It’s a simple routine patrol. Take the tug, circle once around the harbour, head out five kilometres into open water, circle round, then head back. Easy. It’s done four times each 24 hour period and nothing, literally nothing has ever come from it.
The radio was silent for a while after hearing our report. “Say that again, Tug41, over,” the tired sounding man on the other end said.
“There are at least five ships out here, control. Over.”
“What sort of ships, over.”
“We told you, control. War ships, over,” Freddy, our communications guy was getting more and more frustrated.
“There are no ships due at your location, Tug41, over.”
“We know, control. But they are here nonetheless. They have very large guns, if it makes you hurry up with a decision.”
“Have they made any moves to harm you, Tug41?”
“Well, no. They haven't done anything. They're just sitting there, dark and still.”
“Stand by, Tug41.”
And the line went dead. Personally, I was more curious than frustrated. Sure, the latter would come eventually, when I had to give my side of the story and have it not be believed, but for the time being, I was able to take in the majesty of these hulking things.
They were the stereotypical warship; grey and massive. 5 or 600 meters at least. They sat tall on the water, towering above our little boat and off the deck, way above us poked out half a dozen large guns.
They weren't moving at all aside from the light bobbing from the choppy water we had all found ourselves in and there was no light coming from any of their windows. No noise - either engine or human. Nothing to indicate anyone was home. There was something else, too. Something not quite right, but I couldn't place it.
“Stand by Tug41,” the radio went silent and the sullen, foreign, men looked at each other. No one said anything, but one got up and checked a map and altered the course of the boat they were in. He received a grunt of approval from one of the others and he sat back down to the already in progress game of cards.
Every boat had that drip. The steady drip drip drip of a pipe either leaking or building up condensation. Every ship had that drip where it echoed down the metal halls.
These halls were long and the only light came from the dull torch she held in her hand. It barely lit a few feet ahead of her and didn't even make it to the walls. Every so often she would wave it around at the walls and ceiling, but every section of this corridor all looked and felt the same. Cold and damp with that incessant dripping. She tried to push the idea that she was alone on the ship out of her head.
She also didn't call out. If she was the only one left, then whatever happened to the others could still happen to her.
“Look, Jill, I know what I'm doing.”
“Send another tug out! You don't trust those idiots, fine. Send a crew you do trust to verify.”
“There are no ships out there, Jill, look!” the man pointed to a map on the wall which showed the location of every ship near the port.
By law, every ship that sailed in international waters needed a standardised transponder which allowed their position to be tracked at all times. Ostensibly, this was in the few cases of search and rescue, but it was also used as diplomatic blackmail a lot of the time.
According to the map, there was one ship where Tug41 was supposed to be: Tug41. The nearest ship to them was a small fishing trawler, some 15 kilometres away, and while it was slightly off where it was supposed to be, it couldn't be mistaken for the sort of ship the tug was reporting.
“So what? Everyone knows those transponders can be switched off,” Jill sighed. “Just do you damn job. Send another crew out and get them to report on either what Tug41 is seeing, or the idiots on the boat themselves. Do it, or I’ll ring Steve and you know he hates being woken for anything besides his house on fire.”
“Fine, fine. Go round up McKellan and his lot. Get 67 on the water. Tell him they have an hour to make their report.”
“Finally,” Jill said leaving the room.
The fog made it hard to see them all, but there was one alongside us, and at least another two behind it. Freddy was saying he could see another further out, but who the hell listens to Freddy when he’s off the radio?
Still, even if Freddy is full of shit, there is the chance there is a whole fleet out there. What do we do then? We’re a patrol tug. We don't even have weapons. Flare guns won’t do shit against these things.
I was trying not to think about the ships though. I needed to figure out what was so wrong about them. It was nagging me. Something was missing? Or was there something extra? It was one of those two. It’s right there, tickling my mind.
It was the radio that made the final pieces fall into place. “Tug41, this is control. What markings do the ships have?”
The men were speaking fast in a language no one within 2500 kilometres could understand. Their little ship was moving rapidly towards the place this Tug41 had radioed in as their location.
The one man who spoke passable English had told the others what he had heard on the radio: the ship they were alongside had no markings along the side. No name, no country. Nothing. Finally, it was time.
There was light. A door down the corridor was cracked open and a flickering candlelight was coming out from behind it. She switched her torch off and slowly crept towards it. She could hear hushed talking coming from the other side and as she got closer, she knew it wasn't English they were speaking.
She heard someone thump a table angrily and yell at another person in the room. Then she heard something that shocked her. Someone speaking in English.
“Tug41, be advised we have sent Tug67 and Captain McKellan out to assist you in this matter.”