USA Today bestselling author Dean Wesley Smith returns to his fan-favorite Seeders Universe series with a fourth novel, The High Edge.
Benny Slade lives in New York City. One moment the city around him (and everyone he knows) seems normal. The next moment, everyone dies.
Working to survive among the dead (and plan for a future) feels impossible, but Benny doesn't give up easily. Especially when he meets the woman of his dreams, and she offers to help him and others survive.
And then she offers him an even a bigger job, a job that could take him out into the stars.
Dean Wesley Smith ALWAYS has something on the right subject—mainly because he's written so much and in just about every genre. Not just a prolific author, but also the co-publisher of WMG Publishing, I knew I could count on him for some kind of disaster. And he delivered in spades! – Kevin J. Anderson
SOMEHOW BENNY SLADE survived almost everyone else in the world dying.
One minute he went into his old steel vault that filled the back room at Benny's Personal Loans to get some cash for his next loan and when he came out, both Madge and Maggie, his two right hands, were laying face down on his newly installed brown carpet in the front office.
Madge, who looked more like his old mother used to look before she got hit by that cab, had fallen next to her always-neat and clean desk while Maggie, about two years younger than Benny's twenty-eight years, had sprawled in the middle of the floor, her short skirt riding up and showing him a little of those wonderful white panties of hers that he liked so much.
He had just come out of the vault with the two hundred and sixty in cash for Mrs. Tenny's loan. He dropped the money on his desk and just acted, not thinking.
First he called out to Maggie and kneeled beside her and checked her first. He couldn't find a pulse and she wasn't breathing.
Then he jumped over beside Madge. Same thing.
No pulse, no breathing.
Both were dead.
He sat back on his heels, still beside Madge.
He could feel that cold, hard feeling coming over him like it did when he had been in a firefight in Iraq.
He hadn't felt that in four long years.
He had hoped he would never feel it again.
With that cold, hard feeling, emotions got shoved back. He had needed that to happen in the gulf and it happened now.
He just stared at the two bodies in front of him.
What had happened? No one had come in or out because the bell hadn't rung on the door. And he had only been in the vault for less than thirty seconds.
It took him a good twenty seconds of staring at his two dead friends to figure out what was different, what was wrong besides two healthy women being suddenly dead.
He just kept kneeling there, staring until he finally saw it.
There was no blood.
They just lay face up, eyes wide open, completely dead.
"Move, Benny," he said out loud. That finally got himself into motion.
He stood and went to the phone and called 911, staring at the two women on the floor while he waited.
But no one answered.
With the phone to his ear, he went back and checked both of them again.
The phone was still ringing at the emergency center.
What had happened?
His first thought was gas attack, which got him moving even faster.
He took the phone and scrambled back into the vault.
He had left the vault door slightly open when he came out, so if it was some sort of terrorist gas attack, he was as good as dead as well.
Besides, he had stayed out in that front office for a good minute staring at his two friends and trying to call for help.
After fifteen seconds of standing in the dark working slowly to control his breathing, he got disgusted at himself.
"Come on, Benny, get it together. Do a little thinking. Use your damn head."
Madge had always complained he talked to himself too much, but Maggie thought it cute.
Maggie had thought anything he did cute, and he had thought she was cute.
They had flirted since the first day he hired her six months before. She was as sharp as they came and knew money and books and computers, even though she hadn't finished more than a year of high school. He was attracted but had managed to keep the relationship on only flirt level.
She had been fun, just not his type.
Even though he came across as the military type, he had two degrees from the City University of New York, including one in math. He liked women to be much, much smarter than Maggie. But she had still been fun to flirt with.
He went back out and stared at the two women on the floor. The phone to the emergency center was still ringing.
He hung it up and tried again.
It just kept ringing.
911 was slow at times in New York, but not that slow.
He didn't hang it up, just sat it on the desk and stared at Maggie there on the carpet for a moment. He was going to miss those white panties she flashed at him all day.
He was also going to miss her laugh and her smile and that wonderful blonde hair.
The coldness inside him whelmed upwards and he pushed those thoughts away. As his sergeant used to say, "Time to fight, time to think later if you survive the fight."
His sergeants over the years, all of them, had always been annoyed that he thought too much and didn't react quick enough when needed.
Clearly, this was some sort of strange fight he was in. He needed to get moving.
He turned away from Maggie and headed for the door.
At first, he opened the door slowly, not sure what to expect.
The moment the door cracked open, the wave of sound hit him like a hammer. He hadn't noticed that before because he always just blocked out any sounds from a New York street. Anyone living in the city needed that ability or otherwise go stark raving crazy.
He opened the door completely and stepped outside, going down the four small steps to the sidewalk.
The day was comfortable for an early summer day, with high overcast clouds that threatened rain. It wasn't very warm at all and wasn't supposed to turn hot for over a week. He hadn't been looking forward to the heat because he normally wore jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and a sports coat over his shirt. Today he had on a tan shirt and dark-brown sports jacket.
But when the city turned into a giant sweat-box, he couldn't dress the way he liked and that just irked him.
He stood and took a deep breath of the cool afternoon air. Then he made himself really look at what was around him.
Up and down the street and on all the side streets hundreds and hundreds of car alarms and sirens were all going off at the same time.
Drivers were still in their cars, either slumped over, or head rolled to one side, held up by their seat belts. Cars had piled into intersections, had smashed into parked cars, or run up and against buildings.
Most car engines were still running, some racing as if their occupant still had a foot on the gas. Up Lexington Avenue he could see a fire starting to take hold of a building.
But what he didn't hear through all the noise were police and ambulance sirens.
And no one around him in the cars or on the sidewalk was moving.
This was some bad shit. Of that he had no doubt.
He quickly checked a couple of young girls on the sidewalk near his office front door to be sure they were dead. One had on a short blue skirt that had ridden up when she fell to show no underwear and he covered her up before checking her.
They were as gone as Madge and Maggie, eyes open.
He stared at their faces. They had not died in pain, that much he could tell.
No wonder no one had answered his call at the emergency number. From the looks of this, they were dead as well.
Then, up the street, he saw some movement as people came up out of the subway and sort of stopped and stared.
"So I'm not the only one," he said, feeling fantastically relieved.
He started toward the other people, then saw a couple of them panic and flee back down into the subway, followed by the others.
"Won't help," he shouted. But no one was going to hear anything over the noise of the car alarms and engines.
But they were doing exactly as he had done when he ran back into his old vault.
He glanced around at the buildings towering over the canyon of Lexington Ave. He couldn't see one window opening, or anyone even peaking out at all the noise.
And as far as he could see in both directions, everything was stopped and bodies covered the sidewalks.
He walked up to the corner of 54th,, carefully walking around the bodies. He looked both directions.
Same thing along the tree-lined street.
Everyone was dead, knocked down by some sort of giant killer in an instant.
From what he could tell, not a one knew what hit them. None of them looked shocked or panicked or were showing any fear at all.
Just normal expressions on very dead people.
"What happened?" he asked out loud, but the words barely made it to his own ears in the noise of alarms and running cars.
Who knew that the end of the world was going to be so damned loud.
"I need to find out how far this spreads," he said into the noise.
He could feel the panic he had learned to hold down when he was a kid in fights on the street and when in the Iraq war start to ease up into his gut. He hadn't felt that in many years. It wasn't the dead bodies that bothered him.
He had seen worse.
Dead bodies after the first few months in Iraq had stopped bothering him, at least on the surface. His counselor at the VA said he had a lot of buried anger and that the only way to get healthy was to let out some of the anger and tell the counselor what he had seen.
He didn't want to tell anyone, so he and counselor hadn't gotten too far in the last few years.
Death didn't really scare Benny, but there were dead bodies on his street, in his own business, and he was still alive.
Now that scared hell out of him.
He started to head back to lock up his vault, then laughed and looked around. Unless this was the second coming and everyone was going to suddenly spring back to life, locking up his money was the least of his worries.
But he went in and locked the vault anyway, tossing the money back inside that he had taken out to loan Mrs. Tenny for her grandkid's operation. More than likely Mrs. Tenny and her grandkid weren't going to be needing much of anything anymore.