$609.37…that’s what I’ll be donating to AutismSpeaks.org, thanks to you guys and your purchases of Left with the Dead. Bravo, folks…it’s for a great cause, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart!
For myself, my little boy was diagnosed with autism when he was about three. He doesn’t speak, has some emotional distress conditions, but he’s beautiful and happy. Poppa Knight and Momma Knight ship him off to the best schools in the area, and we keep him growing and learning as best as we can. Despite everything we do, though, his road will be a hard one. So give a kid a hand and tell folks there’s this little book out there that might add some pennies to the war effort, eh?
I don’t normally post personal pictures and the like here, but I’ll bust open the piggy bank this time. Say hello to my son, Brian.
Sidebar, Yer Honor: Earthfall has been doing some great business. Thanks for all of you who helped make it such a success. I’m very happy that I’m able to move into a new genre and pick up a passel of readers who have never seen my stuff before, but without you guys piling on for the initial buys, it wouldn’t have climbed so far up the charts in such a short time. You’re all good folks, even if you are a bit deranged to think I write good stuff. (And if you’ve read it, please leave a review!)
Still looking to push The Farm out next week, but with tax season upon me, it might be delayed until the following week. Not to worry, though. It’ll be along quite soon!
Here’s some of what Craig has to say about Earthfall:
[Knight] raises the technical and military detail in his books completely off the Michael Crichton scale and to the point of fetish, which is good for me as a reader, because I love a tense, action-packed apocalyptic story told with extreme realism. On every page, you know you are being told a story by a guy who knows his business. The all-terrain fighting machines the Harmony explorers use to cross the wastelands are virtually characters in the book, and I loved every minute of screen time they had. They’re fantastic–the ultimate ROAD WARRIOR vehicles. Knight’s attention to detail and realism also means his characters don’t do anything that has you slapping your head in disbelief. From the steady Captain Andrews to the haunted veteran Mulligan, they’re stark, likable, tough.
Thanks a million, bro!
Link to the product in Amazon’s Create Space book area: https://www.createspace.com/4174997
Should be available in other markets fairly shortly, and I expect it to be listed on Amazon with the Kindle title shortly.
And now…back to writing!
On the rack now is another zombie action-adventure, but it’s not more of The Gathering Dead. This is a new, different series, co-penned between myself and Scott Wolf, an author who just so happens to be a real Green Beret (albeit recently retired). Scott’s going to be amping the military side of the game quite a bit, and has more than a few ideas of how humanity might fare against raging hordes of the walking dead…and the less altruistic survivors who might also be among the survivors, waiting for their time to take control. And as you might remember, as it was told in The Rising Horde, the folks in that universe might have a handle on things, what with Safire’s vaccine and all. Not so, here.
And that’s when shiznit gets bad.
That said, what follows is all mine–Scott hasn’t yet provided any rewrites, though I suspect it’s coming. And the usual caveat appears here: this is first draft stuff, changes are likely.
Through the binoculars, Hastings watched as the three soldiers hurried toward the abandoned semi-truck on the highway. It was surrounded by a sea of dead vehicles of all shapes and sizes, from tiny Smart cars to luxurious motor homes. The Jersey Turnpike had always been a traffic nightmare even in the best of times, and Hastings was disappointed to find the end of the world hadn’t improved things. He scanned from left to right, taking his time, always keeping track of the soldiers in battle dress as they jogged toward the choked interstate, making their way across the debris-laden field that separated them from the still river of steel and fiberglass. In the distance, huge clouds of black smoke rose into the air. Philadelphia was on fire, and had been for days.
The clutter made for a complex background, and it was difficult for Hastings to see any deadheads which might be lurking in the area. He probably wouldn’t see any until they moved, and then it might be too late for Tharinger, Reader, and Ballantine. Losing the soldiers to the horde would be bad, but the fact that the two M114 Humvees parked on the reverse side of the hill Hastings lay on were almost out of fuel made the risk acceptable. Without reliable transportation, the squad was going to be totally out of luck.
“You see anything?” Hastings said, his voice low.
“Negative.” Beside him, Staff Sergeant Hector Guerra looked through the scope of the M24 sniper rifle he’d pulled off the dismembered corpse of a Special Forces soldier they’d found after pulling out of New York. The Green Berets had been tasked to blow up the George Washington Bridge to contain the walking corpses streaming out of the Big Apple, but they’d been overrun before they could accomplish that particular mission. Which was a good thing for Hastings and the others. If the bridge had gone down, they would have been trapped in Manhattan with the rest of Task Force New York. Which meant they would have been dead already.
“If you see something, tell me. Don’t shoot first,” Hastings said.
“I get it, Captain. You’ve told me that five times already.”
“No need to get testy, Hector.”
Guerra grunted. Hastings continued his scan. Both men were lying prone at the top of the hill to minimize their silhouettes. Behind and below, Stilley and Hartman guarded the Humvees and watched the back door. If any reekers approached them from behind, they would radio warning. No one was to shoot unless it was absolutely unavoidable. Gunfire drew the reekers like flies to shit, almost as surely as they homed in on a blood trail. And no one wanted that; there were thousands of them in the area, and they just didn’t have enough ammunition to go around.
Ahead, the three soldiers slowed as they climbed up the embankment that led to the highway. Moving cautiously, they crossed over the guardrail and made their way to the semi-truck. Each man carried a plastic five gallon gas can which they would fill with diesel fuel for the Humvees. Fifteen gallons of diesel wasn’t a hell of a lot, but if they were able to make a couple of trips, it would be worth it. One of the Humvees was almost dry, and the other had maybe an eighth of a tank left. They’d be lucky to make it another five miles before they lost one of the hardy four-wheel drive vehicles.
Hastings found he had focused on the soldiers, and he snapped out of it and resumed his scan. Panning left to right and back again, as smoothly as he could, sweating beneath his helmet and the heavy ballistic armor he wore. The impulse to watch the soldiers make their way to the truck and begin siphoning fuel from its saddle tanks was almost overpowering, and he struggled with himself to remain focused on his job: watch for zombies, and give the soldiers enough warning to either take cover or retreat.
“Got one,” Guerra said. “To the right of the guys, about two hundred meters to the north.”
Hastings swung the binoculars in that direction, but he couldn’t see anything but abandoned cars and trucks, most with their doors wide open, some splattered with dried blood. Crows picked it human remains that lay on the hot asphalt.
“Can’t see anything,” he said.
“By the red Ferrari, on our side of the highway.”
Hastings found the red car. It was a Lambourghini, not a Ferrari, but he didn’t bother correcting Guerra. He still didn’t see anything, then a flash of movement caught his eye. There. A little Asian girl wearing a bloodstained Dora the Explorer t-shirt and nothing else. A huge wound marred the otherwise perfect flesh of her left thigh, and Hastings could see bone peeking through the tattered flesh. The girl was a reeker.
Hastings spoke into his radio headset’s boom microphone. “Ballantine…you have a reeker headed your way. About two hundred meters to your north, walking between the cars on the other side of that truck you’re at. It’s a kid. Over.”
As he spoke, he heard a shrill, pealing scream. Sometimes, the reekers moaned as they shambled along. Most times, they were silent until they saw something that captured their interest, like a living human being. But the kids, they almost always screamed or cried. It was horrifying in and of itself, as if the animated corpses that had once been children could remember their lives, and grieved at their passing.
“Yeah, we hear it, sir. Does it have a visual on us? Over.” Sergeant First Class Mike Ballantine was a seasoned combat vet who had seen multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and had spent more time in Indian Country than anyone else in the squad. Just the same, there was a strong undercurrent of tension in his voice.
“Negative, it does not see you yet. Over.”
“Roger that. Let us know if it crosses over into our lane, and let us know when it closes to within a hundred meters. Over.”
“You’ve got some time, Ballantine. It’s a shambler, has a bum leg. Over.”
“I’ll consider that a point in our favor. Over.”
The radio fell silent. “Keep an eye on that reeker,” Hastings said, then went back to his scan. As he panned past the soldiers, he saw they were at the truck. They were already filling one of the gas cans. Good.
More shrieks from the highway. Different from the first.
“Fuck. More of the little pricks,” Guerra said. “What the fuck, did a preschool get turned into a bunch of deadheads? I count four—no five more reekers. All kids.”
Hastings continued his scan. “Same range?”
“Roger, right behind the first one. All walking in a neat little line.”
Hastings passed that on to Ballantine. “You guys might want to take cover for the time being,” he advised.
“On it.” Hastings saw the soldiers climbing into the semi-truck’s cab when he panned the binoculars past their position. They moved slowly, cautiously, making as little noise as possible. Hastings held the binoculars on them for a moment, and he watched as Ballantine crawled in after Reader and Tharinger and slowly pulled the door closed after him. Hastings shook his head slightly. It was well in the 80s already, with high humidity; the truck’s cab would probably be as hot as a sauna.
“We’re buttoned up. Let us know when we’re clear,” Ballantine transmitted.
“Roger that. Chill out for a few, I’ll let you know when you’re good to go. Break. Hartman, SITREP from you. Over.”
“We’re good down here, Six. Stilley has finally stopped talking. Over.”
“That loudmouthed fucker’s going to get us killed,” Guerra said. He meant Stilley, the other soldier guarding the back door. A native New Yorker, he had no idea what a whisper was, even under the direst of circumstances. Hastings figured Guerra might be right, but there was nothing anyone could do about that right now. He would speak to Stilley again later. He had to figure out how he was going to get the soldier squared away before someone did something drastic like put a bullet in whatever passed for his brain.
“I’ll take care of it,” he told Guerra.
“Fair warning, sir. You don’t, I will.”
“Keep your pants on, Guerra. You do your job, I’ll do mine.” Hastings didn’t feel anger or irritation at the sniper’s challenge, but he filed it away as something else he would have to attend to. Later, when they didn’t have troops in imminent danger.
The two men watched as the gaggle of undead children crept past the semi truck’s cab. They did not slow, though one of them did look at the abandoned gas cans for a moment as it staggered by. That was it. Nothing else, no indication they knew living flesh was so near.
Hastings scanned the area thoroughly, looking for any more reekers. He saw nothing, but he knew they were around.
“Ballantine, you guys seem to be good now. We can’t see anything from our side, but you might want to check your right before you climb out. Over.”
“Roger that.” A brief pause. “Ah, we can’t see any activity from here. We still good to dismount? Over.”
“Roger, you’re still good. Over.”
The driver’s door on the truck’s cab slowly opened. Hastings watched through the binoculars as Ballantine stepped out on the rig’s running board and looked in both directions. Cautiously, he lowered himself to the asphalt, the pistol grip of his M4A3 assault rifle clenched in his right hand. Hastings couldn’t see the man’s face behind the MTek blast visor and facial armor all the soldiers wore, but he was certain even a steadfast trooper like Carl Ballantine was sweating bullets. If nothing else, the heat and humidity would ensure that would be the case, should fear fail to inspire perspiration. Ballantine moved toward the open saddle tank and took a guard position as the rest of the soldiers climbed down from the truck. They resume their siphoning mission immediately.
As Hastings went back to his scan, he asked, “Ballantine, how are you guys holding up? Over.”
“Hot as hell, Six, but still living. Over.”
Hasting’s view wandered over a beverage truck that lay on its side several hundred feet from where the soldiers stood. The vehicle had apparently been involved in a multi-vehicle pile up that halted traffic on this stretch of the highway. It was surrounded by a myriad of plastic bottles which lay on the ground like so many expended cartridges, gleaming in the sun.
“Guerra, when you get the chance, take a look at the water truck downrange. Are those bottles full or empty?”
“Hold one.” Guerra slowly panned his rifle to the right. After a moment, he said, “Looks like most of them are empty. I guess the motorists raided when the traffic got stopped. Might still be some in the truck, though.”
Hastings considered that for a moment. They would need water soon too. It was going to be a long drive upstate, and they would need every consumable they could put their hands on. Especially water. Water would be a big concern.
“Let’s get the fuel first,” he said finally.
“My opinion exactly.”
Below, Tharinger continued siphoning the saddle tank while Reader knelt nearby, weapon at ready. Ballantine had walked toward the rear of the rig’s trailer, his assault rifle shouldered, barrel down. Hastings saw his finger was on the weapon’s trigger guard. The NCO was indexed and ready to go.
“Okay, I have more movement on the highway,” Guerra said, and there was a quality to his voice which made Hastings’s ears perk up. “Check about sixty degrees uprange, heading toward our guys.”
Hastings swung the binoculars toward the north. It took him a long moment to figure our exactly what it was he saw, but he finally pulled himself together and figured it out. Heads and shoulders were swaying from side to side between the cars. Thousands of heads and shoulders. There was a veritable army of the dead marching down the highway, threading through the traffic.
Jesus… they followed us all the way from New York City.
“You know, I see some reekers in there that look to be in pretty good shape,” Guerra said. “Might be runners. You, uh, might want to pass that on to Ballantine, Captain.”
Hastings spoke into his headset microphone urgently. “Ballantine, we have a major contact headed your way from the north. Finish up what you’re doing and get ready to run like hell. There may be some runners in the group, but we’ll do our damnedest to service them from here. Break. Hartmann, get the vehicles ready to move out. Over.”
“Roger,” was Hartmann’s brusque reply.
Below, the three soldiers started packing up, moving quickly and efficiently. Ballantine pressed himself against the trailer and raised his rifle, peering through his scope. While his rifle’s optics weren’t anywhere as good as Guerra’s, he could see the writing on the wall pretty clearly even through 4x magnification. He turned and motioned for Reader and Tharinger to hurry it up. They had filled maybe two cans at the most, so each soldier grabbed one five gallon can and hurried to the highway shoulder. Keeping as low as possible, they crawled over the guardrail and pulled the cans after them. Ballantine glanced over his shoulder and checked their progress; when he saw they were over the guardrail, he dropped back, grabbed the empty fuel canister, and hurried after them.
One of the reekers saw him.
Oh, fuck me, Hastings thought acidly when he saw the reeker change direction and stumble toward Ballantine. Its arms were outstretched as if it intended to give the soldier a hug, even though he was well over a hundred feet away. The reeker was a shambler, which meant it moved about as fast as a toddler could walk, but its actions caught the attention of the zombies closest to it.
And some of those were runners, as Guerra had guessed.
Hastings watched as one, then two, then three zombies left the pack, running toward the guardrail Ballantine had just crossed over. If the tall, stocky NCO had noticed them, he gave no indication. He charged after Reader and Tharinger as they themselves bolted across the gently undulating field, leaving vague paths through the tall grass. Hastings watched as two more runners detached themselves from the zombie herd, sprinting after the others.
“Okay guys, you have runners on your trail. Move some ass,” he said over the radio.
“You want me to shoot?” Guerra asked.
“Take ‘em out,” Hastings said. He dropped his field glasses and pulled his M4A3 into position and looked through its scope. Beside him, Guerra worked the sniper rifle. BANG! One runner went down. BANG! A second stumbled and flailed for a moment as the 7.62 millimeter round tore through the left side of its head, just above the eyebrow, and pelted the reeker behind it with a splatter of gore. The runner fell onto its side and lay still. BANG! The third zombie jerked as Guerra’s next shot took it right between the eyes, blasting out the back of its skull as if it had been made from Papier-mâché. Hastings was impressed. The three shots had rung out in less than three seconds, by his estimation. Guerra certainly knew his stuff.
He sighted on one of the remaining runners and squeezed the assault rifle’s trigger. The M4A3 cracked and spat its smaller, but no less lethal, 5.56 millimeter round downrange. He wasn’t as good as Guerra at that range; the round hit the runner in the right side of its skull, but the angle was off. The zombie fell into the tall grass but continued thrashing about, its blackened hands slapping at the sky in erratic convulsions.
Guerra brought down the remaining runner as it bolted across the grassy field, reaching for Ballantine. It slammed to the deck and lay unmoving only ten feet behind the tall sergeant first class. That had been a fast one.
The rest of the zombie horde made it to the guardrail. The zombies piled up there, without even trying to climb over the metal restraint. Instead, they just fell over it and collapsed to the ground on the other side, cresting the guardrail like some fetid tsunami of rotting flesh washing ashore. A cloud of black flies darkened the air around the herd as the insects orbited the stinking mass. It wouldn’t be long until the reekers were not only dead and smelly, but maggot-ridden as well. Hastings wondered if that would be beneficial. Didn’t maggots only eat dead flesh? And if the zombies were dead, didn’t that mean the fly larvae would have a constant bounty upon with to feed, until all the zombies were gone?
Below, the three soldiers ran up the hill as fast as they could. Hasting pushed himself to his feet, his assault rifle still at his shoulder. Guerra remained prone, and fired on another runner that detached itself from the mass of necrotic flesh crossing the highway. Hastings held his fire. Shooting anything but a runner at this stage would just be wasting ammunition.
“Hartmann, how’re we doing back there? Over.”
“Six, we’re ready to roll when you are. No reekers here yet, but I imagine they’re coming, now that you guys have started shooting. Over.” There was no recrimination in Hartmann’s voice, just cold truth. The gunfire could be heard for miles in each direction, and every reeker in range would zero in on the noise and attempt to follow it to its source. Like sharks following a bloody ribbon through a dark sea.
Hastings watched as Ballantine caught up to Reader and Tharinger and urged them on. He finally stopped and turned to check and make sure they were clear from behind. When he saw the closest zombie was almost two hundred feet away, he continued slogging up the hill. Reader and Tharinger huffed and puffed their way toward Hastings and Guerra, taking great care to stay out of the latter’s lane of fire. Hastings heard them gasping for breath behind their armor, and he motioned them past.
“Keep going, guys. Get to the Humvees,” he ordered.
Both men mumbled something and pushed past him, still holding the gas cans. Ballantine crested the hill next, almost sauntering his way toward Hastings and Guerra. He looked down at the prone sniper, then back at the mob of zombies advancing toward the hill.
“You know, this probably isn’t the best time to take a siesta, Guerra,” he said.
“Blow me,” Guerra said.
“I don’t have time to organize a search party.”
“Come on, Ballantine. I saved your ass, man.”
Ballantine shook his head, then looked over at Hastings. He was taller than the captain by a good three or four inches, and Hastings himself stood an inch over six feet in height.
“Less than ten gallons of diesel, Captain.” Ballantine hefted the gas can he carried. “This one’s empty.”
“Let’s do what we can with what we have,” Hastings said. He pointed toward the growing horde that advanced toward the hill at a slow shamble. “We have to bug out before they get too thick.”
“Sergeant Guerra, any more runners down there?”
“Affirmative, but they can’t get through the crowd just yet,” Guerra said. Hastings looked down the hill. The mass of rotting former humanity was still mostly confused by the guardrail; while over a hundred reekers had fallen over it, almost a thousand more stood bunched up behind it.
“Then let’s get the hell out of here,” Hastings said. He saw movement from the corner of his eye, and he turned to the left. Ballantine did as well, raising his M4. Three reekers stumbled down an opposing hillside, their dead faces turned toward the men as they lurched along.
Guerra got to his feet wordlessly and turned away from the zombies. He glanced at the others coming down the other hill to the left of their position, but didn’t comment on them. That more zombies would be arriving was a given.
Hastings led them down the hill at a trot, heading back for the Humvees.
Well, at least on Amazon. EARTHFALL has managed to make its appearance, starting with Amazon in the US, and I expect it to make it to Amazon’s foreign markets within the day. It hasn’t yet appeared in Barnes & Noble, but I’m hopeful that will occur soon.
Paperback to follow within two weeks or so, and I’ll let you fine folks know when it’s rolling off the presses. And as soon as the book is available on the other usual sites, I’ll be sure to share the links.
Hope you guys like this one!
Chapter Five from the upcoming book Earthfall, which is currently with the lovely Diana Cox of novelproofreading.com. I’m not expecting any major changes, and believe this’ll be released either over the weekend or very early next week. In this peek, we find out just how badly Harmony has been hurt, and what they’ll have to do in order to survive.
Usual disclaimers apply; this is draft material, not finalized, changes may occur, etc., etc.
Even though the main elevator wasn’t working, Andrews and the others managed to escape the SCEV prep area through a stairway that led to the next level of Harmony Base. Emergency lights glared in the gloom, and intercom announcements were strident but informative: There had been an earthquake; engineering was working on restoring essential power; seriously injured personnel were to be transported directly to the base’s medical section on level three; all non-essential personnel were to return to their quarters or the Commons Area, also on level three, and await further taskings.
“Guess that’s us,” Laird said. “Unless someone needs an SCEV at the moment.”
“Sounds like,” Andrews said. They were on level two, the first floor beneath the SCEV bay. Despite the fact it was an admin level, it was buzzing with activity. Several injured personnel were being carried down the corridor on stretchers. The elevators were under inspection, so they were out of commission. That meant the injured had to be transported down the four stairways located in each corner of the floor.
“I’m headed for the Commons. What about you?” Laird said.
“The Core. Rachel was on shift.”
Laird made a sound of commiseration. “Damn. I’ll go with you.”
Andrews waved the notion away. “Nah, don’t worry about it. I’m sure she’s fine, but I’m going to head down there and check things out. Gives me the opportunity to heckle the old man, too.”
Andrews nodded and slapped Laird on the shoulder. “I’m cool, man. Really.”
Laird looked at him levelly for a long moment, then returned his nod. “Okay. If you need me, I’ll be in either the Commons or my quarters.”
“Hooah,” Andrews said. They hurried back into the stairwell. Laird peeled off on level three, heading for the huge Commons Area, Harmony Base’s main social and dining hub. Andrews pressed on, pushing past people coming up from the base’s lower floors. Several were injured, many were near panic, and all of them had drawn-out expressions of grim foreboding etched into their faces. No one had been prepared for an event like this, and Andrews felt exactly the same way.
It took almost an hour to get down to level five, which was where the uppermost level of the Core could be accessed. Security guards turned him away, informing him the area was currently off-limits to anyone without an engineering specialty. They knew who he was, of course, and that his father was the base’s engineering officer, but still they refused him admittance.
“I just want to know if my family’s safe,” Andrews told the senior trooper guarding the fifth floor entrance to the Core.
“I know your father is all right,” the soldier said. “I saw him myself. I don’t know about your wife though, Captain. Sorry. All section commands are supposed to be posting casualty lists, so…” The soldier shrugged and looked over at the second guard for verification.
“That’s probably the best thing you can do right now, sir,” the other soldier agreed.
Andrews looked past their shoulders, but there was little to see. People were coming and going from the Core; those leaving were injured or heading to other parts of the base with toolkits and spares in hand, while those entering were apparently hurrying in to supplement the remaining workforce. There was the acrid hint of smoke in the air, a particularly foul-smelling, chemical sort.
“Do me a favor, guys… You see Rachel Andrews, tell her I’m fine and I’ll be in the Commons. You know who she is, right?”
“Oh, yeah,” the first guard said. “We’ll tell her if we see her, sir. Don’t worry. Same message to your father?”
“Roger that. I’d appreciate it.”
“Consider it done, sir.”
Andrews nodded and reluctantly turned away from the doorway. He briefly considered going down to the sixth floor and trying his luck there, but it probably wouldn’t work. The guards had their hands full already; they didn’t need some junior officer trying to bull his way past them when they had orders.
So Andrews joined the procession of people moving up the stairs, pressing himself against the wall when damage control or medical teams came past, granting them priority access. It usually only took a minute or two to get to the Commons level, but due to the crush of bodies and their slow gait, it took ten minutes. It was perhaps the longest ten minutes of his life, and Andrews felt a particularly furious sort of irritation blossom in his chest. While he was no stranger to impatience, he was used to being in control of himself, being capable of reigning in his emotions before they got the best of him. It was something all of the New Guard had to become familiar with. Being raised underground and told they were humanity’s last hope and the seeds for a new United States of America, patience was something that had been inculcated in them from their earliest years. While the Old Guard wrestled with claustrophobia, boredom, and even outright hostility, the New Guard was able to look past those things and face the future with a calm, even gaze. The Old Guard couldn’t do that, at least not as reliably as the younger people. The Old Guard had grown up in wide open spaces with lovely blue skies. The only clouds that came their way sprinkled rain or snow, not radioactive particles that could damage cellular reproduction and cause uncontrollable cancers.
Andrews sensed a strong undercurrent of frustration running through the crowd. Only a few hours ago, everyone had been carrying on with their subterranean lives, hoping and praying the SCEV teams would find other pockets of life that Harmony Base could work with to rebuild the nation. Now, that mission seemed to be a very distant goal. Survival was once again at the fore.
When he finally stepped into the Commons Area, he wasn’t surprised to find it packed tight with people. Even though it had been designed to accommodate virtually the entire base, it was rare for so many people to be in the cavernous room at one time. As he walked through the crowd, occasionally acknowledging someone he knew, he decided it wasn’t as packed as he’d initially thought. There was still enough room to move about, so long as he was careful and took care not to stomp on someone’s foot get hit with a chair as someone stood up from a table.
Andrews turned. Leona Eklund pushed toward him through the crowd, her lean, athletic frame giving her more than enough dexterity to wend her way through the occasional mass of bodies and, when required, the power to shove her way past. Like himself, she’d been brought to the base at a very young age—four years old, to be exact. Now nineteen, she served as his executive officer and was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the United States Army. Her curly dark hair hung free around her shoulders, and her narrow-featured face turned his way, her deep brown eyes locked on him. Someone—one of the Old Guard, he remembered—had mentioned to him once that Leona was built like a saluki, lean and all angles. Andrews had had to look it up, but he found that a saluki was a breed of dog built for racing. He agreed with the description. Leona did seem to possess the same poise as the dogs he had seen in the videos.
“Lee, you okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m good. What about you?”
Andrews shrugged. “Tried to get down to the Core, but it’s under lockdown. I heard my dad’s all right, but don’t know anything about Rachel yet.”
She looked at him for a long moment. “I’m sorry about that. It must be terrible.”
Andrews shrugged, wondering if the worry was as visible on his face as he feared it might be. “I’ll make do,” he said lamely. “You see anyone else from the team?”
She nodded. “Everyone’s accounted for, except for you and Spencer.”
“He’s fine. We were in the SCEV prep area when the quake hit. They’d just started pulling our rig apart. I’m glad it wasn’t on the elevator—it looks like it got whacked big time. The doors practically collapsed inward.”
“Sounds bad. Did Five leave?”
“No, not yet. Both rigs are still in the prep area.”
Leona nodded and started to say something else, but the screens surrounding the Commons came to life. A shiver ran through the assembled people, and everyone turned to the nearest screen. Andrews was no different; his heart started to race, and he and Leona both turned to stare at the closest screen. The casualty reports were in alphabetical order, so Andrews didn’t have long to wait. There was no listing for ‘Rachel Andrews.’ He didn’t allow himself to fully relax until the listing progressed through the Ls and there was no ‘Rachel Lopez,’ either. When he saw that, he released his breath in a trembling sigh.
The list is going to be continually updated, he told himself. Just because she’s not on it now, doesn’t mean she won’t be on it later.
Adding a small cast of desperation to his thought was that there were almost thirty names on the list. Thirty names, and he knew them all. Thirty people who had been killed during the earthquake. He had grown up with four of them, and one of them, a woman named Sally Kesserman, had been one of his dearest friends when they were younger. But over the decade that had passed since the Sixty Minute War, Andrews had watched Sally grow up. She had become a serious-minded woman, a quartermaster’s assistant, her brow always furrowed by the rate at which the base’s consumables disappeared. While Andrews was in charge of connecting the base with any outside settlements that might exist, her job was to remain below ground and count beans. She was in charge of worrying, something she’d never had a penchant for when she was younger.
Other than meaningless chitchat, Andrews hadn’t kept up with her for the past several years. That he would never have the opportunity to talk to his old friend again left him feeling hollow and guilty.
“So many,” Leona said, her voice soft. Sobs broke out around the Commons. In such a small community, the loss of thirty people meant that everyone had lost someone. The bottom had just dropped out of several people’s lives. Andrews looked around numbly. He felt it, too.
He looked at Leona, her face tightly drawn. She had always been a super-confident sort, the type of person who never let her true feelings show. He remembered when she was maybe twelve years old, when she and her family had arrived at the base. The rest of the kids would sometimes make fun of her gawky figure, thin features, and lank hair. If the teasing had ever bothered her, she’d never given any of them the satisfaction of seeing it. As he grew older, Andrews found he admired her for that trait, which he himself had never been able to master. But even Leona had her limits, and the sudden notice that thirty people had checked out for the long dirt nap had pushed her past them. Tears glittered in her eyes as she continued to stare at the displays. Andrews put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. She stiffened at the sudden contact, but Andrews kept his arm around her to let her know she wasn’t alone in her grief.
“You all right?” he asked.
Leona relaxed suddenly. She bowed her head, as if embarrassed by her tears, and tried to hide them by wiping the back of her hand across her eyes. “Yeah, I’m okay. I just wasn’t expecting there to be so many.”
Andrews looked at the scrolling fatality list and wondered idly at its power. Millions had died well in advance of these thirty, but it was these thirty that he knew. In the grand scale of things, the passing of thirty souls could perhaps be considered inconsequential. But in the small community of Harmony Base, it was as if an entire nation had just been ripped asunder.
“Hang in there, Lieutenant,” he said. “Just hang in there.”
Leona raised her head and looked at him, a bit of the old fire back in her eyes. “Because it’s probably going to get worse, right?”
“It might,” he agreed softly. “It just might.”
Leona nodded and looked back at the displays. She reached up and touched his hand, the one that was still wrapped around her shoulder. “Thanks for this, but you don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.”
Andrews smiled lamely and released her. “I don’t think anyone even noticed.”
“I know. Thanks for helping.” She flashed him a sudden smile. “Really.”
“Free of charge.”
“Andrews,” a voice called from behind him. “You need to come with me right now.”
Andrews turned as Colonel Larry Walters stepped up beside him. He was shorter than Andrews by quite a bit and, true to his nickname, the colonel was in fact somewhat wall-eyed; his left eye wandered a bit off-center, enough so that it was difficult for people to know which eye to look at while they were speaking to him. He was a small-boned sort, and his steel gray hair was cropped so close to his skull that Andrews wondered why Walters never went for broke and just shaved it bare.
“Sir?” Andrews said automatically, even though he had heard Walters perfectly. The truth was, his heart had skipped a beat. Why was Walters here? Had something happened to Rachel? Had he come to find Andrews before her name was released on the casualty list?
“I need you to come with me,” Walters said again, impatiently. He looked past Andrews. “You too, Eklund. Follow me.”
“Where to, Colonel?” Leona asked.
He fixed with his imprecise stare. “Follow. Me.” He turned and pushed through the crowd without saying anything else. Andrews nodded at Leona, and he headed after the bantam officer as quickly as he could.
Andrews was surprised to find Walters had led them to the commander’s conference room. That the room was full was no shock—the base had just been hit by what appeared to be a major catastrophe, and he expected all the senior department heads to be present. What he didn’t expect was for Jim Laird and his exec, Kelly Jordello, to be in attendance, any more than he would expect Leona and himself to be summoned. What did SCEV teams have to do with the earthquake?
“Andrews and Eklund, sir,” Walter said as he stepped into the room. General Benchley sat at the head of the long table opposite the entrance, and he made eye contact with Andrews and Leona as they entered. It was standing room only. From the corner of his eye, Andrews saw Rachel sitting at the far end of the table.
“Very well,” Benchley said. “There’s not a lot of room left, so you folks come in as best as you can.”
“You heard him, get yourselves squared away,” Walters said. He folded his arms and leaned against the wall beside the door. Andrews and Leona pushed themselves inside and grabbed a patch of wall to lean against.
“Jeremy, if you could get started, please,” Benchley said.
Beside him sat Sergeant Major Mulligan, and Andrews thought the big Green Beret didn’t look happy. He was practically crushed against the edge of the conference table, and the look of utter disdain on his face was priceless. Andrews might have smiled at the sight if Mulligan hadn’t looked in his direction. He turned and looked over toward Rachel. She smiled at him vaguely.
The far wall illuminated suddenly; it was actually a huge LED monitor. A vector graphic schematic of Harmony Base appeared on the display. Overall, the representation was in green, but several areas of the base were red. Andrews saw one of those areas was the SCEV bay, where the rigs were stored when not in use. The prep area above the bay was still mostly green.
“All right, folks. As most of you know, several areas of the base have been badly damaged. Most notably, the geothermal exchange system and the auxiliary power cells, here and here.” Andrews watched as his father walked up to the display and tapped the indicated areas. “We’re operating under emergency conservation procedures, which gives us essential systems power for eight days, max. After that, we’re on lifeline support, but without the batteries, we’re not looking at much more than another five days or so before the CO2 levels reach critical. In short, we’ll all suffocate down here unless we can get the main systems back online.
“The supports that hold the heat exchanger pumps in place were damaged by the earthquake, leaving them without any reliable stabilization. When those units are operational they vibrate quite a bit, and without the supports, the conversion pumps would be smashed to pieces against the sides of the shaft.”
Jeremy manipulated a control on the remote, and the display changed to show a graphic of the heat exchange system located almost a mile beneath the base. A long shaft had been bored into the Earth’s crust to where the planet’s molten core provided enough heat to turn water into steam. That steam was then pumped under pressure to the turbines in the Core, providing them with the necessary fuel to power Harmony Base. The steam would condense back into water, which was then replaced in the ground, ensuring the cycle of availability was more or less continuous. Even though he wasn’t one of the base’s powerheads, Andrews knew all about it. After all, his father was in charge of maintaining the system and had architected improvements in the few years before the Sixty Minute War shut the door on everything topside.
“These supports were designed to meet exacting tolerances, and their operational lifespan is supposed to be a century or more. They’re very dense, and due to their metallurgical properties, they’re not something we can manufacture in one of our machine shops. We don’t have the foundry skills to do it.”
“So what’s the big reveal?” Mulligan asked. Benchley cast a glance at him, but the sergeant major gave no indication he noticed. Jeremy sighed and clasped his hands behind his back.
“The big reveal is this, Sergeant Major: if we don’t get replacements, we can’t turn on the geothermal exchange pumps. And without those pumps operational, there’s precious little power to scrub the air, run the water, or operate the lights. In short, we’re kind of fucked.”
Colonel Baxter rubbed her forehead. “Major Andrews, that sounds kind of extreme.”
“It’s an extreme set of circumstances, ma’am.”
“But this base was designed to withstand a near ground-strike from a nuclear weapon,” Baxter said. “How could an earthquake result in this much critical damage?”
“A nuclear strike is pretty much a short-lived event, Colonel,” Jeremy said. “The earthquake discharged even more energy than a nuclear weapon over a greater period of time, albeit over a much larger area. As such, the base was going to take one in the snot locker. We just didn’t expect it to take out our teeth with one punch, as it were.”
“These supports… we don’t have replacements? It seems like something of this nature, a component that’s critical to the survival of the base, should be in our supply chain somewhere.”
“That made sense in the 1980s, ma’am. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, this installation wasn’t exactly considered a primary project any longer. Interest in it was renewed after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the base went through some substantial refurbishing to bring it up to date. But the general architecture of the geothermal exchange system was left untouched. We’ve done some modifications to make things more efficient here and there, but overall, the system is still using technology from the 1980s. And since the supports were designed with such a long lifespan, the replacements were never shipped.”
“Are there replacements, sir?” Mulligan asked.
Jeremy hesitated for a long moment. He looked down the length of the table at Benchley. The general sighed loudly and ran a hand over his steel gray hair.
“Tell them, Major,” he said.
“There were,” Jeremy answered after a long moment. “I mean, as far as I know, there still are. In California.”
The assemblage took in its collective breath and released it in one long sigh.
“California,” Mulligan said, his voice flat over the din of the restive group. “As in, the Beach Boys’ California?”
“That’s the only one I know of,” Jeremy said.
Mulligan snorted and leaned back in his seat, crossing his arms over his barrel chest.
“And this is why we’re here,” Benchley said, looking around the room. He made eye contact with everyone. “This installation has just gone through an extremely powerful event, one that rivals the lethality of the Sixty Minute War. Actually, it casts even that circumstance in deep shadow. As you’ve just heard from Major Andrews, Harmony Base is now faced with the possibility that the earthquake might very well be a terminal event.” He paused to let that sink in for a moment. “We’ve already lost people. We may lose more in the coming hours. And if we don’t act quickly, we might lose everything inside of two weeks.”
“You need us to go out and secure replacements,” Andrews said suddenly.
Benchley turned to him and nodded. “Correct, Captain. As it stands, SCEVs Four and Five are the only rigs in the SCEV prep area. The lift to the SCEV bay is currently out of commission, and best estimates are that it will take more than a day to repair. So those two vehicles are going out into the field to secure replacement supports.” He pressed a button on a desktop controller, and the wall display changed to show a route from Harmony’s position in western Kansas to San Jose, California. “I realize that Four has just come back in from the field and was in the beginning stages of post-mission teardown. Obviously, the rig will be reassembled after the more pressing maintenance items are tended to. Once completed, both vehicles will depart as soon as possible for California. Andrews, you’ll serve as mission commander. Captain Laird will serve as mission deputy commander. Eklund and Jordello will remain rig XOs. You will be accompanied by Engineer Spencer, Mission Specialist Chu, and Missus Andrews here, who is familiar with the supports.” Benchley nodded toward Rachel, sitting at the far end of the table next to Jeremy.
Andrews blinked. “Uh, sir, she isn’t qualified for field work, and we won’t have time to train her up—”
Benchley held up one hand, cutting him off. “I understand your dilemma, Captain, but I want someone on hand who can not only identify the supports, but also identify which ones are good and which ones are bad. Bringing back defective parts isn’t an option. We won’t have another chance at a do-over.” The general paused. “I’m also adding Command Sergeant Major Mulligan to the mission roster.”
Mulligan’s eyes widened. “General, I’m an instructor—”
“—who is fully current in SCEV operations, and in light of your Special Forces background, I feel it’s prudent you go.” Benchley faced Mulligan directly. “Any questions on that, Sergeant Major?”
Mulligan glared at Benchley for a long moment, then slowly shook his head. “Good to go here, General.”
“Excuse me, sir?” Kelly Jordello, Laird’s executive officer, spoke up. She was short and curvy, with long blond hair she kept tied back from her face. A vivacious sort, she was full of energy and had been something of a tomboy in her youth, a quality that had attracted Andrews to her in their teen years. He’d tried to woo her, but it had all been for naught. Kelly’s preference was for other women, and while such a revelation was hardly enough to raise even an eyebrow in the base’s small society, Andrews had been heartbroken for a month when she finally rebuffed him. But as they grew older, they developed a casual, low-maintenance friendship that made up for their embarrassing past.
“Go ahead, Lieutenant.”
“You’ve named only eight crewmembers. You are assigning more faces for the spaces, right?”
“Negative on that. Should one vehicle become disabled, then the second can take on the full crew without overloading its life support systems. I know half-crews will increase everyone’s workload, but it’s unavoidable. Colonel Walters will provide the required electronic navigation updates for both rigs, and he has already ordered every available vehicle engineer and crew chief to the prep area to assist with rig stand-up and certification. Andrews, you and Laird will be responsible for ensuring all tier one safety checks are completed, but I encourage you to skip the nonessentials in order to take to the field as quickly as possible. Understood?”
Andrews looked at Laird, and the other commander nodded his assent. “Roger that, sir. We’ll try and streamline things as much as we can.”
Benchley nodded. “I appreciate that. I understand this is a sudden thing to drop on you. Normally we spend months planning each jump into the field, but I’m sure you understand we have no choice here. I wish I could provide you with more information, but we have nothing further. Get your affairs in order—you’ll be leaving as soon as possible. Colonel Walters will be your conduit to the command group for any last minute issues. I know everyone has a great deal of work to do, so if there’s nothing else, you’re all dismissed to tend to your tasks.”
The assemblage stirred to life. Andrews stepped out of the conference room and waited in the corridor. Leona followed him, and he turned to her.
“You mind heading up to the prep bay and checking in with Spencer? Make sure he knows what’s going on, and that he has everything he needs. Remember, we had a twitchy differential. Let’s get that replaced and tested. As soon as the rig is put back together, start a full component test. I want even the line replaceable units bench-tested. All right?”
“Got it,” Leona said. “Anything else?”
Andrews looked past her shoulder as Rachel emerged from the conference room. Her uniform was covered in grime; clearly, she’d been busy on some sort of repair before she’d been pulled into the conference. Leona followed his gaze, then looked back at him.
“I’ll see you later,” she said, and headed down the corridor.
Andrews looked at Rachel and, from her expression, he could see she knew he wasn’t happy that she’d been assigned to the mission.
“So… now I get to see you at work, huh?” She smiled sheepishly.
“Don’t be so damn sure,” he said. “There’s got to be someone else who can be assigned to this. You can’t be the only person who can tell us not to bring back a rusty support.”
“There’s more to it than that, and Jeremy is the one who selected me. Listen, I’m not exactly thrilled to leave right now. There’s a lot that has to be done, and going on a road trip through post-apocalyptic America was always pretty low on my to-do list.”
Jeremy stepped out of the conference room, staring at his data tablet with a frown. He looked up when Andrews grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the exit. His frown deepened.
“Save it, Mike. I know what you’re going to say. Rachel’s the best asset to validate—”
“Dad, she doesn’t know jack about SCEV ops, and she’s terrified of them. You know that. Asking her to saddle up with the rest of us is majorly away from goodness.”
Jeremy sighed, and he glared at Andrews angrily. “Stop bitching about it. This is how it’s going to be played, Mike. I’m sorry if you find this personally inconvenient, but we don’t exactly have a lot of choices here. Benchley asked for the best person available to ensure that good replacements are brought back, and that person just happens to be Rachel.” He looked at her. “You’re good with this?”
“Mostly,” she said. “I’ll do whatever you need me to do, Jeremy.”
Jeremy looked back at Andrews. “Any further questions, Captain?”
Andrews sighed. “No, sir.”
Jeremy relaxed a little bit, and he squeezed his son’s shoulder. “I know it’s asking a lot of you, and I know that adding Rachel to the mix is going to make it tough for both of you personally. But there’s no choice in the matter, so you might want to try and make it as easy as possible by making sure she gets spooled up on the broad strokes of SCEV operations. All right?”
“Yes, sir,” Andrews said. There was no use fighting it. Jeremy was right, and the stakes were high. Better to just soldier on and get it done.
“Good,” Jeremy said. His tablet pinged, and he had another report to tend to.
In the conference room, Benchley took a moment to compose himself before the next session started. He still had a slew of damage reports to go through, and the road ahead looked bleak and desultory. He noticed Mulligan beside him at the table, staring at him with his dark gaze. “Is there something I can do for you, Sergeant Major?” Benchley asked.
“Field duty, sir? Me?”
“You’ll be needed, Mulligan.”
“How so? I haven’t been in the field for over ten years, sir. I’m an old geezer. And Rachel Andrews happens to hate my guts for—”
“And whose fault is that?” Benchley asked, irritation plain in his voice. He took a moment to dial it back a bit before continuing. “Scott, I’m sorry. I understand the deployment will be rough, but I want your experience on tap. We don’t know what these people might run into out there. Your background and your skill set might be a very welcome addition, should things go even further into the shitter.”
Mulligan snorted derisively, and Benchley found he couldn’t contain his irritation any longer. He fixed Mulligan with an icy stare.
“As you still wear the uniform of the United States Army, you should be able to recognize an order when you hear one, Sergeant Major. Am I clear on that?”
“Hooah,” Mulligan said. “With your permission, sir, I guess I ought to get to it.”
“An excellent idea.”
Today, I present you with a little something different: an interview with two crusty, surly Sergeants Major. One you know, from his role in The Gathering Dead series of books. The other makes his debut in the upcoming post-apocalyptic science fiction advenure, Earthfall.
In the left corner: Sergeant Major David Gartrell, still bloody and stinky from taking down untold numbers of stenches with everything from his AA-12 to an acetylene bomb. For those who might be interested, Gartrell is on the blond side, about five foot nine to five foot ten, and hardly an iron pumper…unless the heavy iron happens to be an M2 .50 caliber, in which case, he’s all over it. He’s a lifetime member of the NRA, and he subscribes to Guns & Ammo magazine under three different names, just in case he misses an issue.
In the right corner: Command Sergeant Major Scott Mulligan, also still bloody and stinky from his struggles against a pack of demented, cannibalistic survivalists in the shattered remains of San Jose, California. It should be noted that Mulligan is sporting the additional dimension of “battered.” Where Gartrell exudes a quiet sense of confidence and ability, Mulligan exudes a “I’m going to twist your head off and play some basketball with it” vibe that is made even more compelling due to his six-foot-six-inch height.
Stephen Knight: Hey, guys. Thanks for dropping by my mind.
Gartrell: It wasn’t voluntary.
Mulligan: Yeah, you really get off pulling the God strings, don’t you?
SK: Let’s, uh, let’s not make it too combative, okay?
Mulligan: Is “fuck you” being too combative? I got things to do.
Gartrell: What, another toenail painting session in your calendar?
Mulligan: Look, kid—you made it into print before I did, but I was thought up in 1983. Show your elders some respect.
Gartrell: Dude, we’re both in our early fifties.
Mulligan: Knight, can you make him sixty?
SK: I’ll make that a takeaway. All right, let’s get to it. Gartrell, what’s the worst thing about being in The Gathering Dead universe?
Gartrell: Gee, let’s think about that. [Pauses] Yeah, I’d have to say it’s the whole my-family-turned-into-zombie-things-after-I-wrestle-with-my-innermost-feelings-for-shooting-an-autistic-kid story arc you put me through. Thanks for that, by the way. You’re a sweetheart. If I were real, I’d pin you to a wooden chair by driving a sixteen penny nail through that tiny little bag that passes for your scrotum and light you on fire.
SK: Ah…ah, Mulligan? What’s the worst thing about the post-apocalypse world of Earthfall?
Mulligan: A distinct lack of tiki bars.
SK: Come again?
Mulligan: [Points to Gartrell] Listen, pal, you didn’t like it when he told you the truth, what makes you think my response is going to be happily received?
SK: Come on, Mulligan—
Mulligan: All right. Okay. Let’s see, I think I can work with this. You saddled me with a past that I have nightmares about. I’m trapped in an underground base with around three hundred and seventy five pinheads who are afraid of me, and the only person who really talks to me is a two-star general. Other than the expected lack of witty repartee such a relationship usually engenders—I mean, I’m sure all my off-camera scenes with Benchley consist of me smiling and saying such things like, “Oh, you really loved In-N-Out Burger? That’s great, sir,” and “You preferred the golf course at Fort Bliss as opposed to the one at Fort Knox, and gosh damn, you’re upset that the nukes came between you and your improving handicap?”—it’s a pretty morose existence you gave me. +1 for you being a dick, but -10 for blowing me up.
SK: Hey, you lived! And you didn’t even lose any limbs!
Mulligan: Yeah, but I was fucking unconscious when the girls in the SCEV were giving me sponge baths! What the hell is wrong with you? I mean, you give Mike Andrews a hot wife, and then you make her hate me for killing her parents, and then you force us serve on the same mission together. Thanks for that. You’re as much fun as a limp pecker at an orgy.
SK: All right, point taken. Sorry, guys, but making you suffer is what draws in the audience. Gartrell, would you agree with that?
Gartrell: What? Sorry, I fell asleep–is Mulligan done talking? For someone who’s supposed to be tall, dark, and silent, he sure does bitch and moan a lot, doesn’t he?
Mulligan: What’s the matter, Gartrell? Are you still upset that I was patterned after Charlton Heston, and you were inspired by a landscaper Knight worked for in 1981?
Gartrell: [To SK] Is this true?
SK: Well…physically, yes. You do look a lot like a guy I worked for back when I—
Gartrell: Wow. I guess any chance this interview might be therapeutic just went out the window. Really, Knight, how far under the water are you going to push me?
Mulligan: You want some advice? Put on some swim trunks.
Gartrell: Charlton Heston wore a hair piece. Do you?
Mulligan: You can try and pull my hair, but it’s gonna cost you.
Gartrell: What, you’re going to keep talking? I killed like eleventy-million carnivorous corpses, butt-wipe. You think you can intimidate me?
Mulligan: Gartrell, you couldn’t even figure out what to do if you suddenly found yourself trapped under a sleeping Armenian. Of course, I hear that kind of thing happens to you often. My tactical assessment: You need to stay out the Turkish bath houses.
Gartrell: Oh, yeah. Says the guy who took a multimillion dollar rig outside and drove it right into a freaking nuclear explosion. You’re a fucking rocket scientist, Mulligan. And you probably kept on talking as the shock wave rolled over you.
SK: Guys, guys! Time out! Look, let’s try this. Gartrell, are you ready for a sequel to The Rising Horde?
Gartrell: Screw that. Put me in a prequel to The Gathering Dead, where I’m still something like a human being. Give me some righteous snappy dialog with McDaniels, and explain just how the hell he and I got mixed up together again. I mean, I hated the guy. And you teamed us up? To repeat my esteemed colleague’s question, what in the hell is wrong with you?
SK: So, uh…a prequel, huh?
Gartrell: It would make some sense there, Copernicus. Call it something like The Day Before the Dead. Or even better, just make me the headline act: Dave Gartrell: Porn Star.
Muligan: There we go. Let him do the horizontal bop with a bunch of zombies. That’ll sell real well. We can give you a new nickname: “franchise killer.”
Gartrell: Y’know, I’m beginning to think you weren’t modeled after Heston, after all. I’m thinking you’re more like Piers Morgan, only in this instance, that left-wing douche bag lobsterback is eminently more entertaining to listen to.
Mulligan: Now, you listen to me, you sack of—
SK: Mulligan! Interested in appearing in a sequel to Earthfall?
Mulligan: Huh…you have me poised to get it on with a girl who’s half my age, and whose IQ is about four times higher than Gartrell’s. And she’s smoking hot. So unless I took a couple of rounds to my nuts in San Jose, what the hell do you think? Hell yes, I’m ready for a sequel!
Gartrell: Whoa, whoa…wait a second, here. This idiot’s going to get romantically involved…with something other than a blow-up doll? Are you kidding me, Knight? I mean, he practically has to pour alcoholic drinks into his right hand for two hours before he can get lucky solo, and now he’s going to get to have a relationship? Please tell me you modeled his future romantic partner after someone in keeping with his decade…Bea Arthur?
SK: I was thinking more along the lines of Jessica Alba, actually—
Mulligan: [Laughs] Yes! Hear that? Read it and weep, Smelly Gartrelly—the book comes out around February 15th. Though I’m sure reading isn’t high on your list of skills, so in your case, maybe you should wait for the audio book. I’ll try and get Knight to crack open the coffers so he can hire Jessica Alba to say my name all breathy and hot and stuff during the recording sessions. You’ll love it, trust me.
Gartrell: Knight…this ain’t right.
Mulligan: Oh, now he’s a poet. Here’s one you might like, tiny. It’s called “Fleas,” and it goes like this: “Adam had ‘em.” Impressed?
Gartrell: [Points at Mulligan] This guy is gonna get laid in the next book he’s in?
SK: Well…I haven’t decided it yet, I really only have a thumbnail of a plotline—
Mulligan: If I don’t get laid, I’m going to kill you. And everyone else inside of Harmony Base.
SK: But…but you’re not real, Mulligan.
Mulligan: I’ve haunted your dreams since 1983, pal. Think again.
Gartrell: Two can play that game, Knight. All I’ve gotten out of this duty is a quip to give a Ranger O-6 a lap-dance, and that ain’t cuttin’ it.
Mulligan: A lap-dance? Are you sure you’re not a Marine?
Gartrell: I don’t get laid in the next book, we’re done, pal. I’ll give you a case of writer’s block you wouldn’t believe. You won’t be able to write a fucking email by the time I’m done. [To Mulligan] And just to set the record straight, “Chuck Heston,” the books I’m in have sold over fifty thousand editions, print and ebook. Beat that.
Mulligan: Fight’s on, sweet cheeks.
Gartrell: Bring it, but it looks like I’ll have the tactical advantage: three novels and one novella. You’re just cutting your teeth on the first book, and there aren’t even any zombies in it. Well, except for yourself—I hear your emotional range is somewhere between “dead” and “comatose.”
Mulligan: I have a twenty-three year old who wants to jump me—all you have is an Atchisson AA-12. And as impressive a weapon as that is, I get to go out on missions with this girl…in a high-tech rig that has beds in the back. Beat that.
Gartrell: I fucking hate you.
Mulligan: Back atcha, champ.
SK: Oh, look at the time! Thanks for stopping by, guys. This’ll teach me to drink Suntory outside of Japan…
Gartrell: Oh, we’re done? Good. My pleasure to drop by. Kill yourself.
Mulligan: For the first time since this interview started, he actually said something I agree with. I’d only like to add the word, “soon.”
SK: You know, maybe I’ll do a Gathering Dead/Earthfall crossover. I’ll make you guys lovers. You can spend chapter after chapter taking steamy showers together. What do you say?
[Gartrell and Mulligan exchange disgusted looks.]
Gartrell: I get to be the top.