It was moments like these that Jim Wilson loved the most.
There were few jobs in this world that could compare with the buzz of going into action sitting in the back of an Artctic 28 RIB, an 8.5 meter long ribbed boat powered by two 250hp outboard motors with a top speed of around 50 knots, as it ploughed and pranced through the choppy waters of the North Sea.
He had been in the Special Boat Squadron for five years after having been in the Royal Marines for three years. He had done two tours of action in Iraq and was now glad to be back in the UK with his family nearby and very few bullets being fired at him. Days like this were jam for him. A warm wife and a cold beer awaiting for him back in barracks at the end of every day was what he called comfort. A few more years of this and he could apply for a full time training job with the regiment. Thats why he enjoyed these moments of action for he could enjoy the buzz without the usual danger attached to such events.
He was wearing the standard issue SBS assault uniform of a black flame-retardent nomex suit, black flame-retardent balaclava, inflatable life jacket, SF10 respirator and kevlar helmet. For armaments he was carrying an mp5 a3 9mm sub machine gun, a sig sauer p226 9mm pistol on his right hip, a sawn-off remington 960 loaded with breaching rounds over his right shoulder and four flashbang stun grenades on a belt around his waist. Beside him sat six other members of the eight man Special Boat Squadron insertion team. Whilst one of the team piloted the boat and another sat at the rear of the boat monitoring the engines, the rest of the crew were busy going through final weapons and equipment checks.
The waters of the North Sea through which they were travelling were an ominous black green, and as the boat carved its way across the waves white flecks of sea spume were thrown over the prow and covered the crew in the body of the boat. The sun lay low in the East as the first rays of the dawn began to break through below a line of dark louring clouds. The throb of the engines could be felt as the boat lifted and rose from the waves as it crested a peak then crashed back onto the water. Like a skittish pony the boat needed a firm hand when the waters were as choppy as this. He knew they were in good hands though, few people on the planet were as skilled with a rib as Robbie up front. He could pilot the rib through a pod of dolphins and they wouldnt even know we were here. Though they had been dropped off about a mile from the platform by the Royal Navy frigate that was waiting for them to return, the journey to the platform would take a while as the waves were so high.
The Frigate sat in a quarantine zone a mile or so from the platform awaiting further orders.
The Brent Delta Platform the eight man SBS unit were heading too is situated about 186km, around 116 miles north-east of Lerwick in Scotland. With a maximum operational range of 200 Nautical Miles for the boat, this meant the target location was just about in the upper limits of the boats operational abilities in case something went wrong and the crew had to head back to shore under their own power.
They were approaching ten knots as they drew closer to the platform that loomed in the distance. The boat driver pulled the throttle back and moved the boat gently around to the rear of the platform. Then he pulled the boat back quickly at full throttle out into open water and circled the platform twice. Jim looked up through the steel struts that were laced together on the underside of the platform looking for any movement of the crew as they moved around the platform itself, but the whole platform appeared deserted.
With a single massive webbed steel chimney that jutted about a hundred feet above the main raised platform that constantly burned off gouts of excess gas prssure, the platform was cloaked in an fiery orange, red glow that flickered in the early morning light. The glow from the flames gouting from the chimney illuminated the platform with an nimbus that made it look almost menacing. Jim did not like the place. It creeped him out.
The Brent field supplies oil via the Brent System pipeline to the oil refining terminal at Sullom Voe, while North Sea gas is piped through the FLAGS pipeline until it comes ashore at St. Fergus on the north east coast of Scotland. The first platform put in place in the Brent Field was the concrete legged "Condeep" Brent Bravo in 1975 and this was followed by the oil platform the Brent Delta. The platform produces an average of 10,000 barrels per day of oil and 16 million cubic feet of gas per day. The waters in which it sits are around 40m deep ,460feet.
The platform itself looked like a collection of steel boxes haphazardly welded together by a drunk and then set atop three massive concrete legs that plunged straight down into the waves below. Painted a gaudy red and sickly orange with streaks of russet rust running down virtually every exposed surface, it looked something Lego had built and then abandoned to the elements. The main living accommodation for the crew was set within the interior of the platform just below and to the right of the helicopter pad. The concrete legs that supported the main body of the platform were blackened with rust and encrusted with a sheath of glistening seaweed that made it look as it if were wearing wrinkled tights. All manner of gantrys, walkways, platforms, access points, ladders and appendages protruded from almost every part of it. From the boat it looked like a massive version of the game Mousetrap, a mass of interlocked and intersecting sections that appeared and disappeared into the interior and exterior without any apparent meaning to their placement.
On one of the rear concrete legs a steel ladder in a steel cage ran down from the main platform to an embarkation point just above sea level where boats could moor and people could climb up into the main area itself in case of emergency evacuation.
About a hundred yards from the platform on its right hand side a white and red painted trawler boat could be seen moored up, its anchor chain disappearing down into the dark waters. The name Woden was painted on its side and it bobbed merrily as the waves lapped against its sides. A small bottom trawling boat it was used to catch fish on or near the seafloor, including the prawn and cod that were the basis of the fishing in the area. It was the staple of the North Sea fishing industry, one of hundreds of similar craft that every day were busy harvesting the frigid waters for a reasonably profitable return.
The voice of Karl Fuller, one of the team, crackled in his ear piece, “ Jim, the trawler that radioed in the emergency code to the rig yesterday morning looks deserted. “
Jim nodded and said, “ Doesn’t seem to be anyone on board. The emergency call the coastguard received from the boat said that four of the crew were sick and that the other three crew were taking them for emergency treatment to the nearest rig. They must have made it off the boat and then got on the platform”.
Karl replied, “ Both the boat and the rig has been out of radio contact now for over eight hours so we have to assume that what had made the fishermen sick has also made the platform crew sick. Jesus mate, what sort of fucking disease could make over a hundred men so sick that they cant even answer a radio call”.
Jim looked at over at the platform and shrugged “ The coastguard plane that flew over the platform this morning said that something has damaged the helicopter landing platform, possibly a small blow out from one of gas supply pipes, but that the rest of the rig looked structurally sound. We have to assume that whatever the fishermen brought on board the platform is highly contagious. If any of the platform crew had been able to stop the explosion then they would have done so, so that must mean the entire crew is incapacitated”.
Karl inserted a magazine clip into his mp5 a3 9mm sub machine gun and said, “ We have to assume that whatever it was the trawler dredged up from the sea bed was some sort of Word War 2 biological weapon, possibly an anthrax or nerve gas weapon. The other option is that this is an WMD attack of some kind. The intelligence on this is limited, so we go in with safety catches on. But if our own safety is compromised then we are authorised for deadly force but only in self defence o.k “.
Jim nodded. This wasn’t the sort of mission he was used too. Hiding in the darkness of the marshes that line the Shatt al-Arab waterway where the border sits between Iraq and Iran on the edge of the Persian Gulf, exchanging bullets with Iranian special forces teams in the dirty war that followed the invasion of Iraq was what he was used too. Not this kind of thing. The thought that some kind of biological weapon had been used on the rig terrified him. He was up to date with all the current inoculations for most of the known biological and nerve weapons available to terrorists in the world today, but that did not mean he was safe. Far from it. Any nutter with a chemistry set and a degree in chemistry or genetic engineering could download DNA code segments off of the internet and build their own biological weapon these days. You could even order DNA segments of diseases such as smallpox and make your own versions of the disease if you wanted too. God knows what could be waiting for them on the platform.
Karl looked at Jim and shook his head, “ I don’t like this mate. Something doesn’t feel right. The platform hasn’t pumped any oil since around midnight last night, so someone must have shut the platform off, and that means this was a deliberate shutdown. The damage to the helipad suggests someone doesn’t want us here, so be ready for anything once we get topside “.
They were now directly under the main body of the platform and as the boat pulled up alongside the concrete leg with the steel ladder on it, one of the team jumped onto the platform. One by one six of the team dismounted the boat whilst the driver expertly manoeuvred the boat in time with the waves that crashed around them.
Jim tensed himself and as the water rose he jumped onto the platform, as Karl followed. Two of the crew stayed behind with the boat.
He watched one of the team clamber deftly up the ladder and as Karl grasped the bottom ring with one hand and pulled himself up the steps, he followed him.
The silence on the platform was eerie. None of machinery was running and no lights could be seen. It was though the entire platform were dead.
A cold chill ran up his spine as he moved up the ladder into the underbelly of the platform itself.