Published: March 30, 2019
Publisher: Black Opal Books
The apocalypse kills billionsânumbers so large that most survivorsâ minds snap shut. Foes of the U.S. have attacked with a bio-engineered contagion that spreads around the world. One of only a few survivors, Penny Castro, ex-USN diver and L.A. County Sheriffâs deputy, reacts differently. She fights back and creates a life for herself where death is the common denominator. On a forensic dive, she is interrupted. When she surfaces, she finds all her colleagues dead, so she has to battle starvation, thirst, and gangs of feral humans until she ends up in a USAF refugee camp. A post-apocalyptic thriller for our times, Pennyâs adventures will entertain and shock you into asking, âCould this really happen?â
One week later I learned the truth in the adage that you can be a victim of your own success. Even though Iâd insisted that I didnât want any more violence in my lifeâthe trip to the Valley was more about curiosity almost killing this catâthe USAF now considered Ensign Penny as an asset, although a reluctant one.
âIâve never been to Vandenberg,â I told Rodriguez.
He stood before me looking a bit forlorn. Couldnât see him well from my camp chair with the blazing sun at his back. âIf itâs any consolation, I tried to dissuade the colonel because I know you donât want to participate.â
âWhy do they think Iâd want to participate?â
âOne major reason: we airlifted someone from the Santa Maria area who had managed to cobble together a coded message we could recognize and broadcasted it at a radio station.â
Thought of my own broadcast. Wondered if it was still hitting the airwaves. Thought a moment more. âIâm guessing heâs from Vandenberg.â
âShe. Thereâs a top secret satellite there Cheyenne Mountain wants us to recover, and she knows where it is.â
âSo La Femme Nikita will be our guide to recover something completely useless?â
âWhy useless? Cheyenne Mountain doesnât think itâs useless. She doesnât either.â
âHow are you going to put it into orbit, flyboy?â
He upended a pail and sat near but still facing me. He looked around. âWeâshe thinks thereâs still a rocket ready to launch there.â His voice was a whisper.
âGee, why donât you just use it to pay back the jerks who did this to us? Or bring back the astronauts and cosmonauts for burial?â
âThe rocket canât handle that kind of payload. Besides, the satellite is more important.â
âI canât, but it will help this country get back on its feet again.â
âYou mean that no comsats are online?â
He hadnât changed expression when I made that deduction. âTheyâre still up there, but the Mountain canât wake up all of them. Thereâs some evidence that enemy anti-sat missiles blasted the silent ones with EMP bursts just before the others carrying the plague hit the West Coast. And they werenât just comsats that were affected. I canât talk about details. Many of them are missing anyway. Key people who knew a lot died at the Mountain too.â
âIâll need details.â
âYou wonât get them. Youâre considered a civilian.â
âBut why should I help you then?â
âBecause our survivor says your brother is in the group that took over the base. She barely escaped.â
My brother is alive! âWait! You want me to convince him to surrender? No way. I canât do that. Is that your second reason?â He nodded. âMy brother and I have been estranged for years. I donât want to even see the SOB againâ¦ever!â
âWould you at least talk to Rebecca?â
âIs that the woman from Santa Maria?â He nodded. âWhy would that accomplish anything?â
âYouâll see. Just talk to her. Thatâs not her name, by the way. We created an alias just for you.â
âGee, thanks, for all your trust.â
âLooks like you could use some of this,â said Ben, sitting a half-filled bottle of Dewarâs on our little camp table that evening. Made our little tent in the refugee camp seem more homey.
âOnly if you share some,â I said.
He pulled up the other camping chair. âYou need it more than me, although Iâll take a few sips. Want to talk about it?â
I didnât care about national security. Alejandro had said it: Iâm a civilian! I told Ben everything I knew. âWhat should I do, Ben?â
He took a sipâIâd already downed half a water glassâand thought a moment. âItâs your decision, but Iâd consider it an opportunity.â He waved a hand in a circle. âEverything has changed. The reasons for your estrangement with your brother are irrelevant now in these terrible times. It might be worthwhile to mend fences with the gentleman.â
Gentleman? I smiled. My Ben was such a gentle soul. How could he know how Bobby had treated Mom, how he took sides with Dad, and what a controlling jerk he had been in my life?
âYouâre focusing on my brother,â I said. âWhat about that satellite?â
âIf theyâll use it to beef up comlinks, it might be justified as a way to stitch the country back together again. Right now Hannibal and his jet pilot friends are about as good as the Pony Express was before telegraph and the railroads. All the com here is pretty local, unless somebody is willing to chance bringing TV and radio stations back online. Donât see that happening anytime soon.â
âMaybe having the whole country connected wasnât a good thing,â I said. âPeople would just get on their soapboxes and proselytize and other people would get angry about it and do the same thing. Smaller groups might get along better.â
âFrom a sociological and anthropological point of view, you might have something there. Homogeneous tribes got along because members who didnât were thrown out. Thatâs easier to do within a small group. But even Native Americans, Egyptians, Macedonians, Greeks, and so forth formed cities, states, and empires, ones often evolving into despotic regimes.â
âBen, I donât need a history lesson about why human beings suck,â I said. âSmall groups are like big families.â
âAnd big families can be ripped apart by contrary actions and opinions,â he said. âYours is a case in point.â
âWhich is why Iâm very happy to have had the opportunity of choosing my present one,â I said with a smile. Iâd long ago decided that Ben and Sammy were my family. Talk of my brother disturbed me.
I spent a night of insomnia thinking about my choices, even in the throes of my drunken stupor. I didnât want to make a decision. I didnât want to think about the USAF, the Navy, my government, or my brother. And I didnât give a ratâs ass about Cheyenne Mountain.
The next day, Alejandro took me to see Rebecca. I think he would have done it even if Iâd committed right away, but not doing that made it also a meeting for her to try to convince me.
I was left in a small conference room somewhere in some base building in Edwards. Figured it belonged to security because it looked like an interrogation room in my old sheriffâs substation. Waited about five minutes until there was a knock at the door. A woman entered, moved slowly around the table, and took a seat opposite me.
âYou can call me Rebecca,â she said, placing hands palms down on the tableâs edge. She seemed to be focused on the wall behind me, her gaze about six inches over my head. Huh? I then noticed the hands. They were prosthetics, maybe the best Iâd ever seen, but prosthetics nonetheless. âYou have heard the general outline of our problem. Iâm here to answer your questions.â
âIâll call you Becky,â I said. âYou were picked up in Santa Maria? Were you at Vandenberg?â
âYes. Iâm a scientist. I was working there and living in Lompoc.â
No expression. I stood and went to the window to peer through the blinds and bars at an expanse of tarmac, much of it now sprouting weeds in the cracks of the asphalt and concrete, about the only thing that managed to grow without water, although even the weeds looked dry. Her eyes didnât follow me.
She continued. âItâs no different than other bases. Andrews and Edwards are in better shape, though.â
âYou follow my sound. Are you blind?â
âIâd probably be called just âlegally blindâ years ago, but that definition was used by the authorities. Now it doesnât matter.â
âDid that happen on Vandenberg?â
âYes. A small group wreaked havoc, especially among the scientists. We were blamed, you see. I and a few others escaped.â
âDid you build military satellites?â
âSome of them. The one we want to launch in particular. Do you want me to elaborate on what weâll use it for?â
âFor now, the government is the military, and itâs handling most of its communications piggybacking on the militaryâs. This satellite will aid in that process and help bring the country back together.â
âAnd you think thatâs a good thing?â I watched her body language. I had some interrogation training when I became a deputy. She didnât realize that I was interrogating her; she probably thought she was there to convince me.
âIt will help. Itâs not the complete answer.â Her sideways response to my question annoyed me. âThere will be no quick solutions.â Roger that! âWeâre doing the best we can.â
âWe? After all that happened to you, youâre still ready to aid the government? Donât you think they share some of the responsibility?â
âPerhaps. After careful analysis, though, I think they donât share much culpability.â
âYouâre blind and with prosthetic hands, and you still say that?â
âOur government didnât do that, Penny. I lost my eyesight and hands in an explosion caused by the group I mentioned. I survived. Many of us didnât.â
âOK, why me? I have no favorites in this fight. I just want to live whatever life I have left in peace with my family.â
âYour brother was one of the leaders in that group.â
I returned to my chair and buried my head in my folded arms on the table. Oh, Bobby, what have you done?
I felt like crying because I could understand Bobbyâs sentiments. I often figured that somehow our government had failed us. Supposed the Vandenberg scientists and technicians were the obvious scapegoats. Maybe all over the world? Maybe in whatever country or countries that launched the missiles carrying the plague? Politicians will pay scientists tons of money to do their dirty work, but that didnât mean they were responsible. The politicians were like the pimps, the scientists like their whores.
âOK, tell me what you want me to do,â I said to Bec.
About the Author
Steven M. Moore is a native Californian who lived and traveled abroad before settling on the East Coast. The reader can observe in his fiction the great appreciation he has for diversity in character and culture and our common hopes and desires. His fiction work contains many novels in the mystery, thriller, and sci-fi genres, including four series and young adult novels. In The Last Humans, he returns to his native California to ponder a possible future.