dad said. "I've had dreams like that.  Sometimes I'll be stuck in a net as I'm bein' eaten alive.  Sometimes I'm just gobbled up by a giant shark.  Yes, it's horrifying."

     The men were silent, each aware that there dreams were no where near as horrifying as what really happened to Grace and Willy.

     "I got an interview with the farm scheduled for next week.  They were impressed with my application," James finally spoke.

     "Aye, the farm.  I s'pose that's one way to go," Patrick said, trying to sound unimpressed.

     "That's great, James.  I think that's a good way to go.  You'll get to spend time in the valley, away from this musky sea air.  You'll get all kinds of good food.  You may even get to see Them.  I hear they still visit there at least, sometimes,"  Finn assured him.

     "Yes, son, 'tis true.  I think they'd be lucky to get ya, too," Patrick was happy, but wary, as he knew a bit more of the farm than he wanted to share.   He felt it best that James found out things on his own, rather than knowing too much, and spoiling his chances of working there.  Plus, there was not much he could do to change things, anyways.

     Finn poured himself another drink.  He was glad to be here, but knew he should get going.  He downed it.

     "I'm still torn about what to do," Finn said, "but I want to be honest and let you know I may be fighting that shark tomorrow morning."

     The men were shocked even though they knew that was a possibility.  They did not want that to happen.  Patrick sighed.

     "Tomorrow's the fight.  They'll be getting the shark ready for loading," he said.

     "Then I guess I gotta do it early.  If you want to be there to see it, if I get the nerve, it'll be just after dawn," Finn said as he got up.  "I don't know what I'm doing, but I just may be crazy enough to try.  You still got the key, James?"

     "Safe and sound," he replied somberly.  "Don't give me a reason to need to use it."

     "You'll have to look around to find the safe.  It's not obvious.  I've concealed it behind the wallboard.  I'm trusting you to retrieve what's there and keep it safe.  It may not matter, but you might find it interesting."

     Finn got up, hugged the men and left their house.  He was not tired.  He headed down to the corral.

     The full moon shone down through the cloudless night.  Ripples on the ocean sparkled as they reflected the reflected sunlight.  It was a relatively calm summer night.  People shuffled along the shore.  Fires burned as vagrants drank their liquor, boisterously laughing and bragging, sometimes tinged with drunken scuffles.  Nights were rough and though the air was relaxing, random violence kept the meek at heart at home.

     Finn strolled the shore to to the corral.  He walked along the galking bridge and sat down.  He did not see the shark.  He wondered if they slept.  Surely they must rest like all animals.  Did they sink to the bottom to lie down or did they just bob along, carried by the currents?  Though his life centered around sharks, he knew so little about them.

     He began to tap out a rhythm on the bridge, trying to rouse the shark.  There was no response, at least he could not see if the shark cared enough to investigate.  He took off his clothes, jumped in the water and quickly exited.  That should alert the shark.

     A few seconds later, the dorsal fin broke the surface and Finn saw the shark's face peering at him.  The shark huffed as if to say, "You again!" and dove under.  Moments later the shark dove out of the water and landed with a thud on the gawking bridge, snapping it.  Finn rolled into the water and scrambled to climb out.  Others gathered around after hearing the commotion.  Finn screamed for help.

     The shark had swung around and veered towards Finn.  He could feel the pressure of the water change as the shark drew closer.  The shark dove down, swinging it's tail around to create a wave to knock Finn off his balance where he was sheltered.  Finn was dunked again and came up gasping.

     "Grab my hand!" someone yelled.  

     Finn reached up but felt a searing familiar pain on his leg as he was dragged into the corral.  The shark flipped Finn into the air, who splashed down 15 feet away from where he was thrown.  Finn was in shock.  The shark had him in its own turf.  This was not the way it was supposed to be.

     Finn floated on the water.  It was too still.  He knew he should attempt to swim to the wall, but he resigned himself.  He had tempted Fate and lost.  The shark lunged up from below, gulping Finn down.

     No one knew who that man was.  There was not a trace of him left, save for his clothes he removed that now floated in the water.  By the time Patrick and James went to the corral they had heard the story and they guessed it was probably Finn.  They told people they knew whose clothes they were.  Finn would not die anonymously.  James only had a short while to find the safe and retrieve their contents before Finn's house would be investigated.

   

 

 

Episode III:  James Joplin's Journey

©2011 Garrett Clevenger

 

Chapter 1:  Cindy

 

     James sweated as he weeded the row of cabbage.  He got the job at the farm shortly after Finn's death, giving him time to finish the season.  He liked his new job despite what he was beginning to realize.

     Willy's journals were full of insights, things James never knew Willy was so in tune with.  He had already ready most of them several times, unsure if he should believe what was implied.  He guessed Willy had pieced it together with the help of Finn, who he suspected was more radical than he let on.  It definitely was food for thought considering his new job and what he was responsible for.  He wondered if he should care, inquire, or just forget about it.  He did not want to make waves, but he did not want to live a lie, a peon in someone else's game.  The reality of Sharkville was settling in James's mind, but what could he do about it?

     One thing that did keep him coming back to the farm, and made his job likable, was a girl he worked with.  He met her on his first day at the farm.  Cindy Sampson, daughter of the great Carcharodon John, a boyhood idol of his.

     Cindy was harvesting beans as James weeded behind her.  He could smell her sweat he and took many opportunities to watch her work.  She was focused, but occasionally would glance back to catch James's eye.  She liked James, too.

     "Do you ever get to see Them?" James asked as he motioned towards the citadel.  "I hear they come down sometimes."

     "Not very often.  Some will come down to check things out, especially when the tomatoes are in full force.  They keep to themselves, though.  We're not allowed to get too close, with the fear of them transmitting disease to us and all.  Sometimes I wonder about that, though I've seen farmers who were pretty bad off, presumably from their illness.  I guess only the ones who aren't infected would come down, anyways.  They generally don't look too good, though, and I don't want to get sick.  I don't really have a desire to talk with them, so I keep away."

     James really wanted to see one of Them.  Were they really that different looking?  Were they really sick and contagious?  James doubted this after reading Willy's journal.

     "Do you think that's really true?  I hear people talking about how we're being misled and being used.  That they're trying to scare us into submission," James said.

     Cindy glanced hard at him.  She was uncomfortable with this kind of talk at the farm.  She knew there was survellance all around, and she did not want to be accused of subterfuge, even if there was a conspiracy going on.

     "Yes, it's true, James.  I'm done harvesting.  Keep weeding.  I'll see you later."

     Cindy walked away, obviously disturbed.  James's heart dropped.  He should have kept his mouth shut.  She would still be working close by if he had not been so inquisitive.

     James continued to work, wondering if Cindy would still be friendly to him.  He did not want to get her in trouble, but he wanted to share himself with her, and that included his thoughts.  He vowed to keep them to himself, but offer other things to her, what deep down kept him up at night thinking about her.

     As the sun began to set, the farmers gathered their things and headed for headquarters.  Everybody was required to report in, strip down, and shower before being allowed to leave the farm.  Security was tight to prevent theft and contamination.  After being cleared, they were shuttled down to town.  James hoped he'd be on the same shuttle as Cindy, but was nervous as to what he should do.  He was afraid he turned her off.

     He was wrong.  Cindy was actually waiting for him to get cleaned up.  She deliberetly missed the first shuttle in order to ride with him.  James saw her at the station as she approached him.

     "Wanna get a bite to eat?" she asked him.  "I have something you may be interested in seeing at my house."

     This interested James.  "Yes, absolutely," he said smiling.  He took her hand as they walked onto the shuttle.  James' heart was on fire.

     They walked to the back of the bus and found a place where they could sit together.  James was unusually quite, afraid to say anything to break the spell.  He felt her body pressed by his side, and that was all that was important to him.

     As they drove down, James noted again how the environment changed.  The farm was clean and green.  The town was brown and dirty.  The transition between farm and town was clear.  Past the barrier, where people had free reign, there was not much left pleasing to the eye.  Lots of trash and poor people scrounging to make do.  

     There were people on a hillside that was strewn with garbage, what people had been tossing from who knows when.  There were scavenging for anything useful.  One person's trash was another person's treasure.

     The horizon was dotted by video screens showing the fight between the giant great white that killed Finn and the snatchers that eventually killed it.  It was a spectacular event, made more so since the shark had eaten Finn.  The snatchers spared no offense on it, slicing it up slowly as it attempted to eat another human.  

     None of them were as brave as Finn, who swam with the shark, though foolishly taunting its ability to get even.  When they sliced open the shark after its defeat, they found Finn's bones.  They even found his hand which bore the rings he wore.

     Memories of Finn filled James and he sighed.  Cindy noticed his mood change and looked over at him.  She squeezed his hand.

     "You OK?" she asked.

     "Yeah, just remembering a friend who was killed by that shark," James said quietly as he pointed to the video screen.

     "You knew the guy that it ate?" she asked.  She did not pay too much attention to shark snatching, and only briefly heard the shark ate a snatcher in its corral.  She could not remember his name.

     "Yeah, Isurus Finn was the dad of Willy, a best friend of mine who was also killed by a shark a long time ago.  Willy was killed during his first competition.  He was a good guy who had so much promise but as Fate would have it, he died.  He's given me a lot to think about recently."

     "Really?  How's that?"

     James was unsure how much to reveal on the shuttle.  He thought he might say too much, so he said little.

     "I guess mostly how short our lives can be, about how things can change so suddenly when least expected.  About how plans you make don't always work out as planned.  About appreciating what you do have, or have potential to have," James said, looking into Cindy's eyes, aware of the affect his flirting had on her.

     Cindy smiled and rested her head on his shoulder.  When the shuttle reached the terminal, James and Cindy got off.  She led him up the road that led to the Carcharodons's dwellings.  James had never been to this part of town.

     "How's your dad doing?" James asked, nervous at meeting her father, let alone a Carcharodon.

     "He's as big as he can be.  He's slower, but just as onwry.  Don't let him scare you, he's actually a good guy.  But he will try to see how tough you are.  He knows I like you, so that'll make him act bigger, but once you pass his test, that'll make him like you, too," Cindy said assuradly.

     They passed the checkpoint after Cindy displayed her clearance card.  There was as much a distinct difference between this part of town and the rest as there was between the farm and the rest of town.  This was the upper class of the common folk.  Things were as nice as could be for a rough and tumbly town

     James wondered which Carcharodon lived where.  He imagined their faces as they passed the dwellings, putting Carcharodon Zeke here or Carcharodon Sam there.  He felt a sense of pride in what these shark snatchers had accomplished, knowing his dad had caught some of the biggest great whites these men had slain.

     "This is it," Cindy said as they approached her house.  She led him in and introduced him to her family.

     "Hey everybody, I brought a friend over for dinner.  This is James Joplin.  He works with me at the farm.  His dad's the captain of The Galeocerdo.  This is my mom, Catheryn.  I'm sure you know my dad, John.  This is my sister, Ophelia, and my brother Joe.  I've other siblings who are out and about."

     "Tom and Sandy are upstairs and Marcus is who-knows-where," Catheryn informed them.  "Nice to meet you, James.  Cindy has mentioned your weeding abilities."

     James blushed, "Cindy's a good teacher," he said as he reached and shook her hand.  "A big honor to meet you, Carcharodon John.  I'm one of your biggest fans.  To be honest, I don't think there's a better Carcharodon than you," he said confidently as his hand hurt under his shake.

     "Your hands feel pretty tough.  You couldn't have got that with the short time you've been at the farm.  What'd ya do before?"  John asked.

     "I worked at the processing plant for about 10 years doing all kinds of things.  My hands softened a bit the last year or so, when I was managing.  It feels good to labor again.  I'm sure I'll toughen up if I spend more time at the farm."

     He greeted Cindy's siblings.  They chatted idly while they prepared for supper.  James was excited to be in such company and began to relax.

 

Chapter 2: Conversation with Carcharodon John

 

     James hurried home after retrieving the contents from Finn's safe.  He felt incredible detachment from the whole thing, as if he were dreaming.  He had expected to find Finn alive again.  He did not want to have this burden.

     He unloaded the bag on his bed, for the first time looking at what was stored in the safe.  Seeing Willy's shark teeth and knife brought back memories.  He sat holding the teeth for a moment, then sorted the other stuff.

     He put the memento items, such as Grace's jewelry and Finn and Willy's shark teeth and Willy's knife in a pile.  The cash he put in his pocket.  There were a few random items, but Willy's journals were what really interested him.  

     He had talked with Willy a lot about things, so he knew Willy was a thinker and often rational about it.  He knew Willy was a skeptic and cynic, too, with his family history, so was a critic of what he saw around him.  There were not too many shark snatchers who actually questioned shark snatching.  

     Perhaps that was why Willy died.  That he really did not want to be a shark snatcher.  Did he only do it because of his family history, and thus sense of obligation to display such pride?  James wondered about that irony.

     There were 3 journals Willy left behind.  The first was more doodling and random thoughts of a little kid, like wondering why the sky is blue.  An interesting thought he left behind was whether everyone sees the same blue.  Maybe the way he saw blue was completely different than what another person saw, but they still called it blue and thus were able to communicate about it, yet still percieving it differently.  

     In later journals, James found that thought expanded when Willy speculated on what is real.  If we see blue different, maybe we see the ocean and sky different, or people different, or sharks different.  He wondered that if we do not see things the same, then no wonder we live such a meek existence.  That it was inevitable that people would destroy the very thing that they all needed to stay alive.  Since not everybody was able to see the same value of clean air, water and soil, eventually that value would be squandered and replaced with something someone else thought was more valuable, like contamination due to manufacturing or mining to make money.

     James could tell Willy was a wonderer.  Maybe because his mom died when he was young.  Maybe he always wondered why did that happen, and from there came everything else.

     That inquisitiveness showed in much of his writings, most of which were written the last year of his life.  It was almost as if he wanted to make sure his thoughts were preserved because there was a good chance he would be killed.  He at least was conscience of wanting to leave a written legacy of his thoughts.

     James remembered that day of bringing home Willy's journals to read for the first time as he remembered the night before.  He had not had such an impactful conversation with people.  He expected Cindy's family to be tough but well to do common folk, not thinkers.  James thought he should not be surprised that Carcharodon John knew a lot.  He had probably seen and heard it all.  Maybe Willy's ideas were not so secret after all.

     Carcharodon John asked James, after Cindy told of James asking her if she thought that it were true that the rulers were contagious, if he thought they were.  James was not sure what to say, as he did not want to offend who he thought was a starch defender of the status quo.  Cindy was smiling.

     "Well, I've heard talk that maybe they aren't, that maybe they've just convinced us they are in order to scare us.  Cindy says she's seen sick people at the farm who were ill from Them.  I believe Cindy."

     Her smile dropped as she realized she was trapped.  "Well, I'm not saying I know they got sick from Them because they're contagious.  Who know, maybe it was just a coincidence, that they were already sick.  Maybe they got them sick intentionally, in order to perpetuate the myth that they're contagious.  "

     "Myth!?  Now you're saying it's a myth?" James declared.

     She smiled again.  "What do you think, dad?"

     Carcharodon John loved it.  To be the center of attention to talk about something he knew everything about, or seemed to think at least.  He took a swig of brew from his mug.

     "It's a flippin' myth!  The whole thing is!" he said, perhaps too confidently because he was drunk.  "I've seen a lot of the crap we deal with.  I'm smart enough to know we've been conned in order to keep order, but I fought my way to the top, so I'm happy with the way things are.  The system may be rotten, but as long as my family is out of the trash heap below, I'll deal with it."

     "Besides, we're screwed into a hole.  Humanity forever has been trying to figure out how to live civilly with one another under various forms of government.  They're all corrupt because power corrupts and too few have too much power at there disposal.  Of course they're gonna rig the system for themselves.

     "That's not something we're gonna stop, because people are too stupid to do anything about it.  They'd rather watch fools like me snatch sharks than clean up the mess around them.  These people don't deserve anything more than they have.  The rulers deserve what they got because they've risen to their rank and have figured out how to keep us in line.

     "Besides, we have it good compared to everywhere else.  Our land was mostly spared the decemation eons of humanity reaped on the planet.  No one ever figured out how to have a utopian society.  We're not about to do it now.  We've gotta live with our society because if we revolt, we'll have less than we have now, if anything at all.  It could be a lot worse.

     "They could wipe us all out in an instant.  Let's never forget that they have unimaginable power at their fingertips.  They can make your fellow farm workers sick just as easily as sink your dad's ship.  You need to keep your mouth shut when you're up at the farm if you know what's good for you," Carcharodon John said sternly.

     The room was quite as James realized what he was just told.  Yes, they were subjected to a conspiracy and they could do nothing about it.  That if he was not careful, he, or his dad, could be killed.

     Carcharodon John smiled, "That's the truth, but it's better you hear it bluntly from me than from Them."

 

Chapter 3: Carrots, Bombs, Cameras and Love

 

     James met Cindy at the terminal the next morning.  She gave him a hug as he approached her, and they boarded the bus.  James was silent as the bus drove towards the farm.

     "We've a ton of carrots to harvest today.  You wanna give me a hand?" Cindy asked.

     "Yeah, that would be great.  It'll beat weeding, anyways," he said as he gave her his hand to hold.

     The bus drove up the road, giving James a nice view of the harbor and boats heading out.  He wondered how his dad was faring out at sea.  He was excited to tell him about Cindy.  Since he was gone, though, he thought about inviting her over to his place.

     "You up for coming over for dinner tonight?" he asked her.

     "Whatcha gonna make?" she asked back.

     "I've got some salmon from my dad's last trip.  If we get some veggies from the farm, that'll be included."

     "Sounds good.  Can we stop by my house before we go to yours?"

     "Of course.  I don't want your family wondering where you've went," he said, then whispered, "especially knowing what your dad warned me about last night."  He was joking, but serious.  It was not about him warning James to keep his hands off Cindy, as most dads would want to make known to their daughter's suitors.

     As the bus veered toward the farm terminal, an explosion went off near the front of the bus.  It smashed into a tree as screams of people filled the smokey bus.  James and Cindy were knocked out of there seats, bruising and cutting themselves, but not as bad as some, especially the ones near the bomb.  They scrambled out.

     They staggered towards the slope and sat down, inspecting each other to make sure there were not serious wounds.  They wondered if they should help those that needed more help as authorities arrived, who told them to take it easy, a medic would see them after triaging the others.  The bus was no longer flaming, but smoke billowed out of it's windows.

     "What was that!?" James asked.

     "Probably a bomb," Cindy answered.  "It's not the first time.  It's been a while since this has happened."

     "I've never heard about that.  Who would set a bomb off?"

     "Who do you think?"

     James had to think about that. Would the rulers bomb the bus of their workers?  Would sabateours against the rulers plant it?  A disgruntled worker?  James really could not guess.

     "I don't know who would want to plant a bomb.  There's people dead!  What kind of person would want to do this?"

     "Someone who wants to make a point.  You're guess is as good as mine.  We'll never really know who planted the bomb because the officials who tell us who the bomber was are the same people who potentially could plant a bomb.  Why should we trust people who have killed people before?  

     "There was no point to the bomb, only for someone to exert power over innocent people.  None of us more than likely deserved to be hurt or die by that bomb.  Maybe it was intended for one bad person who sat at the front.  More than likely it was random violence directed at people who may even support the cause of the bomber, who ever it might be.  

    "We'll just have to forget about it.  We're fine enough to work.  We won't get the day off.  We're not too far from the gate.  Let's get going and we'll clean up there," Cindy said matter-of-factly.

     She helped James up.  He looked around at the senseless surreal scene and wondered what was wrong with people.  Why were there some that were so violent?  He looked towards the farm gate and saw a video screen.  On it was playing last weekend's shark snatching highlights of the sharks and snatchers who were killed in action.

     "I guess we reap what we sow," James said as they walked on.  "Life is violent.  We not only have to struggle just to survive, but we're bombarded with shark snatching violence.  It's like we can't get enough violence so we have to bomb people now.  I'd much rather see videos of couples making love than all that blood up there."

     Cindy smiled and squeezed his hand.  "Well, I'd rather make love than see it on the screen."

     James blushed, smiled, then said,  "Yeah, me too."

     Inside the headquarters was chaos.  Bodies were being brought in on stretchers, some with blood stained sheets covering their heads.  They made their way to their showers, cleaned themselves, then suited up.  The farm would not rest for the injured.

     James met Cindy at the carrot patch.  She was digging them up with a shovel.  James gathered them in a container and hauled them to cart.  He had to be careful as he was sore from the explosion.

     "How you doin'?  You want me to take over digging?" he asked her.

     "I'm OK for now.  Don't worry, we got a long day ahead of us.  Hopefully we won't be exhausted for tonight," she said seductively.

     James picked up a carrot and thought of something crude, but bit his tongue.  Instead he said, "If you put it that way, I guess I should slow down and take it easy.  I don't want to fall asleep on you."

     "At least not until after you make love to me," she said, grunting as she dug up a load of carrots.  "We need to balance out the earlier violence with equal force."

     James's imagination began to drift from the carnage below to the love he felt for her in his heart and loins.  It did not take much to change his thinking.  He just wished he did not have to wait until night.  Cindy knew how to keep him interested, and she would use that to her advantage.

     "These carrots look pretty good," she said as she scrubbed one off on her sleeve and took a bite.  "Wanna try?" she said as she pointed it in his direction.

     He looked around, walked towards her and took a bite as he looked her in the eye.

     "It's pretty good, but mine's better," he said as he winked at her.

     "I bet it is."

     "This is going to be a very long day, hard to get through, but I suppose it's better than weeding alone," he said.

     "Well, if it's going to be too hard for you to handle, you can always go weed the beets."

     James lifted a crate full of carrots and loaded them up.  When they had a full load, they hauled them to the cleaning house.  They dumped them in the sink and took a drink of water.  

     She pressed her backside against him as he attempted to operate the scrubber, making him lose his focus.  He turned and wrapped his arms around her waist and pressed her closer.  He began to kiss the back side of her neck when they heard a commotion outside.  They jumped apart as another farmer came in.

     "Scrubbing carrots?" the other asked.

     "Yeah, we got a ton today," Cindy said.

     James was quiet, feeling guilty at almost getting caught close to Cindy.  He finished scrubbing off a batch of carrots and set them out to dry, then wiped his brow.  The other worker left.

     "Well, that was close," she said.  "I guess we'll have to be more careful."

     "Just like a lot of things, maybe it's best to be discreet at the farm," he said, not noticing the camera in the corner that recorded their encounter.

     They continued to harvest carrots for the day, showered up and caught the bus to town.  They stopped by Cindy's house and told her parents about the bombing.  Carcharodon John told them his theory on what happened.

     "They'll try to make it look like crazy commoners did it as a protest against the farmers who allegedly are promoting the status quo for working so close to the rulers.  They'll claim these terrorists are trying to take down the system by scaring off the farmers.  More than likely the rulers planted the bomb to instill resentment in the farmers against the protesters who are working for change, even if they really are nonviolent in their actions," he said.

     "But why would the rulers plant the bomb when it really may frighten off farmers?  Why would they want to scare them from working?  Why would they kill people who are working there?" James challenged.

     "You guys a expendeble, just like shark snatchers.  They know that those who are killed or are scared off can be replaced.  A lot of people want to work up there, despite the risks.  After all, they don't do much to make living in town not scary.  It's just as dangerous working at sea, the processing plant or elsewhere in town, so it's not necessarily more risky working on the farm.  Are you scared to go back?" Carcharodon John asked.

     "Kind of, though I get your point.  I don't know what else I'd do.  I just never thought I could get blown up working at the farm.  Maybe get blisters or a sunburn or perhaps run over by a tractor, but not die in an exploding bus."

     "There's a lot you don't understand about the reality of the power struggle going on.  There are probably competing factions within the ruler sphere, but they all have the same general idea: suppress those underneath them in order to perpetuate their power.  If they have to bomb innocent people in order to promote their cause, it makes little difference.  They think they're right, and justified, in using underhanded tactics.

     "It may be rogue rulers, not officially sanctioned to do what they did, but not necessarily discouraged either.  Maybe it was to prove a point, even a score, or really just terrorize people.

     "Anytime people get in power, a cult of ideas forms.  Those in power select for people who agree with those ideas, ostresizing those who disagree.   A mafia-like mentality develops where there are bad people who are in control because they are the ones willing to do bad things to win the power game, and they promote people who are willing to go along.

     "They have the means to intimidate good people with violence or blackmail.  While it may feel good to be good, it doesn't make for a winning strategy when there are those who will do anything to gain power.  How can honest people compete with those who are willing to lie, cheat, steal or kill to get ahead?  The game is stacked in their favor, thus if you want to get a head, you have to join their ranks.  Thus you have bombs blow up on your morning bus because a bunch of bullies will do whatever they need to to stay in control.

     "Uprisings happen.  You may have heard of the biggest one led by James McCurry.  That was squashed with underhanded tactics by convincing commoners that he was a power-hungry terrorist who was against them.  I'm sure the rulers did what they needed to in order to end the rebellion.  The last thing they want are protesters getting their way by convincing enough people to actually fight and end the regime.  They've been dealing with this for a long time so are quite good and maintaining their power," Carcharodon John said, ending his rant.

     "I'm actually named after McCurry," James said.  "I don't consider myself rebellious.  I feel pretty lucky with my situation.  I suppose if I wasn't as well off I'd be more pissed off at the system.  I just don't like being manipulated or terrorized.  That's wrong, so it's hard to support those who make such evil decisions.

     "I feel like I've been a good, productive citizen.  But I see the injustice that the rulers seem to endorse, or at least not stop, and now I doubt their whole sincerity regarding their contagiousness.  Why would I want to continue sweating and help maintain their power?  I feel like a pawn, given little value, being expendible.  I feel sad by all this, and completely jaded by it.  How do you deal with it?"

     "By talking about it.  Yeah, we're pretty well off and benefit from the status quo.  I worked hard to be a Carcharodon.  But I feel guilty, too.  I know how messed up it all is and surely it could be better.

     "Like it or not, unless you report me, you are guilty of sedition by just talking about this.  You have seeds of rebellion in you, and not just 'cause you're named 'James.'  By not reporting me, you are opening yourself up to further action to change what's going on.  

     "As a respected Carcharodon, I know what I'm telling you bares weight.  If you help keep these seeds growing, perhaps we can change things without resorting to violence.  While I've killed countless sharks, I've never hurt a person knowingly.  I could defend those I love if needed, but I don't want to be part of an armed insurection.  It wouldn't work anyways and we're no good dead.  We need to stay alive and keep these ideas going.  It may take 100 years, but if our conversation here tonight has some impact on changing things for the better, then it'll be worth it.

     "I trust you won't report me as a rebel.  Though I won't take up arms against it, sometimes ideas can be just as powerful.  You'll figure what you need to do to feel good about yourself," Carcharodon John explained.

     "This is all too confusing.  I won't report you, partly because I have heard some of what we've talked about more.  A friend of mine who you'd like left me his journals.  He had some wild ideas and pretty much said a lot of what you are saying.  I'm interested in you reading them so you can tell me what you think," James said.

     "That would be great.  I'm glad we're like minded," Carcharodon John said.

     "Then I guess you won't mind if I go over to his house for dinner tonight, dad," Cindy said.

     "I can't keep you home forever, honey.  James passes my test.  Go have fun.  You deserve that, not having to worry about all we've talked about."

     With that, Cindy grabbed her things, took James's hand, and led him out the door.  They intended to get lost with each and forget about the power plays that traumatized them.  Better to make love than war, in any case.

 

Chapter 4: The Cove

 

     Every citadel has its weaknesses, and it's usually due to someone inside.  There is no way to contain, or cordon off, anything forever.  At some point, the weakness fractures the fortress enough that its power to fend off attack from outside is not enough to keep the outside power from breaking through.  While it may not collapse itself, those that run it are run down and destroyed.

     That was a fear the rulers had.  They knew they were believed to be bad by many.  They knew enough not to trust too many people.  That there was always the chance someone they knew could take them down.  

     Kings lost many food tasters due to someone poisoning his food.   Someone always would kill to become king, or change the power dynamic of whatever regime.  Your friend could be your enemy.

     What a life to choose.  Wanting power so much that you're willing to do anything to be in control.  Knowing that the others you know would probably do the same.  Living a life of not trusting, therefore manipulating and further corrupting, and worrying about if the water you drink will kill you.

     Perhaps being a ruler was not always worth the stress.  While they lived a life of luxury, free from the horrid conditions most people below them suffered under, they had to deal with the stress of insuring their place.  Everybody suffered sleepless nights, but perhaps at that level it was sleepless years.

     That was what James thought after his conversation with Carcharodon John.  It made sense that the rulers were like a mafia.  He saw them operate at a smaller scale in town.  Certain people trying to racket others, dealing in the black market, fighting over turf.  He supposed gang mentality was just normal.  That in order to get ahead it was easy, and often times the only choice, for people to turn to a life of crime, intimidation, and all around thugery.  That once you're in a gang, you don't really have friends any more, but people who will hurt you to advance themselves.  Of course the rulers were like that.  They were not saints, or even close to really looking out for the commoners well being.  It was not the type of lifestyle that interested James.

     He was happy being in love with Cindy.  He held her in his arms as he thought about all the drama.  It seemed so surreal compared to feeling her body next to his, but he was reminded of the reality of it from the bruises they both bared.

     Cindy stirred, turned around and kissed him.  "Good morning," she grogily spoke.  "I feel sore."

     "Yeah, between the bomb and our bodies bumping last night, I feel I can barely move.  I'm glad we have the day off.  Any plans?"

     "I just want to lay here.  Nothing important I can think of, except maybe do some more bumping," she said as she pressed herself firmer on him.

     It was a blessing to have Cindy laying with him.  He felt a sense of peace, of forgetting his sorrows and frustrations with things.  He took the opportunity to emerge himself in her, getting the ancient healing power of primal lust.

     The primal urge of hunger eventually roused them from bed.  They limped to the kitchen to reenergize.  They were quiet, enjoying the view through the window out to the bay.  Cotton shaped clouds blew slowly across the horizon as the sun rose further in the eastern view.  They could feel it was going to be a hot day.

     "You know what we should do?" Cindy asked then answered, "we should go for a swim.  I think that'll take some of the soreness off and cool us down.  You up for that?"

     "Definitely.  We can take our boat and even go find a secluded beach.  I have one in mind my dad and me used to hang out at.  I haven't been there in a long time."

     "That sounds great!" she exitedly said.

     They finished their meal, packed some gear and headed down to his boat.  Cindy had never sailed before.  Her dad ironically got seasick really easily, so her family never encouraged it.  She spent most of her time at the farm.

     "If you get seasick, we can make it a short trip.  I don't want you to be miserable," James said.

     "I think I'll be OK.  It couldn't be that bad or last that long, anyways."

     "If you feel queezy, look to the horizons.  You can even take over steering to help stablize you if you get real sick."

     They headed north, following the current.  Several fishing boats were scattered about.  The big fish intake funnel was silent.  The fleet was not expected back for several more days, so even the processing plant was not as loud as normal.

     It was very peaceful for James and Cindy to be sailing.  The day was warming quickly, so being near the ocean kept them refreshed.  Birds circled overhead, searching for fish to swoop down and snatch.

     "How you feeling?" James asked.

     "I feel good.  I'm not nausious or anything.  I'm a little nervous, but only because I've never been away from Sharkville."

     "We'll be fine.  I'm excited to show you the cove.  There's a trail leading up to a rock outcrop where you can see forever.  Hopefully it won't be overgrown," he said.

     They continued sailing and soon were alone save for a ship that sailed behind them.  After an hour, they came upon the cove.

     "There it is!" James exclaimed and he veered towards the cove.

     The beach stretched for a few hundred yards, above which was a thick jungle.  He parked the boat near the shore, securing the boat with an anchor.  They were starting to sweat now that they were near land.

     "We'll have to swim ashore.  You ready?" James asked.

     Cindy jumped in and James followed, holding his gear bag above his head.  They walked on to the sand.  James laid out a blanket.

     "I'm hungry!  You wanna eat some lunch?" James asked.

     "Yes."

     They sat on the blanket and chowed down.

     "This place is great.  I can't believe I've never been somewhere so secluded.  Even at the farm there are people around.  I've never been so alone!" Cindy said.

     "Don't forget I'm here!" James said.

     "You know what I mean," she said as she took his hand.  "Thanks for bringing me here."

     James brought her close to him and laid on the blanket.  Cindy sat on him as they felt the warmth of the sun and themselves burn through them.  She massaged his bare chest and he carresed hers.  They felt nature's desire pulse through them, which was magnafied being so secluded in such a wild place.

     After that, they rested until they felt they needed to get out of the sun.  They washed themselves in the ocean and James led them up the beach to try to find the trail.  The sand was scorching so they put their shoes on.

     "I think the trail was this way.  It's been so long that everything looks so different," James said. 

     They walked along the edge of the vegetation when Cindy asked, "Is this it?"

     "Yes! Good eye!"

     The entrance had been choked, but there was a definite trail that led up the slope.  They entered the jungle and felt the air change.  The life inside animated the scene with sights and sounds Cindy had never seen or even knew existed so close the Sharkville.

     "This is so magical!  This is exactly how I imagined the forest to be after hearing fairy tales.  It's almost as if we'll see an elf or something in here," she said.

     They were quiet as they walked along, mystified by the bird calls.  It sounded like fairy creatures calling.  Occasionally they'd hear rustling and see a shape disappear overhead, then see something scurry near the ground.  Spider webs blocked the trail, suspending a colored jewel of a spider waiting for prey to wrap in a silky cocoon.  They could no longer hear the waves crashing on shore.  They were immersed in a new world.  They were quiet just to emerse themselves deeper into the wild.

     They hiked for a while, crossing several creeks and some vantage points where they could see the ocean.  They even passed another trail that led further up than where they wanted to go.

     "Where does that lead?" Cindy asked.

     "I'm not sure.  I don't remember that being there before.  I'm pretty sure we want to stay on this trail."

     Eventually they came upon the rock outcropping.  They were stunned to see a couple there.  They were cautious, not sure if they should approach.

     "Those are rulers!" Cindy whispered.  "You can tell by their hats."

     They were looking down at the beach.  Suddenly one turned around startled.  He waved and James and Cindy waved back.

     "Is that your boat down there?" he asked.

     "Yes," James replied.

     "Well, how're ya gonna get back?  Someone is stealing it," he said.

     "What!" James exclaimed and ran to where they were.

     They watched as his boat sailed off.  The man handed James his binoculars.  He looked through and saw a bearded man at the helm.  He was following another boat that had brought him in.

     "Bastards!" James yelled.  "BASTARDS!"

 

Chapter 5:  Cas and Flora

                

     James and Becky followed the couple up the trail they had passed earlier.  They felt lucky to have met these people, as they were kind enough to help them out.  James was still fuming about his boat being stolen.

     Cas and Flora often came to the lookout.  Flora was newly pregnant, so she was enjoying being able to hike there, as she knew she would not be able to once her pregnancy progressed much farther.  She glanced back to the commoner couple wondering if they were safe to let follow them.  They could not just leave them alone, boatless and stranded, but she was unsure if she could trust them.

     "Thanks a lot for helping us.  I don't know what we would have done without you," Cindy said.

     "No problem.  I don't want to see you guys die out here," Cas said.

     James remembered they may be contagious and slowed down.  He knew they probably were not, but his cautious side kicked in.  He wondered what to do.

     "Umm, aren't you afraid you may get us sick?" he asked, not wanting to offend them, but sort of wanting to challenge them.

     Cas and Flora looked at each other then stopped.

     "You don't have to follow us," Flora replied.  "You can take your chances on your own."

     They were all silent until Cindy said, "We'll take our chances with you.  You don't look sick."

     That was a lie.  They did look sick, at least compared to the people she was used to.  Their sick look did not come from a contagious disease, though, but from inbred and other genetic mutatations that made rulers look weird.

     "Well, thanks for the vote of confidence.  But we're taking a chance helping you guys out, just so you know," Cas said.

     They started hiking again, climbing higher up the slope.  James and Cindy were getting tired.  They were not used to hiking so far.  They kept quiet so to conserve energy, and not further offend their helpers.

     They reached the summit and took a break.

     "What do you guys do in Sharkville?" Flora asked.

     "We work at the farm," Cindy replied.  "I've been there pretty much my whole adult life.  James just started a couple of months ago."

     "I worked at the processing plants for about 10 years before that," James said.  James all of a sudden felt pride for Cindy and said, "You may have heard of Cindy's dad, Carcharodon John.  He was the top shark snatcher a decade ago or so."

     Cas and Flora looked at each other, then Cas said, "We don't pay too much attention to shark snatching."

     James felt let down, then Cindy said, "Maybe you know James's dad, Captain Patrick Joplin.  He's captain of The Galeocerdo."

     That caught their ear and Cas said, "The Galeocerdo?  That sounds familiar, but not as a boat.  What's a Galeocerdo again?"

     "A Galeocerdo is a bull shark," Cindy answered.

     "I know I've heard of a Galeocerdo something at some point," Cas said.

     "We've learned about Galeocerdo Grace in school, remember?" Flora asked.  "She was one of the insurgent terrorists down in Sharkville."

     "What!  That's not true!  They teach you that at your school?" James declared.  "My best friend's mom was Galeocerdo Grace.  She was not a terrorist.   She was a kind hearted lady who only helped people out.  She was also murdered for being too good."

     "She was the grand-daughter of James McCurry, the insurgent leader back during the civil war.  I doubt she was that good," Cas said, now bothered he was helping these people.

     "How do you know that's true?  Maybe what they are teaching you is wrong," Cindy said, feeling herself attacked.

     "How do you know what you say is true?  Did you ever meet her?  Maybe your folk hero was really a rebel trying to take down the system," Cas said.

     There was silence until Flora spoke.  "Maybe they're right, Cas.  It wouldn't be the only lie we know about."

     Cas glared at her, as if she were about to reveal their secret.  "Don't say you buy that crap!" he yelled, then stood up and walked onward.

     The other three remained seated.  Flora shook her head and said, "He knows you're right.  He's just unwilling to give his power away and admit it."

     "What do you think, Flora?" Cindy asked.  "What other lie are you talking about."

     Flora looked down, knowing she crossed the line.  She wanted to follow Cas, as she knew he was smart to not get further involved with these commoners.  She looked up as if not to hear Cindy's question.

     "So you guys come here often?" she said laughing.  "My husband and I come here all the time and we never see anybody.  It's strange we ran into you when we did.  When we saw your boat being taken, we wondered if you were pirates.  Well, now we know the ones who took it were."

     James said, "I used to come here when I was a kid, with my dad and brother.  My brother and I would play on the shore, pretending we were pirates.  We'd hike up to the lookout where we met you.  We'd watch the boats sailing out to sea, glad our dad was not on board them."

     "You never told me you had a brother, James.  Where is he?" Cindy asked, sad that he never talked about him.

     "Sorry," he said, looking her in the eyes.  "John was 5 years older.  My hero.  He protected me from the bullies while we were growing up.  He became a shark snatcher and was maimed in battle during his first season.  He died from the infections he got.  He was 21.  That was 15 years ago."

     "I'm sorry to hear that," Cindy said as she put her arm around him.

     James remembered one time in particular that he and John visited the cove.  He and John were playing in the surf when a rip tide dragged him out to sea.  His dad was farther down the beach, so John had to swim out to retrieve him.  He remembered feeling like he thought he was going to die, and how much he clung onto John, even when they reached shore.  His dad came running back, seeing what was happening, and gave them both a hug.

     "John, you did a brave thing today.  I don't know what I'd do if I lost one of you.  Promise me you'll look out for one another, as you are each others best friend.  This is a crazy, unpredictable world.  It's important for you guys to watch each other's back.  It'll be a lonely and difficult world, otherwise," Patrick said to his sons as his heart burned.

     "Thanks, John," James said.  "I don't know what I'd do without you."

     James began to cry, and the girls felt tears, too.

     "Anyways, if you still want to help us, we should probably get going," James said.

     Flora said, "Of course.  I'm not quite sure what to do.  I'll probably get in trouble if I get caught.  I don't think Cas will say anything, as he really is a good guy and doesn't want you guys to get hurt.  You guys work at the farm, so I'll be able to cart you over there when we get closer to the citadel.  Promise me you'll listen to me, though, as I don't want to get caught."

     "Of course," they both said and James added, "we don't want you to get in trouble."

     They got up and continued down towards the citadel.

     "Are we going to see anyone else on the trail," James asked after hiking a while.  "Are you guys the only ones who hike around here?"

     "I don't think we'll see anybody.  We're not really supposed to be out here, but we found a way to get out undetected.  We'd go crazy if we didn't have an outlet.  I think that's why everybody seems so crazy inside, that they're all cooped up."

     "What do people do there?" Cindy asked.

     "Anything they want," she replied.  She knew they would not understand what she meant, but she literally meant it, as the technology they had there allowed for all kinds of things to do.

     "It's really nice inside, don't get me wrong.  What do people do in Sharkville?  Well, I'm sure there's 1000 times more things to do inside the citadel.  Some people leave, though through airplanes to resorts they've set up all over Zland.  You know Sharkville isn't the only town on Zland, right?"

     They did not know there were other towns on Zland.

     "There are other places like Sharkville?  I've never heard of that.  Surely my dad would have mentioned there being other places like our town.  We've been taught that the rest of Zland is toxic, that we're lucky to have a habitable place," James said.

     "Your dad never told you because he's not allowed to tell you that.  He knows the importance of maintaining isolation.  Your Sharkville is allowed so much sea to harvest, the others have their own own share and so forth.  My people have insured segregation, just like they've convinced you that we're contagious," Flora said, knowing she said too much, but did not care.

     "You're not contagious?" James said, "You were right, Cindy.  It's all a lie."

     "Yeah, you guys are being manipulated.  Sorry to have to tell you that.  I think it's ridiculous.  My people are risking further genetic abnormalities in their process to keep us pure.  It's only a matter of time before our offspring are so messed up that they won't be able to function, let alone maintain power.

     "There's controversy inside about this right now.  They do abduct people to extract their genes, but the process is sloppy and controversial as well.  Some are calling for the dismantling of the power structure, to allow freer mixing of the classes.  They are the idealists who prefer democracy over dictatorship, but they are called crazy for thinking that common people deciding the fate of society would be sustainable.  They don't think you guys are smart enough to make important decisions.  They'd rather keep you dumb, subjected and powerless, and keep all the good stuff for themselves."

     "That sounds evil," Cindy said.

     "It's human nature," James said.  "We have the same mentality within families, neighborhoods and throughout Sharkville.  I'm not surprised to hear what Flora's saying, especially with what your dad said."

     Cindy glared at him.  She did not want her dad to be involved.  She did not want Flora to think he was subversive.  James saw her stern look and blushed, realizing he said too much.

     A little up the trail, Cas waited for them.  His arms were folded around his chest, and he wore a frown.  He stood up as they met him.

     "Thanks for waiting, Cas.  I was hoping I wouldn't have to do this alone," Flora said as she gestured to the couple behind them.

     "Yeah, I wasn't gonna let you get all the credit for helping them.  You guys follow me," Cas said as he led them down the trail.

     "Wait here," Cas spoke again as they approached the citadel walls.

     The others kept hidden behind some trees, then heard his whistle.  Flora motioned for them to follow her.  They found Cas waiting at a tunnel that was hidden by some debris.  He moved it out of the way and told them to enter.  Flora led the way, uncovered the other entrance and told them to wait.  Cas passed them by.  A few minutes later, Flora came back and told them to follow.  They hid themselves as the walked inside the citadel, awestruck by what they saw inside.

     They made their way to Cas and Flora's house and felt relief as they sat down in the shelter of a house.  It was beautiful inside.  James and Cindy felt envious.

     "I thought our house was nice, but it is just servant quarters compared to this.  I could get used to living here," Cindy said.

     Cas and Flora looked at each other and Cas said, "We were hoping you'd say that."

     James and Flora looked at each other and James said, "What do you mean?"

     Just then there was a knock on the door as the commoners hearts dropped.  In walked a man who looked at them thouroughly.  He nodded.

     "Yes, these guys will do just fine," he said as James and Flora realized they probably did not have a choice in whether they wanted to stay or not.

    

 Chapter 6: To Stay or Not To Stay

    

     "Bastards!" James yelled.  "You stole our boat, didn't you?  You guys set us up to kidnap us!"

     "We do what we need to do.  I'm sorry you were the ones who got caught.  You are much needed fresh, virile blood, though.  We wouldn't have chosen you if we didn't think you were fit or would fit in," the man said.

     "I'm Jonas, commander of the citadel.  I don't want to keep you against your will.  If you really want to go, we'll lead you to the trail and you can fend for yourselves."      

     "That's not much of a choice," James said.

     "You aren't the first people we've brought here.  Most of the others that came chose to stay, and they are happier for it.  They realized their life is better here.

     "All I'm asking is that you give us a chance.  Spend some time here, get to see how much better life is here than in Sharkville.  I think you'll see it's not bad here."

     "You're comparing the citadel to Sharkville?  It's bad down there because of you guys!  Don't you think the responsibility's yours?  Don't you think it's unfair to condemn life down there, and then say we'd like it here better?  Of course we would!" James exclaimed.

     "We're all like beasts.  The problems in Sharkville are just as much the fault of the beastliness of the people in your families, neighborhood and community as the people here.  We're only trying to do what we can to make things better.  Yes, we are lucky to have a better lifestyle up here, but we are offering that opportunity to you," Jonas said.

     "At the expense of the poor people down below?  Do you realize how horrid it is down there for most people?" James asked.

     "So then you guys spend a lot of time with the poor of the poor, trying to make their life better?" Cas asked back. "Don't think you know as much as you think you do.  Things may not be as you believe them to be.  I realize you believe there's a big conspiracy going on up here.  I don't want to disappoint, but it's not the way you think it is."

     "We know who you are.  We know who your families are.  Yes, you guys are better off then some, but I'm sure you realize it's nothing compared to what we have here," Jonas said.

     James and Cindy felt guilty.  Could they really give up their lives down there to live up here?  Could they really live with people they believed were evil?

     "Can we tell anybody where we are?" Cindy asked.

     "No.  They will presume you're dead.  Does anybody know where you went?  They'll think you were lost at sea or attacked by pirates," Jonas said.

     "The harbormaster knows we went sailing," James said to Cindy.  "He'll be wondering where we went when we don't come back tonight.  He'll report that to my dad, when he gets back."

     "You can't let your families know you're here because to do so would cause an uproar," Cas said.  "They don't understand what goes on up here, but enough to know that if they believe you are being held against your will, there'd be a rebellion.  And they would lose violently.  We do not want that to happen."

     "You won't ever see your families again," Flora said.  "Think about it, but make sure you're doing it for the right reasons.  Hopefully this will become clear to you guys if you decide to stay."

     James took Cindy's hand in his and asked her, "What should we do?"

     "We'll leave you alone.  If you really don't want to be heard, you better whisper, because obviously this room is bugged.  And don't think about escaping.  It really won't be worth it to you.  We aren't here to hurt you.  Please, give us time to tell you the story," Jonas said as they left the commoners alone.

     "How did this happen?" James asked.  "How could I be so stupid?  I should have seen this coming.  I just so wanted to show you the cove, the jungle and the lookout, and wasn't paying attention."

     "Let's not lose hope.  We've heard so much bad things about these people.  Maybe we should hear them out.  They don't seem bad.  Cas and Flora could be me and you in a different life.  I'm at least curious to see what's going on.  Maybe this happened for a reason.  Let's just make the best of it and go from there."

     "OK.  I guess we really don't have to worry if thet are contagious, at least."

     The door opened, and in walked the others.  Jonas spoke, "Thank you.  I don't know if I would trust me if I were in your shoes.  This is very brave of you.  Maybe you see it as no-other-option, but if we could start out forgetting our judgments about each other and get to know each other as potential friends, we may come to a common understanding.  Is that too much to ask?"

     They both agreed that it was not too much to ask.

     "Tell me what you think goes on up here.  I'll correct you where you are wrong and fill in the blanks," Jonas said.

     Cindy gestured to James to go first.

     "From what I know, you guys are the ones controlling everything and making everybody else's life miserable.  You've encouraged a social outlet, shark snatching, that is very violent and deadly, thus helping satiate an ancient human desire to watch gladiators fight wild animals and see blood, in order to keep the people content and compliant.  You pump shark snatching into the people's minds through the videoscreens that constantly show the sport.  Then you convince people that you are contagious, and therefore benevolent for keeping yourselves locked in the citadel so that we won't get sick.  You control people who give you fish, energy from all the fish oil, and organic vegetables, all while giving very little in return.  You guys are power-hungry, greedy, selfish, abusive and manipulative.  I think you are evil."

     "Well, sounds like you've thought a lot about us," Jonas said.  "You are right about most if it, but I wouldn't call us evil.  I'll have to tell a bit of our history to have this make sense.

     "Do you know why the Great Crash happened in 2150, the one that essentially wiped out humanity?"

     They both shook their heads no.

     "Our planet was revisted by aliens from another planet.  Homiciders, or Ciders, is what we call them because of what they do.  It wasn't the first time, apparently, that Ciders came to our planet, but it was the most devestating.  By the time they showed up, human cultures were well segregated into their own clans.  Very little communication, at least benevolently, happened between different regions due to the evaporation of the oil they needed to keep the global economy going, and thus in touch and cooperative.  Society broke down like never before.  A new Dark Ages of sorts, except the environment was also devastated, with essentially most things contaminated, and very little wild areas left.  Humans had raped the planet, and it was no longer able to sustain their lifestyle.  It was a dog eat dog world, worse than ever with all the munitions that humanity built up over almost 200 years.  When people start carrying flame throwers or hand grenades because they are so common, and willing to use them on innocent people, you know there is going to be trouble.

     "So when the aliens arrived, we weren't easy pickens, because regions could defend themselves with all their weaponry.  Only the Ciders had fiercer weaponry, and they essentially had every reason to anhilate everyone.  It was not like the old days, when they came and snatched certain tribes with no hassles.

     "In the early days, they posed as gods.  They were able to convince the gullible that they were going to heaven, so they boarded the crafts willingly.  By 2100, people were pretty cynical about religion due to the misuse of it so they knew aliens were no gods, and that getting aboard their spaceship did not seem like a good idea.  There were still some who believed they were angels, or even the Lord, come to save them from Armagadon, which is what the planet seemed like at that point.  It's no wonder they wanted to leave.  But most people chose to fight, or at least died as a result.

     "They didn't just blow people up, either.  They sent diseases, a new type of life form like a virus, that pretty much reprogrammed human DNA.  That was the final blow.  They were able to control human DNA.  That meant no more reproduction if that were the plan, which it was among other things. 

     "Human populations plummeted after 50 years.  There has been some recovery, but our genes have been heavily modified by the Ciders, and we've been trying to recoup that ever since.  That is our goal here at the citadel.  

     "The politics that affect Sharkville are incomprehensible.  I wish I could say there was an easier answer to solve what essentially has been mankinds biggest problem, and downfall, that we are so closely related to chimps."

     "What's a chimp," Cindy asked.

     "That was monkey type animal that was very similar to humans on a DNA level.  They went extinct long ago.

     "The point is, humans, like other primates, and even most animals, have very base desires, which leads to barbaric behaviour when you put a lot of them together.  There are always going to be power struggles to be the dominate individual.  Natural selection has resulted in the bigger and badder ones getting to mate, thus pass on that aggresive trait.

     "Our job isn't to fix that.  We're here to restore our DNA.  Take out what the aliens put in."

     James and Cindy did not know a lot about DNA.  They knew it had something to do with the way their bodies worked.  They knew DNA could go bad and make people sick.  They couldn't comprehend how to fix it.

     "Politics in the citadel can be just as chaotic as out in Sharkville, I assure you.  We may be a bit more civilized, refined and educated, but there are problems here.  We are still animals like you.  We share the same DNA for the most part, except most of our babies do not survive past 2 years, among other issues.

     "We need you to bear us children," Jonas flatly stated.

     "You want us to have a baby to give to you!?" Cindy exclaimed.

     "Well, you don't have to give it to us.  We'd prefer if you took care of it, and many more."

     "Many more!  You want me to be a baby making machine!"

     "Yes.  And we want James to be a sperm donor for our woman."

     James smiled at that thought.  He did not think he'd have a problem with that.  He said, "This doesn't sound all that bad."

     "You'll never see your dad again.  You are willing to give that up?" Cindy asked, upset.

     James remembered that consequence.  "I don't know.  I love my dad, but I don't see him very much as it is.  He's an older guy.  He might not be around much longer, anyways.  If these guys are being honest with us, and we really can raise our children here, why not.  I like kids.  And we can have as many as you can bare giving birth to.  Can you give up your family is the question."

     Cindy sighed.  She loved her family.  She wanted her own.  Did she really want to raise her kids in town?  Did she want her sons to be shark snatchers?  Why would she not want to stay here and have kids with someone she loved?  It actually felt oddly appealing, if not unreasonably idealistic, to be given this opportunity.  How could she turn it down, especially with James seeming ready to say yes and stay.

     "You guys do not have to decide right now.  If you want to get pregnant tonight, we'd be delighted.  Maybe you could just practice.  The bedroom is right there.  Check it out," Jonas suggested.

     They open the door and saw the enormous bed.  The whole room was adorned in a way completely foreign to them.  There was even a bathroom, with a shower and bath, attached to their room.  It was a 20th century bedroom, far different than their's in the 23rd century.

     "You guys will have everything you could possible want, and more.  You will be given things you never knew existed.  You won't want to go back to town, save to see family, because if you did, all you would think about was how could you give up such an opportunity."

     "Why did you pick us out of everybody?  Surely you could capture people in a less elaborate way," Cindy asked.

     "We've been watching you.  We know you more than you may think.  We just needed to wait for the right opportunity.  You set yourselves up.  We didn't know how it would work, but you going on the boat was the best thing for us.  You intentionally left town into a place where people disappear.  You will be missed, but your disappearence will not be suspicious.  We couldn't have planned a better trap," Jonas explained.

     James and Cindy looked at each other, as if everything made sense and was the way it was supposed to be, even if it really was their own fault.

     "If James wants to do this, then I do," Cindy said.

     "We don't have to make this sound like a wedding," Jonas joked.

     "I do, too," James said.

    

 Chapter 7: The Toughest Man

 

    Patrick heard a knock on his door.  He expected to see James on the other end.  Instead stood the harbormaster.

     "Greetins, Ca'pin," he said.

     "Charlie!  Surprise seein' ya here, mate!  What be the word?" Patrick exclaimed.

     "Well, sir, I come to tell ya that yer son has been missin'.  He took the boat out last week, and never returned.  He brought with him a pretty las, Carcharodon John's daughter, to go to the cove.  He never returned."

     Patrick's heart dropped.  "A week ago!  Any scouts try to find him?"

     "No, sir, ya know how it be 'round here."

     Patrick walked to his liquor cabinet and poured them both a drink.  "Anything seem suspicious?  Ya notice any strangers or boats followin' 'em?"

     "Not that I noticed.  They ain't be the only one's who've gone missin'.  I suspect pirates got 'em."

     "James knows better than this.  I can't believe he'd get himself caught in trouble.  I'm gonna go search for him.  You say the cove?"

     "That's what he said.  I'm sure he thought bringing the las there would impress her."

     "So it would.  Does her family know what happened?"

     "Yes, I told them meself.  First time up in their neck of the woods.  Mighty fine dwellings.  Should have become a snatcher.  Maybe I'd be there instead of the harbor."

     "You've got a good job, Charlie.  Thanks for coming to tell me," Patrick said and poured them another drink.

     Patrick headed up to the Carcharodon quarters to talk with Carcharodon John.  He wondered why they did not go search for them.  He was let in to his house, and he felt the worry he shared with them.

     "I be Captain Patrick Joplin, James's father.  Whatdaya know about what happened?"

     "I be John, my wife here's Cathryn.  Last we saw them they came here after working at the farm.  Their bus had been bombed on the way to work that day, but they worked through the day, anyways.  They stopped by to say they were gonna eat dinner at James's house.  I'm sure Cindy spent the night.  We didn't know they'd be sailing the next day until the harbormaster stopped by the followin' day to say they never returned," Carcharodon John said.

     "Did ya send a search party?"

     "No.  I'm not a sailing man myself and we weren't sure exactly where they were.  We've been resigned to the fact that they were abducted by pirates and probably killed.  We don't suspect they'd bring them back to Sharkville if they're still alive."

     Cathryn left the room weeping.

     "I'm going to go looking for them and I want ya to come."

     "Me!?  That can't be.  I puke my life away on a boat.  I'm not going to do that."

     "Yer the greatest Carcharodon alive and yer afraid to get on a boat?!" Patrick exclaimed, laughing.

     "It's a different kind of braveness.  I have brute strength and stamina, but get queezy on a boat.  It's not funny!"

     "I think it's ironic.  This be your daughter we're talkin' 'bout.  I know where they went.  We can at least try looking for them, can't we?"

     Carcharodon John sighed.  He did not want to look not tough.  He realized then, though, that toughness is relative.  That the captain who stood in front of him was tough for being a sailor, for making it to become captain.  He had a newfound respect for men like him, and a realization that value of people to society can be so relative that someone who is bringing food for everyone is less valued than a star like himself who really has nothing productive to offer society any longer.

     He realized that he had grown soft and complacent, so much that he did not want to be uncomfortable searching for his daughter.  He felt guilty about that and knew he, and Patrick, would never forget if he refused to sail on the boat to try to find them.  He knew he had no choice.

     "Cath!  I'm gonna go look for her with the ca'pin."

     "Call me Patrick."

     She walked into the room and said thank you to them.  She fixed them a meal as John gathered supplies he thought they might need.  

     They made their way to the dock, meeting 2 of Patrick's crew members who volunteered to go with them.  They wanted to help Patrick, but they also wanted to meet a star.  They gushed over Carcharodon John when they met him, at least as much as a sailor will let on.

     "I'm gonna warn ya fellows that yer gonna see me get sick on this boat ride!" he looked at them stearnly, as if to warn them they better not make a stink about it.

     "That's OK, Carcharodon John.  We know what that's like, right Mike?" Craig said.

     "Yup.  You'll be OK, Carcharodon John.  Yer doin' it for the right reason."

     The men sailed with the current, Patrick imagining James sailing this way, remembering the time he took his new wife up to the cove.  He smiled at that thought, then frowned realizing what happened to his son.  He could not bare the thought of losing another child of his.

     Carcharodon John was hunched over, quiet, having a horrible time.  He knew it was only a matter of time before he puked up what he just ate, and wished he had more foresight to eat less.  Patrick saw him and called him over.

     "I want ya to steer the boat, John.  It'll help ya feel better.  Keep yer eyes on the horizon.  It'll help calm yer gut."

     Carcharodon John took the helm.

     "Just keep us going yonder.  We'll be coming to a cove soon, and you can direct us to shore," Patrick said.

     Carcharodon John found he was feeling better.  "Maybe I should be Captain John instead of a Carc!" he joked.

     "Aye, ya may find ya like it.  Ya could easily get ya a boat and crew.  Ya could be leading fishing expeditions, looking for giant sharks for the snatchers." Patrick said.

     "Or discovering new lands.  There's a whole world to be reexplored.  Does anybody even do that these days, or are we still to concerned to venture inland?" he asked.

     "No more rediscovering.  Too much contamination.  We are the only habitable place still," Patrick lied.  He did indeed know there were other Sharkvilles on Zland, and other habitations around the planet.  He bit his lip, not wanting to get into that conspiracy.

     "So what's this cove we're goin' to.  You've been there before," Carcharodon John asked.

     "Aye, used to take me wife and me boys there.  It's been a long time since I've been back.  I never suspected James would head out there.  Ya must have a special daughter for him to do so."

     "She be my sweet Cindy.  Fiesty, smart and beautiful.  I trust her judgment in hangin' 'round yer son.  I've talked with him and he's a good head on his shoulders.  But bad things happen to the best.

     "So, you've another son?  What does he do?" Carcharodon John asked.

     "My other son's name is John, too.  He died a decade ago after a serious shark snatchin' injury.  It tore James and meself up, with me wife dying a year before unexpectatedly and without apparent reason.  She was only 45.  She died in her sleep as I laid next to her, not knowing she passed in the night."

     "Sorry to hear that," Carcharodon John said.  "I've lost some of my children, too, though I have quite a litter so that's to be expected.  I'm not even sure how many grandkids I've got these days, or remember their names when I see them."

     Patrick imagined Carcharodon John having kids spread throughout Sharkville, probably some he did not even know existed.  He wondered if he should have had more, now that it seemed he lost his only surviving one.  All of a sudden he felt very alone, and threw up over the ship's edge.

     His crew members were shocked.  They had never seen him get sick before.  They all were silent.

     Patrick turned around and said, "It must have been that greasy fish I had at John's house," knowing it was not what he ate that made him sick.

     "I thought that would be me!" Carcharodon John said, all of a sudden feeling he was still the toughest man around.

 

Chapter 8: Departures and Arrivals

 

     James and Cindy were flying above Zland, north of Sharkville, nearing the mountains they had always seen and wondered at how far they must be.  This was their first airflight, and they were nervous.  Little did they know their dads were sailing into the cove at the very moment.  They were being moved from the citadel for a reason.

     They were in awe at how expansive Zland appeared, and how beautiful its terrain was.  They were also amazed at being able to fly.  They never thought they ever would.

     Next to them were Cas and Flora, whom they had become friends with.  Flora's belly bulged, and Cindy wondered if she were pregnant yet.  She looked at James, who was mesmerized looking out the plane.

     They were on their way to the north Zland citadel, where they would be spending the next month, meeting others who decided to stay after being abducted.  They wondered if they would see anyone they knew.  They now understood that some of the people they knew who vanished may indeed be baring babies for the rulers.

     "How's it feel being pregnant?" Cindy asked.

     "I had been trying to get pregnant for a while, so I'm very excited.  I keep imagining my little baby in my arms."

     "Are you in pain at all?" Cindy probed.  She imagined that having a parasite growing in your belly would be quite uncomfortable.

     "I have some nausea.  I have to be careful what I eat.  I'm just trying to stay healthy, limber and relaxed.  Maybe because it took so long to get pregnant I'm not bothered by the discomfort."

     "Do you know why you couldn't get pregnant?"

     "I bare an infertility gene in my eggs.  I needed to find a compatable sperm to override that gene.  It took a while, but they finally found one for me."

     Cindy looked at Cas.  Flora said Cas was not the biological father.  This stunned both Cindy and James.

     "Cas is my partner,  we'll raise the baby together.  The father was a commoner from the northern Sharkville."

     "I hope he was someone you were attracted to," Flora said.

     "Well, I never met him.  His sperm was used to fertilize one of my eggs outside of my body.  They implanted the new embryo into me."

     James felt some relief, because he could not imagine having another man having sex with Cindy, let alone have another man be the father of a baby she bared.

     "Is that kinda weird for you, Cas?" James asked.

     "Yeah, I'm a little jealous, but at least they didn't mate.  I would not have liked it if I had to let another guy get it on with my lady because my sperm wasn't good enough to make a baby.  I'm excited to be a dad, so this is how it's gotta be for us.  You guys may be different.  We'll know your genetic makeup in week or so.  But do what I did, and at least keep trying to make one.  It's worth the effort," he joked.

     Before they knew it, the flight was over.  They landed on an airstrip in the other citadel, and were greeted by the commander.  He introduced himself as Blair, and said he would show them to their quarters.

     The two couples had adjacent rooms in an apartment that was not nearly as nice as the one they had been staying at, but it was still nicer than their old homes.  They were given an hour to rest, and then told they would have an orientation with some of the others, some of whom were taken from other towns on Zland.

     James and Cindy laid on their bed, still overcome with what had been happening to them.  James held Cindy.  He took another opportunity to get her pregnant, which had become frequent, and very satisfying to them.

     When the time came, they left their room, met Cas and Flora, and headed to the orientation.  They found the others, about 20 others, some with kids, some pregnant.  All seeming at ease.  None looked familiar.

     Blair called the orientation to order and introduced James and Cindy, and a couple other couples taken from elsewhere.   They were given a synopsis of why they were here what the expected outcome would be if all went well.  Some of the others who had kids spoke of their situations, and how much happier they were being out of their horrid situations.  Every one was friendly and supportive, encouraging the new couples to make the most of it.

     Blair made clear it would not all be fun and games, and that he expected them to be productive, starting with learning.  He outlined the classes they were to take.  He thanked them for being cooperative and understanding that this indeed was necessary for the betterment of people.  Then he dismissed them, giving them the afternoon off to explore the citadel and talk with the denizens.

     Cindy began talking with the couple next to them and found out they came from the Sharkville on the west coast.  She asked how things were there, and learned that their town was not much different from the one she and James were from.  A whole new world of possibilities opened up in her head, aware that they really were not alone on Zland.

     "I still can't get out of my mind how crazy this all is," she said to them.  "A week ago my perception of things was completely different, and now I'm having to learn about a whole new reality.  It is so exciting knowing there are other Sharkvilles out there."

     "It is pretty wierd," Beck said.  "I just hope this is all legit, that we aren't being manipulated for their evil purposes."

     "Yeah, I feel the same way," James said.

     Beck continued, saying, "Christy here used to talk about this possibilty, though, as she heard a story from someone who's friend had been abducted but escaped.  Most thought she was crazy, as she kind of was crazy.  Some thought that if she was abducted, they may have let her escape, or kicked her out, just to get rid of her.  But she kept saying they had her baby, and now it seems that's probably true."

     "Hopefully that baby won't be crazy, too," Christy joked.

     Cas and Flora approached the couples and introduced themselves to Beck and Christy.  Flora said, "We thought maybe we could give you all a tour around here."

     The others said that sounded good.

     Down on Zland's east coast docked the boat carrying the search party.  The day was cloudy, but still warm.  They heard the buzzing of jungle life, something foreign to Carcharodon John.

     "What's that sound?  It sound's like a faulty power generator or something," he asked.

     "Jungle life," Mike said.  "That place if swarming with birds and bugs and snakes and things that no one knows are.  I'd hate to get lost in there."  

     The men looked around, searching for signs of their kin.  They walked up and down the coast, focusing above the tideline where there still might be something to find.  Carcharodon John spotted a blanket buried in sand.  He yanked it out.

     "They been here," he said.  "This is Flora's."

       They searched the vicinity, amused be the various calls coming from the trees above them.  They noticed tracks in the sand, but they were indistinct, roughed out by the wind.  

     "I wonder if they hiked up to the lookout.  Me and my sons would always go there when we visited the cove.  It's a long hike up.  Their boat's not around, but by now it would've been stolen.  It may have even been stolen while they were hiking, leaving them stranded." Patrick said.

     They headed to the trail.  They noticed tracks, what looked like two sets, a man and a woman's.

     "I think we should head up there.  Craig, will ya watch the boat?  If ya look up there, at those rocks, that's where we're heading.  It'll take a bit over an hour to get there, so keep your eye out and we'll signal ya.  Use the scope in the boat, and we'll try to comunicate."

     Patrick showed him a few hand signals he might use.  He suggested they might have to explore and spend the night up there if they did not find them at the lookout.  They gathered their things for a hike and made their way up the trail.  Before they new it they were sweating.

     "This place is amazing," Carcharodon John said.  "I can't believe I've spent my whole life stuck in Sharkville because I was afraid of getting seasick."

     "Aye," Patrick said, "I need to be travelin'.  Bein' a sailor's as much about seein' the world as catchin' fish.  That's just the excuse."

     "I always thought that the land was inhospitable.  I can't believe this place is flourishing.  If it's like this here, it's gotta be better elsewhere.  When was the last time people did a survey on land to find out how contaminated and risky it is?"

     "I don't know," Patrick said.  "I'spose maybe not for a while.  Maybe things have changed since then."

     He did not like lying.  He knew that the planet was rejuvenating quickly, and that a lot had been reclaimed by nature over the last 100 years now that there were not many humans roaming the globe.  He knew there were other communities, just as isolated and manipulated as Sharkville.

     The men talked little on their hike.  They were not used to moving so much.  They were fit, but not cardiovascularly.  They trudged up, wiping away sweat, cooling down at every creek they passed.  They were sure James and Cindy had hiked up here, as their tracks were readily apparent in the mud.

     They came to the trail the others had earlier walked up, and noticed all the tracks leading up it, including the ones they had been following.  Those same tracks had gone up and down the trail leading to the lookout.

     "I'll head up to the lookout to see what I can find and signal Craig.  I think we'll be hikin' up that trail," Patrick said pointing up the trail leading to the summit.  "I'll be back within an hour."

     He left the others and hiked to the lookout.  He signaled Craig they would be heading further up.  He then headed down to meet the others.

     By the time he returned, Carcharodon John had been hiking up the trail for about as long as Patrick was gone.  Carcharodon John told Mike he was not going to sit waiting, that he was going to follow the tracks up.  He said he would try to avoid any conflicts, but patted his knife as he bid Mike farewell.

     "I pro'bly woulda done the same," Patrick said on hearing this, as he would have rather hiked up that trail than to the lookout.

     Carcharodon John hiked by himself, wanting to hike up partly to be alone in the jungle.  He felt like he was walking through a dream.  All the sounds, colors and smells excited his senses beyond anything in Sharkville.  He had not felt so alive since last slaying a shark.

     He began to remember his snatching days, of some of the most exciting slayings, including the one that earned him his name.  That was a shark bigger than anyone had ever slain, some say even ever since.  It was a surge of primal energy he now felt similarly walking quietly in a natural cathedral.  He did not have the same fear as facing that shark, but it was fear of the unknown he now walked through that heightened his senses and sent chills down his spine.  At the same time, it was breathtaking and refreshing.  As long as he was not attacked.

     He heard a loud wailing sound in the distance.  He could have sworn it was a human being tortured.  His heart dropped as he rushed forward, determine to stop that sound.  It died down before he found the source.  He held still, having to remember to breath.

     It sounded again, but this time with a "ta ca" tone that repeated rhythmically.  He wondered if it were just a strange forest creature.  He imaging stories his grandma told him, of mystical beings that used to roam the planet, but were gobbled up by sharks.

     He realized it was not his daughter, and he pressed on, occasionally spotting her tracks.  When he reached the summit, he was winded and looked for a place to rest, which happened to be where the others stopped as it was the best place to rest.  He saw their imprints and found where he thought his daughter might have sat.  He noticed the letters J, m, s and what looked like an e between the m and s scrawled in the dirt.  'James.'  He realized his daughter was in love, and would follow him no matter what, even to the summit, and wherever this trail led to.

     When the others reached the summit, they saw the sign Carcharodon John left for them where he rested.  An arrow pointing along the trail.  Patrick marveled at his brilliance at stating the obvious and laughed.  They continued on without resting, glad Carcharodon John left a sign he were still alive on the trail.

     When they found Carcharodon John, he had already uncovered the opening to the underground entrance to the citadel.  He already had gone in to the other end.  He did not go inside the fortress.  He waited for the others to arrive.

 

Chapter 9:  Class in Session

 

     The first class James and Cindy took was about the planet Earth.  They were expected to know about its history, geology, functions, importance and vulnerabilities.  A vast subject that would require years to fully learn.  Today and for the rest of the week they got a crash course to give them the basics.

     They learned it's estimated age, about 4 billion years old.  They learned it was the only habitable planet known out of the whole solar system.  That for whatever reason, life developed on Earth, and the planet never was the same.

     The life itself shaped the planet, changing its atmosphere, temperature and ground conditions.  As life evolved to ever more diverse ecosystems, the planet changed more.  It was a dynamic system which caused a feedback loop.  It was also affected by cosmic radiation, primarily the sun.

     The sun fueled the whole thing, for without it, there would only be life that could survive on the energy the decaying planet produced, such as around thermal vents deep in the ocean.  The sun heated the atmosphere and allowed for photosynthesis.  The revolving planet had a sun to reference what a day was, thus life began to sync up with that cycle.

     The sun also produced solar flares, which affected the planets magnatic field and atmosphere among other things.  It could cause the earth to go into an iceage, or a jungleage, where a tropical atmosphere was widespread.  One day the sun would explode incinerating the planet, but that was a long ways away.  There were other more threatening things to the planet, in any case.

     Humans evolved through natural selection from some ape like creature a relativly short time ago, geologically speaking.  Neanderthals, homo erectus, cro magnum, whatever the evolutionary pathway, Homo sapien sapien, the wise, wise man, dominated the planet, shaping it in ways no other creature had so quickly and so widespread.  Humans did not start civilized society until roughly 10,000 years earlier, but before then they began to shape the planet to their suiting.  Eventually man destroyed the planet, using up its resoureces, poisoning its water, air and soil, making it a place where there were too many people for it to support.  The whole system crashed, and that climax where it really seemed possible that humans could damage the environment enough to adversely affect the ability for their survival only happened a few hundreds years earlier.

     When humans learned to extract energy from fossil fuels, they increased their survival rate and their exploitation of natural resources rate.  They were willing to mine the planet to make toys that were toxic and left a toxic industrial residue.  They would rather have things they thought they needed more than clean water, air and soil, for eventually, that was the true cost of sustaining their lifestyle.  The rest of the planet suffered while modern humans played, but eventually paid.

     The Great Crash was a catastrophe beyond what even violent people could imagine.  People had to fight for survival.  There were not many healthy places left for them to live.  They overran the carrying capacity of the planet, and they paid the price along with all the other life left in the wake.

     Out of the wreckage came the aliens, but that was for another class.

     "It's pretty sad what became of all those species.  I would love to see a lion, or a tiger.  I can't believe elephants.  Those are hilarious with there long trunks," Cindy said.

     "I've seen longer," James joked.

     "Now that there aren't as many humans, I wonder how life is doing on the planet?  I mean, walking through the jungle didn't seem lifeless.  And that's not far from Sharkville.  If life is so dynamic on the planet, and can recover from huge extinctions in the past, I wonder how long it'll take for things to start thriving, and new species to evolve."

     "Probably not as long as you think.  I think this planet was made to thrive.  It can be hurt real bad, but there's some kind of spark on Earth that makes this all possible.  How in the world are we even here?  It's hard to believe we just evolved from some bacteria.  There's gotta be something more, something that drives the ability for DNA to be so adaptable, and seemingly desiring, to keep living, reproducing and evolving.  It's a pretty intelligent design for life to be able to change through genetic mutations and adaptations.

     "I don't think humans can ever destroy that, though people destroyed enough so that even humans almost went extinct."

     "Let's not forget the aliens," Cindy reminded him.  "What about those aliens.  They messed things up pretty bad for humans.  They played God by manipulating our DNA.  If they could create life from scratch by building active DNA, then they really aren't much different.

     "Even the Bible talks about God smiting evil humans.  Whole cities wiped out by the vengeful God.  Maybe the aliens really are that God and they've messed with humans in ancient times.  I'm sure they would seem like God, with their technology.  Maybe this struggle has gone on forever.  I wonder if they'll come back."

     "I don't know.  Remember, we believed what we were told about the rulers being bad.  I'm not sure we can trust them, so how do we know the aliens exist?  Maybe it's something they made up to try to scare us.  Kind of like a boogie man, something scary out there to get you.  Maybe the aliens are just humans.  Some people in a lab messed up our DNA.  Though I wouldn't call them God."

     "Maybe your right, but so far, I like these people and have no reason to doubt them other than the fact that they had to kidnap us and I can't see my family again.  I'm content right now, though.  Their story is plausible. If the universe is so big, there's gotta be other life out there, probably some with technology to travel through space to visit Earth.  Even humans got pretty good at at.

     "Maybe the spark you are looking for, the reason we evolved on the is planet, is because of the aliens.  Maybe we are related to them, long ago left on this planet to have a new home.  Maybe they are the gods every society talked about.  I can see how an alien could be named Zeus or Yahweh.

     "Maybe they aren't looking out for our best interest.  Maybe we are just like fish to them.  Maybe we are family," Cindy said.

     "Family!  Then why would they try to wipe humans out!" James exclaimed.

     "Maybe they didn't.  Maybe the aliens are real, but we're told that they are bad to keep us in line, just like the rulers were said to be.  But if the aliens really are good like we think the rulers are good, then why would the rulers say they are bad.  But if the rulers are really bad and they say the aliens are bad, maybe the aliens are good."

     "This is getting confusing." James confessed.  "I'm having a brain overload thinking about all this stuff.  Life on the farm was so much easier, and there was food.  I'm hungry.  Let's get some lunch."

     They walked to the cafeteria to refuel.

     The search party sat in a cell.  The door opened and a guard walked in pushing a cart with plates of food.  He left without saying anything.

     "Well, at least they finally brought some food.  What, are they trying to starve us?" Carcharodon John said as he grabbed a plate and sat on his cot.

     "At least it doesn't look too bad," Mike said grabbing his.

     Patrick got his plate last without saying anything.  He was still sore from being wrestled to the ground.  He wished he would not have tried to make a getaway when they were first captured.

     He thought at the time that would be his best chance to escape and live.  He heard of the torture that happened at the citadel to those who tried to break in.  What was the point of being tortured if they were going to kill you anyways he concluded and dashed off into the jungle, being outrun and overpowered by the guards.

     "Captain Joplin, please don't do that again.  We don't want to have to hurt you.  If you cooperate, you may find what you are looking for.  If you don't, we'll kill you and your friends, understood?" the head guard spoke as he led them all under the passage and into the citadel.

     The rulers had seen the men sail into the cove.  They figured it would only be time until the fathers came looking for their kids.  They knew Patrick was still at sea, but they assumed Carcharodon John would have come looking for his daughter as soon as he knew Cindy was missing.

     They knew the men would probably find the trail of their kids and find the secret passage into the Citadel.   They were waiting when the men came.  They easily apprehended them save for Patrick's foolish attempt to escape.

     When the men finished their meal, Jonas walked in and introduced himself.  He had waited a day to talk with the men, wanting to wear them out more, and give them a chance to calm down, before meeting them.  Behind him were two big guards.

     "Where are our kids?" Patrick asked angrily.

     "Your kids are fine.  They have chosen to stay here.  You can't see them in person though.  In a moment we will display on that screen them participating in a class we've offered them.  I think you'll see they are not upset at being here.

     "But we can't let you see them in person.  They are not at this citadel," he explained.

     "Not at this citadel!" Carcharodon John exclaimed.  "Then what citadel are they at!  Nobody ever told me there was another citadel."

     "We have another citadel built where there is no fear of contamination.  We don't want to harm our students, risk them getting sick with what is present here.  When their baby is born, it needs to be far from any chance of catching the disease."

     "Baby!" Carcharodon John exclaimed again.  "Cindy's pregnant!?"

     "She may be if she's lucky.  They are planning on raising their kids at the citadel," Jonas explained.

     "How did this happen?  Why are they here?  Why do they want to stay?  Why can't I talk with her?" Carcharodon John asked, flustered.

     "We need your kids to help overcome the disease.  We are working to solve the contagion problem.  

Your children are going to help reseed our community so that we can build a better place for all of us.  They understand that and accept it, and want to be a part of it.  We don't allow communication because there is the risk you will try to convince them to leave, make them feel guilty if they don't         .  We are not going to risk their having seconds thoughts about staying.

     "What we can do is tell them you know they aren't dead.  That is probably their biggest fear, that you'll think they are dead.  I think they will be happy knowing you know they are OK.  If they knew you gave them your blessing and wanted them to stay, that would be the best."

     The two fathers were stunned.  They did not expect to be sitting here talking with the leader of the Citadel about their kids planning to have kids for these evil people.  They did not know what to do.

     The video screen turned on and showed a room starting to be filled with people.  The camera panned on James and Cindy as they walked in.  They were holding hands, laughing as they talked with each other.  Carcharodon John and Patrick looked at each other, and sat back.

     "Recognize them?" Blair said.  "Or do they seem happier than usual?"

     Carcharodon John and Patrick frowned.

     The class settled down, and the instructor began where he left off.

     "So if DNA can be destroyed intentionally, then it must be able to be restored.  The problem is how.  Obviously the aliens have more knowhow.  They are the ones who know what they did and had the technology to make it happen.  Meanwhile, us poor humans who bore the brunt of what they did struggled just to stay alive, let alone have the means to restore our DNA.

     "Every effort was made by rational people to keep and build upon the sciences humans had already discovered.  Scientists had understood a lot about DNA and were able to manipulate it.  That needed to be maintained, so the citadels were built to protect that knowledge, and those that understood it, safe from the hoards.

     "There will always be people who don't care about things like this.  They are more interested in base things and power for their own interests.  There will always be people who want it for selfish reasons.  There will always just be bad people.

     "These are the people who founded Sharkville.  Most people who live there are OK with that.  At least there is no other place for them to live, so there isn't really a choice.  There's no escaping what happens when people dwell with each other, especially when they are poor.  It is hard to manage that and make it prosper, especially in light of the depleted planet and all the other problems.

     "Meanwhile, people fortified themselves in the citadel.  It's a place that was strictly managed.  Everyone worked hard and was expected to be productive.  All the while the intent was to restore human DNA so that we're no longer limited by the contamination that permeates it.

     "Things we're progressing, the fishing fleet was built up, the processing plants we're expanded, the farm was getting more productive.  Any one have any idea what happened next?"

     A few students raised their hands.  The teacher picked James.

     "There was a revolution which scared the rulers, who then squashed the revolution, and in the process developed shark snatching," James said.

     "Yes.  The rulers realized then how precarious the situation was.  They knew history and knew there were injustices in what before had been called Christchurch .  They knew it was only a matter of time before the people who had nothing better to do organized to overrun the Citadel.

     "So they used the classic way to subdue the masses.  They found shark snatching was the ultimate gladiator sport, and they already had plenty of sharks to use.  They built the franchise, and renamed the town Sharkville.  And that's where we are today."

     "Actually, I'm not sure exactly where we stand, but I'm glad it's not in Sharkville," Cindy said, causing the other students to laugh and nod their head.

     "How could she say that?" Carcharodon John said, and put his head in his hands.

     "Where we stand today is in a room full of potential.  Sharkville took your potential, we are here to encourage it."

     "I've had enough," Patrick said.  "We get your point.  They can stay.  Can we leave now, I haven't been home in over a month?"

     "Yes, you can leave.  You can say what you've seen.  We are ready for people to know more about what's going on here.  If they believe you.  You know how rumors are down in Sharkville.  This is nothing worse than what is already said about us.  You can only make it better by telling people the truth.  Just don't incite them.  You know you're kids are going to have a better life, don't spoil that.  Maybe if it all works out, you can see them again.  But for now, let them have the peace of mind they deserve by giving them your blessings on staying.

     "I realize this is upsetting, but it is the way it must be.  You men are admirable, have earned the highest honors in your communities.  We thank you for that and hope you feel you've been rewarded for your work.  You will still be rewarded if all goes as asked.  Will you consent to our request?"

     The fathers looked at each other resigned to Fate.

     "I hope the best for them," Patrick said as he felt a tear about to fall.

     Blair looked at Carcharodon John, who said, "I'll tell my wife she is happier her," feeling cynical and sincere saying it.

     "The door is open.  We'll lead you to the passage.  Don't come back.  Don't tell people how to get here.  Be content knowing you made the best decision considering our circumstances," Jonas said as he tried to shake their hands, but got nothing in return as the men left quickly and quietly. 

                

Chapter 10:     Border Crossing

 

     James and Cindy watched the video of their fathers watching them in class.  They felt guilty for knowing there fathers came all the way to the citadel to try to find them.  They felt relief as they realized that their fathers knew they were still alive.  Cindy cried when her died said he would tell his wife she was happier at the citadel.

     "I feel like I've betrayed him.  Like he feels I can give up all he has given me for people I don't know and who we have never trusted.  I'm afraid at what he may do," Cindy said.

     "I'm sure he'll understand after he thinks about it.  Yeah, they'll be sad we made this choice, but that's part of life.  You can't hold on to things for ever.  Life is dynamic, right?" James said as he touched her shoulder.  "You're dad is one of the toughest guys around.  He'll pull through."

     Cindy hoped James was right.

     "This is the first time we've had parents visit the citadel.  This may have an impact on the people in Sharkville after they tell people what they saw.  Hopefully it won't lead to chaos," Blair said as he turned off the video.

     James and Cindy suddenly felt liberated, like they were no longer hiding anything.  They wished they could have spoken with their fathers, but this was better than nothing.  They were glad their fathers made the effort to try to look for them, and actually left knowing what happened.  Maybe they would see them someday, with their future children.  Maybe they would realize this was all for the better.

     James and Cindy became more at home in their new life.  Cindy became pregnant right away, as after 3 months being there, her belly was bulging.  She wrapped her mind around her baby, talking to it, protecting it, dreaming of life with it.

     She and James came up with names for both a boy and a girl.  They made a list of top choices, deciding they would wait to chose a final one until the baby was born.  In the meantime they referred to it as 'little guy.'

     James and Cindy continued taking classes, spending most their time learning about many scientific things.  They were like sponges.  They had been deprived so long of a nurturing environment like this that they soaked it all up.  They were very grateful for being let in to this community.

     They began to forget their past lives as the little guy grew bigger in her belly and the day of birth neared.  They were not as fit since they were not as active, and since they were both eating better food, they began to put on weight.  They felt healthier than ever, not feeling the drag that living in Sharkville forced on their heads.  They felt reborn, like they had left hell to enter heaven.  They hoped to never leave.

     Cindy's labor was strenuous, but the baby was born without complication after some effort on her part.  He was an 9.5 pound baby, bigger than any that had been born in a while in the citadel.  The new parents settled on calling him Sampson.

     Cindy stopped attending classes to be with the baby full time, while James continued his studies.  Cindy would ask him what he learned after a day at school, and that gave James a chance to recount the lessons, further embedding in his head what he was taught.  Cindy also was able to learn a bit from this.  James was excelling beyond expectations, and soon was teaching some of the newcomers who had arrived.

     Sampson continued to get bigger and when he was about 10 months, Cindy learned she was pregnant again.  She felt a burden, not sure if she could handle giving birth to another baby, let alone take care of 2 kids.  The others were excited, and assured her she would have as much help as necessary.

     Soon Mary was born, and again Cindy became pregnant.  She gave birth to twins that time, Mason and Alex.  4 babies became 5.  By the time Sampson was 12, he had 8 siblings.  Plus, Cindy was pregnant again with another set of twins.  One could hardly keep track of them all, let alone their names.  That never bothered the parents, as they were proud of their litter and liked being a mom and dad.  They had fulfilled the rulers expectations, and were given special privelages as a result.

     James was given a seat on the governing Council, having been elected spokesman for the commoners.  He was allowed to vote on issues, giving voice to the views of people brought in from the outside.  He was one of seven, so he wielded some power.  He enjoyed the status, and the respect others paid to him.

     One of the privelages of being on the Council was having security clearance to citadel headquarters where he was able to interact with a lot of influential people.  They knew he was an intelligent and rational person, not quick to judge.  They listened to him and often took his advice.  They also told him important things in order to get his opinion.  They trusted him and did not think of him as a commoner anymore.

     He was able to keep tabs on his dad, and sometimes was able to get a message out to him, showing him pictures of his family, assuring him that things were alright.  He was able to get messages out to Cindy's family, although a few years earlier Carcharodon John had died.  His death was marked by widespread processions through Sharkville, and even some people in the citadel paid tribute, touching Cindy.

     "I wish I got to see him again before he died," Cindy said to James when she heard the news.  "I wish he could have met his grandkids."

     Carcharodon John had told people what happened to Cindy, but he kept it in a positive light.  Compared to what he used to think about the rulers, his tone towards them had changed, and that affected the people he talked with.  His view changed the tension between the commoners and the rulers, although there were always those who hated the rulers, or were jealous of their power, so they kept up the fight against them.

     Patrick and Mike likewise spoke about the rulers.  Patrick had not been subversive minded, appreciating his lot in life, having the ability to escape the confines of Sharkville and see a lot more of the ocean world than most people.  He always wanted to sail farther than he had before, but was restricted in his ability to cross the ocean borders the rulers had strictly established.  He had crossed the line a few times, deep at sea, to avoid storms, but never with the intent to explore what was forbidden.  Mike was impressed with Patrick and Carcharodon John's attitude, that he no further felt antagonistic towards the rulers.

     When James had proved his loyalty enough to his new people, they granted an exception to their rule of no crossborder travel.  There had been talk of revealing the other Sharkvilles existence to each other.  Both Patrick and Carcharodon John spoke of it to people after returning from the citadel.  It was common knowledge that there were other denizens of Zland, but no one knew where it was or if it really existed.

     There had been attempts by people to sail north to try to find it.  No one ever returned who crossed the border.  That could either be because they made it and did not want to, or could not, come back, or because the were killed, people thought.  The reality was no one made it to the other Sharkville alive because they were hunted down and killed.

     The rulers were mostly passive towards the commoners, except if rules were broken.  No one was allowed to cross the border to try to explore.  Anyone who did would be exterminated.  

     The rulers operated an all encompassing security system around Zland.  Cameras and sensors were everywhere.  When someone was spotted, either guards or unmanned crafts would hunt the intruders down.  The robotic aircrafts always made their kill, firing missiles, bullets or worse weapons to tear apart their victims.

     James had convinced most of the Council that it was time to let people travel to and fro.  He argued that, for one thing, alllowing people the freedom to travel, even if on a limited basis, would free people's minds from the constraints of being confined.  There was a lot of stress just living in Sharkville, but if people felt they had an option, even if it was not necessarily better, that would ease some of the tension, thus maybe solve some problems.

     He also thought that by allowing the communities to mix, there would be more genetic variation occuring as people would inevitably mate with those in the other towns.  They could continue abducting people and in controlled circumstances increase that variation, as was done with him, plus have the benefit of variation within the towns.  He argued it was against nature to confine any being, humans included, and that vigor would increase if they allowed people to roam more.

     He was granted permission to arrange for his father to sail a small fleet of fishing vessels into the northern Sharkville, bearing a full load of seafood as a symbol of renewed connections.  Patrick was excited to be part of this.  Instead of bringing his load to his Sharkville, he sailed with 2 other ships to the other town.

     "Cap'in!" a crew member exclaimed, "We've spotted a drone coming from shore!"

     The captain went out on deck and saw the unmanned aircraft heading their way.  He ordered men to ready the cannons.  He knew he had little chance of defending his boat, but he was not going to be sunk without a fight.

     They continued sailing and the drone flew behind them, tailing them as they made their way to the town.  They were unaware that the drone was there to protect them, not scare them.  Watching the video images displayed from the aircraft was James in the control room in the citadel's security center.

     He asked the attendent to zoom on the The Galeocerdo's deck.  He spotted his dad looking up at the aircraft, and noticed the cannons pointing towards the aircraft.  He wished he was able to tell his dad why the craft followed them.  He hoped nothing unfortunate would occur between the boat and plane.

     The vehicles traveled for a couple hours until finally they spotted other ships on the ocean heading to the northern Sharkville.  It was a familiar scene and they felt home calling them.  They noticed the drone was flying back to base, and they were glad they were not shot at.  They had thought that maybe the whole thing was a trap, but now were feeling assured.

     On shore a crowd had gathered.  They were excited, many skeptically, to know that ships from another town were coming.  They began waving and hollering when they realized the boats they saw were not from their own town.  The men on board got chills as they realized what this meant.  Patrick was proud to be a part of it. 

 

Chapter 11:  Ciders

    

     James was allowed to go to the docks, disguised as a commoner.  He let his beard grow a bit, instead of shaving it, to blend in better.  This was his first time being in this Sharkville.

     He was not surprised to see how similar it was to his old town.  A lot of poor people, a lot of trash, and stinky.  He was reminded how glad he was to not live in such a place any longer, that his kids were flourishing, and that he was respected by his peers.  That was a different world from what he now walked through.

     He saw The Galeocerdo and smiled, remembering all that word meant to him.  The pain of losing Willy and Finn was still there, but was buried beneath his new life and memories.  He felt a sense of detachment to it all, like it was the way it was supposed to be, no longer a tragedy.  He knew he would not be who he was if not for his past life, including all the bad.  Each of those experiences led to where he was now, walking up the boat ramp to see his father.  He was glad he was able to arrange for the cross-boarder exchange and was now allowed to visit him.

     He saw familiar faces and heard cheers as some of the crew hugged him.  This was just as exciting for them as him, he realized.  He wanted to tell them that as a Councilor he helped make this happen, but he bit his tongue.  He did not want to seem too proud or brag too much, even though sailors brag about as much as anybody.  He reserved himself as they led him to his dad's cabin.

     Patrick stood and approached his son when he walked through the door.

     "Aye, lad!  Good job gettin' us here!" Patrick exclaimed as he hugged him.  He had already proudly told the crew that James got them permission, anyway.

     "How ya doin, Captain Daddy!"

     "Aye, yer more of a daddy then I am, son, though bein' one's taken some of yer youth, I see. Will ya be stayin' long?"

     "As long as you're docked here.  I'm not going to sea with you," he said as he let go of his father's hug.  "But Cindy can handle the house while I'm down here.  I'm not in a hurry to leave, Pa."

     "What do ya do there, anyway?  Ya tending herds of sheep?" Patrick joked.

     "Sometimes, actually.  We're expected to do what's necessary.  My kids included.  It's not all fun and games, though more than down here in Sharkville.  It's a society that time didn't forget, Pa.  It's what humans should have created if they had worked together instead of competing and squandering everything."

     "Fishin's work, son, but I don't need to lord over people to do it."

     "It's not what you think, Pa.  The rulers do what they need to do to help those who they can help, but you know there are too many who won't even help themselves.  Why should they be given a free ride?  Do you think the rulers should take care of everybody or try to be realistic in what they can do, while also enjoying a good life?"

     "They manipulate people.  They may seem good, but they are just as selfish as anybody and are willing to hurt others to stay up there.  You think that's right?"

     "I don't know, Pa, but I do what I think is right.  I can't control everybody, but from what I can see, people are just and kind and want to work to make things better.  I like being there," James said.

     "Aye, I can't blame ya.  I'm just glad yer OK, were able to get me here and visit me.  It could be worse."

     The men enjoyed their visit as they relaxed, knowing they might not see each other for a while, if ever again.  James told them he hoped to convince the Council to allow exchanges of people between the towns.  He felt the times were changing and that sooner or later there would be a lightening of rules.  For now though, there would be a sharing of seafood caught, so potentially Patrick would be sailing back in the future with another load.

     As a Councilor, James still only knew as much as he needed to know.  The Council made some decisions, but not all of them.  There was a higher power structure that still was in charge.  James suspected such, but really did not bother to inquire about or challenge it.  He was glad what he had.

     After the first cross border seafood delivery, the rulers planned for some commoners to move to the other town.  A lottery was drawn to chose those who would move, or at least it was setup to show some sort of fairness and authenticity in the process.  In reality, it was a show, but people willingly submitted their names with the hope of being chosen to be allowed to move.

     The people who would travel were hand-picked, and they turned out to be the least desirable of the commoners.  No one suspected this, but many who stayed were glad to see some of the people board the boat and leave.  Some people felt an instant relief, as all of a sudden someone who was not very cooperative, or was a criminal, was gone, presumed to be moving to a new community to prey upon, where they would not be suspected as being bad since they would have a clean reputation.

     The ships left port from both Sharkvilles, as there would be a one for one exchange.  1000 people from each town sailed into the unknown, excited to be a part of the exchange, which was not advertised as such.  No one save the rulers knew that both towns were participating in the exchange.  The commoners assumed they were loosing the burden of 1000 of their worst people.  They would not have wanted to know 1000 people, some of the same caliber, were heading their direction.  They would never know, it turned out.

     People on the boat noticed the aircraft flying towards them from above.  They knew about drones and were afraid at what that meant.  Some began to panic, thinking they were set up and were going to be shot and sunk.  They were not far from the truth.

     The aircraft coming down was not a drone.  It was a lot bigger, and there were more than one of them.  When the crafts were several hundred yards above, they sent out a sonic pulse which knocked everyone unconscious.  Out of the craft flew smaller crafts, which landed on the water near the boat.  They pulled up alongside it, allowing the occupants to board the boats.

     In the control room at the citadels security center sat the attendent, watching the scene being monitored by a drone flying over the boats.  He watched the aliens load every person onto their crafts.  He felt chills, knowing he could fire at them but ordered not to.  His supervisors and the citadel commander stood behind him, watching the scene unfold.

     "It's a small price to pay," the commander reminded people.  "This could turn into a big war if we fight back.  I don't like paying ransoms, but the threat they face would be enormous if we didn't let this happen.  At least we are getting rid of some of the worst people."

     "How long do you think people will let this happen before wondering where everybody went?" a Council member asked.

     "That's the million dollar question.  I guess we just do it one load at a time, and hope the Homiciders decide they have enough," the commander said.

     "I just hope this isn't all for nothing, that the Ciders won't decide to come get everybody.  We'll have no one left to fight back," the attendent said.

     That was a bleak thought, and a potential reality, but an all out fight against the aliens they knew would not be good.  At least this bought them time, even if it was self-defeating.  They might just be giving it all away without a struggle.

     Eventually James found out about the human ransom and was appalled.  He could not believe 2000 people were sent out to be kidnapped, and another load was being prepared.  He understood the reason behind it.  Maybe it was for the right reason, but it seemed so wrong.  He knew this would not have happened if he did not push for opening the border.  He felt incredibly guilty, that it was his own fault.

     None of the commoners had a clue that aliens had abducted their own, with the consent of the rulers.  They were oblivious and excited for another opportunity to move.  Thus another load was shipped out, and the aliens abducted them.  James was allowed to witness what occured.

     "There's gotta be a way to stop this.  Are we just going to keep loading people up?  When are we next?" James said exasperated.

     "We have been thinking of way to stop this.  A direct offensive against them is foolish.  We risk it all if we try that," the commander said.

     "Someone needs to get on their ship and blow it up," James said.

     "Yeah, we've thought of that, but no one has volunteered.  It's a suicide mission, with big potential to fail and backfire, let alone get the opportunity to do," the commander said.

     James thought of that as he watched the final humans being hauled up to the mothership.

     "Do we have any weapons that could even destroy it?" James asked.

     "It would require a huge explosion.  They only thing that would be small enough to sneak on with enough explosive power to blow it up would be a nuclear weapon, but then we risk fallout," a Council member said.  "I think our best bet is to do to them what they did to us: introduce a virus to mess with their DNA."

     "Is that possible?" James asked.

     "We have been working on that for a long time.  We were able to decode their chromosomes back during the Homicider War.  Theoretically, we know what to do.  We've just have never been able to test to see if it would work on a live Cider.  We need to find a way to introduce it to them, without them knowing it.  They never make physical contact with us, only video transmissions, so somehow we need to get someone to make contact with them.  Someone does need to get on their craft and somehow get the virus into their bodies on a big enough scale to make it work, stick and make them go away and not want to bother us again.  It's almost impossible, even if we did have the right virus we know would work," the commander said.

     "What about inocculating the next group of people they abduct?  Could we get enough of the virus on them to make it infiltrate the aliens?" James asked.

     "It may be worth the effort to at least try," the Commander said.  "I don't see any other option to try to fight them.  This will be our priorty.  Councilor, will you facilitate this?"

     "With pleasure," he said and left, determined to assemble a team to carry it out.

     "If this doesn't work, Commander, I want to try to get on that ship with a nuke.  I have a bad feeling we may be in big trouble otherwise," James said.

     "I understand and feel the same way.  I appreciate your offer.  Let's see how this goes, and I'll keep in mind what you are willing to do."

     The citadel scientist worked around the clock coming up with a way to mass produce quickly the virus they developed to attack the Homicider's DNA.  They also thought of ways to get it into the aliens.  They were unsure what the aliens did with the humans.  They assumed they ate them, which meant that if the virus was in the people, that would be consumed and hopefully infect the aliens.

     They might not eat the people, though.  Maybe they were used as slaves.  Maybe something beyond their comprehension.  In those cases, they wondered how would the virus infect the aliens.  They could not tell the people about the virus, let alone the aliens, so they could not count on them to participate in directly infecting the aliens.  It might be that this plan would not work.  The virus may not be virulent enough to make a difference.  The virus might never actually make it in to the aliens' DNA, let alone cause enough or any damage.

     James thought of all this, until finally confiding to Cindy what he knew.  She was stunned at what the aliens did and at the rulers for letting it happen.  She almost passed out when James told her he volunteered for a suicide mission to blow up their ship if they did not find a way to defeat the aliens.

     "There's gotta be another way.  There's gotta be someone else.  Why does it have to be you?" she asked.

     "I'm a commoner.  Not many people up here look like commoners.  They would be detected by the aliens.  I'd make it on to their ship without much hassle.  I can't think of anyone else better suited to do this."

     "How do you know you'll even make it on to the ship alive?  You said yourself that they knock everybody out before loading them up.  How do you know they survived after being knocked out?"

     "I don't.  But we do know how to prevent being knocked out.  I would hide somewhere on the ship, protected from the sonic blast wearing a special suit.  I'll then crawl out and pretend to pass out.  I may even be able to take a mild sedative to mimic being unconscious."

     "How do you plan to get the bomb up there?  Don't you think they'll search you?"

     "I don't think they'll search me.  The bomb is pretty small.  I can hide it under my shirt.  The aliens don't appear to be searching the people they load up.  Maybe they strip them and search them on the ship.  Who knows what goes on there.  But if I can get up there with a bomb, it can be detonated either manually, remotely, or with a timer."

     "I don't like this at all.  You want to leave us alone without you?" she said weeping.

     "I don't like this, either.  I'm terrified at the thought.  I don't want to leave you.  But I don't want you to be abducted, either.  Perhaps the Ciders will leave us alone at the citadel, content to have us facilitate the human abductions, but sooner or later, they will probably come for us.  This threat is too real to just sit idly by.  We need to be proactive and take the fight to them.

     "There is a chance this won't happen.  Maybe we'll get the virus to infect them and take them down," James said, as he held Cindy, taking a chance to make another baby.

    

Chapter 12:  On Board

 

     There had not been a request for more humans for several months.  Just when they thought the aliens had all they wanted, they demanded more.  They were given a week to find new travelers.

     The lottery was announced and people rushed to be a part.  They were told that there had been some infections from the last people to those in the other Sharkville, so they were required to take a vaccination, which contained the Homicider virus.  The virus was also spread all over the passengers, their belongings and the boat.  They wanted there to be us much virus around when the aliens boarded the ship to take the people away.

     The scene played out as before, with the aliens knocking out the people then abducting them.  There did not seem to be any awareness on the aliens part.  When they communicated with the rulers a week later, the Council feared they discovered they were contaminated and were either warning them or declaring a truce.  They were stunned when they were told to load up more humans without a word of any infection from the last batch.

     James was told this, and his heart dropped.  Could he actually go through with his idea, become a suicide bomber and try to nuke the Homiciders?  He did not know how to tell Cindy.

     There have always been people who make tremendous sacrifices to insure other people will have a better life.  Surely life would be better if more people did so, James thought.  Maybe if everybody had made small sacrifices during their lives in order to help other people, then he would not be having to do a spectacular mission.  Maybe the planet would not have been destroyed, that humans would not have been at the verge of extinction, that aliens may have respected them more, if people did not mostly act like selfish animals and ignore the affects of their actions.

     He wondered if his sacrifice was worth it.  Maybe humans got what they deserved, and that the Ciders should have their way with them.  Maybe the aliens really did work for God, did his bidding.  Maybe God smote humans for a reason.  Maybe the stories in the Bible of large scale killings by the Lord were true and were done for a reason: that humans had too much power for their own good.  They were able to develop nuclear weapons and they were willing to use them.

     Maybe God did fear humans, so chose to periodically send his angels down to reign fire on the evil people, sinning in decadence while the Garden of Eden was exploited and destroyed.  Maybe God had decided enough was enough and culled out the wicked in order for the rest of His creation to live.  He sacrificed humans, His own declared children, in order so that others may continue.  Maybe aliens were just Gods' angels.

     Now James was faced with using powers that surely would have been seen as divine 2000 years earlier.  He would play God, anhilating the ship if he was successful, and brave enough to try, getting a nuke aboard the ship.  And he would not survive that decision.  Would God let him nuke His angels?

     Cindy had not forgot about the plan James told her about, so when she told him she went cold from feeling how could he chose to leave us, then burst into tears realizing James was willing to sacrifice himself for their sake.  He held her tight for a while as the older kids began to realize why they were upset.  Sampson thought it was cool, not knowing he would never see his dad again if he went through with his plan.

     "When's it going to happen," Cindy asked.

     "In 5 days.  The lottery's already ended.  Let's make the most of it, OK?" he replied.

     Not many people get to count down the number of days they have to live.  That feeling is tremendous.  Every last moment is precious.  All of their senses were exposed, not wanting to miss anything, except the pain that was in their heart.

     Days became one more sleepless night, and then hours.  People started to board the ship.  They brought their valuables with them.  Those who paid attention noticed that James carried nothing.  Nothing to steal from him, they thought.  He wore a heavy jacket, glad it was a cool fall day.  He unconciously would carress the bomb strapped to his belly, feeling as if he had an anti-baby inside, that which snuffs out life in an instant.

     His family had to wait in the citadel, as no one in town knew them, so their presence would seem unusual and not worth the suspicion.  They were allowed to watch James from the images broadcast in the security center control.  They were let in as this was indeed a momentous occasion, and they wanted to let his family see him as long as they could.  Only the little kids were unaware of the significance of it.  They eventually were taken out as they were distracting Cindy.  They got to play in the gym down the road, something more pleasurable then seeing a bunch of sad adults.

     Sampson sat near his mom, who had tears in her eyes as the boats left the dock.  She put her arm around him.  He let her.

     "Mom, I'm really proud of dad," he said.  "He is going to be a legend someday."

     That made Cindy cry more.

     About an hour later, they were alerted that the drone spotted the alien aircraft.  Their hearts dropped as the video from the drone aircraft came on the screen.

     "That's a big ship!" Sampson said.

     Everyone else was silent.  The craft sent out a sonic boom, and they saw people on the boat drop.  They knew they could not see James, so they wondered if he was alright.  They watched the people being loaded up.  They saw James being carried out of a cabin, obvious because of his heavy orange coat.  He wore that color to be spotted easier.  They sighed as the final people were loaded and the ship soared away.

     "How are we going to know what happened?" Sampson said.  "Are we going to be able to see it?"

     The commander walked up to him and put his hand on his shoulder, saying, "We've seen all we'll be able to see.  Your dad did something no one else in this room, no one else I know, would do.  We won't know if he carries out his plan.  We'll only know when the aliens come back what happened.  If they don't come back, you can write the story of what happened."

     Sampson smiled oddly, sad at the prospect of what was going to happen, but glad to be able to tell his dad's story.  He had a strong feeling of pride sweep over him, and decided that day to do something as brave as his dad.  He just needed a mission to prove his worth.

     James opened his eyes, confused as to where he was.  The sedative he took knocked him out.  He lay quietly without moving, trying to figure out where he was and what was going on.  There were other people around him, all of them still.  He did not risk being exposed, so he laid still for a while, trying to hear if there was anyone around him.  He heard the drone of the craft, and a low hissing of an air circulating system.

     Suddenly, he heard a door open and footsteps walk by.  They stopped.  James was afraid that by trying to be frozen still, he would move and alert whoever walked by that someone was alive.  He feared everyone was dead thus he better look so, too.

     The footsteps resumed towards the way they came.  The door opened and shut.  The hiss and low vibration was all the sound that remained.

     James did not dare to move.  Surely they must have camera's watching the prisoners.  He fell back asleep eventually, lulled by the drone, soothed by the somewhat active sedative.

     When he awoke, he saw people awake, most sitting, some pacing, no one talking.  James sat up rubbed his head and said, "What happened?"

     "No one knows," spoke someone.

     Another person said, "All I remember was a force knocking me down.  My head hurts, though, so either I bumped it falling down, or it really just bashed it in."

     "My head hurts, too," someone else said.

     "We've been kidnapped," James said, aware it was obvious, but trying to take a leadership role.  Since he was the only one who knew what happened, and what he planned to do, he felt the least he could do was try to help people make sense of it and perhaps organize a mutiny instead of him needing to blow the nuke to stop the aliens.

     "Who'd wanna kidnap us?  We're a bunch of ruffians.  I'm no good to someone else," a prisoner said.

     They bounced ideas around, James not revealing the truth.  He did not want to appear to know too much.  They all stopped talking when they heard the door open.

     A couple of guards walked in, followed by a man who was the leader.  They walked past all the people caged in the cells, counting how many were awake, beginning to get an idea of their hostages.

     Someone yelled out, "What's going on here?  Why are you holding us hostage?"

     There was a mumble of discontent from the prisoners.

     James blurted out, "You work for the aliens?"

     The leader stopped walking.

     "You are being taken to North America where you will work in a labor camp.  Those that aren't fit to labor should notifiy us of your skills, as those who are useless will be killed.  Your rulers have made a deal with us, or should I say, aliens.  They have allowed us to take you prisoner.

     "We don't work for the aliens.  There are no aliens, but your rulers think there are.  They didn't just give you up, but were coerced into giving you away.  Fear of the Ciders still runs deep.  It's a great way to get what you want," the leader said.

     James was furious.  No wonder the virus did not work.  These were just humans, doing what humans do best, exploit one another.

     "We'll be landing in an hour.  You all will strip down and be disinfected on your way out.  Any trouble makers will be beaten and killed," the leader said as he left the guards behind to conduct the disinfection.

     James stood, feeling the bomb under his shirt.  This was not the way it was supposed to be.  He realized, though, that alien or not, the jailers were just as bad.  He either could remove the bomb and save everybody, give them a chance to live longer, though under strenuous conditions, or blow it all up, and hopefully end their incursions into Zland.

     Sampson sat at the control room console.  The attendent put on that days shark snatching event.  His mom did not let him watch the games often, though she had told Sampson her father was a great Carcharodon.  He watched the snatchers, some getting maimed, most slaying their sharks.

     He turned to the attendent and asked, "Can I watch my dad's snatching of the great white"

     "We got everything archived.  What's the search words I should use," the attendent said.

     "Carcharodon John great white 2232."

     He typed it in and the video he was looking for showed up.  He had never seen it before.  He excitedly pressed play.

     The announcer talked about Carcharodon John, how he was the biggest snatcher the sport had ever seen.  They gave his stats: 7 small great whites, 10 medium bull sharks, 8 medium tigersharks, among others.  He had never been bitten, only bruised.  No sharks survived an encouter with him.

     Carcharodon John climbed in the pool, enticing the crowd to cheer for him, "Carcharodon John! Carcharodon John!"  That brought a smile to Sampson's face.  He saw the shark swim down the tunnel to the pool and his smile faded.

     "That's a big shark!" he said as he turned to his mom, who from a few yards away was watching him watch the video.  She nodded, afraid to encourage him.

     The 18-foot, 2300-pound great white shark dropped into the pool with a large splash and swung its tail towards Carcharodon John who fell backwards.  He got up quickly and observed the shark, trying to learn it enough to predict how it might react.  All sharks had the same instincts, but they all responded diferently in the pool.  He took his time.

     He approached it from the side after it calmed down and lunged forward into it's gill, missing the eye he aimed for.  The shark leapt sharply, knocking Carcharodon John down.  The pool was turning pink from the sharks blood.  The spear stuck out from the sharks side as it swam in circles.

     He pulled out his machete, a thick and super sharp sword he planned to slice off its fins with so as to make the shark lose the ability to steer.  He stalked it and was able to slice off a fin.  The shark spun around and lunged for Carcharodon John, appearing as if he had been bitten.  Carcharodon John got up, bloody, but it was the shark's blood, not his.  He then sliced off the other fin.  He was going to take his time, slicing the shark bit by bit.  He knew this would only excite the crowd more, and that's why he was there.

     Carcharodon John liked the status of being the toughest snatcher around.  He was an aggressive showman, born to fight and be in the limelight.  This was his calling and now this was his crowning moment.  When the shark was diced up enough to make his point, he knifed its eyes.  The shark blindly bobbed as best it could, trying to ward off further attacks.  Sampson began to feel sorry for it and in his head told his grandpa to kill it.

     As if on command, or knowing when enough is enough, Carcharodon John climbed on it and began spearing it all over.  As the shark twisted, Carcharodon John rode it untill finally it went limp laying on its side.  There had never been such a graphic shark snatching and the crowd loved it.  Carcharodon John would be forever ingrained in the heads of those who saw it that day.  He would be the greatest shark snatcher ever to them.

     When the video ended, Sampson turned to his mom and said, "I want to become a shark snatcher!"

     "We'll talk about that later," his mom replied, unsure if he was serious, but not wanting to encourage him if he was.

     Her thoughts went back to James, who still had not detonated the bomb.  He got it ready though, trying to conceal what he was doing without looking suspicious.  He did not want to push the button.  As more and more people were stripped down and led out, James began to sweat and almost pass out.  He sat down to catch his breath.

     He took time to look at the people who would die if he pressed that button.  No one was happy.  He remembered that these really were the worst of who was left in Sharkville.  Maybe he should just let them go back and get more, and help alleviate the burden all these useless people had in Sharkville.  Maybe they were being done a favor by taking away the lowlifes.

     If the ship went back, everyone would know he failed.  The prisoners would have horrible lives anyways.  If he took off the bomb and stripped, they would find it and know a spy was on board.  They would probably kill, or at least torture, everybody.

     The guard pointed to James and told him to get up.

     "Go to Hell!" James said as he pushed the button.

     The guard walked over, pulling out a baton, and said, "I've been waiting to beat one of you up!"

     The guard cocked his baton to swing at James's head when the device kicked in and exploded.

     No one in Sharkville heard the explosion.  The aliens never returned.  Sampson wrote his dad's story, calling it "James Joplin's Journey," embellishing it as a young imaginative boy will do.

 

    

 

Episode IV:  The Lone Malone Leaves

©2011 Garrett Clevenger

 

Chapter 1:  Jake Sweeny, aka The Captain

 

     The Captain, as he was known, looked down at the poor man on the ground below him.  It was not the first time he put someone in this position.  He knew it would not be the last.

     "So what did I tell you about neglecting to pay your dues?" he asked.  Silence was the response.  His minion understood what that meant and kicked him in the back again.

     After the man yelled in pain, he choked out, "If I didn't, I'd pay another way."

     "You've messed up the order of things, now didn't you?  Your kids are gonna wonder why you can't walk.  They're gonna have to pick up your slack, aren't they?  Wonder if they'll neglect to pay too, after seeing you," the Captain said, smirking.

     He was a typical thug, the top shark in his realm, and he did not get there without working at it.  Fortunately for him, the work came natural, as did finding minions to do his dirty work.  Funny how respect for authority causes people to act dastardly, and do whatever told to get their good tidings.

     His racket was an ancient one.  Demand payment for protection, and if payment was not made, make them wish they had protectors.  Job security through direct action and full frontal assault.  Since other thugs demanded the same thing, people less inclined to violence had to eventually find someone to protect them.  They would have to pay someone, so why not the Captain, who insured his services were well worth it, so he liked to believe.

     The Captain, or Jake Sweeny as his mom knew him, was not always so regarded.  He earned his advancements just like any mob boss had to, by working the streets and working his way up to authority.  Someone had to be Captain, and eventually it became him.

     Perhaps under different circumstances, he would be the one needing protection rather than being the boss.  His dad had died attempting to shark snatch, and his mom was not around very much.  Jake grew up on the streets, always willing to go farther than the next boy.  He was groomed by a boss much appreciative of his skills, or lack of remorse, that allowed him to be counted on when a point was needed to be made.

     He realized at a young age that it was connections with the right people that made all the difference.  Any kid could be as rough as Jake.  He was not the only one to break legs, gouge eyeballs, or even castrate in the rare and dramatic circumstances, making a point for his Boss and eventually himself.  As Fate would have it, he found himself working for the right boss at the right time.  He always understood it could have been someone else if not for good fortune working in his favor.

     When he was 25, his abilities were well suited for a particular incidence.  He looked back often to that episode, knowing that was the turning point in his rise to be Captain.  At least this was they way he remembered it:

     "Jake, you know the Malone brothers've been tryin' to take our south side.  They've crossed the line killing some of our friends.  I need you to stop them, for good," his Captain said.

     "Yeah, I've already imagined how to do it," Jake said.

     "That's what I love about you, Jakey.  You take your work home with you.  That's what this job needs.  It's in your blood.  You'll be where I am someday, and I want you to remember me as being there for you."

     "I'll let you know when it's done," he said, his confidence boosted by his boss.

     The Malones were an up and coming racket.  Two brothers bore more strength than one boss, though they also had to compete with themselves, so that was not necessarily an advantage in all situations.  Jake understood that and determined to use that to his advantage.

     What better tool to get between two men than a woman?  The right woman for him was one who really looked out for herself, and knew that James would treat her better than the Malones would.  Luckily, James knew the perfect woman.

     "James Sweeny, I've been waiting to see you," Eve said as he strolled into her parlor.

     He patted her butt as he hugged her.  He was tempted to stay longer than anticipated.  He decided to say his piece before going that route.

     "I've got a favor to ask of you, sweetie.  You know the Malones?" he asked.

     Of course she knew the Malones.  They killed one of her favorite johns besides Jake.  She loved them all, in more than one way, so felt anger towards the killers for taking one her best clients.

     "What about those scumbags?" she scowled.

     "I want you to set them up.  Help me take them down.  When I go up to the top, you'll come with me.  In more than one way," he said, biting her neck after saying so.

     "Hmm, I like the sound of that.  What's your angle?"

     "Make them kill each other by making them jealous."

     It was so simple it seemed preposterous.

     "Just like that?" she said skeptically.

     "You just go for one.  Then the other.  Give them what you got.  They'll want more, and will take each other out to get it.  Leave the details to me.  You just don't hold anything back.  Start with the younger brother.  He's more volatile.  He's more capable of making the first move against his brother, and when he does, the older brother will take him out.  With one brother left, I'll take him out, when he's mourning realize what he's done."

     The tricky part was the details.  How was she going to meet one, then the other, without rousing suspicion, being actually able to get through the barriers to them.  Women, though, when seductive enough, can break through most things if they put effort towards it.  Especially if they know the rewards are high enough.

     Eve liked the idea, and decided to practice her seductive skills on Jake, who readily agreed to participate.

 

Chapter 2:  Tools

    

     Eve found out where to find Charlie Malone, the younger of the 2 brothers.  He normally did his rounds randomly, so she had to wait at the market for a while for him to come.  He eventually showed up with his minions, starting at the east end of the market, making his way to each vendor to collect his money.

     Eve planned to feign distress, that some man stole her bag, then ask Charlie for help.  As he approached, she screamed, and began calling out "Come back," as she attempted to follow the fake perpetrator.  Charlie saw this, and ran up to her asking what happened.

     "Some kid grabbed my bag out of my hand!  I didn't see him coming.  All I saw was the back of his head as he ran that way."

     "Vinnie, go check it out.  See if you can find anything," Charlie said as one of his minions ran after the imaginary crook.

     Charlie put his arm around her and said,  "We'll find him, don't worry."

     "Thanks.  I'm Eve," she said as sexily as she could.  This was her chance to get him to want her.  She was very desirable, and Charlie was like any guy who had fallen for a beautiful woman.  He held her hand, wanting to hold more.

     "Let me make it up to you.  You come to my place for a bite to eat," he said, knowing he was one to always get an "OK" for an answer.  "I'll finish the rounds then I'll treat you with style," he said.  He continued to hold her hand as they walked through the market.

     Eve was repulsed, but played along, knowing she would have the last laugh.  This was not the creepiest thing she had ever done.  It was a game to her, and she was built to play this way.

     Charlie grabbed an apple at one of the booths, even paid for it including a small tip, and he gave it to her.  She took a bite.  It was one of the better apples she had tasted.

     Fruits were not too common in Sharkville.  A seasonal treat.  There was not a good way to preserve them for long term storage, so their availability was limited, and their quality often marginal.

     She held up the apple to Charlie who took a big bite, staring her in the eye.  His temptation to feel her against him grew.  He hurried through the rest of the vendors and led her to his place.

     Charlie had done well for himself, but he was still a newcomer.  There were bigger sharks out there who he had made mad, yet he did not think about that.  He knew he controlled a section of Sharkville, and had ambitions for more.  His brother was still his senior, thus an obstacle for controlling more.  Charlie, though, had kept his ambition in check, as ultimately his loyalty to his brother was strong.

     "This is a nice place you got," Eve said as she strolled around his space.  "I like your bedroom," she added, leaning against the door frame to that room.  She lifted her leg up and rested her foot on the opposite frame.  Her arms were tucked behind her back, her butt sitting on her hands.

     Charlie walked up to her and put his hands on her waist.  He leaned in to nudge her neck with his mouth, nibling towards her ear.  She took a deep breath and put his arms around him.

     She spent the next few days with him, hooking him deeper and deeper.  When she left, she felt some remorse for playing him so, as she was starting to like him.  Such is the cost of working close to thugs.

     She had feelings like everyone else, which was what drove her to do the deed, and was what made her feel guilty and start to like him.  She knew what she had to do, though, so reported back to Jake, who was jealous she ended up spending so much time with him.  Luckily, he had other woman he could love, and knew she was doing it for him, so he had no one to blame but himself.

     "You planning to see him again," he asked.

     "Yeah,"

     "Good.  Now you need to hook his brother.  You know what you need to do."

     Indeed she did and so she did.  She met the older brother, Billy, at his bar.  Even for a bar with strippers, she was the most attractive of all the women there when she sauntered in.  Billy was not the only one who saw her, but was the only one who approached her.  The other men knew enough to let him have first dibs.

     "You don't look like you're here for a job.  What's yer catch?" he asked her.

     "You," she said winking.

     "I like the sound of that," he said as he led her to a seat in his booth.  He sat close to her and asked her what her name was.

     "Eve."

     "Eve, the original evil.  No surprise a woman like you made us all fall for your apples.  You can make a man do bad things."

     "I don't think men need an excuse to be evil."

     "You don't know what yer saying.  You don't see what I see."

     His heart was throbbing among other things.  She indeed was an angel to him.  Someone who picked his feelings up, where he wanted to soar.  It was hormones, though how would he know?  All he knew was he was going to seduce her.  How would he also know that was her intent towards him?  He always got what he was after in any case, so it all seemed so natural for him.

     She put his foot on his and said, "I like riding it, your foot."

     He placed his hand on her thigh, massaging and probing with his fingers.

     "Come with me, I wanna show you something," he said as he led her to his office.  It was nice being the boss.

     She spent the evening with him, easing his stress.  It was also a hard job being the boss.  So much tension.  So much testosterone.  She did her best helping and hooking him.

     She left the next morning.  He asked her to come back that night.  She agreed.

     She reported back the Jake who was not surprised his plan was working.  Now to get the younger brother to see her with the older brother.  Eve had the answer.

     "Charlie goes to Billy's bar every so often.  I think at some point I will see him there."

     She went back to see Charlie, giving him another taste.  Both brothers did not say much about their business, so she had to ask questions if she wanted to know anything.  But she could not make it obvious that she was digging for information.

     Luckily, this day Charlie was upset with Billy.

     "He's always making the final call.  I don't know how long I can take this.  I want to be the one in control."

     "How would you do that?"

     "He won't live forever.  At some point he'll be gone and then I'll be the boss."

     "You want me to help?" Eve said, seeing an opportunity that was not obvious earlier.

     "You don't wanna get mixed up with that."

     "I like you Charlie.  I want to see you succeed.  Maybe I can get some dirt on him.  I'd have to get close to him."

     "I don't want that.  I don't want him touching you."

     "You should use the tools you have, Charlie, all of them," she said as she placed her hand between his legs.  She would take her time making this work, and enjoy herself in the meantime.  She was starting to like manipulating the brothers.

 

Chapter 3:  Fate

 

     Charlie finally decided to use Eve for his ambitions.  She said she would see what she could get from Billy, and report back to him.  She spent the next couple days back with Billy.  

     While they were sitting at the bar, she told him she heard rumors that Charlie was out to get him.

     "He's been like that for his whole life.  I gotta watch my back, I know.  But I love him at the same time.  I should probably just lighten up on him, give him more turf."

     She was trying to get him to start to distrust his brother, but did not want to press to far for fear of looking unnatural.  She realized this was not going to work, anyway.  Billy cared about his brother.  Another strategy would need to be sought.

     A while later they were both standing talking when Eve saw Charlie walk in.  She had thought about this moment and decided to try to control it.  She insulted Billy, saying she was not getting any pleasure from him.  He burst into a rage and gave Eve what she knew she would get: a slap across the face.

     Billy saw that happen, pulled out his knife, and stabbed his brother in the back repeatedly.  If Charlie did not have his minions with him, he would have been attacked.  Instead, he cursed his dying brother.

     "I'm in charge now, Billy."

     He looked around and saw the hatred from Billy's crew.  He thought he would have command once the older brother was dead.  He did not realize there would be this resentment.  He and his minions held their defense.

     "We'll kill you if we see you alone, Charlie.  Your days are numbered," said one of Billy's minions.

     Charlie grabbed Eve and said, "Let's get out of here."

     Everyone looked at Eve contemptuously, wondering if she had something to do with this.  She went back to Charlie's place, who was torn up.  He could not believe he killed his brother.  He blamed Eve, who managed to leave before he took his feelings out on her.

     She reported back to Jake what had happened.  He gave her a hug and said, "This is perfect.  They are opening passage to another Sharkville.  Charlie's gotta board that boat, knowing he's a dead man in any direction he looks."

     Jake got a message to Charlie, giving him the option of applying for the lottery to try to get on the boat, or face a tortuous death.  Charlie knew he had no real option.  His older brother, his protector, was gone, leaving behind his crew who also wanted him dead.  He immediately put his name in to the lottery.  Good thing it was rigged and they were looking for people like Charlie to make the trip as he was a chosen one.

     As Charlie waited on the boat, he saw some thugs he knew enough to keep his distance from.  Anyone on that boat would have felt the tension, as no one expected to be on a boat with such other scary people.  A taste of their own medicine.  Everyone put on their toughest faces, afraid to show any weakness.  It was ironic that when they started to relax as they traveled the high seas they saw the strange aircraft overhead.

     They were enemies towards each other, yet when the common unknown enemy flew their huge craft above, they suddenly felt solidarity.  Why would they be fighting each other when it's obvious there is even a bigger threat hovering up there?  Perhaps if they had made it to the other Sharkville they would have had a more cooperative attitude towards each other.

     When the sonic burst knocked them all out, their common frailty was exposed.  They were all human and had the same susceptability to the supposed alien technology.  They awoke on the airship, penned and told of their fate.  Each was stripped and sanitized and given a new lot in life, if they were lucky enough to survive.

     Charlie, the lone Malone brother, spent a long couple of months burning his body out working hard for the captors.  When he saw the ship above burst into flames after James detonated the nuke, all he could think was, "I wish I were on THAT ship," as whips snapped at the enslaved.