5 min read

Bare Metal | Chapter Six

Bare Metal | Chapter Six

MS Glacial Adventurer
Somewhere in the Arctic Ocean

Simone sucked in her breath as Chloe took a tentative step toward the tiny bathroom. “Are you okay?” She asked as her sister came to a wavering stop.

Chloe nodded and muttered something unintelligible.

“What was that?” Simone asked, her breath billowing in the air around her. Despite the cold, she could’t help but notice the fine sheen of perspiration on her sister’s neck.

Chloe’s voice was little more than a raspy whisper when she responded. “I’m fine. Just—give me a second.”

“Sure.” Simone forced herself to breathe and allowed her hands to unclench and fall to her side. “I’m right here if you need me.”

After a few seconds, Chloe resumed her shuffling trek. She nudged the door closed behind herself, leaving it open only a crack.

Simone went to the sliding glass door overlooking the narrow balcony and gazed out at the sea beyond. For the first time in days, it wasn’t raining. It seemed she could see forever. On days like this she liked to pretend that landfall was just over the horizon, and that any day now this nightmare would be over.

“Simone?”

Simone left her thoughts at the window and turned her attention back to Chloe. “I’m here.”

“Can you help me?” Chloe asked. “I’m—”

Simone swore under her breath. She had been afraid of this. Chloe had pushed herself too hard. “I’m coming,” she said, shoving on the door and barging into the room.

Chloe was on the toilet with her panties around her ankles. Her elbows were on her knees and she held her head in her hands as she wept uncontrollably.

“I’m right here,” Simone said, rushing to her sister and kneeling before her. “Everything’s going to be alright.” She knew deep down Chloe saw through her lies, but she didn’t know what else to do anymore. Everything was broken and she didn’t think there was anyone left to fix it. She dug deep and managed to summon the strength to bend her lips into a semblance of a smile.  “C’mon. Grab my arm. Let’s get you back into bed. You just need a little rest.” More lies.

Chloe grasped Simone’s forearm, and Simone stood and pulled her to her feet. In the process, Chloe stepped out of her underwear. “Go away,” she said in a meek voice.

“Better?” Simone asked, stifling a grin. Now was not the time to laugh.

Chloe nodded and wiped away tears with her free hand. “I hate this so much.”

“Me too,” Simone said. She gestured toward the doorway and the bedroom beyond. “Do you think you can reach the bed?”

Chloe looked at her with hope in her eyes. “I’ll try.”

***

Simone was drifting in the vast gray space between sleep and wakefulness when the knock came at the door.

At first, she thought she was hearing things. Who would be knocking, after all? Only when the knock came again, and with more insistence, did she decide it was in fact real.

With a groan, she threw off her covers and rolled from the bed. She hurried across the room, hoping to reach the door before the mysterious visitor knocked again. Or worse, before they left. When she finally wrestled the door open, she found the ship’s nurse standing in the corridor. The woman wore a bulky red parka with the fur-lined hood. She held a black medical bag in one hand and a stethoscope in the other.

“Gemma. Hey. What’s going on?” Simone asked. She had only met Gemma Mansfield twice before, the first time shortly after she had arrived, and the second time only a day ago, when Gemma and an older man who stank of cigarettes had stopped in to see who was alive in the cabin. She thought the guy was a passenger, but she wasn’t sure.

“I was passing by, and I wanted to check on you and Chloe. She craned her neck to see past Simone. “How’s your sister doing?”

Simone stepped out and indicated for Gemma to follow. “She’s sleeping,” she whispered as she came to a stop a little ways down the hallway. She leaned her shoulder against the wall and sighed. “We both were until a few minutes ago.”

“Oh no!” Gemma put her hand to her mouth. “I’m sorry! Did I wake you?”

Simone waved her off. “Don’t worry about it.”

Gemma gestured toward the open doorway. “Would you like me to—”

“No. Not right now. I think she needs her sleep. She tried to go to the bathroom this morning, and it took a lot out of her.”

“I’ll stop in again later, then. I have a few more people to see.” She appraised Simone with the critical eye of a trained professional. “And how are you, if I may ask?”

Simone shrugged. She didn’t feel right talking about herself with Chloe still so ill. “I’m doing fine, I guess.”

Gemma cocked an inquisitive eyebrow. “Just fine?”

Simone dropped her gaze to her feet. She didn’t want to say anything else. Not now.

The other woman studied her for a long moment before eventually nodding and saying “Fair enough. How about Scott? How’s he holding up?”

Simone waved in the general direction of the elevators at the far end of the corridor. “He went out a little while ago to get some supplies. He seems a lot better today.”

“No after-effects?”

Simone shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

“Please tell him I stopped by.”

“I will.” Something Gemma had said earlier had stuck with her. She matched the other woman’s gaze. “You mentioned there were other people. What did you mean by that?”

Gemma swallowed. “Don’t focus on that right now. You need to think of yourself and your sister.”

“Please,” Simone said. “Tell me. I can handle it. I promise.”

Gemma blew out hard. “I’ve got to warn you—It’s not good.”

Simone didn’t like the sound of where Gemma was going, but she urged her to continue nonetheless.

Gemma obliged. “By my best count, there are only thirty-three people left alive on the ship right now. Of those survivors, five are like your sister—extremely sick—”

The news hit Simone like a punch to the gut. “Hold on. Left? Are you saying what I think you’re saying? That’s—” Her mind reeled at the implications. She wanted to be sick. “That can’t be right!”

Gemma’s face betrayed no emotion as she said “I’m sorry.”

“But— How is that even possible?”

“I don’t know if we’ll ever know,” Gemma said, shaking her head. “But it happened. We’re all that’s left now.”

A terrible silence filled the space between the women as Simone digested this news. “So, what do we do now?” She ventured after a minute, knowing the question was impossible to answer as soon as it crossed her lips, yet unable to stop herself from posing it.

“We stay alive,” Gemma answered without hesitation. “Whatever the cost.”

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