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EARTHFALL 2: Getting into the Fight

November 19, 2019 3 comments

The shiny new engineer aboard SCEV Four gets into the fight. On sale now, folks.

When the chime sounded over her headset, KC Winters knew that somehow, someway, Command Sergeant Major Mulligan had managed to flush out the enemy. The SCEV’s receivers picked up the pulse of the enemy rig’s VCARS transmission system, meaning that the captured SCEV was operating under engine power. She had no way of knowing how Mulligan or Andrews had managed to get the enemy commander to take flight, but that was immaterial. What she needed to do now was act.

SCEV Four was still parked in the warehouse. The fighting raged outside, but it wasn’t right on top of her position, but she was aware of it. The rig was also still covered by a great amount of solar panels. She had to get those off first, then figure out how she was going to move the vehicle into a firing position. She couldn’t just pop missiles through the warehouse roof. While its structure wasn’t hard enough to prevent the Hellfires from punching through, it was sufficiently dense to destroy their seeker heads, making them useless once they made it into the air. But she also didn’t have enough time to exit the rig and manually dump the panels by herself. They were big and fairly heavy, and moving them alone would be too time consuming.

What she wound up doing was releasing the rig’s parking brakes and shoving the machine forward under battery power. After it rolled forward a few feet, she toed the pedal and locked up the brakes. The machine jerked to a sudden halt, and solar panels cascaded off its armored back in an avalanche of glass and metal. Many of them shattered when they hit the concrete floor, and delicate planar photovoltaic modules were irreparably destroyed. As someone with a background in technology and engineering, KC knew these objects were now lost forever. But if Sherwood fell, then the loss really wouldn’t matter any longer.

She activated the FLIR turrets and spun them around, checking the SCEV’s upper deck. Though a few panels remained atop the vehicle, the radome and more importantly the missile pod were clear of any obstructions. Part one of her improvised firing solution was complete. Now she had to get the missiles unobstructed access to fly. She’d had time to consider that, and she knew that exposing the rig while enemy forces were attacking Sherwood would only serve to make it a ballistics magnet. One operator couldn’t drive, shoot missiles, and hose down enemy combatants at the same time, so even now the rig needed to stay hidden for as long as possible. What she needed to do was make a hole in the roof, preferably one that was between six and eight feet wide.

She powered up the miniguns and narrowed their firing positions as closely as possible. Even though the roof of the warehouse was a good fifteen feet higher than the rig, the minis couldn’t be dialed in to interlock their fire at that range—the closest she could consolidate fires was at a range of forty feet. But if she adopted a more-or-less circular firing pattern, she was confident she could blow away enough structure to give the missiles room to fly.

With a buzzing roar, the miniguns erupted a stream of bullets that tore through the wood and metal roof. Pieces of debris and insulation hailed down, bouncing and banging as they struck the rig and the floor before its slanted nose. KC moved the guns in a clockwise pattern, maintaining a constant stream of fire. It didn’t take long before she had torn a huge, ragged hole through the warehouse’s roof. Air poured in through the gap, dissipating the cloud of burned propellant that hovered around the SCEV like a veil of fog. Bullet casings littered the floor, and she heard them being crushed as she rolled the vehicle forward. It took a bit of maneuvering to get the missile pod lined up beneath the hole, but with both forward and aft FLIR turrets giving her a good visual, it wasn’t much of a problem.

Leona had already configured a firing solution that would allow the missiles to home in on the VCARS frequency until they got within range of the target, and it took no time at all for KC to load the profile into the fire control computer. Using radio homing built into the Hellfires’ seeker heads, the missiles would fly toward the signal’s anticipated point of origin. Once they were within thirty seconds of impact, the missiles would activate their millimeter wave radar sets. Their internal computers knew they were going for an armored vehicle, so they would lock onto the SCEV and, using both the VCARS signal alongside the radar returns, they would slam into the target and utterly destroy it.

In theory, anyway.

She raised the pod and elevated the missile rack so the weapons were pointing almost straight up. She selected four shots for delivery; she’d hold two in reserve. The VCARS signal was still transmitting, so there was no need to wait. She triggered the missiles, manually firing them at a staggered interval so the enemy wouldn’t be able to anticipate the impact pattern. The Hellfires blasted into the sky with a hissing roar, trailing initial bursts of smoke as their propellant ignited and launched them off the rails. One of them went ballistic, its stabilizers damaged from coming in contact with the side of the hole KC had made. That weapon bobbled as it tracked northerly, while the others made skidding turns toward the south and east.

Gotta move.

Now that she had clearly marked SCEV Four’s position, KC had no choice but to leave the warehouse. She configured the engines for auto-light as she had no time to pore over the checklists to ensure the startup procedures were verified. Andrews and Mulligan would be aghast at such a breach of procedure, but she knew the systems as well as anyone and the chances of auto-light failing and an engine entering a hot start were remote at best. As the computer engaged the full authority digital engine controls for startup, KC pushed the control column forward. The SCEV rolled through the warehouse on battery power, bearing down on the structure’s still-closed sliding doors as she maneuvered around the tractors and other equipment that had been parked in the structure. She gave the air horn a quick jab just to notify any friendlies on the other side that she was about to come out, which was the best she could do as far as advance warning went. The rig hit the door at almost thirty miles per hour, and the wood-framed metal barrier was as effective at retarding the SCEV’s progress as a strip of aluminum foil. Debris exploded outward as the rig hurtled into the bright, war-torn morning. She regretted not having her sunglasses close at hand, as the sunlight had her squinting big time; after spending days trapped inside the rig’s semidarkness, KC was dazzled by the intensity of sunlight.

She guided the SCEV down the road that led to the warehouse. The people of Sherwood were in action, and while most of them were doubtless arrayed against the attacks against the community, there were enough people about to take notice of the SCEV as it accelerated through the day. The number one engine was fully spooled up at that time, and it bumped the batteries offline as it took on the load. The second engine growled to life, adding its own power volume to the chart. As the turbines took hold, KC had to back off on the control column lest the gigantic vehicle continue accelerating. While speed was important, too much of it right now would only get her killed. Using the FLIR as her guide, she scanned the immediate vicinity. Radar would reveal much more, but she had no idea if the enemy rig had been hit—VCARS was still broadcasting. She needed to move out of the area before she could unleash the remaining two Hellfires, because as she had fired on the enemy rig, she had also broadcast SCEV Four’s exact whereabouts. The enemy rig would be able to analyze the trajectory and determine her previous firing position and respond in kind. The problem was the Hellfires were autonomous weapons, they could determine where their target was if it displaced in the span of time between launch and arrival. If they were unable to acquire their target, they would scan the immediate area until they detected the appropriate silhouette. KC needed to make some tracks and put as much distance between her and the warehouse as possible.

So she guided the rig down the winding road that led to the warehouse. She bolted through the middle of the community, ripping past the bar that served as the town hall at forty miles per hour. People were running down the road, and they looked at the speeding SCEV with expressions that were an equal mixture of hope and dread. KC ignored them as well as she was able. Her course had been loaded into the navigation system, and she was going to follow it, come hell or high water.

Until she couldn’t, and then she’d improvise.

SINGLE TREE: Afloat

October 26, 2019 Leave a comment

LATITUDE 32.511639, LONGITUDE -130.589518

 

“Stop being such a little bitch, Kimosabe. Get on with living.”

Victor’s voice echoed about in Corbett’s head as he lay on the single stateroom’s narrow bunk. There was no port hole in the room’s side, so the chamber was as dark as a crypt. He knew where he was, and he was aware of the vague noises of a ship at sea—pumps, air, machinery, running generators—but the only sound he could pay attention to right then existed only in his head. Victor Kiruk’s deep, robust, dignified voice telling him to grow a pair and go on with his life.

Get out of my head, Victor. You’re dead.

You will be too, Kimosabe, Victor replied. Sooner rather than later if you can’t let go of Single Tree.

Corbett snarled to himself in the darkness. While he had slept aboard Norton’s yacht, with its well-appointed forepeak stateroom, cherry wood joinery, en suite head, and bright lights, he’d never heard Victor speak to him. But after moving aboard one of his own vessels, which were infinitely darker, much more cramped despite their size, and general institutional design, the voice of Victor Kiruk had come alive. Speaking to him in the man’s usual rational, measured cadence. Counseling life over death. Sage words of wisdom, especially since Barry Corbett had spent no small fortune trying to defend his birthplace from the dead hordes, only to have it all ripped away at the very last moment. Victor, had he still been alive, would have advised these same perceptions. But Victor was dead.

So Victor’s ghost spoke to him instead, using the veil of sleep as its medium.

Corbett switched on the bunk side lamp and blinked against the sudden flood of LED brilliance. The small stateroom was now fully awash in harsh, sterile white light. The shadows had been vanquished in an instant; and with them, Victor’s voice disappeared as well. Corbett was left alone in his own head, which was just how he liked it.

He pulled on his clothes. Jeans, t-shirt, denim work shirt, sturdy boots, and finally his battered USMC cap. Victor’s ruminations could be entertained another night. According to his watch, it was dawn. And dawn meant work.

Though he might be as old as a dinosaur, Barry Corbett still had a town to liberate.

It was time to get to it.

 

As always, this is presented unedited and unproofed, and no guarantee what you read here will make it into the finished product.

THESE DEAD LANDS: DESOLATION–Hastings Gets Hasty

October 17, 2019 Leave a comment

The convoy continued moving south towards Site R. It rolled past the town of Orrtanna before pressing on through Fairfield. Fairfield was the last sizeable community on their way to PA 116, which would take them the remainder of the way to Site R. As the convoy pulled up to the intersection with PA 116, Jones pointed off to the right of the vehicle.

“Hey look, sir! There’s a post office. You want me to stop?”

Hastings looked over at Jones who had a huge smile on his face. “No, Jones—Slater made sure I stocked up on stamps at the last one. Good one, though. I’ll give you that.”

As Jones slowed the vehicle to make the right turn at the T intersection, he pointed at a large cluster of vehicles parked on a gravel lot. They were all neatly lined up, and all had prices on their windshields. Everything from small, beat-up compacts to pickup trucks on lift kits with giant tires were represented—there was even a 1980s vintage red Corvette. Inside the lot, a small group of reekers turned toward the noise of the oncoming column. Their slack faces became only vaguely more animated when they saw the hulking, cliff-nosed MRAPs turning onto the street.

“Hey, check out the crowd,” Jones said. “They must be having a hell of a sale. I’ll bet they’re offering zero down with a current LES and a guaranteed twenty-eight percent interest rate for seventy-two months!”

Both Hastings and Jones laughed out loud. It was the kind of deal most new privates fell victim to in military towns when purchasing a new car or other high-dollar items.

After rolling past the dealership, the convoy entered the Borough of Fairfield. It crossed over Middle Creek and the road’s name changed to Main Street. As always, the two-lane blacktop road was lined with homes on each side. Hastings worried about that. It was going to be like running a gauntlet with not many places to go, given the size of the MRAPs. The side streets were little more than narrow alleyways between the houses, which offered little opportunity for maneuvering off the road, presuming they could even manage the tight turns. Reekers began to appear now, stepping out onto the road from between the houses. The column made a lot of noise, as stealth wasn’t one of its attributes. At first only a few zombies appeared, but as Jones kept pulling the convoy forward, the number of reekers grew steadily larger. From behind them, Hastings heard short, sporadic bursts of gunfire. He knew the zombies were charging the column, and the softer vehicles had to open up on the threats to hold them back. It was a lot easier to damage a Humvee than an MRAP or a five-ton truck.

As the convoy approached the intersection of Main Street and Fifth Avenue, Jones called out. “Sir, you see that up there?”

A block or so ahead, the entire street was full of reekers. More importantly, there was a multitude of abandoned cars and trucks. This had apparently been an evacuation route, and the civilians fleeing the apocalypse had apparently driven right into a wall of the dead. But the zombies weren’t the problem. While the MRAPs and larger vehicles could crush their way through the dead, the tightly packed vehicles would be a different story. Jones had to slow down almost to a stop; otherwise, the MRAP would have traveled right into the blockage. The towering MRAP caught the attention of every reeker in the street, and they shambled toward it as of one mind. A shambling flood of dead, necrotic flesh and a never-ending appetite for human flesh and blood.

Hastings looked at his map, then quickly to his left and right. He pointed to the alley-like street to the right of the MRAP’s cliff-like nose. “Turn right here! Follow it to the end, then hook a left. That should get us around them.” He raised his voice. “Slater! Let the rest of the convoy know we’re taking a detour. It’s gonna be tight, so everyone needs to make sure they don’t bunch up in case we have to back out.”

“Copy that,” Slater yelled in response.

Jones turned the vehicle down Fifth Avenue, which was more like a narrow driveway alongside a house than a legitimate road. The MRAP barely fit down its narrow width and Jones had to drive slightly to the right on the overgrown grass of a house’s lawn. Tree branches scraped across the top of the vehicle, and Hastings worried about the .50-caliber machine gun in the turret. But it would be worse to crash along the house immediately to the vehicle’s left, so Jones had made the right call.

The road ended a few hundred feet down into another T. A huge, open agriculture field lay directly before the MRAP, and to the left was a chain-link fence surrounding a small children’s playground area. Jones cranked the steering wheel to the left and continued to drive, paralleling Main Street. The vehicle was now behind a church and the house of worship’s parking lot which was also full of incapacitated automobiles, piles of garbage, and temporary shelters that had long ago been overrun by the dead. Zombies poured around the church, zeroing in on the convoy’s new route. Ahead was another intersection, and Hastings consulted his map as Jones continued on.

“Keep going straight,” Hastings shouted as he scanned the area outside of the vehicle. Jones continued down the side street, still paralleling the town’s main drag. The road became very narrow and soon they were driving behind people’s backyards. Low hanging tree branches struck the MRAP’s turret and top in a cacophony that was clearly audible above the roaring diesel engine and the whir of the MRAP’s tall, knobbed tires. A small group of reekers stepped out from behind some trees, and Jones accelerated to meet them. Just before the figures disappeared before the vehicle’s tall nose, Hastings believed they had been an entire family. A man, a woman, and perhaps two teenage daughters mindlessly threw themselves before the speeding MRAP, their clothes torn and stained black with dried blood. The MRAP bumped slightly as the front tires rolled over the corpses, then again a microsecond later as the rear set of tires did their job. No doubt all the other vehicles following behind would roll them over again. The machine-gun fire from behind was constant now—short, controlled, continuous bursts was all that could be heard along with intermittent radio traffic and Slater giving directions to the rest of the convoy.

Jones paused the vehicle at the next intersection. The road ahead looked even narrower. “Getting tight here, sir—which way? It doesn’t look any better ahead, left or right!”

Hastings looked to the left, back at Main Street. The horde of reekers still pursued them, boiling onto the side streets. They were still more than a half block away, but there were runners in the mix—they’d catch up to them in no time if they stayed put.

“Take the right and follow it around,” Hastings said. “It should come out back on the main drag when it ends. Hopefully we’ll be able to make another right and get back on course.”

Jones wasted no time in making the turn and moving the convoy away from the reekers. Behind, the machine-gun fire rose in pitch as the Humvees and five-tons found themselves under direct attack. They were in the center of the convoy, and there was no way to switch them out now—they would just have to soldier on. The road they turned onto began to curve around to the left, bringing them back to their original direction of travel. The street was wider now, growing back into two lanes of blacktop. The houses became more spread out, with wider yards separating them from one another. Aside from a few reekers in the street, Hastings saw the way ahead was a clear straight shot. Jones saw that too, and he pressed down on the accelerator to pick up speed and get the hell out of Fairfield, Pennsylvania, as quickly as possible.

“Slater, how we looking back there?” Hastings yelled over his shoulder.

“So far, so good. Sounds like a few vehicles sideswiped a few things but all are still mobile. We just need to keep moving and not slow down—we’re dragging a mighty long tail behind us.”

“You heard him, Jones … keep it rolling. Take the left when we get to the intersection ahead. It should take us back to the main road.”

Jones barely slowed down to make the left turn onto a road called Beechwood Drive, and the MRAP listed drunkenly to one side. There were some shouts of surprise from the back, along with the clatter of unrestrained gear shifting under the centrifugal force caused by Jones’s speeding, sharp turn.

“Safely, Jones!” Hastings cautioned. “Safely—we don’t want to end up on our side!”

“Sorry, sir.” Jones continued to the intersection with Main Street and paused momentarily to quickly scan left and right. To their front was the Fairfield area school and a huge parking lot filled with vehicles … and even more reekers.

“Oh, fuck me!” Jones turned the vehicle and accelerated as the reekers swung around toward the MRAP.

“Slater, let the convoy know to expect a heavy reeker presence when they get back on Main Street at the school.” A long burst of .50-cal drowned out the last part of Hastings’s sentence as they sped past the school. The MRAP in trail had already opened up. More weapons added their own salvos to the din, including the muted thunder of an Mk 19 grenade launcher.

“I think they track that, sir,” Slater yelled back.

The convoy continued down the road past the school. The roadway remained two-lane blacktop, which was a relief for Hastings and, he suspected, Jones. Threading an MRAP down a single-lane street was zero fun when the heat was on. Small businesses were on either side of the street, and Hastings verified they were getting close to the edge of town. The sounds of gunfire eased up, then ceased altogether.

“Jones, ease up a bit,” he said. “Let the column tighten up some.”

Jones took his foot off the accelerator. “Roger that, sir. I’ll keep us at around thirty. Okay?”

“That’ll do fine, Jones. Thanks.” Hastings heard Slater still talking on the radio in back. The sound of the engine, the whine of the radios and their fans, and the muted conversation among the troops behind him felt like a deafening silence now that it was over and the gunfire had stopped. Hastings looked back at the navigation system and zoomed in and compared what he saw on the display with his map.

“We’re coming up on a Y intersection. Stay to the right fork. I think it’s called Jacks Mountain Road. Couple hundred meters ahead.”

“Copy that, sir.”

Jones slowed the MRAP as it approached the fork in the road. He guided the vehicle to the right and peered out the driver’s window. Hastings leaned forward in his seat and looked to the left as well. He found what he was looking for: the street sign. Jacks Mountain Road. And right behind it was a sign that exclaimed, “Welcome to Carroll Valley Founded 1974.”

The convoy continued down the road for a solid ten minutes, rolling past small houses and farms until the column was once again surrounded by open agricultural fields that were slowly returning to the wild.

Hastings yelled back to Slater, “Slater … tell the column we’re stopping, but to stay buttoned up. I just want to get a SITREP and make sure we’ve got everyone we started out with.”

“I’ll let them know. Stand by.”

“Go ahead and bring us a halt, Jones. Right here in the middle of the road is fine.”

“Yes, sir.” Jones slowed the vehicle to a stop in the middle of the road.

The high school parking lot had been one massive field of reekers when Hastings’s MRAP had pulled up to the intersection. With the rest of the convoy behind him, he was sure the reekers had swarmed the road en masse. Now that they were clear, they needed to make sure they didn’t lose anyone and that all the vehicles were together. He’d monitored the common net and had heard all vehicles report in, but he might have missed some in all the excitement. Calling a halt to verify readiness was expected.

Slater walked up from the back after a moment. “Hey, Captain. Looks like we still have everyone. Several of the vehicles report some minor damage, but the thin skins took a beating. At least one vehicle needs to be checked, the driver thinks there might be a reeker stuck beneath the undercarriage that he’s been dragging since the school. Everything else sounds pretty cosmetic damage. If you’re okay with it, I’d like to have every vehicle drop a guy to do a walk around and make sure we’re still G to G.”

Hastings looked back at Slater. “Ah, G to G?”

“Yeah, good to go. What are you … new?” Slater answered with a smirk.

Hastings snorted. “Oh. Right. Anyway, yeah. I’m good with that. But tell them to make it quick. We’re not very far away from Site R, and I’d like to get there while we still have light.”

“No problem, sir. Uh, about the approach to Site R. It’s a narrow access road to get up there, and if it’s a dry hole, that’s going to be a colossal pain in the ass to get the entire convoy backed down.”

Hastings thought about that. “I’ll pass that on to War Eagle, with the recommendation that the main body waits off the access road. We’ll take Eagle One and his detail up and go from there. Cool?”

Slater nodded. “I’ll let all the vehicle TCs know that. Once we know we’re G to G, we can radio for the main body to join us.”

“All right. See to that inspection, and I’ll have a word with Victor.”

As always, the above is offered unedited and may or may not appear in the final product.

These Dead Lands: Desolation arrives on October 22, 2019! Get ready for some zompoc carnage!

THESE DEAD LANDS: DESOLATION–Even The Retard Has A SAW

The things people need to talk about when they’re standing on death row!

“Hey, Ballantine.”

He turned and found Lieutenant Robinson walking up on his position. Ballantine lowered his field glasses and faced her with a salute that she perfunctorily returned.

“What’s happening, LT?” he asked.

“Nothing. Which is all good by me. What do you think?”

“Hey, the less shooting we have to do, the better.”

Robinson nodded toward the head of the column. “Your fam. They all right?”

“Last I checked, everyone was good to go.”

Robinson looked out across the field. “Gotta be some shit, right? Your family right here, in the middle of all of this?”

Ballantine nodded. “Yeah, well. It is what it is. I’m grateful they’re where I can check on them.”

“Yeah. My people are all down south, in the Carolinas.”

“Well, that’s Third Infantry territory. Hard chargers, those bastards. I’m sure your relations are good to go, LT.”

“We’ll see about that,” Robinson replied. “I don’t mean nothing by this. I just wanted to tell you, I get what it is seeing your people so danger close. It’s gotta be tough.”

“It is. But again… it is what it is.” Ballantine raised his field glasses to his eyes again. “I look at it this way. I do my job now, they’ll be good.”

“So you’re telling me to stop gabbing with you?”

“Not at all, LT. You’re in charge here.”

Robinson fell silent for a moment as she considered that. Then: “You notice anything peculiar about the reekers that attacked us out of Chicago?”

Ballantine considered that for a minute as he continued to surveil the field. “Um… they were all dead?”

“They were mostly all white,” Robinson said.

Ballantine considered what she’d said for a moment. “Not sure what to make of that, LT. You have a point you’re trying to make?”

“White people in Chicago depended on the local government to protect them. You know, urbanites in the city. Not so many guns to go around, right? But in the south side, where the blacks were? They had weapons. Maybe not entirely legal or anything, but they had the means. The means to defend themselves.”

“Okay,” Ballantine said. He didn’t know what the woman beside him was getting at. So the reekers were white? They were still dead as doornails.

“Taking away firearms is one of the things that’s going to count against us moving forward,” Robinson said. “It’s uncomfortable for us to have armed civilians in the column, but they need to be able to defend themselves.”

“I think that’s a great idea,” Ballantine replied.

“But what if the guy or girl holding a rifle was a gangbanger or a drug distributor?” Robinson asked. “To be more direct, black folks generally occupy a lower rung on the ladder of society… so they have to keep weapons illegally, while the white folks up in Chicago itself depended on the police to protect them. They got the wrong end of the deal. You agree?”

“LT, is this an important discussion to have right now?”

“Maybe not. But in the future? Yeah, it’s going to deserve some merit. Right?”

“Right on that,” Ballantine said. “Everyone needs to be able to defend themselves, no matter what. Like they said, when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.”

“A lot of the civilians with us aren’t armed. I’m going to make the case to Captain Bellara that that needs to change. If I need you, are you with me?”

“All of my people are armed,” Ballantine said. “Anyone who’s an adult has a weapon. I’d imagine that should be the same all up and down the line. What if someone gets separated from the column? They’ll need to be able to fight their way back to us. Right?”

“Right,” Robinson said, but there was surprise in her voice. “You don’t have any issues with, say, a black man being issued a rifle?”

Ballantine snorted. “Ma’am, in the very same MRAP where my wife and kids sit, a crazy Asian stripper’s slinging a short-barreled rifle. Trust me, I have no problem with saner people gaining access to firearms.” He pointed down the column’s length quickly. “And about a hundred meters downrange, one of the stupidest soldiers I’ve ever known has access to a SAW. He’s black, but that’s not the consideration here. The fact that the rest of the troops in my unit consider him to be mentally challenged at best is the real concern—I mean, we gave a mentally deficient soldier control of a weapon that can cut down twenty people per second. That has to mean something. Right?”

THESE DEAD LANDS: DESOLATION–It’s All About Ball Juice

When former Marine Bill Everson has his way with the dainty lightfighters from 10th Mountain Division.

Together, the two men literally carried Martin around the MRAP to the passenger side. With Guerra’s help, they loaded him into the right seat and strapped him in. Guerra gently pulled Martin’s broken leg up onto his lap, saying something about elevation and swelling. This left the Cavalryman twisting to his left in the seat, but once Ballantine closed the door, he seemed comfortable enough.

“I’ll be driving this pig from now on,” Everson told Ballantine. “Tell your Army buddies in front of me that if they drive less than thirty miles an hour, they’re going to get an ass full of MRAP.”

“What, you only drive thirty miles per hour?” Ballantine asked.

“I do sixty,” Everson responded, hitching up his evil-looking rifle. “But in deference to a weaker sister service, I’m willing to halve my normal rate of advance due to leadership’s lack of testosterone.”

Ballantine laughed. “I’ll pass that on.”

 

Free on Amazon: THE FARM

August 19, 2019 1 comment

Available now on Amazon for absolutely nothing is “The Farm”, a short story about a trio of lightfighters trying to escape the hordes of the dead boiling out of New York City. Set in the same universe as The Gathering Dead, it’s a military-on-zombie actioner in the same vein. Try it, you might like it!

THESE DEAD LANDS DESOLATION: Derail

August 14, 2019 2 comments

 

The road–or rails–to Colorado Springs are fraught with peril. As Hastings and the rest of the regular Army heads for Fort Bragg, Sergeant First Class Ballantine and his lightfighters are tasked to get their dependents and the rest of the civilians to the fortress city of Colorado Springs.

As always…shit happens.

Also as always…what follows is unedited and may or may not appear in the final version. If interested, click the graphic above to pre-order your copy of These Dead Lands: Desolation today!

It took twenty minutes to offload the trucks, MRAPs, and the tankers. Both of the HEMTs were full of diesel. Bellara instructed Ballantine and his team to take four MRAPs and two five-tons forward to the passenger coaches and assigned one extra soldier for each vehicle, including Robinson. Together, the lightfighters and the Guardsmen would load up as many civilians as possible while Bellara and the remainder of his company oversaw the rest of the unloading operations. With the remnants of Paulick’s unit under his control, the captain had more manpower to throw around, so it wouldn’t take terribly long to free up the remaining vehicles. Ballantine himself drove one of the HEMTs, more out of curiosity than need. He’d never horsed around one of the big tactical trucks before, and while its mass ensured it wouldn’t move quickly, it was reasonably surefooted on the grass strip next to the train tracks. Like most modern Army vehicles, it was dumbed down enough to where anyone with training or just common sense could handle it, complete with an automatic transmission and power-assisted steering. Its Detroit Diesel engine wouldn’t win any stealth awards and the big, eight-wheeled tactical truck lacked air conditioning, but that wasn’t a problem for the moment. A cold front had settled in over the Chicagoland area, bringing with it ambient temperatures in the high sixties.

If not for the fucking zombies and all the wounded, be a nice night to kick back with a beer.

Hartman had the lead MRAP, and the rest of the column formed up on his as he drove to the passenger coaches. There were plenty of dismounted military surrounding them. Whenever the C-RAM ripped a salvo through the night, the individual soldiers’ shadows grew long and tall in the light given off by the weapon’s six-barreled gun. One of the locomotives was fully involved with fire now, emitting a huge greasy plume of smoke that roiled as it climbed into the still air.

“Devil Dog, Crusader One Seven,” he said over his radio. Beside him, Lieutenant Robinson sat cradling her rifle, her face turned toward the distant fires of Chicago and the much closer columns of the dead. Individual corpses were visible now, heading toward the wrecked train. Several had deviated course, drawn toward the C-RAM’s explosive plume. They were inside the gun’s effective range.

“Send it, Crusader.” In the background of Everson’s transmission, Ballantine heard an array of startled voices, cries, and shouted orders. Clearly, the old man had made it back to the passenger coaches.

“We’re rolling up to your pos now. Four MRAPs, two five-tons, two HEMT tankers. I want you to start staging the dependents and get them collocated in the lead MRAP. Help transfer Sergeant Martin. We have enough bodies to drive, but that’s about it. Have the medics start picking out the injured they can save. Good copy on that?”

“Roger all,” Everson replied immediately. “I think I see your vehicles approaching. Drop the ramps on those MRAPs. We’re coming out now.”

The column ground to a halt beside the derailed cars. Ballantine set the parking brake but left the engine running. “How do you want to do this, LT?” he asked. When Robinson didn’t turn away from looking out the window in the HEMT’s passenger door, Ballantine leaned across the wide cab and shook her shoulder. “Hey, Lieutenant! You with me?”

She turned back to him then, and the NVGs hid her eyes from view. Just the same, Ballantine was certain he’d see nothing but mounting terror in them. The dead were coming, and they had to stop.

“With you, Sergeant,” she said, and her voice was strong.

“We have to load up. How do you want us to do this? I’d like to put as many civilians in the MRAPs as possible, and shooters in the five-tons. We can carry some on the tankers, too—none of the reekers are going to be shooting back, and we might need guys cleaning the dead off if they manage to get a hold of us.”

“I’ll ensure some of the troops make sure the dead don’t make it close enough for us to worry about,” Robinson said. “I agree, try and get as many of the civvies in the MRAPs. We’re going to have to lash everything we can carry to the trucks and tankers. Make sure we have enough food and water and everything else we might need. No telling how long we’ll be on the road.”

“Roger that. So you’ll oversee security, then?”

“I’m on it, Sergeant Ballantine.”

“Hooah.”

With that, Ballantine bailed out of the HEMT and slammed the door closed as soon as his boots were on the ground. He made his way toward the passenger coach as the C-RAM hurled more hate toward the horizon, blasting a long, arcing stream of large-caliber rounds through the air. It looked almost like a pulsing laser beam, and the intensity of its illumination was so strong it threatened to overwhelm his goggles.

The rest of the guys dismounted and headed for the coach. Guerra was among them, not allowing his tweaked leg to slow him down for an instant as he hobbled along. Ballantine caught up to him and grabbed his shoulder.

“Guerra, stay out here,” he said, raising his voice over the mounting gunfire. “You’re fucked up, I think you should stay with the vehicles.”

“I’m good,” Guerra replied.

“The fuck you are! Get back to the lead MRAP, make sure no one fucks with it! Get off that leg!”

“It ain’t the leg, it’s the ankle,” Guerra said. “Carl, I’m good. Really.”

“Then prove it by doing what I told you to do, man.” Even over the noise of combat and his earphones, he heard Kenny shrieking away. He saw him a moment later, wrapped around Diana like a cheap coat, screaming his head off. Diana struggled with him as Everson appeared in the coach’s door. The older man supported Martin as he slowly eased his way down the boarding stairs, where one of Bellara’s medics waited for him.

“Martin will drive,” Ballantine told Guerra.

“What? The man’s got a busted leg, for God’s sake!”

“Yeah, his left leg. His right is fine, so he can work the pedals,” Ballantine said. “Just long enough for us to get out of here. That way we can have shooters on their guns.”

“You’re pairing me up with him?”

“Damn straight—call your ride the Gimp Express.”

Guerra shook his head. “Cold, Carl. Cold.”

“Get to it.” Ballantine stepped away from Guerra and hurried toward Kenny and Diana. Diana watched him approach, her expression uncertain. Ballantine understood why. She didn’t have any night vision gear, and to her he probably looked like a Terminator coming to take her down. Clearly, Kenny felt that way. As soon as he became aware of Ballantine’s approach, his cries grew even louder. Ballantine hadn’t thought that was possible.

“Diana, it’s Ballantine,” he told her.

“Nice get up,” Diana responded. “Must remember that look for the next Comic Con show, because it certainly scares the shit out of Kenny.”

“Let’s get you guys loaded up,” Ballantine told her. He pointed to the first MRAP. “Can you see that vehicle over there with the lowered rear ramp? We’re going to put you guys in that one.”

The C-RAM fired again, sending a hail tracers outbound as the bright plume of yellow flame from its muzzles seared the night. The weapon was firing rapidly now, sweeping from side to side. Troops horsed around ammunition magazines, staging them for loading. The C-RAM was a thirsty beast, and it depleted the loaded ammo drum in almost a single pass now. Rifle fire was barking more consistently now, and one of the M249 machineguns mounted in one of the five-ton’s gunnery rings chattered as the Guardsman there sighted on targets. Up range from Ballantine’s position, a GAU-19 howled. He looked in that direction and saw a couple of gun trucks rolling down the derailed train’s length, their .50-caliber weapons lighting up targets inside eight hundred meters.

Kenny screamed again, severely stressed by all the commotion. Diana firmed her grip on him but he almost wrenched her off her feet as he suddenly bolted, attempting to run off into the night. Diana kept a hold of him, but he was so frightened he managed to drag her along for a few feet. For a little guy, Kenny was a powerhouse when adrenaline was factored in.

“Kenny, stop!” she yelled.

“Here, I’ve got him!” Ballantine hitched up his rifle and swept Kenny up into his arms and held him tight. Kenny responded by trying to head butt him, but Ballantine turned away from the attack. While the boy couldn’t seriously hurt him, he could definitely damage his goggles, and Ballantine needed to preserve those. He hugged Kenny tight, wrapping him up in his big arms as he did his best to immobilize him. Kenny fought back, shrieking and thrashing and kicking and biting. The boy was a handful, and Ballantine was seriously glad he had so much ballistic armor to take the punishment.

“Got some jalapeño cheese for you, Kenny!” Ballantine said, yelling over the thundering gun and the increasing rifle fire. “Got some hot cheese for you!”

None of this mattered to Kenny at the moment, and he continued to rage and cry, struggling against Ballantine like a wild animal. Ballantine hurried toward the first MRAP and climbed up its ramp with Diana right behind. He shoved Kenny into one of the taupe-colored seats and pinned him in place.

“Strap him in, then sit on him if you have to,” Ballantine told Diana as she mounted the vehicle behind him. “Come on, hurry it up—we’ve got to get everyone aboard and seal the ramp on this fucker.”

“You do it. I’ve got him.” Diana pulled the little rifle around until it hung behind her then grabbed Kenny’s shoulders and pushed him into the seat. She grunted as he kicked her savagely, still screaming his head off. “Fuck! Do it quick, the little bastard’s going to break my ribs!”

Ballantine grabbed the harness and pulled it around Kenny’s body. Tightening the straps as much as he could, he buckled him in. The system hadn’t been designed to restrain a child, but it would have to do. Kenny continued to thrash and howl, tears pouring down his face. Ballantine put a hand on his head as he reached into one of his cargo pockets and pulled out a package of jalapeño cheese spread and handed it to Diana.

“Here, give this a shot,” he said. As he spoke, the MRAP’s driver door opened. Ballantine turned toward it, instinctively raising his rifle even though a thick metal bulkhead partially obscured the operator’s compartment from the passenger area. He watched as Sergeant Trevor Martin laboriously climbed aboard, assisted by Everson and Guerra. The cavalryman slid behind the MRAP’s steering wheel and set his rifle down between the front seats before he gingerly positioned his injured leg in the foot well. He wore his NVGs and he full facial armor, like the kind the aviators wore. All the gear conspired to make him look like a cyborg warrior from the future.

“Martin, you good?” Ballantine asked.

“As many pills as I popped? I’m fucking flying, man,” Martin replied.

“Seriously? You fucked up?”

Martin half turned in the MRAP’s driver’s seat and shot him a thumbs up. “I’m good, Ballantine. Don’t get a flop sweat around your ball sack, okay?”

“Can you drive this pig in your condition?”

“Trust me.” Martin reached over and pulled the door closed and secured it before setting about buckling himself in. “If I have to, I can fly this thing out of here.”

Movement to the rear caught Ballantine’s attention and he spun, shouldering his rifle. He saw Everson shepherding Kay and kids forward while Guerra stood in the background. As Ballantine watched, Guerra shouldered his rifle and capped off two shots to the north.

Are they that close? Ballantine wondered, and a shard of dread pierced his heart.

“Dad!” Curtis launched himself at Ballantine and grabbed onto him, and Ballantine had to raise his rifle so the kid didn’t blunder into it. It was plenty dark inside the MRAP, with the only illumination coming from the dashboard lights, so chances were good Curtis hadn’t even seen the weapon. Ballantine wasted no time in shoving him into the seat across from Diana.

“Sit there!” he snapped. “Kay, I need you across from Kenny! Diana’s going to need your help!”

“Coming,” Kay said, pushing Josh before her.

“No, come now! Everson, take Josh!” As he spoke, Ballantine stepped forward and knelt on the seat beside Diana, making enough room for Kay to pass by him.

“Got him,” Everson said, and he reached out and grabbed Josh’s left arm and pulled him aside. “Go ahead, Mrs. Ballantine.”

Kay made an angry sound and crept forward, groping in the pitch black. Ballantine saw everything courtesy of his NVGs, and he reached out and grabbed her hand. Without pausing to be dainty, he pulled her forward and forced her into the seat across from Kenny.

“Carl!” she snapped, doubtless upset at the way he manhandled her into position.

“We’re in a fucked up situation, Kay,” he snapped back. “Do as I tell you when I tell you!”

“I’m not one of your soldiers, I’m your wife!”

Guerra cracked off another two rounds. “I tried telling him the same shit once, Kay. Didn’t work for me.”

Kenny continued to scream, rejecting the cheese spread Diana offered him. Ballantine grabbed one of Kay’s hands and guided it toward Kenny.

“Kay, I need you to help Diana with Kenny,” he said. “We can’t close the ramp until we get this vehicle loaded up, so I’ve got to leave.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m not staying here, babe,” he told her. “I’ve got things to do. You guys will be secure. Martin and Guerra and Bill will be traveling with you, and you’ve all got weapons.” As he spoke, Everson shoved Guerra’s sniper rifle into the MRAP. He disappeared from view for a few moments, then returned lugging two heavy rucksacks. He dumped them into the back of the vehicle with a huff as Josh picked his way forward through the darkness.

“Joshie, right there,” Ballantine said. “You’re right across from Diana and next to your brother. Sit down.” He guided his oldest son toward the seat he wanted him in. “We’ll turn on the lights after the tail gate is closed, okay?”

“Won’t they see it?” Josh asked.

“It won’t matter, kid. This vehicle weighs over fifteen tons. They’ll never be able to get in. Trust me.”

“Carl, where are you going to go?” Kay repeated.

“I have to make sure the column is secure, Kay,” he told her. “I can’t stay here.”

“Carl, we’re your family!” Kay’s voice was loud in the narrow confines of the MRAP, even with Kenny’s howling and Guerra’s firing. A louder report made them all wince as Everson let off a single shot.

“See, Guerra? That’s how you do this kind of shit,” Everson said.

“Pretty good, old man—took that runner out nicely.” There was true respect in Guerra’s voice.

“Mr. Everson, we have three empty seats not including yours and space for a couple more people,” Ballantine said, shouting as the C-RAM fired off again. And in the background, there was a mechanical howl. Someone had started one of the excavator mulchers that had been loaded onto the forward flat bed rail cars. That meant the reekers were now danger close, only a hundred or so meters away. As if to confirm this, the rifle fire increased almost exponentially. The rhythmic thump-thump-thump of a Mark 19 grenade launcher added weight to the presumption. In the midst of it all, he heard Lieutenant Robinson shouting orders, orienting the warfighters onto their targets.

“I’ll round up some more souls, Sergeant,” Everson said. “You want civilian, or military?”

“Civilian, please,” Ballantine said. “Military will ride in the five tons. And Everson… only those who’re going to live. If they’re too badly injured—”

“Oorah.” With that, the old man with the long gray hair was gone, fading away into the night.

Ballantine reached out and touched Kay’s face. “All right. Leaving now. Help Diana with Kenny.” Before she could say anything, he pushed himself to his feet. Crouched over inside the MRAP, he put a hand on each of his boys’s shoulders. “Look after your mom for me. I’ll be on the radio, so if you need me, just call. Your mom knows how to do it, and so does Mr. Everson. Listen to him and Sergeant Guerra and Sergeant Martin. Okay?”

“Daddy, don’t go!” Curtis said, and his voice was suddenly small and scared.

“Josh will help take care of you, Curty,” Ballantine said. He put his hand on Josh’s head. “Right?”

“I will,” Josh said, but his voice was small and fearful as well.

“Good boy. Help Diana and your mom with Kenny, all right? He’s helpless. He needs you guys.”

“Okay,” Josh said, and there was little resolve in his voice. Ballantine felt terrible. His boys were scared to death, and they needed him near. But Hastings’s words came back to him, and in that moment they carried tremendous weight.

Get in the fight, God damn you!

“You’ll all be fine,” he told them. “I have to be outside, but I’ll be doing everything I can. You’re all golden.”

“No we’re not,” Diana hissed. “Not until someone gets me that box of diapers!”

These Dead Lands: Desolation drops on October 22, 2019.