Sneak Preview: Interitas Volume 3: Unequaled
— Matthew Chapter 24 —
9:21pm, Saturday, August 20, 2016 – GENSTAR Deepwater IV, 272 Miles SSW of New Orleans, Louisiana
The lights on the control panel glowed an angry and persistent red, defying all logic, all sense, and all of Charlie Peterson’s patience. His team had done everything right. More important, he had done everything right. There was no reason for the lights to be red and yet there they were, glowing a crimson as deep as the nose on Santa’s lead reindeer.
Charlie had been the offshore operations engineer – the head technical authority – on GENSTAR Deepwater IV for nearly two years now. He knew the platform better than anyone else and was willing to stake his long career on it. He had worked on Deepwater II and III for over a decade before taking the lead on IV, and others in the shallows since the time he was old enough to vote. His father worked on oil drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico until the day he dropped dead of a massive heart attack in 1973 and his grandfather and great-grandfather worked oil rigs on the plains of Oklahoma back to the turn of the previous century. He remembered seeing a picture of his great-grandmother Isabel scrubbing oil-stained clothes in a metal tub, her face set with determination that this time, she was going to win out over the greasy stains.
Now, in his fifties, a lifetime of too much fatty foods and not enough exercise evident in the ample gut that hung over his belt, Charlie knew he’d probably go out the way all of the men in his family before him had, with oil under his fingernails. It was in his family’s blood. It was his family’s blood. Enough people had certainly bled and died for it over the years and he would most likely also, at some point.
He just hoped it wasn’t going to be today.
The door to the control room opened and two men came in, the worry as evident on their faces as Charlie was certain it was on his.
“We have to go,” Trevor Mathison said.
Charlie liked him. He was a good guy and a great pilot, but he had a habit of getting a little worked up when things got dicey. Things were definitely dicey at the moment so Trevor was especially jittery.
“What’s going on?” Jefferson Davis McClean demanded. He was Deepwater IV’s offshore installation manager – basically the boss – and despite his name, only a little bit of a racist. That was a little bit too much for Charlie, but he only had to threaten to punch once him for saying something stupid and after that he had kept his mouth shut for the most part.
“I don’t know,” Charlie responded.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” Jefferson asked, a vein in his forehead throbbing.
“What do you mean, what do I mean?” Charlie asked back. “I don’t know!”
“That’s it,” Trevor said. “We’re outta here.”
“We can’t leave it,” Charlie said.
“If we don’t go now, we won’t be able to,” Trevor said, his jitters dialing up several notches.
“He’s right,” Jefferson said. “I’m calling it. It’s too dangerous.”
“Listen to me,” Charlie said. “If we don’t fix this it could dump ten million barrels of crude into the ocean. That’s enough to make the Deepwater Horizon look like a stain on the driveway. So, if you want to explain to the company and to the media and to Greenpeace and to your grandkids how grandpa killed Nemo, you go right ahead. I’m staying.”
“Great!” Jefferson said. “Then I’ll explain to your grandkids how their grandpa went and got himself killed trying to save Nemo.”
“Are we seriously arguing about a cartoon fish right now?” Trevor exclaimed.
“You guys keep arguing,” Charlie said, turning back to the control panel. “I’m staying until I fix this.”
“You don’t get to decide that,” Jefferson yelled. “I am in charge of this rig and I am ordering you to abandon.”
As a general rule, Charlie didn’t like taking orders from anyone. He’d do it – he wasn’t an idiot and he knew that in order to climb the corporate ladder, he’d have to occasionally swallow what passed for pride and do things he didn’t want to do. But sometimes the orders stuck in his craw and sometimes the orders were given by people who stuck in his craw and this was one of those times. He picked up a nearby wrench and brandished it like a weapon.
“You can’t order me,” Charlie said, waving the wrench as an exclamation.
“I’m your supervisor,” Jefferson said, his eyes watching the wrench carefully. “You better damn well believe I can order you!”
“Guys, come on!” Trevor said, almost begging. “We’re the last ones here.”
“And we’ll be the last ones until I figure out what’s wrong with this mother…” Charlie banged the panel with the wrench.
Something whirred, buzzed, and popped and suddenly the row of red lights changed to green.
The three of them stood looking at the panel for a solid ten seconds in dumbfounded amazement.
“Okay, now we can go,” Charlie said, dropping the wrench.
They made their way through the caverns of the rig to a door marked “LANDING PAD ACCESS, AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY!” Trevor paused with his hand on the metal push bar that would open the door.
“Are you guys ready?” he asked, the jittery panic now replaced with genuine fear.
“How bad is it?” Charlie asked.
“See for yourself,” Trevor said, pushing his way outside.
It was like stepping through a portal into another dimension – an alien world, hostile and violent. Wind shrieked across the platform threatening to knock them off their feet. Rain was coming down sideways, pelting them like a non-stop spray of pebbles thrown up from the tires of truck on a gravel road. Lightning flashed and thunder roared, shaking the metal structure beneath their feet.
They carefully made their way to the waiting helicopter and dragged themselves in, slamming the doors and exhaling almost as one. Trevor began immediately flicking buttons and knobs, bringing the chopper to life.
“Somebody should’ve told me to bring an umbrella,” Charlie said, surprised at how shaky his voice was.
“Everyone else is off?” Jefferson asked.
“Yep,” Trevor said. “It’s just us.”
“Are we going to be able to take off?” Charlie asked, not encouraged by how much the helicopter was bouncing around on the pad, buffeted by the howling winds.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Trevor said, “but I’ve done it in worse conditions. We should be fine.”
Charlie saw the genuine fear that had replaced jittery panic in Trevor now being subsumed by outright terror. It wasn’t reassuring.
“Where is she?” Jefferson asked.
“Who?” Trevor asked.
“Lorelei,” Jefferson said.
Charlie suddenly flashed on the story his father had told him of Lorelei, the siren of myth who lured fishermen to their deaths on the Rhine River in Germany.
“I want to meet the asshole who decided to name a hurricane Lorelei,” Charlie thought.
“Center of the storm is about a hundred miles south-southwest,” Trevor said as the rotors spun up, causing him to have shout even more than he already was to be heard over the storm. “Category four the last I heard. This is nothing compared to the way it’s going to be tomorrow.”
“Do they know where she’s going?” Jefferson asked.
“Pretty much right here,” Trevor said, flicking more knobs and punching more buttons. “But she’s had a mind of her own and they aren’t totally sure what she’s going to do next.”
Charlie had been watching Lorelei’s long strange journey since she formed nearly two weeks ago. What started as a tropical wave coming off the west coast of Africa slowly organized into a tropical storm then a category one hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic, hundreds of miles from any important piece of land. Lorelei they called her. She moved slowly but deliberately west, as if she was taking her time trying to decide where she wanted to go. Lorelei remained a CAT-1 as it marched across the Leeward Islands of Barbados and St. Lucia, dumping some rain and blowing things around a bit but causing no serious damage or injuries. She tracked through the Caribbean south of the Dominican Republic and Cuba, and most models said she would collide with Honduras or Nicaragua and then fall apart but she surprised everyone with a northern turn that took her across the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico still as a weak category one. Most of the bars in Cancun didn’t even bother to close.
Then things got interesting quickly. Once Lorelei got into the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, she started to strengthen – category two, then three, then four in less than twenty-four hours. Northern Mexico and Southern Texas were told to batten down the hatches as all of the forecasts were saying she had bought a one-way ticket to the neighborhood.
Charlie didn’t believe it. His gut was telling him that this storm was not going to be satisfied blowing away some beach houses in Galveston. Sure enough, the next day she turned and started heading directly toward the Deepwater IV. Evacuations were ordered immediately.
Hurricane track models were now saying Lorelei would slam into southern Florida and then perhaps The Bahamas before heading out into the Atlantic never to be heard from again.
Charlie doubted that. He thought Lorelei was going to do whatever she damn well pleased. He just hoped it wasn’t going to be killing them.
“Okay… are we ready?” Trevor asked as the rotors hit their full screaming zenith.
“Hell yeah,” Charlie said.
“Let’s get out of here,” Jefferson agreed.
Trevor pulled back gently and the helicopter started to lift up. A loud gust grabbed the chopper and pushed it a few feet sideways and back down to the pad, the impact rattling Charlie’s teeth.
“Whoa,” Trevor said. “We’re okay. We’re good.”
The helicopter started moving up again, lifting slowly, tossed around by the winds more than Charlie liked. He wasn’t prone to motion sickness normally but this was like a carnival ride from hell and his stomach did flip-flops.
Up they went, forced to rise vertically until they cleared the oil rig’s superstructure and could head out over the ocean.
“I think we’re good,” Trevor said. “I think we’re okay.”
Charlie felt the lightning before he saw it, the hair on his arms standing up and the cockpit filled with a buzzing anticipation. The bolt came down not thirty feet away, hitting the steel crane that helped them move cargo off of supply ships onto the rig. Charlie almost didn’t hear the boom of thunder that followed a split second later; he was transfixed, watching with deepening horror what was about to happen.
Charlie had been an engineer for most of his life and he knew how physics worked. He was able to calculate distances and arcs and probabilities quickly in his head and the ones he came up with in that moment, weren’t good. The crane pulled away from its mooring, tipping toward the helicopter in an almost slow-motion ballet as the steel structure collapsed. The casual observer might have thought they’d be safe – that it would miss them as it went down. But Charlie knew. He had done the math. He saw it coming.
One of the beams came crashing down directly into the path of the helicopter’s rotor. The impact flipped them up into the air in the blink of an eye and Charlie found himself looking straight down at the landing pad some fifty feet beneath them.
As it chopper came down, Charlie had an understanding so deep and resolute that it seemed impossible. He thought that nothing should be as certain as what he was now certain of.
“We’re the first victims of Lorelei’s siren song,” Charlie thought. “But we’re not going to be the last.”