Nanoplague

Standard

 

NanoPlague

Dash McCallen

The runabout Ursus’ interior lights powered up and the onboard computer bootstrapped into service.

“Operational Database Interfaced Network, O.D.I.N  online.”  

“ODIN, recognize Lieutenant Regulus Bondman in command of the galley and cafeteria. I need a list of included teams and the specific dietary needs. Please, list the names by herbivore and carnivore classes.”

“Please, stand by. Accessing database of assigned crews.” The bass-voiced speaker rumbled in the ceiling.

“List and print onboard inventory of protein base to my display. Display designator Alpha07.” Reg tapped on the tablet he held in his hand.

Lieutenant Regulus Bondman continued his pre-mission inventory of the kitchen alongside Lt. Callisto “Calli of the Galley” Angustifolius. They were close friends and lovers when the chance arose.  

Regulus, as a human, found that the Lupus Sapiens hybrid to be enthusiastic when spending time with him. Although some of her DNA was non-sapien, she was part wolf, her mind was brilliant and as she could walk like a human, her abdominal fur was luxuriant to the touch, more so than a fluffy puppies tummy.

And her tongue?  Well, Reg, as his friends called him, found out that a Lupus hybrid doesn’t kiss like a human, instead she would use her long tongue to lick his neck and face when she walked by.  This was her version of a kiss, that in his opinion was both a shock but a thrill at the same time — If a bit of an embarrassment if she’d pick the most inopportune moments to do it when he wasn’t expecting and he was on his headset trying to hold a conversation with someone or he was carrying a large object.

She’d laugh at him in good humor if he had his hands full and her saliva in his ear while he stood there immobilized in shock.

“We need more loading packets for the protein resequencer.  We have…”  Reg paused his comment as he read through the ship’s manifest cross referencing the passenger list. They checked off the required nutritional requirements of each species of the crew.

“Lieutenant Commander Benjamin A. Gyas.” Reg sighed as he read the name from the list and shook his head. “Damn.”

“Ben Gyas, the bear? Yeah, I know him. He’s sweet and more than a little cute. And wow, yeah, he can eat more than an entire wolf pack if you let him. I’ll order more protein base now.” She smiled and the bright blue eyes from the human side of her genome along with her pointed ears enhanced the look of joy about working with her favorite human when buzz sounded from her inventory screen with a note “Message Timeout, Try Again Later”.

“Reg, I have to go back to the kitchen to get more protein packs. The messages I sent aren’t getting through for some reason.”  She was less formal now that they were not among other cooks and crew.

“Okay, but hurry back. The survey teams will start embarking in about a half hour. I already have pasta cooking for a double baked meat lasagna after we depart, and I still haven’t started anything for the herbivores.”

“And we’re bunking together?” She winked. “I have plans for you after we get off shift.”

This lupus is a horn-dog when she’s in a mood. Reg laughed and shook his head.  It’s obvious she never read the memo that mating season for wolf hybrids was only once a year.

The “galley” of the medium-range runabout Ursus was spacious.  A full complement of cooks could feed the crew of the Longbow in the galley of this size. The runabout was built with very stout specifications. A well-constructed bear of a ship, designed to leave and extend the reach of the Longbow’s teams, explore new planets in extreme hostile environments and keep the teams safe.  The Ursus was built for exploration with potent shields to protect against radiation and collisions with the stray rock, its powerful engines allowed it to land in any gravity well tolerable to crew. And this was his first time in charge of the well-appointed galley,  it made Reg smile.

 It would be a good change after the tragedy on the planet below.

“ODIN,” Reg addressed the computer. “I need a check on the deliveries of water and protein base. We’re running short of time.”

“The delivery transport is located at the pantry behind the kitchen.”

“Send a message: ‘Hurry up, please. We’re scheduled to depart in three hours.’ Post it as urgent.”

“Verbal message sent and pending receipt, Lieutenant Bondman.”  ODIN responded with a formal tone.

The exploration ship, Longbow, a massive science vessel, a  three-kilometer from stem to stern long, two-kilometers at the widest and a thousand meters from keel to superstructure in a rough lozenge shape. A swift and capable ship for deep space exploration around the, so far unnamed, K-type star, discovered by the Galactic Remote Observatory, Kuiper- with the acronym of GROK.

The first planet explored in the ten-planet system had evidence of an advanced civilization, but it appeared to be long dead. The find was exciting to everyone on the ship.  Teams of geologists and xenoarcheologists took shuttles down to the planet.

The dig sites were as exciting as the visual survey from space. There was one thing curiously missing.

Life.  Simply, there was none.

No bacterial reservoir underground or a buried endolithic lichen could be found.

Xenobiologists mapped for DNA in the air and found nothing.  All carbon based material was tied  

Something had killed the planet. Nothing grew. No plant, no fungus, not even a slime mold.  

And another curious observation. Bodies were missing. No fossils, no decayed remains of plants or tree stumps.There were fossils in a collapsed ruin of a museum, a rich history.  But nothing with an organic structure.

It was all bare mineral soil.

A mystery, considering the amount of synthetic material that was dated by molecular decay scan put the ruins of the planet at more than two hundred-thousand years old.

The geologist team who surveyed what appeared to be, at one time, a reservoir for water to the desiccated community downstream.

Fifteen kilometers up a canyon, above the well-designed water distribution system the survey team’s shuttle landed on a flat spot, the pressure of the displaced atmosphere caused a small handful of soil to be displaced in an unnoticeable move over the edge and out of sight.  The handful of gravel caused a fist sized rock to roll down a hill that knocked a couple more stones loose as a dozen stones continued on their path, determined by gravity and unchecked by any obstruction.  

The slide gathered more stones, rocks, and soil not held in check by roots of plants or even moss. It happened quickly and the weather survey team at the top of a desiccated peak had no clue what they had started.

The landslide traveled over small hills, its speed topped seven hundred kilometers per hour and only the alert eyes of Qwantay Paris kept more people from dying as she yelled for everyone to return to the shuttle.

But Captain Katherine Scrivener wanted to know all the details after the dead and wounded were brought back.  

The kitchen crews were under request of the First Officer Kurrg, a Panthera Tigris Sapiens hybrid who had served under the command of Captain Scrivener for the last five years.

Although the captain and the first officer trusted each other implicitly, the arguments could get loud, even through the closed doors of the Captain’s office. Like any roaring match between lion and tiger could be.

Still, the missions were scheduled for other survey teams to take the runabout Papillion to the other three planets and assess them for any relics of a civilization.  

Careful examination of the planet below, revealed no radiation or products of a nuclear war, nor any biological contaminants that might indicate biological warfare. Not even toxins.

Power generating plants were in good working order. Nuclear plants had long ago gone into a shutdown mode and were totally dead.  

The Captain Scrivener brought the full capacity of the Longbow to bear on the investigation of the accident and to further examine the planet to find out what happened. The other survey teams would take forty people on a seven day traverse through the asteroid belt and explore the two remaining planets for evidence of war or something more cosmic.

One theory was a supernova may have sent a gamma ray burst into the K-star’s system and sterilized it. But no evidence had yet been found.

So, the investigation was multifold: Survey the other planets, find the causes for the avalanche, and what caused the civilized planet to be abandoned in what appeared to be an instant.

Dr. Honie Pers was directing the movement of equipment on board of the Ursus and stopped in for a cup of coffee.  

“You’re the doc, Doc.” He smiled. Dr. Pers was addicted to earth’s native black brew of stimulants. She was an intensely funny woman who was known to have little use for politicians and policies at the cost of people’s lives.

“Thank you for clearing the freezer for the bodies, Reg.”  She nodded. Stuck with the catalogue of the dead.  Her drinking partner, Dr. Eta, was killed in the avalanche and Dr. Pers asked to be reassigned to the Ursus for exploration. She was unable to perform the autopsy after the incident. “I appreciate the speed and the care you gave them.”

“No worries, Doc.  I was following orders from the chef, besides, I like Professor Eta.” Reg looked down and corrected himself. “Liked. Sorry.  He taught at the University of Sapphire where the United Planets have their central headquarters.  I attended there for a few years.”

“That’s a good school.” She took a sip of her coffee and looked at Reg with a smile. “You brew a good cup.”

“The protein sequencers do a passable job at reproducing the coffee. But I keep a five kilo-bag of raw beans in my room. I roast them in the kitchen in between food preparations, about two pot fulls worth a night.” He tapped his pad and a crystal-clear cylinder of a gel that looked like the transparent albumen of eggs loaded into a dispenser, the clear proteins were synthetic and machines could resequence them into any food item.  “A single kilogram can replace two-metric tons of food when it recombined proteins with air and water to create food-grade hydrocarbons and fats that mimicked the texture and flavors of what the different species’ nutritional requirements — And the flavors that they liked to eat.”

“That’s creative! I’ve never thought about the back of the kitchen, how you all created the food.  I figured I didn’t want to really know where you got the proteins to resequence.” She said just as her handset buzzed.  She looked down, tapped on the screen and nodded. “The exciting part of the survey, we found that the wounded people on the geological survey team are healing at a rate about a thousand times faster. There are nanobots in the soil that are healing the wounded.”

“Nanobots?” Reg stopped installing the protein base into dispenser and looked at the Doctor.

“Yes, we discovered them on the cadavers that were put in body bags then put in your freezer.” She smiled. “Doctor Ferso discovered them in the beginning. They are slow moving and tiny. Ten-thousand can fit inside of a red blood cell with room left over.”

“I want to call them Eta’s discovery, but the message on my handheld was that Doctor Ferso wants first rights to name them.”

“I’m surprised they work at all.” Reg said as he programmed at the kitchen’s master computer, syncing his pad with the different needs of the crewmembers. “All the images coming up from the surface looks like it’s been dead a long time. The way it looks, like a huge fire. It looks almost burned out.”

“Yes, that’s the consensus. Something had a very destructive effect on organic material. So far, we haven’t found any trace of organic material.” she drained her cup of coffee and looked at the time. “Where are my people? They’re supposed to be bringing equipment.”

Reg’s handset toned. The screen illuminated when he looked at it, it made him smile. It was Calli.

“Hey, you…”

“Reg, listen. Something’s going on. There is movement in the freezer where they put the bodies. They have a security team here with weapons.”

All non-security personnel evacuate the kitchen. Report to your emergency stations.

“Reg…”

Then the ship address system came online.

All personnel, intruder alert. Lock doors and shelter in place. All non-security personnel clear the passageway. Repeat, security personnel only in passageways.

“Calli, come to the Ursus if you can.” Reg looked around and the Doctor was tapping controls on the loading ramp, closing it and airlock. “Shelter here, safest place there is.”

“No, I can’t make it. I’m going to try and go to my room, it’s just down the hall. They’re pushing people into rooms together.” Calli sounded worried as she was jostled while she spoke into the screen of the tablet. “I’m not even going to get to my room.”

“What’s going on?” Reg demanded.

“I don’t know.” She answered with a little fear in her voice, and for a lupus, that was as close to hysteria that she would get. “I’ll get there as soon as I can.”

“Well, I know.” The doctor turned around, her handheld computer was lit up.  “They’re transmitting to me a whole database.”   

Doctor Pers went pale.

“The critically wounded have changed. Chief Medical Officer Cyprus has sent me that the nanobots have affected the geologist. He bit…”  She tapped the screen.  “Oh. Dear God. They’ve animated!  The cadavers. Doctor Eta is attacking people. “

A scream sounded from out in the hangar, Reg ran up the stairs to look from the bridge of the runabout.

People were being attacked by silver skinned creatures in service department uniforms. Hangar control office was a scene of a pitched battle.  Reg watched the humans with fist sized holes of flesh bitten out of them do a rapid, physical change into a walking nightmare of silver skin horror, and death lean.  While he watched the carnage, someone hit the console emergency override and opened the hangar doors to open space.  

Bodies, pallets of equipment, anything that was loose flew out the door. Shuttles and runabouts were anchored in their positions with mag-locks and didn’t move.

Captain Scrivener’s voice could be heard in a broadcast over his handset and tablet.

Security team-blue to engineering. All other security personnel report to the bridge.

Two minutes later, the lights went out. Emergency com-systems illuminated and speakers that were never meant to be used, boomed out the Captain’s voice.

Abandon ship! All hands! Abandon ship! This is not a drill.

The inner airlock burst open as if someone set an explosive, but Reg couldn’t hear it in the vacuum of the hangar.

Until the tsunami of air, bodies and hardware crashed into the side of the Ursus, and now loose of the de-energized maglocks, was blown towards the open doors.

Tumbling bow over stern towards the hangar doors, the Ursus became tangled up with other ships that formed a logjam at the partially opened doors, the sounds of impact on the galley service door. The exterior airlock door was still open, Reg realized, something big few into the airlock.

Until the shuttle Prydwen, tumbled, bounced and hit the logjam of vessels and bodies with the force of an artillery shell and broke the tangled pile of ships, hardware and bodies.

Reg and Dr. Pers bounced around inside of the out of control Ursus like dice in a cup, the artificial gravity of the Ursus wasn’t online yet, they were under the influence of the Longbow’s systems.

ODIN! Emergency stabilize!” Dr. Pers yelled. “All available power to the stabilizers!”

The big runabout stopped tumbling in space and loud sounds of crashes echoed up and down the hallways as the artificial gravity booted up.

“ODIN! System report.” Reg said but he was rewarded only with a high pitched sound was emitted by what was once ODIN.

“Well, that’s not helpful.” Reg groaned. “If it’s not able to respond, we can’t verify orders.“

“You okay, Reg?” The doctor lay in a fetal position on the floor and moaned with her hand over her stomach. “I’m hurt.”

“I’m okay, I thin…” Reg screamed as he tried to take her hand. “My back!”

“Let’s get to sick bay. We’ve stabilized the ship  at the moment.”

“Ugh.” He struggled to his feet. “My shoulder hurts like I have a bad bruise, and it pops like something’s broken.”

Another alarm sounded.

“Of course!” Reg said. “We have more.”

“ODIN!  Define alarm!”

A buzzing sounded, ODIN’s voice was thready but could be understood.

“H-hu-hull,” ODIN paused. “B-br-bre-brea-breach.”

“We’re venting atmosphere.” Reg groaned at the doctor. “Crap, we don’t have anything.”

“I see it! Galley delivery door, where the water vapor is condensing, something hit the door and punched a hole.” She pointed. “About the size of my thumb.”

“I have an idea! He staggered into the kitchen in muttering about glue and starch. Then his voice echoed in the empty kitchen. “Yeah! Ow! Ow-ow! My shoulder! Ow! Hot, son of a mother…!”

With a storm of profanity and comments about pain and the object’s heritage, Reg came out of the kitchen with dripping towels and over his left arm and with both hands, he carried a large plate of what looked like pasta.

“Here! Stuff the towels into the hole.” The erosion of the air had expanded the size of the hole to a ping-pong ball and the atmosphere was venting now in a stiff breeze just a foot from the wall.  

Dr. Pers wadded up a wet towel and pushed it into the hole. The cloth was sucked into the growing hole and stuck. Water boiled and froze at the same time to became a weak dam against the stream of the atmosphere. The stream of atmosphere oscillated through the cloth as the water froze and broke away. With a smile, Reg flipped the plate of hot, cooked pasta against the frozen towels that partly plugged the hole.

Drawn into the smaller holes of the wet towel, the cold water chilled and hardened the pasta. The water-saturated food swelled when it froze and plugged the leak. The pressure of the inside of the Ursus pushed the metal serving plate against the wall, making an effective seal with the cooked noodles.

The loss of the atmosphere was stopped.

“Well, that was exciting.” Doctor Pers said.  

“We’re safe now.” Reg said, as he took a third towel and smoothed around the edge of the seal.

“Where did you learn that?” The Doctor asked.

“Academy training in the event of a meteor strike. Anything wet and flexible can be a sealant and it will fill a hole.  And a thick enough paste will plug some pretty large holes. I just wasn’t sure that the hole might be too large. So, I used a wet towel to plug the biggest part of the hole, then use the pasta to seal it.” He smiled, then groaned in pain. “Now, can you fix me?  I fixed the ship and burned my hands and my back is killing. Now, it’s my turn?”

“Let’s get some images of your shoulder.” She smiled, but she appeared more pale than before.

“Okay, Reg, see here?” The doctor pointed at the image on a handheld display screen and used a clinical tone.“You have a fractured scapula.”

“Not much can be done. It’s not displaced. You have some internal bleeding and the bruise will spread. I have something to prevent much more bleeding. But for now, we can sling the arm and some pain control, but you’ll just have to heal. We don’t have the facilities on board to do any surgery anyway.”

“Okay, then,” Reg pondered. “Let’s get to cleaning up the kitchen and pour some coffee and figure out what we are going to do. The Longbow will need our assistance.”

She shook her head and read the report that her previous college had sent them with a video.

“To any station receiving this: I am the Chief Medical Officer of the Longbow. We have lost power and are falling into the gravity well of an uncharted planet. Do not land on the planet. It’s contaminated with an alien technology beyond our understanding. I am transmitting on all frequencies the data we have uncovered. Anyone who came in contact with the planet has mutated and have become aggressive. There is a battle in the corridors, security has been overwhelmed.” Sounds of weapons fire got louder and the look of of the Chief Medical Officer was one of resignation. “Do not rescue us. The ship is on a self-destruct course. All data we are transmitting on all channels. Any station receiving this, this is the Longbow…” The video abruptly ended.

The Longbow was lost.  

“Callie.” Reg whispered at the display the pain of her loss not registering yet. “Callie.”

The data that the chief medical officer sent in an emergency broadcast had been downloaded to her data management device and she scrolled through the information and began to swear.

“Lieutenant,” for the first time, he heard her groan in pain. “We have some serious problems. And now, I need your help.”

“Doc, what is it?”

“When we were thrown around a pushcart landed on me with supplies. I don’t remember what. All kinds of crap was flying around.” Regulus noted she had a definite pallor while she spoke. “My right side is tender. I can’t move much to that side. I’m beginning to see a bruise like you have on your back.”

“I have a bruise?” He tried to look around his shoulder but squawked when the pain stopped him. “I’ll believe you.”

Regulus pulled his data pad out of his vest pocket and began to type.

“Um, Doc, how long will we be on this tub until we get rescued?”

“Okay, here’s the deal.” She read the detailed report. “The planet is covered in nanobots.  To the ratio of one part per trillion. It’s in the dust, it’s airborn.  At first, it was overlooked because they aren’t organic and don’t appear to be active.”

She traced her finger over the screen and changed the page.  

“These are so small. They can fit ten thousand in a red blood cell and still leave room for the cell to do it’s job.”

“That’s nice, but what can they do?” Reg asked.

“Getting there.” She read on. Took a deep breath. “Okay, each nanobot is also a bit of information.  A zero or one. On or off. Individually, they can’t do anything but mainly replicate. Doctor Gray noted that the nanobots began to help heal wounds. They were using adipose tissue from other parts of the body to rebuild broken bones, repair lacerations.” She flipped the screen and changed the page. “Individuals can do little, but the more they replicate and add to the group, they become a collective program.  We just don’t know what the program is.”

The doctor shook her head and looked at Reg.

“Was.” She corrected him. “This was written in real time during the exam.”

She read on. “The nanobots are repairing broken bones at an incredible rate.  We may have a discovery that would reduce surgical and injury downtime. Including, old injuries that seem to be repaired.”

“That doesn’t seem bad at all.” Reg said. “Like a good discovery.”

“It reads that way for a few pages. Known chronic illnesses undetectable. Arthritic joints healed in our older crewmembers.” She flipped through the screens. “Until this entry. The dead are reanimating, but are mindless. The nanobots are out of control and resequencing the most grievously injured wounds to another DNA pattern we aren’t familiar with. The corpse’s of team members awoke hungry and are getting aggressive. It seems that the nanobots are using all available proteins to repair the dead tissues. We can’t feed them enough and Nurse Jameson Curtis was bitten by one. The nurse lost a finger to the bite, but it grew back in less than an hour.”

“Okay, some downsides.” Reg said as they walked to the bridge of the Ursus.

“The nurse changed over the following hour and Jameson became violent. From appearances, he lost weight as his normal endomorphic body type has become more ectomorphic. His appearance has taken on a pallor, a color of gray similar to brushed aluminum with reptilian scales.” The doctor read on. “People with minor injuries of broken bones are healed in minutes, depending on level of contamination. Those with more grave injuries don’t just heal, they change. The nanobots program themselves to alter the whole body. Then, it’s as if the program becomes corrupted and then it reverts to changing the DNA to the non-terran DNA that they were originally programmed with.”

“Holy crap. So a little wound is good, but if you have a bad wound? Like a bullet hole. You change?” Reg asked.

“It sounds that way. And not just bullet holes, Reg. I’m in trouble.”  She looked at him with panic in her eyes. “I’m bleeding inside, something is torn. I can feel my heart beating in my abdomen and it’s swelling. Oh god. I was having such a good day, too. I thought we might get a trauma nurse to help me with the abdominal repair. I would normally have a few hours before I bled out too much.  I could teach you how to use the equipment, but…”  She looked at the door of the kitchen.

Tears rolled down her cheeks.  

“The equipment wasn’t delivered yet. I’m going to change on you.”

No!” Reg yelled at the doctor for the first time. “We aren’t contaminated.”

“The entire ship has been contaminated, the nanobots are airborne. They weren’t organic. They were too small and too few at first to be detected. We can’t assume that we are free of them.  Any place we go, we will contaminate, even with just one.” She whispered.  “A single nanobot would sterilize a world by replication. I’d bet that’s what happened to the planet.” She pointed out the window of the mess hall at the receding world the Longbow teams had so recently surveyed.

“The nanobots were inactive because they had stripped every protein possible to build their version of people.  Eventually, they ran out of organic proteins and consumed the plants.  Hydrocarbons were made out of water and soil. That turned it into  a desert planet. They consumed everything and left dust. The last living things were consumed by the nanobots who needed the energy to continue.” She looked at him. “We’re a plague ship. Any place we stop, we’ll destroy.  And I will change first. I can feel the changes now.  I have lost weight, and I don’t think I’m bleeding. So, the nanobots aren’t fully activated yet, but the effect is ominous. It’s like a cascade effect, one starts all the rest.”

Reg sat with his mouth open. The meaning of what she said was too big for his mind to wrap around. But, she was correct. When she walked on board the Ursus just an hour ago with her properly tailored uniform, it had perfectly fitted to her.  

“What about the gray goo effect?  They should disassemble like everything? Rocks, metal- everything?”

“I don’t know that, I’m a Doctor, not a nanotech engineer.” She shook her head weakly.

The Doc’s smock now hung on her like it was at least one size too large and her cheeks appeared to be sunken.

“Well, maybe we can transmit the data from here and get to a robot medical lab for help.” She tried to look for a bright side.

“No, doc.” Reg said. “I’m trained as crew, not engineering or command. I’m a cook, but I do have a working knowledge to do basic navigation and stuff. The Ursus has a type-A drive. We’re limited to just over twice of lightspeed. Longbow had a type-D. It could do a magnitude greater speed than that, maybe more.  And our transmit range for data is a lot less than the Longbow. We’d have to be in a system for them to hear us.”

“Hear you, is more likely.” She said cryptically while she stood and walked around the kitchen. “I’m hungry. Do we have anything? I’d like some eggs.”

“Eggs?” Reg was suddenly alarmed. “With your belly? Doc, is that wise?”

“Sunnyside up.  Just lightly cooked. Bread, if you have it.” Her eyes had a noticeable glint. Like she was on the verge of tears. “I”m healed, in a twisted sense.”

She’s been crying.

“Doc, how many eggs?”

“Three.” She paused. “No, four.”

“Four eggs? Doctor?”

“I’m fine. I’m the Chief Medical Officer on board.” She gave him an odd look. “Reg, oh.”

She put her hands to her face.

“Oh, no.”

“What?”

“I’m changing now. I want to eat raw eggs and I’m looking at you.” She tore her eyes away. “I just thought of you as food.”

Reg panicked, her skin was definitely a metallic-gray hue. He hadn’t noticed the subtle change until she moved.

She was also even more slim, easily ten-kilos less. The change was accelerating and he could see metallic scales forming on her skin.

“I…” Doctor Pers made a sobbing sound. “I’m sorry. I need to go to the airlock. You need to lock me in.”

She walked quickly, almost at a run while she motioned Reg to keep up.

Doctor Pers staggered as she stepped into the opening of the cargo airlock. She grabbed at a large, red handle to steady herself as the interior door slid shut.

The handle, Reg noticed, had block lettering on it in white.

“Exterior airlock override”

“You cannot let anyone make physical contact with the ship, but you need to transmit everything on my medical pad.  It should be uploaded to ODIN for safety, back it up. You will be okay with the broken shoulder.  Don’t get badly hurt or you will change.” Reg wasn’t certain that her voice was attenuated from the intercom or if her voice was changing.

Her face had become shiny with faceted crystal teeth.

The crazy thought hit him. Crystallized?

“Doc! What do I do?”

“Go to the outer stellar observatories. They’re the closest and have good data bandwidth. Reg, can you do that? Can you make it there?” She closed her eyes and looked as if she might weep. “You have to get in range and warn people to stay away from this system. It may already be too late.”  

Before Reg could answer, she pulled the emergency latch and opened the hangar door.

Reg screamed as her body shrank from sight out into space and left him on the Ursus.

Alone.  

Then he realized.

The Ursus was his first command.

Reg shook his head and wept, in another time and place? He would’ve partied.

It was supposed to be seven days with forty people and Calli. He and Calli would have spent all their off hours in each other’s arms while the survey teams were trudging around in the muck of the planets.

He would have loved to have spent time in bed with that long-tongued Homo Canis Lupus Sapiens for a week of nights.

Regulus Bondman turned and walked back to the bridge, while his fingers tapped on the information pad.  

“ODIN, display damage report.”

A squeal that was ODIN’s voice informed Reg that no conversation would be taking place anytime soon.

Reg sighed. He had no skills to repair the system, let alone the voice interface.  He just didn’t know how that worked or even where it was located.   

Flashing red pixels indicated the damage to the stout-built ship. Two stories tall, fifty paces wide and twice that long, it was a limited-range transport and personnel carrier with limited resources compared to the massive three-kilometer-long Longbow.

Once on the bridge, ODIN displayed a fire warning in the holds that contained all-terrain vehicles for moving around a planet’s surface.

“ODIN, extract air from the hold and flood with halide gas.” A high pitched burst of static answered him. The pixel indicating a fire went dark.

“ODIN, cease all voice responses until repairs are completed.” Reg had no idea how to do that, but at least he wasn’t going to go deaf by listening to the shriek of a broken speaker.  

“ODIN, display ETA to nearest deep space stations with data connection.” A long moment passed while Reg hung his head after he read the display. Two weeks at normal cruising speed for the Longbow. Not what he was looking for, but he knew the next answer.

“ODIN, display for maximum cruising speed for Ursus to the same location.”

Eight weeks, three days, twenty hours.

Damn, that’s a long time.

Reg knew how many crates of protein base had been brought on board. With a quick calculation on the pad, if he had seven days of food for forty people, for one person, he had more than enough food.

“ODIN, how much atmosphere have we lost when the ship was damaged?”

This took about a heartbeat longer.

Atmospheric oxygen: 20.95 percent.

Good.

Pressure zero point 98 bar.

“ODIN how convert that to my level of training?”

Fourteen point two one three seven PSI and falling.

“Ack,” Reg boggled. “Falling? Not good!

Reserves ten percent.

Crap on a cracker!

“ODIN, locate and identify leaks.”

A dozen pixels illuminated. Another yellow pixel lit up and flashed a warning of an overheated circuit.

“ODIN, reroute power away from that circuit and mark for repairs.”

The yellow alert went out.

That left the venting problems.

But not all of the leaks venting were atmosphere, but all were venting out.  

Coolant leaks contaminated the air in some sections.  

The list went on. With the agony in his right shoulder, he used his left hand to drag and carry tools to repair or close valves that moved toxic, but needed gasses and fluids through the ship for its operation. He went to work. He hadn’t given up the fight to live. Lieutenant Regulus “Reg” Bondman would fight the universe for every breath, every blink of an eye. He wouldn’t just give up, so he set to work to repair all that he could.

After Reg made his way to the two hull leaks that vented atmosphere to space, he sealed them with simple and easy patches. Pre-constructed patches that were little more than metal plates with peel and stick pads that adhered to the bulkheads and sealed the holes. Then, he worked on into the night until the last coolant leak was sealed. Hours passed and finally, he was finished with emergency repairs.

Reg sat on the command seat once all the repairs were complete. His shoulder was a symphony of pain. He could see the dark blue of the bruise on his shoulder.  It had spread while he worked the muscles, instead of giving the body a rest and ice.

“ODIN, reduce oxygen levels to sixteen percent.”  

Then, he thought about it and tapped on his pad. Altitude of about twelve thousand feet would be liveable.

“ODIN, reduce atmospheric pressure to nine psi.” Reg tapped on the command console. “ODIN, set course for the Copernicus Deep Space Observatory platform. Engage at maximum cruising speed.”

“What is our ETA? Round to nearest day.”

Eight weeks. Four days.

“ODIN, how long will oxygen last until I lose consciousness?”

Three weeks. Six days.

“ODIN, adjust the atmospheric scrubbers up to maximum. Recalculate how long if carbon dioxide is scrubbed out of the air.”

Four weeks. Two days.

Reg sighed.

“ODIN, if I broke down all water sources for the component oxygen, recalculate oxygen levels until I suffocate.”

Five weeks. Four days.

I’m going to take a shower. He’d have said it out loud but he felt out of breath.

He groaned in pain while the shower sprayed many thousands of tiny drops of water on his skin, to clean his skin of everything he could. Except for what he wanted.
Each drop that slammed into his skin had it’s own pain message. Each impact redefined the word “pain,” but every moment the level of pain was reduced.  

The bruise had become large enough that he could even see the edges of yellow, green and blue that had spread from his shoulder to his ribs under his right arm. There was really no need for a mirror to see the glory of the injury he sustained when he bounced around the inside the Ursus.  

His tender flesh rebelled as he turned his back away from the stream that jetted against him. He put his head against the simulated stone tile designed to make crews to feel like it was an organic experience on this interplanetary ship.

Reg couldn’t give two craps right now. He was out of ideas, he was a chef, not a member of any damage repair crew, except for patching holes, putting out fires.

He wept while the water washed away his tears along with the filth of smoke, dried pasta, and sweat.  

And he wished, nanobots.

“I should be more stiff than earlier.” His self-conversation kept him from hearing things. “A few edges are now pale yellow-green instead of that red-purple that new bruises have. So, the internal bleeding’s stopped.”  

 It had only been six hours since he landed badly when the Ursus did it’s the tumbling, out of control exit  from the hangar of the Longbow through the broken airlock doors the size of a football field each.

Six hours ago, Doctor Pers diagnosed him with a fractured scapula. There was little to do, she said, other than to sling it.

Six hours? He shook his head in the stinging spray of water. Only six?

It seemed like a lifetime ago.

His estimated time of arrival to the nearest deep space platforms in the Gliese system was still two months away.

If my oxygen would only hold out that long. He sighed.  A futile wish, but no one ever wants to suffocate.

His mind spun with the catastrophe and pain.

I just need to get this hunk of junk close enough to transmit the information from the medical computer’s database.

He turned to let the hot spray beat on his chest for a few minutes.  

It was all the enjoyment he would get.

He let the near-scalding water wash away his tears, his mind raced with the situation. He never volunteered for this mission from hell, he wanted experience.  An entry on his work history, the experience and spend time with the cutest fur covered female in the fleet.

“I did want my own ship one day. An interstellar catering setup.” Reg banged his forehead against the ceramic tile. He could feel in his mind the impacts resound through the conduits, hallways, and offices. No one to hear them anywhere.

Reg knew it was just a fantasy. He couldn’t hear the echos, but he could imagine the noise echoing down conduits and access tubes.

Alone on this ship, the whole galaxy seems unpopulated.  He turned the hot water up another notch, just above the pain threshold.

Doesn’t matter.  It’ll heal. Maybe even better than before maybe.

Roxana Pilot, an engineer he dated, once told him that eighty percent of the energy an engine produces is wasted in the top twenty percent of the ship’s maximum velocity.  

“In other words,” she smiled at him as they slowly piloted between planets in that wonderful weekend of kisses and coupling. “It’s more efficient to go a little slower than top speed.”

Yeah, Roxana. He spoke to the pleasant ghost of a memory. But I’ve no plans to land anywhere.   

His mind snapped back to the present with a gasp for air, and he was back in the shower. His mind drifted easily in the rarified air.

It’s all I can do is make more speed. But he knew the outcome would be the same. I can’t breathe any less. The way the power units keep overheating, the one thing I have in abundance is smoke. Power generation is no problem, but I can’t do more speed. At least with the oxygen dialed down so low, short circuits done become big fires.

I’m just running out of compressed air cylinders to wear while I spray the fires with the… he couldn’t remember.  The fire – putter-outer stuff.  

Extinguishers!

He shook his head, turned on the cold water, letting the stinging water pummel his face to focus his mind.

Movement.

Just outside of the shower room. Reg pushed open the steam-fogged door.  

“Hello?”

Nothing.

Just his towels. Stolen from the kitchen to dry off with.

Reg stepped out of the shower and dried himself off and walked naked to the galley.  

“Damn, this thing is big with no one in it.” He said to himself as he walked along the cluttered hallway. “We need a food fight.”

He laughed. He would have enjoyed it more, but the laugh took his breath away.

The walk felt a lot more difficult as if he was on a hike in the high mountains. Laughing was not supposed to be a luxury. He had to make oxygen choices. Laughing was no longer one of the givens that this human could make.

Lack of oxygen or carbon dioxide poisoning. Either one was lethal. The products of burning from the fires had polluted the air. The atmosphere scrubbers worked overtime to remove toxins and carbon dioxide as it was.

I wish I knew how to reduce the gravity. It would make it so much easier.

Reg shook his head. He had done as much as he could. He needed another brain and ODIN, the computer, was badly damaged.  

There was no one to talk to other than himself or ODIN, who tracked his movements with small sensors placed everywhere in the ship.

“ODIN, please stop being obvious when tracking me with the cameras, please? It bothers me.”

The cameras all became still and were a simple background.

Still, there was the feeling of movement that was just beyond his sensory range.

“ODIN, scan entire ship. Log anyone that has moved in the last ten minutes and print the results to my pad.”

The response was swift.

One. Listed as Lieutenant Regulus Bondman, sous chef, temporarily in command of the Ursus.

Funny, the computer has developed a sense of humor.

Weird, it seems that I’m missing something.  

Reg walked down the hallway. The sounds of his footsteps attenuated by the thin air in the ship. His feet sounded far away.

Or, is it because I’m hypoxic?

I’m dying.

“Ugh! I’m dying and no one is here to help me!” He punched the wall next to the kitchen door as he went in. “I’ll be dead in a month, choking on my own waste.”

“ODIN, play something rock hard.  Something from the group, Twisted Fate.”

The music sounded tinny, as if all of ODIN’s speakers were blown out.

“ODIN, cancel music.” The sounds were terrible. It reminded him of when he was a teenager. His dad said it sounded like rending metal.  

Right now, his dad was correct.

He wished he was with his old man now, so he could ask him for advice. For help.

Henry Kristopher “Hawk” Bondman, Ph.D. The senior astrophysicist at University of Nova Aquila. His wisdom and wit for raising the children along with the matriarch of the family, Penelope Bondman, Ph.D. and professor of studies at the same school.

Reg loved them both. He would have loved to be at his parent’s house now, drinking mom’s version of coffee. Deep, dark, and would cause your heart to do palpitations for hours after you drank a cup.

Regulus.

“What!” Reg yelled to the room. “Where are you?”

Reg!

Then, an ear-splitting scream. He looked down the table.  

Forks, knives, spoons for eyes made a face on the flat surface.

And it screamed his name.

It was Calli’s voice.

The circle of spoons looked like Calli’s beautiful eyes.

Okay, I’m officially freaked out.

He ran out the door into the hallway. Calli’s image was visible on a wall and then faded as he stared at it.

Wake up! Come back to the hear and now. Mom and dad would expect you to think your way out. C’mon Reg, how would you leave a legacy? What would you say if you could send them a message?

Message!

“That’s it!” Reg snapped his fingers and headed to the bridge.

He climbed the steps to the command level, and there he saw her.

Most of her, anyway.

Calli.

Her face was fully formed, but the rest of her body appeared skeletal, like a real life stick figure drawn by a child in an art class. Bones took shape over the basic construction, but the eyes were Calli’s.

“Reg.” Her mouth articulated his name. “You left me.”

“No!” Regulus’ mind almost unhinged. “We were ordered to shelter in place. The doctor even locked the ramp.”

The ghost took a hesitant step towards him. She was fully formed, naked, but with the fine, downy fur that was her species that made it heaven to touch her.

Reg shook his head.

“Calli? You can’t be Calli.” His voice was high and tight.  

“No, we are a recreation of the one that you last spoke to over the communication systems. The details of her appearance are in the medical files.” The Calli-Clone said. “We felt it imperative that you are not alone. No one needs to die here.”

“Her medical file? Ugh, never mind. You know everything. I’m already dead. The Longbow crashed into the planet that you’re from, we had a hull breach and we vented three-quarters of the atmosphere in the runabout. So, I’m dead in a few days, long before rescue is possible.” Then he got angry. “And you, all of your kind, turn us into some kind of alien that eats everything.”

“No, Reg.” She took a hesitant step. “We’re not changing anyone. There was a simple mismatch of our technology and your alien biology. We didn’t understand  the senescence of your kind.”

She smiled in a way that was so much like Calli. It took Reg’s breath away.

“We meant no harm, only to heal. We didn’t understand what death is to you and the reanimated needed protein. It was an error. But, we learned. The more there are of us, the more we understand.”  She reached towards him. “Come, take my hand. Let’s sit down and talk.”

Reg recoiled in horror.

“Really, Reg.” She smiled gently. “Nanobots are in you now. A touch by my hand won’t change anything.”  

“Still, you’re just a pile of nanobots holding hands.” He tried to sound braver than he was.

“I feel cold.” Calli-Clone folded her arms over her breasts. “I need to find some clothes. I’m not just ‘a pile of nanobots holding hands, Reg. Down to the very molecule, I am physically a perfect Callisto. Her medical profile is in our memory. Even down to the scars.”

“So, you have her memories?”

“No.” She looked at him with sad eyes. “We have her emotions, but we are not Calli.

“Teach us.” Her face brightened with a smile again. “We can learn about the species of your society and be a huge benefit to everyone. Yes, there were errors made in first contact. Don’t let it devolve into something that it’s not. Let me be Calli.”

She held out her hand, again, and he refused to hold it. She was as intelligent as Calli and just as well spoken.  

And she looked so very much like her. Down to the scar on the shoulder she sported from a surgery after a climbing accident when she was young.

Except for tattoos. They were conspicuously absent. A skull with a brace of pistols as crossbones from her favorite novel was missing from her left breast.

And his name. Regulus Bondman, tattooed to the inside of her thigh, was also missing.  Neither tattoo was ever recorded in any medical file.

So, they don’t know everything. Reg pulled at his chin. That’s useful.

“Reg, where is my room?” He led her to their room a few doors down.

When she entered the room, she made a slow circuit around until she came to a picture on a low table and picked it up. It was the image of them at a party.  

“You and Calli were mated?” She looked at Reg.

“We were intimate.” He answered and she put the portrait of them down.

She went towards the bed of the small quarters and pulled on the knob of a drawer to lifted out sheer negligee.

“Should I wear this?” She gave him a sideways glance. “This is not in the database.”  

“I thought you wanted a uniform?” Reg infuriated by this intruder pawing through Calli’s stuff. “You’ll need her uniform is in the closet.”

“Reg, Relax. We have a long time to learn.” Her smile faltered a little and she opened the closet. “You should teach me the nuances of what I will need to know to be an ambassador to the other worlds.”

“Ah, no.  You aren’t even organic. You’re a…” He paused. “I don’t know what the hell you are.”

“If you were to take a skin sample, you’ll find that I have cells, albumin, DNA, mitochondrial function.” She looked at him, a tear formed in the corner of her blue-husky dog eye. “I’m as real as Calli. I’m also more than her.”

He watched her dress, this artificial construct of his dead Calli. Then was revolted at himself for thinking of her body. He knew what kind of message he should send to the nanobots.

Message!

“What’s wrong, Reg?” She stroked his shoulder. “We can make it to the shipping lanes. You have a ten metric tons of gelled protein. We can convert them into oxygen. It won’t be a problem to create enough oxygen for your survival. We can survive without oxygen, so only enough for you is needed.”

He stood at the docking port and looked out the porthole for a moment. This clear, armored ceramic that sealed between the interior of the ship to the vacuum of space was where the doctor made her final goodbye.

“What if a planet won’t accept your presence in their environment?”

“We will convince them. We will change them for the better, they will see we are good for people.” She smiled. “They won’t be sick, they won’t age, if they fight, we will change them.”

“Right.” He yanked on the airlock manual override lever and grabbed the passageway handrail.

The Calli-Clone didn’t have time to scream before she was swept up in the roar of hurricane force winds and out the black hole into space. Reg pushed the lever back to the “close” position and locked it.

He had to send a message. In a month, he would suffocate to death. Then, the nightmare would begin.

He would be modified by the nanobots that were in him. They would fix the dead cells of his body and  he wouldn’t remember anything.

With a sigh, he sat down and started the video journal of the last days of his life that was to be transmitted to the Medical Network automatically.

First order of business.

“ODIN, navigation change. Plot a course for the surface of Gliese 687.”  Reg paused for a moment after the confirm screen popped up on his screen.

He tapped in his password.

Are you sure? (Y/n)

Am I sure? That’s twisted humor for sure.

He gave a bitter laugh and pressed the green pixel.

Reg didn’t notice any change, but at twice the speed of light, the red dwarf star would appear to be small and blueish as he approached.

“I’ll be dead anyway.”

He tapped a command on the pad and turned on the captain’s communications screen, took a breath and began.  

“ODIN, lock navigation controls.” Reg thought a few minutes, then made his way to the engineering section of the ship.

With a sigh, he pulled the panels off the core navigational controls, pulled the circuit interface cards from the slot and snapped them in half.

“It’s done.” Reg whispered to no one in particular.

“ODIN,” Lt. Regulus Bondman, sous chef, in his first command, gritted his teeth. “I’m sorry, bud.”

He had killed the ship. Their next stop was in the radiant arms of a red dwarf star.

Reg trudged back towards the bridge and sat heavily in the captain’s seat and began recording video.

“I am Regulus Bondman, the sous chef in the kitchen onboard of the Exploration Ship Longbow. I am, so far as I know, the sole survivor of the catastrophe that has killed everyone on board of the Longbow.” He took a deep breath. It was more of a gasp, really. “Do not attempt to rescue me. The Ursus is a quarantined ship. Repeat: The Ursus is a plague ship. This will be my death journal and I will leave the video cameras on to record every moment until the Ursus enters the photosphere of Gliese 687. I will be dead at least two weeks before the Ursus gets close enough for anyone to receive the signal. I have the computer set to transmit all data when it is in range. Do not approach. This is a plague ship.

While he sat there with his face in his hands and wept, a soft, feminine hand touched his shoulder.

“Reg, why did you do that to my other self?” The husky-blue eyes of the husky-hybrid sparkled with anger.  

“Can you show me where I can get clothes?” The nude Calli-Clone asked as if she didn’t know.

 

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Story Prompt. They Dared me for a few minutes- this is a seed of a story…

Standard

Honey enjoyed the party, Halloween this year proved more exciting than in previous years. Her freedom grew while she attended college at Ocean Bay University. The characters of her dorm were such insane women, she was both alarmed and laughed until her sides hurt every weekend.

To Keep her grades up was the greatest struggle, but doable.

This Halloween party was just what the doctor ordered. Mid term testing had driven her dreams and now she was at a party with more booze than she ever seen in one house.

Rebecca, already braless with a white t-shirt was dipping her head into the pool, making the opaque material of her shirt transparent.

Then she dared act all embarrassed when she walked around with puckered nipples.

Honey enjoyed the drinks when she met Zac, a criminal justice major and his friend Dorian who studied chemistry.

The party moved from innocent to adult with a blink of an eye when the school jokesters showed up as strippers. Robert, Dean, Joseph wore fake boobs and G-strings and walked around and rubbed on everyone.

The night wore on, the more people drank, the more clothes fell off.

Honey thought she had consumed too much ethanol and the ground began to spin and move while she danced in Robert’s arms.

Except he looked around, too, tension on his face.

“It’s an earthquake.” He said. “It’s Only a 3.5…”

Then the power went out.

Screams and laughter echoed around the party house.

It would not be many minutes before “Oooh’s and ah’s!” became screams of horror and terror…

The Failed Getaway

Hypnos the cat gives a command
Standard

The Failed Getaway

A short story by Dash McCallen

Bodies had piled up around his farm. Malam Plando’s farm was a garden of horrors anywhere the police dug into the ground.

In the end, charged with sixty-two separate counts of murder, it was common thought he had a list longer than the investigators discovered.

His trial lasted over a year.

The Verdict?

Guilty.

Sentence?

Death.

In the six-months after his conviction and his move to Death Row, his turn came. Few people who the courts convicted in recent decades, executions happened quickly. Three appeals, expedited to last no more than two months.

He, it was his name and he was about to scream it out loud in laughter.

Inmate number 1854X-195S5-1-31E walked with confidence to the execution chamber. In a glass-walled room with blinds obscuring the view to the chamber beyond, the guards assigned to his restraint, wordlessly strapped him to a padded, vertical board.

With some effort they rotated him and the board so that he was in a supine position.

*Taking the last bit of dignity I have*

He shook his head.

*Idiots. They don’t even know what is coming.*

Two days before, his wife paid a visit to him for one last “Conjugal” visit.

His brother passed on to him in a video stored in her phone.

“Courage brother! When they think they come for you, we have an answer.”

He laughed.

*The left strap is already loose, it won’t be hard get the arm out.*

A chill from the sterile swab then the sharp sting when the technician stuck the IV catheter in the antecubetal space of his left arm.

Dark humor. They were thinking he was going to die, why did they use a sterile technique?

“Do you have any last words?” A disembodied voice sounded and the blinds opened, revealing a crowd sitting in the gallery.

“Yeah. I’m a little thirsty. When you get the call, I want my water with light ice.”

The sound clicked off and for a moment, the room was quiet except for the sound of his cardiac monitor. An old style display that gave off a mosquito-like whine that he could hear.

He could see a different color fluid creep down towards his arm.

They already began the execution and the clock…

It ticked past the time, they were late! His rescue was not coming!

Then the lights went out, only the setting sun slanted through the high windows in the chamber.

Malam opened his eyes, they did not focus properly for a moment, but there was no noise.

The tubing in his arm pinched slightly when he scratched his nose.

Then Malam blinked.

His arm was free! Someone had released the strap when the techs and guards fled during the blackout.

*Cowards.*

*But I have not heard any alarms. Some of the drug ran into my arm put me to sleep for a little while.*

Malam grinned.

*People thought I died when the power went out.*

Laughing, the thought of his walking out of the room when no one was looking tickled his soul.

He already had plans for the judges and their families as he stalked the hallway down to where the body-hauler would park.

Darkness in the hallways, only the sunlight from the outside filtered in, it was odd, not even the guards were around, prisoners were gone, too.

*There must have been a hell of a scare to evacuate the other inmates.*

And the gates were open, no doors locked.

As promised, Malam walked free, laughing at the power outage orchestrated by his family and caused the sheep to run frightened.

Even the prisoners bolted, maybe even taken by bus, but no matter.

*Screw them all! I’m free, next stop, where Judge Alkar Chronqui’s family was. I’ll break into the home and put his head.*

Malam looked around and frowned, someone might see him cut across the field towards town, but the power was out and the sun set. Darkness was coming and dark thoughts on his first in town grew in his mind.

Malam smiled, it would be full dark before he got through the open area and to the city park to his cache where he hid his kit of tape, knives, drugs, rope and energy bars.

*The drugs would have expired, I can’t use them on my clients, it might kill them.*

More laughter as he covered the ground towards town when he kicked something in the tall grass and tripped.

A body!

eviscerated, still steaming when he stood up. The coppery smell of blood came from his prison issue shirt.

He was covered in blood.

“Gawd Dayuam! Dey’s comin’ outta de groun’s Ostus! Der’s anudder one! Git ‘im!”

He sqautted down, fishing around the body, looking for a weapon of any kind.

The sound of a baseball bat sounded in his ears. A sound of a grunt, a wheeze of a death rattle, he realized that whoever it was had not seen him.

He crawled through the grass carefully, towards the voices.

His heart was standing still, his breath was wheezing in his ears as he got closer to the voices.

If he could get a jump on them, what a wonderful twist of irony, he could kill someone killing someone.

He could see the top if their heads. They carried bats with nails driven into the fat end.

“No’ so easy ta make a soun’ wit yer throat stuck full’a holes, ain’tit a bish!”

The sounds of thumping and the bloody fluids made a mist. Malam could smell the blood in the air and it excited him.

Malam struck, leaping up and grabbing the first one, called Ostus.

His hands were stronger than he thought when he broke Ostus’ neck, taking the bat, he broke the head of the other wannabe killer.

But the look Ostus and his partner had when he came up, bloodied and muddy, they acted as if they saw the dead rising from the graves.

Malam laughed, carrying the bat with him, he walked off towards the town. He saw another man stand up, also wearing standard-issue.

“Thanks, they were doing everyone from the prison.” The darkness hid the convicts eyes, but they glittered with a mixture of anger and fear. “I want to kill the judge for putting me in there. Then find each and every one of the jurors. I’ve not seen anyone for years, they don’t come to visit.”

“Let’s go. What were you in for?”

“They said I was a cannibal. I was not, they were chewed on by rats.” The pair moved towards the town. “I’m N’oi.”

“Malam. What kind of name is N’oi?”

“What kind of name is Malam?”

“It means Evil. It is what my mother called me.” Malam shrugged and the pair moved off into the dark.

A cop car, the officers were looking at something when the pair stepped out from behind the trees.

Malam gasped at the cops when they turned towards the pair’s approach.

Blood stained their faces and soaked the dark uniforms in a slick that glistened in the dark with coagulated blood.

One officer chewed on an object that looked like a forearm, the other had a foot.

Frozen in their steps,  and the officers saw them and dropped the nightmare snacks and walked towards Malam and N’oi.

Looking at his fellow escapee, the huge convict stood there, drooling, his skin ashen and made no other human sound.

Then N’oi looked at him with eyes that were all wrong, then reached out to Malam with hunger and a snarl.

Malam crushed N’oi’s head with the bat in a single swing and took off in a run. Leaving the cop-things to ponder over the body he left behind, Malam fled to the park.

He sat at the base of a tree he had marked long ago and dug with his hands.

*Those cops… I’ve never seen anyone do that before. That was crazy! Holy crap. Cannibals? Shit! Shit! Shit!*

And he could outrun them with the power of fear.

*That’s another thing that’s bat-shit crazy, cops can run and they do not give up. And… Where the hell is everyone?*

Roads were empty, not a single car to wave down. The town would be quiet at the late hour, but this was a total absense of driven vehicles.

Grimacing at the cold shirt that stuck against his body with clotted blood and made him shiver.

*I need a fresh change of clothes.*

Bodies in the park were milling around, a part of the late summer evening with no power anywhere. He could kill one and take the shirt.

*No, first get the hell out of sight and raid the laundromat. No chance of blood on clothes.*

He slipped through the door, among the quiet machines in the dark of the community laundry.

Looking in through the clear windows into the machines, many held suds and water. A few were dry.

One opened when he pulled on the handle and he found two polo shirts and a hoodie sweatshirt.

As he dressed, he disposed of the bloody mess of a prison uniform shirt and found a pair of jeans that fit.

*A little tight, but they will loosen up some.*

He turned around, a person sat in the corner with their back to him.

He slipped out and looked at her in the light of the rising moon that filtered through the glass. He thought he recognized the heavy-set girl by tattoos of roses on her neck.

It was a memory, like a faded photograph from long ago. She had died pleading that she was pregnant while Malam tied a plastic bag over her head.

*No. Impossible, she is long dead. Part of my collection.*

Malam ran through the shadows of the street, heading to the middle of town. Shuffling people began to follow him. Some chewed on finger-food.

*They’re eating real fingers! The insane asylum must have had a break out!*

He almost screamed when he heard another scream nearby. A man’s voice pleading to anyone for help.

He ran around the corner away from the sound, looking over his shoulder and made sure no one followed him.

And into the middle of it.

*Damned echos!*

Bloodied, shredded. The burly man used the broken picket of a fence as a make-shift weapon.

*Damned good use of a stick!* Malam nodded.

The street fighter turned to throw a walking winged nightmare onto the steel pickets of an iron gate when he spotted Malam.

“Shot! gun! Get the Damned shotgun!” He pointed with the stick at the dropped weapon, surrounded by shells of ammunition.

A scream and he fell over a curb when he backed up from the force of the mob attack by the black bat-winged things.

Malam scooped up the scattergun and cleared the chamber, stuffed two shells into the receiver and turned the weapon to the mass of bodies where screams of battle filled the black sky.

“That all you got! Take this! AAAH! Bite me! Bite this!”

The shotgun bucked in Malam’s hands scattering bat-wings and black flesh while he racked in another round.

Second shot freed the big fighting man.

The tatters of his shirt were a uniform.

*Cop!?* Malam shook his head. *I saved a cop.*

The officer tried to take another step and looked down and screamed again, this time with the sound of a man who knew the unthinkable.

The left leg was denuded of flesh below the knee, two bones stuck out were the creatures chewed off his leg. The look of a man resigned, he was bleeding to death.

“Run!” He yelled at Malam. “Too late for me, get out of here.”

*Don’t tell me twice!* Malam ran with his pockets full of shotgun shells and the big pump-action weapon out in front of him.

His last view was some creature that looked like a cat out of someone’s nightmare on the cops head and chewed while the one-legged man fought like a whirlwind of fists.

Then one fist.

The last Malam saw as he turned the corner was a pile of wings where the cop had been.

*Now where the hell to go?*

The police department would be a good place to go, someplace safe!

*Yeah, right.*

Malam walked around the corner towards the center of town and watched a woman fall under the attack of a pack of skeletonized dogs.

*Okay. Police station, good choice. No one will check on me while this shit goes on!*

He turned and ran to the one place he swore he would never go back to.

He ran headlong into the glass doors— Locked!

*Locked? When the hell does a police station lock doors?*

A noise behind him! A group of creatures followed his movements on the steps.

In front of the group, he he recognized the lesbian couple, his first hunt!

*No. Not possible.* He shook his head. *Damn, stop thinking and run! I have to run! What is happening with the world?*

A car, an ancient Ford with the door open sat on the side of the street, he could mess with that and get it started.

Savage panic set in, Malam ran.

He could see more creatures, a cat with eight-legs coming out of the shadows looked at him and screamed his name!

No, not out of the shadows, out of the ground! It lifted up a manhole cover and crawled out of the sewers.

Panting and sweating like a horse. He stopped in the middle of a park, but not a park, it was the rural cemetery.

*How the hell did I get here?* He needed to get back to the center of town, steal a cop car if he needed! He counted the shells to the shotgun. *Twenty. Twenty shells plus six in the magazine and one in the pipe. Not enough. Son of a bitch.*

A cold hand grabbed him from a bush, feeling for a pulse? He was on no one’s menu!

He forgot his shotgun, the mind of the murderer had only one thought.

*Run!*

He pulled his hand free- or did it let go?

It did not matter, he ran! Out of the ground they came towards him. He recognized them. People he cut up, ran over, burned.

He needed to find tools! Break into a shed or a hardware store if need be.

They were coming, sibilant sounds of horrors that crawled in the bushes, wheezes of these creatures that stumbled, shuffled, walked towards him.

*Fuck! I gotta to run!*

From behind, naked cats with eight-arms that ended in black hands and needle-sharp claws, screamed like the tortured victims of his shop, leapt and swung from trees and crawled like giant spiders over headstones.

Into the darkness Malam Plando ran, chased by familiar faces of walking dead, creatures from nightmares he never had.

His mind broke while he ran with the screams that echoed long and loud in the long-dark night.

****

The execution chamber of the prison, unused for so long, no one could remember how seating was arranged. The sun slanting in blinded some, overheated the room and it was stuffy and awkward.

The witnesses watched the last breath of Malam Plando.

“I hope he is in Hell and suffers a thousand deaths for each one he committed.” The father of a princess who he gave away to another princess at the two women’s wedding.

Turning and walking out. Yor Bas’chet got his wish in ways he never knew.

Doctor Drake checked for a lack of pulse to match the flatline on the screen nodded then paused.

“I would swear he pulled against my hand.” The doctor leaned over and looked into the dead prisoner’s eyes. “He was a coward in the end, look at the fear on his face, the jaw set and lips pulled back as if he was about to scream, eyes wide open. I’d say he was afraid to die.”

“Good for him.” The guard said. “Coroner is here. Let them take him out now.”

“Good, have him sent to Doctor Sherlock Quincy, I want him autopsied. Someone like this needs to be studied, we will slice his brain up and study it.”

“You’re the doc, Doc.” The Lieutenant nodded and made a notation on the notepad.

In the core of the world, Malam became aware someone spoke of cutting him apart.

*Fuck that! I gotta hide.*

Malam Plando continued to run.

Failed Getaway, the escape of I’bin Ba’ad

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Failed Getaway

He had not been born on Terra, although he had returned to the planet of his parent’s birth to bury his mother.

I’bin Ba’ad, drop out student of the College at Velar Naqal returned to bury his mother after an unknown assailant stabbed her.

This was his story.

The police did not originally suspect the son in the murder, his alibi was solid. Video of his office showed him working at the terminal and his time stamp on files fit where he said he was.

What investigators failed to realize, that his skills at spoofing both time and location on files covered his tracks well.

An arrow made of gallium, the cutting head sharpened with percussive taps while it was deeply frozen creating fracture patterns like glass made the edge nearly as sharp as obsidian.

Once the arrow left at high-speed from a compressed air pipe, it passed through the wealthy socialite with devastating results, leaving undetectable traces. 

Once warmed to room temperature, the tool of parricide melted away into the ground.

Unable to find a projectile, the weapon used remained unknown.

Unable to recognize the disturbed soil, the police investigator missed the clue of gallium soaked earth with no explainable reason.

Only until the trail of bodies that seemed to pile up around I’bin that suspicion of his involvement were suspicions aroused about his mother’s death, by then, all evidence was lost.

Eventually, the serial killer I’bin was charged with a young couples disappearance, two women who had recently married.

The misogynistic human-canid hybrid did not show his animalistic DNA.

Other than the blood-lust.

By the time they captured him, the insanity that was I’bin, the killer-wolf charges mounted to over thirty-eight deaths. Another seventy attributed to him, but lack of evidence kept them from being brought to the trials.

Not that the government needed to use the other crimes.

The trial, I’bin Ba’ad, the press dubbed him “The Wolf” was declared sane enough to stand trial and for the first time in two-centuries, the inter-planetery courts, five judges sitting on the bench, listened to the evidence put to the jury.

Never before had the murders of so many involved more than one planet.

The jury of twenty-one retired to study the evidence and returned in three-hours.

Guilty.

The sentence:

Death.

Then an attempt for suicide by cop by attacking the bench of judges.

To his surprise, three of the judges were more than capable of defending themselves.

Taken by the officers to his place of holding, the execution proceeded quickly.

For two-weeks he met with his representative and the one person that stood by him.

Cu’Feur I’ous, to I’bin.

“Worry not, you will get your freedom.” Wolf-eyes looked into wolf-eyes. The two men shared DNA.

They were brothers.

When the date came, I’bin was strapped to the table, he had faith in his brother. He would walk out.

When the witnesses sat, he could see the first plunger start its deadly travel in the tube, pushing a pink drug into the IV line, then at that moment the lights went out.

I’bin opened his eyes, they did not focus properly for a moment, but there was no noise.

The needle in his arm pinched slightly when he scratched his nose.

Then I’bin blinked.

His arm was free! Someone had released the straps when they abandoned the area when the power went out.

Although, he had not heard any alarms. He decided that it was due to the medication that ran into his arm put him to sleep, people assumed he was dead when the power went out.

Laughing, the thought of his walking out of the room when no one was looking tickled his soul.

He already had plans for the judges and their families.

Darkness in the hallways, only the sunlight from the outside filtered in.

It was odd, not even the guards were around, prisoners were gone, too.

But the gates were open, no doors locked.

As promised, I’bin walked free, laughing at the power outage that caused the sheep to run frightened.

Even the prisoners bolted, maybe even taken by bus, but no matter.

Screw them all! He was free.

His next stop, where Judge Alkar Chronqui’s family was. He would break into the home and take a head to put on the hood of the Judge Davie Bleu’s car.

Laughing, I’bin looked around, no one could see him cut across the field towards town, dark thoughts for his arrival in town, it would be dark when he got to the park.

The main park where he hid his kit of tape, knives, drugs, rope.

The drugs would have gone bad, he dare not use them on victims, it might kill them.

More laughter as he covered the ground towards town when he kicked something in the tall grass and tripped.

A body!

Eviscerated, still steaming when he stood up. The coppery smell of blood came from his prison issue shirt.

He had blood soaking his shirt.

“Gawd Dayuam! They’s comin’ outta de groun’s Ostus! Der’s anudder one! Git ‘im!”

He squatted down, fishing around the body, looking for a weapon of any kind.

The sound of a baseball bat sounded in his ears. A sound of a grunt, a wheeze of a death rattle, he realized that whoever it was had not seen him.

He crawled through the grass carefully, towards the voices.

His heart was standing still, his breath was wheezing in his ears as he got closer to the voices.

If he could get a jump on them, what a wonderful twist of irony, he could kill someone killing someone.

He could see the top if their heads. They carried bats with nails driven into the fat end.

“No’ so easy ta make a soun’ wit yer throat stuck full’a holes, ain’tit a bish!”

The sounds of thumping and the bloody fluids made for a mist that I’bin could smell the blood in the air.

I’bin struck, leaping up and grabbing the first one, called Oestus.

His hands were stronger than he anticipated when he broke Oestus’ neck, taking the bat, he broke the head of the other wannabe killer.

But the look they gave as he came up, bloodied and muddy, they acted as if they saw the dead rising from the graves.

I’bin laughed, carrying the bat with him, he walked off towards the town. He saw another man stand up, also wearing standard-issue.

“Thanks, they were doing everyone from the prison.” The darkness hid the convicts eyes, but they glittered with a mixture of anger and fear. “I want to kill the judge for putting me in there. Then find each and every one of the jurors. I’ve not seen anyone for years, they don’t come to visit.”

“Let’s go. What were you in for?”

“They said I was a cannibal. I was not, they were chewed on by rats.” The pair moved towards the town. “I’m N’oi.”

“I’bin. What kind of name is N’oi?”

“What kind of name is I’bin?”

Shrugging, the pair moved off into the dark.

A cop car, the officers were looking at something when the pair stepped out from behind the trees.

I’bin gasped at the cops when they turned towards the pair’s approach.

Bloodied, one chewed on an object that looked like a forearm, the other had a foot.

On cue, the officers dropped the appendages and began to walk towards I’bin.

Looking at his fellow escapee, the convict stood there, drooling, his skin ashen, the big man made no other sound like conversation.

He took off in a run and dashed to the park.

The cops… he had never seen anyone do that before.

Canabalism? In a pair of them?

He could easily outrun them, there was something odd. No cars to wave down, the shirt stuck against his body with clotted blood and made him cold.

He’d need a fresh shirt.

Bodies in the park were milling around, a part of the late summer day with no power anywhere. He could kill one and take the shirt.

He recognized the first person he came across, a heavy-set girl. She had died pleading that she was pregnant while I’bin tied a plastic bag over her head.

And she saw him, making a noise. A cross between a siren and a scream, while pointing with both hands.

She was dead! He knew she was.

He had abused her body in death and knew every pore, every mole.

He took pictures and stared at them for months before he was caught.

I’bin ran down the street, heading to the middle of town, the police department would be a good place to go, someplace safe!

He ran headlong into the glass doors— Locked!

Locked?

More people were following him! He recognized the lesbian couple, his first hunt!

Run! He had to run!

He had to find a cop, someone who could put him behind bars for protection!

What was happening with the world?

A car, an ancient Ford with the door open sat on the side of the street, he could mess with that and get it started.

Savage panic set in, I’bin ran. More people, they were coming out of the shadows.

No, not out of the shadows, out of the GROUND!

He was standing in the middle of a park, but not a park, it was the rural cemetery.

How did he get here? He needed to get back to the center of town, steal a cop car if he needed!

A cold hand grabbed him from a bush, feeling for a pulse?

RUN!

He pulled his hand free- or did it let go?

It did not matter, he ran! Out of the ground they came in the failing light of day.

He needed to find tools! Break into a shed or a hardware store if need be.

He needed to run.

Into the darkness I’bin Ba’ad ran, chased by familiar faces of walking dead. His screams echoed long and loud in the gathering night.

****

The execution chamber of Terra Top Prison, they had not used it in anyone’s memory so the seating was awkward, the witnesses watched the last breath of I’bin Ba’ad.

“I hope he is in Hell and suffers a thousand deaths for each one he committed.” The father of the princess who he gave away to another princess at their wedding.

Turning and walking out. Pha’rem T’ru got his wish in ways he never knew.

Doctor Demonitor Drake checked for a lack of pulse to match the flatline on the screen nodded then paused.

“I would swear he pulled that out of my hand.” The doctor leaned over and looked into the dead prisoner’s eyes. “He was a coward in the end, look at the fear on his face, the jaw set and lips pulled back as if he was about to scream, eyes wide open. I’d say he was afraid to die.”

“Good for him.” The guard said. “Coroner is here. Let them take him out now.”

“Good, have him sent to Doctor Sherman Quincy, I want him autopsied. Someone like this needs to be studied, we will slice his brain up and study it.”

“You’re the doc, doc.” The guard nodded.

In the core of the world of the prisoner, I’bin became aware someone spoke of cutting him apart.

But only if they could catch him.

He continued to run.

And on a personal note: Three hundred miles.

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Long hours of driving, to the biggest little city in the world to visit Mama Dash.

Mom is doing better, a needle slid into the fractures of her back and injected a plastic glue has stabilized the back of the lady whom I  am proud that she will call son.

Her strength and muscle mass has greatly suffered from her last ten-days in a hospital bed.  So now, she tries to use a walker while taking steps.  The first effort was agonizingly slow.

Her greatest effort is to just sit up.  So she will be going to a rehab facility, we have hopes it will be a short stay.   The room she stays in is in Sister Sledgehammer’s home.  There is very little space for her to use a walker in her room.  Overall the house is okay, but the bed-wall clearance is quite small.

Now, after working on that round of ideas and thoughts, Sister Sledge has brought the eleven-year-old uncle-napper and we sat together for some minutes.

With a few nods and winks with Princess #1.  We invited Sister (I am going to have to come up with more names.  I have 4 sisters! One brother who I have not nearly as much contact with as I would like)  who is 11 year old’s mom, to come out to my car.

I made a gift of the lightweight recurve bow, a fingertab I sat up last night and designed for her hand. She walked around the hospital room rattling the fingertabs whilst tied to her finger. LOL

So the day was successful. Got to see mom, got to see dad. Saw two sisters.

And made a pre-teen dance with joy. She promised me she would shoot every day. (I have no doubts) and she also admitted to not started the little story I asked for. (Get her brain exercised during the summer break.) one to two pages of a story about anything she would like.

I would also put it here, with her pen name. (Only eleven, I won’t put her real name out. )  So she seemed excited.  BUt I think it was short-lived. She is far more interested to make the tiny, pointy sticks fly than write. ;o lol.

So let’s send good thoughts to Mama Dash, to the Zombie Snowman in the back yard. And one happy preteen that will shoot her heart out.

For now, I am tired.  I have an achy back, too many hours standing and driving. I cannot sit still.  So I am going to lay down.

Arrival Home, Dogs go Ape.

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A week in Reno and surrounding area while I stayed at the sister’s house while she has about a pound of hardware that held her ribs together from her event of a (Near) Total Body Crunch.

Papa Dash had a surgery. Officially “Outpatient.” but it took 4 days from Friday to Monday before I took the old warrior home. (To my sister’s house where he was staying for the time being with Mama Dash who has her own issues. More on her later.)

So, we have one family member in the hospital for surgery, lasting until Monday, to which sister goes in for surgery, the SAME day. 0.o Okay… We can handle this. I stay at her house, sleeping on the sofa- and I am pounced by a lonely 11-year-old girl who falls in love with Archery– and we shoot until my arms fall off.

Meanwhile Mama Dash who has ongoing back pain -pain that no one can seem to track down- hurts her back again after twisting while sitting on the foot of the bed.  A sudden swelling on the vertebra below the line of the shoulder blades was palpable. *sigh* Mark it with a felt tip pen and let’s go to the ER and get it evaluated. Probably a torn muscle related to the previous pain. Possibly related?  A disk rupture? I don’t know, only an x-ray to find out. I don’t have such installed in my fingertips.

At the ER, things go from bad to worse and the Emergency Doctor transfers Mama Dash to a medical center for comprehensive testing and followup – possibly with an oncologist.

So now, papa Dash is not eating (“Everything Tastes BITTER. I have to force myself to eat.”  … Um, okay.  But overdosing on fruit is unwise. And it came to pass… that yup.  Too many banana’s, etc etc.  Do make things run faster. And RUN is what he does, get the heck out-of-the-way!)

Sister came home on Friday, 11-year-old did the archery with me on the last day and then Xbox to 1:45 in the freakin’ morning when she learned mom was well enough that it was time for me to go home.

But I could not tell her “no” or go to bed. We have had a good time this week and she is lonely with a 15-year-old sister with a social life and friends with cars. Dad is working overtime to cover costs of deductible and copay. Mom is in the hospital, so is gramma, grampa is with gramma.

That leaves the weird uncle with the pointy sticks and bows.  We built the Zombie Snowman (our name for it.) and shot uncountable times. Even got the 15-year-old sister to spend time with us.  She is also hooked. Lol. they have a JOAD team in the school, so I will have some competition next time I go there. lol.

Then time to go home.  A three-hour tour of the beautiful mountains with big clouds and occasional showers. Cool temps, taking deep inhales of cedar, redwood, pine scented high mountain air with a touch of lightning to scent it all.

Then I dive down into the Big Valley. (Look up the TV series of the same name with Barbara Stanwyck, Lee Majors, Richard Long, Linda Evans and Peter Breck) and into the heat. Blech.. I’ll go back to Nevada where the temps are cooler.

BUT!

The dogs start bouncing.  Honey the honey colored dog sits on me, Hershey the Chocolate labrador just pushes her way in. there is no such thing as a still hand. You can put it on her head, scritching does not get it, must MUST be a pat and rub.

Honey, she has her tongue out. Palm wide, two palms long.

“Human, you have been missing, I have to coat you in my saliva to make it better.”

Hah. She sits on me for awhile then goes to lay down in the coolest part of the house- a hardwood floor with a breeze.

Later, I walk outside to water the corn, sunflowers, and pumpkins.  She is watching me so I stomp my foot at her in the universal play language of dogs. “Gonna get you!”

She is “Game ON! Human-who-has-been-missing! Attack!”

Suddenly my arms, hands, feet, legs, are her personal chew toys, she hits me in the chest time and again while I put her into a head lock.

This goes on for a few minutes, then it is off to grab a toy and dance out of my reach every time I try to take it from her to throw.

I assume she wants me to throw it.  But then she keeps it away, until I ignore her then she jumps close and barks at me with a muffled “Woof”.

It is fun to have been missed. So now she sleeps with her head on my foot. her body half in-half out the sliding glass door.

That really looks uncomfortable over the threshold.

Anyway.  waiting for reports on the scans on Mama Dash, Papa Dash has agreed to eat more lean protein and get some complex carbs in.  I suggested Archery (I think I covered that before) but it won’t come to pass, so long as mom is in the hospital.  Food yes.  Archery? Yeah…not so much.

On well.  Honey dog just decided to drop a ball on me and is wagging her tail.  I have to throw it before she starts barking.

Then back to writing that I have been circumvented by an eleven year old who is lonely during the summer. (all her friends went out-of-state and the one that’s left is “always busy”)

I’ll post something soon.

Not counting my High Mountain Adventures.

your fave Up and Coming Author

Dash

Valley of Fear Chapter 2. University Lab

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Chapter 2. University Lab

“Professor, all the remote cameras we put out have taken precisely zero night time images.” Gil sighed as he clicked through the computer files. “Day time images are the same way. Nothing is triggering the equipment.”

“Are you connected?” Professor Ng asked. “Perhaps your using IP4 instead of IP6 addressing?”

“Yes, Professor, I sent an acknowledge signal, I can get a battery check, I can turn it on and scan the area, but there is nothing to pick up.”

“Check the other camera stations.” The long salt-and-pepper hair swayed with his nod. “See there are no images in any of the cameras.”

“Yes, Professor.”

The graduate student clicked through the different files, swearing when he could not remember the different passwords and looking them up.

“Professor Ng? There are images in camera’s in region 3-A and 3-C and three-D. 3-B has no images, Regions 1 and 2, all regions are without images. It is like a wildlife desert, nothing for the camera’s to capture. There has been nothing for a few days, at least, I’m checking dates now.”

“Call Andre, find where he’s at. Have him get in touch with the rest of the team and prepare for a drone for a flyover. After last field trip, this will be the thing I will authorize, unless I can get the university to pay for bodyguards, pair of armed hunting guides and a National Guard helicopter.”

Gil chuckled as he dialed the team captain of the month and started the files for video they could analyzed later.

Reedah Wilson walked in while Gil spoke to Andre on the phone, Gil informed Andre that she arrived and broke the connection.

Explaining the situation to Reedah, she pulled at her ear for a moment. A tell she had when she was thinking something over.

“I have a friend that is a Ranger in the area. I’ll call him and see if there are any strange things they have noticed in the areas we are looking at.”

“Ooh! Reedah. An old flame?” Andre entered the room, putting away his mobile phone.

“I don’t do men, I’ve told you.” She punched Andre in the shoulder.

“Well, exclusively.” She added.

Heads together, they prepared three remote-controlled vehicles to lift off from the back of the roof of the research truck, specially fitted with a rack to carry the extended range quad-copter powered drones. Cameras fitted to the undersides, tops and tested. Specially fitted with UV and IR cameras, they planned to see as many things they could.

“How late are we going to stay out?”

“Only about an hour, we will bring them back about dusk and get back here.” Andre looked at them, “I do not want to stay out there after dark. Something has chased the animals out of the valley, I don’t want to find out what it is the hard way.”

“What do you think it is?” Gil asked, walking up with print-outs of authorization signatures for the professor.

“I don’t know, could be volcanic off-gassing or something. I saw something like that in Yellowstone when I was a kid, they said it was a gas eruption and was driving the wildlife out of the area.” Andre said.

“There is no volcanic activity this far north.” Reedah told him. “You are stretching that theory a lot.”

“Well, let’s overfly the area with these two toys and see what we can see and record it all.

Slipping fingernail-sized chips into the removable media slot and snapped the cap over the chips, locking them into place.

“These are the largest capacity on the market and I broke the seal on them for our use.” Gil said. “We have plenty of recording space.”

“Why are we using memory stick tech when we can network-send the information back to the lab?” Reedah asked.

“Signals get messed up, corrupted. This is just a cover to prevent any loss.”

“Good idea.” Professor Ng said as he walked in again. “Gil, do you have the request paper..Oh good. Thank you.” The Professor said, taking them from the graduate student. “We head out in ten-minutes. We are not leaving the black top, and we are keeping the engines running. If, in the unlikely event there is a gas in the valley, I do not want to wait around, we will launch and then head up to the nearest paved high-point.”

“Yes Professor.” The students said.

The team went to work. They were Idaho’s Natural University of Technical Studies.

Idaho NUTS.

Mosquito at Midnight (A moment of mid-spring night rage)

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EEEEeeeeeeeEEEEEeeeee.

The sounds of the stalking insect that wants a meal of blood.

A quick grab of the mobile phone and the LED light on.

EEEeeeEe… Silence.

Irritation. It was close. But with that illumination, it went to the shadows. Sighing, I should get my eyes shut, allergies had driven the course of the day, I was careful not to get overloaded on Benadryl (Diphenhydramine hydrochloride, for those of you who are more generic oriented).  My eyes ache from writing through the block I have had recently.

Light off, back to reading about various subjects.

EEeeeeEEEeeeeEEEee… getting closer. She’s baa’aaack…

I know who is going to die in the next novel.

Light back on, I’m going to catch that tiny vampire!

EeeeeEe… Silence.

Frustration…

Okay, I am smart? (Debatable.) Talented? (Ehh… Maybe. Anyone who wants to chat me up on G+ is welcome to do so and give me opinions on that.)

BUT clever I can be.

The average mosquito cannot fly faster than the gentlest breezes. 1-2 miles per hour. Flutterbys do better than that.

A ceiling fan produces a column of air  that disrupts the flight path of such a small, lightweight parasite.  So setting the fan on medium to assure the speed of airflow.

Light off, reading for another half-hour with ears open for the high-pitched whine of the stalker.

Negative contact: Air traffic all clear. HAH!

Now I sleep under more layers of blankets, secure that for once this spring, I have a plan that was successful.

Downside? Flippin’ cold in the morning, but all my blood is still mine, not some meal somewhere.

Flee

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Flee

Fracking.

That’s what they called it, but whatever the title it might have, it was a disturbance in places long hidden from the light.

Humans dug deeply into the earth, disturbing the ancient bedrock. Minor quakes rattled places that humans had yet to explore.

Perhaps they should not. For there are places in the earth that were buried so deep as to be forgotten.

They should remain forgotten.

But not this day.

All that remained for those still standing, with all their maps and explorations, was

Flee 2nd cover

1. Brisbane

The red haired Yank drew his bow and sighted over the arrow at the horror that approached him from forty-paces away.

Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly.

Thirty paces and closing, its breath wheezed audibly in decaying lungs. This was a fresh-dead human that could walk faster than the other undead.

Twenty paces.

His focus was a laser point as he aimed, he pushed fear of approaching death down into a small compartment in his soul.

He waited, measuring.

Fifteen paces.

The eyes of this once-human had not yet become milky. Its vision was nearly equal to the living. The Archer took a deep breath and let it out slowly, at one time this was a handsome youth.

Five paces.

Archer shot the arrow into the left eye of the walking nightmare, it stiffened and fell over backwards.

“Why do you shoot them in the eye like that?” Alexander Frobisher asked.

RCMP when he was working, he was a Sergeant and a leader of the Emergency Response Team in his section, now he was not so sure since the fall of society.

“Bone is thinner there, with luck it’ll punch through hole that the optic nerve passes. It’s less stress on my arrows and I hate trying to build new ones. I have tried build wood arrows, but I failed. Wood arrows are a challenge, even starting as dowels.” Archer said. “But, I’m learning. Each time I work one, I’m better. We need to figure out how to build these in case we cannot find any high tech arrows in stores someday.” The Archer pulled out a straight dowel of a wood that Frobisher could not recognize. It was fletched and had a tip made from a silver spoon he had pounded into shape with a discovered hammer, but was no arrow that Archer was willing to shoot. “Ah well, let’s take the food to the group. ” Archer said, as he pulled his arrow out of the head of the nightmare that had been walking at him— it was an odd moment of black-humor that struck his mind as Frobisher watched.

A dead-dead person.

“Stay close to the flat of the buildings, away from the bushes.” The Sergeant said as they headed out. His own weapon at the ready, made of a cricket bat and the front chain-wheel of a bicycle. An effective battle-ax with a spiked edge.

The Archer carried a bow that he had found in a house. A simple recurve bow, he shot with an instinctive skill. Always in the eye of his target with devastating effect, they always went down in a mundane, quiet fall.

You could say that they were longtime friends if you met them on the street. But they had only met three weeks prior when the world fell into ruin.

Funny how such bonds are forged in the crucible of chaos.

Chaos.

It began in the land of Oz.

In Darwin, the first news of it hit the television. A virus the newscasters said.

A jetliner had declared an emergency, crash-landed, breaking into two large sections. The walking cadavers emerged from the debris, quickly overwhelming the emergency crews and security forces.

The Archer figured out the secret with head shots. Gunfire attracted attention and mobbed those that used such weapons. The silent arrows made a path without attention.

The shuffling dead did not know or communicate when an arrow had stilled one of their own.

The pair made their way to the bank that the group had held up in. Hiding behind a blast-resistant wall, the group was a mix of people who followed the Archer after he walked down the boulevard, creating a hail of death that cleared a path through the Edgar Allan Poe nightmares pounding on the walls of their tourist coach.

Andrea St. George the tour guide and her driver Jameson Curtis were the first to join the Yank.

Rachel “Stormy” Knight, an attorney from the United States that worked for the ACLU, Zac Wood from Scotland, a student ambassador, joined the group on another of the Yankee’s forays at a bus depot. Now they stood behind the cage where they could pull the safe door shut if they needed to, while Andrea held a single-shot rifle ready.

The Archer and Sergeant Frobisher tapped on the doors to be let into the bank.

Rachel “Stormy” Knight of the ACLU opened the door, holding a shotgun she had discovered in the bank. The men stepped in while the sharp eye of the lawyer watched the street.

Behind Stormy stood, with a pump shotgun taken from an abandoned police cruiser, Gallisa “Gail” Blachere, Ph.D, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Ed.D had a barely controlled rage in her eye, welcomed the two explorers back

“Mighty hunters bring food!” The Archer laughed and opened his bag of canned goods. “Sorry there are no fresh foods.”

Stale biscuits and beer were common in the second bag that the Canadian carried. Two jars of Vegemite he set on the counter.

“You have taste for a Yank!” Andrea laughed and picked it up. “A bit of heaven on earth you have here.”

“Maybe. I bet Al has done better with the beer and biscuits.” The Archer said. “Eat up, we need to move out as soon as we finish. There is a police station down the road with a gated fence. “

“Why do we need to move?” Zac asked.

“The bank is too soft of a target.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “A police station is more easily protected I’d say, it’s safer.”

Praise the lord and pass a biscuit.” Archer said. 

#

Chapter 2. Eating Well


“We need to move before sunset. Tomorrow we need to head down to the marina.” The archer said. “I’d say if we head south, we will head into the mess at Darwin. Sydney is the best way out of this hole.”

Aw, you don’t like my BrissVegas?” Andrea laughed.

The archer chuckled while accepting a biscuit from Andrea, who was instructing the Yankee on how to eat the Vegemite and bread before he continued.

“The boats down at the marina will allow us to sail with safety.” The archer said softly as he choked on the Aussie treat. “Damned lucky for beer.” He gasped out.

You Yanks have no taste.” Andrea laughed. “I told you to take a bite, not pop the whole muffin in your mouth. It will pull your tongue out by its root and beat you over the head with the bloody end.”

“I do have a taste, I like beer.” He winked. “And it was bite sized after all! This is saltier than ocean water.”

“We will need to fight our way to the marina.” Al interrupted. “It’s a long ways there to run and the how those creatures move about, we need more ammunition.”

“Guns equal attention.” Stormy said. “I watched it happen when they first attacked the police roadblock. Shooting our way there isn’t viable.”

The chance that saved your ass in that bus.” The archer said as he stood. “These… zombies… were going after the cops and their guns, that kept them away, they were inside the terminal going after the officers that were making so much noise. Those that were injured, turned. The others won’t be awarded medals for bravery, but they lived by running, it was FUBAR.”

FUBAR?” Zac asked. “What’s FUBAR?”

Fucked up beyond all repair.” The archer said.

Or reason.” Al injected.

Or recovery.” Gail added.

Nodding and chuckling, the archer continued. “I needed to choose, clear the coach or the cops out. I opted for the civilians, it was a tough call. But… Cops took an oath, you folks did not.”

His lowered his voice to almost a whisper describing the scene, looking at a bit of plastic on his finger.

It was a nightmare. I took down thirty of them beasts before they knew I was there. Before they knew anything, I had recovered enough arrows to cover the difference. That’s when I yelled through the door.”

Well. Let’s dash over to the police station. It’s six blocks away, but in the right direction of the marina.” Al said putting his hand on the archer’s shoulder.

Let’s walk, no tripping.” Andrea said softly, kissing the crimson-haired Yank on the cheek. “Archer, I’m glad you made the choice.”

#

3. Stepping Out

 

The door of the bank opened quietly, there were few creatures in the street, not one of them alerted to the humans.

“Okay, quiet, cover each other’s back. I’m first, Stormy to my right, Andrea and Zac in the middle, cover sides and up. Gail, Al, you have the rear and up. Keep them from dropping in on us from fire-escapes or windows.” Archer said as he placed an arrow on his bow.

“Why is the Mountie not first?” Gail asked.

“I shoot faster with my rig than he can until he gets practice.”

Al loaded up a vertical crossbow, holding it so that anywhere he looked, the arrow aimed naturally.

When they stepped out into the street, a single shabby ex-human shambled towards them from where they were going. The Archer loosed his arrow and it fell to the ground as they walked quietly towards the police station. No other of the animated dead that patrolled the area

The Archer paused as they walked past the body and pulled the arrow out of the head of the horror-come-archery target.

The Archer kept his place on point as they headed to the station, an arrow nocked, his bow ready to draw in a heartbeat if a need arose. and carefully moved forward to the gate of the fortress-like structure. It stood ajar and opened silently on high security hinges.

They dragged the body of a large Rottweiler by its thick harness, Al cried when he saw it wore a badge. The head of a half-eaten corpse of the police dog blocked the spring-loaded gate from fully closing. Toothmarks on the badge where something had chewed, obliterating the badge number. Torn bodies lay about, decaying in the concrete courtyard. The K-9 cop did not die gently, as evidenced of a furious fight by the bodies in the courtyard.

“Never thought a dog could tear limbs off of a body.” Jameson said.

“Canine officer. They teach them well and they require robust intelligence with these dogs.” Al said softly, tracing his index finger over the mutilated badge.

A bullet-proof glass and steel enclosed observation area inside the building controlled the gate.

Sergeant Frobisher, quickly figured out how to operate the lock and secured all the exits with a control panel.

“Excellent.” Al said. “Now we can relax.”

“No, now we need to check all the cells and rooms.” The Archer said. “I’m not sleeping without clearing this place from top to bottom.”

“You need to sleep, no matter what.” Andrea told The Archer. “When was the last down-time for you?”

“It has been a day or so.” The Archer nodded. “We will rest when the building’s secure.”

“Al and Zac stay here. Stormy, Gale and Jameson upstairs. Andrea and I will search below.” Archer said.

The Sergeant nodded.

“Here,” The Sergeant reached over into a locker as the groups were getting ready to leave. “I found these radios. Keep them on this channel I selected. Radio checks every five-minutes, everything is voice activated, so I will hear you the moment there’s a sound louder than a deep breath. As the Archer said, no rest until this entire building is cleared.”

Archer taped an LED torch (as the label on it said) to the side of his bow and he adjusted the beam to fill a room with the glow from the diminutive light. Andrea stood next to him loading a police shotgun liberated from a gun-rack they found. She had used a key she found in a drawer and was quite proud of her discovery that allowed all the other firearms in the station available to the others.

“Right, ready.”  Andrea said as she racked the riot gun and chambered a shell. “Buckshot and slugs. That’s what this girl is made of.”

For good measure, the Aussie filled her pockets and a bandolier with shotshells she had found while digging around the observation port. Al pointed it was not police issue.

But Andrea could not care less.

#

4. Revelation

 

The door was ajar to the training room, only tables and chairs.

Vampire Skull Northern Ondode/Nosferatu

Image of Ondode/Nosferatu type Vampire Skull.

But they were not alone.

Movement…

Weapons turned the same time and Andrea hissed at the Archer.

Stop walking.”

It was a shadow that did not fill with light — then it was gone.

Something hissed at Andrea, avoiding the lights as it moved.

It went under the corner of a table, knocking over chairs.

“Come out!” Andrea sounded braver than the Archer felt.

The shadow charged as Andrea pulled the trigger and drove the serpent-like shadow backwards for a moment, an arrow buried its tip into the head of the shadow causing a shriek of anger, a desk erupted into splinters and sawdust as a dozen pellets tore apart the pressed wood construction whilst Andrea tracked the shrieking creature that moved like a cat on crack cocaine and too much espresso.

Clawed hands gripped the arrow and pulled the shaft out of the right eye socket, the eye reforming as it did.

The Archer’s earpeice buzzed. “REPORT! Who is shooting?”

“Sorry, busy!” Archer answered as Andrea rocked the room again with her scattergun.

Archer blinked to clear his eyes from the dust fell from the ceiling. He shot an arrow at the wrong shadow and it stuck out in a stupid angle that made him shake his head while nocking another shaft to the string, tracking the correct shadow – the one with teeth.

“Call back later!” Andrea yelled into in her mic. “We’re killing shit!”

The shadow was too close this time, charging like a cat as she racked in another shell. An arrow intercepted the creature, penetrating it in the left eye and knocked the attacker off-balance.

The shotgun fired again, destroying its face and the arrow. The black creature did a back-flip, knocking over a video projector that shattered on the floor. The creature landed on all fours and its face unbelieveably rebuilt as it launched at Andrea again as a winged quadruped.

Andrea kicked a table against the wall and pinned the attacker — It was no zombie, but suddenly bi-pedal. Still, its features could not yet be determined beyond fangs and cat-like eyes— struggling against the wall, pinned in an awkward way.

However it was immensely strong and changing shapes, wriggling from behind the heavy desk that Andrea held against it.

Point-blank range, she fired another load into the inhuman face. The shotgun blowing a hole in the wall behind the attacker the size of her fists. But she might as well have spit on it for all she had done with the gunpowder and lead.

Gristle and meat, black blood and bone splattered on the wall, and then just… jumped… back to the struggling body. Then a tickle of wind and a swishing sound at her ear and would later be angry with Archer over how close the arrow was that flew past her head.

The angry shriek and gnashing of teeth stopped as the creature choked, clawing at a wooden arrow stuck in its chest, then collapsed into a pile of bones and ash.

“Wh-wh-w… ” The Archer, already nocked another arrow. “The.. Son of a… Holy… Shiiii…Fuuu… what… HELL!” His eyes as large as a car’s headlight as he searched for the best profanity.

“F’k’n oath!” She said, nodding with the Yankee. Still tracking what was left of the attacker with the pool of light that was the aim-point of the twelve-gauge.

Thundering footsteps down the hall announced that Al and company were coming as backup.

No sneaking up on a bloke with that crowd.” Andrea said to Archer as the Al kicked the door open and entered with a shotgun at the ready, followed by Stormy and Gail each with submachine guns, lasers crisscrossing, looking for a target.

You shouldn’t talk, that thing is LOUD.”

“What the hell was going on down here? Could you keep the room at least in one piece?” the Canadian Cop surveying the room and the holes in the sheetrock.

The Archer picked up a skull off the floor and walked out of the room. The skull had too many fangs in its mouth as he looked it over in the lighted hallway, then he handed it to Al.

“This is what attacked us.” Archer said. “I believe we woke it up.”

“It’s so light.” The flesh crumbled under his fingers leaving polished bone if he rubbed firmly. “It’s so dry.” Sharp teeth glinted in the harsh hallway’s light.

“Not when I first shot it. It crumbled and dried up in seconds when I hit it with my wood-shafted arrow.” Archer reported.

“Aluminum arrows had no effect.” Andrea nodded. “Neither did the buckshot from the riot gun.”

“Wood-shafted arrow? What are you talking about?” Al asked. “What the hell?”

Andrea and The Archer looked at each other and laughed.

“My words precisely.” Archer said. “We are fighting something besides a virus I would say.”

“What does that mean?” Gale asked. “You’re talking in riddles.”

“It means,” Archer said, “that skull you hold, goes into a consecrated cemetery. One blessed by someone of the cloth, toss that in a hole of a cemetery and it won’t rise again.”

“Rise? A-a-again?” It was Zac.

“That,” The Archer pointed to the skull. “is a vampire, a Dracula-like creature, I would wager. It kept changing shape while we fought it.”

“BULL!” Jameson yelled. “The news explicitly said it was a virus!  We are not fighting something so profoundly… so profound…. so… F’k’ng WRONG!  NO! You are not telling me that it’s a lie! An explicit, bald-faced LIE? THIS IS JUST A…

“Jameson! CALM DOWN” Gail slapped the coach driver so hard he fell over.

“Coincidence.”  The downed man moaned out.

There is nothing in real-life as vampires!” Zac said, echoing Jameson’s disbelief. “That is only in movies.”

There are no zombies, either. But we have seen otherwise, haven’t we?”

Is it dead?” Jameson pleaded.

No.” Gail said. “If Archer is right and the legends hold true, it is in a hibernation state, drip some blood into the skull and it will wake up. That is why we need to separate the head from the body and buried at a blessed cemetery.”

Blessed cemetery? Aren’t they all?” Jameson asked. Coming back to grips with himself. “I’m sorry about that.  Vampires terrified me as a child.”

No.” Stormy said. “Some even have consecrated and unconsecrated ground within a single graveyard. We need to choose where to bury that skull carefully.”

“Should we put garlic in it?” Zac asked.

“You brought back some garlic powder and garlic salt with the last shopping spree you and the Canadian did.”

“Stuff it, bag it and bury it.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “But where?”

“There is a church up the way.” Andrea pulled at her ear. “I don’t recall the kind of church. Catholic maybe, but I am not positive.”

“Catholic, Jewish,” Archer shrugged. “Could be a Shaolin temple for all I care, so long as it involves holy ground.”

“Let’s make it done.” Al ordered.

2 Dracul Skulls ("Noble" caste, Possibly "Royal" Ref. Van Helsing, Et al, "Identification of skulls" Copyleft 1901 Royal Underground press.) in 2 views.  Left skull buried in bag of garlic under unknown church, skul

#

 

 

 

5. Debriefing


The group walked into the cafeteria , Zac was carrying the skull, carefully turning it over in his hand as they all sat down..

Archer poured himself a coffee in a styrene cup from a stack he had found in a cabinet, handing one to Andrea and to Al.

So what happened down there?” Al asked.

Archer took a tentative sip of the steaming black water while Andrea spoke.

“We entered the classroom and I would hazard a guess that it was asleep and we surprised it. It wasn’t even aware we were in the building.” Andrea said to Al as she sat with the others in what was once a cafeteria.

“If Andrea had not seen it and fired first, I’m not sure we would have survived. It came straight at her and my aim was not on. I shot the wrong shadow.”

Stormy found some herbal tea in a cabinet, saying it would be better for Archer, she took away his coffee.

You sure I can’t have the coffee?”

Stormy gave Archer an icy look and shook her head. “I’m worried about your caffeine intake.”

“I was lucky, it happened to come over the table where I was pointing the riotgun, I pulled the trigger when it startled me.” Andrea said.

Al chuckled and turned to the Archer.

“How did you decide to shoot it with that arrow you made from a dowel? I know you carry that one you keep fooling around with. What made you think of that?”

“Well, I wasn’t sure, but if I was wrong, we were in for a hell of a fight. But, one way to destroy a vampire is to run it through the heart with a stake.”

“Okay,” Al pulled at his ear. “What you are getting at?”

“Okay, wooden stake in the chest. Can it be thrown? Could it be larger? A spear? Wooden shafted and driven through the chest?”

“Um, yes, it follows.”

“Okay then what is the difference between an arrow and a spear? A javelin and an arrow? Size? So, I used that wooden arrow that I have been working on.”

“You thought that during the fight?”

“Well,” Archer chuckled, “A significant deal more than that, but I’m being succinct about it.”

“Heh, my friend, if you think that fast after you drink your coffee, don’t you ever quit.”

Everyone except Stormy chuckled, who failed to appreciate the humor in Archer living on caffeine.

#

6. A Good Night


“Okay, we are cleared, top to bottom. Windows are secured, we have a room for us to sleep in. Who will take the first watch?” Al asked.

The Archer raised his hand.

“I’ll take the night half.”

“No.” Stormy, Gale and Andrea made a harmony of the word.

“Sorry, you need some sleep.” Gale said.

“Besides, you reek.” Andrea pointed out. “If I wake up and you are standing there, I will shoot your Yankee arse for one of those walking dead.”

“Okay, shower. Then I will do the watch.”

“No,” Stormy Knight argued. “Is it true that you have not slept at all? Then you need to sleep.”

Archer shook his head.

“Okay, just lay down for awhile. Rest.”

“Oh, all right. I’ll relax and recuperate for a bit. Al could you do first watch?”

“Naw, right now I need some shut-eye for a couple hours. I’m beat. I’ll volunteer Jameson. He’s slept quite well the last few nights.”

Jameson cleared his throat.

“Archer never woke anyone for the next watch, he did the whole shift!”

“No matter.” Andrea said. “You have first watch. Archer has a night off.”

The Archer shook his head slightly and winked at Jameson.

“YOU!” Stormy pointed a finger at the Yank. “Gingersnap, off to the showers with you. The men’s side has a shower system. I looked it over when checking out for any nasties that might be lurking there. You wash up and then lay down.”

“Your clothes, too, deposit them outside the door of the showers. There is a laundry . We’ll need to wash all our clothes.”

Heh.” The Archer said without trying to hide the humor. “Lawyers will always take the shirt off your back.”

The look from the attorney of the United States was enough to for the fearless Archer to move quickly at her command.

Archer spoke loudly as he walked down the stairs, “Clean mind, clean body; pick one.”

Anyone else want to cross swords? I will send them to the showers, too.”

Gail raised her hand. “With him?”

Andrea laughed and raised her hand. “Community shower?”

Oh hush. I’m first in that case.” Stormy laughed. “I like the redhead.”

We all do.” Andrea and Gail said in chorus.

#

7. Morning’s Early Light


Stormy nudged Andrea before dawn.

“Mm- mmph.” It was Andrea’s wittiest conversation she could have before morning coffee— her “Cuppa”.

Looking around Andrea nudged Gail.

“Wh’.” Was the best that the petite, muscular blond woman could verbalize as she stirred out of the best nighttime hibernation in a long while. She sat up, rubbing her eyes.

“The Archer is gone. Jameson is asleep.” Stormy said, matter

“Jameson!” Andrea threw a pillow at the coach driver with uncanny accuracy. “When did you come in?”

“Not long after Archer finished his shower. All you shelia’s went to bed, Al was asleep, he was up and said he was my relief and you were okay with it.”

In the control room, Al and the Archer were talking.

“ARCHER!” The women yelled as they came down the hallway.

“Uh-oh. Busted.” The Canadian chuckled. “You violated curfew.”

“Better to apologize than to ask permission.” Archer winked.

“You’re supposed to be sleeping.” Rachel said.

“You said to rest, and I did. I rested for an hour but could not catch any luck on sleep, so I came up here so that I would not disturb anyone.”

Stormy grumbled like distant thunder with lightning flashing her eyes, living up to her nickname.

“Men and children, the only difference are their sizes.” She said to Andrea.

Andrea laughed, looking at the two men that continued to gaze out the window at the outside world.

“What are you blokes looking at?” Andrea asked.

“Well,” Al said and looked out the window. “Birds.”

“Listen.” The Archer opened the heavy, armored-glass door to the outside courtyard.

The sounds of birds singing in the early morning light.

“I have not heard that in over a month. Birds stopped singing when all this happened.” Andrea said as she walked to the door listening to the music of nature’s composition for the first time in a long while. “What’s changed?”

“I’ve been standing watch for the last four hours. ” Archer said, Stormy sighed at this news with fire in her eyes. “There has been not a single shuffler meander by. Not one.”

“Are they gone?”

“I couldn’t know about that, just that I have not seen them from the observation area. The only change is that we destroyed that vampire yesterday. After Al and Jameson ran down the street and took it into a church. We can rest assured it is not in control of anything at the moment.”

“Control?” Jameson yawned as he stumbled in. “Y’all disturbed m’ sleep.”

“I’ll do more than just disturbing your sleep.” Gale was dangerous sounding. “I should kick your arse down the hallway and back for not finishing your shift.”

After my run down to the church there and all.” Jameson said, sounding a little more awake.

Shut it!” Gail said, then turning to the Canadian. “Taking it into a church killed it?”

Zac, Jameson and I took it down the road to the church— Catholic by the by— and when Jameson dropped it into a baptismal tub full of water. It bubbled and then burst into a flame, it was quite impressive.” Al said. “You’d think we dropped it into a vat of acid and gasoline, eh. It was quite exciting for a moment.”

“Yes, I would venture a guess that that did it.” The Archer continued. “I’m not positive, just a theory. Now that it is lighter, there are bodies are visible, lying all around out there. Those bodies— over there and there — we didn’t shoot them. It looks like they collapsed suddenly, what ever it is that energizes them was abruptly cut off.”

“The vampire?” Stormy’s asked. “Are you saying the vampire controlled these zombie creatures?”

“That is what I’m supposing.”

“So you think it was controlling them.” Gale asked.

“I cannot say that for sure. It could just be motivational. A bit like saying ‘rise up and walk’ and then just let them shuffle around, aimlessly. No direction, just setting them loose to put pressure on the humans.” Archer shrugged. “It is a hypothesis based on the scantest of information.”

“So.” Stormy’s logical side took over. “You are saying that it is not a virus?”

“In the way it appears as of now. The jury is still out. If you excuse the term.” The Archer winked. “It could be a sort of, I do not know, a sort of control that is passed on by senescence – death. You become dead, your systems are inert and are open to control. A frog’s leg, for example, can move even though the frog is dead or even if the leg is amputated. That could explain why those shufflers out there are not something to be reasoned with. There is no mind. Just a power control.”

“That kind of power is unknown, nothing I have ever heard of can do that.” Gale said. “And it is spread by contact with the zombies, not vampires. That makes no sense.”

“Yes, and true.” The Archer answered, nodding. “But it is all I have for now. Bigger brains than mine will need to think it over. One more reason to find a military center where they may have a fortress and are holding out against this. This started in Darwin, Sydney is the largest city, it should have a military base somewhere around the water.”

“Yes,” Jameson nodded. “There is a naval base on Garden Island there.

“Perfect. An island is easily protected!” Al said. “That’s our destination.”

The Archer nodded. “Agreed.”

“No, it is not what you are thinking. It’s an island, but has been connected to the mainland by bridges. Like your Manhattan island, for example.”

“Still.” The Archer said slowly. “It is a base, it will be defended, I hope, and a place we can dock a boat to without walking across land with those flesh-eaters hunting fresh meat.”

“Okay, then prepare to leave. Pack light. We leave at sunrise.” Al said.

Archer agreed.

Archer.” Zac said sleepily. “You were in the showers when we came back. I wanted to give this to you, but I was asleep before you were finished. The mum’s would not let me stay up.” Zac pointed at the women as he held up an exotic shape of limbs and string.

Where did you find that?” Archer’s eyes widened.

I found this in a shop, it was in a glass case. The Sergeant said you would like this.” Zac smiled.

Thank you,” Archer smiled as he ran his fingers over the four limbs of the bow. “You have any idea what you have here?”

A bow. It is unusual, I have never seen one like it.” Zac said, his eyes glittering with glee that the face of the redhead lit up with a rare smile. “I never saw one with forked arms before.”

This is a Penobscot style bow, it is custom made by White Wolf in the United States. Look at this here. It is called a Wind Warrior. And here? This is the number of the bow, the boyer’s name and the draw it has. This one goes up to seventy-pounds. I don’t think I have heard of one that went that high before, the name etched into it here “Midnight”. I don’t know if that is the color or the name of the bow.”

Name?” Zac asked.

A few shooters named their bows. I was one, but I’m considered a bit eclectic. My favorite bow was the Gertrude. But this one is my favorite now, she is beautiful.”

She?” Andrea laughed lightly.

Beauty, thy name is woman.” Archer said, looking again at the four-limbed bow as he held it up to the light. “The name of the bow is Midnight. Thank you, Zac, this is a wonderful gift.”

Oh! You could use your nickname with it and call it Midnight Thunder!” Zac was pleased with his thoughts on the subject.

Archer chuckled and looked down. “Maybe. We’ll see.”

“Now if someone can point out the direction to my clothes, I have gotten chafed wearing this prisoner’s jumpsuit. It rides up a bit.” The Yank said, changing the subject.

Quiet snickers could be heard as he disappeared with Stormy down the hallway towards the laundry room, pulling at the prisoner garb uncomfortably.

I keep getting a danged wedgie.”

#

8. Recognition

The Archer came back out after he pulled on his pants and socks. His shoulders were a testament to the skills he had with a bow as he carried a dark-gray polo shirt over his right shoulder.

He sat down by the armored glass and looked out, pulling on heavy black boots.

“Any changes outside?”

“None.” Al said as he surveyed with a pair of binoculars he had found. “It has been quiet, what can be seen, however, there is some movement six intersections distant heading away from the water, but I don’t have a view down towards the marina, it could be a Grateful Dead party down there for all I know.”

The redheaded Yank chuckled grimly and started to pull the polo shirt on over his head.

“Archer?” Stormy asked. “The tattoo you have on your chest? I recall seeing it before. I needed to think about it for a moment, but I remember you.”

“My tattoo?” He touched his chest. The Celtic heart with the black lightning bolt across it had been there so long, he had forgotten about it.

“You are T.H. Harte. The U.S. Olympic Archer that took the team to the finals, they said your form was all wrong, but it kept working for you. I helped sponsor you. My firm bought you equipment and some bows. Three of them if I remember.”

“He is… you are Thunder Harte?” Al blinked, looking from Stormy to the Archer. “He wrote a few books and is the host of the outdoor channel’s show “Against all odds”. Wow!”

Archer looked down and gave a heavy sigh. The sound of a man haunted by ghosts and tortured by a shattered soul.

“Yes, yes, and yes, I was Thunder Harte. But I cannot use that name anymore. I’m no longer that man.”

“You have a family. Your son is supposed to be one of the youngest to ever qualify for the U.S. Olympic Archery team.” Rachel said. “There was a legal challenge about minors in the sport.”

“Yes, I opposed him being pushed to be an archer on the team by the media. Their attitude was beyond the pale and I filed the suit for an invasion of privacy. It was his choice and his choice alone.”

“You keep talking about him in the past tense.” Al pointed out, his three-decades of police skills coming to the fore.

“Yeah,” Archer said softly, as if he did and did not want to talk about it. It was a wound that still made his soul bleed and began to pour out of him as if he could not stop his words. “We were overrun by those shuffling nightmares. So, my wife and son took shelter in a quiet, dark house and I drew off the mob by using fire bombs and a shotgun. There was a minor problem, and then my son came out to help, the courage of a pre-teen. ” Archer sighed. “They caught him and began to drag him off. My wife ran out with a stick to beat them away and they grabbed her too.”

He choked and his knuckles turned white as he squeezed the edge of the desk, the veins stood out in his forearms and neck. A man about to scream in agony.

I was a half-block away, semi-auto shotgun was stovepipe-jammed and I had the bow and four jars of turpentine.” The deep sound of a heart breaking sob came out of the one they called Archer. “It took too long to clear the jam, the shotgun wouldn’t cycle so I could clear a path. Then I finally cleared the jam and needed to eject another shell before I could jump back in the fight. But I was too late.”

He took another deep sigh as he pulled himself together.

“I shot them both.” He said quietly, almost inaudibly. “It was the best I could do. They were both bloodied already and I believed it was a virus at the time.”

“You didn’t know about the vampires.” Rachel said, showing her less stormy side.

“No. I could have saved them.” Archer drew a breath and looked out the window. “I failed them. I killed my family and there is no deeper Hell than what I’m in. I couldn’t even bury them.”

“I’m no longer a Harte.” He said in a strangled voice, anguish showed his face as he covered his eyes as if to blind himself to a vision remembered. “I have no name. Just… Archer. It is well enough of a name.”

You will need to forgive yourself, you will need time to find your way.” Gail said, putting a hand gently on his shoulder. “You need to put this behind you, the world has nearly come to an end.”

Forgive?” Archer shook his head. “No. I should live with this forever. There is no forgiveness for what I did.”

From his quiver, he pulled a plastic baggy that contained locks of hair.

“I cut some hair from their heads after I drove the zombies back. The blond is his and this, ” He reached in the bag and touched a lock of red hair. “Is from my wife.

Compared to my hair, she is more of an orange color, but she was a warrior from the north of Glasgow. By the time I got to her, they had bitten and severely tore her up, but she had given better than she taken. There were bodies with their heads stove in all around her.” Archer stroked both locks of hair as if there was some magic in them. Magic that he could not unlock, but refused to let go.

He rolled the plastic baggy up and put it back into a pocket in his quiver and closed the flap.

“Let’s hunt up something with working radios that won’t draw a crowd.” Gail said softly, taking her hand from Archer’s shoulder and stroking his hair. “Down by the marina, we can put to sea, zombies are not able to sneak up or mob us. I would bet the long dead ones would sink anyway.”

“Let’s pack up.” Archer said. Anything to draw attention away from him.

They were ready in moments and formed up under the watchful eye of Al.

The group headed out in the practiced cover pattern that Sergeant Frobisher had taught them to do.

#

9. Out On The Docks

For the first block where birds sang, streets were eerily empty of the walking horrors as they headed to the marina. The death of the vampire seemed to have a chilling effect on the animated dead. Decaying and partly mummified bodies lay everywhere. The presence of ravens feeding on the dead was oddly reassuring to the group. Where the dead walked, birds were absent and silent. Everyone considered the ravens to be a good sign.

The closer they approached the marina, the air seemed to change. Like a heaviness in the atmosphere they had not noticed before, it suffocated the mood of the armed human centipede. They had started their walk to the marina in the best spirits they had been in days, but the farther they walked, the more melancholy the group became. It was as if the soul of the land they walked on was dying.

Moments later, another group of tattered, half-rotted bodies appeared from around the corner of a cross-street and began to approach the heavily armed group.

I thought we killed the vampire.” Zac said in a frightened whisper.

There must be more than one.” Al answered quietly as he walked backwards, protecting the rear of the group as he scanned back and forth with his vertical limbed crossbow. “There ain’t any of those shufflers following us.”

A range? Like with a cell phone?” Archer asked.

By deduction there is more than one kind of vampire.” Stormy said, keeping her sound suppressed weapon against her shoulder. “Some more powerful than others. Foot-soldiers, like Renfield in the classic horror novel. You might have some vampires that would be the generals, they would… maybe… channel the power to the lower caste. Then the zombies are the shock troops that are unstoppable.”

Stormy?” Archer asked.

Yes, love?”

You are giving me a panic attack, please talk about something else, something nicer, like how lions eat baby zebra.”

You killed one vampire already.” Stormy nudged Archer with her hip.

You weren’t down there with the Yank and me.” Andrea said. “That was a serious piss-fight brewing.”

They began to use the arrows to take down the mob of horror that was approaching as they headed to the marina in a controlled pace. Sound suppressed, special weapons did their jobs brilliantly, but the tinkling of spent brass on the ground rang loudly in the silent area that no bird song could reach their ears or any winged life flew. Even the insects had abdicated flight in the area.

As they approached the marina, Archer pointed out a large ketch with sails rolled up on the booms, well tied up. It would be easy to prepare the boat for departure.

Al jimmied a lock of a barred gate that stood as a silent sentinel across the dock. It opened with a loud shriek of partly rusted hinges and closed with the sound of a steel drum full of marbles.

Looking back over the way they had come, several of the animated dead had heard and were drifting in towards the marina as if they were not sure where the sound came from, wandering aimlessly with ever more gathering in the street between the buildings.

Okay, it’s safe.” Gail said. “They are not coming at us directly. We need to walk carefully on the dock to keep the noise down, or we will bring all of Brissy down on us.”

Walking down the dock to the sail-yacht, a large man with a side-by-side shotgun stepped out into the open deck of a tour-boat.

“Hey!” He yelled.

Archer and Al stopped and drew their bows. Andrea, Zac and Stormy pointed their own weapons at the armed man, Zac’s shotgun now loaded with sharpened dowels.

“Ahoy.” Called Archer. “We are seeking safety only. We are not looting. Just need to listen to a radio and find a way to travel south.”

“You are under quarantine. Don’t c’me closer, you are no going to pass on dat virus to me.” He shouted.

“We are alive and breathing, when was the last time you saw one aim weapons at you and hold a conversation?”

The skipper paused.

Archer took advantage of the pause and spoke again.

“There is no virus. All this? It’s vampires— They are using the zombies as war dogs.”

“Bah! There are no such things as vampires!”

“There are no such things as the dead zombies that walk, either! But there they are!” Archer pointed at the bodies that ambled up and down the street. Still milling about trying to find the source of the sound that the gate had made.

The skipper swore under his breath.

“C’me ab’ard befer any of doze still walkin’ sees ya. Git below.” He lowered his shotgun. “I didn’ wanna to shoot an’way. I’m down to whut gravel, nails and bolt-heads I c’n scrape up off teh ground. I has lots o’ powder, but nothin’ fer shootin’, I has ta make do with scraps. Bloody awful whut it is.”

The group sat down around the inside of the cruiser. It was medium sized, but well appointed.

“I chartered until two months ago. The damned demon-things put an end ta dat overnight. I usually walk ta town ta live, but dis is my home now. Dis is de Maribeth an’ welcome ab’ard. She don’ run, though. The engine is farked fer awhile, I ordered a new fuel pump and have been waited fer it fer six weeks before dis all started. I don’ think I’ll be gettin’ it in now.”

“What if you took parts from the other boats around.” Andrea asked.

“I dun’ thin’ the other owners would appreciate it, besides, tha’s stealin and what good would I be if’n I were in jail? They’d bust me for sure an’ take me boat.” The skipper nodded. “By da way, me name’s Roberts. Abraham John Roberts. I’m cap’n of this vessel, whut’s left of ‘er an’way.”

“There are no police to arrest you. And the owners of the boats around here are gone. You are not stealing. You’re salvaging.” Archer said slowly.

Captain Roberts looked at Al, then Archer, then to the ladies for a moment.

“Whut are we waiting fer.” He chuckled. “Damn, I is getting old, I could ha’ been salvagin’ all dis time!”

“We would like to listen to the radio, too. Everywhere on the land most power is out and no radio is working on land.” Rachel said.

“Aye, we can do dat. Marine radio and I has a world short-wave radio set built in. Digital radio is available, too.” The Captain said. “I ha’ no listened to it much. I worry that de sound would bring them, so’s I just walk in ta town ta de stores, avoidin’ them ta hunt up food.”

The women turned it on low and sat drinking the Captain’s coffee. Andrea offering “a cuppa” every few minutes. Captain Roberts told stories of how the world changed from the south up north to the marina. How the changes came from tourists to the biters that came later.

“We get the parts in the morning. This will be hell of a better watch than being here alone.”

“Then we put into Sydney or some other town with an enclave or sanctuary?” Al asked.

“Aye, we can.” Captain Roberts answered. “But fer ta-night? We DRINK!”

“Here here!” Andrea laughed.

Archer, atypically quiet, just sat at the top of the steps. Dusk was more than two hours away.

“Once it’s gone dark, w’ pull all da tarps over de glass and git below. I keep lights ta minimum. I ha’ LED lights that adjust low.” Captain said. Then coughed. “We needs fuel, too, for such a trip. We will need to take on at least three-thousand liters of fuel or we run a chance o’ rowin’ b’fore we get ta where we wants ta be.”

“Hey, what if we just take a boat?” Al asked. “There is a whole fleet of vessels out there that have no one to claim them.”

The Captain stopped talking for a moment.

“Well, I don’ know de other boats as well, but it’ll sure’n satisfy a few cravin’s. We kin upgrade. I never thought about takin’ another boat. Hum…”

Unpacking the maps from the Maribella, the group now including the Captain walked down the moorings assessing each yacht. Finally settling on the Calliope. A luxurious world-class sixty-meter yacht that showed full on all six tanks. Checking the staterooms confirmed the crew was alone on the yacht.

The Calliope, secured and they moved slowly to the unplug the yacht’s power cables from the end of the marina.

“The radio is broadcasting that the area north of Sydney is under quarantine, they are blocking all roads.” Rachel said as the Captain had started the engines warmed them up.

“Here comes the farewell party.” the Sergeant shouted. Shuffling dead were attracted to the sounds of the vessel powering up.

“Dey’ll hold up at de gate.” The Captain said.

“Yeah… no. They have pulled the gate down already.” The Archer said, the sounds of rending metal attracting more walking horror. “Captain, we need to leave.”

The redheaded Yank looked back out the window at the failed gate. “As in now.”

“As in… We has ta get de fark outta here,” Captain Roberts said.

“Agreed,” The Al said. “Forget leaving on the turn of the tide. Let us just cast off now.”

Bloody hell! If yer’n not cast off now, just cut lines. Theys not organized, theys keep fallin’ off into the water, but I won’ ‘ave any o’ ya out dere as bait.”

Casting off, the sixty-meter yacht pulled away from the dock slowly. The motion was not missed by others on the edge of town. The dead, under control of their masters began to walk down towards the marina stopping only at the edge of water.

“Set a course,” The Captain ordered. “Use dat GPS dere, and indicate Sydney.”

Archer gave a rare smile to Stormy, putting down an arrow from his bow, Midnight.

You were going to make a stand?” Stormy frowned.

Stand? Hell no. I was going to shoot that transformer on the pole over there and drop the power line into the water. I’m sure we would be safe, but anything standing in the wet areas would have an exciting moment or three.” Archer winked.

Wi’ one o’ da li’l sticks?” The Captain asked. “F’k’n’ Bullshit.”

Captain.” Al said. “With all due respect, that man could do it. I have seen him do things a hundred paces away with those “li’l sticks” that should be impossible.”

The Captain shook his head land laughed.

Den I’s glad ta has yer on my side, Yank.”

#

10. Ocean and Freedom

The Calliope gathered speed, passing ten-knots and they turned south. Following the shore with the land on the right, they sailed into the gathering darkness.

Captain Roberts sat back and sighed.

“We are clear. Radar shows us with no traffic near and sonar shows that the water depth is increasing nicely. We are in the channel.” The Captain nodded. “Now… I have something to celebrate our escape.”

Hopping off his seat Captain A. J. Roberts opened up a trunk he had lugged from Maribella without a word on what he had inside.

Bottles and bottles of exotic liquors. The largest of which he pulled up.

“RHUM!” He laughed. “All the way from the Caribbean! I bet you have not seen the likes.”

The Archer laughed.

“Actually,” Archer said softly to Rachel, “I have been drinking that brand for years.

Rachel laughed. “I have a bottle of that in my house now.”

The drinking went on for some minutes, The Archer was working on his second cup over ice to the Captains third. The two were seemingly getting into a race.

Suddenly the radio crackled and the Captain choked on his fourth cup of the dark liquor.

“Emergency channel is working! Huzzah!” He grabbed the microphone and called.

“Emergency caller, this is the Calliope out of Brisbane bound for Sydney. Go ahead with your traffic.”

“This is Royal Australian Navy Destroyer Guardsman. Reverse your direction return the way you came.”

“Negative, Guardsman, we are out of Brisbane, all on board are healthy and are seeking asylum from the chaos of the area.”

“Calliope, this is your last warning, the quarantine has been extended to Brisbane, come about now and return to your point of departure.”

“Guardsman, we have women and children on board, we cannot return. Do you wish to condemn them to deal with the collapse of government there?”

“This is Captain Monroe of the RAS Guardsman. Calliope, please reverse your course, I do not wish to fire upon you. Heave to and prepare to be boarded.”

“We are making our way to Sydney. Board us there.” The Captain Roberts replied to Captain Monroe.

“Heave to, or we will fire.”

“Captain.” The Archer was looking out a window. “We have a problem.”

In the air, a heavily armed helicopter suddenly lit up with navigation lights in the failing twilight of the coming evening. Already airborne, missile pods were visible on the sides of the rotary-winged gunship.

Captain Roberts looked out.

“Oh f’kn’ bloody brass nuts.” The Captain said loudly. “If you folks believe in a hell, you might wish to call ‘em an’ ask if they have exchange programs, it is about to become worse than that here. Guardsman is a Hobart Class ship, that there bird be one o’ its hammers.”

“What are those?” Stormy asked as two, then four pinpoint lights seem to move towards them from a mile out.

“Archer?” Andrea asked, pointing out at what Stormy saw.

Incoming! They’ve opened fire!” The Archer yelled. He reached down to his quiver and pulled out a rolled up plastic bag. Holding two locks of hair close to his heart, he watched the missiles track towards them at unimaginable speed.

“I”m sorry.” He whispered to the last remains of his family as he dropped the baggie over the rail of the yacht. “I’m so sorry I failed.”

OUT! Abandon ship!” Al was like a bull shoving everyone he could reach towards the railing. The only time in his life he used his hand to hand training to shove a group.

“Abort! ABORT! Do not fire! ABORT! ABORTABORT! We are…” The Captain screamed into the microphone.

It was his last conscious thought as the missiles impacted into the bridge of the Calliope. High explosive warheads sent shockwaves through the vessel. Air heated to thousands of degrees shattered doors and bulkheads as the yacht disappeared in a fireball of continuing weapons fire as the helicopters their weapons repeatedly.

Only after the Calliope’s shattered, burning hull slipped beneath the surface of the water the gunships returned to base on shore.

The haze and smoke slowly dissipated as the killing machine moved off, returning to the carrier.

There would be no rescue boats launched as the Guardsman followed orders and turned away back to its patrol.

#

Epilogue


Radio transmission on shore after the military radar had detected the contact:

Captain Michael Monroe made his report to the base. “Contact made. Illegal threat neutralized. No spread of infection or contamination. End of report.”

Rear Admiral Shyldon Gillette, Commander of the Royal Australian Border Protection Command read the electronic report out loud and turned towards a shadow in the corner with red eyes glimmering in the dark.

“The secret remains safe, my Lord, the operation will be able to continue to relocate the human blood sources into the feeding reservations.”

“Excellent. Keep the fear up. Any human that finds clues to the real source of the undead slaves, kill them. The living cannot know what is happening until the whole of the world is under our control.” The lips of Lord Maldark’s ghostly face barely moved to create a voice that sounded like it came from the depths of a muddy tomb. “Tell the lower caste to increase the numbers of the risen and to drive herds of the food towards the reservations, do not give them a chance to contemplate their position in the food-chain. That is key to our success.”

Yes, my Lord.”

The face that appeared to float in the shadow twisted unnaturally into a grin, long fangs glittered like glass in the subdued light, but the admiral was under the ancient one’s control now and was no longer afraid as he was the first night.

That night, over a month ago.

Out on the water near the sunken Calliope, a plastic sandwich bag floated on the water stuffed with two gently cut locks and five hastily pulled blood-red strands of hair sealed inside.

Together the hairs drifted towards the land of Oz in the prevailing current with wreckage from the destroyed yacht.

A bow floated on the wreckage, an unusual penobscot bow made of exotic woods. The bow lay on a raft of floatation devices, hastily lashed together, clear of the water with a quiver of arrows as the land grew closer with each passing moment.

<Finis?>

Flee Epilogue

Standard

Epilogue

Radio transmission on shore after the military radar had detected the contact:

Captain Michael Monroe made his report to the base. “Contact made. Illegal threat neutralized. No spread of infection or contamination. End of report.”

Rear Admiral Shyldon Gillette, Commander of the Royal Australian Border Protection Command read the electronic report out loud and turned towards a shadow in the corner with red eyes glimmering in the dark.

“The secret remains safe, my Lord, the operation will be able to continue to relocate the human blood sources into the feeding reservations.”

“Excellent. Keep the fear up. Any human that finds clues to the real source of the undead slaves, kill them. The living cannot know what is happening until the world is under our control.” The lips of Lord Maldark’s ghostly face barely moved to create a voice that sounded like it came from the depths of a muddy tomb. “Tell the lower caste to increase the numbers of the risen and to drive herds of the food towards the reservations, do not give them a chance to contemplate their position in the food-chain. That is key to our success.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

The face that appeared to float in the shadow twisted unnaturally into a grin, long fangs glittered like glass in the subdued light, but the admiral was under the ancient one’s control now and was no longer afraid as he was the first night. That night, over a month ago.

Out on the water near the sunken Calliope, a plastic sandwich bag floated on the water stuffed with two gently cut locks and five hastily pulled blood-red strands of hair sealed inside.

Together the hairs drifted towards the land of Oz in the prevailing current with wreckage from the destroyed yacht.

An odd-shaped bow made of exotic woods float on the wreckage drift behind bag of saved hair. Lifted clear of the water on a small raft of floating wreckage, it sat securely on the quiver of arrows as the land grew closer with each passing moment.

 

<Finis?>

Flee Chapter 10. Ocean and Freedom

Standard

10. Ocean and Freedom

 

The Calliope gathered speed, passing ten-knots and they turned south. Following the shore with the land on the right, they sailed into the gathering darkness.

Captain Roberts sat back and sighed contentedly.

“We are clear. Radar shows us with no traffic near and sonar shows that the water depth is increasing nicely. We are in the channel.” The Captain nodded. “Now… I have something to celebrate our escape.”

Hopping off his seat Captain A. J. Roberts opened up a trunk he had lugged from Maribella without a word on what he had inside.

Bottles and bottles of exotic liquors. The largest of which he pulled up.

“RHUM!” He laughed. “All the way from the Caribbean! I bet you have not seen the likes.”

The Archer laughed.

“Actually,” Archer said softly to Rachel, “I have drunk that brand for years.”

Rachel laughed. “I have a bottle of that in my house now.”

The drinking went on for some minutes, The Archer was working on his second cup over ice to the Captains third. The two were seemingly getting into a race.

Suddenly the radio crackled and the Captain choked on his fourth cup of the dark liquor.

“Emergency channel is working! Huzzah!” He grabbed the microphone and called.

“Emergency caller, this is the Calliope out of Brisbane bound for Sydney. Go ahead with your traffic.”

“This is Royal Australian Navy Destroyer Guardsman. Reverse your direction and return the way you came.”

“Negative, Guardsman, we are out of Brisbane, all on board are healthy and are seeking asylum from the chaos of the area.”

“Calliope, this is your last warning, the quarantine now extends to Brisbane, come about now and return to your point of departure.”

“Guardsman, we have women and children on board, we cannot return. Do you wish to condemn them to deal with the collapse of government there?”

“This is Captain Monroe of the RAS Guardsman. Calliope, please reverse your course, I do not wish to fire upon you. Heave to and prepare to be boarded.”

“We are making our way to Sydney. Board us there.” The Captain Roberts replied to Captain Monroe.

“Heave to, or we will fire.”

“Captain.” The Archer was looking out a window. “We have a problem.”

In the air, a heavily armed helicopter suddenly lit up with navigation lights in the failing twilight of the coming evening. Already airborne, missile pods were visible on the sides of the rotary-winged gunship.

Captain Roberts looked out.

“Oh f’kn’ bloody brass nuts.” The Captain said loudly. “If you folks believe in a hell, you might wish to call ‘em an’ ask if they have exchange programs, it is about to become worse than that here. Guardsman is a Hobart Class ship, that there bird be one o’ its hammers.”

“What are those?” Stormy asked as two, then four pinpoint lights seem to move towards them from a mile out.

“Archer?” Andrea asked, pointing out at what Stormy saw.

“Incoming! They’ve opened fire!” The Archer yelled. He reached down to his quiver and pulled out a rolled up plastic bag. Holding two locks of hair close to his heart, he watched the missiles track towards them at unimaginable speed.

“I”m sorry.” He whispered to the last remains of his family as he dropped the baggie over the rail of the yacht. “I’m so sorry I failed.”

“OUT! Abandon ship!” Al was like a bull shoving everyone he could reach towards the railing. The only time in his life he used his hand to hand training to shove a group.

“Abort! ABORT! Do not fire! ABORT! ABORTABORT! We are…” The Captain screamed into the microphone.

It was his last conscious thought as the missiles impacted into the bridge of the Calliope. High explosive warheads sent shockwaves through the vessel. Compressed air heated to thousands of degrees shattered doors and bulkheads as the yacht disappeared in a fireball of continuing weapons fire as the helicopter crew their weapons repeatedly into the remains of the Calliope.

Only after the shattered, burning hull slipped beneath the surface of the water did the gunship return to the Guardsman while the haze and smoke slowly dissipated.

There would be no rescue boats launched as the Guardsman followed orders to set course back to its assigned patrol.

 

Flee Chapter 9. Out On The Docks

Standard

9. Out On The Docks

 

For the first block where birds sang, streets were eerily empty of the walking horrors as they headed to the marina. The death of the vampire seemed to have a chilling effect on the animated dead. Decaying and partly mummified bodies lay everywhere. The ravens feeding on the dead was, oddly, reassuring to the group. Where the dead walked, birds were absent and silent. Everyone considered the ravens a good sign.

The closer they approached the marina, the air seemed to change. Like a heaviness in the atmosphere they had not noticed before, it suffocated the mood of the armed human centipede. They had started their walk to the marina in the best spirits they had been in days, but the farther they walked, the more melancholy the group became. It was as if the soul of the land they walked on was dying.

Moments later, another group of tattered, half-rotted bodies appeared from around the corner of a cross-street and began to approach the heavily armed group.

“I thought we killed the vampire.” Zac said in a frightened whisper.

“There must be more than one.” Al answered quietly as he walked backwards, protecting the rear of the group as he scanned back and forth with his vertical limbed crossbow. “There ain’t any of those shufflers following us.”

“A range? Like with a cell phone?” Archer asked.

“By deduction there is more than one kind of vampire.” Stormy said, keeping her sound suppressed weapon against her shoulder. “Some more powerful than others. Foot-soldiers, like Renfield in the classic horror novel. You might have some vampires that would be the generals, they would… maybe… channel the power to the lower caste. Then the zombies are the shock troops that are unstoppable.”

“Stormy?” Archer asked.

“Yes, love?”

“You are giving me a panic attack, please talk about something else, something nicer, like how lions eat baby zebra.”

“You killed one vampire already.” Stormy nudged Archer with her hip.

“You weren’t down there with the Yank and me.” Andrea said. “That was a serious piss-fight brewing.”

They began to use the arrows to take down the mob of horror that was approaching as they headed to the marina in a controlled pace. Sound suppressed, special weapons did their jobs brilliantly, but the tinkling of spent brass on the ground rang loudly in the silent area that no bird song could reach their ears or any winged life flew. Even the insects had abdicated flight in the area.

As they approached the marina, Archer pointed out a large ketch with sails rolled up on the booms, well tied up. It would be easy to prepare the boat for departure.

Al jimmied a lock of a barred gate that stood as a silent sentinel across the dock. It opened with a loud shriek of partly rusted hinges and closed with the sound of a steel drum full of marbles.

Looking back over the way they had come, several of the animated dead had heard and were drifting in towards the marina as if they were not sure where the sound came from, wandering aimlessly with ever more gathering in the street between the buildings.

“Okay, it’s safe.” Gail said. “They are not coming at us directly. We need to walk carefully on the dock to keep the noise down, or we will bring all of Brissy down on us.”

Walking down the dock to the sail-yacht, a large man with a side-by-side shotgun stepped out into the open deck of a tour-boat.

“Hey!” He yelled.

Archer and Al stopped and drew their bows. Andrea, Zac and Stormy pointed their own weapons at the armed man, Zac’s shotgun now loaded with sharpened dowels.

“Ahoy.” Called Archer. “We are seeking safety only. We are not looting. Just need to listen to a radio and find a way to travel south.”

“You are under quarantine. Don’t c’me closer, you are no going to pass on dat virus to me.” He shouted.

“We are alive and breathing, when was the last time you saw one aim weapons at you and hold a conversation?”

The skipper paused.

Archer took advantage of the pause and spoke again.

“There is no virus. All this? It’s vampires— They are using the zombies as war dogs.”

“Bah! There are no such things as vampires!”

“There are no such things as the dead zombies that walk, either! But there they are!” Archer pointed at the bodies that ambled up and down the street. Still milling about trying to find the source of the sound that the gate had made.

The skipper swore under his breath.

“C’me ab’ard befer any of doze still walkin’ sees ya. Git below.” He lowered his shotgun. “I didn’ wanna to shoot an’way. I’m down to whut gravel, nails and bolt-heads I c’n scrape up off teh ground. I has lots o’ powder, but nothin’ fer shootin’, I has ta make do with scraps. Bloody awful whut it is.”

The group sat down around the inside of the cruiser. It was medium-sized, but well-appointed.

“I chartered until two months ago. The damned demon-things put an end ta dat overnight. I usually walk ta town ta live, but dis is my home now. Dis is de Maribeth an’ welcome ab’ard. She don’ run, though. The engine is farked fer awhile, I ordered a new fuel pump and waited fer it fer six weeks before dis all started. I don’ think I’ll be gettin’ it in now.”

“What if you took parts from the other boats around.” Andrea asked.

“I dun’ thin’ the other owners would appreciate it, besides, tha’s stealin and what good would I be if’n I were in jail? They’d bust me for sure an’ take me boat.” The skipper nodded. “By da way, me name’s Roberts. Abraham John Roberts. I’m cap’n of this vessel, whut’s left of ‘er an’way.”

“There are no police to arrest you. And the owners of the boats around here are gone. You are not stealing. You’re salvaging.” Archer said slowly.

Captain Roberts looked at Al, then Archer, then to the ladies for a moment.

“Whut are we waiting fer.” He chuckled. “Damn, I is getting old, I could ha’ been salvagin’ all dis time!”

“We would like to listen to the radio, too. Everywhere on the land most power is out and no radio is working on land.” Rachel said.

“Aye, we can do dat. Marine radio and I has a world short-wave radio set built-in. Digital radio is available, too.” The Captain said. “I ha’ no listened to it much. I worry that de sound would bring them, so’s I just walk in ta town ta de stores, avoidin’ them ta hunt up food.”

The women turned it on low and sat drinking the Captain’s coffee. Andrea offering “a cuppa” every few minutes. Captain Roberts told stories of how the world changed from the south up north to the marina. How the changes came from tourists to the biters that came later.

“We get the parts in the morning. This will be hell of a better watch than being here alone.”

“Then we put into Sydney or some other town with an enclave or sanctuary?” Al asked.

“Aye, we can.” Captain Roberts answered. “But fer ta-night? We DRINK!”

“Here here!” Andrea laughed.

Archer, atypically quiet, just sat at the top of the steps. Dusk was more than two hours away.

“Once it’s gone dark, w’ pull all da tarps over de glass and git below. I keep lights ta minimum. I ha’ LED lights that adjust low.” Captain said. Then coughed. “We needs fuel, too, for such a trip. We will need to take on at least three-thousand liters of fuel or we run a chance o’ rowin’ b’fore we get ta where we wants ta be.”

“Hey, what if we just take a boat?” Al asked. “There is a whole fleet of vessels out there that have no one to claim them.”

The Captain stopped talking for a moment.

“Well, I don’ know de other boats as well, but it’ll sure’n satisfy a few cravin’s. We kin upgrade. I never thought about takin’ another boat. Hum…”

Unpacking the maps from the Maribella, the group now including the Captain walked down the moorings assessing each yacht. Finally settling on the Calliope. A luxurious world-class sixty-meter yacht that showed full on all six tanks. Checking the staterooms confirmed the crew was alone on the yacht.

The Calliope, secured and they moved slowly to the unplug the yacht’s power cables from the end of the marina.

“The radio is broadcasting that the area north of Sydney is under quarantine, they are blocking all roads.” Rachel said as the Captain had started the engines warmed them up.

“Here comes the farewell party.” the Sergeant shouted. Shuffling dead were attracted to the sounds of the vessel powering up.

“Dey’ll hold up at de gate.” The Captain said.

“Yeah… no. They have pulled the gate down already.” The Archer said, the sounds of rending metal attracting more walking horror. “Captain, we need to leave.”

The redheaded Yank looked back out the window at the failed gate. “As in now.”

“As in… We has ta get de fark outta here,” Captain Roberts said.

“Agreed,” The Al said. “Forget leaving on the turn of the tide. Let us just cast off now.”

“Bloody hell! If yer’n not cast off now, just cut lines. Theys not organized, theys keep fallin’ off into the water, but I won’ ‘ave any o’ ya out dere as bait.”

Casting off, the sixty-meter yacht pulled away from the dock slowly. The motion was not missed by others on the edge of town. The dead, under control of their masters began to walk down towards the marina stopping only at the edge of water.

“Set a course,” The Captain ordered. “Use dat GPS dere, and indicate Sydney.”

Archer gave a rare smile to Stormy, putting down an arrow from his bow, Midnight.

“You were going to make a stand?” Stormy frowned.

“Stand? Hell no. I was going to shoot that transformer on the pole over there and drop the power line into the water. I’m sure we would be safe, but anything standing in the wet areas would have an exciting moment or three.” Archer winked.

“Wi’ one o’ da li’l sticks?” The Captain asked. “F’k’n’ Bullshit.”

“Captain.” Al said. “With all due respect, that man could do it. I have seen him do things a hundred paces away with those “li’l sticks” that you swear is impossible.”

The Captain shook his head land laughed.

“Den I’s glad ta has yer on my side, Yank.”

Flee Chapter 8. Recognition

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8. Recognition

 

The Archer came back out after he pulled on his pants and socks. His shoulders were a testament to the skills he had with a bow as he carried a dark-gray polo shirt over his right shoulder.

He sat down by the armored glass and looked out, pulling on heavy black boots.

“Any changes outside?”

“None.” Al said as he surveyed with a pair of binoculars he had found. “It has been quiet, what can be seen, however, there is some movement six intersections distant heading away from the water, but I don’t have a view down towards the marina, it could be a Grateful Dead party down there for all I know.”

The redheaded Yank chuckled grimly and started to pull the polo shirt on over his head.

“Archer?” Stormy asked. “The tattoo you have on your chest? I recall seeing it before. I needed to think about it for a moment, but I remember you.”

“My tattoo?” He touched his chest. The Celtic heart with the black lightning bolt across it had been there so long, he had forgotten about it.

“You are T.H. Harte. The U.S. Olympic Archer that took the team to the finals, they said your form was all wrong, but it kept working for you. I helped sponsor you. My firm bought your equipment, and some bows. Three of them if I remember.”

“He is… you are Thunder Harte?” Al blinked, looking from Stormy to the Archer. “He wrote a few books and is the host of the outdoor channel’s show “Against all odds”. Wow!”

Archer looked down and gave a heavy sigh. The sound of a man haunted by ghosts and tortured by a shattered soul.

“Yes, yes, and yes, I was Thunder Harte. But I cannot use that name anymore. I’m no longer that man.”

“You have a family. Your son is one of the youngest to ever qualify for the U.S. Olympic Archery team.” Rachel said. “There was a legal challenge about minors in the sport.”

Yes, I opposed him being pushed into the sport by the media. Their attitude was beyond the pale and I filed a lawsuit for invasion of privacy. It was his choice and his choice alone.”

“You keep talking about him in the past tense.” Al pointed out, his three-decades of police skills coming to the fore.

“Yeah,” Archer said softly, as if he did and did not want to talk about it. It was a wound that still made his soul bleed and began to pour out of him as if he could not stop his words. “We were overrun by those shuffling nightmares. So, my wife and son took shelter in a quiet, dark house and I drew off the mob by using fire bombs and a shotgun. There was a minor problem, and then my son came out to help, the courage of a pre-teen. ” Archer took a deep breath as if to clear his soul. “They caught him and began to drag him off. My wife ran out with a stick to beat them away and they grabbed her too.”

He choked and his knuckles turned white as he squeezed the edge of the desk, the veins stood out in his forearms and neck. A man about to scream in agony.

“I was a half-block away, semi-auto shotgun was stovepipe-jammed and I had the bow and four jars of turpentine.” The deep sound of a heart breaking sob came out of the one they called Archer. “It took too long to clear the jam, the shotgun wouldn’t cycle so I could clear a path. Then I finally cleared the jam and needed to eject another shell before I could jump back in the fight. But I was too late.”

He took another deep sigh as he pulled himself together.

“I shot them both.” He said quietly, almost inaudibly. “It was the best I could do. They were both bloodied already and I believed it was a virus at the time.”

“You didn’t know about the vampires.” Rachel said, showing her less stormy side.

“No. I could have saved them.” Archer drew a breath and looked out the window. “I failed them. I killed my family and there is no deeper Hell than what I’m in. I couldn’t even bury them.”

“I’m no longer a Harte.” He said in a strangled voice, anguish showed his face as he covered his eyes as if to blind himself to a vision remembered. “I have no name. Just… Archer. It is well enough of a name.”

“You will need to forgive yourself, you will need time to find your way.” Gail said, putting a hand gently on his shoulder. “You need to put this behind you, the world has nearly come to an end.”

“Forgive?” Archer shook his head. “No. I should live with this forever. There is no forgiveness for what I did, I failed them, then I killed them.”

From his quiver, he pulled a plastic baggy that contained locks of hair.

“I cut some hair from their heads after I drove the zombies back. The blond is his and this, ” He reached in the bag and touched a lock of red hair. “Is from my wife.”

“Compared to my hair, she is more of an orange color, but she was a warrior from the north of Glasgow. By the time I got to her, they had bitten and severely tore her up, but she had given better than she taken. Bodies lay with their heads stove in all around her.” Archer stroked both locks of hair as if there was some magic in them. Magic that he could not unlock, but refused to let go.

He rolled the plastic baggy up and put it back into a pocket in his quiver and closed the flap.

“Let’s hunt up something with working radios that won’t draw a crowd.” Gail said softly, taking her hand from Archer’s shoulder and stroking his hair. “Down by the marina, we can put to sea, zombies are not able to sneak up or mob us. I would bet the long dead ones would sink anyway.”

“Let’s pack up.” Archer said. Anything to draw attention away from him.

They were ready in moments and formed up under the watchful eye of Al.

The group headed out in the practiced cover pattern that Sergeant Frobisher had taught them to do.

Flee Chapter 4. Revelation

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Dracul/Nosferatu Type Vampire Skull

Image of Ondode/Nosferatu type Vampire Skull.

4. Revelation

The door was ajar to the training room, only long tables and chairs filled the room. Andrea and the Archer stepped in slowly and quietly so they could hear the typical wheezing of those horrors that could be hide in the dark.  

But they were not alone.

Movement… Weapons turned the same time. Archer lightly bumped a chair with his hip.

“Stop walking.” Andrea hissed at Archer.

It was a shadow that did not fill with light — then it was gone.

Something moved and echoed Andrea’s hiss, avoiding the lights as it moved.

It moved quickly, a blur under the corner of a table, knocking over chairs.

“Come out!” Andrea sounded braver than the Archer felt.

The shadow charged as Andrea pulled the trigger on her weapon. The flash of expanding, burning gunpowder illuminated the room for a less than a blink of an eye, driving the serpent-like shadow backwards for a moment. Another hissing sound and an arrow buried itself into the head of the shadow and the hiss became a shriek of anger.

Bits of a desk erupted into splinters and sawdust as a dozen pellets tore apart the pressed wood construction whilst Andrea tracked the shrieking creature that moved like a cat on crack cocaine and too much espresso.

Clawed hands gripped the arrow and pulled the shaft out of the right eye socket, the eye reforming as it did.

The Archer’s earphone buzzed. “REPORT! Who is shooting?”

“Sorry, busy!” Archer answered as Andrea rocked the room again with her scattergun.

Archer blinked to clear his eyes from the dust fell from the ceiling. He shot the wrong shadow with an arrow and it stuck in a stupid angle in the wall, the sight of it made him shake his head while he nocked another shaft to the bowstring, tracking the correct shadow this time– the one with teeth.

“Call back later!” Andrea yelled into in her mic. “We’re killing shit!”

The shadow was too close this time, charging like a cat as she racked in another shell, brass bounced off the floor in slow motion as the black-shadow charged Andrea. In that moment an arrow intercepted the creature in the left eye and knocked the attacker off-balance.

The shotgun fired again, destroying its face and the arrow. The black creature did a back-flip, landing on all fours. Its face rebuilding and it launched at Andrea again as a winged quadruped.

A flash of inspiration, Andrea kicked a table against the wall and pinned the attacker — It was no zombie, and suddenly bi-pedal would have stood nearly to the ceiling if it got to its clawed feet, the shriek becoming a drawing out roar as it tried to stand. Still, its facial features could not yet be determined beyond fangs and cat-like eyes— struggling against the wall, pinned in an awkward way.

However, although it was immensely strong and changing shapes, it was in a twisted  position, struggling from behind the heavy desk that Andrea held against it with her foot.

“Shut up!” Andrea yelled as she pressed the tip of the barrel into the dark visage of this solid shadow. A contact shot, she fired into the inhuman face. The shotgun blowing a hole in the wall behind the attacker the size of her fists. But she might as well have spit on it for all she had done with the gunpowder and lead.

Gristle and meat, black blood and bone exploded and splattered on the wall, and then just… jumped… back to the struggling body. Then a tickle of wind and a swishing sound at her ear and would later be angry with Archer over how close the arrow was that flew past her.

Suddenly the angry shriek and gnashing of teeth stopped as the creature choked and clawing at the arrow stuck that in its chest, then collapsed into a pile of bones and ash.

“Wh-wh-w… ” The Archer, already nocked another arrow. “The.. Son of a… Holy… Shiiii…Fuuu… what… HELL!” His eyes as large as a car’s headlight as he searched for the best profanity.

“F’k’n oath!” She said, nodding with the Yankee. Still tracking what was left of the attacker with the pool of light that was the aim-point of the twelve-gauge.

Thundering footsteps down the hall announced that Al and company were coming as backup.

“No sneaking up on a bloke with that crowd.” Andrea said to Archer as the Al kicked the door open and entered with a shotgun at the ready, followed by Stormy and Gail each with submachine guns, lasers crisscrossing, looking for a target.

“You shouldn’t talk, that damned thing is LOUD.”

“What the hell was going on down here? Could you keep the room at least in one piece?” the Canadian Cop surveying the room and the holes  and arrows stuck in the sheet-rock.

The Archer picked up a skull off the floor and walked out of the room. The skull had two huge fangs in its mouth as he looked it over in the lighted hallway, then he handed it to Al.

“This is what attacked us.” Archer said. “I believe we woke it up.”

“It’s so light.” The flesh crumbled under his fingers leaving polished bone if he rubbed firmly. “It’s so dry.” Sharp teeth glinted in the harsh hallway’s light.

“Not when I first shot it. It crumbled and dried up in seconds when I hit it with my wood-shafted arrow.” Archer reported.

“Aluminum arrows had no effect.” Andrea nodded. “Neither did the buckshot from the riot gun.”

“Wood-shafted arrow? What are you talking about?” Al asked. “What the hell?”s

Andrea and The Archer looked at each other and laughed.

“My words precisely.” Archer said. “We are fighting something besides a virus I would say.

“What does that mean?” Gale asked. “You’re talking in riddles.”

“It means, ” Archer said, “that skull you hold, goes into a consecrated cemetery. One blessed by someone of the cloth, toss that in a hole of a cemetery and it won’t rise again.”

“Rise? A-a-again?” It was Zac.

“That,” The Archer pointed to the skull. “is a vampire, a Dracula-like creäture, I would wager. It kept changing shape while we fought it.”

“BULL!” Jameson yelled. “The news explicitly said it was a virus!  We are not fighting something so profoundly… so profound…. so… F’k’ng WRONG!  NO! You are not telling me that it’s a lie! An explicit, bald-faced LIE? THIS IS JUST A…

“Jameson! CALM DOWN” Gail slapped the coach driver so hard he fell over.

“Coincidence.”  The downed man moaned out.

“There is nothing in real-life as vampires!” Zac said, echoing Jameson’s disbelief. “That is only in movies.”

“There are no zombies, either. But we have seen otherwise, haven’t we?”

“Is it dead?” Jameson pleaded.

“No.” Gail said. “If Archer is right and the legends hold true, it is in a hibernation state, drip some blood into the skull and it will wake up. That is why we need to separate the head from the body and buried at a blessed cemetery.”

“Blessed cemetery? Aren’t they all?” Jameson asked. Coming back to grips with himself. “I’m sorry about that.  Vampires terrified me as a child.”

“No.” Stormy said. “Some even have consecrated and unconsecrated ground within a single graveyard. We need to choose where to bury that skull carefully.”

“Should we put garlic in it?” Zac asked.

“You brought back some garlic powder and garlic salt with the last shopping spree you and the Canadian did.”

“Stuff it, bag it and bury it.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “But where?”

“There is a church up the way.” Andrea pulled at her ear. “I don’t recall the kind of church. Catholic maybe, but I am not positive.”

“Catholic, Jewish,” Archer shrugged. “Could be a Shaolin temple for all I care, so long as it involves holy ground.”

“Let’s make it done.” Al ordered.

2 Dracul Skulls ("Noble" caste, Possibly "Royal" Ref. Van Helsing, Et al, "Identification of skulls" Copyleft 1901 Royal Underground press.) in 2 views.  Left skull buried in bag of garlic under unknown church, skull on right was placed on display in London Museum until lost during air raids of WWII, presumed destroyed.

2 Dracul Skulls (“Noble” caste, Possibly “Royal” Ref. Van Helsing, Et al, “Identification of skulls” Copyleft 1901 Royal Underground press.) in 2 views. Left skull buried in bag of garlic under unknown church, skull on right was placed on display in London Museum until lost during air raids of WWII, presumed destroyed.

Flee Chapter 1. Brisbane

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1. Brisbane

 

The red haired Yank pulled his bow to a full draw and sighted over the arrow at the shambling horror that approached him.

Forty-paces away.

Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly.

Thirty paces and closing.

This was a fresh-dead human that could walk faster than the others of his kind.

Twenty paces.

His focus was a laser point as he aimed with instinct and he put the fear of death in a controlled area of his soul.

He waited, measuring the distance.

Fifteen paces.

The eyes of this once-human had not yet become milky. Its vision was nearly equal to a living person, the Archer sighed with deep grief. At one time this was a handsome youth.

Five paces. It did not realize the threat of the living man and the bent wood and string he held.

The human loosed the arrow that flew straight and true into the left eye of the walking nightmare, it stiffened on the impact of the projectile into its brain and it fell over backwards with a quiet thud.

“Why do you shoot them in the eye like that?” Alexander Frobisher asked.

Late of the RCMP, now on vacation. When he was working, he was a Sergeant and a leader of the Emergency Response Team in his section, now he was not so sure since the fall of society.

“Bone is thinner there, I might pass it through the optic foramen – the hole that the nerve passes through. It’s less stress on my arrows and I hate trying to build new ones. I have tried wood I find, but I failed. Wood arrows are a challenge to find, even as dowels. But, I’m learning. Each time I work one, I’m better. We need to figure out how to build these in case we cannot find anymore in stores someday.”

The Archer pulled out an unfinished wooden arrow. An almost straight dowel of a wood that Frobisher could not recognize. It was fletched and had a metal head, but obviously was not one that the Archer was willing to shoot.

“Let’s take the food to the group. ” Archer said as he pulled out his arrow— it was an odd moment of black-humor that struck his mind as Frobisher watched.

A dead-dead person.

“Stay close to the flat of the buildings, away from the bushes.” The Sergeant said as they headed out. His own weapon at the ready, a wicked, edged weapon made of a cricket bat and the front chain-wheel of a bicycle. An effective battle-ax with a spiked edge.

The Archer carried a bow that he had found in a house. A simple recurve bow, he shot with an instinctive skill. Always in the eye of his target with devastating effect, they always went down in a mundane, quiet fall.

These friends, you would say that they were longtime friends if you met them on the street. But they had only met three weeks prior when the world fell into ruin.

Funny how such bonds are forged in the crucible of chaos.

Chaos.

It began in the land of Oz.

In Darwin, the first news of it hit the television. It was a virus the newscasters said. A jetliner had declared an emergency, crash-landed, breaking into two large sections. When the walking cadavers emerged from the debris, quickly overwhelming the emergency crews and the security forces.

The Archer figured out the secret with head shots. Gunfire attracted attention and mobbed those that used such weapons. The silent death of the arrows made a path without attracting.

The shuffling dead did not know or communicate enough to discover that an arrow had stilled one of their own.

They made their way to the bank that the group had held up in. Cowering behind a blast-resistant wall, the group was a mix of people who followed the Archer after walked down the boulevard, creating a hail of death that cleared a path through the Edgar Allan Poe nightmares pounding on the walls of their tourist coach.

Andrea the tour guide and her driver Jameson Curtis were the first to join the Yank.

Rachel “Stormy” Knight, an attorney from the United States that worked for the ACLU, Zac Wood from Scotland, a student ambassador, joined the group on another of the Yankee’s forays at a bus depot. Now they stood behind the cage where they could pull the safe door shut if they needed to while Andrea St. George, the tour guide, held a single-shot rifle

The Archer and Sergeant Frobisher tapped on the doors to be let into the bank.

Rachel “Stormy” Knight of the ACLU opened the door, holding a shotgun she had discovered in the bank. The men stepped in while the sharp eye of the lawyer watched the street.

Behind Stormy stood, with a pump shotgun taken from an abandoned police cruiser, Gallisa “Gail” Blachere, Ph.D, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Ed.D had a barely controlled rage in her eye, welcomed the two explorers back.

“Mighty hunters bring food!” The Archer laughed and opened his bag of canned goods. “Sorry there are no fresh foods.”

Stale biscuits and beer were common in the second bag that the Canadian carried. Opening a third bag, the Archer set two jars of Vegemite on the counter.

“You have good taste for a Yank!” Andrea laughed and picked it up. “A bit of heaven on earth you have brought here.”

“Maybe. I bet Al has done better with the beer and biscuits.” The Archer said. “Eat up, we need to move out as soon as we finish, we need to vacate. There is a police station down the road with a gated fence. “

“Why do we need to move?” Zac asked.

“The bank is too soft of a target.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “A police station is more easily protected. Bulletproof glass, iron bars, locking doors. I’d say it’s safer.”

“Praise the lord and pass a biscuit.” Archer said.