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By Jerry D Young
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2003 Jerry D Young
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Chapter One"This may turn out to be more of an adventure than I thought," Silas said to himself as he neared the cruise ship after clearing the boarding procedure. The ship was moored well past the normal cruise ship docking area. There was no covered ramp from the port building to the ship. Everyone had to walk down the dock and then board by the short ramp. "Perhaps I should have just flown back home. Sure would have made Tommy much happier."
Of course, Tommy Bassman was pretty happy as it was, Silas knew. The business trip Silas had just completed had been very profitable, and half of the profits were Tommy's. Naturally, Tommy would prefer for Silas to get those profits back to Missouri now, rather than after a cruise.
A small smile curved his lips as he studied the ship during the walk from the building to the boarding ramp. It was obviously an older ship, rather smaller than the cruise ships built the last few years. Part of what had prompted his choice to take the cruise was the fact that it had been advertised that this was the final voyage for the ship. He'd once taken the maiden voyage of a newly commissioned cruise ship. The idea of taking the last trip on a ship had appealed to him.
"Getting one up on that old Scot is just a fringe benefit," Silas said to himself. "Been too long since I gave Tommy something to complain about." His smile broadened as he continued to examine the ship.
The ship cruised the southern Pacific for three different lines for years. This final trip was to be a one of a kind trip. Longer than the line's normal cruises, venturing into many different areas not normally visited by this, or any other cruise ship.
The way the cruise line representative had explained it to him, most of the cabins had been purchased in blocks to use as premiums for giveaways by various companies, groups, organizations, and associations. Silas grinned again, this time at the memory of how she had let slip that the cruise line had run into trouble getting bookings for the original advertised final cruise. It wasn't a famous ship, neither notorious nor distinguished. She was simply well used and no longer economical to operate, destined for the scrap yard.
The cruise line finally discounted the cabins in blocks, and found enough groups to make it worthwhile. The itinerary was changed several times to accommodate the inquiries of the groups, once the price had come down. There seemed to be more than enough ports of call to satisfy the large number of different groups. Apparently, they were even scheduled to make some circles in the open sea, at historical World War Two naval combat locations.
Silas' smile became a grin. From the looks of several passengers he'd seen already, this was a highly eclectic group of people. No wonder the itinerary was so diverse. Obviously the cruise line had worked hard to tailor it to fit all the different interests. Despite his partner's firm beliefs, Silas himself felt that a wee bit of variety was a good thing. Now, if he could just drag himself to some of the functions on board the ship rather than his normal practice of avoiding group situations, perhaps he could meet some nice pretty lady ...
Silas turned his thoughts away from that line of disappointing experiences. "Oh well," he said to himself, "it should be a great adventure anyway." Later, Silas had occasion to ponder the rather prophetic bent of the thought.
Once aboard, and for the first few days of the cruise, Silas found himself doing what he always did when exposed to groups. He avoided them, whenever he could. The first two days he had his meals in his suite. He did explore the ship, so he could find were the various events were to be held, in case he did decide to attend. He replied when spoken to, but kept mostly to himself.
He didn't actually dislike people in general, Silas told himself. "It is just so hard, sometimes ..." he whispered. Silas sighed as he watched the ocean, leaning against the polished wooden railing. He'd found the secluded spot high up on one of the decks that was used primarily as a jogging track. Those using the track never seemed to notice him when he stood between the rail and the large fiberglass antenna housing.
"Come on, Silas," he whispered to himself. "You know you can beat this reclusiveness thing. You have before. You can do it again." He looked around suddenly. Something did not seem quite right. According to the route map in the Grand Foyer he'd checked barely an hour ago, the sun should be over his right shoulder. It was over his left. Hurrying down to the main lobby Silas double checked the map.
At the information desk, Silas asked why they had changed course from the next planned stop. The quick answer was that they had not. The clerk did finally make an attempt to contact someone else, but a group came up and Silos moved away to allow the chattering people to have access to the desk. When the clerk became busy with someone with a more normal request, Silas headed for his suite to see what he might find out by calling the desk. Perhaps a different clerk would answer.
A short public address announcement while he was in the process caused him to stop pursuing the matter. The announcement stated they had changed course to avoid some potentially severe weather. Silas decided that perhaps it had been a good idea when he saw a tremendous storm front off in the distance, when he went up on deck later that evening. The typhoon season was still some weeks away, but the farmer in him had him check the long range forecasts for the South Pacific before he'd left his hotel to board the ship. The forecast had called for somewhat unsettled, unseasonable weather for the entire region.
He had not really noticed the increased motion of the ship, but seeing the long, deep swells they were now traversing, he looked around and saw several people having trouble walking. There were more than a few slightly pale or even somewhat green faces in evidence.
Silas steeled himself mentally and went to the main dining room at his assigned seating time. It was the first time on the cruise that he'd been to his assigned table for a meal. He was the only one at the eight place table. According to the server, only two others had shown up for their seating for dinner, and both had left immediately. Even the waiter's assistant had been unable to stay. He was seasick, too. Almost as many staff as passengers seemed to be having the same problem.
Sympathetic to the suffering passengers and crew, Silas still found himself enjoying the weather. The captain changed course several times over the next few days, trying to hit at least a few of the stops scheduled. Only one stop was made, in the middle of the South Pacific, where an historic battle had taken place. The ship circled slowly for only a short time. The motion was worse during the slow circling than it was when they had some speed up. Only a handful of people showed up for the lecture, including Silas.
Silas found his eyes cutting to a short brown haired woman, one of only two women in the small group attending the lecture. He finally started to ease around the edge of the group gathered to look out beyond the ship's railing. Perhaps he would say something to her. The ship got underway again, due to the conditions, and the woman was gone before he had a chance to get close.
With a sigh, Silas too moved off, in the opposite direction. He went again to the map set up in the Grand Foyer that showed their progress, such as it was. The planned course was drawn on the map in black, their actual course in blue. The blue line bore little resemblance to the black line.
Something was suddenly nagging at him, and he studied the map more closely. From an announcement earlier, the Captain was planning to go further south, to try to get around some of the weather, then turn west and then northwest, to head for one of the original ports-of-call. "I know I should remember something about this area," he muttered to himself. He went to one of the half dozen computers on the ship connected to the Internet through a satellite system. The ship's motion was preventing the system from working despite the antenna stabilization system.
He checked the library next. Silas looked for any books on the area of the Pacific they were now sailing. There were several, the library being well stocked, but he simply could not find any reference that made him remember what it was that seemed to be bothering him. There was something dangerous in the area, or something bad had happened at some time somewhere in the area. Maybe. Silas shook his head. "Get a grip," he muttered. "Enjoy the experiences. Work on your social skills, too."
Just as he started to sit down at his table for dinner that evening, which quite a few more passengers were attending, Silas suddenly remembered what had been nagging at him. He enjoyed sailing and had a small sailboat he used on Lake Wappapello and on the Mississippi River when he had the chance. He also subscribed to two sailing magazines. A memory of a series of reports in one of them had finally surfaced. "But that is so unlikely ..." he whispered. Not noticing the looks his tablemates were giving him, Silas considered for several long moments, then mumbled his excuses and left the table. He headed for the main lobby to talk to someone at guest relations. Rather reluctantly the clerk called for one of the ship's officers to come speak to Silas.
"I'm sure your navigator is aware of this," Silas said, "but I wanted to make sure that someone knew of several incidents that occurred in the area where we are now heading. About two years ago, old World War Two mines from a sunken munitions ship started floating to the surface. Most of those encountered turned out to be harmless, but there were several that did explode."
After he received strong assurances that the situation was well in hand, Silas headed to his suite, not entirely sure that the officer wasn't just placating him. He was able to go on-line late that evening, but the connection dropped out before he could locate the article he wanted. Silas paced the railings of the highest deck the passengers were permitted to access for much of the rest of the night.
More details came back to him as he dressed the next morning. Silas talked to the officer again, giving him the additional information. This time the officer was rather insistent that the matter was under control. Silas' request to actually speak to the officer responsible for navigation was refused. Silas had known he would never be permitted to speak directly to the Captain.
"Except," Silas suddenly told himself a few minutes later, "he will be at the big party tonight, at least for a few minutes. He has to make an appearance." As he watched the sea during the day Silas ran over in his mind what he would say to try to convince the Captain of the potential danger. The ship's course was now directly through the area where the incidents had occurred.
It did no more good than the previous attempt. Silas did manage to speak to the Captain, but only for a moment. Silas introduced himself, but another officer stepped up and spoke to the Captain just as he was. The Captain excused himself and hurried away. The thought crossed Silas' mind that perhaps the other officer had told the Captain about Silas, but he doubted that after only a moment of thought. The weather was worsening. That was reason enough for the Captain to be called away from a party.
"Well," Silas said, humming softly to himself as he headed back to his cabin, "That should at least avoid the one problem. Chances are we'll have to change course now, anyway. That will put us out of harms way." He could feel the ship changing course, but by the time he headed back up to find something to do, the movement of the ship seemed to be the same as it had been before the course change. Silas went to the guest relations desk, but the young woman told him, even before he could speak, "I'm sorry, sir. I've been instructed to ask you not to disturb the officers and most importantly, the passengers with any rumors of trouble. Is there anything else I might assist you with?"
Silas shook his head and turned away. He understood the need for the crew to maintain firm control of any situation. They did not need him or anyone else starting and spreading rumors. He had been very careful not to mention his thoughts to anyone else on the ship. If only the crew believed him, and were doing something, he would be able to deal effectively with the concern he was feeling. He knew they did not, and he could not figure out anything he could do or say to get them to believe him. Not with the resources he had available.
Knowing it was essentially useless, Silas watched the sea, looking for any indication of mines or anything else that could cause damage to the ship. All sorts of scenarios began running through his head, from the mines to other sunken ships floating just below the surface that the cruise ship might run into. They were far from the regular cruise line routes, and rather distant to normal commercial shipping lanes. They were nowhere near any commercial aircraft flight paths.
When one of the radars that had been turning since their departure stopped, he became even more concerned. Equipment all over the ship was beginning to fail from age, and the beating the weather was giving the old ship. He had to give the ship's crew credit. He saw maintenance people working constantly, as problems with different systems continued to occur.
Again Silas felt a sense of relief, when an announcement came over the PA system that due to the persistent poor weather conditions, the Captain had decided to cut the cruise short and return to their point of origin. Additional announcements were made, in several languages, about the intentions the cruise line had for compensation for shortened itinerary.
He could only smile in sympathy with the members of the crew, when many of the passengers, already complaining about the rough seas, now began complaining about the ship turning back, and their wish for much more compensation for the shortened cruise than the line was offering.
Silas went out on deck, to get away from the conversations he was hearing. He didn't mind the rain that was falling as he stood at railing, watching the whitecaps the wind was raising. He felt the ship begin the turn that would take them out of the danger area.
He stiffened when a burst of color and a plume of water appeared slightly ahead and to one side of their course. Silas felt the ship slow, almost immediately. The seas were rough ahead of the ship, but less rough than in any other direction. Apparently it was rough enough to cause what had to be one of the mines to detonate, either directly, or by causing something to drift against it.
Silas did not know what the Captain planned, after that explosion, but it was too late, whatever it was. Only moments after the first explosion in the distance, Silas both felt and heard another explosion. This one occurred somewhere between the bow and midships section of the ship, on the starboard side. There was another explosion only minutes later. Lights immediately went out in many sections of the ship.
Cursing himself silently for not having prevented the situation, Silas made his way toward his cabin to get his life jacket as the alarms began to sound. As much as he wanted to evaluate the situation himself, he knew it was not the right thing to do. He would follow the instructions all passengers had received at the standard emergency drill just before they had sailed.
Chapter TwoWhen Silas arrived at his assigned muster station, he realized that the situation could easily get out of hand. The crew members were doing what they were trained to do, but many of the passengers were not following the instructions that had been demonstrated during the drill. Many were not even listening to the instructions the crew were issuing, much less following them.
Silas was able to stay close to one of the crew members assigned to assist with the lifeboat embarkation when the order was given to proceed to the lifeboat stations. They didn't board the lifeboats, but were almost immediately instructed to return to the muster stations. Silas was not the only passenger that heard two of the crew assigned to their lifeboat discussing the problems with the communication equipment, including the standard locator beacons, on not only their lifeboat, but several of the others as well. There was some comment about the satellite tracking beacon, too, but Silas couldn't understand everything that was said.
When they'd returned to the muster station Silas heard several of the passengers that had heard the comments about the communications equipment begin to discuss them. He realized that the crew members comments that had been overheard were already badly distorted, bearing little resemblance to what the crew members had actually said.
Excerpted from Shipwrecked! by Jerry D Young Copyright © 2003 by Jerry D Young. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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