Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Chapter 16 of The WRONG KIND of DEAD: “The Third Stage Is Called ‘Bargaining’”

From the ALL-NEW, Yet-To-Be Proofed and Published FINAL BOOK of the SAGA of the DEAD SILENCER

PREVIOUS EPISODE: “Monument Hill”


“Everything all right with your people?” asks the colonel.

“As well as we might be for losing two people and a truck with half our ammo in it.”

“Sorry about your people. As for the ammo, I’m not so sure they’d let you keep it. Not where you want to be, anyway.” Col. Grinnell stops and turns full around on his heel. “Right on time.”

Long shadows slither silently over the rocks. MQ-9 Reapers ride the high desert thermals like birds of prey bristling with ordnance. I see smaller dots I take to be quadcopters of various job descriptions. It takes a multitude of these unmanned aircraft to provide what slight buzzing noise I hear.

“You missed the little Ravens flying by,” the colonel says. “Although I’m not so sure what we’re still using them for, what with the Gorgon Stare on our Reapers.”

“The what?”

“Multiple cameras on each Reaper take 12 photo images at once, all of them better quality than the single one we get from each Raven. You can target whatever it is you’re tired of looking at, too.” He pauses. “Don’t get me wrong, Ravens are good for portable aerial recon in the field. Right now, the Powers That Be want all the video they can get from this op. That’s all.”

I laugh. “To watch Colorado Springs burn. It wasn’t the greatest, but it wasn’t that bad.”

“Despite the apocalypse, your years of unemployment and genteel poverty still limit your perspective. A shame. As it is, this was a very special place for those who remember long, lazy days golfing with the President at the Broadmoor.”

“Everyone alive has some good memories of the times before. It just so happens the kind of people I know don’t enjoy the luxury of dwelling on them.”

“I was surprised you and your people didn’t take advantage of all that irrigation on the golf course and plow it up for farming, like they did with the course at Abundant Life.”

“It was inconvenient. My wife staked out the houses higher up the hill. We had to rely on greenhouses anyway because we didn’t get up there until just before fall.”

A low chop beats at the edge of our hearing, soon overwhelming everything as fully loaded Apache attack ‘copters roar overhead in V-formation like a flock of seriously pissed off geese.

“Just as well,” says Col. Grinnell. “Someone most certainly would have killed you for tearing up their holy ground.”

“But it’s okay to burn it all down?”

“Oh, believe me, Mr. Grace, there was pushback. Mostly from the old families with Air Force Academy grads in their family trees, and that one old billionaire who used to live up near where you did. Sound, strategic thinking carried the day, if only this once. All that NORAD/NORTHCOMM stuff, it’s better people don’t even know what the buildings are supposed to look like. And while we’re glassing it off, we’ll herd as many strays as we can round up from the eastern plains and the desert south, and burn them up, too. So far, it’s estimated we got a million-point-two in the fire zone by the time we commence sterilization.”

“I might as well hang up my blade. There’s no way I’m coming anywhere near that body count.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Mr. Grace,” he says sternly. “You’ve done very well with your available resources.”

Yellow and orange domes of chemical fire bloom and burst all the way to the far southern horizon. The trees not vaporized right away explode like firecrackers. “Really hate having to do that to Black Forest,” says Col. Grinnell. “But as you and your people learned to your sorrow today, the Infected have learned to hide among the trees.”

“Hide?”

“The geeks you dealt with. We didn’t herd them there. The ones who disappear into out of the way places like Black Forest are ones who likely figured out their brothers and sisters were being herded. They might not have known the how, why, or even where they were going, but they intuited that it wasn’t good.”

“I suppose it’s a logical step in their evolution.”

“Natural selection, to be precise. What you have to remember is they’re still people, in their own fucked-up and unnatural little way. You’ve got your slow ones, you’ve got your smarter ones. Then you’ve got your smartest. Natural selection weeds out the weak and unintelligent, as always. Of course, a lot of the weaker and less intelligent ones can survive if they follow the right alpha.”

We round the corner to see the smoke on the far horizon. Distances and the ridged terrain obscure the rolling acres of split-level houses that make up the bulk of Colorado Springs. It’s not hard to guess what’s being hit if you’ve lived here long enough.

“Did Col. Dietzen and whoever else was still at Abundant Life HQ get away in time?”

“Hell, no,” says the colonel.

“Oh.”

“It’s what happens when you’ve got your head up your ass making a TV show hardly anyone watches anymore, and not paying attention to the mission your uniform represents. He missed the schedule change.”

“That is,” I say, “if the dead didn’t get him first.”

“I’m looking forward to checking the footage from those drones. A lot of stinkers were staggering through on our way out of there.” Col. Grinnell chuckles. “Did you know they got the warning of the evacuation a week ago? They were told to be ready to move once we’d secured Monument. Those were some seriously stupid cunts running that place. They honestly thought we’d put everything on hold just for their special snowflake asses.”

Spidery threads drop blinding suns of white phosphorous on the far horizon. It’s a little to my right, near where we used to live, if not right over it. The suns go nova as they touch along the curtain of black and gray smoke billowing along the line of the ridge. A puff of fire rises behind that, tinting the gray smoke orange as it spreads like a silky blanket over the earth.

A line of fire erupts along the far left horizon where Peterson Air Force Base would be. Schriever AFB is far behind the ridges, but I’ve no doubt they’re getting the wall-to-wall carpet treatment. 

Stetson Hills gets napalm and white phosphorous. Briargate gets thermite and white phosphorous. Downtown gets every available flavor, with a couple of well-placed Hellfire missiles for a flourish. “We’ve got quadcopter cams over every neighborhood,” Col. Grinnell says. “When all is said and done, you’ll be able to watch the neighborhood you raised your children in burned like so much common garbage.”

“Where can I watch it?”

“On your phone, of course. Or a laptop, a tablet, whatever you managed to save. You’ll be back in on the fun soon enough.”

The thunder of multiple Hellfire strikes breaks over us as a string of lights flash all at once, some as close as a mile away. “The wind is from the north,” says Col Grinnell. “If everything goes to plan, all this will burn clear across to Pueblo before the front coming in tomorrow puts it out. Best case scenario, it lights up what’s left of the chemical weapons depot down there. Your Dr. Hearn will be very interested to see what that does to the massing hordes down that way.”

Crooked ropes of smoke trail dozens of corrosive chemical fireballs to earth for miles before us. Unlike the aftermath of other wars, unlike the torchings of Tokyo and Dresden in 1945, nothing shall arise from these ashes. For decades to come, the site of the second largest city in Colorado will be no more than a hundred-square-mile charcoal stain across the high desert foothills of the Front Range. One can only hope the prairie grass can take hold in the sun and snow-cured dust that remains, and make a proper cover for the graves of the forgotten thousands, the nameless, faceless hundreds of thousands of people who once lived here.

“The joke going around the crew who know the area is that all the heat should fix the pothole problem once and for all. By the time the fourth sortie leaves the area it should be nothing but smooth obsidian.”

“I wonder if these same people made jokes about blowing up my wedding party when they were filming it.”

“Well, it was the obvious joke to make, wasn’t it? Fortunately, you and your people were the darlings of the civilized world that week. People all over the Redoubt wanted to send presents, but it would have given the game away. For a time, you and your people were the most popular group of surviving families among the many that poor dumb dickhead Dietzen covered on his show. Which, for what it’s worth, saved your lives. Right up until you shacked up with Ms. Godwin and got her pregnant.”

 “Hell of a way to get your show canceled,” I say, looking out at the roiling ocean of flame that was once Black Forest.

“What goes around, comes around. He should have had you out of there half an hour before he did. Instead, he held you up with that cookout so they could get some local talent up to meet you on the way down the mountain. You know that’s what he did, right?”

“It was hard to miss.”

“This time, he let himself get hung up. Never mind that audience response to the new regime was to call the Abundant Life segment Everyone Hates Heather.” The colonel looks away towards the wall of orange and black on the far southwest horizon. “Randall Dietzen’s poor judgment cost forty men their lives, along with the lives of the more responsible citizens of Abundant Life. That’s how my report will read. It was, as you say, hard to miss. Once the Chinooks left, he should have intuited that the schedule had changed, and that the barbecue was on.”

Col. Grinnell turns to face me. “You made it, though. I’d be proud to command such people as held the rear while you and Mrs. Grace cleared the front. They fought hard and well.”

“Not well enough. I should have been there with them.”

“If you’re feeling any guilt for the loss of Justin Driscoll and Rene Bell, get over it. I saw them fighting on our monitors back here. Everyone there on Baptist Road earned their survival, including you. As for those that didn’t make it, you honor that every day you manage to stay alive.”

“Yeah,” I say. “I keep telling myself that.” Only now do I realize how grating this must have sounded to Justin when his wife and daughter died. Or anyone else I dropped that banality on. Christ forgive me for being such a tone-deaf asshole.

“Of course, nothing anyone can say can make it better,” he says. I’ll give him credit for the pause before he says, “As leader of your tribe, it behooves you to make a decision.”

“I expect to make a few before I turn in tonight.” I look out towards my old neighborhood. Incendiary bombs are melting away the broken roads that hadn’t been fixed in all the time we’d lived there. I imagine the little house where we raised Sybil and Jack and three silly cats, the flames licking up the siding, the empty rooms filling with smoke. Just when things seemed to be getting better, everyone came down with that summer cold….

Burning like old garbage. 

“I’ll admit, I don’t entirely understand how you do what you do, but I’ve read your file. We’re kindred of sort. Not kindred spirits—but we both know what it’s like to work our asses off only to watch someone else get the promotion because we didn’t go to the right school, come from the right family, or learn to play golf.”

“Didn’t stop you from making colonel.”

“Which puts me in a position to offer you a choice you’re not supposed to have.”

“Don’t put yourself out on my account.” The choppy napalm sea that is Black Forest laps at the grasses outside the tree line and causes a slow fire to start burning its way towards Interstate, maybe a mile from where we stand.

“I’m not. A lot of people got lost in this blaze. Col. Dietzen and the people at Abundant Life are the first real tragedy we’ve had in four such operations. Given Dietzen’s connections, he’s all the media will mourn. You and your family would be a footnote. A once-popular fixture on Dietzen’s TV show, lost in the same operation that took him.”

“What are you saying? We’re getting killed, too?”

“As far as the public and the people at the Redoubt know, yes. Outside, your survival, as always, will be up to you.”

“Why would I want to do that? You know I’ve got children at the Redoubt.”

“Mr. Grace, you are returning to civilization. We’ve not only got 24/7 electricity, we’ve got TV and Internet. No one’s dying during childbirth because we have a fully staffed hospital with state-of-the-art equipment. You sure you want that?”

“Who doesn’t?”

“I’m telling you, Mr. Grace, you’re not only reuniting with your children, you’re reuniting with the extraordinary privileges of the world before. You’ll have the freedom to break an arm, break a leg, and not suffer constant pain while becoming more vulnerable to attack. You can get appendicitis. It’s all covered.”

“You’re about to tell me the catch,” I say. 

“Oh, but that’s not all, Mr. Grace. Imagine, standing out in the middle of the night, and not hearing those poor damned souls wailing like mad coyotes under the moon for the meat on your bones. Where we’re going, you don’t even smell them like you do all over here. Not a whiff.”

“The catch, Colonel.”

Grinnell pauses as another knob of fire blooms over the extreme eastern side of town. “You’ll need to earn your keep,” he says. “Put in time for credits on your phone, like a paycheck. By the way, in case Col. Dietzen wasn’t clear, you have to have those phones on you at all times. You won’t be able to drive your truck or buy so much as a cheeseburger without it.”

“Cheeseburgers? You’re being metaphorical, right?”

“Angus beef, shrimp and lobster—you name it, nothing ever went away. Nothing went away but the rest of the world, and who has time to keep track of all that drama? Bottom line, you’re going to need that phone. You’re going to have to earn your keep.”

“Col. Dietzen was going to give us our chargers.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, I’ve got filet mignon and shrimp and solar panels and cases of NATO issue rounds I can afford to lose. I’m pretty sure I have chargers in there somewhere.”

“So how does this work? Can I be the sole survivor, and you let the rest of my people go? Do you really have that kind of juice, colonel, or are you just barely a step ahead of the game, like the rest of us?”

“You’d abandon your family, all of two wives, two children, and one yet to come, so you can reconnect with the two children from your first marriage?”

“You’ve been more or less telling me all along that the Redoubt is like the Hotel California. Mirrors on the ceiling, pink champagne on ice, steely knives, lots to eat. Except once I check in, I’m a prisoner of my own device. Or something.”

“Something,” says the colonel, smiling into the distance.

“Well, as a military professional, wouldn’t you agree it’s easier to liberate three people as opposed to 29, 30 when Elyssa’s baby comes?”

“What about the Abundant Life people?”

“They can make up their own minds.”

“Without the information I’ve given you? You know this place is one big trap. Some of these tough old off-the-grid farmer types likely picked up on it, too. They’d like to know what you think about it. They’d especially like to know why your group was left out of the airlift.”

“Fine, I’ll talk to them, if that satisfies a moral imperative. What the hell are you on about, anyway?”

“That’s the spirit,” the colonel says. 

“Can my family go free or not?”

“Sure,” he says. “They’re free to go wherever you go.”

“So you can’t send them on their way and just take me?”

“Why would I want to do that? Wherever you go, that’s where they want to go, too. You know that.”

“God damn you.” 

“If anyone’s denying your family their freedom of choice and movement,” Col. Grinnell says, “that would be you, Mr. Grace.”

“Fine. We’re all going, then.”

Something to Grinnell’s right catches his attention. “Well,” he says, “look who’s here.”

Scuzz and two of his lieutenants walk up to Col. Grinnell. “Thanks for the offer, Colonel, but we’ll be on our way shortly.”

“At least you’ll get to see the firestorm come together,” says Col. Grinnell. You guys stay safe. Thanks for helping Grace and his crew get here.”

“It was an honor.” Scuzz turns to me. “You and Dark Agnes are the best, man,” he says.

“I’m sorry about your people over where Justin and Rene were.”

“It is what it is. Cups will be raised tonight.”

“Damn straight.”

“I dunno, man.” Scuzz looks over at the colonel. “You even allow alcohol in the Redoubt?”

“It’s available.”

“Buy it with the slave points on my electronic collar we’re calling a phone. Thanks, but no thanks.” Scuzz shakes my hand. “It was an honor working with you, sir. Once you get your boy and girl out of there, come look us up. We’re looking to take your example and make some babies of our own. We’re gonna build something better on top of all this bullshit. Better than everything that’s gone before, and I mean everything.”

Scuzz steps back and takes in the boiling orange horizon behind him with a wave of his arms. “This land’s gonna be our land, at long motherfuckin’ last!” He grins a big yellow grin to complement the flames behind him. “Just a few bugs to work out.”

I laugh with him. “Goddamn, you’ve got me believing it.”

“You better believe it,” he says. Scuzz takes my hand again. “Mr. Grace, I hope we meet again. If we don’t—” Scuzz shrugs. He nods towards Grinnell. “Colonel.”

Scuzz drops my hand and walks quickly away. I look after him as he goes, his two hulking lieutenants close behind. “Oh, brave new world that has such creatures in it,” I say.

“Shakespeare is wasted on people like that,” says Col. Grinnell. “Let’s go. We’ve got a plane to catch.”

NEXT EPISODE: “The Last Convoy’”



For the price of a happy hour drink you can enjoy many delirious hours slashing and shooting your way through the delightful hellscapes of my first two SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER books, available in Kindle and paperback from Severed Press. We commence the collapse of civilization in Bleeding Kansas, wherein our intrepid hero, Derek Grace, must survive a plane crash, combat with the undead at the local Wal-Mart, an exploding fire truck, a female hardbody assassin, and lots of walking dead people-things.

Book 1 has ONE exploding head
on its cover.


I’m told it reads even better in German. This edition from Luzifer Verlag also sports a hellacious one-of-a-kind cover courtesy of ace artist Michael Schubert:
You can buy this German version stateside here.
You know you wanna.

Book 2, Grace Among the Dead, steps up the game with a tale of love and redemption, the living dead, and a flame-throwing monster truck. We’ve got an arc going from decadence to...respectability?...for our hero. As close as it gets, anyway. You should savor this big book o’ hell while it lasts, because things are about to go completely to shit.
Book 2 has TWO exploding heads.
See the pattern here?


They’re also available in Canada and the UK.

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