The nanny was already running back towards his quarters when LaFarge pushed into the hallway wearing only a white undershirt and ship’s slacks.
He saw her struggling against a stream of workers scrambling to get to their emergency stations; her hair down, dressed for bed, a look of terror etched on her face. When she saw him, her eyes went wide and she raised her arm and waved it wildly back and forth to get his attention. He waved back and joined the torrent of people, keeping his head up so as not to lose sight of her.
When they finally met, LaFarge pushed her to the wall and grabbed her shoulders. “There’s been a meltdown,” he said as sternly and calmly as he could muster. In moments like this, it was a Captain’s job to remain collected. For the crew’s sake. “In the central reactor. The lower maintenance decks of the ship are on fire.”
“My god,” the nanny said, covering her mouth with a quivering hand.
“We’ve got protocols to contain it. As long as the blast doors hold we should have time to put it out.”
“What about the children? They’re scared. What do I tell then?”
“Stay with them. Keep them calm. I’m needed on the bridge, but I’ll keep in contact and come back when the worst is behind us.”
“They need their father,” she said, grabbing his arm. He looked at her hand and she let him go, realizing her fears were getting the better of her. In moments like this it was her job to be collected. For the children’s sake.
She hesitated, then turned and ran back towards the children’s quarters.
Emma and Adam sat together on the bed, clinging to each other in fear.
Adam’s eyes were shut tight and he muttered, “Shut up, shut up, shut up,” over and over, desperate for the sirens to silence.
Emma, on the other hand, didn’t shut her senses down. She listened to the commotion through the walls, smelled the hint of smoke, and felt the air tighten around them.
“It’s a fire,” she said over the noise.
“Shut up, it’s not!” Adam squealed back.
“You shut up!” she retaliated and Adam opened his eyes.
“What do we do, Emma?” he asked.
“My dad will put it out,” she replied.
“How do you know?”
“Because it’s his job, dummy,” she replied. “Stop asking dumb questions.”
They both jumped when the door slid open and their nanny burst into the room. She ran and joined them on the bed and the kids parted from each other and clung to her sides instead.
“Is it a fire?” Adam asked her.
“It is,” she replied, no hint of distress in her voice.
“Are we going to explode?” Adam asked. He was sobbing now.
“No, of course not, darling. We’re perfectly safe in here. You’ll see.”
The sirens stopped and Nanny smiled. Adam smiled too and she tightened her grip around their little bodies and started humming a tune. Then she brushed Adam’s bangs out of his eyes and said, “Let’s sing while we wait for the lights to come back on.”
So they did. They sang a song that nanny had taught them when Adam was sad about his parents leaving on their special mission. It was an old song that Nanny said her parents used to sing to her when she was little. It went:
You saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own”
Emma liked the song and how Nanny swayed them to the melody. The words made her think of space and the stars and for a moment she forgot all about the red emergency lights and the commotion outside the room. It felt as though they were in a dream.
“And then suddenly you appeared before me
The only one my arms will ever hold
I heard somebody whisper please adore me
And when I looked to the moon it turned to gold”
When they finished the first verse, Emma noticed the hallway was quiet once more. She tapped Nanny on the arm and whispered, “Listen,” and nanny stopped singing.
The three of them sat in silence, listening for a sign of what was happening on the ship. But, there was nothing.
Then the strangest sound of sucking began behind the door, like someone had turned on a great vacuum. Emma had never heard anything like it. Nanny moved to get up and Adam squealed and grabbed onto her tighter. She shushed him harshly and pulled herself free and then left the two of them alone on the bed.
The children watched as their nanny slid slowly across the room towards the door to their quarters. The sucking sound grew louder until it reached an unbearable pitch, and Adam and Emma covered their ears with the palms of their hands.
“Come back, Nanny!” they both yelled, but she ignored them and pressed her ear against the door.
Suddenly the sucking stopped and the room was quiet once more.
The nanny turned and smiled and put her hands on her hips as if to say, Look how silly you’ve been, when the door exploded and she disappeared in a ball of blue flame.
The children screamed and covered their faces as a river of fire poured into the room and travelled up the walls.
As the flames drew closer, Adam burrowed himself under the pillows in a pathetic attempt to escape while Emma slid her back up against the wall.
Her mind raced and her eyes scanned the room, but she couldn’t move. It was as though her body was paralyzed. Where is Nanny?, she thought. Why hadn’t she come to help them? It was as though her heart knew they would never see her again, but her mind could not accept it. Then Emma thought of something else and her eyes went wild.
“My box!” she screamed and looked to a long steel table that ran along the west wall of the cabin. Her little wooden box was there, protected by the metal, but fire was slowly creeping up the wall behind it.
She felt a flash of heat on the back of her neck and turned to see flames rising up around the bed. It was creeping up the wall behind them as well. Suddenly Emma could move again, and she knew they only had one chance of escape.
“Come on, Adam!” she yelled and pulled the pillow away from his face. When he saw her, he squeezed his eyes closed and kicked his legs like a grasshopper on its back. Emma grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “We have to get out of here!”
“We’ll be burned!” Adam howled, refusing to open his eyes.
“Not in the walls we won’t!” she yelled back. “Now come on!”
Adam opened his eyes and sat up. Emma pulled at the sleeve of his bed-shirt and they both slid off the bed and onto the floor.
Heat pounded against the bottom of their bare feet as they moved. Emma grabbed her box, then slid under the steel table and dug her fingernails into the seam along two square wall panels. When the corner popped away, she lifted it off and stuck her head inside the opening.
The air inside the wall was warm and wet, but the tiny crawlspace was free of smoke.
“Where are we going?” Adam asked behind her.
“Just follow me,” she replied and crawled into the wall. She turned back and extended her hand. “Come on. I know someone who can help us!”
Fire nipped at Adam’s bare feet as he stuffed himself into the wall and crawled after her.