Thursday, May 28, 2015

Chapter 13


Nate carefully pulled up alongside the vessel and then sent a couple of men over to check and see if there was anyone aboard after there had been no response to their attempt at communication.  The men reported back, “It’s a salvage vessel.  Still has plenty of fuel and it was shut down properly but there’s evidence of blood on the deck that has been partially washed off and lots of blood inside the bridge that hasn’t.  No bodies though.” 

Miguel handed Nate the ship’s log that revealed they had only docked two days earlier and that four men that had gone on board had failed to call in.  The captain had suspected they were running loose trying to find small but high value salvage before turning anything over as those same four men had done that before. 

Emi rolled her eyes, at the stupidity of the crew of the abandoned ship and at some of Nate’s crew.  If they were too stupid to think the obvious then she wasn’t going to bother enlightening them. 

There was a brief discussion.  Some of the men wanted to salvage and some definitely did not.  Nate, knowing the men as he did said, “You’ve got two hours to salvage unless you run into trouble.  You know the drill compadres, you turn over everything you find and it gets split by percentage.  I catch you holding back and you get nothing.  At the end of the two hours it is straight back and we take off fifteen minutes later with or without you.” 

Emi looked at Nate like he had suddenly developed crazy but she didn’t say a word. 

Nate noted it and explained.  “Deal fell through that was gonna pay for this little outing.  They were already griping after having to leave the salvage behind in Galveston.  They know this is my last time out.  Regular jobs aren’t all that easy to come by, especially good paying regular jobs.  They can’t afford to come home empty handed on this last voyage any more than I can.” 

“I can see that.  And have seen it before when a ship wouldn’t get enough catch to make it worth leaving port.  I’m talking about these that are refusing to board the liner.  You really gonna trust them to still be here in two hours?” 

“No.  Which is why Kiko and I are staying here.” 

“But I thought you said …” 

“Thems just the breaks.” 

Emi looked at the large ship then back at Nate, then at the ship again.  “OK.  Two hours.  Where do you want me to look first?” 

“You?  Now wait just a minute …” 

Kiko had come back on deck and said, “It’s a good idea.  She can take care of herself but I’d put her with someone all the same.  Especially with that arm that is going to limit how much she can carry.” 

Nate chewed his lip for a moment then nodded.  It was decided that they would go aboard the liner in teams and each team would have a communication device.  The teams would break down into those that were willing to investigate the interior of the ship, those willing to at least go as far as the exterior passage ways and decks.  Those that would only go as far as the exterior passages and the decks would collect what the salvagers would put out there for them.  They would then transport the salvage down to the open hatch and the men remaining on board would start stowing the salvage on both vessels. 

Emi was teamed up with a younger crewman named Alfredo who immediately took some pretty good ribbing.  Already determined to prove his manhood to his crewmates, this only caused him to act like a bigger jackass.  As soon as he was out of sight of Nate he left Emi, taking the communicator with him.  Nate believed in covering his bases, or knew what could happen, and he’d slipped her her own communicator with none of the other men the wiser. 

Actually Emi preferred working alone.  First she hit the bridge and captain’s quarters as requested but found nothing worth anything, both having been cleaned out before she got there, by other salvagers or perhaps even during its initial infection stage.  There weren’t any lifeboats on board so anything was possible.  She did find a competition style rifle in the security chief’s quarters along with the ammo for it that looks like it had been confiscated if she read the tags right.  She decided to re-confiscate it for her own and slung it over her shoulder after loading it.  She’d learned during the Second Wave that empty guns were just fancy clubs and since she’d also found a blackjack that she attached to her waist band, another club she didn’t need.  She also grabbed a wind up flashlight that wasn’t corroded beyond good use.  And a good thing she did because the enclosed decks were dark. 

With only two hours … now more like 90 minutes … Emi started looking for high value items rather than something that a crew with more time would salvage.  She used the handy wall map and headed for the medical bay, picking up a pile of those eco-friendly bags from one of the fancy stores on board.  The medications in the medicine cabinet had all gone over but there were still enough small items that could be sterilized that she made a couple of bags of that and put some in her own back pack.  The two bags she dropped off in the agreed upon corridor and she continued salvaging sector by sector. 

Emi was deep into the bowels of the ship when she ran into fire doors that were sealed and taped off though it looked like someone had tried to break into them.  She suddenly got a good idea of what had happened to stir up the crazies on board.  Unwilling to breach such a blockade and risk reigniting trouble if there were more crazies on board, she began to return topside since the time was running out.  She’d put down how quiet the radio had gotten to her location but it remained silent all the way to the rendezvous deck.  And that’s where she saw several of the men hiding and mumbling something about waiting until they saw who won.  Emi took one look and silently growled, “Idiotas.” 

It took only a moment to level the rifle she’d found and use the laser sight to blow the head off of the man who had been holding a gun on Nate and yelling orders to those around him.  She hadn’t expected the kick and the stock nearly made her scream as it tore open the wound in her arm.  Still, she managed a quick body shot to the one near Kiko that had simply looked at suddenly decapitated corpse that hadn’t even begun to fall yet.  The women, who’d been brought topside and obviously gotten slapped around a bit, practically tore a third man apart leaving no doubt that he’d been part of the mutiny too.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Chapter 12


“So tell me, since it looks like we have a little time to kill, where did you see this kind of feeding frenzy.” 

Emi sat on the spindle of thick wire that had been lashed down near the pilot house.  Her arm was beginning to get sore again and she fought to ignore it.   

“Nah.  There’s enough sad stories floating around.” 

“Emi …” 

She looked to find that for some reason she had irritated Nate.  She thought for a moment but couldn’t figure out why.  Finally she figured if she was committed to the deal with Nate telling some of her past wasn’t going to hurt. 

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”  Taking a deep breath she tried to distance herself from the telling, like it was someone else it all happened to and not her.  “Most of my family went in the first wave of the Donner Virus, before it even had its name because it hadn’t mutated yet.  Then so the story goes some idiot tried an experimental vaccine meant for ebola on a ward full of sick people thinking, like everyone else did at the time, that it was a mutation of a hemorrhagic fever.  Well whether it was or wasn’t the vaccine definitely caused some kind of mutation.  Instead of bleeding out the vaccine caused the sick to crave blood … like human hematophagy or vampirism only it was mixed up with some kind of rage psychosis.  Then the virus became further mutated and airborne allowing animals to become infected as well.  And the world was forever changed.  First humans, then the animals biologically similar to humans, then those that were friends to humans.  Once it crossed the species barrier … blah, blah, blah.” 

Thinking that Emi hid her smarts well he simply nodded and said, “Pretty much how I heard it as well.” 

“Yeah well, that’s the big picture.  Everyone has their own little picture.  Mine is that after the second wave was gotten under control I was an orphan with next to no family.  What there was wouldn’t take me ‘cause they had issues of their own they were dealing with.  Resources were getting scarce and the judge that handled my case thought he was doing a good deed by evacuating me out of the country to my mother’s family.  Due to border control Honduras hadn’t really seen but a handful of cases of DV at that point and only one case of human DV.   What the judge didn’t know was that the social system in Honduras hadn’t warned my mother’s family that I was coming and that on top of that I was a girl.  I wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms – there had been some kind of big blow up between my grandfather and his brother’s kids.  Then when they found out that the probate was likely to be held up for years and they’d never see anything … it got … interesting.  Then the third wave started popping up in a lot of countries around the same time but not in Honduras and their immediate neighbors.  Foreigners were looked at with a lot of suspicion.  It created some problems.” 

“Some?” 

“OK, a lot of problems.  For a while the family ‘hid me’ by putting me to work on a boat of a friend of theirs.  Lecherous old goat.  The old cabron gave my pay directly to my mother’s cousin’s wife and I never saw a dime.  I would no sooner walk down the gang plank than I’d be hustled to another boat and sent out again.” 

“That’s a brutal life for a girl.  How old were you?” 

Ignoring the age question and Nate knew it was intentional, Emi said, “They needed the money.  Several young men in their neighborhood got drafted to protect the borders, three of whom were sons in the familia.  Then one time I came in and within a couple of days, several of the children in the family showed DV-positive on a government test that had been administered at their school; they were taken away and euthanized even before their parents were notified.  I got blamed despite it being impossible as I’d been out on the boat longer than the longest incubation period.  I’m pretty sure that it was actually my cousin’s wife who brought it in from going to the market.  I heard later that she’d been acting strange for a while … running to the priest with nightmares, seeing ‘visions’, refusing to eat.  You know the symptoms.  But like I said, that was later.  After I’d learned to survive on the street where they’d thrown me.” 

“How old were you?” 

Again Emi ignored him.  “Getting thrown out of the house wasn’t that unusual in that neighborhood.  It was a common threat that was just as often employed as a control.  I learned quick by watching some of the other gente de la calle.  The street people.   It didn’t take long for the shock to wear off and reality to set in.  I wouldn’t be allowed back as some were so I decided that if my life was going to be short, I’d spend the rest of it trying to get back home.  First though I had to get across the border.  I did everything but sell drugs and whore to pay my way north.  I had made it as far as Chihuahua before Mexico City blew.  It was a mess with as many fleeing south as were fleeing north.  If people weren’t losing their minds before they certainly were shortly after it was confirmed that the explosion had been nuclear.  I got caught up in a scramble for resources … food, water, you name it.  It was all guns and knives and then DV broke out in the desert camps and it became teeth and blood.  Me and some people I had been travelling with escaped with what we could and eventually got to the border and across it … only to have some of them fall for a baited trap.  Don’t know if it was set by the coyotes, cartels, or militia but that’s how I wound up under the thumb of the militia and from there being bought by Kiko and his crew.” 

It was pretty obvious that Nate was going to ask another question but everyone’s attention was caught as they rounded the cruise ship’s aft and found another vessel tied off and one of the hatches on the cruise ship opened.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chapter 11


The passageway was noisy and it was impossible to tell friend from foe in the dark.  Not that Emi really had friends but when it came to fighting crazies you’d take what you could get.  Her eyes finally adjusted and she saw that the crazies were little more than skin and bones and bloated stomachs beneath their tattered and gore splattered clothing.  But they were still crazies and her knives would mean she’d have to get too close.  Then on the wall she spied what looked like an old-fashioned whaling harpoon, the kind they used when they’d still had to be thrown by hand by men in small boats.  It wasn’t great as a hand to hand combat weapon but it would have to do.  The weight of the thing surprised her and strained her injured arm but there was no time to look for anything better. 

She was shorter than the men and would have to be careful that the crazies didn’t think she was a kid or they’d go into a frenzy.  As a crazy would get passed the crew she would do her best to skewer them with the harpoon.  If she didn’t get an immediate killing stab she had to take them down, use the knife to slit their throat and then yank the harpoon out so she could get set for the next one. 

Finally the passageway was free of crazies and the men had returned to clearing the deck of those that remained up there.  Emi hit the deck just in time to harpoon a crazy that was making a jump for Nate’s back.  Then she got knocked backwards and Nate returned the favor, throwing the crazy over the railing before the crazy could throw her.  Nate, Kiko, and Emi stood back to back trying to exterminate those that were still clever enough to avoid being an easy kill and also deal with the few that continued to crawl onboard. 

The battle finally wound down after no more crazies seemed to jump overboard to attack them.  The last one had been killed and thrown back into the water where it had climbed up from when Emi spotted fins in the water.  “Nate?” 

“I see ‘em,” he responded more calmly than some of the crew did after they too spotted the large predators making their way into the area.  He gave directions for his men to hurry up and throw the remaining bodies over the rail while others rinsed the deck of standing blood and gore and then to pull back slowly and carefully from the feeding frenzy that was just beginning. 

Emi saw some of the men shudder and many draw the sign of the cross or some superstition ward against evil but they did as their captain ordered.  Everyone remained silent and that’s when Emi thought to check on the women and make sure they stayed silent.  She didn’t need to warn them; they had seen what was going on.  Even Barb looked thoroughly freaked out.  Emi calmed them and said that the large predators would be at it for a while but as long as nothing else attracted their attention they would move off quickly when they finished doing what the DV in their brains demanded of them.  They’d probably go cannibal on some of their own as well, knocking their numbers back. 

Emi had seen it before a few times but never with this many bodies in the water.  She returned topside and stared but something in her face gave her away.  Kiko whispered, “No surprise?” 

“No.” 

Nate jerked his head for her to come forward and Emi left Kiko as he was helped below decks so he could have his leg examined. 

“Did you do for Ernie?” 

Slowly she nodded.  “He went after one of the girls and Barb wasn’t strong enough to pull him off.” 

“Rape?” 

She snorted.  “Un Latante.  He was biting and licking his own lips so hard he drew blood.” 

Nate nodded.  “Miguel saw.  Just wanted your side of it.  Miguel didn’t care for Ernie, never had, but I thought it was a … a color thing.  Ernie wasn’t obvious but he wasn’t happy when I promoted Miguel as my second instead of him.”  After a pause he said, “Miguel said this is also his last voyage.  He’s going to stay closer to home, help his brothers with their place.  He might be looking to take one of the girls and maybe another one for his little brother.” 

Emi said nothing.  You learned to not get involved in other people’s business.  But she did file the information away. 

They both watched the water foam red where the sharks were stirring it up and going their own version of crazy.  Nate said, “You seen this before.” 

“Yeah.  Not quite this much chum.” 

“Chum?  Those were men.” 

“Were.  They were also loco como el infierno.  Do I really need to explain how they’ve survived five years or more on a ship in the middle of the Gulf?”  At the look on his face she said, “I didn’t think so.  They weren’t men anymore, not as most people think of them.  From the look of them they’ve been cannibalizing their own population for quite a while.” 

He looked at her sharply from the corner of his eye.  “Cannibalizing their own population?  Where did that come from?” 

“One of the ways I made enough to get me across the border was as a Nest Destroyer.” 

Under his breath Nathan muttered a sharp curse.  “Don’t let that out.  My men are on the ragged edge as it is.” 

“Don’t plan on it.  But if you’re going to get that green around the gills perhaps you want to rethink your deal before it gets written …” 

“No,” he snapped.  “You aren’t getting away that easy.  Does Kiko know?” 

“Nope,” Emi said with a bit of dark humor twisting her lips.  “If you think your crew is superstitious you should have heard some of the historias de fantasmas his crew would tell each other at night.  Stupido.  There’s enough real scary in the world without making crap up like that.” 

“That there is,” Nate said as they continued to watch nature’s horror show playing in front of them.  “That there certainly is.”

Monday, May 11, 2015

Chapter 10


“A cruise ship?!” Kiko asked incredulously after taking the view in.  “Gotta be a trap Nate.” 

“Maybe.  Maybe not.  There’s still quite a few ships on the List of the Lost.  One or two get found and salvaged a few times a year.” 

Emi was on deck with the others.  Nate didn’t object but he did tell her to stay close.  And she was more than willing after getting another look at Ernie.  She was beginning to get an idea she didn’t like.  She whispered so that only Nate and Kiko heard her.  “Put a tag on Ernie.” 

“You see something?” Nate asked back just as carefully. 

“His mask is slipping.  Reminds me how people would get right before DV went stage 4.” 

Both men stiffened but luckily everyone assumed it was from being tense about the disabled cruise ship they were drifting near.  There weren’t that many new cases of human DV these days but it did happen. 

One of the men asked to no one specific, “You think it’s already been salvaged?” 

Emi could see with her own eyes if it had been salvaged it had been a pretty sloppy job.  There were still deck chairs visible and sheets hanging from some of the balconies. 

Suddenly Emi felt or maybe had seen something only her brain registered and grabbed Nate’s arm.  “Don’t go any closer.  Move …” 

But it was too late.  Some of the crew, in their eagerness for one last salvage, had ignored Nate’s orders and had taken the boat too close. 

“Jumper!” someone yelled right before a body crashed onto their deck.   

Several more followed that one and there was a deadly fight as Donner Virus infected crazies tried to swamp the smaller vessel.  Emi heard a scream of both pain and anger and turned towards the passageway that led to the cabin where the women were still locked in.  Or were supposed to be locked in.  She sprinted that direction but then skidded to a halt when she saw the door standing open and heard Barb screaming, “You sick ****!” 

Earlier, Nate hadn’t said a word as she got dressed though he’d had to have found all of the knives and shivs she’d had hidden.  Which was a good thing as she pulled her last flensing knife and told Barb to move where she’d been trying to pull Ernie off one of the weaker girls.  She opened his throat before he could open the girl’s gut with his own knife. 

Barb was screaming curses as she asked, “What the hell is going on?” 

“Someone let their greed get ahead of their commonsense.  Pulled in too close to a cruise ship that still has some live crazies on it.” 

“That I figured out from watching out the porthole.  I’m talking about that sick **** you just put down.” 

“I think he might have been a latent that has been able to hide in plain sight until now.  It was all our female pheromones that sent him over the edge.  Maybe.  Or, he could have just been a sick ****.” 

Barb got a feral smile and said, “But your explanation will sound better to a judge so that’s what we’re going with.”  The smile disappeared though when fighting could be heard in the passageway.  Barb snarled at the girls still whimpering, “Stop being crybabies.  Pull your shivs and go down fighting girls.” 

Before turning to rejoin the fighting Emi noted that even the weakest among the girls obeyed Barb and took a fighting stance.  She told them all, “Shut the door and shove something in front of it.  I’ll keep ‘em off as long as I can.” 

No one objected or cried for her to stay where it was safer.  Life was just that way.  But before she left she took Ernie’s side arm and the knife he’d been carrying.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Chapter 9


“I need a woman."

 “Says the priest.”

 “Never finished taking my vows Emi.”

 “So you want a woman for the same reason every man wants a woman to use for his own.”

 “Partly,” Nate admitted.  “Partly ‘cause … look … dammit.”

 Suddenly Emi was interested.  “You hiding something you don’t want other men to know?”

 Nate looked at her and nearly reached over to give her the promised spanking.  “That mouth is going to get you in trouble.”

 “So what else is new?  Spit it out Captain …”

 “Nate.  Call me Nate.  After this run I’m done with the Captain business … at least for a while.  I got other responsibilities.”

 Emi grew cautious again.  “Like I said, spit it out and get to the point … Nate.”

 Nate nodded acknowledging that she’d done as he’d asked.  “I got kids.  My sister in law has been raising them but … it ain’t good no more.”

 “Kiko’s wife?”

 “No.  My wife’s – ex-wife’s – sister; her name is Arden.  She’s finally decided to take her vows … she’s always wanted to be a nun but kept putting it off to take care of family stuff.  Then the convent wasn’t taking novitiates for a while.  Now they are and she can’t go with kids in tow.  And … and it’s just time is all.  If I don’t Arden said she’ll give them over to Gina and I ain’t gonna let that happen.”  The fury and other emotions Emi saw made her very cautious in her response.

 “So you don’t just need a woman for your bed.”

 Curtly he answered, “No.”

 “What have I got to work with?”

 “Huh?”

 “Look, say I’m willing to … to be this thing that men seem to need to keep them sane.  But what do I have to work with.  You might not be thinking beyond rolling around in the bed and filling your belly when you get hungry but you tell me I’m gonna be taking care of your kids … how many kids?  And on a boat?  Up a tree?  Gimme a clue what I got to work with.”

 With the initial explanation out of the way and the business portion reached Nate became much more relaxed.  “I got a house.  A good one but it needs work.  Got some land around it.  Used to be a nursery … the plant and tree kind with an attached orange grove … and as far as I can tell all it needs is some elbow grease and a garden to grow what we don’t get from the market.  Got a couple of animals bred off the ones that have been certified DV immune.  So far the immunity breeds true.  Arden lives in the house with the kids and I hired caretakers to do the rest but she ain’t the housefrau type and the caretakers are mostly for security so the place … like I said it needs work.  I want to make it better than just livable.  There’s a building where my land meets the crossroads that will make a good layover point.  The land also has waterfront to it which is a plus.  I need to get in, get set up right, before I miss the opportunity.  There’s already a couple of other businesses going in but so far nothing that looks like what I have in mind.”

 Emi had closed her eyes and Nate almost thought she had dozed off before her eyes opened with that same strange look in them he’d seen a couple of times.  It didn’t seem to match her next statement so he didn’t know what to make of it or if he needed to make anything of it.    “No whores.”

 Nate’s automatic response was, “No whoring.”

 Emi’s gaze snapped into focus and Nate felt like she was looking deep into places he hadn’t meant for her to see.  But all she said was, “Agreed.”

 “So you’re agreeing to the deal?”

 “I haven’t heard a deal.  I simply agreed to no whoring … which I won’t do whether I go on the block or not.  Whoever buys me will learn that the easy way or the hard way.  Doesn’t really matter to me.”

 Nate nodded and then said, “Then here is your bargain.  You agree to come with me … be willing … not cause problems … take care of the kids good enough they don’t turn into heathens or kill themselves … and in exchange you’ll get a roof over your head, my name and protection, and a cut of the business for in case something happens to me.”

 “How do I know you won’t change your mind and decide to sell me on the block when you find something you like better?”

 “That’s not my way but if you need it in writing we can do it that way.”

 Emi just sat there looking at him for a moment before nodding slowly.  “You put that part in writing then … then I’ll agree to the rest of it.  And … and in exchange … I’ll say that if I break my word that I forfeit all of it and … and you can sell me on the block and I ain’t got no say over it.”

 Nate looked at her hard.  “Regardless of what you think I’m no trafficker.    If Kiko was in better shape he and me would be having some words over you girls but …”

 “But he ain’t.”  Then against her better judgment Emi asked, “How is he?”

 “He’ll live … at least he will long enough for my sister to get ahold of him.  But that’s his business.  You don’t need to be paying attention to Kiko.”

 “I ain’t paying attention to him the way you think.  He took a bullet trying to get us outta that place in one piece when he could have easy left us behind for those pirates.  He didn’t.  That’s worth … something.    At least worth asking if he is gonna make it whole and in one piece.  For a while there I wondered.”

 Nate relaxed and leaned back in his chair.  “So we doing this?”

 Emi sighed and nodded but then asked, “What’s the duration of this deal?  Just until your kids get old enough?”

 “Permanent.”

 It took a moment for Emi to process his answer.  “Naw, you’re trying to play me.”

 “There’s a priest meeting us at the docking point with papers.”

 “You’re definitely playing me.  No way you had this figured out.”

 Nate shook his head.  “Prearranged.   The papers are blank, to be filled in by a priest and then logged with the diocese to make it all legal.  It was the only way to keep some in the community from getting bent out of shape.”

 “They sure gonna be bent when they find out Kiko is the only man to return.”

 “Not really.  The ones that he’d taken with him were … as you say.”

 When Nate trailed off Emi nodded, “Yeah, they were.”

 With more explanation Nate said, “You were correct.  None of the ones that left have family.  They were all single men that wouldn’t have been able to afford a woman of their own any other way.”

 Emi filed that bit of information just in case it wasn’t quite as true as Nate thought it.  Then she asked, “If Kiko is such a good guy I don’t see him hanging with that crew.”

 “Because Kiko wasn’t always such a good guy but apparently he took one look at my sister when they were in quarantine together and poof, the big bad wolf lost his teeth.”

 “No.  He didn’t.  But it explains why the closer he got to going back he … he changed.  I think that is what Dern and his crowd were waiting on to some extent.”

 “Had a run in with Dern did you?”

 “I killed Dern.”

 “What?!”

 “Guess Kiko didn’t tell that part.”  She gave a brief explanation then asked, “Does that break the deal?”

 “Hell no.  If anything it makes me want it more. Dern was a cretin and should have been chased down the road a long time ago.  He brought too many shady characters in that tried to cause problems we didn’t need.  Our community is fairly stable but it’s not Disney freaking World.  And the business I aim to go into isn’t without its risks.  I need a woman that won’t faint at the sight of blood and who will cover my back if need be.”

 Slowly Emi said, “No.  I ain’t the kind of mujer who faints.  Seen too much.”  To change the subject she asked, “Kiko really got kids?”

 “You looking to take m’ sister’s place?” he asked snidely.

 “Don’t be an ass Gringo.  That tune is wearing thin already.  When I make a deal I keep my word and expect you to do the same.  Little kids … just … haven’t seen all that many and you know why.  But you say you got some and he got some.  Strange to hear it.  He needs a kick in the head for leaving them to go off on some woman hunt.  Crazies could have followed them home.”  She almost including him in need a kick but knew enough to keep her counsel on that particular opinion.

 Nate said, “My sister said the same thing.”

 “Good for her.  She sounds like she’s got more sense that he does.”  Then under her breath she mumbled, “Giving me that letter to carry it back like I’m some kinda damn mensajero de la muerta.  Like I’d just drop everything and …”

 With some curiosity Nate asked her, “What were your plans for your life before getting caught by the militia?”

 Emi got a blank look in her eyes.  “To take it one day at a time until I died.”

 Not quite believing her line he said, “Not much of a plan.”

 “Not much of a life … still better than what I left behind.”

 “Is that why you are jumping at this deal to take my name?”

 “Don’t flatter yourself.  It don’t have nothing to do with you or your name.  Just I’ve got two choices.  Your offer or a sure ride to someone expecting to make a living off of me on my back.”  Emi couldn’t hide her distaste of the idea of going on the block.  “I got some pride left.  Maybe not a lot but some.”

 Nate looked troubled for a brief moment then nodded as if he was making the final commitment to what started out as a crazy half-baked idea.  He would have said something but there was a knock on the door and then a voice saying, “Captain!  You ain’t gonna believe this!”

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Chapter 8


“C’mon Emi … wake up and drink.  I don’t want to see you dead now that I’ve found someone like you.  C’mon girl.  Don’t make me have to get Ernie in here.  You don’t want that.” 

“Cabron,” Emi growled even more hoarse than before.  It wasn’t being woken that caused her to curse Nate but the fact that she woke to find she was naked beneath the sheet that covered her. 

“That’s not what my baptismal record says,” Nate said.  His words were threaded through with relief and humor to try and hide it.  “Now drink this.” 

Still fighting – what she wasn’t sure of – Nate finally took a sip of what he held then made a face.  “Yeah, it tastes like crap but it isn’t drugged.  See?”  He even licked his lips.  “Now drink before I pour it down you.” 

The first taste finally made it passed Emi’s lips startling her.  “Wha … what’s this?” 

Nate snorted.  “Some kind of sports drink.  Got it on the last salvage run and its worth its weight in gold so don’t spill it.” 

Emi sat up with as little of Nate’s help as she could get away with.  She kept the sheet up with one hand while she held the cup carefully with the other and tried to take stock.  She was definitely nude but she didn’t feel like she’d been messed with.   In fact she felt … clean, like someone had bathed her.  That was nearly as embarrassing as being nude was. 

Nate surprisingly realized he could read her as well as he’d once read Gina and that fact worried him.  “You going to sit there and drink that?” 

“No.  I’m going to run screaming up the passageway to the deck and then throw myself overboard ‘cause you scare me so bad with your pretty face.” 

Nate shook his head.  “Kiko said once you started talking you could have a mouth.” 

Emi shut up and decided to just sip the drink in her hand but apparently that irritated Nate as much as her talking had.  He stomped over to his desk and sat down in the chair and tried to focus on the inventory.  The silence stretched and finally he sighed before saying.  “We’ll make port in the morning.” 

Emi didn’t say anything, just looked at him through the hair that had fallen across her eyes. 

“You got a choice to make.” 

She responded, “Life’s full of choices.” 

“That it is but not all of them are as important as this one.  You willing to listen?” 

Emi shrugged, favoring the arm that wasn’t nearly as sore as it should have been.  She looked at it and then looked at Nate and asked, “What did you put on it?” 

“Noticed that did you?  Topical analgesic … a strong one.  Won’t last much longer, especially if you start moving around, but there’s enough to get you through another day or two … and you can have it no matter what your decision winds up being.  Call it … call it an act of good faith.” 

“You a priest as well as a boat captain?” 

Nate shook his head.  “Not these days.” 

“Huh?” 

Smiling at the fact that he’d finally caught her off guard he told her, “I was in seminary before the Donner Virus hit.  I realized real quick I wasn’t cut out for the calling my parents had wanted for me.” 

Emi struggled to see the man before her as anything other than what she knew of him.  She shook her head.  “You, a priest.  That’s Twilight Zone stuff.” 

“Don’t worry about it.  It was a lifetime ago … but don’t think I’m an easy mark just because once upon a time I was a dumb kid that didn’t know my mind.” 

“No.  No you aren’t a dumb kid.”  Her eyes got a little distant as she added, “You probably weren’t one then either.  We just do crazy things to make our parents happy whether they are still around to see it or not.” 

She shook her head and refocused but she still caught the sharp look that Nate gave her.  But he didn’t comment on it.  “You got some decisions to make,” he told her. 

“You keep saying that.” 

“Yeah.” 

“But I’m not seeing it.” 

“Then listen up and I mean listen.  Don’t just hear what you want or make crap up with your imagination.” 

Emi nodded cautiously. 

“You got any idea what Kiko was doing or did he not explain?” 

“I’m not stupido and what Kiko didn’t say the other guys in the crew did.  They came from an area where there aren’t a lot of unclaimed females.  It wasn’t a problem until about two years ago when the teenage boys started coming of age and wanted what they wanted.  But the area is run pretty tight by the Church.  No whorehouses and even if a woman was inclined to … accommodate … more than one man the elders have enough power to enforce their morality on everyone else, or so it looks on the surface.  Last year some fever went through the area and took out even more and it happened when most of the young men were out with the fishing fleets or off working the cane fields which means the fever took out more females than males and made things even more imbalanced.  The lack of female companionship was starting to cause feuds between families.  The Elders finally ‘against their better judgment’ decided to finance an excursion to the border to see if women wanted to return with them to get away from the hot spots.  Only most of that is crap.” 

“Maybe.  How do you see it?” 

“The men that went with Kiko were mostly young with no family to back them; what the old men would call cannon fodder.  Probably they were the worst of the trouble makers stirring up most of the crap, complaining about the unfairness of the haves and have nots.  And just finding women willing to go with a stranger ain’t really gonna happen either.  Besides, no one wants a woman that has been living near the hot spots out where they went trolling for females.  The fallout wasn’t as bad as everyone predicted but there are still going to be long term health issues … and maybe making babies ain’t gonna be so easy.  Maybe Kiko and his crew knew that heading out or they found it out by word of mouth once they’d gotten out and about.  Either way, they never went very far south, just bought most of us from the different militias that run those territories.” 

“Kiko says you’re Honduran.” 

“Half.  Long story.” 

“Got it from Kiko already.  Did you cross the border before or after the bomb in Mexico City?” 

“I was in Chihuahua when we got the news.” 

“What did you do?” 

“Kept walking.  If I was going to die I figure at least I could die free on the other side of the fence.” 

“Did you?” 

“Die?” 

“Watch the sass.” 

Emi sighed.  “Life sucks and then you die.  Life has dished out plenty of suckage but I ain’t dead yet.  Might be tomorrow, might not … but the suckage remains constant so I don’t normally let it stop me too much.” 

“Perhaps.”  Nate looked at her for a full minute and couldn’t shake Emi’s silence.  “Don’t you want to know what the decision is?” he asked in frustration. 

“You’re the man, you’ll get around to telling me sooner or later.” 

“Kiko wanted you for Tony.”  When she didn’t react he said, “You don’t want to know who Tony is?” 

“Don’t matter who Tony is because apparently Tony don’t want me.” 

A small but definitely wicked grin bloomed on Nate’s face.  “I have a feeling he’s going to change his tune real quick.” 

“That doesn’t matter either.  I don’t want him.” 

“You sure?” 

“I could say a lot to that but …” 

“But?” 

Emi suddenly tired of it all.  “I got an idea how this was supposed to work.  Kiko was to bring back a couple of dozen willing girls.  He’s barely bringing back a dozen and we all look like we aren’t fit for much more than …”  She stopped and shook her head.  “We are going on the auction block … at least the ones of us that hadn’t been claimed already.  No one left to claim us so it’s the auction block for all of us.  It’s the only way the backers of the trip get their money back … only they aren’t really.  No way they can.  So they’ll look the other way and let some outsiders in, especially now that the men who stayed behind went off on their own.”  What Emi didn’t say is that these outsiders would more than likely be slavers looking for fresh girls for their traveling whore show. 

Nate realized the girl before him was perhaps a lot smarter than she let on, certainly smarter than Gina had been about such things.  “So you going to just go like a lamb to the slaughter?” 

“Depends.” 

“On what?”

“This choice you saying I got that you are taking freaking forever to get around to explaining.” 

Nate growled, “I’m going to swat your behind.” 

“Depends.” 

“Depends?!” 

“On this choice you say I got.” 

Nate stopped short and thought to himself, “This girl is very, very smart.”