Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Atmosphere Chapter Three

Chapter Three

Lincoln Tunnel

Early in the morning, before the sun had risen or Owen had awaken Daniel was already up; Walking about the bunker as quietly as he could and inspecting all the junk laying about the place. Fiddling around with an antique car engine until a piece snapped off and he quickly moving onto the next item. Picking up old guns that were bent and twisted or had parts missing all together, looking down the sights and pretending to fire them at the ceiling. Then onto the old computer parts, chucking them up in his hands and catching them. Until one made an electronic beeping sound almost making him drop it. He brought it up and part of a tray had slid out the side, he gripped it and pulled it out fully, haven picked up an old disk drive it seemed, and a disk still inside. It was covered in scratches and felt extremely flimsy but none the less he had seen discs in worse condition still used. He took it over to Owen's computer and took a minute trying to find just where the disc drive was on it, thinking for a moment it might not have one but finding the button to it on the back. He slotted the disk in and opened it up on the computer. Almost all the data on it was unusable but one file seemed just fine. The disc seemed to be from the soldiers that once inhabited this bunker, and the only still usable file was an audio-log from the leader of the platoon. Daniel wanted to find out just what they left behind as quickly as possible hoping to help him unlock some clue of the past and opened the file up and turning the speakers on.

“My name is staff sergeant Vincent Colteraz. US Army 9th infantry division. And this is day... three of Operation Bastion. Yesterday they began setting up cordons at all the major routes onto Manhattan. They are making absolutely sure that no infected get onto the island. My platoon has been tasked with holding a secure bunker the other side of the Hudson to maintain the peace in Jersey City and make sure no suspect individuals likely to cause harm to US or UA personnel is let through. But we've come across none so far. These people are just sick and want help.

Day 10. The number of people entering the city trying to get to Manhattan keeps growing and growing. Its just putting strain on the cordons and taking longer for everyone. Its making the people restless and its becoming more and more apparent whose the infected amongst them as symptoms are beginning to show.

Day 12. We had to break up a fight today. A group of six or so were beating a man to death, and we found out after he was infected and they were trying to stop the spread of the disease. If they hadn’t ran off when we showed up I would have ordered them dead on the spot. I don't understand how they can treat each other like this.

Day 16. More reports of people turning on and killing the infected, Its all becoming a bit too much. We keep seeing bodies litter the roads during our patrols, and its not the disease that's taken them. These people don't seem to realise just because an infected person is dead doesn't mean he can no longer infect others. Any announcement we make over the t annoy goes unnoticed.

Day 19. A man attacked us on patrol today. We couldn’t tell if he was an infected persons or not. The fear of getting infected is driving the people insane and making them more dangerous than the infected themselves.

Day 20. Today we were ordered to stay put inside the bunker. Crowds gathered outside the doors and plead for help. But we wouldn’t allowed to acknowledge them.

Day 25. We are still holding out in the bunker just south of the Lincoln tunnel. But the numbers of infect outside just keep on growing. With each passing day the streets are filled with the sick and the dying, trying so desperately to get over the river to Manhattan. To the safe zone. Every bridge is closed, every tunnel sealed up. They are just being left here to die. And there's nothing we can do about it

Day 27. They destroyed the Washington Bridge yesterday. The cordon got overrun with the angry crowds and the military had to pull back. The whole thing had been rigged with explosives way prior. They blew it up without warning. At least ten thousand people most have plummeted and drowned in the Hudson. God help us.

Day 28. Last night the gunfire started. A thousand machine guns and sentry posts most have been set up along the western shore of Manhattan facing the Hudson River. They haven’t stopped firing since. Looking out one of the slit windows I can see the river choked with an uncountably high number of corpses, and yet people are still diving into the water, wading through the bodies so desperately trying to reach sanctuary and only meeting a wall of bullets. Tensions inside the bunker are running high as well despite my best attempts to keep the mood calm.

Day 29. The machine guns apparently weren’t enough, the heavy ordinance was bought out this morning and have been shelling New Jersey through out the day. A few hit the bunker but barely left a mark. We're getting very few messages from the island now. I pray they haven’t forgotten about us.

Day 30. Johnson coughed in the canteen during lunch today and Phillips turned round and shot him in the chest right there and then, screaming that he was infected and was going to kill us all, before he began pointing his sidearm at the rest of us trying to see if we too were 'infected'. After we managed to restrain him Phillips was already dead. We opened the doors to the bunker for a just a moment to chuck his body outside and we came under a hail of gunfire from across the street. The quick look at the street outside I got was horrific. You couldn’t see the road or side walk beneath all the bodies. Every single one of them was filled with huge gun-holes. It no longer mattered if you were infected or not, they were cleansing the whole city of every living thing to be sure.

Day 31. I overheard some privates from 2nd squad discussing a plan to make a break for it and try and get to Manhattan. I didn’t discipline them off for wanting to disobey orders. Because truthfully I want to get out of here just as much as they do. There's nothing left here. There's no hope for the country. We just have to get to Manhattan and sit this out.

Day 32. It's all gone to shit. We're screwed. This morning I informed the men of our plan cross the Hudson in an amphibious APC. There's no way the US Army would fire on their own and inside the carrier we'd be safe from the now extremely contaminated Hudson river. We were ready by to go by lunch time when we heard a loud thud at the front doors to the bunker. We raced back upstairs to investigate when the doors suddenly gave way in a blinding explosion. A crowd of angry crazed people -all infected- spilled into the bunker. We tried to fight them back as best we could and donned our gas masks. But there were so many so quickly. We fell back to the extra-secure lower level and sealed ourselves in. Some of us entered the lower level without gas masks. They were killed on the spot but the others. But it was no use, the disease is now inside the bunker. Its just going to be a matter of time.

Day 33. Everyone's staying separated, in their own little area of the lower level and not daring to go near anyone else. Their each trying to turn on each other, to convince others to join them and that they're not infected. Once proud comrades are now doing everything in their power to turn against one another. There is no radio contact with anyone. The heavy artillery started up again and won't be dying down any time soon. And the infected are just outside the door screaming and hallowing.

Day 34. I’m infected. Definitely infected. Rash along my arms. Head is pounding. Finding it hard to concentrate on doing one thing for too long. Others the same. Need to conserve strength.

Day 35. Woke up. Coughed up blood. Two of the privates had killed each other with their knives in the night. Edwards crawled over, he was worse off than me. Said he was afraid, didn’t want to suffer. He shot himself in the head.

Day 36. O-Only me... and four others remain. T-talking hurts.. stomach burning... legs and arms to-to weak to move, ble-bleeding from every orifice. Cant.. cant sleep. Must stay awake.

Da-ay 3..7. Radio.. radio contact fro-from Manhattan. They're act.. actually doing i-it.. Proto...Protocol-U5. This is the e.. end. If they get us... dis..ease will. Th.. this is... staff ser.. sergeant Vinc..ent Colteraz.. and I ha.. have failed. F-failed my ..c-country.. failed my plat..oon.. and failed my.. my fellow country.. men. I'm.. s-so.. sorry.” The audio cut off with the sound of the sergeant cocking his weapon as the bunker around him could be heard rumbling.

That phrase again. Protocol-U5. And disease? Daniel remembered no disease from his time that could cause such mayhem and such chaos. It sounded like Manhattan was the last place left standing, an answers he wanted would bound to be find there. He'd leave as soon as possible, but however he'd get across the Hudson he didn’t know. The Washington Bridge way up north was apparently gone and the Lincoln Tunnel and Holland Tunnel sealed. Then how'd Owen get here from the island? He replayed the message again and waited for the boy to wake up.

Owen appeared an hour later, already making breakfast and bringing it into the study where Daniel was sitting, bringing bread toasted over the stove and spread on it a jam whose flavour was completely new to Daniel. Manhattan must be doing well for itself if its managed to grow wheat and produce bread, Owen confirmed this and was then asked just how he got from Manhattan.

“Why do you want to know? Planning on going there yourself?” He asked, quickly getting the answer seeing Daniel's face “Well unless you happen to own a boat the only way is through the tunnels. They both once had huge barricades at either entrance for some reason but all the floods washed them away. The tunnel south of here is really really not recommended, you can bring the brightest torch and shine it about in there but still the darkness would ward it off. Whole groups of people travel through it and disappear right beside each other in the blink of an eye without a sound! No, definitely not the tunnel for you, so its the Lincoln then. That's how I got here, though the tunnel is prone to flooding, fills right unto the ceiling at regular intervals so you have to go at the right time. Its still filled with a thousand cars that lift and drop with the tide. So every time someone goes through they may have to take a new route as all the cars make it a maze down there. Sometimes they block the way completely and you might have to go through the services tunnels that run beside the main one. But then you gotta be more careful as these service tunnels connect to the sewers and even more tunnels that run about beneath the city. Never mind getting lost down their for a life time if you aren't travelling with a guide, but strange things dwell down there. Again, I’ve never seen them, only heard about them. Why would you ever want to go to Manhattan though? Sure it ain't exactly great here but it is a damn lot safer.”

“I just have to. Answers to so many questions I have I know will be answered there.”

The boy sighed that his new friend would be moving on so soon but reluctantly decided to help him, taking him over to one of the storage rooms and beginning to rummage through all his spare supplies.

“I only have the one gun. So I'm afraid you have to make use of anything you can find out there. But you shouldn't come across any trouble. You can keep the gas mask I gave you, I have plenty here. The canister has super-compressed air it can last you almost a week if you use it sparingly. But I'll give you another just in case” He stood back up, holding a new canister in his hand and placing it in Daniel's hands where an ever growing pile of supplies was growing.

“And those clothes. You definitely want a new pair. You want last long out there in a suit. I've got all kinds of old clothes laying about just take what you want. You'll likely need something to cover your head at least.”

Daniel looked about at the piles of old and dirty clothes, hooking up a pair of combat trousers with pockets all over using his foot and chucked it over by itself and placed down all his supplies next to it, grabbing a baseball cap with faded NY letters from another pile. Taking off his suit jacket and seeing the shirt beneath was still just fine and decided to keep it, bright white as well to reflect the sun.

“And when you leave the Lincoln on the other side make sure you turn right and not left. Left will just take you to the Militari barricade and they aren't fond of people trespassing. I'm not too sure what it is you're trying to find there so I cant tell you where to go beyond that. Kingdom to the south. Republic should be in front of you.”

He left the room for a moment to let Daniel change his clothes before reappearing with a small satchel and began piling all the supplies in for him and handed to him. Daniel looked down at the tie around his neck, seeing the letters UA stitched near the bottom, the words the soldier from the audio-log had mentioned, he knew what US meant but UA was unknown to him. He decided to keep it on.

“Oh yeah, and if you happen to find any more interesting information about the past you know where to find me. I can happily repay you any thing you have to trade. Don’t let all this crap around you fool you. I keep all the valuable stuff down below in the storage closets. I'd like to part ways with one of them to help your journey, but they really are quite valuable and could get me food for months.”

“Thank you. For everything Owen, I'll be sure to come back at some point whenever I find out.. just what it is I need to know. You are a smart kid, brighter than any teenager from where I come from.”

“And you're smarter than any 40-something from I come from.” He replied and winked “But seriously, most the people you're going to meet are complete idiots. Just don't use any big words about them.”

He walked alongside Daniel as they went back to the airlock, the robot lifting its 'head' to see the new person leaving before going back to its rest.

“Good luck Daniel” Owen said and smiled, putting his hand out to shake Dan's. They shook and then he went into the airlock and pulled the gas mask over his face and made sure it was secure before putting the baseball cap on and giving a thumbs up to the boy who nodded and closed the door. Drowned in the same darkness again for a moment before the red light blinked on and the smaller door sealed itself with a hiss, the bulk door screeching open and the outside world awaiting.

Climbing back up the steps Daniel looked around the street-level of the bunker different, knowing what had transpired here all those years ago, looking at the bullet holes along the wall and imagining which of the gunshots from the audio-log they belonged to. Not a body was to be found though, all the floods that must have occurred washing them away. He came out the front door again and stood atop the concrete steps, looking out across the remains of Jersey, the early morning sun not too hot on his skin, but he was sure it was going to get a lot hotter as the day went on. The streets were lonely, naught a sound was heard other than the soft crunch of boot on sand as Daniel slowly made his way north. He looked into the windows of every building he past, barely any furniture could be seen inside and the walls were bare of any paint or wallpaper, either they had been washed away or rotted or scavengers had cleared the city of anything that could be useful. Every so often the sand would give way and he'd be walking along the tops of the old vehicles still sitting in the road. They seemed in remarkably good condition, the lack of oxygen explaining no rusting but then what of all the floods? Had they been buried and protected through it all?

Eventually he come across a large intersection with a view of Manhattan in one direction. He stood staring at it for a couple of minutes, from this distance you could almost think nothing had changed at all. One or two of the skyscapes were missing from the skyline and he could only just see the silhouettes of the trees, the sun rising just behind the island to the east and making it hard to get a good look for too long. The Hudson was indeed wider and the wreckage from buildings and ancient ships filled the banks forming tall barricades that'd be sure to make it hard for any one trying to climb out of the waters. A small canoe towing a raft filled with boxes came into view slowly making its way up to where he presumed the marketplace was, seeing the faint black shape of ships docked further up the river. Daniel thought of shouting to the tiny boat, but what use would that be, he'd never hear and even then it was unlikely he had room to take him across the river. He continued on, heading north down the intersection and walking around the front of a bus that was jutting out of the sand, peering in through a window and seeing it was completely empty. The soldier's audio-log certainly helped explain how Jersey had become so dilapidated while Manhattan stood so defiantly. Also where the Militari got their big gun. But just how could it get so bad that they'd need to completely destroy this side of the metropolis though.

Thinking about this further would have to come later, what seemed like the entrance of the tunnel was coming up and Daniel would need to concentrate on what was ahead. A tall highway highway crossed in front of him and spiralled down into the ground and disappeared into three separate tunnels. The raised roadway was filled completely with cars, so much so, for someone to try and make their way down the road they would have to clamber atop them and pray they didn’t slip and fall from the road all together. 'Luckily' it was the opposite way that would be traversed today. Daniel stood at the side of the long slope down to the tunnel, the burnt black carcasses of trees spiking out of the ground all around refusing to decompose any either. What must have been the marketplace was straight across the river from the tunnel entrance but Daniel had a feeling the other end wouldn't come out right by it.

He walked slowly down the long slope, making his way round the crowds of cars most of which sat tyre-less and door-less. A huge concrete barrier that could have no shorter than 4 metres laid slammed against the ground, a few more of them visible thrown effortlessly across the nearby landscape, what must have been used to block the tunnel up once but proved no use against raging waters all those lifetimes ago. Letting out a cry and almost slipping Daniel quickly looked down, seeing the ground was covered with what must have been a million bullet casings, it was then he took another look at the abandoned cars and the far walls of the slope down to the tunnel and saw a similar scene to the bunker, some major battle had too taken place here. The sand had almost completely given way and now just smooth hard tarmac went underfoot, there were cracks and potholes but no weeds seeped through.

A quiet splash came from beneath one of his feet and he looked down again to see a puddle of murky water, quickly remembering what Owen had said about the tunnels and looking ahead at the three grand archways that stood before him. He opened the satchel and pulled out the flash light he had been given, switching it on and letting out a disappointed sigh at how weak it seemed. He walked right up to the mouth of each tunnel, shining the torch down each dark throat into the murky depths beneath the river. The light only shone a few metres down the tunnels and couldn't provide any sure way of knowing if the tunnel were flooded further down. He also had to decide just which of the three openings were best. The far left had some strange slick black plant-life hanging down from the ceilings that seemed to suggest the water was more regular there, as none was found at the roofs of the other two mouths. The middle tunnel was completely void of any obstacles within the flash light's grasp. While the third had quite a few cars piled together and laid haphazardly against the walls. Middle tunnel it is.

And yet half an hour passed and Daniel was still standing motionless before the three tunnels, his hands by his side, shaking slightly with nerves. He stepped towards the middle tunnel entrance again and switched the light on, staring down at where the light faded to the darkness, the tunnel seemed so clean... almost too clean. He took another few steps forward, entering the very opening of the tunnel and immediately the scorching hot air that surrounded the Scorching Shore was gone, replaced with a chillingly cold breeze blowing through from the other side of the tunnel. Looking back over his shoulder and getting another good look behind him he slowly began walking into the tunnel, the only thing entering his ears the sound of his deep muffled breathing resonating around inside his mask. After a few more steps that was joined by the echo of his footsteps, ringing off down the tunnel and reverbing back again along the walls. He looked over his shoulder again, the the entrance now some hundred metres or so away. And he still hadn't come across any cars or wreckage. A few large holes appeared along the walls and floors and led off into a dark abyss beyond but Daniel wasn’t going anywhere near them. The same feeling that overcame him in the stairwell out of the underground facility began to creep in again, every few steps he'd stop and listen to the echo of his footsteps, listening if they were still just his or if someone had joined him. It was just his mind playing tricks on him he dismissed. There was no one in that stairwell and there was no one here. The sudden gust of air that blew through didn’t help dispel the tense atmosphere that oozed through the tunnel. He lifted his foot to take another step when he stopped dead as suddenly the sound of his foot echoed out down the tunnel. Looking down sharply his foot was still suspended in the air, his eyes darting to the side and slowly creeping his head around. Placing his foot down as quietly as he could he opened the satchel again and retrieved the flash light. He held the light in his hand as if it were a pistol to pretend to himself he had some form of protection to calm himself before quickly swinging round and switching it on and shouting out in exclamation hoping to catch his purser off guard.

But no one stood there. The beam of light shone desperately along the empty roadway and along the walls, he was alone. Then another echo, originating by the sounds of it straight where the light was pointing. Apart from him the tunnel was empty though. He started at the spot wide-eyed not a breath leaving his dry trembling lips.

“Hello?” He cried out, his voice breaking in fear, listening to it travel back down the tunnel to the entrance -now a mere dot in the domain of darkness that pushed in from all sides. He hoped and waited for a response, a verbal response. It'd mean nothing supernatural was happening here or his mind wasn't finally cracking. No answer came. Only another echo with nothing to cause it. There defiantly had to be a foot or.. something dropping to make that noise come from there. The flash light hadn't moved from where the noise originated but now the echo sound was becoming regular. The tunnel entrance looked so far away. How far was it in the other direction, could he still go back and take one of the parallel tunnels? But he had no time for that. With a loud thud and an louder echo his flash light blinked off in an instant and despite his frantic hammering of the switch it wouldn't come back on. Another thud then another. Below the roadway and echoing round outside the walls before down the middle making Daniel jump and shiver with each resonating crash. The drum beat of thuds grew louder and louder, the tunnel acting like a megaphone and sending the echoes down into the darkness only for it to come back even louder, dust and cracked pieces of tile falling from the ceiling. And then it stopped. Just as quickly as it started and the flash light flicked back on. The heavy breathing inside his mask the only thing he heard again.

He turned into the tunnel and continued as quickly as possible wanting to get this horrible journey over with as quickly as possible. His mind tried to think up a hundred different possibilities for the strange noise but he dismissed them all, trying his best to push them out of his mind altogether and concentrate on just head forward. Keep heading forward. Into this water. Water?

Shining the light down there was water all around up to his ankles and he somehow hadn't noticed. He had to turn back now surely. But looking over his shoulder he could no longer see the entrance to the tunnel, the roadway must have curved off slightly. Shining the light forward the way still looked clear except for the low dirty water. But wait, if the tide goes up it also must go down, was that the case this time? He stood completely still and shone the light down at his feet, watching to see if the water moved at all and preparing to make a dash back for the entrance if it raised even slightly. But after a few minutes it hadn't raised or sunk. Perhaps this was as low as the water went, there was hours left before it would rise. Yes that had to be it.

Five minutes later and five hundred metres on and the water was up by his knees. But that was because the roadway was still curving down not because the water was rising he told himself. He just had to keep walking forward and the exit would appear before him. Except he was definitely half way through the tunnel by now and the exit was not in sight. Continued onwards regardless, wouldn’t let a bit of water slow him, these new trousers could take it. But he gradually slowed and came to a stop altogether. His flash light no longer showed the way but was only met with darkness. Stepping forward it showed the dull rusty skeletons of cars, piled up to the ceiling and a sheer concrete wall the other side, what must have been a hundred cars pressed and smashed into the space of just a few. The wall looked like it was made of the same stuff as the tall barricades before the tunnel entrance, with the same kind of markings on it as well.

Daniel stared at it all in disbelief moving the focus of his flash light about it trying to see any way around but the giant concrete slab was wedged in there and every opening that could be used around it had bits of car sandwiched in. No slowly rising tides could do this. And then it hit him, this tunnel didn't flood. It instead had strong surges of water, most likely spilling in from all the large holes he had seen earlier and it explained how the tunnel was so clean and void of debris – until this very point. Shining the torch at the base of the ruin barricade he saw a hole in the ground which the car wreckage disappeared down into it and where the water must go after surging down and crashing into the wall. Did this also explain the strange echoing, water flowing down beneath him? It didn't seem like It, it must have been something more solid and sudden that caused those noises not a flowing current. He stared at the hole for a moment longer and suddenly realised there was no water there. Or anywhere. His knees now drying, as all the hairs on his skin stood up as another cold breeze rushed in around him. It didn't reside a moment later though like a quick gust but continued pushing forward as if something were shoving it down the tunnel behind him. Spinning round and raising his light up to the roadway he just travelled down he begin to hear the faint echo making its way down the tunnel before it suddenly whirled all around him and the sound of gushing water become clear in his ears.

The light danced across the walls trying to find an entrance to the service tunnels but none could be seen in sight. He walked forward quickly before breaking into a sprint and keeping his light fixed on the raised walkway that ran beside the roadway, running head long into the on coming water that only became louder and louder. A door! Stopping in his tracks he turned and grabbed the cold railings dividing the walkway and road and pulled himself up, throwing his legs over the railing and landing down on the raised section. Turning the door handle his heart skipped a beat as it refused to budge, cursing and kicking his foot against it. The sound of the surging wall of water about to overcome him was becoming deafening, it couldn't be more than a hundred metres away. Using all his strength Daniel barged his shoulder against the door, cursing again and throwing his whole body against it and letting out a cry as it gave way and he flew inside. Rolling onto his back he realised the flaw in his plan as he stared out the huge gaping hole where the water would soon spill in. Getting to his feet he picked the flash light back up and shone it down the two corridors that split off from the door, deciding it best to go down the one that went away from the surging waters, even if it was only slightly. He ran as fast as his tired legs would take him, panting and straining to see through the glass of the gas mask at the hallway. Passing through various areas filled with pipes and valves and machinery but having no time to investigate any of it.

A faint light appeared ahead through another doorway and he rejoiced, picking up his pace knowing the exit could be just ahead. The door with the light got near and near and he was now sprinting as fast as he could hearing the water spilling in behind him at the broken door. He passed through the door and immediately grinded to a halt. Before him not the fresh air and blue skies, not the tall skyscrapers of mid-town but merely another large room. A massive cylindrical space that went down into the darkness below and a series of walkways and railings that run around the wall. Like the railing right in-front of him which he used to stop himself quicker. He grasped the railing and looked up a series of drain holes high above where the sunlight was spilling in from. He balled his hands up into fists and turned around about to scream in anger when his eyes set upon the torrent of water. Staring wide-eyed and motionless, but it wouldn't make any difference if he had moved. It was on him in seconds. Sweeping him off his feet and sending him backwards over the railing and down into the embracing darkness below.

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