The radio crackled into life.
Dee reached for the handset, detached it, and brought it in close, pressing and holding the talk button. ‘What number is it?’ he bellowed, trying to hear himself over the churning engines and the whooshing winds.
His ‘skiff’, a small boat, retrofitted with a small crane at the rear and a bumper on the front, flew through the clear air. He was manning the control console in the centre, periodically switching dials and pulling levers, staying in control as he sped up and past the first layer of clouds.
A voice responded over the radio. ‘32. 32 days without any incident. Trying to fix a secure line. Tell me when you have a visual,’ it said, calm yet urgent in tone.
‘Channel 3, get Bobby on the line,’ Dee replied, before reaching over to the radio.
He turned a dial and watched the red needle switch frequency. He clicked the talk button again. ‘Bobby, you there? Form in close.’
‘Right behind you, big guy,’ replied Bobby. ‘You know I had money on 33!’
‘How much?’ Diana asked.
‘60 big ones.’
Dee winced, then chuckled as Diana laughed.
‘It’s not funny. That’s three weeks of beer and downtime that I’ll need to work for again.’ Bobby was not impressed by Diana’s mockery.
Dee looked behind him; a slightly larger boat had risen from beneath, its bulky frame levelling itself as it sped on. Bobby at the controls. ‘Approaching second cloud layer,’ he said.
Dee returned his eyes forward, squinting as he and Bobby broke through the clouds. ‘Where is it?’ Bobby asked.
Dee switched frequencies. ‘Diana, we’re gonna need confirmation, we’re at the sight point.’
Docking platforms. Their rusted edges and labyrinth-like connections contrasting against the blue sky as far as they could see. The silhouettes of workers going about their day, working cranes, lifting cargo containers from large freighters. The clouds formed around the platforms, and the huts and sheds that sat atop them. Large ships joined small ships in docking and loading, undocking and forming lanes, their rusted, curved underbelly breaking through the sky. Just another normal day.
Diana’s voice came back. ‘Control’s reporting it should be right there. You can’t miss it!’
‘I’m looking, and I ain’t seeing, Diana.’ He looked back at Bobby, who looked around, shrugged, then continued searching. He brought a pair of binoculars to his eyes.
‘You sure it wasn’t a false alarm?’ Bobby questioned.
‘I’m getting evacuation orders for at least eleven platforms. I am telling you, it’s there!’ Diana exclaimed.
Dee spotted a few more boats heading towards them. ‘I’m guessing they’re coming to help?’
‘Control’s sending skiffs from platforms six through twelve,’ she fired back.
Bobby trained his binoculars on them. ‘They’re excited about something. Look at ‘em, jumping around like monkeys.’ He gave them a little wave.
Dee squinted at the oncoming fleet of small boats. The pilots were jumping up and down. And…pointing. Upwards. He turned his gaze skywards.
The rusted blue and orange face of a huge freighter blasted through the clouds above them. Dee immediately slammed on all of his controls. ‘INCOMING!’ he yelled.
Bobby looked up, screamed, then followed suit. Both pilots brought their boats around and propelled them out of the way of the incoming ship. It narrowly missed Dee, the flames of his skiff’s engines marking the side of the ship as it went careening down.
‘Diana, we have a visual. Confirmation on a cargo ship diving for the ocean. Bobby, follow me!’ Dee grunted as he put several levers in gear, then leaned forward into the control panel in pursuit of the crashing freighter. He glanced back to see Bobby mirroring him.
Huge plumes of black smoke were spewing out of the freighter’s fiery engines. A fire was spreading at the centre of the ship. Dee raised the handset to his mouth once more.
‘How big’s your fire extinguisher, Bobby?’
‘That’s a personal question, Dee, I don’t wanna talk about it,’ he replied.
‘Shut it and focus, you two!’ screamed Diana.
Dee smiled. A huge container flew from the deck of the freighter. ‘Heads up!’ he said, and heaved left with his boat, narrowly avoiding a metal corner, then brought himself around.
‘If we could slow it down somehow?’ asked Bobby.
‘Way ahead of you. Follow my lead.’ Dee took a wide left turn, Bobby in tow.
‘Fire and rescue crews are on their way, Dee, just keep visual,’ she answered.
‘Screw that, we haven’t got time. I need you to get onto those other skiffs, tell ‘em to find a secure latching point with their cranes. I want four of them on the sides, two at the rear. The rest are gonna follow me to the front, you copy?’
‘What for?’ she shouted.
‘We’re bring this thing to a halt before it does any damage.’
‘Too late!’ Bobby shouted, then pulled away.
A huge explosion rang out as the freighter crashed through a platform, decimating it into oblivion. As they zoomed past, Dee managed to catch a glimpse of the carnage.
‘Casualties for sure. Diana, get some help to that platform right now,’ he ordered into the handset.
‘Medical crews are on their way. Stop that ship.’
‘Get those skiffs in position. Bobby, you’re on the rear. Stay away from those burning engines.’
‘Got it!’ Bobby pulled away, joining another boat in the process, and lined up near the tall bridge of the freighter.
Dee dove faster, flying past the front of the ship. He could see the blue waves below. ‘We’ve broken through the first cloud layer! We’re doing this now! Everyone in position?’ He looked right to see other skiffs lining up with him.
‘Ready!’ shouted Bobby.
‘Say the word,’ replied Diana.
The pilot on the skiff beside him looked at Dee, then gave a thumbs up. Dee braced himself, then tightened his grip around two levers. ‘NOW!’ he screamed.
He banked right hard, the skiffs with him in tandem. They headed straight back up towards the freighter. Dee got back on the radio. ‘Alright! All boats on the side and rear, attach your cranes! Those with me, match the freighter’s speed and push!’
The bumpers attached to the front of the boats kissed the rusted metal of the freighter, the pilots keeping focused, making sure they kept a decent speed. ‘Talk to me!’
‘Where’re we at?’ Dee called.
‘All cranes attached. Reaching maximum speed!’ he replied. Dee noticed the freighter’s speed begin to slow.
‘Dee, the crew of the freighter are working fast to put out that engine fire. Front skiffs are holding steady,’ Diana chimed in.
‘Alright. Good. Tell the front boats to increase speed. Match me.’ He reached over to a lever and slowly pushed it forward. The engines strained and creaked, beginning to spit fire. The other skiffs did the same.
BOOM! The boat next to Dee exploded and fell away in bits, the pilot vanishing.
Dee was blasted off of his feet, his boat faltering. He scrambled to, reaching for the engine lever and keeping it steady.
‘Dee! What happened?’ Diana asked over the radio.
‘One boat down! Keep the formation!’ he cried, trying his best to shake off the shock from the explosion. The engines on his skiff were sputtering. ‘HOLD ON!’
The freighter slowed. Slower, and slower still. Dee glanced behind him. The blue waters below were almost upon them.
A great moan of metal rang out. Suddenly, the freighter began to right itself. Up, further and further. The skiffs followed through as it levelled out. Dee and the remaining pushing boats rose up and hovered alongside. Bobby, as well as the skiffs floating alongside, detached their lines. An eerie silence rested upon the scene.
Dee sat down next to his crane, then picked up the handset to the radio. ‘Diana?’
‘Dee? Dee, what’s happening?’ she cried.
‘We…have…we’ve secured the freighter.’
‘Oh thank god! Rescue crews are on their way. Good work.’
‘Yeah,’ he whispered, still trying to shake the ringing in his ears, ‘thanks.’ He threw the handset aside, and took a moment.
Bobby’s skiff pulled alongside, its engines too making a creaking and straining noise. He levelled it out, then hopped on board, and sat down across from Dee. Both of them stared up at the smouldering freighter. Saying nothing. Then, Bobby piped up.
‘We lose someone?’ he said, solemnly.
‘Yeah,’ croaked Dee. His mouth felt very dry.
‘I will be. Just, uh… just gimme a minute.’ Dee blinked, shook his head once more.
Dee stared up at the docks above them, then back to the freighter, now being swarmed by fire crews and ambulance ships. ‘Let’s hope we do better this time.’