Charon's Landing

Charon's Landing by Jack du Brul

Book: Charon's Landing by Jack du Brul Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jack du Brul
almost blacked out from the blow but retained enough control to push against Mercer just as the return stroke of the bottle came at him, missing him by inches.
    The unbroken bottle whizzed by Jamal’s head, the force of the swing leading Mercer into a natural follow-through, and without thinking he plunged the remains of the shattered bottle deep into his assailant’s throat. The jagged glass cut through skin and muscle and arteries with only spongy resistance. The Glock dropped as Jamal reeled away, clutching at his shredded throat. It was the last voluntary movement he would ever make.
    Mercer fell to the ground at the same time as Jamal, the alcohol, shock, and fear draining his strength. Darkness crept into his mind, cutting his vision down to a haze-filled tunnel. Even the lights that had snapped on in response to the shot were just distant points, fading even as more of them lit the street. He laid his head against the cold concrete as a siren began to wail someplace in another reality.
    “You’re dead, aren’t you, Howard? They got you already,” Mercer mumbled to the cement before he passed out.
     

Alyeska Marine Terminal Valdez, Alaska
     
    U nder the glare of sodium arc lights, the hull of the
Petromax Arctica
was even darker than the water of Prince William Sound. The sun had not yet set in the northern latitudes though it was past nine at night. Despite the umber light, regulations demanded that the lamps high up in the oil gantries be on at all times. They bathed the VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier), bringing out harsh shadows on her huge deck.
    The ship was more than a thousand feet long, but what truly made her seem unworldly was her width. With a hundred-and-fifty-seven-foot beam, she was nearly as wide as a city block was long. Her red-painted deck was as large and flat as a parking lot, broken only by inspection hatches and a raised catwalk that ran nearly a quarter of a mile from her superstructure to her blunted bows. The tanker’s superstructure was a slab-sided white box at the very stern, rising fifty feet over the deck. Cantilevered promenades wrapped around a few of its levels, and the wings of the flying bridges hung over empty space on each side of the ship. Her single funnel sat foursquare in the center of the superstructure. The emblem of Petromax Oil, a stylized oil derrick with the intertwined letters
P
and
O,
was lit by a floodlight just below the twenty-foot-tall standard.
    Unlike any ship in history, supertankers, as VLCCs had been dubbed by the media soon after their debut, defy nearly every law of naval architecture. Because of their size, they cannot be built like a traditional vessel with a laid keel and massive steel supports rising up like ribs from the backbone. Tankers must be built in sections, each one floated independently and welded together in the water. According to the engineers, tankers are safe, yet they still tend to break up when nature or man’s own folly stresses them too much. They are a bastard creation, spawned by an oil-thirsty world with little regard for how that thirst was slaked.
    The
Petromax Arctica
was a modern-generation supertanker, only three years old, double hulled and built with the latest inert gas scrubbers and other safety devices. But the most recent evolution of a dangerous idea was still dangerous. Therefore, Captain Lyle Hauser treated his ship as if she were a floating bomb with a lit fuse.
    Hauser stood one hundred feet over the sound on the port wing of the flying bridge, feeling his ship settle as North Slope crude poured into her compartmentalized hull at a rate of twenty thousand barrels every hour. He’d been up there since the armored hoses of loading berth number three had started disgorging the oil hours earlier. Pulled from retirement for this trip, this was his first time on a tanker of this size and he wasn’t going to allow even a minor deviation from procedure. If that meant he had to stand on the flying bridge and watch

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