“What the hell is going on?” Deckard said as he looked up from the computer screen.
Off in the distance, the ocean was glowing orange.
“I thought it was the northern lights at first,” Otter said. “But that is a different kind of light. We’re not far off the coast of Alaska now, and those are the offshore oil fields.”
Engineers and scientists had demonstrated that the Alaskan arctic contained 40 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil and in the neighborhood 210 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. America’s long term energy plan to become less reliant on the often unstable Middle East only helped speed up the process of drilling in the arctic off the coast of Alaska.
Companies like Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell, Gazprom, and their own employer, Xyphon, had developed crash programs to build off shore oil rigs all over the arctic, a region reputed to hold up to a quarter of the world’s fossil fuels. While Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves amounted to about 260 billion barrels of oil, the Arctic may have as much as 580 billion barrels and like the Middle East, the arctic was now ripe for conflict.
“They did this because of us,” Deckard said.
“Just like Saddam set the oil refineries ablaze to try to delay the coalition advance during the Gulf War, the enemy blew up at least one of the oil rigs to try to prevent our pursuit.”
“We’re on their tail then.”
“Probably closer than we suspected and they are out of options. Get us around the fires, we’re going into the North East passage.”
The radio bolted above the helm suddenly chirped.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday, this is the surviving crew of Hillhorn platform! Mayday, mayday, may-”
“Shit,” Deckard said. “I’m going to wake up the boys and get Otter up here. Then we’re going to find out where the hell Global hawk is and hunt these bastards down.”
Squirrel looked into the looming flames, his eyes filled with uncertainty.
* * *
Jeff Dombrowski was the junior driller on the Hillhorn gas and oil platform, or at least he had been until an hour ago. Huddled under the plastic tent that protected them inside the octagonal inflatable life raft, he stared across at Alan, the assistant rig manager, Roger, the senior toolpusher, and John, their rig maintenance supervisor.
The wind had shifted, and now the four men watched helplessly as their life raft was pushed back towards the sea of fire. The Hillhorn and the Fitzpatrick platforms had both exploded at the same time, something that wasn’t supposed to be possible outside of sabotage. As far as any of them knew, they were the only survivors.
A wave lapped over the side of the raft, cold ocean water seeping inside and as it dripped from the tarp roof. Roger was staring into space, somewhere else, anywhere but here.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday,” John cried into the handheld emergency radio.
A burst of static emitted from the radio.
“Roger, Hillhorn,” a scratchy voice said on the other end. “This is the Carrickfergus. Give us a grid.”
Jeff nearly jumped out of the raft as he grabbed the GPS.
“It’s not working,” he said as he played with the settings.
“Satellites have been acting weird for a couple days,” John said. “We have a hell of a big Roman candle out there to act as a beacon though. I’ll try to guide them in.”
Jeff unzipped and tossed open the plastic covering. The sea slapped against the side of the raft, spilling more water inside which sloshed around and gathered around their feet.
John poked his head outside.
“Carrickfergus,” he said into the radio. “GPS is a no-go. What is your current heading?”
* * *
The exhausted survivors of the Hillhorn blast were pulled onboard the Carrickfergus nearly an hour later. Their beards were soaked and frozen, their eyebrows drooped. Each of them was walking around like a zombie, not even aware of the strange ethnicities of the crew members who pulled them onto the ship.
“Hey,” a tall American with a chiseled jaw said. Jeff looked up at him.
“I’m Pat. The boss wants us to get you in some warm clothes and then he wants to see you four on the bridge.”
Looking up, fluttering in the wind and glowing orange as the oil rigs burned in front of them, was the jolly roger flying above the ship. Looking back down, he then noticed the pistol and spare magazines that Pat had strapped to his belt under his open parka.
The four survivors followed after Pat as he led them inside. They could already feel the Carrickfergus shifting under their feet, turning around the fields of fire. The Hillhorn crew members blinked in disbelief. There were machine guns, rifles, hand grenades, open metal cans of ammunition, and porn mags laying all over the place. Men wearing snow camouflage who looked to be of a dozen different nationalities were prepping their gear, looking like they were ready to launch World War Three.
Pat took them down a flight of metal steps to a changing room in front of the showers where they had some space. Another camo clad man stepped in behind them, said something in Russian, then dropped a box at their feet. After looking inside, they didn’t need Pat to tell them what to do. The crewmen stripped off their soaked clothes and then tore into the box of brand new thermal underwear, pants, and jackets.
“What is it you guys do exactly?” John ventured.
Pat leaned to the side with one hand propped against the wall, the other at his hip.
“Mergers and acquisitions mostly.”
“Oh, fuck yeah. C’mon, grab some towels to finish drying off and we can go get this meeting over with. Then we can get you some chow.”
Back up into the bay, they then climbed another set of stairs that was vertical to the point of being a ladder, then up into the bridge. It was pretty easy to identify the ship’s captain behind the helm with his big bushy beard and coffee cup in one hand. The younger guy working the sea charts was obviously the first mate. A third guy who wore a Patagonia pullover looked up from his laptop with bloodshot eyes.
Walking around the desk, he sized up the four oil rig workers up.
“We owe you big time man,” Jeff thanked him.
“Don’t mention it. I’m Deckard.”
He shook all of their hands but the boss didn’t look happy. As he lit up a cigarette, Jeff noticed the scars on his knuckles. He’d worked around the oil industry to know that this guy had been in a few brawls.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” John said. “What exactly is it that you guys do?”
“We’re mercs,” Deckard said without missing a beat. “We kill cunts.”
“Let me put it to you this way. If some jag off dictator takes over a country somewhere, they call in the 82nd Airborne or the Marines. If some douche bag hijacks a nuclear weapon they call in SEAL Team Six or Delta Force. But if some x-factor comes out of left field in a blur, steals a super weapon that can end the world, and then takes off in a super-secret high tech stealth boat, then they call me and my boys.”
“I’m afraid so,” Deckard said as he frowned and looked out the window. “Every fucking time.”
The four survivors looked at each other wondering if they had just entered the twilight zone.
“You lost a lot of men on those rigs,” Deckard said, his voice detached from the human toll of the disaster.
“I think we’re the only ones left,” Jeff said.
“I’m sorry, this is my fault.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m chasing someone who doesn’t want to be found. They ordered this strike against your oil platforms to delay us.”
“I just found out myself. Ballistic missiles launched from civilian container ships traveling along the Northwest sea passage. Russian authorities are moving in now, but the ships are flagged in Liberia and the crews probably had no idea what they were carrying. Knowing the MO of the guys I’m after, the cargo containers onboard were probably fully automated and received an electronic go-code from afar.”
John shook his head. None of it made sense.
“Look, you guys must know this area and I could use your help.”
Deckard walked over to the first mate who was looking over the sea charts.
“The vessel we are looking for is about a two hundred footer. We think they’ve been leaking a lot of fuel and probably haven’t been able to make a lot of repairs while underway. If they had to make a quick stop to refuel and try to patch up their hull, where do you think they would go?”
“Only one place to go.”
Everyone turned to look at Roger who had spoken for the first time.
“Where?” Deckard asked.
“Barrow, Alaska,” he answered. “The northern most city in America.”