Sunday, 17 June 2012

#SampleSunday 17th June 2012

This is the opening few scenes of:
                                       Headed Home: Dancing with Darwin.

The worst part is that the military, called in to stabilize the situation in the major cities of the nation, have themselves become part of the problem.
Yes, Bob, that seems to be the case. The situation has evolved so fast that no response seems adequate to gain or maintain control. Initially, you will remember, the first outbreaks were in small communities and the results were indeed devastating but the worst was swiftly over and the police and other services were able to regain control fairly swiftly. But a major city proved to be an entirely different proposition, and it soon became clear that the local law enforcement agencies were themselves succumbing to what we are now calling AMDS or Acquired Mental Disorder Syndrome.
As I understand it, Monica, the National Guard were swiftly mobilized when it became clear to the various Governors that the situation was out of control.
That's right, Bob, and as this proved insufficient the military were given the green light to deploy on American soil, a move that was itself sensational news just days ago.
Sensational, Monica, just sensational!
Yes, Bob. It transpires that the army contracted AMDS and lost cohesion rapidly and it was only as this became apparent that Biohazard suits were issued to fresh units moving into the major cities.
Though for places like New York and Los Angeles it was far too late; some units found themselves in conflict with factions of earlier units and there have been sporadic reports of running firefights even as the cities burned out of control. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and many other large cities are effectively... what are we saying here, Monica?
Well, Bob, we have reports coming in all the time and I don't know that there is a single word to sum up the unprecedented level of devastation in such a short period of time, though the word Apocalyptic has been used. The death toll is unknown but the displaced must number in the millions.
Millions. Millions, Monica. The displaced must number in the millions.
Yes, Bob. Though we should stress that the President and other senior figures are appealing for calm in this time of national disaster, stressing that all efforts possible at disaster relief are being made, that cooperation with the representatives of government will most swiftly bring this crisis under control.
This just in from the office of the President, voluntary submission for mental evaluation is mandatory at this time. Also, this. If you are a mental health worker and you feel you yourself can function, report to any designated FEMA station or Military Base.

# Year 1

Heading into Los Angeles, the Ontario Freeway was clear of traffic ahead of the massive army convoy that she was a part of. No one was travelling into LA but traffic in the other direction was dense and chaotic. They passed crashed vehicles and were under orders to ignore any conflict they saw, but that didn't stop Sheena from looking.
“This is crazy,” Sheena took one hand off the wheel of the cargo truck she was driving and gestured briefly to her left. She glanced to see what Hall thought.
“Whole world’s going crazy,” Hall looked along the road all the way into LA and pointed at the smoke-filled horizon. “How crazy do you think it is in there?”
Sheena shuddered and mentally winced away from what she imagined. It had been five days since the madness had come to Los Angeles; the National Guard had been called on day three as the emergency services were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of criminal or disruptive activity. Fort Irwin had been in preparation since then and sure enough, the legalities satisfied, the army had been deployed to restore order. “If it were just here,” Sheena said, “it wouldn't be so bad.”
“Don't sweat it, Wilson,” Hall turned lazy dark brown eyes her way, “unless you think we aren't up to the job?”
Her gaze drifted by him and ran up the line of traffic, picked out the burning vehicles and the fights and the random acts of madness that flitted across her consciousness. She knew that behind her the cars were being stopped, the people rounded up and just moved to the side of the road; they would be surrounded by barbed wire and each and every one of them would evaluated for sanity. Those were the orders and they were impossible. “Depends what the job is.”
Hall didn't answer that one, but turned to idly gaze out the window at what was coming up. They both knew exactly how much they were carrying in the way of ammunition. They also knew that their unit was heading for the Tesoro refinery, and that it was too late to save Exxon Mobil; what was left of that was within six kilometers of LA International. It had been burning for days, taking the surrounding area with it.
“This is crazy,” Sheena repeated, knowing it meant nothing to say it, knowing she was going into the heart of it.
“Whole world's crazy,” Hall said again. “Whole damn world.”
Sheena shuddered again. She'd caught enough news to know it was true.

# Year 4

Sheena had watched the small town for seven hours and other than lush foliage and the odd wild thing, she seen no sign of life. If there was anyone alive in Grovenburg, then they were lying in bed with a broken leg or a terminal illness. Any other sounds of life would have carried to her even above the buzz of the nearby distribution transformer that spoke of the electricity she craved. Although she was sure that the fifty odd houses were uninhabited she still waited a while more. She wondered about dogs. Often, in a small town like this, there were dogs. They packed up and became a threat. If there were no dogs then it might be that there was something else, something that considered the dogs prey.
With infinite care, Sheena reached for water and took a mouthful. She moved slowly, just in case. She knew she was invisible as long as she didn't move; the ghillie suit was in good condition and she wore it habitually. No one saw her. No one ever saw her. And if she had her way, and she mostly did, then she saw no one.
She put away her water and cradled the M16. Bringing the scope up to her eye, she began another scan. The long slow dusk was drawing in and she no longer expected to see any hint of human life here; that eased her tension some. She'd already picked out her house; wood, one story, open garage with nothing alive in it. Windows unbroken. Certainly a bathroom. She wanted the bathroom. If there was electricity then there was a good chance that water still flowed and could be heated.
The last sweep showed nothing that made her nervous, so she stood up and headed for the house and the first bath she'd had in ten days.

# Year 1

She watched the guy pull a woman out of his truck and drag the body to the recycling bay. It was the first time she'd had to pause before she responded. Her gaze followed the trail of blood back to the truck, skipped over a shoe, then up to the bed of the Dodge Ram and tangled pile of bodies that filled it. She didn't count but estimated there were maybe as many as thirty.
“It is your duty to recycle,” the man sounded like he was trying to convince himself as he turned from tossing the woman into the bay.
Sheena turned to glance behind her as soon as she was sure the man was unarmed, but there was no help there. Her squad was in the road and they were all busy. They had shut off the West Pacific Highway and South Alameda Street where they joined. Everyone inside the sprawling refinery was already controlled; every vehicle inside had already been put to the side of the road, none too gently in some cases. As soon as the barbed wire and gun emplacements had been set up to secure the area that was their responsibility, squads had been sent out to start the pacification procedure.
“Anyone on the streets is crazy for sure,” the Command Sergeant Major had bellowed out a refinement on the orders already received, “and clearing the streets is stage one, so we start there.”
Sheena turned back to the blood-covered guy and his truck full of bodies. “Anyone acting crazy,” she muttered to herself. “Well, fuckwit, you qualify.” She raised her weapon and stepped forward, angling so that he was never in cover and no part of his body was hidden by the Dodge. “On the ground!” She repeated the words hard and fast as she closed. He hesitated at the side of the truck, gave her a puzzled look as one hand rested on the shirt of a teenage boy who had had his head caved in by some kind of massive impact trauma. She watched him shrug, reach up with the other hand and grab a hold of the boy's belt before heaving him off the side of the truck. He let go the belt and shirt, grabbed an arm and began to turn away as she closed on him. She was two paces away and he was facing her as he turned, ready to drag the body away. Still bellowing, still ignored, she stepped in and punched the butt of the M16 into his throat, putting her weight into it. She followed him down and put her knee into his chest, then grabbed a wrist and got control of him. In a few moments he was on his front and his wrists and ankles were zip-cuffed.
In under a minute she had assured herself that the recycling center was otherwise empty. Hall came up to her as she dragged the guy into plain sight.
“You sure he was crazy?”
Two hours in and it was already a joke. Still, she played her part and kept a straight face as she pointed out the bodies in the truck and the one in the recycling bay. “Apparently he was recycling them.”
Hall nodded. “Best of day so far,” he conceded. “But the day is young and the stakes are high.”

# Year 4

Take your time. Think it through. One thing at a time.
Sheena let the words flow through her mind in slow, relaxing cycles as she checked through the house and prepared to stay the night. The doors were good. All the electrical circuits worked. There was no sign of animal occupation. The water flowed. The heater kicked in. As the dusk deepened, Sheena went to each window in turn and covered it with the thickest material she could find. There were two working light bulbs in the house and she planned to have light in the night; but not to let anyone outside the house see it. When she was confident of the blackout she flipped on the lights, kitchen and bathroom, dropped the MOLLE and then slowly de-armed, checking each weapon in turn. The M16, the Glock 17, the Sig Sauer P226 and the Herstal FNP9. Getting out of the Ghillie and the rest of her kit took time but she didn't hurry it. Each piece was checked, down to the last buckle. The closer she got to skin the more she could smell herself and the more she wanted the bath. Down to thong and t-shirt, she stretched and eased her muscles. She'd not felt so light in over a week and she enjoyed the sensation for a few moments, then looked over her equipment as she longed for the bath and made herself wait for it. Before she moved to run the water Sheena unloaded each weapon and tucked everything out of immediate sight, apart from the Glock, which she kept loaded and carried with her as she set the bath to run.
You are being paranoid, she told herself as she watched the water.
“Better paranoid than dead,” she replied. Somewhere not so far away power was being generated and from there the lines were maintained. That they worked here, where no one lived, was probably not intentional but that was just a guess. Likely there was no reason for anyone to come here and the lines were maintained just to keep the juice flowing to where it was needed, but that was no excuse for complacency. Whatever community might still exist near here, she had no intention of it becoming aware of her. This wasn't home. She would just pass through, invisible as ever, and move on north, unless something stepped in her way to slow her down. The very thought of seeing someone made her tremble.
As the steam rose to fill the room and leak into the passage, Sheena cast an appraising eye around the bathroom. She was glad that a woman had lived here. The number and variety of products was gratifying but most were opened and had deteriorated over time. Some were more obviously useless than others. Sheena opened the door opposite and tossed anything that had curdled, or smelled bad or had something living in it, either bacteria or mold. Of the remaining products, she discarded some that had yellowed, and others that had separated. At the end she was left with a full bottle of shampoo – she could wash her hair! - and a fresh bar of soap. In one cupboard she found a scentless deodorant stick and smiled for the first time since she entered the house. When she was clean she would have a month or two of stink-free living, though no one but her would care about that. She cared.
“Towels,” Sheena had discarded those that had rotted but had some hope that there might be some stored in a cupboard somewhere. “Bound to be,” she reassured herself. After all, a woman had lived here.

# Year 1

“I tell you, she was naked and wandering down the street asking everyone if they wanted some.”
A tent city had sprung up inside the refinery, and Sheena was paying more attention to that than the conversation around her. Breakfast had been achieved in the normal military fashion; get in, get fed, get out of the way. Now they stood by the road and waited for transport; them and their whole platoon, waiting on the last of their company. The noise seemed to go on forever. The refinery covered a mega-block and was full of her own, a purposeful and organized ruckus that comforted her and masked the more distant roar of a city in distress. She turned her mind from that, she would be amongst it soon enough. She took note of the soldiers who escorted civilians, intent on learning from the more rational crazies as they took over the running of the refinery. There was the sound of non-com's endlessly reiterating the naked light policy and extra precautions against fire; part of the noise that also washed over her, the same as the erratic and distant gun fire, the endless sound of sirens that never seemed close enough to be useful. They fell under the category of things that she was aware of but that didn't need her immediate attention. It was the layout of the camp that held her interest. Engineers were setting up RLB’s, there was a mail room, there was a designated MWR, and other indications of permanence that disturbed her. How bad were things if they were planning to be here that long?
“We need a witness to the crazy nympho,” Orvill chimed out and a chorus of 'yo's' rang around the platoon before they dissolved into fits of laughter.
“Okay, I got that beat; this one guy was sitting in his car looking intently at his naked body and as I came up he pushed the car lighter on himself, burning neat holes in his skin; looked like he'd done it a hundred times already and when I asked him why, he said he had to burn the worms as they burrowed out of his skin or he'd not get them at all. Didn't even look up until I zip-cuffed him, then he kicked up a hell of a fuss.”
Sheena shuddered. She'd seen that one, and heard how calm and intent the guy was; then how hysterical he became when he couldn't burn out the worms burrowing in his skin.
Their trucks rumbled round the corner of the next building down and the sergeant spoke with the lieutenant. Any second now they would be called to shut up and mount up.
“We need a witness to the worm-burning guy,” Chuck called it this time.
“Yo,” Sheena gave the corroboration happily enough. She was confident she'd seen the craziest thing of the previous day but knew she wouldn't get to tell it yet.
A truck passed her, the next truck pulled up. The sight and smells familiar but no longer comforting. One kilometer to the edge of the refinery, then two to their outermost perimeter, and then they would be back in the streets, back among the crazies for another long day of madness.

# Year 4

She wasn't surprised to find that there were no cans but had already planned two days ahead. Her skills, knowledge and experience ensured she didn't go hungry. She ate the last of the dog with some tawny daylily roots, wild spinach & violets along with the small can of button mushrooms she'd found a few days ago. She boiled a lot of water and let it cool before filling her canteens. Knowing you can probably trust the water isn't the same as being sure, she reminded herself. She was alone. She couldn't afford to get sick, not even a little bit sick.
After she'd eaten she found a radio and played with the tuning until she found something local. She worked at cleaning and maintaining her kit while she listened.
We are looking for skills in Silverton and you could certainly wind up in worse places. We know you're probably crazy but if we can live with it we will. In particular we're looking for someone who worked in procurement in the nuclear industry; we need to know what you know and we're offering some serious benefits if you want to head our way. Head to Titania if you're coming in from the south, east or west, but head for Blue Creek if you're coming in from the north. These are our two screening and assessment centers; and don't fret, if you're too crazy for us we'll just cut you loose and wish you good luck.
Sheena put down her work and reached for her maps. It didn't take her long to figure where Titania was and that it lay on her intended line of march.
Now for the locals, heads up news. We have reports of a werewolf in the Ginbridge area so you better watch out for that sucker for sure; several deaths have been reported and attributed to the werewolf. As usual, we remind you that the Larisburg is full of damn zombies and you better believe staying clear of that shit is a good idea. Foragers, watch your asses and be prepared to kiss them goodbye.
Sheena picked out the town of Larisburg and saw it would take her away from Silverton and the rest. A town that hadn't been scavenged might yield gains, and she had kit that negated the main threat from zombies.
On a lighter note, Tim Bassen and his crew came in earlier today with three truck-loads of parts and machinery considered essential to the Silverton nuclear power station, projected functionality is now well into the next decade. All you scavengers out there stay tuned for an updated list of bounty parts and prices.
Sheena turned the radio off. She had no interest in other people’s needs. She chewed her lip and considered the risks and potential benefits. After a while she re-worked her route to take in Larisburg, but steered a long route round Ginbridge.
“Not playing with no damn werewolf,” she muttered to herself, “and that's for damn sure.”

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Dancing with Darwin

There are now three of the Dancing with Darwin stories available, and I am pretty happy with all of them. There are a stack of ideas lined up for more Dancing with Darwin stories, and I'm going to tackle a few more before I take a break and see how they are received. My guess from the reaction so far is that readers will like them well enough.

I had an idea in the back of my mind for a long time; the idea that someone might bring about an apocalyptic event deliberately, with malice aforethought and with reasoning that seemed good to him. Crazy people always have reasons that seem good to them, but that wasn't too relevant to the original idea. It cooked for a couple of years but never really went anywhere. I would pick out scenes and characters and try to form stories and not really feel like it was happening.

This is roughly how the idea was sitting in my mind. A virus, lots of people die, there's an antidote that shows up here and there, some people get it, most don't; later on there are monsters created by the same bad guy.

As you can see, the idea just sits there. It's not terrible but it's... inert. I'd drag the idea out every now and again and play with it. Then I was playing music with a friend and listening to her woes, taking turns to pick out songs... and one of the songs had the lyrics “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What's Still Around” and one of my unrelated characters (you know, characters you don;t have a story for but want one) stepped forward and waved.

Her name is Dana, though she didn't have name then. She was a vague Greenpeace enthusiast who changes her attitude when survival becomes the primary imperative. I had the vague idea that she would be one thing at the beginning of the story and another thing at the end. That's what makes good stories. Well, Dana isn't really like that. The story of her protecting the Amazon rainforest at the beginning of the story and chopping someone up with a chainsaw at the end popped into my mind – make the best of what's still around. Dana isn't like that either, but my mind was working now and there was a hint of a spark.

The next song was Gnarl's Barkley with Crazy. And there are some lines that triggered further thought: maybe you're crazy, like me – and do you really think you're in control?

And there it was. The crazy bug. Dana fighting her way out of the jungle with crazy people as the antagonists.

Civilization can't continue if everyone is crazy. That's as clear as glass. End. Of. The. World.

And it seemed nicely poetic in a those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad kind of way. And stories kept popping into my head. Every time I looked at how a given individual would handle the world ending this way I got a new story. I spent all the next day scribbling frantic notes because this idea generated sparks and every spark was a new story. I was definitely on to something.

Dancing with Darwin. So far, Rapture Ready, Headed Home, and Evolving Environment. They can be read in any order.

Hope you have fun with them. I know I am.