Vaporized ll, page 14
She took a few moments to process what had just happened. What she’d witnessed a few moments ago; Dom’s horrendous death – it was all so unreal. She broke down and began to weep uncontrollably.
Half a minute later, she managed to compose herself. She wiped her cheeks and started to shiver. She was still in just her blouse, so removed her jumper she still had wrapped around her waist and pulled it on.
She stood up, and looked over the side down to the sea, way below. It was grey, freezing and about as uninviting as she could imagine. She shivered and proceeded to move as quickly as she dared along the deck, back towards the bridge.
She reached the main door, opened it and walked into the corridor. The storeroom, containing their supplies was just off on the right. She went directly to the door, opened it, and slipped inside. The supplies were still there, thank God. She ripped a bottle of mineral water free from its packing and gulped down the contents. She followed the water up with two Snickers bars, finally settling her rumbling empty stomach.
The small clock was still in the corridor below. She needed to get it to keep track of the time. She bent down and proceeded to unscrew the hatch set into the floor and pulled it open. She placed her head into the amber-lit access tube and inhaled deeply. She couldn’t detect any hint of ammonia, and so proceeded quietly down. She reached the bottom, but began to feel immediately claustrophobic. The sub-level areas were now not where she wanted to be, or where she felt safe. The weird stuff she’d seen in the engine room had freaked her out. The aliens appeared to be using the area and its warmth possibly, as some kind of gestating nest – producing a different variety of alien creature, more like large agile dogs.
She searched the ground and found the clock up against the side of the corridor and picked it up. The hands were pointing to 06.15. At least another twelve hours of daylight lay ahead, although the evenings were now drawing in noticeably as the end of first week of September approached. She had no idea what day it was, but knew the bank holiday was at least ten days ago.
She prayed that John had survived the attack yesterday, or was it the day before? She couldn’t work it out. She had to continue looking for him and so decided to start on the bridge, before searching the other cabins for any further clues as to his whereabouts.
Amber reached the bridge and looked around. There was no sign that John had been back here. She grabbed the binoculars from the bulkhead and raised them to her face and panned the ocean. There was nothing, just water as far as the eye could see. She glanced at the radar, which was still functioning. The green line making a sweep of the green radar screen every second or, indicating the weather was good, no thick smudges of green were visible. That was something at least. Amber sighed, and placed the binoculars back in their holder on the bulkhead.
The next radio transmission from Nevada would be broadcast in just under an hour, and needed to be back up for that. She checked her gun, grabbed five bullets to replace the five she’d used from the box of ammunition on the table, and headed back out to the deck below, to start her search in the lounge cabin.
Nostrum: Day 6
300 miles off Puerto Rico
A SEARCH OF all the cabins revealed nothing. There was no sign that John had been in any of them and the messages on the table tennis table hadn’t been touched either.
Amber slumped onto the sofa, which she’d quietly flipped back onto its legs from its upended position on the floor.
She checked the clock which she had with her. The time was 07.13 and she needed to get back up to the bridge for the broadcast and update from Nevada, and to alert the team of scientists of her increasingly precarious position. There was no way she could survive much longer on the tanker, not without the men.
Amber wiped her nose with the back of her hand and sniffed. She couldn't be sure whether or not she could smell a faint waft of ammonia, but she didn't want to hang around to find out. She got up off the sofa and checked the main corridor, which was clear. She quickly proceeded to the stairway and headed back up to the bridge. The radio transmission from Nevada was due any minute.
Safely back on the bridge, she walked over to the hole in the floor, sniffed for ammonia and listened. All seemed okay, for now. She placed the gun down on the table and secured the door, before heading to the console and turning on the main radio. It was still set to the correct channel and frequency. She stood by the equipment, nervously waiting for Major Colin Montgomery’s reassuring voice.
Suddenly the radio erupted into life with a burst of static and squawks, before Major Colin Montgomery's voice filled the cabin.
"This is Montgomery speaking. Are you guys alright? What is your present status? Any further intel to report?" he said, appearing a little curter than he had in his last message.
"Major Montgomery, this is Amber. There have been developments...bad ones. We were attacked by two of the creatures twenty-four hours ago. Dom is now dead, and John missing, but believed dead. I am alone and don't know how much longer I can hold out," she replied, speaking directly into the mike on the console.
There was a moment’s silence, then some low mumbling, between Montgomery she assumed, and another man. The comment; birds and airborne, the only two words she could make out.
"I'm very sorry Amber. That is indeed unfortunate news. Do you have weapons and ammunition? Have you found a safe location to hide?" he asked.
"I have weapons, but only a limited supply of ammunition. The creatures seem to be breeding down in the engine room. We saw pods, large eggs and a device, a floating prism which was giving off light and energy. It appeared to be gestating the eggs. It…it really is unbelievable. I'm so scared major…I can't go on for much longer." She hesitated. "I’m thinking of getting off the tanker."
"Amber I know things are desperate but we advise against that. We are monitoring your current location. You’ve entered the Caribbean and are now just eighteen hours away from Panama. You’ve just passed through the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico is now some three hundred miles off your port side," he said, a hint of optimism in his voice.
Amber did a rough calculation in her head. That means I still have…five days or so left on-board? I can't possibly last that long," she said, stifling back tears.
“Please, just try and keep calm. You’ve managed to outwit the creatures so far. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing for another few days, and we will make sure you’re safe Amber,” Montgomery said.
Amber fell silent, mulling the major’s words, wondering if she had anything left in her to fight with. She’d felt so confident upon boarding the ship, with her new friends, but everything had quickly turned into a nightmare once they knew one of the creatures had boarded with them.
“I’ll do what I can major. But please, I won’t be able to trek across California to find you. You’ll need to come for me.”
There was a moment’s silence. “We will see what we can do Amber. I will contact you the same time tomorrow morning to check on you. Stay safe. God be with you.”
The radio fell silent, and Amber felt all alone once again. The Nostrum’s hull creaked as the ship tilted ever so slightly on the large Atlantic swell. Amber took in a deep breath and expelled it, wondering where she could hide and stay remotely safe for the next five days. The alternative was to get off the ship, which she’d been contemplating. Take one of the life rafts, but would anyone ever find her? She could be adrift for far longer than her supplies would last, and then she’d starve to death. It would perhaps be a better alternative than being ripped apart by one of the alien creatures however.
She sighed again and thought back to her calm and peaceful life as a solicitor in London; suddenly realising she’d give anything to go back to that existence. She stifled a laugh as she realised she’d actually once thought that job/existence was stressful.
Amber left the bridge and headed back along the corridor. She’d decided to move some of the supplies from the storeroom on the main
After moving a third or so of the supplies, Amber went back up to the bridge to make a cup of tea, and eat a bar of chocolate. The time was approaching three p.m., and she felt a wave of panic wash over her as she thought about the evening drawing in, heralding the start of another sleepless night.
She picked up the binoculars and surveyed the ocean. She couldn’t see any land, despite the fact that the ship had recently passed through the British Virgin Islands, but they had to be almost five hundred miles behind her now, she guessed.
What the hell would she find in the Panama Canal? Would she even be able to negotiate the tanker through it? What if the canal was clogged with other ships? She’d be screwed. She pressed those thoughts to the back of her mind and sipped her tea.
She finished her tea and stood up, a sudden thought coming to her; a way perhaps to make her hideout a little bit more secure. Or at least give her some warning if one of those creatures got too close.
Amber finished uncoiling the long firehose from its spool on the wall just above the hidden cupboard and managed to tie one end of it to the handrail of the stairway leading down to the main deck, and the other end to the stairway leading to the bridge. She’d managed to create a spider web effect with the hose, blocking the landing of each stairway, and similarly across the door to the three cabins off the main landing. It was pretty rudimentary, but by hanging a load of cutlery off the hose, she’d built a basic early warning system. If anything tried to break through the simple barrier, it would alert her.
The security system had taken her a little over two hours to fully implement and the time was now approaching five-thirty, and the evening was drawing in. It was time for one last cup of tea and some food, before bedding in for the night. Tomorrow would prove even more of a challenge – if she was still alive – as the Nostrum would be making its pass through the Panama Canal.
Nostrum: Day 7 - Panama Canal, Panama.
AMBER HEARD SOMETHING and was jolted awake, the fog of sleep receding rapidly. She felt temporarily disorientated in the small space, but quickly remembered where she was. Her mind focused on the sound coming from the corridor. Was it the alarm system she’d created yesterday before bedding down? Had one of the creatures just triggered it?
As she listened she could hear that the sound wasn’t a jangling of metal cutlery, but more of a buzzing; some kind of alarm was sounding. She rolled over, stretched out and carefully opened the hatch to listen.
Buzz…buzz…buzz. Warning! The message was being repeated over and over and appeared to be coming from the bridge.
“Oh no!” Amber said, realising that the tanker could be about to hit something! She scrambled out of the small closet, ran over to the stairway leading up to the bridge, gripped the tangled fire hose, pulled it apart like she was entering a boxing ring, and ran up the stairway to the as fast as she could.
She burst through the door onto the bridge, the warning sound blaring out from somewhere on the console, and ran to the main windows to look out. Directly ahead was a huge set of lock gates. Amber grabbed the binoculars and raised them to her face. She focused on the buildings to her left, where a large welcome sign read; Panama Canal, Gatan Locks.
The tanker had started its passage through the Panama Canal! She could see mountains either side, blanketed by green; it was beautiful, and was the first land she’d seen since leaving West Wales. Swivelling the binoculars directly ahead again, she was hit with a wave of panic as she realised that the tanker was going to smash through the first set of locks, which were needed to raise the vessel by 87 feet to move into the Gatun Lake, just on the other side.
Amber quickly disabled the annoying alarm system and looked on in horror as the bow of the Nostrum smashed through the first set of lock gates. The sound was horrendous, even from the bridge. Metal on metal, twisting, grating and groaning as the Nostrum ploughed through the steel barrier at 24 knots. The tanker was slowed by the impact, but continued forward. Amber raised the binoculars to her face again and surveyed the scene in front of her. She could see the next set of locks, about one mile distant. If the tanker hit them at full force, it would be game over.
Amber slammed her hand down on the emergency engine shut-down button to disable the Nostrum’s engines. The button lit up, confirming it had at least accepted her command. She felt no difference in the tanker’s momentum however.
The tanker ploughed forwards, Amber looking on, helpless to do anything to change what was about to happen. She cursed Major Montgomery for not informing her about what she might expect once she reached the canal.
As she stared through the binoculars she noticed that the water level within the canal seemed to be rising, or was it just her imagination? She continued staring, and using the massive hanging tyres that lined the canal wall as markers, she could see that the level of the water inside the narrow channel was definitely rising, perhaps triggered automatically after the first lock gates had been breached.
Amber estimated that the tanker was now about half way along the canal, with about half a mile to go before the next lock gates, the gates that opened onto the Gatun Lake.
The water level inside the canal had to have risen by forty feet or so as the huge tyres were now almost completely submerged. There was still a large distance however between the tanker’s current level within the canal and the top of the lock gate, now looking dangerously close, about a quarter of a mile ahead.
Amber looked on helplessly as the next set of locks approached. The water level inside the canal had continued to rise, but wasn’t going to approach the 87 feet height required. She estimated that the tanker had been elevated by 60 feet or so, which was better than zero. As the tanker approached, Amber noticed the lock ahead starting to open. Her mouth dropped open as she saw a huge vertical line of water surge through the opening gap, spraying hundreds of feet into the lock, and just ahead of the Nostrum’s bow.
“Jesus!” Amber screamed, having no idea what do or what was about to happen. She realised she’d turned the engines off, which looking back may not have been such a good idea. She looked down at the console in front of her, found the green engine start button, and slammed the palm of her hand on it, lighting it up.
The view ahead now was just a huge blanket of water, spraying from the opening lock gate ahead, the contents of the Gatun Lake emptying into the canal. Amber placed her hands over her face as the bow of the Nostrum smashed through the opening lock, with a corresponding nauseating sound of bending and buckling steel. A huge wave of water erupted at the front of the vessel, covering the deck of the tanker. Amber watched as the first couple of containers were washed off the deck like they were children’s toys. Then the tanker lurched to port, throwing Amber hard to the floor. She felt her head hit something hard, and then everything went black.
BUZZ…BUZZ…WARNING! The words drifted in and out of Amber’s head. She opened her eyes and realised she was lying on the floor, her head throbbing like she’d just awoken from a bad hangover. What the hell had happened?
Buzz…buzz…Warning! The sound repeated. Then it all came flooding back to her. She pulled herself up off the floor and looked out of the windows. She could see that the tanker was still moving forward, this time through another narrow channel, high mountain ridges, carpeted with trees, on either side. Amber found the binoculars on the floor and used them to scrutinise the scene outside. Behind she could see the vast Gatun Lake, way in the distance, and ahead, it’s bow at a hopeless angle, blocking the Nostrum’s line of a travel, a container vessel, no doubt the cause of the alarm now sounding.
Amber grabbed the wheel and turned it to port. The bow of the Nostrum starting turning
Ahead, she could see the mountain of containers on the ship start to slip off, one by one, like giant dominoes, some toppling and hitting the Nostrum’s deck, most falling into the water below. The Nostrum’s autopilot immediately corrected the newly altered course, and once again, headed directly for another lock, stretching between the two mountain ridges.
Amber raised the binoculars to her face again and directed her sight at the lock. A sign on the left gate confirmed it was the Pedro Miguel Lock, which had a descent of 31 feet into another lake beyond.
This time the lock gates didn’t open automatically and the bow of the Nostrum smashed through the huge steel gated barrier. Amber gritted her teeth as she heard the grating of steel on steel and wondered how the bow of the tanker was still intact. Clearly it was, as they hadn’t started to sink…yet.
The Nostrum lurched forward, tilting the bow down as it slid from the mountain ridge canal side level to the lake, thirty-one feet below. An intense grating noise accompanied the drop as the tanker slipped down into the next lake, throwing Amber violently forward.
The tanker swayed back and forth as it continued forward. Amber looked out of the window ahead; another lock was looming up a short distance away!
In the maelstrom of activity, she’d almost forgotten about the deadly cargo on-board with her, but she was quickly brought back to her senses as the smell of ammonia drifted up from the breach in the bridge’s floor, just to her right.