|Chapter Thirty Nine –St Peter Port, Guernsey
Hamish and Dorbec watched from the observation tower as the last helicopter filled with refuges landed on the deck of the Prince of Wales. For the past ten hours both aircraft carriers had been ferrying people from Castle Cornet as fast as the helicopter crews could make the turn around. The last helicopter squadron to go in sent back the word that the Castle had been completely overran by the ants.
“Still don’t see how the beasts managed to bridge the gap?” Dorbec looked wistfully out to sea. “There must have been a good two hundred meters of open water between the Castle and the destroyed causeway.”
“Sir Geoffery said the monsters created a chain of ant bodies over the gap.” Hamish took a deep breath. “The creatures latched on to each other with their claws until they reached the other side, then they filled in the gaps. The ants on the bottom drowned but their claws were still hooked to other ants. After that, they flooded over the ant made land bridge in a massive wave. The Navy bombed and strafed the living bridge but more ants filled in the gaps faster than they could blow the buggers up.”
“He was a good man and a great leader,” Dorbec sighed.
Hamish nodded. “Aye, ‘e was that.”
Sir Geoffery refused a seat on the last helicopter out. He insisted that two women take his place. Despite the urgent evacuation attempt, well over a thousand people were still stranded on the Castle grounds when the ants broke through. Some of them took to small overloaded boats and would be picked up later by the rescue helicopters, but the swarming ants massacred the majority.
A young staff officer interrupted them. “Compliments of the Admiral sirs, he would like to see you in the flag room.”
They noticed the Queen Elizabeth in the distance. It looked as if she was putting on steam and heading west. They went below as several more rescue helicopters lifted off to search for survivors on the small boats.
“Have a seat gentlemen.” the Admiral pointed to a large conference table around which sat a dozen or more people. Hamish noticed several Marine Corps and Army personnel among them. The man at the head of the table he knew quite well. He was retired, had been retired for quite some time, but he was Hamish’s original commander when he was active in the Special Air Service. Hamish nodded to the man as he and Dorbec sat down.
Admiral Clinton walked to the head of the table and placed his hands on its hard flat surface. “You may have noticed that the Queen Elizabeth had departed the area,” he opened. “She is in route to the American military base in San Diego, California. The military there has managed to clean the ants from a considerable area and due to their overwhelming number of armoured vehicles, are maintaining it. It has been decided that the Royal Family will reside there until such time as the home islands can be secured.”
“Any word about Old Blighty?” one of the officers asked.
“I’m afraid not. Our armed forces, what’s left of them, were evacuated to the admiralty fleet. Many in the Royal Air Force were able to lift to safe locations in Greenland and other places. As for the civilian population, we have an occasional call from some remote location that is barely holding on, but overall it looks bad, very bad. Minister Chedwick will fill you in on the grand picture.”
The admiral sat down and motioned for an elderly man with a flushed face to continue the briefing.
“Rodney Chedwick,” the man identified himself. He pushed his spectacles higher on his pug nose and continued. “As the Admiral noted, the home islands are in desperate plight. It is not known how many in the civilian populace has survived, but best guess estimates are very few. In fact, that is the scenario all around the globe. Many places, especially in the Middle East and Africa, have been wiped clean of human habitation as far as we can tell. Africa was hit especially hard because of the lack of military co-ordination and communication issues. It is estimated that most of the wild animal population of the continent is now extinct. Elsewhere, animal populations have met the same fate except in very isolated cases.”
For half an hour the minister continued to press the bad news. It seemed to those around the table that mankind itself was also near extinction. The convivial minister finally took his seat with a band of sweat on his portly forehead.
“There you have it,” Admiral Clinton stated. “Most of it bad news. But, there is also some good news. Willie?”
A navy officer stood and looked around the table. “They’ve done it!” he blurted. “The Americans have found a way to get rid of the giant ants.”
Everyone around the table suddenly sat up straight with a look of surprise. Most had come to believe the ants were invincible, unstoppable. When the abrupt clatter finally died down, the officer continued.
“We don’t know the process yet. The scientist who originally alerted the world to the ants, a Doctor Schmitt, discovered it. She and an American Air Force colonel, also a chemist, have tried it and they say it works.”
A dozen hands shot up at one time.
“I know your questions,” the officer smiled. “But, I don’t know the answers. We weren’t told how long it would take to destroy the ants, or how it works, or any of the minute details. We decided, however, that the initial news was worth passing out. Everyone needs to know that mankind will survive.”
As the officer sat back down, the Admiral pointed to another man. It was Hamish’s old SAS commander, now well into his late sixties.
“Minister Chedwick briefed us on the status of the animal life around the planet,” he began without identifying himself. “Unfortunately, the matter does not end there. The ants have also destroyed all the seed crops and stored grain. There is almost nothing left. Even without the ants we face a difficult road back to recovery. We may be able to salvage some root crops, like potatoes for instance, but grains such as wheat, rice, barley, soy beans, and so forth, all gone.”
“Fortunately we do have a back up plan. I’m certain most of you have heard of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault located on the Norweigan island of Spitsbergen near the town of Longyearbyen, about 1,300 kilometres from the North Pole. The vault holds duplicate copies of seeds held in gene banks worldwide. The United Kingdom is one of the signatories of that bank”
“What most of you did not know, as very little publicity was intentionally given to the project, the United Kingdom and the Unites States also created a sperm bank in Antarctica. It is a project similar to the seed vault, however it contains fertilised eggs from every animal on earth, including woman.”
“The SAS was instrumental in designing and operating the security for the vault. One of the men in this room was on that expedition and involved in much of the design. Hamish, please identify yourself.”
Hamish looked around the conference table. Batch of old farts,” he thought, as he stood. “Name’s Hamish MacTaggart. Aye, I was on the expedition. Might near froze me privates off, I did.” He grinned and sat back down.
Admiral Clinton resumed the briefing. “We have been tasked to retrieve both storage vaults as soon as we know the ants have been eradicated. Hamish MacTaggart will lead one expedition to Antarctica and Major Wentworth will lead the other expedition to Spitsbergen.” The Admiral pointed to a young SAS officer across the table from Hamish. “We need to do a considerable amount of logistics co-ordination with the Yanks before we can mount the expedition. Plus, of course, we must wait for word that the ants have been thoroughly defeated.”
The briefing continued for several more hours. After it concluded, Hamish and Dorbec returned to the observation deck. More helicopters were landing, half of them empty. Obviously, the currents had scattered the small boats in all directions making it difficult to locate them.
“Knew Huckleberry would be connected to the solution to our problem,” Hamish mused. “Good man ‘e is.”
“Wasn’t Huck who discovered the solution,” Dorbec countered. “Seems to me as if the scientist lady did it.”
“You can bet Huck kept their noses to the grindstone, as the Yanks would say.”
“Moot point, Hamish. You never mentioned anything about an expedition to Antarctica. Keeping secrets from your ever faithful friend are you?”
“Mission was so wrapped up in secrecy it never crossed me mind. Bloody shrinks probably hypnotised me or something to erase the memory. Perhaps that was part of the security plan, memory erasure along with plausible deniability. Hard to know with those secret hush hush projects.”
“So, you’ll be taking me with you to Antarctica?”
“Wouldn’t be happy or feel safe without me favourite froggie along.”