Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Chapter 18.1 of The WRONG KIND of DEAD: “Fear the Reapers” Part 1

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

PREVIOUS EPISODE: Chapter 17: “The Last Convoy”

I feel the eyes of my tribe upon me as I disappear behind the bulkhead. No doubt they’re wondering what’s up with Fearless Leader. Fearless Leader has no fucking clue.

Col. Grinnell’s people pack everyone and everything in with alarming efficiency. With no less than three C-130s lined up in the northbound lanes of I-25, all of our vehicles are accommodated. Why? Because they can, I suppose.

I don’t have long to wait where I am sitting in the comm seat in the cockpit before Col. Grinnell comes in. “Sorry to separate you from your family again, but you need to see this. You might want to consider bringing Dark Agnes in, too.”

“I would very much like my wife here. Just don’t refer to her as Dark Agnes while she’s around.”

“We’ll address each other formally.” Col. Grinnell nods to the sergeant who brought me in and he disappears through the hatch.

The colonel unzips a satchel by the co-pilot’s seat. The flaps fall away to reveal a large monitor, which the colonel sets about anchoring to the deck stanchions. “Too bad Wife Number One isn’t here to see this. A colonel doing his own work.” He chuckles as he attaches the power cord to an outlet beneath the panel and the monitor blinks on. “As it is, I credit my longevity in this post-apocalyptic political landscape to not having an entourage standing by to bring me poisoned coffee.”

Col. Grinnell pats the top of the screen, flipping the remote control box in the air and catching it with his other hand. “Besides, this way I know the job’s done right.” He rises from the co-pilot’s seat. “Mrs. Grace. It’s good to have you on board. So you know, your husband requested your presence here.”

“Thank you, Colonel,” says my Dark Agnes, closing in by my side. “We’re grateful for the airlift.”

“My pleasure. You and your husband will have to share the same seat as we take off. Once we get to cruising altitude over the site, you can take your chances with the turbulence.”

The colonel turns to the pilot. “You ready, son?”

“Yes, sir.”

Col. Grinnell turns to Agnes and me, as Agnes adjusts the strap to fit over her as she sits on my lap. “Gotta train the next generation of pilots. Don’t worry, Lt. Hansen is one of our sharper ones.” Grinnell looks towards Hansen. “If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be flying for Air Grinnell.”

Lt. Hansen smiles gamely as he begins taxiing the ridiculously huge C-130 down the Interstate back towards Monument, then cutting sharply right, dipping into the median, rising sharply right again into the wind rushing to meet the building firestorm to our south. The ground crew did a fine job of clearing debris from these lanes, as far as I can see in the forward navigation lights. The sun is behind the Front Range. The headwind shakes our wings. 

Col. Grinnell looks up from his phone towards Lt. Hansen. “All cargo and personnel accounted for. Clear for takeoff.”

The engines roar, and Lt. Hansen begins our run down the long straightaway. I put my arms about Agnes’ waist where she sits across my legs. She puts her hands over mine and leans back into me as the nose of the plane lifts up and we feel the wheels leave the ground below us.

I’ve always marveled at how these monstrous “trucks of the air” could get aloft with tanks and God knows what else in their holds. Now I wonder at how someone managed to preserve enough knowledgeable humans to keep these things functional. 

“You’re squeezing me to death,” Agnes whispers.

I’m about to let my arms drop to the side but Agnes grips my hands, her fingers jabbing hard into my palms. “All right, son,” I hear Col. Grinnell saying to the pilot. “You’ll want to start your turn here.”

The starboard wing dips sharply as the rookie pilot banks the C-130. I hear Agnes’ breath hiss inward as she’s crushed into me.

“Try and straighten her up a little son,” says the colonel to the pilot. “We need some airspeed if we’re staying aloft.”

“God, this pilot’s an idiot,” Agnes says into my ear. “I love you, Derek.”

With the g-forces and the multiplied weight of my wife pressing into me, “You’re all right,” is all I can say.

Agnes forces her arms out and pushes into the edges of the chair. Her effort relieves enough pressure for me to fill my lungs. The strain on her face shows as the tears squeeze from her eyes. I’m about to call her name, let her collapse back into me when the plane levels off, and the rib-crushing forces ease up all at once.

Agnes falls into my arms. I reach around her and unclick the seat belt. I expect she’s got a nasty bruise for pushing her back against it the way she did.

“Keep this heading,” says the colonel to Lt. Hansen. “We’ll skirt the east side before we cut back again.” Col. Grinnell looks over at us. “Don’t worry, lovebirds. We’ll take this turn a lot easier. Let’s stretch our legs and have a look at things.”

Agnes pats my chest as she pushes herself up. I have to grab the edges of the chair. The blood is just returning to my legs. “This better be damned entertaining,” I say.

“See for yourself. This is the view from the starboard camera.”

The monitor Col. Grinnell has secured to the deck displays a view of the tree line. It’s nearly dark, but I can still see the figures tumbling, tripping, falling, crawling, getting back to their feet, moving as fast as their degraded bodies can carry them. They’re keeping ahead of a line of fire further back into the trees. They might make it if the wind continues in from the north. By now, though, the fire is drawing from all directions.

“I’d send a Reaper in to blast those, but…oh, I dunno. We’re always going to have some refugees. Doesn’t look like they’re going to make it down there, anyway.”

The flames from the individual flashpoints are coming together into larger blazes, expanding far out from the Colorado Springs city limits. The flames are already catching on houses outside of Falcon, ten miles outside of Colorado Springs proper. My old hideout near Peyton stands to burn, too, once the sparks catch in the groves of pines from the vast acreages of burning pasture.

The deck tilts beneath us again. The colonel chuckles at our reaction. Fortunately, the young pilot’s banking is more graceful this time. “We’re circumnavigating the burn area,” says Col. Grinnell. “We need to see how many of these things we’re missing.” He thumbs a button on his remote. The screen takes on the green-and-black scheme of night vision.

“We got a lot of travelers coming into the Springs,” says the colonel. “Excuse me, I’ve got to order a perimeter strike.” He turns and begins typing into a laptop plugged into the instrument panel. “We know we got at least one and a quarter million. We have the chance to put some serious numbers on the board.”

A loud smack at the keyboard announces his transmission of the message. “This is a very good day.” The colonel nods at us where we sit cross-legged on the deck. “I wonder if it’s occurred to you yet how goddamned lucky you are.”

“You want us to thank you? Fine. Thanks for not leaving us to burn to death in an operation no one bothered to warn us about.”

“Actually, you need to thank Dr. Clyde Hearn, Surgeon General of the known civilized world, for that. But, yes, this is my aircraft, I’m a major stakeholder in this operation, so, yes, you’re lucky I’m a bit of a fan. So, you’re welcome.”

On screen, the once non-descript skyline of downtown Colorado Springs is now non-existent. Acacia Park shows as a dark oblong in a sea of flaming wreckage. Further to the west, in America the Beautiful Park, the giant circular sprinkler standing on end that passed for a fountain looms among the fire-blackened grasses. If it can withstand the firestorm to come, it will serve as a stark and enigmatic monument to the city that once sprawled here.

Although well outside the boundaries of the fire, the aircraft is rocked by thermals. We seem to be making altitude, though. The colonel clicks to views from neighboring UAV cams. “Speaking of lucky, you’re one of the few citizens to see this classified footage.”

The first image he shows us is of a long, straight road running between piles of flaming wreckage spaced just so on either side. “There’s not so much rubble as we saw downtown,” I say.

“That’s because we only put missiles into buildings three or more stories tall. There aren’t that many tall buildings on most military bases.”

“I couldn’t tell you which base this was.”

“You’re not supposed to know it’s Schriever, anyway. Or that this is Peterson.” Col Grinnell clicks to an identical scene. “These ashes are so classified, I could have you shot for looking at them.”

“Should I thank you for that, too?”

“Oh, no,” he says, annoyed I didn’t get whatever joke he thought he was making. “You might appreciate this, though. It’s already busted-up and dusty and on fire and all that, so this clip is from when the initial sortie went in.”

This is a daylight shot of the main avenue running through Manitou Springs, looking west to the Ruxton Avenue rotary just beyond. “My wife, God rest her soul, loved their fake-ass, artsy-craftsy, bourgie-hippie bullshit, but, Lord! I hated that stinking tourist trap worse than Kabul. Don’t get me started on what they did to the parking along—oh, here we go.”

The view turns to the tall, red peak to the south when the missile shatters the ridge like a well-placed kick to an anthill. Another streak of white smoke explodes in an enormous knob of flame, engulfing the rotary and the nearest buildings on either side. Yet another screams into the wall of rock marking the first switchback. Enormous boulders are loosed upon the road below, emerging on the other side of the rotary fireball into the street, crushing cars, crushing pedestrians foolish enough to still be in the road. Several find their way into Fountain Creek, blocking the waterway, and sure to make trouble for whatever’s downstream when the water cuts over or around the obstacles.

Another boulder, just large enough to cover the width of the Manitou Incline, bounces merrily down the slope, shattering the railroad ties and obliterating the dead in their rotted-out jogging shorts along the length of the steep trail. The gore-slimed mass breaks in half as it lands in the parking lot at the trail head, crushing the vehicles parked at either side.

A red granite boulder the size of a two-story house rolls and bounds from US 24 to Pikes Peak and into the main part of town. It powders the asphalt into puffs of dust beneath it, emerging from the flames about the rotary to rebound off the face of the building on the southeast corner, before rolling back down the street where it angles away down the hill.

The boulder catches air on another bounce near the library when it’s met by a missile. The shattered granite blasts outward like stone buckshot, vaporizing every structure on either side of the street, and their neighbors behind them—and, the drone itself. The feed cuts to a view from much higher up, and even that camera rocks with the blast wave.

NEXT EPISODE: “Fear the Reapers” Part 2

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 crash 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.