Adrift – Part 4

by Gaston Prereth

They made their way through the dark catacombs of the ship’s corridors in silence. Every computer console, every light fitting, and every electric door they went past was dead. At first Jason had tried each switch and button they passed to see if he could elicit some response, but soon he realised it was futile. Something had eaten away at all of the ship’s controls. Maybe the main computer core had become infected or damaged. He wasn’t sure. He wasn’t really sure how the ship worked or had been designed, but he knew it must be something big that had caused the shipwide melt down.

They only came across one other person enroute to the hull-rail’s boarding gate. He was an elderly man, portly around the midriff with deep brown eyes that carried the troubles of life within them. His fingertips were purple, like he had jammed his hands in a doorway, and his lips were also a similar unnatural colour. He was dead.

“Heart attack” said the young woman after a quick glance at man’s body, lying neatly on the floor. Her torch beam grazed over him like he was nothing more interesting than another bulkhead. “Probably in the panic to get to the escape pods. He doesn’t look very healthy, the exercise must have been a shock to his body.”

“He’s facing the wrong way.” said Jason, more to himself than his companion. He knelt down next to the man and stroked a finger across his cheek. His skin was cold and clammy, like a side of beef that had just been taken out of the fridge. “Shine your torch down here for a second, let me take a look.”

“We don’t have time, let’s get going.” said the woman as she dropped the torch beam back down onto the man. Jason looked at him for a second, and then started unbuttoning his shirt. “What are you doing? That’s disgusting.”

“I just want to check something. Look at him, there is something wrong about this picture. He’s facing the wrong way to be heading for the stairs, but more than that. He’s not hunched over in a heap. His arms are by his side, his legs are together. This isn’t how people collapse. Someone has moved him.”

“Well he was probably in the way as people were trying to escape?”

“You didn’t see the people on the deck below. They wouldn’t have stopped to move him, they would have just trampled over him. Like that.” he pointed to a shoe print on the man’s trousers where someone had clearly stepped in their panic. As both of them looked closer, it was clear that many feet had passed over him since he had been lain in this position. “I think someone moved him like this.” Added Jason, unbuttoning the last of the man’s shirt. “Someone was checking to see if he was okay, maybe performing CPR before the alarms went off”

The young woman crouched down next to him, studying the man’s features with more care than before.She stroked a loose hair from his forehead with a pale finger and then, for reasons best known to herself, she gave his hand a gentle squeeze.

“If he didn’t die from the rush to the escape pods, what killed him?” she asked, her voice softer. Younger. Jason pulled the man’s shirt open and, to his great surprise, confirmed his theory.

“This.” he pointed to a thin scar along the centre of the man’s chest. It was about twenty centimetres long, starting from just below his collarbone and travelling in a straight line to where his belly started to protrude from under his rib cage. “He must have had heart problems, and had a pacemaker fitted.”

“So?”

“Don’t you get it? Everything on the ship has stopped working. Anything electrical has failed, including this man’s pacemaker. I think there has been some sort of electro magnetic pulse, or something. I’ve read about them. They can break computer circuitry, stopping it work somehow.”  The young woman looked at him, a weak smile pressing itself onto her lips.

“You say that with such authority.”

“Look I don’t know, but it would make sense. Some sort of pulse that has knocked out all the electronics and scrambled the computers. Everything on this ship relies on computers. Even half the crew are computers.”

“But the lights in my room were working after all this happened, and the alarms were still going off.”

“True.” Jason glanced down at the man, staring into his brown eyes, asking him to tell them what happened. “But what if it was a small pulse to start with. We’ve walked a long way through these corridors from your room. Maybe the pulse only got this far or something, enough to damage the ship’s main computer, this man’s pacemaker, but not enough to blow the electronics further away.”

“Until a few minutes ago.”

“It must be getting stronger. Whatever emitted the pulse must still be doing it, but stronger and stronger.”

“In the hull-rail brochure, it said something about seeing the air purification ducts.” Said the woman, standing up again and brushing her legs as if pushing away dried grass.

“It must be one hell of a tour.”

“No listen.” She grabbed at his shoulder, “It said that pure air was fed all over the ship by these ducts, by big turbines that drew the air from the purification plant at the rear of the ship.” Jason nodded. Her hands, though slender, were strong and his shoulder was already starting to ache. “It said it was like the circulatory system, with the lungs at the end of the ship pumping oxygen into the bloodstream of the ducts.”

“What’s your point?” He said, wincing.

“Well god knows if the turbines are still working or what would happen to the air supply if they stop, but it seems likely that if this pulse is getting stronger…”

“Then it will soon reach the air purification centre.” Finished Jason for her, jumping up to his feet.

“We might have less time than we thought. God knows how much air we have left. We need to get to the bridge fast.” The both looked at each other, then started to run.

 

 

I think (according to my current ideas) that this will be the penultimate episode of Adrift. I’ve already been working on the next story for you which will be somewhat deeper (hopefully). I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Adrift and will return next week to see the concluding chapter. It was written as a bit of fun and started out (the first episode at least) as an exercise in writing more high-tempo prose – as you guys know I tend to ramble on a bit if I don’t control myself. 

As always, comments are greatly appreciated, and thanks to all of you who take the time to read my posts. Please come back for the final part to Adrift and then I shall start posting my new short story (which I’m quite excited about sharing with you guys.)

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