Buck Who? Chapter 4

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 4: Electronic Undead

April, 23rd  2668, The Resort - Bowyer Island, British Columbia

Sweat trickled down his chest and ran along the curve of his spine. The hot sun beat down upon his glistening body, nearly burning him. Declan ‘Shard’ did not care in the least. It was another beautiful day in paradise. The breeze blowing in from the bay helped to cool his sweating body, and it brought a wonderfully delicious scent of water and the tropics.

He thrust again, feeling her wet silkiness wrapped around him, drawing him in deeper. He held onto her hips and enjoyed the sensation as he closed his eyes. “God damn, you’re good!” He moaned as she ground her hips against his, nearly causing him to climax.

“Anything for you, Declan,” the woman purred. He opened his eyes and looked down at the well-toned back. Her flesh felt so hot to his fingers as he thrust again, absolutely loving the perfect heart-shaped butt. She squealed in pleasure and met him, thrust to thrust. “I love you, Declan. I always have, right from the moment we met.”

The sun continued to beat down upon his naked body and he felt he was coming close. He heard her words, but he did not reply. He had never loved anyone – he had cared for a lot of women, but he had never loved any. The words the woman spoke seemed – strange. They did not seem to be right, coming from her. He really did not care, she was there for his taking and pleasure, and he had done so, many, many times. So many times he had long since lost count.

The ground beneath his feet began to shake. He opened his eyes and for just a second the beach and tropical paradise was replaced by nearly total darkness, tinged with red. He shook his head and caressed the naked ass, but even that felt strange. Instead of hot, oiled flesh, he felt cold fabric against his palm.

“What’s happening?” He said to no one.

“Shard, wake up!” A voice broke through his confusion. He could still feel her heat and moisture engulfing him, but the voice was all wrong. He shook his head even as another shudder ran through the ground he was standing on and when he looked down the woman was gone. It took a moment for his brain to fully catch up to reality.

“Babs?” He croaked. His mouth was dry and dusty and he felt light-headed. It was a far cry from the sensations he had been enjoying only moments before. “Babs? What’s going on?”

“About time you woke up, Doc.” The voice of his friend and companion broke through the muzziness. “We’re coming in and hard. The ship can’t handle the stress of re-entry!”

He opened his eyes fully to take in the surroundings. He was in the cockpit of his F-231 Shrike fighter. He was still wearing his flight-suit, for which he was thankful. Having to eject from the fighter buck-naked would not be pleasant. “Wait, what? Re-entry?”

Babs sighed. She actually sighed. “We entered Earth’s atmosphere about three minutes ago. I’ve been trying to wake up you for nearly half an hour!”

Instinct and training took over. He reached out and grabbed hold of the stick. Instantly the worst of the shaking and groaning began to lessen. Still as he fought to control the fighter, his mind drifted back to what Babs said. “How long have I been in cryogenic suspension?”

“You don’t want to know,” Babs replied. “We can talk about this once we…” his AI did not have a chance to finish what she was about to say. There was a horrible wrenching and a loud explosion. Shard felt as if he was inside a blender and nearly passed out as the shaking resumed a tenfold. He tried to bring the HUD online but nothing was working. It then hit him; his ship had been subjected to a powerful EMP pulse.

He looked out the cockpit window and felt his blood run cold. Where his left wing should have been there was nothing more than jagged metal, spewing sparks. The edge of his fighter was glowing red-hot from the friction generated and with each passing micro-second the shuddering got worse. Declan had only one option open.

“Eject, eject, eject!” He called out three times and reached between his legs. He grasped the handles to the ejection system and pulled up hard. The canopy on his fighter blew away, the explosive bolts tied to a redundant system that did not require the ship’s electrical system to function. Instantly his seat ignited and rocketed out of the dying fighter. The G-forces generated by the ejection were so powerful he momentarily blacked out.

He quickly regained consciousness as the wind whipped around him, tossing and turning as the gyroscope in the seat tried to compensate and level out. For the first time in longer than he could remember, Declan was terrified. The combination of his disorientation at being brought out of cryonic suspension and the death of his fighter were too much. He held on for dear life and squeezed his eyes shut.

After what seemed like an eternity, the spinning and whipping about finally abated as the ejection seat righted itself. The EMP had knocked out the avionics built into the seat, but did not hamper the parachute. It deployed almost instantly and had helped stabilize his descent, arresting near-terminal velocity of his plummet to the surface.

Finally Declan could open his eyes. Below him was an expanse of water, for as far as he could see to the West and South. Northwest and directly east he could make out the shoreline and the mountains beyond. He figured he had to be at least a half dozen or more kilometers out. He did not relish having to swim, but he knew there was no way his ejection seat would make it that far.

He watched as the wreckage of his F-231 Shrike rolled, completely out of control. When it hit the shoreline, it was nearly a relief. The bird pancaked into the trees, exploding outwards into thousands of pieces, which flew in every direction. A huge billowing cloud of black smoke rose from the impact site. Small fires ignited around the area, adding more smoke to the chaotic mess. The debris from his once-proud fighter would cover dozens of square kilometers for sure.

“Fuck,” he stated in an almost conversational tone.

“Yeah, no kidding, Doc. Fuck.” Babs agreed.

As his seat slowly spun, he noticed a large island that was at the most a kilometer from where he was descending. “Babs, were you able to take a geographical reading during re-entry?”

“Sorry, I was completely blind. All our sensors were dead.”

He cursed again. “Have you initiated contact with SR?”

There was a hesitation.

“Come on Babs, don’t play games with me. I know that the EMP took out most of our systems, but surely the beacon and emergency transmitter still works.”

“I got nothing but dead air,” she admitted. “I tried all known frequencies but other than some strange background noise, not so much as a peep.”

The cold feeling of dread grew exponentially. This was not right. The Vancouver-Seattle spaceport was one of the busiest facilities in North America. At the very least search and rescue would have been dispatched from there. “Babs, how long have we been out there?”

“Three hundred and twenty-nine years.”

“This isn’t funny, Babs.”

“Do I sound like I’m kidding? Tell me about it, Doc.”

His mind reeled. More than three hundred years since he had entered cryonic suspension. He simply could not wrap his thoughts around the concept. It was not possible! “So you figure that’s why we can’t contact anyone?”

“Yup, exactly.”

He swore again. “Try all channels, there has to be something out there.”

She sighed heavily. “I’ll attribute your imitation of a moron to being in cryogenic suspension for so long. I can’t. The emergency transmitter on the chair was fried.”

Declan slapped his forehead with his hand. “Right, sorry.” He continued to look around. The island he spotted moments before was growing larger and larger with each passing second. “At least we’re not going to get wet,” he grumbled.

He figured he had maybe a minute, two on the outside before he landed. Without any propulsion, he was at the mercy of the trade-winds blowing in from the ocean. Near the center of the island he was floating over he could see what had to be the remains of an extensive structure. It had been huge at one time, but the years and weather had taken a heavy toll upon it.

“Any idea what we’re going to do when we land?”

“If we’re lucky, some of the survival gear may have escaped damage from the EMP.”

 “I really wouldn’t bet the farm on that,” Babs said. “If you want the honest truth, I’m running on about thirty percent of my usual capacity. The blast was a lot stronger than anything I’ve ever encountered.”

“Frankly I don’t think I could have taken your full download anyhow,” he said. “My BHD probably would not have had the capacity.” His biological hard-drive acted the same as hard-drives on computers and other devices, but the drive was organic, composed of actual brain-matter grown from his own body. It had no other function but to store data. Babs was special. She resided in his BHD and was able to interface with his mind. She could use his senses to interact with the world. That was the extent of it though; she could not otherwise use his body in any manner.

“At least you made it through,” Declan said, and he meant it. It was bad enough everything he had ever known was now gone. Silently he thanked god Babs was with him. If Declan did not have a familiar voice to speak to, he did not know what he would have done.

Babs laughed. “And we can thank the gods of biotech for that.”

He bit his lower lip and chewed thoughtfully. The pain helped focus his thoughts as the ground continued to approach, getting closer with each passing second. He searched the ground below him for any area that was not covered by the thick rain-forest foliage for a safe place to set down. He did not want to crash through the canopy, especially if he could not count on any sort of search and rescue.

The ground was coming up fast. He continued to scan the terrain below and finally located what he had been hoping to find. There was a large clearing, maybe a hundred meters in diameter. Nothing grew there, and the remains of trees, long dead, were scattered on the ground like so much kindling. “I’m going to put us down there,” he told his AI companion.

“I don’t like the look of that place,” she said, using his Mark 1 eyeballs to inspect the clearing.

“Neither do I, but I would rather risk whatever is there than dying as we crash through the canopy.”

“Can’t argue with you there, doc.”

Using the guidelines, Declan was able to carefully guide his ejection seat into the clearing. It hit the ground a few seconds later so hard that he thought his hips were broken. He growled as he tasted blood in his mouth but did not take the time to dwell on it. With practiced movement, he unbuckled his form from the seat and stood to survey his surroundings. A huge cloud of dust billowed up from the point of impact and quickly obscured his view.

“I’m going to break out the survival kit,” he announced as he stumbled around to the rear of the seat. The cloud of dust was so thick he was certain he would be choking on it, if he had not been using his flight-suit’s respirator.

He felt more than saw the panel and undid the clasps that allowed him access to the emergency survival kit. He pulled out the specially-prepared backpack and shrugged it on over his suit.

The last act he performed was to pull the archaic pistol from its holster. He pulled back the slide to ensure that a round was in the chamber. Satisfied, he walked away from the ejection seat. Each step he took threw up a thick and cloying cloud of dust. He waved a hand, attempting to wave it away, but the dust seemed to be attracted to movement. It clung to his suit and gloves like a second skin. Thankfully when he wiped at the faceplate, the dust came away easily enough.

“What the hell is this shit?” He wondered aloud.

“Wish I could tell you, doc, but without sensors…” Babs trailed away.

“Maybe its best that I don’t know then,” he countered. With that final thought, he turned and got his bearings. “I saw the remains of some large structure near the center of the island. I’m going to check it out, who knows, maybe we can find something useful there.”

“After three hundred years? I kind of doubt that, doc.”

“I didn’t ask for your opinion,” Declan grumped as he walked towards the distant ruin.

***

 

Twenty minutes later Declan found himself standing at the edge of what had at one time been a magnificent building. He had seen and spent enough time in swanky hotels to know this had been one. The architecture of the remains was slightly foreign, but if he had to guess it was a combination of Asian and Western design.

“Hey doc?” Babs asked as he crouched and studied the ground. There had been a walkway where he was standing but he could only catch the occasional glimpse of the concrete.

“What is it Babs?”

“Have you noticed a distinct lack of life?”

He paused as he looked up from the ground. He rested on hand on his knee and considered her statement. “Come to think of it, you’re right. I haven’t seen so much as a bird or a squirrel. A heavily forested island like this should be crawling with life.” His head shot up suddenly as a terrifying thought occurred to him. “Have you detected any tears in my suit?”

“Relax, doc, your suit is fully contained, so unless you do something really stupid like get your suit torn open, you’re protected from bio-contaminants.”

Somehow that did not reassure him. He opened his mouth to argue when she cut in. “And besides, you’re Banites would protect you from all known pathogens.”

Declan shook his head. “Babs, you’re right but considering how long we’ve been away from home, I’d say my Banites are more than a little out of date!” He stood and brushed his hands off on the thighs of his flight suit.

“True, but even if that is the case, your biological nanites are still fully functional and can easily adapt to all pathogens,” Babs argued.

He looked to the North. The structure was still standing, but had suffered greatly over the decades or centuries since the end. The building was six stories in height and was slightly curved. From where he stood he did a quick count and could see thirty windows per side.  It meant the hotel had a capacity of probably upwards of seven hundred or more guests. Most of the windows stood vacant, having long ago been smashed. A few still remained intact; looking forlorn against the backdrop of what had at one time been a magnificent resort. There was something about the building that caused the hackles on the back of his neck to stand.

“I really don’t want to go in there,” he started to say.

“Don’t be such a chicken!” Babs chided.

He grumbled. “Don’t forget, you’re riding in my body, if something happens to me, it happens to you too.”

That sobered the AI’s mood.

“As I was about to say, I don’t want to go in there, but I have to. If there is anything we could possibly use in there, we have to try and find it,” he thought aloud.

After a moment, Babs chimed in. “I know, and I’m sorry, Doc. I sort of get what you mean though, just looking at the place gives me the willies.”

Still, he figured by entering and being careful, he might find something he could use. With Babs help, he could cobble together a make-shift transceiver. Maybe he would get lucky and find records or at least some indication as to what had happened.

Obviously the wars had ended and the combatants had successfully inflicted enough damage to one another to ensure it would be centuries, if ever, before they recovered. He began to walk towards what looked like the main entrance to the structure. Even after so many years of exposure, the main doors stood intact, although they were ajar. Piles of leaves had gathered between the entrance over time and was nearly a full meter in height.

Declan stood and peered into the shadows that lay beyond. He could make out the remains of a front desk as well as furniture. Here and there he could see what may or may not have been piles of luggage and hover-trollies. Sunlight glinted off metal or glass from where it entered, causing strange patterns. “Ready?”

“I was born ready,” Babs snorted. “Besides, where would I go? We’re sharing your body!”

He chuckled and stepped over the pile of leaves. He placed one hand on either door and pushed slightly, but the doors were stuck. They probably had not moved since the end. “You’re a passenger, Babs, it’s not like you’re sharing my body.”

“True enough, doc,” she agreed readily. “How did you sleep?” She asked as he wriggled his way through the opening. A second later he was standing in the front entrance to the Hilton Four seasons Bowyer Island. He knew that was the name of the hotel, as he could make out the lettering located over the front desk.

“Pretty good,” he answered. “Ever hear of Bowyer before?” He asked. He looked around the ruined foray. It was clear whatever happened occurred in minutes. Luggage and personal belongings were scattered across the floor, left where the owners had dropped them.

“Nadda doc, but I would guess we’re somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, given the trees.”

As he made his way through the entrance to the desk, he was careful where he stepped. The floor was more than likely rotten and weakened to the point he could cause a collapse. Each time he put his foot on the floor, he tested it carefully with his weight. It seemed sound enough, but he did not want to risk tearing his suit or injuring himself. “Why did you ask?”

“No reason,” she said somewhat evasively. “Curiosity.”

He thought back to his erotic dreams, the nearly non-stop erotic dreams. When he tried to picture the face of the woman he had sex with so many hundreds of times, he realized he could not. She was always facing the other way, or the light was wrong and he could not make out her features. Even the barest memory of how hot and wet she always had been caused his libido to stir. He shook his head to banish the thought. It was not the right time or place. And Babs may be able to experience what he was thinking.

That was only slightly disconcerting.

Slightly.

He finally made it to the reception desk. Gingerly he placed his hands on the wooden desk and leaned into it. The desk creaked with age, but otherwise it felt perfectly solid beneath his gloved hands. He turned on his suit’s lamp and chased away the shadows, illuminating the back of the desk. It was probably the first time in hundreds of years light had penetrated this deep into the ruin.

Other than accumulated debris, there was nothing of interest. He was about to turn away when something caught his attention. He leaned further in and could see a black stain, marring the floor where a receptionist would stand. There were bits and pieces of fabric strewn about the stain. He played his light over the mark and noticed the stain was also on the wall behind, and covered part of the desk itself. “If I did not know better, I’d swear I’m looking at blood,” he mused.

“Could be doc,” Babs agreed. “Without sensors your guess is as good as mine.”

“Hold on a tick,” he leaned forward and rummaged his hands through a small pile of debris that lay on the desk. It crumbled into dust at his touch, except for a small plastic chit. “A data chip,” he said in triumph, picking up the small device. “Find a reader and maybe this can shed some light onto what happened.”

“Check some of the luggage on the floor,” Babs suggested. We might just get lucky.

Declan paused in mid turn. “Did you hear that?”

“Just your pounding heart,” Babs replied. “What do you think you heard?”

He shook his head and finished the turn. “Nothing, could have been the wind, maybe some part of this old place shifted.” Still, he did not like the thought that there could be someone inside the building with him. The ancient ruin gave him the creeps and if he did not leave soon, he would probably start jumping at shadows. The weight of the handgun at his hip was of some comfort though. He considered drawing it but decided in the end he would need both hands to rummage through the luggage.

About two meters from where he stood, there was a hover-dolly. The power had long since fled the device and it rested at an angle on the floor. There were four large plastic cases on the device and despite the dust and grime coating them, the bright colors could still be seen. “What’s your favorite color?” He asked as he knelt beside the first of the cases.

“Pink, then blue,” Bab’s offered.

“Pink? Really? I always pictured you of a green lover,” he chuckled. He reached out and wiped the grime off the first case, which just so happened to be a bright pink.  It t opened easily despite the years of exposure. Inside he found clothing suited for a young woman. Frilly underwear, shirts, skirts, everything a young woman or girl would want. Sadly, there were no electronic devices present. He closed the case, disappointed.

He was about to reach out to grab the second case when he heard a distinct thump and the sound of something dragging against wood. “What the fuck was that?” He stood and pulled the handgun from its holster. He scanned the semi-darkness of the foryay about him, looking for what had made the sound.

“You’re about as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs,” Babs observed.

“You blame me?” He retorted.

There! He heard the sound again. Something was definitely moving inside the room. He began to step carefully towards the back of the lobby, where the banks of elevators led to the upper floors. The hall was bathed in shadows and he could not see anything past the dim light provided from his helmet.

“Hello?” He called out. 

There was no reply.

“I’m armed, and I’m not looking for trouble,” he called out again. The shadows shifted and then he saw a figure. It was still far too dark to make out details, but something was slowly approaching. He adjusted the light’s beam, revealing the figure. He nearly pissed his flight suit. “Holy fuck!”

The figure approaching had at one time been a woman. The tattered and dirt-encrusted remains of a dress still clung to the body.  Declan figured the dress might have cost as much as he made in month. The woman’s feet were bare and she moved with a lack of co-ordination, half-dragging each foot. The arms were outstretched, reaching for him. The skin, what he could see, had a grey pallor and was as old and wrinkled as leather. The eye-sockets were empty, but he could have sworn he saw pin-points of a bluish malevolent light shining  from deep within.

The woman opened her mouth to reveal rotted and broken teeth. A black stain ran down her chin and neck, to coat the front of her once eloquent dress. He did not need any analysis to know he was looking at blood.

Without thinking, he squeezed the trigger of his handgun. The weapon bucked slightly in his grip and the woman staggered back as a round punched through her shoulder. There was no blood, no spray of fluids or explosion of bone and flesh. There was only a slight puff of dust as the bullet punched straight through the desiccated, leathery skin and tissue. If the impact caused the woman any sort of discomfort, she gave no indication.

“What the fuck?” He stood there, dumfounded. His mind simply could not process what he was witnessing.

“Shoot her in the head, Doc!” Babs cried. “She’s a zombie!”

He adjusted his aim and squeezed the trigger. The weapon bucked in his hand a second time, and the round struck home. It entered just above the woman’s right eye and took off the back of her head. Instead of blood, brains and bone, the air behind the creature was filled with dust and dried out organic matter. The shot staggered the woman and she almost lost her footing, but she continued to advance.

“Any other bright ideas?” Declan snarled in fear.

“Yeah, run!”

He turned and was about to head for the entrance of the hotel when more movement caught his eyes. He shone his light back at the woman and instantly regretted it. Where there had been but one zombie, there were now dozens.

And not just zombies.

Several of the figures mixed in with the walking dead were completely skeletal. It was hard to make them out at first, because the bones of the creatures were coated in something back. It had the effect to make the creatures all but invisible. Skeletons they were though and they moved a lot quicker than the shambling zombies.

He turned and ran for the entrance. “Please tell me I’m still in cryogenic suspension and this is your idea of a bad joke,” he yelled. He raced around the ruined furniture and vaulted over several piles of discarded luggage in his bid for freedom.

“I wish it was just a dream,” Babs answered. “This certainly isn’t my idea of fun, and I’d never do this to you!”

He slid to a stop as he reached the entrance. Glancing over his shoulder, he could see the host of creatures had grown into a mob. At least ten or more of the skeleton creatures were in the lead, as if not being burdened by flesh increased their speed.

“Fuck this!” He yelled and leapt over the pile of leaves, which were partially blocking the entrance. He hit the ground and continued to run, looking over his shoulders now and again. His long strides ate up the distance and in a handful of seconds, he was well over a hundred yards from the ruined structure.

He paused, feeling slightly winded. That was discouraging, since he could normally run such a distance without any difficulty. It had to have been all those years he had been cryogenically suspended. As he watched the skeletons poured out of the entrance. He did a quick tally and counted twenty-one of the creatures. Now he was in the sunlight he could see that the bones were not completely black. There were plenty of sections that gleamed white in the sun. Could it be dried fluids? Blood maybe?  He did not have the time to contemplate what he was seeing. They covered nearly fifty meters before the first of the zombies made their appearance.

“We need to keep moving,” Babs insisted in his head.

Declan ignored her and lifted his handgun. He took a few precious seconds to sight in the head of the lead skeleton and he squeezed the trigger. The round struck home, literally blowing the skull into hundreds of pieces. The skeleton dropped to the ground in a tangle of loose bones.

“At least we know that works,” he laughed. The sound that issued from his throat was nearly hysterical and he knew it. He was having more and more difficulty grasping his fate with each passing second.

“Doc,” Babs pleaded.

He ignored her voice and emptied the remaining rounds in his magazine. Each shot was perfect and he dropped nine of the creatures. Muscle memory took over and he ejected the spent magazine and replaced it. The fluid motions took less than two seconds and he dispatched the remaining creatures.

The last one dropped less than ten meters from where he stood. By that point the zombies had caught up to the first of the skeletons he had destroyed. He did a quick head-count and figured there had to be more than fifty of the creatures.

“I don’t have enough ammo to take them all out,” he said aloud.

“Doc, look!”

Declan could see what had caught Bab’s attention. As a zombie, the woman he had initially encountered, stepped over the fallen skeleton, it reached up and grabbed her. He watched in morbid fascination as the skeleton clamoured up the woman’s body, ripping the remains of her tattered dress away. The now-naked zombie ignored the groping, bony fingers as it crawled up her body.

It was almost as if the skeleton was trying to have sex with the corpse, but that was not the case. It wrapped its legs around the zombie’s body and both hands took hold of the skull. The skeleton began to methodically strip the desiccated flesh from the zombie’s head and in less than five seconds it laid the skull to the bone. It then wrenched the remains of the skull from the zombie’s body and much to Declan’s horror; it attached the skull to its own neck-bones.

The naked zombie’s body fell to the ground, unmoving. The skeleton gracefully leapt from the body and landed. It turned to face Declan and only began to move after him after it had adjusted the skull to sit comfortably.

“Oh fuck me!”

“Run!”

He did not need to be told twice. Declan began to run, his arms and legs pumping with perfect precision as he ate up the meters. He had no idea where he was going, only he needed to get away from the horrors chasing him.  He hit the trees in mere seconds and continued to run, heedless of where he was going.

“We need to get off this island,” Babs told him as he continued to run.

“I’ll fucking swim if I have to,” he yelled. He was terrified. Fear was an emotion that he had grown to count on, to use. Fear had kept him alive more often than he cared to remember. He never let it control him; instead he used it for fight or flight. Fear could be a powerful ally when used properly. Part of his training had been to harness fear, to allow it to improve his combat effectiveness. This time however, his fear would not help him against the strange creatures. He knew he could not fight the monsters, not with the only weapon he carried, so he used the other option. He ran.

The distance grew between him and the horrors with each step. Through the mounting fear, he kept his wits about him and his eyes wide open. There were plenty of hazards to snag and trip him as he ran, but he avoided it all.

After nearly five minutes of full-out running, he could hear the sound of the ocean. Waves lapped at the shore and if he had his flight suit undone, he knew he could have smelled the water. Finally he slowed and came to a stop. His chest was heaving with the exertion from the run. That scared him almost as much as the creatures. He should not have even been winded!

“I wish we would have had the time to acclimate,” Babs said. She was part of him now, inside his organic hardware, so she knew how taxing the run had been.

“You and me both,” he agreed. He swallowed hard and tried to control his breathing, practicing what he had been taught. In through the nose, out through the mouth and repeat as necessary. Still fearing the pursuers, he looked behind him. The forest was absolutely still. Not even so much as a breeze stirred the trees around him.

“Uh, Doc?”

“What is it Babs?”

“I could have sworn I caught something in your peripheral vision.”

He stiffened, his head whipping side to side. “Where?”

“To your left.”

He turned to his left and scanned the terrain. He could see the water through the trees from where he was standing. Maybe ten, fifteen meters at the most. He could make out the rocky beach but there was no sign of movement.  “I don’t see anything,” he said, still breathing hard. “Are you sure?”

“Very,” Babs confirmed. “Be careful!”

With one last glance over his shoulder, he tightened the straps of the survival pack on his back and strode onto the beach. He looked from side to side and could make out all manner of detritus and debris scattered on the beach.

What really caught his attention though, were the bones.

There had to be dozens upon dozens of corpses littering the beach, some moderately intact, others missing entire sections of the body. Most of the bones were human, but he could make out the occasional animal skull among the debris.

“I don’t like the look of this,” he confessed.

“You and me both. Think you are up to the swim?”

“You couldn’t pay me enough to stay here!”

A second later, he heard the sounds of many feet pounding through the brush behind him. “Time to go!” Declan shouted as he turned to sprint towards the waterline. He did not relish the thought of such a long swim, but his flight suit was water-resistant and it would keep him warm. He could even float in it without fear of sinking, despite the weight of the weapon and his survival pack.

He was only about two meters from the edge of the water when the closest pile of bones suddenly flew into the air. The sudden explosive movement startled him so bad he yelped in fright. Declan threw up his hands to protect his face from the unexpected event. The bones began to swirl as if caught in an underwater eddy. They twisted in the air, moving faster and faster with each passing second. Dust and other debris got caught up in the mini-maelstrom and before he realized what he was doing, Declan raised his handgun and fired.

The round passed through the whirling dervish of bone and debris without any obvious effect. He did not want to see what was about to happen, so Declan shifted his position and began to run down the stony beach, away from the bizarre phenomena. He had only taken a dozen steps when a second, then a third and a forth pile of bone shot up into the air and began to whip about.

“I don’t believe this,” he shouted. He twisted his head and torso so he could see in every direction. Back towards the treeline, he could see the first of the skeleton creatures burst through the foliage, their sightless eyes staring right at him. He was completely surrounded by the whirling bones, their intent obvious. They were not going to let him enter the water.

He decided to try a different tactic. Instead of trying to run around or trying to get past the strange whirling bone-dervishes, he steeled himself and ran straight at the closest one. It was only two meters away and the water was less than a meter, two at the most, past it. Declan hoped he could pass through and enter the water.

When he hit the swirling cloud, he felt as if he had entered a wind-tunnel. Even through his suit he could feel the electricity in the air. The hair on his arms and back of his neck felt as if they were being dragged through an electrical current. Little blue motes of light, like miniature flashes of lightning could be seen now that he was inside the phenomena.  The small shards of bone and debris pelted his suit, but were not strong enough to push past the tough, bullet resistant weave.

A second later something heavy smashed into his lower spine. He cried out in pain as his legs suddenly felt weak He reached back to try and grab whatever had hit him, but his hands only grabbed empty air. Another heavy impact connected solidly with his chest and he felt the wind knocked out of his lungs in a loud whoosh. Before he could react, he was hit two, three, and then a dozen more times.

Not one of the blows managed to breach his suit, but each was hard and painful. He felt as if he was back in boot camp, going up against his old Sergeant in the ring. The pummelling was coming in hard and fast, but he could take it. If he made it out of this, his body would be covered from head to toe in bruises. He fell to his knees and began to crawl towards the water. It was so tantalizingly close, so close he could nearly touch it.

Through the pain and the insistent pounding, he was able regain his footing. He did not have the time or the energy to bother looking around; instead he concentrated solely on reaching the water. His left foot was about to touch the water when he felt something grab hold of his shoulders and pull him back. With a cry of frustration and fright, he was pulled away from the edge of the water. He fell flat on his back and when he looked up, he was staring into the eyeless sockets of a skull!

Without conscious thought, he raised his handgun and fired. The spectral being was faster though, and it dodged to the side even as he lifted his weapon. The creature reached out with one skeletal arm and grabbed hold of his wrist. The strength the creature exerted was incredible, and he felt the bones in his wrist grind together. Declan howled in pain but he refused to drop his weapon. Instead he struck out with his free hand and smashed the skull in the temple. There was an audible cracking, even over the hurricane-like screeching coming from the bone-dervishes surrounding him. The skeleton released its grip on his wrist and fell back.

Taking the initiative, Declan rolled over and pushed to his knees. The sight that greeted him caused his hold on sanity to slip, just a little. He was surrounded by dozens of the bone dervishes. That was not all, there were two more of the spectral skeletons. Unlike the other skeletons, these were obviously different.  They were not really skeletons – not whole skeletons. They were made of bleached bone, but were missing the hips and legs. They floated in the air, and were as tall as if they had actual legs. Like the dervishes, there were little motes of blue lightning-like energy crackling over and around the bones.

And they were fast.

He raised his handgun and pumped off three shots at the closet of the floating skeletons. All three rounds missed as the creature weaved and dodged out of the way. It moved faster than anything he had ever encountered. It opened its mouth in a silent scream and lunged at him.

Declan pushed himself back and away from the attacking creature. His ankle caught on a large chunk of driftwood and he fell back, hitting the water. His impact caused the water to splash the rocks and the dervishes nearest him. Where the water hit, there were bright flashes and the strange creatures reacted as if in pain. The attacking skeleton paused and reared back, throwing its hands up protectively in front of it.

“The water hurts them!” Babs cried out.

Declan was already splashing at the creatures with everything he had, throwing up liters of salt-water with each stroke of his hands. The whirling bone-dervishes retreated, several falling into life-less piles of bone. The two floating skeletal beings backed away, hissing silently but too fearful of the water to finish what they had started.

A second later, Declan was up to his waist in the water. The shoreline was filling up with dozens of the dark-boned skeletons and hundreds of the zombies. All around the shore he could see the whirling bone-dervishes and even more of the floating skeletons. If they rushed him, he knew he was finished, but the creatures would not approach within a quarter of a meter of the water.

He took nearly a full minute to calm his racing heart and slow his breathing. He was so frightened he was all but hyperventilating. He finally realized Babs was practically screaming in his mind.

“Doc, snap out of it!”

“I’m okay, Babs, stop shouting!

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” he swallowed hard and took a second to examine his surroundings. He was now chest deep in the water and moving away from the island. “Which way to the mainland?”

“Head south and then go due east.  Just follow the shoreline.”

An hour later he rounded the southernmost tip of the island. He could not see the mainland, but he knew Babs would not let him down. The two had not spoken a single word during his swim.

He decided it was time to break the silence. “Seriously, undead? What the hell were those things?”

“You saw them, doc,” Babs said. “They were exactly what they looked like, skeletons and zombies, although I have no idea what was up with those whirlwinds of bone and the floating torsos.”

“Biological?” Declan asked. “Some sort of biological weapon?”

“I’m leaning towards advanced nanotech,” Babs said thoughtfully. “Electronic Undead.”

Declan burst out laughing as he methodically swam. “That sounds like some sort of really fucked up pop band.”

She laughed lightly. “You’re right, doc. Maybe we should start a band and call it that.”

“Let’s concentrate on getting to shore and staying alive first,” he chided. His arms and legs were tired, but he refused to stop. After the encounter on the island, he wanted to put as much distance between himself and those undead monsters as possible. He continued to swim, keeping his mind on the effort it took. At that moment, he was wishing he would never have woken up from the cryonic suspension.

Chris Van Deelen is the author of the Skirmisher Publishing LLC sourcebook  Creatures of the Tropical Wastes  sourcebook, co-author of its  Wisdom from the Wastelands  game supplement and contributor to the  'Sword of Kos: Hekaton'  Anthology.