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Zombie Drift 4: Blake

Four: Blake

Communications Officer Blake Travers had been bothered by the messages. They were coming in at regular intervals, static and garbled voices begging him to decipher. Every now and then, he picked up a word or two thanks to the noise cancelling headphones. Infect. Virus. Brain. They were just a few he could pick out but the truth started to seep through. On land, there was some kind of contagion. A virus infecting the brain. He had to know more.

He decided to go to Morse Code. There could be no mistaking those kind of messages. As long as the receiver tapped out the right letters the message would reach you accurately. So he sat down at the Morse Code desk and began tapping out his question. ‘Is it safe to dock?’

It took a few minutes. He ran his finger through his yellow blond hair as he waited. This was a nervous habit from childhood and though he’d shaken it in recent years, stress always seemed to bring it back.

He looked at his watch, starting to wonder if anyone would answer. He knew Morse Code was a bit outdated, and the only ones who were taught it nowadays was sailors he was hoping someone at the docks still knew how to use it.

Then it came. In a short burst. Two words over the archaic system. ‘Turn Back.’

Blake quickly tapped out his next question. ‘Why?’

There was no immediate answer, He waited a few moments and tapped again. ‘Need to dock. Have passengers.’

This time the answer was almost instant. ‘Don’t.’

Again he asked. ‘Why not?’

‘Contagion.’

‘Virus?’

A slight hesitation. ‘No.’ Then, ‘Nuclear.’

Blake was taken aback. A deadly virus was one thing to contend with, but something nuclear? ‘Terrorists?’

‘No. Accident.’

‘Radiation leak?’

The reply, when it came, was shocking. ‘Warhead.’

Despite his alarm, he felt he had to ask the next question, so he tapped it out quickly. ‘Intended for whom?’

There was a long silence. The military man Blake had once been was now on high alert. And then a new message was tapped out from the docks. ‘Who is this?’

Blake hesitated. He didn’t know why, but he could almost hear his old naval instructor telling him, Never reveal yourself to the enemy. He’d spent a tour of duty on a submarine, where stealth and silence was normal engagement. Perhaps that applied here as well.

A new message came through. ‘Is this the approaching cruise ship?’

Blake didn’t respond, but the Morse Code persisted. ‘Is this the St. Fitzgerald?’

Despite his better judgement, he tapped out a quick answer. ‘Yes.’

‘Come on in. You are cleared for docking.’

Blake froze. Hadn’t the first message been to turn back? Hadn’t the Morse operator said Don’t when he said he had passengers and needed to dock? So, why all of a sudden was he now messaging us to come in? Because it’s two different people, he answered himself. The first guy isn’t there anymore. This is somebody new. And with this thought came another one. If there was a contagion, chemical derived or nuclear, the military would be there. They silenced him. The first guy. They replaced him with their man. And now they want us to come in. But why.

This can’t be happening, Blake thought. There is absolutely no way this is real. Maybe it’s a training exercise. Some kind of war game with the marines and the navy to better prepare the country for things like this. But his mind screamed at him in his father’s stern voice, “This is things like this! It’s happening now!

He got up from the desk, picking up the sheet he had been jotting the code messages on. He crammed it in his pocket and headed for the door. He had to get to the bridge and show this to the officer on watch. He could bypass him and go straight to the Captain, but that wasn’t normal ship procedure. He knew the Captain was on inspections so locating him could prove difficult. All he knew was they couldn’t go into port without finding out what was really happening onshore.

Outside, he started heading in the direction of the bridge, but something caught his eye. On the open deck, an Indian girl being accosted by two men. He wasn’t sure that was entirely true, but one of the men was holding the girl by her shoulders and was leaning down in her face. The other guy, a boy really, seemed to be looking the girl up and down.

He headed toward them, but waited until he was nearly on top of them before alerting them to his presence. The man had let the girl go and the boy had a cell phone out. “Everything okay here, Miss?” Blake asked.

The man, who had been looking at the cell phone too, suddenly looked up. “Oh, Officer. I think we need to see the Captain.”

This was something Blake heard time and time again. On most occasions they didn’t need the Commanding Officer of the ship and Blake had gotten pretty good at deflecting them.

“The captain is a busy man. Anything I can help you with?”

“Yeah,” the boy shouted. “You can take….”

“Who are you and what’s your rank?” the older man interrupted.

This threw him off a second. “I…I’m Blake Travers, Communications Officer. “

The man smiled and held out his hand. “Ethan. This is Peter. And…” He looked to the Indian girl.

“I’m Prisha,“ she replied.

Blake took the man’s hand and briefly shook it.

“Since you’re in Communications, maybe you should look at this communication,” Ethan said.

Peter handed the cell phone to Blake so he could see. Looking at what was on the screen, he instantly wished he’d left these people alone and continued to the bridge.

“What…what is this?”

“It’s my Instagram,” Prisha said. “A friend sent that to me. She’s waiting for me in Charleston.”

Blake started thinking of the coded messages and how it applied to this. Contagion, the guy had said.

“I’m worried about Cherise,” the girl continued, bringing him out of his thoughts. “I haven’t heard from her since she posted this.”

Blake didn’t know how to respond. Normally, he would be trying to reassure passengers whenever there was a situation. But despite his training, he wasn’t quite prepared for something like this. Whatever this was.

“As the radio guy, you can call ashore, right?” Ethan asked. “Call her friend for her? Make sure she’s okay.”

“Yes,” Blake replied, distracted within his own flurry of thoughts. “Um, I mean no. No, I can’t. I have to get to the bridge. We’ll keep you informed..”

He handed the cell phone back to whomever would take it. Prisha took it from him, a dumbfounded look on her face that begged the question, why won’t you help us?

There was no answer forthcoming. The Communications Officer had stopped communicating and was now moving away from them so rapidly you’d think they were the ones with contagion.

From the direction of shore, the breeze softly blew…

TO BE CONTINUED

Zombie Drift. 2018 Paul D Aronson. All Rights Reserved

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Zombie Drift 1: Captain Walker

Zombie Drift

One: Captain Walker

Captain Charles Walker sat on the edge of the bed. Already dressed in his crisp white uniform, he took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, repeating the action twice before reaching for his cap and placing it on his head. Coming into port was always a nerve wracking experience. He preferred to be out in open waters and not have to deal with corporate bureaucrats and shareholders. He’d rather swim with sharks. It didn’t help that he was the youngest captain to be employed by Ever Sail Cruise Lines. And it didn’t matter that he’d come from a long line of sailors, including his great uncle Shelton who had guided boats onto the beaches of Normandy during WW2. This was only Walker’s second voyage as a captain, and though the trip to the usual Caribbean ports of call had been a success, coming home was always worrisome. Of course, home wasn’t really home to the Captain. Home for the ship was the port of Charleston, South Carolina, but the real home for Charles was Goolwa, a tourist town on the South Australian coast. It was there he first learned to sail as a boy on The Murray River as it wound its way into Lake Alexandrina, and indeed the ocean. And though his apartment in South Carolina overlooked the waters of the Atlantic, it was nothing compared to his childhood home.

With that memory hanging there in his mind, he stood up, adjusted his cap and looked in the stateroom mirror. He’d forgotten to shave. While it wasn’t a requirement, he knew his bosses preferred a smooth face. It was an American thing, he supposed. “Crikey,” he mumbled, using the phrase every American adored and most Australians never uttered. Walker said it rarely, but he knew he’d hear it five times or more before he ever put the ship into dock, so he might as well embrace it.

He left his quarters, shut the door and locked it. He headed down the corridor, now bustling with crew activity. Amid salutes and “Good day, sir” it lifted his spirits. He didn’t feel so lonely once he was among his crew and the scent of the ocean air. Today the St. Fitzgerald would dock into Charleston, unload passengers, pick up others, and then head up the coast where they would unload guests again, this time closer to the Nation’s Capitol. With any luck his sea legs would touch land soon and he’d be disoriented standing on a surface that didn’t sway beneath his feet.

He stepped out onto the deck to take in the full effect of the sea breeze, but before he could even take one breath, he saw Blake Travers, the ship’s Communications Officer, heading his way. The man’s yellow blond hair was a disheveled mess and the disturbed look on his face wasn’t much better.

“Morning, Cap’n,” Blake said with a salute. He was nearly out of breath and had to wait a second to continue. “Looks like Brekkie and Shine is going to be delayed .”

Captain Walker knew the young officer was trying to use Aussie slang to cover up for something. He appeared nervous, but that was no excuse to butcher his normal way of speaking. It was downright embarrassing. “How so?” he asked the young man.

“We’re getting some garbled messages from the port offices. It’s static mostly. Like there’s some kind of interference. But I caught something underneath it all. It was a message saying something about being overrun.”

“Are the docks full?”

“It could be, sir. Every cruise line likes to connect in Charleston. We will be in sight of the port soon.”

“Well, keep me informed, Travers. I need to make a few inspections be we arrive. Reps from the line are going to want to board and see what kind of fault they can find in my leadership on our second voyage out.”

“You’re a fine Captain, sir.”

Walker raised an eyebrow. “Just fine?”

“Well..uh..I mean, sir…”

The Captain smiled. “It’s okay, son. I thank you for your support and compliment. I will take it with pleasure…and possibly some coffee..”

The Com officer’s face lit up, for he was all too eager to please his chief. “Right away sir!” He saluted and dashed across the deck to a coffee station that had been set up for passengers.

Walker watched him for a moment. Because of his own age, it was hard getting used to the fact of having subordinates, those that were beneath him in rank. It was just a year ago that he was behaving in the same manner, bending over backwards to please his commander so as to earn a spot at the Captain’s Table. He usually picked one or two of his crew to join him for dinner, along with a few distinguished passengers. He made a mental note to include Travers this evening just as the young man returned with the cup of hot java. Walker took a hesitant sip to avoid the burn of the fresh brew, and then let out a satisfied sigh. One could always tell what kind of day it would be by the taste of his coffee. It was going to be a fine morning indeed.

Charles didn’t even give a thought to the Traver’s news of garbled messages. Things like this happened more frequently than not. Even with new equipment outfitted on a relatively new ship, problems arose with communications from shore. He was confident the next contact would not be garbled at all, but a clear message directing them where to dock because of the heavy boat traffic.

He went back inside. Descending two levels into the ship, he came out in the deck known as Reliant. Among the crew it was called Hungry Alley, as it housed several kitchens, sleeping quarters for the galley crew and waitstaff, as well as numerous food storage rooms and walk in freezers. It was here Captain Walker checked on his friend, the ship’s Master Chef, a man simply known as Wu. An Asian-American from San Francisco, with glossy black hair forever hidden under his Chef’s hat, he and his family were residents of the St. Fitzgerald. Along with his wife and two sons , they all worked on board the ship. His wife was the hostess of The Starlit lounge, a jazz influenced bar situated on the first deck down from the top. A popular spot for adults to while away the cruise while listening to a live jazz ensemble, the lounge was one of the Captain’s favorite public places on the ship, and it was there that Wu’s two sons tended bar and knew how to mix Walker’s favorite drinks in exact fashion.

“Morning, Chef,” Walker greeted his friend. While to some it may have seemed the Australian and Asian-American made on odd pair, they didn’t know the history. Of how Wu had befriended a young, and very seasick, Charles Walker, on his very first ocean cruise. Discrete and supportive, the older man had nursed the future captain back to health and informed him the open sea was a lot harder to get used to than a winding Aussie river.

“Morning, Captain,” Chef Wu returned, before noting the cup of coffee in the commanding officer’s hand. “You know it’s an affront to us when you bring the java of mortals into our domain.”

Charles laughed. He loved the informal way in which the chef spoke to him. No salutes, or standing at attention, just the ease of pleasant company. Here among the kitchen staff he didn’t feel like a captain, but as one of them, and he liked it that way. It was the one place he could go and…

He stopped before shaking hands with his friend. He looked above his head as if he could see up through the decks and into the open sky. And though most couldn’t tell it, he could. The ship was slowing down…

TO BE CONTINUED

Zombie Drift Episode 1 . Paul D Aronson. All Rights Reserved.