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To Challenge Fate

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  • Sapphire

"How long have we been out here?"

I couldn't fathom a guess as to how many times that question had been asked aboard the ship since we set off. In the tense moments prior to piling onto the old, rusted cargo ship, I guess nobody thought to pack a calendar. Not that anyone was busy ticking off the days, or celebrating holidays or birthdays. I don't even know if there was any sort of long-term plan. We were just floating out there, adrift in the sea, waiting for...what? Fate?

I'm getting ahead of myself. I guess I should start at the beginning.

I won't go into great detail about my childhood. The short version is that my mother died when I was a child, and I was raised by my father, a very pragmatic and cynical man who was far more loving than his gruff exterior might otherwise imply. He was a trained survivalist, and a retired US Marine, every part the badass, you know the drill. He never talked about his service, or the medals he'd won, save to point out that he'd learned a lot in the Marine Corps and intended to pass as much of that knowledge on to me as he could. As far back as I can remember, dad would take me on "survival hikes" out into the desert, or we'd head up into the mountains or into the woods, wherever he thought he could test himself and me. What started off as simple camping trips slowly turned into challenges. Some days, he would bring food, while other times he'd hunt for it, or even make me hunt for it.

I can still remember that, at times, I really hated him for forcing me to spend time learning all of these worthless skills. It was a modern world! We had television, and supermarkets, and cars, and electricity. I was always a bit of a tomboy, but I still wanted to spend my time shopping, or going to movies, or playing sports, or any of the other things normal kids got to do, rather than sitting in a makeshift blind in the cold for four hours with a rifle and a growling stomach. Of course, despite my irritation, I did appreciate the bonding experience my father and I had due to the time we spent together. I would see other kids suffer under the wrath of abusive parents or be neglected by parents that didn't pay any attention to them, and it gave me a greater appreciation for my father's desire to protect and teach me.

Ah, sorry, I'm digressing again. Back on point.

My father introduced me to a group of people like himself, survivalists that regularly got together to trade tips, information, preparations, that sort of thing. They discussed the concept of "bugging out" quite often, and all sorts of options were tossed around until an old friend of my father from his days in the military, a guy named Bruce, mentioned that he owned an old cargo ship and, over time, had converted it into a floating survival shelter complete with enough room and supplies to sustain the entire group for months at sea. The entire concept seemed overwhelming and grandiose to me, and I still couldn't imagine ever having to rely on such a plan.

Dad used to talk about fate. Not the philosophical concept that everyone's destiny is written, but rather fate as an opponent, as an adversary that we all challenge every single day. Everyone eventually meets their fate, and the challenge in life is to see how long you can challenge fate before you finally meet up with it.

So, the years went by. I eventually moved out on my own, got a job, got a house, got a life. Of course, dad and I kept in touch, and we still did our little survival hikes on a monthly basis. He didn't seem to slow much in spite of his age. If anything, it only seemed to make him sharper, if a little more cynical. I'd moved to San Diego for a job, while he'd stayed behind in the desert. Life seemed to go on uneventfully for several years, and then, fate decided it'd had enough of that shit.

I got a call at three in the morning. It was dad, and he was telling me that he'd been monitoring news stories about some virus outbreak in a European country that was spreading rapidly, and how it could potentially bring about a massive collapse of society. My father wasn't the type to jump to conclusions, and there was something in his tone that told me he wasn't simply being paranoid, so when he told me to meet him at Bruce's house up in Los Angeles, I didn't argue. The trip was uneventful. For the supposed apocalypse, things really seemed pretty normal. Of course, other countries often faced epidemics, or civil uprising, and it was a common American mindset to believe that none of those problems could affect us so far from home.

The atmosphere when I got to Bruce's place, on the other hand, was decidedly different.

There were about fifty of us in all, mostly adults but also a handful of children, and from all walks of life. Lawyers, doctors, farmers, computer specialists, you name it. All of us had one thing in common: we believed that the collapse of society was a realistic possibility, and now we were all gathered here to try and avoid it. As we gathered in Bruce's back yard, he quieted us all down and laid it out. Some viral outbreak had taken place somewhere in Eastern Europe and was spreading rapidly. The infected were losing their minds, becoming ravenous monsters, and the outbreak had spread so quickly that police and military forces were overwhelmed. The news reports didn't make mention of the outbreak spreading to the US, but Bruce made mention of some contacts he had in FEMA describing containment efforts in Seattle, Oregon, and parts of Canada. He didn't bother beating around the bush about it; the virus had spread to North America.

After his revelation, Bruce outlined his plan. We would all pile onto the cargo ship, set off, and wait. The ship could sustain our entire group for months, would be unreachable by most means, and would be easily defensible in the event of pirates or other unsavory attackers. Questions were raised regarding military interference such as the Navy, but he seemed convinced that the US government would have its hands full with containing the infection. So, we all piled onto the ship, picked out quarters, and that was that. It all happened really fast, now that I think about it. One minute, we're all gathered in Bruce's back yard talking about life aboard this old cargo tanker, the next minute we're piling into trucks and vans, driving to the pier, and loading onto a ship. Like everyone else in the group, I'd packed a bag full of clothes, toiletries, and other supplies, but it was still impressive to me how organized everyone was. These people had all managed their lives around the ability to literally drop everything at a moment's notice and just disappear onto the ocean for months, taking their families with them if necessary.


"How long have we been out here?"

I turned to see a young woman leaning on the deck railing, staring out at the moon as it shimmered off of the ocean's surface. I didn't know her personally, but I did remember that she'd arrived with an older man and another man closer to her age. Family, I assumed, given the apparent resemblance. Her question carried a rhetorical tone, and I wondered if she actually expected an accurate answer.

"Two weeks, maybe?" I replied. "I haven't really been keeping track." The woman huffed out a little laugh, then turned and leaned back against the railing, as if she'd had the same thought.

"What do you think is happening back home?" she asked me, and this time her tone implied that she did want an answer.

"Well, right now it's not good." I answered honestly. Bruce and my father had been monitoring the radios since we left port, and they were careful what information they released until they knew it was legitimate. My father let me in on all of the details as they became apparent. "This virus, whatever it is, is spread across most of the US. I guess they've got it contained in some places, but there are riots everywhere."

"I knew something like this was going to happen." the woman said after a moment, which I took with a bit of surprise. "I just had this...feeling, you know? Like tension in the air, when you know something is wrong but you just can't place it." I certainly hadn't expected something like this, but I could understand the general sense of unease. It's actually fairly common among people in survivalist circles. The sense that some threat is looming right around the corner, waiting until society is vulnerable before striking. Our conversation was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a muffled gunshot downstairs, followed quickly by two more.

"What the hell is going on down there?" I heard David, our radio operator, shouting as I stepped into the upper level of the ship's interior. I was able to hear radio chatter as I approached the communications room.

"They're here! Someone was infected! They're killing-" the voice cut out, and then we heard several more shots from below decks. The woman had followed me, and as she stood next to me, she'd turned white as a ghost.

"Fuck! What are we going to do?" David asked, looking at me as if I had an answer. Suddenly, I realized that my father was still down in the deck of the ship. Without thinking, I rushed to the hatch leading down into the bowels of the ship. The gunshots had ceased, and I wondered if the infected had been killed. I didn't get more than three steps down into the ship before I got my answer. At the far end of the hall, I saw two men and a woman, except something was...wrong with them. They were bleeding from the eyes, and the ears, and they had blood on their hands and their mouths. The craziest thing, though, was their eyes. Wide and wild, like they didn't even recognize me. I didn't know who they were, just three members of our survival group. I didn't have time to recollect, however, as the moment they saw me they started bolting down the hall. I remember screaming, and then scrambling back up the stairs. I tried to slam the hatch, but they got to it first and shoved their arms through it. Panicking, I ran out onto the deck and immediately found myself pelted by rain.

The next several minutes are a confusing mishmash of panic and adrenaline. I remember making my way to one of the lifeboats, looking back and hoping to see my father emerge alive and well but only seeing those...things...scrambling towards me, and then hitting the release to drop the boat into the water. I must have hit the water hard, because the last thing I recall from that night was a heavy impact against the bottom of the lifeboat.

When I woke up, there was no sign of the ship or any other lifeboats, and I recall seeing ocean stretching out endlessly in all directions. I spent four days in that lifeboat, resigned to the distinct possibility that I was going to die out there, adrift on the sea. The boat was stocked with food and water, but that was only going to last for so long. I also kept thinking back on the people on the ship. I wondered if my father had made it to a lifeboat, or David, or Bruce, or even the woman on the deck whose name I never asked for.

I reasoned that I'd been drifting north, because the air was getting colder. One night, while I lay in that boat, cold, wet, and hungry, with an old military surplus wool blanket draped over my head to block out the moonlight, I was contemplating how quickly life could suddenly turn on you when the boat suddenly jarred to a stop. Startled, I sat up to discover that the boat had beached itself with the tide.

I was on land again! At least I wouldn't die floating in some rickety old boat.

Slowly, I stepped out of the boat and took in what I could in the bright moonlight. From what I could see, it was a rural beach. Dark outlines in the distance hinted at sparse houses, but there were no lights in any of them. The two biggest questions ringing in my mind were 'where am I?' and 'is this place infected?'. Hungry, out of food and water, and with nothing to my name except a flashlight and the clothes on my back, I set off to see what fate had in store for me next.

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  • Sapphire

Yes finally <3 again!

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