Peril on the Chesapeake

The sun starts to rise, gently peaking over the horizon, its rays still weak and faltering. The world lightens gradually as the growing sun grows stronger and shines more boldly, softly hitting the murky green waters of the bay. The light caresses the marsh birds, gently stroking them to awareness. The soft-shelled crabs, fresh for a molting, scutter sideways back into the safety of the bay grass. Small waves lap the shores and you can see the watermen leave the harbor in their boats to gather the day's catch. They'll spend all day on the water and the sun will brow and weather their skin with each gentle wave that slaps the side of the fishing boat.

The sun moves on, scraping the guano-covered docks. It travels up grimy streets and over cars, rusty from the melting snow of the long winter. The morning sunlight hits old brick buildings that have seen many a sunrise through their invisible eyes, forever hidden. The sun cuts through a dirty window, illuminating the inside of the room completely.

The inside appeared to be a cross of a used bookstore, the study of an insane biology professor, and a bedroom. A small cot was in the corner with the strangest array of bed linens. The bottom sheet was a green flannel with little shamrocks and leprechauns on it. The top sheet had cabbage roses while the duvet had a great blue heron printed on it. The pillowcase had large psychedelic swirls of color. Shelves covered the walls, filled with books, clothes, more books, random knickknacks, books, CDs, books, and even more books. The ceiling was plastered with posters with topics varying from a map of Mars to a picture of a large purple octopus. In the center of the room was a table covered with papers, textbooks, used coffee mugs, empty Chinese take out containers, a laptop, various highlighters, pens, pencils, tissues, and other random things. All in all, it was a very cozy room, even if a little haphazard.

In a chair, next to the table, sat a young woman, sleeping, with her head resting on her arms. She had one of those long, lean frames and pale skin with thousand upon thousands of freckles, almost making her look tan from a distance. Long dark hair was held back in a loose braid, intense blue streaks shot through the black tresses.

Suddenly the alarm clock rang. The women's head shot up. Quickly glancing at her clock, she swore under her breath and quickly changed into a pair of jeans and t-shirt. Glancing at her hair in the mirror, grabbing her back pack and yelling a quick good-bye Andrea, her roomate, Madison Reed dashed out of the 2nd story apartment and headed towards the closest Metro stop and caught the 7:15 Red train. Settling back onto an empty vinyl seat, she relaxed for the remainder of the ride.

Madison Reed was a 24 year old grad student at John Hopkins University, trying to get her masters in biology. A few months ago, she had been chosen to be a research assistant for one of the professors, who was doing research on the effect of toxic pollution on wildlife.

At stop # 25, there was the usual hustle and bustle in getting of the Metro, people jostling and bumping into one another. Hurrying up the graffetied stairs and out into the bright sunlight, Madison merged with the mass of bodies moving down the sidewalk. She passed the coffe shop with its usual half hour line and turned on to a side streat. The sound of sirens sliced through the air as she walked on to the campus, heading towards the lab at a brisk walk. Turning the corner she saw what was burning. The lab was on fire, scarlet and orange flames engulfed the building.

"Professor Reiher!" A statuesque, graying woman, slumped against a nearby bike rack, straightened when she heard her name.

"Madison! Thank goodness that you're alright! And this afternoon we leave for the Choptank! With all our equipment destroyed!" Professor Reiher blubbered incoherently.

"Calm down, shh." Madison looked nervously around at the surrounding area and then back at her professor, "What happened, Professor? Calm down, shh, just tell me what happened, all you know." Madison put an arm around Professor Reiher.

"Well, I came h-here early, to you know, to work out which equipment to b-b-bring and and when I couldn't find it, you know the equipment, I-I went in in into the storage room to look for them, and-and they weren't they and then the smoke alarm went off and I s-saw."Professor Reiher broke off and buried her head into Madison's shoulder.

"Shhh.it's okay, you're alright,"

"I saw the flames, th-they were so bright and so hot.so hot.and they were everywhere. So, I r-ran over to the door and and it w-w-wouldn't open! I was so sc-scared.and y-you know the window," Madison nodded, "well I opened it and and I jumped, I was so scared. My God, you have no idea how scared I was." And with that Professor Reiher broke down, and sobbed unrelentingly.

"Shhh.its okay, Professor. The equipment is already on the skipjack. No need to worry. Remember, we did all that yesterday."

"Oh, right." Professor Reiher hiccupped, "Silly me. I guess I'm so worked up about the trip and all."

"Don't worry; all of the stuff is on the boat. We sail at 2 at high tide. We should reach Cambridge at around 6:00. Don't worry.look everyone else is arriving now."

It was true. The other scientists were there along with the other two research assistants. They were standing there in various states of shock.

"Come on Professor, we should join them." Madison offered her hand to Professor Reiher, an the walked over to the others

12 March

Well, we're sailing down the Potomac now. The Wasservogel took of w/out any problem. I'm sitting below deck, trying to get a grasp on things. Why would the lab burn down? I find it very unlikely that a biology lab would catch on fire all by itself. We don't have Bunsen burners or highly flammable chemicals! Just microscopes, protists, and a pet iguana named Stärke. OH NO! Stärke! Did she get out? Probably not. Oh.poor Stärke! It must be awful to burn to death.

Later

I just finished taking my turn at the wheel. Sheesh, it's so gorgeous. You can barely see the western shore now. It feels as if we're in the middle of the ocean. Anyway, Professor Reiher just told me the real reason as to why we are going to the Choptank. At 1st I thought we were going to be checking the growth of the SAV up there, but no. It turns out that Professor Reiher is good friends with some head honcho in Fish & Game, and F&G suspect there are some chicken farms up near Easton with illegal amounts of chicken manure, or would it be guano? I don't know the full details but I think the farm belongs to one of those really big international companies, like Tyson's or Foster's or some other one. I didn't quite catch the name. I was still in a bit of a stupor about the change of plans. Well, it's not really a change of pans since testing for excessive amounts of nutrient pollution was the actual plan. Just under the guise of checking the SAV population. Supposedly the reason why F&G isn't taking the job is because they don't have enough information to issue a search warrant. It's really weird, one day I'm just a grad student trying to get extra work experience and money by working as a research assistant and the next I' some sort of, I don't know, would environmental spy be the right word? I wonder why I wasn't told earlier.

The boat pulled into Cambridge Harbor to dock. Everyone would be sleeping on board tonight. Madison sat on the stern, feet dangling off the side, watching the sun set over the bay. Aderyn and Drew, two of the other research assistants, came over and sat down.

"Gorgeous isn't it." murmured Aderyn, gazing out at the streaks of orange blazed across the sky.

"Yeah, absolutely beautiful" replied Madison, "So did you guys know about the whole F&G thing before today?"

"No, it was a bit of a shocker, you know." Drew turned to face them.

"Same here," Madison leaned back onto the deck with her arms behind her head, "What I want to know is why F&G didn't do this themselves. I mean if it is true that there is illegal drainage of chicken waste causing excessive nutrient pollution, what are we supposed to do about it?"

Aderyn leaned forward, "Well I did overhear Professor Renard saying that the F&G didn't have enough info to actually set up a crew to investigate, but university researchers have a better cover."

"Yeah, I guess. I still don't like the fact that we weren't told earlier about this little change in plans." Drew frowned slightly and ran his fingers through his brown hair.

"SUPPER TIME!"

Professor Reiher suck her head out of the galley, "Well I suppose there is no need for me to tell you that it's time for supper. Vachel, or Professor Renard to you, bellowed loud enough for people in Libya to hear!"

The three got up, Aderyn stretching, and trooped in for supper.

13 March

Today was, well, very interesting. Professor Reiher put all of us in groups. Basically those who will be checking the status of the SAV, and those who will be on the "guano" team as it has been affectionately dubbed. The SAV team includes: Professor Melart, Professor Tahmores, Aderyn, and the other research assistant, oh what's-his-name, Mark? Quinn? It was Arden! that was it! Anyway I'm on the guano team along with Professors Reiher and Renard, and Drew. Poor Drew, he didn't want to be on this team, but he can't really avoid it as Renard is his boss.

Anyway, the other team took kayaks out and we got the Wasservogel for the day. I love the name. It turns out that Wasservogel means water bird in German. Yeah Professor Reiher told me. So we went up to the mouth of the Tred Avon River, you know one of the Choptank tributaries. We're collecting data, I was doing a pH reading, Drew was taking water samples, etc. when all of a sudden some guy comes out of the trees and says "I know what you're doing, and I'm warning you now. They're pretty mad and very desperate. They'll stop at nothing." And with that, the guy left. It was really weird, it was over so quickly! How could the guy know? It's supposed to be TOP SECRET!!!

But who else would the guy have been talking about? Maybe he's a bit knocked upped in the head. But he seemed so serious.But if some random guy in the woods knows, how many more do? And if what the guy said is true, how desperate are they? It's kinda scary when you think about it. Anyway Aderyn wants the light off; we're sharing a super tiny cabin, so I'll write later.

17 March

So much stuff has happened since I last wrote, this is my first time that I have had time to sit down and write. I'll start at the beginning. On the morning of the 15, oh that would have been Monday, Renard, well it really should Professor Renard but no one but Professor Reiher ever calls him that, discovered that some little jolt-head had vandalized the portable lab equipment, like the machine that checks the amount of dissolved O2 in the water. And if that weren't enough, the sails were slashed, deck spray painted, and other stuff like that, not to mention that the water was left running in the galley, so we have no more fresh water and the kitchen was damaged as the sink overflowed. All of us spent 2 days cleaning up and yesterday out on the river again. Barely time to sleep. Speaking of sleep, guess what I'm going to do now!

18 March

Oh my God, oh my god, OMG, OMG!!!! I am sooooo freaked out right now.my heart is pounding so heavily.tengo mucho miedo. Aderyn is missing, as in MIA, as in *poof*, abracadabra, she's gone!!! She went to the grocery store to pick up some AA batteries at about 7:30. and that was like 15 hour ago. Its not like she got lost, the store is only 4 blocks from the docks! We even tried her cell phone, no answer WHERE IS SHE?!?!

19 March (technically)

Urgh! It's 2 in the morning and Aderyn still hasn't come back yet. About an hour ago we sent out search groups, 3 to a group and 1 to hold down the Wasservogel. We meet back on the boat every ½ hour. Guess where I am? On the boat. Its sooo freaky sitting here on the deck. The night is slightly chilly with a slight breeze, which gives me chills up and down my spine. Oh and the moon is almost full too. How convenient don't you think, just perfect for a horror movie. All I need is a physco chain saw killer to start walking down the dock with an evil grin. Yikes!! Sorry, just heard 1 of the groups coming back. It will be my turn to go out next.

Later

Well it's been 2 hours later and the other group isn't back yet. Great, 4 people missing!! This doesn't seem accidental. 1st the lab fire, then the weird wood man, the wrecked deck, and now Aderyn, Professor Renard, Professor Melart, and Arden. I am even more scared than before, not just for the missing, but for me! I would call the police but the group that's also missing had the other cell phone. All of us are too afraid to find a pay phone. A group of 3 already went missing, but if all 4 of us went, what would happen to the boat? I have this constant prickleling on the back of my neck, as if some one was watching me constantly. Hang on.okay I'm going to try and go to sleep now. The Professors are going to take the 1st watch.

Madison closed her journal and went into the hold with Drew. She went into her cabin and slid her notebook and ballpoint pen into her backpack, then headed for the galley. Drew was already in starting a kettle of water.

"Tea?"

"Yeah, want some? You look like you could use a hot mug of something."

"Sure, what types ya got?"

" Earl Grey, Green, Mint, ummm.hang on.we got some weird loose leaf, but the label's in Chinese so I wouldn't go with that unless you're feeling brave...and that's about it."

"Mint please," Madison sat down on a cushion bench and leaned her head back against the wall, her eyes closed and hair in a French braid. There was a heavy silence. Both people were not in the mood to talk. Drew got 2 mugs out of a cabinet.

"Hey, do you want the heron mug or the one that says the mosquito should become the state bird? You know, the one with a giant mosquito dressed a Dracula."

"Heron." The skipjack started to rock more as the wind started to get more aggressive. "Wind's picking up."

"Sure is." Drew sat down next to her and handed the tea to her. "How're you feeling?"

"Tense, scared, nervous. I'm really worried about the others though. Do you think they're alright?"

"I don't know" Drew put his arm around Madison, "I just don't know." They sat awhile, once again in silence. Madison tried to calm herself down by taking deep breaths.

Without warning there was a scream, a gunshot, several loud thumps, and a splash. Drew and Madison leapt up, knocking over their mugs, the heron shatered into thousands of pieces, and they ran for the stairs up to the deck. Professor Tahmores was breathing heavily.

"What happened?" stammered Madison. Tahmores looked pointedly over at a lump next to the mast. Madison drew closer and gasped. It was Professor Reiher. Suddenly heavy footsteps pounded up the dock. Two heavy set men were running up the dock.

"Cast off!" yelled Tahmores, who ran to the wheel. Madison and Drew quickly untied the mooring lines and pushed hard against the dock. She sprinted over to the main sheet and started hoisting the main sail, while Drew worked on the jib. Gunshots reverberated. They were about 20 meter away when the men reached the end of the dock and continued firing. Madison felt something past her ear as they quickly sailed out of shooting range and the harbor. The skipjack gathered up speed as it raced the sun to the western shore in hopes of sanctuary.