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FOUR

 

C Deck, RMS Queen Victoria

 

The survivors moved cautiously through the galley that sat behind the doomed dining room and consequently, just above the rising water. Mitchell did not lead this time, instead it was Nielsen. It was unbearably hot. Several small fires dotted around where the upturned cookers had been. The ship retained or had retained its old style galley with only one replicator as an emergency backup. Mitchell saw the burnt bodies along the way. Must have been a few, maybe a dozen, people working in here when the ship went over. Scalded to death…

“Gary?” Carol asked at the rear of the line in front of him. He took her outstretched hand and stood alongside her. Nearby a man lay against a pillar, half his face burnt away to reveal a gory mess of blood and bone.

“I’m here, keep going.”

Once out of this scene of Hell they paused. Smoke filled the air from the galley and many were starting to cough. The deck was continuing to sway with increasing notice. “Stairs at the end of the corridor,” said Miles to Nielsen as the group huddled. “And a lift shaft.”

“You have lifts on this tub?” someone asked.

“It was built in the 1930s not the 1830s,” muttered Mitchell. “We need to hurry, Commander, the heat is getting…”

There was no time of course when it happened. Behind them there was a slight rumble then an explosion of flame that shot across the corridor, piling into the opposite wall like a hydra released from the depths. The group was bowled over by the force of the explosion and some panicked. A couple of people ran into the flames and were incinerated by the sheer heat of it. Mitchell rolled atop Carol, burying his face in the nape of her neck and willing her to be protected by his body as the flames shot overhead. There were screams and shrieks followed by the deck lurching to port. Water started to seep from the galley into the corridor but not in any huge quantity. Gary helped Carol up, seeing that some would not be standing. He shielded her from the fresh horror and pushed her ahead of him. Nielsen and Miles were alright albeit a little sooty. Thirty or so others moved up the corridor after Nielsen who was talking:

“Hurry, come on, hurry.”

Behind them the fire remained and was starting to grow. Slowly but surely it moved up the corridor after them. They reached the lift shaft which naturally enough was upside down. The bronze doors were halfway open revealing a darkened shaft. Between them, a few of the men had the doors fully open. Mitchell and Nielsen stuck their heads inside. Looking down Mitchell could just make out the dark swirl of water tinged with oil and flotsam, looking up he made out a faint light.

“HELLO!” he cried.

“HELLO!” added Nielsen.

Their voices echoed away into the heavens.

“We have to hurry,” Mitchell said, leaning back into the corridor. “The fire is still going.”

“And heading our way.” Carol swallowed hard. She thought of little David back at home. Why did I come out?

You weren’t to know the damn ship would go over.

Mitchell nodded to Nielsen. “You go first, Commander. I’ll ferry people up.”

Nielsen said nothing. Moving into the shaft he swung to his right onto a ladder and began to climb. After a minute or two his voice floated down:

“Send them up, Mitchell, I’ve found a door that’s open!”

Mitchell did so, helping the women onto the ladder. As he reached the last few, the fire started to sweep down the corridor towards them. For whatever reason, the water had stopped its ascension.

“MOVE!” yelled Gary, shoving people towards the doors. Rather awkwardly people swung out onto the ladder and climbed. Carol froze with fear, her eyes reflecting the growing flames. Mitchell took her by the elbow. “Come on Carol, haul ass!”

“I can’t. I’m scared!”

He owed it to Jim and to David to get Carol out of there. No one would care if he died but she had people to go home to. He turned his back to her and automatically she climbed onto him, hugging him tightly. Mitchell swung out onto the ladder and began to climb. It was tough going but they made it in the nick of time. Fire shot past the lift doors with some fingers of flame licking into the shaft at his feet. He gave a yell but kept going. Carol started to hug tighter and he heard her mutter under her breath something like a mantra.

“Carol, ease up!”

“Sorry…sorry!”

The deck lurched back to starboard. Someone above shouted and came hurtling past them. Carol screamed as an outstretched arm bounced against her back and then there was a dull splash and nothing more except the wailing of the fire. Mitchell put his head down and resumed his climbing in earnest. After what seemed an age he felt hands grab at him.

“Mitchell, you made it.” That was Nielsen. Mitchell let them help Carol off before collapsing onto the cold ceiling and staring up at plush red carpeting.

“We’re on F Deck,” Nielsen was saying. “A few more decks to go but if we reach Engineering we should be fine.”

Mitchell couldn’t care at this point. In a short time they had lost several people. He just wanted to stay here. Let the flames get him.

Carol stood over him, her green cocktail dress now dark and streaked with oil, grease and blood. “Come on sailor, let’s go.”

He stood, smiling at her. “I’ll try.”

Huddled together, arms around waists, the pair followed the remaining twenty-five.

 



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