Water's Edge

By Sanguine

Episode 9.11

Part One

 

MacGyver left the Phoenix Foundation building with a backpack slung over his shoulder and the morning sun shining down on his skin. He and Pete had finally managed to finish up the entire mound of paperwork that had needed to be filled out after the fiasco with Murdoc from the previous month, and Mac couldn’t wait to get away from it all. It seemed that with every signed statement or detailed report, the memories of his many brushes with death broke through his mind like a jagged cut that never had the chance to heal. Well, hopefully, a nice and quiet fishing trip would change all of that.

Mac tossed his backpack into the passenger seat of the Jeep before jumping into the car himself. He’d loaded up the fishing gear in the back the night before, so now all that was left to do was pick up Sam and they’d be on their way. With his sunglasses and the radio on, it didn’t seem that life could get much better as he parallel parked in front of his son’s home. Sam was already waiting on the sidewalk, camera in hand. Grinning at his father, Sam shoved Mac’s backpack out of the way and climbed in.

“Ready to go?” Sam asked.

MacGyver nodded, starting the car. “I was ready a month ago. I can’t tell you how glad I am to finally get a break. Between the DXS questioning me for details and the Phoenix board trying to get all the legal stuff figured out, you wouldn’t believe how high Pete’s blood pressure has gotten… And mine too, to be honest.”

Sam chuckled. “Don’t worry, Dad. I don’t think the fish in Minnesota are going to care if all your I’s are dotted and all your T’s are crossed.”

“I sure hope not!” Mac shook his head slightly. “In a way, though, I kinda feel bad about leaving Pete behind.”

Sam looked at him curiously. “I thought you said you’d gotten all those reports and stuff finished.”

“Well, almost finished. Everything’s pretty much done on my end, but Pete still has a ways to go, since he’s the one who got the Phoenix board to approve the partnership with the DXS. For a little while, I helped him fill some of that stuff out, but he said that he was comfortable with just dictating the rest to his secretary, so he set me free a little early.”

“Maybe you could do something nice for him later, then. Pick him up a souvenir from Minnesota,” Sam suggested.

MacGyver smiled. “Good idea. I think he’d like that.”

 

* * * *

Three days later, and father and son were rolling into Mission City. Watching Sam around his old hometown always made Mac smile; despite the many things Sam had seen on his travels around the world, he never lost his sense of wonder, snapping pictures of anything that struck his fancy. MacGyver could practically see the gears in Sam’s head turning as he chatted with people at the bait shop about the small-town life, and Mac wouldn’t at all be surprised to see some kind of feature article cropping up in the near future. After dropping in to visit Neil, they drove the Jeep down to Lower Mission Lake, looking forward to a quiet day’s fishing.

MacGyver assembled the poles and baited the hooks pretty much by himself, as Sam was busy exploring their chosen fishing site. Large rocks and sparse grass gave way to sand and smooth stones closer to the water’s edge, and fallen logs and forest debris surrounded them. The waves lapped lazily at the bank, pushed along by a gentle and unobtrusive wind. For MacGyver, their surroundings meant that fish would have lots of places to hide---and therefore, to bite---but for Sam, the scenery seemed to be almost magical. Every time Mac looked around for his son, he spotted Sam with his head in a clump of wildflowers or lifting up a tree branch to see what was underneath. He couldn’t help but grin. “Nice to know that you approve of my favorite spot.”

“Approve?” Sam replied, looking up from a patch of vervain. “Dad, this is great. I can see why you like to come here.”

MacGyver smiled. “Think you can take a break from exploring to cast your line?”

“Sure!” Sam flopped down onto the ground beside MacGyver with a smile and grabbed his fishing rod. “Uh, Dad?”

“Yeah?”

Sam gestured to the reel and glanced up at him. “What is this, and how exactly do I use it?”

“Oh. It’s called a spinning reel. It’s easy once you get the hang of it. Here, I’ll show you.”

Of course, Sam was casting like a pro within five minutes.

MacGyver beamed. “You’re a fast learner. The fish had better keep an eye out for you! You’re a natural.”

Sam smiled and reached for the tackle box. “Runs in the family, right?”
“Right.”

The two of them settled into comfortable silence as they watched their lines and the ever-present waves. MacGyver’s mind drifted, floating away until he was thinking of nothing at all, just enjoying the feel of the breeze and the sounds of the lake and the sight of the two floaters dipping up and down in the water.

That is, until he felt Sam starting to get restless.

It started with a leg twitch. As someone who sometimes needed to stretch his legs himself, MacGyver didn’t give Sam’s movements much thought, content to still be thinking of absolutely nothing. But then the leg twitch was joined by foot-tapping, which led to fingers tapping, which led to outright squirming, and finally, Sam just flopped backwards onto the ground and stared at the clouds.

MacGyver inched his eyes away from his fishing line and looked at his son. “All right, why don’t you go ahead and take a break? We’ve got the sandwiches in the Jeep, or you could go back to exploring for a while. I’ll keep an eye on your line for ya while you’re gone.”

Instantly, Sam bolted upright and grabbed Mac in a one-armed hug. “Thanks, Dad!”
He snagged his camera and away he went.

MacGyver sighed and shook his head as Sam cheerfully traipsed off through the weeds. Then his gaze settled back onto the serene lake and his mind went back to emptying itself of everything but fishing.

 

* * * *

Sam, on the other hand, couldn’t be more delighted to fill his mind with every detail of the lake area. The air was warm but the shade was cool, and the trees seemed to branch out in every direction, lush and green with summer growth. Even though he hadn’t mentioned anything to his father, Sam wanted to take a vacation just as much as MacGyver did. He loved the thrill of chasing down leads and the discovery of visiting new people and new places, but honestly, the fast-paced photojournalist lifestyle could be tiring...if not downright exhausting. He was enjoying the opportunity to just relax and spend some time in a beautiful locale without the pressure of a looming deadline or an editor’s orders.

He knew that if he took many more pictures of yellow-striped butterflies or purple coneflowers or expansive lake views, he was going to burn up his entire roll of film, but he honestly didn’t care. It was worth it to him to absorb the entire experience and preserve the memories in a tangible form---a beautiful form that he hoped other people would appreciate, too.

Sam trekked a little farther through the woods, pushing his way through shrubs and brush, until he found a big flat rock jutting out into the water. He grinned.
Perfect.

He clambered up on top of the rock and stood as close to the edge as he dared. From that vantage point, he was clear of the twisting maple branches, and the sun was reflecting on the surface of the lake in the most exquisite view. This will make for a perfect shot, just perfect, he thought, holding up the camera and pressing his eye against the viewfinder. He snapped the best photo he’d taken all day, lingered there for a moment to take everything in, and carefully slid his way off of the rock.

With a splash, his left foot slipped into the shallows as he miscalculated his landing. “Awww! Now I’m all wet.” He frowned at the large damp spots soaking through his blue jeans as he took a step back onto the lakeshore. Then, his frown deepened as he noticed something else in the water that he’d just disrupted.

Thick, slimy swirls of bright green were roiling about in the shallow lakewater like an oil slick. Puzzled, Sam knelt down to get a better look. “What the heck is that?”

He grabbed a nearby stick and pushed it into the water, swishing the green stuff around a little. It stuck to the bark almost like a foam. The light breeze caught up and drifted over the surface of the water, ruffling Sam’s brown hair.

The scent that the wind carried with it made him want to gag. He jumped up and stepped away from the water, holding his arm in front of his nose. Whatever the green stuff was, it smelled like a sewer. He dropped the stick like it was on fire, fervently hoping that the green stuff hadn’t actually come from a sewer.

Then, he darted back through the woods, heading straight for his father and the special fishing spot. If anybody knew what that nasty substance could be, it would be MacGyver.

 

* * * *

Sam hadn’t been gone for more than twenty minutes by MacGyver’s estimate when Mac heard the sound of his approach as he raced through the trees. The loud crunching of last year’s dry leaves and the snapping of loose twigs heralded the young man’s return. MacGyver glanced up as Sam skidded to a stop a couple feet away from him. “Back for more?”

“Yeah, I don’t know,” Sam said uncomfortably, trying to sort out in his mind exactly how to describe the green stuff to MacGyver, trying to remember all the pertinent details.

“Hang on, I think I finally got a bite!” Mac said with a grin as he set the hook and reeled in his line. A few moments later, and he was holding a large and wriggling fish aloft. “Looks like a walleye,” he said triumphantly, but his smile faded as he took a good look at his catch.

Hesitantly, Sam stepped closer. “Is there something wrong with it?”

“I think so,” Mac said slowly. “Here, help me hold it while I get it off the hook. We need to take a closer look at it.”

Sam grabbed the fish around the middle, one hand clamped on its writhing tail, as MacGyver gently removed the hook and began to poke and prod the fish in various places around its body. Mac stared at the walleye, visage serious as he finished his examination.

“What do you think?” Sam said, fighting to hold the fish still.

“It’s not moving right. Something’s just off about it. And here, look at the way its skin looks, especially around the gills.”

Sam shrugged a little. “It looks almost, I don’t know, like it’s got a sunburn or a rash or something.”

“It’s a chemical burn, I think. Or something similar. But that usually only happens when there’s a high pH in the water. Sam, put it back in the water. Don’t let go of it, but put it back in. I want to see how it moves when it swims.”

Sam tried not to glare at his dad as he dunked the struggling fish under the waves. He really did. “Dad, it’s getting really hard to hold this fish.”

“It’s okay, Sam, you can let it go now. Watch it!”

As the walleye flopped around and disappeared into the depths of the lake, Sam exclaimed, “It’s lopsided! You were right, it’s not swimming the way it should.”

“Probably because its air bladder isn’t inflating right. It can’t get its balance,” Mac said thoughtfully.

Sam blinked. “Huh?”

“Fish are able to stay afloat when they swim because they have a pouch of air inside their bodies that they can inflate. If there’s something wrong with that pouch, they can’t move through the water the way they’re supposed to.”

“So---so what causes that to happen? Is the fish sick?”

Mac shrugged. “Maybe. It could be anything. There’s no way to know.”

Sam glanced back at the direction of the woods and the rock that he’d come running from. “Hey, Dad? I saw some really weird green stuff floating around in the water back there. Do you think that could have something to do with it?”

“Could be. What did it look like?”

Quickly, Sam gave MacGyver the rundown on what he’d seen.

“Show me,” MacGyver commanded.

Without another word, Sam raced off through the woods.

“Aw, Sam! Wait up!”

When Sam reached the big rock and the shoreline that he’d traversed just minutes ago, everything seemed to be exactly the way he’d left it. He pointed at the edge of the water and the green slick on the surface. “See, Dad? ...Dad?” He waited patiently for MacGyver, and just a second later, his dad burst through the brush.

“You know, Sam, a little advance warning before you just take off would be nice.”
Sam shrugged. “Sorry, Dad. I keep forgetting how old you are.”

MacGyver shot him a glare. “Okay, okay. So what was it you wanted to show me?”

Sam pointed to the water and the slime. “Over there.”

Forehead creased, MacGyver grabbed Sam’s stick from the ground and knelt on the bank, peering down into the water. Just as Sam had done earlier, he poked the stick into the water and swirled the green substance around. Then he jumped up and began searching other places along the edge of the lake.

“Dad?” Sam said, “What are you looking for?”

“This,” MacGyver called from the other side of the big rock. “C’mere for a minute.”

Sam picked his way over to his dad’s position, stepping over driftwood and fallen branches. “What is it?”

MacGyver pushed the stick into the water and dragged it back up, pulling up a tangled mat of long brownish strands---something thick and filamentous and slimy.
Sam covered his nose. “Ugh, Dad, that’s disgusting! What is that stuff?”

Mac’s nose wrinkled as he answered. “This is what that green stuff on the other side of the rock is gonna turn into when it grows up a little more. It’s called blue-green algae.”

“Algae? That’s what that is? I thought algae was that green stuff on the inside of fish tanks.”

Mac shook his head. “Algae comes in all different species.” He dropped the stick back into the water and stepped over to the rock. “Actually, this stuff is a type of bacteria. Cyanobacteria. When it grows out of control in blooms like this, it releases toxins into the water, and the byproducts of photosynthesis change the pH and nutrient levels in the ecosystem.”

Sam lifted up his camera and snapped a few pictures of the bacteria blooms, trying to breathe through his mouth. “This is what hurt the fish?”

“That’s right.” MacGyver paced the shoreline with a frown. “It’s toxic for dogs and people, too. You didn’t touch it, did you?”

“No.” Sam backed well away from the water and leaned back against a tree. “But I did get my leg in the water.” His forehead creased, unconsciously mirroring his dad’s expression. “It’s not gonna kill me, is it, Dad?”

MacGyver shook his head gently. “No, you’ll be fine. Just make sure not to touch your jeans and then put your hands on your face, and wash yourself off when we get back to the motel.”

Sam nodded, still frowning. “What can we do about this? I mean, we can’t just leave this stuff here in the water if it’s dangerous.”

“I agree. The first step is figuring out what started the bloom. We won’t know how to fix the problem if we don’t know what’s causing it. it. Why don’t we run back into town and check out the bait shop again? If anyone here’s going to know what’s happening with the lake, it’ll be the local fishermen.”

“Good idea, Dad,” Sam said with a grin. “Race you back to the Jeep!”

“Sam!”

 

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