Earth’s Survivors preview from Dell Sweet

Earth’s Survivors preview from Dell Sweet

EARTH’S SURVIVORS: APOCALYPSE

PUBLISHED BY: Dell Sweet

Earth’s Survivors: Apocalypse is © Copyright 2014 Wendell Sweet, all rights reserved.

Blog Edition: Copyright 2018 -4-19 Dell Sweet and Andrea Scroggs

Additional Copyrights © 2010 – 2012, 2014, 2015 by Wendell Sweet, All rights reserved

This excerpt is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This excerpt may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this excerpt with another person, please point them to this blog. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Foreword

Here is the story the way I wrote it and the only way that it should be…

Dell Sweet: January 28th 2015


EARTH’S SURVIVOR’S: APOCALYPSE


ONE

March 1st 12:06 am.

L.A.

Billy Jingo

Billy knocked back the tequila, and waved off Beth as she motioned to the back bar for another. She came over smiling.

“A man that knows when to quit. I like that,” Beth said.

Billy laughed. “A recently acquired habit, I assure you. Shit will bite you if you don’t set your limits,” He smiled at her, hesitated, and then spoke again. “So, it’s almost over for tonight… Thought you would be dancing?” He raised his voice at the end to make it into a question. He knew it was what she wanted. He had seen her dance, there wasn’t a dancer in the place that could hang with her. She was it, except something wasn’t clicking between her and Tommy, or maybe it went all the way up the ladder to Junior Vitaglio. Whatever it was, Billy was curious about it.

“Curiosity killed the cat,” Beth said with a wide smile, as if reading his thoughts.

“Damn,” Billy said. “It’s as if…”

“I read your thoughts?” She laughed. It’s been written all over your face since you came in. I saw you looking at the stage, back at me, back to the stage. It’s not hard to figure it out.”

“Hey, it’s not like I’m some pervert, Beth. I just think you are way to good for…”

“If you say it I’ll smack you stupid,” Beth told him. Her eyes were slitted, narrowed, and focused. Her right hand had doubled into a fist. Billy had no doubt she meant what she said.

“Peace,” Billy said.

“Not that it really matters,” Beth said with a sigh. “Tommy knows, and that means Junior knows, and they don’t care… I thought maybe it was my time on the streets, but that’s not it. I’d feel for the lame ass that came in here if I was dancing, and had anything to say about my time on the streets. He’d find himself bounced fast… No, that isn’t it… We’ve all been there… At least the interesting ones.”

Billy nodded. “So what is it?”

Beth shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’m hoping Junior will be around later on and I…”

“Hey, Baby, what the fuck with the drink?” A big guy, belly straining at the buttons of his shirt. He smiled, but the smile was no more than a rough semblance of a smile.  Billy tried to burn him with his eyes, but Beth reached nearly into his face and said. “So you’re done here?”

Her eyes said don’t, he didn’t, but he would have liked to say something to the guy. Instead, he nodded a yes and picked up the change she had laid on the bar. She was talking to the fat guy before he got his change in his pocket.

“See that big guy over by the door,” she asked nicely.

Billy watched the fat guy turn to the door and then back to Beth. “Yeah?” There was a sarcastic edge to his voice that made Billy slow down. He wanted to see the outcome.

Jon, the big guy on the door had that bouncer sixth sense, and looked over at Beth and shrugged as if to ask if there was a problem. She rolled her eyes, and Jon left the door and headed for the bar.

“I told you no more,” Beth told the guy.

“And I said I don’t take no orders from no bitch,” The fat guy said. He puffed up, but a line of sweat trickled from under his too black hair, streaking his forehead with whatever he had sprayed on his hair to get the color. He swiped at it angrily, and began to bluster a little more when Jon’s heavy hand fell on his shoulder.

“And I missed my workout today,” Jon told him as he easily spun him around. “unless you’re it?” Jon finished.

“This is a private matter,” The fat guy told him, but there was a quiver in his voice that Billy heard clearly.

“Tried to grab Jill’s breast when she went past him. Jill laughed it off, said he’d been a perfect gentleman all the rest of the night. I said cool, a little mess up, he’s had too much to drink, and so I cut him off.”

Gentleman was a code word for a creep that had been hanging around getting way too friendly with the dancers.

“That so,” Jon asked. He had stepped back to give himself some room just in case things took a physical turn.

The guy noted the movement, set his empty glass on the bar and put his hands in front of him, palms up. “No interest in trouble at all,” he told Jon.

Jon nodded at the door. “Time to go home and sleep it off, I think,” Jon told him.

Billy watched the guy walk to the door and leave. He looked back to see Jon and Beth looking at him.

“You know, this guy is becoming a pain in the ass,” Beth told Jon.

“Ha, ha,” Billy said.

“Beat it, Jingo. Leave the honey alone. It’s off limits. In other words you ain’t getting none of it.” Billy watched a cloud come over Beth just that fast. She had been teasing, Jon probably knew that, but Jon had a thing for her and he hated Billy who sometimes did small things for Junior. He didn’t wait for Billy to leave, but headed back to the door, opened it quickly, and looked out into the lot.

“Probably making sure the guy ain’t fucking up his car,” Billy said under his breath.

“Sorry, Billy. I keep forgetting Jon isn’t human,” Beth told him. That made Billy laugh.

“Anyway, I’ll see you around. I’ll be late tonight.”

Billy nodded. “Good luck, Beth.” He turned and walked to the door at the other end of the club. The one that let out onto the front sidewalk.

~

The night was beautiful, Billy thought, as he walked along Beechwood Avenue. He knew pretty much everyone he passed. He had been here for a little over six months after making his way up from Mexico when things had gone bad for him there. Technically he was on the run. Warrants out of New York. Somebody had put two and two together and dug up some prints from a crime Billy had been involved with. He had only found out about it because he had happened to be away from the house when the Feds showed up. His neck of the woods had no municipal police, but even if it had they wouldn’t have come with shotguns and armor.

He had hid out for three days until the word had trickled down to him that it was him they were looking for to hand over to some federal agents from the U.S. It hadn’t taken much to put two and two together. He had managed to get a beat up old Ford pickup truck, and then he filled a fifty five gallon drum full of gasoline that was strapped into the bed of the truck: He set off into the desert.

The rest had been easier. Despite the laws and the changes in the U.S. it was pretty easy to disappear here. He had come with a little money, and that had helped. He had worked a series of meaningless jobs as he worked his way up the west coast. L.A. had looked good and so it had held him; that and he had met Beth.

Beth had been working the streets, but she was out of reach and he knew it. Even so, that didn’t stop the fact that he wanted her to be in reach. He had never met a woman like her. So he had stayed.  He had seen something in her. Something hard, some will he himself had that was hard to define, but that hardness in her pulled him to her like a magnet. It was that simple.

He had been working for Junior by then, and so he had mentioned Beth to him. He didn’t know how the details had worked out, but a few weeks later when he had noticed she had disappeared from the avenue, he had found her working at Junior’s Palace.

As he walked he became immune to the world around him. He never heard Jon until he was on him, had spun him around, and dragged him into an alley.

Hey… Hey! Jon… What the fuck, Jon… Hey!” but it did no good. The first punch nearly shut him down. The second did. The rest he never knew about.

L.A.: 2:00 am.

Beth

The night wore on. The morning came and went and the club shut down for another day. Beth worked at cleaning up the last little area of the bar as two of the dancers finished their drinks and hushed conversations, smiled at her, and walked away. A short conversation with Jon, he had probably made some crude remark; Beth had seen how both of them had instantly stiffened their backs after he spoke. It wasn’t just her, Jon was an actual creep. Whatever he had said the two girls chose to ignore it, turning away, making eye contact with Beth, waving as if they had been at the bar talking to her, and when Jon looked back to see who they had been waving at they slipped out the door. Jon made his way over to the bar.

“You scared my honeys away,” he told her.

“I think you can do that all on your own,” Beth told him.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jon asked.

Beth frowned and shook her head. Sometimes she wondered if Jon even knew what a creep he was. How he made the girls who worked here, her included, feel. “It means that not everyone is always on the same page,” Beth said. She had changed her mind at the last second. She had to work here. Jon was the nephew of the owner. Creep or not he was part of the package.

Jon looked confused.

“Jon, Jon, it means that sometimes you just have to let things happen. Go slow. A girl wants to think it was her own idea to like you,” she told him.

“Yeah… I can see that, but when you need it you need it. Some of these bitches need to be on point.” One finger disappeared into his nose and then he seemed to suddenly remember she was there. “You know, me and you need to hook up. I got …” One massive hand settled onto his shoulder, and he stopped in mid sentence.

“Disappear, Jon, Jon. I need to talk to Beth right now,” Tommy told him as he sat down on one of the stools.

‘We was just talking, uncle Tommy.”

“Right, and now you’re done talking… Unless you’re not? Am I interrupting you?”

Jon turned beet red. He laughed to hide the embarrassment. “No… No,” he turned and walked away.

Tommy turned to Beth. “I guess you’ll have to get used to the kid. He’s a pain in the ass, but he’s my pain in the ass… Load to bear,” He turned and watched Jon step out the door to the parking lot. “Jon, Jon,” Tommy yelled. Jon poked his head back in the door and looked at his uncle. “Take a good look around out there, make sure the lot’s empty, and the girls all got to their cars okay.”

“Okay, uncle Tommy,” Jon called back. The dopey smile that he usually wore settled back on his face as he stepped out into the darkness. Tommy turned back to Beth.

‘Billy Jingo,” he said.

Beth looked at him.

“I think that kid is bad news for you… Not telling you how you should live your life, just distributing advice… A girl like you, a dancer, don’t need a distraction like that. The customers don’t want to see no boyfriend hanging around. Spoils the fantasy.” He held her stare.

“It’s not like that, Tommy. “Billy is a friend only… Lives in the same building.” She had caught the fact that he had said she was a dancer. Something she wasn’t yet, unless…

“Uh huh, but he wants you. The kid is like a love sick puppy. If you could step back and look at it you would see it clearly. Are you telling me you are smart enough to handle Jon Jon, and you can’t see this Jingo kid has it bad for you?”

Beth shrugged. “No… I know… I know that, but he knows it isn’t going to happen. He knows what the deal is.”

“Good… That’s all I’m saying, but you need to tell him to stay away… Can’t be hanging around while you’re working… See?”

Beth nodded. “I see.”

“Good, cause next week you start as a dancer. I know you…” He stopped as Beth lunged across the bar and hugged him, squealing as she did. He hugged her back, laughing.

She kissed his cheek, and then her smile went away a little as one of his hands cupped the side of her breast. Her eyes focused on his. “I think we’ll become good friends, Baby,” he told her. She nodded as his hand roamed a little further, and then trailed away across the flat plains of her stomach. She pulled back. Tommy wore a crooked smile on his face. “So we understand each other?”

“Yeah,” Beth told him.

“So smile then. Let’s have a drink… On me… Pour us something good, Baby,” Tommy told her.

3:00 am

Beth smoothed her skirt flat as she stepped out into the darkness of the parking lot. She had spent over a month trying to convince Tommy to let her dance. She had gotten her wish, and more than she had bargained for, a relationship with Tommy. She wasn’t sure how that was going to be defined in public, but in private it was going to be defined as a sexual relationship. He had just defined it for her, she would have to wait to see what the public definition was going to be, but she had a good idea how it was going to be.

Nan, the dancer Tommy was currently seeing, was going to be upset. Tommy was not subtle. It had been clear that they had been seeing less and less of each other. She had no doubt that her first night of dancing he was going to make it clear she was his. Like a dog marking his territory. She sighed, off the street, but still getting fucked for money. She hated putting it that starkly in her head, but that was the plain truth. She was still selling it, just different terms, better money, better protection. She heard footsteps running behind her and her breath caught in her throat. She turned as the club door that exited to the parking lot banged shut.

“Beth,” Jon yelled. “Beth.”

She stopped and waited.

“Uncle Tommy said I should drive you home… He don’t want you walking.”

She sighed. She had half expected it. Jon ran the twenty feet from the door to where she was. She changed direction and walked slowly toward Jon’s car. Well, she thought, at least there would be no more bullshit from Jon.

Jessie

Twenty feet away from Junior’s Palace on Beechwood Avenue, the prostitutes were just beginning to show up in force, waiting for the early morning traffic. Jessie Chambers sat with his back against the wall of an alley: A needle ready, and a speedball cooking over a tin of shoe polish. There was a bum sleeping a little further down the alley. Jessie ignored him, watching the mixture in the blackened spoon begin to bubble, melting together.

Two days before he had been sitting in a diner off 4th avenue south waiting for his world to end. He had paid for the bottomless cup of coffee the place advertised, but ten cups had done nothing to improve his situation. He was still sick. He was still broke, and he needed something to take the edge off the real world, which had been sucking pretty hard at that time. A trucker had come in and ate his dinner just two stools away from Jessie, but every time he had worked up the courage to ask him for a couple of bucks the guy had stared him down so hard that he had changed his mind.

He had just made up his mind to leave. Even the waitress was staring hard every time he asked for more coffee. The cops couldn’t be far away, when the trucker had reached back for his wallet, pulled it free and took a ten from inside and dropped it on the counter top.

Jessie watched. It was involuntary. One of those things you did when your head was full of sickness and static. Just a place for your ever moving eyes to fall. The wallet was one of those types he had seen bikers use. A long chain connecting it to the wide leather belt he wore. Hard to steal. Hard to even get a chance at. The man stuffed the wallet back into his pocket. Sloppy, Jessie saw, probably because he knew the chain was there and so if it did fall out he would know it. He turned and put his ass nearly in Jessie’s face as he got up from the stool. The wallet was right there. Two inches from his nose, bulging from the pocket. The leather where the steel eye slipped through to hold the chain frayed, ripped, barely connected. The man straightened and the wallet slipped free. The chain caught on the pocket, slipped down inside, and the wallet came free, the leather holding the steel eye parted like butter, and the wallet fell into Jessie’s lap. He nearly called out to the man before he could shut his mouth. His hand closed over the wallet and slipped it under his tattered windbreaker. The waitress spoke in his ear a second later.

“Listen… Buy something else of get the fuck out. You hear me? Otherwise, my boss,” she turned and waved one fat hand at the serve through window, “Says to call the cops.”

Jessie stared at her in disbelief. He was sure that every one in the diner had seen the wallet fall into his lap. He swallowed. “Yeah… Okay… I’m leaving,” he said with his croaky voice. Sometimes, getting high, he didn’t speak for weeks. It just wasn’t necessary. When he did he would find his voice rusty, his throat croaking out words like a frog. Sometimes he was right on the edge of not even being able to understand the words. Like they had suddenly become some foreign language. He cleared his throat, picked up the cup of cold coffee and drained it. “Going,” he said.

He got up from the stool, kept one hand in his pocket holding the wallet under the windbreaker and walked out the front door.

New York

12:30 am

Carl Evans watched from the mouth of a dark alley. It was one of the things he loved about this place. You could hang out in an alley, smoke cigarettes all day and night long if you wanted to, and nobody said a word to you. Where else, but New York could that be true, he asked himself.

He leaned back against the wall, one sneakered foot propped on the brick behind him to hold him, the other flat on the cobbled stones of the alley. Another thing about New York, he thought as he inhaled deeply of his cigarette, and then let the smoke roll slowly out of his mouth. Old things everywhere you looked. These cobblestones for instance. He wondered how old they truly were.

“Young man.” The deep voice startled him from his thoughts. He lifted his head to see an old, gray haired gentleman standing at the mouth of the alley a few feet away. His face was creased and seamed. His skin so dark it was nearly blue. A cane in one hand supported his weight.

“What’s up, Pops?” Carl asked politely.

The man placed his second hand on his cane and leaned forward. “That cigarette will kill you.“

“Pops…”

He held up one hand as Carl began to speak. “Just telling you. Don’t need an argument. It will kill you. The big tobaccos, they knew about it back in the day when I was a boy chasing that habit. And they knew about it when it was in commercials in magazines, and T.V. and what not. That cowboy died from it you know, they knew it and they still know it. It will kill you. In case you didn’t know it I wanted you to know it.” He straightened his back, lifted the second hand, nodded once, and moved across the mouth of the alley disappearing as though from some sort of magic.

Carl chuckled, lifted the cigarette to his mouth, took a deep drag and then found himself blowing the smoke out, dropping the cigarette, and crushing it. The old man had ruined it for him. He hadn’t smoked in ten years, but it tasted as good now as it had then. And he had figured with the way things were nobody had much time. Certainly not enough time to die from cancer or some other nasty surprise from cigarettes, but just the same the old man had ruined it for him.

He looked down at the blackened mess he had made as he ground the cigarette into the cobbles. Just as well, he told himself, it was time. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small silver canister. He inhaled a sharp breath involuntarily. He knew what it was. Knew what he was doing, but he still couldn’t believe he was actually going to do it.

He fingered the small red button on the top of the silver canister, hesitated, and then pushed it down. Something inside clicked. There was no other sound in the stillness. He tossed it down the alley, turned, and walked out to the sidewalk.

Route 81: A rest stop outside of Watertown New York

1:00 am

The black truck pulled into the rest stop and two men climbed out; walking toward the rest rooms that sat in from the road. Concrete bunker looking buildings that had been built back in the early seventies. They had been closed for several years now. In fact the Open soon sign was bolted to the front of the building; rust streaked the sign surface. It seemed like some sort of joke to Mike Bliss who used the rest stop as a place to do light duty drug deals. Nothing big, but still that depended on your idea of big. Certainly nothing over a few thousand dollars. That was his break off point. Any higher than that, he often joked, you’ll have to talk to someone in Columbia… Or maybe Mexico, he told himself now as he sat waiting in his Lexus. He watched the two men make a bee line for the old rest rooms.

“Idiots,” he muttered to himself. He pushed the button, waited for the window to come down, leaned out the window and yelled. “What are you, stupid? They’re closed.” He motioned with one hand. “You can’t read the fuckin’ sign or what?”

Both men stopped and looked from him to the sign.

“Yeah, closed. You can read right? Closed. That’s what it says. Been closed for years. Go on into Watertown; buy a fuckin’ burger or something. Only way you’re getting a bathroom at this time of the morning.” He had lowered his voice for the last as he pulled his head back into the car, and turned the heater up a notch. The electric motor whined as the window climbed in its track. He looked down at his wrist for the time, 1:02 A.M., where the fuck was this dude. He was late, granted a few minutes, but late was late.

A sharp rap on the glass startled him. He had been about to dig out his own supply, a little pick-me-up. He looked up to see the guys from the truck standing outside his window. “Oh… Fucking lovely,” he muttered. He pushed the button and the window lowered into the door, the motor whining loudly, the cold air blew in.

“And what can I do for you two gentlemen,” He asked in his best smart ass voice.

The one in back stepped forward into the light. Military type, Mike told himself. Older, maybe a noncom. A little gray at the edges of his buzz cut. With the military base so close there were soldiers everywhere, after all Watertown was a military town. It was why he was in the business he was in. It was also why he succeeded at it.

“Did you call me stupid,” The man asked in a polite tone.

“Who, me? No. I didn’t call you stupid, I asked, what are you, stupid? Different thing. The fuckin’ place is closed… Just doing my good deed for the day… Helping you, really, so you don’t waste no time,” Mike told him.

“Really?” The man asked.

Mike chuckled. “Yeah really, tough guy. Really. Now, I did my good deed, why don’t you get the fuck out of here ’cause you wore out your welcome.” He opened his coat slightly so they could see the chrome 9 mm that sat in its holster.

“Really,” the first guy repeated.

“Okay, who are you guys, frick and frack? A couple of fucking wannabees? Well I am the real deal, don’t make me stick this gun in your fuckin’ face,” Mike told them. He didn’t like being a dick, but sometimes you had to be.

“You know what my mother always said about guns?” The second guy asked.

“Well, since I don’t know your mama it’s hard to say,” Mike told him. He didn’t like the way these two were acting. They weren’t cops, he knew all the locals, if it had been someone he had to worry about he would have handled this completely differently. These guys were nobodies. At least nobodies to him, and that made them nobodies to Watertown. If he had to put a bullet in… His thoughts broke off abruptly as the barrel of what looked like a .45 was jammed into his nose. It came from nowhere. He sucked in a deep breath. He could taste blood in his mouth where the gun had smashed his upper lip against his teeth.

“She said don’t threaten to pull a gun, never, Just pull it.”

“Mama had a point,” Mike allowed. His voice was nasally due to the gun that was jammed hallway up to his brain. “Smart lady.”

“Very,” the man allowed. “Kind of hard ass to grow up with, but she taught me well.” He looked down at Mike. “So listen, this is what we’re gonna do. You’re gonna drive out of here right the fuck now. And that’s going to stop me from pulling this trigger. Lucky day for you, I think. Like getting a Get Out Of Jail Free card, right.”

“This is my business spot… You don’t understand,” Mike told them. “I… I’m waiting for someone.”

“Not tonight, Michael.”

“Yeah, but you don’t.” He stopped. “How do you know my name?” he asked. There was more than a nasal quality to his voice, now there was real fear. Maybe they were Feds. Maybe.

“Yeah, we know you. And we know you use this spot as a place to do your business. And I’m saying we couldn’t care less, but right now you gotta go, and I’m not going to tell you the deal again. You can leave or stay, but you ain’t gonna like staying,” The guy told him.

Listen… This is my town… If you guys are Feds you can’t do shit like this… This is my town. You guys are just…

The guy pulled the trigger and Mike jumped. He fell to the right, across the front seat. Both men stepped away from the car, eyes scanning the lonely rest stop from end to end, but there was no one anywhere. The silence returned with a ringing in their ears from the blast as it had echoed back out of the closed car interior. The shooter worked his jaw for a moment, swallowing until his ears popped. He lifted his wrist to his mouth. “Guess you saw that,” he said quietly.

“Got a cleaner crew on the way up. You’ll pass them in the elevators. We’re waiting on you guys.“ The voice came through the implant in his inner ear. No one heard what was said except him.

He nodded for the cameras that were picking him up. “In case you didn’t hear it, someone is supposed to meet him here so your cleaner crew could have company.”

“Got that too… We’ll handle it.” He nodded once more, and then walked off toward the rest rooms as the other man followed.

In back of the unit they used a key in the old rusted handset. It only looked old and rusty, it was actually an interface for a state of the art digital system that would read his body chemistry, heat, and more. The key had dozens of micro pulse sensor implants that made sure the user was human, transmitted heartbeat, body chemistry, it could even tell male from female and match chemical profiles to known examples in its database. Above and to the sides of them several scanners mapped their bodies to those same known profiles. Bone composition, old fractures, density and more. All unique in every man or women. The shooter removed the key and slipped it into his pocket. A few seconds later a deep whining of machinery reached their ears, the door shuddered in its frame, and then slipped down into a pocket below the doorway.

A second later they stepped into the gutted restroom. Stainless steel doors took up most of the room; the elevator to the base below. They waited for the cleaner crew to come up, then took the elevator back down into the depths.

~

The facility stretched for more than five miles underground. Most of that was not finished space, most of that was connector tunnels, and storage space bored from the rock. The facility itself was about three thousand feet under the city of Watertown in a section of old caves that had been enlarged, concrete lined and reinforced. The rest area was one of several entrances that led into the complex. An old farm on the other side of Watertown, an abandoned factory in the industrial park west of the city and a few other places, including direct connections from secure buildings on the nearby base.

John Pauls and Sammy Black had Alpha clearance. Both were ex-military, but most likely military clearance was no longer a real matter of concern this late in the game, Sammy thought as they made their way down the wide hallway. The word coming down to those in the know was that in the next twenty-four hours the human race would come very close to ceasing to exist at all. No confirmation from anyone official, but regular programming was off air, the news stations were tracking an asteroid that may or may not hit the Earth. The best opinions said it didn’t matter if it hit or not, it would be a close enough pass that there would be massive damage. Maybe the human race would be facing extinction. The government was strangely silent on the subject. And that had made him worry even more. The pass was estimated to be right over the tip of south America. So maybe formalities like Alpha clearance weren’t all that important any longer, if only Michael Bliss had given that some thought before he had pissed him off.

The halls were silent, nearly empty. Gloss white panels eight feet high framed it. It had always reminded Black of a maze with its twists and turns. Here and there doors hung open. Empty now. Always closed any other time he had been down here. So it had come this far too, Black thought. He stopped at a door that looked like any other door and a split second later the door rose into the ceiling and Major Weston waved them in.

Alice, he had never learned her last name, sat at her desk, her eyes on them as they walked past her. One hand rested on the butt of a matte black .45 caliber pistol in a webbed shoulder holster that was far from Army issue, and Sammy had no doubt she would shoot them both before they could even react. Alice was etched into one of those name pins that the Army seemed to like so well, but oddly, just Alice, no last name, rank or anything else. She wore no uniform, just a black coverall. The kind with the elastic ankle and wrist cuffs. No insignia there either. He had noticed that months before. Her eyes remained flat and expressionless as they passed her desk.

“Alice,” Sammy said politely. She said nothing at all, but she never did.

“Sit down, boys,” Major Weston told them. He spoke around the cigar in his mouth. Dead, but they were always, and there was never the smell of tobacco in the office. They took the two chairs that fronted the desk.

The Major was looking over a large monitor on the opposite wall that showed the north American continent. This map showed small areas of red, including the northern section where they were. The rest of the map was covered with green. “Where we are, and where we need to be, “ he said as he pushed a button on his desk. The monitor went blank. He turned to face the two.

“So here is where we are. You know, as does most of the world, that we are expecting a near miss from DX2379R later on tonight.” He held their eyes.

John shrugged. “I’ve been doing a little job, must have missed that. It’s not gonna take us out is it?”

“Saw that on the news a few days back. Guess we dodged a bad one,” Sammy said.

“Right… Right,” Weston said quietly. “But that cover was nothing but bullshit.”

“It’s going to hit us?” John asked.

“Maybe… The fact is that we don’t know. One group says this, another group says that, but it doesn’t matter because it will probably kill us off anyway. Direct hit, near miss, it is going to tip over an already bad situation with the Yellowstone Caldera.” He raised his eyes, “Familiar with that?”

“Yellowstone park?” Sammy said.

John nodded in agreement.

Weston laughed. “Put simply, yes. Yellowstone has always been an anomaly to us. Back in 1930 the Army did an exploratory survey of that area. What we came up with was that there was a section of the Rocky Mountains missing. Looked at from the top of Mount Washburn it was easy for the team to see that the largest crater of an extinct volcano known to exist lay before them.”

“I guess that’s about what I thought,” Sammy agreed.

“Yeah. We all think that. Except it is not true at all because the Yellowstone caldera is not extinct, it is active. Active and about to pop. There have been several warnings, but we took the recording stations off line quite some time ago, so there has been no mention of it in the news. Budget cuts,” he shrugged. “So everyone is focused on this asteroid that may or may not hit us and instead this volcanic event is going to blow up and when that happens the rest won’t matter at all.” He clicked the button on his desk and the monitor came to life. “All the red areas are spots where the surface pressure has increased. There was, at one time, many active volcanoes on the north American continent.” He clicked a button and the map changed to a view of the European continent with many of the same red shaded areas.

“All over the Earth… Higher pressures. Up until a few days ago the brainiacs were still arguing over whether this could even happen.” He laughed. “It is happening and they are arguing over whether it can happen. Well, we had our little debates and then we realized that history shows clearly that this has happened before. Several times. Call it the Earth’s way of cleansing itself.”

“But it’s not an absolute, right?”Sammy asked.

“Don’t start sounding like the scientists.” He reached below his desk and came up with six small silver canisters. Each had a small red button mounted on the top with a protective cap over the button itself. He clicked a button on his desk, and a picture of destruction appeared on the screens. It was obviously an aerial shot, looking down at a chain of islands. Smoke hung over the chain, reaching as high as the plane itself. As the plane dropped lower, rivers of red appeared. “That picture is an hour old. That is… Was, the Hawaiian chain.”

Sammy twisted further to the side, staring at the monitor. “How can that be… I mean everyone would know about it.” He turned back to Weston.

Weston nodded. “And that would be true except the satellites are out because of the asteroid. Shut down to avoid damage. That is the official word.” He clicked the button on his desk and the monitor went dead once more. “I started this out saying that none of it matters and that is true. The Yellowstone caldera is going to erupt sometime in the next few days. Not a maybe, not an educated guess, if the satellites were up you would know that the park is closed, it has already started. We have had a few quakes, but the big stuff is on the way. He rolled the canisters across the desktop; Sammy and John caught them.

“Super volcanoes… Earthquakes that modern civilization has never seen… The last super eruption was responsible for killing off the human population some seventy-four thousand years ago. Reduced it to a few thousand. And that is not the biggest one we have evidence of.” He lifted his palms and spread them open, sighing as he did. “So it is a double whammy. If we survive the asteroid the volcanoes get us, or the earthquakes because of them, or we’ll die from injuries. And I think those of us who die outright will be lucky. The rest of us will have a hard time of it… Staying alive with nothing… We will probably all starve to death.” He paused in the silence.

“Those canisters are a compound developed for the armed forces. Project Super Soldier. SS for short. That kept people from looking too deep, they assumed it was something to do with the Nazi youth movement here and abroad. We let that misconception hold.” He waited a second for his words to sink in. “SS is designed to prolong life past the normal point of termination. It allows a soldier to survive longer without food and more importantly without water. Does something to the cells of the host, I don’t pretend to know what. What I do know is that the people above me made the decision to release this…” He picked up a mug of coffee from the desk and sipped deeply. His eyes were red road maps, Sammy noticed now. Like he hadn’t slept in a few days.

“So this is it for us. I guess you realize that you probably won’t get paid for this. No money is going to show up in your account. I will run it through before I pull the plug, but I truly believe the machinery will be dead by the time payday rolls around. So this is something I’m asking you to do.” He pointed to the canisters that both men were looking over. Sammy held his as though it might bite him.

“Those babies are really all we have to hope with. Most people will die outright. They will never make it past the quakes, eruptions, and the resulting ash clouds and gases. Up here we should be okay as far as gases go, eruptions, but there are fault lines that crisscross this area. This whole facility is bored from limestone caverns. Probably won’t make it through the quakes, although it is a good eighty miles from the closest line,” he shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. My point is there should be a good chance for survivors here.”

“So we do what with these? Can they harm us?” John asked.

“Harm you, kill you? No, but you will be infected the minute you push that button. It will protect you the same as anyone else. There is enough in a single canister to infect about five hundred million people,” Weston said quietly.

“Whoa,” Sammy whistled. “Why infect… Why not inoculate? And why six canisters… Three Billion people?”

“Minimum three billion. That is before those infected pass it along themselves, after a while it won’t matter. As to the question of infected, this is a designer virus. You catch it just like the flu. We infected whole platoons by releasing it in the air over them. One hundred percent infection rate. Be glad they decided on this. They have some others that will kill everybody in the world in a matter of days.” Weston nodded at the raised eyebrows that greeted his remarks. “I don’t doubt that the merits of which way to go were debated hotly,” he finished gravely.

“The virus is designed to live within the host, but it can live outside of the host. It can stay alive in a dead body for days, even if the body is frozen. In fact that just freezes the virus too. Once the body is thawed it will infect any living person that comes along. So those,” he pointed to the silver canisters, “are overkill. Same stuff is being released across the globe. Great Briton… Germany… Australia… West coast just a few hours ago. Manhattan has already been done, all the East coast in fact. I want the two of you to head out from here.  One vial here, then one of you head west, the other south. Go for the bigger cities… Water supplies… Reservoirs… Release it in the air or water, it doesn’t matter. There are men heading out from the south, the west coast…” He rose from the desk. “I’ll see you out.” He turned to Alice. “Alice… Pack us up.” Alice nodded as Sammy and John got to their feet, but her hand remained on the butt of the pistol. Rubber grips, Sammy noticed as he passed her.

“Alice,” he said.

“Um hmm,” Alice murmured.

Sammy nearly stopped in his tracks, but managed to hide his surprise as he passed by into the hallway. The Major fished two sets of keys from his pocket. “Parked in the back lot. A couple of plain Jane Dodge four-bys. Drive ’em like you stole ’em. Leave ’em where you finish up. Hell keep ’em if you want ’em. Nobody is going to care.”

The three stood in the hallway for a few seconds longer. Sammy’s eyes locked with the Major’s own, and he nodded. The major walked back into his office, and the door rose from its pocket behind him. Quiet, except the slight buzzing from the fluorescent lights.

John shrugged as his eyes met Sammy’s, waiting.

Sammy sighed. “You heard the man… West or south?”

“Flip for it?” John asked. His mouth seemed over dry and he licked his lips nervously.

Sammy pulled a quarter from his pocket and flipped it into the air. “Call it, Johnny.”

“Tails,” John said just before the quarter hit the carpet.

Sammy bent forward. “Tails it is. You got it, Johnny.”

John looked down at the carpet. “West, I guess.” John said.

Sammy nodded, looked down once more at the quarter and then both men turned and walked away toward the elevator that would take them back to the surface.

Watertown Center

Shop and Save Convenience store: Candace Loi

1:30 AM

“Last one,” Neil said.

Neil was a detective for the Sheriffs department. It was closing in on 2:00 AM and he and his partner Don had just come back from six hours of sleep to get a jump on the day. Yesterday one of the checkout girls had disappeared between the Shop And Save and home. Earlier this morning she had turned up dead in a ditch just a quarter mile from the front door. The techs were still processing the scene, but it was looking personal. Stabbed to death, multiple wounds, no defense wounds, at least none that he or Don had been able to see, and fully clothed. Her purse had been found nearby, wallet and cash inside. They would know more in a few days once the coroner did her magic. It all pointed to someone she knew, and they had no known boyfriend. The trailer park where she lived had turned up nothing, they had questioned some people at the convenience store, but some had been off shift, so here they were back at the store questioning the other employees.

They had commandeered the night manager’s office which was barely larger than a broom closet, but at least it was a place to sit with enough space left over to call in the workers and ask their questions. Free coffee via the same night manager, who had still not gone home, was taking a little of the six hours of sleep sting off, but to Neil free coffee in a convenience store was like a whore offering a free shot of penicillin to the first twenty five customers.

“Who’s next?” Don asked.

The last half hour they had been interviewing the people who worked the same shifts as Amber Kneeland.

“Candace loi,” Neil said.

Don looked up and stopped writing in his little notebook.  “How do you,” spell her name, he had meant to ask Neil, but she was right in front of him.

“EL. OH. EYE,” she said with a smile.

“Vietnamese?” Don asked. She was obviously mixed race, African American and Asian, he questioned himself.

“Japanese,” she told him.

“Nice name,” Neil said, “Candace.”

Beautiful girl, Don thought. “Did you know Amber Kneeland?  Sometimes works this shift?” he asked.

“Not really,” she answered. “I mean, I met her, but only in passing… I just started here myself.”

She really is beautiful, Don thought. “You wouldn’t know if she had a boyfriend… Other friends?” he asked.

Candace shook her head. “Sorry,” she said… “What has she done?”

“Nothing,” Neil supplied.

“She went missing last night,” Don said. “Turned up dead this morning.”

Candace shook her head. “Oh my God. That’s horrible. She was such a nice girl… Quiet.”

Neil nodded his head. “So maybe you did know her a little better than you thought?”

“I just started here a few weeks back, and like I said, I don’t really know her… But it might be a girlfriend not a boyfriend.”

Don looked at her. “You wouldn’t know who?”

“No. It’s just a rumor. Someone said it to me… I don’t even remember who… But I’ve never seen her with a guy, and I have seen her with other girls… Maybe also the way she looked at me a few times…”

“Go out with her?” Don asked.

“No… Never… I…”

“Don’t swing that way?” Don added.

Candace frowned slightly before she answered. “I work. I don’t swing any way. But if I did she wasn’t my type. She never asked me out, I never asked her out.”

“Didn’t mean to offend you,” Don said. He shrugged. “She’s dead.”

“She would probably do the same for you,” Neil said.

Candace nodded. “That really is all I know. I hope you find who did it though. She seemed like a nice girl,” Candace said.

“You don’t seem the type for this… Bagging groceries at 2:00 am,” Don said, changing the subject. “You aren’t local or I’d know you… This city really is small despite the base.”

Candace smiled. “Came here a year back with a boyfriend, Army. He left, forgot all about me, I guess. I had this idea of modeling… Tough to get a foot in a door though.”

“Wow, if he left you behind he must be a fucking idiot… Any good?” Neil asked.

Candace laughed.

“Excuse mister smooth there,” Don told her. Neil feigned a hurt look and Candace laughed. “He meant have you done anything? I know somebody… Might be interested.”

Candace arched her eyebrows. “I can model. I did a You Jeans ad back in Georgia a few years ago. I just need to prove it to the right person.”

“Escorting? It’s strictly escorting, no funny stuff. Dance clubs… Clothing modeling,” Neil said.

“Probably start out escorting… Dance a little… Then if he likes you he’ll put you into the modeling end of things. He owns a lot of shit… Several car dealerships across the state… Some of the biggest dance clubs, clothing outlets, those bargain places, but still, modeling is modeling, right? Not the big name stuff, but it’s a foot in the door,” Don added.

“I can do that,” she said slowly.

Neil passed her a white business card with his own name scrawled across the back. “Tell him I sent you… That’s my name on the back.”

“Jimmy Vincioni,” Candace asked.

“Just V… Jimmy V, good guy,” Neil said.

Candace nodded and tucked the card into her front jean pocket. “I’ll call him… Thanks. Look…” Her voice dropped to a near whisper. “I’m pretty sure she had a girlfriend here… I just don’t know who,” Candace added quietly.

Don finished writing in his notebook, nodded once he met her eyes and then shook the hand she offered. She walked away.

“Beautiful,” Neil said.

“Absolutely,” Don agreed. “You ain’t getting none of that though.”

“Yeah? But if Jimmy V hires her? It’ll be the next best thing.”

Don shook his head, but smiled. His eyes rose and watched as Candace walked away. “Guess I’ll have to have a few drinks at the club if that happens.”

Neil chuckled low. “You and me both,” he agreed.


            

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