I was on Vern's lap, so I was making the notes. It was a Fruit Company combination freighter-passenger vessel. I looked at Vern, and Vern shrugged as best he could, so I wrote it down; but it wasn't exactly what we wanted. No, not by a long shot.
Still, the thing to do was to survey our resources, and then we could pick the one we liked best. We went all the way up to the end of the big-ship docks, and then turned and came back down, all the way to the Battery. It wasn't pleasure driving, exactly--half a dozen times we had to get out the map and detour around impenetrable jams of stalled and empty cars--or anyway, if they weren't exactly empty, the people in them were no longer in shape to get out of our way. But we made it.
We counted sixteen ships in dock that looked as though they might do for our purposes. We had to rule out the newer ones and the reconverted jobs. I mean, after all, U-235 just lasts so long, and you can steam around the world on a walnut-shell of it, or whatever it is, but you can't store it. So we had to stick with the ships that were powered with conventional fuel--and, on consideration, only oil at that.
But that left sixteen, as I say. Some of them, though, had suffered visibly from being left untended for nearly a decade, so that for our purposes they might as well have been abandoned in the middle of the Atlantic; we didn't have the equipment or ambition to do any great amount of salvage work.
The Empress of Britain would have been a pretty good bet, for instance, except that it was lying at pretty nearly a forty-five-degree angle in its berth. So was the United States, and so was the Caronia. The Stockholm was straight enough, but I took a good look, and only one tier of portholes was showing above the water--evidently it had settled nice and even, but it was on the bottom all the same. Well, that mud sucks with a fine tight grip, and we weren't going to try to loosen it.
All in all, eleven of the sixteen ships were out of commission just from what we could see driving by.
Vern and I looked at each other. We stood by the MG, while Amy sprawled her legs over the side and waited for us to make up our minds.
"Not good, Sam," said Vern, looking worried.
I said: "Well, that still leaves five. There's the Vulcania, the Cristobal--"
"All right. The Manhattan, the Liberte and the Queen Elizabeth."
Amy looked up, her eyes gleaming. "Where's the question?" she demanded. "Naturally, it's the Queen."
I tried to explain. "Please, Amy. Leave these things to us, will you?"
"But the Major won't settle for anything but the best!"
I glanced at Vern, who wouldn't meet my eyes. "Well," I said, "look at the problems, Amy. First we have to check it over. Maybe it's been burned out--how do we know? Maybe the channel isn't even deep enough to float it any more--how do we know? Where are we going to get the oil for it?"
"We'll get the oil," Amy said cheerfully.
"And what if the channel isn't deep enough?"
"She'll float," Amy promised. "At high tide, anyway. Even if the channel hasn't been dredged in ten years."
I shrugged and gave up. What was the use of arguing?
We drove back to the Queen Elizabeth and I had to admit that there was a certain attraction about that big old dowager. We all got out and strolled down the pier, looking over as much as we could see.
The pier had never been cleaned out. It bothered me a little--I mean I don't like skeletons much--but Amy didn't seem to mind. The Queen must have just docked when it happened, because you could still see bony queues, as though they were waiting for customs inspection.
Some of the bags had been opened and the contents scattered around--naturally, somebody was bound to think of looting the Queen. But there were as many that hadn't been touched as that had been opened, and the whole thing had the look of an amateur attempt. And that was all to the good, because the fewer persons who had boarded the Queen in the decade since it happened, the more chance of our finding it in usable shape.
Amy saw a gangplank still up, and with cries of girlish glee ran aboard.
I plucked at Vern's sleeve. "You," I said. "What's this about what the Major won't settle for less than?"
He said: "Aw, Sam, I had to tell her something, didn't I?"
"But what about the Major--"
He said patiently: "You don't understand. It's all part of my plan, see? The Major is the big thing here and he's got a birthday coming up next month. Well, the way I put it to Amy, we'll fix him up with a yacht as a birthday present, see? And, of course, when it's all fixed up and ready to lift anchor--"
I said doubtfully: "That's the hard way, Vern. Why couldn't we just sort of get steam up and take off?"
He shook his head. "That is the hard way. This way we get all the help and supplies we need, understand?"
I shrugged. That was the way it was, so what was the use of arguing?
But there was one thing more on my mind. I said: "How come Amy's so interested in making the Major happy?"
Vern chortled. "Jealous, eh?"
"I asked a question!"
"Calm down, boy. It's just that he's in charge of things here so naturally she wants to keep in good with him."
I scowled. "I keep hearing stories about how the Major's chief interest in life is women. You sure she isn't ambitious to be one of them?"
He said: "The reason she wants to keep him happy is so she won't be one of them."
The name of the place was Bayonne.
Vern said: "One of them's got to have oil, Sam. It has to."
"Sure," I said.
"There's no question about it. Look, this is where the tankers came to discharge oil. They'd come in here, pump the oil into the refinery tanks and--"
"Vern," I said. "Let's look, shall we?"
He shrugged, and we hopped off the little outboard motorboat onto a landing stage. The tankers towered over us, rusty and screeching as the waves rubbed them against each other.
There were fifty of them there at least, and we poked around them for hours. The hatches were rusted shut and unmanageable, but you could tell a lot by sniffing. Gasoline odor was out; smell of seaweed and dead fish was out; but the heavy, rank smell of fuel oil, that was what we were sniffing for. Crews had been aboard these ships when the missiles came, and crews were still aboard.
Beyond the two-part superstructures of the tankers, the skyline of New York was visible. I looked up, sweating, and saw the Empire State Building and imagined Amy up there, looking out toward us.
She knew we were here. It was her idea. She had scrounged up a naval engineer, or what she called a naval engineer--he had once been a stoker on a ferryboat. But he claimed he knew what he was talking about when he said the only thing the Queen needed to make 'er go was oil. And so we left him aboard to tinker and polish, with a couple of helpers Amy detached from the police force, and we tackled the oil problem.
Which meant Bayonne. Which was where we were.
It had to be a tanker with at least a fair portion of its cargo intact, because the Queen was a thirsty creature, drinking fuel not by the shot or gallon but by the ton.
"Saaam! Sam Dunlap!"
I looked up, startled. Five ships away, across the U of the mooring, Vern Engdahl was bellowing at me through cupped hands.
"I found it!" he shouted. "Oil, lots of oil! Come look!"
I clasped my hands over my head and looked around. It was a long way around to the tanker Vern was on, hopping from deck to deck, detouring around open stretches.
I shouted: "I'll get the boat!"
He waved and climbed up on the rail of the ship, his feet dangling over, looking supremely happy and pleased with himself. He lit a cigarette, leaned back against the upward sweep of the rail and waited.
It took me a little time to get back to the boat and a little more time than that to get the damn motor started. Vern! "Let's not take that lousy little twelve horse-power, Sam," he'd said reasonably. "The twenty-five's more what we need!" And maybe it was, but none of the motors had been started in most of a decade, and the twenty-five was just that much harder to start now.
I struggled over it, swearing, for twenty minutes or more.
The tanker by whose side we had tied up began to swing toward me as the tide changed to outgoing.
For a moment there, I was counting seconds, expecting to have to make a jump for it before the big red steel flank squeezed the little outboard flat against the piles.
But I got it started--just about in time. I squeezed out of the trap with not much more than a yard to spare and threaded my way into open water.
There was a large, threatening sound, like an enormous slow cough.
I rounded the stern of the last tanker between me and open water, and looked into the eye of a fire-breathing dragon.
Vern and his cigarettes! The tanker was loose and ablaze, bearing down on me with the slow drift of the ebbing tide. From the hatches on the forward deck, two fountains of fire spurted up and out, like enormous nostrils spouting flame. The hawsers had been burned through, the ship was adrift, I was in its path-- And so was the frantically splashing figure of Vern Engdahl, trying desperately to swim out of the way in the water before it.
What kept it from blowing up in our faces I will never know, unless it was the pressure in the tanks forcing the flame out; but it didn't. Not just then. Not until I had Engdahl aboard and we were out in the middle of the Hudson, staring back; and then it went up all right, all at once, like a missile or a volcano; and there had been fifty tankers in that one mooring, but there weren't any any more, or not in shape for us to use.
I looked at Engdahl.
He said defensively: "Honest, Sam, I thought it was oil. It smelled like oil. How was I to know--"
"Shut up," I said.
He shrugged, injured. "But it's all right, Sam. No fooling. There are plenty of other tankers around. Plenty. Down toward the Amboys, maybe moored out in the channel. There must be. We'll find them."
"No," I said. "You will."
And that was all I said, because I am forgiving by nature; but I thought a great deal more.
Surprisingly, though, he did find a tanker with a full load, the very next day.
It became a question of getting the tanker to the Queen. I left that part up to Vern, since he claimed to be able to handle it.
It took him two weeks. First it was finding the tanker, then it was locating a tug in shape to move, then it was finding someone to pilot the tug. Then it was waiting for a clear and windless day--because the pilot he found had got all his experience sailing Star boats on Long Island Sound--and then it was easing the tanker out of Newark Bay, into the channel, down to the pier in the North River-- Oh, it was work and no fooling. I enjoyed it very much, because I didn't have to do it.
But I had enough to keep me busy at that. I found a man who claimed he used to be a radio engineer. And if he was an engineer, I was Albert Einstein's mother, but at least he knew which end of a soldering iron was hot. There was no need for any great skill, since there weren't going to be very many vessels to communicate with.
Things began to move.
The advantage of a ship like the Queen, for our purposes, was that the thing was pretty well automated to start out with. I mean never mind what the seafaring unions required in the way of flesh-and-blood personnel. What it came down to was that one man in the bridge or wheelhouse could pretty well make any part of the ship go or not go.
The engine-room telegraph wasn't hooked up to control the engines, no. But the wiring diagram needed only a few little changes to get the same effect, because where in the original concept a human being would take a look at the repeater down in the engine room, nod wisely, and push a button that would make the engines stop, start, or whatever--why, all we had to do was cut out the middleman, so to speak.
Our genius of the soldering iron replaced flesh and blood with some wiring and, presto, we had centralized engine control.
The steering was even easier. Steering was a matter of electronic control and servomotors to begin with. Windjammers in the old movies might have a man lashed to the wheel whose muscle power turned the rudder, but, believe me, a big superliner doesn't. The rudders weigh as much as any old windjammer ever did from stem to stern; you have to have motors to turn them; and it was only a matter of getting out the old soldering iron again.
By the time we were through, we had every operational facility of the Queen hooked up to a single panel on the bridge.
Engdahl showed up with the oil tanker just about the time we got the wiring complete. We rigged up a pump and filled the bunkers till they were topped off full. We guessed, out of hope and ignorance, that there was enough in there to take us half a dozen times around the world at normal cruising speed, and maybe there was. Anyway, it didn't matter, for surely we had enough to take us anywhere we wanted to go, and then there would be more.
We crossed our fingers, turned our ex-ferry-stoker loose, pushed a button-- Smoke came out of the stacks.
The antique screws began to turn over. Astern, a sort of hump of muddy water appeared. The Queen quivered underfoot. The mooring hawsers creaked and sang.
"Turn her off!" screamed Engdahl. "She's headed for Times Square!"
Well, that was an exaggeration, but not much of one; and there wasn't any sense in stirring up the bottom mud. I pushed buttons and the screws stopped. I pushed another button, and the big engines quietly shut themselves off, and in a few moments the stacks stopped puffing their black smoke.
The ship was alive.
Solemnly Engdahl and I shook hands. We had the thing licked. All, that is, except for the one small problem of Arthur.
The thing about Arthur was they had put him to work.
It was in the power station, just as Amy had said, and Arthur didn't like it. The fact that he didn't like it was a splendid reason for staying away from there, but I let my kind heart overrule my good sense and paid him a visit.
It was way over on the East Side, miles and miles from any civilized area. I borrowed Amy's MG, and borrowed Amy to go with it, and the two of us packed a picnic lunch and set out. There were reports of deer on Avenue A, so I brought a rifle, but we never saw one; and if you want my opinion, those reports were nothing but wishful thinking. I mean if people couldn't survive, how could deer?
We finally threaded our way through the clogged streets and parked in front of the power station.
"There's supposed to be a guard," Amy said doubtfully.
I looked. I looked pretty carefully, because if there was a guard, I wanted to see him. The Major's orders were that vital defense installations--such as the power station, the PX and his own barracks building--were to be guarded against trespassers on a shoot-on-sight basis and I wanted to make sure that the guard knew we were privileged persons, with passes signed by the Major's own hand. But we couldn't find him. So we walked in through the big door, peered around, listened for the sounds of machinery and walked in that direction.
And then we found him; he was sound asleep. Amy, looking indignant, shook him awake.
"Is that how you guard military property?" she scolded. "Don't you know the penalty for sleeping at your post?"