Vaporized ll, page 3
"Ride with the angels Pegasus," he shouted, accelerating away and wiping a tear from his eye in the process.
They drove along the country lanes in silence, the early morning sun barely poking through wispy crimson-coloured clouds; alien-looking clouds. A consequence of the vaporization process, Amber considered.
Another few minutes passed. "So, what is the plan?" Amber asked.
"Well," John said, with a large sigh. "We're going to steal an oil tanker and cruise across the Atlantic in it."
Amber's mouth fell open. "We're going to do what?" she said, hearing what John had said perfectly clearly, but needing further explanation.
John negotiated a tight right hand bend in the lane, clipping the hedgerow in the process. "It's our only option," he said, without taking his eyes off the road. "Milford Haven is home to one of the world’s largest liquid natural gas refineries. There are always one or two oil tankers waiting there to be filled, ready to take their cargo to other parts of world. Short of taking a jumbo jet, it's out only option to get to the United States."
Amber considered the very limited options available to them. Amongst all the chaos this morning, she'd not considered the ramifications of the radio message from the U.S, and the fact that they might actually have to travel to America in order to get the help they needed. Amber hadn’t considered the possibility of attempting to reach the United States, let alone travelling there by ship. She did know that the old Esso oil refinery in Milford, was, back in the 1980’s, one of the largest in the UK.
"Jesus John. How long will that take? I mean have you even stepped foot on an oil tanker before, let alone operate one?"
John shook his head. "Nope; but there is always a first time for everything!"
Amber looked out over the dry and dying landscape, and shook her head. "I can't believe this is happening," she whispered to herself.
John accelerated as they reached a straight stretch of road that led directly to Pembroke and onto the port of Milford Haven a few miles beyond.
Half an hour later they drove over the brow of a hill and were met with a fantastic vista of the ocean, and the natural port of Milford Haven below.
John pulled over and grabbed a set of binoculars from the glove compartment. "Let's see what's going on," he said, getting out of the truck.
Amber did likewise. As she got out of the pick-up, a warm breeze washed over her. She had to remind herself it was almost September, the August Bank Holiday now almost a week ago. So much had happened, the long weekend may as well have been seven years ago, not a mere seven days.
"What can you see?" she asked John, who was panning the landscape in front of them.
"Not a lot. The port and refinery should be buzzing, but it’s deserted. The good news is that there are two large oil tankers in the port. One of them, the Nostrum, looks like it was in the middle of being loaded when the cataclysm struck. I can see winches and cranes, with stuff still dangling from them. I guess they were in the process of loading the ship. I can't see the name of the other tanker, but there doesn't appear to be any sign of recent activity."
Amber shrugged. "Looks like the Nostrum might be our home for the next week or so then."
John lowered the binoculars and nodded. "Come on, let's get down there and take a closer look."
Esso Oil Refinery: Milford Haven
JOHN STEERED THE pick-up down the windy coastal road toward the refinery. Everything had looked normal from a few miles back, through the binoculars, but as they got closer, they could see that the alien tendrils had indeed reached the massive refinery, and had enveloped much of it.
The tendrils were not as numerous as they had been in London, but they had managed to invade the complex network of pipes and buildings that formed the huge LNG facility, and refinery. Amber had heard on the news only a few weeks back that the refinery, which had been operating since 1973, was now in a shutdown period. Its owners announcing it would be converted to a 'storage and distribution facility' only, with a consequential large loss of jobs. Not that any of that mattered any more.
Amber felt an uneasy feeling rise in the pit of her stomach as they got closer to the port, and the huge tanker moored in the dock beyond.
John continued on, the sound of the pick-up's tyres humming on the warm tarmac road. The noise of the tyres seemed abnormally loud, probably because it was the only sound Amber could hear.
They reached the refinery's main entrance, which was open, allowing John to proceed through the main steel gates towards a security hut. The hut would normally be manned; Amber was sure, but not any longer.
The security barriers were down. John pulled over and brought the pick-up to a stop, leaving the engine running. He reached behind him for the shotgun. "I'll go and check it out. Get into the driver’s seat in case anything happens,” he said.
Amber nodded and slid across to the driver’s seat as John got out. She watched him disappear into the small brick building. She suddenly felt very nervous as she waited for him to come back out from the guardhouse. The huge port, normally bustling with workers, was now desolate, and it gave her the creeps.
A minute or so passed, and then she heard a loud click and she almost peed herself. She breathed a sigh of relief as she realised the sound came from the barrier in front of the car, which was now rising. A moment later, John emerged from the guardhouse carrying something in his hand, and jumped back in the vehicle.
"What did you find?" Amber asked.
"A gun, and a weekly planner. I ripped it off the wall. The Nostrum docked last Friday, just before the bank holiday. It's a German registered tanker and was due to take 200,000 tonnes of refined crude back to Spain. With a bit of luck the tanker has been readied to go," John said, unconvincingly.
They drove through the security entrance and continued past numerous porta-cabins and other port buildings. The tall chimney stacks of the old oil refinery towered above them in the distance. Amber could see that one of them was all but obscured by a thick tendril that had twisted itself around the chimney, all the way to the top.
They continued on towards the main dock and the huge German oil tanker that was moored there; it's stern rising out of the water like a sheer black steel cliff face.
Amber couldn't see much evidence of alien activity, apart from the tendril on the chimney stack and the occasional tendril, now blackened and shrivelled, perhaps from the oil that it had sucked up, wrapped around some of the smaller pipes. She wondered if the aliens had been put off by this place, abandoning it once they discovered the complex’s purpose was to process a sticky black substance, and not water.
It was the absence of seagulls that Amber found most disconcerting however, as they slowly drove along the port.
The Nostrum was massive; a proper, full size oil tanker. How the hell did John expect to sail her? she wondered.
The tanker was clearly in the process of being loaded when the cataclysm struck. A huge scaffold walkway had been set against the ship for access, and numerous cranes loomed up from the dock, some clearly in the middle of loading goods on to the deck of the tanker, their operators vaporized in their cabs halfway through the job.
The vessel’s huge mooring chains clanked against the side of the ship and the stone quay, as the tanker moved slightly on the swell, creating an unnerving sound in the silence.
Stacked haphazardly along the dock, to their right, were an endless number of large rectangular freight containers and other storage vessels. Amber inhaled the pungent vapour from the oil and fuel that she guessed was stored somewhere nearby. She even thought she could smell ammonia, but considered her mind must be playing tricks on her. The entire site reeked of chemicals.
John pulled over and parked the pick-up between two of the large shipping containers, which looked like they'd been positioned on the dock ready for loading, and cut the engine.
An eerie silence quickly descended, and the only audible sound Amber could hear was a low whistle create
They both got out of the truck, john griping his shotgun. "Here, you'd better take this," he said to Amber, handing her the pistol he'd found in the guardhouse. "It's loaded, I checked."
Amber grabbed it, feeling a little more at ease with the loaded weapon. There was no sign of any human life, as expected. The dust and bones from everyone that had worked at the refinery had long since been blown away by the wind.
John and Amber checked the area immediately around them, behind the first two rows of containers, but found nothing. "Ok, all looks clear. In going to take a quick look at the deck from the top of the scaffold tower," John said, nodding toward the tanker. "You can come up to the first platform half way up and keep a look-out. Then we can start loading our gear."
"Don't you think we should check the ship out first?" Amber asked.
John looked at her. "Be my guest, if you fancy sleeping in the car for the next two days while we search the ship. This thing will take forever to search properly!"
Amber sighed. John had a point. She watched as he climbed the steel steps to the deck high above. She followed him up to the first platform, approximately halfway up the side of the vast hull, in order to keep watch.
Amber stood nervously as the clanking from John's boots on the steel stairway faded; the higher up he went.
As she stood there, a strong breeze brushed over her head and shoulders, and she again caught a fleeting whiff of ammonia, mixed with the smell of fuel and other unidentifiable chemicals. It concerned her, but she could see no obvious danger. The entire dock looked deserted.
She could no longer hear John's footfall and assumed he must now be on the Nostrum’s deck. The binoculars were dangling around her neck and she raised them to her eyes and panned the surrounding countryside for any signs of trouble, but everything appeared normal. Normal if you called dusty brown fields, dead trees, and the fact that the entire vicinity was deserted, normal.
She scanned down slowly to the dock area, and as she was about to lower the binoculars, she caught sight of something; something dark, a shape or shadow, moving quickly between two rows of containers.
Amber froze, holding her breath as she kept the binoculars trained on the spot. Then, from behind the last container in line, a large black plastic sheet appeared, blown by the breeze now sweeping the dock.
Amber exhaled a sigh of relief, her heart rate steadying once again.
"Everything ok down there?" John’s voice echoed from somewhere above her, causing her to jump.
"Jeez," she mumbled, before shouted up. "Yes, all clear!"
She heard John's footsteps descending back down the tower towards her.
"Well, it all looks clear up there," he said, panting, as he arrived on the platform. "The deck is pretty much empty. There are a few containers that were in the process of being loaded, and I managed to take a quick look around the living quarters and bridge. There are numerous piles of ash inside the main quarters, but no sign of any life," he said.
"That figures," Amber replied.
"Come on, let's grab the stuff and get it on board.”
Amber and John descended the steps to the dock and started the arduous task of unloading the pick-up. John suggested he carry the bulk of the supplies, so Amber could keep watch with the shotgun. It took just over three hours for them to safely load all of the food and water on-board the tanker.
A little way along what appeared to be one of the main corridors, they found a storage cabin. The supplies were now stacked neatly in four piles inside the small cabin.
As they both made their way back across the deck, Amber looked up at the fading crimson sky and noticed the sun was now beginning it's slow decent towards the west.
"Must be coming up to five p.m.," she said, as they headed back down to the dock for the final time.
The clock in the pick-up, which John had re-set following the Event, confirmed Amber wasn’t far off the mark. It was showing 4.20 p.m.
The two of them grabbed their holdalls containing the few personal items they’d taken from the farmhouse and left the pick-up for the last time, before heading back up the scaffold tower to what would be their new home for the next ten days or so.
As Amber listened to their footsteps clanking up the steel stairway, she felt her stomach turn over at the thought of them attempting to cross the Atlantic in the huge tanker. She doubted whether they’d even see the United States, let alone get to Nevada where the radio message was supposedly being transmitted from.
The special purpose lead-lined steel container resting on the dock, a short distance from where the pick-up was parked, was dark, hot and now stinking of urine and faeces. The three men, who’d been holed up in the container since last weekend, had been listening intently to events unfolding outside, since hearing a vehicle’s engine running.
"It's gone quiet, what do you think is going on?" the big muscular man with a blonde crew cut said.
"I got no fucking idea Dom," Adam Hancock, an equally well-built man, with dark greying hair, and wearing dungarees and T-shirt, replied. "But I think we should open up the door and have a look. They were definitely human voices."
Dominic Kelly, a geologist from Cardiff, nodded to the third man, his face just visible in the light of their dimming torch. "What do you think Paul?" he asked.
Paul Chilvers, a Londoner, and one of the refinery’s longest serving engineers looked scared. "I don't want to see another one of those...those things again," he said.
"None of us do Paul, but if those voices we heard came from more survivors, we need to make contact."
Paul nodded. "Open the door then. I can't stand it in here any longer anyway," he said.
Adam Hancock nodded.
Dom looked at them both. “Ok, here goes,” he said, as he twisted the key in the heavy padlock which secured the container door. It clunked open, allowing Dom to push the heavy container door open to form a wide enough crack to peer through.
Daylight poured into the dark space for the first time in days and the men responded by shielded their faces from the late afternoon sunlight.
As his eyes adjusted to the light, Dom made out the silhouette of a red pick-up truck, parked a short distance away.
"What can you see?" Adam asked.
“Well, there’s a vehicle out there for sure, parked a short distance away. Hold on,” he said, placing his ear to the six-inch wide crack. “I can hear something; footsteps on the Nostrum’s access gantry, sounds like someone is boarding the tanker!”
“Are you sure?” Adam asked.
Dom nodded, opening the container door wider.
“I’ll be damned,” Adam said, just able to hear the footfall drift down from the top of the tower, above the whooshing of the light breeze gracing the dock.
Nostrum Oil Tanker: Day 1
AMBER WATCHED JOHN as he perused the Nostrum's operations manual. "They didn't teach me how to sail oil tankers at agricultural college," he said, sarcastically.
They were both on the ship’s bridge. Amber was staring at the myriad of levers, buttons and dials on the bulkhead’s console, and closed her eyes in despair. How on earth were we even going to start the engines? Let alone cruise across the Atlantic, she wondered.
Amber walked over to the side window and looked out over the dock area, as John continued flipping over the pages in the manual. She couldn't believe how high off the ground they were. It was like being on the 50th floor of an apartment block. Memories of sitting in Oblix, the restaurant in the London Shard, came flooding back, as she looked down at the dock below. She then thought about her friends, and wondered what had become of them.
She craned her neck to find the scaffold tower and entry gantry where they’d boarded and could just see the top of it. That's odd, she thought, as she saw the tower moving, shuddering ever so slightly. Odd because she couldn't recall it moving when she an
Amber then heard a loud whirring sound and turned to see John pushing some buttons on the main console. The intensity of the sound increased, John punched one of the buttons again in response, and the metallic whirring then steadily faded in response. "That didn't sound right," John said, scratching his head.
"Just admit it, you haven't got a clue what you're doing have you? It's not quite the same as driving a tractor," Amber replied.
"Alright, calm down. It can't be that complex. I just need a little more time to study this," John said, sitting back down to read the operating manual again.
Amber shook her head in despair, and went back to scrutinising the tanker's complex control panel on the bulkhead in front of her.
The three men crept along the main corridor, passing the storage cabin and continuing to the end, where a stairway ascended to the upper levels.
"It sounds like they're up on the bridge. That was the bilge pumps we just heard. They clearly don't know what they're doing," Dom said, as the three of them headed up the stairway towards the bridge. "We need to be careful when we get there. We don't want them to accidentally shoot us!"
"Bloody right,” Adam said. “We'll have to shout or something, but remain hidden. It will freak them out, but better that than being shot."
"Yeah, good idea," Paul added, as they finally reached the short corridor leading to the tanker's bridge.
"Ok, you two stay here. I'll try and get closer, see who or what we are dealing with," Dom whispered.
The two men nodded, and concealed themselves behind a storage container on the left side of the corridor.
Dom moved towards the bridge. He could see that the end of the corridor had large glass side windows, allowing anyone to look out to sea or, onto the bridge as they approached. He stooped down and crept towards the door, intrigued at who the visitors might be.