Original Work Blood Red Glow

Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by AJezek, Jan 4, 2014.


  1. AJezek

    AJezek Author of Blood Red Glow

    Hey everyone! Check out Blood Red Glow, it's a post-apocalyptic look at a 'Lights Out' scenario brought about by a massive solar flare.
    The book is available in Feb but chapter reveals will be going on through this month.

    Prologue Available Jan 3rd!
    Prologue ‹ Aaron Jezek

    But make sure to watch the preface video (it's kind of like the back cover of the book)
    Aaron Jezek
     
  2. AJezek

    AJezek Author of Blood Red Glow

    Prologue

    The end of modern life is more certain than salvation, more certain than our reason for existence and more certain than our understanding of how it all began. The proof is right in front of us, all we have to do is believe.

    Belief is a matter of convenience So many are desperate to believe in stories of divinity and how they will continue to exist after death. Which was good for them in the end, they died with a sense of hope. Most people are more prepared to die than they are to live.

    The following is the story of a man who wasn’t. He believed in the end of society based on the evidence found in nature. Believed in it so passionately that after he realized it wasn’t just possible but impeding he lived for it. Like a born again Christian without the Christ bit.

    The things that made sense to him were based in certainty. Even events that have a small chance of happening have a degree of certainty. Most just ignored the signs in the news and the evidence in history; choosing not to believe it would happen again.

    More certain of all the Jesus you can cram into a bottle, is that the sun, facilitator of life, is going to be the facilitator of the end of life as we know it. Many had heard of the dangers associated with solar flares. Like the gospel, those that heard the news had the choice on whether or not to believe. Those that did believe chose just how much to believe. Was it an inevitability or a possibility? The difference in mindset between the two as wide as the ocean is blue.

    Believing in the inevitability meant believing in the implications.

    Our protagonist, silent in his suffering, believed in the inevitability, so much so that he was convinced of what was to be, years before it happened. As a result of his belief, his life as a normal American, ended. That was the sacrifice he made. Life before, for life later. Survival, after all, comes down to a single irrefutable concept. Preparation.

    Not just in supplies or food, water and weaponry. Preparation of the highest order doesn’t lay in the storage of material goods. Rather in the preparation of the mind. Many were simply not capable of believing in the reality that was to come. When presented with the possibility they refused to believe it as inevitable. The path of least resistance was to hope it didn’t happen rather than prepare for it to happen.

    Maybe the unbelievers are unable to see that any possibility, even the most distant, is inevitable on a long enough timeline. The truth becomes unpalatable when it isn’t convenient and the end of society is an inconvenience for most.

    For some, notably the man in whom a large part of the following story is dedicated, the end of society was far more convenient than living in society had been. Or perhaps stated more accurately, the preparation for the end of society, physically and mentally, made life in society an inconvenience. His heartbreak and loss began long before the critical event. That was the sacrifice that made his life after the end possible.

    Preparation for survival was the jagged pill that staved off death after ‘The Surge’. But taking the medication before the disease doesn’t negate the side effects of the drug; Alex paid the cost before he had to.

    Only a crazy person would store years upon years worth of food. Only the insane would prepare weaponry and store thousands of rounds of ammunition. Spending every cent they had on things they may never need.

    The woman Alex loved left, friends stopped calling. They moved into conventional lives and left him behind.

    Being one of the few to see the writing on the wall doesn’t make for good company. They ignored his desperate warnings and distanced themselves in retribution.

    In the end, when it came, they couldn’t say they didn’t know. He told them to put on their seatbelts before impact.

    Just as you now know. When it happens, you have no excuse. You are hearing the gospel of the apocalypse.


    The Evidence

    Not in my lifetime. That’s often the truth when one talks about events that happen every two thousand years, or even every five hundred years. The latter means that there is less than a one in six chance that the event would happen in a lifetime. Pretty good odds.

    These odds didn’t matter to peoples eight generations ago. The reason being that there was nothing in the pot, nothing to lose. So what if a massive solar flare hit earth? It created pretty lights for the world to see, some behavioral disturbances, but largely went unnoticed.

    In the last hundred years, from the lost generation of 1914, the greatest generation of 1923, the silent generation of 1935, the baby boomers of 1955 and through generations X,Y,Z up until the present day we’ve put more and more chips on the table. Now, we are all in.

    The modern electrical power grid, satellites, vehicles, computers, personal electronics and advanced weaponry are all on the board. With their failure we lose more than just equipment, we lose services. According to a report put out by the American Government’s National Research Council.

    “A longer-term outage would likely include, for example, disruption of the transportation, communication, banking, and finance systems, and government services; the breakdown of the distribution of potable water owing to pump failure; and the loss of perishable foods and medications because of lack of refrigeration.”

    Who needs food, water, medicine, government protection, and the monetary system?

    Mind you, the only thing we gain by winning this bet is the continuance of life as we know it. The game is rigged, we will lose. Eventually the house always wins.

    So we know what’s at stake. Now we just have to look at the odds of this wager we have unwittingly made.

    One in five? One in ten? One in twenty? What’s the generational frequency of these massive solar flares?

    That is the missing piece of the puzzle and the comfortable blanket of denial that hordes of people around the world wrap themselves in.

    See, it isn’t that these types of events are uncommon. Rather, as previously stated, they just didn’t matter until recently. Nothing changed in the event of a massive solar flare before the 1850’s. Sticks were still sticks, stones were still stones. It wasn’t until a hundred and fifty years ago that humankind began using electronic equipment that told us, by sheer dumb luck, about the presence of solar flares. It may be worth noting, however, that a mere decade after the telegraph saw widespread commercial use the first large scale interruption of human life due to a solar flare occurred.

    Back in 1859 they labeled it the Carrington Event. A concentrated wave of solar plasma struck earth causing primitive electrical equipment, namely the telegraph, to go on the fritz. Many operators were electrocuted due to their proximity to the machines. Sparks shot out and printing paper caught fire. While the earth was bombarded the units’ worked better without being plugged in as waves of electrical current coursed and surged through transmission lines.

    That was the first proof we had of the existence of solar storms. Or was it? More importantly, was it proof of the most powerful solar storm the sun was capable of producing? Let’s go back over a thousand years.

    In 2013 scientist studying the rings of an ancient Japanese tree found a sharp increase of radioactive carbon-14 dated between 774 and 775 a.d. That particular element is created when solar plasma interacts with nitrogen in the earth’s atmosphere. Researchers, taking into account the elements half life, were able to calculate the power of the solar flare responsible for the carbon-14 found in the ancient cedar tree. They discovered that a solar flare twenty times more powerful than the flare of the Carrington event was the likely cause of the elements presence.

    Twenty times more powerful.


    But that isn’t far enough back. Let’s go further, to a myriad of solar events that truly allow us to comprehend the disastrous power of our sun.

    Between 10,000 and 3,000 b.c. multiple ancient petro glyphs carved in different parts of the world depict an eerily similar image. The figure was indecipherable until recently. The geometric shape scrawled in rocks resembled a four pointed star with white dots on the edges. In 2011 scientists utilizing the Los Alamos National Laboratories ‘roadrunner’ supercomputer simulated the influence of an aurora (the by-product of a solar flare interacting with the atmosphere) with massive solar wind. Scientists discovered what the five thousand year old rock carvings meant.

    What primitive man was seeing in the sky was what is known in magnetic fusion as a quadrupole. Simply stated, they saw a column of charged solar wind interacting with the magnetosphere of earth. The bright display undoubtedly shocked the humans who observed it reaching down from the heavens towards them. Enough so that they recorded the image by scratching it into rocks.

    What they witnessed was a solar storm hundreds of times more powerful than the Carrington Event.

    Hundreds of times more powerful.


    Since 1859 there have been over 95 small scale solar storms. As they gain in power, we become more susceptible.


    The big one is coming. It isn’t a matter of if, but when.

    Believe that when it happens you have to be prepared.

    Believe that when the lights go out, when the night is lit as brightly as the day in a blood red glow, the words written on the following pages will save the ones you love.


    All who have ears, let them hear.
     
  3. AJezek

    AJezek Author of Blood Red Glow

    Day 573 – 07:20 a.m. –

    Lincoln, Nebraska

    The second October




    The movement of the cat pushing its head through the covers accompanied a muffled thump that emanated deep within the building. Between the transitions from dream to reality Alexander Bancroft couldn’t tell from what side of existence the sound came.

    His eyes opened into a dead stare, the brain running behind them was awake and computing macabre scenarios while his body lay paralyzed. From between Alex’s chest and the comforter he saw Tonto peering out through the frame of the open bedroom door towards the front of the apartment. Her yellow diamond eyes were transfixed and unblinking. The look and posture was unmistakable. She had heard something.

    Alex willed his body to wake up. His rapid eye movement sleep cycle had been disturbed and the chemicals designed to paralyze muscle during dreams still coursed through his brain. It wouldn’t take long for them to wear off. In real world time this took seconds, in the mind of the lucid dreamer it lasted minutes.

    The large paws padded against his chest stretched to allow eighteen razor sharp claws to slide between Tonto’s furry fingers. It was the instant that those needle tips touched skin that Alex’s legs started kicking at the covers, the cat jumped to the ground and ran into the living room as Bancroft slipped out of bed as quietly as possible. He crouch walked to the wall on the opposite side of the room where three guns were mounted. Alex made sure to distribute his weight evenly with every step. The awkward pace kept the floor from creaking.

    His hands wrapped around the cold M4 as he carefully removed it from the mount. Pulling the cocking handle back just two inches Alex looked down at the ejection port, the bolt slid backwards revealing a round in the chamber. Locked and loaded. After slowly returning the bolt and firing pin forward he depressed the plus button on the holographic sight mounted on the rail atop the rifle.

    Alex stepped into the doorframe between the bedroom and living room cocking his head slightly sideways in an effort to keep his ears in position to hear any further sound. Nothing. He counted, Two—-three—-four all the while maintaining pressure on the rubber switch at the back of the EoTech sight. The reticule brightened until it was clearly visible in the dim room.

    Alex pulled the rifle to sight line, the side of his jaw pressed against the cheek plate on the butt stock as he moved towards the front door. Tonto was standing on the corner of the couch in the middle of the living room with her ears tilted towards the hallway.

    The cat was a Siberian longhair with polydactyl front claws, smart, curious and with hearing that trumped any other domesticated animals.

    Alex made an effort to breathe slowly; the circumstances surrounding his wakefulness in conjunction with the pain of the cold air pressing at him from all sides elevated his heartbeat and respiration.

    “Calm down.” Alexander said as he stared at the light streaming through the peephole. The middle of his crosshairs pointed just underneath the orb.

    ‘Not the right rifle for this work’ he thought, debating his next move.

    The ballistics of the round the M4 fired didn’t have the energy to pierce the three inch solid wooden door and send much shrapnel to the other side. At best he would maim the enemy.

    The ‘right rifle for the work’ was the bolt-action Savage chambered in .300 Winchester Mag. The Savage was leaning against the sniper nest Alex had built behind the kitchen window. Just there through the open dining room door.

    Quietly sidestepping into the dining room Alex leapt as soon as his feet touched the sturdy tile. He moved swiftly along the wall past a green shelf holding a bank of batteries and two columns of cans stacked 10 feet long and 8 feet high. Each column contained a year’s worth of food.

    ‘That’s what they’re after’ Alex thought as he traded the M4 for the long rifle against the window sill. Momentarily stopping he pulled the bolt back to insure a round was in the chamber, all the while his feet soaked in the cold from the freezing ceramic floor. Confident the rifle would fire when the trigger was pulled Alex walked back across the dining room.

    As soon as he touched wood his pace slowed dramatically. Alex crept foot over foot as to not cause the slats to creek and he slipped back into position in front of the door. The more powerful rifle now pointed at the bottom of the shaft of streaming light.

    ‘Make it easy for me’ Alex repeated to himself as if it would tap into the brain of the enemy on the other side; making them want to press their face against the wood in a futile attempt to see through the peephole.

    The scene flashed in his mind as the recoil thundered into his shoulder, the splintered wood tore through the air and ripped through the face of the person hunched on the other side. Screams of agony echoed through the halls as Bancroft pushed the barrel of the rifle through the new hole in the door. The slippery hot blood made the tile in the hallway impossible to stand upon as the trespasser writhed in blind agony, struggling to get up and away from danger.

    Alex steadied for another shot as he looked down the side of the barrel waiting for the horrifically wounded animal to lose its footing and slip to the ground once again. The rifle exploded in his hands, his eyes and finger didn’t consult the brain when placing the shot. They knew when the slumping figure would fall into the line of fire. Bancroft pulled the rifle into port arms as he leaned towards the hole to survey the scattered remains in the hall.

    The daydream was broken when he couldn’t decide on the particulars of his newest corpse. Gender and race? Man, woman, black, white? They all looked alike when they went slack.

    The weight of the heavier gun pulled on Alex’s forearms as the scenario finished running its course through his mind and the cold crept into his bones, reminding him of the warm bed he left to chase an apparition.

    The peephole suddenly went dark. Seven pounds of pressure on the trigger was all it would take before the devastating round exploded into the face on the other side. Alexander hesitated and Tonto, sensing some shift toward impending danger, high tailed it out of the room. The sound of her claws scratching across the floor must have been audible just outside the door. It was now or never. Six of the seven pounds applied. The shaft of light came streaming back through…

    A breathe of relief formed a cloud of condensation on the blued metal of the rifle. Alex straightened his finger and rested it on the trigger guard.

    He needed confirmation, some proof, before he put a huge hole in the door. Taking out whoever was on the other side in that manner would be loud. Anyone within a half a mile would hear it. The kill wouldn’t be certain either, it would take a minimum of two shots to guarantee delivery of death. Messy.

    “Calm.” Alex meant to say in his head but the words escaped his lips before he could stop them. One of the results of being in solitary confinement was that conversations in the prisoners’ heads never stayed there.

    Admonishing himself for the audible slip Alex lowered the rifle and felt the blood rush back into his arms. Moving to the door slowly, he hunched his slender frame slightly to peer into the light. The hallway came into focus; the early morning sun cast an eerie shadow under the stairs. The scene went dark as a thick cloud passed over the skylight at the top of the building.

    “That was it.” Alex whispered as the cloud moved and natural light once again brightened the hall.

    Looking back over his shoulder, Tonto had her head sticking out of the bedroom door, eyes unblinking and ears pointed like satellite dishes scanning far beyond her master.

    “There’s nothing there, crazy cat” Alex said as he moved through the dining room door. Laying the Savage rifle against the window sill he again grabbed the M4 and pulled the sling over his shoulder, letting the rifle hang barrel up across his back. The floor felt even colder than it had a few minutes earlier. The adrenaline that numbed the pain faded. The anxiety remained in his tightened muscles. Alex couldn’t explain the noise he heard, the noise that woke him. It was more than a hallucination brought on by his dream state, Tonto had heard it too.

    Alexander walked into the living room towards the early warning device that would definitively answer his questions. He stared at the Mayan mask hanging above a brass pole for a full ten seconds, counting them slowly in his head.

    The mask or rather the speaker behind the mask was wired to a series of crossovers and an amplifier. The amplifier had two outgoing feeds and one going in. If a sound above five decibels was detected then a red light flashed in the eyes of the mask. Any noise would also be played live through the speaker mounted behind the mouth. The sounds came in low growls. The ‘Growler’ is what Alex affectionately called the contraption.

    One of the feeds going out of the amplifier was connected to a battery powered recorder that switched on with incoming audio. That part of the unit allowed for sound to be played back in case Alex missed the live feed. The amplifier connected to the speaker on the Growler was attached to a sensitive condenser microphone by seventy feet of wire that followed the brick exterior of the building. The microphone was mounted fifty feet high and surrounded on three sides by two foot diameter E-collars The purpose of hanging them around the microphone was to concentrate directional noise. Fake plants were draped around the entire exterior unit, blending in with the vines that grew up the side of the apartment building.

    All in all, it was a highly effective system that was able to detect an engine from half a mile away or a human conversation from two hundred meters. It took a bit of tinkering with the crossovers to figure out the correct pitch in which to set the microphone those first few months. Back then the system would trip whenever leaves rustled or a flock of birds flew overhead. The noise of a gaggle of geese squawking sounded like a chorus of demons from the mouth of the mask. Setting the frequency sensitivity low caught the most pertinent and dangerous of sounds. A human talking or a motor running would activate the Growler while a chirping bird would not.

    The mask that encapsulated the speaker and lights hanging on the interior wall of the apartment was an unnecessary visual flourish that held a certain prophetic value. Most scoffed at the Mayan timetable that ended in 2012, yet another sign tragically missed by society. The Maya people studied the sun religiously and built observatories a thousand years before Europeans even invented telescopes. Giving credit where credit is due, the Mayans ended up not being too far off in their estimations regarding the end of the calendar.

    The mask stared at Alex with cold, dark eyes. No red flashes meant nothing approached from the outside. Alex checked to see if any new audio files were saved on the recorder. The LCD screen showed 3 recordings. Four would mean there was a new one. Alexander couldn’t bring himself to delete the three saved and locked audio files. He hadn’t listened to them in months but they were of her…

    As hard as he tried, he couldn’t delete her.

    Alex couldn’t afford to even think of her. That was why he held to the routine. When he followed it he didn’t have to think. Just take care of the business at hand. The routine was everything.

    In the bedroom he pulled the rifle from behind his back, lifted the strap of the sling over his head and set the M4 on the two prongs extending from the wall. Running along the foot of the bed across the room were ten pairs of shoes all lined up by the heels. Alex slid his bare feet into thickly padded black slippers and scraped them along the wood floor towards the bathroom. Next to the mirror on the vanity a hook held a thick black robe. Alex couldn’t help but stare at it as he entered the room with his arms crossed. He had held off as long as he could. Mid November and it was already cold enough that he had to wearit. It was a bad omen for the months to come. The heavy terry cloth felt good on his skin as he pushed his arms through first one hole and then the other, draping the heavy material across his back.

    Hygiene was extremely important now that doctors and dentists weren’t around. Brush the teeth, wash the face. After spitting the baking soda into the sink Alex turned on the faucet and rinsed his mouth with a handful of water, lathered his hands with a bar of soap and massaged the foam into his skin. Fingers with trimmed nails dug into his forehead as he scrubbed. Behind closed eyes Alex pretended he was scouring away all the things he had done and everything he remembered. Cheeks burned as he leaned down into two hands cupped with clean water. After rinsing Alex stared into the mirror as droplets ran through the rough black hair growing thick on his jaw line. Darkened bags hung underneath his eyelids, a testament to yet another night of sleep interrupted by dreams. Or rather, dreams interrupted by the nightmare of reality. Hazel eyes peered out under matted and tangled brown hair. Alex hadn’t washed the wild cow-licked mop in three showers. That was nine days. Showers were spaced out to every third day to save precious water.

    The clear liquid stopped running for citizens of Lincoln when the silos around the city ran dry. Without electricity the pumps that filled the towers stopped working. Gravity distributed the liquid from the tall silos to every block of the city. As the towers emptied the water pressure dropped until there was nothing flowing from the tap. There hadn’t been water running through the city pipes in over a year and a half.

    Alex removed his thermal compression top and leggings. The air of mid November was heavy and cold on his bare skin. The water on the washcloth he dampened was colder yet. A sponge bath was the torture in store for Alex throughout the next few minutes. He shivered as the water ran over his body. It was a painful ritual, but not nearly as painful as every third day. The water flowing from the tap this time of year was just a few degrees over freezing, shower days were almost unbearable.

    Still, November showers were better than those in store during the dead of winter. When the ambient temperature dropped below freezing Alex would have to start adding propylene glycol to the 55 gallon drums at the top of the building. A membrane filter removed the glycol in the taps running through the apartment. The antifreeze worked by raising the temperature in which the water would freeze. What it did not do was raise the temperature of the water which meant in December through March showers were quick under twenty degree water. Ice was warmer than the liquid coming from the tap during those hellish months. The only saving grace of the showers was the speed in which he could get through them though pain wasn’t the only reason for the hurried sessions. A two minute shower used at least five gallons of water. Five days of survival down the drain.

    It was only November and Alex was already grateful it wasn’t a third day. He rinsed the washcloth in the sink for the last time. The grimace on his face faded as he dried off and put his still warm underclothes back on and draped the thick robe over the hook.

    With the painful part of the morning routine over with Alex walked into the bedroom to dig up a flannel shirt and jeans. Walking into the living room he debated on whether to procrastinate to put off the next task for the day. It had been almost three weeks since the air outside wasn’t poisonous.

    The Geiger counter was an old Russian model with a 15 foot cable that ran laterally against the outside of the building. As Alex flipped the unit on he turned his face and squinted his eyes, afraid to see another day with another bad reading. The needle jumped to three point three. .00036 Sv. per minute. That was enough to poison the human body and induce radiation sickness after five days of constant exposure. After five days bone marrow would be damaged and white and red blood cells wouldn’t be replenished.

    The reading from the Geiger counter meant another day inside. Another day without the sun.

    ‘The winds are to blame.’ Alex thought as he turned the counter off and walked to the kitchen, hunger suddenly voiced its opinion through the rumbles of his stomach. Prevailing winds blew from the southwest in the northern hemisphere. That was good news for Alex’s little piece of the world. The source of the radioactive plume was almost due east from downtown Lincoln, Nebraska. Even sixty miles away from the epicenter the entire city was a radioactive wasteland when the winds blew the wrong way.

    Alex stared at the cup of oatmeal he had scooped from a silver can. Usually he would eat it cold but today was different.

    “Fifteen minutes on the bike and those oats will be piping hot.”

    Alex muttered to Tonto as she ambled into the room. He climbed onto the padded seat of the stationary bike, his persistently sore legs pushed against the pedals, the alternator behind the rear tire started to hum with his exertion. Through the window in the kitchen he saw it was a beautiful day outside. Just another wonderfully deadly day in the neighborhood.

    ‘Damn wind.’ Alex thought as he pumped his legs on the pedals. ‘Fuckin’ Fort Calhoun.’


    Day 32 – 10:07 a.m. –

    Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station, Nebraska

    8 miles north of metropolitan Omaha.

    The first April.


    “Get the brooms in the God damned Missouri!” Director Dave Laddit shouted through the thick plastic face of his radiation suit. His screams were futile; the men dressed in little more than plastic scrubs and surgeon style cotton masks 35 feet below him couldn’t hear over the rush of the river. They were struggling to get the metal rods with three foot wide wire brushes into the grates of the intake chambers of the plants cooling system. The torrents of the rushing river pulled at the makeshift brooms making them difficult to control while the frigid water splashed underneath their clothing.

    Dave turned around on top of the concrete pylon on which he was standing to see his second in command. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Deputy William “Billy BOB” Delisle walking towards him with a sheet of paper in his thick gloved hands. The look in his eyes through the sweat fogged visor was disconcerting.

    “You have to come look at this Dave!” Billy BOB shouted, motioning his boss over to the temporary command center, which looked a hell of a lot like a ramshackle mobile home.

    The man in charge looked down at the burley men below him, they finally had the poles diagonal in the water and were furiously trying to remove whatever had become lodged on the intake grates. The system that was supposed to automatically remove debris from the screens hadn’t worked for two weeks; the issue was nearer to the bottom of things to resolve on Laddit’s shit list.

    The vest made the trudge back to the trailer a painful task. His back was already shot from ten straight days of carrying thirty pounds worth of lead around his torso. There was no way he would work without it, a fact he kept secret from the men who didn’t get so much as a full body suit yet worked in the same proximity to the deadly ionizing radiation as he did. By his calculations, all the men without protective gear were dead already.

    Dave slammed the door behind him, the hiss of air escaping from the door jamb of the pressurized room made him feel comfortable removing the hood. At least one filtration system in the entire damn complex was working.

    “You’ve got to look at this.” Billy BOB said. It was a joke of a nickname for a man as smart as he was. The deputy was capable of executing calculations in his head faster than most mathematicians with a Texas instruments calculator could tap out. The log in front of Deputy Delisle was a handwritten account of the diesel soundings. He slid the thick green binder across the table as the executive director walked up.

    It took ten seconds for the Laddit to register the implications of the numbers in front of him. Dave felt his heart sink into his chest as he reread the figures.

    “How is this possible?” He asked in little more than a whisper. The sweat suddenly beading underneath the heavy lead vest and dripping down his back.

    April 17– 25180 gallons

    April 18– 1510 gallons

    Looking up at his right-hand man Dave asked point blank.

    “The resupply trucks that came overnight?…”

    Billy BOB dropped his eyes to the log “Weren’t here to give us fuel.”

    Dave felt the last ounce of pride leave his soul. Criminals outsmarted him, made him a fool. Killing hundreds of thousands in the process.

    Five M970 military tanker trucks showed up in the middle of the night. Dave had personally given the soldiers a hero’s welcome. The timing of the fuel delivery was a massive weight off his shoulders, it bought them more time to figure out how to store the active nuclear material and keep it from going critical.

    ‘What a fool.’ Dave thought, burying his face in his hands. The tankers had finished pumping at sun up which gave them a four hour head start. Even if they caught the thieves on the road and were able to get the fuel back to the Emergency Diesel Generators they only had a window of twelve hours. Besides, the security personnel paid handsomely to guard the reactor prior to the surge had all but emptied the armory within the first week. Without guns there would be no way to take the fuel back, even if they found it. The reality was that the cooling pumps were hours from failing. It would be days before the reactor went critical and imploded.

    “God damn it!” Dave screamed into his hands. Half a day was all the EDG’s had left. Within a week plumes of highly radioactive material would be dispersed throughout the middle of the country. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, would be affected.

    The countdown began.

    “Where is Todd?” Dave’s voice cracked as he asked the question.

    “Todd is gone. Left in his truck after dropping the log off” Delisle muttered, still staring down at the damning ledger.

    The news got worse and worse.

    “Todd has one of the three working vehicles…” Dave said as the repercussions of what he was hearing sank in.

    Billy BOB lost his composure and started sobbing, his face contorting with each breath. The two men had been up for days.

    “The busses followed him too.” Delisle choked the words out.

    Dave moved the four feet separating the two in a split second, hands at his subordinate’s collar. “What the fuck do you mean the busses are gone?!” Delisle crumpled to the ground. A crying, hopeless mess. Dave let go of the man’s shirt.

    The busses were old bluebird schoolies painted white. The security teams used them to commute to work for years. The old carbureted relics from the 70’s had been the only running vehicles at the plants disposal. The parking lot was full of dusty vehicles that were fuel injected, computer controlled and totally useless. The bluebirds were their only lifeline.

    Dave didn’t know what to think as he walked out of the trailer. He left the door open as he stepped into the cold April air. His hood was still off as he unzipped the suit completely, peeling the Velcro off the vest. His back was instantly grateful as the heavy lead fell to the mud. Dave walked back over to the river, acutely aware of how empty the place was. Everyone but management and the crew responsible for keeping the intake screens clear had evacuated the plant.

    The generators hummed at a distance. Four weeks earlier his team of engineers worked around the clock to get them running after the computers controlling the power units failed. Since then everything that could go wrong had. Three times the core almost went critical. The control rods were completely lowered but without the cooling systems there was still enough decay heat generated to flash steam. The water in the reactors was already dangerously low. The top of the control rods were still submerged, but just barely. If the water dropped lower the fuel rod casings would melt and hydrogen and oxygen molecules would separate. Like the Hindenburg, the hydrogen would catch fire and blow off the top of the reactors containment building.

    ‘Ironic.’ Dave thought as he stopped and looked up at the square building that housed the nuclear material.

    ‘The smartest people in the world designed a system that couldn’t be completely shut down’

    “Nuclear scientists my ass.” Laddit said as he walked to the concrete pylon overlooking the Missouri river. A new horror awaited him.

    Bloated children lay on the ground beside the river. Twelve small corpses splayed out on the dirt of the river bank. The men worked in a terrified daze as they fished more bodies out of the river with the metal brooms. A small girl stared straight up at Dave, mouth open and blue faced. Her eyes were white through and through, her head lay on long blonde hair that glimmered in the sun.

    The director didn’t hear the foreman under him yelling for half a minute. The rush of water and thoughts screaming through his own head deafened him to the worker below. “Is the water flowing?!” The man screamed louder, breaking Dave from his stupor. He ignored the question, focused on the bodies below.

    “Who are they?” Dave asked, nodding towards the children.

    “Don’t know. They’ve all been shot.” Came the answer. “What about the water flow?” the foreman asked again, desperate to be finished with the horrifying task.

    “Yeah. It’s moving. Pull your crew up.” Dave didn’t know if the water was flowing again, it didn’t matter.

    His brain almost didn’t register the bright yellow figure jumping off the steep embankment to his right.

    Billy BOB Delisle, the smartest man Dave had ever met, hit the water with a thud. The baggy radiation suit held him afloat for two seconds before the lead vest pulled him straight to the bottom of the frigid dark water.

    Ninety miles south on the river, five tanker trucks laden with diesel fuel rumbled past the gates of Cooper Nuclear Power Station. There too the men in the trucks were treated to a hero’s welcome.


    573 – 08:19 a.m. –

    Lincoln


    Alexander had been pedaling for 35 minutes before he looked down at his watch. As soon as his feet stopped moving the pangs of hunger shot through him so violently that he felt nauseous.

    Just over half an hour. That was a total of 231 watt/minutes.

    Alex limped to the #10 cans lining the walls. Watt minutes were the electrical currency he produced by pedaling on the stationary bike/personal power station.

    “Get your ass up there cat, need more power” Tonto looked up at him and waved her tail once.

    “That means screw you, eh?” Alex said as limped past the cat.

    Riding the contraption was a job. After all, the currency it paid translated to all types of creature comforts. Hot food, television, computer games, music. Everything that existed before the surge existed again within the seven hundred square feet that Alex and Tonto considered their domain. It was an oasis compared to the hell that existed beyond the brick walls.

    Watt minutes made life worth living.

    For every minute on the bike the alternator fed 6.66 watts into a battery bank that sat on three shelves next to the stationary bicycle. Ten 6volt deep cycle Trojan batteries wired in parallel powered the comforts of the apartment. Taking into account a loss of about twenty percent due to transferring energy to the battery through a 120v Duplex power inverter and feeding it into the fuse box of the apartment meant Alex had produced enough energy to run the microwave for three minutes, toaster for two minutes and the special treat of the morning, the coffee maker for the eight minutes required to brew a pot.

    He did the math in his head and he selected the #10 cans labeled “oats”, “raisins”, “butter” and “flour”.

    700 watt/hour microwave running for 3 minutes (35 watt min)

    500 watt toaster, 2 minutes (16.6 watt min)

    900 watt coffee maker, 8 minutes (120 watt min)

    For a grand total of: 171.6 watt min

    As Alex mixed sugar, flour, vanilla, baking soda and butter into a bowl as his thoughts wandered into darker domains. She used to love breakfast; he used to love making it for her.

    Never again would there be bacon, pancakes, eggs, juice and a warm body to lie next to. She left him long before the surge destroyed society. But she came back after, only to leave him again. Alex struggled to push her from him mind and focus on the task at hand.

    The concoction that would pass for bread he was mixing in the bowl didn’t look appetizing. Feeding the body wasn’t the same as feeding the soul. Love was bread for the soul. That disappeared when she did. Alex winced, once again fighting to push her from his thoughts.

    “This shit is bread for an asshole.” Alex said as he slid the glass bowl into the microwave. Stabbing the one minute button he got no response from the oven.

    ‘Dumbass.’ Bancroft walked to the fuse box, both positive and negative heavy gauge wires leading from the battery bank spliced into the apartment through the junction.

    Keeping all fuses in the panel switched to the off position insured energy wasn’t inadvertently bled. Alex’s finger rested on the second of three switches labeled ‘kitchen – 20 amps’ and squinted in anticipation. The switch clicked to the on position without so much as a spark, the fan in the power inverter clicked on as the energy transferred through the system.

    This time when he pushed the minute button on the microwave the bowl started revolving inside as the timer counted down.

    While the bread baked Alex removed the lid to the coffee can and portioned out three tablespoons into a wire reusable filter. Taking the coffee pot to the sink he filled it to the ten cup mark. The microwave continued counting down, 5, 4, 3, 2. Alex opened the door before the timer finished it’s countdown and the beep sounded. High pitched noise traveled far. It was already bad enough that the smell of the food he was cooking would attract anyone that caught a whiff of it; he didn’t need a beeping microwave adding to the risk. Removing the glass bowl and the contents that barely passed as lumpy bread Alex closed the door to the microwave and stepped to the coffee maker with the pot, pouring the water into the back before switching it on.

    Turning once again to the can labeled oats Alex poured a half a cup worth into a bowl, added water and pushed it into the microwave. Ten minutes later he sat down to his meal with a small saucer next to him that contained Tonto’s dry food. They ate together at the table.

    Like a family. A family that was missing its matriarch.

    Alex tried not to let his mind wander back to her. He chewed the faux bread and washed it down with bitter coffee. Nothing tasted good anymore. The sun, even if he could stand in it, didn’t shine the same.

    Alex choked down the last of his food even though he was satiated. It was important to keep the calories up. At least two thousand five hundred were required per day if he was going to generate electricity. The bike was inefficient in terms of energy usage. Every hour on the thing equated to three hundred calories burned. Five hours of daily ‘work’ meant fifteen hundred calories were consumed just keeping the apartment energized.

    “Time to make some money.” Alex said quietly as the plates bumped into the corner of the aluminum sink. He walked by the fuse box and clicked the kitchen fuse off.

    Peering through the dining room door towards the growler he watched its eyes for a full ten seconds before climbing back on the bike. Content that his breakfast hadn’t pulled in any riff raff from the street Alex popped ear buds in and with a grunt started turning the machinery. The screen on the IPod touch came to life as he began pedaling. The small electronic device consumed less than five watts and was hard wired into the inverter, the remaining energy that was produced fed directly into the batteries.

    Alex scrolled through the menus as his legs pushed through the pain, getting to cruising speed on the bike was a bitch, once there he could coast with minimal exertion.

    Music, movies or… Television. That last word was non-existent. The idea was all that remained in the new world. Television implied something was televised, recorded and distributed to the masses. The gag real Alex chose was called ‘Just for Laughs’. A Canadian prank show where the hosts played jokes on normal everyday people. That was what he wanted to see, average people and their reactions to the ludicrous situations that played on their compassions and fears.

    None of the people in the show were movie stars, just normal looking uglies with jagged teeth and mussed up hair. Unaware that it was their day to be on a nationally broadcasted show. The thought Alex had to put out of his head, as he tried desperately to get lost in the world they lived, the world that no longer existed… was that they were all dead.

    The alternator hummed along, drowned by the sound of hokey music and laughter playing through the ear buds. Energy was being produced under his feet. Electricity that would keep him sane enough that he wouldn’t put his neck on the end of a rope. Electricity was his savior.

    That same electricity or the lack thereof, was what had caused the end of humanity.
     
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