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First North American rights 3,300 words
The Eris War
Volume 1: The Dragon and the Crown
by Admiral Chaim G. Resh, USN detached
Book 2: This Devastated Land
Part 1: Deep Impact
Chapter 4: After the Fall
Gigantic tsunamis, four or five of them, followed by a number of lesser ones that were the reflections off the coasts of Spain and Africa and Cape Cod of the first shockwaves that had raced east from the strike in the Gulf of Maine, had flooded over the coast of Maine, coming all the way up into the mountains. Now that the waters had retreated, there were a few planes and helicopters out trying to find survivors, but they weren’t having much luck. What the big earthquakes that had followed the strike hadn’t shaken to pieces had mostly been washed out to sea. From what they had heard, everything between the coast and the mountains, save for a few hilly areas here and there, was a broad expanse of mud-covered desolation, various and sundry items of marine life lying in piles here and there among the wreckage of what had been prosperous and often densely populated cities and towns. A few enclaves of survivors could be found out there, mostly in the hilly areas of the eastern side of the state, but their outlook was bleak: food, clothing, medicine, and the other necessities of life were in very short supply there, with little hope that more would be available to them any time soon. They might be able to get enough to eat by gathering up what the sea had left behind, salting it down, and packing it away, if they got to it soon enough. As cold as it was over there – snow was now coming down hard in that area – “soon enough” could be any time within the next few days or even weeks, depending on how long the cold that had gripped that area with iron talons might last. As for clothing, medicines – well, it was going to be rough. That wasn’t all. It wasn’t even the worst.
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A federal dump-site for biological and chemical warfare matériel located slightly east of Lewiston, Maine, had been shattered by the first and biggest earthquake caused by the asteroid impact. Countless shipments of toxic and radioactive wastes as well as various sorts of deadly biohazards had been stored there by US Army biowarfare facilities, the CDC, and several other agencies ever since it had gone into operation a couple of years before. In point of fact, the dump was highly illegal under both federal and state law, and shouldn’t have been built there at all. But because the federal government had mandated its establishment, no one had been inclined to challenge it. It was also likely that some whopping big bribes had been paid to grease the wheels of the local governments, which had basically looked the other way, pretending it wasn’t there. No one had talked much about it – “we don’t want to alarm the locals, now, do we?” – and up until last night, it hadn’t been thought to be a problem. Starting at around 2:15 a.m. this morning, however, the dump had become a great deal more than a mere problem, so much so that the term ‘liability’ was ludicrously inadequate to describe it. The materials stored at the site, which was shattered by the earthquakes that then ripped across the state, were washed everywhere east of the Longfellow Mountains from one end of the state to the other by the tsunamis that followed the strike, then out to sea again as the seawater that had flowed over the land ran back to its original bed. Nor was that the end of it. In 2011 e.v., the US federal government had contracted with a major East Coast waste disposal service to take certain forms of waste generated by federal agencies all over the Northeastern United States, including biomedical, chemical, radioactive, and other toxic wastes, pack them in steel drums, and dump them just off the continental shelf in the Gulf of Maine. But that company, which was run by the Rhode Island Mafia, instead dumped the stuff most illegally at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. The area where they dumped the waste was located on the continental shelf rather than on the abyssal plain beyond, where their contract stipulated they were supposed to dump it. Whether the federal government just never bothered to check up to see if the contract was carried out properly, or, thanks to judiciously applied bribes, influence-brokering, or similar reasons, knew what was going on but tacitly agreed to what the waste-disposal company was doing with the waste, nothing was done to stop the practice. So when the asteroid hit the Gulf of Maine, the already catastrophic damage caused by the resultant earthquakes and tsunamis was compounded by several orders of magnitude by the presence in that area of all that hazardous waste. Broken free of the muck into which they’d fallen and pounded against the ocean floor as well as against undersea cliffs and the like by the earthquakes that followed the flooding, most of the drums broke open, spilling their contents into the Bay of Fundy – unfortunately, just long enough after the asteroid impact that the water there was no longer boiling hot with the residual kinetic energy of the strike, . Thus, as a result of the asteroid impact and subsequent horrendous flooding of the region, a vast area at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy and the ocean beyond was liberally contaminated with unspeakably lethal toxic waste and biohazard material of every conceivable and inconceivable description. Then the continuing tsunamis (the first ones, those caused by the asteroid impact itself, plus those generated by the earthquakes that followed) picked the up all that indescribably dangerous biohazard material from the Army labs and the crap from the hazardous-waste dump and carried them back up into the Bay of Fundy, over the Maritime Provinces, and all the way up the eastern foothills of the Appalachians in Maine. The latter then reflected the waves back down to the coast again, still carrying all that deadly cargo. Since seawater kills many viruses, a good deal of the unprotected viral material carried by the tsunamis was destroyed in the process. But there are viruses that routinely hitchhike inside bacteria, including some deadly ones, such as tuberculosis. The floods thus spread such bacteria, carrying some truly nasty virus such as hanta, Ebola, and other lovely things, all over the place. As a result, those in the area who had managed to avoid being drowned by the tidal waves, buried alive in the earthquakes, electrocuted by fallen high tension wires, or dying from any of a thousand other, disaster-related causes might soon die of plague or poisoning. “Oh, God, our kids!” moaned Rachel. “Oh, shit,” Janet said in a low voice to Tom, “I didn’t realize they were from there. I’m so sorry – what can we do for them?” “It’s all right, you didn’t know,” Tom told her, putting an arm around her and pulling her close. Then, in a louder voice, he told Rachel, “Look, your kids and their families could have gone up into the hilly areas themselves, or even into the mountains, like the three of you did, just before this all started. It was
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really hot yesterday, all over the state, a perfect day to get away from things by going into the countryside. I’ll keep checking with my buddies for any word on them.” “I – if they went anywhere, they probably went to the beach,” Rachel told him wearily, her face ashen. Sitting slumped in her chair, head down, she added, “I . . . don’t see how they could have made it. Except maybe Teri – she was on a hiking trip with friends somewhere in east Tennessee, I think it was. She’s attending the University of Maine in Augusta, majoring in political science. She and her friends decided that this Summer they wanted to see some of the rest of the country, so they decided to hike some of the trails down that way, stay at hostels, get to know a little bit of the area.” “That part of the country doesn’t seem to have been hit by anything,” Janet told her gently. “They’re probably all right. And maybe your other kids are, too – you never know. We’ll keep trying to pick up hams over there – we’ve already contacted some in areas somehow spared by the floods, and in areas where the floods didn’t reach.” “I . . . I hope you’re right,” Rachel told her. Tom, looking down at his watch, told her, “Hey, it’s getting close to the time when we’re supposed to hook you up with Steve on the radio-phone. Why don’t you come upstairs, Rachel, bring John with you, and Chloe, if she’s awake – we’ll check on her on the way up to my room – so you can all talk with him?” She raised her head, a spark of life returning to her expression. “Talk with Steve? Oh, yes, of course, you were talking about that earlier, weren’t you? Yes, please, let’s do that.” “Come on, then,” he told her gently, getting up and coming around to help her out of her chair. He and Janet escorted her and John, who was also eager to talk with his friend, out of the kitchen and up to his room. They checked on Chloe on the way, as he had said; she was still sound asleep, looking shrunken and lost under the covers on the trundle-bed. Going quietly, so as not to disturb her, they made their way upstairs. About twenty minutes later, an overjoyed Rachel was saying to Steve, via the radiophone, “Oh, sweetheart, it’s so good to hear your voice!” “That goes double for me, darling. Everything all right there?” “Yes. This really lovely family has taken us in – the boy’s a ham operator, and so is his fiancée, who’s also here. Their parents are being very, very good to us – I don’t think we’ll have any problems as long as we’re here.” “That’s good, Rachel, that’s damned good. Now: do not try to come to me, do you hear me?” “Steve –” “No, Rachel, dammit, listen. I think I can get a ride over there in a helicopter. There’s a guy here works for the local TV station who pilots their new chopper for them. The station’s not broadcasting now – power’s out everywhere, nobody’s listening and they couldn’t get a signal out now, anyway – so the chopper’s just sitting there, taking up space. They’ve got lots of fuel for it and the pilot really knows his stuff. As soon as the weather clears up here some, he’ll fly me to where you are. But don’t try to come to me, hear me? It isn’t just that the roads are all washed out – there are rivers of mud covering whole towns all over the place between here and where you are up there. The roads aren’t just impassable, they’re under so much mud they might as well never have been there in the first place. So don’t even think of it. The only way anyone can get between here and there in anything under several months, I’m afraid, is by air. You can’t get here, but I can get there – and I will, darling, as soon as this God-forsaken weather clears up enough.” “Oh, Steve . . . Okay, I’ll wait. It’ll be hard, but I’ll wait. I . . . can’t wait to see you again, honey.” “Hell, I’d take off now, fly the damned thing myself, if I thought I had a prayer of getting through,” he told her, laughing a little. “I love you so much – you’re always in my thoughts, you know. Every minute.” And so the two lovers communed with each other for a good half an hour, while the others in the room waited, smiling. Finally Rachel said, “Look, John’s here, he wants to talk with you, too. Can I put him on?” “Sure, go ahead.” “Great. – John?” she said, handing the receiver to John. “Hey, Steve!” John said. “How’s it going there?” “Other than the fact that it’s cold as a witch’s tit here, not bad. Actually, we’re inside, and we’ve got a big fire going in the fireplace – we’re at this old hotel that’s about a hundred and fifty years old, big lobby, lovely fireplace, the sort of thing more modern places don’t have. We’ve been able to get plenty of wood, plus there’s a lot of paper trash that hadn’t been picked up by the recycling company from the bins out
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back, and we’re keeping the fire going all the time. There are ducts that lead off the fireplace all over the building, conducting the heated air into all the rooms, so we’re doing all right as far as heating goes. The electricity is out, of course, but there are large supplies of methane and other fuel for stoves and such, and some of my fans, it turns out, are survivalists who keep portable stoves and so on in their cars and vans at all times. They’ve batched up some make-do heaters and lamps from those that run on Coleman fuel and white gas, and they really help. And we’ve got a huge number of candles here, as well – lots of emergency candles, plus the scented kind used to make rooms smell good. We don’t want for light, even without the electricity. “There’s plenty of food here, too – the kitchens here at the hotel are very well stocked. And if it came down to it, we could hunt – there are woods around here where there are lots of deer, they tell me. And fishing’s good in this area. There are a couple of rivers and a small lake not far from here that have been stocked with bass and trout. “As far as medical aid goes, well, some of the people here are paramedics, and there’s a real doctor or two here, as well. The local pharmacies are in good shape – some of us here have set up a guard on them, just in case people start to panic and loot, but so far it doesn’t look as if that’s going to happen. People around here are genuinely civilized in ways you won’t see in our big cities, I’m afraid.” “So you’re all set, then.” “Yeah, it looks like it. It shouldn’t be too long before this hellacious weather breaks and I can fly over to you, too. – John,” Steve asked him in a much less sanguine tone, “what’s happened to my state? Is it as bad as the people there say it is?” he asked, a plea for reassurance clear in his voice. “I’m afraid it is, old son,” John told him, sighing. “You’ll have to ask Tom and Janet, here, or any hams on your end, but it sounds like the balloon’s gone up for fair, at least as far as the eastern half of the state goes, not to mention the Maritime Provinces and New England down to someplace in Massachusetts.” “Shit. I was afraid of that,” the other man muttered. “Well, let it be for now. What’s done is done. I’m sure we’ll both get more news about it as the days go on. Anyway, I should be there with all of you soon. In the meantime, take care of Rachel for me, okay? – And give my love to Chloe. I –” A sudden burst of heavy static interrupted whatever he’d been about to say. “Steve? Steve, I didn’t catch that last, we had some interference.” “I – going to – take care of Rachel. I think – fading out –” Another burst of static cut him off again. This time the signal didn’t come back. “Shit,” muttered Tom. “We’ve lost him. – Well, we’ll try again tonight. I don’t think that interference will last too long. I’ll check with my buddies, see if maybe the ionized air from the Big Apple or other cities that got nuked is gonna give us real trouble, but I don’t think so. You normally get this sort of thing from time to time. Heavyside Layer’ll probably be a lot quieter tonight.” “Rachel, you all right?” John asked, alarmed. Rachel Yeats was sitting on Tom’s bed, face in her hands, shoulders heaving. When she raised her head, her face was sheeted with tears, but she wore a genuine smile. “I – I’m fine. It’s just . . . I was so worried about him. He’s . . . he’s all right. It’s okay, John, just nerves. I needed a good cry about now, that’s all,” she told him, her voice shaky but her smile lighting up her face. “It’s like women crying at weddings. ‘When in doubt, have a good cry’.” Ask Chloe – she knows.” “Yeah, I know,” John told her, smiling himself. “Well, things aren’t as bleak as we thought, then,” he said to the others. “Anybody up for a drink?” Martin asked. “I’ve got some good whiskey I’ve been saving up for a special occasion, and we’ve got beer in the cold room, anybody want some?” “Me!” cried Tom. “And me!” Janet added. “Oh, not – well, okay, maybe this once,” Martin told them, smiling. “It’s been a long, long day for the two of you, hasn’t it? You’ve earned it. Just go easy on the stuff – there’s not all that much of it, and it’s probably the last we’ll see of it for a long, long time. Anybody else?” “Yeah, I’d like a wee drap or two o’ the crayture meself,” quipped Fred Parker in a heavy faux Irish brogue. “Honey?” he asked, turning to his wife. “A beer, maybe.” “Tell you what, people, why don’t I go downstairs and set up the bar on the big table in the kitchen,” Adelle told them all. “You can come on down and name your poison. I’m going to start dinner, too –
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we’ve got some venison in the freezer we’d better cook up before we run out of generator fuel. – That reminds me: Martin, how’s the cold room working?” “Just fine. I got it far enough underground, close to the water-table, with enough ventilation, that it keeps a temperature of about 38-40 degrees all the time, even now.” “Why don’t we transfer what’s in the refrigerator to it, then? That way we’ll have more fuel, for longer, for the big freezer.” “My wife, the genius, I think I’ll keep her,” he told her, grinning and ducking as she faked a punch at him, frowning horribly at the supposed sexism – obviously she wasn’t really angry at him, knowing it for the joke it was. It was a game they’d played many times over the years. “Come on, darling,” he said, straightening up, “let’s go on downstairs. I’ll go get the whiskey and the beer while you start dinner.” “Thanks,” she told him. “—Okay, people, let’s go on down, maybe check on Chloe, hoist a brewski or two, what do you say?” There were no nay-sayers. Feeling a great deal better than they had before the call to Steve, Rachel and John followed the others downstairs, pausing to check on Chloe, who was still sleeping, before they joined the others in the kitchen. By the time Chloe woke up, about 6 o’clock in the evening or so, Rachel was beginning to feel the onset of something, a Summer cold, perhaps, or maybe, God forbid, the flu that had been going around lately. “Does anyone have any aspirin?” she asked of the others now congregated in the kitchen, reveling in the warmth from the stove as the unseasonable cold began to make itself felt in other parts of the big house.
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