“All soldiers scheduled for transport to the Farallon Platform, please report immediately to Portal One for departure,” a loud speaker announced as Graham, Charley, Peggy Lee, and Ian walked quickly down a narrow hallway.
Thirty seconds later, they stood on a high metal balcony overlooking an enormous warehouse filled with stacks of boxes and equipment. Graham explained: “The Hub, as this room is known around here, is the main supply depot for all of the facilities.”
Three large decontamination chambers labeled D.C. One, Two, and Three, were connected to the Hub. Each chamber could eliminate all mold spores from incoming hover transport vehicles in less than a minute. The large metal doors to D.C. Two and Three stood firmly closed that day. The door to D.C. One, however, was open. Soldiers carried stacks of supplies into the chamber and loaded them into a large hover transport vehicle parked inside.
“No time like the present,” Charley said, turning toward the two flights of open, metal stairs that led down to the Hub’s floor. Ian adjusted his camera bag and followed right after him.
“Graham,” Peggy Lee said quietly, gently grabbing his arm. “Can I have a word?”
“Did you get a chance to check the weather reports for tonight?” Her hand lingered on his forearm. He reached over and placed his own hand softly on hers. The hustling buzz of the Hub below seemed to disappear entirely. Her skin was soft and warm, as he knew it would be.
“The seas are calm and the winds promise a relatively quiet night,” Graham said. “It will only take about fifteen minutes to get out past the fog curtain from the Farallon Platform. So we can spend as much time as we like out there.”
“Great. I’m so looking forward to it.”
“Me too,” Graham said, his heart about to burst.
When they got down to the bottom of the stairs, a soldier escorted Peggy Lee to a nearby changing room. Graham, Charley, and Ian entered a separate room filled with old-style gym lockers and benches. A cart piled high with hazmat suits sat at the end of the room. The three men stepped into the padded, white suits, and pulled the tops up over their shoulders, keeping their street clothes on underneath. Graham grabbed his gloves and stuck them into his helmet. “You ready, Ian?”
“Yeah, sure,” Ian answered.
A soldier approached them when they reentered the Hub. “The hover transport is fully loaded and ready to go. The pilot and the two escort soldiers are aboard already, as is Ms. Swenson.”
The soldier held out a clipboard holding various forms, which Graham quickly signed.
After entering the transport vehicle through the rear hatch, Graham walked down the narrow center aisle to the front row, where Peggy Lee sat. She had already put her helmet on and was looking straight ahead, out the cockpit window. Graham touched her shoulder gently, startling her. When she looked up at him through her helmet’s visor, he noticed beads of sweat on her forehead. He disconnected her helmet and pulled it gently off her head before sitting across the aisle from her.
“There will be plenty of time for the helmets. I usually wait until we’re completely ready for departure before I put mine on. Obviously, my soldiers did not show you the climate control feature. Here, see this keypad.” Graham turned Peggy Lee’s forearm over. “The blue arrows cool you off and the red ones heat you up. There is never any need for heat, but the air con sure is nice. Okay?”
“Thanks. I was starting to wonder how I was going to make it through the next few hours.
Ian moved forward through the cabin, selected the seat behind Graham, and lurched into Graham’s seat-back as he pulled his camera bag off of his shoulder. “Sorry about that,” he said, dropping into his seat.
“No problem,” Graham answered reflexively. It was the second time that morning that Ian had banged his bag into him. Graham held his tongue, but silently wished that Ian would just leave him alone with Peggy Lee.