Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Escape from QC1

Escape from QC1

Okay. So much has gone on, you'll have to bear with me. Just so you know, a lot of what I've posted up until now hasn't exactly happened as I've described them. Some of it is to protect the innocent, some because I knew interested parties follow this blog, and some because I only found out the real reasons later. Let me catch you up with what is really going on. I think things will become obvious as I type this.

We slowly passed the burning wreckage of the British destroyers. I think in the annals of history, this attack will stand up alongside Pearl Harbor or the defeat of the Spanish Armada as one of the worst single day's destruction of naval equipment.

We cruised up the River Thames, slowly passing by hamlets and docks. A squad of pirates manned the machine guns on the deck, and had fun picking off whoever came into view, shooting up boats and buildings and vehicles. After about ten miles the river grew narrower. We needed to reduce our speed to a bare crawl. Xyllan called off the shooting since crowds of people began lining the shores to sneak a peek at us. A couple news helicopters hovered around, keeping a respectful distance. Even further away lurked fighter jets, waiting for some kind of opening we supposed. We could take down anything within visual range but we continued to take pot shots at the shore areas.

A small contingent of pleasure craft trailed us up the river. We wound around the sweeping curves of the river, keeping to the deepest shipping channel. We sunk any ship daring to come too close. I have to admit the amount of death and destruction we dealt on that river was unparalleled. The entire river became a column of smoking ruins behind us.

We passed through the Thames Barrier, a structure designed to control water flow through the river. They apparently hadn't thought to close the structure. As we passed, we blasted a couple of the gates so they couldn't trap us. Shortly after passing the barrier, we passed by the Millennium Dome, a large retail complex. Throngs of people gathered on shore at this point, and a few began firing at us. We stopped our assault to conserve ammunition. We had a more powerful way to kill these Londoners.

We cruised around a couple more bends, gawking like sightseers at the beautiful and stoic structures of London. In front of us stood the Tower (London) Bridge, and right beyond that, the Tower of London, holding one of the greatest treasure collections known to man, all for the taking. The entire bridge lit up at once, and we heard the impact of shells and mortars hitting our outer hull.

"Return fire," called Carrie, and a couple of rockets burst off of our deck, impacting at the base of the Tower, exploding in huge balls of light. As the smoke cleared, we spotted gaping holes in the support structure of the Bridge. As we watched, the structure began crumbling brick by brick in a slow motion disintegrating. The middle deck fell first, then the towers crumpled in on themselves, and finally the outer deck collapsed into the river.

As I watched, my board filled up red. "Power loss! Emergency shutdown initiated. We're losing coolant to the Matrix, we've got to shut it off or we could blow!"

"What?" Carried jumped over and pushed me away from the console. "What the hell? What's the fuck is happening?" She clicked around frantically, then pounded the table. "Dammit, we're sitting ducks now!"

Fortunately there was no concomitant power loss. I looked outside. "I think I know what's going on. They're lowering the water level. We don't have enough clearance on our input manifold, or maybe it's become clogged up. We don't have enough coolant."

Without describing the details of a raving madman, let's just say the next few minutes were not enjoyable. Carrie flipped out. She went ape shit. Finally Xyllan had enough sense to go up and slap her.

"Shut up," he growled, hitting her right in the mouth. "Enough! Let's focus on fixing the issue. We'll cut a new intake if we have to. We just need to do it before the British Marines storm the ship. We'll bring water aboard in buckets if we have to. Besides, they can't keep back the water forever, this is the rainy part of the year. Come on, let's get moving."

We first had to wait until the Matrix cooled, which took considerably longer since only a trickle of water emerged from the intake. Night sets in early this time of year, so London became a cheery mass of lights. Some people had already put out Christmas decorations. I didn't have much time to appreciate it, since I was scanning for enemy activity. I couldn't see much, but enough shadows seemed to move to indicate something.

We finally accessed the Matrix to find the cooling system completely clogged with a fine silt. We ran a few lines over the edge of the top deck and drew in water to start cleaning the mess, and some other pumps to carry the dirty water overboard. We had a small holding tank where we could store a bit of water, enough for maybe a zap or a couple minutes of propulsion. Not enough for sustained operations.

A bit after midnight, I got accidentally doused in cleaning solution. I scuttled back to my room to get changed and wash off the somewhat corrosive cleaner. After I entered the cabin, I saw a small sticky note under the keyboard. It read, "C-21. 0200. Bring anyone whom you want to keep alive."

I stared at the paper for a second. Ellie. I didn't hesitate, I knew what I had to do. I quickly washed off the cleaner and redressed, pocketing a few guns and knives I had stashed around. I went to the control room where Rod monitored the enemy activity. I walked over to him and looked over his shoulder. "Here, I think I see the problem," I said, and started typing on his keyboard: "0150 at Gate C" then I quickly erased it.

He nodded subtly at me. "Got it. Thanks, Alex. How's the cleanup coming?"

"Slow. Probably will need a few more hours. I'm going to need a drink. A big bottle of booze will do."

"I'll bring you a couple," he said, nodding. "I'll bring some for everyone." He emphasized the last word just a bit.

"Yes, everyone," I replied. "We'll all drink. Bring a lighter too, I might light something."

The next hour and a half passed agonizingly slowly. I checked my watch almost every minute. Fortunately the progress on the silt removal proceeded just as slowly, forcing us to send men down into the intake tubes to shovel them out. I don't think this ship had been designed for river travel.

At 0145 I wandered back into the Palace. I walked over to the Pirate camp, a mass of tents set out on the floor of the Palace. "Where are the prisoners," I asked the nearest guard, "it's time for their punishment."

He pointed me to a tent with another guard snoozing right outside. I slipped inside, and found two lumps under sleeping bags. I crept to the smaller one and cupped my hand over her mouth.

"Julia, wake up, but be quiet. Ssh. It's Captain Ross." She struggled for a second, but when she heard my name she relaxed.

"Captain Ross! You've come back! I knew you would." She threw her small arms around my neck and hugged me with her wrists tied together.

"Ssh. Misty! Wake up! It's time to go."

She stirred and her eyes grew wide. "You! What the fuck are you doing in here you fuckin--"

"Ssh! Jesus Christ! We're leaving. Let's go."

"I'm not going back to your bloody cabin, not after--"

I placed my hands on her shoulders and looked right at her in earnest. "No. We're leaving. We've got about eight minutes, so shut up and get moving."

Misty's mouth gaped open. "Yes, yes, sorry. What about these ropes?" She held up her hands which were bound in thick hemp strands.

"I'll get them off as soon as we clear the Palace. I need to gag you too. I just want it to look bad for you. We need to hurry. I won't make it tight. Julia, you ready?" I tied another rope around their wrists. "I'm going to yank it a bit. Sorry." The women glared at me.

"Move it," I shouted, pulling them out of the tent. The guard startled and fell off his chair.

"Where you takin them," he asked, pushing his dreadlocks out of his haggard face.

"It's payback time for these whores." I took out my knife and waved it in Misty's face. "You don't want to see what I'm going to do to them. You can go now, they won't be coming back. Now move it bitches, or the end will be drawn out and painful."

They did a credible job resisting me as I dragged them out of the Pirate camp. As we cleared the area, I motioned to them to hurry, and we trotted over to C Lock, under the movie wall. We slid through and I closed the door behind me.

I grabbed my knife again and the women backed off, fear in their eyes. I grabbed Misty's wrists and cut away her bonds, then Julia's.

Misty yanked off her gag and spoke. "Alex, that was the most humiliating thing I've ever--"

"Save it, we're not clear yet. Rod! Where the hell are you?"

Rod came puffing down the hall, a large clinking sack on his back. "Sorry. This booze is heavy. What the hell is this for?"

I shook my head. "I have no fucking clue. We have about 3 minutes. You have the schematic?"

Rod whipped out his handheld PDA. "Right here."

We raced along gangplanks and machinery, avoiding the mechanical apparatus of the SMD and the workers clearing out the silt from the Drive. We crawled up into the underdeck, where a lot of the control surfaces were housed during idle. These surfaces kept the ship from breaking apart at high speeds. "C-21, just up there," pointed Rod. There were spots where we crawled on our hands and knees, scraping off skin. If I hadn't lost so much weight at Kastle Klingon I doubt I would have fitted. At some points we literally pushed Rod along.

I smelled it before I saw it. Scents reminiscent of a distillery greeted me, as well as unwashed human bodies. We emerged into a small room littered with stacked but empty liquor bottles and neat piles of trash. We looked around. We heard a sound from above, and a body slid down a control wing and plopped onto the floor of the room. For a minute it lay there, then started moving. I rolled the body over.

"Holy shit! Ellie!"

Julia screamed and grabbed Misty. "The wild woman from the cage!"

I kneeled down next to the body and helped her sit up. "Ellie, are you hurt? What's wrong?"

"Hey, Alex," she slurred. "Glad you could make it." She lazily raised a hand and then her eyes went back and she swooned in my arms.

"She's bloody pissed," exclaimed Rod.

I shook Ellie's chin and slapped it a bit. "Ellie! Wake up! What the hell?"

Her eyes fluttered open. "Alex. I've missed you." Her alcoholic breath washed over me.

"Ellie! What the hell is going on? Why are you so drunk? Are we getting off this boat or not?"

"Getting off? Boat? Oh...oh! Shit! Help me up, hurry. God, I'm so wasted." I did my best but she could barely stand straight.

"Has she been here the whole time," asked Misty, surveying the amount of trash lying around. "What the bloody hell did she survive?"

Ellie reached for an unopened bottle of booze and waved it at Misty, barely able to stand up straight. "This. It stops the zombie ray. Drink enough, and instead of waking up a mindless zombie, you wake up...drunk! I thought you guys would use the weapon tonight, so I drank a whole bunch."

Ellie slumped against me, reeking of alcohol and lack of bathing. "I found tapes of the trials," she continued. "The only people left alive and relatively unscathed were the drunks. I put two and two together. I've been living on nothing but a steady diet of booze since I escaped. Now, let's get outta here before our ride leaves. Hold on."

She pushed along the wall, grabbed a bucket, and emptied her stomach into it. "Sorry," she said, wiping her mouth, "but I feel so much better now."

"I'm gonna gag," cried Misty, holding her mouth. "Let's get out of here. Stat."

Ellie waved a hand. "Leave the booze over there, in case I need to come back. Right up there is the hatch. You just push it, fall through, and hit the water. Does everyone know how to swim?"

"Top breaststroker at Oxford," replied Misty. Rod nodded as well.

"I don't know, I don't know," cried Julia, "I hate water."

"You come from an island nation, surrounded by water," I exclaimed, but Julia shrank up against Misty. "Okay, okay. Let's do this. Misty, you sound like the strongest swimmer, so you go first, then Rod. Then I'll help Julia through. Ellie next, and don't forget she's so drunk she'll need help. I'll be right after her."

Ellie helped us crawl up the retracted wing over to the hatch. I pressed it, and sure enough the locking mechanism had failed. All I could see was black water about fifty feet down, like a five story drop.

"There are frogmen down there," said Ellie, flashing a small light and receiving a reply. "They'll guide you to their raft. It's black and without searchlights your camera shouldn't pick it up."

I saw the little lights blinking down below. If I didn't know what to look for I'd say there were reflections from streetlights.

Ellie signalled, and Misty slid out the hatch. In a second I heard a small splash. Leaning out, we could see the all-clear signal. Then Rod took the plunge, and they flashed success.

"No, no, no," whimpered Julia, crawling away from the edge.

"Come on, you can do it. We're getting off this boat, and never coming back. Julia, this is the only way."

"I'm scared," she cried. "Please don't make me, please, please, please."

I reached out to try to shove her but she grabbed my arm with a death grip.

"Please don't make me," she cried, holding her head down like a dog.

"It's okay," I said softly. "Misty's down there. She won't let anything happen to you. I promise."

"Oh, fuck this," said Ellie and literally put a foot on me and shoved us both out. For a moment I experienced sheer panic as my body felt weightless out over the inky blackness of the River Thames. Julia screamed a piercing howl, then we hit the water like fish dropping on pavement. I instantly lost Julia, and the frigid November waters of the river struck me like a million spears into my body. I instinctively started grabbing for the surface, not even knowing which direction it lay. It took what seemed an eternity, but finally my head broke the water.

"Julia," I screamed. "Julia!"

A couple figures moved in the water, men with black scuba gear and underwater lights. In a moment they brought Julia to the surface, lifeless and limp. The water next to me exploded. For a moment I thought we were being attacked until I realized Ellie had just dropped in. The men dragged Julia onto the raft, and she seemed very still. I swam towards them, quickly losing feeling in my extremities, my heart literally bursting in my chest.

"Here, Alex," called Misty from the raft. They helped me in, and then the men delivered a shivering Ellie.

On the other side of the raft, the men worked feverishly on Julia, one wrapping his arms around her and performing a modified Heimlich maneuver, the other checking her vitals. They then laid her down and started CPR, chest compressions and rescue breaths. Another man provided us with blankets. Misty clutched my arm so tightly I thought she might crack my wrist bones.

For what seemed an eternity they worked on her. I began pulling on my wet hair and praying. Ellie put her arms around both of us as we watched the spectacle. "What was I thinking," I muttered, "what the hell?"

A trickle of water spurt out of Julia mouth, then a torrent. She began coughing and gasping violently. The men signaled the others, and the divers began pushing our raft away from the boat and towards the Northern shore. We scooted as close as we could to Julia, and called to her, "it's okay, we'll be safe soon, hang in there."

The men wrapped her in every blanket they could, we even gave her ours. In a few minutes we reached the northern shore of the river. A few men helped us out of the raft, and placed Julia in a stretcher. They hustled us into the back of a waiting van, and the van took off just as the door closed. We all huddled together for warmth. Misty kneeled next to the stretcher. "Julia, hang in there. We're going to get you better. Julia? Julia! Alex, she's not responding!"

Ellie squatted down next to the girl and checked her. "She's alive, but she has hypothermia. Look at her lips. Help me get these wet clothes off of her. We need to warm her up."

We quickly stripped the poor girl naked under her blankets.

"These blankets won't work," griped Ellie. "We need warm body heat. Forget it, you two. Misty and I will do it. Misty, grab some blankets and take off your clothes."

"Yes, yes." In a minute, Misty and Ellie had stripped butt naked and crawled under a blanket, holding Julia between them with their shared warmth.

Rod and I just tried to be cool about everything. My vision of escaping the boat never included naked women. Ellie and Misty's heads peeked out from under the blanket as the van jostled around London's streets. "I think I'm almost sober again," said Ellie, then turned to Misty. "Don't rub her. Just concentrate on warming her core. Keep the cold blood out for now."

"Where are we headed," I asked.

"Chinese embassy. It's not far."

My dealings with the Chinese have not gone well. "Ellie, I'm not entering Chinese custody again, not after everything I've been through. Just drop us off somewhere."

"Alex," she said from under the blanket, "it will be fine. You won't be in custody. No interrogations. You have my word. You can leave any time, but I hope you'll stay long enough to help us figure out how to end this crisis."

Misty spoke. "I want British representation at any talks that may occur. We have the most to lose, after all."

The two women glared at each other, practically nose to nose, and judging from the lumps under the blankets, they had wrapped an arm around each other.

Ellie relented. "Done. She's a tough one, Alex. And I feel so lesbian right now."

Misty snorted. "Oh you're a funny gal. Hold on, I think Julia's moving. Give her some air."

They rearranged themselves and Julia's head poked out. She looked around the van, then at Misty and Ellie. Her fingers crept out of the blanket and she pushed it up, looking down. Her eyes grew wide, and a bit of color touched her cheek, but her lips remained dark blue and her normally tan face a ghostly pale.

"Whaa!" Julia flipped herself over under the blanket.

"Julia, it's alright, we're trying to warm you up," said Misty. "Nothing funny. The guys didn't see anything, you've been under the blanket the whole time."

Julia peeked one eye out towards me. "You didn't see me?"

I held up my hands. "Not an inch. We're just trying to keep you warm."

"Haven't been looking," said Rod. "We're just keeping you alive. You've had quite an ordeal."

Julia looked at Ellie. "You're really warm. Sorry Miss Misty." She spooned her body up close against Ellie. "My sister would do this sometimes during storms, just hold me and keep me safe," she whispered, closing her eyes, just to rest.

Ellie held her tightly. "She's so sweet," she told Misty who nodded enthusiastically. "But you need to feed her more. She's all skin and bones."

The van slowed down, and we heard some echoes, like we were in a parking structure. Then we heard men's voices. The van backed up and parked. The doors opened, and a handful of Chinese medics greeted us.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," I said, pointing to the pile of wet clothes. The medics nodded, and whistled for clean clothes to be brought. In a minute, we handed the women some sweat pants and shirts and closed the door for their privacy. Rod and I just changed in front of everyone, on the side of the van. In moments the five of us stood together and hugged. A lot of color had returned to Julia's cheeks, and I gave her a great big hug, followed by Rod. Julia started crying, overcome with emotions.

A familiar face greeted us. "General Tam, you're back," I said to the small Chinese man. He bowed to me.

"What are your orders," he asked Ellie.

She stretched and rubbed her face. "We need food. I haven't eaten anything solid in a week. Then get me Commander Jeffries on the line, Royal Marines. We're setting up a meeting. Let's find a suite to relax in. And I want every staff member issued a fifth of Scotch immediately. If I give the order, they are to drink it as fast as possible. And I mean in 60 seconds. Guys, come on, it's time to finish this thing."

Ellie provided us the nicest stateroom in the entire complex, where we immediately collapsed on the beds and couches. I found a computer and began typing this in. In a little while, we're going to meet with Jeffries and his staff. We have to take out the ship before it becomes fully operational again. It may be our last chance to stop this threat.

If things don't go well, this may be the last time you hear from me. For the Americans out there, especially my Dad and my brother Brad, have a nice Thanksgiving. It may be your last. But I promise I'll try to be there next year.

Posted: Wednesday, November 26, 2008 @ 10:30 PM

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