First Chapter Friday -- Somewhere in the Shallow Sea by Dennis Macaraeg

Saturday, January 21, 2017


About the Author:

Dennis Macaraeg is a fiction writer who lives in San Diego. He graduated from San Diego State University. When he is not writing, he enjoys photography.

Summary: 


To save the life of his friend, a marine biologist must deliver the scientific compound he invented to kidnappers hiding deep within the jungles of the Philippines. Unexpectedly paired with his ex-lover for the mission, it's a bit more than he signed up for.


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First Chapter: 

On the glass-like surface of the Pacific Ocean, the sun floating high in the sky reflected a silver sheen through the office window of Danilo “Danny” Maglaya’s laboratory. The thirty-year-old marine biologist placed the handset back on the cradle, feeling troubled. It was the third time he had called the crew members of the Desert Sea via satellite phone in the last ten hours, but oddly, his calls went straight to the universal sound of voicemail. He knew that sometimes the weather conditions can affect global communications but those were only temporary. Worried that something had gone wrong, he hurriedly got up from his seat and as he was heading to the door to report the anomaly to his supervisor, he stopped in his tracks when he saw his company president, Jeff Smith, and an unknown man in a dark suit standing at the door. Jeff had never visited his office—not once in his two years of employment as a research scientist at SDM Biosciences. The combination of Jeff, accompanied by a person he had never seen, sent alarms off in Danny’s head, and he instantly thought that the grant for his research had run dry and his project would be shut down. He had feared this day arriving but it was the nature of business in the highly competitive world of marine biotechnology.
“Danny,” Jeff said, his serious face directed at him.
“I was just on my way out to…”
“You might have been wondering why you haven’t been receiving data from the Desert Sea.”
“Yeah…this is highly unusual. Have there been issues with the ship’s onboard communications gear?”
“The ship had been in total radio silence. Why don’t I let FBI Special Agent McAllister give you the details?”
McAllister took a big step forward and said, “About four hours ago, we received a report from the captain stating that it was boarded by armed men in the southern part of the Philippines.”
“How could that happen?” Danny faltered, looking straight at Agent McAllister. “Doesn’t the Philippine Coast Guard heavily patrol the Sulu Sea? And aren’t the U.S. Navy warships in the area conducting exercises?”
“These thugs drive speedboats. They can slip in and out without being detected,” added McAllister with firmness in his voice.
Danny shifted his gaze at the ocean he had spent half his life exploring—where he found solace through roaming its reef and atolls. His knees weakened from the shocking news he just heard. He placed his hands on his desk trying not to lose his balance. 
“According to the captain’s initial report, a group of armed men on a fast-moving skiff approached and demanded to board the vessel,” Jeff said.
“Did the crew try to defend themselves? Or shoot those bastards with flares at least?”
“They used water cannons but when the armed men started shooting, the captain ordered the crew to stop. Fearing someone in the ship might get shot, they had no choice but to let them climb onboard,” Jeff added.
“Are those people still on the ship? Why don’t you call in for some military action and send the Navy SEALs to surround it?” Danny responded, his voice cracking. “Don’t let anyone get off.”
“It’s not that easy. The incident happened within Philippine waters and their government prohibits foreign interventions with domestic issues. Besides, the armed men were on the ship for less than half an hour and have already left,” Jeff added.
“Can you please call the captain and order the ship to Honolulu?”
“It’s on the way back to San Diego as we speak,” Jeff said in a monotone voice. “We’re already a step ahead in trying to resolve the crisis.”
“I’m sorry to inform you but Blake Mason was taken,” McAllister said with a straight face.
Danny couldn’t believe his ears. Just a month ago he was having a drink with Blake. He could still picture his unruly head of dark yellow hair, parted on the side, his long bangs covering half of his forehead. His slightly plump face hid behind the thinnest of beards. The thought of his best friend in the hands of money-seeking criminals was surreal.
“Was he kidnapped?”
“As of right now, we are treating this incident as a hostage situation,” McAllister said. 
“Why was Blake taken? Research scientists aren’t rich.”
“The agency is in contact with the Philippine authorities to figure that out,” McAllister answered.
“How much do they want?” Danny asked, scared of the figure McAllister would blurt out.
“The group is demanding the Rx-18 compound as ransom,” Jeff interrupted.
“The Cube? Only a few people even know it exists!” Danny exclaimed. “Why do they want my invention?” Bewilderment was palpable in Danny’s face.
“We really don’t know but the Philippine military are aware of the incident and already mobilizing their Scout Rangers to rescue him,” McAllister said. 
“What are we going to do while Blake languishes on some forsaken island?”
“Wait for further instructions,” Jeff said. “That’s all we can do for now.”
“From who?” Danny said, frustration echoing in his voice.
“From the hostage negotiators as soon as contact is established.”

As soon as Jeff Smith and Agent McAllister left his office, Danny stared at the Manila Galleon he kept on his desk. He had always been fascinated with Spanish trading ships and the year-round sailing voyages they made across the Pacific from Asia to the Americas during the Spanish colonial period. He couldn’t just sit on the sidelines, waiting for the Philippine government officials in charge and hoping that their rescue efforts would be fast and decisive. Negotiations might drag on for months just like they had with previous hostage crises. Blake was probably suffering every minute he was held captive and would likely be killed if his abductors became frustrated with the slow progress of the negotiations. Danny felt he had no choice but to take care of business himself and bring the Cube to the kidnappers. But locating Blake’s captors was not going to be easy. He couldn’t guarantee that the American or Philippine governments would share their intelligence on Blake’s abductors. And he especially needed the tactics they planned to implement for his rescue effort. Danny realized he might never see his best friend again if he put his blind trust in some government bureaucrat.
Danny knew he had to do something to save Blake even if doing so would potentially cause his own demise. He thought of that one fateful night in San Diego that forever brought their friendship into the heights of considering each other as brothers… 
On a beautiful August night in downtown San Diego, Danny and Blake were walking on the street without a care in the world. They had just finished having dinner with friends. The sky was clear and the streets were filled with lovers holding hands. As they were rounding the corner, the saucy sound of a saxophone and the rhythmic beats of drums floating out of a jazz bar caught Danny’s attention. Since the night was still young, he suggested to continue their celebration by listening to some live music. The line outside the club was long but no one was in a hurry to get home anytime soon. While waiting to get in, the commotion from a nearby boutique caught their attention. The high-pitched sound of the store alarm was going off, and a woman from the store came out shouting “Thief!” at a man in ski mask running out the front door. Two squad cars arrived. Weapons drawn, the police officers ordered the thief to drop his gun, but instead of complying, he became agitated and rushed at Danny. He was unprepared when the gunman grabbed him by the waist, pointed a Glock to his head, and ordered him to go with him. Danny tried to push him away, but the masked man smashed him in the back of the head with the gun.
Blake, not thinking of his own safety, jumped the masked man and pried his arm away from Danny. Then he heard the pistol pop and felt a searing pain cut through his shoulder. As Danny was falling, he saw the masked man on the ground as the police wrestled him and tried to cuff him. Turning paler with each passing second, Blake came to his aid immediately. He felt Blake’s hand pressing over his shoulder where bright red blood was oozing. He could hear Blake shouting something at him but could not understand a word. He promised to the gods listening that he’d do anything to repay Blake’s selflessness if he survived his ordeal. After what seemed to be a century, Danny finally heard the ambulance’s siren wailing in the distance and then suddenly lost consciousness.
If Blake was willing to take a bullet for him in order to save his life, the least Danny could do was the same for him. 

Confused on what to do next, Danny left his office to clear his mind and headed towards the edge of the cliff near his office building. There were tourists on the beach taking selfies and enjoying the crisp weather. Though the ocean wind stroking his face had a calming effect, it couldn’t cleanse the sour guilt of passively letting the events take their unpredictable course. His thoughts turned to Blake, scared and lonely on some tiny island just beyond the horizon some 7,000 miles away. His mind raced with the million reasons why anyone would want the compound they had discovered together in their makeshift lab during the final years of their Ph.D. program in oceanography.
With Blake working on their company project about the complex fish migration patterns on the research vessel in the southern part of the Philippines, Danny wondered if there was any connection to the Rx-18 compound.
Danny was desperate and knew there was only one person to call—Melchor Rodriguez, a biology professor who had been assisting Blake with his research. As he made the long-distance call, he hoped that Rodriguez would answer immediately. It seemed like an eternity as the sound of an overseas ring droned on and on until finally…
“Hello?”
“Professor Rodriguez, it’s Danny. I’m calling from the States.” He was relieved that Professor Rodriguez had picked up right away.
“I’m glad you called. I’m so pissed with what’s happened to Blake.”
Danny could sense blame in his voice’s low tone.
“I thought the research vessel’s operations were kept secret for security reasons?”
“That’s true. I wasn’t even told where we would drop anchor. It happened so quickly. All of a sudden, we saw a speedboat approach and then six armed men started shooting and demanded to board. Our captain tried to start the engine to get us the hell out of there but they were just too fast,” Rodriguez said with apprehension in his voice.
Expecting the worst, Danny asked, “Was anyone hurt?”
“No, thank goodness. They only took Blake.”
“I’m glad you and the crew are safe.”
“How much is the group demanding?”
“They want the Cube,” Danny responded.
“Isn’t that the Rx-18 compound you two have been working on since college?”
“Yes, that’s right. It’s nothing but a supercharged food and I don’t understand how they knew about it and want it so badly.”
“I’m worried sick for Blake’s safety. The radical group who took him call themselves ‘Kulog ng Timog,’ led by the crazed leader they call Commander Berto. They were responsible for beheading a British man a year ago because the ransom they demanded wasn’t met.”
“Why would those thugs want a scientific experiment?” Danny said, stroking his forehead to calm his nerves.
“It does not matter if this is about science or money. All I care about is getting Blake back alive and well. Can you come to Manila and bring the compound right away?”
“But how are we going to meet with the kidnappers?” Danny asked.
“As they were taking Blake, the group’s leader gave me his go-between’s contact number since I was translating for him. I had a feeling he knew who I was. No one knows I have it but I was instructed to send text messages only and to not pass the number on to the authorities or Blake would be harmed.”
Danny paused for a moment. He knew that he had to take the Rx-18 compound and fly across the ocean to Manila immediately if he wanted Blake freed by his captors.
“There is a flight leaving LAX tonight. I’ll bring the Cube with me,” Danny replied.
“That’s great.”
“Where can I meet you?” Danny asked.

“Get a taxi as soon as you land and tell the driver to take you straight to the university where I’m teaching.”

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Thank you for sharing your story Dennis! If you would like to find out more about Dennis and his novels, head over to his website HERE.



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