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Authors: John Ringo

Tags: #Fantasy, #Urban, #Paranormal, #Contemporary, #Fiction

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“Anybody home?” Sophia asked.

“Not alive,” Steve said, stepping into the compartment. One of the bodies had been partially eaten. The other was cut and bloated but didn’t appear to have died from violence.

“Probably the one killed the other, then died of dehydration,” Steve said checking the toilet. It was empty of water. “Which makes this perfectly legal salvage. Not to mention easy to clean.”

“That’s going to be nasty,” Sophia said, looking in the room. “Oh, gross!”

“Yeah, that’s not the worst I’ve seen by a stretch,” Steve said, taking out a baggy. “We’ll just seal the room up fairly tight. Vent it to the rear. And let these do their work.” He dribbled the beetles on the corpses. “Say hello to my leetle friends…”

* * *

“Steve, these are
way
beyond me,” Stacey said, looking at the engines.

“We’ve got fuel in the tanks,” Steve said. “Some. And a jumper battery. Can you get them running?”

“I don’t know?” Stacey said. “I mean, that’s the
point
. These are huge professional engines! I’m not sure where to
start
!”

“I think that’s the start button,” Sophia said, pointing.

“I can see
that
, Sophia,” her mother said, tartly. “Just let me look over the manuals…”

* * *

Steve looked up at a rumble from below. A moment later the lights in the saloon came on.

“I knew I married that girl for a reason…”

* * *

“Think you can get that alongside without wrecking it?”
Mike called over the radio.

“Trying,” Steve said to himself. He wasn’t going to pick up the radio when he was trying to con the
Large
up to the
Victoria
. The
Large
really was. And it had a lot more sail area than the
Toy
. He picked up the radio. “Just have the bloody balloons down.”

“There is no such thing as too slow…” he muttered.

* * *

“That wasn’t the worst coming-alongside I’ve ever seen,” Mike said, looking around the interior. “Say, you know how you told me I could have a boat…?”

“We’ll have to call a captain’s conference,” Steve said. “This is, among other things, going to take some serious crew…”

CHAPTER 21

“I think the
Large
needs to be a harbor queen for now,” Steve said over the radio. “It drinks fuel, we don’t have that many people that we need a boat this size and it’s a bitch to actually use. If we did use it I’d see it as an at-sea base. If we can find enough fuel for it.”


Cooper
here,” Chris said over the radio. “I can see that but what about theft?”

“Just about out of fuel,” Mike said. “We’ll drain it down and it’s not going anywhere. Leave it alongside the Victoria. We might have a use for it later. It runs, anyway.”

“This is
Endeavor
. We’re getting beat up in this minnow. Could
use
a bigger boat.”

Stephen Blair, the sole survivor of the 35' Viking Worthy Endeavor, had had issues from the beginning. But he’d also cleared more than forty rafts and lifeboats since taking over the battered ship.


Endeavor
, Seawolf,” Sophia said. “You do
not
want to con this thing alongside a raft. Concur, Da, this is a support ship. Better in harbor for now.”


Endeavor
,” he thought for a second about the growing fleet. “
Sea Fit
. You are both next up for a bigger vessel. Will determine that when available. But this is a
monster
. Any likely candidates?”


Endeavor
. We just relayed another. About sixty five. Wouldn’t mind if it’s useable.”

“Do we have a location on that?” Steve asked.

“Yeah,” Mike said. “Back at the Vicky.”

“I’ve got it on the
Toy
,” Sophia said.

“My recommendation,” Steve said. “Use this for harbor base. Staff with reliable personnel. Bring in new personnel for rest and recovery prior to assignment. Comments and response for vote?
Sea Fit
.”

“I’m fine on my boat for now,” Captain Sherill replied. “And, yeah, that sounds like a plan.”


Endeavor
?”

“We need a bigger boat,”
Blair replied.
“But agree.”


Knot
?”

“I’d go for a bigger boat,”
Gary Loper of the
Knot So Little
replied.
“I guess I’m next after Blair?”

“Other discussion,” Steve said. “Not saying no, just later discussion. Agree leave
Large
harbor for rest and refit?”

“Yeah, I can go with that. But about a larger boat?”

The truth was that Steve didn’t think that Loper and his crew
deserved
a larger boat. They just seemed to be cruising around and coming in from time to time to draw on supplies.

“Captain’s vote for next upgrade,” Steve said. “Cannot nominate self.” He thought about it for a second and tried not to grimace. He knew he was playing politics. By the real rules, Blair should be the first to nominate. But if he nominated Loper, which was the only real choice, others might follow. But Sherill not only liked his boat, small as it was, but liked Blair.


Sea Fit
.”


Blair from the
Endeavor,” Sherill replied, instantly.


Endeavor
.”


Seawolf
,” Blair replied.

“Seriously?” Sophia asked.

“Knot So Large.”


Uh… Seawolf.”

“Damn,” Sophia muttered.

“Daniel Cooper.”

“Blair.”

“That bastard,” Sophia said.


Victoria
.”

“Blair,” Mike said into the radio.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence!” Sophia said.

“You don’t get it, do you?” Mike said, grinning. “You’re going to get the
Endeavor
.”

“Oooh,” Sophia said, then grimaced. “It really
is
small.”

“It’s a good learning boat,” Steve said. “
Tina’s Toy
abstains. Any votes against Captain Blair for the next upgrade…? The ayes have it. Next good boat goes to Captain Blair and his chosen crew. Any old business we really need to cover cause I’m going to have to head out to that sixty-five.”


Commodore,
Cooper,” Chris said.
“We’re in position and have Clearance team bravo. Will vector to clear.”

“Roger,
Cooper
,” Steve said, trying not to let the surprise enter his voice. He’d started to forget he didn’t have to do it all.

“You don’t have to do it all, comm,”
Chris said.

“Any other business?” Steve asked.

“We’d like a bigger boat as soon as possible
,” Loper said.

“We’ll discuss that when the question comes up,” Steve said. “Anything else?” He looked over as Mike raised his hand. “
Victoria
.”

“We’re burning an awful lot of diesel,” Mike said over the radio. “I mean, try to refuel from derelicts if you can or tow them in here and we’ll get it out. But we’re going through diesel like crazy.”

“Keep an eye out for small tankers,” Steve said. “Anything else critical?”

“Can we get some of that vaccine?”
Loper called.
“Some of my crew are asking.”

* * *

The radio tech leaned forward clamping his earphones to his ears.

“What?” Petty Officer Second Class Stan Bundy asked, picking up his own set.

The Los Angeles Class attack boat SSN 900, USS
Dallas
, had been tracking the formation of this “at sea militia” as it had been classified for the last three weeks, ever since radio communication between multiple boats between Bermuda and the U.S. had been detected.


Vaccine
,” Electronic’s Mate Harry Fredette whispered.

* * *

“Son of a bitch!” Steve swore, then keyed the radio. “Okay,
Knot
, first of all,
thanks
for bringing any pirates that may still exist down on us. Like we covered, that is
not
for discussion over the radio. But since we’re discussing
something
, no, the supply is
limited
and it is
only
for clearance personnel. You want some, do some clearing. Or, even, maybe, pick up some
survivors
!”

* * *

“Upload this for priority exam,” Bundy said, hitting a key and backing up the recording…

* * *

“Hey, we’re busting our ass out here in this dinky little boat and we don’t need your shit,
‘commodore’
! We’ve been clearing these damned lifeboats. There’s nobody home.”


Loper, you’re full of shit
,” Blair called. “
We’ve cleared twenty lifeboats in the last couple of days. And, yeah, there’s not much. But we’ve picked up
six
people. On our even dinkier boat…”

“Clear the channels,” Steve said as the channel got cluttered with people screaming at each other. “Clear the… Ah, shit.”

* * *

“Christ I want to cut in.”

Commander Rex Bradburn was frustrated, angry and scared. Which described his entire crew. They’d started to sea before the plague was spread and had remained at sea since. Because to make contact meant dying. Like their families on shore.

But a sub could only stay at sea for so long. Sure, the pile would last twenty years, more if you only used low power. But all the other systems? Not to mention food. They had gone on short rations as soon as they found out they were on “extended deployment.” That only lasted so long. And that went for all the surviving boats. Some of them had already dropped off the screen, just lost. Possibly mutinied but more likely something vital broke at the wrong time or the wrong depth. Others had snuck into deserted harbors and put their crews ashore to survive as best they could.

But if they had
vaccine

“Monitor only, sir,” Lieutenant Commander Joseph Scholz reminded him.

* * *


Knot So Little
,” Steve said as the shouting died down. “We still don’t have a protocol for this. But I think that a captain’s vote would be sufficient. If you don’t start showing that you’re working the problem, I see no reason for you to get diesel or fuel. You can put some welly in it or turn over your boat and join the lost and useless. Or try to make it without clearance teams.”

“Just cause you got all the guns doesn’t make you God, commodore.”

“You’ve got guns,” Steve replied. “I gave you two pistols for light clearance. Which as far as I can tell you haven’t used and, yes, I’ll take those back as well. So it’s up to you and your crew. You’re either in or out. You want to take off, we’ll accept the pistols back, fill your boat and you can take off. But that’s it. Or you can work the problem. Or you can turn over your boat. Or, hell, you can take off right now and I’ll spot you the pistols. What you
cannot
do is continue to draw on supplies while not contributing. So I’m giving you two weeks. Start working the EPIRBs instead of hanging out on the back side of the island and playing Bermuda vacation or no more supplies. Do I make myself clear?”

“I hear you.”

“To all, make this clear,” Steve said. “Make it clear to the people you pull in. You’re either working to help, somehow, or you’re not. If you’re not, you get to go hang out on a sort of beat up boat with a lot of other useless people. We’ll feed you. That’s it. How you get along otherwise is up to you. If, like the
Knot
, you’ve got a boat, you can go away. But we’re not going to supply people with diesel and other support who are not working the problem.”

“You know there’s fucking zombies on these boats, right?”
a voice screamed.

“No shit, sherlock…”

Steve leaned back as the voices overlapped.

“‘Commodore,’ this is the Knot. We’ll take the supplies. We’re done with your shit.”

“Roger,” Steve said. “Come into harbor. One fuel load and one ton of supplies, Victoria’s choice. If you come back for more, you trade your boat and join the lost and useless. This captain’s conference is now closed.”

He leaned back and shook his head.

“That could have gone better,” Steve said.

“He picked a bunch of losers just like him,” Mike said. “I think you were right the first way round. Just because they’re onboard, doesn’t mean they get the boat. I mean…” he said, looking around.

“Your boat, Mike,” Steve said, grinning. “Nobody has an issue with that. Hell, if you want to doss on the
Large
nobody’s going to have an issue. I don’t think. You going to have problems with the
Knot
?”

“I don’t think so,” Mike said, shrugging. “Can I have one of those shotguns?”

“How ’bout an AK?” Steve said. “They’re about useless for clearing and people are afraid of them.”

“That’ll work,” Mike said. “I don’t see them getting uppity with an AK staring them in the face.”

“How well do you trust your crew?” Steve asked.

“Fine,” Mike said. “It’s like training cats but they’re learning. I mean, the basics. I wouldn’t trust them running this at sea but until we can find a main transfer coil for it, it’s not going anywhere.”

“I’ll leave you two AKs,” Steve said. “Have the supplies ready to load. Don’t let them board and if they have an issue with that, you’ve got the AKs. Make sure there’s no fuel in this one, either.”

“I’ll do better than that,” Mike said. “I’ll pull the mains breaker.”

* * *

“Do we have any idea where they got vaccine?”

Frank Galloway was the National Constitutional Continuity Coordinator. Prior to that he had been Under Deputy Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Arms Proliferation Control.

The post of National Constitutional Continuity Coordinator had been created in 1947 after it became obvious that the entire upper echelon of government could be taken out by one atomic bomb. There was a chain of civilian control that went deep. This was not the “presidential succession” defined in the Constitution, but a guarantee of continued civilian control of the military in the event of global nuclear war or, say, laughably, a zombie plague. The NCCC’s job was to keep things in some reasonable order, or restore order, so that there could be an election again.

Right now, he was stuck sixty feet underground in Omaha, Nebraska surrounded by zombies.

Shortly after 9/11, the various departments that the NCCC succession went through had taken to quietly rotating people into secure points around the U.S. Not only the DoD had such facilities. They’d become a bit of a cachet in the inner circles of government. You weren’t
seriously
important unless you had a secure facility. In the cold war, in the threat of imminent nuclear obliteration, only the Department of Defense, the President and Congress had secure facilities.

By the time of the H7D3 virus even the
FDA
had one.

Of course, wouldn’t you know, the only ones that
hadn’t
been taken down by the virus were the Hole and CDC. Which left one Frank Galloway, career DoD nuclear war specialist, as the NCCC. Just ahead of the surviving senior officer of the CDC who was
also
on the list. And they came after all the state governors.

It didn’t help that he was only thirty-three. His Russian counterpart was nearly seventy and a former KGB nuclear security officer.

“No, sir,” Brigadier General Shelley Brice said. The former Assistant Deputy Commander of Strategic Armaments Control was one of the only female generals in the Air Force. A former B-52 driver, she had been part of the movement to recreate Strategic Airforce Command after it became clear that when the Air Force took its eyes off of their nuclear weapons, bad things had happened. Notably, in 2007 an outside inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency determined that over thirty weapons were “unaccounted for.” The head of the Air Force Department was fired and SAC was reborn.

The “rebels” hadn’t managed to, quite, retake the high ground but they’d at least gotten full control of the nukes as well as their storied acronym. And they’d gotten the Hole.

And now, well, they’d absolutely taken over the Empire. What was left of it.

She’d been the Flag Duty Officer when the orders to lock down had come in. As far as she could tell, she was now the senior surviving officer in the entire United States military. First Female Commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Big Cheese. Admittedly of nothing but some submarines.

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