Serial Saturday #2.6: The Lifeboat
The alarm klaxon woke Sarah out of a dead sleep. "This is the Captain speaking," the overhead speaker blared. "Please form an orderly cue and make your way to the lifeboats. Unidentified ships are closing on our position." An electric jolt of fear ran through Sarah as the babble of alarm filled the cabin, but she stood, as did everyone else. The crew herded them down the staircase to the lower deck.
Sarah darted through the crowd to grab her duffel bag off the luggage racks and then, the ship lurched to the left and they all felt the explosion. Panic erupted. People surged into the lifeboats. Sarah found herself shoved to the back of one. Red lights flashed. Another explosion. The doors slammed shut. A deep concussive thunk. Then they were falling.
Sarah sat down, took a few deep breaths to calm herself. She took stock of the other occupants of the lifeboat. One of the officers, Lt. Aboah, sat with a grizzled old man with one eye who didn't seem to have a name. A trio of middle-aged men in plaid shirts with bears stood near the door. One of them carried a guitar case.
"Are we going to die?" Sarah tried to hold back her rising panic.
Aboah shrugged. "Maybe."
"Maybe?" Sarah said. "There's nothing we can do?"
"We've sent out distress beacons. Now we just hope that someone finds them and reels us in before we fall too far."
"I can't believe you're being so calm about this!" Sarah said.
"That's life on Venus," Aboah replied.
The old man cackled. "Could be worse, Earther. We could hit an acid upwelling on the way down. Then we'll all cook to death."
"Oh, thanks for that," Sarah said. "That's very comforting."
Aboah sighed. "We've got plenty of time, you know." He pointed at the red line at the very bottom of the monitor. "Once we hit this, we're toast."
One of the plaid-shirted trio leaned forward. His grin was reassuring. "Is this your first pirate attack, miss? Scottie, Justin, and I- this is our what our..."
"Our fifth," the second one said. "I'm Scottie and that big old loon is Alan and this quiet one over here is Justin."
"We're shantymen," Alan said.
"Oh, sorry, we're also Canadian," Scottie said. "Came up these parts from Halifax way, wanting to keep the old ways alive. Ain't much call for fishing these days and the old shanties are dying out so we hitched a contract with this liner company and we provide the entertainment on a voyage or two."
"Can you sing?" Justin spoke for the first time.
Sarah shook her head.
"Can you keep a beat them?"
"I guess so," Sarah said, "but are you really going to... sing? Now?"
Alan shrugged. "There's nothing better to do, is there? Only what to sing?"
"Not Wellerman," the other two said in unison.
"Mary Ellen Carter?" Alan suggested.
"Eh," Scottie said. "South Australia?"
"We're not hauling anything," Alan replied.
"I know," said Justin. He cleared his throat and began to sing. "Oh, the year was 1778-"
Sarah leaned back in her seat and exchanged a long glance with Aboah as if trying to convey her incredulity at what was going on. They were falling deeper and deeper into the atmosphere of Venus. If they were pursued, they wouldn't be able to deploy their balloons in time. If they fell too far, the balloons wouldn't work. If no one responded to their rescue beacons, they would be carried by the winds far out of any shipping lanes. They might die, crushed to death by the planet itself and no one would ever know and she would never why.
Aboah for his part just smiled, closed his eyes, and began to stomp his foot in time with the beat. Sarah took a deep breath and settled herself back down in her seat. She closed her eyes and began to meditate as best she could. After a minute or so, she found her own foot-stomping in time with the music, seemingly of its own accord.
Meanwhile, they kept falling.