OPINION: Captain Shearer squinted as he scanned the troubled sea from his chair on the bridge of the SS Labour.
He knew there were icebergs out there but the radar was on the blink and with no reliable charts he was relying on dumb luck and dead reckoning to get his leaky boat to a safe harbour somewhere on the shores of electoral success.
Suddenly First Officer Robertson appeared at his shoulder (he hated the way he sneaked up on him like that).
"Skipper, I was wondering if I might have a quiet word?"
"Well, I'm kind of busy trying to avoid icebergs right now, No 1, but if you insist." Christ, thought Shearer, I suppose he wants to talk about the preferential seating for female officers in the mess again.
"Look, Captain, some of the crew have been talking and, to be frank, they are a little concerned about where we are heading."
"Where we're heading," responded Shearer. "That's the least of our bloody problems, I don't even know where we are and the pumps are working overtime just to keep us afloat."
"That's just it, boss," Robertson said. "A fair number of them want a course adjustment to port; a couple would prefer turning a few degrees to starboard and some would like just to hold the course we are on."
"That's all very well, No 1, but this is a ship and I'm the captain. It's not a bloody varsity debating club, so just tell them all to get back to work fixing the engines, clearing the bilge pumps and manning the lookouts."
"I'd love to, boss, but I don't think they're willing to take orders from you any more."
Shearer reached into his pocket and started toying with his Toyota Hilux ball bearings, a memento of happier times when all he had to do was deliver crayons to war-ravaged villages, pick his way through minefields, and have gunpoint conversations with homicidal African warlords.
"What are you saying? Are we talking mutiny? I should never have trusted that little bastard midshipman Cunliffe."
"It's not just him any more, it's kind of everyone really."
Suddenly the lights on the bridge flickered and the engines fell silent.
"Why have we stopped?" asked Shearer. "Get down to the engine room immediately and find out what the hell is going on."
"No need to," said Robertson.
"Chief Engineer Little and the lads have had a site meeting and voted to down tools till we can get this leadership thing sorted out."
Shearer gripped his ball bearings even tighter. "Well, at least I know you're on my side. Break out some side arms and get a few good men together – we're not going down without a fight."
Robertson shifted uneasily. "Look, I'd love to help, I really would, but some of the stewards reckon it might be better if maybe I took over for a little while and steadied the ship, as it were.
"Why don't you just head off to your cabin and have a bit of a lie-down."
The colour drained from Shearer's face. He rose slowly from his chair: "Screw you, No 1, I'm out of here!"
Half a kilometre off the ship's starboard bow, a dark deadly form slipped through the grey ocean.
"Maintain periscope depth," snapped Commander Key. "Open torpedo doors one and two."
"They've come to a dead stop," yelled Lieutenant Joyce from the comms station. "One lifeboat being lowered with one occupant."
Key couldn't believe his luck.
Having survived the GCSB depth charging, here he was in perfect attack position with his prey dead in the water.
"Up periscope," ordered Key.
He scanned the SS Labour from bow to stern. In the red glow of the emergency lighting he could see small groups of the crew gesticulating wildly and shaking their fists.
A few hundred metres astern was a dinghy with one occupant in a captain's uniform rowing away from the doomed vessel.
"Prepare to fire," said Key. "This is going to be like shooting snapper in a barrel."
- The Dominion Post