Chapter 8 : The Fleet
It took just over an hour for the flotilla to leave the harbour mouth. Slowly they all moved out into the open waters of the British Channel. The smaller ships and boats, seemed to huddle together, whilst the larger warships anchored wherever they found themselves. The loud clanking and banging of steel chains surrounded the group of ships. It seemed to echo forever.
As evening approached, the flight deck was clear of people. It was a very excited group of tourists this evening. Although there was no alcohol present, the tourists seemed to be having a party.
Jim was stood on the flight deck. He had borrowed a black jacket from one of the sailors. With Portsmouth no longer in sight, the only thing to look at was the odd collection of ships and boats. This really was a ragtag mixture of vessels. Brightly coloured boats and yachts mixed in with dark grey steel.
His thoughts were focused on one thing, Jess. He was trying not to imagine her fate. His imagination was running wild now, he could see her being attacked by stage one’s, running, scared, hurt. But the worst part of his vision, was the stage 2. He knew what they were doing. He knew they were eating people. His eyes filled up with tears and his heart felt ready to split in two. Where was she?, did Antosh get her out?, did she get......
Before his mind could finish the thought, he heard someone coughing. He searched the flight deck, it was difficult now, as at night time, the deck only had marker lights.
He could see the bright red glow of a cigarette. The owner was stood over near the aircraft take off ramp. Jim walked over slowly, he wondered who else would be up here, instead of at the party.
"Hi Commander Tate." Jim said when he recognised the smoker.
"Oh hello. Jim right?". The Officer was sat on the ramp. His smart uniform still looked freshly ironed, all that was missing, was his hat.
"Getting some air?" Jim stood awkwardly, not sure if he was intruding.
"Felt like i needed it. We have some big decisions to make. Please sit down." He gestured to Jim to join him.
Jim sat on the ramp, now both men were looking down the entire length of the carrier.
"So what’s on your mind sir?"
"We have enough provisions to last us for months. We have enough fuel for another 4000 miles of sailing. We don’t have enough men to man the ship properly though, and we cannot raise anyone. For all we know, we could be the last members of the English people.I don’t know what to do next. One suggestion, is to cross the Atlantic, go to America. But some of the smaller ships wont be able to go."
"First thing i would do sir, is to try and make contact."
"Contact with who though, no ones answering."
"Surely you have satellite communications?, if we don’t have access to anyone in the UK, what about another country?".
"That’s the problem Jim, No one anywhere is answering. It’s as though the whole world is silent." He took a long drag, then slowly blew it out.
"Do you think the satellite relay stations could be down, or maybe the satellites themselves?"
"The stations are armoured points, heavily protected. And the satellites, well we use all of our own Jim, it would take a missile to take out our comms."
"So who could do that sir?"
"It would have to be another country. Only a handful could shoot satellites down, and we are one of them."
"It may be wishful thinking on my part, but has anyone considered any other alternatives? Other forms of communication?"
"Well, all of our ships are fitted with the latest satcomms Jim, why would we consider anything else?"
"Hang on." Jim pulled his mobile phone from his pocket. after a few seconds of button pushing he smiled and pushed the phone towards Tate.
"We have a dial tone sir, where do you want to ring?"
Tate burst out laughing. He couldn’t believe this. Because they had started in the Mediterranean then travelled up the Atlantic, no one had even considered a normal mobile phone. It would have out of range. But here, just off the coast. He couldn’t believe the oversight.
"Keep it Jim, make your own calls!, I have one in my cabin. Try it out before you tell anyone else though, we don’t want anymore disappointment!"
With this Tate jumped to his feet, he ran straight towards the control tower and disappeared into a small recessed door. Jim just stared at him. The shock of the discovery keeping him just sat there, phone in hand.
He gently shook his head and brought the phone back into view. He dialled a number and then waited to see of it would connect.
The ring tone ended, replaced with a dial tone. It was ringing!
The whole mood of the flotilla was transformed. It seemed as though every person had a mobile. Even the children. Communications was quickly established with other ships, and the outlook was suddenly brightened.
Jim, Dave and Ella were all in their usual place, the corner of the mess hall. It had been unofficially adopted by them previously. The hall was quieter today, someone had the great idea of setting up a school, to occupy the children.
A sailor came into the hall, and walked straight towards the table.
"Commander Tate would like to see you sir". The sailor looked barely eighteen, dark rings surrounded his eyes, but he still managed to stand to full attention.
"Just me?, or can my friends come?"
"I don’t know sir, he just asked for you."
"Come on you two, let’s see what he wants."
The three friends followed the sailor. He led them into formally unexplored sections of the ship. Long grey passageways, lined with steel doors gave way to several set of stairs. Ella had give up her wheelchair as soon as they left the mess hall, but she was quite comfortable in Dave’s strong arms.
The sailor led them all the way to the control tower. Commander Tate and a few other men stood looking out of the side windows.
"Jim, glad you could come up, you just have to see this!" The excitement in his voice was a little unnerving.
The friends walked towards the windows, just in time to see a large black helicopter!, It was approaching rapidly and only slowed down, when it was above the deck. "We have pilots Jim!, lots and lots of pilots. The fleet survived! They just evacuated Portsmouth!"
Jim was struck dumb. This was just too much. As soon as the helicopter landed, another one came into view, and another. There seemed to be a never ending supply of them. Men jumped down and ran along the deck, all disappearing inside the ship. In the distance a large grey mass was approaching. Ships! Hundreds of them! It looked like the whole Royal Navy!
Jim’s discovery changed everything. News from the rest of the UK filtered through the ships. Liverpool had indeed been destroyed, but by the military though. It was decided to evacuate as many people as possible, then flatten the rest. This seemed to be the best way of containing the infection.
Glasgow was still being cleared, it was hoped the city could still be saved.
The satellites had indeed been disabled, yet no one knew how yet, but with communications now restored, the flotilla was back in touch with the fleet, and more importantly England.
Jim was slowly packing a small bag. The clothes he was wearing, had been given to him by one of the sailors. Normally naval uniform would never be worn by a civilian, but these were not normal times. He looked like a poorly dresses fancy dress model. The flotilla had sailed through the night, and now sat in the brightly lit docks of east London. People could be seen everywhere. Normal, healthy human people.
Dave came into the room, he sat on the bed and watched Jim silently.
"So Dave, what’s next for you guys?"
"Well, it seems Manchester has been hit really hard, so Ella is staying on board. When do we leave?"
Jim stopped packing. He looked at Dave with a look of surprise on his face.
"What do you mean we?, you should stay here with Ella!"
"Now Jim you just stop that. I told you i was coming with you. I said it when we still in the Med."
"I can’t ask you to come along, we don’t know what we’re facing."
"Good thing your not asking then really. I am coming, and that’s final".
"Thanks Dave, I didn’t really want to go alone anyway." Jim’s heart lurched again. Even with all of this death surrounding them, a friend, a person he Had known for such a short time was willing to risk his life for him.
"Don’t be getting all emotional though mate!." Jim burst out laughing. "You wouldn’t have lasted two minutes in Manchester, even before the infection. Bleeding crying all the time!"
Jim threw a T shirt at him, and they both laughed loudly.