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Authors: John Ringo

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Baen Books by John Ringo


 Under a Graveyard Sky

To Sail a Darkling Sea


Live Free or Die • Citadel • The Hot Gate


A Hymn Before Battle • Gust Front • When the Devil Dances • Hell’s Faire • The Hero
(with Michael Z. Williamson)
• Cally’s War
(with Julie Cochrane)

Watch on the Rhine
(with Tom Kratman)

Sister Time
(with Julie Cochrane) •
Yellow Eyes
(with Tom Kratman) •
Honor of the Clan
(with Julie Cochrane) •
Eye of the Storm


There Will Be Dragons • Emerald Sea •

Against the Tide • East of the Sun, West of the Moon


Into the Looking Glass • Vorpal Blade
(with Travis S. Taylor) •
Manxome Foe
(with Travis S. Taylor) •
Claws that Catch
(with Travis S. Taylor)


March to the Sea
(with David Weber) •
March to the Stars
(with David Weber) •
March Upcountry
(with David Weber) •
We Few
(with David Weber)


Princess of Wands

Queen of Wands


Ghost • Kildar • Choosers of the Slain • Unto the Breach

A Deeper Blue•Tiger by the Tail
(with Ryan Sear)


The Last Centurion

(ed. with Brian M. Thomsen)

To purchase these and all Baen Book titles in e-book format, please go to


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.

Copyright © 2013 by John Ringo

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY10471

ISBN: 978-1-4516-3919-3

Cover art by Kurt Miller

First Baen printing, September 2013

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY10020

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:2011006288

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

As always

For Captain Tamara Long, USAF

Born: May 12, 1979

Died: 23 March 2003, Afghanistan

You fly with the angels now.

For my daughters Jennifer and Lindy, for what should be obvious reasons.

Good writers create. Great writers steal.

And some people are just characters too great to not steal.

I am blessed with two daughters who meet that description.


The problem with acknowledgements on this book is remembering all the people who’ve contributed over the last two plus years to its development. So let’s start with a limited list of the people who’ve kept me from looking like a complete fool.

A good place to start is probably Dr. Robert Hampson, PhD (Pharmacology, Physiology) for help with, well, gosh, everything, mostly the neurological effect of the H7D3 virus, some details on vaccine production and, oh, yeah, pointing out (as several did) that viruses use RNA not DNA. (Which I knew but I also once had a manual safety on a Glock. Sue me.)

Kelly Lockhart (yep, real person) for doing enough research so some of the discussions between experts was at least vaguely reasonable handwavium. Also for occasionally coming over the the house to kick my butt into finishing the book. (I’d “finished” it already but there were, shall we say, some gaps to fill in. Like most of one chapter.)

Then there’s Douglas Wyatt, USCG, for pointing out about a billion things I’d gotten wrong (that fortunately you gentle readers will never see) about the most basic aspects of sailing, not to mention “There’s no way in hell they’d have parked in the East River or the sound. The currents are ferocious.” When I asked for some details on the USCGC
his reply was “Yeah…most of that’s classified but I’ll give you what I can…” Which, alas, is what what many of my technical experts often are forced to say since I have, I think, some really cool friends.

Speaking of Michael Massa, former something something special operations, former Head of Security and Disaster Response for “a major international bank,” and who has no resemblance whatsoever to either Thomas the Tank Engine nor Mike Jenkins, I’d like to thank him for his assistance on aspects of, well, it should be obvious. Alas, I never did write “the battle of the BERTs.” As a singer once said, most of writing is “what to leave in, what to leave out.” This is another universe I’ve created that is made for anthologies of “the other stories.” (For one of which I only have the title, “Something funny happened on the way to Peoria.” Which would also work for the Posleen, Special Circumstances and Vorpal Blade universes.) If only I was an editor. Anyway, thanks again, Mike.

Deborah Fishburn and Brian Carbin for straightening out some of my Aussie slang as well as general edits and suggestions.

Michael “Subdude” Gants for some unclass details of life on a fast attack. Sorry, Mike, Dallas stays for now.

There will be a much longer list for the sequel,
To Sail a Darkling Sea
. But I gotta get this to the publishers, like, now.

John Ringo

Chattanooga, April 2013



At the end of the river the sundown beams

All the relics of a life long lived

Here, weary traveler rest your wand

Sleep the journey from your eyes

from “Turn Loose the Mermaids”




“AlasBabylon Q4E9,”
the text read.

“Bloody hell.” And it really hadn’t started out as a bad day. Weather was crappy but at least it was Friday.

Steven John “Professor” Smith was six foot one, with sandy blond hair and a thin, wiry, frame. Most people who hadn’t seen him in combat, and very few living had, considered him almost intensely laid back. Which in general was the case. It came with the background. Once you’d been dropped in the dunny, few things not of equal difficulty were worth getting upset about. Until, possibly, now.

He regarded the text from his brother and wondered if this was how morning walkers on 9/11 felt. He knew the basic code.
Alas Babylon
was a book about a nuclear war in the 1950s and survivors in the aftermath. The novel by Pat Frank was still one of the best looks at post-apocalyptic life ever written. And he and Tom had agreed that it was the best choice for a code indicating a real, this is no shit, general emergency. Not “I’ve got cancer” but “grab the bug-out bag and activate your Zombie Plan.” Which was why he wondered if this was the same feeling those morning New Yorkers had felt looking up at the gush of fire from the side of the Twin Towers. Disbelief, sadness, even anger. His mouth was dry, palms clammy, his sphincter was doing the bit where it was simultaneously trying to press neutronium and let go all over his seat. He felt all the cycles of grief go through him in one brief and nasty blast. Tom was not a guy to joke about the end of the world. Something had hit something or another.

it’d gone tits up, he hit reply.


The return message was immediate.

Confirm, confirm, CONFIRM. Q4E9. CONFIRM!!”


The rest of the codes were the problem. Stacey and Tom were the crypto geeks. Of course, calling Tom a geek was a stretch. Nearly two meters tall and a former Australian SAS commando, the “General Manager for Security and Emergency Response” for the Bank of the Americas might have a background in crypto and enjoy the occasional alternative clubbing night. Geek was still a stretch.

Tom’s penchant for code, however, was part of that geeky side. While the games growing up had been a pain in the ass, Steve recognized them as a necessity in this case. Tom had come into possession of information that was still closely held. His text was a violation of not only his employment contracts but, probably, federal law. He wasn’t going to send “Asteroid INBOUND” over an open network.

Stacey would know what the code meant in a second. Despite his para nickname of “Professor,” Steve was unfazed by both his wife and his brother being smarter than he. He was laid back and preferred to be surrounded by people who were smarter, more effective and more dangerous. Made his life a whole lot simpler.

He looked up at the class full of teenagers working on their Friday afternoon history test. Byzantine emperors were about the last of his problems at the moment. He still wasn’t sure about the codes but he knew that he’d never see most of them again. Dead or alive, his life and theirs was about to change.

He was going to miss some of them but the protocols were clear. It was much the same as being a spy, really. If you’d been burned you didn’t hesitate. When the world was ending you didn’t worry about anything but the most basic issues. Notably, Stacey, Sophia and Faith. In no particular order that he desperately hoped whatever this was might test. Okay, even Stacey would agree Sophia and Faith first. Just in no particular order.

He therefore calmly bent over, picked up his backpack and stood up to leave.

“Mr. Smith?” Chad Walker said, looking at him quizzically.

“Just going out for a bit,” Steve said. Chad was one of the good ones. Most of the kids were good for values of good. As good as American kids got, anyway. Coddled, yes, but bright by and large. Most didn’t apply themselves and the parents were mostly a pain in the ass. But it had been a good job. Past tense.

He walked down the mostly silent halls in a bit of a daze. At one level it was senseless. Nobody walked out of a job they’d done for ten years without a wrench and on the basis of two text messages. But it was what you did if you’d prepared. You just walked away.

He stopped outside the school’s office and tried to assume an expression suitable for a distraught husband.

“Janice,” he said, stepping into the office and brushing at his eyes. “Stacey’s been in an accident at the plant. They’re taking her to the office. I need to pull Sophia out of class.”

“Oh my God!” the heavy-set brunette said, her eyes wide. “What happened?”

“Unclear,” Steve said. “I’ll call you from the hospital. Just please page for her to be brought up here while I talk to Mr. Navas.”

“Okay…” Janice said, fumbling at the intercom.

The woman really was someone Steve was looking
to leaving behind.

He knocked on the principal’s door and opened it without waiting for a reply.

“Steve?” Mr. Navas said, cocking a quizzical eyebrow. Alvaro Navas was a decent assistant principal all things considered. Another person, among many, Steve figured he’d never see again. However it worked out.

“Stacey’s being taken to the hospital,” he said somewhat shakenly. “Injured at work. They…it sounded quite serious. That guarded ‘we’re sure it’s going to be fine’ from HR which means it’s not. I’m pulling Sophia out to go with me to the hospital and I’d appreciate it if you’d call Angleton Middle and have them bring up Faith so I can pick her up on the way by.”

“Of course, Steve,” Alvaro said. “Anything we can do.”

“I’ll call you as soon as I know what’s going on,” Steve said. “I think Janice is bringing up Sophia.”

“So no idea what happened?” Navas asked.

“They wouldn’t say,” Steve said, shrugging his shoulders helplessly. “I…I need to go check on Sophia…”

“Of course, of course, Steve,” Navas said, getting out of his chair. “Whatever you need…If you need some time.”

“Well, it’s the weekend, fortunately,” Steve said. “I’ll know more when I get to the hospital.”

“Which hospital?” Navas asked.

“Not even sure of that at this point,” Steve said. “Mercy, I assume. It’s the closest. I’ve got to call back about that…Just…I’ve got this handled. I’ll get to you about what’s going on.”

“Call me at home if it’s after work,” Mr. Navas said, patting him on the back.

“Dad?” Sophia asked, her eyes wide. The fifteen-year-old had gotten her father’s looks and her mother’s height. It wasn’t a bad combination. With sandy blond hair, and five-five, she seemed to have stopped growing up or out. “What’s up?” She had her backpack over her back. If she had anything left in the locker it was going to have to stay there.

“Your mom…” Steve said, then paused. “We’ll talk about it in the car.”

“What happened to Mom?” Sophia said.

“We’ll talk in the car,” Steve said, taking her arm. “She was injured at the plant. Mr. Navas, if you could call the middle school?”

“Of course,” Mr. Navas said. “And

“I will,” Steve said. “Oh, release slip?”

“Oh…!” Janice said, fumbling with the papers piled on her desk.

“I’ve got it,” Mr. Navas said, trying not to sigh. He pulled the form pad out from under a pile and quickly scribbled the necessities. “There.”

“Thank you, sir,” Steve said. “Good luck.”

“Thank you,” Mr. Navas said, frowning slightly. “I think I should be wishing you that.”

“Yes, yes,” Steve said, gesturing for Sophia to precede him through the door.

“Dad…?” Sophia said.

“In the car,” Steve said as they walked out of the building. It was a thin, nasty rain, cold for late spring even in Virginia. Which just fit his mood to a T.

His car was most of the way across the teachers’ parking lot so he continued:

“Don’t stop moving when I say this. It’s not your mother. Apocalypse code from your Uncle Tom.”

“What?” Sophia said, stopping and starting to turn.

“I said keep walking,” Steve said, grabbing her arm. “Which is why you’re going to drive. I need both hands free.”

“You pulled me out of a test for some code from Uncle Tom?” Sophia said angrily. “What about the dance tonight?”

“By eight PM we’re going to be in full bug-out mode,” Steve said. “This is not a drill, Soph. I still need to check the codes but it’s an apocalypse code. As in ‘end of the world.’”

?” Sophia said, gesturing around. There certainly didn’t seem to be any major issues. Cars continued speeding past the school. None of them seemed in any more a hurry than they ever were. “Missing the dance is going to be the end of the world!”

“Not time for drama, miss,” Steve said, getting in the passenger side. “Drive.”

“Oookay,” the fifteen-year-old said nervously. “You want me to drive in an apocalypse.”

“The apocalypse isn’t here, yet,” Steve said, pulling out his phone again. “Now be quiet. Head to Faith’s school.”

“Dad this is crazy!” Sophia said, starting the car.

“Just drive,” Steve said. “No music and no talking. Hello? This is Steve Smith, Stacey Smith’s husband. Our daughter…Sophia…” He let a little check enter his voice. “She’s been hit by a car in the school parking lot. I really need to talk to Stacey immediately…Yes, I understand…”

“I got hit by a
?” Sophia whispered.

Steve waved his hand at her angrily, then nodded.

“Stacey! Alas, alas, alas…Sophia…has been…struck by…a car…in the parking lot,” he said, robotically. “I’m picking up Faith right now. Yes. I’ll meet you at home, then we’ll go to the hospital. You have your phone again? I’m forwarding you a text… Okay. Call me when you’re on the way.” He hung up the phone, then pulled up a file.

“What was the robot voice about?” Sophia asked, pulling carefully into traffic.

“False information versus true,” Steve said. “I mean, you could really have been hit by a car. The ‘alas’ code told her it was a real world emergency but not the one that I was conveying.”

“Mom is going to be that pissed, you know,” Sophia said.

“Part of our bargain was that if something hit the dunny she’d go with it,” Steve said, looking at a file. “Oh…Bloody hell.”

“What?” Sophia asked.

“Just concentrate on getting us to the middle school intact,” Steve said, consulting his smartphone. He pulled up an app and punched in certain parameters. On the third hit he’d found what he was looking for and dialed a phone number. “Hello? My name is Jason Ranseld with the Aurelius Corporation. We need to rent a boat matching the parameters of the one you have for sale. Is there any way that we can get a two week lease? No? We’d consider buying if we could talk about the price. And I’d need to look it over…Would Saturday afternoon work for you? This is a snap-kick for a major client… Of course, three would work perfectly… Thank you, I’ll meet you there…”

“Sailboat?” Sophia said. “That’s full up bug-out for a biological emergency!”

“I finally got to pull up the code sheet,” Steve said. “Biological, viral, latent, wide-release, previously undetected, currently no vaccine, hostile activities parameter.”

“I got all of that except latent and hostile…Wait!

“Something similar,” Steve said as they pulled up to the, fortunately close, middle school. “Cell phone.”


“Cell,” Steve said, pulling a burn phone out of the bag. “This is your new one.
the numbers on contact list.”

“I have friends who…”

“No!” Steve said. “You know why. I walked away from several people I like, to maintain your uncle’s cover. If it gets out…”

“Uncle Tom loses his position,” Sophia said, pulling out her phone and handing it over. “And any support he can give us. But Brad Turner…”

“Is going to have to take his chances,” Steve said, taking the phone, then pocketing the burn phone. “You get this when I get back.”

“Thanks for all the trust, Dad,” Sophia said, crossing her arms.

“I’m going to be trusting you to keep us all alive,” Steve said, then handed over the phone. “I guess that starts now. Prove you deserve it by not using it.”

“Okay,” Sophia said.

“Emergency conditions,” Steve said.

“Yes, sir,” Sophia said, then shrugged. “I’ll believe zombies when I see one.”

“Despite the fact that I’ve just burned my job and your mother’s, let’s hope this is a false alarm,” Steve said getting out of the truck.

* * *

“What happened to Mom?” Faith blurted the minute he walked into the school’s office.

“Still not sure,” Steve said. “Can I get a release slip?”

“What do you
you don’t
?” Faith practically shouted. The thirteen-year-old had gotten her dad’s height and her mother’s looks, which, honestly, was a bit of a challenge for her older sister whom she already overtopped. Another inheritance was her mother’s temper but twice as passionate. In a guy the term “aggressive” would be more commonly used. She also had something like male muscle density and pain tolerance a Delta would appreciate. She only played soccer because there wasn’t a rugby team. On the rare trips to visit her Aussie grandparents she positively delighted in Australian Rules football. Although she just as passionately hated “Rule One”: No Weapons.

“Kintronics HR would only say she’d been ‘Injured,’” Steve said, taking the release form and signing for his daughter. “On the other hand the person I was talking to was pretty shaken up. So it’s serious.”

“Well then let’s
!” Faith said, snatching up her bag and darting out of the door.

“Good-bye,” Steve said, waving as he went out the door.

* * *

“Apocalypse code from Uncle Tom,” Sophia said as soon as Faith was in the car. “Not a drill. Dad’s already arranged the boat to steal.”

“So…Wait…” Faith said. “Mom’s not—”

“She’s on her way home,” Steve gesturing for Sophia to get in the passenger seat and climbing in the truck. “We’re in bug-out mode. And with any luck at all we won’t have to steal it.”

“But what about—” Faith started to ask.

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