Beaufort Sea, Arctic Ocean
Emmett reviewed the lifeboat instructions one final time:
- Close and secure door.
- Ensure all cargo is secure.
He glanced at his meager pile of supplies and shrugged. Done.
- Assume seated position and fasten harness.
- Remove safety interlock.
He nudged the metal cotter pin lying on the floor beside his left foot. Done.
- Grasp the release line and pull firmly.
- Brace for impact.
- Start motor and evacuate area.
Steeling himself, he tucked the instruction card away, braced his feet, and yanked hard on the yellow release cord beneath his seat. A metallic clank rang out from somewhere below and behind him. Metal screeched against metal and the boat shuddered violently as it began sliding along the launch rails. The trip lasted only a second before Emmett’s stomach vaulted into his throat as the escape capsule cleared the edge of the deck and entered freefall. A moment later, the vessel collided with the sea with a spine-tingling crunch. The impact whipped Emmett forward against his harness then flung him back into place as the ass end of the ship came crashing down.
Motion through the porthole on his right caught his eye, and Emmett jerked his head in that direction just in time to witness the damaged stanchion on the base of the station crumple and fold in on itself. The portion of the platform held up by the broken support sagged drunkenly, and for a moment, he thought the whole structure would topple over. He watched and waited, and when nothing happened, he finally let out the breath he had been holding. In that instant, a tortured shriek spilt the air, and faster than he would have imagined possible, the entire habitat collapsed in on itself and slipped beneath the waves.
It was over in an instant.
Emmett sat there with his mouth agape, unable to comprehend the sheer speed and scope of destruction. The only remaining trace of his former home was a patch of floating debris, a few dozen meters from his position. He considered going there to see if anything useful remained, but he knew the answer already. There was nothing. Instead, he detached the oars from their clips and prepared for the task ahead.
After a solid half-hour of rowing, Emmett lifted the oars from the water and allowed the lifeboat to coast. Almost immediately, the unwieldy craft surrendered all its forward momentum and began to align itself with the prevailing currents. With resigned sigh, Emmett locked the oars in place and dug out his compass. With no access to satellite positioning, he was reliant on tools from the last millennium to ensure he maintained a valid heading. A half-degree off in either direction, and he would row right past his destination.
And then he would die.
Emmett watched the compass needle turn as the boat spun in a lazy circle, savoring the momentary respite from the brutal labor of open-ocean rowing. As the needle approached the correct heading, he tucked the compass away, unlocked the oars, and dug the blades into the water. With a sharp heave, he set himself in motion once again.
He rowed steadily for the next hour and a half, taking periodic breaks to re-check his bearings, making course corrections as necessary. Ominous clouds scudded across the sky, threatening rain which never came. He took a longer break at the two hour mark, treating himself to a bottle of water and an entire energy bar. Once he finished eating and drinking, he clambered to the highest point on the lifeboat and scanned the horizon. By his best guess, he figured he would be able to get a visual on his destination somewhere near the halfway point. Disappointed that he couldn’t see it yet, but not surprised given the weather, he climbed back down. He sipped some more water and massaged the aching muscles of his upper back and his arms.
After thirty more minutes of rowing, he stopped again and climbed up for another sighting. And there it was: Station Charlie. Right where it was supposed to be.
Emmett raced back to his seat and took a hold of the oars. He could do this. He was almost—
A low rumble startled him out of his reverie. What the? He cast about, searching for the source of the noise. The sound came again, followed by a flash.
Rain began to fall, icy pinpricks that quickly escalated to a torrential downpour.
Emmett put his head back and let out a string of curses. And then he rowed with all his might.