The sea shook late in the afternoon, just as Kalen was finishing his shift. At first he thought the freighter had run aground, but they were miles from land in the empty Pacific. Stacks of Cubacon brand intermodal containers rattled like mad, and Kalen nearly lost his footing as he darted to tighten the safety straps. Waves drenched his back and the deck resounded with groans of plastic.
“Keep them steady!” Mr. Gupta, one of the ship’s supers, stood against the railing, well out of the way of the teetering Cubes.
A cable snapped on one of the stacks. Kalen darted over to secure it. The sea pitched and shuddered and the Cubes started to tip.
Then the rumbling settled. The waves returned to their usual sway beneath the freighter, and all was quiet on the Alphacorp Seaway.
“That was a big one,” said Mr. Gupta. He waved a hand at the towers of containers. “Get them all inspected. Thoroughly.”
Kalen sighed. He’d never gotten used to earthquakes at sea. They had been more frequent lately, and this one could not have had worse timing. He had already checked the Cubes four times today, but the company required they be inspected from scratch any time there was a weather event, and so he began his rounds all over again.
He mounted a hydraulic ladder and raised himself to the top of a stack, examining the Cubes one at a time. The sun cast long rectangular shadows across the deck. He worked quickly, with practiced efficiency, tugging cables and scanning the multicolored plastic casings.
It took three hours to get to the bottom of the final stack. One more Cube to go and he could finally call it a day. This one was light blue and filled with rice. He tested the security cables by hand, then took out his U-Pad and paced in a circle, running an autoscan for structural integrity. Everything looked good until he rounded the third corner. The device flashed red and squawked at him.
“WARNING. Potential compromise detected.” A blinking light appeared on the screen, indicating a small puncture on the top of the Cube.
“You’re kidding.” Kalen scowled at the big blue container. It was the lowest in a stack of seven; he would need to undo all the cables and get on the crane and move every single one to check on the puncture. It was like a prank, if scanning programs could do pranks.
He checked over his shoulder to make sure there were no supers around. The U-Pad blinked and he sneered at it. “Nope. Not today.” He typed in an override code. The warning disappeared. He made a mental note to double check this one tomorrow, just in case.