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EARTHFALL 2: Tylenol Isn’t Enough

January 10, 2019 Leave a comment

Sage words from Mulligan when setting up on an enemy.

“They’re a diversion, an irritant. We’ll be the real pain.”

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EARTHFALL 2: All Andrews Wants For Christmas…

…are his two front teeth.

 

“I rather think you should stay with the SCEV, Sergeant Major.”

“I rather think you should want to keep your front teeth, sir.”

EARTHFALL 2: Knife Fight

December 21, 2018 Leave a comment

Andrews gets into the zone.

The grenade went off with a deafening roar, and Trumbull disappeared in a flash. Andrews missed most of it as the din of combat was suddenly supplanted by a constant ringing that filled his ears, as if he had been dropped into a field of echoing chimes. Distantly, he was aware of something warm and wet splashing across him as the world went suddenly topsy-turvy. His last coherent thought was that his rifle was slipping from his grasp, and then time stopped for a moment. His only awareness was of the spectral ringing in his ears despite the headset he wore. There was something lyrical about it, something hypnotizing. It drowned out everything else, including cohesive thought. Andrews listened to it for a time, unable to do anything else.

Get up, he told himself, but his body wouldn’t listen. Get up, get back into the fight.

Instead, he lay where he had fallen. In small, infinitesimally tiny increments, the outer world began to intrude into his lassitude. The rain was still falling, cold and sharp. He tasted something coppery on his tongue. Two points of pain began to make themselves known, in his right arm and right leg, where the body armor he wore offered no protection. The aches seemed faraway and unimportant, as inconsequential as the rainfall that pelted him. Andrews sighed, and basked in the tranquility of the moment even as a small part of his mind screamed at him to shake it off and get back on his weapon.

As his consciousness returned, he realized he was lying face down in the brush. A severed finger lay right before his eyes, and in response he wiggled all of his—all present and accounted for. Just the same, he was content to remain where he was. He heard a series of distant pops, slicing through the buzzing in his ears like a knife cutting into a chunk of hard butter three hundred yards away. The sense of detachment he felt was supreme. Even his body seemed distant, along with the battle that still raged around him, and beyond that, the rest of the world.

—Get up—

A series of loud reports cut through the hum in his ears. Andrews grunted and instinctively cast about for his rifle, but it was gone. He blinked, squeezing rainwater out of his eyes. Trumbull was in pieces, his head separated from his body, eyes staring sightlessly into the gray sky. Andrews was covered with strands of intestine and shredded flesh, courtesy of the grenade that had gone off only ten feet away. He blinked again, looking at the decapitated head, watching as raindrops rolled off the bridge of Trumbull’s nose and pooled in his eyes. The man’s left arm leaned against a bush six feet away. The middle finger on the hand was lifted just slightly, a dying testament to the man’s sour persona immortalized forever in Andrews’s mind.

—Fucking get up—

He rolled onto his right side and felt the pressure of his sidearm. He eased off it and ripped the weapon from its holster as the brush parted and a figure loomed over him. It was the little man with the blond beard carrying a battered AR in his hands. His head was wrapped in a green bandana stained dark by the rain, and his eyes rolled in about in his head in a queer combination of fear and bloodlust. He looked down and saw Andrews, and he grinned, exposing his missing tooth.

“Aw, shit!” he cried as he raised his rifle while stepping back.

Andrews raised his pistol and fired three times before the slide locked and the weapon fell silent. The man shrieked as each nine millimeter round slammed into his pelvis, driving him back. He squeezed off a wild round as he fell into the brush, tripping over Trumbull’s ravaged torso. Time dilated again, and Andrews’s next memory was of him on top of the runty little man, screaming as he plunged his knife into the man’s belly. He struck so deep that he felt the rub of the man’s ribs on his left wrist as he stabbed again and again, the blade sinking well into his opponent’s body cavity. The little man made a small squeaking noise as he tried to breathe. It was all for naught. Andrews had shredded his diaphragm, making respiration impossible. His eyes locked onto Andrews’s as he silently pleaded for mercy.

Andrews reared back and slashed his throat open with the blade. Blood splattered all across him, but the falling rain diluted it immediately. The light faded from the small man’s eyes.

A heavy hand descended on Andrews’s shoulder. “Captain, you hurt?”

Andrews turned toward the figure towering over him, knife in hand. Mulligan looked down at him, rainwater running off his helmet and visor, the pistol grip of his big AR in his right hand. He gave Andrews a little push with his left hand as he stepped back.

“Are you with me, Andrews?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Andrews replied, more out of habit than anything else.

Mulligan nodded toward the man Andrews crouched over. “Okay, so we didn’t kill him first, but he still had a happy ending from where I sit. You hurt?”

Andrews considered mentioning the pain in his right arm and leg, then shook his head. “Good to go, Sarmajor.”

“Great. Then if you don’t mind, stop fucking around with your knife and find your rifle.”

 

EARTHFALL 2: When SCEVs Roll Into the Fight

December 17, 2018 Leave a comment

Some tunes for what I’m finishing up here…rigs thundering across the landscape tearing the shit out of hostile forces with miniguns and Hellfires.

EARTHFALL 2: Skill Set

November 12, 2018 Leave a comment

 

Mulligan inspected his 7.62-millimeter man-killer of a rifle and smiled grimly without making eye contact with Andrews. “Heroics are for the young, sir. Treachery is what I’m best at.”

EARTHFALL 2: Congratulations, You Stupid Jerk

November 5, 2018 Leave a comment


CSM Mulligan has enough whining.

“Now any rational, sensible human being would see that neither I nor the people I work for had anything to do with your community getting sacked,” Mulligan continued. “But the truth of the matter is, if a loud, jet-powered, eight-wheeled vehicle which is about as stealthy as a burning building managed to get that close to you guys, then your people might have just won the first Darwin Award to be handed out in a decade. Congratulations, you’ve managed to demonstrate that stupidity is the enduring legacy of mankind.”

EARTHFALL 2: Show and Tell

October 23, 2018 Leave a comment

So not everyone who has survived the Sixty Minute War is inclined to trust the government, especially since it’s been more than a decade since things went to hell in a nuclear flash. Here we have Stan Buchek, the nominal leader of Sherwood, Oregon, trying to find the downside to trusting Andrews, Mulligan, and Eklund. It’s been a decade, and now people emerge from the ruins promising the gifts of technology and medicine and food? To say he’s skeptical might be an understatement.

As always, first draft stuff offered unproofed and unedited. No guarantee it will be in the finished product, yadda, yadda, yadda.

The cloud cover parted and for several hours, the sun shone brightly. Everyone covered up, wearing hats or long-sleeved shirts and pants. Due to the reduction in the ozone layer, the sun’s rays were substantially more powerful than they had been. For the crew from Harmony, the effect was almost dazzling, and Andrews found that even his sunglasses didn’t help all that much. Damp pavement quickly dried, and the sunlight in combination with the light breeze caused the droplets of water clinging to the foliage to evaporate rapidly.

“You all right?” Buchek asked him. He had slipped on his own sunglasses.

“Yeah, fine. Just a little bright out all of a sudden.”

“Well, you’ve been underground for a long time,” Buchek said. “I know how you feel.”

There were several dozen structures organized inside the tall walls that had been erected to deter intruders. There was a two-lane main drag that had at most two blocks of businesses, nothing more than two stories tall. The buildings were weathered and had zero curb appeal, as no one had the time or wherewithal to maintain them, but they weren’t ramshackle structures that were falling apart. Organized around the center of Sherwood’s downtown area were a collection of houses or small warehouses that had been converted into living quarters. Buchek explained that for the first two years after the war, most of the citizens in the community had lived underground in an abandoned copper mine near Black Butte that they had steadily renovated in the years leading up to the war. Buchek was unapologetic when he admitted that he and most of his fellows were committed preppers, folks who had spent years if not an entire lifetime preparing for a long-term emergency that might render them cut off from the rest of society. While global thermonuclear war hadn’t been their main worry, the process of preparations had included a multitude of steps that were also applicable to that particular emergency.

“So what were you most afraid of?” Leona asked.

“Myself? Electromagnetic pulse or a pandemic,” Buchek said. “I really thought that a CMD event might take down the entire power grid and leave everyone trapped in the bronze age, or that global warming would release some old bug like the Black Death that was frozen in the ice sheets. It’s one of the reasons I spent almost a million dollars of my retirement money cleaning up the mine. I knew we’d need a place that could provide shelter and concealment for a while. Other people felt more the more immediate threats were things like societal unrest or a severe and long-lasting economic depression—they thought those were the big gotchas lurking in the background. Can’t say I disagree, I thought of those things too. But we’d always gotten past those things before.” He snorted. “I hope I don’t sound crazy.”

“You’re talking to people who have been living underground for over a decade,” Mulligan said. Like Andrews and Leona, he was fully kitted out for combat even though it didn’t seem necessary. His gear and weapons made him look even bigger than he already was, and several of the citizens of the Sherwood community stopped to stare when he walked past.

“Hey, big man! Were you a basketball player?” one twenty-something shouted from a nearby wood shed.

“Nah,” Mulligan replied. “I threw grenades for a living, not basketballs. So Stan, you weren’t thinking Ranier or Washington were going to blow their tops?”

“What, you mean with them erupting into volcanoes or something?” Buchek waved a hand dismissively. “Never even thought about it. I probably thought more about nukes than volcanic eruptions. There were some people in the community who worried about those things, but most of us were more concerned with civil unrest.”

“You thought the country was headed for civil war?” Andrews asked. Even though he’d been young during the days before the Sixty Minute War, he could well recall the acrimonious political and societal climate of the time. It seemed that everyone was at each other’s throat for one transgression or another.

“It wouldn’t have surprised me,” Buchek said. “Especially with the roller derby that was the US economy back then…giant booms, fantastic busts, mounting unemployment…things were becoming messy.”

“So how did you folks come together to create this place?” Andrews asked.

“My family owned a lot of the land, including where the mine was dug,” Buchek said. “Another couple of families owned the remainder. We made Sherwood into a hunting and camping retreat. In fact, it was my father’s only real source of income during the last fifty years of his life. He wanted me to pursue something different, so I did banking first, then aerospace. The family made some good money off the mineral rights from the copper mine, but that came to an end when the mine was tapped out.”

“So all the buildings here were part of your family business?” Leona asked.

“Yes, ma’am. There are six houses, fourteen cottages, and the hunting lodge. That big warehouse over there is where we stored our equipment–you know, trucks, some tractors, a backhoe, things like that. Most everything was gone or picked over by the time we came up from the mine, though. Even parts of the buildings were gone, where people had stripped off the wood and the like for fuel. Had some squatters in some, but we allowed most of them to stay. Those folks who had been aboveground for those first few years, well…they were all gone by year five. Even the kids.”

“Disease? Cancer?” Andrews asked.

“Both, and in two instances, suicide by firearm,” Buchek said. “Some people just lost hope. It’s a semi-recurrent theme, I’m sorry to say. Everyone’s been damaged by what they went through, by memories of who they lost, by the general hardship of trying to survive where so many others are dying.”

“I hear that,” Mulligan muttered. Leona turned toward him and touched his arm. Mulligan smiled and patted her hand. If Buchek noticed the exchange, he did so without comment.

“One of the things I never foresaw was the mental health issue,” he continued. “I was smart enough to recruit a doctor and engineers and guys with military experience, but I never thought to get a psychologist. Maybe if I had, some folks would still be alive.”

“We can provide that support as well,” Andrews said.

Buchek stopped and looked at Andrews squarely. “Son, what exactly can you not provide? I ask this because it seems like you’re on a mission to sell me a shit-ton of services.”

“We can’t bring back the dead, and we can’t turn back the clock,” Andrews said. “And it’s going to take some time for us to be able to pull things together. We’re still a good distance away from the majority of our stock, but we really can make a difference for your folks.”

Buchek tilted his head. “I’ve been sold a lot of Shinola in my day. Sold more than a little bit of it myself. I appreciate what you’ve given us so far, but you probably don’t want to overpromise anything.”

“He’s not,” Mulligan said. “We’ll be able to do what we say we can, just give us some time.”

“Sure,” Buchek said. “Time’s probably the only commodity left, right?”

“Why don’t you give us the rest of the nickel tour, so we can get a full picture of what we’re dealing with,” Mulligan suggested.

Buchek did just that. The community was in good condition overall, though there were many rough edges. Sanitation was an ongoing concern, as was clean drinking water. Sherwood had access to two reservoirs, but both had a fair amount of toxins present that charcoal filtering and boiling could reduce but not eliminate. Food was another issue. There was enough to go around, but only just. Wild game was consumed, and the people avoided eating any of the major organs like the liver for fear of contamination. A small amount of crops were grown, mostly tomatoes, potatoes, and beans, but the environment wasn’t suitable for large-scale farming despite fertilizer being available. The rainfall was substantial, and when it shone, the sunlight was too bright. Most of the crops were grown inside greenhouses, but those weren’t large enough to provide enough food to get through the year. The only reason Sherwood had lasted as long as it had was from the flu that had killed almost everyone in Bend. It had hit Sherwood as well, and had taken over a hundred people before it had finally run its course.

“It seems heartless to say it, but the flu was probably a blessing in disguise,” Buchek said. “I’d never admit to that publically, but we’re straddling the red line between being able to feed people or eating them ourselves.”

Andrews thought back to San Jose. “Cannibalism isn’t unknown in the rest of the world,” he said.

Buchek nodded. “I don’t doubt that. Desperate times lead to desperate people. You aren’t about to tell me you folks are eating each other in Harmony Base, are you?”

Andrews laughed. “No, no. Not us. But the folks we’re helping in San Jose.” He took a few minutes to retell the tale of how they had happened upon Law’s group of survivors while looking for replacement parts for the base’s generation system, which had been destroyed during a surprise earthquake. Buchek looked highly skeptical when Andrews relayed the account of Law’s bioengineered mental powers, courtesy of the nanotech he’d been exposed to, and how he’d used those against various members of the SCEV team.

“You gotta be pulling my hog over that,” Buchek said.

“It’s true,” Mulligan said. “As crazy as it sounds, it’s fucking true.”

“Well, what was that like?”

“It was like being raped,” Leona said. “It’s the only thing I can match it up with.”

“Leona had it worse than the rest of us,” Andrews said. “Law interrogated her pretty closely. Having another mind inside your head when you never gave permission? Seems about right.”

“That so.” Buchek looked at Leona then, as if seeing her for the first time. He stopped and reached out to put his hand on her shoulder. “You, young lady, are apparently made of some pretty strong stuff.”

Leona smiled at him thinly. “Fucker almost broke me,” she said.

Buchek raised a brow. “Almost, or actually did?”

Leona thought about it for a moment. “Almost,” she said.

“Then like I said…you’re made of some pretty strong stuff.” Buchek resumed walking then. “So Captain, why are you helping these people?”

“They’re the only ones we’ve found, Stan. And once Law was out of the picture, they wanted our involvement. Their new leader was named Xavier. He was sensible enough to realize that when another team returned and contacted them without shooting them up, that he was looking a gift horse in the mouth. They acted the way they did out of fear of what Law could do to them. Without him being around, they were a hundred percent willing to do whatever they needed to do to return to normalcy.”

“That Xavier sounds like a pretty smart guy,” Buchek said.

“Was. Died from lung cancer a month or so ago. Doesn’t matter—the die’s been cast. We’ll eventually need to relocate them, as they’re starting to have kids. They can’t be on our dole for the rest of their lives,” Andrews said.

“Is that another reason for you coming up here?” Buchek asked. “Looking for a place to relocate those folks?”

“It is,” Andrews admitted.

Buchek grunted. “Well. I’m not keen on having former cannibals in my community. But there are other places where they could set up and start over. But I have to tell you, Mike, from what you’ve told me so far? I’m not loving that.”

“It’s not a near term situation,” Leona said. “They’ve been stabilized and can exist in place for a while longer, but the sievert count is really too high for them to reliably procreate. They have children, but there’s a high incidence of mortality along with genetic failure. Eventually, they’ll die out. They’ve picked San Jose clean, so we have them living out of boxes and whatever tech we can transfer to them. Don’t get me wrong—they can survive, but they’ll never break out of the cycle of dependence.”

“So you’ve reintroduced the welfare state,” Buchek said.

Mulligan laughed. “Oh man, there’s something I haven’t heard in a while,” he said.

Buchek glared at him. “You think it’s funny? Me and my people have been getting by just fine without sucking up to the government like it’s some sugar daddy.”

“Hey, asshole? You’ve been existing, that’s it,” Mulligan shot back. “Want to move into something more satisfying? We can help with that, and you won’t owe us a fucking dime…aside from the fact that you’ll need to take what we offer and run with it to turn it into something better.”

“Easy there, Big Ugly,” Buchek said. “I’m not going to take your shit and give nothing in return. Trust me on that.”

“You don’t seem like the type,” Mulligan said, “but these are ground rules we need to establish early in the game.”

“Actually, that’s more an inferred result than not,” Andrews said. He looked at Mulligan and shot him a look. Dude, what the fuck are you doing here?

Mulligan replied with a withering glare. “Inferred my ass. Don’t pay attention to the captain at the moment, Stan, he’s gone on a mental vacation. The truth of the matter is, we’re here to prop you up long enough to become self-sustaining. We’re not here to let you leech off us out of some sense of entitlement. Yeah, you folks survived, but that’s not reason enough to keep your heads above water forever.”

Buchek stopped and turned to Mulligan directly. “You know what I like about you, Scott?”

“What’s that?”

“You sound like me. You know what I don’t like about you?”

“Ah, that I sound like you?”

Buchek snapped forward then, slamming his chest into Mulligan and actually driving him back a step. “What I don’t like is this sanctimonious bullshit you’re throwing around like you’re my personal savior, you stupid fuck,” he said, and his voice was a snarl. “You think you’re the only tough son of a bitch in this conversation? You don’t think I can’t slit your throat open and shit down the hole?”

“That would be an expensive decision,” Mulligan said. “And we’d give you a lifetime of hurt in return.”

“Oh yeah, that fat rig of yours,” Buchek said. “I have four men in defilade with fifty caliber weapons ready to take out the radar, and then the FLIR turrets. That’s where the laser designators are, I noticed—I’d imagine you guys carry missiles in that second pod, right? Hellfires? Maybe guided seventy millimeter? I’ll bet they use the millimeter wave radar as primary guidance, and laser designation as a secondary. I’ll have you defanged quicker than you can fart. I also noticed the anti-missile defenses on your vehicle, and that there are only three on the rig’s ass. Tough break, I have twelve anti-armor rounds for my Carl Gustavs. I’m willing to sacrifice three rounds, since number four will tear right through that things tailgate.”

Mulligan didn’t bat an eye. “I didn’t think you you’d allow us in without having a way of getting rid of us. Not really telling me anything I didn’t already know, Stan.”

“Guys, we really don’t need to go down this path,” Andrews said. Just the same, he tucked in his rifle. Leona did the same, moving off a few steps.

“Fantastic,” Buchek said. “So we understand each other. Can you please stop treating us like children who need to be saved? Because we’ve absolutely paid our dues here.”

“Dude—”

Andrews jumped in, cutting off Mulligan’s reply. “Stan, that’s totally not what we’re doing here. We fully understand that you and your people have managed a freaking miracle out here. We only want to sustain that, and give you a leg up. Take a bunch of crap off the table so you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Right now, KC is pulling out the survival package we have onboard and getting it ready for delivery. It’s not charity, but it is a gift, and we hope it’ll be useful. Like I’ve been telling you all along, you don’t have to worry. You’re not alone any longer. This is the only thing we’re about, man. Getting this nation back on its feet again, and if that starts here with you, then I’m happy about it.”

Buchek glared up at Mulligan for a moment longer, then at Andrews. He took in a breath and released it in a long sigh. “Okay, I lied. I really can’t shit down a hole in your neck, Big Ugly. I’m perpetually constipated.”

Mulligan chuckled at that. “I actually did think you were full of shit when you said that.”

“Don’t test me, boy,” Buchek said.

“Boy?”

“Stan.” Andrews was certain that Mulligan was going to start pushing Buchek’s buttons again, so he interjected himself into the conversation. “What is it you want from us? What can we do to show you we’re not an enemy here?”

“I know you’re not,” Buchek said. “It’s just going to take a while for all of this to sink in. And there’s the fact that we’ve done some pretty horrendous things in the name of survival. We’ve turned people away, we’ve turned people out, even though it meant their deaths. Hardly been acting like decent folk, you know? I thought it was just us out here, and now I have to worry about civilization again. I think about the things I’ve directed quite a bit lately.”

“We’re not here to judge you,” Andrews said.

“Case in point: we’re actively assisting people who tried to kill us,” Leona said. “The people in San Jose had it a hundred times worse than you did. They don’t bury their dead to fertilize crops…they eat them.”

“I’m sure you’re right, but aside from the sergeant major here, you guys look like you’ve stepped right out of a magazine,” Buchek said. “You’re well-fed, unscarred, and don’t look like you’ve had to handle anything that was outright terrible.”

“Oh, fuck this!” Leona snapped. She unslung her rifle and dropped it onto the moist grass. Glaring at Buchek, she began unfastening her trousers. The three men looked at her, then at each other as she pulled them down to her knees, exposing her dusky thighs. She turned toward Buchek and fingered the long, angry-looking scar on her leg.

“See this?” she said. “Caused by a spear or an arrow or something. How about these?” She hiked up her armor and blouse, exposing her flat midriff. It was speckled with smaller scars, white against the darkness of her skin. “Fragmentation injuries. All courtesy of our friends in San Jose, friends we’re still helping.”

“Well…damn, Lieutenant,” Buchek said, caught between shock and embarrassment.

Leona dropped her blouse and yanked up her trousers. “Making a point here, Stan. We’ve seen shit too, and we’ve paid the price. We’ve lost people, and we’ve been injured.” She jerked her chin toward Mulligan. “Ask him. He had ringside seats to the war, while everyone else either died right away or stood around wondering why the lights went out.”

“Ringside seats?” Buchek looked to Mulligan, a confused expression on his face.

“I was outside the base when the nukes went off,” Mulligan said. “Saw some pretty lights and all, and we can leave it at that.”

Buchek studied him for a long moment. “Okay,” he said, finally.

“So we good here, guys?” Andrews asked. “I mean, I’m willing to strip naked to show off my scars and all, but I’d really rather not.”

“Yeah, I think we’re good,” Buchek said.

“Please, dear God, make us good,” Mulligan dramatically added.