…how about some Self-Contained Exploration Vehicle designs from none other than Singapore’s finest graphic artiste, the intrepid Marc Lee? This is to inform the cover art for the upcoming Earthfall 2, and I offer two pictures for you to contemplate.
First off, the initial draft, created with the simple guidance of “base it off a HEMT-T.” (And a HEMT-T is the acronym for Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck.)
Revisions followed, of course. Likely fearing a neverending circle jerk of “Well, yeah, but it’s really more like this…”, Marc responded with a series of potential uses for the rig:
Now of course, this doesn’t match what’s in my head, but what I see isn’t necessarily translatable into actionable artwork. What I see is something crossed between the Landmasters from Damnation Alley and the vehicle from Ark II. And if that isn’t an unholy union of absolute nonfunctionality, I don’t know what is. So I’ll just nod and accept Marc’s suggestions and go back to writing. Anyway, cover artwork is probably the only exciting thing about the writing process, so I hope you’ve enjoyed the glimpse into a rather desultory future.
Lennon led the men past an open warehouse. Beyond it was a parking lot, then Teal Club Road, if Norton remembered correctly. He heard a dry moan and saw a zombie emerge from a pile of what seemed to be masonry materials. It had dusty coveralls and a bloodied jaw. He slowed momentarily, trying to figure out if he should shoot it. Garcia tapped him on the shoulder.
“Keep going, sir. No shooting unless you have to. Gotta practice noise discipline.”
“We just crashed a very loud jet airplane,” Norton said. “I think they know we’re here.”
Well, it’s taken a long, long time, but the audiobook release of Charges is right around the corner, courtesy of composer Pip Shepherd. I am able to provide a peek (or listen, actually) of the score that accompanies the product. So point your browser here, slip in your ear buds or switch on your speakers, and listen to the music that accompanies the end of the world!
In this excerpt, Single Tree patrolman Mike Hailey and his better half, Suzy Kuruk of the Tribal Police, give the dead what-for from atop the secondary walls surrounding Single Tree. Also: final cover material, which has more fire, more zombies, and even more zombies on fire. You can pre-order The Last Town #6: Surviving the Dead by clicking on the linked text.
Hailey couldn’t believe the amount of zombies pouring over the walls. They were everywhere, and they showed no sign of stopping for anything. In the kill zone between the first and secondary walls, thousands of bodies lay motionless on the ground, while thousands more thrashed and struggled against grievous injuries that had halted their forward momentum. Those that could crawl over the bodies of their terminated brethren did just that, but they didn’t get far. They were eventually trampled into goo by the rising herd that followed them, roiling over the first walls and collapsing into the kill zone. Hailey fired as quickly and as accurately as he could, taking out one zombie every couple of seconds. There were less skilled shooters on the wall beside him, and they burned through their magazines at an alarming rate without racking up even a quarter of the kills Hailey had. That was going to be a problem, because unless they calmed down and started shooting straight, the stenches would form another mound. And if they penetrated the second wall, then it would only be a matter of time before they managed to overwhelm the deeper defenses, many of which were still being erected by Corbett’s work teams.
Yeah, a little late for that.
So Hailey kept at it, hammering the dead in the kill zone as efficiently as he could. Beside him, Suzy did the same, leaning into her rifle, sending projectiles into the kill zone in a controlled manner. Every shot resulted in a kill. Well, most of them, anyway. The kill zone was beginning to look more like a zombie mosh pit, and the targeting was complex as the zombies tripped and stumbled their way across the field of fallen dead. Even Hailey missed a few shots every now and then, just because his target suddenly fell right as he pulled the rifle’s trigger. And despite his best efforts, it was becoming a more regular occurrence.
The miniguns in the towers had fallen silent, and he wondered what would happen to the crews there. They had their personal weapons, but no means of resupply. If they used up their combat loads trying to help stem the tide, they’d be shit out of luck for the rest of the fight. And if the stenches somehow managed to start climbing the ladders that led to the towers, then it would be hand-to-hand combat. No one in their right mind would want to fight the dead mano y mano. That was their game, and they always won, especially since their kind didn’t seem to get tired. They just kept coming, until there was nothing left to come for.
“Mike, they’re mounding up to your right!” Suzy shouted over the gunfire. Hailey didn’t quite understand what she said at first—Did she just say, “Mike, they’re pounding up a fight”?—he leaned forward a bit and looked down the length of the wall. Sure enough, there were enough stenches over there to coalesce into a mound if they allowed it to happen. He slant-fired across the kill zone and took out several, and the nascent mound collapsed in a flurry of flailing pale limbs and tattered clothing. It wouldn’t be long before they reorganized and made another attempt. And it would eventually be successful; the available firepower on the secondary wall was much less than what had been stationed on the primary walls. Even though they had copious reserves, there were only so many fighting positions. And with all the targets vying for attention, the defenders on the wall couldn’t keep up with the rapid changes.
Deciding the best thing he could do was to keep it up, Hailey tuned out anything else but shooting stenches in the face. He burned through magazines like water, and runners kept dropping off fresh ones right behind each shooter. It seemed that every time Hailey turned to pick up a full mag, there were another thousand or so zombies in the shooting gallery below. More mounds were forming, and they were forming quickly. Down below, dirty, dusty faces leered up at him, mouths open wide, teeth glinting in the sun. Hailey stopped trying to shoot the zombies tottering toward the wall, and instead leaned forward and began popping off the ones at the base. They were the threat now. There was no stemming the tide coming across the primary walls, so the only thing left to do was try and prevent them from mounding over the secondaries.
Hailey continued firing. His ears rang, and his eyes burned. Every now and then, one of the cartridges from Suzy’s rifle would bounce off him, and he prayed to God that one of the hot projectiles didn’t find its way down the collar of his uniform shirt.
The first mound of stenches to overwhelm the wall occurred ten minutes later. Hailey was slipping and sliding on a virtual sea of expended cartridges, his nostrils ablaze from the expended gun powder, when he saw a panicked flurry of movement to his left. Several defenders were firing point-blank into the growing mound, sending ghoul after ghoul tumbling from its apex. Another mound had formed right below Hailey’s position, and its undulating peak was less than ten feet from his fighting position. Hailey had no choice but to keep pounding it; besides, he was too far away from the action downrange to do anything about it.
“Suzy!” he shouted over the din of combat. “Check your left!”
“Check left! Check left!”
From the corner of his eye, he saw her turn and look in the indicated direction. She suddenly stepped back from the wall and began firing down the walkway—an unexpected turn of events. Hailey looked up from his work and saw several zombies were in the process of pulling themselves over the ledge, and one of the defenders was unceremoniously yanked into the mosh pit by several pale, filthy arms as he continued to fire. If the man screamed, Hailey didn’t hear it. He watched in abject horror as the man slowly slid down the mound, being torn apart bit by bit as his body passed dozens of hungry mouths. His blood was brilliant in the bright light of the day.
The incursion caused a break in the line of defenders as they responded to the sudden threat. Hailey was torn; should he assist in fighting off the incursion, or return to pounding away at the mound forming right below his feet?
The decision was made for him when one of the defenders down the line went right off the walkway, taken down by two stenches that tore into him. Pallid figures hauled themselves over the wall, jerking and staggering as bullets tore at them. When ashen hands reached for Suzy, that’s when Hailey decided he’d had enough. He grabbed the collar of her tribal reservation police uniform and yanked her back, but not before she shot one of the ghouls right through the teeth, snapping its head back and sending it tumbling back over the wall. It was buoyed up again an instant later as the rising geyser of stenches continued boiling upward. Hailey didn’t bother to stare at it. There wasn’t any time.
“We gotta get down from here!” he shouted at Suzy. All around them, hands were reaching up over the wall’s lip. The mounds were everywhere, and the dead were about to overrun the secondary wall. Hailey couldn’t believe it. The dead generally moved slow as shit, but they were taking down the town fast, so fast that the defenders couldn’t keep up.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” Suzy responded as she ejected a spent mag from her rifle. “You lead, I’ll hold them back!” Hailey saw there were no fighters left at the far end of the wall. They’d been overcome by the tide of zombies, and pale faces turned toward them with a deep, ceaseless hunger in their dim, dust-coated eyes.
He led Suzy toward the ladder, blasting away at corpses as they slowly heaved themselves over the top of the wall. They grunted and groaned and reached for them as they ran past, but they were still too slow. One zombie managed to plant itself right in his path, and Hailey raised his rifle. The ghoul’s head suddenly deflated as a bullet tore through it, and Hailey glanced at the ground below. Victor Kuruk stood there, his rifle shouldered. He waved Hailey on frantically, then pivoted and fired up at the wall again. There were already several writhing bodies on the ground below, bones shattered from the fall… but they still dragged themselves toward Victor and the others, trailing crushed and mutilated legs behind them.
They made it to one of the ladders, and Hailey stepped aside, making room for Suzy.
“Go on, take it!” he said. Several zombies shuffled toward them. He raised his rifle, stuck the barrel right over Suzy’s right shoulder, and fired right over her head. She winced and cried out. Hailey mentally apologized in advance for any tinnitus his shot might cause.
“Go on! Get down!” Hailey released her and continued dropping the stenches as fast as he could. Bodies rolled off the walkway and tumbled to the ground below. Hailey took a quick glance over his shoulder, where another ladder had been place, built into the side of the wall. More people were gathered there, other defenders who were being pushed back. The incursions at that end weren’t as many, so they had enough time to attempt an orderly retreat. Hailey and those few around him weren’t so lucky. They were sandwiched between several groups of zombies that were hauling themselves over the wall like clockwork. Their movements were slow and uncoordinated, but hardly without zeal. When their flat, dead eyes locked onto Hailey, they moaned and flailed about, trying to reach him. In many instances, they knocked fellow stenches right off either side of the wall. The effect would have been almost comical, if Hailey didn’t already know firsthand from his experience with the zombie in the pharmacy just how incredibly disturbing it actually was.
Grunting, another zombie hauled itself over the wall virtually right beside him. Hailey turned and fired a bullet into its head, then snapped back and continued covering Suzy’s descent. Below, gunners were opening up, taking out zombies that shuffled toward him. More bodies fell, and the walkway at the top of the wall was becoming slick with black gore.
“Mike, come down!” Suzy shouted from below. She was halfway down now, only twenty feet or so from the ground. Her voice captured the attention of a zombie, and it launched itself right off the wall, reaching for her as it fell. Its fingertips barely brushed her as it dropped past. It wound up spiking itself straight into the ground at the base of the ladder, forcing several townspeople there to scatter. It didn’t move.
Hailey needed no further prompting. He dropped the zombies that were closest to him, then dropped down onto the ladder. But there wasn’t enough time; the zombies were too close, and even though they were uncoordinated as hell, reaching for a guy trying to mount a ladder while simultaneously trying to shoot them while not falling himself was an easy play. Hailey had to stop with his feet on the ladder’s top rung and fire again, drilling two stenches right through their chins. The rounds traveled through the soft tissues of their dry sinuses and exploded out the crowns of their skulls. One of the ghouls collapsed virtually right on top of him, and Hailey half-stepped, half-fell to the next rung. His rifle got hung up beneath the motionless corpse, and for an instant, he was trapped where he was, held in place by the rifle’s strap. He pulled the strap over his head and left the weapon were it was. He figured he could get another one easily enough. He put his feet on the ladder’s side rails, he used his hands to lower himself down, in essence using the ladder like a fireman’s pole. He came down so quickly that he almost ran right into Suzy as she stepped off at the bottom, forcing her to duck to one side. She stumbled over one of the dead corpses lying there, and fell right on her small ass with a squawk. Hailey alighted an instant later and started to apologize, but Victor grabbed his arm and yanked him away from her.
“Look out!” he shouted.
Zombies began crashing to the ground all around them.
Just a quick note to let y’all know The Last Town #6: Surviving the Dead is now available for pre-order. I don’t have a final cover yet, so what’s up is totally bogus and will be replaced once a suitable version becomes handy.
Over the intervening weeks until release, I’ll be sure to post some bits wherein you might catch a glimpse of what’s about to happen to the fair folks of Single Tree, as well as the cops out of Los Angeles. Everything does come together, and in a way that’s not a hundred percent downer. Well… maybe that’s a lie.
Now available on Amazon for your Kindle…The Last Town #5: Fleeing the Dead!
This installment is the longest one yet, standing in at just under 65,000 words/160 pages or so. Corbett and Company have their hands full with a million or so uninvited guests who are coming for dinner, and Reese and the LAPD have to figure out how the hell they’re going to get out of Los Angeles. All good, clean, fun. Well…not really.
The horde kept growing.
Over the course of several days, Single Tree was literally surrounded by a pulsing mass of the dead. All the razor wire had been trampled flat, and the trenches had been filled to capacity with squirming dead bodies. A great number of the zombies trudged back out into the desert after finding nothing that piqued their interest, walking past the fortified town as they continued their search for living prey. But several thousand managed to cross over the HESCO barriers and push against the unyielding steel walls the surrounded the town, as if trying to find a way in. It was almost as if they could sense the presence of the living on the other side, but they weren’t coordinated enough to try and develop a mound that could threaten to overcome the tall partitions.
Despite this, they lingered. Moving along the long expanse of the walls, they rubbed against it with their shoulders, as if trying to discover a way past them. Even when faced with the open expanse of the desert, they still turned and paralleled the walls, rubbing and scuffing against them in a bid to discover some variant or irregularity they could exploit.
Time was on the side of the dead.