A moment later, the hover transport vehicle smashed into a dumpster on the side of the street, spun around, and then ran into the side of a house. The collision ripped the rear door off of its hinges, and a cloud of mold spores blew into the vehicle.
Graham instantly opened the emergency comm channel. “Is everyone okay?” Without waiting for a response, he continued, “Nobody move!”
“Colonel, the vehicle’s contamination level is red,” the pilot reported.
“Obviously!” Graham responded. “Check the levels in the goddamn suits.”
After a moment, the pilot reported, “The system says that all of the suits are good to go. No breaches at this point, sir.”
“Thank god. Now everyone stay still. Your lives depend on maintaining the integrity of your hazmat suits. Private, how bad is the damage to the vehicle.”
“Sir, it looks like the right rear blower overheated,” the pilot said. “That’s what caused the loss of control. The skirt was severely damaged on impact. There’s no way for me to get this thing going again. I just tried to radio Central Command. It seems we’ve lost external communications as well.”
Graham turned around to address Charley. “Lieutenant, we’re a quarter of a mile from the Windmill Pier. We could wait here for a rescue vehicle. Or we could walk. I don’t love the idea of waiting. The HEPA units on these suits are not designed for long-term air filtration. But walking is risky too. What do you think?”
“We walk to the pier, sir. If we go slowly and everyone’s careful, we shouldn’t experience any problems. Waiting here just prolongs our exposure. The sooner we get into a decontamination chamber, the better.”
“I agree. Listen everyone,” Graham announced. “Carefully unbuckle your seat belts and exit the vehicle. When we get outside, I will lead us to the pier. Slow and steady and watch where you step.”
As the group began to exit the vehicle, Graham noticed that Ian had picked up his camera bag. “Leave your bag,” he said, “it could tear your suit.”
“No.” Ian turned to face Graham.
“Look, we’ll retrieve it later and return it to you,” Graham said. “You have my word. Right now, it’s just a big liability.”
“I never go anywhere without my cameras. Anywhere. Okay?” Then he turned away with his bag over his shoulder and walked off the vehicle through the hole where the rear door used to be.
“Ignore him,” Peggy Lee said. “If he gets himself killed, it’s his own fault.” Then she followed Ian out into the fog. The two escort soldiers, the pilot, Charley, and Graham all quickly exited the vehicle.
Graham organized the group into a single file line and led it into the street. Visibility was limited to about seven feet. The fog quickly condensed on their visors, further inhibiting visibility. The hazmat suits were not equipped to sense the navigational heat nodes. But Graham had travelled to and from the Windmill Pier hundreds of times; he knew the way.
They walked on a carpet of mold. Clouds of spores puffed out from underfoot with each step. Their suits were soon covered from head to toe in deadly spores. When they reached 47th Avenue, Graham led them into the Park. A few hundred feet in, they came to the Windmill Pier.
Under normal circumstances, the transport vehicle would have parked, and soldiers in the pier’s main terminal would have connected a sealed skyway to the rear of the vehicle. They would have all entered the main terminal and then boarded the boat through a sealed gangway without once being exposed to the outside. They would have boarded the boat in groups of four (the capacity of the decontamination chamber), gone through the decontamination process as a precautionary measure, and then removed the hazmat suits as the boat headed out to the facilities.
But these were far from normal circumstances. Graham needed to get them all into the boat’s decontamination chamber ASAP. He bypassed the main terminal and walked down the pier to an emergency entrance to the sealed gangway, marked by a red light above the doorway. He pressed a buzzer on the door until a soldier, in a perfectly clean hazmat suit, appeared in the window.
“Soldier, can you hear me?” Graham asked.
“Loud and clear.” The soldier held up his wrist display to show Graham that he had manually activated the emergency comm channel on his suit. “We saw you approaching the terminal on foot.”
“Seal the gangway from the terminal,” Graham said. “We need to board the boat immediately. Also, send word to Captain Sherwood that we need to begin decontamination right away. When we’re on board the ship, you’ll need to manually decontaminate the gangway.”
A few seconds later, the red light above the doorway began flashing green. Graham pulled the door open and entered the gangway.
The gangway led them directly into the boat’s decontamination chamber. A sign above the entrance read, “Maximum capacity: 4 adults.” They were seven. They would have to make it work. Prolonged exposure just increased the risk of infection. Ian and Peggy Lee entered first followed by the pilot, the two escort soldiers, Charley, and finally Graham.
“Squeeze in!” Graham called out, as he attempted to shut the door. He could not get it shut. “Move back! Move in!” The group shuffled further into the room, squeezing against each other. Graham repositioned his feet and pulled the door hard. It sealed shut. The lights dimmed. Graham’s heart began to race. They were packed in cheek by jowl, and there was no escape.
“The irradiation process will take approximately ten minutes,” he said, closing his eyes and leaning his helmet against the door.