Friday, February 22, 2013

Day #13: East China Sea: The Goats of the Senkakus

First Captain Junichiro Oe of the Japan Coast Guard saw the first fishing vessel through his binoculars. The small boat would flicker amid the dark clouds as the strong gale swept it with curtains of rain. There it was, there it wasn’t, bouncing off gigantic waves as it slowly approached waters considered by Japan as falling within its exclusive economic zone.

It had been weeks since Oe had seen vessels approach from that direction. Something terrible domestic disturbance was taking place in Taiwan, something so bad that its fishermen had stopped laying their nets — at least near the Senkakus. A few more hundred meters and he’d have to make radio contact with the boat and tell it to turn back. And turn on the LED panel informing Taiwanese fishermen that they had entered Japanese waters and had to stay away — still in simplified Chinese characters, which months before had been the object of much derision among Taiwanese fishermen, who pretended they didn’t understand what the message said.

Oe’s vessel was one of four JCG ships patrolling the area today, which was enough to deal with the single ship that was maintaining its course and now getting dangerously close to that invisible line. Chinese fishing vessels and maritime surveillance ships were still a problem, but those were spotted well before they approached the area by P-3C surveillance planes, giving ample time to call for reinforcements. No need for that now, Oe thought. Only one ship. Still, he had this off feeling that something was off, a feeling that was reinforce when his attempt to contact the approaching ship went unanswered.

It took Oe a few moments to realize where the wailing came from. It came from another JCG ship, whose officers were now all on deck, pointing with agitation in the direction of the fishing vessel. When he looked again, he realized that the solitary ship had suddenly multiplied into a small flotilla, and they were approaching fast. He tried to make radio contact again, using a number of maritime frequencies. Silence. As the ships approached — they were now about 200 meters away — he was better able to see the members on board. What he saw with increasing clarity through the mist made his heart stop.

* * *

They’d been encircled, and as death descended rapidly upon the small fishing town of Suao, the fishermen had seen no other issue than to break the government regulations forbidding ships from leaving port. In the confusion, as families hastily abandoned their homes and scrambled onto the unstable boats, some capsizing under the weight, the local coast guards did all they could to prevent the vessels from leaving port, but were soon overwhelmed.

Some, with previous experience dealing with the undead, also quickly realized that the zombies that were threatening their loved ones were less random in their acts and behaved with what seemed like greater sense of purpose. One could almost say they were, well, organized. As indeed they were: A new factor was imposing method to the madness, which came in the form of hand-held radios, cell phones and other electronics that a few of the undead still carried on their broken bodies. From all the devices, without exception, emitted the same gut-wrenching voice from afar, a sermon from beyond the grave that ordered them to the sea.

To the sea, yes, and in pursuit of the few hundred souls that had managed, in extremis, to flee Suao, seeking safety wherever the seas took them. But slowed down by the foul seas, the living didn’t go very far before the now seafaring undead caught up with them, and in an orgy of blood they turned every soul, but the few that chose drowning over the demonic afterlife, into one of their own. The fleet thus expanded, the monsters of the sea set their course about 100 miles north, as the voice ordered them to.

* * *

Oe and his crew did their best, using small firearms to ward off the invading horde and succeeding in sinking a few small boats by ramming into them, but in the end, there were too many of the ghoulish assailants, and they gave up. Some JCG vessels managed to flee in time. Oe’s crew weren’t so fortunate and were soon overtaken, in what became the first (but not last) instance of infection outside Taiwan since the beginning of the epidemic. The vessel, now surrounded, turned into a cauldron of horror. Behind it lay darkly, imperturbable, rocks that on many occasions had come close to sparking similar bloodletting among the living.

When JCG vessels returned to the area the following day, reinforced by navy ships, the fishing boats were no longer at sea. All were instead bobbing, empty, in the vicinity of the islet. The dead, having reached their destination and with no other source of living flesh, had turned to the next best thing. The Japanese snipers and machine gunners set their sights on the monsters and unleashed a hail of lead at their exposed targets, felling every single one of them, along with the herd of goats they were busily feeding on. The Senkakus’ goats were no more.

Over the next days and until there were no fishing boats left along the northern coast of Taiwan, wave after wave of fishing boats commandeered by the great undead approached the islets, only to be sunk and sawed off by Japanese bullets and rockets. The persistence of the monsters, and their apparent interest in occupying the islets, was such that it led to what, only weeks earlier, would have been unimaginable: For the first time in their long troubled history, Japan and China worked alongside each other in defending the Senkakus. The series of incidents also prompted the respective navies to bolster their surveillance and interdiction efforts around Taiwan.

But as with everything else that involves human activity, ineptitude, and above all, greed, would create chinks (no pun intended) in the armor, with potentially catastrophic consequences…

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