7.

Several thoughts ran through Kay’s head as the explosion rang throughout the ship.

First, and loudest, was panic as the entire pilothouse violently shuddered around her. It was a deeply instinctual reaction, the old fight-flight response that had been keeping human alive for centuries. Such a response was not helpful to her current situation however and Kay actively supressed it to make room for more important things. The sudden dose of adrenaline still left her heart hammering.

Second was confusion as her brain tried to catch up with what had just happened. Information flooded her from every direction, from a new, persistent creaking in the hull to the kaleidoscope of lights that flared angrily from her console. While the exact details of their warnings escaped her, Kay got the gist of it well enough. Things were not going well belowdecks.

Third was a stream of incoherent swearing. This damn ship just could not give them even just one day where something catastrophic didn’t happen. If it wasn’t ripping parts off itself, it was going for broke and trying to blow them sky high.

That thought led directly into her fourth and final one, the realization that she was probably lucky to be alive. If the explosion had been in the fuel tanks, she’d currently be little more than a charred smear on a wall somewhere. It must have gone off in the engine room itself, where the stronger walls would be able to contain the blast.

The same engine room that Oscar had been working in.

Swearing again, audibly this time, Kay slammed the emergency stop button on the side of her console. She had no idea if there was anything left to stop but she wasn’t risking it. That done, Kay switched the radio over to the emergency frequency and leaned forward to shout into the mic.

“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Pacific in distress! Unknown explosions! Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!”

Barely a second passed before she got a reply, the familiar voice of Control, stripped of all his jovial antics to leave only focused efficiency

“Roger Pacific, reeling you in. Do you have any injuries?”

“Unknown!” Kay said. “Likely fire!”

“Understood, hang on.”

Outside, the dock crane began to move again, hauling them up away from the gate and back towards the docks. In flagrant disregard to Control’s orders, Kay did not hold on and instead sprinted out the door onto the deck, pausing only long enough to grab her rebreather. She’d need it if she was going to save this bucket of bolts.

The deck swayed horribly underfoot, the crane operator sacrificing stability in favor of getting them to solid ground as quickly as possible. Relying on her Sea legs to keep upright, Kay worked her way across tilting surface until she reached the hatch belowdecks. Without thinking, she wrenched it open and was immediately engulfed in a cloud of smoke, sending her in fit of ragged coughing. Fire confirmed then. Blinking away tears, Kay slipped the rebreather over her head and hurried down the stairs.

The door to the engine room hung askew in it frame, allowing thick clouds of smoke to billow out into the hall. Kay could taste its arid tang even through her mask filters, along with a worrying hint of burning oil. Rushing though the broken door, the smoke grew even thicker, such that Kay could barely see across the room.

Tongues of flame leapt from one of the engines, casting a sickly orange glow on the smoke, the heavy shadows making the fire look even larger. Or at least, she hoped it only looked larger.

“Oscar!” Kay called out. “Oscar, where are you!?”

“Here.”

 Relief flooded into Kay at the sound of his voice. Straining her eyes, she spotted movement through the smoke, Oscar’s silhouette emerging from the gloom on the far side of the room.

“You alright?” Kay said, moving toward him.

“Fire suppression’s shot! Grab an extinguisher, we need to get this out!”

His voice sounded strained, as if he were in pain, but Kay chose to ignore that in favor of more immediate concerns. From a small compartment marked ‘EMERGENCY’, she retrieved a small fire extinguisher and pulled the ring pin from the side. Praying it wasn’t too old to work, she aimed the nozzle at the burning engine and squeezed. To her great relief, a jet of white foam began to spray from the extinguisher, producing a sharp hiss as it hit the flames. Something was going right at last.

As Kay worked to keep the jet steady, Oscar appeared next to her out of the gloom. Armed with an extinguisher of his own, he began to douse the flames as well. They both aimed for the base of the fire, trying to douse as much of the engine as possible to keep it from spreading.

Their effort bore fruit, the orange glow beginning to dim as the flames shrank back down. They didn’t let up through, knowing that even a single spark could bring the whole thing back in an instant. Best thing to do was to assume it was still there and keep spraying until their extinguishers were empty.

As the flames shrank back into the engine, Kay shifted her jet to follow them inside the open compartment. Oscar did the same, but his aim was way off, hitting the outer casing as much as the actual flames. Glancing over at him, Kay saw he was due to him only using one hand to work the extinguisher. The reason why became obvious when she spotted the splashes of red running down his arm.

“You’re bleeding!” Kay called out.

“I’m fine, focus on the fire!”

Kay didn’t believe him for a second but did as he said, knowing that he was right. Even now, with the flames no longer visible, they couldn’t let up. So long as any fire burned, there was a chance it could spread and spark off something else, like a fuel line. If that happened, a bleeding arm would be the least of their problems.

As Kay went to resume her firefighting efforts, a sudden jolt ran through the ship, rattling it down to the bolts. Caught completely off guard, Kay was instantly thrown off her feet, losing all sense of direction as the smoke spun before her eyes. She landed hard on her back, crying out in surprise as the extinguisher flew from her hands, vanishing from sight as it rolled into the gloom.

Above, the sinister glow of the flames returned, freely spreading again with no one fighting it. Kay tried to stand but fell back to the floor with another cry, this one of pain as a bolt of agony lanced through her side. Apparently, she’d landed harder than she’d thought. Gritting her teeth, Kay made a second attempt, but the pain simply would not allow her to rise.

Falling back to the floor, Kay began to grope around blindly, looking around for something, anything, that could help. Instead she found Oscar, lying prone on the floor next to her. He was still moving thankfully, but only just, his movements as meek and uncoordinated as a newborn baby’s.

That was when she noticed, to her horror, that he wasn’t wearing a mask. This close, she could clearly see the shade of his nose and mouth, event through the thick haze of smoke. The haze of smoke the idiot had been breathing this whole time, along with god knew what else.

Cursing for a third time, Kay ripped the rebreather off her face and slipped it on over Oscar’s head. He struggled a bit, mind probably addled and panicking, but his clumsy swipes were powerless to stop her. The result barely fit him, straps pulling tight around the back, but the important parts were in the right place. Not ideal but at least he would be able to breathe.

The same could not be said for Kay herself. With no filter, the reality of the room hit her all in one go. An arid stench flooded her nostrils, followed near instantly by the bitter taste of metal on her tongue. Her vision began to spin wildly, blurring into a dark smear as fresh tears flooded her eyes in a vain attempt to keep them clear. Strangely, the pain began to fade, although Kay suspected that was a bad thing in the case.

Marshalling what little strength she had left, Kay began to crawl along the floor towards the door. While it was barely five feet away, it might as well have been the other side of the planet. Every movement felt like she was swimming through a pool of thick molasses, fatigue settling over her limbs like a physical weight. She struggled to draw even a single breath, what few she managed woefully short of the oxygen her lungs burned for it. Or perhaps that was simply the smoke running through them with abandon. Hurt like hell either way.

As true darkness began to press in on the edges of her vision, Kay thought about how this was such a stupid way to die. Spend your whole life working in one of the most dangerous environments known to man and here she was about to bite in on the docks. That would be an embarrassing thought if thinking of any kind wasn’t becoming so very difficult. AS she felt herself slid away, Kay had one last clear through before the darkness took her.

Who was going to pay all her debts now?

*

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