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 The Only Thing That Counts

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: The Only Thing That Counts   Fri Oct 20, 2017 5:54 pm

Chapter 18- Discovery  

 

            Having completed their ablutions, Steve and Jimmy ate the potato chips and other snack food provided, drank water, and then collapsed on the bunks. The raiding of the snack bar showed provision of good food was obviously not a priority, with the imminent withdrawal from the base probably diverting all hands to loading the subs.

Desperate for sleep both men were almost immediately spiralling toward unconscious bliss when Steve was disturbed by a knocking on the wall.

“Steve?”  It was Kelly’s diminutive voice. He tried to stir but was hindered by his aching muscles and the feeling of absolute fatigue.

“Steve!” Her appeal was more anxious and the knocking more vigorous.

“What is it Kelly?”

“Malcolm dropped in to see how we were and then said that we’re all leaving soon.”

“You sure?”

“That’s what he said, and it sort of confirmed what happened earlier.”

“What do you mean?” Steve was battling to focus.

 “Well I asked Jodie if she was okay because some guy was hassling her and this guy let slip that we’re all going on a ride. But she didn’t seem to think any more of it. Do you think they’re going to take us, you know where?” she held off saying what was obviously on both their minds.

“If you’d asked me yesterday I couldn’t see why they would. I mean, it’s possible if they really have no one who can look after the bio-environment. Is Jodie there?”

“Yeah, she’s out to it though... really wrung out.”

“Jimmy’s out to it too. Listen, there’s no point in worrying them now about where we might be going. They’ll find out soon enough and there’s not much we can do about it.”

“Okay, I’ll let Jodie sleep. Steve, are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m just tired. Get some sleep Kelly.”

She said something a little later in return but he was oblivious to it as he slid into a deep sleep.

            Steve woke shivering, clammy and his head pounding. His body was still suffering the effects of concussion. Suddenly he was alert. Some sound had roused him. Had he dreamt it? The door swung slowly open. Malcolm was at the door locking it behind him. He looked furtively around and located Steve gazing up at him before coming quickly across.

“They’re looking for me. I have to escape,” Malcolm breathed hastily.

“What happened?”

“I was trying to listen in to a conversation between Shelley and Klein when I heard Shelley compliment Klein on his selection of me to add to their numbers. Of course Klein didn’t know what he was talking about and he immediately ordered them to find me.”

            The noise of stomping feet and the ruckus of the search rapidly escalated in the hallway.

“Quick! Get into the bed and lie against the wall.” Steve ordered. Malcolm yielded to necessity muttering.

“I hardly know you Steve...” Steve just had time to roll on him halfway and feign sleep when the search party charged in. He was compelled to act as if he was just disturbed from his sleep. Groaning and blinking blearily, he stirred slowly as three soldiers stood in the centre of the room scanning the sparsely furnished quarters.

“He’s not here.” was the gruff remark from the abusive sergeant, “Let’s keep going.” They stormed out and broke into the adjacent room with the same crashing disregard for the occupants. Harsh shouts and scrambling next door indicated the pursuers were providing more grief for the two females than Steve, Jimmy and Malcolm suffered. Dragged from their fitful dozing Jodie and Kelly endured some abrasive interrogation as to their knowledge of Malcolm. The soldiers’ cruel sport fell short of molesting the two young women, but they enjoyed intimidating them briefly before heading off to continue their search.

            “What was that all about?” Jimmy wheezed, clearing his throat. Malcolm groaned uncomfortably as it became apparent that it was safe for the moment.

“You can get off me now,” he grunted. Jimmy took a quick doubled take and tried to peer past Steve.

“A little thank you wouldn’t go astray,” Steve grinned, and then he audibly complained at the pain caused by his smiling muscles. He clambered out of the bunk and Malcolm sat on the edge. Jimmy appeared flummoxed as Malcolm materialised from beneath the blanket.

“Listen, I don’t have much time. Do you want this?” He pulled out the phial and held it out for Steve. Steve stared at him for a second when an idea formulated in his mind.

“No, you keep it. In fact, I know what you have to do. I left my scuba gear underneath the end of the wharf. You take the virus and swim out the tunnel. I left my bike under some scrub in the bay to the south of the rock platform. The key’s under the seat. There’s also a map book in the side satchel. Go to the nursery and wait for morning.” He gave the address and then had him repeat it. “Then go to Arcadia University and ask for Professor Eric Leipstein in the Biochemistry Department. He’ll be able to work on the sample and maybe find some way to combat it.”

“You don’t ask much.” He pocketed the glass container deliberately. “What will you do?”

“We’ll try and stop them from our end. We’ll do everything we can.” He knew that any chance they had of surviving hinged on whether they cooperated with Klein or not. Ultimately, he knew, he could not cooperate.

“Okay, I better go. Listen, those other phials... they’re stored in the bridge of the Cormorant. Try and keep a watch for when they move them to the space transport.” Malcolm walked to the door and unlocked it. “Do you want me to leave this unlocked?”

“No, you had better lock it,” said Steve.

 “You guys look after yourselves.” offered Malcolm stepping through the doorway.

“Yeah, you too,” Jimmy responded, “Good luck.” He clutched his damaged face as it throbbed painfully.

            Malcolm snuck off, securing the door as he went. Jimmy, recovering slightly, looked at his friend’s glassy indifference to Malcolm’s departure. Steve was immobilised by a shocking thought.

“You okay Steve?” Jimmy had risen, unstably, and walked across to shake his friend gently.

“He had the phial in his pocket,” Steve intoned flatly.

“What?”

“He had the phial in his pocket,” he repeated, “and I just about crushed him when he was hiding.” The effects of the virus were still stark and vivid in his mind and Steve trembled briefly as he considered what could have happened.

“Oh...” Jimmy paused at the realisation of what Steve had envisioned. Then he continued, “Why did you tell him to lock the door?”

“If we want to have any chance we need to at least seem compliant. Colonel Klein may need us, but he’d kill us without hesitation if he caught us trying to escape, or threatening his scheme.” 

                                                -------------------------------------

 

            In another section of the base, where most of the offices were situated, Colonel Klein was berating Lieutenant Shelley and a couple junior ranking soldiers.

“We lose those goons you hired and now we’ve been compromised by this sailor. Have you any idea where he is yet?”

“No,” was Shelley’s depressed reply. “The base is so big and we have so few men now.”

“So, you’re giving up?” Klein snarled.

“No, but we have had to ensure he doesn’t sabotage any vital facilities. So I have men watching the subs, the exits and the main plants. It doesn’t leave us with much manpower.”

Klein paced, still fuming but aware that he had to act rather than seek retribution from the halfwits that had allowed this to happen.

“All right... get everyone on board now. We leave immediately before this pest can do any damage. When we leave we’ll release some more of the virus. We’ve seen how effectively that eradicates pests.” His face reflected his amusement at his use of metaphor.

“Well, go on.” He gestured impatiently with his hand in a shooing motion toward the door.

“Yes Colonel,” said Shelley crisply and departed immediately, followed by the other two, and feeling lucky to have escaped so lightly.

            Klein straightened himself up. He walked back to the desk and stared stonily into the small mirror hanging on the bookshelf. Brushing back his hair and putting on his cap he spoke softly, “Don’t worry Ernest, you’ll run your own little world soon.”

                                                            -------------------------

 

            Soldiers rushed into the temporary prisons and dragged the unsuspecting inmates unceremoniously out of their beds and along the hallways. Jimmy’s instinct to resist gained him a cuff to the side of the head and he stumbled onto his knees. That was followed by a kick in the side. Steve heard a cry of distress from Jodie as she witnessed the attack on Jimmy and paused to look back. He barely had opportunity to glimpse the clump of bodies behind when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Keep movin’,” growled one of the soldiers, pushing at him. Steve quickly bent down and hauled Jimmy to his feet before any more kicks could be landed.

            The four of them were herded roughly, in two groups, out along the dock area. Staggering from the mistreatment and heavy workload, Steve and Jimmy tried to rest for a brief moment; Jimmy feeling his ribs while Steve cast a glance around to see if Malcolm was about at all. Their respite was brief however, and soldiers then forced them up the ramp into the second of the two submarines. As they boarded they saw the lettering on its side. It was the one named ‘Skua’. ‘Strange name for a submarine… Maybe it can fly,’ mused Steve.

            They were led across the metal grate covered deck and through the large angular hatch. Going down a short set of stairs, all four were then ushered via another hatch down a ladder to the lower deck. Escorting soldiers then shoved them hastily into one of the crew quarters’ cabins and turned the key. They stood, silent, taking in the four berths and limited amenities and looked at each other.

“What are we going to do?”

It was Jodie.

“Sleep,” said Jimmy with a grimace. Jodie went across to Jimmy as he clumsily clambered onto a bunk, clearly in pain. Kelly joined her and they helped him under a blanket.

“He may have a broken rib,” Kelly glanced up through her tousled hair. Steve thought she still managed to look attractive even though she was dishevelled from the maltreatment she had received.

            “We’ll see what he’s like after a bit of rest.” Steve climbed up onto his bed and continued, “Besides, Jimmy is right. Sleep is about all we can do now. We need to be rested and ready for any opportunity.”

“Do you think we can stop them?” Kelly spoke with an anxious tinge to her voice.

Steve replied, “We’ll do what we can and trust it will be enough...” He was deliberately vague with his answer, knowing that anything they did would probably be the last thing they did. Steve was also aware that Kelly was agonising over the fate of her father. Was he still alive, and if so, where were they keeping him?

            Steve looked at Jodie. Her head was drooping against her chest. She seemed wrung out. “You okay Jodie?” he felt somehow responsible for dragging her into this. She gazed up at him through her dark hair, she had been praying, but she didn’t want to sound religious.

“I’m fine,” she murmured and climbed onto the other top bunk. That was all she said before curling up and closing her eyes. Steve experienced an ache within. He again had that urge of wanting to give Jodie a hug and tell her everything would be all right, but a wave of despondency washed over him as he realised that for them it may never be all right again.
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