I won't say that I was waiting for the results of Challenge #2 with baited breath because honestly, I'd forgotten about it. When I got the email from NYC Midnight last week that the results for Challenge #2 were in I hit the link with dread, afraid of what I would see. My previous prompt was to write a drama and I was afraid I'd gone a little too cheesy. However, I still scored 7 points, and that was enough to eek me over the line and into the third challenge. That left two days of anxiety, knowing I was going to have to do it again and not knowing what my prompts were until midnight on Friday. I was hovering over my phone at 11:55, waiting for the email that would give me the info I needed. When I saw that my prompts were Action/Adventure, at the North Pole, and that a tourniquet had to be mentioned I knew immediately that I'd have to call upon all of my years of reading Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt novels to craft my 1000 word story. And so, here it is. Let me know what you think.
The titanium-edged rotors of the CH-149 Cormorant were just beginning to turn as Search and Rescue Technician John Perrin crossed the frozen gravel airfield of RCAF Resolute Bay. The mustard yellow paint scheme of the rugged helicopter, call sign Rescue 965, shone dully in the morning light of early September. Today’s temperatures were expected to reach a balmy negative 25 degrees and the 15-knot winds sent chills down Perrin’s spine even through his orange constant-wear flight suit.
Captain Mark Marribeau was already at the controls doing his preflight check as Perrin entered the craft. “What now?” he asked while strapping on his helmet with a built-in communications headset.
“The research vessel Varusk. The crew was supposed to overwinter near the North Pole while they examined core samples of the ice for pollen and airborne particulates, but there’s been no radio contact for the last four days. There's also been no distress beacon, but the powers-that-be are worried that she’s broken up in the ice.”
Tech Team Leader Bill Deering was the last to board, taking his place next to Marribeau while Perrin did a final inspection of the duffel containing his mobile field kit. The bag contained everything from regular Band-Aids, to combat application tourniquets, warming blankets, even a surgical suture stapler. Satisfied that everything was in order, he secured the five-point harness that held him in his designated seat behind the pilot.
Once they were cleared for takeoff, Marribeau increased the rotor speed, launching the craft into the cloudless sky. They followed the migration path of the magnetic North Pole as it crossed a series of uninhabitable islands covered in gravel and ice scattered across Nunavut, Canada. Soon they had left terra firma behind and were crossing the Arctic Ocean, the dark blue of the freezing water appearing infrequently between ice flows. “Are we going to have enough fuel to get back?” Perrin asked. Although the Cormorant could clear 1000 kilometers without refueling, an empty tank this far from civilization could be disastrous.
“With the reserves we have in the hold we should be fine,” replied Marribeau. “We’ll at least make it back to Alert. We can refuel there.” Unlike the South Pole, where the landmass of Antarctica kept the ice somewhat stable, the geographical North Pole was in the middle of the ocean and the shifting ice prevented a permanent base from being constructed. The airbase in Alert was the most northern of the inhabited places where they could expect assistance.
The CH-149 had a max speed of 248 kilometers per hour but as Marribeau fought crosswinds the entire way, his speed was curtailed terribly. Most of the three and a half hour trip to the last known coordinates of the Varusk were made in silence while Marribeau concentrated on keeping the seven-ton bird on course. Deering and Perrin were more than happy to give him the quiet he needed to focus.
As they crossed the 80th parallel the ship's black prow came into view against the expanse of shining white ice that surrounded it. The decommissioned Russian-built ship had been retrofitted as a research vessel with dual cranes straddling a helipad on its stern and all weapons systems removed. She was firmly lodged in the ice, but on first viewing seemed to be intact. As they approached, Perrin found the lack of movement on deck disturbing. Marribeau lowered the chopper, hovering just off the port side as Deering tried to reach someone by radio. “Varusk, this is Rescue 965 out of Resolute Bay, do you copy?” When there was no response Deering tried again, waiting a moment for an acknowledgement before changing radio frequencies. After he’d cycled through every frequency twice with no reply, he turned to Marribeau, “Set her down. Something isn't right.”
Uneasy, Perrin unbuckled his harness and grabbed his kit, jumping onto the helipad before both skids had completely touched the ground. The wind swirled snow across the steel plate decking as he hurried past the large capstans towards the bridge. The whine of the Cormorant’s triple engines wound down behind him as the wind whipped at his suit, snapping the fabric against his body.
He opened a waterproof hatch on the forward bulkhead and was assaulted by the odor of blood and decomp in the heated interior. In his haste, he almost stepped on the first body.
She was on her belly, long brown hair covering her face, one arm stretched forward like she had been crawling towards the hatch.
The single bulb that lit the interior of the passageway was too dim to get a good view and Perrin pulled a flashlight from his belt. Ignoring the metallic taste in the air and trying not to breathe too deeply, he knelt to turn her over, casting the beam towards her face. As it came into view, he stumbled backwards, tripping over the raised lip and landing hard on the cold metal deck. Panicked, he swung the flashlight further down the passage noting several more bodies. All were in various positions of agony, all surely dead.
“R-965, we have a problem.” He turned to look at the chopper and spotted Deering coming towards him. “Stop! Don't come any closer. Repeat, stop!”
Deering stopped mid-stride and threw his hands up. “What’s going on?”
“They’re dead. All of them. It looks like they’ve bled out from the eyes, nose and mouth. I don’t know what it is, but we’re definitely going to need a Hazmat team down here.”
"Copy that. Don't go any further. We'll return to base." Deering did a 180, heading back to the Cormorant at double speed.
Shaken, Perrin stood and secured the heavy hatch with a dull thud. Feeling his throat constrict and his eyes begin to water, he turned back to the Cormorant to get out of the cold. He was halfway there before he noticed the blood dripping onto the front of his flight suit.