Yellowstone free preview from Dell Sweet

YELLOWSTONE

Copyright 2018 W. G. Sweet all rights reserved.

Cover Art © Copyright 2018 W. G. Sweet

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

LEGAL

This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living person’s places, situations or events is purely coincidental.

No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission. Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.


 YELLOWSTONE


PROLOGUE

Somewhere in the World

Overclocking: SS-V2765

 

“Stay down next to the friggin’ bank, Hunter!” Beeker yelled. Beeker could see that Hunter probably wouldn’t be hanging around for much longer. He didn’t have the wits that Simpson had had. And a fire fight was no fuckin’ place to have to baby sit. Why was it that he always ended up with all the ass-holes any way? They had been pinned down in this particular position a sandy beachhead for four days. Sand and water in front of them, mountain and jungle behind them. They were on the other side of a river, and if the man upstairs the man that pulled all the friggin’ strings, Beeker liked to think, didn’t do something damn soon they might not see five.

The fire was just as heavy as it had been on the first day. Non-stop. Round after round of machine gun fire, and mortar rounds that came so fast it was hard to tell when one ended, and another began. Hunter crawled over, eating some dirt as he came. But at least he had crawled. The numb son-of-a-bitch had walked the first few times; like he was out on a goddamn Sunday stroll.

“Sergeant Beeker?” he whisper yelled over the sound of the gunfire. “Shouldn’t we maybe take the shit now, sir?”

“Hey, fuck you, if I say we lay low, we lay low. We take it like we’re supposed to, no deviations on my watch. Now, shut up and crawl your white-ass back over to your position, mister, NOW!”

The shit was V2765. The thing was, Hunter had already had it at least once, the rest of them hadn’t and never would. But Hunter had come with the vial clearly marked as a booster shot… He didn’t need that yet.

Hunter went, he didn’t have to be told twice. Beeker was one mean bastard, and he had absolutely no desire to mess with him. Even so this whole situation didn’t set well in his mind, and that was mainly due to the fact that it didn’t make any sense. And how in hell could it? he asked himself. There was no answer, because there could be no answer at all. Fifteen days ago he had been safe and sound in… In… It wouldn’t come. Someplace. He had been someplace, not here, and he had been… Whatever he had been, or where ever he had been it wouldn’t come. He could almost remember, like it was right there, just beyond memories…

He could remember waking up here with Beeker, Philips, and Ronson. In the middle of… Of… Where am I? He didn’t know that either, and they weren’t disposed to tell him. Other than waking up in the middle of this fire-fight, he couldn’t remember jack-shit. He made the outside perimeter, and curled up into a near ball as he pressed himself into the dirt embankment.

Jungle all around… Not the Middle East then… Where he had been… Had he been in the Middle East? Fighting… Fighting the… He couldn’t make the information come to him, but it seemed as though it was just barely out of reach like all the rest…

Bluechip… Volunteer? For? Thoughts floating around in his head… They had given him a shot… Some sort of booster? Yes, booster… Booster shot… For, what? He asked himself, but he had no idea.

“About fucking time,” Beeker yelled above the roar of gunfire… …They had been pinned down for the last several hours, with heavy fire. It had finally fallen off somewhat, and it was time to make a move: Beeker was no fool, he had every intention of getting his men the hell out, including that test case they had laid on him…

He’d already lost four good men on this mission. He couldn’t see losing any more. He looked across the short, smoky distance, directly into Ronson’s eyes, and signaled left, away from the sand, towards the jungle that pressed in from behind them. A quick sideways flick of his own eyes told him that Hunter and Phillips had caught it too. Beeker signaled Ronson out first, then Phillips, and then Hunter. It was a slow go; belly crawl for the first few hundred yards. The bullets continued to whine above them, but they all made it one piece. Two hundred yards in they were able to stand. The jungle finally offering some protection. Beeker led the way quickly yet carefully, through the lush greenery. The others fell in behind him silently. Two miles further through the dense jungle, and they finally lost the distant sounds of gunfire, and the jungle fell nearly silent. They fell silent themselves, moving as quietly as they could from tree to tree: Aware of the noises that surrounded them. A short while later when the gunfire had completely fallen off, the jungle seemed to come back to life. Bird calls, and the ever present monkey chatter. That was a good sign to Beeker, if the jungle was full of soldiers, the birds sure as fuck wouldn’t be singing. They pushed on through the night, and morning found them in a small village with a main trail running through the middle of it. They walked quietly through the village end to end… Burned out… Empty… A good place to rest-up.

“Oh, man,” Ronson complained. “Fuckin’ cra-zee,” Beeker agreed wearily. He was leaned back against the side of a burned out hut, smoking a cigarette he’d pulled from inside his jacket.

Hunter didn’t have the slightest idea where they were, let alone what they were talking about. Beeker had led them through the jungle and at first light they had come upon this village. They had crept in warily, ready for whatever lay before them. There had been no need, it was empty; a couple of dozen scattered bodies busy gathering flies: Burned out huts. The design wasn’t familiar to him. He had thought Beeker would move on. He hadn’t. They were still here. But where here was, and how Beeker had found it, eluded Hunter.

“Sure as fuck did thought we was done,” Phillips agreed.

“Yeah, well, we made it this far,” Ronson said. He grinned, and then the grin turned into a full fledged smile, and he began to laugh. Phillips joined him, and a second later, when Hunter was sure Beeker was going to open his mouth to tell them all to shut the fuck up, he started laughing too. “Oh… It’s good, look-at-him,” Ronson said, holding his side, and pointing at Hunter, “he don’t have a friggin’ clue.” That seemed to drive all of them into hysteria, Hunter saw. Including Beeker, who was usually hard-nosed and moody. He was doubled over too. Holding his sides. Tears squirting from his eyes.

“That true?” Beeker asked at last, once he had managed to get the laughter somewhat under control. “That your friggin’ problem is it, Hunter, you don’t have a clue?” he stopped laughing abruptly, and within seconds Ronson and Philips chuckled to a stop. “Do you have the slightest idea where your ass is?” Beeker asked seriously.

“No… Well, a jungle, I guess,” Hunter answered.

“No… Well, it could be a jungle, I guess,” Ronson mimicked in a high falsetto.

“Is it?” Hunter ventured in a near whisper.

“Look…” Beeker waited for silence. “Take a break, it’s going to get worse. Why don’t you have a smoke and kick back… Enjoy the break?”

“Well, the thing is that I don’t smoke, bad for the lungs. I’m pretty careful about my health.”

“Really?” Beeker asked politely. He chuckled briefly, lit another of his own smokes, and then spoke softly. “I would like your complete attention, Hunter, do I have it?”

“Yeah, sure…”

He cut him off, his voice a roar. “In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a fuckin’ war goin’ on, you pansy mother-fucker. A fuckin’ war, Hunter, you understand that, you ain’t gonna live much fuckin’ longer anyway. Get with the program mister, now!”

Hunter’s eyes bugged out, but as Beeker finished he forced himself to speak. “I know that… I can see that… It don’t mean I have to die though, not necessarily.”

“Man, Beek, don’t waste your time, he hopeless, same old shit, like Simpson. Like all those friggin guys before Simpson,” Ronson said.

Beeker drew a deep breath, winked at Ronson, and then spoke. “Yes it does,” Beeker said calmly. “It does because you ain’t a regular. You ain’t been here long enough, and you don’t mean a fiddler’s fuck to anybody. And that sucks, but that’s life, Hunter,” he paused and looked over at Ronson. “How long was the last one, fourteen days, am I right?”

“As rain,” Ronson replied coolly.

“And where are we now?” Beeker asked.

“Seventeen?” Phillips asked.

“Uh uh,” Ronson corrected, “eighteen, man, remember? Simpson bought it eighteen days ago, and this ass-hole came into play. Replacement, supposedly.”

“Right!” Beeker said. “It is eighteen, and that’s why nobody gives a fuck about you, Hunter. Eighteen’s too far, you’ll be done at twenty, it never goes past that, and I’ll bet bullets to bodies you’ll buy the farm long before we’re done with eighteen, see?”

“No,” Hunter said slowly, “I don’t see.” Seventeen? Eighteen? What the hell was that all about? he wondered.

Ronson chuckled. “I think he’s confused, again, Beek.”

“I think he was fuckin’ born confused,” Phillips added.

“Seventeen? Eighteen?” Hunter asked aloud. He didn’t get it, not completely anyway.

“Have a cigarette,” Beeker told him.

“I told you, I don’t…”

“Yeah, right, fuck that noise, there’s a pack inside your jacket… Check it… See if I’m right.”

Hunter fumbled with the jacket snaps, and finally pulled the jacket open. A half pack of smokes resided in the inside pocket. A silver Zippo tucked in beside them. He looked up with amazement.

“So?” Beeker asked, smiling widely.

“One of you guys stuck them there, while I was sleeping, has to be,” Hunter said.

“And when was that?”

Hunter thought about it. He Looked over at Beeker. Beeker just smiled.

“Don’t you get it yet, Hunter? Don’t you feel like an extra in a play.”

“Bluechip? Volunteer for SS-V2765? … Wow, they must have zonked your brain, man…

“Look, it was hard for Simpson too. He was with us for twenty days, and you know, I liked that sucker. He was all right for a white dude. All you guys show up… Combat ready… Except you’re all fucked up in the head… No idea what to expect or even where you are… It aint supposed to be that way, so we always have to lay it out… You are one of them, Super Soldier, we call it over-clocked… You’re gonna get dead, and you know what? Then you’re coming back… Don’t ask me what the fuck is in that shit they give you, all I know is you’ll get dead and then you’ll come back from it and they’ll ship you out… That booster shot? It ain’t exactly a booster shot. I don’t know what exactly it is, but once you’re gone I know this, it’ll bring you back.”

“Yeah, back… In the beginning some didn’t come back, it don’t matter though, ‘cause they come and got them too… But the last several months they, all of you, come back… Dead and then you’re not… And then they’re here and you’re gone and then in a few days some other dick-wad shows up in a supply drop…”

“What? A supply drop?” Hunter asked.

“Oh yeah… Supply drop… Wrapped up like a… Like a douche, man..”

“Uh uh, Beek, man, that line was really Revved up like a Duece,” Ronson said.

“Okay, bad analogy… I hate that fuckin’ song anyways… Always did, but you guys come wrapped up, like a package, man. We unwrap you and you’re alive… We leave you be for awhile and next thing you know you’re sitting up… Walkin’ and talkin’.”

“Yeah, boy… Fuckin’ freaky shit,” Phillips said. “Mucho freaky!”

Hunter swallowed hard, lit up one of the smokes from his jacket, and leaned back against the side of the hut. The silence held.

“So,” Beeker finished quietly, “you gotta deal with it man… You just got too… It won’t be long…”

Stateside: Project Bluechip

Complex C: Patient Ward

Test Subject: Clayton Hunter

Compound SS-V2765

Gabe Kohlson moved away from the monitors. “Heart rate is dropping, don’t you think…” He stopped as the monitor began to chime softly; before he could get fully turned around the chiming turned into a strident alarm that rose and fell. “Dammit,” Kohlson said as he finished his turn.

“What is it,” David Johns wheeled his chair across the short space of the control room. His outstretched hands caught him at the counter top and slowed him at Kohlson’s monitor.

“Flat lined,” Kohlson said as he pushed a button on the wall to confirm what the doctors’ one level up already knew. Clayton Hunter was dead.

“I see it,” Doctor Ed Adams replied over the ceiling speakers. The staff called him Doctor Christmas for his long white beard and oversize belly. “Bertie and I are on the way.”

“Lot of good that will do,” Johns muttered.

Kohlson turned to him. “Go on in… Do CPR if you want… They don’t pay me enough to do it. I don’t know what that shit is. Look at the way the Doc suits up. Clayton Hunter will be in rigor before anyone gets in there at all.”

“No argument,” Johns said. He wheeled back to his own monitor, called up an incident sheet and began to type.

“Me too,” Kohlson agreed. “Preserve the video, med and monitor data.” He punched a few buttons on his console and an interface for the medical equipment came up. He saved the last 48 hours of data, and then began to fill out his own incident report. These reports might never be seen by more than one person, maybe two if you counted the person that wrote it, Kohlson thought, but it would always be there. Classified: Top secret for the next hundred years or so, and he wondered about that too. Would it even be released after a long period? He doubted it. The shit they were doing here was bad. Shit you didn’t ever want the American public to know about. He had made his delivery a few weeks before. Whatever this shit was, bad people had not only come to know about it, but had come to have a need for what it did. It didn’t matter to him, not really. There were rumors, a few things he had seen while monitoring test subjects. Nothing he considered concrete. Maybe it extended life, that was  the strongest rumor. From what he had seen though, as far as test subjects, it did its fair share of ending life pretty effectively too. And here was another one to add to the growing number of failures… If that’s what they were.

This incident report, along with the one Johns was doing, would probably get buried deep under some program listing that no one would ever suspect to look into. Or maybe it would get burned right along with Clayton Hunter’s body. He glanced up at the clock and then went back to typing.

“Uh… Call it 4:32 PM?” He asked.

“Works for me,” Johns agreed. “I got 94 for the body,” Johns said.

“Yeah… Yeah, me too. That’s a fast drop, but we both got the same thing. 94 it is… No heart, no respiratory, dead as dog shit.”

“Dog shit,” Johns agreed. They both fell silent as they typed. A few moments later the doors to the observation room chimed, the air purifiers kicked on with a high pitched whine, and they could both feel the air as it dragged past them and into the air ducts. The entire volume would be replaced and the room depressurized and then re-pressurized before the doors would open. And that would only happen after the air was tested and retested. A good twenty minutes away before anyone would step foot into the room with Clayton Hunter.

Complex C, Autopsy Room

Ed Adams and Roberta Summers had dissected Clayton Hunter’s body methodically. The autopsy had been painstaking. It had to be, it was recorded in detail and some General somewhere, hell maybe even the president, would be looking that video over in the next few days. Maybe even watching live now, Ed Adams thought. They had that capability. There was nothing to see. He had suffered a major heart attack. The heart had a defect. No history. One of those things that just came along and fucked up your two billion dollar research project all at once.

“Coronary Thrombosis,” He spoke in a measured voice. “Appears to be after the fact. The artery looks to be mildly occluded… The myocardial infarction appears to be caused from a congenital defect… Specifically an Atrial Septal Defect… Bertie?”

“I concur. Easily overlooked. The lack of sustenance put a higher demand on the subject’s heart, the defect became a major player at that point… Bad luck for us.”

“Uh, bad luck for Clayton Hunter,” Ed Adams added.

“Of course, bad luck for the subject, Clayton Hunter. I simply meant bad luck for a research volunteer to be defective in such a way that in effect it would compromise a project of this magnitude so badly.” She turned her eyes up to one of the cameras she knew to be there. “This in no way paints a true picture of V2765. We should proceed, unsatisfying as these circumstances might be, we should proceed with subjects 1120F and 1119X… Same compound.” She turned back to the corpse on the table. “You want me to do the brain biopsy,” She asked Ed.

Ed frowned as he made eye contact with her. They had decided, at least he had thought they had decided, not to mention brain biopsies. Three times now he had discussed the importance of not focusing on the changes that V2765 made to the brain. Anything that altered the brain could alter financing, funding, lab time. Even the government didn’t like changes to brain matter.

“Are you thinking there could have been an embolism?” He asked.

“Well I,” she sputtered away for a second before Ed rescued her.

“I think all we would see is evidence of the embolism that occurred near the heart. We could search out areas of the body and most likely find more than one occurrence of embolism. Well thought, Bertie, but I believe we will take a look at the brain later in the week. Right now I want to focus on the enzymes, proteins, blood work and readying the other two for a conclusion of this trial.”

“Yes. I agree entirely, Doctor Adams.”

“You have your samples?”

“Yes of course, Doctor… Rex?”

Ed frowned hard and shrugged his shoulders in the direction of the thick glass. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “None in here. That was stupid, Bertie.“

“What was that,” Kohlson asked Johns in the control room.

“What?” Johns asked.

“That… Whisper, I guess,” Kohlson said.

“Oh… That. You know those two got it bad for each other. Probably making little remarks you don’t want to hear. Besides which, you make a report on that and we all have to deal with it: Them, sure, but us too because the bosses will be pissed off about it. Best to let that shit slide: If the boss wants to know, he will. He looks at all of this shit in depth.”

Kohlson looked about to say more when Doctor Christmas began talking once more in the autopsy room.

“Let’s close him up,” Ed Adams said. He stepped on a switch set into the floor, paused, and then spoke again. “Lower the air temperature in here. We intend to keep him a few hours while we attend to other parts of the autopsy… No one in here for any reason.”

Out in the control room Johns keyed his mic. button. “Will do… How low, Doc.?”

“I guess about 34 Fahrenheit will do… Just to slow it all down for a while.”

“Done,” Johns agreed. He adjusted a temperature graphic on a nearby monitor via his mouse.

Kohlson leaned over across the short distance. “So we got to look at that shit for a while? Great.”

“They’re going to sew him up, so it won’t be so bad.”

“Yeah… That’s like, I got a mild case of flu. It’s still going to suck, because every time I look anywhere I’m going to feel compelled to look at it.”

“Yeah. Me too. It’s there. Draws you to it. Like the Bunny on the Playboy Cover. You look at the rest of the magazine, but you know you’re going to end up looking at her. She’s the reason you bought the magazine after all.”

Kohlson nodded and smiled. “And I’d rather look at Miss January than a dead guy with big stitches across his belly and over his chest, sewing him back up again. That is some ugly shit.”

Johns laughed. “But you look anyway… Human nature. Why do you think people slow down and look at accidents?”

“Because we’re morbid mother-fuckers,” Kohlson agreed.

“Well, that too, but it is that fascination with death we have. Look,” He pointed at the monitor. Do you think Clayton Hunter knew he’d be laying on a steel slab this afternoon, dick hanging out, with Doctor Christmas shoving his guts back in and stitching him up with his nursey assisting?” They both laughed and turned away.

“She ain’t half…”

A scream cut off the conversation and both men turned quickly back to the monitor.

Clayton Hunter was sitting up on the steel table. Arms drooping at his side. Mouth yawning. Doctor Christmas had backed away until he had met the wall behind him. Nurse Bertie was nowhere to be seen.

“What the fuck… What the fuck. Get a camera on the floor… Maybe she fainted,” Kohlson said.

“Got it,” Johns agreed. He stabbed at the keys on his keyboard and a view of the table at an angle appeared. Nurse Bertie’s leg could be seen, angled away from the table, skirt hiked high. The camera paused briefly and then the view began to shift as Johns manipulated the camera angle. Her face came into view. Mouth open, blood seeping from one corner.

“Doctor,” Kohlson called over the speaker system. Outside the airlocks had clicked on and the air was cycling. Good, he thought, in twenty minutes the Calvary would be here. “Doctor Adams?”

The doctor finally took his eyes off Clayton Hunter and turned toward one of the cameras. On the table Clayton Hunter leaned forward and tumbled off the edge of the table. At the same instant the air purifier quit cycling and three armed men in gas masks stepped into the airlock.

“Jesus,” Johns sputtered into his headset microphone, “You guys can’t do that shit. That air has to be worked?” Three more men stepped through the lock and the door to the autopsy room opened as well as the door to the control room. A split second later the rifles in their hands began to roar. The sound was louder than Kohlson expected in the enclosed space. He clasped his hands over his ears, but it did little good. The soldiers, he saw, were wearing ear protection of some sort. Noise canceling headgear. The remaining three soldiers had stepped into the control room, he saw as he looked back up from the floor. They had their rifles leveled at them, the others were still firing within the confines of the small autopsy room. A small gray cloud was creeping along the floor and rolling slowly into the control room. The stench of gunpowder was strong in the enclosed space. The air purifiers were off. Kohlson knew there was another control room outside this one that controlled this space, and possibly another outside of that space that controlled that space: Built in redundant protection; it was clear that they were in a very bad place.

Kohlson saw Clayton Hunter lurch to his feet and stumble into the soldiers who were firing at point blank range in the tight confines. A series of bullets finally tore across his chest and then into his head and he fell from view. A second later the firing dropped off and then stopped completely.

Johns was listening to the sound of his own heart hammering for a space of seconds before he figured out it was his own. The smell of gunpowder was nauseating, and he suddenly lunged forward and vomited on his shoes. As he was lifting his head he saw that the soldiers were retreating back through the airlocks and into the outer spaces of the compound.

“Jesus,” Kohlson managed before he also bent forward and vomited. They heard the air filtering kick back on as both of them rolled away from the puddles of vomit and quickly disappearing low, gray vapor from the gunfire. The doors into the autopsy room suddenly banged shut and then their own door whispered closed as well: Once again they were isolated in their small space.

They both sat silent for a moment, and then Kohlson left and returned from the small bathroom with a mop and bucket from the utility closet there. He left again and returned with a bottle of disinfectant and sprayed down the vomit and the balance of the small room.

“That won’t do shit,” Johns said solemnly. “We’re infected. Whatever they infected that guy Hunter with, we got it now.

Kohlson ignored him, waited the ten minutes for the disinfectant to work and then cleaned up the mess. Neither spoke while he returned the equipment to the small closet and then came back and sat down.

“You heard me, right?”

“I heard you,” Kohlson admitted. “I just don’t give a fuck… It’s too fresh… I can’t believe it right now.” He looked up at the clock. “Mother fucker… I was off duty in twenty minutes… Twenty goddamn minutes!” He spun and looked at Johns, but Johns was looking up at the monitors that were still on in the autopsy room. The smoke was being drawn out by the air exchange, and the horror of the room was slowly coming into focus.

Doctor Adams lay sprawled in one corner, a line of bullet holes stitched across his back. The back portion of his skull was missing, jagged bone and gray-black hair clumped wildly around the fractured bone. Johns gagged and looked away.

“Jesus… They killed everybody,” Kohlson said as he continued to watch. Nurse Bertie lay where she had fallen. Only her legs visible in the shot they could see. Clayton Hunter lay against the end of the stainless slab, his head a shapeless mass. The stitches across his chest and stomach bulging. Kohlson finally turned away too.

“They’re coming back for us.” Johns said.

Kohlson spun to the door.

“Not now, stupid ass, but you can’t think we get to live after that. They contaminated our air. We’re dead. No way are we not dead.”

Kohlson said nothing.



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Rocket Copyright 2018 Dell Sweet Preview

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Copyright 2018 Dell Sweet all rights reserved.
Cover Art © Copyright 2018 Dell Sweet
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
LEGAL
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living person’s places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission. Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PROLOGUE
PART ONE: Star Dancer
ONE
TWO
THREE
FOUR
FIVE
SIX
SEVEN
PART TWO: Star Cruising
EIGHT
NINE
TEN
ELEVEN
TWELVE
THIRTEEN

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


 
PROLOUGE
Hay Vida 02281 11-08 21:58:27
Present Day
Michael Watson sat at the mouth of the cave staring out over the valley below. This close to the thick plastic the air was cold, but the wooden benches were comfortable if a little hard. They had served for dozens upon dozens of people since Mike and Tom had built them some thirty years before: They still served them well. He turned and smiled at several children who sat nearby pointing out different landmarks in the valley far below. The children, especially, never seemed to tire of sitting on the low benches and looking out over the valley.
Michael chuckled to himself, turned his eyes from the other benches, and back out on the valley far below. The snow was falling heavy. Two hours ago late fall had been holding steady, little smudges of green had still existed throughout all the fall foliage in the valley. Now it was quickly becoming a blanket of white. Fall had lost this round.
Years before they had devised a new year that better kept track of seasons and the much longer year Hay Vida had. Even with a year that now held some 95 extra days spread over fifteen months to even the seasons out the time still seemed to move by too quickly. Time was never a friend to anyone, Michael thought. Well, maybe death nothing else.
The seasons had worked themselves out after a few years. Some longer, some shorter, it was winter that had come out the winner in that round. Even slightly longer winters had a huge impact on the year around weather and the planting that could be accomplished. It took much longer to get through winter, longer for spring to thaw the valleys and fields for planting, longer for the sun to warm the ground and glaciers were forming in the north: Growing ever bigger year by year. Michael had sometimes wondered in years past if he would see them come this far. Of course the answer was no: They would not come this far in his lifetime, but he had no doubt they would come here eventually.
Winter was coming in strong today; there would be little left to do soon but plan the hunts and tell stories around the fire.
They still kept their own herds started from the stock they had worked so hard to bring into this valley, but they often hunted. The habit was good and it passed the skills down to the younger ones. There were places in this still-young world where those skills were essential.
The whole mouth of the cave had been closed off from the elements for many years. Salvaged carbon sheets that spanned floor to ceiling: A graphite frame that held them: Warmth inside the elements without, but always within reach. Something Tom had built. The last thing Tom had built, Michael remembered sadly.
He shook his head slightly remembering. That had been back in the council days before the wars had begun: Before the years of leaders, kings, the two queens and everything else that had come with the wars. Even so, even in the council years, Michael had been their leader. The council had made its decisions, but he had lead them.
Michael had been the only leader for several years now, he had helped to build this society, but he was getting older and it was getting closer and closer to the time when he would need to turn the reins over to a younger, stronger person. Maybe even this winter, he thought as he watched the snow swirl and blow.
Back in the cave behind him there were three generations waiting to take their own steps into the procession that would bring them to leadership. Some of those young men and women were ready now. It really wasn’t something he should be thinking about it was something he should be doing.
“Grandfather?”
Michael smiled up into the eyes of Rain, a newborn at her breast; her swollen belly a testament to the one coming. He took one of the furs from his shoulder and laid it across the worn wooden planking for her. A second went around her shoulders as she sat.
“It’s not too cold for the baby this close up is it?” Michael asked. The carbon held the weather out, but it was still very cold this close to the huge sheets.
Rain smiled back. “Thank you, grandfather. No it isn’t too cold.” She looked out over the valley too.”It’s beautiful,” she said.
“It is, but it can be treacherous. Winter is here now… Probably you should stay?” he asked the last. Too often he came off as demanding. The rule giver; it was something that Petra had always chided him about: He missed her constantly.
“It’s what Ron and I thought too. Base One will be there in the spring. I thought we could send a messenger… Maybe tomorrow after the snows?” She smiled widely. She knew he had been worried, and she was glad that he had given them the time to work it out between them. Glad now to give him what he would consider good news. Michael had already stood and turned though, his large frame standing tall from the rock floor.
“Jerrica,” he called out.
A young woman came from the back area of the cave. She was tall, dark, short black hair framed her face. Her clothes were stitched leather, heavy, well made. A laser rifle rested upon her back. A wide belt circled her waist; pistols on either side and a knife sheaf depended from it: Firepower was a luxury not easy to come by any longer. She came and stood next to Michael. She looked so much like her mother, Michael thought, that it amazed him. He had known Petra at this age, the resemblance always threw him when she was here and made him think for a second that reality had side slipped and he was back in time somehow.
“I will need you to deliver a message to your mother for me,” Michael told her. He stood and walked a short distance away and continued to talk to her in low tones. Rain turned her face back out to the valley and watched the thick flakes of snow fall, when they had finished their conversation they both came back to the benches. Jerrica gazed out over the valley, her eyes veiled.
Rain smiled at Jerrica, but her face barely softened. She was so serious. All members of the guard were always serious and Jerrica was no exception. Rain supposed she had been the same during her service too, but something in Jerrica had gone past service, she had come to love it. She had never left it. It was her life. Younger than Rain, she had already been a guard for several years. Rain had done her own duty for two years and had then become a wife and mother. She and Ron were going to Base One to be considered for leadership. She listened to the low whispers of talk between Michael and Jerrica and thought about her own life as she did.
She had come to this valley as a child with the original settlers: Years past now. That bought her to nearing her middle years, the age of leadership. As she looked out over the valley she realized there was little left of the original settlement she had watched rise from the valley floor as a child. In those days the people had still clung to the old technology. That was long gone here now, except with the guard and some other applications like the power plant; a few others. The people themselves had gone back to simpler roots. The old ways Tom had taught them. His motto had been; why use it just because it’s there? Do we want to return to the old life or do we really want to move on to something else? Always a challenging question and one everyone had to answer in their own way.
There was only a settlement here at all because Michael had come back, killed the ones that had enslaved the people; freed them, Rain included and taken the settlement back.
Michael spoke, interrupting her thoughts.
“A team is outgoing with Jerrica. She will tell them to look for you in the spring.” He smiled. “Maybe that will give me time to talk you out of leaving.” He smiled, but it was an uneasy smile.
Rain smiled. He didn’t know why they were leaving. They had told him it was simply time to move. She didn’t know how he would feel if she did tell him, but she hadn’t wanted to hurt him.
Michael turned back to the valley speaking as he did. “They will know inside of a week.”
Rain made up her mind. “They have asked us to come… To be considered to lead… Petra asked for us.”
Michael turned and straightened. “Petra?” He looked from Jerrica to Rain as he spoke.
“Petra wishes to step down,” Jerrica told him quietly.

“… I remember the times we spent there… When it was still good for all of us,” Rain said. Her eyes teared up; she shifted the baby and looked at Michael…



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Yellowstone from author Dell Sweet

YELLOWSTONE

Copyright 2018 W. G. Sweet all rights reserved.

Cover Art © Copyright 2018 W. G. Sweet

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living person’s places, situations or events is purely coincidental.

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WARNING! This preview contains violence and explicit language


PROLOGUE

Somewhere in the World

Overclocking: SS-V2765

 

“Stay down next to the friggin’ bank, Hunter!” Beeker yelled. Beeker could see that Hunter probably wouldn’t be hanging around for much longer. He didn’t have the wits that Simpson had had. And a fire fight was no fuckin’ place to have to baby sit. Why was it that he always ended up with all the ass-holes any way? They had been pinned down in this particular position a sandy beachhead for four days. Sand and water in front of them, mountain and jungle behind them. They were on the other side of a river, and if the man upstairs the man that pulled all the friggin’ strings, Beeker liked to think, didn’t do something damn soon they might not see five.

The fire was just as heavy as it had been on the first day. Non-stop. Round after round of machine gun fire, and mortar rounds that came so fast it was hard to tell when one ended, and another began. Hunter crawled over, eating some dirt as he came. But at least he had crawled. The numb son-of-a-bitch had walked the first few times; like he was out on a goddamn Sunday stroll.

“Sergeant Beeker?” he whisper yelled over the sound of the gunfire. “Shouldn’t we maybe take the shit now, sir?”

“Hey, fuck you, if I say we lay low, we lay low. We take it like we’re supposed to, no deviations on my watch. Now, shut up and crawl your white-ass back over to your position, mister, NOW!”

The shit was V2765. The thing was, Hunter had already had it at least once, the rest of them hadn’t and never would. But Hunter had come with the vial clearly marked as a booster shot… He didn’t need that yet.

Hunter went, he didn’t have to be told twice. Beeker was one mean bastard, and he had absolutely no desire to mess with him. Even so this whole situation didn’t set well in his mind, and that was mainly due to the fact that it didn’t make any sense. And how in hell could it? he asked himself. There was no answer, because there could be no answer at all. Fifteen days ago he had been safe and sound in… In… It wouldn’t come. Someplace. He had been someplace, not here, and he had been… Whatever he had been, or where ever he had been it wouldn’t come. He could almost remember, like it was right there, just beyond memories…

He could remember waking up here with Beeker, Philips, and Ronson. In the middle of… Of… Where am I? He didn’t know that either, and they weren’t disposed to tell him. Other than waking up in the middle of this fire-fight, he couldn’t remember jack-shit. He made the outside perimeter, and curled up into a near ball as he pressed himself into the dirt embankment.

Jungle all around… Not the Middle East then… Where he had been… Had he been in the Middle East? Fighting… Fighting the… He couldn’t make the information come to him, but it seemed as though it was just barely out of reach like all the rest…

Bluechip… Volunteer? For? Thoughts floating around in his head… They had given him a shot… Some sort of booster? Yes, booster… Booster shot… For, what? He asked himself, but he had no idea.

“About fucking time,” Beeker yelled above the roar of gunfire… …They had been pinned down for the last several hours, with heavy fire. It had finally fallen off somewhat, and it was time to make a move: Beeker was no fool, he had every intention of getting his men the hell out, including that test case they had laid on him…

He’d already lost four good men on this mission. He couldn’t see losing any more. He looked across the short, smoky distance, directly into Ronson’s eyes, and signaled left, away from the sand, towards the jungle that pressed in from behind them. A quick sideways flick of his own eyes told him that Hunter and Phillips had caught it too. Beeker signaled Ronson out first, then Phillips, and then Hunter. It was a slow go; belly crawl for the first few hundred yards. The bullets continued to whine above them, but they all made it one piece. Two hundred yards in they were able to stand. The jungle finally offering some protection. Beeker led the way quickly yet carefully, through the lush greenery. The others fell in behind him silently. Two miles further through the dense jungle, and they finally lost the distant sounds of gunfire, and the jungle fell nearly silent. They fell silent themselves, moving as quietly as they could from tree to tree: Aware of the noises that surrounded them. A short while later when the gunfire had completely fallen off, the jungle seemed to come back to life. Bird calls, and the ever present monkey chatter. That was a good sign to Beeker, if the jungle was full of soldiers, the birds sure as fuck wouldn’t be singing. They pushed on through the night, and morning found them in a small village with a main trail running through the middle of it. They walked quietly through the village end to end… Burned out… Empty… A good place to rest-up.

“Oh, man,” Ronson complained. “Fuckin’ cra-zee,” Beeker agreed wearily. He was leaned back against the side of a burned out hut, smoking a cigarette he’d pulled from inside his jacket.

Hunter didn’t have the slightest idea where they were, let alone what they were talking about. Beeker had led them through the jungle and at first light they had come upon this village. They had crept in warily, ready for whatever lay before them. There had been no need, it was empty; a couple of dozen scattered bodies busy gathering flies: Burned out huts. The design wasn’t familiar to him. He had thought Beeker would move on. He hadn’t. They were still here. But where here was, and how Beeker had found it, eluded Hunter.

“Sure as fuck did thought we was done,” Phillips agreed.

“Yeah, well, we made it this far,” Ronson said. He grinned, and then the grin turned into a full fledged smile, and he began to laugh. Phillips joined him, and a second later, when Hunter was sure Beeker was going to open his mouth to tell them all to shut the fuck up, he started laughing too. “Oh… It’s good, look-at-him,” Ronson said, holding his side, and pointing at Hunter, “he don’t have a friggin’ clue.” That seemed to drive all of them into hysteria, Hunter saw. Including Beeker, who was usually hard-nosed and moody. He was doubled over too. Holding his sides. Tears squirting from his eyes.

“That true?” Beeker asked at last, once he had managed to get the laughter somewhat under control. “That your friggin’ problem is it, Hunter, you don’t have a clue?” he stopped laughing abruptly, and within seconds Ronson and Philips chuckled to a stop. “Do you have the slightest idea where your ass is?” Beeker asked seriously.

“No… Well, a jungle, I guess,” Hunter answered.

“No… Well, it could be a jungle, I guess,” Ronson mimicked in a high falsetto.

“Is it?” Hunter ventured in a near whisper.

“Look…” Beeker waited for silence. “Take a break, it’s going to get worse. Why don’t you have a smoke and kick back… Enjoy the break?”

“Well, the thing is that I don’t smoke, bad for the lungs. I’m pretty careful about my health.”

“Really?” Beeker asked politely. He chuckled briefly, lit another of his own smokes, and then spoke softly. “I would like your complete attention, Hunter, do I have it?”

“Yeah, sure…”

He cut him off, his voice a roar. “In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a fuckin’ war goin’ on, you pansy mother-fucker. A fuckin’ war, Hunter, you understand that, you ain’t gonna live much fuckin’ longer anyway. Get with the program mister, now!”

Hunter’s eyes bugged out, but as Beeker finished he forced himself to speak. “I know that… I can see that… It don’t mean I have to die though, not necessarily.”

“Man, Beek, don’t waste your time, he hopeless, same old shit, like Simpson. Like all those friggin guys before Simpson,” Ronson said.

Beeker drew a deep breath, winked at Ronson, and then spoke. “Yes it does,” Beeker said calmly. “It does because you ain’t a regular. You ain’t been here long enough, and you don’t mean a fiddler’s fuck to anybody. And that sucks, but that’s life, Hunter,” he paused and looked over at Ronson. “How long was the last one, fourteen days, am I right?”

“As rain,” Ronson replied coolly.

“And where are we now?” Beeker asked.

“Seventeen?” Phillips asked.

“Uh uh,” Ronson corrected, “eighteen, man, remember? Simpson bought it eighteen days ago, and this ass-hole came into play. Replacement, supposedly.”

“Right!” Beeker said. “It is eighteen, and that’s why nobody gives a fuck about you, Hunter. Eighteen’s too far, you’ll be done at twenty, it never goes past that, and I’ll bet bullets to bodies you’ll buy the farm long before we’re done with eighteen, see?”

“No,” Hunter said slowly, “I don’t see.” Seventeen? Eighteen? What the hell was that all about? he wondered.

Ronson chuckled. “I think he’s confused, again, Beek.”

“I think he was fuckin’ born confused,” Phillips added.

“Seventeen? Eighteen?” Hunter asked aloud. He didn’t get it, not completely anyway.

“Have a cigarette,” Beeker told him.

“I told you, I don’t…”

“Yeah, right, fuck that noise, there’s a pack inside your jacket… Check it… See if I’m right.”

Hunter fumbled with the jacket snaps, and finally pulled the jacket open. A half pack of smokes resided in the inside pocket. A silver Zippo tucked in beside them. He looked up with amazement.

“So?” Beeker asked, smiling widely.

“One of you guys stuck them there, while I was sleeping, has to be,” Hunter said.

“And when was that?”

Hunter thought about it. He Looked over at Beeker. Beeker just smiled.

“Don’t you get it yet, Hunter? Don’t you feel like an extra in a play.”

“Bluechip? Volunteer for SS-V2765? … Wow, they must have zonked your brain, man…

“Look, it was hard for Simpson too. He was with us for twenty days, and you know, I liked that sucker. He was all right for a white dude. All you guys show up… Combat ready… Except you’re all fucked up in the head… No idea what to expect or even where you are… It aint supposed to be that way, so we always have to lay it out… You are one of them, Super Soldier, we call it over-clocked… You’re gonna get dead, and you know what? Then you’re coming back… Don’t ask me what the fuck is in that shit they give you, all I know is you’ll get dead and then you’ll come back from it and they’ll ship you out… That booster shot? It ain’t exactly a booster shot. I don’t know what exactly it is, but once you’re gone I know this, it’ll bring you back.”

“Yeah, back… In the beginning some didn’t come back, it don’t matter though, ‘cause they come and got them too… But the last several months they, all of you, come back… Dead and then you’re not… And then they’re here and you’re gone and then in a few days some other dick-wad shows up in a supply drop…”

“What? A supply drop?” Hunter asked.

“Oh yeah… Supply drop… Wrapped up like a… Like a douche, man..”

“Uh uh, Beek, man, that line was really Revved up like a Duece,” Ronson said.

“Okay, bad analogy… I hate that fuckin’ song anyways… Always did, but you guys come wrapped up, like a package, man. We unwrap you and you’re alive… We leave you be for awhile and next thing you know you’re sitting up… Walkin’ and talkin’.”

“Yeah, boy… Fuckin’ freaky shit,” Phillips said. “Mucho freaky!”

Hunter swallowed hard, lit up one of the smokes from his jacket, and leaned back against the side of the hut. The silence held.

“So,” Beeker finished quietly, “you gotta deal with it man… You just got too… It won’t be long…”

Yellowstone by W.G. Sweet “Super volcanoes… Earthquakes that modern civilization has never seen… The last super eruption was responsible for killing off the human population some seventy-four thousand years ago.” He paused in the silence.



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HIS OWN

His Own

Just outside of Fort Drum; in Jefferson County New York, on the old Jeffery’s farm; buried under four feet of loose earth in a freshly dug grave. Joe Miller suddenly awoke, and began to claw his way out towards the surface. He no longer needed to breathe, he realized, as he clawed at the loose earth to free himself, and he really didn’t seem to care.

In a long tunnel, under the city of Watertown New York, hemmed in by large military trucks, Frank Morgan wondered over the luck he’d had at getting himself into the Army facility.
He had flashed his press pass, half afraid they would open fire or something, and instead the young guard at the booth had just waved him in.
He could not have known that just that day an open, though somewhat restricted, invitation had been given to a reporter who was on good terms with the new facility’s commander.
The plan, cooked up by the reporter and the base commander, was to write a carefully worded article about the storage facilities, to dispel the rumors that were circulating.
The young guard had simply waved Frank through at the entrance, when he had seen the press pass, not knowing he had allowed the wrong man into the tunnel. They had only told him to expect a reporter. If he had looked at Franks pass closely, he would have noticed that he was not from the Watertown paper, and he would not have allowed him to enter.

Willie LeFray sat slumped against a wall in an alley off Beechwood Avenue, in Seattle’s red light district. He had been dead for over six hours. The money he had stolen, had allowed him to indulge in his habit for over forty six hours with no sleep. The last injection had killed him.
The Cocaine he had purchased had been cut with rat poison, among other things, so that the hype who had sold it to him could stretch it a little further.
The constant hours of indulging in his habit would have killed him anyway, but the addition of the rat poison was all his overworked heart could stand, and it had simply stopped beating in protest.
Willie’s eyelids flickered, and his hand shot up to bat at a fly that had been examining his nose.
Twenty feet away on Beechwood Avenue, the prostitutes were just beginning to show up in force, and the descending darkness hid the white trails that sped across the sky.

Ira paused, and slowly set the checker that had been in his hand, to one side.
“It’s time, ain’t it,” he stated.
“Yes, I’m afraid it is,” the older man replied, getting up from the small table.
“Come on then,” the older man continued, “we have a lot to accomplish.”
Ira blinked…

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Earth’s Survivors Apocalypse follows survivors of a worldwide catastrophe.

A meteorite that was supposed to miss the earth completely, hits and becomes the cap to a series of events that destroy the world as we know it. Police, fire, politicians, military, governments: All gone. Hopes, dreams, tomorrows: All buried in a desperate struggle to survive.
From L.A. To Manhattan the cities, governments have toppled and lawlessness is the rule. The dead lay in the streets while gangs fight for control of what is left. Small groups band together for safety and begin to leave the ravaged cities behind in search of a future that can once again hold promise…

It was the most tired I had ever been. I laid my head down and I was gone for a little while…
The sun is down all the way here. I went back upstairs. Nothing on the horizon. That time of evening when the sun is down and the moon has yet to rise. Very dark. Can’t see anything in any direction. Thought they must be all sleeping in the barn, but I heard some movements out near where I… Never mind what I did there, I’ll get to that soon enough, I guess. I only heard it once, but I know damn well it’s one of them… Some of them…
I don’t believe the whiskey is going to make it to daylight, but I have a feeling I’m not going to make it to daylight either… Feeling funny now, not myself… I’ll try to get this done…
It was the 15th when I came awake in that truck. Hot, but desert heat…
September 15th
It was late afternoon when Johnny awoke. Somewhere in the day Lana had wound up beside him. He lay still, unwilling to let her go, his hand was curled protectively around her. Lana moved and he felt the sleep leave her body. One moment soft and willing, the next a live wire.
“You didn’t cop a feel did you?” Lana asked in a mumbled half sleepy voice.
“Lana, can’t you ever just say something like, good morning?”
She twisted her head around and smiled. The secret smile she rarely ever gave out. “Good late afternoon,” she said and the smile slipped away. There was still something there, but it wasn’t that secret, vulnerable glimpse into her heart that it was usually. She stretched, yawned, and her feet came up against the door. “Next vehicle we get is an SUV so we have some place to sleep too.”
“I don’t know, I kind of liked this,” Johnny said before he could shut his mouth down.
Lana laughed and it was the unguarded Lana once more. “As long as you know what the deal is.” She twisted her head once more, and then her entire body so she was looking directly into his eyes.
“I… I know the deal,” Johnny said. The press of her body was maddening.
“We really don’t need to talk it out?”
Johnny shook his head and looked away. “I’m a little too old for you, Lana. I know.”
Her eyes became sad. “Let me just say these few things.” She took a deep breath and then began to speak. “I am attracted to you. I considered sleeping with you before you became my friend, before I knew it couldn’t work between us. I even considered it after… Maybe ten minutes ago too, but it would cost me a friend because it wouldn’t mean to me what it would mean to you. It has nothing to do with age or anything else.” She held his eyes as if willing him to understand.
“It’s like you see me as this fragile little princess, and I am so far from that, Johnny. So far. I can’t see why you try to see me that way.” She laughed. “It’s a thing men do. Like… Like that is love, you see? Instead of love just being about all the other stuff… The things I admire about you, you about me. The things in common, the things that we share, the parts of you and me that are real that end up in the mix… But no, I’m a princess, unattainable beauty, something to worship, and it has nothing to do with what I really am at all. I have lived that way, tried to live up to that. It’s not possible… The man I need is out there, I hope. Just someone that looks at me as me.” She watched his eyes…



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Unicorn lamps and other confusing things and a free look at Rocket

So I woke up yesterday morning about 3:00 am because my cat insisted that I wake up. He does that. I guess he gets bored sometimes and wants someone to bug so he comes and wakes me up, meows a few times and then leaves. If he continues to meow it means … “Get up you fat %^&$#@& and let me out right now!” I understand cat relatively well.

So about three years ago my mother bought me a lamp. One of her summertime rummage sale romps and she dragged back this touch lamp with glass shades, and all the shades have pictures of horses grazing next to a field and a stream. Very pastoral, peaceful, made me think good things. I used the lamp on my desk for about a year and then installed an overhead lamp so I can see to type better on my monitor… Did I really just say that? Yes, I did.

So my excuse was that I wanted to see better as I typed, but the truth was I couldn’t see much of anything on my desktop, it was all murky and indistinct so I installed an overhead fluorescent light and nearly blinded myself, yanked that out and screwed one side of a clip on lamp to the wall above my router and called it good… Ahhh, the things you can get away with when you don’t have a wife.

A few days later I noticed the touch lamp sitting forlornly next to my desk so I picked it up thinking … “I need a bedside lamp.” And there it went and stayed.

So the cat comes into the doorway at 3:00 am and meows, I awaken, look at the shadow, wonder if it is a cat or that damn raccoon that has been hanging around: The raccoon in the television commercial that follows the woman to bed because she calls it thinking it is her cat bugs the hell out of me and I am probably blind enough to make that mistake. Don’t ask me when I would have let the raccoon in… So I click on the lamp to better see the cat and make sure it is a cat and I’ll be damned: My horses grazing next to the stream and field are not horses at all I see as the light comes on and nearly blinds me; they are bright glowing white unicorns… Yes, unicorns grazing next to that stream and the field. I look at the cat, the cat looks at me as if to say “I could have told you they were unicorns, Susie.” The cat is a real wise acre. I blink but it is still 3:00 am and the horses are still unicorns and the cat is still meowing so I get up, pad to the door and let him out. I return to bed thinking I must do something about this. After all this is the same mother that bought me A pink high heel shaped tape dispenser that my visitors picks on me about all of the time.

“Hide it in the basement.” I say aloud… No good. We don’t have a basement.

“Well, the pantry then.” Uh, no, we don’t have a pantry either.

I make it back to bed. Look at the lamp carefully and yes, this is no mistake every damn horse in the field on all six glass panels have spiraled unicorns on their narrow heads. I sigh, turn out the lamp so I don’t have to see them, but there is no sleep for me, the cat and the disturbing unicorns have awakened me so I pop on Netflix: LOST season 5 episode 8 and watch it. After all, if it is going to be weird I may as well enjoy it… Geo


This is the short story that turned into Rocket. I will leave you with this, enjoy the weekend, Dell…


DYING WORLD

Dying World is an unpublished short story by Dell Sweet.

All rights are reserved by the author. Copyright 2018 Dell Sweet

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person dead or living is purely coincidental. This work is licensed to this blog only. You may not copy, transfer or quote this text; excepts verse of two paragraphs or less strictly for critiques. Anything more requires author permission.


DYING WORLD

Earth

Los Angeles district

2:00 am

My hand reached across the bedside table searching for the headset as it buzzed. Petra moved beside me, mumbled, obviously displeased that the buzzer was still going off. “Wake the babes,” she said, as coherently as she could.

My hand finally closed on the headset. I untangled my head from the sheets and jabbed at the on button as I bought the device to my face. I mumbled into it.

“Mike? … Mike?” The voice sounded excited. Over excited. I opened my eyes fully in the semi darkness, got up and out of the bed. I was barely used to sleeping off ship, it was only my second time. But I had missed Petra and the babes so much. The gravity was horrible. I felt overweight, out of shape. Petra said it passed, but I hated the waiting and the truth was that for me, with only short stays it never would pass.

“Brother… Brother. Listen to me, brother, listen to me… Can you hear me? … Are you there?” The voice was my oldest friend, Tom Richards.

“Tom… Tom, calm down. What is it.” Do you know,” I looked at the clock: A thing I rarely ever worried about shipboard, “time it is? Petra’s upset, you could’ve waked the babes

babes!”

“You’ll have to wake them anyway,” he said bluntly.

“What?” I asked. I made my way out of the bedroom quickly, stumbled to the kitchen and pulled a stool from the serve through and sat down.

“I said you’ve got to wake them… And Petra. This is serious!”

“What is serious, Tom? You’re scaring me more than a little. What’s wrong? … Has it? …” I couldn’t bring myself to say it.

Tom had worked at one of the biggest penal colonies on Mars for the last several years. Three years before he had fallen in with Petra and I when we had decide to buy our own Star Cruiser and seek our fortune. He kept close contact when the men and women he had come to know, including some that were part of the Federal Planet Association that controlled all of Earth and all the other planets as well. When things had gone sour for the FPA the year before Petra and I had decided now might be the time to start a family. My wish was to get Petra off the ship, she had wanted to have children before it became too late. Bring them shipboard in a few years. After all  a Star Cruiser might not be a bad place to raise a family. They were protected after all. The Feds had dozens of cruisers of their own that patrolled what they considered their borders to keep us safe as we delivered supplies and more to distant outposts.

Star cruisers were protected, but with just so few ships to protecting hundreds of private cruisers it was becoming a hard job.

We were docked on Earth. More properly put, we were docked at UPT fifteen, twenty-two miles above Earth. I was on the planet with Petra.

“We lost a big chunk… A big chunk,” he was whispering now.

“A big chunk?” My mind was beginning to focus.

“A big chunk… The Feds are pulling out… Right now, they’re pulling out. They’ve done their calculations and we just slipped past the point of no return… I got a shuttle on the way, but believe me when I say this is no easy deal… You got to get them ready… Move fast… You there?” He whispered.

“How much time,” Mike heard himself say. His face felt numb. He stood and trotted back to the bedroom on autopilot.

The end had been coming for generations, but it had been suppressed, kept from the public in the best possible way, ignoring it. After all someone was always yelling about the end coming. There was always some doomsday prophecy being rolled out. The Feds had found out long ago that shaking your head with a crooked smile on your face was the absolute best way to fight it. It said exactly what words could not say. Words that affected the same thing would have fanned the flames. The nod and he crooked grin worked.

And that had been their tactics for the last year since the voices had begun to shout louder and louder. Nod, smile, move on to something else. Meanwhile the atmosphere had been leaking from the planet Earth faster and faster. Tonight it had passed the point of no return. He and Tom had discussed exactly that scenario. In fact he had intended to discuss it with Petra on this visit. Maybe it was time to pack up the babes and go ship board… But they had never found the time. It seemed there were so many other things that crowded in and so little time before Star Dancer had to leave dock again. Time with Petra, time with the babes, talks of the new crew manifest with Tom. The year before Tom and Marva had become full partners and they had moved up several notches on the cargo drops for the Feds. Large contracts: Full time work. No or little time off. In fact they had discussed the possibility of another ship, maybe even bigger than Star Dancer. It was incredible to think it, but collectively they were worth trillions and they could easily handle the loans they needed. And then Earth had taken a sudden turn for the worse. And a turn is what had started it.

For millions of years the Earth had wobbled in her orbit. Many had thought that was an unfortunate occurrence in the early years of civilization, but they had come to learn that without the wobble there would probably be no way to sustain life. They hadn’t predicted that the hole that had been in the ozone layer, growing wider and wider  would suddenly begin to vent atmosphere. The venting of atmosphere was small at first, but life a small hole in a raft the constant rush of atmosphere widened it.

The Feds had known and suppressed the information. The news agencies that were still owned by free stations broadcast it and for once the nod and grin failed them. Even so it was far too late. By the time everyone realized just how late there had been a complete clampdown on the news sources. Tom had feelers out and the news had been trickling in that the situation was untenable. Still, Mike thought that meant years. Apparently it had not.

“They think it will completely blow out within a year. Apparently once it hit this point it is all downhill from here.”

“My God, Tom,” I said “I meant how long do we have to get there… To make it?”

“Oh… Oh… Fast. Lift off in three hours. I can’t hold it. I had to fight to get a slot. They’re freezing any passenger flights solid. No one leaving at all until they say so; if we weren’t cargo… Still, I don’t know what traffic will be like… Delays… Boarding through the station, so I would just come directly to the ship… Put it in a cargo bay… Petra could do it. And… You’re under an assumed name… I had to lie, pretend to be you to push the flight schedule, so they believe you’re on board with Petra and the babes.  It seemed smart… The alternative would have kept you tied up for hours, maybe days, and the ship grounded.”

“I see. I see that… PETRA!” I screamed into the semi darkness. “Get the babes, get ready, we have to go now!” I spoke back into the headset, realized I was still holding it and dropped it to the floor. I tapped my wrist twice and turned on my personal link system. “Where will you be?” I asked Tom.

“Space gate ten. I had to move to the ready line… Fifteen ahead of us right now.”

I nodded, realized the camera link was off, ”We’ll be there in a n hour tops… Depending.” I clicked off and began stripping off my sleepwear so I could get dressed.

We had prepared for this possibility, although we had both believed the government propaganda. Both believed it would be solved. Still Tom had warned it might not be true. The people he had been in contact with said otherwise. The people he had spoken to said the hole could not be fixed, reversed, repaired, it was over. This had happened on many other planets, a few in our system. It was like the great reset button in the sky, and when it was over everything on Earth would die off. The atmosphere would leave completely. Then, a few million years in the future something would shift in the great mystery that was the universe and the whole thing would start over agin. The atmosphere would slowly reestablish itself, then life would reawaken from the frozen seas and it would begin to establish domain once more. Maybe. On some worlds that had not been the case. On Mars the atmosphere had been lost and they had not been able to reestablish it. They had nearly perished before they had managed to reestablish themselves on Earth. And Earth’s peoples had not known that had happened until the discovery of the ship that had bought the seeds of humanity from Mars to Earth all those years before, in the Ice of Antarctica.

Global warming. If not for global warming Standard would not have been in Antarctica exploring at that particular day when the warm winds had expose d the hull of Mayosythia from its frozen tomb. Mayosythia, the pictures and grainy video had been on the news channels for months and then suddenly the story had disappeared from the headlines and a few years later Standard had invented Starlight Drive. Probably not a coincidence, Mike thought now. He was surprised at the random thoughts running through his mind as he hopped, one boot on, one in his hand and finally made the bedroom door.

The bedroom looked like a hurricane had swept through it. The babes were both on the wide bed, quiet, well behaved, a new game they most likely thought. Petra’s eyes met his own, wide frightened.

“Tom has it worked out. We are prepped and on standby to launch. We have plenty of time to get there, Petra… We do.”

I went to a console in the wall, punched in the names Tom had given me and downloaded the ID we would need if we were stopped. I looked around, there was nothing else here that we needed. Petra gathered the babes as I grabbed the two backpacks she had stuffed full of essentials for the babes and we rushed through the kitchen and into the service port lights going on and off before and after us, tracking our progress. The babes wide eyed and babbling baby-talk as we went: Excited for the new adventure.

I checked the charge meter, three quarters, more than enough. I punched in the kill code and shut down the juice port on the old runner. Three minutes later we were hovering in the air, rising slowly up through the top of the service port, the port yawning wider as we rose, and finally breaking clear of the port and rising above the house into the darkness of early morning L.A. That was when I saw the pup I had bought home for the babes just two days before. The pup to raise with the babes, looking up at me from the rear yard area. Body wriggling.

“It’ll die,” Petra said as if reading my thoughts.

“I know.” I set the runner down on the lawn, levered my door-lock open and ran through the house to the rear yard attachment. The pup came running, her whole body squirming with happiness, as if she knew she had just won the lottery. I picked he up and tucked her inside my shirt. She curled against my stomach. Tucked her nose into her tail and seemed instantly to drift off into sleep before I made it back to the runner.

Petra looked at the small bulge in my shirt.

“Makes you look fat,” she laughed in spite of everything, the fear and tension she must have felt.

“Let’s hope so,” I said. I felt the pup move as I lifted into the air and accelerated into the dark skies.

4:00 am

Star Dancer

It had taken forever but we had made it to Space Gate ten with no incidents of note. Considering what we had expected and the shock we were operating under it was amazing that my flying, the unauthorized flight, none of it had caused suspicions or alerted anyone. The shock came when I saw what awaited us at Gate Ten. Not Star Dancer, the intra-crusier we owned and operated, but one of the larger, newer ships. A Fed ship. She was unmarked. No name graced the curve of her bow. Her viewports were black and rose stories into the air. My heart sank, but I tapped my wrist anyway.

“Tom,” I called. I had little hope. Tom was probably already in a holding cell waiting for the Feds to pick him up. Marva’s voice came to me.

“You will be coming around to bay sixteen,” her voice said. “We’ve been expecting this delivery… You’re a little late, be glad I don’t place you on report… Stand by… Disengage engines…”

I tapped the control sticks and let the runner drift momentarily. The digital tug line caught us and we began moving sideways and down the front of the ship. Marva said nothing else. Petra and I both sat silent as we were maneuvered around the giant ship. Her thoughts probably a mirror of my own, what next? What had happened to our own ship? Where was Tom?

It took more than twenty minutes to make the trip down and across one side of the ship. We finally slipped under one Starlight pod and a yawning chasm of a hanger opened before us. I saw no one.

“Shut down your engines please.” It was an automated voice. The ships computer. The runner slowed to a crawl and made its way inside the hanger.

“All passengers must remain on vessel until the atmosphere has been restored. Leaving your vessel at any time prior to the restoration of…” The voice stopped and then began again. “Atmosphere has been restored. You have been cleared to leave your vessel once ship personnel arrive to facilitate disembarking. United Planet Technologies thanks you for shipping with us.”

“First damn thing I’m going to do is gut that voice system,” Tom said.

I laughed. I had had no idea that I had been so scared, so nervous. Beside me one of the babes pulled away from nursing and giggled. Petra soothed her.

“Jesus, Tom… What happened. What is this ship? Where is Star Dancer?”

“Happoed,” the baby giggled.

“Terrica, you said a word!” I became all melted and soft at once. Something about your baby speaking will do that.

“Jerrica,” Petra corrected.

“Jerrica,” I corrected. I was not my first time making the mistake and it probably wouldn’t be the last. Hopefully I would get it right long before they were old enough for it to be a big deal. “Jerrica,” I said again. Terrica looked at her sister as if she knew perfectly well who she was.

I glanced out the window and saw a smooth wall part and make an opening into the interior of the ship. Tom and Marva came through with a half dozen others, all crew I remembered. I released the door-locks and we stepped from the runner onto the ship.

The conversation lasted well into the morning, concluding just before takeoff with me on the bridge with Tom and Petra at the navigation station where she had always been on the old Star Dancer.

Star Dancer Two

Bridge

The answers were not so complicated. Tom, Marva and Petra had signed the papers for the new ship weeks before. It was a surprise and would have come to us completely ready for flight had the world not taken a sudden turn.

They had moved her from dry-dock. Some interior work left unfinished: Her name as yet not on her bow. These were things that could wait, as far as the Feds were concerned. Wait for a time when things on Earth were not so volatile. They had commissioned her with nothing more than database entries, no official words or ceremony. As it turned out Star Dancer Two was the last ship ever commissioned from Earth. From anywhere in the Federated system, for all any of them knew.

She was preflight tested. Tom himself had captained her. She was loaded with Fed materials for a new colony. Star Dancer and nine other ships under command of Dancer Two had left the day before. Even though Star Dancer was a fast ship, with our speed difference we would catch her in a matter of weeks and assume command of the fleet. The shocking news had come later in the flight. The news of what our cargo and destination really was: The news that there had been no mistakes, no carelessness. The Feds had known we were off planet and they had made sure that we had made it back to the ship.

We were less than two full days into our flight when Earth became a fireball and all communications with the planet failed. Subsequently all communications with colonies and bases in the Federated system failed as well. All of it had been routed through Earth or Mars. We had no way of knowing what had happened on Mars, but something serious enough to shut the relays down. Mars had gone silent: Communications became loose messaging systems between the other ten ships ahead of us….


Rocket: Smashwords | iTunes | Amazon | Nook | Kobo



 

Rocket series debuts Base One, the second in the series

Rocket series debuts Base One, the second in the series…


Book One: Rocket

Michael Watson is the captain of an inner galaxy cruiser: He Purchased Star Dancer right out of school and has spent the last twenty years running people and supplies to outposts within the confines of the Solar System and the established bases on the Moon, Mars and Saturn’s moons. The times are changing though and the big money is in the longer out of system runs. To do that he’ll need a crew and a bigger ship, but he has the ambition and the rest just might fall into place.
A new navigator, the beautiful Petra starts him thinking in a new direction and not just about Star Cruising. Maybe the next few flights for Star Dancer will be her last and he and Petra can set their sights on bigger adventures out beyond the stars.


Book One is now a free download from Smashwords in formats for Kindle and iTunes, Nook, Kobo. It will be available free at iTunes and Nook in the next few days.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/728792


Book Two: Base One

Nothing truly ends. We think highly of our race and we believe that the end of society means the end of the world, but it does not.
This time on Hay Vida we might not have to retreat to our DNA. It might be possible to go forward and adapt, but even if we did retreat it would not be world ending. It would only mean beginning anew in a more basic configuration of the life form we truly are…


Book two is available at Smashwords now and will be available at Amazon, iTunes, Nook and Kobo in the next few days…

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/797262


Paperback editions of both books will be available at my Amazon Central page in the next few days…

 

 

https://www.amazon.com/Wendell-Sweet/e/B00B6QPHNM



 

America The Dead Series at Apple

America The Dead: Survivor Stories One: The pawn shop was a nightmare inside. Even so he found a gun cabinet, managed to pry it open, and left with two semi-automatic nine mm pistols and a dozen boxes of ammunition… https://books.apple.com/us/book/america-the-dead-survivor-stories-one/id1436765995


America the Dead Survivor Stories Two

John watched as Bear helped the girls move their sleeping bags and packs over to a clear space on the factory floor, she wouldn’t get a second chance with him…

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/america-the-dead-survivor-stories-two/id1156649961?mt=11


America the Dead Survivor Stories Three: Billy paced the hallway, trying to think, telling himself they had to leave soon. There were fires over past the park; you could hear gunfire from all over the city all night long…

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/america-the-dead-survivor-stories-three/id1156638728?mt=11


America the Dead Survivor Stories Four

Classified for the next hundred years, and he wondered: Would it ever be released? He doubted it. The shit they were doing here was stuff you didn’t ever want the American public to know about…

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/america-the-dead-survivor-stories-four/id1156637747?mt=11


America the Dead Survivor Stories Five

We walked out State Street. There’s a store there, and we found tracks in the snow. One person. A man I would guess from the boot tread. It was good to see evidence of other people…

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/america-the-dead-survivor-stories-five/id1157353753?mt=11



 

America the Dead: Survivors Stories One-Free episode 1

America the Dead: Survivors Stories One

 Copyright © 2018 W. G. Sweet. All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.

Cover Art © Copyright 2018 W. G. Sweet

Some text copyright 2010, 2014, 2015 W. G. Sweet

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

LEGAL

This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.


No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission. Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.


ONE

March 1st

Watertown New York

Off Factory Square: Joel Morrison

5:00 PM

Joel sat at the bar and watched football on one of the big screen TV’s Mort had put in. It was a slow game, he was tired, and his mind kept turning to other things. He couldn’t concentrate. Part of the allure of the Rusty Nail was the quiet. After a 12 hour shift at the mill with the constant noise from the huge machinery, the quiet had been nice. But that had all changed once the bar had become popular with the nearby base. He needed to go home. The crowd in the bar was starting to build and the noise was giving him the beginnings of a headache. He caught Mort’s eye and went back to his thoughts as he waited.

The Rusty Nail had always been a locals only bar up until a few years back when the economy had taken a nose dive. The nail was wedged up a side street off Factory square. Not exactly easy to find, and that had hurt business too as the old people left and the new people came in.

Mort, Mortimer to anybody that felt like being tossed out on their ass, had nearly lost the small bar and the building above it to the bank. The building above it had six small apartments that Mort had purposely left empty when he had bought the building fresh out of the service thirty years back. Who wanted to deal with tenants, he had said then. But times changed, and so he had sold his house, moved himself into one of the apartments, and then sold the bank on remortgaging the whole building as well as renovating the other five apartments. The bank had come up with a loan that took all of that into account and added a second income source from the apartments that could pay the monthly mortgage and put a good chunk of change into his pocket too.

He had signed on the x, taken their money, renovated the building, moved in the tenants and then taken a hard look at the Rusty Nail. He had decided to completely gut the bar and do it over. He had dumped far too much into the renovations though, including being closed for nearly a full month, and then opened it to find that the economy had taken an even deeper nose dive during those nearly thirty days. The third month into the new mortgage and he had found that he was maybe in a bad spot already.

Joel remembered now that he had sat right at the end of the bar when Mort had talked it over with some others, Moon Calloway, Johnny Barnes, Jim Tibbets, Joel had been welcome to include his two cents which he had declined to do.

“Well, what you do is put the word out to those cab drivers. Believe me, I’ve seen it. They will have them soldiers down here in no time, even if you are off the beaten path,” Jim had said. Jim was a school bus driver for the north side district and less than a year away from a fatal car accident on the interstate. Jeff Brown, who had been a local football star, was doing ten years up at Clinton Correctional for hitting Jim’s car head on drunk and killing him. But that night Jim had still been alive and had wanted to be a part of the New Rusty Nail that Mort had in mind. Something a little more modern. Modern bought the soldiers, but more importantly it also bought women.

“I’m not paying a cab driver to bring me G.I.’s,” Mort had said. “And I know your game. You’re just hoping to get laid out of it.”

They had all laughed at that, except Jim who had turned red. But after a few seconds he had laughed too, and the conversation had plodded forward the way bar conversations do.

“Well, you ain’t got to pay them exactly, give them a couple beers,” Moon threw in.

“Jesus Christ,” Mort exclaimed. “That’s why you boys ain’t in business. You think the beer is free.”

“I know it ain’t free, Mort,” Jim said. “But it don’t cost you that much. You get it wholesale.”

“Wholesale? I drive right out to that wholesale club and buy it by the case most of the time just like everybody else. Cheaper than them beer guys, except draft, of course. That ain’t free. You got to pay the yearly club fee. You got to pay them taxes to the feds. You got a lot you got to pay for. Some fuck crushes your can you’re fucked for that nickle. Jesus… wholesale my ass. It ain’t no bargain.”

“Yeah? … Let’s see,” Moon starting writing in the air with his finger. You get it for let’s say six bucks a case, I know that cause that’s what I pay out there too. So six bucks divided by 24 is,” he drew in the air for a few moments, erased it, and then started over. “How the fuck do you do that, Joey… The six goes into the twenty-four? Or times the twenty-four?” Moon asked.

“Uh, it’s a quarter a can,” I had supplied.

The argument had raged on from there. Once Moon found out he was paying a buck fifty for a can of beer that only cost a quarter he was pissed off.

In the end Mort had talked to a couple of cab drivers. Free draft beer one night a week if they bought soldiers by all week long and told as many others as possible about the place. Within two weeks Joel hadn’t recognized the place when he had come by after shift to have a couple of beers. The soldiers drank a lot of beer, the bank mortgage got paid, and life was fine. Except for the fights, Joel thought, but you can’t load young guys up on alcohol and not expect trouble. Especially when those young men were just waiting on the word to go and maybe die in another battle that remained undeclared as a war. High stress levels meant heavy duty unloading. The M.P.’s got to know the place as well as the soldiers did.

“Joel, you ready?” Mort asked now.

Joel smiled. “I was thinking back…” He had to shout to be heard. Tomorrow his voice would be hoarse. “This place was empty! … Yeah… One more then I gotta go,” Joel agreed.

Mort leaned closer. “Gov’ment tit. I know it, but screw it. It’s all the Gov’ment tit. Road and Bridge projects. Job centers. One way or the other it comes out the same. Even them subsidies so the paper mills can still run. It’s all the Gov’ment tit, ain’t it, Joel?”

“Its is,” Joel shouted. He nodded. It was. This town would have dried up years ago without it. Mort left and then came back a few moments later with a fresh beer.

“Vacation?” Mort yelled.

Joel nodded. “Two weeks of silence,” He shook his head at the irony and Mort’s laughing agreement was drowned out by the noise.

“If I don’t see you, have a good one,” Mort said leaning close.

Joel nodded. “I will.” He raised his glass and then tossed off half of it. A few moments later he was outside on the relatively quiet sidewalk punching numbers into his phone, calling for a cab. The night was cold, but the cold sobered him up. It seemed nearly capable of washing away the smoke and noise from inside the bar. He stood in the shadows beside the door waiting for the phone to ring on the other end. The door bumped open and Johnny Barnes stepped out.

“You ain’t calling for a cab, are you?” Johnny asked when he spotted him.

Joel laughed and ended the still ringing call. “Not if I can get a free ride from you.” Joel told him.

“Yeah, you were always a cheap prick,” Johnny agreed. “Hey, I heard you’re heading into the southern tier tomorrow?”

“Two weeks,” Joel agreed as he levered the door handle on Johnny’s truck and climbed inside. His breath came in clouds of steam. “Get some heat in here, Johnny.”

“Coming,” Johnny agreed. “Man, I wish I was you.”

“Me too,” Joel agreed.

Johnny laughed. “Asshole, but seriously, man. Have a good time. You gonna hunt?”

“Nothing in season… Maybe snare some rabbits. Not gonna be a lot this time of year.” Joel said.

“Maybe deer,” Johnny offered. He dropped the truck in drive just as the heat began to come from the vents.

“Probably, but they’ll be out of season. Rabbit, and I got freeze dried stuff. Trucks packed, which is why I didn’t drive it down here.”

The truck drove slowly through the darkening streets as the street lights began to pop on around the small city: The two men laughing and exchanging small talk.


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A look at Zero Zero from Dell Sweet


ZERO ZERO

By DELL SWEET

Published With Amazon Digital

Copyright 2014 Dell Sweet

Copyright 1976, 1983, 1987, 2009, 2014 independAntwriters Publishing & Dell Sweet. Copyright renewed 2015, Dell Sweet. All rights reserved

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Much Thanks to: M. Laughlin, C. Maxon, G. Dell, C.J.


FOREWORD:

Somewhere in everything that I have written over the last seven or eight years, resides the story of this book. I spent a few hours trying, but I could not find it. There are times where I irritate myself and this was one of them: Because although I could have easily rewritten the information I spent the better part of an hour looking for it; as if somehow that made more sense. Of course it didn’t turn up. Things that were close to explaining it turned up, but not the text I remember writing. So I will write the story once more.

In 1976 I was a young man and I wanted to be a writer. I wrote a short story about this closed up series of caves where bad things happened. I didn’t know what bad things happened there, only that they were bad; probably very bad. I had some vague ideas, Russians, Dead people, Military types. All the things that used to scare me back then. I struggled for what was probably a few months and managed a short story that had very little to do with the caves and more to do with some post apocalypse cave man who was affected by radiation deformities, part of which made him want to kill and eat other people. That short story was sixteen pages long, handwritten, and everyone who read it thought maybe it was a joke of some kind and maybe I should consider doing something else instead of writing.

So I put it away and life took a giant step forward to 1983. I found myself working at home and had a lot of extra time on my hands. I happened across the manuscript as I liked to think of it, all sixteen yellowed and dog eared pages, and began to re-write it. It held my attention for a while and then life took another step forward to 1987. Still working at home, only now involved in the world wide web, as we called it. A thing most people thought would go nowhere at all. I got back into writing and fell into that story. This time it actually went where I wanted it to go, where I thought it should go all those years before. I wrote it and then wrote a sequel, and then a few dozen short stories and then life took another giant step.

When things shook out again it was 2010 and I was in a position to once again write. I thought about that first book, and the sequel, and the short stories, all lost now, gone to who knew where. Thinking didn’t bring them back but it did get me writing again. The first thing I did was re-write that book. It came out nothing like that long before first book had: It had taken a few twists and turns in the writing; in trying to remember what the other book had been about so many years before, and colored by all the things that had happened during that passage of time.

In any event I liked it, so I wrote another part and added it to it, and then another, and pretty soon there were twenty books written from that long ago first book. A series really. Then I wrote another book, and  another, and one day I woke up and realized that I was not still hoping to be a writer, I was a writer.

Sometimes I would think about that first book and regret losing it, but I would also remind myself that if I had not lost it I would have never written all of the other books that I had written, or at least not the way they were written,. Maybe they would have been better, maybe worse. Who can tell when you think about changing circumstances. I moved on, literally forgot about those books and stories, and then one day my son called me and told me he had found those files in a digital format. All of them. He doesn’t know if we can get them or not, or if they will be readable if we are able to get them. He only knows we have a shot at getting them.

To make a long story short we did get them, and everything except for the second book was easy to get and download to my own computer. The second book was not easy at all. I ended up using a program that downloads the file no matter what condition it is in. It simply fills the corrupted sections with zeros. Amazing. I got about 95% of the second book that way. Small sentences missing here and there, a few words or a paragraph there, but easily reconstructed.

I marveled over the technology that allowed me to pluck that book out of time, nearly twenty years of it, and then took a walk back through time and read that first book and those short stories from way back then. There were some that I did not even remember writing until I began to read them and then the story flooded back into my head. It was great.

The thing was life was busy and I had a lot of work laid out in front of me. It took awhile to get back to that first book. I debated over whether to do anything with it except read it and then let it sit. But after I read it I decided that in very many ways I liked it as much as the books I had written to replace it. In some ways even more.

That is this book you are about to read. Started when I was a kid just out of the service with a young wife and son, finished when I am at the other end of that spectrum. Kind of funny. Maybe it puts end to what I began. I don’t know. I do know I liked the book then, I thought the story just flowed from me and I really felt a part of it, and that has always been the hallmark of good writing to me, being right in the story. Falling into it. Starting to care about the characters and their circumstances.

So here it is forty years late: The road to publishing this book was a hard one, but I hope that you like it as much as I have enjoyed watching it come together.

Dell Sweet

July-24th 2014


This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.

This novel is Copyright © 1976 – 2014 Wendell Sweet & independAntwriters Publishing. Dell Sweet is a publishing name for Wendell Sweet. All other copyright notices are herein encompassed. All national and foreign rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.

Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.


ZERO ZERO


Preamble

June 15th

Ira Pratt stared at the squared board lost in thought. If he moved to the right, he would surely lose two checkers. Maybe, he thought, as many as four. Moving to the left would not help either. There was actually only one semi-safe move to make, and that was straight ahead. But even that move could put a hurtin’ on his few remaining checkers, he thought. Nothing to do for it though, but move it, and see what happened.

He stared into the thoughtful eyes of the older man across the table, trying to read them. No good, he was a master at hiding his thoughts. His face was calm and carefully composed, not so much as a smile played at the corners of his mouth.

Ira gave in and decisively moved one checker forward and then leaned back into his chair, waiting to see what the older man would do.

“Well, I see you have left me little choice, Ira,” the older man said. He picked up one of his own checkers and carefully slid it forward as he finished speaking.

“That was what I was hoping you’d do,” Ira said grinning as he jumped two of the older man’s checkers.

“No doubt about it, Ira, you’re just too good for me,” the older man replied. He smiled widely, and pleasantly, and then changed the subject. “How about we take a short break, Ira, maybe go for a walk. You must get tired of beating me all the time?”

“Well,” Ira replied, “I kind ‘a get the idea you let me beat you some times, but sure, I wouldn’t mind a break at all.”

“I would never let you beat me, Ira. It is a good thing we don’t play poker though. I might gamble the entire kingdom away trying to beat you,” the older man replied laughing. “Besides I have my reasons for wanting to take a break right now. I see it like this, if you and I take a break, maybe once we return your concentration will not be so keen, and then maybe I will win one of these games for a change.” He rose from the small table as he finished speaking. “Ready, Ira?”

“Yep.”

Ira closed his eyes. He could have kept them open, and a few times he had, but the trip was unnerving enough without adding the visual aspects to it. Not that there was anything to see except darkness for the split second they would be traveling, he thought. Still…

He opened his eyes. They had actually only been shut for less than a second, but in that space of time they had traveled a considerable distance, or at least seemed to have. The small table that had been before him was gone, replaced by a lush green valley. A calm blue river flowed across the valley floor far below. He followed it with his eyes as it wound away in the distance.

“It’s beautiful,” Ira exclaimed, “but will it still be…?” He let the question trail away.

“Yes it will, as will several others, Ira. But it need not be this place, there are so many to choose from,” the older man informed him. “Come.”

Ira blinked, and when he opened his eyes they were standing in a high mountain meadow. Wild flowers covered the meadow, and a large, summer-fat herd of deer grazed peacefully among them. A large buck raised its heavily antlered head and stared at the two men, but perceiving no threat went back to grazing the field.

“This is also beautiful,” Ira said quietly.

“It only matters where, Ira. There are so many. There were even more, and there will be again.”

“I’ll have to tell Cora about this place, and the other,” Ira replied, still watching the deer graze.

“You should, Ira. In fact, there will be many things to tell her. Things she will need to know, Ira.”

“Tonight?”

“Yes. The time is short.”

“I was afraid of that,” Ira said slowly.

“There is no reason to be afraid, Ira.”

“I know that. I guess I mean afraid, as in I wish it didn’t have to happen.”

“I knew what you meant, Ira, but it is necessary. As much as I would wish that it was not, it is.”

Ira nodded his head slowly. “I know.”

The two men stood in silence for several minutes, watching the deer in the field. It seemed so peaceful to Ira, a good place to be, a good place to live, and that made it harder to accept that most of it would soon be gone. The older man spoke, breaking the silence that had fallen between them.

“Would you like to look at some others, Ira?”

“I believe I would at that. I think I’d like to look at as much as I kin before it’s gone, I guess. Does that sound wrong?”

“No, Ira, it does not, I too wish to look… Ready?”

Ira nodded but did not close his eyes. Darkness enveloped him, and a sense of speed. The absence of light was complete; he could only sense the presence of the older man beside him as the traveled through the dark void.

– 2 –

Far below the small city of Watertown New York, Richard Pierce sat working before an elaborate computer terminal. He had just initiated the program that managed the small nuclear power plant hidden deep below him in the rock. A small handset beside the computer station chimed, and he picked it up and listened. He did not speak at first, but as he listened a smile spread across his face. “Very good,” he said happily, when the caller was finished, “keep me advised.” He set the small handset back into its cradle and turned his attention back to the screen in front of him. The plant had powered up just as it was supposed to, no problems whatsoever, and that made Richard Pierce extremely happy. Two more days tops, he thought, and then maybe I’ll get out of this dump.

He supposed he should feel honored that he was even here. It was after all one of the biggest projects in the country, albeit top secret, but he could not help the way he felt. He was close to a mile underground, totally cut off from everything and everyone, and he hated it. If he had a choice, which he had not, he would never have come at all. But he had written the software that handled the power plant, as well as several other sections of the underground city, and that made it his baby. There were a couple of small bugs, mainly due to the fact that no one had been allowed to know what the entire program was supposed to do. The way the rewrites were going however, it looked as though he would not be stuck here anywhere near as long as he had originally thought, and that was something to think about. He had begun to feel that he would never leave this rock bound prison, and wouldn’t that be a real bitch.

– 3 –

At a large gravel pit on the outskirts of Watertown, Gary Jones carefully maneuvered the wide mouth of the loader bucket over the dump box of the truck, and pulled back on the lever closest to him to release the load. Ain’t this something, he thought as he slowly topped off the dump box, barely 10 AM and we’ve already sent out twenty seven truckloads of gravel to the base.

Six men out sick, and another forty truckloads to deliver before five tonight. What in hell are they doing with all this gravel? He wondered. It was a question he had asked many times before, and still had not gotten an answer to. Uncle Sam paid well though, and on time to boot, so he guessed he probably shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. He signaled the driver, and he pulled away with a whoosh of air as he released the brakes. Another dump truck lumbered up to take his place, and he pushed the questions out of his mind as he began filling the box.

– 4 –

In Seattle Washington, Harvey Pearlson sat at his wide mahogany desk and talked quietly into the phone.

The extravagantly appointed office was located on the top floor of one of Seattle’s most highly regarded newspapers. Pearlson had worked his way up from the bottom, after starting as a carrier in 1955, sixteen floors below.

“No,” Pearlson said quietly, “I don’t want to know. I just thought that maybe it could be handled in some other way.” He listened for a few minutes nodding his head as he did.

“Yes, yes I see, but?” He rubbed his eyes as he listened. “No, I don’t,” he said emphatically, “I happen to like him a great deal, and if you give me the time…” The voice on the other end of the line cut him off, and he once again listened quietly.

“I see,” he said, once the voice had finished speaking. “No, I do understand. I won’t. Do you think I’m that stupid? Give me a little credit here, will you. You wouldn’t even be aware of it if I hadn’t called you in the first place, for Christ’s sake.” He listened for a few seconds longer, then hung up the phone.

There was no reasoning with Weekes, he told himself, and he was going to do what he was going to do. For Frank’s sake, he wished he had never called him at all. Too late now though, he told himself, far too late. After all, he had done his best to swing Frank away from the story, but Frank Morgan was not a man who could be easily swayed, and, he told himself, unless he wanted to find himself in the same circumstances, he had better just shut up and let it go. He reached over and thumbed the intercom button.

“Cindy?”

“Yes Sir?”

“I’m going to be out the rest of the day, Cindy, and if Frank Morgan comes looking for me before he leaves, you don’t know where I am, correct?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Anything important comes up you can reach me on my mobile, Cindy.”

“Yes Sir, Mister Pearlson.”

Harvey Pearlson picked up his briefcase and left the office. Whatever Weekes had in mind, he wanted nothing to do with it, and he didn’t want to be available for any sort of questions that might arise either. It was unfortunate enough that he had started the whole ball rolling;he had no intention of sticking around to see where it ended up stopping. No, he told himself, the lake was the best place to be. The only place to be, and he intended to stay there until the whole thing blew over just as he had been told to.

He took his private elevator down to the garage area, walked across to his Lincoln, and drove out of the parking garage, turning right on Beechwood. He passed a hooker standing at the corner of the building, and thought just how badly Beechwood Avenue had gotten as of late. He would have to speak to the security people when he got back from the lake. Putting up with the hookers that had taken over the avenue at night was one thing, but broad daylight? Standing right in front of the frigging building? No, something would have to be done, and if the security people couldn’t take care of it, maybe he’d speak to Weekes. After all, he owed him one now, didn’t he? He pushed the thought away, signaled, and pulled out onto the loop. In an hour he’d be at the lake, and then he could forget about the whole mess, for today at least. He eased the car up to sixty, and leaned back into the leather upholstery to enjoy the drive.

– 5 –

April 11th 1952

Ira Pratt drove the old tractor carefully down the side of the slippery hill. It had been raining for close to three days, and it didn’t look as though it was going to let up right quick, he thought.

The rain was causing all sorts of problems, and not just for him, he knew, but for the cows as well. The biggest problem was the creek, and the only way the creek wasn’t going to be a problem was to unplug the thing.

He sat on the tractor as it slipped and slid its way down the hill through the gray sheets of rain. Ira let out a sigh of relief once it reached the bottom. For a second there, he had been sure both he and the old tractor would end up in the creek, but God was smiling on him today.

He slipped the worn gearbox into neutral, and sat looking at the rush of muddy-brown water. The creek was a good four feet above the point of flooding, and he wasn’t sure it was a smart move to try to put the tractor in that. The tractor was sure footed, but so was a goat, and he’d seen more than one goat end up on its ass. But there wasn’t anything else for it. If he didn’t move the trees that were clogging the creek, and flooding it out and over the banks, then he might as well just sit back and watch a couple more cows drown.

Ira knew cows, pretty much anyhow, and every one that he and Cora owned were just as stupid as any other cow he’d ever seen. The cows didn’t understand flooding, they didn’t understand how the water could weaken the banks, and so the big dummies just walked on down to the creek, just like any other day, and got swept away when the bank crumbled under their weight. Three days of rain and four dead cows, and though cows were stupid, they weren’t cheap.

Ira sat in the pouring rain and stared at the creek. Normally, the creek was no more than eighteen inches deep at the most. Course normal wasn’t what it was today, he thought, and wishin’ it was wouldn’t make it so. It was his own damn fault, he reminded himself.  Two of the trees that were clogging it had been there last summer, and hadn’t he promised Cora he’d take ’em out before fall? He had, but he hadn’t, and so here he was in the pouring rain fixin’ to half kill himself to get ’em out.

Looked like the best way, Ira thought, might be to try and snag the biggest one right from the bank. He squinted as he shielded his eyes to peer through the rain. One thing was for sure, sittin’ on the tractor and thinkin’ about it, wasn’t gonna get it. Reluctantly, Ira climbed down off the tractor and edged closer to the bank. The rain was coming down hard, but the section he stood upon seemed solid enough. “Probably what the cows thought,” he muttered as he moved closer.

He walked back to the tractor, unwound a long section of chain from behind the seat, and walked back to the creek. The top of the bigger tree was sticking a good three feet over the bank, and he was glad that it was. He could see that the water was rising faster, and moving along quicker, and he had no wish to get any closer to it than he had to. Quickly, but carefully, he wound the chain around the tree and pegged the links with an old bolt to hold them. Looks good, and solid as well, he thought as he slipped the other end of the chain over the bucket. He genuinely didn’t want to try and turn the tractor around. In fact, he thought, as muddy as the ground was, he’d be damn lucky just to get it back up and away from the creek when he finished.

He gave an experimental tug at the chain, and then climbed back up on the tractor. Carefully, without grinding the gears any more than he surely had to, shifted into reverse. He played the clutch out slowly and brought up the slack in the chain.

“Well God?” He asked, looking skyward, “You keepin’ a watch down here? I could sure use a hand about now, Lord. Amen,” Ira finished.

He let the clutch out a little further, playing the gas pedal as he did, and let the tractor go to work. The oversized tires spun, caught, and the tractor began to slowly back up the steep bank, pulling the tree out of the muddy water as it did. Ira released the breath he had been holding, and just as he did the chain snapped in two. Ira barely had time to register what had happened, when the old tractor flipped, crushing him beneath it.


One


 ALEA IACTA EST


ONE

June 15th: Seattle Washington

~1~

The wind kicked up along Beechwood Avenue in Seattle’s red light district. A paper bag went rolling along the cracked sidewalk: Skipping over Willie LeFray’s feet where he stood watching the traffic… thinking. One trick… The right trick… Somebody with money and he could call the night good. Just enough to get a good high… Or enough to get enough shit to get a good high tonight and maybe a good high tomorrow when it all wore off and the jingle jangles set in? … Maybe, he decided. Maybe. Willie stood watching the cars as the paper bag bounded over his feet and tumbled along the avenue.

– 2 –

For Franklin W. Morgan, just Frank to his friends, June 15Th, had been a particularly hard day.

As he sat at the small, scarred, wooden table at Mikes Pub on Sixth Avenue, nursing a shot of gin, his thoughts turned inward, mulling over the same problem he had been mentally chewing for the last several weeks. It always came back, no matter how far away he pushed it.  It slipped right back to the front and began to hammer away at him. But today was much worse. It had seemed endless as it dragged on, and he had been able to concentrate on next to nothing. He had avoided the office, and Pearlson, no sense compounding things when he was so close to the truth by chancing a confrontation with Pearlson.

Pearlson was… Pearlson was, a piece of shit, he thought. However, at the moment it wasn’t just Pearlson that had him so keyed up and anxious, it was leaving, and, he supposed, that was just as it should be.

The thing that had made it difficult to get through was the pressure and anxiety he always felt when he was on the trail of a promising story. That and the stress associated with the story.

It was not so much the stress his job placed on him; he had always dealt with that quite well. He knew what it was, and what it had been for several weeks now. All of those late night calls to his sources in New York. No sleep, virtually working around the clock; sifting through the information this source or another provided; sorting out the truth from imagination, and getting to the facts, or as close as he could get to them. That, coupled with the fact that he had been the only one, save Jimmy, who believed it, and now Jimmy was apparently missing so he could add the disappearance of a good friend to the growing list of worries that kept him up at night. This was turning into a three ring circus damn fast, and he didn’t like. He didn’t like it at all.

He was sure now, or as sure as anyone could be. But, who the hell would believe him? Not his editor, that was for sure. He would not soon forget the day two weeks ago, when he had approached the subject with him either. It had been partly his own fault, Frank realized. He had not been as prepared as he should have been. He had also possessed no hard facts, he reminded himself, and he had speculated far too heavily for Pearlson’s taste. Even so, he was just as convinced as he had been then. No. More so now, he amended.

Two additional weeks of digging into it, with Jimmy’s help, had produced a wealth of information, and it was no longer just conjecture as the old man Pearlson had said, but a steadily growing stack of cold hard facts.

Pearlson had still laughed, and told him he should try writing fiction for a living. But there had been something else lurking just behind that laugh, hadn’t there? Perhaps a hint of nervousness maybe?

Pearlson had also suggested that just maybe Frank needed a vacation, and, things being the way they were Frank had taken him up on the last suggestion.

Screw him, Frank thought as he sat at the table and drained the last of his drink… Just screw him.

That was what had made his days so long and his nights so sleepless, he reasoned. Churning around in his head was all of that knowledge… Along with fear, fear of what that knowledge may mean.

But did he actually know anything? He asked himself, and could he actually prove what he did know? Yes, Dammit… And just as suddenly, probably not. He couldn’t prove all of it yet, at least not entirely, he admitted.

Not for much longer though, he told himself, the proof part of it was about to change. He had made plans to go to New York. Directly to the source, so to speak, and find out just exactly what was going on. No conjecture, no guessing, no screwing around at all. If Pearlson wanted facts, Frank would get them one way or the other, he had decided. And the suggestion to take a vacation couldn’t have been a better cover for him to go under, he reasoned.

No, he decided, it wouldn’t be much longer at all. Two weeks in upstate New York and he would know for sure. Frank saw no way that Pearlson could kill the story then. Not faced with cold hard facts.

But Pearlson could be an idiot, what if he still rejected the truth even after the facts were presented, he asked himself. Well, if he did, Frank reasoned, that would open up a whole new set of problems. Maybe Pearlson was involved somehow… Maybe not, but the whole thing had smelled of a cover up from the start, and if Pearlson cut the story loose, if he still placed no faith in it, then there had to be a reason, and maybe… And maybe shit! If it turned out that way, then maybe it would be time to move on.

He rose slowly from his chair and fighting his way through the crowded table area, made his way to the bar.

“Another Gin, Mike,” he said, once he had gotten the old man’s attention. “On second thought hold the ice , just straight up.” He stared miserably at the jukebox in the corner that blared incessantly, and silently urged it to fall silent as he waited for the drink. His thoughts, still clouded, turned back to the problem he was constantly turning over in his mind, when a glance at his wristwatch reminded him of how late it actually was.

He turned his attention back to the bartender. “Shit! Mike, I’ve got to go see the kid’s and I am already late,” he threw a twenty on the bar, “that should cover the tab.”

“What about this?” Mike asked, holding up the shot glass.

“You drink it, Mike, I truly am late. I’ve gotta go,” Frank replied as he started to turn towards the front door.

“Hey?” Mike called in a questioning manner. Frank turned back to the bar.

“Get some sleep, Frank,” Mike said, “your eyes look like two piss holes in the snow.”

“Yes mother,” Frank joked, “I will.”

Frank smiled to himself. They always played this game, and had been at it for the twenty years that Frank had been coming into Mike’s. Mike seemed to think it was his duty to mother him, even more so since Jane had died.

“See you in a couple of weeks or so, Mike,” Frank called as he stepped out the door. He glanced at his watch once again as he did. I’ll never make it, he thought, no way.

He resigned himself to the fact that he would more than likely be late, and not for the first time this week. He had already been late three times, picking up Patty and Tim from the sitter.

Cora Pratt, the sitter, could pitch a real fit when she wanted to, he thought. “Well I’ll deal with her when I get there,” he mumbled to himself. Besides, he thought, tonight I don’t have to pick them up, just say good-bye for two weeks.

The heat assaulted him as he stepped out of the air conditioned comfort of the bar, and he winced.

Twenty seven years of living in Seattle had not changed a thing for him. He felt about the city as he always had. It was too hot in the summer, what there was of it, and too damn cold and windy in the winter, and it wasn’t home. He still thought about it as a place he was only visiting. He never had gotten used to it, and, he knew, he never would.

Frank worked the handle upward slowly, pulling the driver side door of the company car open carefully. He had to as this one stuck if you were forceful, and then he would end up crawling over the damn passenger seat to reach the driver’s side. It seemed to him that he had once had this car when it was new. It was hard to tell though as it was a pool car, and the younger generation of reporters in the press pool beat the hell out of all the cars.

“Too many hot-rod kid’s driving the piss out of them,” he said aloud as he keyed the motor and pulled the Plymouth Voyager out into the traffic. He headed out of the city, towards the suburbs and Cora Pratt…



 

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