Read Under a Graveyard Sky-eARC Online

Authors: John Ringo

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

Under a Graveyard Sky-eARC (3 page)

BOOK: Under a Graveyard Sky-eARC
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“To answer the original question: The only real chance we have is general public and government response. Strong influenza protocols along with some changes in Rules of Engagement by law enforcement will slow this, maybe even stop it. It’s less about the bug right now than it is about general immunology protocols. Your offices already have hand sanitizers. Ensure they get
and if somebody won’t, well, send ’em home or fire ’em. Ditto anyone showing any flulike symptoms. Don’t shake hands.
shake hands. Ever. For any reason. Wash your hands thoroughly several times a day. Right now, usual drill is all we’ve got. Ask me again in a week if there’s a change.

“As to the nastier symptoms: This is New York. Telling the difference between a crazy homeless guy and one of the infected is going to be a bit dicey at first. But if somebody is clean-cut, basically clean and running around screaming, biting and naked, they’re probably in advanced neurological stage. Be warned: It definitely has a blood pathogen component. And the onset is direct to neurological and fast. The police officer who was bitten started beginning symptoms of neurological stage in six
. So for our security personnel, Mr. Smith, at the first sign of incoherence on the part of an employee or visitor, especially if they start gittin nekkid, you need to taser first, then ask questions from hazmat. Do
allow yourself to get bitten.”

“Roger,” Tom said, making a note. “Mr. Bateman?”

“Confirmed,” Bateman said. “We’ll promulgate that.”

“If I may, sir,” Tom said. “Best to promulgate that anyone acting incoherent for the purposes of humor will be fired if found to be noninfected. There are people who are going to push this.”

“Also agreed,” Bateman said. “This is nothing to joke about.”

“And, sorry, gentlemen, that has to go for any rank,” Dr. Curry said, looking at the assembled executives. “If one of you has any habit of bipolar reactions or schizophrenia, if you go off your meds, just figure you’re going to get tasered. And if it’s just a freak-out, say ‘Thank you Mister Security guard for tasering me’ when they determine you’re not infected. On that: Right now there’s no way to tell short of a blood test. They’re rolling out nasal antibody tests sometime this week. But that’s for the flu. We’re not sure if they work for the neurological since we’ve never seen a dual expression rhinovirus. Also everybody and their brother is looking for a vaccine. Any hint on that, I’ll pass through Mr. Smith. Questions?”

“No antivirals that it’s not resistant to?” Bateman asked. The CEO was clearly unhappy that there were essentially no useful measures to take. “There are ways to get antivirals which…aren’t available in the U.S.”

“None,” Dr. Curry said, grinning mirthlessly. “Whoever did this armored it up. There aren’t even any that are near approval in
. Which tells me there is a vaccine. You’re not going to create something that you’re not going to survive. The combination of ‘intelligent enough to create a world-killer flu,’ ‘crazy enough to do it’ and ‘suicidal’ is too small a pool. Similar personality types, mind you, but not overlapping. Whoever did this intends to survive it. Which means there’s a vaccine. Not a
, mind you. So you’d better hope there’s a vaccine before you or your family catch it. Next.”

“Cover the ‘making it so they strip is smart,’” Tom said.

“I’m going to have to say a word everybody is avoiding,” Curry said with a snort. “Starts with a z. Anybody want to say it before me? Mr. Bateman?”

“Zombie?” Bateman said. “As long as it doesn’t leave the confines of this room.”

“One thing that always bugged me about biological zombies,” Curry said, musingly, “at least the ones that were something like realistic. Say
I am Legend.
They’ve got to crap. Every species eliminates waste. If you can’t figure out how to use a door handle, how are you going to take off your pants to take a crap? And modern clothing is going to plug it up. Eventually the subject dies of impaction and necrosis.”

“So you really think that was built in?” Depene asked.

“The words that are on every message about this are ‘lethal and sophisticated,’” Curry said. “It’s why people are saying it has to be a nation-state. But I don’t buy it. If it had been a nation-state there would have been an unusual round of vaccinations somewhere. Trust me, WHO looks for those as much as it looks for plagues. There haven’t been. Not even, say, the Iranian Supreme Council. And what you can do with bugs these days with stuff off of eBay is insane. At least if you know what you’re doing. And not even that. A reporter built Spanish Flu in his damned
! Then there’s people all over hoping to be the next biological Wozniak playing around in their houses with…
. Usually not pathogens but there’s an entire industry of tinkerers with
! Okay, I’m one of them but I know what I’m
! This isn’t inventing a new computer or the model T. This is the basic building blocks of
and you don’t go playing with them like they’re
. Or you eventually get something like, well… This,” he concluded with a sigh.

“Ten to one what we’re going to find is this is some kid, under thirty, probably with a bachelor’s degree, didn’t complete his masters, and angry at the world.
could figure out how to do this pathogen. The people at, well, my level admit we’ve
figured out how to do a ‘zombie virus’ given current tech. But nobody has been
enough to actually
it. Until now.”

“How?” Depene said. “I mean in general. That sounds like…science fiction?”

“Tell that to your smartphone,” Curry grumped. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we live in a science fiction world. Okay. One: Rabies doesn’t just make the brain swell. That’s a side effect of what it’s doing to the brain. That foam doesn’t come from nowhere. Rabies works by effecting production of certain neurotransmitters. Two: There are other, lesser known, pathogens which have targeted effect on other portions of the brain. Three: There’s a lot about the brain we don’t understand, but we
know how to mess it up. We know the basic centers and neurotransmitters for about everything simple: Love, anger, hunger, memory, pattern recognition… Four, open the door: From AIDs research we know how to stick genes in eukaryotic cells and even target the type of cells. We know how to get cells to sequence certain proteins, also known as neurotransmitters. Put all that together with the pathogens we already know, like toxoplasmosis, modifying them to mess up the brain is
. You can even make them only target certain individuals or groups genetically. Well, I could. But I didn’t do it. I’ve got an alibi.”

“How long have people like…yourself…?” Bateman asked, frowning.

“People who are actual researchers,” Curry said with another of those mirthless grins. “Or who work as consultants to afford all the conferences and papers? And who understand them? About two years ago it was generally recognized that you could do a zombie virus. Which is one of those ‘Only adults in the room and we’ve had too much scotch’ discussions. Not for open conference. We’d estimated the general ‘monkey in the basement’ would be able to do it in about five. So they’re three years ahead of our most optimistic schedule. Which is why those same sort of people—on closed boards and who know about this—are arguing for it being a major effort. something big, expensive and noticeable. This kind of breakthrough generally is at the beginning. Maybe an experiment at one of the universities or research centers that was in development and got swiped. One of the reasons bandied around in those drunken discussions to come up with one is that you were guaranteed to make headlines and headlines mean funding. I’m one of the minority arguing for mad scientist. Or mad, angry, former grad student. Bright, mind you. Brilliant even. Skipped right past three or four steps. That takes real mad-scientist genius.”

“Quite mad,” Bateman said. “Doctor, what are

“I’m thinking island in the Carribean,” Dr. Curry said. “But Mr. Smith has made me a very generous offer of semi-permanent consultant until this is over one way or the other. I’ve been around enough research and on WHO teams to have stared this sort of death, in general, in the eye before. Not looking forward to losing my mind, mind you. It’s my only real asset. If you’re asking if I’ll hang in there with one of the richest and best prepared banks in the world…We’ll talk. Depends on the fringe benefits.”

“Such as?” Bateman asked.

“I understand you have a retreat point,” Curry said, shrugging. “I don’t, really. Assuming we get to that point, I and one other are guaranteed a slot on the planes or whatever.”

we have a retreat point?” Depene asked. “And why aren’t we going there

“Because we’re not anywhere near that point, Brad,” Bateman said with a sigh. “It’s not about a downtick in the stock market. We evacuate only when that point has been reached.”

“And when is ‘that point’?” Depene asked.

“I’ll let Mr. Smith cover that,” Bateman said. “Tom?”

“There is a specific condition under which the Federal Reserve ‘temporarily’ terminates operations,” Tom said. “For the duration of a global emergency. But upon either suspension of trade ‘for the duration of the emergency’ or upon vote of the board to suspend business activities for same, we then and only then activate the Executive and Special Personnel Evacuation Exercise. Which is generally called E-S-P. Meaning ‘when’ is ultimately up to Mr. Bateman and/or the Board and/or the Fed, which means
be reading my crystal ball. If, in my opinion, the security situation, including biological security situation, has degraded past operability I will
Mr. Bateman to so inform the Board. But that is only if the Fed doesn’t act first. So… You may know before
do, Dr. Depene. As to Dr. Curry’s request, I’d suggest that that be discussed in a separate meeting as well as any hostile environment business plans.”

“Agreed,” Bateman said. “Dr. Curry, your contract is at the least extended for the duration of the emergency. Usual bonuses. And we’ll be with you by Monday on inclusion in the evacuation plan.”

“I can wait that long,” Curry said. “I need to get back into the information stream.”

“We all do,” Bateman said, blowing out a heavy breath. “And I need to get a statement prepared for investors…”


“Is the boat going to be able to hold all of this?” Faith asked. “And how are we getting it there? Pushing?”

When you’ve basically bought a Costco out of toilet paper and feminine hygiene products, these were reasonable questions, if poorly timed.

“We can strap some to the roof of the Nissan,” Stacey said, looking around the pile of toilet paper on the pallet. She certainly couldn’t see over it. They’d gotten some very odd looks but no serious questions. “Stocking up for hurricane season” was the simplest answer. And it wasn’t like anyone in Williamsburg knew who they were. She grimaced in annoyance when her phone rang. But it was Tom’s burn phone number.

“Tom?” Stacey said. “Hang on a second. We’re walking across a parking lot.”

“Roger,” Tom asked. “What’s your status?”

“Nominal so far,” Stacey said, keying open the doors. “Inside for the chat, girls.”

“Public places are to be avoided,” Tom pointed out.

“Toilet paper is a right not a privilege,” Stacey said getting in the car and putting the phone on speaker. “Okay, we’re all in. Go.”

“Everybody there?” Tom asked over the speakerphone.

“Steve’s negotiating the boat,” Stacey said. “Go.”

Tom covered the highlights, such as they were, of Dr. Curry’s analysis.

zombies?” Faith said. “Gross!”

“Makes sense to me,” Stacey said. “If they kept their clothes on and are still ‘alive’ they’d have difficulty with waste passage.”

“That means they couldn’t shit, Faith,” Sophia said.

“I know what it means!” Faith said. “Yuck again!”

“Short time, here,” Tom said seriously. “End of the world stuff.”

“Sorry, Uncle Tom,” Sophia said, just as seriously. “We’re just having a hard time…”

“Go, Tom,” Stacey said.

“Increasing incoherency to an essentially animal state. In that state hyperaggression. May be just the cases so far identified but aggression seems to be increased. Very bitey from the reports from the West Coast—which also spreads because of the blood pathogen effect. At least one cop who dealt with a case is infected. Six confirmed cases on the East Coast,
in Asia. Confirmed. CDC has decided to go public at noon. News media is already asking questions.

“They’re looking at a vaccine. Go.”

“Any pre-symptoms notable other than ‘flulike’?” Sophia asked.

“Nothing particular,” Tom said. “Not until second stage. May not be blood pathogen until then. General flu prevention procedures, which is what the ‘powers-that-be’ are going to be calling for. Swine flu again but this is already spread, probably world-wide, and spreading fast. Stand by… Pasteur confirms cases in England and France… Six now in Hong Kong alone…I need to cut this short. I’ve got another meeting.”

“We’re using the Aurelius Corporation plan,” Stacey said. “Can you…do something about it? We’d prefer to avoid actually
the yacht.”

“How much?” Tom asked.

“One forty,” Stacey said with a wince.

“Done,” Tom said. “I’ll authorize the transfer as soon as we’re off the phone. What’s the cover name?”

“Jason Ranseld. R-A-N-S-E-L-D.”

“I’ll take care of it. Just get offshore.”

“How is
jump plan?” Stacey asked.

“If they come up with a vaccine, nominal,” Tom said. “If they don’t, you don’t want me infecting you. Out here.”

* * *

Steve waved to bemused looking Felix as the wind carried the boat away from the dock. He could tell that the broker was wondering if he’d somehow been taken.

It certainly would hold for a couple of weeks. By which time this would either be a false alarm and the Smiths, one and all, would have to start their lives over, probably in Australia, or the world would be so clearly headed to hell in a handbasket that nobody would care.

“Jason Ranseld” had some very interesting papers indeed. Among others was a mate’s license. It wasn’t forged. Steve had gotten it while he was living the “Jason Ranseld” life many years agone. So he had some experience working with boats this big. In wind even. Twenty years agone.

He thus managed to maneuver out of the marina without major incident. What he hadn’t thought to bring was a coat. And it was bloody chilly. The clouds were high, thin and rippled in a regular humped pattern, and the sun shone through them weak and grey. There was a name for that type of cloud formation, but Steve couldn’t quite recall it.

He was worried about Stacey and the girls. Against direct threats they could take care of themselves, but a plague… There just wasn’t any way to truly prevent it absent quarantine gear. And it was in the general population.…

He looked up at the scudding clouds and still couldn’t remember the official name for the formation. But he remembered the day he’d asked his Grandfather Smith about them. Gran had been a veteran of WWII starting from his days as a militia man in New Guinea and always knew everything.

Gran had looked up, said it was called “a graveyard sky” then walked back in the house and had gotten very drunk.

* * *

“Come on, honey,” Stacey said. “Where

It was a nice neighborhood despite the relatively low occupancy. The housing downturn in the Virginia area had tended to impact high end homes more than lower end. And it was a very nice neighborhood. Which was why the beat-up Nissan Pathfinder with something piled on top under a tarp was getting a lot of looks from the remaining residents. Before long she’d have to explain their presence to the police. And since there
a good explanation…

“Jail?” Faith said.

“I don’t need that right now, Faith,” Stacey said. She didn’t want to call Steve in case there
problems. He didn’t need her nagging. “Besides, the check is good. Sort of.”

“Have a little…faith, Sis,” Sophia said.

“Oh, that’s sooo
,” Faith spat back.

Stacey started as her phone rang. She checked and it was Steve. Which could be good or bad…

“Tell me you’re not in jail,” Stacey said.

“Inbound to the rendezvous,” Steve said. “Glad you got that payday loan from Tom. The seller wasn’t impressed by lots of important looking paperwork. I think he’s still wondering about the wire transfer.”

“Which as I understand it we’d better be able to cover or things have to go to hell in a handbasket quick,” Stacey replied, putting the idling car in drive and creeping forward.

“Any problems on your end?”

“Just keeping the toilet paper on top of the car.”

* * *

“Okay, I see what you mean,” Steve said, chuckling.

The house was about ten thousand square feet and right on a navigable “creek” that would meet most areas’ definition of river. And it included a very nice T dock with enough room to tie up, say, a 45 foot Hunter sailboat named
Mile Seven
. There was even a convenient drive to bring a car around to the end of the dock. Which Stacey was, cautiously, doing as the girls ran down to the dock.

The reason for the caution was apparent by the cargo. Stacey was, in Steve’s opinion, an unrecognized mechanical and electrical genius. On the other hand,
had a tendency to hit
people’s thumbs with a hammer. That being said, as a former para he always handled packing. Especially if it involved anything torqued onto the roof of the Pathfinder.

Stacey had apparently gotten two of the spare tarps from the trolley and done…something with a great deal of twine and
too much para cord. He’d seen some smaller cars more overburdened in the Stans. However, those drivers had a bit more understanding of things like aerodynamics. And load shifting. The tarp looked a bit like a wind-battered green and brown potato.

“I can’t remember how the knot goes…” Faith said, pulling the stern line in and then bracing as the boat started to head out to sea again. “Help?”

“I’ve got it,” Sophia said. She’d already secured the fore line. Between them they got the stern of the boat alongside and the older sister quickly had it secured with a double hitch. “It’s simple.”

“Simple is a shotgun and a zombie,” Faith said.

“Quit arguing and start unloading,” Steve said, shutting down the boat. “We’re on short time.”

“Shaking it for all we’re worth, Captain, sir!” Sophia said, saluting sarcastically.

“That’s more like it,” Steve said.

* * *

Besides the mass of material, the main problem was first in was also first in. That is, just as the trailer had had to be packed with the heaviest items on the bottom and forward, the boat had to be packed with the heaviest items first. Which required unloading the entire trailer before they could get started on loading the boat.

They had just gotten the trailer completely unloaded when the visit Steve was dreading occurred.

“Dad,” Sophia said, glancing around the trailer. “Cop.”

“Roger,” Steve said. “Start the load.”

* * *

“Can I ask you what you’re doing, sir?” Officer Jason Young, Williamsburg PD, asked.

The morning shift had started slow. A couple of kids speeding, couple of burglary reports from Friday night. The usual.

Things seemed to be picking up, though. He’d just heard two separate 10-64, indecent exposure, calls, then a 10-64, 10-28, fight or disturbance. Whatever, things were picking up and here he was dealing with…well he wasn’t sure
he was dealing with. The call had been 10-66: suspicious person. The people just seemed to be loading a boat. But according to the neighbor who had called it in, the house connected to the dock was in foreclosure and nobody was supposed to be using the property. And the car, with badly secured materials on the roof, had been hanging around the neighborhood for nearly an hour.

“Loading my boat, Officer Young,” Steve said.

“This is private property and according to the neighbors not
property,” Young said. “Which means you are trespassing, sir.”

“A valid position, Officer Young,” Steve said. “The dock was convenient and the property is clearly not being used. It was, at best, a minor transgression and we’ll be gone within the hour.”

“Mind if I see some ID, sir?” Young asked. “You’re not American. Irish?”

“Australian,” Steve said, pulling out his driver’s license and trying not wince. Americans could never sort out Commonwealth accents. “And I’m a naturalized American citizen. Not a resident. I have a passport, American, as well.”

“Says here you live in Warrentown,” Young said. Which matched the plates on the Nissan.

“Yes, Officer,” Steve said, politely. “The address is correct.”

“Mind if I see your registration and proof of insurance?” Young asked.

“Of course,” Steve said, turning around.

“Before you open the car,” Young said. “Are there any weapons in the vehicle?”

“Ah,” Steve said, turning back to face the officer. “I was wondering when we’d get to that part. Yes, as a matter of fact. They are all in locked cases in the rear. My wife and I also have CCLs but we are not, at this point, carrying.”

“Okay,” Young said, his brow furrowing. “All?”

“There are quite a few,” Steve said. “Would you like to see? They’re rather buried still. We were loading from the trolley first.”


“Sorry,” Steve said, too calmly, “trailer.”

Young looked at the ladies continuing to load the boat. They didn’t look as if they were preparing for a trip to the Carribean. They looked nervous. And this cat was just too calm.

“Don’t open the vehicle,” Young said. “Please do not
the vehicle. I need to talk to the ladies.”

Steve started to open his mouth to ask why, then just nodded.

“As you prefer, Officer.”

* * *

“Officer, sorry about this,” Stacey said as the cop walked over. “I know we’re sort of trespassing but the house is empty. It looks like it’s in foreclosure. And it was
convenient to load! I’m really sorry but we won’t be long.”

She didn’t do bimbo well but she was going to give it her best shot.

“There are marinas for that sort of thing, ma’am,” the officer said. “Everything else okay?”

“Yes?” she asked, looking past the cop to Steve and trying to catch a clue. “What do you mean?”

“Are you under any form of duress?” the officer asked. “I mean, is this your idea? Are you okay, ma’am?”

“I’m fine,” Stacey said, frowning. “We’re fine. We just want to get loaded and off to sea!”

“And you are married to Mister…Sorry, what was the name again?” he asked, glancing at Steve’s license.

“Oh,” Stacey said, laughing. “You mean Steven John Smith, my husband of seventeen years? Would you like to meet our two children, Sophia Lynn and Faith Marie? Yes, he’s my husband, these are our children and we’re all real people.”

“May I see some identification, ma’am?” the officer asked.

“It’s in my purse in the car…”

“Which I’d like to hold off opening until I’ve examined the weapons inside,” the officer said.

“You’re in for a treat then,” Faith said, stopping. “What’s this about?”

“Just keep loading, Faith,” Stacey said.

“What?” Faith said. “While you and Da stand around talking to the cop?”

“Just keep loading, Faith,” Stacey said evenly.

“What’s the rush?” the officer said.

“Trying to make the tide, Officer,” Stacey said.

She knew immediately she’d said something wrong.

“The outgoing tide?” the officer asked, suspiciously. Any cop on the coast knows the tides and the tide was currently inbound and would be for twelve hours. “Can I see the registration for the boat, please, ma’am?”

“I’ll have to ask Steve where it’s at,” Stacey said.

“I’d appreciate it if you’d stop loading until I can get this cleared up, ma’am,” the officer said.

“Of course, officer, if you insist,” Stacey said, trying not to curse. “Okay, Faith, Soph, you can knock off.”

“About time for a break!” Faith said.

* * *

“Problems, officer?” Steve asked as Young walked back to him.

“I’m trying to figure that out,” Young said. “There’s enough material here for an army, you’ve certainly got enough
for one. You’re trespassing on private property and you’re in a hurry. And not, as your wife said, to make the tide. On the other hand, you don’t look like a drug gang and the material doesn’t look stolen. Nothing adds up. Call me suspicious.”

BOOK: Under a Graveyard Sky-eARC
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