Holding the raincoat tightly around her body Dent rushed from the overhang outside of the port security’s offices, down the length of the pier and into the boat where Mike Walters sat waiting for her. “Thanks.” She said maneuvering herself closer to the man. It was a tight fit beneath the cockpit’s canopy but this was the only protection that either of them had from the brunt of the storm without having to go into the cabin below.
“You sure are a persistent little ball buster you know that?” Walters joked jamming the craft into gear and maneuvering it away from the docks. “You probably wouldn’t have left me alone all night if I hadn’t let you get your way would you Joanna?”
“No.” She said.
“You know that all I like to do during my shift is fuck around out here so why’d you want to go and ruin my night?” Walters continued in mock complaint.
He was a heavyset man, almost twice her age with a dark weathered face and a tangled mess of snow-white hair which jutted every which direction from beneath his Port Security ball cap. Their relationship had grown from his easygoing attitude which made a perfect foil for Dent’s own hard driving conduct about her job. Walters had a fatherly patience that he displayed towards Dent humoring her in times like these when the others would have found it too much to deal with.
Allowing a rare smile she turned to glance at a tarp that was stretched out behind them. “Is that the RUGRAT?” She asked.
“Sure is!” Walters replied. “I had no problem finding it either. Found it in the back of the supply trailer on dock 7 right in the spot marked ‘Big damned waste of money’!”
Dent nodded facing forward again as she self consciously stifled her laughter. She could see the top of the Chinese freighter off in the distance. Its port and starboard lights were blinking dimly through the driving rain while the hull remained obscured by the outline of a long tugboat and barge configuration. “Slow down.” She said as they began to creep up near the back of the barge.
“What for?” Walters asked killing the throttle. “I can get in closer than this you know?”
“Maybe so.” Dent replied jumping to the back of the boat and throwing off the tarp. “Still, I want to drop ‘him’ in here. I don’t really feel like having to answer anymore questions tonight so I’d rather Homeland Security didn’t know that I was snooping around.”
“Then why go snooping around?” Walters asked. “Let sleeping dogs lie kiddo. You’ve got no business commandeering my vessel for some crazy reconnaissance mission so why bother girl?”
“Because I can’t sleep Mike!” Dent snapped turning serious with frustration. She unlatched the cords securing the RUGRAT to its skid. “Because I’m type-A and high strung!” She said.
Coming up beside her Walters laid a hand on her shoulder and tried to help. Wordlessly he grabbed a coiled up tether lying next to the robot and plugged it into the computer that was set up inside the doorway of the cabin. Still fuming, Dent gave the lever to the skid a hard jerk back tilting the metal ramp that the RUGRAT sat upon upwards. Together they watched it fall off the back of the boat and slide beneath the waves. As it sank the tether began to unravel.
After a while Walters laughed. “I think you’re alright.” He said putting an arm around her. She shrugged it off going below. “You’re a total pain in the ass and not very friendly but at least you’re dedicated.” He called after her.
Dent began firing up the systems of the unit and testing out its controls. Incredibly she found them to be completely intuitive and the craft surprisingly agile. Switching on the spotlights and onboard camera she watched the harbor floor drift by as she accelerated the robot out along the length of its umbilical cord coming up below the barge. She could see the bottom reflected back at her on the monitor, rusty and barnacle covered a cloud of silt spiraling around it having been kicked up from the robot’s onboard propulsion system.
Turning she called up to Walters who was standing at the boats controls. “Could you bring us up alongside this barge and work your way fore?” She asked backing the RUGRAT out from below the vessel and snaking it back and forth along the path she’d just taken across the trash strewn bottom.
“You think that’ll be close enough?” He called opening up the throttle and easing his boat along the side.
Dent nodded as she watched the readout being fed back to her. “It’ll be close enough to get a radiation spike.” She said leading his progress forward as far as she could. The robot wasn’t picking up anything.
“Okay.” He said shutting off the engines again. “This is it.”
Dent’s brows knitted as she turned back to look at him. “You’re all the way up?” She asked referring to the length of the barge. From her monitor she couldn’t tell.
“Yep.” He nodded down at her. “Any further and I’d be set up to tow her.”
“I’ve got nothing.” She replied with disbelief.
Walters laughed. “Well the damn things probably broken.” He said pointing to the array of equipment spread out in front of her. “I hate that fucking expensive piece of shit. They could have gave us all a raise with the money they paid for that son of a bitch.”
Dent shook her head. “I don’t think so.” She said pointing to the screen. “I’m getting the normal background noise that I’d expect. Did they unload anything off it tonight?”
“You mean that Chinese cargo ship out there?” Walters asked pointing to an unseen spot in front of the boat as he stood above her. “I ain’t seen nothing come off it.”
“Well that doesn’t make sense.” Dent replied. “If its really carrying CTA equipment onboard like they said it was then I’d be picking up something from out here.”
Walters sighed heavily. “Well girl,” He said pausing to adjust his cap and look off to his side. “I don’t know what to tell you. I could probably move out in front of the tug here if that would make you feel any better.”
“No.” Dent said shaking her head. “Get me in as close as you can. I want to look around underneath it.”