Captain Callister and his crew waited patiently while the pirates combed through every nook and cranny of the Abigail. From the crew’s quarters and the corridors came the crashing noises of overturned furniture and emptied bins and containers. The men laughed as they went, clearly enjoying the havoc.
Twenty minutes later they emerged from the rear doors of the ship back onto the aft deck, boxes of supplies piled high in their arms. There were personal items as well––watches, necklaces, and electronics––stuffed into the men’s pockets and tossed carelessly into the boxes.
“Looks like y’all were holding out on us,” growled one of the pirates, leaning into the captain’s face and glowering.
“I told you we had no weapons aboard,” Brother Callister responded.
“Maybe not, but you had plenty of other stuff. Just look!” the man teased, holding up an arm to show off an expensive stolen watch that belonged to the captain. It had been an anniversary gift from his wife shortly before her death. He bit his lip and pushed the sentiment from his mind.
“These items are of no use to you. We already gave you what we could,” the captain objected, but the men ignored him and were already beginning to toss the boxes down into their boat. He wanted to step forward, to do something to stop these delinquents from taking the few personal belongings that he and crew still owned, but a gentle hand on his arm stopped him. He glanced back to find himself staring into Monique’s cautioning eyes. She slowly shook her head.
“Are we done here?” the captain asked the leader of the pack. The man ignored the question as he lit a cigarette and blew the smoke into the brother’s face.
“Why? You in some kind of rush?” asked the pirate.
“As a matter of fact, we have an appointment with the rest of our convoy.”
“Uh huh,” the man replied, glancing over the captain’s shoulder. “Well then, we’ll let y’all get on with it. We just need one more thing.” In a flash of movement, the man dropped the smoldering cigarette to the deck and snapped his hand out to grab Monique’s wrist. She struggled to resist, but even using only one arm he was much too strong for her.
“Stop it. Let me go!” Monique shouted, twisting and writhing, trying to break free. But the man said nothing as he pulled her closer to the railing of the supply boat.
John Callister had had enough. In spite of the two armed men standing at either side, he reached out and grabbed his first mate’s other arm. Instantly, the brothers on deck followed his lead, grasping for the sister and halting the kidnapping. The two pirates raised their weapons.
“Back up! Right now!” they ordered.
“No,” Brother Callister said firmly. “You may take our supplies and our valuables, but I will not let you take my crew.”
The lead pirate whipped his head around, a menacing look in his eyes. “And how are you gonna stop me? You people are too stupid to arm yourselves, too naive to protect yourself against a handful of opportunists like ourselves. What’s your plan here?”
The captain said nothing, a hard set look in his eyes, his gaze unflinching as he stared directly at the lead pirate. For a few tense moments, neither man spoke.
“Fine!” the man finally said, pushing Monique away from him. “Have it your way! Let her die with the rest of you. Mark my words––none of y’all will last long on these waters!” the man laughed as he corralled his accomplices back over the railing and into their fishing boat. The captain and crew of the Abigail could hear their raucous laughter as they disappeared over the black waves.
Brother Chavez welcomed the overseers one by one back into the small conference room. The scene was much as it had been days prior when they’d last met, but spirits were noticeably higher today. Even Peter Burton had managed a couple of nights’ worth of sleep and was ready to be here and hear more of what had been described to him briefly on the phone as “positive developments”. The brothers mingled briefly over coffee and day-old pastries prepared by the cafeteria.
“I’ll get right to the point,” Donnie Chavez said when everyone had filed in and the meeting had officially begun. “Early this morning I received a message from Brother Garboni,” he said, gesturing towards the overseer of security. “Charles, I’ll let you share the rest.”
Charles Garboni nodded and rose from his seat, making his way to the far wall of the room where a printout of a 3D floor plan of the entire rig was mounted to a giant billboard. “I was contacted early this morning from one of our night watchmen. He and another brother had been assigned to the East Cafeteria on the B Deck,” he explained, sticking a red pin into the diagram. “Apparently, they spotted someone sneaking into the kitchen area and stealing supplies.”
“Did the brother have a copy of the artist’s sketch we provided?” asked Peter.
“He did, and he checked it. It was dark, but he seems to think this could’ve been our man. He said he didn’t stay long though; he filled a small sack with some supplies and was gone. The watchman said his behavior was peculiar; he seemed careful not to take too many supplies, perhaps to keep from arousing suspicion.”
“Did the watchmen follow him?” Brother Chavez asked.
Brother Garboni shook his head. “No. They were instructed not to follow or engage in any way.”
“But then how does this get us any closer to finding this stowaway and our sister?” Peter asked.
“The instructions given were for any watchmen who spotted anyone resembling the fugitive to determine which direction he was moving in and contact the nearest brother in his path. It was safer to keep an eye on him this way, rather than have someone tailing him.”
“And? Did anyone else on your crew see the man?” Brother Chavez asked.
Charles Garboni pulled two more red pins from the corner of the bulletin board and continued. “Yes. We had another watchman camped out in a rec area here. There’s a snack and water cabinet there and we suspected the stowaway might attempt to stock up on supplies here. That turned out not to be the case, but he did pass through the hallway just outside the rec area and was spotted through the windows.” Charles stuck one of the red pins into the corresponding spot on the map. A path was now beginning to form on the diagram.
“From there our suspect kept course, taking the south exit on this level here. We know this because another watchman on the top deck spotted him from the tower crane.” A final pin was jabbed into the map. “Unfortunately, the trail goes cold after that. The man kept to the shadows and wasn’t seen by anyone after he passed under the walkway, here. Still, it doesn’t leave too many places for him to have gone.”
“So you have an idea where he might be holed up?” Donnie Chavez asked.
“I have a guess, yes,” Brother Garboni said. He pulled a few green pins from the corner of the bulletin board before continuing. “On the lower decks here are a bunch of old supply lockers. They were too small to be converted into apartment pods and a little out of the way to be practical for storage, so most of the spaces have gone unused. My guess is that our stowaway somehow got into one of them––perhaps he was able to pick the lock––and that’s where he is now.”
“And what about the missing sister?”
“It’s possible he’s got her in another one of the lockers. It’d be a tight squeeze, but not impossible.” Charles turned from the group of overseers and jabbed pins into the indicated spaces: tiny boxes which were barely visible from the conference table.
“This is some fantastic work, Charles,” the chairman said as the other brothers nodded in unison. “The question is, what do we do now?”
“Why not just go and check all the rooms?” Peter asked, but Charles was already shaking his head.
“Not a viable solution?” Donnie asked.
“It’s not what I’d recommend, no,” Charles said with a grave look.
Charles’ gaze fell to the carpeted floor as he sat heavily in a chair by the bulletin board. “To be perfectly frank with you all, I was a little skeptical of this whole stowaway story in the beginning. It just didn’t seem possible. There aren’t many places to hide on this rig without going noticed. The kidnapping seemed even more unlikely. But after sitting down and going over the watchmen’s reports from this morning… Well, let’s just say that whoever this guy is, he knows what he’s doing. He’s been able to slip in and out of corridors and cafeterias and supply closets without being noticed all this time. Had we lacked a very specific plan for spotting him, I doubt anyone would’ve noticed. Even the watchmen had a difficult time tracking his movements, and they’re trained.”
“So what are you saying?” the chairman asked.
“I think Brother Burton’s first instinct may have been on point. We could be dealing with a trained professional, meaning he’s extremely dangerous. Especially if he’s got a captive. If we go straight to his hideout, we could be risking a hostage situation.”
The overseers let this sink in.
“Then what options does that leave us with? We can’t just ignore him.”
“What if we just stake the place out, wait for him to leave again, and then go in and get Angelica?” Peter suggested.
“Also risky,” said Brother Garboni. “Even if you manage to extract her safely, he’ll still be on the loose. Once he finds that she’s gone, he’ll just find another place to hide, and I’m guessing it’ll be even more difficult to track him down the second time. It would also put us all in danger. It’d just be a matter of him grabbing another passenger and you’ve got a hostage scenario again.”
“This seems pretty hopeless, then,” said the chairman with an exhausted look.
“There must be another way, something we’re not thinking of,” Peter said. The other men were staring at the table between them with furrowed brows.
“Maybe we can pray about it, take a little break, and reconvene after lunch, when everyone’s had some time to think over the situation,” suggested Marcus Kelly. Heads around the table nodded in unison and the group of overseers was dismissed with a prayer.
Joyce Tucker found her way to the pilothouse of the Abigail, where Monique sat alone in the captain’s chair. A wool blanket was draped over her shoulders and she cradled a steaming mug between her hands. The consoles before her chirped and throbbed quietly.
“Mind if I join you?” Joyce asked.
Monique gestured to the open seat beside her without a word.
“What a day, huh?” Joyce said.
“What a day.”
“Sometimes I wonder how long this can possibly go on for,” Joyce sighed. “In the last couple of months I’ve fled my home, lived in a refugee camp, been interrogated by soldiers, slept in a homeless shelter, fled on a sailboat, and experienced a shipwreck. I thought I’d been through it all, and then we get hijacked by pirates. I’m almost getting used to this life.”
Monique was silent.
“Mind if I ask your story?” Joyce said. Monique gave her a long look and shrugged.
“My family was from Haiti. We emigrated to the United States when I was a little girl. My mom was contacted by the Witnesses first. Dad opposed her for a few years because of some things he’d heard from relatives back in Haiti, some crazy thing about the Witnesses practicing witchcraft. He even threatened to divorce my mom, which would’ve probably resulted in her having to move back to Haiti, but she stood firm. Within a few years he was studying, too. Eventually we all got baptized.”
“That’s a wonderful story,” Joyce said, smile beaming. “Where are your parents now? They on another boat here?”
Monique shook her head and stared blankly into the blackness beyond the bridge windows. “They were visiting family in Port-au-Prince when the 2010 earthquake struck. They were at a local vegetable market when it happened. We never found them.”
“I’m so sorry,” Joyce said.
“I was only sixteen at the time, in my second year of high school. Life in America was all I knew and I had no Witness family in Haiti to go back to. That’s when the Callisters took me in.”
“The Callisters? As in the captain?”
Monique nodded. “At the time it was him and his wife, Linda, and I. We were an odd-looking family for sure. Two middle-aged white people and their little black Haitian girl in probably the whitest suburb of all Seattle.”
“You poor thing,” Joyce said with a chuckle.
“Oh, I was used to it by that point. I’d been in public schools the whole time. I’m sure it was harder for John and Linda getting all those stares. But we made it work. John’s like a father to me.”
“What about Linda?”
“Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly before the evacuation letters came through. She was gone within just a few months.”
“It was a huge blow for John. They’d been together most of their lives and expected to see the end together. But now it’s just me and him.”
“I see why he fought for you on that deck,” Joyce said.
“Oh, he would’ve done the same for anyone aboard this ship. He’d give his life to save one of us if he had to.”
“Sounds like a good brother.”
“One of the best I’ve known. And what about you? You alone out here?” Monique asked. She leaned forward and gently adjusted one of the dials on the console.
“Yes and no,” Joyce said. “I have a husband named Alvin. He’s an overseer as well, and he’s probably on one of the ships out here, but… Well, we got separated weeks ago. I haven’t been able to talk with him in a long time. Actually, the last time I did… I didn’t say the nicest things. I regret it every day. But I look forward to seeing him soon. I miss him something awful.”
“I know how that feels,” Monique sighed. The two sat in silence as the Abigail trudged on, drawing ever closer to the rest of the convoy.
“Turkey or tuna?” Peter asked, setting the tray of sandwiches down on the cafeteria table before taking a seat across from his wife.
“It doesn’t matter,” Rachel responded flatly.
“Then may I suggest the tuna extraordinaire? It’s the special for the day and, if I may be so bold as to say, pairs delightfully with this bag of Lay’s potato chips,” Peter said, wriggling his fingers with a wave across the tray of packaged foods.
“Your British accent needs some work,” Rachel said, grabbing the tuna sandwich and peeling open the bag of chips. She glanced up at her husband with the faintest of smirks. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
“Now there’s the smile I’ve been missing the last few days,” Peter said. He raised a finger to brush a wisp of hair from Rachel’s eyes but she batted it away.
“You haven’t exactly given me a whole lot to smile about.”
“Point taken,” Peter said, unwrapping his turkey sandwich, his third in as many days. He shut his eyes and tried to imagine some other flavor. “You know,” he said between bites, “I never understood why the Israelites complained about manna… Now I’m starting to see how it might’ve been a real trial.”
“Don’t change the subject,” Rachel said with a shake of her head. Her voice had taken on a serious tone, but at least she was talking now.
“Ok. I’m sorry.”
“That’s a start. Sorry for what?”
Peter held his breath and resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “I’ve been… really preoccupied lately. It’s just this whole Angelica thing, Rachel. I feel––”
“No, don’t excuse it. Tell me why you’re sorry.”
“I… I’ve been neglecting you.”
“And… And… I’m not sure.”
“Peter, let me ask you a question. Do you even know what department I’m working in?”
Rachel shook her head and huffed. “I switched out of laundry almost two weeks ago.”
“Oh. Wow. And so now you’re in…”
“Right. Ok, I think I remember hearing you say that.”
“In the last week, how many actual conversations have we had?” Rachel asked.
“I… I’m not sure. I know we eat together.”
“None, Peter. Not once have you asked me how I am, or even how Evan is. You volunteered for us to take him in, and while I’m happy to do it, it’s been one more thing thrown onto my plate. I know you’re busy, Peter, and stressed out and worried about Angelica.”
“I’m sorry,” Peter attempted.
“And this whole time I’ve still been so worried about Claire. After that one time we talked, everything was turned upside down. Suddenly we were out on the open seas and there was all the news about the blackouts. We have no idea where she is, or if she’s even safe. What if something happened in Vancouver? What if Claire had second thoughts and returned to her school? Literally anything could’ve happened in the last few weeks.” “Rachel, hon, I’m sure Claire is fine. We’re just out of contact for the moment.”
“I know that in my head, Peter. But it doesn’t stop me from worrying about her. And the Angelica situation is even worse. I’m not even allowed to talk about that with anyone. People are asking where she is and why Evan is with me all the time. Am I supposed to deflect the questions somehow? Am I supposed to lie? I know you have a lot more people counting on you, and I’m sure there’s plenty that you can’t tell me about. I get all that, Peter. But I need at least some of you for me. Is that too much to ask?”
Peter gazed into his wife’s eyes, and for the first time in weeks could appreciate just how close she’d come to her breaking point. She looked older, suddenly, weathered and wizened.
“You’re beautiful,” Peter said. “You know that?”
“Oh brother. Don’t try that with me,” Rachel said, rolling her eyes.
“I mean it, Rachel. It’s that earnest, honest quality that made me fall in love with you all those years ago. And you’re right, I’ve been too wrapped up in my own head to really be with you. I’ll do better, starting right now.”
“Okay,” Rachel said uncertainly.
Peter glanced at his wristwatch. “Look, I’ve got a meeting this afternoon, but after that, let’s do a date night. We’ve still got that bottle of cabernet, right?”
“I thought you said we’d only open it after Armageddon,” Rachel said.
“Forget it. Let’s open it tonight. We’ll put on some music and watch the sunset from our room. Deal?”
“That… That actually sounds kind of wonderful,” Rachel said.
“I can’t promise a fancy dinner, but at least we’ll be together.”
“That’s all I’m asking for, babe.”
“Then you got it,” Peter said with a wink. He took Rachel’s hand in his and kissed it just as a sister in blue hospital scrubs appeared next to their table.
“Brother Burton?” the young woman asked. Peter and Rachel exchanged a worried look.
“Yes, that’s me,” Peter replied.
“I’m glad I found you. I’ve been looking everywhere. It’s about Ted Watkins.”
Peter felt Rachel’s grip tighten on his hands. Whatever the news was, they were here for each other.
“Ok,” Peter said, bracing for the worst.
“The doctors would like to see you in the infirmary,” she said nervously, already backing away from the table and towards the doors.
“I’m coming with you,” Rachel said. The couple rose, hand in hand, and followed the nurse.
It was nearly three in the morning when Captain Callister spotted the pale deck lights of the distant supertanker. She sat on the sea like a giant sleeping on a bed of glass.
The surface of the water was calm and flat, and John Callister was grateful. Choppy seas made transportation between vessels difficult at best; this would be a cinch. He leaned into the console and pulled a switch, flicking on Abigail’s cabin and hallway lights to rouse the crew. What little coffee was left in the galley was hastily brewed and distributed. There would be no breakfast served. Since their ship had been plundered just hours prior, their supplies had run dangerously low, but now it mattered not. Their rendezvous with a supply barge would mean a full restock and refuel, a task which even a groggy crew was eager to begin.
Joyce Tucker slipped into a thick fleece sweater and a pair of workman’s boots. A neon green hardhat covered in strips of reflective tape completed the outfit. She navigated the corridors to the weather deck. Most of the crew had gathered in a tight line huddled over cups of coffee. They watched expectantly as the immense supertanker loomed closer.
“She’s called The Golden Age,” Monique said to Joyce.
“Clever. Not the original name, I’m assuming?”
Monique shook her head. “Most of the ships were renamed after our organization acquired them. I thought at first it was just a silly little thing, but now I see the wisdom of it.”
“Sure. We run across an unfamiliar ship out here and everyone’s suddenly nervous. You were here for the last run-in.”
Joyce nodded thoughtfully.
“But if you spot a ship with a name like The Golden Age, Queen of Sheba, or Millennial Dawn, you’re instantly at ease. You know it’s one of ours.”
“I see,” Joyce said, amused.
“This tanker’s fully outfitted for your friend,” the captain said, appearing suddenly at Joyce’s other side. “They’ve got a stocked medical bay and from what I hear some of the best doctors and nurses from the West Coast. I’m sure they’ll be able to help her.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
“Once you leave this vessel, just brother,” John corrected.
In another few minutes, The Golden Age towered high above Abigail. It seemed to stretch on endlessly in either direction. Tiny silhouetted figures with headlamps scampered along her upper deck. White puffs of condensation from the deck hands’ mouths were ignited by the powerful deck lights.
Above them, a pneumatic telescoping boom extended slowly, a reinforced cage suspended from its tip.
“Incoming! Heads up!” Captain Callister shouted as the cage began its descent. The crew scrambled into positions, giving the cage ample room. As soon as it made contact with the deck, its door was flung open and supplies hoisted off and passed down the assembly line of crew members. Joyce fell in place among them, eager to help with the unloading of supplies. Though their time together had been brief, they already felt like family.
This loading and unloading process was repeated twice more, and within ninety minutes the Abigail had been completely restocked. The cage lifted once more into the air, and when it returned Joyce was surprised to see a man sitting inside.
“Who are the two transfers?” he asked once he’d shaken hands with the captain.
John Callister motioned to Joyce. “This sister here is one. The other is the injured sister. She’s still below decks.”
“Is she able to move?”
“Her system has been in shock since the accident. I think I’ll need help getting her here. Can two people fit in the cage?” Joyce asked.
The man nodded. “I’ll send you two up first. Can you take me to her?”
Joyce led the way below decks to their cabin. Stacy was just as she’d left her, just as she’d been since they’d boarded the supply ship and done their best to keep her sedated. Her fever had broken but she was pale and motionless.
“Her arms are badly burned,” Joyce said. “We’ll have to be extra careful when moving her.”
“No other injuries? Just the arms?” asked the man. He pulled a small flashlight from his jacket pocket and gave Stacy a quick examination.
“Not that I know of. Are you a doctor?” Joyce asked. The man nodded.
“Roderick Munoz,” he said, briskly shaking her hand. “We’ll have to take her to the medical bay for a thorough examination, but it looks like you did a pretty good job keeping her under. The pain would be excruciating if not for that. She’s fortunate to have a nurse at her side,” he said, putting the flashlight away and standing. “Most of the ships out here are equipped with a small first aid kit and basic medical information and that’s it.”
“Have there been a lot of serious injuries since the evacuation from Burrard?” Joyce asked.
“A few. Your friend here wasn’t the first to get caught in a fire. Once the blackout hit, there were all kinds of fire-related injuries. Other than that, transit between boats has proven pretty dangerous. A few broken bones, people jumping out of cages too soon and spraining an ankle, that kind of thing. Still, I’m sure it’s nothing compared to what’s happening back on land.”
“How bad is it there?”
“Let’s get your friend moved first. We can talk more on the tanker.”
On the weather deck, Joyce Tucker said her farewells to the crew. She thanked Captain Callister and gave Monique a big hug. “Hang in there, sweetie,” she whispered.
“I will, Joyce,” the younger sister said, wiping a tear away with the back of her hand.
As the doctor, Stacy Owen, and Joyce were loaded into the cage and the groaning winches gathered the steel cable lifting them into the air, Joyce gazed down at the crew and let her mind wander. She wondered when she’d see these friends again, and whether or not they’d all make it safely to their destination.
“You said things are worse on land,” she said to the doctor. “I got a little taste of it as we were fleeing a harbor in Seattle. What’s it like now?”
“When we left, bad. Surely much worse now. We received some photos and videos earlier from the last of the evacuees. Fires and looting everywhere. I’m sure the death toll is catastrophic.”
“I wonder if there’ll be anyone left,” Joyce said distractedly, gazing off into the murky distance.
“There must be. Otherwise who would come after us in the final attack?” said the doctor with a dour look.
“What about reports from our friends? Any fatalities?”
“Not that I’ve heard of,” the doctor said. “But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. We’re not really in contact with the other medical bays on different tankers.”
“Captain Callister mentioned you were fully staffed.”
“Yes, we’ve got over twenty in the infirmary. About half are general practitioners and RNs, but we have a few specialists. Even a few surgeons, if the need arises.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t.”
“You never know. We’ve still got a lot of sea ahead of us.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Joyce said. The higher they climbed, the more distinct the swinging motion of the cage became. Joyce felt herself gripping the steel edge of the bench beneath her. “There’s something else I want to ask,” she said, controlling her impulse to gaze through the grating at her feet.
“Go ahead,” said the doctor, cool as ever.
“I’m trying to find my husband. We were separated back in Vancouver and he has no idea where I am.”
“Separated in the camps?”
“Well, no… It’s a little more complicated than that. But I need to find him.”
“There’s a database of ship manifests I can access from our ship, but I can’t guarantee anything. The data is still being compiled and with the spotty reception we’ve been experiencing out here, everything’s a bit haywire.”
“I understand. I realize it’s like finding a needle in a haystack, but I need to try. His name is Alvin Tucker. Last I saw him, he was still in Burrard, but we talked later on the phone and he mentioned boarding a ship. I know it’s not much to go on, but that’s all I know.”
The doctor made a mental note. “I’ll search the name when we get back. But first, let’s get your friend to the medical bay. If we’re quick, we might even catch a bit of sleep before lunch.”
“That sounds better than you realize.” Joyce said. The pneumatic boom compressed, pulling the cage and its contents into a vast cargo area deep within The Golden Age, and Joyce Tucker exhaled a sigh of relief.