Meanwhile, Captain Zero was having luck not much better than mine. Only when he saw Ten Cents being led away by the detail of Navy tugs did he relax.
Right, he said gratefully, That should keep Sethos happy for a while at least. Right, the rest of you, he continued, rounding on the other Z-Stacks, Remember, if the Navy or Star Tugs start asking questions, act like you know nothing, understand?.
That shouldnt be too hard for you, eh Zip?, sniggered Zug.
oh, no sir, Ill say nothing, said Zip brightly.
Good boys, replied Zero cynically, Now, to your jobs now!. Apart from
Zip. The other Z stacks looked curiously at Zip, but said nothing as they steamed off to collect their barges. Zorran and Zip turned back to Captain Zero expectantly.
Right boys, said Zero, once everyone else was well out of earshot, A cargo has arrived that I want to be dealt with, with particular care. And who better to do so than the two best tugs in my fleet. Zip looked up in excitement, his boiler swelling in pride. Zorran however frowned curiously up at Zero.
Now, Zorran knows where it is Zip, continued Zero kindly, But youre the tug wholl actually make the delivery. Zorran will be going more as a
Ooh, sounds good sir, replied Zip excitedly, What is the cargo?.
Ach, you dont need to worry yourself with that lad, said Captain Zero vaguely, But these are for a very important client. Very important. As such, why not you steam over to the service pier and get yourself looking shipshape eh? Then back here mind, alright?.
Aye aye sir, Captain Zero, sir, tooted Zip, and he steamed off in excitement in the direction of Luckys Yard across the bay.
Right, now that the little barnacle is gone, said Captain Zero wearily to Zorran, I can tell you the real reason for this job.
Im listening sir, replied Zorran curiously.
Well, that barge of, ahem, lost property that weve had hanging around for a few months now?, said Captain Zero.
Aye, replied Zorran, knowing what was coming next.
Well, an old friend of mine, Sethos, has expressed an interest in such items. They can fetch a very high price on the
alternative market, if you know what I mean, said Zero evasively.
And you want me and Zip to deliver them, yes?, asked Zorran suspiciously.
Yes, replied Zero simply, You and Zip to take the barge to the old steelworks pier, where Sethos has arranged to meet you with the payment barge.
Which is?, asked Zorran, unable to hide the inquisitive note of his voice.
Sethos isnt a tug to disclose too many details on a delicate situation, said Zero, But he gave me his word that itll be worthwhile. He also said that you had to exercise great care with getting it back here. All you and Zip need to worry about is getting it done, and done well! Any questions?.
Aye, two, replied Zorran sceptically, Firstly, the load were receiving. Is it in any way dangerous?.
Put it this way, dont go making any wild moves or take any shortcuts while towing it back, replied Zero breezily, Second question?.
Yeah. Why Zip?, demanded Zorran, raising an eyebrow suspiciously.
Because Zips hardly the type of tug to ask questions for anything more difficult than moving forwards, replied Zero curtly, But all the same, dont go telling him what were doing eh Zorran?.
Aye, very well sir, replied Zorran.
Good, now go and recover the barge, take Zip and make sure the deal goes down well, said Zero, in a more relaxed voice, I can see this as being the first of many deals thatll give us the upper hand over those Star Tugs. Yes indeed.
Usually, after a day on dredger detail, Sunshine would have gone for a hose down before returning to the Star pier. However, he dropped up the last barge of waste, brought Scuttlebutt Pete back to his dock, then headed straight for the Navy HQ of Bigg City, where Ten Cents was being held. A small Navy launch escorted him to the dry dock, a place where ships where held for repairs, or, in this case, imprisonment. Bluenose was there, overseeing the transfer of cargo onto barges from the quayside. He glowered at Sunshine as he passed, but Sunshine ignored him. He finally reached the dry dock, and saw Tent Cents, looking utterly defiant, mounted on steel girders, with strong chains securing him.
You have 10 minutes, said the launch curtly, and he chugged back, allowing Sunshine the chance to get closer.
Ten Cents?, whispered Sunshine thickly. Ten Cents looked up in surprise, and then gave a somewhat forced beam as he recognised who it was.
Sunshine! Thank goodness youve come.
I came as soon as I could, replied Sunshine, trying as hard as he could not to cry, How
how are you?.
Well, Ive been better, replied Ten Cents, still wearing that forced smile, Be nice to get some water under my hull again soon.
You will Ten Cents!, vowed Sunshine, I promise you. Youll be released as soon as we find out who really did it.
you dont think it was me then, asked Ten Cents in mild surprise.
Of course not!, replied Sunshine fiercely, shocked that his friend would think such a thing. Ten Cents smiled back. This wasnt the same, forced smile hed worn before. This was his usual, happy-go-lucky smile, the smile that could cheer up even the saddest tug with one look.
I cant tell you how much that means to me Sunshine, he said, Seriously. I didnt really think you suspected me of course, but I just had to hear it for myself. Thank you. Sunshine gave a small, tearful smile at hearing this.
Has Captain Starr talked to you yet?, he asked in a small voice.
He came over earlier, replied Ten Cents, Hes still trying to work things out with the Navy. Honestly, those lads wont listen to reason, they just want to blow things up!. Sunshine cringed from the thought of Ten Cents being blown up, and Ten Cents must have realised this, as he blushed and quickly changed the subject.
how is everyone?, he asked tentatively.
theyre ok, replied Sunshine flatly, Missing you, obviously.
Aye, I miss them too, said Ten Cents, in a flat, distant voiced, which just went to show how much he really did miss his shipmates.
Everyones trying to help you know, said Sunshine quickly, Theyve all been round, asking people if they knew what really happened.
Tell them I said thank you, said Ten Cents, And tell them also, that Im sorry for having got them into this mess.
They dont mind, replied Sunshine with a smile, Except Top Hat, but hes always complaining about something or another. Ten Cents chuckled.
Still, tell them I said thanks, he replied, So, what have you got now?, he asked.
Well, my works all finished for today, replied Sunshine, I was going to go to the dock where Calypsos moored, and see if I can find anything that might help.
If you would Sunshine, Id be grateful to say the least, replied Ten Cents. Sunshine was about to reply, when the Navy launch motored up to them.
Times up, he said curtly, Tie to go. Sunshine looked, and saw two tough looking Navy tugs sidling up behind him, no doubt Ten Cents guards.
Right, Ill see you later, said Sunshine thickly, Look after yourself now wont ye?.
Ill try, replied Ten Cents. He wished he could have said a grander farewell, but he had no steam to whistle with. Sunshine understood, and gave a fond farewell on his whistle, but as he turned to leave, led by the disapproving launch, he made a fierce vow in his mind, that he would prove Ten Cents innocence no matter what.
As hed said, he went over to the Naval yard, where the tramper was still moored, but his access was limited by a sentry tug, who kindly but firmly sent him on his way.
Sorry lad, said the tug, But this areas cordoned to civilian boats until our goods are returned to us.
You dont think it was Ten Cents do you sir?, asked Sunshine fiercely.
Im indifferent to the matter lad, replied the tug, All Im concerned with is sticking to my duty. And youre impeding it, so please, move on.
If the Nay werent all a bunch of mindless drones, thought Sunshine bitterly to himself, Ten Cents wouldnt be in this mess. So busy was Sunshine with cursing the Navy that he barely noticed Zip and Zorran steaming across towards the munitions factory, and to the old docks. Zorran was leading, a serious expression on his face, whilst Zip towed a long barge, covered in a green tarpaulin, looking as happy as if hed been given a new re-fit. Zorran paid no attention to this, as he neared the munitions factory. One Naval tug, acting as sentry, was standing guard. Since the theft, the Navy had increased their security measures by at least double. The tug in question gave them a surly glance, but Zorran avoided his gaze, as hed been told, and spat at Zip to do the same.
Are we nearly there Zorran?, piped up Zip, once they were clear of the sentries.
Shut it Zip!, hissed Zorran. The old docks consisted of broken down buildings and dirty quaysides, giving the place a run-down, almost haunted look
Right, I reckon this is the guy, said Zorran in a hushed voice. A villainous old tug, with a scarred face and a black eye patch leered over at them as they sailed up.
Who are you?, he grunted fiercely.
Zorran, Habrour Tug, and Zip, Switcher, replied Zorran with a small courtesy, Captain Zero sent us.
Ah. The tug ceased his hostile manner, and beckoned them closer with a good natured grin, revealing yellowy, broken teeth. Zorran looked repulsed, but he still wore his forced smile that was almost a leer as he and Zip steamed closer.
Names Sethos, stated the old tug, And I rule these here docks. Anyway, how is Zero, that old seadog?.
Very well, and he send you his greetings replied Zorran politely. Sethos gave a horrible grin.
Good man, he said approvingly, I must remember to pay him a visit sometime. Also, I heard rumour that one of them little Star Tugs was arrested for the theft of naval property. Do you boys know anything about this?.
With all due respect, the Navys security measures are very high right now, replied Zorran, Hes currently being held in naval custody, and theres no evidence to support his innocence.
Good, said Sethos with relief, That little switcherll rue the day he crossed paths with Sethos! Now, I assume you have my, ahem, goods, with you?.
Aye, replied Zorran, Zip!. Zip looked up in surprise, then moved forwards, and brought his barge around so Sethos could see inside it. Sethos removed the cover, and his eyes filled with greed as he gazed at the contents of the barge. Engineering parts, of the very highest quality, that had been presumed lost after going don with a ship after a recent storm. The Z-Stacks had got the salvage contract, but when the Navy asked for any items recovered, so they could be returned to their rightful owner, Zorran had smartly left out some of the more valuable parts that were more or less undamaged after their incident.
A very fine shipment, Sethos said distantly, so enthralled with the illegal mechanicals was he that he seemed only vaguely aware of the Z-Stacks.
Right, now, our payment?, coughed Zorran. Sethos looked up, and smiled again.
Aye, aye, he replied, Behind me boys. A smaller barge was moored up behind him.
Right, I cant stay long, he said, looking behind him, I have to be off before the Navy starts poking its nose in my affairs. But thank you greatly for this, and be sure to give your Captain my greatest thanks and my compliments, and tell him, Sethosll be in touch with him soon. Zorran looked incredulously after Sethos as the criminal set a line on the barge and steamed away without another word.
Well, that was easy, mused Zip enthusiastically.
Aye, replied Zorran, Too easy.
Can we have a look in the barge Zorran, please?, begged Zip, looking in interest at the barge Sethos had given them.
No, lets just get off for now Zip, replied Zorran. Zip threw a line on the barge, and began to tow it away but the barge was heavy, heavier than hed expected because of its size.
Phew, whatevers in here must weigh 500 tons!, he puffed, struggling with the huge barge. Zorran would normally have told Zip to shut his trap, but his mind was on Sethos. He didnt intend on going against his Captains orders and seeing the contents of the payment barge, but he was suddenly filled with curiosity as to what was in that barge.
Sethos was feeling on top of the world. Naturally, he was steaming carefully, so as to go undetected by the Navy, but his smoke still billowed out from his stack with as much pride as if hed just pulled off the deal of the sentry. Which, in this case, he had. With these high quality explosives, is mines could make up for lost profits, and he would be rolling in dough once they began making a profit. Little did Sethos know, his jaunty exit from this part of the harbour was under the watchful eye of someone else. The tug had been following Sethos intently, and now, he knew what must be done in order to save Ten Cents.
Well Sethos mdear, said the tug gently to himself, Youve really crossed the line this time.
Zorran was becoming annoyed. Not just at the odd situation of Sethos delivery, but also Zips pathetic whinging.
But Zorran, its heavy, he whined, Ill overheat if I have to go much further than this!. Even as he spoke, a blast of black smoke and sparks short from his stacks, making them both cough.
If we do stop for a breather, will you stop with your pathetic moaning?, barked Zorran, And do something about the smoke as well?.
Yes I will, replied Zip, with a hint of indignation.
Zorran led him over to a small pier, where they both let off steam after their long journey.
I wonder whats in this barge Zorran, piped up Zip eventually.
Captain Zero said to just get it back to our dock and fast!, came the barked reply.
Yes, but hell never know, whined Zip, Besides, what harm will it do just to take a peak?. Zorran had to admit that Zip had a point, even though he didnt tell this to Zip.
Alright, he reasoned, Just a quick look mind. Captain Zero wants this brought back in the condition we received it in. Got it!. Zip nodded enthusiastically, and looked hungrily at the barge. Zorran rolled his eyes, and prized off the tarpaulin with only mild curiosity. It was only when his eyes rested on the bright red crosses of the wooden crates did he give a small gulp of horror.
TNT!, shrieked Zip, Dynamite! Were all gonna blow u
Shut it Zip!, snarled Zorran through clenched teeth. He looked fearfully around them. no other boats had noticed Zips panic, which was good. Zorran whipped back around to the explosives. Further inspection revealed the boxes to be stamped with the letters R.N.
If Im not mistaken, mused Zorran, These are those explosives that Ten Cents is meant to have taken. Zip stared in wonderment. Naturally, he was rarely allowed on the Zero Fleets munitions detail, in fact his so far only job had been his, Zug and Boomers ill-fated munitions tow, so he was unaccustomed to seeing such implements of destruction.
W-w-what do we do Zorran?, he asked nervously.
Just shut it for a minute while I try and think!, snarled Zorran, but in truth, there was little he could think of. Any explosions, and he and Zip would be accused of the theft. If they left the barge here, it would surely be found, and even though, if that was to happen, he and Zip couldnt be charged, it was still an option hed like to avoid.
We continue, he said eventually, We continue and take this to Captain Zero. Ill take the barge, he said quickly, You go ahead. Anyone gets in our way, blast em with your hooter and tell them to clear off.
Shall I say what were carrying?, asked Zip.
NO!, spat Zorran, Remember dummy? Anyone mentions the word explosives, and the navyll be round before you can say Trafalgar. Do, just tell them to shove off and well be fine. Now come on, I dont want to be seen doing this. Zip nodded, although still puzzled, and steamed on ahead, glad that he was no longer towing such a heavy and dangerous load. But at the same time, he was thinking. If these were the explosives Ten Cents was meant to have stolen, that meant they had evidence that could prove his innocence. Zip had been brought up and bred to hate any vessel that sailed under a Star flag, but he had no person grudge against Ten Cents. In fact, Ten Cents was a half decent tugboat, and was certainly no crook. A thought crossed Zips mind, that, if hed said to his captain or Zorran, would have got him stuck on dredger detail for the next month. Could he prove Ten Cents innocence with these new-found explosives. Did he have the guts to go out against his crew and everything they valued as ideals? Little did Zip know that Zorran, towing the floating bomb carefully behind him, was thinking the exact same thing.