Read Under a Graveyard Sky-eARC Online

Authors: John Ringo

Tags: #Fantasy, #Urban, #Paranormal, #Contemporary, #Fiction

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“Phone,” Sophia said, holding out a burn phone to her. “Yours.”

“You’re
serious
?”

“Zombies,” Sophia said.

“No way!” Faith said. “We’re not having a ZA! Where are the wrecked cars? The screaming people? Nobody’s rising from the
grave
! False alarm!”

“I’ve got a confirm from Uncle Tom,” Steve said, pulling out of the parking lot. Parents were already forming up to pick up their precious snowflakes. “Viral, not mystical. Zombielike actions. Previously undetected. Pull the batteries.”

“Already done on mine,” Sophia said, pulling out Faith’s. “Okay, now it’s done.”

“Code indicates it’s already spread,” Steve said.

“So we could already have it?” Sophia asked. “That’s…not good.”

“That’s all we’ve got right now,” Steve said. “We’ll get the rest as things go on.”

“This had
better
be for real or I’m disowning this stupid family,” Faith said, leaning back with her arms crossed and her head set.

“Put on your safety belt,” Steve said. “Safety just got much more important.”

“If I had your phone I could be checking for indications,” Sophia pointed out.

Steve considered that for a moment. The original plans hadn’t included either daughters capable of information gathering or smartphones. The first requirement was gather the clan. Second was go off-grid. Going off-grid wasn’t strictly necessary but it reduced distractions. And Tom had the number for his back-up just as Steve had Tom’s. Third was gather material. Then bug out. Only last look for indicators. Among other things, indicators were a way to track information security.

“Not on the phone,” Steve said. “If Tom’s usage is being monitored, it could give away his tip if you search for ‘zombie’ or ‘plague’ off my phone. Just work the plan.”

“Yes, my bug-out bag is packed,” Faith said and grimaced. “‘Where’s your bug-out bag?’ ‘Is your bug-out bag packed?’ ‘What’s your inventory?’ ‘Why did I get the
insane
parents?’”

“We’re packing the trailer,” Sophia pointed out. “When do we go to biocon?”

“I’m torn,” Steve admitted. “We can’t meet about the sailboat with masks on. On the other hand, any meeting is a danger.”

“Speaking of which,” Sophia said, dipping into her bag. “Hand sanitizer.” She rubbed some on her hands, then passed it over.

“Which is why I have you along,” Steve said, smiling. He wiped not only his hands but the steering wheel.

“This had
better
be for real,” Faith said, rubbing her hands vigorously.

“You just want to fight zombies,” Sophia said.

“Which is why I have
you
along,” Steve added with a grin.

“Derp,” Faith said. “Of
course
I want to fight zombies. Who doesn’t?”

“Me,” Sophia said.

“Me,” Steve said.

“Yeah, well there had
better
be zombies or I’m shooting
somebody
and two guesses who. Oh, wait, they’re
both
right…”

* * *

“I read the code but I’m still not one hundred percent on this. Note that I just threw away a perfectly good job.”

Stacey Smith was five six with dark blue eyes and dark brown—or occasionally auburn—hair. Two children had caused her to “chunk” a bit but she still was pretty much the attractive geek girl Tom had met in Melbourne eighteen years ago. One who agreed that the world was occasionally a hostile place and did not so much “indulge” her husband’s penchant for preparation as drive it.

“I knew this day might come…” Steve said, shrugging. “Tom wouldn’t jest about something like this.”

“I’m going to go look for a confirm,” Stacey said.

“Just…” Steve said, grimacing.

“I’ll use a proxy,” Stacey said, patting him on the arm. “I’m not going to go shouting ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ to the rooftops.”

“And I’ll go take care of packing the trolley.”

Steve considered most “preppers” to be short-sighted, at least those portrayed in the media and even those on the various boards. Having all sorts of preparations in an urban setting was a good way to have them taken away at the first hint of trouble. If the government didn’t “gather” what you had or had produced, then gangs would eventually. And those that moved to distant zones… Well, if the end didn’t come you had better enjoy the rural life and good luck finding a decent job in the meantime.

“Prepping” or survivalism is about Maslov’s hierarchies. The first three are ostensibly “food, clothing and shelter.” What Maslov left out was “security.” And in a real, serious, end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it, security was the single greatest concern.

So Steve and Stacey’s plans were…flexible.

The house they lived in was subtly fortified. Most of it had to do with living in Virginia where the threat of an occasional hurricane or severe storm meant having plywood ready to cover the windows was just good sense. The house had been chosen for various “real world” factors: jobs, schools, the neighborhood. But it also had fieldstone walls, which meant it was somewhat bullet resistant. Also hurricane resistant, which was the point that they tended to make to casual friends and neighbors. There was a sizeable and quite dry basement. There was a generator, ROWPU water purifier and various supplies against both hurricanes and ice storms. Their neighbors were always commenting on how well prepared they were for emergencies. Which was nice until the second or third minor “emergency” when you were the only one who noticed that the lights did occasionally go out and grocery stores tended to run short when there was the slightest news of a possible disaster. Yes, we have spare toilet paper.

Incoming comet? Landward ho. They had some “true” friends, including a few Ami paras and special operations Steve had met in Afghanistan and kept in touch with. Together with Tom the group had bought an old house in the Western Virginia countryside. More or less a “time share,” they used it as a weekend or summer get-away. It’s actual purpose being, well, a get-away. Staffed by six former soldiers and their generally well-prepared families, it was going to be a bit of a tough nut to crack.

But there were a few events that called for heading seaward. The first was any sort of biological. Boats were designed to take stores and modern boats had water purifiers to draw fresh water from the sea. Once they were loaded up, you could stay away from other people for a looong time. Longer if you had a sailboat with “green” recovering power such as wind generators and recovering propeller generators. A little fishing, plenty of vitamins and barring running into a bad storm you were good for months. And missing storms was mostly a matter of being where they didn’t go. Assuming the biological was bad enough, afterwards you could probably scavenge with care. Thus the full hazmat clothing in the stores.

“Zombies” had been, generally, considered one of those stochastic low probabilities that were more for fun than serious consideration. A zombie shoot was particularly fun. But because it was the sort of thing that the kids could get into, with some humor, that had been part of the planning as well. If for no other reason than it gave them a chance to take a “prepper” cruise to the Islands on a sailboat. The kids had enjoyed the time in the Abacos and learned the basics of sailing as well as maintaining a boat.

Survivalism. Good clean fun for the whole family. At least if you didn’t take it to excess.

“The cans go on the
bottom
!” Sophia shouted as Steve entered the basement garage. “Heavy stuff
down
and forward!”

“Bite me, Soph,” Faith snarled. “
I
wasn’t the one who already loaded the toilet paper!”

“Then move it around,” Steve said. Good clean fun. “Soph, into the trolley. You load, Faith and I will toss.”

“Yeah,” Faith said, grinning maliciously. “Cause you’re so short you can fit inside.”

“We shall soon be armed, sister dear,” Sophia said, sweetly.

“That assumes you can hit me at the range of sitting next to you,” Faith said, staggering over under the weight of three cases of water.

“Which you know I can do at any range you’d care to name,” Sophia replied.

“She’s got you there,” Steve said. “She’s a better shot and you know it.”

“Not at
combat
shooting,” Faith argued. “She’s better when she takes all day to pull the trigger.”

“I’m going to have all day to listen to your bitching,” Sophia pointed out.

The trailer was a ten by six bought used and improved and maintained by Stacey. She tended to do the mechanical and electrical bits. In this case, new plywood floor, new bearings, wiring and a new coat of paint. Hundred dollars used, a bit more in repairs and it was practically a brand new trailer. Which was rapidly filling with gear and supplies.

“We couldn’t load the gen by ourselves,” Sophia pointed out. “And if we’re going to we’d better soon or it will unbalance the trailer.”

“We’re not taking it,” Steve said regretfully. The generator wasn’t new but it was in good shape and with care, which Stacey was obsessive about, would last for years. “The boat has one.”

“Spare?” Faith asked.

“Rather take more supplies,” Steve said, tossing a case of bottled water into the back of the trailer. “The way to avoid loading the heavy on light is to move heavy first.”

“What about ammo?” Stacey asked.

“Ammo, guns, first aid, one case water, one general case mountain house in the car,” Steve said. “Bug-out bags and webbing. Hook in. We’re on short time.”

“Know it’s bad,” Faith said, grinning. “Da’s going DU, then.”

“Hooking in, Dad,” Sophia said, then paused. “Dad… Are we really,
really
sure?”

“No,” Steve admitted, tossing a case of rations onto the trailer. “Not until we have a confirm or I can talk to Tom in the open.”

“I don’t want all my friends to die,” Faith said softly.

“I don’t want either of
you
to die,” Steve said. “Which is why we’re hooking in.”

“And there’s a partial confirm,” Stacey said, walking down the stairs. “There have been three reported incidents on the West Coast. People are putting it down to drugs but it’s zombie-istic.”

“The bath salts thing again?” Faith asked. “That’s
it
?”

“No,” Steve said. “That’s a
confirm
. Tom’s message indicated that it’s already out there. Those are infected people. Presumably. We’ll get a solid confirmation later. I’m hoping that guy makes the meeting tomorrow.”

“Then you’d better get upstairs and call him,” Stacey pointed out. “He’s probably getting ready to close up shop.”

“Boat broker,” Steve pointed out. “He’s connected to his cell. But…yeah.”

CHAPTER 2

“Hem, hem…” Steve said, dialing the number. “Aggravated and harried… That’s easy enough…”

“Mr. Resto? This is Jason Ranseld again… Can I call you Felix? Absolutely, call me Jason. Felix, there’s a problem. Here’s our deal. We’re trying to close an investor and he’s into sailing. The last time I did this it was some schlub that just won a big settlement and he wanted to go out on a cigarette boat. Got him into a Fountain Lightning and it just about scared the shit out of him… Yeah, you know the type. Thing is the fricking meeting got moved up to Sunday and we don’t have a boat available on the East Coast… Yeah. So I convinced the partners to just go for the whole thing… Yeah, purchase order is
in
place… We’ll sell it later. Maybe to the client. Happens that way sometimes. But we’ve got to close this
tomorrow
so I can make sure everything’s in place for Sunday… I know it’s a snap-kick… We’re going to have to move up the meeting to either tonight or tomorrow morning… Late tonight: I’m in Richmond… Sorry about that. You want the commission or not…?”

“Yes, hello? You rent luxury cars…?”

“Found the house…”

* * *

“Jason Ranseld’s identification,” Stacey said, handing over the driver’s license, American Express card and Australian passport. Steve had set up the identity years before and carefully maintained it. “Jason Ransfeld’s photos of his kids and Mrs. Rensfeld. Cute kids. Wish they were ours…”

The rain had at least passed but the sky was still gray and the wind outside the Nissan looked to be biting. It would be a great day to go sailing. Not.

“Hey,” Faith said, sleepily. “I bet they’re real snowflakes.”

The sun was barely up and the drive had been long. The girls had been able to rack out in the back but Steve and Stacey had had to drive separate cars. Then there had been the recon of the marina…

“They are,” Steve said. “My daughter Faith Ransfeld just had her thirteenth birthday for sixty kids at Disneyworld in Orlando.
And
their parents. We had to pay for the whole damned thing. Sophia Ransfeld’s sweet sixteen is coming up and God
knows
what she’s going to want, the spoiled little brat!”

“I want a cake that looks like a full size dragon and has real flames,” Sophia said. “And Disney is sooo kitsch. I want mine at…Uhm…”

“Keep working on it Sophia Ransfeld,” Steve said.

“Why are we having to change our names?” Faith asked. “We’re not meeting this guy, right?”

“No,” Steve said. “But I need to remember my ‘real’ name.”

“Okay, Mr. Ransfeld,” Stacey said. “Conspiracy to commit fraud and grand larceny. Great.”

“Nothing really turning up on the radio,” Steve said. “We need to get internet access.”

“We need more supplies,” Stacey pointed out. “We’ve got at most thirty days. Not food, other consumables.”

“And you can’t
make
toilet paper,” Faith pointed out.

“Make a stop,” Steve said, getting out of the Nissan. “Level One protocols. Best we can do without freaking people out. I’ll meet you at the rendezvous.”

* * *

“Felix,” Steve said, stepping out of the rental Mercedes. “Glad you could meet me so early.”

“You know the drill,” Resto said, sipping his coffee. “We also serve who sell boats,” he added with a grin.

“Tell me about it,” Steve said, shaking his head. “Speaking of which—boat?”

“Follow me,” Resto said, walking over to his BMW.

Steve kept his eyes open and carefully if covertly examined the marina. There was a guard shack but a drive-by the previous night had shown it to be unoccupied at night as well as day. They’d staked out the marina for two hours and had seen no sign of any roving guard although a security car had passed at 4:23 AM. Probably the marina had once featured “guard on duty 24 hours” but had cut back with the current economy to an occasional drive-by. The gate had a keypad lock, which Resto opened. Which gave at least one code to the lock, given the punch-tracker that Stacey had installed. If the con didn’t work they could always slip in and slip out with the boat. Assuming the owners hadn’t removed something critical from the ship systems.

Better to just buy it with fake money. Money was basically fake anyway. At least the way his source did things…

* * *

“Tom,” Richard Bateman said. “You’re the man at this meeting.”

Dr. Richard Bateman, PhD Econ, was CEO of Bank of the Americas. Tall and nearly as broad as his security chief at 6' 4", he had the de rigeur height for a Fortune 500 CEO and greying temples so perfect everyone wanted to know what hairdresser he used. “Yes, sir,” Thomas “Train” Smith said, standing up and going to the end of the board table.

Tom’s full nickname was “Thomas the Train Engine.” This was given to him back in officer’s Basic Course and had stayed as his handle ever since. The joke around the office was “Clark Kent turns out to be Australian.” In his “banker suit” and Birth Control Glasses he did rather look like a sandy-blond Clark Kent. And the typing pool generally agreed that when the suit came off he looked
exactly
like a blond Superman.

When the young ladies he met in clubs asked him what he did he generally just said “Investment Banking” because that meant he had money and he’d get laid. Well, the dancers and actresses. The Goth and Emo chicks at the alternative clubs seemed to prefer his other answer: “I’m the bad guy that gets killed second to last in the movie. You know when the villain turns to his boss henchman and says ‘Take care of it’? I’m that guy.” With some who were
way
out there, this occasionally backfired. The one time he got a call to come help him move a body he’d agreed to meet her, asked where, then politely called the police. Fortunately, it turned out to be an OD and NYPD had limited their questions.

In fact he had yet to be told to “take care of it” in any extreme manner. When he’d taken the job he’d wondered if dirty work was in the offing and even, tactfully, checked during the very long vetting process. The response had been, for bankers, humorous at best. Bankers didn’t have to have their employees kill, defame or otherwise destroy enemies. There were lots of people that just did it for them because, well, people wanted their money. When a new dam was being negotiated in some developing country, it wasn’t banks who paid “laborers” to go beat up “protestors.” That was the local government who was going to make money off of the dam. To the extent that investment banks did anything along those lines, it was to quietly protest “No. Stop. No. Seriously… It
looks
bad…” And then lend them money anyway.

Tom was still unsure if he was disappointed or relieved. Most of his job came down to making sure that servers had distant off-line backups and checking to see what Shining Path was up to lately.

Saturday morning was not a normal time for all the senior executives of the Bank of the Americas to meet. And since they were only one of many such groups meeting all over the world on this particular Saturday, the cat was going to be out of the bag by noon, latest.

“This is the issue,” Tom said, bringing up a photo of the pathogen in question. “The pathogen is currently called H7D3. There is no common name associated. It is definitely man-made and has been widely spread. Spread method is currently unknown. Currently there are no manifestos or declarations related to it. FBI is trying to trace the source but they’re barely getting started and this isn’t the movies. They don’t find the culprits overnight if ever. For details on the pathogen and immunological response I’m going to turn this over to Dr. David Curry. Dr. Curry is a virologist who has consulted with us on emergency response as well as business risk management in biological investments. Dr. Curry.”

“I always start with ‘excuse mah accent.’” Dave Curry was a bit under six feet tall with dark brown hair and bright brown eyes. “I was born in lower Alabama and ain’t quite got rid of my drawl.

“The pathogen is, as Mr. Smith noted, definitely man-made, antiviral resistant and very sophisticated. For one thing it is both an airborne pathogen and a blood pathogen. First one of those in, well,
ever
. Otherwise I won’t bore you gentlemen with the technical details, they’re in my lecture notes. Progress appears to be as follows: Normal flu nonsymptomatic infective period of about five to seven days. To refresh you from Swine flu: Influenza, unlike some other stuff like SARS, is infectious for a period of time, generally around seven days,
before
you get your first sniffle or fever. Which, by the way, is a bugger and a half. Individuals are, again, nonsymptomatic but infecting everyone and every
thing
they come into contact with. And it means that the origin, assuming some sort of device, is going to be hard to pin down. Then flu like symptoms. No major differences between this and any other sort of flu. Somewhat worse than seasonal but not as bad as, say, swine flu or SARS. Not a patch on avian flu. But it’s
extremely
infective. Upper respiratory, which is the easy stuff to catch. Lots of coughing, hacking, spitting, and occasional pneumonia for those who are susceptible. Current model is about five percent mortality in the flu stage, mostly in the old and young. Not much worse, as I said, than seasonal. Usually lasts twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Then there’s a dead period. Most symptoms except low-grade fever disappear. This is the first point that it becomes
non
flulike.

“After a period they’re trying to pin down, looks like two to five days, neurological symptoms start. Probably, and it’s only
probably
, that is the point where subjects become blood pathogen infectious and may, again,
may
, no longer be airborne infectious. Best to assume all subjects are both vectors until we’ve got a better handle on this. Initial presentation of neurological symptoms are, in no particular order, palsy, disorientation, dizziness, blurred vision and, notably, formication. Note: I said ‘for-
mi
-cation.’ This refers to a form of paresthesia or ‘itching, tingling’ which feels like ants crawling on or biting the skin. Series of presentation is somewhat random but at a certain point the patient tends to strip to get the ‘spiders’ or ‘ants’ off.”

“Strip?” Richard said.

“Yes,” Tom said. “In all of the cases that have come to the attention of the police, the subject has been naked.”

“That seems…” Dr. Bradford J. Depene was not as tall as his boss, by nearly a foot, but he weighed at least twice as much. He and Tom were not by any stretch of the imagination best buddies. Depene had been born with a silver spoon and had apparently used it as hard as he possibly could his whole life. Tom really wasn’t as bothered by the gross obesity as by the fact that while unquestionably brilliant, Depene had the common sense of a duckling. “That seems sort of…”

“The term you’re looking for is obscene,” Richard said. “Any idea…why? Just for the embarrassment factor? Pornographic?”

“If it’s intentional, it’s smart,” Dr. Curry said. “But can I cover that later?”

“Continue,” Bateman said.

“After the formication period things vary. There are so far twenty-four identified patients in the U.S. None of those have gone through the full series while under observation. Most have presented symptoms outside quarantine: In other words they were picked up by the cops as crazy, naked people before they were identified as being H7 infected. There have been nine of those in the U.S. so far who were in advanced neurological stage. One has died while under care and one is critical. That’s not a statistical study but it looks as if this is also a real killer neurologically.”

“Twenty percent death rate?” Bateman asked.

“Right at that is what it looks like,” Curry said, shrugging. “Data is still firming up. However, in the meantime they’re a handful. ‘Extreme homicidal psychosis with reduced mental capacity’ is the current psychobabble diagnosis. Think lobotomized and violent as hell.
Very
bitey. No coherent sentient response. No language per se. Just basically animal responses and aggressive animals at that. L.A. General is starting to fill up their padded rooms. One customer per or they try to kill each other.

“Currently there’s a statistical lean to male. Of the twenty-four, sixteen are male. All three of the terminal were male, two of the three critical are male. But that could be from any number of factors including where the infection started and how it spread. SARS looked male leaning for a while due to how it was spreading. Again, we’ll know more in a week. They’re still examining suspect patients and known subjects who are identified as infected or probably infected. There’s a slightly less strong lean to male among those. Stats and other indicators as well as potential treatments will start firming up over the next few days. Again, first identification as an outbreak was only yesterday. These are early days.”

“What do we do about it?” Bateman asked. “We being the bank as well as in general.”

“If it had been a normal and natural outbreak I think we could get ahead of this thing,” Curry said, shrugging. “As it is… It’s spread all over, it has delayed onset of symptoms, two delays, and it’s infective as hell. Airborne
and
blood pathogen with a violent vector on the latter? That’s infective as hell. There are probably people going into neurological state all over the place that are being viewed as ‘the usual sort of thing.’”

“The usual sort of thing?” Depene asked. “Naked people are
normal
?”

“Police have to deal with naked subjects more than most people realize,” Tom said. “Any large department will deal with someone nude and incoherent at least once a week. Often extremely violent. In New York as often as once a day. It really was only when L.A. was dealing with six in one day that anyone started looking for a central source and even then they were looking at drugs. Surprisingly it didn’t make the blogs at all. At least, not noticeably. It will soon.”

“We’d been tracking this new ‘flu’ already, mind you,” Curry said. “It took about a day for UCLA Med to put two and two together. The sort of people who are naked and crazy normally have other illnesses and this sudden outbreak ‘seasonal flu’ was considered to be symptom rather than cause. Then CDC noted that this was not a seasonal flu so the alerts starting going up given the locus and spread was not following standard models. Then one of the police who had dealt with Patient Zero, and been bitten, started to manifest neurological symptoms At that point they realized they were dealing with a neurological pathogen.

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