It had been a long year.
Commander Bart Hollings thought as his submarine rose to the surface. The boat's hull popped as the pressure on the hull abated the closer they got to the surface. USS Virginia had been the lead boat in a new class of SSN. One of the most advanced nuclear submarines in the world she had been tasked with a reconnaissance mission. Hollings's submarine had the latest in sonar, electronic sensors, and weapons. All of which are worthless against them! He thought in frustration.
"Approaching periscope depth Captain." The Diving Officer reported. Despite his actual rank, Hollings was the CO of the ship which made him the 'captain'.
"Very well prepare to raise the telephotonic mast and ESM." Hollings answered, standing in the center of the control room.
Around him the sailors worked the controls that ensured the Virginia was able to function. Forward and to the left of Hollings were the two sailors driving the submarine. They controlled the rudder and bow planes viva aircraft like controls. The navigator prepared for their GPS fix to back up their INS and internal plot on an old fashioned map. They needed the INS and old school navigation since the GPS satellites were becoming increasing unreliable. Unless somebody up top got their act together soon and managed to send some instructions to the high orbiting system the military would lose one of its main tools.
The sub slowly began to level out as the Virginia eased into position sixty feet beneath the waves. Even if Hollings didn't see the depth gauge or remember his own orders, he could tell they were on the surface as the sub was affected by the moving seas lightly rolling as they hovered just below the surface. Some of the crew, whose sea legs were still being developed, would be uncomfortable for a little bit.
"Raising scope", rang out from a submariner.
On an older 688 boat, the Los Angles class the periscope would be sliding up through the center of the control room. Newer submarines were abandoning the old periscope which used mirrors for new electronic eyes which could see further and didn't take up space in the middle of the control room. Personally Hollings missed the process of lifting up the handles on the scope and pressing his eyes to it while getting the first peak at the outside world. Now he and the XO looked at some flatscreens mounted on the wall. Another thing to miss, he thought, as if we didn't have enough to miss.
"Sonar, report all contacts." His XO ordered.
The enlisted men forward of control were sitting in front of a series of sonar displays. They watched falling yellow lines which would have made no sense to anyone outside the Navy, especially since they represented sound signals out in the ocean. Long ago it had been learned that sound traveled best through the water. Thus submarines never 'saw' what was around them, but listened. Besides the waterfall displays the sonar crew listened on large headphones. Their ears had been trained at great expense by the Navy and could pick out the sound of whales swimming or the transient of a metal hatch closing on a Chinese submarine. With their sensitive passive sonar equipment the men of the Virginia could hear contacts nearly a hundred miles away, today though they were more concerned with their immediate surroundings.
"XO, no new contacts, still tracking Sierra 12 and the large body of Sierras 13 through 25. They're still a ways off sir." The chief running the sonar department answered.
"Very well", The XO responded.
Hollings took over the controls for their telephotonic mast and swung the device a full 360 degrees around their position. The seas weren't calm but the waves weren't big enough to block the camera's view. Empty sea was all he could see, except for Sierra 12. The contact reported by his sonar department was a drifting vessel. Over two miles away it was no threat to his ship. Hollings zoomed in on the derelict freighter. The high definition video was one advantage the telephotonic had over the old periscope.
It was clear the freighter had been through a lot. Blacked marks signaled the impact of medium sized cannon rounds on the hull. Hollings could see bullet holes all over the ship's upper structure. The portholes and sides of the passageways open to the air were covered with dark brown and black streaks. Finally he could see them, on the aft portion of the ship. The crew inside the control center stole glances at the TV screens. The XO walked over and stood next to Hollings. He shook his head, "Ugly motherfuckers."
"Aye, Aye." Hollings muttered.
Standing on the aft portion of the battered freighter was a group of twenty of its former sailors. They weren't standing there waiting for rescue; they were standing there trying to eat the sea gulls that were picking at something below the deck line that Hollings couldn't, thankfully, see. One of the white birds was caught by the grey skinned rotting monster that had once been a sailor. Hollings zoomed out before he could see the man sink his teeth into the helpless bird.
No one said anything, they had seen it before.
When the dead began to rise and consume the living, thousands if not millions of people had fled to the seas. Many thought that getting on a boat and away from land would save them from the Undead. However they had acted in panic and didn't think about the long term problems of survival at sea. They didn't bring food, clothes, or bother to check who might have come aboard with a bite or scratch. Hollings shuddered internally at the thought of being trapped on a destroyer or cruiser as the people aboard turned. There would be no where to run, no where to hide. It'd be even worst on a submarine, he knew. At least on a boat you could jump into the sea, which would only delay the inevitable unless you were very lucky. Hollings had seen dozens of ships which had become nothing but floating holds for the Undead.
Originally his orders from COMSUBLANT had been to sink such vessels. Then it was learned that the Zombies /Undead/Walking Plague (take your pick) didn't die from the sinkings. SOSUS revealed that the zombies sank (in most cases) to the ocean floor
and were still alive as they did so. It boggled Hollings who knew the pressures and forces at work that deep should have destroyed them, but their enemy defied all logic so why should he be that surprised. Now the USN left the boats adrift. They tried to keep track of them and warn people about the damn things but not everyone listened.
"Somebody tried to raid that wreck
yep, take a look sir." The XO said. He zoomed in on the front of the ship. Hollings and his XO watched as a new walking corpse came to be.
It rose up, death caused by having its neck ripped out. He was dark skinned maybe from South America or the Caribbean. A belt of ammunition was swung over his chest and he was covered in tattoos. The eyes
God those eyes, Hollings couldn't stand their eyes. His XO had zoomed out slightly, evidently creeped out as well. They watched the newly dead begin walking towards the aft, where the food was. Probably this guy and the others had hit the freighter looking for, food, fuel, or loot. Based on the amount of fire the ship had taken, they thought it was empty. Original owners must have managed to seal them in, these guys go looking for supplies and opps, Hollings decided.
"Alright mark its position, continue on course to the objective." Hollings ordered deciding he had seen enough.
The Virginia did several more things before they lowered their scope. First they radioed COMSBULANT and reported in. The Navy's satellite system was so far unaffected by the global chaos. Next they checked for any transmissions. None were picked up other than the ones they knew about. Sierras 13 through 25 were to their southeast. A collection of civilian refugees escorted by two Perry class frigates and one Bruke class DDG. The electronic emissions of the naval vessels easily identified, closer to the coast they were approaching there were no emissions. They lowered the masts and dived to two hundred feet. Hollings ordered them to advance at half of their full speed. The course he ordered would bring them northwest, towards their objective.
He left the submarine in the capable hands of his XO. Hollings headed out of the control center and headed aft. Walking through the tight passageways he brushed up against his crew. Like the captain they wore dark blue coveralls. All had their dolphins, signaling their status as experienced submariners. They greeted him with, "Hey skipper, or a polite 'captain'."
Hollings nodded or said something back. Normally he tried to be friendlier with them but he was in bad mood after looking at Sierra 12. It's been a long year, understatement of the fucking century. Entering the galley he saw some of the crew taking a minute to eat. They drank coffee and some had hard crackers, which many of the people in the galley were dunking in the coffee. Hollings knew that their last load of food from Norfolk had not been up to par. In fact most of it was MREs. Hollings didn't blame the supply men back at base; they had enough trouble at the moment. Getting himself some coffee, Hollings went back to his cabin.
Space is at a premium on a submarine. As a result the captain who was granted a private space basically had an area the size of a small walk-in closet. Closing the door the captain went past his fold down table sat in his chair and then brought the table down. Strapped to it was a laptop. Opening it and bringing the device out of sleep mode he logged in and then saw the wallpaper.
It was of Julia. She looked so beautiful sitting in the long grass at his parents place in Illinois. With her long blonde hair, sweet face, and big smile looking up at him Hollings fell back in love with her every time he looked at that picture. Tears welled up in his eyes. He closed them and forced down the sob that wanted to come up. Without really opening them he clicked on an icon on the desktop and opened it. The picture of Julia was covered and with that he could open his eyes. Why is this so hard today?
A long year, just over a year ago Galileo 5 had returned to Earth, he realized. His sadness was turned to anger, goddamn space probe! For whatever reason Galileo 5 a probe that had been launched from a platform on Mars returned to Earth erratically. It broke apart in the atmosphere over Europe and Asia. Two months later, strange reports began arriving at the European Union's health division and the Russian government. People were becoming ill with a tremendous fever. In some cases the body got to over 110 degrees. Not long after becoming ill these people died. They didn't stay dead, Hollings thought. Shortly after death the deceased then returned to life of a sort and their first instinct, their only instinct was to attack the living.
Hollings hadn't believed it when he had heard it. Later it was revealed that the Europeans and the Russians had tried to keep it quiet. They did inform the U.S. government who began making some quiet plans. It had been hoped whatever was causing this could be contained. Unfortunately for everyone it wasn't. Soon the Undead Virus/bacteria/ or whatever it was made it inside the major cities. The Europeans hemmed and hawed before calling out the military and declaring marshal law. By then it was too late for them. Russia managed to do better but they couldn't keep everyone in their country who had been exposed. Some apparently went to Japan and China. From there it only took a couple jumbo jets to spread it elsewhere.
Hollings had remembered his own confusion at the time. First the alert orders, deploying in haste from Norfolk without knowing why. As the news broke people began to panic in the States. The infection became a problem first on the East Coast. NYC was sealed off, hoping to keep the Undead contained. Virginia had deployed in the North Atlantic to cover the naval forces as they tried to screen the ships feeling the coast. As Sierra 12 showed it had been almost an impossible task. Despite their best efforts, the military failed to contain the enemy. Soon all the major cities of the East Coast were infected and the military, which was still desperately trying to bring itself from back overseas was too late to save them.
He knew things could have been done better; much of the resulting chaos from the rising of the dead was cause of humanity and not the Zombies. India and Pakistan were a prime example. As the Indians struggled to deal with the outbreak, the Pakistanis were worried about a sea of refuges coming across into their country. They first tried blocking the routes from India with conventional forces but the Pakistanis realized there were just too many people looking for escape. So they decided to eliminate the problem. Nukes were fired and India burned, of course not before firing back at Pakistan. Fallout from that was still affecting the sub-continent and Asia.
The final Indo-Paki War seemed to be the match that ignited the Middle East. As American forces tried to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan the terrorists and rouge states tried to attack them. Why had never really been found out by the U.S., maybe they just thought the Walking Plague was the will of Allah. It made the pull out a war which the U.S. hadn't needed when it had to fight one inside its own borders. Iran had been hammered along with Syria, both of whom eventually had to deal with the Undead springing up inside their borders. The Iraqis had helped the U.S. enough to be allowed to march on Saudi Arabia, which had collapsed into anarchy following the war. Together with U.S. and Chinese forces they kept the oil flowing.
Surprisingly to Hollings the PRC had managed not to collapse with so much going on. China had clamped down and did their best to stop the Undead before they got a chance to rise. Last Hollings had heard they were trying to stop the mass of Zombies coming from what was left of the subcontinent, many of whom were now irradiated. Last intelligence briefing he had suggested that they were holding on by their fingernails. Japan had succumbed, the Self Defense Forces unable to deal with the outbreak. The overpopulation and closeness of the Japanese Home Islands worked against them. The U.S. Fleet referred to it as a Dead Zone. Many of the Pacific islands, except Japan, were clean. Australia had closed its borders and taken over strategic islands that were part of Indonesia north of them.
Hollings wondered why he was thinking about all this. He tired to distract his thoughts by getting some of the inevitable paperwork done. Yet he couldn't stop thinking about everything that had happened. The world had gone down the tubes and no one was confident it wouldn't go all the way. With a click of the mouse he minimized what he was looking at and looked once again at the picture of the love of his life. With memorized movements on the keyboard he opened a saved email.
Bart, don't knw if youll get this. We're evacing by orders of the Army! I luv u.
Sent six months ago, right around the time the Army moved to seal the Appalachian Mountains. The last he had ever heard from her. He pulled some strings and heard from a friend in the Army that her convoy had gone off the air somewhere in Pennsylvania. That didn't mean Julia was dead, but if she wasn't then she was behind the Grey Line, 'their' territory. Every time he thought about her in that situation...alone. Once again the sobs came. He clamped down on them as there was a knock at the door.
"Captain?" a voice asked through his door.
"Yes!" he responded, too loudly but covering up his anguished cries of a moment ago. If the sailor on the other side had heard, he gave no indication.
"We're on station sir."
Hollings composed himself and stood up. By time he got to the door he was no worse for ware. Opening he saw a Petty Officer, "Thanks Young."
He made the short walk to control center and ordered them back to periscope depth. Just as the year's events had been hard on him, each of his crewmembers was hit just as bad. Everyone had relatives lost in the chaos of the year. Some knew their uncles, aunts, grandparents, parents and siblings were gone. Others like Hollings had no knowledge of their family and loves' fates. The Chief of the Boat had lost everyone. Yet somehow the man got up each day and continued to do his job. Not everyone could claim to have done the same. There had been one suicide on the boat earlier in the year, an enlisted man who lost everyone in his family. Hollings knew he was lucky, some ships had multiple cases. A rumor circling through the Navy was that one carrier had over a hundred such events.
Hollings had the mast raised and got ready to look upon their objective. He remembered the orders from COMSUBLANT clearly, ESTABLISH CONDITION OF ZACK: LOC NYC. Zack was the unofficial name for their Undead enemy in the armed forces. Hollings knew that the Army and Marines holding the Grey Line and the closed border with Mexico had other more colorful names, he preferred to call the enemy what they were, the Undead.
A debate was raging through the restructured federal government. Should the U.S. try to go on the offensive against the Undead or let their enemy rot away? This is where Virginia came in. She and the other submarines could do more than provide security for what limited maritime trade remained or run supplies to isolated pockets of resistance along the coastlines of the world. They could approach the cities and do more detailed reconnaissance than just air missions, which were becoming difficult to mount do to lack of fuel.
"Telephotonic mast is up sir."
Hollings looked at the image, the abandoned remains of New York. They were looking at the eastern shore. Buildings were for the most part intact. Windows had been blow out by storms or in many cases gunfire as the city fell. Pileups of cars were on the roads. There was some lost military equipment too. Hollings had no idea how some of it had come down but it did. The broken tail rotor of a UH-60 hung off one building. Some of the shoreline buildings were pot marked with damage from Navy fired three and five inch shells. Then walking amongst the ruin that had once been the greatest city in the world (to Americans) was the Undead.
"They don't look too good." The XO commented.
Hollings shook his head, "Some are falling apart but look at the others."
They both watched as stumbling Zombies went through the stopped cars and trucks. As the XO said some were in advance stages of decomposition. Others however had been turned later and thus looked much more 'fresh'. Most of them appeared to be at a half-way point. They were coming apart but not fast enough. Hollings was hoping he was wrong, and that most of the NYC Dead Zone was rotting away, but his mind told him it was untrue. Even with the Walking Plague, pirates, opportunists, and hopeless people searching for loved ones entered these areas. Most fell to the Undead in the city, joining their ranks. How much of that was being repeated across the world?
Hollings ordered a complete sweep of the city. They recorded it for uploading to the 'temporary' headquarters of the Atlantic Fleet at New Orleans. Several major bases including Norfolk were safe zones on the east coast, but too exposed to set up shop for the Atlantic Fleet commanders. How long can we go on like this? He wondered. The east coast was occupied by the Undead. The Midwest was relatively clean but the cities were still being addressed. Much of the Army's fire power was trying to keep the Mexican Zombies from pushing north into America. The west coast had scattered outbreaks which were being cleaned up. Could America hang on? Did they have the resources and will to hold out, or would they be consumed like Japan? Would he ever see Julia again or would one day on a mission like this he would spot her face among the Undead on the shore.
Sniffling interrupted his train of thought. Hollings turned to see his navigator starting to come apart. He knew the man was from New York. Before he could even act the COB was there. The Chief placed a hand on the kid's arm and said, "Hey let's get a coffee okay lieutenant?"
Without a word the man responded and let the COB lead him out. Hollings sighed and looked up at the city on the screens. He took control of the mast and turned it briefly. There standing as she always had was Lady Liberty. The green statue's outstretched arm with her torch beckoned those who wanted a new start in America to come. Maybe one day they will again, Hollings decided turning the camera back to the shore.
It had been a long year.