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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   Sat Oct 21, 2017 4:52 pm

Chapter 19- Departure

 

            Soon after Malcolm had left Jimmy and Steve, he almost ran into a small squad of searchers. He had been going down the main central passageway when he saw them enter from a corridor past the cafeteria on the left. Immediately going left himself he cut through to the kitchen. The near encounter left him shaken and very uneasy. He waited and tried to plan his moves. Many minutes followed before he mustered the nerve to go on and reach the corridor that was vacated by the hunters. To elude them further he turned left and travelled in the opposite direction to the first main walkway. From there Malcolm proceeded to the huge storage area and, taking a fleeting look to ensure that he was unobserved, stepped through the entry. He felt almost safe for the moment, being quite sure his hurried departure had not been detected.

            Malcolm paused here and considered his options. The docks would be heavily guarded so it would be dangerous to just forge ahead without any forethought. Steve had told him his wetsuit was under the far end of the dock so his present route was the best in terms of reducing the distance that he was exposed to view. Should he wait until their chase waned or take the chance that attentions were diverted from the harbour and go now?

            After edging cautiously to the plant nursery, he wandered warily along rows where full pallets of plants had only recently rested, but now, except for a remnant of sickly looking specimens and the occasional unused tray, the pallets were empty. A door slammed somewhere behind him and he skittered under a bench. A series of retreating yells soon followed and then all was silent. Eventually he reached the exit that provided direct access to the harbour. Through the doorway he saw two sailors removing the boarding ramp from the ‘Skua’, climbing on board, going inside and closing the hatch behind them.           

            It was clear that the submarine was leaving. Malcolm moved to his left and crept out toward the water’s edge hugging the dark rock wall. By the time he got to the stream that came down the rock-face the motor of the first craft was humming. The Cormorant was also making preparations to leave. A few men were awaiting the Colonel who was just coming out of the main doors toward the sub.

            Crawling low against the cavern wall, Malcolm carefully edged down the wet rocks near the water fall, determined not to slip and give away his position. He tentatively entered the cold water. The first shock of it almost took his breath away. He swam the short distance to the wooden structure and hoisted himself up onto the slick framework. Shivering violently now, it took a minute or two to locate Steve’s scuba gear. Discarding most of his wet clothes he struggled to get the gear on. Placing the phial carefully inside the rubberised material close to his skin in an effort to keep the culture alive, Malcolm adjusted its position. He paused. Was it worth the risk? Maybe a dead culture would be just as useful? He zipped up his back strap. Everyone would be endangered by bringing back a live sample. The alternative of letting the virus die in the cold, he thought, might result in him completing his escape, but bringing something that was less useful, or at worst, useless.

            There was a small explosion from inside the base somewhere while he was halfway into strapping on his tanks. Malcolm considered taking a peek to see what was going on. But he thought better of it as the Skua started submerging not far from his position.

            With flippers and mask on, he was just about to take in the mouth piece when he heard a terrifying scream. The other sub was moving now so he risked scaling the far end of the dock to see what was happening. On the dock was the horrifying sight of two servicemen twisting and writhing with muscular spasms, each collapsing with excruciating paroxysms, punctuated by a ghastly gurgling death rattle. Malcolm almost vomited. Regardless, he put in his mouthpiece. Almost instantaneously it dawned on him what had happened. He climbed back down and, grasping the torch from the next beam, he fled for the safety of the water. Fear welled up in him as he realised the lump next to his chest contained the deadly ingredient that had resulted in the atrocious death of many people, including the shocking end of the two he’d witnessed.

            He swam numbly. Had he been far enough away? Will the coldness of the water protect him?

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

            On board the Cormorant, Klein watched the shocking demise of the two soldiers who had failed to convince him of their commitment to the cause.

“I don’t think there will be any survivors, do you?”

It was a rhetorical question and no-one attempted to answer. There was an eerie disbelief among the sailors of what had just happened.

“Shelley, you must get to the bottom of these accidents once and for all. For now we will abandon this base.”

            Shelley wondered whether this feeble attempt to cover up what was a deliberate act served any purpose. But the mood of those on board seemed to suggest that there was a willingness to believe something had gone dreadfully wrong, rather than consider the alternative.

            That Klein had timed the release of the virus in the air conditioning plant so that two sailors sent on an errand could demonstrate to him again the lethal nature of his biological weapon and at the same time removed a threat, was no surprise to Shelley. He’d heard the Colonel espouse his cause of culling the human population to produce an ideal world. One in which a smaller, controlled environment will support a populace with a much higher standard of living. The lure of power and wealth at the head of this movement was too great to resist. So Shelley didn’t baulk at the ethical obstacles that might be raised if he thought about it.

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

 

            Malcolm swam down one of the vertical piers as he felt the disturbance of the second submerging submarine. He had clipped the torch to his belt to give himself more freedom to stroke. Cold water began to seep in through small crevasses in his hastily rigged, slightly over large wet suit. Trying to follow its wake, he eventually found the dark tunnel. Once near the opening he was sucked into the large aperture by the receding tide. The roiling, twisting current was at peek flow and Malcolm was tossed and tumbled. His tanks clanged against the rock, his body was battered, scraping and bumping jagged outcrops along the wall. Desperately Malcolm was stroking away from the sides and all the time fending with his hands to protect his fragile cargo.

            By the time he had been carried clear of the torrent and made his way south and shoreward, Malcolm noticed the blood in the torchlight. Ribbons of red streaked his hands. They had been lacerated by the sharp projections of rock in the sub-marine channel. Burning, stinging sensations pulsed in his fingers and palms, and his upper arms ached as he swam steadily to shallower water. Staggering up the sandy beach in the waning moonlight, Malcolm fingered the tear on his shoulder. He spent some time getting his bearings. There was a rough pathway wending its way down the facing hill toward some banksia scrub. It was there, just beyond the beach, that he found the motor cycle. Changing into Steve’s larger clothing was slow and painful and he wondered if he should have just remained in the wet suit.

            Thereafter Malcolm had little trouble negotiating his way to the city with his precious sample. It took more time to find his way to the nursery and let himself in. He was glad to get out of sight because, even though it was three am, he felt conspicuous riding in the baggy clothing. After sleeping restlessly on the cot in the back office he was awoken by a knock on the door. It was Sergeant McGuiness who had just happened to be passing the nursery when he saw the bike near the door where Malcolm had pulled in. The sergeant had put more credence on Steve’s story, especially after the capture of those pursuing him. Malcolm’s account was enough to confirm the danger and he quickly alerted a number of trusted friends to the situation. Channels were used to bypass the chain of command and inform some reliable government members and agencies.

            Apart from a special escort to the university little else was evident in terms of an official response. This was partly because of disbelief and partly due to the desire to avoid the story getting out and panicking the community. It wasn’t long before Professor Leipstein was given access to a highly secure laboratory to carry out work on the virus with a number of government scientists.

            Malcolm was whisked away by US consular officials who had firm instructions. ‘Get that sailor back to the US immediately for debriefing. Any leak of this story could be a PR nightmare!’
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