MGC Limited
Michael Green Creative
 

Blood Line

CHAPTER ONE

Mark peered through the aircraft window. Instead of taxiing to the terminal, the aircraft had stopped abruptly in a service area at the edge of Singapore's Changi airport. As fuel tankers drew up alongside, Mark sensed something was wrong. It had been a thirteen-hour flight since they'd left London's Heathrow. Mark's full head of dark hair made him look younger than his late fifties, but even though he was fit and wiry he was feeling his full age after the journey. His wife Helen was a little younger than him, but suddenly looked older as she coughed into her handkerchief; perhaps she would feel better once she'd had the opportunity to stretch her legs while the plane refuelled.


Blood Line the bookThe public address system crackled. "This is the co-pilot speaking." They could sense the tension in his voice. "We have been advised of an incident in the terminal building. We'll be taking off again as soon as we've refuelled. Those passengers who were due to disembark in Singapore will be flown back from Auckland once the situation in the terminal has been resolved."

Pandemonium broke out. The university lecturer sitting next to Mark and Helen announced loudly that there was no way he would be flying on to Auckland. As the lecturer continued his tirade, armoured personnel carriers drove up and disgorged soldiers carrying automatic weapons. The soldiers quickly surrounded the aircraft. Passengers peered out of the windows and talked to one another in hushed whispers.

The public address system crackled again. "Passengers are reminded that the use of mobile phones and electrical equipment is not allowed while the aircraft is refuelling."

The lecturer immediately fumbled in his pockets and retrieved his mobile phone. "I can't get a signal," he complained after a few seconds furtively jabbing the keypad.

"The authorities could be jamming the frequency," Mark speculated.

As soon as the fuel lines were disconnected and the tankers driven clear, the aircraft taxied to the end of the runway and charged forward. They had been on the ground less than forty minutes. The lecturer, the person who claimed there was no way he was going to fly on to Auckland, cheered and clapped the loudest as the jet left the runway and climbed into the sky.

 

Twenty-two hours earlier, Mark and Helen had arrived at Heathrow to find there was a four-hour delay to their flight. An extraordinarily large number of flight cancellations was being compounded by a shortage of check-in staff.

Due to the painfully slow progress of the queue, a considerable amount of time was spent listening to the same university lecturer they would later find themselves sitting next to in the plane.

"Typical story," he complained. "Bloody airport staff, they go on strike every holiday time. No thought for the travelling public!"

Mark and Helen were only too pleased when they finally reached the check-in counter. The usual list of security questions was followed by a long list of health-related questions: "Where have you travelled in the last six weeks? Do either of you have any flu-like symptoms?"

Helen was not feeling well. She'd felt off-colour ever since she'd arrived in England a month earlier. Even though she'd been running a slight temperature, she hadn't complained. Knowing that the doctor would have done no more, she'd simply dosed herself with paracetamol and carried on. A flu bug was sweeping England and doctors were simply prescribing the usual remedies for mild fever.
And now that Mark was dealing with all the formalities at the check-in counter as usual, she didn't feel inclined to suddenly complain. She suppressed her urge to cough; she just wanted to get home to Auckland and see her own doctor.

By the time their hand luggage had been x-rayed, it was already six o'clock Sunday evening. Back home in New Zealand it would be seven o'clock Monday morning. They knew their daughter Jane and her husband Bruce would be awake, preparing for a new working week. Mark decided to phone them.

Jane answered the call and Mark quickly acquainted her with the situation at Heathrow. "We've been delayed, it's chaos… You'd better check flight arrivals before you set off for the airport tomorrow. Heaven knows what time we'll get in now… And can you give your brother a call? He said he might come down and meet us too… How are the children…?"

There were further delays. Eventually, at nine o'clock Sunday evening, nine hours after they had arrived at Heathrow airport, their aircraft roared down the runway and climbed into a dark, rain-laden sky. They were tired, hungry, and fed up. Their mood was not improved by the fact they had been allocated seats towards the rear of the aircraft and that the passenger in the aisle seat alongside them turned out to be the same complaining lecturer they had spent hours listening to in the check-in queue.

"We apologise for the delay," announced a cheerful pilot, "the delay was caused by crew sickness…"

"More people extending their Christmas break," scoffed the lecturer.

After dinner was served and the cabin lights had been dimmed, Mark and Helen alternately dozed off for fitful periods, or feigned sleep. Anything was better than listening to their fellow passenger, who was clearly intent on ensuring that he recouped as much of his fare as possible in the form of free booze.

It proved even more difficult than usual to sleep. A section of the aircraft immediately behind them had been curtained off as a crew resting area - not that there appeared to be much resting going on. There was a continual stream of crew coming and going, accompanied by muted, agitated voices.

Two hours before arriving in Singapore, the aircraft cabin lights were switched on for the pre-landing meal.

The lecturer was quickly into his stride. "I don't know why they bothered waiting for more crew, half of them must be sleeping in there," he complained loudly, pointing his finger towards the curtained-off rest area. "No wonder the service is so bad."


Shortly after the aircraft took off from Singapore, Helen began to feel very ill. As the journey continued her condition deteriorated; she coughed continually, her temperature soared and her breathing became laboured. A flight attendant brought her an oxygen bottle and mask, but it gave her only temporary relief.

Eleven hours after leaving Singapore, the jet altered course to commence its approach into Auckland International Airport. The manoeuvre framed the sparkling waters of Oneroa Bay in the aircraft window. The scene reminded Mark of the morning nearly thirty years earlier, when he'd emigrated from Britain to join his brother Christopher in New Zealand. If only Christopher and he had managed to persuade their youngest brother, Paul, to join them. Had they done so, the whole family would now be living in New Zealand, and Helen would have been spared the nightmare journey she was now enduring.

He looked anxiously at her again; she seemed to have aged a year for every one of the last few hours. Her condition was deteriorating fast.

"My wife's getting worse," he said anxiously, catching the attention of the flight attendant as she checked that seatbelts were fastened.

"I can't do anything more for her," she snapped, curtly. Then her training kicked in. "I'm sorry, we won't be long now. I've arranged an ambulance to meet us as soon as we're down."

As the plane flew over Auckland city, Helen caught her breath again. Mark took her hand and squeezed it. "Just a few more minutes," he promised.

A little before ten o'clock on Tuesday morning, the aircraft skimmed over the Manukau Harbour and touched down gently on the runway of Auckland International Airport. The lecturer, who had helped drink the bar dry, led another round of applause. Mark glanced across at the terminal. Their daughter Jane would be there with their grandchildren Zach and Nicole by now. Perhaps his son Steven would be there to meet them too.

The plane stopped suddenly alongside two large marquees, and a mobile staircase was being driven to the forward exit door. Mark was relieved to see an ambulance parked beside the marquees, but wondered why the plane hadn't taxied to the terminal. "Don't tell me there's trouble here too," he muttered.

Helen opened her eyes. "How do you feel?" he asked.

She didn't reply. She simply shook her head wearily, before closing her eyes again.

The aisles were now crammed with passengers, stretching up to retrieve their hand luggage from the overhead lockers. Mark resigned himself to waiting until the aisles were clear before attempting to leave. He was frantic; Helen needed the ambulance, and soon.

The passengers streamed along the aisles, down the steps, and were directed into the larger of the two marquees. As soon as the passengers had disembarked, the flight crew also hurried down the steps and were diverted into the smaller marquee.

Mark waited impatiently for the flight attendant to return. To his amazement, as soon as the passengers had disembarked, he saw her and the remainder of the flight attendants hurry into the smaller marquee. He and Helen had been deserted.

In the silence of the empty plane, Helen's laboured breathing was even more pronounced. Yet it wasn't the only sound. There was an echo - the same gasping sound - emanating from the curtained-off crew-resting area at the rear of the aircraft.

Mark scrambled from his seat, rushed up the aisle, and threw back the curtains. Four ghostly white faces stared back at him; they were members of the crew. They were all dead. A fifth crew member was, like Helen, fighting for her life.

He looked out the aircraft window again. A few passengers had left the large marquee and were gesticulating wildly, arguing with medical staff who were dressed in long gowns and facemasks. Suddenly, a small group of passengers set off towards the terminal. Seconds later, sirens sounded as military vehicles raced down the runway. The absconding passengers stopped in their tracks as the convoy halted. Gun-wielding soldiers wearing protective clothing jumped from the trucks and lined up before them, barring their route to the terminal. The lecturer, buoyed up by the free booze, decided to continue on. Soldiers shouted at him to stop, but he pushed them roughly aside. A gunshot rang out, and his body crumpled onto the runway.

The truth dawned on Mark; he turned and made his way back towards Helen, tears streaming down his face. He moved to pick her up, to carry her to the waiting ambulance. But he was too late; Helen was dead.

NOTE - the hardcopy has SOLD out.


Blood Line is now available as an e-book available from Amazon.

  (Amazon.com)
     
  (Amazon UK)

 

REVIEW

This is a tremendous book - a real page turner. I started reading it in the evening and read to the early hours of the morning, I just couldn't put it down. It was intriging to read how the two branches of the Chatfield family tackled the aftermath of a deadly pandemic in such different ways. I found it very thought provoking. It was clear the author had given considerable thought to what would happen if a deadly pandemic really took hold (and I shall certainly bear some of the survival techniques in mind, I am told it is only a quesiton of when we have a major pandemic, not if). The story was full of unexpected twists and turns. What made it so powerful for me was the way the author wove the story around a believable family. I can't wait to read the sequel Blood Roots.
Janine Cork

Michael (Mike) Green
 

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