Clayton Shepard is lost, cold, alone, and determined to find his way home.
But he's landed on a planet he doesn't recognize. Earth isn't the same place he left months earlier.
There is little light, no heat, and limited communication.
As he works to find his way back to his family, they cope with the struggles of a new reality and a quickly devolving society.
What none of them know is that the radioactive blast that plunged their lives into darkness was only the first one.
More is on the way.
In a lot of books, the hero goes through hell, fights the good fight, survives, and their troubles are over. In a post-apocalyptic thriller, the hero goes through hell, fights the good fight, survives, and discovers there's more hell waiting on the other side. This is a masterpiece of making your hero suffer. – Joseph R. Lallo
"Fantastic continuation of one of the freshest post-apocalyptic/dystopian series out there. Tom Abrahams' series delivers everything you could want from the genre, adding an entirely clever twist to the greater plot that I absolutely did not see coming. Descent takes on a whole new meaning, as the planet earth braces for an extinction level event. Highly recommended!"– Author Steven Konkoly
"Great entry in this series. Loved the character development, and the solid research that went into making this and the other books in this series of books very realistic. The ending made me eager for the next book in the series."– Amazon Review
"I so so glad to read a science based EMP fiction book, instead of all religious BS you normally have to ignore to read good EMP fiction. The characters really well drawn out in the writing, well done by Tom Abrahams. Couldn't put this book down if I tried. As an EMP fiction buff I would give this book more stars if I could."– Amazon Review
"In the words of John Wayne, "Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway." Abraham's characters find their courage even when their impossible situation keeps throwing deadly curve balls at them. Many points of view and a great eye for detail make his apocalypse feel like the real thing — coming soon to an earth near you! I couldn't put this book down, and I'm eager to see how he weaves all the threads into a satisfying conclusion."– Amazon Review
MISSION ELAPSED TIME
73 DAYS, 05 HOURS, 12 MINUTES, 00 SECONDS
10,000 FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL
The snarl woke Clayton Shepard from his uneasy sleep. It was angry and grew from a low growl into something louder, something hungry.
The astronaut was buried in his sleeping bag inside a tent and next to the fledgling fire he'd built hours earlier. The crackling flames and intermittent howling wind had masked the snarl until its owner was close enough for Clayton to hear it.
He fought the urge to pop his head out from the encasement and listened to the animal, trying to discern what it was. Clayton wasn't sure of much since he'd landed in the middle of a blizzard some hours earlier. He didn't know what time it was or even where he was. After spending time in the cramped capsule between two dead men, the snow had stopped long enough for Clayton to emerge from the Soyuz and build himself the beginnings of a camp.
After trying unsuccessfully to connect with someone on the HAM radio and devouring a ration of rassolnik, a Russian soup he'd hydrated with melted snow, he'd climbed into the sleeping bag. Reentry into Earth's atmosphere after more than two months in microgravity had sapped him of energy. He hoped a short nap on a full stomach would give him the strength he needed to explore beyond the sightline of the crashed Soyuz.
Now, listening to the vicious, throaty warning of something feet away, he wished he'd chosen an alternative plan. Clayton squeezed his eyes shut. The animal snarled again. He could almost see the bared teeth of a carnivore, saliva dripping from its jaws.
Clayton lay still until a chorus of growling told him there was more than one of whatever it was stalking him. They sounded like dogs. Nasty, famished dogs.
It couldn't be dogs, Clayton thought. I'm in the middle of nowhere.
Then it dawned on him.
He pulled his arms from inside his sleeping bag and lowered its mouth beneath his chin. There was a red-hued darkness inside the tent and beyond its sheer walls. To one side of the shelter, the threat was virtually invisible. On the other side, however, the dying flicker of the fire cast the shadows of animals. They were definitely wolves.
The growling mixed with whimpers and the crunch of paws in snow surrounded him. There were four or five wolves. They were casing him, looking for an opening.
He didn't understand why they were after him. Wolves typically avoided humans. They were afraid of them. Yet it didn't matter what conventional wisdom held. The wolves were at his doorstep.
A cold trickle of snot trailed from his nose and onto his lip as he lay there. Clayton instinctively sniffed and the growling stopped. It was quiet until one animal emitted a low growl and the others followed. Clayton cleared his throat. Silence.
At once, Clayton yanked himself free of the sleeping bag and made as much noise as he could. For more than a minute, he yelled, he clapped his hands, he stomped his feet on the thin floor of the tent. Then he listened.
His pulse thumped against his neck and invigorated the headache he'd had since reentry. He waited another minute and then unzipped the tent flap. Poking his head through the opening, he faced the fire he'd built and constantly stoked. Its dwindling warmth radiated across his face and he closed his eyes. It wasn't easy keeping it lit in harsh conditions, but he'd managed. When he reopened his eyes, his gaze drifted from the intermittent flames. In the distance, he saw the hind ends of a pair of wolves shrinking into the red-hued darkness.
He took a deep breath and exhaled. "Crisis averted," he mumbled. "How awesome would that be? I survive the apocalypse and an unguided reentry to end up eaten by wolves."
He chuckled at the absurdity of it, adjusted the cap on his head, pulled his gloves on his wrists and fully opened the tent flap to step onto the snow. He sank into a newly-formed snow drift up to his calves and nearly lost his balance.
"I might as well be on Mars," he said aloud, watching his breath puff. "A wolf-infested Mars."
Looking skyward at the red aurora undulating along the horizon, he searched for the moon, hoping to gauge the time of day. Despite not knowing exactly where he was, Clayton knew enough about the Soyuz and its orbit to understand he'd had to have landed somewhere close to 51.6 degrees north. The maximum deviation from that latitude was roughly sixty-five kilometers. That far north, in January, there wasn't going to be a lot of daylight. Eight hours. Perhaps nine. As soon as the sun rose, whenever that might be, he'd arm himself and take a hike. Without a functioning compass, he'd need to find true north so as to keep himself from getting lost.
Cold, dry air filled his lungs as he trudged to the Soyuz. He'd left all his remaining supplies inside the capsule and he'd tucked the radio inside the door. He held the radio with one hand and a pair of command sticks he'd used to punch control buttons with the other. He rummaged through one of the supply packs and found a roll of duct tape. Ripping off a piece with his teeth he wrapped it around the two command sticks joining them together to make one longer stick. End to end, they measured about three feet. Perfect.
He glanced at his friends, their faces frozen, the bodies stiff in their seats, and he closed the hatch. He whispered a prayer for both of them.
Clayton squatted near the fire and found a few embers from the previous night and tossed them into the smoldering remnants. From his pocket he plucked a handful of dry grass he'd found and held it against the embers. He leaned over and blew gently onto the embers until they caught the grass on fire. Within a few minutes, the fire was born anew and waves of heat washed across his cheeks. With that taken care of, he blinked back the cold and jammed the stick into the snow, building up a small mound to steady it vertically.
Without a compass, functional GPS, the sun, or a visible north star, he had to improvise. There was no vegetation as far as he could tell. A shadow stick would work as soon as the sun rose. He'd just have to wait.
Clayton pushed the power button on the Yaesu radio. The single seven-volt lithium ion battery was still good, even though they'd probably drain faster in the cold weather. He pulled off a glove with his teeth and tried the 146.52 frequency. It was the most-often monitored simplex frequency and gave him the best chance of connecting with someone.
He pressed the radio close to his mouth. "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. Calling any station anywhere," he said. "This is Kilo Delta Five X-ray Mike X-ray. Mayday, Mayday, Mayday any station anywhere. Please reply, over."
Clayton fought the chatter of his teeth and repeated the call. There was no response. He changed frequencies and repeated the protocol. Still nothing.
"This is KD5XMX," he said. "Is anyone out there?"
The radio crackled and Clayton pulled it from his mouth in surprise. Wide-eyed, he studied the display. Another crackle. He drew the radio back to his mouth and pressed the button to speak, but before he could repeat his call, he heard a snarl. It was right behind him.
Clayton froze for a moment. The snarl rolled into a growl that was joined by a second animal grumbling for attention.
From the corner of his eye he caught the flash of a third wolf, its teeth bared. Its ears pricked forward and it inched closer, plodding through the snow with ease. Over his shoulder, Clay could hear the others alternately panting and snarling as they closed the circle.
Fighting his fear and the sudden heaviness in his chest, Clayton swung around and roared. He swung his arms wildly and widened his stance. His eyes met the wolves' and they moved backward, giving themselves distance.
Clay roared again, his throat burning from the volume of his voice, and he pretended to lunge forward at the pair of wolves stalking him. They backed away, their tails arced and ears back.
His body trembling, he swung back around to face the others. As he turned, one of the animals was already on him. It snapped at his leg and a sharp pain shot from Clay's calf to his foot. He swatted at the wolf as it tried to set its teeth in his leg and caught it across the snout. The wolf yelped and backed away, circling back at a distance.
Clayton clenched his jaw and bit into his cheek to diffuse the pain burning in his leg. His vision blurred for an instant. He refocused in time to see the animal charging at him again. It leapt through the air, mouth open, and Clayton dropped to the snow. Reaching for the command stick he'd stuck into the snow mound he whipped the stick forward at a forty-five-degree angle as the animal landed on him. Clayton winced at the smell of its hot, fetid breath and reflexively jabbed the stick deep into the wolf's mouth.
It gagged and yelped and clawed at Clayton as he rolled out from under the animal, stick still in his hand. He drove it deeper into the animal's throat and it cried out in pain. Struggling against the stick, it shook its head violently until Clayton couldn't maintain his grasp. On his back, he kicked hard at the wolf, launching it into the fire with his boots.
The wolf flopped into the flames and howled as it struggled futilely to its feet. It croaked and gasped for air, then gave up with a whimper. The acrid scent of burning hair billowed from the flames and the other wolves howled in unison.
Clayton grabbed at his wounded leg and scrambled to his feet. Crouching low, he breathlessly pivoted in a full circle. The animals were retreating as the smoke from the burning animal thickened and drifted across the campsite.
"Get out of here!" Clayton coughed. "Yahhh!" he yelled as if urging on a horse with spurs. The wolves' ears pricked and they circled in wider arcs around the camp, whining with high-pitched wails. He imagined they were as frightened as he was.
Clayton checked over both shoulders and limped to the Soyuz as quickly as he could. He swung open the hatch with a bang and found the Makarov pistol he'd stashed inside. Spinning he placed his back to the capsule, leaning against it for stability, slid the manual, slide-mounted safety into the down position, and placed his finger on the trigger guard.
The wolves were pacing, measuring whether they should make a second go at Clayton when he stuck the 9mm straight up into the air and pulled the trigger.
Another quick pull.
The twin shots cracked like thunder echoing off the ice and snow, rippling through the cold air with an angry snap. The wolves scattered, sprinting into a night that resembled a photographic darkroom. The red glow cast across the vast emptiness gave Clayton's surroundings the look of Hell. The increasingly foul odor of burning fur only added to the sense he'd exchanged one apocalypse for the other.
Convinced the wolves were finally gone, he slid down the side of the capsule and sank into the snow. The adrenaline leached from his body and he shivered. Pain returned to his leg and was joined by injuries to his arm and neck. He flipped up the safety and set the Makarov on the capsule's hatch ledge, then drew his hand to his neck. There were long, thin gashes that ran from behind his ear to his collarbone, his bloodied snowsuit was torn at his bicep, and his leg was pocked with bite marks. He closed his eyes, and for some strange reason he couldn't understand, he started laughing.
"Welcome home, astronaut," he said aloud. "Welcome home."