Authors: Addison Gunn
Tags: #Science Fiction
An Abaddon Books™ Publication
First published in 2016 by Abaddon Books™, Rebellion Intellectual Property Limited, Riverside House, Osney Mead, Oxford, OX2 0ES, UK.
By Anne Tibbets and Malcolm Cross (writing as Addison Gunn)
Editor-in-Chief: Jonathan Oliver
Commissioning Editor: David Moore
Cover Art: Edouard Groult
Design: Sam Gretton & Oz Osborne
Marketing and PR: Rob Power
Head of Books and Comics Publishing: Ben Smith
Creative Director and CEO: Jason Kingsley
Chief Technical Officer: Chris Kingsley
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No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
OU UNDERSTAND THAT
every second we stay here, you’re a target?”
L. Gray Matheson, CEO of Schaeffer-Yeager International and master of all he surveyed, shrugged off Miller’s concerns with a gentle raise of the palm. “In a minute, Alex. I’m on the phone with the President.”
At least, Miller thought, Gray wasn’t calling the President ‘Huck’ again.
“Now then, Huck. Like I said, I’m having trouble with one of your boys...”
Miller slapped his palm over his face.
Gray ignored Miller, and turned to face the queues of unhappy civilians waiting for their turn at the aid truck. He put on a patrician smile, and waved. “Uh-huh. Well, I know Major General Stockman isn’t following orders, Huck, but I need you to make that clear to what’s left of the media.” Somehow, and Miller didn’t know how he did it, Gray could smile without any hint of it reaching his voice.
Downtown Brooklyn, just south of Trinity Park and east of Cadman Plaza, had a liberal sprinkling of what could almost have been normality.
There was a media team following Gray around with cameras, and Miller was back in his suit playing at being the Armani while the cameras were streaming footage over anaemic satellite links back to what was left of the rest of the country.
There were un-Infected civilians, looking like a considerably expanded population of the city’s homeless, queuing for soup and aid packages provided by the generous corporation Schaeffer-Yeager, who’d even managed to restore electric power to the region.
Of course, the power was off the local solar grid, and with air conditioning growling away wherever anyone had it, there wouldn’t be enough juice in the grid’s fuel cells to last more than a few hours into the evening—but the press didn’t need to know that.
In fact, there was a lot they hoped the media detail wouldn’t notice. For one thing, du Trieux and Morland stood to one side with Miller’s combat gear, ready for him to shrug off his suit the moment the cameras were out of sight. For another, before the cameras had started filming, Miller and the others had cleared the dead off the surrounding streets.
Emaciated corpses, literally skin and bones, where the starved had fallen in search for a morsel to eat, had lain scattered and rotting across the entire city block.
Some only looked dead, and were simply too weak to move. Volunteers had pulled them to a make-shift triage tent and were treating them with little packets of gloopy processed food that had been developed by WellBeechBeck for saving Ethiopian orphans, but the volunteers were hungry enough that some were shamelessly sucking a mouthful from the packets before serving the starving.
Further down the street, titan-birds had gorged themselves on bodies too mutilated for the troops to even try to move without a shovel. Doyle was blasting the bastard creatures every time one landed in search of a meal, in hopes of keeping them out of sight of the cameras. But the stench of the dead remained in the air.
The titan-birds, New York’s newest residents, were hanging in the thermals between Brooklyn’s towers, stretched out, their leathery wings ready to catch any slight breeze allowing the colossal birds to glide and swoop down in search of prey.
At this distance they looked a little like pale eagles. Close in, they were more like half-feathered pterosaurs—some kind of failed and archaic evolutionary off-shoot locked into the hibernation cycles of the Archaeobiome. They’d followed the dust storms into the city, and couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Better for them, that is.
The flying monstrosities were intellectually on par with sauerkraut, Miller’d noticed, and didn’t seem to understand that flapping into low-flying helicopters was a quick way to get slashed to pieces by the rotors. Unfortunately, the beasts ranged from a twenty- to a sixty-foot wingspan and helicopters didn’t survive the encounters any better than the titan-birds did.
Helicopters just like the one a block away waiting to whisk Gray out of this hell-hole the second they were done.
“Uh-huh. Yeah.” Gray turned away from the food trucks doling out aid parcels, two per person able to carry them, and idly traced the toe of his shoe over stringy weeds struggling up through a crack in the sidewalk. “I don’t suppose you’ve got the manpower to stop Major General Stockman and his division, do you, Huck?” A pause. “No. I’m not suggesting—no, no you can’t possibly deploy a nuclear weapon on home soil, Huck, I know that.”
That morning, Major General Stockman had reiterated his demand for Schaeffer-Yeager International to stand down and surrender all its staff and assets to the custody of the U.S. Army.
Gray had... declined.
His actual words may have invoked something along the lines of ‘you motherfucking Infected traitors aren’t getting a fucking dime out of me,’ but so far as Miller knew the contents of that conversation hadn’t been made public, and like a good bodyguard who’d eavesdropped on more than he’d intended to, Miller did his best to forget about it.
Stockman was coming, though. Even if he’d decried the president, Huckabee Fredericks, as a corporate stooge with no more authority over the American people than the Queen of England, there was no military to stop him.
What remained of the legitimate U.S. military was in tatters. Army divisions were running off into the wilderness with the food aid packages they were supposed to distribute to civilians. Starving soldiers were deserting in droves, large chunks of the Midwest were depopulating as food ran out.
, Miller mused. What a sanitized term for starving to death and fleeing for their lives with everything they could carry.
After finishing with the President, in the few seconds he had before getting back onto camera, Gray stood scowling hard enough the wrinkles showed through the cosmetic treatments.
“You think anybody around here needs the furniture in those?” He jerked his chin toward the ramshackle aid tents.
“I said those bastards weren’t getting anything of mine, and I damn well meant it.” Gray wiped his sweating forehead with a handkerchief, and looked down at the pink smears of foundation he’d scraped off in dismay. “Damnit.”
Sometimes, being the Armani had more in common with being a gun-toting butler than anyone’s mental image of a bodyguard. Miller unfolded a compact he’d gotten off one of the camera people while they were fixing Gray up for his time in front of the lens, and stepped in to repair the damage.
“Thanks.” Gray lifted his chin, shutting his eyes.
Miller gently moved his boss’s chin to the side with a fingertip, and concentrated on getting an even blend with the compact’s brush—something he’d learned from life with Samantha. “Someone could probably use it. But they need food, if there’s any to spare.”
“I’m keeping you people fed, right?” Gray asked, grimacing again, hard enough Miller had to tell him to relax before carrying on.
Miller thought before answering. “Luxuries are a little thin on the ground,” he said, diplomatically. “But we’re eating enough to get through the day.”
“Good. Getting supply trucks through the city for the aid program is difficult, but the civilians don’t come before my employees. I’m not going to fail the company the way Huck failed this damned country.”
Was it the President’s fault that exotic crop pests had crawled out of the ground after hibernating for tens of thousands of years? Miller didn’t think that ‘waking up an all-consuming ancient ecology’ had appeared anywhere on the government’s climate change risk assessments when it came to famines, but he could have been wrong.
Of course the amount of canned food that Gray had pulled out of distribution warehouses and moved into the Astoria compound’s stockpiles could put any survivalist—or town full of survivalist preppers—to shame. The compound’s refugee population needed a forty-foot shipping container brought in every day for bottled water alone, let alone food. Keeping them fed was a labour of Hercules. Providing aid to the remaining population of New York? Impossible.
“Tell Holly to find someone to take the furnishings away. Hell, give these people the trucks if possible—I don’t want
left for Stockman’s goons.”
“I’ll tell her. Now can we please get your PR campaign moving again before Stockman arrives and takes you into custody?”
It took Gray two takes to make his grim pronouncement on the state of the world. His acid suggestion that Stockman’s forces would do more good by assisting in reclaiming parkland for World-War-II-style victory gardens turned into a perfect soundbite. Once upon a time, a PR coup like that would have mattered. But the public was too busy surviving to listen, these days.
Thankfully, PR wasn’t the only way Gray was fighting Stockman’s 11th Infantry Division. “We need to slow that division down,” Gray said afterwards, leaning in against the window while the helicopter whisked him away from the mucky reality of the world. “Literally slow them down, catch their feet in molasses.”
Miller, back in his combat gear, M27 across his knees, the touch of cologne he’d applied under his jaw little more than a fond memory. “We can do that,” he said. “Not with molasses, but we can do that.”
“Good. I’ll tell Harris to make it happen.”
E LOST ANOTHER
drone. Re-pathing what’s left to provide coverage...
“Third one in an hour. The 11th finally attacking, Northwind?”
Negative, Cobalt-2. Engine failure.
Miller edged in closer to the window of the building, squinting up at the sky to search for the failed drone.