Apocalypse Disrupted

 

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A Novel by Timothy A. Freriks

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Apocalypse Disrupted 1

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Timothy Freriks 2

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Apocalypse Disrupted 3 CHAPTER 1 It was a number of unfortunate things, but, at the root, it was a mouse—a damn mouse. It is a relatively well known fact that a certain species of Russian mice had a particularly well-developed appreciation for a certain type of rubber. The first unfortunate thing was that the rubber of its desire served as insulation around Russianmade electrical wiring found in aged commercial vessels, including oil tankers, and the chewing through of this insulation often caused malfunctions as well as the sudden demise of the hungry rodent. The Zenus did not exactly qualify as the pride of the small Russian fleet of oil tankers. Built in the Khrushchev years, it was once a prototype of the tankers to come: sleek and fast. However, precious few oil profits could justify covering much maintenance expense; the Zenus was old and, since Russia had always been lacking in funds, it stayed old. Also unfortunate was the mouse’s wire of choice: a lead from the antique LORAN antenna to the display in the navigator’s station, little more than a dent in the wall of the cramped bridge. Without causing any alarms, the wire expired at the same instant as did the mouse, resulting in part of the old data from the antenna to be stuck from lack of new data. If the tanker were to stay on the same course for a while, it probably wouldn’t have mattered— someone would eventually have noticed. But the tanker should have been starting to slow down and line up to negotiate Turkey’s tricky Bosphorus channel, the only way out for the trickle of oil that flowed from Azerbaijan and Georgia. It would be critical to handle the twists and turns in the next thirty miles accurately. Even more unfortunate was the fact that both the captain and helmsman were young and relatively inexperienced, both joining the ship barely three trips ago. Being the first unassisted trip for the captain, he wanted to start his career by setting a record for the fastest time to the refineries in Italy. It didn’t make things any better that they both had enjoyed way too much vodka the night before on

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Timothy Freriks 4 the arrow-straight run across the Black Sea. Barely functioning, both were concentrating more on their well-being than the task at hand. First Officer Viktor Salkov, the navigator and an old salt who sailed these seas for many years, just observed. Portly and soft, bored and tired, he looked forward to retiring in ten months. He watched the numbers on the screen, interpreted the data as best he could and prepared to call headings and timings and speed adjustments out to the helmsman; but since the LORAN didn’t update, he hadn’t been calling many corrections. Captain Malkovich surveyed his crew, hoping they felt far better than he did. Tall and broad and, in his words, regally handsome, his wooly eyebrows were angled inward at the moment. Something nagged at his stomach; he couldn’t put his finger on it. Perhaps the First Officer was right: maybe they should have taken a slower, more cautious, track across the Black Sea. The morning light wouldn’t come for another fifteen minutes so it wouldn’t hurt his quest very much if they slowed. Fog surrounded them in the pitch black of the moonless April night. The first clue—one that should have been noticed by the captain earlier—was a small but growing patch of sky directly ahead that lit that part of the fog slightly lighter than the rest. He leaned forward and narrowed his deep-set eyes. Curious. They shouldn’t be able to see the lights of a town quite yet, so he decided to be cautious and trust his somewhat impaired instincts. “Helmsman, you can decrease your speed now. And come five degrees to port. We should have about fifteen miles to slow down for the next turn to enter the Straits.” That doesn’t give us much room, the First Officer grunted to himself, glancing at the captain and helmsman. Kids with power, he thought. Who are they trying to impress? But he kept his thoughts private and called for three-quarter throttle. Captain Malkovich turned his head slowly toward the navigator: something scratched at that part of his brain that still focused on business. “Doesn’t it feel like we should have started the turn already?”

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Apocalypse Disrupted 5 Salkov looked at his dials again and punched the ‘Refresh’ key. “No, Captain. We are making good time but not great time. According to the instruments, it is correct.” Captain Malkovich grunted and turned back to the dark night, studying the strange but oddly fascinating cloud of lighter sky in the distance occasionally peeking through the patches of black fog, a little larger than it had been only minutes before. The vibration of the engines felt good under his feet and the slight deceleration he sensed quickened his pulse. Slowing down means coming home and that means another night with Tasisa. He saw his bride in his mind, smiled then took a deep drag of the sea air. I love the sea. Those thoughts were short-lived as another slight but irritating wave of nausea rose, and his head seemed to swell under the pressure of his agony. I’ll live, but I’ll never drink again. I swear. Over the next six minutes, the Zenus reduced speed, but still slid through the dark mirror-water at 18 knots. The fog thickened again suddenly, and visibility was now less than a half-mile. Even at 18 knots the bulk of the fully loaded oil tanker carried an almost unimaginable amount of inertia and momentum. First Officer Salkov studied his instruments, starting to wonder why the readings did not seem to make sense to him anymore. Nonetheless, he pressed ‘Refresh’ and made his calculations. Trust the instruments, he had been told so many times. But they were still going far too fast for his comfort. He scratched his balding head with his stubby fingers. How could this position be correct? he wondered. “Helmsman, reduce speed to idle. Something is wrong.” “Roger,” grunted the big man. Although young, the helmsman was an ex-air force sergeant. Strong as an ox and just as stubborn, he was not quite willing to give in completely to the Navy way; but since they had taken him in after that unfortunate incident with pilots in Afghanistan, he had at least learned port and starboard. He did, however, still have to translate it back to left and right before he could execute commands. Salkov scratched his head again and started to rise from his cramped station. Does the captain feel something is wrong?

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Timothy Freriks 6 Captain Malkovich studied the troubled helmsman in the middle of the grey bridge. A weak link, true, but why complain? He finally had his command—it felt good even if he had to endure an oddball or two. At least, his First Officer was steady. After a quick examination of the charts, the captain turned back to the black night—black except for that glow of light sky—now significantly larger than it had been. The coffee burned his manicured hand as he returned to his perch on the catwalk next to the bridge and he swore as he looked out over the bow. He blinked. The light had grown in the last few minutes as the fog thinned. The light now extended from one side of his vision to the other. His heart froze in mid-beat. The fog was suddenly gone, and the visibility turned almost clear. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The First Officer had just left the bridge to discuss his concerns, but stopped dead, staring straight ahead. “Blin!” he swore. There, before them clearly, not a mile away, were the lights of a fishing village. The captain blinked, rubbed his eyes and looked again, hoping that it might be the remnants of the vodka. But what he saw was real. His body turned cold, and his blood started pumping wildly. “Reverse engines!” he screamed. The helmsman had already reacted, lunging at the power staff, throwing it into Full Reverse. Salkov reached back into the bridge and grabbed the radio/intercom. “All hands prepare for collision!” He flipped the switch to radio, unclear as to whom he should inform of the impending disaster. There was nothing more they could do, of course, except watch the town quickly become larger. The captain stared at the scene as if it were a movie. The vibration of the engines pulsed under his feet, feeling not unlike they had when pushed to the red line to see how fast his ship could go. However, they weren’t straining to take him toward glory now. They were trying, vainly, to survive. He wished it could be a dream, but the unforgiving laws of physics would, once again, not be changed by wishes. The stillness of the night was only broken by the desperate engines whining 300 feet behind him and a radio in the distance was

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Apocalypse Disrupted 7 playing American music. Someone’s window was open, Captain Malkovich thought, or perhaps it was a young man coming home from a long date. He remembered his first date, but it was a flicker as reality suddenly crashed back into him. The First Officer moved over to stand next to the captain and gripped the rail, his knuckles white in his meaty fingers. They silently studied the quaint village, with its European-style balconied houses and shops. Life, unchanged for hundreds of years, was about to change dramatically. “Mikhail?” the captain said, almost calmly. “Yes,” answered the First Officer without emotion. “How close will we get to the town?” “I believe this is Garipce. The water is 70 feet deep until it gets almost to the docks and seawall.” They were silent for a few more seconds, eyes wide, staring, mouths still slack in disbelief. The Captain looked down at Salkov. “Mikhail, I’m sorry we couldn’t have sailed together longer.” “So am I, sir.” The tanker was traveling at 16 knots when its bulbous cutter crashed into the sliver of shallow water barely forty feet wide that separated the seawall from the deeper waters of the Bosphorus Straits. It shattered the sandstone barrier like a hammer on hard candy, slamming into the docks directly in the center of downtown Garipce, driving the cutter into the shops on the other side of the street. The superstructure of the ship effortlessly absorbed the shock, collapsing upon itself like a spent accordion, but the momentum of the oil was freed to follow the natural way of things. Easily breaking through the weak deck, it carried the bridge and the crew on an immense black tidal wave, sloshing viciously forward with the pointed power of an avalanche. The black liquid mountain was moving at 14 knots as it exited the broken ship, leaving its former container behind like an angry panther leaping upon an unsuspecting prey. As the panther hit its target, it first broke an electric street light which ignited the mass almost instantly. Just before the captain impacted upon the wall of the town hall, he saw the panther become an inferno.

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Timothy Freriks 8 His last thought was that history would show that only a small, obscure town that was destroyed. He had been responsible, to be sure, but it would barely even be a footnote in the long story of human endeavor. He was wrong. Very wrong.

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Apocalypse Disrupted 9 PART TWO – 2000

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Timothy Freriks 10 CHAPTER 2 The heat was really intense. Robert Curry sat uncomfortably in the plush chair facing banks of lights, wondering how in the world professionals could handle hours like this. His dark eyes were squinting against the brightness, but he managed to continue nonetheless. “But, primarily, we are after the bright minds who don’t have enough money to go to college,” he heard himself saying. “Not being blessed financially shouldn’t rob America of the intellectual potential that is out there unrealized. The President’s bill will make it easier for intellectually gifted young people to contribute to the future of this great country.” He was almost talking on automatic now, barely listening to the lines he had delivered so many times. As President Haggelston’s part-time advisor on higher education, he was pitching college subsidies on TV stations once or twice a month now, more since the election loomed less than three months away. “We only have a few seconds left, Professor Curry, but I did want to ask you why President Haggelston’s bill is getting so much resistance in the Senate.” The blond head of the interviewer seemed to be strangely disconnected, like papier mache, floating a millimeter above the rest of the body. It distracting, but Curry was encouraged by the words ‘only a few seconds’. “I’m not political, Sarah, as I’ve said many times,” he said once again. “But maybe it is because there are just two Senators who aren’t multi-millionaires. They don’t understand the frustration of people with brains and ambition but no money.” “Thanks again, Professor Curry.” Sarah Fitzgerald turned to the center camera. “Robert Curry is the President’s advisor on higher education and a professor of Political Science at Woodbridge College south of Washington…” Her eyes glanced almost imperceptibly to the clock next to the camera and responded to the director’s voice in her ear. The spinning in her head was almost visible but lasted only a moment. She turned back to Curry. “… and an author, I understand.”

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Apocalypse Disrupted 11 Realizing that somebody had loused up the timing, and perturbed that she had brought up the book in panic, Curry reluctantly caught the ball Fitzgerald had thrown to him. He pushed up the stubborn lock of brown hair and answered. “Yes, but the book is on a philosophical topic, not political science.” Curry paused long enough to hope he had thrown the ball back. “What was it about?” Sarah returned the lob, obviously on shaky ground, unaware of where this would lead. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the stage director flashing a sign that read 30 seconds. “The origin and structure of the universe—of existence. I had this crazy idea once and sat down to write it down. Three hundred pages later I stopped.” Her interviewer’s mind finally kicked in, action replaced glazed. “What was the crazy idea?” Oh, great. Twenty-five seconds to discuss the origin of existence. “That our universe and all its matter is intelligent matter, a functioning, thinking entity. Every other galaxy might be a different intellectual entity, too so there might be a community of intelligent entities in the universe.” Sarah appeared completely outside of any place remotely comfortable. No questions, no clue, no way to continue the conversation, just blank, mascara-lined eyes that masked the mental panic behind them. As she was about to pop from internal stress overload, Curry saved her. “I called the members of the community Master Entities.” “Master Entities?” she released in a voice that sounded like an orgasm. “Yes, or Master Intelligences. If the Big Bang theory is correct, each galaxy would have been part of the original ball of intelligent matter which formed the cosmic dust that settled into planets that make up each independent galaxy.” “Smart dust,” Sarah said, relaxed now, knowing there only ten seconds remained. Back on reasonably firm ground, Sarah laughed and turned to the center camera again to wrap up. “I want to thank Professor Curry for coming on the show today. Maybe we can talk about your book someday. Sounds

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Timothy Freriks 12 interesting. This is Sarah Fitzgerald, and this… is Answers, your daily morning refuge from the confusion of modern America. Thanks for watching TNN. Stay tuned for Wake-Up News with Bob Crist.” She smiled as the music came up. Mercifully, the lights went out, and the temperature dropped into double digits again. Curry leaned forward toward Sarah. “Smart dust?” “I couldn’t think of anything else to say.” Then, turning to the stage director, her camera face dissolved. Raising her voice so that everyone could hear, “Jerry, you asshole. Don’t you know how to read a fucking clock? Jesus! Don’t ever clear me down before it is time. I looked like an idiot! Damn it.” She stood, her head clearly reattached to her body, a person again, angry, but intact. Turning to Curry, the stage smile returned. “Thanks, Bob. We’ll do it again.” Then, like a wisp, she was gone. Suddenly alone, Curry waved to the director, who just shrugged, and left the stage. “Coffee?” A tall man, only a little taller than Curry, stood by the exit door, smiling and holding a steaming Styrofoam cup. “Plastic coffee, sir?” Curry laughed. “Richard. Yeah, thanks.” Richard Combs handed him the cup and matched his stride toward the door. “Slow down, my man.” “I’m escaping,” Curry said. “And sweating. God, I don’t like those shows.” “You’re a celeb. Live with it.” Curry laughed. “Some celeb. Can you stop by the house before we head in to the college? I have to change shirts.” “It isn’t much cooler outside, my friend; but we can’t have you smelling up the classrooms, can we? Anyway, I have to pick up my niece. She’s starting classes next week and wanted to hang out with me for a couple days. She moved into the Westview Apartments, near your house.” “Oh, yeah. I wondered why you offered to pick me up. What’s she studying again?”

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Apocalypse Disrupted 13 “Philosophy. I’m sure she’ll be interested in your ‘Smart Dust’. She was going to watch the show this morning. It should be the topic of college conversation today.” “Smart Dust. Oh, God. I thought that whole thing was dead and buried. Great. Now it’s another TNN exclusive,” Curry said as he swung his lean body into Combs’ Mercedes. Curry and Combs went back many years. They had been educated together at Woodbridge; Combs was in graduate school while Curry was a freshman. They met on the fencing team, the only truly elegant sport, they had both agreed, since no one ever sweated while fencing. They quickly forged a close friendship that had lasted almost forty years. Combs was a Professor in the Business School and a genius, it had often been mentioned, and one of the reasons the Woodbridge Business College had come to be considered one of the top business schools in the country. At 56, square-jawed and handsome, athletic, with silver strands only recently starting to assert themselves through his sandy hair, Combs was about as comfortable as anyone could be: happy, rich from a successful business career that included a 5-year hiatus during which time he bought a small company, magically built it to a big company, then sold it in a transaction that even impressed Wall Street. Robert Curry, 52, also athletic and trim. A dedicated and gifted teacher, he never wanted to live in his chosen field like Combs did. Being a real politician, for a Political Science teacher, was a bastardization of the art. For Curry, politics would remain an expression, not a statement. His happiness lay in his family, the concept of politics, and the fertilization of young minds that might, just might, see the world differently: better because he taught them. He was financially fine, too, having invested in Combs’ small company, but that didn’t matter. What really mattered were his beloved Kathy and his daughter, Tyler. The only thing missing, the bow not tied, was that he really wanted a son to follow him, but Kathy and Tyler filled up his life with so much love he rarely thought about it. Kathy stood in the kitchen, sipping her coffee in gulps as she tried to get out of the house on time. It never happened. It was

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Timothy Freriks 14 just part of the comfortable routine. She called to him as he went upstairs to get a new shirt. “I’m late. I saw the show this morning. What happened?” He grabbed the shirt and returned. He pulled her into his arms and felt her warm figure precisely match his. It was one of the most precious moments of the day. “Sarah had to dance. Somebody screwed up the timing. Oh, well, the Master Entities escaped again.” She laughed and pulled away. “Smart Dust. Pretty catchy title, actually. I can see the opening credits for the documentary.” She waved her hand across an imaginary screen then dropped it— Curry wasn’t amused. “Make sure Tyler’s got enough for lunch today before you leave. We can’t let her starve on her first day. I’m late.” “You know, if I had a nickel for every time you said you were late, I’d be as wealthy as Richard.” “Sorry, I’m always picking up around here.” She turned and smiled at Curry, knowing that he had mouthed the words as she uttered them. He had. “Where is Richard?” “Went to pick up his niece.” “Have a good day. Love you.” And she was gone, off to teach high school. As he watched her hurry down the sidewalk, his thoughts went back to Tampa, when they first met. The idea of ‘love at first sight’ had never held much merit in his eyes until they were invited onto the same sailboat during a spring break vacation. But it did happen to him, not necessarily to her. He fell madly in love from the first moment he saw her. Only later did he come to understand that they shared so much in common: teaching, background, moral structure, humor, view of existence. She was his true soul-mate: Juliet to his Romeo, half-full to his half-empty. Fortunately, she came around and saw the wisdom in being together, and agreed to share a life. Even the short term long-distance status couldn’t quash the emerging relationship. Tyler bumped past him. “Hi, Dad. Bye, Dad.” She flashed that killer smile that could melt any heart attached to any eyes that took it in. “You going to be home tonight?”

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Apocalypse Disrupted 15 “Yep,” he said as he bent down a little,—a lot less ‘little’ than he used to bend down—and kissed her. Tyler scrunched up her face and wiped her cheek on her sleeve. “Gross, Dad.” Yep. She’s almost a teenager. The sound of the bus coming around the corner broke the moment. “Have a great first day at middle school, honey.” “You, too. See ya tonight,” she said, her blue eyes flashing like diamonds. How precious those words were. The heavy, black Mercedes pulled in as Tyler climbed into the bus, her blond hair bouncing in the morning light. What a beauty, Curry thought for the millionth time. He waved and caught a glimpse of her leaning to grab one more look at her Dad. After she had disappeared from sight, he walked to Richard’s car and got in, ready to start another routine day. But this day wouldn’t be routine. “You remember Monica, I’m sure,” Richard said, indicating the girl in the back seat. “Well, you were a little smaller last time we met. How are you?” “I’m great. Excited about going to school this fall.” Monica was big boned with very short black hair, the rage on college campuses the previous year, but her smiling, eager face was genuine, shining among the several noticeable outbreaks of acne. “I saw your show this morning.” “It wasn’t my show,” Curry laughed. “I just got caught in it. Like a web.” “I’m a philosophy major, you know. I’d like to discuss your theories.” And here it starts, Curry thought. God only knows what the week following this television appearance would be like: the questions, the requests for his time. How he fought with the love/hate he felt for occasional celebrity. Gritting his teeth, he said. “I’d like that.” A long pause ensued as Combs negotiated his way into traffic, his lightly freckled face set in the beginnings of a grin. Curry knew what his friend was thinking. It was like a volcano slowly building pressure.

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