Settlement Earth series

EARTH’S SURVIVORS: SETTLEMENT EARTH BOOK ONE

Copyright 2009 W. W. Watson all rights reserved.

Cover Art © Copyright 2018 Dell Sweet

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ONE

High summer: Plague year one

Base Ostega

Northern Canada

1:00 am

The first quake had been minor, the last few had not. The big one was coming. The satellite links were down, but Doctor Alan Weber didn’t need to have a satellite link up to know that. He touched one hand to his head, the fingertips came away bloody. In any other circumstances he would be hurrying to get his head wound taken care of, but these were not just any circumstances. The entire world was ending and it was a miracle to him that he had made it through the complex above and down into the control room of the facility before it had been supposed to automatically lock down. His office was a shamble, but his secretary had met him in the hallway having ridden out the quakes in the supply room, between the tall rows of steel cabinets: Together they had made their way to the office.

All main-line Comm links were down, probably because of the loss of the satellite systems. Underground back-up cable Comm: Down. The facility was in bad shape, and he was not kidding himself, there was no help on the way. No hope of reaching the surface and the worst was not yet here. He was probably lucky to have made it down the six floors to his office from where he had been. There was an automatic lock-down program that would shut down the entire facility within seconds of an attack or catastrophic event, it had failed somehow.

He laughed to himself, he had, had to lock it down manually once he had made his way in or else it would still be open to the world. He had blown up the two main entrances to the facility, sealing his own fate as he sealed it off from the world above.

He had spent the last several years here in the Canadian wilderness running the chemical countermeasure unit at the base. He had worked on a top secret virus designed to prolong human life in cases of extreme deprivation: Nuclear attack, war and other unlikely scenarios. He had spent the last two weeks working up to this event from his subterranean office complex. All wreckage now. Still, he had sent operatives out from here three days ago to do what they could to seed the virus: Following his final orders sent down through some now probably non-existent chain of command. He had heard absolutely nothing since, and believed that was because there was no one left in command any longer.

The virus was so secretive that no one beyond the base knew the true nature of it. Even the politicians that passed bills for funding while looking the other way had not truly known what they were funding. A couple of well placed dollars in the pocket could buy a great deal of silence.

Several Army bases had secretly been infected and studied. The commanders of the armed forces had, had no idea that anything was being tested on their men. The troops had done well, surviving their training with little food and water much better than they usually did, but over the next week nearly every bird in the area had died. Some side effect they had not been able to ferret out.

That virus build had also been crippled. It had a built in self destruct mechanism to kill the virus after a short amount of time. In fact that same version had been kept as an antidote for the newest version which had no such mechanism and would go on reinfecting indefinitely.

The entire virus design and its capabilities were top secret. Top secret. And usually Top Secret meant dozens of people knew, but this time it had meant that it really had been Top Secret. Withheld from the public, and even those in charge for years had known nothing of the true nature of the virus.

Last week had changed it all. Last week the news had come down from the finest scientific minds that an extinction event was about to take place. Up to ninety percent of the world population would likely be killed off as events unfolded. It was not a maybe, it was an absolute.

The public knew that there was a meteor on a near collision course with the Earth. They had paid off the best scientists to assure the public it would miss by several thousand miles. A lie, but they had found that even scientists were willing to look past facts if their own personal spin put a better story in the mix. A survivable story, and so some had spun their own stories without prodding. From there the internet had picked it up and run with it. From there the conspiracy theorists, and by the end of the week the meteor was survivable. The story that the meteor would destroy the planet was now a lie made up by commanders of the rebel alliance in the Middle East to take the focus off their actions, the public believed what it wanted to believe.

The truth was that the meteor might miss, barely, a near miss, but it wouldn’t matter because it would contribute to a natural chain of events that would make a meteor impact look like small change.

The big deal, the bigger than a meteor deal, was the earthquakes that had already started and would probably continue until most of the civilized world was dead or dying. Crumbled into ruin from super earthquakes and volcanic activity that had never been seen by modern civilization. And it had been predicted several times over by more than one group and hushed up quickly when it was uncovered. The governments had known. The conspiracy theorists had known. The public should have known, but they were too caught up in world events that seemed to be dragging them ever closer to a third world war to pay attention to a few voices crying in the wilderness. The public was happier watching television series about conspiracies rather than looking at the day to day truths about real conspiracies. The fact was that this was a natural course of events. It had happened before and it would happen again in some distant future.

In the end it hadn’t mattered. In the end the factual side of the event had begun to happen. The reality, Alan Weber liked to think of it. And fact was fact. You couldn’t dispute fact. You could spin it, and that was the way of the old world, spinning it, but the bare facts were just that: The bare facts.

The bare facts were that the Yellowstone Caldera had erupted just a few hours before. The bare facts were that the earth quakes had begun all around the world, and although they were not so bad here at the northern tip of Canada, in other areas of the world, in the lower states, in foreign countries, third world countries, the bare facts of what was occurring were devastating: Millions dead, millions more would die before it was over, and this was nothing new. The government had evidence that this same event had happened many times in Earth’s history. This was nothing new at all, not even new to the human race. A similar event had killed off most of the human race some seventy-five thousand years before. The space race had been all about this knowledge. A rush to get off the planet and settle elsewhere on an older, more sedate planet before something that had already happened time and again happened once more.

The virus was an answer, help, solution, but Alan Weber was unsure how well the solution would work. It was, like everything else, a stop gap measure, and probably too little too late. And it was definitely flawed, but he had temporarily pushed that knowledge away in his mind. Even now as he sat and waited for the end, which would surely come, out in the world operatives were disbursing the virus that could save humanity.

He thought for a moment, “Or destroy humanity,” he added aloud.

There were no guarantees, and there was strong evidence to suggest the designer virus did its job a little too well. Designed to help prolong life, there were rumors that it could raise the dead. Some scientists who had worked with the virus in the now destroyed facility had nicknamed it Lazarus.

Alan had seen evidence to support the rumors that it could raise the dead, or the near dead for that matter. He had been present when a test subject that had been pronounced dead had come back. Weak, half crazy, but alive again.

As the hours and then days passed the subject had become stronger, seemed to be learning from the situation it was in. The decision had been made to kill it: Even that had been difficult to do. Even so, he knew that it was the only hope for society. There was nothing else. The military machine was dead. The American government was dead. The president, from reports he had read, assassinated by her own guards.

While most of America had tracked the meteorite that was supposed to miss earth from their living rooms, and had been side tracked by all the trouble in the Middle East, he had kept track of the real events that had even then been building beneath the Yellowstone caldera and many other places worldwide.

Yesterday the end had begun, and the end had come quickly. Satellites off line. Phone networks down. Power grids failed. Governments incommunicado or just gone. The Internet, down. The Meteorite had not missed Earth by much after all, and the gravitational pull from its mass had simply accelerated an already bad situation.

Dams burst. River flows reversed. Waters rising or dropping suddenly in many places. Huge tidal waves. Fires out of control. Whole cities suddenly gone. A river of lava flowing from Yellowstone. Civilization was not dead; not yet wiped out, but her back was broken.

In the small military base of Ostega that had rested above the defense facility near the shore of a former lake, the river waters that fed it had begun to rise: The chemical countermeasure unit, several levels below the base in the limestone cave structures that honeycombed the entire area, had begun to succumb to the rising river waters. By the time the surviving soldiers from above had splashed through the tunnels and into the underground facility, they had been walking through better than two feet of cold and muddy water. Shortly after that the pressure from the water had begun to collapse small sections of caves and tunnels below the base that fed the unit: That damage had been helped along by small after-shocks.

Alan Weber watched his monitor as a wall gave way and the main tunnel began to flood. It was only a matter of an hour at the most before the water found its way to him. He sighed and then relaxed back into his chair, reached down and pulled the lower file drawer open, and lifted out a partial bottle of scotch. He leaned forward and Bobbi Trevers cleared her throat in the silent observation room. Weber smiled and turned toward her.

“I suppose you have been watching, Bobbi?”

She only nodded.

He nodded back. “Share a drink with me?” He turned away, not waiting for her words of agreement. He heard her settle into a chair next to him as he pulled two plastic cups from the sleeve in the bottom drawer, left over from the Christmas party last year, and began to pour.

“I don’t usually agree to drinking on the job, but this is a different set of circumstances, isn’t it?” His eyes met her own as she nodded weakly.

“It’s almost over, isn’t it Doctor Weber?”

“I’m afraid so… Call me Alan, Bobbi… Is it okay that I call you Bobbi?” He finished pouring the scotch into the plastic cup. He had stopped at just an inch in the bottom, wondered why and then filled the cup half way instead.

North America

Far above the Earth, satellites continued to orbit importantly.

The north American continent lay sleeping far below. A wide inland sea had formed in the middle, fed by a huge river that stretched from the former Hudson bay to the middle of the continent. Small in places and easily crossed, no more than a river: Wide in other places as if it truly were a sea.

The state of Alabama had been divided in two along with most of the lower half of the former state of Florida. What resulted was the loss of the lower, southern half of the state. What remained now sat nearly forty miles out in a shallow bay that was quickly turning to sea: An island, the water surrounding it growing deeper as time moved on and the gulf reclaimed the land.

The upper north eastern section of the continent had already pulled apart and begun to drift. Although it was imperceptible, the two land masses were inching away from one another, and ultimately would be separated by a new ocean. And become separate, smaller continents.

The eastern end of the former United States, was also drifting away from the northern section of Canada. The massive earthquakes had also severed the state of Michigan, turning it into a virtual island.

Toward what had been the north, the St. Lawrence river basin had widened, pushing the land masses further apart. The Thousand Islands bridge spans had toppled, and slipped into the cold waters. The other bridges that had once spanned the mighty river had also succumbed as the river basin had split and pulled apart.

The new continent had severed her ties from Nova Scotia, as she had been pulled south and slightly east, to begin her journey. Only the province of New Brunswick, and a small portion of Quebec remained with the continent. The rest of Canada was severed from them by the wide and deep river, more like a huge lake in places, that surged from ocean to ocean.

Most of the north American continent was now in a sub-tropical climate as well. The poles had been displaced by the huge force of the multiple earthquakes and volcanic blasts which were still ongoing. The old polar caps were melting, and it would be thousands of years before they would once again re-form in their new locations.

The run-off from the melting ice would eventually reach the oceans and even more land mass would be sacrificed to the waves before the polar caps would be re-formed.

There were only thirteen full states left on the small continent. The two former provinces of Canada, one of which was only a small fragment. And parts of five former states, the largest being Florida.

Before the dawn, fires could be seen burning unchecked in many major cities, pushed with the help of freak winds the flames continued in all directions, occasionally fueled by chemical, and oil facilities, as well as numerous other flammable sources they encountered. The world began its fall.

New York

Johnny: October 29th

I am here in this farm house that Lana and I found a few weeks back. By myself. Lana is gone. I sat down here to write this story out before I am gone too. Maybe that sounds melodramatic, but it isn’t. I know exactly what my situation is.

We have been to Manhattan, outside of it, you can’t go in any longer, and we came from Los Angeles, so we know: It’s all gone, destroyed, there’s nothing left. Time to hold on to what is left for you. I had Lana… That was my something that was still left to me, but she’s gone now…

Lana… I knew they’d find out, Hell, they probably knew immediately in that slow purposeful way that things come to them. I can hear them out there ripping and tearing… They know. Yeah, they know, I know it as well as I know my name, John, Johnny Mother used to say. I… I get so goddamned distracted…. It’s working at me…

Bastards! If, only I could have… But it’s no good crying about it or wishing I had done this thing or that thing. I didn’t. I didn’t and I can’t go back and undo any of this, let alone the parts I did.

In August when the sun was so hot and the birds suddenly disappeared, and Lana came around for what was nearly the last time I hadn’t known a thing about this. Nothing. It’s late fall now and I know too much. Enough to wish it were August once again and I was living in ignorant bliss once more.

Lana: I didn’t want to do it. I told myself I would not do it and then I did it. Not bury her, that had to be done; I mean kill her. I told myself I wouldn’t kill her, and that’s a joke really. Really it is, because how do you kill something that is already dead?  No, I told myself that I wouldn’t cut her head off, put her in the ground upside down, drive a stake through her dead heart. Those are the things I told myself I wouldn’t do, couldn’t do, but I did them as best I could. I pushed the other things I thought; felt compelled to do, aside and did what I could for her.

The trouble is, did I do it right? It’s not like I have a goddamn manual to tell me how to do it. Does anybody? I doubt it, but I would say that it’s a safe bet that there are dozens of people in the world right now, people who have managed to stay alive, that could write that manual. I just don’t know them… I wish I did. And it won’t matter to me anyway. It’s a little too late, but I’ll write this anyway and maybe it can be a manual for someone else… You…

So the books say take their heads off. The books also say, for Vampires, put a stake in their heart, and older legends say turn them around, upside down in the grave. Isn’t a vampire a kind of Zombie? Isn’t it? Probably not exactly, precisely, but could it hurt to have done the stake thing just in case? To be sure? To put her at rest? I don’t think so.

They can come out during the daylight, you know. I thought they wouldn’t be able to. Every goddamn movie I ever saw, starting with the Night Of The Living Dead said they couldn’t. You could get some relief. You could get some shit done. And you could if it were true, but it’s not. They rarely come out in the daylight, that’s the truth. It’s hard for them, tough somehow, but they can. It won’t kill them. They aren’t weaker than they are at night. They just don’t like the daylight. They don’t like it. And don’t you think writing that made me a little paranoid? Thinking it over once more? It did. I got up and checked the windows. Nothing I can see, but they’re out there. They’re right out there in the barn. Sleeping in the sweet hay up in the haymow. I know it, so it doesn’t matter whether I can see them. I can hear them and I know where the rest of them are. And I know they know what I did and they’ll come tonight. They’ll come tonight because I’m afraid of the night. Not them, me.  And they goddamn well know it! They know it! They think. They see. Did you think they were stupid? Blind? Running on empty? Well you’re the fool then. Listen to me, they’re not. They’re not and thinking they are will get you dead quick. And what about me? How will I feel tonight? What will I think about it then?

Zombies: I thought Haiti, horror flicks…? What else is there? Dead people come back to life, or raised from the dead to be made into slaves. Those are the two things I knew and nothing else. Well, it’s wrong, completely wrong. No, I can’t tell you how they come to be Zombies initially, but I can tell you that the bite of a Zombie will make you a Zombie. The movies got that much right.

I can’t tell you why they haunt the fields across from this house. Why they have taken up residence in the old barn, but I can tell you that it might be you they come for next and if they do you goddamn well better realize that everything you thought you knew is bullshit. See, Lana didn’t believe it and look what happened to her! Lana… Lana: I know, I know I didn’t tell you about her, but I will. That’s the whole point of writing this down before they get me too.

See, in a little while I’m thinking I might just walk out the kitchen door and right out to the barn. I’ll leave this here on the kitchen table. For you, whoever you are, who happened along into this kitchen.

Goddamn Zombies. Ever lovin’ Bastards! …

I am losing control, I know I am, but…

Anyway, it was August. Hot. Hotter they said than it had been in recorded time. I was not here in this kitchen in rural New York someplace, I was in L.A., outside the city up in the hills, a little farm. There was no wind. No rain. Seemed like no air to breath. Global Warming they said. Maybe… Changes coming, they said. Oh yeah, changes were coming. Changes right there on that wind, probably…

It was on a Tuesday. I went to get the mail and there were six or seven dead crows by the box. I thought, Those goddamn Clark boys have been shooting their B.B guns again! So I resolved to call old man Clark and give him a piece of my mind, except I forgot. That happens to all of us: It’s not unusual. I remembered about four o’clock the next morning when I got up. Well, I told myself, Mail comes at ten, I’ll get that and then I’ll call up and have that talk…


Get the books or read more…

W. Watson & Lindsey Rivers



Earth’s Survivors Settlement Earth: Book One by W. W. Watson The first quake had been minor, the last few had not. The big one was coming, but Doctor Alan Weber didn’t need to have a satellite link up to know that.

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Earth’s Survivors Settlement Earth: Book Two by W. W. Watson The cop took Ben’s gun and dropped it into the blue duffel bag. He took Ed’s bundle of cash when he searched him, whistling as he did…

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Earth’s Survivors Settlement Earth: Book Three by W. W. Watson Most days he didn’t think of his old life, but when he did it wasn’t with regrets. The hardest thing of all had been shooting Nikki…

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Settlement Earth series

Earth’s Survivors Settlement Earth By W W Watson Lindsey Rivers

The end has come. In an effort to help, the government has destroyed most of humanity. The few survivors are on their own… Looking for others… Trying to avoid the dead… Free Previews… https://www.smashwords.com/books/byseries/7285


Earth’s Survivors Settlement Earth: Book1:

“It will kill you well enough,” Alice said as if reading his thoughts. “It’s a bad world. You need another shooter. Who knows what you’re going to run into.” She met Johnny’s eyes… #Crime https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/360313


Earth’s Survivors Settlement Earth: Book Two The air lock cycled on and six soldiers stepped into the airlock. Johns tensed, waiting for the door to their space to cycle on, but it didn’t. “You think they will outright kill us,” Kohlson asked? …  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/360317


Earth’s Survivors Settlement Earth: Book Three A thin line of blood ran away from the wrist that had been encircled by the tie. Whether from the sharp metal she had used to escape the zip-tie, or the zip-tie itself she could not tell… #ApocalypticFiction https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/360319



 

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein By Mary Shelley

This eBook of “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus” by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley belongs to the public domain.

Edited by Dell Sweet 2018

Cover design and artwork © 2018 Dell Sweet


Letter 1

TO Mrs. Saville, England

St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17-

You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings. I arrived here yesterday, and my first task is to assure my dear sister of my welfare and increasing confidence in the success of my undertaking.

I am already far north of London, and as I walk in the streets of Petersburgh, I feel a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks, which braces my nerves and fills me with delight. Do you understand this feeling? This breeze, which has travelled from the regions towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes. Inspirited by this wind of promise, my daydreams become more fervent and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight. There, Margaret, the sun is forever visible, its broad disk just skirting the horizon and diffusing a perpetual splendour. There–for with your leave, my sister, I will put some trust in preceding navigators–there snow and frost are banished; and, sailing over a calm sea, we may be wafted to a land surpassing in wonders and in beauty every region hitherto discovered on the habitable globe. Its productions and features may be without example, as the phenomena of the heavenly bodies undoubtedly are in those undiscovered solitudes. What may not be expected in a country of eternal light? I may there discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle and may regulate a thousand celestial observations that require only this voyage to render their seeming eccentricities consistent forever. I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man. These are my enticements, and they are sufficient to conquer all fear of danger or death and to induce me to commence this laborious voyage with the joy a child feels when he embarks in a little boat, with his holiday mates, on an expedition of discovery up his native river. But supposing all these conjectures to be false, you cannot contest the inestimable benefit which I shall confer on all mankind, to the last generation, by discovering a passage near the pole to those countries, to reach which at present so many months are requisite; or by ascertaining the secret of the magnet, which, if at all possible, can only be effected by an undertaking such as mine.

These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my letter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven, for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose–a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye. This expedition has been the favourite dream of my early years. I have read with ardour the accounts of the various voyages which have been made in the prospect of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean through the seas which surround the pole. You may remember that a history of all the voyages made for purposes of discovery composed the whole of our good Uncle Thomas’ library. My education was neglected, yet I was passionately fond of reading. These volumes were my study day and night, and my familiarity with them increased that regret which I had felt, as a child, on learning that my father’s dying injunction had forbidden my uncle to allow me to embark in a seafaring life.

These visions faded when I perused, for the first time, those poets whose effusions entranced my soul and lifted it to heaven. I also became a poet and for one year lived in a paradise of my own creation; I imagined that I also might obtain a niche in the temple where the names of Homer and Shakespeare are consecrated. You are well acquainted with my failure and how heavily I bore the disappointment. But just at that time I inherited the fortune of my cousin, and my thoughts were turned into the channel of their earlier bent.

Six years have passed since I resolved on my present undertaking. I can, even now, remember the hour from which I dedicated myself to this great enterprise. I commenced by inuring my body to hardship. I accompanied the whale-fishers on several expeditions to the North Sea; I voluntarily endured cold, famine, thirst, and want of sleep; I often worked harder than the common sailors during the day and devoted my nights to the study of mathematics, the theory of medicine, and those branches of physical science from which a naval adventurer might derive the greatest practical advantage. Twice I actually hired myself as an under-mate in a Greenland whaler, and acquitted myself to admiration. I must own I felt a little proud when my captain offered me the second dignity in the vessel and entreated me to remain with the greatest earnestness, so valuable did he consider my services. And now, dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose? My life might have been passed in ease and luxury, but I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path. Oh, that some encouraging voice would answer in the affirmative! My courage and my resolution is firm; but my hopes fluctuate, and my spirits are often depressed. I am about to proceed on a long and difficult voyage, the emergencies of which will demand all my fortitude: I am required not only to raise the spirits of others, but sometimes to sustain my own, when theirs are failing.

This is the most favourable period for travelling in Russia. They fly quickly over the snow in their sledges; the motion is pleasant, and, in my opinion, far more agreeable than that of an English stagecoach. The cold is not excessive, if you are wrapped in furs–a dress which I have already adopted, for there is a great difference between walking the deck and remaining seated motionless for hours, when no exercise prevents the blood from actually freezing in your veins. I have no ambition to lose my life on the post-road between St. Petersburgh and Archangel. I shall depart for the latter town in a fortnight or three weeks; and my intention is to hire a ship there, which can easily be done by paying the insurance for the owner, and to engage as many sailors as I think necessary among those who are accustomed to the whale-fishing. I do not intend to sail until the month of June; and when shall I return? Ah, dear sister, how can I answer this question? If I succeed, many, many months, perhaps years, will pass before you and I may meet. If I fail, you will see me again soon, or never. Farewell, my dear, excellent Margaret. Heaven shower down blessings on you, and save me, that I may again and again testify my gratitude for all your love and kindness.

Your affectionate brother, R. Walton …


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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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A look at cell phones from Geo Dell

A look at cell phones from Geo Dell

Earth’s Survivors

I spent today updating websites and working on interior files and covers for the ES series, so you are going to end up with a partially recycled blog from a few million years ago when Jesus and I were in grade school together. I mean, of course, Jesus, Wanda and Pedro’s son. So don’t write me and tell me I picked on religion, I picked on Spanish friends instead.

The cold here in New York is relentless. Winter can’t be found lately. The cats are growing thicker fur instead of shedding fur… Sheesh.

Today the topic is Cell Phones…

Cell Phones: Tin cans and string: This Cell phone thing is my generations fault. I’ll fess up right here. We tied string to tin cans, pretended they were loud and clear radios, and dreamed of networks of tin cans and string. Okay, I dreamed of networks of tin cans and string. I think a few of my friends did too, but I won’t put them on the spot. But, someone must have besides me, because we grew up looking for that tin can.

We spawned children with that tin can thing embedded in their DNA. That and the Communicator from Star Trek. If that wasn’t a glimpse into the future and cell phones, I don’t know what it was. It was inevitable, and we should have known it as soon as some fool back in the fifties gave us Walki Talkies.

It was almost a reality right there. Probably good enough for some of us, but no, not for all of us. Some said…

“Hey, Bob. What if I could talk to Tim, Ellie and even my sister Sherry with these things?”

“Well, Bob says. “Why would you want to talk to your sister Sherry? She’s a girl.”

“Oh… Right… Never mind.”

But, then some other guy went… “Hey, Bob. What if I could talk to anyone I wanted to with this thing? I mean like anywhere?”

“Well,” Bob said. “We’d have to make them affordable… Put them in the hands of people everywhere.. We’d have to build relay stations… We’d… We could do it! We could!”

And so Marketing and the Cell Phone industry was born right there. And Bob probably headed it. Now we all have Cell Phones and we might as well be welded to them, or they to us.

Last week I remembered I had a cell phone for a reason. To make calls to people, or so that people could reach me. I was watching a really stupid movie at the time. Four young people stranded in the desert. The moron dude (There is always a moron dude who does the dumb thing that puts them all in the bad situation), so, the Moron Dude wrecks the truck and they’re stranded in the desert. So what does he do first? Tries his cell phone. And does it work? Of course not. And, I thought, hmm, I have a cell phone, what if I paid all this money for minutes, and, and (I tend to get excited when I think of stupid things that just might be possible) I get stranded in the desert, and I flip open my Cell phone, and I have, like, 300 minutes, so I sigh, relieved, I will not die in the desert and the young woman med student won’t have to pound a hole in my head to relieve the fluid buildup so I will live! That was what she (The med student) had just finished doing to one of the people in the movie, pounding a hole in her head to relieve the pressure buildup. Hmm. It didn’t work too well. The person still died. Now, my characters do things too. But I have yet to write a scene where one actually pounds a hole into another characters head with a frickin’ rock.

I’ll tell you, I was relieved. I have enough holes in my head (Some say). Then I remembered the scenario. Minutes don’t matter. Reception matters. So, in my head, in my little world in the desert with the Moron Guy, and the Med Student woman, I look down at my phone again. Damn. 300 minutes and no bars. But, like the Moron Dude I try it anyway. Doesn’t work. The young Med Student woman is looking at me funny. Like she can’t wait to pound that hole in my head. Son of a bitch, I think. This really sucks. Then I remember, it’s not real. I am relieved again, except I am still watching this pathetic movie, and I am looking at my cell phone and wondering why I welded myself to it.

Anyway, dumb movies aside, it really did get me thinking about my cell phone. I have this many friends. (I’m holding up fingers on one of my hands). Let’s just say it’s a small amount, I have fingers left over. Now, all of those friends never call me on my cell phone. If they need to reach me they send an email or call me on my land line. Yes, I have a land line. I know how pathetic that sounds. And I rarely ever use it either. But that’s another blog. So, my friends know my email address, and my home phone and my cell phone number, and they never call me on the cell phone. Yet every month I buy minutes and put them on the damn phone. So I must have thousands of minutes on the phone. Just then the phone rang.

“Hello?” I’m cautious. No one calls me here. “No one calls me here,” I say.

Turns out it is a new-old friend. IE: One I knew years before who just reconnected and does not realize no one calls me on my Cell Phone.

“Hey,” I say. What else can I say? “No, you’re not bothering me,” I lie. Then, the phone goes dead.

“Hello? Hello?” I take the phone away from my ear and stare at it as though that can fix it or at least tell me what is wrong. Nope. five bars. Hey, wait a minute, no minutes! How can that be? I just ran out of minutes on my cell phone. But I just put minutes on it. Hmm, a conundrum.

That lead right into the stupid movie, and I realized, if it was me, my luck would be that I would find I had a signal, and then discover that I had no minutes. And so, I asked myself, why is that? And that is the crux of the problem. Because, as I mentioned, no one calls me on my cell phone. So, where do all the minutes go to? They go to all the other calls. The ones I didn’t ask for. The Cell Phone Spammers. Yes. Those guys/gals/machines. They call all of the time.

“Hi! did you know that for just three hundred dollars a month you can get an unlimited number of minutes,” the voice asks?

“Really,” I ask?

The voice just keeps yacking. It’s not a real voice. It’s a machine. But I’m lonely, they know it, and they know I am stupid enough to listen to a machine… At least for a little while.

“Press One now for the Budget Plan. Press Two for the Super Business Package. Press three for the…”

I hang up. Cell Phone Hooker, I think.  I think some other unkind things too, even though I know it is a machine. An hour later the phone rings. I think, ‘I shouldn’t answer that. They probably just want to sell me something.’ But I am stupid, or I have a defective gene, or both.

“Hello? Is this a machine,”I ask right off the bat.

“No sir,” a female voice. Heavy accent. “I am calling regarding your account.”

“Oh… Oh, sorry… I get these machine generated phone calls you see…” I shut up, because of course it’s the Cell Phone. Yakking is money. “My account?”

“Yes sir… My records show that you have the Thrifty Budget plan. And I wanted to make you aware of the Super Business Travelers plan..”

“Huh?”

“Your Cell phone plan,” she explains.

“I don’t have the Thrifty Budget plan,” I say.

“Are you sure,” she asks?

“Mm, yes,” I decide.

“Hold on sir.” She sounds upset, leaves the line, and like the idiot I am, I wait for her to come back. Ten minutes later she does. “Sir?”

Probably she is checking only to see if I was stupid enough to hang on. But, no, I answer. “Yes… Ma’am.” I’m even polite. What an idiot.

“My records show that you do not have the Thrifty Budget plan. Please forgive me.”

And I am ready and willing to forgive her. It’s hot over there in New Delhi, I watch Big Bang Theory. I saw Slum Dog Millionaire. I know it’s got to be a hard job working half way around the worl… She interrupts me.

 So, Sir?” She waits until I answer. The minute monster is eating my phone alive.

“Yes?”

“So, wouldn’t this be a great time to get the Super Business plan?”

Finally it dawns on me. “Hey, are you from **** & ****?”(My phone provider)

“Well, no. I’m from **** *****.”

I hang up. I feel used. Dirty. ‘Damn,’ I think. I am even cussing. ‘Damn Dirty Ape. Frig!’ It is the most severe cussing I can come up with on short notice.

Okay, so I’m sitting there, and slow as I am, it finally dawns on me where all of my minutes go, they go to answering the phone so these guys can sell me more minutes so I can answer the phone, so they can sell me more minutes, so I can answer the phone IF one of my friends ever call, and, as evidenced, if one of my friends do call, I’ll have no minutes to talk to them. Boy am I dumb. Hmm… Then I think, well, I could just let the medical student woman in the movie pound the hole in my head. Might be quicker, smarter too…

Hey! Take a look at the new Earth’s Survivors book Alabama Island…



He had come to hours later; the vehicles’ nothing but twisted husks, still burning in the black night. He could feel the heat from the fires. He had lain for what seemed like a long time trying to orient himself, make sense of what he last remembered, and what he now saw. Time did nothing to sort it out.

It still made no sense some time later when he had first tried to sit up. Pain had flared everywhere and the black curtain had descended once more.
The second time the fires had been out. Heat still came from the blackened shells, but the fires were dead. The moon was high in the sky, bloated, bright silver.
He had moved slower, and while it had been close he had managed to fight past the first pain when he had moved.
His left leg was bad. Not broken, but cut badly, maybe sprung, after all he had lain with it twisted to one side for what he assumed was a very long time. He used part of his shirt to wrap his leg as he let his head clear.
His head was worse. Pain inside every time he tried to move too fast. It felt like liquid sloshing around inside his head, his brain shifting with it, slamming into the bone cage of his skull, and he wondered if it were true, or just something his mind provided in explanation of the pain. As he sat the pain eased enough for him to stand. Standing helped to ease it even more and he began to search for the others…

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Okay, that’s my week. I hope your week was good, Geo…



 

A free preview of Rocket by Dell Sweet

Rocket

Copyright 2018 Dell Sweet all rights reserved.

Cover Art © Copyright 2018 Dell Sweet

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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living person’s places, situations or events is purely coincidental.

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PROLOGUE

Hay Vida 02281 11-08 21:58:27

Present Day

Michael Watson sat at the mouth of the cave staring out over the valley below. This close to the thick plastic the air was cold, but the wooden benches were comfortable if a little hard. They had served for dozens upon dozens of people since Mike and Tom had built them some thirty years before: They still served them well. He turned and smiled at several children who sat nearby pointing out different landmarks in the valley far below. The children, especially, never seemed to tire of sitting on the low benches and looking out over the valley.

Michael chuckled to himself, turned his eyes from the other benches, and back out on the valley far below. The snow was falling heavy. Two hours ago late fall had been holding steady, little smudges of green had still existed throughout all the fall foliage in the valley. Now it was quickly becoming a blanket of white. Fall had lost this round.

Years before they had devised a new year that better kept track of seasons and the much longer year Hay Vida had. Even with a year that now held some 95 extra days spread over fifteen months to even the seasons out the time still seemed to move by too quickly. Time was never a friend to anyone, Michael thought. Well, maybe death nothing else.

The seasons had worked themselves out after a few years. Some longer, some shorter, it was winter that had come out the winner in that round. Even slightly longer winters had a huge impact on the year around weather and the planting that could be accomplished. It took much longer to get through winter, longer for spring to thaw the valleys and fields for planting, longer for the sun to warm the ground and glaciers were forming in the north: Growing ever bigger year by year. Michael had sometimes wondered in years past if he would see them come this far. Of course the answer was no: They would not come this far in his lifetime, but he had no doubt they would come here eventually.

Winter was coming in strong today; there would be little left to do soon but plan the hunts and tell stories around the fire.

They still kept their own herds started from the stock they had worked so hard to bring into this valley, but they often hunted. The habit was good and it passed the skills down to the younger ones. There were places in this still-young world where those skills were essential.

The whole mouth of the cave had been closed off from the elements for many years. Salvaged carbon sheets that spanned floor to ceiling: A graphite frame that held them: Warmth inside the elements without, but always within reach. Something Tom had built. The last thing Tom had built, Michael remembered sadly.

He shook his head slightly remembering. That had been back in the council days before the wars had begun: Before the years of leaders, kings, the two queens and everything else that had come with the wars. Even so, even in the council years, Michael had been their leader. The council had made its decisions, but he had lead them.

Michael had been the only leader for several years now, he had helped to build this society, but he was getting older and it was getting closer and closer to the time when he would need to turn the reins over to a younger, stronger person. Maybe even this winter, he thought as he watched the snow swirl and blow.

Back in the cave behind him there were three generations waiting to take their own steps into the procession that would bring them to leadership. Some of those young men and women were ready now. It really wasn’t something he should be thinking about it was something he should be doing.

“Grandfather?”

Michael smiled up into the eyes of Rain, a newborn at her breast; her swollen belly a testament to the one coming. He took one of the furs from his shoulder and laid it across the worn wooden planking for her. A second went around her shoulders as she sat.

“It’s not too cold for the baby this close up is it?” Michael asked. The carbon held the weather out, but it was still very cold this close to the huge sheets.

Rain smiled back. “Thank you, grandfather. No it isn’t too cold.” She looked out over the valley too.”It’s beautiful,” she said.

“It is, but it can be treacherous. Winter is here now… Probably you should stay?” he asked the last. Too often he came off as demanding. The rule giver; it was something that Petra had always chided him about: He missed her constantly.

“It’s what Ron and I thought too. Base One will be there in the spring. I thought we could send a messenger… Maybe tomorrow after the snows?” She smiled widely. She knew he had been worried, and she was glad that he had given them the time to work it out between them. Glad now to give him what he would consider good news. Michael had already stood and turned though, his large frame standing tall from the rock floor.

“Jerrica,” he called out.

A young woman came from the back area of the cave. She was tall, dark, short black hair framed her face. Her clothes were stitched leather, heavy, well made. A laser rifle rested upon her back. A wide belt circled her waist; pistols on either side and a knife sheaf depended from it: Firepower was a luxury not easy to come by any longer. She came and stood next to Michael. She looked so much like her mother, Michael thought, that it amazed him. He had known Petra at this age, the resemblance always threw him when she was here and made him think for a second that reality had side slipped and he was back in time somehow.

“I will need you to deliver a message to your mother for me,” Michael told her. He stood and walked a short distance away and continued to talk to her in low tones. Rain turned her face back out to the valley and watched the thick flakes of snow fall, when they had finished their conversation they both came back to the benches. Jerrica gazed out over the valley, her eyes veiled.

Rain smiled at Jerrica, but her face barely softened. She was so serious. All members of the guard were always serious and Jerrica was no exception. Rain supposed she had been the same during her service too, but something in Jerrica had gone past service, she had come to love it. She had never left it. It was her life. Younger than Rain, she had already been a guard for several years. Rain had done her own duty for two years and had then become a wife and mother. She and Ron were going to Base One to be considered for leadership. She listened to the low whispers of talk between Michael and Jerrica and thought about her own life as she did.

She had come to this valley as a child with the original settlers: Years past now. That bought her to nearing her middle years, the age of leadership. As she looked out over the valley she realized there was little left of the original settlement she had watched rise from the valley floor as a child. In those days the people had still clung to the old technology. That was long gone here now, except with the guard and some other applications like the power plant; a few others. The people themselves had gone back to simpler roots. The old ways Tom had taught them. His motto had been; why use it just because it’s there? Do we want to return to the old life or do we really want to move on to something else? Always a challenging question and one everyone had to answer in their own way.

There was only a settlement here at all because Michael had come back, killed the ones that had enslaved the people; freed them, Rain included and taken the settlement back.

Michael spoke, interrupting her thoughts.

“A team is outgoing with Jerrica. She will tell them to look for you in the spring.” He smiled. “Maybe that will give me time to talk you out of leaving.” He smiled, but it was an uneasy smile.

Rain smiled. He didn’t know why they were leaving. They had told him it was simply time to move. She didn’t know how he would feel if she did tell him, but she hadn’t wanted to hurt him.

Michael turned back to the valley speaking as he did. “They will know inside of a week.”

Rain made up her mind. “They have asked us to come… To be considered to lead… Petra asked for us.”

Michael turned and straightened. “Petra?” He looked from Jerrica to Rain as he spoke.

“Petra wishes to step down,” Jerrica told him quietly.

“… I remember the times we spent there… When it was still good for all of us,” Rain said. Her eyes teared up; she shifted the baby and looked at Michael.

Michael nodded. “You should not leave here. I have sat staring out at this valley and wished you would stay so I could offer you this leadership,” He turned away to hide his own eyes from her. “Not so large or advanced as Base One, but large and in need of new blood to lead.” He turned back to face her. “Had I known I would have offered. I was afraid you would refuse it.”

“I…” she caught herself as her voice broke. “I didn’t know…” She turned her head away and then stood quickly and walked away.

Michael turned to Jerrica. “I had thought that it would be you that would lead after your mother stepped down.”

“It was offered… I refused. My place is here in this valley where I was raised; not there… I … I refused,” her eyes seemed to struggle to say more, but it was not really necessary.

It was the same with many aspects of the split that had torn them apart. There were sides and they were chosen. After all of these years he couldn’t think of a single reason why he had stayed and fought here. He reached out and placed one large hand on her shoulder. “I understand your choices. I am glad that there are no barriers between your mother and you.” He waited for her eyes to meet his. “I hope to be going with you. I should make some changes here.” He glanced over where Rain stood talking with Ron.

Jerrica followed his eyes.

Ron had watched Rain from the seat he shared at the fire with some other hunters. He excused himself, and followed her to the back of the cave where they made their own winter quarters.

“Rain?” he asked as he came to her and placed one massive hand on her shoulder.

“He is stepping down… He wanted me to know he would have already given the leadership to us.” She turned and buried her face in his shoulder and wept. The baby fussed for a second, upset at the confinement and emotion and then went back to nursing; sniffling as she did.

Ron smoothed her hair with his roughened hands. He turned her slowly and then pulled her and the baby down to the floor where he held her silently for a few moments.

“What do you want, Rain. What do you want?”

“I can’t leave now… I can’t. We can lead here. We can make it bigger. Rebuild it even more from the wars. It could be good,” Rain said as she looked at him with her tear reddened eyes.

“Trade the sea for the snow?” he asked with a smile.

“Leaders can visit.” She shifted around. “I think all the people that caused the wars are dead now. Just the ones who worked so hard to end it are still going. Michael, Jerrica, Ash, Terrica. They are still here. They still want it all back together. We should try to get this all as one again and as leaders we could do it. I could accept leadership here you could accept it there. It could work.” Her eyes pleaded with his.

“They would turn both of us out if we tried that,” Ron told her.

“Not if we were straight forward. Accept leadership here and take the proposal to them next spring. We will already be leaders here. They can only say no, but I do not believe they will say no. I think it is time to put us all back together,” Rain said softly. The baby let go of her nipple and began to fuss. “Poor, baby,” she soothed as she put her over her shoulder and patted her back softly, rubbing for short periods. Her eyes met Ron’s.

“Tell Michael. Tell Michael and see what Michael says about it,” Ron said after a few moments.

~

Michael watched the heavy flakes fall. He had not known what to make of Rain jumping up and leaving so quickly as she had. He only hoped it was because she wanted time to talk to Ron about what he had said. What he had essentially offered.

He had shocked himself. While it was true that he had been sitting here thinking about turning leadership over he had not thought it would be so soon. He had hoped that when Rain and Ron came back from their trip to Base One he could approach the subject with them. Now he could see that it would have been far too late then. They would have left and they would never have come back.

It saddened him to think of passing leadership to someone else, but in another way the responsibilities were too heavy. He was too old. Petra was younger and stronger. He couldn’t understand why she would give up leadership. A position she had held in one capacity or another for all the years since the end had come. She was a natural. What would make her consider stepping down, he wondered as he stared out over the valley.

He had been on the verge of rising; going to find Rain when Ron dropped down beside him.

Michael held his eyes when he turned to him. “She spoke to you?”

“She did, grandfather.” He laughed. “She would never leave you now.”

“It wasn’t meant to make you stay… It was time,” Michael said. He turned his eyes back out to the valley. In the far distance a herd of bison grazed. Whether their own or a wild herd he could not tell. At one time the entire valley had been closed: No longer. A smaller valley on the opposite side of the mountain held the winter herd: Small; what they could afford to keep and feed through the cold. The rest were turned loose. They mingled with the wild herds, but they never forgot the valley was their home and so they could be depended upon to come back in the spring.

Ron followed his eyes and watched the herd of bison in the distance through the blowing snow. “Big herd.”

Michael nodded and then turned. “You will stay?”

“She will stay…” he paused and let his words sink in: Concern mounted in Michael’s eyes. “She seems to think that I should take the leadership being offered by Base One… Bring us all together as a people again.”

Michael smiled. “She is like my own blood.” He laughed; a small laugh, but then he let it roll out of his huge chest. “I can see it. I can see it.” He fell quiet, watching the bison as they moved more fully into the protection of the walls of the valley. Their coats were already heavy; carrying the weight of the snow as it hid them from the eyes of predators. Ron watched with him.

“Almost gone already… If I didn’t know exactly where to look…”

“Yes, I never get tired of it,” Michael agreed. “I’m older than all of them you know. It was so unfair… Petra is so young; she should rule for years to come yet she is stepping down. Here I am in my late seventies, almost eighty now… Soon I will be…” He sighed. He shook his head. “Where did it all go to?” He turned and met Ron’s eyes, but Ron only shrugged as he held his eyes. Both men turned back to the valley, but just that fast the bison who had been moving nearer had disappeared under their walking blankets of white.

“Insulates them too: Hard for me to believe that but it is true,” Michael said. He turned back to Ron. “She’s right… It’s what should have been done long ago.” He stood and turned back into the cave where Jerrica stood talking to several others. The only vehicles they still had were the transport vehicles the guard used. Everything else had long been given back to rust and age. The guard transports had only gotten better. Built from scratch and modified with more and more technology as they came across it in the old drops they discovered out on their missions.

Michael stood to his full height and raised his arms high above him. “People,” Michael’s voice boomed out and the people in the cave stopped what they were doing and looked to him. He may have been closing in on eighty, but there was still a great deal of fight in that voice: Power.

At one time there had been several thousand people here. Now there were slightly more than two thousand; still a great responsibility and a growing one. He waited until he had everyone’s attention, at least those that were inside. Most were working at this time of the day, but it didn’t matter. The news would find them.

Rain came from the back: The baby gone; most likely sleeping on a pile of furs with a few others, Michael thought. She came to Ron; her face tense, unsure what was about to be said.

“You all know me. You all, I hope, know that I am not pretentious. I pray to God I never have been or will be. I am just a man.” He paused. “There is no easy way to say this, for I love you all. You mean something to me. Every one of you; and if you can look at this in that light you will realize it is past the time that I stepped down.” A few gasps punctuated the silence and a very low buzz of hushed, surprised conversation.

“It has never been concealed from you that I have looked at Rain as my blood. That is why I hope and pray that you will accept her leadership of this settlement.” Michael fell silent and the silence in the cave held for a few moments before the cheers began. With a few seconds the crowds around himself and Rain were so thick they found themselves pushed together and herded back into the central area of the cave. Questions, answers; they would have them. He had to answer some of them at least.

Michael raised his arms and waited for the quiet. “I give you your leader… Will you accept her?”

The cave reverberated with the shouts of yes.

“It’s finished then,” Michael said softly. He said it softly on purpose to hold their attention for a moment longer. “Before the celebration begins I will explain why it had to be now. When Jerrica and her guard team leaves I will be going with them to Base One. I will leave tonight with them, and I do not know if I will return. My wish will be to return, but that old dog age is nipping at my heels and so who knows, maybe I will reach the warmth of the sea and wish to stay there.” He waited for the laughter to die down. “You need a leader now: A leader that can take you to the next place our people need to be. The same place we have all worked to attain, togetherness, healing, advancement. A man or a woman grows, or they die. This settlement is the same way. We forgot that back in the wars. I have remembered it now. Rain has never forgotten it,” his voice fell even lower. “Something I only wish I could claim. Something I am proud to see living within her.” He met as many eyes as he could.

“God willing I will see you all again,” Michael told them. He turned and embraced Rain as her tears fell and then his eyes fell on Jerrica where she awaited him. He kissed Rain’s eyelids, told her he loved her; wished her all the best there could be and then he joined Jerrica. A moment later they were making their way through the tunnel to the eastern side of the mountain where the guard had their own quarters: The laughter and cheers of congratulation falling away behind them.

“You surprised me,” Jerrica said as they walked.

“I surprised me,” Michael agreed.

The guard was comprised of ten all in all. He found that impressive. The first group he himself had formed had been only four. And what they had then was nothing compared to what they had now. Weapons, vehicles, armor and more bags of tricks, some Michael was sure he himself didn’t fully understand the implications of.

They turned from the main tunnel way into a wide open area filled with large transports and bustling with activity.

“We are ready…” Jerrica faltered; unsure how to address him. For so long she had addressed him as leader, father when she had been younger, she didn’t know what to do now that he had turned his reigns of leadership over so quickly.

“Father will do,” he told her as her face colored.

“Father,” Jerrica said. “We need to get going.”

Michael took a last look around the huge area. “Been a long road,” Michael said huskily. He followed Jerrica to one of the huge transports. He stepped inside: The door drew down and sealed with a hiss of air: A few seconds later a huge carbon panel parted; opening the cavernous space to the outdoors and the transport rolled silently out into the swirling snow…


ONE: Star Dancer


ONE

Earth Date: 2196 – 08 -25 – 16:21:43

Moon Base 14: United Planet Technologies

Intra Flight Systems: Star Dancer

Michael Watson

Michael Watson, Mike to his friends purchased Star Dancer right after college and began intra system runs shortly after that. He could remember his great-grandfather, gone now for more than forty years, talking about what he had, had for opportunities right out of high school. That would be laughable now. Mike’s parents had, had his life mapped out from the age of two. Life Mapping was and is a serious thing, Mike didn’t know anyone that didn’t have their lives mapped out now from birth or before.

School was not complete without college. You could not be licensed to work the counters of a Planet Burger unless you had two years of college. His own career had taken four years of Specialty College as well as geared trade school from the first grade on. When other first graders were learning about monetary systems and world level banking, he had been learning about Solar Wind Drives and Hydrogen Propulsion units.

The grades, one through twelve, start at age three and last on average seven years. Some fall behind, some spring ahead, but by ten years of age most are ready for focused education and he was no exception. He began his specialized training; four years, four more years of global military service after that with an option for six more which he had deferred and he was pretty sure he made his instructors very happy by doing so, and so at the old age of eighteen Mike had signed a twenty year funding commitment for Star Dancer. At the time he was sure he would never dig himself out of thirty million credits of debt, but for the last two years he had been watching credits build in his accounts.

Today he was docking at UPT on Moon Fourteen to pick up a four year re-supply for a prison colony at Mars Twenty-Seven: Some kind of Tech drop for Colony One; and two panel pre-fab labs for IO’s base six.

Moon Base Fourteen is United Planet Technologies’ own base. There is not much else there; a small cafeteria, some lounges for through travelers, each progressively worse than the last: The best being Vic’s, and Vic’s was the only official bar, the other two were simply overlooked. That could happen at a base that was not really a base at all but a company town.

Mike had, had the tour before and short of taking on a small fed crew, and maybe a new navigator to replace the one he had been without for the last seventeen months he would be here only long enough to fuel, be unloaded and then reloaded: Once the ship was re-supplied he would be off; there would be no downtime in the next twenty-four hours.

The crew was a fed security and transport crew. In other words a federal crew that would accompany him to all three of the offloads, do all the offloading and on loading. He would be coming back to Moon Base Fourteen with a full load of finished products bound for Earth and they would pack it all, all he had to do was bring it back. They also provided security for himself and the Star Dancer crew. In nearly twenty years of intra cruising he had never had a single security issue for them to defend him from.

On the last stop, IO, he would lose the crew. That would leave him alone for the return trip unless they turned up a dead head crew for the return trip. He would also be required to transport any returning paroled inmates: Terminated or retired employees or UPT employees that required transport: Bar those possibilities; unless he signed a navigator today he would be coming back alone and so far out of twenty possible candidates he had, had only five show up, and out of the five three had turned him down. He had turned the other two down. He told himself that if he were a betting man the odds were that he would be riding alone this return trip.

A return trip alone did not mean he would be returning empty. No transport was ever left empty. There were always shipments heading back to Earth, short hops to other Moon Bases, Mars and twice he had done several runs between IO and Mars without going back to Earth. In any case of in-system transport he was required to have a security crew. If it was a straight run back to the Moon or Earth then the shipment was loaded, locked and sealed and he could run back with no security crew. If a parolee was scheduled for the ride back then a security team was required, even if there was no other reason for their presence. He had rarely transported parolees, once or twice that he could recall. He almost always offloaded, reloaded Earth-bound cargo, loaded up supplies and a dead head crew, usually a mixed security and worker crew and headed back within a day or two.

He eased Star Dancer into dock. Most Captains go with the auto-nav, but he had heard too many horror stories about out of phase computers, last second power surges and more to trust his ship to the machines. He would do it himself. He had known how to do it since third grade in the flight sims: Microsoft had the best federally approved space-flight sims and Mike’s parents had made sure he got the best.

He gave his reverse thrusters a quick slap with his palm at three hundred feet out and watched the ships lock coupler drift home with nothing more than a small frame vibration when all systems went green on lock-in. He keyed his overhead.

“Central, I’m locked on 6B… Standing by for station personnel, over…”

“Green on my board, Dancer… Unlocking for loads… You have company standing by, Dancer.”

“Oh yeah?” That was a surprise.

“Uh… Lounge seven… Navigator?”

“Oh, okay, right… Send him right up, and thank you.”

“Uh, her.”

“Her?”

“Oh yeah… Pretty sure unless I’m blind.” He chuckled.

“Huh… Supposed to be…” He punched the name up on his scheduling screen. “Pete Stanovich.”

“Uh huh… Short for Petra no doubt… Petra Stanovich… See you must have heard the Pete part and not the tra part.” He chuckled again.

“Someone screwed up… It’s entered as Pete in the com. Okay send her up then and thanks.”

“Coming at you… Base out.”

Mike clicked off and sighed. This meant number twenty-one was most likely a wash too. Most women who interviewed for the job were not interested once they realized it was an intra-galaxy, or system cruiser and one that was considered a dinosaur of a ship. About all he did have to offer were transferable credits for Federal space-work. Because he had not deactivated his military time he had what was called time for time credit. A perk because he had done his four in the service and kept his six active. That meant that technically the feds could still pick him up for that six any time they wanted to. In exchange it meant that he could offer his employees who were fresh out of military service time for time credit. A young navigator would have to be fresh out of military service, or within their benefit time window, thus making them eligible for the time. The time would count directly as military experience in advanced navigation; a big plus, but maybe not worth the two year minimum hitch they would have to do on his ship.

Even so it was a good perk and the past three navigators he had hired were immediately picked up for star cruiser service at the end of their contracts. It was both his ace in the hole and his queen of spades.

He unbuckled thought about it and then keyed his Com-Link

“Unlocked, central and could you delay my visitor by twenty?”

“Be at least that… Problem?”

“No… That’ll work…”

“Okay, Mike… You have Baylor as Sec-Chief… A crew of twenty security. Three max level prisoner transports and four tech level grads bound for IO. That’s it… Out.”

Mike keyed his Com-Link as an answer; flicked the unlock switches for the cargo holds, electronically signed his security certificate to allow off loading and loading and headed for the showers and fresh clothes. He may as well make the best impression that he could, he reasoned.


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Book 2: Base One

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