Chapter 2 – Salvage
One peaceful cold morning, ten years later, in a small corner of what used to be the lake district of the great city of Chicago, Illinois, sitting in darkness, less than a mile off the coast, just past the third street pier, sat an old abandoned rusting freighter named the Lady Dora. Outside, at night the air appeared far less radioactive. Inside, ghosts of long dead sailors seemed to be everywhere on the ship, hiding in the shadows. As they stood alone on the deck of the old vessel, the north wind blew across the lake, entered the hull, and blew out the men’s helmet lamps. The exhausted, busy men did not dare stop to relight the helmet lights as they continued down into the hull. One or more of the men might be injured or even killed in this place, but each did his job in spite of the threat.
The eerie, silent ship was pitch-dark. You needed to be extremely careful as you descended onto that rusty twisted metal staircase. One false step and a sharp death awaited you inside the cavernous hull of the freighter.
“Man it is dark in here.”
“So be…careful and watch your step.”
As Adam’s salvage crew ventured down into that cold dark hull, one man at a time, the brave salvage crew’s small coal mining lamps blazed. Each crew member bent over in his protective red helmet and faded muddy welder’s pants.
In fear, each crew member measured the day, one careful step at a time, every step, strained, as bent bodies began descending, small bight flames twinkled like stars against an open sky and gave off a faint glow. Up top on the deck, attempting to warm themselves, several men huddled around a rusted metal barrel with a wooden stick fire inside.
“So you’ve been down to that new restaurant on Murphy Street, the Road Hog.”
“Yea, that’s it. It’s a keeper. ”
“And you met Ruby, the outgoing one. She is quite the looker with her red hair and long legs and quite a talker as well.”
“Yep, I’ve admired her from afar.” Still, alone with four kids. I don’t know how she does it. I tip her. I tip her big. After all, I know she needs it. I had the blue-plate special with fried grits. It is good.
“Did I ever tell you, I did a brief stint as a dishwasher fresh out of high school, or rather just after I dropped out of high school?”
“Yes, and I can truthfully say, I broke way too many dishes…and too many dishes broke me.”
“Worse job I ever had. Hey, I don’t know what Adam is so fired up about this morning, but he sure doesn’t seem happy.”
“I’m going first; you’ve got to be kidding? I am not going down into that hold first Are you out of your mind? I’m not going down there at all,” said Billy Stimson, pulling on both sides of his firecracker red suspenders. “Besides, I am afraid the hull might collapse any minute and drown us all. ” Billy said. Billy’s daughter, Alicia had just had his first grandchild and job or not job; he was no longer willing to risk his life on this venture. He wanted time whatever time he had left with the child.
“You coward!” Adam screamed at the frightened man in frustration, “Then stay the hell on the Repose. We will complete the job without you and deal with you later,” said the determined Adam Strong. Then the man’s site supervisor leaned over and whispered, “Hell, I’d stay here with you too if I could.” Then the salvage crew chief, looked at the rest of the crew hard at work and shook his head disgusted at this man’s lousy selfish attitude, as he leaned out over the hull and stared at the frozen lake, his hands clutching his thermos of strong cold coffee.
“You know they’ve got your number.”
“Who’s got my number?”
“The Corporation, of course.”
“Bull. They can’t tie their own shoe laces.”
“Never the less, they’ve got it. You better watch out,” said a strangely dressed, blind man standing out on the dock, wearing a plastic Viking helmet, mismatched shoes, stained white polo shirt and a tattered dirty old raincoat.
It was March, 12, 2022 and Lake Michigan, though still beautiful in its frozen ice covered blanket was impassible by large vessels. Snow scattered along the shoreline, dotted with old shipwrecks of all sizes and descriptions, frozen in the ice, just waiting for the men’s cutting torches.
Adam Strong, a man whom everyone liked could be trusted to keep his word and his mouth shut, but who had the reputation for extremes in temperament, very patient at times, but explosive at other times. His hostility towards authority figures began early in his childhood fueled by a healthy distrusted of his father and carried over into manhood. At an early age he studied martial arts and hoped to have a career as a cage fighter, but had to give it up when his back was injured in a car accident.
The young salvage man had a well chiseled face like dark wood with piercing soft smoke colored eyes that had a real gentleness to them. His face reflected a life of struggle and now seemed aged well beyond his years, and often displayed a deep visceral pain, a trapped animal pain that only comes with a series of losses and an unrealized future. His was a life of hard labor, so the man’s forced slight smile seemed out of place, at times. His hair, brown on top, turned to salt and pepper at the side burns. Adam, who, when he was just a crew member himself risking his own life had saved several of his crew by diving into the cold lake water and fishing several of them out of the ice cold waters. They all were loyal to him. At 35, he was extremely clever, could fix nearly anything mechanical, did not have a formal education, enjoyed reading and had a soft deep voice and a fondness for, rock music and old books. True, the salvage crew chief was known to be a bit obsessed at times, would even occasionally come to work with two miss-matched shoes, or his shirt on inside out, but that only pointed out that he was human, hero or not. The young salvage man’s family were always closely knit. He hated stuffy people, like the jerks in the Corporation, who were always spouting off about virtue and vice. He enjoyed an equal mix of both. He, enjoyed an occasional joke, was tall, well built, and though hard work had taken it’s toil on him physically, he had a warm inviting smile and his eyes were deep set in the still handsome face. The young salvage man tried to hide his emotions for the crew’s sake, but sometimes when the pain got too great, despite his obsession with emotional distance, occasionally, when something or someone pushed his buttons, losing all control, he erupted with anger. Still, that well worn face displayed a kindness to the man, which everyone took note of, but the over used body was callused and hard and bent, and a dogged determination was also reflected in that demeanor and deeper still beneath all that, a slight hint of sadness was also apparent, if one looked close enough. Despite his obvious pain, the light in the young man’s eyes still sparkled.
“They want five dollars for a small cup of coffee and twenty dollars for small bottle of clean water. I hope the Prefect chokes on his own tongue and dies of thirst.”
“Says here on the Recorder Blog that six members of Manda de Lobos were found dead, gunned down at their hide out, but that thus far no Rage, other drugs, nor any books have been recovered.”
“You find any drugs?” Said Detective Mann.
“No, nor rare books either.” Said Sergeant Gonzales.
“Too bad, I had my heart said on one of those American Heritage Dictionaries, said Mann with a sly smile, “those things are worth thousands to the rich folks, now that the public libraries have all been destroyed by the corporate goon squads.”
When Adam got his promotion to crew chief, but no extra money, he thought his boss was a regular seconds dealing card cheat, a real Venus de Milo. There is something shifty about him for sure. “
“Slippery bastard lies to our faces.”
At the same time, down below decks, now only tinny bright orange and blue flames from the men’s torches remained to pierce the bleak darkness of the huge space. As soon, as a crew member descended the stairs, dense smoke filled sore lungs. A cough became an amplified echo.
Adam thought to himself, this is nuts, dying for this crap. We must be crazy. It’s just scrap metal! Maybe Terry has a point after all.
The dark, foreboding silence, was interrupted by your breathing, your buddies’ breathing, and of course the waves hitting the hull, the tramping of the men’s boots on metal stairs and your heartbeat, pounding in your chest, as you maneuvered down the twisted metal staircase. The night crew quit the ship as soon as Adam’s shift began coming down.
“Not much room to pass, huh?” asked one of the men headed down.
“Not much at all,” said one headed up, the twisted stairs.
Then only grunts came from the men as they passed one another without speaking because they were all out of breath. Then your breath formed steam in front of your face, making vision difficult through the smoke and fog. As you continued your descent farther into the old ship, everywhere you looked you saw sharp rusty metal with water dripping down the side, which made you paranoid, the walls might give in at any minute and a rush of lake water might drown you and the rest of crew. Even worse, only one misstep might send you over the side into that cavernous mouth, careening you to a thunderous painful death. Only a brave man used to rough work to work in these conditions would put up with this job, but then excluding Terry, these were all brave men.
A small salvage vessel, the Repose sat moored to the Dora. The one cowardly salvage crew member guarded the mother ship for the crew.
Meanwhile at the Joyce Reinhart Girl’s School for Creative Thought less than twelve blocks due south of the docks, in a small class of children of the wealthy and powerful of Palladium.
“He can’t do that?”
“Yes, he can. Express your emotions, John or Juan. Tell her how you feel when she calls you a greaser.”
“I am very upset with you. How would you like it if I called you a honkie, cracker or hillbilly?”
“Darn right! You’d be upset too, so don’t call me a greaser, I’m one half Greek and one half Estonian.”
“O.K. Now punch her hard!”
The young boy hit Sassy with an over sized boxing glove, which did not hurt, but it shocked her, knocked her down and she began screaming and crying, as tears streaming down her face.
“So, what you are teaching these little ones will enhance the children’s tolerance for those of different cultures, right?” said, TV Channel 5 reporter, Marty Scott, her tight skirt riding up on her hip, uncomfortably, as she shoved the microphone closer to the teacher, Ms. Smith’s face. “I mean, it appears that this type of state sponsored controversial Compliance Conditioning training is creating more separation between the social classes, rather than less and how is this relevant with today’s social economic base? I mean, don’t we need to provide opportunities for advancement and more acceptance.”
“We are educating the Corporation’s future leaders based on the teachings of- Dr. Fredrick Zink and they will be more likely to provide supervisory sensitivity and have more opportunities if they develop empathy for those less fortunate than themselves.”
“Yes, but wasn’t Zink tried as a Terrorist and is this training really, moving in the right direction? I mean, how is that possible given the disparity between what you say you are teaching and it’s negative influence? You know, on the way into your class today, I saw some children playing out on the playground and they were torturing a mouse, poking it with a stick. Isn’t that the same way many of Palladium’s poor less fortunate are being treated.”
“Perhaps, but that is precisely what this class is all about. The children’s parents are paying thousands of dollars to education these students to remove cultural barriers that have existed since World War III. and it is designed to make them fit in the Corporation’s Executive Structure.”
The Class One Observer Robot assigned to this interview screamed out, “Violation, Violation! Free thoughts Violation! This interview is in violation of the third directive, inappropriate thoughts detected! Repeat: inappropriate thoughts detected! Place the recording on my eraser panel immediately. REPORT TO THE BLOCK WARDEN IMMEDIATELY. All recorded materials from this interview are immediately confiscated. You are hereby found guilty of a violation of the third directive. The sentence is; Surrender your reporter credentials to the Block Warden immediately. You are fired. You are NEVER to speak of this interview in public again; otherwise a memory wipe will be administered to you forthwith.”
Then, on the TV in the classroom, a new bulletin came on,
“We interrupt this regularly scheduled program with a special news bulletin. “Rebel forces have suffered severe losses while surrounding the floating city of Sanatorium.”
“Does that sound like a loss to you?” said one of the student aides.
“You can call an apple an orange, but it’s still an apple. No, the Corporation rewrote recent history, now their revising current events as well.”
Meanwhile, back at the boat, “What’s that? Hell yes, he is still missing! Do think I’d be this dammed irritable if he weren’t? My brother Mark would not harm anyone. After all, he is only a kid. He is Autistic and has the mind of a six-year-old child. I cannot imagine what he would have done at his age and in his condition to break the Code, and to offend the Corporation or the Dark Hand causing them to kidnap hm. We want him back, now!” said Adam.
Then, Adam began descending that twisting metal staircase, being cautious and tiptoeing down the steep and dangerous stairs. Soon smoke began to fill up Adam’s lungs and his eyes began burning his face through the smoke stained heavy green welder’s helmet that chaffed him as his torch cut into the huge metal cargo hold of the old rusting cargo ship. It was becoming even more difficult to view your hand in front of your face, as the day lingered on and the old barge sat frozen on its back in the stiff ice of the lake like a Popsicle in a bucket of frozen mud, just one mile off the coast of what was once the City of Chicago.