Life abounds in the Universe, with every hospitable niche occupied, much primitive, some complex and occasionally intelligent. The abundance of life leads to fierce competition for resources, which sometimes produces strange encounters.…
All Taylor MacPherson ever wanted was for his business to prosper so Vivian, his wife, wouldn't have to work when they began their family. War in the Middle East—fueled by ancient hatreds and fought with modern weapons—spread globally. Islamic fanatics escalate the war with nuclear weapons. They paralyze the industrialized nations with massive electromagnetic pulses and follow up with decapitating missile attacks.
Chaos rules as the US financial system fails—credit cards, checks, order entry systems—everything stops working. The orderly mechanisms of society halt, freezing all business transactions and the distribution of goods. Food, medicine, fuels and all sustenance for human survival become scarce. Those who possess guns soon make the rules. One by one, the lights of civilization fade, and the cruel night of anarchy dawns.
Meanwhile, the alien Qu'uda receives a faint television broadcast, which is Nixon's resignation speech. It is proof yet another alien species exists. Hungry for living space, they form a consensus this nearby star system must be investigated. Using a small asteroid, the Qu'uda build a huge interstellar spacecraft to travel to the solar system. It takes thirty years, but this is no obstacle to the Qu'uda who are a long-lived, hermaphroditic species. Gender change is a survival characteristic brought on by living on a planet subject to periodic catastrophes.
"Wood tells his prepper yarn in effective, get-the-job-done prose reminiscent of Alastair MacLean…in a competent start to a five-part series."– Kirkus Reviews
Ashes to Ashes
One speech triggered a series of events that led to an interstellar war involving three alien species.…
The White House
August 8, 1974
"In leaving the presidency, I do so with this prayer: May God's grace be with you in all the days ahead." Richard Nixon's long face, tired and sallow, stared from television sets around the world.
In that instant, the planet's electromagnetic emissions had an element of commonality. Myriad television transmitters all shouted the same message. As the wave front marched forth, its power faded, until barely distinguishable from background radiation.
After traveling interstellar distances, it was like signaling the moon with a flashlight, yet, light years away, there were eyes that saw it.…
"Will they work, Manoucher?" Ibrahim bin Salih wore a white full-length robe of a wealthy Arab. Sweat beaded on his corpulent face.
"They'll work, I swear." Manoucher spoke to Ibrahim in Arabic. He knew his project would turn the tide of the war against the infidel.
"If they do not, many shall seek your head," Ibrahim said. "The Holy Alliance of Jihadists has no more money for you."
Ozone from hot electronics mixed with the sour odor of unwashed bodies and day-old curry. Light from a late afternoon sun pierced cracks in an ill-fitting door. A wheezing air conditioner struggled with the heat from a half dozen technicians and racks of humming electronic equipment.
Manoucher, though an Iranian, favored the drab grays of the Afghanis. He'd just learned the secret purchases of long-range stealth weapons, bio-bombs and harbor-wrecking mines, from Russia and North Korea had ended. The Holy Alliance of Jihadists had used these weapons to visit death upon the homeland of evil, the United States of America. Manoucher spread his hands and shrugged. "Do not these missiles have nuclear warheads?"
"Unless those Russian pigs sold us imitations."
"Please." Manoucher felt a surge of fierce anger. "I've spent too much time in the souk to be cheated by infidel swine. Besides, I checked them myself. All twelve contain nuclear warheads, ten per missile."
"Will your device work?"
"Yes. My only concern is whether the rocket engines are powerful enough to take them to our enemies. I'm sure the nuclear warheads will trigger the lithium-6 deuteride enhancement. They'll be the most powerful bombs ever built."
"Will they kill many?" Ibrahim asked.
Manoucher's contempt for Ibrahim grew. His beloved Alifa and his three sons had died from a stray American cruise missile. "You worry about dar al-harb?" Non-Muslims? "No, these three devices will destroy their communications, so we can fall upon them unseen, to slaughter them like lambs."
"Three devices?" Ibrahim frowned. "Why three? Aren't our enemies in Europe and North America?"
"The East is like the Satan, dar al-harb. With one stroke, we shall neutralize both the Chinese and Japanese. Then we won't have to worry about our eastern flank. Forget about the Indians; our Pakistani brothers will take care of them."
"Does the Ayatollah know of this?" Ibrahim's face turned a pale shade of olive-gray.
"That naqah." Manoucher used the Arabic word that meant she-camel. "Has no balls. We shall burn out the Great Satan's eyes, cut off his many serpent heads, and bring him to his knees. We must do this so he does not continue to waste the blood of our mujahedeen and defile the world with his evil ways. It shall be done."
"It's not your decision to make."
Manoucher bent forward and tapped the keyboard of the computer. "Shuf." Look. He pointed to the casualty list on the monitor. "At the rate we sacrifice the pride of Islam, we'll soon have no army."
"I didn't know that." Ibrahim' pudgy hands fidgeted with a string of prayer beads as his eyes wandered. "The Ayatollah says we're winning, that the Russian stealth weapons and bio-bombs have torn the heart out of the Great Satan."
"Yes." Manoucher couldn't stop his lips twisting in contempt. "It's obvious that naqah doesn't tell you everything."
"What're you going to do?"
"Today, I begin the attack."
Ibrahim raised his hand and wagged a finger. "You cannot, not without the Ayatollah's blessing—"
"I do not need him to tell me Allah's will. I shall obliterate the capital cities of the Great Satan and his lackeys. And for good measure, those of Russia and China, too."
"Why? They supply us with many of our weapons—"
"Bah. First they take our gold, and now they want all our oil. While they pretend to be neutral, they suck us dry, just like the West. More dar al-harb."
"You cannot. Only the great Ayatollah can do this." Ibrahim turned, raised his hand, and called, "Guards, arrest him."
The guards did not move. Their eyes shifted to Manoucher.
"You fool." Manoucher shook his head. He pulled a gun from beneath his flowing robe and fired twice.
Ibrahim staggered and crumpled to the ground.
The technicians stared, silent.
"Salaam, Ibrahim. Insha Allah." It is Allah's will. Manoucher lowered his head and prayed silently for a moment.
He turned toward the rows of monitors and clapped his hands. "Back to work."
The technicians resumed their tasks without a word.
Manoucher kneeled over Ibrahim's body and searched through his robes. He removed a thin gold chain from around his neck, which held a key. He rose and gestured with his foot at the sprawled body of Ibrahim. "Guards, remove this piece of rubbish."
Manoucher inserted the key into a slot and did the same with the one he took from his pocket. He took a deep breath and turned both keys simultaneously. Red lights began flashing in the electronic module above the computer. His fingers flew over the keyboard as his eyes flicked to the monitors. He felt a smile come as he started the missile launch program.
The covers of three missile silos swung back. Rockets surged from the ground on columns of fire, rising on thunderous smoke clouds. They arced away from each other, inscribing white contrails across a deep blue sky. They climbed higher into the cold blackness of space toward their destinations.
The missile traveling east through the night was the first to reach its destination. At a point three hundred miles above the sacred island of Cheju Do in the Yellow Sea, the device exploded. Its 150-megaton yield created a point of light many times brighter than the sun.
Before its light faded, gamma rays interacted with the air to generate massive electromagnetic pulses. The pulses induced fierce currents in conductors that wrecked the electrical grids from northern Japan to Indonesia and west to the Himalayas.
Electrical spikes overloaded the solid-state electronics controlling the everyday workings of society, fusing them into uselessness. Power pulses overwhelmed communications, power generation equipment, machinery controls, and ignition systems—all electronic systems failed. The infrastructure of several billion people stopped working.
Minutes later, another missile reached a point three hundred miles above Wroclaw, Poland and exploded, swamping Europe with a massive electromagnetic pulse. For a second time, surging currents crashed through electrical grids, wrecking them. Internal combustion engines died, their computer-controlled ignition and fuel injection systems fried. Planes fell from the sky. All communications stopped.
The rocket motor of the third missile hiccupped and stopped. The missile arced down, failing to reach its destination above the heartland of the USA and fell toward the Atlantic Ocean. Its fusing logic recognized the problem and switched to a backup program. The massive fusion bomb exploded one hundred and fifty miles above the ocean, midway between Bermuda and Baltimore. Though much of its energy discharged into the emptiness of the Atlantic, a massive electromagnetic pulse blanketed the eastern seaboard of the United States, wiping out its communications and control networks, paralyzing one-quarter of the US.
High above, gamma ray wave fronts heated communication satellites to the point of vaporization, creating brief flashes of light. Orbital defense systems, navigation satellites, military communication systems flared and died under the blasts of fierce radiation. Only one orbital rail gun, over the Beaufort Sea, escaped the storm of radiation.
The lights went out. The world fell silent.
"Allahu akbar. The end begins," Manoucher said to no one in particular. He ordered his technicians to begin the process to launch nine missiles, each carrying ten, one-half megaton nuclear bombs, destined for the supine cities of the industrialized world.
"Sir, there's a FLASH message on the ELF," the Officer of the Deck called softly to Captain Mapes, referring to the extremely low frequency radio that penetrated the ocean depths.
At thirty-two, Malachi "Ki" Mapes, an African-American from Detroit, was the youngest commander ever of an Ohio class nuclear submarine. After Annapolis, he'd got a doctorate in engineering from MIT.
"Officer of the Deck, I have the con," Ki said.
"Aye, sir. You have the con," the OOD said.
"Helm, come to zero-niner-zero and bring us up to periscope depth. Clear the baffles. Sonar, look sharp."
"Aye, sir," replied the Chief of the Boat from his chair behind the two helmsmen. "Coming to zero-niner-zero, rising to periscope depth."
After completing a spiral turn, the submarine leveled off just below the surface. Its electronic search mast went up, sniffing for searching radar, followed by the search periscope. The Captain made an inspection of the sky and then the surface. Nothing in sight. Eight-foot waves rolled across the clear blue-green waters of the Arabian Sea under a brassy, cloud-free sky.
The executive officer, Alphonse "Al" Belasario took a turn on the periscope. A former Navy linebacker, he'd graduated from Annapolis six years ago at the top of his class. "All clear."
"Transmit," Ki said.
"Sir," came the voice of the OOD. "There's a message from STRATCOM—"
"Let me have it," Ki said.
The printer in the aft corner of the room buzzed as a sheet of paper emerged. After Ki read it twice, he handed it without a word to his XO, Al Belasario.
FROM: CINCSTRAT & POTUS
TO: SSBN 738 MARYLAND
SUBJECT: MISSILE LAUNCH ORDER
AT 0810 ZULU TODAY THREE HOSTILE
1. MISSILES LAUNCHED FROM KUYBYSHEVSKIY, TADZHIKISTAN, 0375438N—0685348E.
2. NINE ADDITIONAL UNOPENED MISSILE SILOS IN THIS COMPLEX. SILO SEPARATION APPROX 500 METERS.
3. SEVERE DAMAGE TO COMMUNICATIONS IN USA, EUROPE, AND JAPAN FROM SEVERAL LARGE, REPEAT, LARGE NUCLEAR EXPLOSIONS.
4. DESTROY THE ABOVE MISSILE SITE—USE EXTREME FORCE: AUTHORIZATION CODE: XZK-CVWQ-BZP35Y.
AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. REPEAT, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
Ki took a sharp breath. "Is there more?" he asked.
"Sir, that's it. The radioman reports complete radio silence," the OOD said. "No one's broadcasting anything, not even GPS."
"Sound General Quarters," Ki called. "Have a bird ready to go, a large one." He hesitated. "Mr. Belasario, what kind of spread do we need based upon location, silo separation, and the CEP?" His XO also functioned as the boat's tactician.
Al Belasario's mouth tightened briefly. "Sir, with the uncertainty of the given co-ordinates and the silos spread out over three square kilometers, we should use two Tridents and lay down a grid of fourteen nukes. The 'big ones' oughta be enough to put even those hardened silos out of commission."
"Very well," Ki said. "Prepare number one and two for launch." Six megatons in that small area, he thought, will make one helluva hole. "Immediately." His voice pitched louder and higher than usual. His stomach lurched as he thought about the message—it was too damn real to be a training exercise. I hope it's just a drill. Better too much than too little. Each Trident held seven 400-kiloton MIRV warheads whose individual guidance programs had to be changed for this target.
Ten slow minutes ticked by. The tempo of conversation inside the cramped command center increased, rising above the hum of equipment and the ever-present whisper of air circulating as the officers and crew moved about their tasks. A printer clattered briefly.
Ki glanced at the clock. "Any further communications?"
"Sir," the OOD said. "Radio reports something from NORAD, but it's breaking up. It's coming in on low frequency and it's encrypted. They'll decode it once they get a full sequence."
"Very well," Ki said.
"Number one and two ready for launch," Al said. "Targeted and fused for maximum ground penetration. Trajectories set for simultaneous time-on-target arrival. Ready, sir."
Ki pulled a key out from inside his shirt. He inserted it into the missile firing control console. "Ready, Mr. Belasario?" They went through the launch codes.
Al Belasario put a similar key in the missile firing control console. "Confirming launch code, sir."
"Commence launch. On my mark, now."
Both keys turned. A row of lights turned red.
"One and two flooded, hatches open."
"Confirm one and two open."
Ki glanced at the OOD. "Any further messages?" He had been waiting for the usual stand down order that came with every firing drill.
The OOD swallowed hard. "No, sir. Radio has not received any further messages." His face was pale. Sweat beaded his forehead.
Ki took a deep breath, stood straight and still. "Launch the birds." Dear God, it's for real.
"Activate ignition sequence, now." The weapons officer glanced at the timing counter above his workstation. Thirty seconds… Numbers ticked off the clock until only zero remained.
The submarine vibrated as though shaken by a giant hand, followed by the rumble of water crashing back into the launch tube. Once again it happened. Silence.
"Closing outer hatches, blowing down launch tubes," said the weapons officer.
Ki felt perspiration trickle down his brow. Dear Lord, he thought, forgive me for releasing such hell upon our world. "Helm, dive to eight hundred feet. Bring us to one-eight-zero, make turns for twenty knots." It was time to find a deep, dark hole in which to hide, quickly and quietly.
"Aye, Captain. Diving to eight-zero-zero feet. Coming to one-eight-zero degrees, making turns for twenty knots."
"Sir, here's the message from NORAD," the OOD said, face ashen. His hand shook, rattling the sheet of paper.
Ki read the message: SSBN 738 MARYLAND. AT 0915 ZULU TODAY, NUCLEAR MISSILES LAUNCHED FROM KUYBYSHEVSKIY, TADZHIKISTAN, 0375438N—0685348E ATTACKED AT LEAST TEN MAJOR US CITIES INCLUDING WASHINGTON DC. DEGREE OF DAMAGE AND CASUALTIES UNKNOWN BUT BELIEVED HIGH, SATELLITE COMMUNICATIONS OUT.…
Ki glanced at the clock. It read 0936 ZULU.
A coldness seized his heart and his guts turned. We were too slow, he realized. Our birds were too late. Our world has come to an end.