Joanna Dent couldn’t sleep. Normally, being what her coworkers called ‘a real live wire’ she was a naturally high stung person but tonight something bigger than just her everyday problems was troubling her. She couldn’t stop thinking about the Chinese ship and the scan she’d made of it which had indicated radioactive materials onboard.
Earlier in the day Dent had given her statements to Homeland Security both before and after the incident on the FDR. A lot of lives had been saved according to the man who had interviewed her. Thanks in part to her vigilance they’d caught the bad guy and averted a worse disaster than the one that had actually happened. She should have been happy with her role in the whole thing as a behind the scenes hero but still things just didn’t seem to add up to her.
If Dent had alerted them to the possibility of a nuke or a dirty bomb onboard the freighter and they’d found nothing then she might have been able to rest easier. They had faulty readings out at the docks all the time. More often than not, these phantom readings were caused by something as innocuous as an X-ray machine in the ships infirmary or some type of medical cargo in its holds.
It was the fact that an actual terrorist device had been unloaded from that vessel that troubled Dent. According to the news, the van that was detonated on the FDR had been carrying nothing more than a simple rudimentary bomb. There were no radioactive isotopes detected in the wreckage and military intelligence had no reason to suspect that it was anything more significant than a reckless act by some small time breakaway faction being made in protest to the recent Middle Eastern peace treaty.
Dent had a problem with that assumption. She’d personally seen the Geiger count spike when her boat had passed by that ship. Homeland Security had tried to allay any misgivings that she might have regarding the matter with a verbal commendation and a pat on the back. They even went so far as to explain away the readings she’d received by telling her that the ship had been carrying medical equipment used in CT angiography machines. None of that made clear the anomaly that she’d noticed on her equipment two days ago.
Everything about the data that her scan had generated looked like the worst case scenario from what she’d learned about in her training. Dent had seen false readings plenty of times but none of them had ever before followed the signature of an actual nuclear device as closely as what she’d seen coming off her instruments as she circled the Chinese freighter at the beginning of the week. It was a perfect pattern and it had sent chills down her spine.
She felt chills now as she threw the covers off her small body and swung her feet to the floor with the suddenness of a snake uncoiling itself to strike. Reaching out she picked up her cell-phone and dialed the number of a close friend who worked the night shift at the security company where she was employed. She was curious about something and she couldn’t sleep until she had answers.
“Hello Joanna.” The voice of Mike Walters came easily through the line after a few rings. She could hear the engine of his boat idling through the phone and she imagined him cruising along the docks beneath his canopy out in the driving rain.
“Mike,” She said springing to her feet. “I need you to run down to dock 49 and set up a scan of that Chinese freighter again.”
This last part had been rattled off in rapid succession by the woman like a burst from a machine gun. Everything about Joanna Dent from the way that she spoke to her physical appearance seemed tightly wound and ready to explode at any moment. She was strikingly short, barely managing to measure in at five-feet with a cropped off mat of spiky black hair resting atop her pale head. Her big green eyes glinted in the muted light which drifted in through the blinds like two tiny jewels as she paced the floor clutching an arm around her frail angular body.
“Oh Joanna.” Walters said, his slow southern accent making it sound like he was the most relaxed man in the world. “Now you know that I can’t get anywhere near that ship honey.”
“You can’t?” Dent asked incredulously. “Still?” She knew that Homeland Security had quarantined the vessel. They’d sent a team to inspect it directly following the explosion on the FDR but they’d been so casual about the contents of the boat during her interview that she’d gotten the impression that it wasn’t a going concern.
“Oh yeah.” Walters answered. “They’ve been all over it like flies on shit since I started my shift. Got that whole part of the docks blocked off.”
Dent guessed that it would stand to reason that the authorities would have wanted to search the entire ship as well as go through any bills of lading on the contents in its holds. Vessels as big as that one often carried a myriad of different cargos for several international clients making stops at all sorts of ports of call. It would take a while to sort all of that out.
Along with the interrogations of the captain and his crew it could take weeks before the craft was finally sent back to sea. Dent was pretty sure that the Chinese nationals onboard probably didn’t even know that they were carrying a deadly weapon but still, US intelligence was no doubt detaining them right now and demanding answers. The ship could be in dock for a very long time indeed but cordoning it off especially from the water didn’t make any sense.
“How close can you get?” She asked, marching over to her closet and grabbing a pair of pants and raincoat.
“I can’t get closer than 50 feet of that son of a bitch.” Walters answered sounding disgusted. “I keep having to make a wide assed swath around it just to run my patrol. If I get too close, they throw the spotlights on me and tell me to buzz off through the radio.
“50 feet is close enough.” Dent replied. “I’m coming out there. Can you meet me at the office?”
“You know, technically I’ve got seniority on you kid.” The man answered casually. “Whatever kind of trouble you’re thinking of getting into, I can nix it.”
“Don’t worry.” She responded. There was no trace of Walters easy going tone in her own voice. Dent was not generally known for having a good sense of humor. It was a trait that almost everyone at the docks excepting the man that she was now talking to had found impossible to bear. “Trust me, I don’t want to do anything that we aren’t authorized to do as contractors for the ports cargo security. I just want to run the RUGRAT out there and sniff around.”
RUGRAT stood for Robotic Underwater Geiger Reading Apparatus Transport. A rarely used device, it was a tethered submersible about the same size and shape as a beer keg. The robot could be launched off of any boat in their fleet and travel distances up to 75 feet away feeding back readings to the onboard computer via a fiber optic cable. Dent didn’t have much experience using it but now was as good a time as any to learn she supposed.
“The water’s all rocky and shit.” Walters argued. “Hell kid, I probably shouldn’t even be out here either. You’re going to break that nice expensive piece of shit if you go snooping around with it tonight.”
“Don’t argue with me Mike.” Dent shot back. “It’ll take me about 20 minutes to get out there. Have it ready for me when I meet you.”
“You’re not going to be able to sleep unless you do this aren’t you kid?” Walters asked sounding fatherly and concerned.
“Nope.” Dent replied.
“Well… alright.” Walters said, giving in.