DAY FOUR HUNDRED FORTY FOUR
Another day ashore, fulfilling my duties as purser plus any other role you could think of. Scheduler, bean counter, nursemaid. Anything to grease the skids.
This was the last day for unloading. Tomorrow we will begin to load outgoing cargo.
The Captain took Elijah with him to review together what cargo that might be. Ever since the incident with that container for that robotic warship he has been wary as to what he will accept.
My day with Emil passed quickly. He will talk about anything to do with our jobs, but turns aside any questions about him personally or what life is like in the city.
I thought I caught him tear up when I mentioned Hamashiach in passing.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FORTY FIVE
A lot of prep today to receive the new containers for shipment. I dealt with the challenging puzzle of arranging the stowage so that those shipments last off will go under those off first.
Emil was very helpful in this matter. He has everything arranged on shore to that end. What may hold up things is waiting on the Captain’s final approvals as to what will go.
By end of day we had the ship ready to receive the new cargo. In our cabin after dinner, Elijah and I talked over our days. He had wandered off into the city to look around. He senses a great loneliness and dispiritedness in all whose path he crossed.
I shared about Emil.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FORTY SIX
Loading the ship ran smoothly throughout the day. It was gratifying to have drawn up a plan that was servicing our needs so completely. That is, until a hitch cropped up. A crewman, with intimate knowledge of every nook and cranny of the vessel, brought it to my attention before it could blossom into a catastrophe.
It did slow us down a bit, so much so that by day’s end we only succeeded in filling the holds. We shall leave off securing our deck cargo until tomorrow.
There was another factor that impeded our progress. Elijah paid a call on Emil, and after a brief conversation they went off into the city.
I sensed a significant change upon their return.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FORTY SEVEN
I never thought I’d see disagreement between the Captain and Elijah. They argued upon Elijah’s return from the city last night and they took it up again this morning.
They were still at it when I went ashore. Emil wasn’t in yet, but I felt that was no excuse not to begin. When he did arrive he immediately asked me if a decision had been reached about his special container.
I told him that the main issue was still unresolved. As he suspected it would be.
The Captain is unwilling to go to their sister port for any reason especially with anything that could cause a forfeiture of his vessel.
I’m for the risk but no one is asking me.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FORTY EIGHT
The Captain has signed off on transporting Emil’s special container. It has been maneuvered out to the dockside.
There it is undergoing its last review. Emil himself is running through the checklist prior to its placement atop the pyramid of containers secured to the deck. After all, last on, first off.
Elijah looks on. Approving and very satisfied with himself.
As part of the deal, we will be returning to this port with two or three containers in an agreed upon trade.
The Captain watches our endeavors from his perch on the bridge high above us. He is too distant to make out his feelings at this moment.
I look forward to the end of this day. And time alone.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FORTY NINE
Heavy rains moved in today. The Captain’s concern grew when the wind picked up. He ordered the ship underway after a thorough checking of the lashings. In charge of that detail, Tomas had some of them doubled.
I watched from the bridge as the shoreline slid by. Elijah pointed out the rickety staircase by which we climbed up off the beach. The wind then died and a mist settled in along the coast of the island.
We were no sooner into the channel between the island and the mainland when the wind freshened. And within seconds day turned to blackened night and the wind mounted in ferocity.
The Captain commanded the ship about and we sailed away from our destination.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY
The Captain terms it a regular monsoon. We tried to keep ahead of its leading edge, but were overtaken by midday.
Blackness shrouded us, which added overall to the terror as the ship plowed forward into each oncoming wave. Tomas went out at intervals to make sure that none of the load topside had shifted.
So far, so good.
Throughout the ordeal Elijah maintained his composure and confidence. It was a great reminder to me about where I am to place my focus.
The Captain cannot say for sure when we can turn about, but promises to keep his word by delivering Emil’s container to the port city on the mainland.
Who knows how far we will have to go.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY ONE
The sea has flattened and the sky ahead has cleared. We have outrun the storm. We saw its track behind us where it had vectored off to the east. We also saw three other merchant vessels, also refugees of the weather.
Elijah wanted us to turn around then, but the Captain cautioned patience. In response Elijah drew apart to our special cabin.
Tomas wanted to turn around too, but for different reasons. He had heard rumors of pirates in the waters ahead.
Not until the other ships behind us turned about, did the Captain order the same.
When we were on our new course, Elijah emerged. He advised the Captain to make every attempt to enter port with the others.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY TWO
In my capacity as purser I accompanied Tomas on his rounds today. Every thing was in its place and as far as outward appearances go, in perfect condition. And Emil’s special container still crowned the stack of deck cargo.
We caught up with the other ships at the mouth of the channel. One split off and headed for the island port. The other two just sat there waiting.
And it was easy to see why. Another storm looked to be brewing in the south. Our Captain took a wait and see attitude too.
Back on the bridge, I watched as Elijah went forward. He dropped from sight. But I knew he made it to the bow.
For the skies cleared.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY THREE
A tug chugged out early to the roads where we three vessels were waiting for entry. We were surprised to see that each vessel received two men from the tug. The mystery was cleared up come time to receive our own charges. One was a pilot, the other was a political officer representing the world government.
The latter made it very clear that we could not enter and conduct any business unless negotiated by someone bearing the mark.
The Captain countered that we were not desirous of entering for any purposes of commerce, but rather only delivering a shipment to the city’s governor from his sister city on the island.
This stymied the duo. They returned to port for instructions.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY FOUR
A whirlwind of a day. At the crack of dawn the tug returned with our guests of yesterday. We were granted permission to enter the harbor.
The pilot took us in.
A berth had been cordoned off for our vessel, and as soon as we docked, Emil’s special container was offloaded. All the while the political officer kept Elijah and I under close observation.
If the three containers we were to take back had been ready we would have been out of there in no time. But they weren’t. Granted they had an excuse, they had not been expecting us.
So we had to wait.
Elijah asked permission to go ashore and was denied.
My request as purser was granted.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY FIVE
My time ashore yesterday had been brief and under heavy surveillance, more than on the ship where one of them watched all of us. Ashore it seemed like each of us had its own team of three, scrutinizing our every move.
In short order with my reporting done I was back on the ship.
It was an uneasy night. A battery of spotlights were trained on the ship the whole time.
And we have endured more waiting today. Elijah queried me about what I saw. By my estimation I believe the population of this port is even smaller than its sister city. Are they trying to hide that fact?
By sundown the three containers were secured aboard.
Tomorrow we leave.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY SIX
Hurry up and wait. The tune called by our hosts. At one time, all for getting rid of us at the earliest opportunity, only to turn around and hold us here while they check on rumors of stowaways.
I don’t believe it possible. The Captain and Tomas have been fastidious in their efforts to keep anything from being surreptitiously placed aboard. Especially as Elijah warned them that an attempt would be made to compromise us.
Late in the day they gave up and allowed us permission to depart, hoping that we would put it off till tomorrow.
The Captain decided to leave immediately rather than be forced to endure the like later.
The pilot took us out into the night.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY SEVEN
Tomas kept an eye on the pilot as he directed the ship out of the harbor. And for good reason as it turned out. Tomas countermanded his order to increase speed at a critical juncture, and relieved him. The Captain then sent him back to his tug.
Tomas finessed the ship out to the channel. He set a straight course for the northern end of the island, but Elijah convinced Tomas and the Captain that a better strategy would be to continue north out to sea and to come at the island port city from out of the north.
So it was a long but uneventful passage. And we arrived in time to see the departure of a robotic warship.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY EIGHT
We held our station until the robotic warship was out of sight. It was obvious to us that it was patrolling the route between the port cities. Perhaps on the lookout for us.
Then we immediately entered into the island’s port city. No other vessel was currently tied up at the docks. We had our pick of berths and chose the one closest to Emil’s office. He wasn’t in, so we settled in for the night.
Elijah and the Captain went ashore this morning only to return almost immediately. Not only could they not find Emil, the dock was deserted.
There was a short debate as to what to do.
We decided to unload the three containers ourselves and wait.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY NINE
Elijah convinced me to accompany him ashore in search of Emil. This despite the Captain’s first inclination to leave post haste. Elijah persuaded him that it should prove fruitful to see to the provisioning of the ship.
In this he acquiesced, but unstated I knew his overarching concern was the potential return of the robotic warship.
Elijah led us to Emil’s residence. Along the way, I noticed an unfamiliar phenomenon – the shadows of people etched into the hard surface of the pavement. Unnerving.
The entrance to Emil’s home was on the ground floor of a building. We descended several levels from there. Elijah explained that the entire population though small, lived underground.
Emil and all his belongings were gone.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SIXTY
Elijah took me on a tour of the city underground. The hum of electricity and the knock of water in pipes dogged our every step. Residence after residence proved empty. So Elijah changed direction and lead us to their subterranean meeting place.
Silence greeted us there. I found the light switch and turned it on. It broke the quiet only to reveal no one was there either. Elijah discovered a tally sheet. A vote had been taken – an unanimous decision to abandon the city for the island interior.
Explanations were made to the Captain in the morning from what little we knew. We asked leave to open the three cargo containers.
Inside was equipment to brand people with the mark.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SIXTY ONE
Questions abound. Should we go after Emil? And his people? Should we destroy the three cargo containers? Many think we should reload them and drop them in the sea.
I guess, to state it simply, the question is what do we do next?
The Captain had made his decision to depart when word passed up from below deck that Elijah and Tomas had slipped ashore earlier. The Captain was furious. And he proceeded to take it out on me.
I had come to a decision myself.
While we awaited their return I thought we should reload the containers. I argued that they just might prove useful, and we could always jettison them if necessary.
So we did, and then waited.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SIXTY TWO
Our apprehensions for Elijah and Tomas were laid to rest upon their return in the dog watch before eight bells. Tomas brought back some information that went a long way to assuage the Captain’s anger.
They had climbed to the top of the tallest building in the city. From that vantage point they could see the robotic warship. Two other vessels were in its company. They appear to be blocking our exit.
At the other end of spectrum Elijah is pleased to report that Emil has safely set up camp in the interior, which he confessed was according to his plan.
Two vessels entered the harbor today. Tomas confirms they are the ones he saw.
We left before they docked.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SIXTY THREE
The two incoming vessels made no moves to block our exit. This heartened us and caused us to re-evaluate. Perhaps we were misreading our situation.
The robotic warship was riding station a good distance away and showing no signs of interest in our movements.
The Captain ordered the ship to half speed as the distance closed, and on his mark Tomas set a new course in an easterly direction.
The warship continued to ignore us, as our ship picked up the pace to cruising speed.
Our sense of relief grew with the new day and no signs of pursuit. I fell to contemplating other things.
What was it that Emil had given in trade for these three cargo containers?
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SIXTY FOUR
Clouds gave way to blue skies today. Opening to our view, the seas that stretch interminably before us.
In my downtime a thought flitted across my consciousness. It was so easy to imagine that we had sailed off the face of the earth. Is there any land left out there in that vastness we have not been to?
Elijah responded to my musings. He said our journey was far from over. If only because he does not sense a release from his charge. But he added that we should take full advantage of these times of peace to recharge and prepare. For a time is coming when we shall have no respite from the storm. With every hand against us.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SIXTY FIVE
The crew has switched to lighter summer attire, and Tomas has allowed the heavier work details to put off those chores until the cooler parts of the day. Meanwhile the only breeze stirred comes off the bow of the ship.
Elijah spends time with Tomas and those in the crew he has known from before: renewing acquaintance, strengthening and encouraging their walk in the Spirit.
I made my daily report to the Captain. Routine. No changes from yesterday.
For his part, he apprised me of a change in course. Tonight he will order the ship to a northerly tack (to confuse potential pursuers), before resuming our easterly course.
There are possible clients along coastal areas that could signal for services.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SIXTY SIX
Before the course change last night Tomas went to the Captain’s cabin and woke him up. The Captain had guessed already the motivating concern of his First Mate’s visit. And told him that it was more likely that the robotic warship was a bigger threat to them than the rumored pirates. The Captain reiterated the order. On leaving Tomas successfully begged him to double the watch.
Or so Elijah related to me this morning.
Having little to do myself I sought Tomas and volunteered to stand additional watches. He accepted my offer and took a few moments to run down what I should be alert for – small, fast-moving boats with a few armed men.
I hope they stay away.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SIXTY SEVEN
Standing watch takes more than just staying awake. You have to stay alert. In the moment and concentrated on mission.
Too easily do my thoughts wander. What I just ate, or what will be for dinner. What was it that Elijah told me. And did I understand him aright.
It’s a constant combat. I have to confront it the second it starts, or I will succumb.
I have to be alert to being alert.
I have completed two watches successfully, but I have one coming up late tonight. So, I have decided to fast dinner and spend the time in our special cabin instead. I feel it to be the only way to maintain my concentration in this long day.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SIXTY EIGHT
The fasting and the time apart proved effective for me. I can truthfully say that my mind did not wander once.
Towards the end of my watch I sighted a light in the darkness in front of us. Tomas answered my call, and after observing it himself, judged it to be on land.
Based on that knowledge the Captain ordered the ship to hold up offshore until morning. And had the watch tripled.
The source of the light proved to be a village. We warily watched as one of their boats came out to us.
As it turned out the Captain was acquainted with the person in charge. And he soon agreed to transport some of their tin and bauxite.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SIXTY NINE
The last of the boatloads was winched up and stowed aboard this afternoon. I’ve lost track of the amount of trips they’ve made, but I have an exacting account of the amounts of tin and bauxite.
Elijah made a trip ashore to look around and meet the people. He brought back news about the Purser. Some people from the village had heard about his passage northward, and being followers of Hamashiach went out and joined his group.
The shipper has paid half of the shipping costs, and we are to collect our other half from the consignees. (The metals are in trade for items that they have received already).
An eleven hour trip across the mouth of the gulf awaits.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTY
When I was on my first watch of the night we passed the midpoint in the mouth of the gulf. About twenty minutes into this shift, I spotted a small craft pounding the waves coming for our port side. As I raised the alarm, I sighted another on the approach to our starboard.
The Captain called all hands to quarters to repel boarders with fire hoses.
Elijah joined me, his staff in hand. As we looked on, the first craft was lifted by a maverick wave and dashed to pieces on the downstroke. We did not see what happened to the other, but we believe something similar occurred.
Morning found us on the other coastline. Now for our consignee’s village.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTY ONE
When Tomas joined me on my afternoon watch, he was expecting our imminent arrival at the next destination.
During the ensuing wait he floated a guess as to the purpose of our latest shipment. He believes they are meant for use in the manufacture of satellite communication equipment. Word was circulating in some recent ports of call that the world government was looking to re-establish the global networks.
Although neither Elijah nor I had heard any mention of this in our travels, it certainly seemed reasonable.
But when the Captain passed word that we had arrived, the sight of the small village before us seemed to belie that notion. Again small boats were utilized to transport the goods ashore.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTY TWO
While the small boats were transporting the cargo, Elijah hopped a ride to visit the village. I kept count of the items to ensure nothing was missed.
The Captain accompanied the last boat this morning to collect payment and to retrieve Elijah. The Captain confirmed Tomas’ guess as to the future use of the tin and bauxite. The village is merely a way station on its journey to a manufacturing facility.
In his tours of the outskirts, Elijah noticed that camel caravans were coming and going hourly. They will no doubt be the next mode of transport for that shipment.
Elijah also told me that there were absolutely no followers of Hamashiach in the village.
This saddened him very much.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTY THREE
We are hopeful that the danger from pirates is past. The Captain thinks this likely as we are now headed towards the seat of the world government.
It is not our destination. Indeed, we shall not be heading into the gulf off of which it is being built. But we assume there will a strong naval presence, and hence a deterrent to piratical activity.
I am still pulling extra watches.
During the afternoon one I split my attention between the sea around us and the shoreline on our port. At one point some movement alarmed me – among the dun-colored rocky hills shoreward, streams of white dots were swarming.
An amused Elijah told me they were only flocks of goats.