Source: The Cutter
Now, over the months, I’m shooting at ever smaller targets- bottle caps (The Cheap Archer here.) With depression that sneaks in, on a few really low days, the arrows and focusing on the targets 30 paces away help.
For you folks with the telescopic optical sights, stabilizers, balance beams, pulleys and such, I appreciate your ability to shoot. But I keep it to the difficult, organic side.
10,000 years if archery history, I shoot with a longbow- my newest friend. It sits next to me along with the vintage recurve I purchased for US$7.50 (Sans string, I had to buy that separately for US$3.50).
Now, that said: The targets.
A 30 mm cap from a milk jug, made of low density polyethylene. Very light, and more durable than the previous, larger bottle caps I used.
To make matters more difficult. I punched a small hole in two of the said LDPE caps. Hung them by a kite string on a small stick of bamboo that swings and rotates slowly (sometimes fastly) in the wind. I have hit it all week in oblique hits as it spins and swings in the air. The slightest breeze moves the cap. it is a challenge.
Tonight, however, was something different. That was a an impressive (to me) shot. It was breezy, and you have to track the target and anticipate where it might be when the arrow gets there. But I still buried the bottle cap into the target backstop.
That made my night. Depressed? yeah, still. But I feel a little accomplished. Plus I have gotten the writing more focused today.
Come shoot with me. 😀 I’ll supply the bow and the arrows. We can scour the area for targets. Leaves, bottles, caps, even an odd shoe I see on the side of the road now and again… and recycle them at the same time.
In the last 72 hours, I have found how the clouds can move over once again. Noticed it when editing a story that a good gent critiqued. Good honest crit.
As I write this the honey colored dog, Honey, is head-butting my arm. She’s not the strongest dog in the world, but she has a forklift for a head. She does pretty well on tipping me over.
Back to the here and now, I have not been writing which annoys me. Instead I’m overheated (that time of year anyway) during the day and stripping paint of the door that Hershey the dog from abject panic of firecrackers in the area and no humans home to calm her. Now I am on a mission to strip this door of at least six layers of paint, perhaps as much as fifty-years worth of paint. So care must be made to lock the paint in a plastic bag and reduce dust to zero.
This means no electric sanding, and hand-sanding with fluid surfactants to entrap the dust- and all done outside.
But, it also means I am not writing. Not like I need. I like to have stories mapped out (if not written, I’m ahead in my head.) days ahead of the cycle, and I know I am late in the day. Most of the studies I read say I should post in the morning of the United States.
Blech, I don’t do that. Midnight? Yeah. Often.
Tonight at midnight? Hardly. You get a journal entry only, no fiction. I don’t have a muse to write with. The muses are in the showers cleaning off paint-crud and paint stripper.
I would paint it all again, but Mrs Dash wants it stained, and it appears to be nice wood underneath. At least one filler, it seems that someone moved the door knob from one side to the other.
And yet, I feel lost. Is it the drug of writing?
I prowl the kitchen without reason, aimless wandering and looking to poach something. Peanut butter and chocolate? Ugh..then I sit down to the keyboard… then jump up and run outside again to scrape paint off the door. Again.
I daydream out there. Need to launch an arrow or two
The imagination calls, to watch the hero save the day?
Does the heroine save him, only to find out he is gay and married to a wonderful man?
Does the hero watch his hearts love walk away? Superman watching Lois Lane marry someone who is better for her than he ever could be?
Heh, I missed all those in the last few days. The glory of creating. Or editing? That is fear.
I fear to make it worse. From exploding phones in the hands of bad guys to a steampunk journey to a romance that is as chaotic as they come.
But as Hemingway said, first drafts are all crap. (Well, paraphrased there.)
I will dig up another chapter, edit it a little, clean up some things and post it here, but is it truly writing? It doesn’t feel like it.
Sometimes, I hear the laughter in my soul that is not there. The doubts. I am no writer, I am just… someone who thinks he is.
Who am I?
I am a writer, an author. I will make you cry or laugh.
I am Dash. Bradach Ard Ri.
7. Captain’s Log
The young man sat on the overturned bucket with a quill in one hand, a book in his lap. He leaned in his favorite corner, eschewing the captain’s chair at the desk.
The Blackfish was making way nicely, and his view of the ocean from the stern of the ship made his soul feel free with the expansive view when the storm doors were open.
His long crimson hair, cut above his ears months before, now hung down past his ear lobes, dipped the tip of the quill in the jar of ink and put the blackened tip to the parchment.
“Captain’s Personal Log:
This is the first voyage of the Blackfish, and my father follows in the Fearg. A sister ship to this one. We have come here to this spot from a journey that started years ago.
Nearly half my life.
A summer day when my father went out with a ship that he had built. He was gone when the English came and destroyed my village.
I saw my seanathair lay on the ground with a bolt from his manubalista jutting out of his chest and the soldiers that beat my mam into the dirt until she stopped moving. In those days, I thought she was dead.
I woke up on a slave-cart, I still carry the scar, hidden by my hair, where the soldier hit me.
When I came home, I found that my mam, taken by the English, was in the islands where Captain Christopher Myngs freed myself and my friends.
I found when I returned to my father in the Virgina lands of a bay they called Irishtown. A backwater behind a Dutch settlement.
I sit in command of this new ship, a crew of twenty and one hundred of the old crew. Only twelve adults serve on board. The older’s follow us, in the ship of my father’s design.
We return in force, with my old friends Anna God-Wants and Jacquotte Delahaye to find my mother, somewhere on the islands of the Caribs.
I will not rest until I find my mother’s fate and return her home, if I can.
I cannot watch my father walk as a man alone any longer, he weeps at night for the life stolen from him, he believes I do not see. But he is my father, I hear him at night, I see his eyes. The strain shows on his face.
This is not tolerable on a personal level.
My friends all have parents, brothers and sisters all still missing and we will return to collect them.
The Blackfish and the other ships can carry twice more than the crew who man them. Plus my plan will be to take ships on our return home.
Empires will tremble at the thought of our rescue. No navy will prevail against us. We have new bronze cannon built by the one my father called Francois Buile. He showed us that the ranges of the nine-pounders are near double of our last guns.
Granuaile has turned carriages of the guns into inventions of her own design. Adult men have learned to keep their distance from her.
My only pleasure around her, she has stopped socking me in the shoulder. My bruise is almost healed, but any man who hits me there now, will have a surprise. Unless he has hands of stone, I would not notice it.”
The ginger-haired youth rubbed his shoulder and laughed at his own humor. Looking out over the water, the old melancholy chased away the smile.
Putting the quill into the bottle, he stood up and walked to the expensive glass window. An artisan, commissioned by the blacksmiths, made three cut-glass letters to remind a woman’s child of her name.
“Fey” in small colored cut-glass gems sparkled in the sun, it burned in his soul to see it.
Tracing his fingers over the inlay, the old anger rose again. He would get her back. They meant it as a gift to calm a soul, instead, it was a fan that increased the rage in his heart.
Sitting again, he picked the quill out of the bottle and tapped the drop off against the mouth of the blown-glass bottle of ink and put it to the expensive vellum in his personal journal.
Turning the page, he wrote at the top of the page:
“Captain’s Personal log of Keegan O’Danu
I miss her, I can remember my mam’s eyes and her laugh. I was only nine-summers old when we were taken. I will find her and bring her back, if only for my athair. A son should never see a father broken. Slavery should never be a market and I will free anyone that is in service against their will that I find, so long as I draw a breath. Slave ships will be my prey, anyone who flies the flag of empire will strike colors on my approach.
The Pirate Kingdom of the Sea will hold sway. Free people will embrace the name.
Everywhere they use the label pirate as a pejorative, I will embrace it as freedom.
Until my Mam is home, I will walk the decks and sail the seas until I am too old to chew my food.
Many years ago, to me.
My máthair was taken.
The English declared war on our village.
Today, I return to get her back. The Spanish, English and any who strike with the might of an empire, just because they can, I will make tremble with fear to sail these waters with their flags flying.
My father and his crew accompany us in thinking they protect the children.
We are the seeds of crimes that the Spanish, English, Dutch have sown.
It us up to the children to protect the fathers.
I will continue to use my war-name given to me by the Quartermaster of the Marston Moor.”
A member since the first tour on Grampus she had no fear of anyone, Beth Angelcries stepped through the door.
“Keegan, your Da’ is pulling up along side and using the speaking-trumpet that Nial the smith made.”
Nodding, the captain of the Blackfish looked up into the hazel eyes of the girl who had shown such fury when they made their way home, causing Keegan to redefine the term in his mind.
Looking down, he finished his entry.
With the support of Anna Marie and Jacquotte we will stop at the harbor of Germantown and meet with those children who stayed behind and were adopted when we left their village last year for the Chesapeake.
The adults in that town invited us to return when we wished. It is something I do wish to do, there is a debt of help I owe to the families there.
Setting down his quill, the youngest captain in any fleet walked to talk with his personal hero.
Their next port of call: Germantown.
Moon is supposed to rise
the night air, chills the flies
A cricket slowly rubs its wings
The silence broken by the sound
A strong youth races home in the chill air.
His highest gear as he peddles hard.
A young-old man, bad news as his best friend grows so ill.
A liter of vodka, in the night chill.
A missed stop sign and a broken heart.
A bent bicycle.
Another family torn apart.
In jail he sits while his love draws her final breaths
One empty man
One empty bottle
Two empty deaths
A life a wreck
On a winters eve
The moon is supposed to rise
At Hell’s Kitchen, Spicer Meadow road
Standing on the precipice
Two empty bottles
One empty man
His gift to the world, a vertical epic
They once called him Doctor of Art
Then they called him monster,
who tore lives apart
Now they called him dead.
Nightmares come and sleep is rent and torn
Horrors on things unspeakable borne
The darkness is left when the light has fled
The living balk in quiet dread
Then to be awakened by an awful scream
The sun has risen
You hope it was only a dream.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
The door was ajar to the training room, only tables and chairs.
But they were not alone.
Weapons turned the same time and Andrea hissed at the Archer.
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.
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.
“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.
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.” 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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
The Last Christmas
He sat on the balcony, a fingerling red potato in his hand, feeling the weight and shape of the hard tuber.
In the previous weeks, after he had completed training for his next level of 3rd Dan black-belt in his martial art and began to feel peaked.
He had tinkered on the potato gun for weeks, the competition leading up to the finals showed a very intense group of people who dedicated their lives and teamwork to launch a tuber the farthest.
One potato, like the one in his hand, flew for nearly two-kilometers, until the controversy erupted that the team had rifled the inside of the PVC tubing that gave a spin to the torpedo-shaped tuber and stabilized it in flight.
He softly laughed at the thought, the most you could get out of him these days, the contest also included contests on how far a pumpkin could be thrown with mechanical means.
Teams built such things as trebuchet, mega-sized elastic slingshots with hundreds of bungee cords attached to the sling, drawn back with an electric winch. One creative team came up with a crossbow monstrosity with a complex, compound shape that exploded when drawn back to full cock.
Investigation into the incident showed the structure was basically sound, but three bolts put in place team members forgot to tighten before drawing tension on the frame of the giant crossbow. The oversight worked for one launch, the next time they cranked the infernal contraption back, the limbs of the bow snapped forward in a dry fire, sending spring powered shrapnel flying for hundreds of feet, hitting people not even watching the giant bow being used.
The following year, the administration added new inspector teams to check everyone’s submission for the contest.
Such was the “Tater Gun and Punkin’ Chuckin’” contests. Two days of laughter, friends, shade-tree engineers and NASA types that got involved.
Including those of his own teams from the local company.
Those were good days, he mused. Since then, two of those friends had killed themselves. One stepped in front of an oncoming truck during a call. There was no proof of intent, other than she spoke of it with one person a year before.
Another, suntanned, handsome, he was out on the ocean beach one summer’s night and went for a swim, never to return.
The Employee Assistance Program, designed to prevent such events, but it was an uphill struggle. Those that sought help for the depression, the chronic pain from sitting in positions that they constantly found themselves in, for depression and insomnia, often were quietly categorised by other EMS teams as lesser value resources.
“Weak mind.” Some whispered.
For this reason, few if any that activated the EAP or even spoke of it. When they did, it was a deep secret.
He scratched his nose, a medic of decades, the thing he missed most, was laughing.
Sleeping was difficult, too. The paramedic rarely remembered his dreams. But, those dreams he did remember, he wished he forgot before he awoke. As it was, he would wake with the feeling of dread, of darkness and sadness that cast a pall over everything.
So he increased his caffeine intake and stayed up until the last moment he could. Where things such as turning off a light switch was an effort in decision-making, and then collapse into bed to go straight to sleep.
It was telling on his ability for critical-judgement calls. He began to feel afraid to leave the house and even got to a point of misanthropic frame of mind.
He disliked walking through crowds, a thousand faces he could look into in a single “Arts-&-Crafts” show, knowing that a certain percentage would be on medication for one ailment or another. Many were diabetic, under control and lived lives that no one would be aware that they had any trouble with their blood-glucose levels.
Other people, did not follow their schedule properly and would have a crisis building.
He could see those.
The perspiration, pallor. A lack of focus as they tried to keep up their composure, but failing.
He could see that, to him, it was obvious.
Once, German physicians had ridden with him and his junior partner on the Mobile Intensive Care Paramedic unit, in Germany, doctors rode on the rescue units to do the treatments needed. After witnessing the American version, they declared them slightly insane, in a humorous German way, and went back to their country to change how their system ran.
It mattered not, these days.
His last shift he had the privilege to have a twenty-one-day-old patient that an adult shook to death, a month after a fellow paramedic shot himself.
A darkness grew inside his soul in the weeks afterward until the infanticide call.
The days had come where he would think that his dark side was in control.
A paramedic that wept in the quiet hours when no one was around, driving his massive four-wheel-drive Ford F-450 that was his toy, he often pulled into a farmer’s field that lay fallow for the last four years, and wept. Unstoppably, deeply, until he could not breathe.
A bottle of Polish Rectified spirits sat in the armored lunch box behind the seat, its seal intact. He knew that the one-liter bottle of the fluid that had many uses.
Cleaner, fuel, sanitizer (in a pinch), antifreeze and even drink.
However, a dangerous drink. Ethanol is a poison at those concentrations of more than ninety-five percent pure.
Technically, for sale only in New York, but with connections he had long made, a six-pack of the ethanol laden bottles arrived at his door in a hard-sided case.
Five bottles sat in his house for people to gaze at. One he had opened. The sixth, sat in the truck in the fishing gear.
Not that he ever went fishing anymore, since his wife of a decade left and filed for divorce, saying that he was not home when she needed him. A curse of Fire, Police and EMS. Divorce rates seven-times the rate of civilians, locally.
He shot archery more often, it was less of a problem to get bait and being sure that the fishing license was in reach.
And it was quieter. He also did not trust himself anymore with a firearm in the empty house, it was a dark and empty place.
Still and all, he took steps. He ceased all drinking when on his own, which was frequent of late, focusing with a bow on a small target, he found more peace as he watched the shaft go on target more often than not.
Small targets he found, paper-plates held in place with toothpicks, colored in with sharpies he had around the house, they were the cheapest target he could find.
Today, he finished the potato gun. He wondered about the quarter-pound spud moving at more than two-football fields per second speed that might be a new distance champion shooter.
The other thought that he kept at bay, usually, with his archery and driving in the back-country, if he stood in front of the gun by accident while testing it, if it would hurt.
Shaking his head, he stood up and walked back in the house to get ready for the next shift.
Maybe he might have a traffic accident to help at, then grab at the opportunity to step in front of a semi-truck on the highway like the cute and flirty medic that got waffled by a semi.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
No. He would not do that. The driver would be an innocent in the on-duty suicide and totally unfair.
First rule: Above all, do no harm. It would harm the trucker in countless ways.
Pulling on the jumpsuit with all the patches that indicated his level of training and position as a paramedic team leader.
No, not tonight, he said to himself, finding once again the reason to choose to see it through to the end of the twenty-four hour shift.
A tenuous choice, but it was be another day. Regardless of how it worked out.
This was his last year.
Chapter 35. Familiar Face
They left the office and as soon as the door closed behind them, Barbara spoke first.
‟I don’t think that person was happy with you. She was quite upset about just filing the plan.”
‟She’ll recover.” Tom nodded. ‟Right now I have to call the exchange. Did you like the crew on the last flight?”
‟Yes, what was her name.” Barbara grumbled at her senior moment.”
‟YEAH! That’s her. Captain R. M. Watson.”
‟Good woman. She flew in Iraq and other places. Multiple ratings. I request her a lot, the company knows my account number and gives me a list on who is available. She is the only woman on their staff who is jet rated.”
‟They only have one woman on staff.
‟No, they have others, she is the only one rated for multi-engine jet.”
‟Oh.” Barbara laughed. ‟I was going to use another company if they didn’t hire women.”
‟Oh no. Lettie, my NorCal Limo owner is a major investor. I would doubt that they’d make a glass ceiling. Could happen, but if that woman found out? I’d run if I were them.”
‟OH! I know Lettie! She picked me up from when we hit the birds.”
‟Oh yes. That was a special favor, normally they don’t take limos off the pavement.” Tom smiled. ‟She is a rare one.”
‟She said you helped them get a start?”
‟Not precisely. I just keep them on retainer and speed dial.” Tom said. ‟I direct business their way. They only have a few cars and I think only four drivers. Lettie and her cousins.”
‟They have a post-grad psych major working for them. A guy named Kaikane.”
‟He is. You get points for paying attention.”
‟I don’t know Kaikane.”
‟He knows you.”
‟I get that a lot.”
‟You are likeable.”
‟I’m going to slap you.”
‟Promise? We won’t have the chance for a mile high fun time.”
‟Seriously. You need to relax on yourself, you need someone to keep you on your best, but keep you from being so dark. Your books will show that and if you are writing children’s stories, you need to keep them light.” Barbara looked at him evenly with the soul of a woman who would protect the one she cared for, even from himself. ‟You can write like no one I know. Probably as good as any of the great writers. Even like Joyce and Steinbeck or Hemmingway. But you don’t have to become Edgar Allan Poe to do it.”
“Tom, do not go back into that hole you locked yourself up into for a while.”
‟What makes you think I am going back into anything?” Tom smiled. ‟You have given me light and passion. We are ending a contract in a way that protects you. I am not emotionally broken-hearted, I could have invested in it, emotionally, if I had thought that you were sober and we spent some time together. Not baked, drunk and horny. I am fond of you, but that extends into friendship. I want you to stay, but not at the cost of a future.”
Barbara thought a minute as they waited for Lettie to show up with a limo. Tom’s speed dial rang her phone directly and he had told her of the situation.
‟You are the best man I know, next to my dad.”
‟I would like to meet him, someday.”
‟Are you kidding? He would die to meet you. Steam Land, if there is anything written by you on that series, he has it.”
‟Heh, I bet he is almost my age.”
‟I think you are older.”
‟Oh. Um. Yikes.” Tom laughed. ‟He might greet me with a shotgun.”
‟No, I think he’d be happy to have you in the family even if you banged his dog.”
‟Kidding.” Barbara laughed.
A dark limo wheeled in. It was Lettie.
‟Tom, Barbara, it seems like we just left you both in the Sea Dragon.” Lettie was all smiles.
‟We need a ride to the Executive Airport to the private entrance.”
‟Let’s go. Traffic is good, I can get you there in thirty minutes.”
‟I will pay you for two hours. The plane won’t be ready until then, take us to San Fran to drive through the park and down the beach.”
‟Hm. Tom, if I may suggest. From here? Let me take you to Half Moon Bay and then up along the coastal highway. We can pull in, then you and Barbara can walk on the sand.”
‟We…”Tom stopped for a moment as if something caught in his throat. ‟We are heading to Vegas to get an annulment.”
‟WHAT? Tom, Barbara.” Lettie caught herself and the professional woman came back to grips. ‟Sorry. But my opinion, she makes you smile. Barbara, for a girl who was so mad at him, you have a glorious soul that’s touched by Tom.”
Motioning the couple into her limo, Lettie wore a strained smile.
‟That is all I will say on the subject. I apologize. Not my place and I’d fire anyone who did what I just did.” Lettie said. ‟One trip through Golden Gate Park, back to Executive. Do you have your transport taken care of?”
‟Yes, thank you.” Tom smiled.
The door closed and Lettie moved to the front of the long vehicle.
‟What was that all about?” Barbara asked Tom.
‟Lettie is kind of protective. But she has a point. I can switch companies if it would make you feel better.”
‟No, actually, it makes me smile. Tom. Only someone special can evoke that kind of emotion in people, someone who people would stand up for. If I can come back and marry you?” Barbara’s eyes shined with tears. ‟I want to invite all your friends. From pilots, to writers, to limo drivers and everyone I can find that calls you by your first name.”
‟Um. That is everyone I meet. I insist to dispense with formality. I am no better than anyone.”
‟You are a great writer. Not many people can do that. PLUS!” Barbara raised her index finger. ‟You do more for the fire fighters with your fleet of water bombers.”
‟How did you know about that?”
‟I.” Barb bit her lip. ‟I looked on your history in your computer back at the Pacific Wizard.”
‟Ah. No. I was mad and curious and alone. You have internet on your computer at the Wizard and I logged into the guest accounts. Your name is all over the net.” Barbara said.
‟Ah. No problem. So you know about my firefighting air-force that some states won’t use.” Tom smiled. ‟It works in most states, California is a bit more… Picky.”
‟You have changed the subject on us. We need to have this understood.”
‟Well, technically, you changed the subject.”
‟Don’t change the changed subject.” Barbara laughed. ‟The point is, you deserve more happiness than you have. And we can do it together if you and I start on a proper friendship and wedding.”
‟Okay, I think we can do that. But you go take good and well care of Glenn. I’ll be your little secret.”
‟Little? Little would be if you were a janitor, you are a successful writer.”
‟Well, tell you what. We split the sheets on this and you decide that this accident was a good thing to happen. We’ll have that wedding for you.”
‟Not for me. For you. You need a party. My family and friends couldn’t fill four benches in a church combined. I tend towards the shy side.”
‟Shy? Like a hurricane. Let me see, weddings are for girls- generally speaking.” Tom smiled. ‟You have skills in karate…”
‟Yeah, that.” Tom smiled. ‟You like to lay naked on a beach, you are a bartender and you would not bow to a man with a knife. If I recall, you kicked the crap out of him.”
‟Heh! Yeah, I did.” Barbara laughed. ‟Felt good, too. He wanted to hurt me, and I was in the proper mood to return the favor.”
Tom laughed softly.
‟I would have not ever missed that show for anything. It was fun to watch, shocking, but fun to watch.” Tom said. ‟I might write about it someday.”
‟I would like to read that. Make me as an avenging angel.” Barbara smiled.
‟You can be sure. I would make you more than that.”
The limousine pulled into the park and drove around the green strip. Tom pointed out an archery range and the windmill as they drove by.
Talking excitedly with each other, two people enjoying their hearts and souls. Knowing that it would come to an all too soon end. They learned more about each other as Tom poured wine in glasses for the both of them.
Two people celebrating friendship and the strange path that brought them together.
‟Let’s go get unmarried, the plane will be ready, let’s go check in.”
‟Okay.” She said, looking down into the glass of her wine.
‟This has been very enjoyable, Tom. You make this more difficult by being so nice.”
‟You want to stay?”
‟Yes. And no. I want my chance with Glenn.”
Tom stopped the conversation and toned Lettie to drive them to the airport with the phone from the back of the limousine.
‟Time to go, thank you Lettie.”
They rode in silent stress to the airport, the atmosphere in the limo becoming darker and increasingly stressed.
‟It will be okay.” Tom said, holding Barbara’s hand.
‟Thank you.” She smiled, sadly.
In the pilot’s nest, clotted blood and torn flesh plastered the seat and control panels in thick, sticky mass that covered everything in a reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock creation. The co-pilot had dragged his captain and friend out of the seat. His place as copilot was behind the driver of the hybrid craft.
Tank treads under a skirt that used hovercraft technology, it was capable of smooth travel along different terrain. The tank tread could be deployed to keep with directional control on slopes, while the hovercraft skirt could let it traverse over marsh, water, broken ground with equal ease.
Throwing blankets over the blood-fouled seat, the backup pilot, using a foaming cleaner, cleared the control surfaces as best he could.
Ducking, projectiles hit all around the pilot dome. The large hole where AP shell had overwhelmed the polycarbonate shield.
The F-wits back at headquarters cost another life.
The Colonel had long recommended that crystallized, transparent aluminum in this area of the field units.
Polycarbonate dome was four fingers thick with a minimal distortion, corundum dome could do the same job with less distortion and be lighter by being thinner, perhaps as thin as a finger-width. Such a dome could stop a fifteen-millimeter exploding round, but the Advanced Med-trauma Rescue corporation deemed it as not cost-effective. Trading credits for lives.
Shaking his head, he came out of his cynical moment.
“Colonel, we have teams prepared to head out to the scene.” The voice over the radio sounded.
Fifty meters distant, between buildings, he stood and looked out the hole from the pilot’s advantage and sighed. It was between two buildings, they could fit.
But just. No room to maneuver, it was a kill-box if ever there was one.
“MCI treatment protocols are in effect, load and go only. Deploy.” The Safsy said into the radio quietly.
The Chief of Surgery on the Seraph said that when he gave a report and a patient was dying, his voice was as if he was making small talk. Lately inside his soul, he was always in a panic with a hair-trigger temper at home.
The last time he had been there, his wife acted surprised and a little disappointed that he had not been killed with his current state of mind. In her life, she could not stand knowing if he was going to walk through the door or come home in a box. She would be better off with the insurance money, financially. But, as she told him, she wanted the man that she married, back.
Now, he stood with his pilot in the small control room. Officially it was a one-person closet with a dome that allowed a three-hundred sixty.
“Strapping on.” The ship as the pilots would say. The pilot control was simply he turned the ship with his mind and used hand controls to fine-tune the different systems to keep the surgical, trauma, and rescue teams and their patients, safe.
Safsy saw a silhouette on the roof of a building, instinctively pulled James Cupri, the pilot, down out of the gaping hole as the intruder, while the sniper began shooting.
“Back-back-back!” Safsy yelled. “Our location is untenable.”
“Emergency reverse.” James yelled back. “Distance from team now is seventy-meters.”
“When the team returns with the victims, move us closer, load them up and get us the hell out of here.”
Four of the paramedic trauma-team walked with intent and speed, then breaking into a run when a whine of a particle weapon fractured and melted a large crater in the asphalt ten paces from the team. They followed the first route they took into the area, dragging the victims to the safety of the armored rescue units called ambulances, which was a bit of a misnomer, the true ambulances were fully stocked larger units than these small, heavily armored and speedy strike units.
But the teams were heading back to the hanger, James at the pilot controls watched the approach of the team and was ramping up the power in the engines.
In the lower level, just below the pilot, the Defense System, Radio and Radar operations was the primary job for the “Rear Seat” officer.
Although Safsy was in charge of the overall ship operations and now with two patients, his job was to get them back to the Seraph safely, making him the next up on the chain as the Radio Officer. They would be returning to the hospital ship with everyone.
Safsy took a deep breath of sad resignation. Once more, doomed to disappointment. He needed to speak to the social worker again, a badly wounded pilot that would weigh on his mind. The man would live, but he lost a lung. The report would be filed to answer why they entered into an unsafe scene. No matter the dispatch data stream, it was Safsy’s responsibility for the portable emergency room.
He would once again have the nightmares tonight.
Crap he could not remember the man’s name!
Moments like this he had so much fear building up inside him. Nothing he did could have avoided the pilot’s injuries, the man put the vessel in harm’s way with the information displayed on the screen. Still, reports needed writing and filing regarding all events that led to the wounding of the pilot.
Safsy wondered if there was a large bottle of rum at the Seraph.
It invaded him, all around. Some would say he was a cold soul, hardened from so many times responding to emergencies, seeing things that would make a Marine cry, but he was numb beyond his ability to describe the feeling of sadness. It had been this way for as long as he worked the out lying societies of the colonies.
Outwardly he feared nothing, riding in the mobile emergency room towards, arguably, the capital of violence in the industrialized planet systems. This planet orbited a dwarf red star only a few dozen light-years from the home planet from where the first humans moved out into space.
He was Colonel Safsy Gliese. His father named him after the great explorer Safsy Riggs from earth that used the, then new, Type-D Alcubierre drive. His father- widowed by the war of religion when the religion of feared death-dealing terrorists triggered a supervolcano in the middle of a continent. After leaving Earth, Dad used a common last name when they left the planet for another brown proto-star for a mining colony, where his father struggled to make an import business succeed.
Instead, it succeeded into sending the best father that could have walked into an early grave, crushed by a product transporter with a lift that was long overdue for servicing, the old man pushed it past the limits and paid with his life. He left an eighteen-year-old son who had neither the knowledge or the desire to try and run an import business. Safsy desired to study medicine, even keeping grades up for scholarships.
But alas, scholarships were not enough. His grades did not earn him a full ride, without his father, he could only go part way before the money ran out. Leaving him frustrated and depressed. All he wanted to do was make his father proud.
And he failed on all counts, even losing the business that was his dad’s dream for success for the family of father and son.
Since then, Safsy had moved to the copper world of the orange-dwarf star called the planet Sapphire, in the constellation Sappho as seen from the planet in the stellar nursery fifty-light years distant.
A planet composed of high concentrations of copper, so much so that some mountain ranges had outcroppings of the metallic element. Beryllium rich outer planets in the system made for a natural industry and trade hub for the farmers of the other planets in the region.
Then the discovery of energy to mass conversion on the Gliese systems all but collapsed the economy of the Sapphire.
Right in the back yard of the Colonel’s work as Search and Rescue.
He looked out the window of the ship Seraph, captained by his friend and companion through frequent adventures over the years. Wings on the bow of the ship were against the protocols of the company, but the regional directors looked the other way as it was a gift of peace between two warring parties.
The pure gold welded to the hull of the ship made the wings sparkle without diminishing over time was no easy feat, as the hull of the Seraph was of metastable metallic hydrogen. Tough and superconducting, the simple element as a gas in space, came from the ship yards ready for any kind of action. Ship rescues near stars, high energy waves just slid over the hull, protecting everything within its walls.
Today, they were putting down on Sapphire, riots had broken out over the austerity programs, miners were out of work as the new technology had turned to converting hydrogen — the most common element in the known universe — into copper.
The once prestigious university of New Antarctica at the pole of the planet now sat in decay. Only the sciences seemed to stick it out for the duration, trying to create some alloy that would be a Sapphire Only creation.
Traversing the side of the green soiled hill, the team used a high-speed land-crawler to travel into the downtown area of Solstice, a large metropolitan area on the polar sea. A body of water ten-percent larger than the Terran Pacific Ocean and growing with the planetary tectonics.
“Medic-One, your victims are at school street and Twelfth Boulevard. Reporting two people stabbed. We have other units en route, law enforcement is also dispatched but have an ETA of half-hour. You will be first on scene, unknown location of suspects involved. Stage before arriving on scene at least five-hundred meters.”
“Copy, thank you for the information.” The Colonel specialized in off-ship rescues. The land crawler was capable of handling up to a dozen patients and have a surgical suite in the core with a team operating on victims.
“Medic-One, fire departments on scene report a riot on scene, stage at the one kilometer mark until law enforcement arrive.”
“Are they able to handle a riot?” Kimberly Suthlinder asked. “Maybe they should send out the peace force to stop this?”
Kimberly was a great surgeon, but this was her first tour and was fresh out of the University of the Sciences on Threshold, so named as it the planet that bordered deep space settlements.
“No, likely it is those peacekeepers that are fighting. They haven’t been paid for months.” The frowning Colonel said.
“Oh yes. It’s all about food now. These people would hunt the indigenous life, except the only life native here, is lichen. The economy fell to the technology that replaced their primary export. The two planets have teamed up, one processes beryllium,” He pointed to a spot in the sky. “Sapphire process produces an uncommonly pure copper with a minimum of energy input. There’s abundant hydrogen, but they don’t have the process technology to do anything with it. Not difficult to obtain, this system is in the middle of a dark-matter cloud that has pockets loaded with nearly pure hydrogen that has agglomerated into non-reactive particles, it is easy to collect. The government here just has no way to process it.”
“Oh, crap on a cracker. This will leave the area as a ghost town.”
“It will, for all intents and definitions, be a ghost town. We are witnessing the death of a society if they cannot beg, borrow or steal tech to improve their position.”
“What about the University here?”
“They are working around the clock to come up with something. But so far, the Gleise consortiums are keeping tight wraps on technology, they can produce copper that is five-nines pure with less energy that they use here— and they produced copper here cheaply, but not cheap enough.”
“Arrival.” The pilot’s voice came over the speakers in their chairs.”
“Arrival?” The Colonel blinked, tapping the touch-screen opening the intercom graphic on the control panel. “Colonel to bridge, we were to post away from the event.”
“Negative, my display shows green for entry.”
Taptaptap echoed in the hull of the crawler, punctuating the pilots comments — someone had taken shots at the moving emergency department.
“Pilot, move us out of here.”
Silence for a heartbeat.
“I’m hit! Help me, ohmygod!” The scream could be heard from the pilot’s position without the intercom.
Tapping on his smooth panel control module, the Colonel alerted the surgical and rescue teams.
“Trauma teams to the bridge, medical emergency, pilot has been hit. Trauma teams to the bridge.”
The Colonel wished they had shot him, six surgeons on board, with two gas-passers and trauma medics that can operate in the field to bring the victims in. But they only had two pilots, now one.
If the second pilot was hit, Safsy had only a passing knowledge of this transporter, he could drive them back to the Seraphim, but not as smoothly as with a trained pilot of this tank-treaded/hovercraft hybrid craft.
He did not want any harm to come to his team and would challenge anyone to shoot him if it drew the danger away from anyone or anything else.
Nodding to himself, the Colonel was looking for a chance to commit suicide by proxy. He did not always recognize it, but he knew he was coming to the end of his career.
Anyone that was looking to die in the line of duty did not belong on duty. He knew it was only time before he would stumble and begin to have serious, self-destructive personal and professional effects.
He did not know if it would be ethanol that might force him to resign or perhaps striking someone who would then need treatment in the Seraph.
Violence had no place in the medical ship, but the Colonel could feel it building by increments every day.