A tale from the Dead lands, Enjoy
“Majestic river! in thy onward course,
Like that stream of myriad stars that flows
Across the glitt’ring heavens, thou divid’st
A continent in twain. For ages thou
Wert lost to men. Thy virgin waters flowed
Peacefully on between the shores of thy
Fairy-like isles, gently lapping the base
Of the o’erhanging rocks that stood like stern
Sentinels guarding thee.”
Gregg Goldman was a river man from a long line of river men. Fit and trim with salt and pepper hair and a pleasant slightly round face. His lips framed by a neatly trimmed mustache and beard were pressed tightly together in frustration as he smoothed his uniform shirt with his hands as he listened to the people in the Lounge laughing and talking excitedly.
His attention was only half focused on Miles Benton the new CEO of the Company that owned the Papers of the River Lady. Owned my ass, Gregg thought hiding the distaste he felt for the fat pompous asshole who was slowly ruining the company Gregg had built from the ground up. By the Terms of the Buy out, the River Lady technically belonged to Gregg, but Benton was dragging his feet in handing over the title, afraid that Gregg would take the Flag ship out of circulation and ruin the company. Benten believed it was Gregg who was responsible for the falling profit margins, The former owner had his money and now was intent on sabotaging his old company. In truth Gregg felt like his guts were bring turned inside out as the company he had loved was being ruined.
Miles was patiently explained how this forecast and that market study showed that the River Lady was Golden Egg and that the company had full intentions on signing over the Lady, but needed time to take advantage of the Popularity of the Lady. Of course if they hadn’t screwed up and “Revitalized” the company they wouldn’t be in this mess. I warned them increasing the prices and reducing services would hit them in the wallet and hard. But no, they thought the customers would just bend over and take it.
Gregg knew his customers, knew what they liked and what they demanded and when this idiot and his college educated, no real experience corporate lackeys came on board, with their charts, plots and pie graphs. They had promptly went to the old Maximum profit, minimum cost business plan and slashed every luxury and item the customers had demanded and loved.
Now Miles Benten sat there panicked wondering how the business had gone so far south when they had done every thing right. He realized Miles had stopped talking and was probably waiting for some kind of response, Gregg was saved at that minute by his first Mate who looked upset and nervous as hell.
“Captain, there’s a problem dockside you really need to address” Alan Boyd said, his voice as cool and professional as always.
Miles frowned certain this was yet another delay on Gregg’s part to get Miles to admit defeat, Gregg for his part was thrilled for the interruption.
“Since we are not docked Mister Alan, I fail to see what kind of Problem there might be that would affect us.” Gregg replied more to sound like he wasn’t eager to walk away, and knowing that Miles knew exactly what game he was playing.
Across the lounge, he heard a couple of people make some loud exclamations; a hub bub of conversations drew others to cluster around their table. “ Ill head up to the bridge Mister Alan, why don’t you deal with that.” Gregg said nodding his head towards the gathering.
“I’m betting some one over there has a smart phone or IPAD or something and just found out what I came to warn you about” Alan stated as he started across the room.
Gregg, his curiosity in high gear rose and laid his napkin beside the place. “If youll excuse me Miles, I’m needed on the Bridge” Gregg said, then turned away with out waiting for a response.
“This cant be real” Gregg said half an hour later stepping away from the computer screen where news footage was playing. Memphis was going up in flames. He looked out the window across the brown water to the land that slid slowly by. It looked normal, the madness on the News had to be some sort of joke.
“Its real sir” Brian Carstains replied from his position at the wheel. “ Look at that” He said pointing d to a private dock just up ahead, where a group of people could be seen running back and forth between the boat tied up there and their SUV grabbing boxes and luggage they would rush back to the boat and toss it on to the deck before running back to the SUV.
The radio was alive with questions, and declarations, and rumor pretending to be news, none of which helped Gregg reach a decision. He had been born on the river, his family had been river boat men since the 1800’s, from beauties like the River Lady to fishing boats but the river had always been part of their lives.
He noted there were more and more boats appearing on the water, some of the tugs moving cargo Barges were dropping anchor and as he watched a houseboat duck into a deep cove and anchor.
“Bring us to a stop, and drop anchor. I want real information before I decide what to do. Meanwhile I have passengers and crew to talk to. Have both assemble in the Lounge if you would Mister Carstains.”
every one was assembled in the lounge by the time he arrived, the crew were doing their best to keep the panic from rolling over into a riot and were so far succeeding. Gregg walked to the control booth for the theater system. He retrieved a remote and made sure the feeds were set before he walked up onto the small stage used by the live bands that had once played on the River lady.
“Ladies and Gentleman, by now you have now doubt heard rumors and seen some of the news footage, I will not, can not tell you it’s a fake, like you I don’t want to believe it ” Gregg said as he touched a button and the massive screen behind him came to life, it was a CNN feed that was currently showing Paris going up in flames, as hordes of shambling infected swept through the city streets. “what ever this is, its happening everywhere, including Memphis, which by all local accounts is being over run by the infected. I will not be docking the River Lady in order to protect both you, our passengers and my Crew.” He ignored the yelling and cries of protest and turned up the volume of the lapel mike he wore clipped to his collar. “I will however have a launch take those who wish to return to the dock where your vehicles are parked. I would like to discourage you from this, by the time we get back to Memphis and get you ashore, this will be over one way or another. I understand your need to make sure family and friends are okay. But please watch the news feeds before making up your minds.”
He shut off the microphone and stepped down only to be intercepted by Miles who immediately began demanding to be taken ashore where a corporate helicopter could pick him up.
Gregg, his arms crossed over his chest, stared at the little coward for a moment then nodded. “of course, but only after you sign the title transfer” if what Gregg had seen on the news was any indication it wouldn’t matter in a few days, but he was by god going to hold that title in his hands and own her outright by law again before the world collapsed.
“Your insane” Miles objected, spittle forming at the corners of his mouth. He was on the edge of giving into to panic.
“Maybe Miles, But she is my boat, has always been my boat and your not going to play games and claim her a moment longer than necessary. Ill put you ashore in five minutes if you sign the title transfer.” Gregg stated.
“All right you bastard” Miles said, the calm patronizing professional persona long gone.
Gregg caught Alan’s eye and waved at him to follow along, he wanted some one there when this happened, in case Miles went nuts and tried something or things calmed down shore side and miles tried to weasel out of signing over the Lady if things returned to normal.
Miles was some what surprised by Gregg’s office on board, he had expected something out of the 19th century, aside from the highly polished wood paneled walls and brass work, it looked like a fairly modern office. There were pictures of every ship of Greggs old company on the walls, and brass hull owners plate for the lady with Greggs name on it on the wall behind the desk.
As Gregg walked around to the other side of the desk, Miles noticed two blocks of crystal that sat on polished round wooden base. Lights with in the base shined up into the blocks of crystal revealing holographic images of the River lady.
Gregg sat down behind his desk and pulled papers out of the drawer of the desk and placed them squarely in front of miles. “Sign and your off my ship, assuming the chaos on shore is taken care of, the River lady will still work with the company for a period of one year, its all there in the paperwork.” Gregg said sliding a pen across to Miles, who scooped it up. he was far more eager to get the hell in the corporate helicopter and off to safety than stay on this fire trap any longer than he had to. He could always take Gregg to court later when things calmed down, the Corporate lawyer should be able to find a way to nullify the title transfer, I was held hostage till I signed, he thought hiding the savage smile that threatened to break out, that would be perfect and would probably result in criminal charges against Gregg as well.
Miles scanned the document rapidly, noting the highlighted section that did indeed state the River lady would continue on under the company for one year after signing.
“it looks good “ he said not really caring, it was more out of habit than anything else.
He scrawled his name in every tabbed spot then shoved the papers back to Gregg who nodded politely then rose. “Mister Alan please see Miles to the launch.” Gregg said. Alan nodded eager to get the corporate toad off the Ladies deck then stopped as Gregg looking at Miles. “ Are you sure they know where to pick you up at Miles, because the Lady will not be stopping again till we reach a safe anchorage, the launch will drop you off and return. If your helicopter doesn’t arrive or know where your at your stuck there.”
“ They know where I’m at Goldman, you have my signature you don’t have to play nice. Now” Miles said standing and heading for the door.
Gregg waited till the door was shut then took the paperwork and put it in the hidden safe. I wasn’t playing nice Miles, as much as I dislike you, after seeing the news I cant see dumping even an asshole like you off to die the way so many people are dying right now.
Jason Fornam stopped a the entrance to the dock and brought his M4 up to his shoulder and began firing at the infected that were pouring down the staircase to the landing. The last of his men, most carrying wounded made it past Fornam and onto the Police boat.
“Come on Sergeant lets go” Hersh yelled from the deck as the last man climbed aboard. Jason nodded as he turned and ran for the boat whose name was only a number 52,
Fellow officers were casting off lines as he pounded down the dock and leaped onto the deck. The undead, and they were undead no matter what the government wanted to believe, entered the dock area and streamed towards them.
The engines on old 52 roared as the patrol boat pulled away from the dock, heading out onto the Mississippi river to join other small craft fleeing the infected. Behind them the infected spilled into the water, trying to reach the escaping boat.
Gregg stood watching as the launch was brought back aboard, lifting his gaze he watched Miles who stood on the dock talking on his cell phone, with out binoculars Gregg couldn’t see the other man clearly, but from the wild arm movements, he was angry.
As soon as the launch was recovered the River lady got underway headed down river, Memphis two hours ahead them. What awaited his boat and the people on board Gregg didn’t know. No matter what was going on the river seemed exactly the same as it had yesterday and every day before that. Calm, slow and unbothered by the doings of men.
Gregg didn’t look back at Miles, if he had he might had seen the Miles run to the end of the dock waving his arms wildly trying to catch the river boats attention. Then Miles turned and began to run, hoping to outrun the figures that had appeared at the edge of the parking lot, figures that now stumbled towards the dock and the fleeing man..
“ Do you want the Wheel” Alan asked, as Gregg entered the bridge, Gregg shook his head as he headed over to the console and studied the chart on the screen for a moment looking thoughtful then turned to Alan.
“Mister Alan, if you would be so kind, go to my cabin and use my computer to download every river chart you can find. as well as topomaps for a at least fifty miles to each side of the river. He dug into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, removing a credit card he passed it to Alan, “ I don’t think Im going to have to worry about paying it off. Also see if you can contact Waylon Green, if you can see if we can get enough supplies delivered to C Dock to keep us out here for two months. I don’t care how much it costs, what ever is going on the city is still standing at the moment and we might be able to get supplies and weapons.
And have the crew try to get in contact with their families, if they can have their families meet us at Falks landing, its far enough out of Memphis and far enough away from any town that they should be safe there till we arrive.. If they cant get there, tell them to get to the river and get in any boat they can, and we will pick them up along the way..”
Alan nodded in approval that had been on his mind as well it would go a long way to convince the crew to keep at their jobs knowing that the Captain was going to try and save their families. “ Well, Carry on Mr Alan” Gregg said dismissing him.
An hour out from Memphis thick dark smoke could be seen in the distance, passengers and some crew gathered on the decks staring down river, fear and panic hovering in the wings.
The Docks for the Company were located on the north side of the I 40 bridge, with the Pyramid in full view it was far to close to downtown for Greggs liking.
“full stop” Gregg ordered seeing the number of small craft in the water. hundreds of boats, barges, house boats, fishing boats, even ski boats. Someone screamed down on the main deck and several people were pointing to the I 40 bridge that spanned the River. Gregg looked up in time to see people leaping from the bridge, some were alone others held hands, as they plunged towards the river. a few looked like they were trying to leap into one of the many boats below them.
“Jesus” Alan said quietly beside him, Gregg nodded in agreement part of him wanting to not believe what he was seeing. In the distance he could hear the pop of small arms fire, and up on the bridge across , something exploded throwing burning gasoline across the vehicles stuck in the traffic jam.
“Waylon said he could help, but he cant get supplies to our docks, the roads between his warehouses and our docks are closed. The whole area is over run by the infected.” Alan said. Gregg studied the company docks with his binoculars and saw to his relief three of the other tour boats were gone from the Docks. Two, the River Princess and the Mississippi Madame were still moored and he could see no one on deck. Not a good sign he thought.
The parking area for the River tour company was filled with cars that blocked the aisles. cars that hadn’t been there when they left this morning, and people, infected by the look of them, that wandered around pawing at the windows of parked cars.
“Where does Waylon want us to go then” Gregg asked, frowning as several of his passengers, tired of waiting and driven by fear for their loved ones in the city, leaped into the water and began to swim for the distant dock.
“should we pick them up” Alan asked.
“no let them go, we cant force them to stay on board.” Gregg said as he watched adark haired muscular 23 year old man swimming strongly for the dock, he had been on board with friends as part of his bachelor party.
A power boat chose that moment to roar through the throng of boats, its pilot never saw the former passenger, it sped over the young guy, and Gregg could almost swear he heard the prop strike the swimmer, then it was past shooting up river for some imagined safe landing leaving a cloud of red in the water behind it.
Alan was shocked at what he had just seen, but they both knew about half of the swimmers were going to die with all the boats out there speeding around recklessly, a few had already rammed each other and were sinking. “Waylon said if we can get to the dock behind his place he can get us loaded up, but only if we take Waylon and his people with us.” Alan said quietly turning away from the death in the water.
“Get us there and tell the passengers who still want to leave my boat we can drop them at the dock Mister Alan. And have the crew keep a look out for any of their family that might be on those boats, if we see them we pick them up” Gregg said turning away and heading to his cabin, for once not noticing the polished wooden walls, and brass work or the period art work that decorated the walls of the narrow hallways.
Entering his Cabin he walked to the bulkhead safe hidden in behind his desk. It took him only a moment to punch in the combination, apply his thumb to the scanner and open the door.
He removed the Pistol a Sig 226 from the safe and clipped the holster and magazine pouch to his belt, he almost took the second pistol but decided to keep that one a secret just in case. He felt odd having a pistol on his side. It was the first time in all these years he had ever carried a pistol on his boat. But things were going insane and he feared he was going to need it.
He could feel the Lady start moving forward so he shut the safe and headed for the bridge. Halfway to the Bridge he felt and heard a Crunch as the Lady struck something.
“ a point to starboard, if the stupid bastards cant get out of the way sink them” Alan was saying as Gregg stepped onto the bridge. Jerry Peerson was at the wheel, white as a sheet and nervous sweat stained his uniform.
“Lay on the whistle Mister Peerson” Gregg said looking back behind the Lady where wreckage of a small boat drifted in her wake. “ lay on that whistle as if our lives depend on it, let them know we are coming before we run them under.”
“Aye, Captain” Peerson said looking relieved at the idea he was going to give the boats ahead of them at least a small chance to get out of way, he grabbed the old fashioned cord and pulled. Above them the whistle screamed, then screamed again. Peerson fell into a pattern but he never let off that whistle as the River Lady gained speed.
“Captain, we are not going to be able to miss them all” Alan said suddenly.
“Im aware of that Alan, but if we can we are going to take those people off or pluck them out of the water if we have to ram them.” Gregg replied watching as a Party boat tried to maneuver out of the Ladies way, but the other boats had it hemmed in. “ start with that one Mister Alan” Gregg said pointing. Alan nodded and rushed from the bridge, gathering men to him as he ran to the bow hopefully to get the people on that boat aboard before they drowned or were dragged under the lady when she ran over the party boat.
Passing under the I40 bridge, a body hurtled down and landed on the deck. Screams started a moment later. “Captain to the main Deck, Captain to the Deck.” Alan’s voice erupted from the intercom. The panic in his voice was obvious to any one, and that made Gregg hurry.
He bounded out onto the Hurricane deck, shouting the old warning “ Make a hole, coming through” as he started down the stairs at a run. A moment later he stepped out onto the main deck, people were streaming away from the area of the Deck behind the Stern wheel. One of the pursers saw him and pointed towards the wheel. Gregg forced his way through the fleeing passengers, till he stepped out of the crowd of people and into a section of deck empty of all but two people, one was a broken, shattered body in a pool of blood, held in place by a pole through its back a sick looking Alan hung on to the pole to keep it from writhing away from him or more accurately turning and attack him. .
“He should be dead” Alan said in protest, “Daryl and a passenger went to move the body and the bastard bit Daryl.”
Everything Gregg had heard on the news flashed through his mind, the infected bit people and every one bitten turned, and there was no cure. But more importantly some of the news channels had broadcast a message, a message that wasn’t liked in touchy feely America to live you had to shoot the infected in the head. Gregg drew his pistol with trembling hands, he had never fired his weapon anywhere but on the range, and had prayed he would go to his grave with out ever having to use it.
He walked forward almost as if in a trance the pistol held in a loose two handed combat grip just as his instructor had taught him. Behind him a crowd of people watched. He watched as broken arms moved, hands clawed at the deck smearing blood around it. A nail peeled off a finger, and stuck in the wood of the deck.
The mans cloudy eyes were fixed on Gregg now, its bloody mouth yawned open. There was still bits of stringy meat stuck in its teeth from its attack on Daryl.
Gregg stood over the man, who should be dead, his ribs were crushed, his legs, hips and arms shattered. He stood just out of reach of those grasping blood covered hands and leveled his pistol at the mans head.
“Shoot him Gregg” Alan pleaded as the pole slipped a bit in his sweat slicked hands.
Gregg looked into those cloudy eyes seeking something, maybe a spark of life, a hint of the man trapped behind the illness, but saw nothing they were the eyes of a dead man. He fired three times, missing twice, but the third bullet smashed the skull in and the head slammed to the deck the body finally stopped moving.
“Get Daryl” Gregg said wearily. “if the news is right, Daryl is going to become infected from that bite. Find him and secure him to a bed, till we know for a fact.” Gregg said, determined to keep the infection from spreading through his passengers and crew if he could help it.
“Damn its good to see you” Waylon told Gregg, his thick arm wrapped around his mousy looking wife, who clutched their baby boy to her chest. Other familys were boarding and being shone to what ever cabins were unoccupied. Luckily the Lady had been running light today, so there was still plenty of room.
“Welcome Aboard” Gregg said automatically, watching as crates already netted were lifted and swung over onto the main deck by a crane.
“every thing I had left is being loaded,” Waylon said, exhaustion hovered in his brown eyes. “ soup, flour, base, canned meat and even cavier. Enough for months if needed” Waylon said turning to look back to the docks where the last of his crew were working feverishly to get everything loaded. “I had them get their wives and girlfriends down here early on, since my place is fenced in and I thought we could either wait it out or catch a boat if it got worse. Even found out three of my guys were gay when they had their boyfriends shows up.”
“I thought you didn’t like gays” Gregg asked, having known Waylon for years.
“I didn’t used to, but after seeing people being eaten alive in person and on TV and the world dying around me. I think its kind of stupid to worry about something like that.” Waylon said.
“you really think the world is dying” Gregg asked incredulously.
“Paris is gone, the last news story out of Paris, were the only known survivors and they were holed up in the louver or what ever its called, and the infected were breaking in, the last shot was a bunch of infected and blood on the lens. CNN showed a real time Sat image of Paris and there was nothing but infected wandering the streets. Paris, Rome, and Monaco are gone for sure, there was a report that some one lobbed a few nukes in the middle East, China nuked Beijing, so yeah the world is dying.” Waylon said.
“I have passengers to drop off before we leave” Gregg said, thankfully it the number had shrunk considerably after the news and personally seeing the fires and smoke that ringed Memphis. Not to mention the suicides off the bridge. “they just want the keys to your folks cars and trucks so they can try to make it home.”
Waylon dug out a ring of keys and tossed it to Gregg, “they can have it, Illl ask my people to give theirs too. But if your passengers stay behind and go out that gate, they wont make it more than a mile or two before those things are so thick they wont be able to move an inch. Hell look at the fence line right now” Waylon said pointing. Gregg had already seen the infected that had started lining the fence, so far there were no more than a couple of hundred, but the numbers were growing, drawn by the sound of the crane and men working, The infected, the dead weren’t going to leave till they got inside and ate who ever was there.
It took almost an hour to load everything and every passenger that had wanted leave decided to wait till a safer spot could be found, the fence was swaying dangerously as the infected pushed against it and the gate. No one doubted that the fence would come down soon.
Finally the last of the Cargo was secured, the boarding Ramp was lifted, and the River Lady began to back away from the Dock.
“where to now Captain” Alan asked, Gregg turned from the window, his eyes red and swollen as if he had been crying.
“Get on the Radio and lets see if we can get some of those other boats to join us, especially any fuel boat. Tell them we have a plan and I would like to talk to the Captains of each boat on board the Lady at 1800 hrs. so we can discuss details. Till then take us out into the Channel and head down river till we are around the bend.” Gregg replied. “ Ill be in my cabin working on my idea, lets hope either the government gets this shit under control or I come up with a really great plan.”
Gregg sat back in his chair and glanced at the clock on the wall and saw it was 1700 hrs and shook his head. Not sure he had everything he needed, but it had better do, the net was down for the sixth time and he didn’t think it was coming back up this time around.
His desk was covered in piles of printer paper and thumb drives, he had spent hours first printing off everything he thought they might need from how to make fuel, to water systems, to hydroponic gardening. Then notes on improvised weapons, electronic circuit diagrams and any thing else he thought they might be able to use.
When the printer paper on board ran out, he had switched to thumb drives. As long as the Lady had engines and fuel she had power so he could hopefully print off every thing on the thumb drives as soon as they got more paper from somewhere.
Alan had been working miracles keeping every one under control, and the fact that they had brought on more supplies made it a little easier for Alan. Waylon and five of his people were armed and were now proving their worth in joining the ship by helping to provide security..
The few loudmouths who might have tried something were being kept at bay for the moment simply because they had no weapons.
He flipped on the radio and frowned unhappily as the emergency alert signal filled he room, turning down he volume he dialed through the channels, only once hearing voices, but the channel faded and he couldn’t pick it up again. Frustrated and scared he turned the radio off again. How bad was this really he thought as he began to organize the notes he planned on taking to the meeting he had set up. to be honest he would be surprised if any one actually showed up.
But as he had noticed in the past, in a time of crisis that when some one stepped up and took control others tended to listen and follow. Hopefully this time would be no different.
Shoving the papers into a bag he looked up as the door opened and Alan stepped in.
“its almost time Sir, some of the other captains are already here.” Alan said, “ Gregg, I.. I wanted to say thank you, your holding this crew together. If I had been in charge today, I don’t think I could have done all this. I think the Lady would be sitting at a dock somewhere empty If I had been the Captain.”
Gregg shook his head feeling pity for Alan, who had dreamed of becoming a river boat captain since he had seen his first paddle wheeler on a Tv show as a boy. It must have been hard to face the thoughts he must have had to realize he would have failed as the one thing he had wanted more than any other..
“Well Mis… Alan, I haven’t succeeded yet. Maybe no one can save us but lets give it a shot. Because to be honest I couldn’t have done this with out you.” Gregg said sincerely. “now lets go meet the other captains and see what we can do about saving our collective asses.”
Jason Fornam studied the papers Captian Goldman had passed around not sure what to think. Jason hadn’t gotten past the immediate problems and here this guy was already thinking about fuel, parts, food, medicines and weapons and that was just the start of the list and the solutions he was laying out.
Some of the other Captains seemed to be feel the same way Jason did, others seemed annoyed at Goldman trying to take charge of what amounted to a flotilla, especially the two coast guard captains who seemed to think being coast guard put them in charge just by that fact alone.
Especially Captain Walter Enwright who was currently going hammer and tongs with Goldman.
“…as Captain of the Coast Guard vessel Bally, I can not and will not hand over my command to you sir, your just a river boat captain not a trained ships captain.” Enwright snapped.
“I said nothing of taking over command of your ship sir, and your more than welcome to head on your way. I only suggest if we work together so we can keep fuel in our tanks, food in our larders and protect each others backs. While giving the Government time to get this under control” Gregg Goldman said coolly. “if you want to keep wasting my and the others time repeating the same thing over and over, you can leave now. If you don’t want to leave, All I ask is will you and your crew help.”
“No Im sorry I can not” Enwright said rising from the table. He hadn’t minded eating Goldman’s food Jason thought noting the empty plate.
“I think you’re a pompous ass, who is going to either get his crew killed or end up killed by his crew” Jason found himself saying. “not that its any of my business”
Enwright glared at him then turned and walked stiffly from the salon.
“Look Im in charge of a police boat, I have more men on board than she can hold, three of them are wounded, not bitten just wounded. Let me transfer eight of my men on board, and we will support this plan. assuming you are willing to trust eight armed police officers.” Jason said watching Goldman’s reaction. He didn’t seem to react badly, but there was no real element of trust either and if this was going to work they were going to have to take that risk.
“Deal have them sent over as soon as we are done” Goldman replied.
That seemed to set off a flurry of agreements, where slightly more than half of the captains present agreed on the spot, about a quarter wanted time to think it over and the rest outright refused like Enwright they somehow got the idea that Goldman was trying to seize command of their boats.
September 2010, south Mississippi river.
The River lady moved slowly down the river, sounders calling off depth. Gregg stepped out onto deck, lifting a pair of binoculars to his eyes and scanned the river for a moment, then turned and looked up river where Fornams boat and two Other larger boats followed.
They finally rounded the bend and up ahead about a mile away he could see the huge stark white tanks and Low Brick buildings that marked the Bio fuel plant. Surrounded by a fence, it was fairly safe from the infected. Thankfully the green minded think tank had also installed Solar panel arrays, that covered an acre, and wind generators. so the facility could continue to operate even now.
Part of a project started a few years ago to use the Mississippi and her tributary’s to produce a part of the billions of gallons of bio fuel that had been called for under Government initiatives.
He remembered reading a lot about the project when it first got started, the brain child of several different Professors from multiple universities. who had thought there had to be a way to grow plants or algae to use a bio fuel with out taking food producing land out of production. Their plan had been simple, use the banks of the nations rivers, where few if any crops could be grown but a plethora of underbrush and weeds grew wild and could be harvested and converted. The plants would grow back quickly, nice and self sustaining.
The plan also allowed any farm or home along the river sell off their crop of weeds and underbrush making money and boosting the local economy. The up side was land would be conserved and Bio fuel would flow. As far as he knew only two or three facilities had been built along the river.
“There it is” Alan said joining him at the rail, it was like staring at the holy grail, a mostly automated plant filled with enough fuel to keep every one of the forty boats in the group running for a year, and the capability to produce more.
“And some one else is already there” Gregg said pointing to the three boats moored to the dock, one was a house boat, one was a cargo barge and the last was a coast guard boat.
“ Just great” Alan muttered.
“Doesn’t mean much at this point, other than they are either alive and we will have to make some kind of deal or drive them out, or they are all dead and we are going to have to clean a lot of infected out of the facility.” Gregg said calmly. “Prepare the launch, and have Officer Fornam assign some of his men to escort me over there.”
“I’m sorry Captain, No!” Alan said shaking his head. “your to valuable to risk, Ill go and make initial contact and see if I can convince them to send a delegation aboard to talk with you.”
Alan was going to be stubborn, Gregg knew and to his shame he wanted to cave immediately to keep from risking his own life. “Alan, I am the Captain, if I don’t go personally it will send the wrong kind of message.” Gregg stated determined to have his way if for no other reason than to still the cowards voice in his heart.
“I’m sorry sir, and the crew will back me up on this. You will not be risked.” Alan stated. He didn’t look happy about standing up to Gregg on this, but he wasn’t going to budge an inch. “the launch crew wont take you over, and if I have to I will lock you in your cabin.”
“Mr. Christian, your talking mutiny” Gregg said referencing an old and favorite movie of his.
“You can hang me from the yardarm after I get back Sir,” Alan said.
He isn’t going to let me talk him out of this, Gregg thought, feeling a pride in Alan’s standing up to him. “All right then Mr. Alan, but if you make a habit of leading mutinies over my occasional whims, I will have you assigned to Captain Clarkson’s garbage barge.”
“Aye Sir, I understand” Alan said with tense smile then turned and strode from the bridge.
Gregg watched as the launch moved away from the Lady and headed for the dock, Alan had donned a clean uniform and stood in the bow his hands clasped behind him. “Good Luck” He said aloud.
Today how ever luck wasn’t listening, the launch nosed up to the dock, and gun fire rang out, one of Fornams men fell instantly, the sound rolled across the water like thunder.
Fornams police boat, number 52 raced forward, the forward machine gun hammering, spitting out priceless rounds of ammunition as it chewed up the low rise just above the dock where the gun fire had come from.
The Coast Guard boat, that accompanied the lady, Captained by Lee Olstead dropped two zodiacs loaded with men, the zodiacs covered by both the Police boat and the Coast Guard boat reached the dock and the men aboard swarmed onto the dock and raced forward.
Gregg wanted to turn away but he forced himself to watch as the fight wound down to its brutal conclusion.
1600hrs, Anchored off Conrad bio fuel facility.
Gregg sat beside Alan’s bed waiting for him to wake up. Alan had last three fingers, two on his left hand and one on his right from shrapnel, and lost an ear lobe, light wounds overall. He had gotten off light compared to the four dead they had suffered.
The men who had started shooting had been lightly armed and with barely enough ammunition to take on a troop of boy scouts, twenty others in side the facility had surrendered, seven women, eight kids and five more men. The five men in the facility had turned out to be former technicians; three of the women and four kids were their families. The remaining survivors had arrived on the houseboat, in mid august.
Low on food, and most everything else, they had been facing starvation come winter.
They had been brought aboard the Lady checked over by an EMT then given quarters and food while the Lady and her escorts were being refueled.
Over the coming weeks, Critical need boats would arrive and refuel. While those being used for housing would anchor and form small floating communities at various deep water, and isolated spots along the river. Boats and teams would spread out and seize two more bio fuel facilities scattered along the river.
But god with a fuel supply the could travel the length of the Mississippi River and beyond.
Just cruising the river opened up being able to scavenge from New Orleans to St. Paul Minnesota, that wasn’t even counting cruising the tributaries like the Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, Ohio or Arkansas rivers, and a thousand others they could use that could take them all the way to Montana, Colorado, north Texas, or east to Pennsylvania, West Virginia or even Tennessee. They could afford to be picky about where they scavenged picking the best locations with the fewest numbers of walking dead to deal with and if they needed or wanted to, they could head down to the Gulf coast and explore Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Florida coastal regions even go around Florida and head north along the East coast. Parts, Medical supplies, food, fuel anything they needed that was along the rivers or coastlines was theirs if they were cautious and planned carefully.
For the first time since the DAY, Gregg felt a glimmer of hope for their survival, it wouldn’t be easy, nothing ever was. But they now had a chance and he would do everything he could to make sure they didn’t blow it. he smiled as he remembered an old family tale, passed down from his great, grandfather who had been wont to say, “you respect this here River boys, cause this River is our Salvation.” He had been talking about a chance to start over after being ruined economically during the Civil war. But His words were true today, the river truly was their Salvation it had saved them from the dead and now offered them a way to stay alive. .
“I’m alive” Alan said suddenly, sounding surprised, his eyes fluttering open.
Gregg smiled “worse for the wear, but yes you are alive”
“I hurt,” Alan said sounding surprised. “what happened to me” he asked lifting his bandaged hands.
“At least your alive” Gregg replied “Alan, I have to tell you something……”
Over the coming months the boats plying the Mighty Miss, slowly found each other, more often than not they joined the growing river community.
They explored, rescued, fought and traded with people along the banks and on the waters of the huge river as they avoided the dead. As time went by they spread out into the tributaries.
In the years after the Dead had finally stopped moving, in many communities that came after, myths developed of how they had been given hope to keep going to keep trying that they were not alone, when out of the fog that floated over the slow moving waters, a massive river boat glided past, lights blazing along her ornate walkways and decks, Paddle wheels churning the water, and the sound of men calling off the depth rolled across the waters.