Zombies are real. And we made them. Are you prepared for the zombie apocalypse? The Smith family is, with the help of a few marines.
When an airborne "zombie" plague is released, bringing civilization to a grinding halt, the Smith family, Steven, Stacey, Sophia and Faith, take to the Atlantic to avoid the chaos. The plan is to find a safe haven from the anarchy of infected humanity. What they discover, instead, is a sea composed of the tears of survivors and a passion for bringing hope.
For it is up to the Smiths and a small band of Marines to somehow create the refuge that survivors seek in a world of darkness and terror. Now with every continent a holocaust and every ship an abattoir, life is lived under a graveyard sky.
Yes, he wears a kilt. I see John every year at DragonCon, a wild guy yet also oddly softspoken. This is one of the books Baen wanted to include in the bundle, and I was very happy to have John with us. He has a wide following of very enthusiastic fans, and now maybe they'll become StoryBundle fans as well. – Kevin J. Anderson
". . .the thinking reader's zombie novel. . .Ringo fleshes out his theme with convincing details…the proceedings become oddly plausible."– Publishers Weekly
"If you think the zombie apocalypse will never happen, if you've never been afraid of zombies, you may change your mind after reading Under a Graveyard Sky. . .Events build slowly in the book at the outset, but you can't stop reading because it's like watching a train wreck in slow motion: inexorable and horrible. And the zombie apocalypse in these pages is so fascinating that you can't stop flipping pages to see what happens next."– Bookhound
"[Ringo's work is] peopled with three-dimensional characters and spiced with personal drama as well as tactical finesse."– Library Journal
"AlasBabylon Q4E9," the text read.
"Bloody hell." And it really hadn't started out as a bad day. Weather was crappy but at least it was Friday.
Steven John "Professor" Smith was six foot one, with sandy blond hair and a thin, wiry frame. Most people who hadn't seen him in combat, and very few living had, considered him almost intensely laid back. Which in general was the case. It came with the background. Once you'd been dropped in the dunny, few things not of equal difficulty were worth getting upset about. Until, possibly, now.
He regarded the text from his brother and wondered if this was how morning walkers on 9/11 felt. He knew the basic code. Alas Babylon was a book about a nuclear war in the 1950s and survivors in the aftermath. The novel by Pat Frank was still one of the best looks at post-apocalyptic life ever written. And he and Tom had agreed that it was the best choice for a code indicating a real, this is no shit, general emergency. Not "I've got cancer" but "grab the bug-out bag and activate your Zombie Plan." Which was why he wondered if this was the same feeling those morning New Yorkers had felt looking up at the gush of fire from the side of the Twin Towers. Disbelief, sadness, even anger. His mouth was dry, palms clammy, his sphincter was doing the bit where it was simultaneously trying to press neutronium and let go all over his seat. He felt all the cycles of grief go through him in one brief and nasty blast. Tom was not a guy to joke about the end of the world. Something had hit something or another.
Despite knowing it'd gone tits up, he hit reply.
The return message was immediate.
"Confirm, confirm, CONFIRM. Q4E9. CONFIRM!!"
The rest of the codes were the problem. Stacey and Tom were the crypto geeks. Of course, calling Tom a geek was a stretch. Nearly two meters tall and a former Australian SAS commando, the "General Manager for Security and Emergency Response" for the Bank of the Americas might have a background in crypto and enjoy the occasional alternative clubbing night. Geek was still a stretch.
Tom's penchant for code, however, was part of that geeky side. While the games growing up had been a pain in the ass, Steve recognized them as a necessity in this case. Tom had come into possession of information that was still closely held. His text was a violation of not only his employment contracts but, probably, federal law. He wasn't going to send "Asteroid INBOUND" over an open network.
Stacey would know what the code meant in a second. Despite his para nickname of "Professor," Steve was unfazed by both his wife and his brother being smarter than he. He was laid back and preferred to be surrounded by people who were smarter, more effective and more dangerous. Made his life a whole lot simpler.
He looked up at the class full of teenagers working on their Friday afternoon history test. Byzantine emperors were about the last of his problems at the moment. He still wasn't sure about the codes but he knew that he'd never see most of them again. Dead or alive, his life and theirs was about to change.
He was going to miss some of them but the protocols were clear. It was much the same as being a spy, really. If you'd been burned you didn't hesitate. When the world was ending you didn't worry about anything but the most basic issues. Notably, Stacey, Sophia and Faith. In no particular order that, he desperately hoped, whatever this was might test. Okay, even Stacey would agree Sophia and Faith first. Just in no particular order.
He therefore calmly bent over, picked up his backpack and stood up to leave.
"Mr. Smith?" Chad Walker said, looking at him quizzically.
"Just going out for a bit," Steve said. Chad was one of the good ones. Most of the kids were good for values of good. As good as American kids got, anyway. Coddled, yes, but bright by and large. Most didn't apply themselves and the parents were mostly a pain in the ass. But it had been a good job. Past tense.
He walked down the mostly silent halls in a bit of a daze. At one level it was senseless. Nobody walked out of a job they'd done for ten years without a wrench and on the basis of two text messages. But it was what you did if you'd prepared. You just walked away.
He stopped outside the school's office and tried to assume an expression suitable for a distraught husband.
"Janice," he said, stepping into the office and brushing at his eyes. "Stacey's been in an accident at the plant. They're taking her to the office. I need to pull Sophia out of class."
"Oh my God!" the heavy-set brunette said, her eyes wide. "What happened?"
"Unclear," Steve said. "I'll call you from the hospital. Just please page for her to be brought up here while I talk to Mr. Navas."
"Okay . . ." Janice said, fumbling at the intercom.
The woman really was someone Steve was looking forward to leaving behind.
He knocked on the principal's door and opened it without waiting for a reply.
"Steve?" Mr. Navas said, cocking a quizzical eyebrow. Alvaro Navas was a decent assistant principal, all things considered. Another person, among many, Steve figured he'd never see again. However it worked out.
"Stacey's being taken to the hospital," he said somewhat shakenly. "Injured at work. They . . . it sounded quite serious. That guarded 'we're sure it's going to be fine' from HR which means it's not. I'm pulling Sophia out to go with me to the hospital and I'd appreciate it if you'd call Angleton Middle and have them bring up Faith so I can pick her up on the way by."
"Of course, Steve," Alvaro said. "Anything we can do."
"I'll call you as soon as I know what's going on," Steve said. "I think Janice is bringing up Sophia."
"So no idea what happened?" Navas asked.
"They wouldn't say," Steve said, shrugging his shoulders helplessly. "I . . . I need to go check on Sophia . . ."
"Of course, of course, Steve," Navas said, getting out of his chair. "Whatever you need . . . If you need some time."
"Well, it's the weekend, fortunately," Steve said. "I'll know more when I get to the hospital."
"Which hospital?" Navas asked.
"Not even sure of that at this point," Steve said. "Mercy, I assume. It's the closest. I've got to call back about that . . . Just . . . I've got this handled. I'll get to you about what's going on."
"Call me at home if it's after work," Mr. Navas said, patting him on the back.
"Dad?" Sophia asked, her eyes wide. The fifteen-year-old had gotten her father's looks and her mother's height. It wasn't a bad combination. With sandy blond hair, and five-five, she seemed to have stopped growing up or out. "What's up?" She had her backpack over her back. If she had anything left in the locker it was going to have to stay there.
"Your mom . . ." Steve said, then paused. "We'll talk about it in the car."
"What happened to Mom?" Sophia said.
"We'll talk in the car," Steve said, taking her arm. "She was injured at the plant. Mr. Navas, if you could call the middle school?"
"Of course," Mr. Navas said. "And call me."
"I will," Steve said. "Oh, release slip?"
"Oh . . . !" Janice said, fumbling with the papers piled on her desk.
"I've got it," Mr. Navas said, trying not to sigh. He pulled the form pad out from under a pile and quickly scribbled the necessities. "There."
"Thank you, sir," Steve said. "Good luck."
"Thank you," Mr. Navas said, frowning slightly. "I think I should be wishing you that."
"Yes, yes," Steve said, gesturing for Sophia to precede him through the door.
"Dad . . . ?" Sophia said.
"In the car," Steve said as they walked out of the building. It was a thin, nasty rain, cold for late spring even in Virginia. Which just fit his mood to a T.
His car was most of the way across the teachers' parking lot so he continued:
"Don't stop moving when I say this. It's not your mother. Apocalypse code from your Uncle Tom."
"What?" Sophia said, stopping and starting to turn.
"I said keep walking," Steve said, grabbing her arm. "Which is why you're going to drive. I need both hands free."
"You pulled me out of a test for some code from Uncle Tom?" Sophia said angrily. "What about the dance tonight?"
"By eight PM we're going to be in full bug-out mode," Steve said. "This is not a drill, Soph. I still need to check the codes but it's an apocalypse code. As in 'end of the world.'"
"What end?" Sophia said, gesturing around. There certainly didn't seem to be any major issues. Cars continued speeding past the school. None of them seemed in any more a hurry than they ever were. "Missing the dance is going to be the end of the world!"
"Not time for drama, miss," Steve said, getting in the passenger side. "Drive."
"Oookay," the fifteen-year-old said nervously. "You want me to drive in an apocalypse."
"The apocalypse isn't here yet," Steve said, pulling out his phone again. "Now be quiet. Head to Faith's school."
"Dad, this is crazy!" Sophia said, starting the car.
"Just drive," Steve said. "No music and no talking. Hello? This is Steve Smith, Stacey Smith's husband. Our daughter . . . Sophia . . ." He let a little check enter his voice. "She's been hit by a car in the school parking lot. I really need to talk to Stacey immediately . . . Yes, I understand . . ."
"I got hit by a car?" Sophia whispered.
Steve waved his hand at her angrily, then nodded.
"Stacey! Alas, alas, alas . . . Sophia . . . has been . . . struck by . . . a car . . . in the parking lot," he said, robotically. "I'm picking up Faith right now. Yes. I'll meet you at home, then we'll go to the hospital. You have your phone again? I'm forwarding you a text . . . Okay. Call me when you're on the way." He hung up the phone, then pulled up a file.
"What was the robot voice about?" Sophia asked, pulling carefully into traffic.
"False information versus true," Steve said. "I mean, you could really have been hit by a car. The 'alas' code told her it was a real world emergency but not the one that I was conveying."
"Mom is going to be that pissed, you know," Sophia said.
"Part of our bargain was that if something hit the dunny she'd go with it," Steve said, looking at a file. "Oh . . . Bloody hell."
"What?" Sophia asked.
"Just concentrate on getting us to the middle school intact," Steve said, consulting his smartphone. He pulled up an app and punched in certain parameters. On the third hit he'd found what he was looking for and dialed a phone number. "Hello? My name is Jason Ranseld with the Aurelius Corporation. We need to rent a boat matching the parameters of the one you have for sale. Is there any way that we can get a two-week lease? No? We'd consider buying if we could talk about the price. And I'd need to look it over . . . Would Saturday afternoon work for you? This is a snap-kick for a major client . . . Of course, three would work perfectly . . . Thank you, I'll meet you there . . ."
"Sailboat?" Sophia said. "That's full up bug-out for a biological emergency!"
"I finally got to pull up the code sheet," Steve said. "Biological, viral, latent, wide-release, previously undetected, currently no vaccine, hostile activities parameter."
"I got all of that except latent and hostile . . . Wait! Zombies?"
"Something similar," Steve said as they pulled up to the fortunately close middle school. "Cell phone."
"Cell," Steve said, pulling a burn phone out of the bag. "This is your new one. Only the numbers on contact list."
"I have friends who . . ."
"No!" Steve said. "You know why. I walked away from several people I like, to maintain your uncle's cover. If it gets out . . ."
"Uncle Tom loses his position," Sophia said, pulling out her phone and handing it over. "And any support he can give us. But Brad Turner . . ."
"Is going to have to take his chances," Steve said, taking the phone, then pocketing the burn phone. "You get this when I get back."
"Thanks for all the trust, Dad," Sophia said, crossing her arms.
"I'm going to be trusting you to keep us all alive," Steve said, then handed over the phone. "I guess that starts now. Prove you deserve it by not using it."
"Okay," Sophia said.
"Emergency conditions," Steve said.
"Yes, sir," Sophia said, then shrugged. "I'll believe zombies when I see one."
"Despite the fact that I've just burned my job and your mother's, let's hope this is a false alarm," Steve said getting out of the truck.
* * *
"What happened to Mom?" Faith blurted the minute he walked into the school's office.
"Still not sure," Steve said. "Can I get a release slip?"
"What do you mean you don't know?" Faith practically shouted. The thirteen-year-old had gotten her dad's height and her mother's looks, which, honestly, was a bit of a challenge for her older sister, whom she already overtopped. Another inheritance was her mother's temper but twice as passionate. In a guy the term "aggressive" would be more commonly used. She also had something like male muscle density and pain tolerance a Delta would appreciate. She only played soccer because there wasn't a rugby team. On the rare trips to visit her Aussie grandparents she positively delighted in Australian Rules football. Although she just as passionately hated "Rule One": No Weapons.
"Kintronics HR would only say she'd been 'Injured,'" Steve said, taking the release form and signing for his daughter. "On the other hand, the person I was talking to was pretty shaken up. So it's serious."
"Well then, let's roll!" Faith said, snatching up her bag and darting out of the door.
"Good-bye," Steve said, waving as he went out the door.
* * *
"Apocalypse code from Uncle Tom," Sophia said as soon as Faith was in the car. "Not a drill. Dad's already arranged the boat to steal."
"So . . . Wait . . ." Faith said. "Mom's not—"
"She's on her way home," Steve said, gesturing for Sophia to get in the passenger seat and climbing in the truck. "We're in bug-out mode. And with any luck at all we won't have to steal it."
"But what about—" Faith started to ask.
"Phone," Sophia said, holding out a burn phone to her. "Yours."
"Zombies," Sophia said.
"No way!" Faith said. "We're not having a ZA! Where are the wrecked cars? The screaming people? Nobody's rising from the grave! False alarm!"
"I've got a confirm from Uncle Tom," Steve said, pulling out of the parking lot. Parents were already forming up to pick up their precious snowflakes. "Viral, not mystical. Zombielike actions. Previously undetected. Pull the batteries."
"Already done on mine," Sophia said, pulling out Faith's. "Okay, now it's done."
"Code indicates it's already spread," Steve said.
"So we could already have it?" Sophia asked. "That's . . . not good."
"That's all we've got right now," Steve said. "We'll get the rest as things go on."
"This had better be for real or I'm disowning this stupid family," Faith said, leaning back with her arms crossed and her head set.
"Put on your safety belt," Steve said. "Safety just got much more important."
"If I had your phone I could be checking for indications," Sophia pointed out.
Steve considered that for a moment. The original plans hadn't included either daughters capable of information gathering or smartphones. The first requirement was gather the clan. Second was go off-grid. Going off-grid wasn't strictly necessary but it reduced distractions. And Tom had the number for his back-up just as Steve had Tom's. Third was gather material. Then bug out. Only last, look for indicators. Among other things, indicators were a way to track information security.
"Not on the phone," Steve said. "If Tom's usage is being monitored, it could give away his tip if you search for 'zombie' or 'plague' off my phone. Just work the plan."
"Yes, my bug-out bag is packed," Faith said and grimaced. "'Where's your bug-out bag?' 'Is your bug-out bag packed?' 'What's your inventory?' 'Why did I get the insane parents?'"
"We're packing the trailer," Sophia pointed out. "When do we go to biocon?"
"I'm torn," Steve admitted. "We can't meet about the sailboat with masks on. On the other hand, any meeting is a danger."
"Speaking of which," Sophia said, dipping into her bag. "Hand sanitizer." She rubbed some on her hands, then passed it over.
"Which is why I have you along," Steve said, smiling. He wiped not only his hands but the steering wheel.
"This had better be for real," Faith said, rubbing her hands vigorously.
"You just want to fight zombies," Sophia said.
"Which is why I have you along," Steve added with a grin.
"Derp," Faith said. "Of course I want to fight zombies. Who doesn't?"
"Me," Sophia said.
"Me," Steve said.
"Yeah, well there had better be zombies or I'm shooting somebody and two guesses who. Oh, wait, they're both right . . ."
* * *
"I read the code but I'm still not one hundred percent on this. Note that I just threw away a perfectly good job."
Stacey Smith was five six with dark blue eyes and dark brown—or occasionally auburn—hair. Two children had caused her to "chunk" a bit, but she still was pretty much the attractive geek girl Tom had met in Melbourne eighteen years ago. One who agreed that the world was occasionally a hostile place and did not so much "indulge" her husband's penchant for preparation as drive it.
"I knew this day might come . . ." Steve said, shrugging. "Tom wouldn't jest about something like this."
"I'm going to go look for a confirm," Stacey said.
"Just . . ." Steve said, grimacing.
"I'll use a proxy," Stacey said, patting him on the arm. "I'm not going to go shouting 'Zombie Apocalypse' to the rooftops."
"And I'll go take care of packing the trolley."
Steve considered most "preppers" to be short-sighted, at least those portrayed in the media and even those on the various boards. Having all sorts of preparations in an urban setting was a good way to have them taken away at the first hint of trouble. If the government didn't "gather" what you had or had produced, then gangs would eventually. And those that moved to distant zones . . . Well, if the end didn't come, you had better enjoy the rural life, and good luck finding a decent job in the meantime.
"Prepping" or survivalism is about Maslow's hierarchies. The first three are ostensibly "food, clothing and shelter." What Maslow left out was "security." And in a real, serious, end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it, security was the single greatest concern.
So Steve and Stacey's plans were . . . flexible.
The house they lived in was subtly fortified. Most of it had to do with living in Virginia where the threat of an occasional hurricane or severe storm meant having plywood ready to cover the windows was just good sense. The house had been chosen for various "real world" factors: jobs, schools, the neighborhood. But it also had fieldstone walls, which meant it was somewhat bullet resistant. Also hurricane resistant, which was the point that they tended to make to casual friends and neighbors. There was a sizeable and quite dry basement. There was a generator, ROWPU water purifier and various supplies against both hurricanes and ice storms. Their neighbors were always commenting on how well prepared they were for emergencies. Which was nice until the second or third minor "emergency" when you were the only one who noticed that the lights did occasionally go out and grocery stores tended to run short when there was the slightest news of a possible disaster. Yes, we have spare toilet paper.
Incoming comet? Landward ho. They had some "true" friends, including a few Ami paras and special operations Steve had met in Afghanistan and kept in touch with. Together with Tom, the group had bought an old house in the Western Virginia countryside. More or less a "time share," they used it as a weekend or summer get-away. Its actual purpose being, well, a get-away. Staffed by six former soldiers and their generally well-prepared families, it was going to be a bit of a tough nut to crack.
But there were a few events that called for heading seaward. The first was any sort of biological. Boats were designed to take stores, and modern boats had water purifiers to draw fresh water from the sea. Once they were loaded up, you could stay away from other people for a looong time. Longer if you had a sailboat with "green" recovering power such as wind generators and recovering propeller generators. A little fishing, plenty of vitamins, and barring running into a bad storm you were good for months. And missing storms was mostly a matter of being where they didn't go. Assuming the biological was bad enough, afterwards you could probably scavenge with care. Thus the full hazmat clothing in the stores.
"Zombies" had been, generally, considered one of those stochastic low probabilities that were more for fun than serious consideration. A zombie shoot was particularly fun. But because it was the sort of thing that the kids could get into, with some humor, that had been part of the planning as well. If for no other reason than it gave them a chance to take a "prepper" cruise to the Islands on a sailboat. The kids had enjoyed the time in the Abacos and learned the basics of sailing as well as maintaining a boat.
Survivalism. Good clean fun for the whole family. At least if you didn't take it to excess.
"The cans go on the bottom!" Sophia shouted as Steve entered the basement garage. "Heavy stuff down and forward!"
"Bite me, Soph," Faith snarled. "I wasn't the one who already loaded the toilet paper!"
"Then move it around," Steve said. Good clean fun. "Soph, into the trolley. You load, Faith and I will toss."
"Yeah," Faith said, grinning maliciously. "'Cause you're so short you can fit inside."
"We shall soon be armed, sister dear," Sophia said, sweetly.
"That assumes you can hit me at the range of sitting next to you," Faith said, staggering over under the weight of three cases of water.
"Which you know I can do at any range you'd care to name," Sophia replied.
"She's got you there," Steve said. "She's a better shot and you know it."
"Not at combat shooting," Faith argued. "She's better when she takes all day to pull the trigger."
"I'm going to have all day to listen to your bitching," Sophia pointed out.
The trailer was a ten-by-six, bought used and improved and maintained by Stacey. She tended to do the mechanical and electrical bits. In this case, new plywood floor, new bearings, wiring and a new coat of paint. Hundred dollars used, a bit more in repairs, and it was practically a brand new trailer. Which was rapidly filling with gear and supplies.
"We couldn't load the gen by ourselves," Sophia pointed out. "And if we're going to, we'd better soon or it will unbalance the trailer."
"We're not taking it," Steve said regretfully. The generator wasn't new but it was in good shape, and with care, which Stacey was obsessive about, would last for years. "The boat has one."
"Spare?" Faith asked.
"Rather take more supplies," Steve said, tossing a case of bottled water into the back of the trailer. "The way to avoid loading the heavy on light is to move heavy first."
"What about ammo?" Stacey asked.
"Ammo, guns, first aid, one case water, one general case mountain house in the car," Steve said. "Bug-out bags and webbing. Hook in. We're on short time."
"Know it's bad," Faith said, grinning. "Da's going DU, then."
"Hooking in, Dad," Sophia said, then paused. "Dad . . . Are we really, really sure?"
"No," Steve admitted, tossing a case of rations onto the trailer. "Not until we have a confirm or I can talk to Tom in the open."
"I don't want all my friends to die," Faith said softly.
"I don't want either of you to die," Steve said. "Which is why we're hooking in."
"And there's a partial confirm," Stacey said, walking down the stairs. "There have been three reported incidents on the West Coast. People are putting it down to drugs but it's zombie-istic."
"The bath salts thing again?" Faith asked. "That's it?"
"No," Steve said. "That's a confirm. Tom's message indicated that it's already out there. Those are infected people. Presumably. We'll get a solid confirmation later. I'm hoping that guy makes the meeting tomorrow."
"Then you'd better get upstairs and call him," Stacey pointed out. "He's probably getting ready to close up shop."
"Boat broker," Steve pointed out. "He's connected to his cell. But . . . yeah."