The Ship’s CrewA Tale of The UndeadRR Haywood
‘M.V Panama, I said we are coming in, out!’ The captain’s angry tones sounded round the bridge as the vessel made the final approach into port. ‘They said we’ll be fired upon if we don’t cease,’ the captain relayed to the engineer, Berkowitz and Mack all stood on the bridge. ‘They’re bluffing,’ Berkowitz replied, ‘we’re too close, and they wouldn’t risk detonating a super tanker this close to shore, we’d take the whole city out.’ ‘That’s what I figured, but they’ll have a reception committee waiting for us though,’ the captain said. ‘We can’t risk that,’ Mack said, ‘rotting in some fuckin’ local cop shop for a few hours. Launch the safety boat, hold it on the offside and we’ll fuckin’ do one in that before they come on-board.’ ‘Mitch, can you do that?’ the captain asked without taking his eyes off the instrument panel. ‘Already on it Captain!’ The engineer called out as he left the bridge. ‘Up ahead captain, there’s a space there,’ the young Filipino officer pointed towards the shore side and a long gap alongside the commercial docks. ‘Thank you number two, we will aim for that. Prepare the ship for docking please and have those crew that wish to leave to be at the safety boat.’ ‘Aye Captain, er…I’m going to stay on-board Sir,’ the officer stated clearly. ‘Are you sure?’ The captain asked. ‘Yes Sir, South Africa is no good to me, plus there’s always the chance of reward from the company if we survive this thing. The rest are staying with me too, if that’s okay Captain.’ ‘The rest?’ ‘The other Filipino crew Sir, they’re staying on board with me. We’ll try and re-fuel and get back out. ‘Roger that number two, the choice is yours,’ the captain replied flatly, but not surprised at the young officer taking the chance to impress the ship owners. Mack remained on the bridge, flanking the captain until the ship was docking and watching the local police cars gather on the dockside, the officers getting out and holding assault rifles while waiting for orders. The captain made a final entry into the ships log, shook hands with the number two and departed the bridge with Mack firmly in his wake. Meeting the other crew, the engineer and the security operatives at the offside they quickly scaled down the rope ladder and into the large safety boat already launched from the stern some time previously. The bright orange vessel, intended to be highly visible to search and rescue planes was soon full and moving off, gathering speed until it was powering away from the M.V. Panama. The safety boat was constructed to be a sealed unit once the door was closed, buoyant and safe inside and able to withstand the roughest swells until help arrived. However, the rear door was left open for now in the calm mill-pond like waters of Dar Es Salaam port and they sped further into the port and away from the prying eyes of the police. ‘There’s a lot of traffic here, with luck they won’t even notice,’ McCarthy shouted down in his American drawl. The security operatives were heavily armed and wearing tactical vests, pockets bulging with magazines and each with an assault rifle and 9mm pistol, the chief engineer also bringing his own secretly hidden 9mm pistol from his quarters. The bright orange safety boat powered through the busy water. Boats of all shapes and sizes were mooring, docking or moving out. The crew noticed that although in appearance the harbour looked busy, something was wrong. Simply because the cranes that tower over the cargo ships were inactive. This harbour, as with any international port, was a twenty-four hour operation and cargo sitting on ships costs money. The crew watched with increasing concern as they passed dock after dock, seeing many people gathered and moving about, but none of the cranes in operation. Up close, the city of Dar Es Salaam looked magically intoxicating. Deep blue waters with shining modern built tower blocks mingled with pastel coloured colonial low rise buildings. As with many African states, vibrant colours were everywhere. Slipping through the commercial docks into the smaller pontoons used by the water taxis, harbour officials and privately owned yachts they moored up and quickly tied alongside. The orange coloured safety boat drew little attention, with the dock people used to seeing a myriad of commercial vessels being trialled, tested and used. The men with guns alighting did draw attention but still only very little with Dar Es Salaam being one of the safest African ports, it was still common place to see businessmen or people of power being escorted by armed guards. With the boat hastily secured the mercenaries, captain, engineer and a handful of officers willing to take their chance of escape, quickly moved down the pontoon towards the shore line proper. Keeping low and flanked by the guards, they ran down the wooden jetties and up onto the dockside, stopping to glance about. On seeing nothing unusual they waited while Mack moved ahead towards a gap in the low buildings. He disappeared from view for a few minutes before re-appearing and waving them towards him. ‘It looks manic,’ Mack relayed as they gathered round. ‘How so?’ The engineer asked. ‘I only fucking glanced,’ Mack replied, ‘but the streets are packed, vehicles jammed in and people running about like mad.’ ‘Where are we?’ The captain asked, turning to Berkowitz. ‘Hang on,’ Berkowitz replied, pulling his phone from a side pocket and waiting for it to power up. ‘Signal?’ McCarthy asked. ‘Yep, I’ll call the office,’ Berkowitz put the phone to his ear, taking it away and trying a few times before giving up. ‘Nothing, just a busy signal,’ the phone beeped in his hand causing them to all stare at the device intently. ‘Text from the boss, it says by the time you get this, we’ll be gone. Head south and find somewhere to hold up. Virus is transmitted by bodily fluids. It is not airborne. Stay clear of anyone bleeding. Ends.’ Berkowitz looked up to the men staring at him, mouths open, looks of confusion clear on their faces. ‘Read it again,’ Simpson urged. Berkowitz repeated the message before trying again to ring out again. ‘I can’t get hold of anyone,’ Berkowitz keyed through his contacts, trying number after number. ‘What about local? Try Sammy,’ Mack cut in, his voice still calm and composed. ‘Ok, wait….Sammy it’s Berkowitz can you hear me?…Buddy what is going on?…No we’re shoreside…’ Berkowitz crouched down listening intently, adding comments here and there before ending the phone call and joining the others. ‘It’s bad; Sammy said Europe went over night, within hours. Some kind of virus spreading…’ ‘How does it spread? The text said it was bodily fluids, a virus like that can’t travel that fast,’ McCarthy voiced. ‘Biting,’ Berkowitz said simply. ‘Fuckin’ what?’ Mack leant in, staring hard at his friend. ‘Biting, Sammy said people get bit and then they bite others,’ Berkowitz said flatly. ‘Fuckin’ zombies?’ Mack spat incredulously at the same time as McCarthy said ‘What the fuck man?’ ‘That’s what he said,’ Berkowitz shrugged his shoulders, ‘and right now, that’s about the only reliable source of Intel we got.’ ‘Did he say anything else?’ The captain asked in a quiet voice. ‘He said everyone is fleeing south, trying to get out of the cities. It hit north Africa a few hours ago.’ ‘Any intel about the airport?’ Mack asked. ‘I told him we’re going to try for it,’ Berkowitz replied. ‘Can he help?’ Simpson cut in. ‘He’ll call me back in a few minutes, god knows how the phones are still working, he knows where we are, he’ll try and jack something up.’ ‘What’s he want?’ Mack asked. ‘Want?’ The captain said, his eyebrows knitted in anxiety. ‘It’s Sammy, he always wants something,’ McCarthy answered. ‘He wants out,’ Berkowitz said. ‘Aye, figures. Fair enough though if he can help,’ Mack shrugged. ‘That’s what I said,’ Berkowitz offered as the phone beeped in his hand. ‘Sammy? Yeah I hear you buddy, what you got?’ Berkowitz listened intently, staring off into the distance as he took in the information. ‘Yep, got it, see you there,’ Berkowitz shut the phone down. ‘He’s got transport but he can’t get here. We need to move about three clicks south, there’s a church called The Holy Trinity on the edge of the shanty town. We get there and he meets with transport to the airport.’ ‘Do we go through the shanty? Round it? Is it on the other side or what?’ Simpson asked. ‘Through it,’ Berkowitz grimaced. Mack remained expressionless, which spoke volumes to the squad leader. ‘No other way then?’ Mack asked bluntly. ‘Nope, that’s it.’ Berkowitz replied. For a few seconds they each remained silent, having been in Dar Es Salaam enough times to know the dangers of entering the shanty towns. It wasn’t a question of skin colour; both Berkowitz and Simpson were black. This was a question of feudal territory, a lawless place where even the paramilitary seldom went, and even then they moved in great numbers and armed to the teeth. Now, with the threat of annihilation, they could only imagine what horrors lay within the twisting narrow confines of the over populated area. ‘Aye, well best be getting on with it then,’ Mack said, checking his equipment over and counting the spare magazines for the assault rifle. ‘Move fast, stay low, do not engage unless absolutely necessary. Mack, you take point, Simpson you watch our six. Captain, we need you to stay in the middle and keep moving no matter what happens. You’re our best shot out of here once we make the airport. Everyone clear?’ Berkowitz glanced at each man in turn, noting the difference between the set, determined faces of the ex-military and the nervous wide eyed palpable fear of the ship’s crew. With a deep breath he racked the bolt back on his weapon and nodded for Mack to take the lead. Part Three of The Ship’s Crew coming soon.