This is Book One of a three-part series I’m currently working on. I stepped out of my Thriller genre a bit and am penning a post-apoc survival journey. This one is rooted in actual science meaning there’s no zombies or aliens involved. Think of it as a man leaving a some-what safe existence to MacGyver his way to a better life. He only has to cross half the earth to get to it.
Here’s the intro:
It isn’t often that you see a city the size of Tampa burn. Back in the day you might see a hillside suburb outside LA get turned to ash on TV, or maybe read about a remote Colorado town, one that you’d normally connect with a skiing resort, going up in flames, but never a major metropolitan city. Today it’s the new normal.
The fires you saw back then were what a producer would call “good TV”. Like a car accident it’s both horrible and fascinating at the same time. These new fires aren’t televised, but in the last year it’s become a familiar sight.
It’s happened in the past on this scale. Atlanta was burned by the Union army during the civil war. More than 3,000 buildings were destroyed by General Sherman before he started his march to the sea. The Allies dropped tons of high explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city of Dresden during World War II. They say the bombing and the resulting firestorm destroyed over 1,600 acres of the city and killed about 22,700 people. One square mile of earth and 90,000 people died in an instant in Hiroshima. Another square mile and 40,000 more in Nagasaki. Two million houses burned in London during the blitz. 2,000 acres of Chicago in 1871. The list is long.
Those numbers used to shock people, not so much now.
Unlike the people of those cities, nobody in Tampa would die today. Any inhabitants that were left are now long gone and on their way to Mobile or maybe somewhere in Texas for training and relocation. The last cruise ship left the night before. It’s far enough away now that none of them will see their homes and city burning from the stern.
It’s better that way.
The only witnesses today would be myself, my crew, and the other members of Task Force 68. Most of whom were now spread out on the roof of the train, sitting in scrounged lawn chairs, munching on contraband, and drinking whatever they had discovered in the ruins over the last few days. For most it was a welcome break, one that came complete with a light show and a temporary suspension of the rules. I can spot a few liquor bottles and some soft drinks being passed around. Here and there a can of something eatable found in an abandoned dwelling. Some of them, the new people, were showing off expensive watches or diamond jewelry. They had tonight to do so, after that I had better not see it again.
I don’t blame them. I remember when I would keep such items. My brain still telling me they were valuable despite this new world laughing at me everywhere I looked. I would scoop up piles of hundred-dollar bills and hurriedly pocket jewels from abandoned stores while the veterans looked on with amusement. Days later reality would set in and I would burn the cash to heat my breakfast and adorn a scorched statue with a necklace of diamonds before walking on. Value had new meaning now, and it wasn’t printed paper or shiny rocks. These things are nothing but dead weight now, and the new members of the crew will learn that the same way I did. I’m sure there’s still a diamond or three somewhere in the bottom of my footlocker, but I’m not about to go searching for them. Like a penny on the ground to an arthritic old man, it’s just not worth the effort.
Looting is forbidden, but it’s a rule that’s hard to enforce, and as I just mentioned; usually solves itself. The General knows it. He’s no-doubt watching the city and us as well, just doing so from his private office and the trains periscope camera. On days like this those of us in charge are encouraged to look the other way and let the troops partake, as long as nobody got too drunk or out of line, the evening would serve as a pressure-relief valve. Besides, wasting good liquor was a sin, especially since they aren’t making it anymore.
I follow the crew’s gaze as they collectively turn to face the sky and see the drones making a wide turn overhead to make another pass over the city. The crew can hear them before I can, but then almost everybody can hear them before I can. There are forty-two by my count, all of them in perfect formation. They’ll fly their ladder flight plan over the city and drop their little ping-pong ball size incendiary bombs in a perfect grid as they do so. Some would buck the hot updrafts of their own creation here and there, but never stray far off course for very long before falling back in line. I like to imagine that geese envy them for their precision.
One of the tall buildings downtown starts to flicker and the crew is quick to point it out. Some bank building, I forget which one. It’ll burn all night and be a steel skeleton by morning. I imagine the fire crew at MacDill Air Force Base are watching it very closely. If the wind shifts and the fire gets to them on the island, they’ll be attacking it immediately. I wish them luck, as we can’t move further south without the base there being deemed out of danger.
The bank building is getting brighter and flames are now beginning to shoot out the windows. My crew hoot and holler. The liquor is taking hold. I pace myself with a sip of scotch from my canteen cup and nod back at their smiles. Stealth fraternization I call it.
We’re parked at Apollo Beach, just on the other side of the bay. To the west I can see the top of the Skyway Bridge. Its thick cables discernable even from this distance. I managed to visit it a few days ago. An engineering marvel. One that I would have been proud to have worked on. But I don’t build bridges anymore, nobody does. The fact that I know how is somehow related to why I now sit on the roof of an armored train and watch city’s burn. As I’ve done many times before, I watch the smoke obscure the sunset and wonder how the hell I ended up here.
It’s been three years since the virus. Some say it was the earth itself shedding its human parasites. Others say the virus was engineered by man and unleashed across the world before we could poison it beyond recovery. Whatever the cause may have been, it ended with the death of over six billion people.
The years that followed were chaotic. Every country lost people thought to be irreplaceable. The virus did not discriminate. Presidents, dictators, scientist, and scholars all fell equally with the poor, the criminal, and the everyday. Infrastructure failed. Transportation died with the flow of oil. For a while it looked like the end of us all.
But the virus eventually mutated and spared those that remained. Those of us that survived are now heavily burdened to fill the roles of the deceased. Those that have the knowledge pass it on in crash courses or oversee large staffs of people to keep the world running. We’ve had to hurry, both to survive and to protect what is left. But it’s proven to be too much.
Whole cities have been abandoned or shut down. As the power went off and the water stopped flowing the people left, leaving a toxic wasteland behind them. Eventually the government managed to organize under the former Secretary of Defense and the world was prepared for a leaner and more efficient America.
That’s where I come in.
My name is Jake Reynolds, and I’m here to kill your city.