Vaporized ll, page 13
Dom nodded and the pair of them descended the steel stairway, a gloomy amber/orange glow lighting the way. An oily chemical smell filled the warm air as they moved down, the repetitive thump…thump…thumping of the Nostrum’s powerful engines becoming louder.
They reached the bottom of the stairway. Ahead was a small desk and radio, together with a rack of steel shelving units which contained safety gear – eye masks, gloves, ear muffs and hard hats.
They moved passed the rack of equipment and turned the corner into the main room. One side of the tennis-court sized room was filled with a bank of computers, switches and pressure gauges; the other side was taken up by two huge steel-encased engines, which were throbbing loudly, as they powered the Nostrum’s twin screws.
Something didn’t appear right however. Amber had never been inside the engine room of an oil tanker before, but the corridor to the right of the steel panelled wall where the engines were located was filled with a bright white light, and appeared out of place, almost otherworldly.
Dom looked at Amber as soon as he saw the light. “That looks weird, is something on fire?” he said, staring at the back of the engine room.
Amber starting to tremble, as she realised the light coming from the corridor clearly wasn’t natural. “That doesn’t look like flames, and I can’t smell any burning,” she whispered.
“Come on, let’s take a closer look,” Dom said, almost mesmerized by the light.
The pair of them walked slowly to the back right-hand side of the room, the light from the corridor so intense that they had to raise their hands to shield their eyes from the glare.
They reached the corridor, which appeared to be constructed from a weird honeycomb-type of beige brickwork, which Amber found was impossible to determine as being an unusual feature of the room’s structure or, alien in nature. It didn’t look right, but then again, it appeared to be part of the ship.
They cautiously moved along the brightly-lit corridor, weapons directed ahead of them.
The light became more intense as they entered a second large space somewhere beyond the engine room, but the intense glow wasn't uniform. Through the multiple shafts of white light, Amber was able to catch glimpse of a sign bolted to the wall, with an arrow pointing to the next section, marked - Storage Tanks 1-4.
Amber was immediately drawn back to the source of the light, but was offered no comfort by what she saw. In the centre of the room, which appeared to be some kind of maintenance room, was a glowing prism emitting bright laser-like shafts of light, each approximately two-foot square. One shaft shone out at an angle, illuminating the corridor they'd just walked along, with four other shafts of light shining on what looked like large pale green pods...or eggs.
"Shit, this doesn't look good," Amber said, turning to Dom.
Dom shook his head, looking at the four beanbag-sized pods and then at the light radiating out from the prism. It looked like it was warming the green pods, and whatever lay inside.
"I think the prism is acting as a kind of gestating device," Amber whispered, amazed at the sight.
Dom reached out, towards one of the columns of light.
"Don't tough it!" Amber warned.
"I won't. Just wanted to see if it felt warm," he said. "It's really odd; I can't feel any heat, just a tingling sensation, like getting a mild electric shock."
A sudden and loud clunk from the direction of the engine room behind them caused them both to jump.
Amber turned towards the corridor, every fibre of her being sensing danger.
"Come on, quick, along there," she said, nodding towards the small adjoining corridor, which led to the storage tanks.
They both moved quickly to the next corridor, lit only by the same low wattage amber lighting as the rest of the sub-level areas. The corridor was narrow, with grey steel walls towering above them some fifty feet or so. It had to be the side of one of the Nostrum's huge oil storage tanks. They turned left, along the side of the tank and hurried along the maintenance corridor, Amber guessing that when they took the next right bend, they'd be heading along the length of the tank, towards the bow of the ship.
The rhythmical throbbing from the ship's engines became drowned out as they moved along the corridor. They soon passed a set of steps which led up to a high steel platform fixed to the side of the tank, and hurried passed them. They reached the end of the first huge tank and could see another identical tank positioned adjacent to the first, with a narrow walkway branching right, between the two structures.
“Straight ahead or do we go right?” Dom panted.
A noise from the end of the corridor they’d just ran along gave Amber no time to think. “Turn right,” she said.
They jogged along the access way between the vertical sides of the two vast oil tanks, Dom first, Amber behind. They ran the width of the ship and reached the end, arriving in another long corridor, which ran lengthways, stern to bow alongside the tanks.
“Left, towards the bow,” Amber whispered, as she caught her breath.
They moved left, half walking and half jogging along the corridor, no further sign that anything was behind them.
After another minute, they reached the end of the second oil storage tank. The arrangement was the same. Another tank stretched out into the distance, its dull, grey, steel sides disappearing into the gloomy amber light above and ahead.
Amber looked left, along the narrow access way between the tanks and saw a ladder, which ascended the side of the third tank to what looked like the underside of a steel platform way above.
“Come on, this way,” she said, nodding towards the ladder.
The pair of them arrived at the ladder and Amber reached out and gripped the oily rungs of the ladder that was set into the side of the tank and started climbing. Dom looked into the gloomy light along the walkway for a few seconds to check it was clear, before quickly ascending after her.
After five minutes or so of climbing, they reached the steel platform Amber had seen from the corridor below. The platform acted as an access point to the top of both tanks, which stretched out either side of them like two football fields, just with the grass replaced by steel.
Narrow gangways, suspended some five feet off the surface, stretched out across both tanks. Amber wondered if the actual surface of the storage tanks was safe to walk on. There was no way of telling from where she was standing.
A clunk echoed up from somewhere below, following by a faint tapping sound, which lasted only seconds.
“Come on; let’s continue towards the bow, it can’t be much further. We should be able to find a way back to the surface from there,” Amber said, nodding towards the suspended gangway that stretched out across the surface of the tank.
Amber stepped onto the rusting chequer-plated walkway, which creaked ominously as it accepted her full bodyweight. She tested it by jumping lightly up and down on it. It felt secure enough, so she headed across it, gesturing for Dom to follow.
The pair of them reached about three-quarters of the way across the walkway, the other side of the tank now just visible in the gloomy amber light in the distance, when suddenly the walkway vibrated under their feet and swayed back and forth, as if caught in a crosswind.
“Shit! What’s going on,” Amber said, turning to look behind them.
Dom shook his head, gripping the sides of the walkway, his knuckles turning white.
Amber squinted as she tried to focus on the other side of the storage tank, where they’d stepped onto the walkway, but it was just a dark orange blur. Then, as she continued looking, a shape, just a blurred movement appeared out of the darkness, moving along the walkway towards them.
“Run!!” Amber screamed, as the blurred outline of one of the alien creature came into focus.
The pair of them sprinted as fast as they could along the narrow walkway, the steel structure creaking and swaying precariously from side to side as they moved along it towards the end of the third tank.
AMBER STOPPED AND turned as she heard the scream. Dom was five feet or so behind her, facing her with his body twisted slightly to the side. Behind him, she could see one of the creatures, clearly a juvenile, its physical appearance somewhat different to the ones they’d so far seen. It had a sleek body, shaped like a large kidney bean with a slightly smaller, but long narrow head, which was about twice the size of a rugby ball and light green in colour. It was standing almost six feet tall on its spindly but powerful hind limbs, the entire creature about the size of a large Doberman pinscher dog.
Dom was being pulled around by a tendril that had latched under and around his right arm. The tendril was being pulled taut by the creature, which was standing stationary on the walkway some fifteen feet in front of Dom.
Amber slowly backed up and raised her gun, but it was useless, there was no way she could get a clean shot off without hitting Dom.
Dom’s weapon was tucked into the back of his trousers, but for some reason, he hadn’t gone for it.
“Shoot it!” Amber screamed, barely able to project her voice as every fibre of her being told her to run.
The tendril yanked Dom hard, spinning him to the left and down onto his knees. Amber was now staring directly at the dog-like animal, its long narrow black eyes either side of its sleek head had an appearance of a baby shark, which were looking right at her.
Amber’s gun-holding hand started to tremble. She pulled the trigger and fired. The sound was like a small explosion in the confines of the hull, the steel sides of the oil tanker and the storage tanks causing the sound to resonate and echo up and down the length of the vessel. As the sound of the shot faded, Amber’s ears were left ringing.
The shot however missed and the creature pounced on top of Dom, pinning him to the walkway, its long jaws snapping away at Dom’s neck like a rabid animal.
Amber cursed and took another shot. This time the bullet hit, striking the creature in its shoulder. The shot tore the top of the alien’s deltoid region off, spraying green goo over the pair of them.
Dom lay on the walkway for a while, paralysed with fear, before he finally moved and pushed the alien off him, it’s forelimbs still twitching.
Amber ran over and crouched down by Dom’s head, quickly checking he hadn’t been mortally wounded. Amazingly, the only injury Dom seemed to have was a nasty graze to his neck and cheek.
Amber helped him to his feet.
“Jesus, that was close,” he said, looking down at the dead alien. “Everything happened so fast. I didn’t have time to react,” he added.
“Come on. There might be more. Let’s keep moving,” Amber said.
Dom nodded, his eyes transfixed to the dead alien, dog-like creature.
Amber tugged Dom’s arm, before turning and moving off at pace along the walkway to towards the end of the storage tank, Dom close behind her.
They finally reached the end of the walkway and stepped onto another steel platform area, identical to the one at the opposite end of the tank. There was a step ladder heading down and another walkway stretching out into the distance, traversing the fourth storage tank in line. “This surely has to be the last one,” Amber said, her voice hoarse and dry from the heat.
“Continue on or down to the ground?” Dom asked.
Amber thought for a few seconds. “I say we continue on. We’re less likely to encounter anything up here, despite what happened back there.”
Dom nodded. “I guess,” he said.
They crossed the steel plate. Amber took one last look down to the dimly-lit corridor below and stepped onto the next walkway. She moved across it, Dom following, their footsteps clanking and echoing in the space of the vast hull. They reached about midpoint, Amber guessed, when a metallic sound resonated along the walkway from somewhere up ahead.
The pair of them stopped, a column of ice streaked up Amber’s spine for the second time in as many minutes as she froze and listened for any clue as to what might have caused the noise. Apart from the odd clank and creak of the Nostrum’s hull, they could hear nothing untoward.
“Come on, let’s continue on,” Amber whispered.
They walked on, taking care not to make too much noise. Amber could see that they were finally coming to the end of the last tank. The ship’s hull curved slightly inward, indicating they were reaching the tanker’s bow. Instead of a steal platform linking two tanks, the walkway ended in a T-junction, with a route branching off both left and right which disappeared into the gloom. A similar walkway extended along both sides of the hull for thirty feet or so and re-joined the central walkway. Amber could only surmise that access was needed to the sides of the hull at this point. Upon closer inspection, she could see a control panel of some kind located on each side of the hull, accessible by the walkways. Some fifty feet below them, the corridors on either side of the tank converged.
As Amber approached the T-junction, she heard a metal clanking sound coming from the right. Then, she saw something move out from the dark space at the end of the corridor. As she starred into the gloomy light, more movement in her peripheral vision on her left side caused her to glance in the opposite direction.
Two more creatures, like the one that had just attacked them, had emerged from each end of the corridor and proceeded to walk along the walkways fixed to the sides of the hull. The creatures were now level with them, each one half of the tanker’s width away. The aliens reached the end of the short walkways at the same time, before turning and moving slowly along each cross-section towards the central walkway which Amber and John were standing on. The inky-black eyes positioned on either side of their sleek green heads, dead-looking, staring in no apparent direction, were obviously locked onto them and seeing them perfectly.
Amber and Dom could now only move forward, towards the walkway the creatures had emerged from. They both slowly backed up along the walkway towards the bow. The creatures meanwhile were now approaching the central walkway they were standing on, and would soon be in front of them, blocking the route they’d come from. Amber raised her gun ready to fire. Which one would she take out first? The left or right?
Before she had time to think, the creature on the left scuttled quickly towards them.
Before Amber could fire, Dom forced her back. “Run,” he screamed at her, his eyes wild-looking and crazed.
Amber had no time to question him; the two creatures were now only ten feet away.
“Run!” he screamed again.
Amber couldn’t think, but was compelled to do as he said. Perhaps he had a plan she hadn’t yet fathomed? She had no time to reason with him, and ran.
“Come and get me you mother fuckers!” Dom screamed, as he fired at the approaching entities.
Amber reached the final walkway which crossed the bow and turned right. There was no reason for her decision, just reflex. As she did, she turned and looked back towards where Dom was standing. She froze in horror as she saw his head being ripped off by one of the creatures and then tossed over the side of the walkway to the corridor, fifty feet below. She heard his severed head hit the ground with a faint thud; a second later his headless and lifeless body slumped on to the walkway.
The two creatures appeared not to be injured, despite the shots Dom had fired, and they lifted their heads in unison and stared at her.
Amber was frozen to the spot with fear. She willed her legs to move, and a split second later they responded, and she fled towards the dark space at the end of the walkway just ahead of her.
AMBER RAN ALONG the dark corridor for a short distance, before smashing into a hard structure, crunching the knuckles of her left hand in the process. She winced in pain, before quickly realising she’d run into a solid wall. The corridor had turned abruptly left. She moved on, the tapping of the creatures’ clawed feet getting louder with every passing second.
The corridor was lit
She reached a T-junction in the corridor. Shit…left or right?
The sound of the aliens reaching the end of the dark corridor sent her heart racing even faster. She saw what looked like a ladder set into the corridor wall off to her right, and sprinted for it. There was a sign bolted to the wall with an arrow pointing upwards, marked, Deck.
She climbed the ladder as quickly as she could, her hands twice slipping from the rungs as she ascended. At the top was the familiar circular submarine-hatch type lock. She tried to twist it, but it appeared stuck. Ten feet below, she heard the click…click…click of the creatures’ claws, as they cautiously approached the bottom of the ladder.
With one final tug, the lock started spinning anti-clockwise and she pushed the circular hatch open, allowing a cold breeze to rush in. She inhaled the fresh cool air for the first time in hours, just as a menacing chirping sound echoed up from below. Amber frantically pulled herself up through the hatch as fast as she could. It wasn’t quite fast enough however, as she felt a tendril suddenly wrap itself around her right ankle and start yanking her back down.
She started kicking the rubbery tendril with her other foot, but it was no use, she couldn’t release her ankle. Then she remembered the gun was still tucked into the back of her trousers. She reached for it with her right hand, her left armpit now resting around the rim of the open hatch, and pulled the gun out, pointed it down into the tube and fired.
A high-pitched squeal echoed up from below and the tendril slackened, just enough for her to pull her ankle and leg free. She then pulled herself up on to the deck and quickly locked the hatch behind her.
Amber took in a deep breath of fresh air and surveyed her surroundings. She had surfaced close to the bow of the tanker, approximately three feet away from the port side. The bridge was hundreds of yards away and barely visible in the low dawn light.