Val felt the second explosion split the ocean liner’s hull. A sarcastic voice in her head called it a “sinking feeling” and for as clever as that felt, Val couldn’t manage much amusement.
“Anna, Tam, that was from below me,” she said, speaking into the magical cell phone bracelet Tam gave her.
“If it did the same kind of damage as the one that took out the cabins here, we are in serious trouble,” Tam said.
“That’s an understatement,” Anna said. “The nearest rescue vessel is three hours away.”
“How long until we go under?” Val asked.
“The bridge crew is working on that now,” Anna said. “They’ve started boarding people into the lifeboats, but as the ship takes on water it’s going to start listing.”
“What’s the maximum list they can launch with?” Val asked, picking up her pace as she raced down a flight of stairs after the fleeing St Laurents. She wasn’t keen on drowning but as the damage toll mounted the need to bring St Laurents in rose as well. Balanced against that was the difficulty that arose from the ever increasing angle the floor was leaning at.
“20 degrees,” Anna said.
“Feels like we’re tipped past that already,” Tam said.
“We’re at 7% now,” Anna said. “The crew is scrambling to get everyone off before we hit 12% but that’s not going to happen if another blast hits.”
“I just caught a glimpse of St Laurents at the next set of stairs,” Val said. “He’s really flying though.”
“Magic?” Tam asked.
“Panic,” Val said.
“Get him,” Anna said. “This is going to be the worst maritime disaster in years and he’s the key to exposing PrimaLux’s involvement.”
“Give me one minute,” Val said and redoubled her pace, pushing past the few passengers who were left streaming in the other direction.
The sound that rattled through the giant ocean liner as it took on water wasn’t one Val had ever been curious about and one she had no desire to ever hear again. With each step she fought back the idea that a wall of water was going to burst through the hall and sweep her out into the endless blue deeps.
For a brief instant she lost that battle as her feet slipped out from under her and she slid across the wet floor. It wasn’t the sea come to carry her to Davy Jones locker though. An ice machine had come loose from the wall and was leaking water from its cold water feed all over the ground and opposite wall. Val launched herself to her feet and continued on, cursing the wet mess she’d stumbled into.
She caught sight of St Laurents again as she reached the stairs down to the next level and saw that he was scurrying down flight after flight, racing towards the lowest decks on the boat where greatest danger awaited. Val had gained enough ground that he was only a single flight of stairs ahead of her when she found a girl waiting in the hallway just beyond the stairs.
A girl in a wheelchair.
“Are you chasing him?” the girl asked.
“Yeah, what are you doing here though? Do you need help?” Val asked.
“No, I’m waiting for my father,” the girl said. “He went below to get my grandmother from her cabin.”
“It’s not safe to wait here,” Val said, torn between helping the girl up to the lifeboats and pursuing St Laurents. “Hey, Anna, Tam, I have at least three passengers down here. Can we get someone to come help them?”
Only silence answered her and when Val inspected her bracelet she saw why. It had been soaked by her fall, which Tam had warned her would ruin the enchantment on it.
“Is that like a cellphone?” the girl asked.
“Yeah, but it’s busted,” Val said. “Let me see if I can get someone to help you up to the lifeboats ok?”
“No. I can’t leave yet,” the girl said. “If I’m not here, my Dad’s going to search all over for me, and he can’t do that and help my grandmother at the same time.”
“You can’t stay here much longer though. We’re taking on water. It’s not going to be safe here soon,” Val said.
“Are you going down there too?” the girl asked.
“Yeah, I kind of have to,” Val said.
“You’ll have to leave before it gets too late then right?” the girl asked. “You can get me on your way back. And until then, you can use this to call your friends.”
She passed a smartphone over to Val from a purse on the side of her chair.
“It’s my brother’s, but it’s connected to the Wifi, so you can use it to make calls from inside here.”
It was a rotten plan, but Val couldn’t come up with a better one so she nodded at the girl.
“Jessica.” the girl said, offering her name.
“Cool. If you see my Dad down there tell him to hurry up!”
Val started dialing the ship’s emergency number as she ran, cursing that she’d left her own phone in her room. She was supposed to be enjoying several days of peace and quiet, but the only bit of that the near future promised was at the bottom of a watery grave.
Tam backed out of the worst of the smoke and stumbled as the floor tilted with another lurch as water found a new place to pour into below decks. She expected to slam into the wall, the floor, or both but instead a pair of friendly arms caught her safely.
“Tam?” Cynthia asked, perplexed by Tam’s sudden appearance and the swirling dome of air which popped like a soap bubble once Tam was safe.
Tam looked up at Cynthia with equal puzzlement. Being wrapped in the arms of the woman she’d just spent a wonderful night with was incredibly at odds with the fire and smoke and death she was also surrounded by.
“I thought you were helping your Grandmother today?” Tam asked, feeling woozy from the bit of smoke she’d breathed in.
“My brother and niece are with her,” Cynthia said. “They’re heading to the lifeboats now.”
“That’s good. It’s not safe here,” Tam said, feeling like an idiot for stating the glaring obvious. She shook her head to force it to clear.
“I know. We’re trying to get the other passengers out,” Cynthia said, not releasing her hold on Tam.
“No point going farther here, this hallway is impassable,” Tam said. “I think the first bomb detonated in one of the cabins up ahead.”
“Were there any people up there?” Cynthia asked.
Tam weighed her responses, her lips pressing into a thin line.
“Maybe before the bomb went off,” she said. Given the nearness of the cabins to the attractions aboard the ship, Tam’s guess was it was a near certainty there had been people caught in the bomb blast but the question Cynthia was actually asking was ‘is there anyone there who needs help’ and form Tam had seen there answer was ‘definitely no’.
“And it was a bomb for sure?” Cynthia asked. “Not a malfunction?”
“There’s too many cabins missing for it to have been an accident,” Tam said.
“So the second one was a bomb too then? God I was afraid of that.”
“There might be others too,” Tam said. She knew she should leave Cynthia’s embrace and get up. She had places to be and people to help. Where those places were and who exactly she should start helping were problems she didn’t have an answer for though and even with all the disaster training she’d received picking a course of action wasn’t as straight forward as she’d hoped it would be. Plus the floor was still rocking in an unpleasant fashion.
“We have to get everyone off the ship asap,” Cynthia said.
“Are you working with someone else?” Tam asked.
“I volunteered with the crew’s emergency team,” Cynthia said. “I’m a firefighter. Did I tell you that?”
“I don’t think so, but under the circumstances I’m glad to hear it,” Tam said.
“Thanks,” Cynthia said. “Now let’s get you to safety, and then I’ll get suited up and help with the people who are trapped below decks.”
“There’s passengers who are stuck?” Tam asked, getting to her feet.
“Yeah, a few decks worth,” Cynthia said. “There’s debris blocking the stairs on this side of the ship. Some people managed to make it across to the other stairs, but some are cut off in pockets a few decks down.”
“We’re listing with this side facing towards the water,” Tam said. “They’re going to have even less time than anyone else before the ocean starts pouring in.”
“I know, that’s why I’ve got to go now,” Cynthia said.
“Not alone you don’t,” Tam said. “I’ve got Basic EMT certification. I’m tagging along to help.”
“This is dangerous. It would really be better if you went up to the lifeboats,” Cynthia said.
Tam swirled her hands around each other, growling in Ancient Sumerian as she did so. The thick cloud of smoke that lay down the hall followed the motion of her fingers and was draw in to the small but ever growing figure of a winged reptile Tam had conjured forth.
“I’m also a magician,” she said, nodding at a smoke-free branch in the corridor they could use to reach the stairs down more quickly.
“Ok then,” Cynthia said, blinking in surprise, as they descended to save the people trapped in the doomed ship.
Anna wanted to pace the deck, but chose to refrain instead. In part she wanted to preserve her carefully cultivated image of calm and control. In part she knew it would distract the crew when they had the least bandwidth for processing distractions.
Instead she observed the bridge and the people working on it.
Everyone was busy dealing with the crisis, but some were more busy than others.
“Captain Starling,” Anna said when he was between distractions. “May I have the use of Ms. Kellman’s time.”
“The head of Housekeeping? Why?” Starling asked.
“We have had two blasts so far,” Anna said. “If there is a third device onboard, I would like to find and disarm it before it makes our current predicament worse.”
“You need to be in a lifeboat with the other passengers in ten minutes,” Starling said, and nodded at Kellman who had been coordinating the housekeeping staff while the helped human signposts to get the passengers moving calmly in the correct directions.
“What do you need?” Kellman asked.
“The first blast occurred here,” Anna said, pointing to a 3D model of the ocean liner on a open computer screen. “I believe that no housekeeping services were requested by this room. Can you confirm that?”
“I’d need to check the logs, but I think you’re right,” Kellman said. “There weren’t any open suites on that level, they’re almost always all booked, but that one was empty after we sailed.”
“That was the room our fugitive had booked for himself,” Anna said. “So either he planted the bomb, because he had a key to the room, or someone else did because they thought he would be there.”
“He didn’t have a key,” Kellman said. “The room was empty so no cards were ever authorized for it.”
“I was afraid of that,” Anna said. “If St Laurents isn’t our bomber, then its someone who has access to the ship’s security and was able to transfer the explosives in before our departure.”
“You think it’s one of the security guards?” Kellman asked.
“No. it would be easier to hack the system than bribe a guard under the circumstance,” Anna said. “What we need to consider though is what was here.”
She pointed to the site of the second bomb blast.
“Nothing,” Kellman said. “Those are our freezers for food storage.”
“They were your freezers. Now they’re shrapnel,” Anna said. “Are there any similar freezers here or here?” She pointed to prow and stern of the ocean liner.
“Yeah, that’s what this section is,” Kellman said, pointing to a small room below the waterline and near the prow of the ship.
“Val,” Anna said, speaking into her wrist bracelet. “I need you to get to the following location. It’s where the third bomb will be. We have to stop that or we will sink before help can arrive.”
Only silence answered her plea though.