The end is here. A dark new beginning is upon them. In Chicago, our survivors are facing a horrifying new challenge. The exodus from the ruins of downtown are now upon them, led by a ruthless, determined man with a past as ugly as his future. In the fight to get out of town, there will be casualties. Not everyone will survive…
In Sacramento, Rock has returned home to an ex-girlfriend with a one-time fling at his side and the secret between them. Dropping roots and forming a homestead, however, will prove to be a bigger task that our California survivors imagined. There is a group of rogue soldiers rounding up people like Rock, Jill and Maisie -- they’re putting people in cages with plans of locking down Sacramento, and forming their own future civilization.
Welcome to the next evolution of high-octane, post-apocalyptic survival fiction! The Age of Reprisal is filled with some lovable, badass, downright frightening characters you’ll love and want to know, tons of action, a bit of humor and the kind of edge-of-your-seat suspense that refuses to let up. Grab yourself a double-dose of caffeine, find a quiet place and buckle up—this roller coaster ride into the apocalypse is just getting started!
ORDER OF BOOKS IN THE AGE OF EMBERS SERIES:
- The Age of Embers
- The Age of Hysteria
- The Age of Reprisal
- The Age of Exodus (July, 2019!)
Release date: May 24, 2019
Publisher: River City Publishing
Print pages: 368
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The Age of Reprisal
We hoped to God that being indoors and inside a bedroom wallpapered in aluminum foil would protect us enough from most of the low level radiation the EMP put off. Not to go too basic on you here, but there are three kinds of ionizing radiation we’re worried about right now: alpha particles, beta particles and gamma particles.
Basically we’re concerned about the effects of radioactive decay on the human body after the blast, which is where gamma rays come in. At the risk of sounding overly technical, you can’t let the fallout sit on your skin—or worse, get into your lungs—or you’ll pretty much become meat soup one day or another.
Instinctively I know there are other factors to consider, but as you can tell, I’m no nuclear physicist. And being a former Chicago beat cop, or even a DEA agent, they don’t prepare you for this kind of thing. I just know I don’t want to die because I turned into a hot pocket. And I don’t want anyone close to me to die, either.
Me, Adeline, my brother Ice, Eudora, Xavier, Carolina and the nine year old refugee who decided to stay with us, Bianca, are all hunkered down together. We’re waiting out the worst of it in this room covered floor to ceiling with shiny strips of crinkled foil. Next door, Eliana, Draven, Veronica, Orlando, Brooklyn and two more girls we’ve taken in (Alma and Constanza), are doing the same as us. As a group, we knew this was coming. We’re well aware of the drill.
That’s how long we agreed to wait if an EMP went off. We’re officially closing in on that timeline.
By now everyone’s feeling a little crazy. We don’t want to stare at the foil walls anymore, smell other people pooping into a five gallon plastic bucket in the closet, or listen to the noise of mouths crunching on processed foods, slurping down water, snoring or complaining.
I won’t lie, it sucks being stuck in here.
Fortunately for us, and for Chicago proper, it’s been very windy outside. At times, the sides of the house creak and strain against the evening gusts, the whipping force rattling doors and windows.
Sometimes it’s not that bad, a little howling at worst.
Sometimes, however, the tune of the wind hits just right and it sounds like someone moaning. Last night, the gusts were so ferocious, we thought the world might be coming apart at the seams.
Carolina was scared, as was Bianca—who wouldn’t let go of Carolina’s arm—but Eudora said the wind was good. She told the young girl it should blow a lot of the radioactive fallout someplace else as opposed to right down on top of us. I was never in love with the wind, but after what happened in the skies above us, all this wind just might be our saving grace.
Every so often Ice moves enough of the aluminum foil aside to peek through one of the windows. He’s got a thing for updating us on weather conditions. He’s always talking about the wind. I think he just wants to look outside because he’s cracking inside.
When it’s gusting outside, he announces which direction the wind seems to be blowing, and if there are any dead animals or insects that he can see. From what we can tell, the weather is definitely weird, but nothing has died in our line of sight, so that’s encouraging.
“Which direction now?” I ask as my brother stares outside.
“Looks like it’s blowing east,” Ice tells me. “Northeast, too. But mostly east.” He puts his hand to the glass, then says, “It’s a little hot. Hotter than normal, I think.”
I put my hand to the glass, look at him and concur.
“Can a nuclear bomb blow a hole in the atmosphere?” Adeline wants to know.
As much as I expected her to really fall apart in this situation, especially knowing our kids are next door (having been closest to Eudora’s house when the blast hit), she’s been holding up rather well.
Actually, I’m impressed.
It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been holding her, comforting her, basically not being the absent, scatterbrained head case with a death wish I got to be when I was working fifteen hour days for the DEA.
Not to get too gross here, even though reality can sometimes get this way, Eudora is sitting in what she’s been calling her “stinky plastics.”
She refused to nestle her bare butt on the rim of the bucket to relieve herself. And she sure as hell wasn’t having anyone help her go to the bathroom in a dark closet.
Being wrapped in plastics, she assured everyone she could change herself out when the seventy-two hours were up. Of course, this has done nothing for the growing stench.
Sitting in poopy diapers makes you no less intelligent, though, which is why she chimes in with an answer to Adeline’s question about holes being blown in the atmosphere.
“Scientists speculated about this before, throwing caution to the wind when they were testing high altitude nukes back in the sixties,” Eudora says. “I read somewhere they wanted to see what effects this would have on the atmosphere, and that they weren’t really sure if what they did would end the world or not.”
“And?” Adeline asks.
“Other than creating some pretty crazy weather anomalies—at least from what I can remember—there were no lasting affects on the atmosphere.”
“If what we felt was the only nuke,” I hear myself saying, “it would have to be big to zap the entire country, right?”
“You’d need more than one,” Eudora said. “And based on what we felt a few days back, this was no small affair.”
The older woman was sitting in her wheelchair, her gaze having fallen on the nine-year old refugee, Bianca. She and Carolina had become inseparable since they were first rescued from that halfway house for sex slaves not too long ago. Neither of them had spoken ten words since this all began, but the girl didn’t leave Carolina’s side once except to step into the closet and do her business.
“What we need is a Geiger counter,” Ice says. “Something to measure the radiation. We need to know if it’s safe to move, or if our faces will just end up falling off in a few years.”
I cast a careful look at Adeline.
She doesn’t want to leave. She knows Chicago is fast becoming a toxic wasteland, but she loves our home and isn’t terribly excited about going all the way to California.
“That’s just insane,” she’d said.
If not for my brother Rock and the message he left on my phone, Adeline would be right. We’re a tight family, though. At least we once were. Now that Ice is alive, I believe we can be that family again. What I don’t say, though, what I’m now thinking, is that Rock could be in trouble in Sacramento. And even if he’s not, we are up to our necks in it here in Chicago.
Still, the whole idea of traveling that far seems downright crazy. What I don’t tell my wife is if we’re busy planning for an impossible task, one that will have almost too many factors to consider, it will keep our minds off the suspicion that much of our civilization is about to become one giant dumpster fire.
That’s when we hear noises just outside the door.
“Shhh,” I tell everyone, tiptoeing up to the bedroom door. Gently pulling the aluminum foil wrapping aside, I ease my ear against the cool wood of the door and listen.
Looking back, my eyes meeting Ice’s eyes, I say, “Someone is rifling through our stuff out there.”
“Eliana?” he whispers.
I shake my head. Not Eliana. She knows better than that, as do the kids. “I think we have intruders,” I tell everyone in hushed tones.
Ice has his gun out; I grab mine. If we run out of bullets, I’m pretty sure we can take down whomever is left using Eudora’s diapers as a weapon, but let’s keep that between us for now.
We’ll call that Plan B. Or Operation Poopy-Pants.
“I’ll go first,” I tell my brother. “You head to the second floor, I’ll leapfrog to the third.”
He nods, then we go.
The downstairs floor isn’t exactly ransacked, but it’s clear whomever is in here is looking for valuables. Not jewelry or money, perhaps they’re just trying to get some survival items. We’ve got plenty of food, for sure, and water, but they would have already seen that and moved on.
Ice heads to the second floor in stealth mode. I clear the first floor bathrooms and the coat closet, and then I’m heading to the third floor, quiet as a mouse, listening for the sounds of intruders.
It seems pretty quiet.
By the time I get to the second floor, Ice is done and we’re both moving to the third floor. That’s when we see a head poke out followed by a pistol.
We’re suddenly dodging gunfire.
Ice and I pull back and press ourselves out of the line of fire. It blows having the low ground in tight quarters, but we’ve dealt with worse so we dig in.
I look at Ice and he’s calm as a Hindu cow.
When he’s ready, he gives me the nod. Together, we ascend the stairs, sticking to the inside wall knowing there’s no place left for this person, or people, to hide.
We hear voices, exchange glances. Another series of gunshots blast several holes in the wall opposite our heads.
This son of a—
Clenching my jaw, grinding my teeth, I look back at Ice. I swear to the good Lord above, if I get killed in my own home by a couple of crackheads…
We get to the top of the stairs, take more fire, peel off one another. When we have the hallway sufficiently covered, we advance ground, heading for Orlando’s room where it sounds like they’re now holed up.
“These are strange days, my friends,” I say in a loud voice, just outside Orlando’s bedroom. “No need to lose our lives over a simple misunderstanding.”
“Who are you?” one of them asks, his voice slightly muffled.
“I live here,” I tell him. “This is my brother, Ice. We’re riding this thing out, same as you. The misunderstanding is that you’re here when you need to be elsewhere.”
Two more gunshots ring out, both rounds exploding through the wall right next to my face. Drywall dust powders my eyeballs and to be honest, as pissed off and as cranky as I’ve been—as we’ve all been—the value I’ve started to place on human life has officially taken a turn for the worse.
All God’s creatures are potential enemies now, all just targets if it means protecting my family. Or maybe I’m just wired wrong.
I don’t know.
Lately I’ve wondered if yielding to my more animal instincts is the right thing to do. I’ve been praying about it every night since this started. So far I have no answers. But this isn’t the time for introspection. Self-examination in the middle of a crisis is a death sentence.
I creep my eyes across the threshold, see one guy looking out the bedroom window, signaling someone outside. The other guy is half watching him, half watching the door. Both men have white painter’s masks over their mouths and noses. This lookout spots me, his eyes flashing wide.
I squeeze off two rounds, put them both down.
“I think we have company,” I tell Ice, motioning him inside. Isadoro pops his head around the corner, then slides past me and checks the closet and under the bed. I head for Brooklyn’s room, clear it. Meeting back in the hallway, his face is a shade lighter.
“There’s like two or three dozen of them outside,” he tells me.
Right now my heart is kicking more than I realize and I tell myself to stay calm. That even though this is my house, I’m prepared for this.
My family is prepared.
As we’re headed down the stairs, Ice whispers, “I’ll go out front, you take the rear. If they don’t go away on their own, put ‘em down. No hesitation, just like those two clowns upstairs. And no dicking around. If the fight’s out front, get out front. If it’s out back, know I’m there.”
Looking at him, frowning, I say, “I’m almost offended at the implication.”
“It’s both our asses, brother,” he whispers.
“So you say.”
The second we make the first floor, Eliana bursts through the back door and says, “Guys, we’ve got a serious problem.”
“Yeah, we absolutely do,” Ice agrees. “Get Eudora and the women and—”
We’re interrupted by the sound of someone trying to kick in the front door. It’s already been broken down once before when Diaab Buhari took the kids, so I don’t expect it to hold off these idiots very long.
In my infinite wisdom, I think it can take maybe one or two more shots.
Ice and I take defensive positions, ducking out of sight. I’m crouched behind the couch, he’s closer and tucked into the hallway. The door takes one more shot, swinging open. Rather than run, Eliana puts her hands up and walks toward a pair of intruders now entering the house.
I give my brother a WTF? look. He shrugs his shoulders and shows me the sign for crazy, the one where he makes circles with his pointer finger right by his temple.
Our intruders are yelling for Eliana to get down, but she’s whimpering and pleading in Spanish about a hundred scared miles a minute. She’s going on and on saying she needs help, that some men were killed upstairs, that she’s terrified because her mother is up there and she’s sick and really, really scared.
Shaking their heads, the men don’t shoot.
The closer she gets, the more she seems to fall apart. Lowering her body, her eyes and her head, she continues to drone on with her fears and concerns.
Then she’s in striking distance.
It’s startling to see how the Guatemalan beauty can flip on a dime like that, how she can go from heartless mercenary to petrified and mewling in no time flat. And by startling I mean both awesome and chilling.
One of the men holsters his weapon and relaxes. To his partner, he says, “You know what in the blue hell she’s saying?”
“Farging gibberish,” his partner mumbles from behind a white painter’s mask. He’s holding a small plastic device out in front of him, staring at the screen and listening for small, tight beeps.
Both men look like they’re in their late thirties, early forties. Neither look like they were ever decent people before all this happened. Then again, who knows where they came from. For as much beauty as Chicago has (had), there are still neighborhoods even the rats avoid.
I’m not saying these guys are super shysters. They could be sweet as pie, these two. But they don’t look sweet. Not at all. I learned to read looks a long time ago and these guys are all kinds of bad news.
“You just calm down little lady,” the one guy says, speaking louder and slower, hoping the extra volume will suddenly help her understand English. He pulls down his mask, a good sign, and he’s got all his teeth. Another good sign.
“Do you even know what the words leaving my mouth mean?” he says to her.
His buddy snickers under the mask, then pulls it down, too. He sees how beautiful Eliana is, even though she’s been working on hiding her looks again.
I’m looking at these two dunce caps thinking, Yeah, she understands all right. Better than you think…
The moment the second man sets his gun aside, Eliana attacks. Ice is closer to her and the two men than I am. He goes after them. I pop up and provide cover just in case more of them storm the house. Ice gets to the second guy before they tag team Eliana. My finger comes off the trigger. Ice hammers the first guy, strips him of his weapon, then locks him up in a chokehold and asks if he values his life. I’m thinking he probably does, which is why I turn and head out back, as agreed.
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