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Under a Graveyard Sky-eARC


  Under a Graveyard Sky – eARC

  JOHN RINGO

  Advance Reader Copy

  Unproofed

  Baen

  Baen Books by John Ringo

  BLACK TIDE RISING

  Under a Graveyard Sky

  To Sail a Darkling Sea (forthcoming)

  TROY RISING:

  Live Free or Die • Citadel • The Hot Gate

  LEGACY OF THE ALDENATA:

  A Hymn Before Battle • Gust Front • When the Devil Dances • Hell’s Faire • The Hero (with Michael Z. Williamson) • Cally’s War (with Julie Cochrane) • Watch on the Rhine (with Tom Kratman) • Sister Time (with Julie Cochrane) • Yellow Eyes (with Tom Kratman) • Honor of the Clan (with Julie Cochrane) • Eye of the Storm

  COUNCIL WARS:

  There Will Be Dragons • Emerald Sea •

  Against the Tide • East of the Sun, West of the Moon

  INTO THE LOOKING GLASS:

  Into the Looking Glass • Vorpal Blade (with Travis S. Taylor) • Manxome Foe (with Travis S. Taylor) • Claws that Catch (with Travis S. Taylor)

  EMPIRE OF MAN:

  March to the Sea (with David Weber) • March to the Stars (with David Weber) • March Upcountry (with David Weber) • We Few (with David Weber)

  SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

  Princess of Wands

  Queen of Wands

  PALADIN OF SHADOWS:

  Ghost • Kildar • Choosers of the Slain • Unto the Breach

  A Deeper Blue•Tiger by the Tail (with Ryan Sear)

  STANDALONE TITLES:

  The Last Centurion

  Citizens (ed. with Brian M. Thomsen)

  To purchase these and all Baen Book titles in e-book format, please go to www.baen.com.

  UNDER A GRAVEYARD SKY

  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2013 by John Ringo

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

  A Baen Books Original

  Baen Publishing Enterprises

  P.O. Box 1403

  Riverdale, NY10471

  www.baen.com

  ISBN: 978-1-4516-3919-3

  Cover art by Kurt Miller

  First Baen printing, September 2013

  Distributed by Simon & Schuster

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY10020

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:2011006288

  Printed in the United States of America

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  As always

  For Captain Tamara Long, USAF

  Born: May 12, 1979

  Died: 23 March 2003, Afghanistan

  You fly with the angels now.

  For my daughters Jennifer and Lindy, for what should be obvious reasons.

  Good writers create. Great writers steal.

  And some people are just characters too great to not steal.

  I am blessed with two daughters who meet that description.

  Acknowledgements

  The problem with acknowledgements on this book is remembering all the people who’ve contributed over the last two plus years to its development. So let’s start with a limited list of the people who’ve kept me from looking like a complete fool.

  A good place to start is probably Dr. Robert Hampson, PhD (Pharmacology, Physiology) for help with, well, gosh, everything, mostly the neurological effect of the H7D3 virus, some details on vaccine production and, oh, yeah, pointing out (as several did) that viruses use RNA not DNA. (Which I knew but I also once had a manual safety on a Glock. Sue me.)

  Kelly Lockhart (yep, real person) for doing enough research so some of the discussions between experts was at least vaguely reasonable handwavium. Also for occasionally coming over the the house to kick my butt into finishing the book. (I’d “finished” it already but there were, shall we say, some gaps to fill in. Like most of one chapter.)

  Then there’s Douglas Wyatt, USCG, for pointing out about a billion things I’d gotten wrong (that fortunately you gentle readers will never see) about the most basic aspects of sailing, not to mention “There’s no way in hell they’d have parked in the East River or the sound. The currents are ferocious.” When I asked for some details on the USCGC Campbell his reply was “Yeah…most of that’s classified but I’ll give you what I can…” Which, alas, is what what many of my technical experts often are forced to say since I have, I think, some really cool friends.

  Speaking of Michael Massa, former something something special operations, former Head of Security and Disaster Response for “a major international bank,” and who has no resemblance whatsoever to either Thomas the Tank Engine nor Mike Jenkins, I’d like to thank him for his assistance on aspects of, well, it should be obvious. Alas, I never did write “the battle of the BERTs.” As a singer once said, most of writing is “what to leave in, what to leave out.” This is another universe I’ve created that is made for anthologies of “the other stories.” (For one of which I only have the title, “Something funny happened on the way to Peoria.” Which would also work for the Posleen, Special Circumstances and Vorpal Blade universes.) If only I was an editor. Anyway, thanks again, Mike.

  Deborah Fishburn and Brian Carbin for straightening out some of my Aussie slang as well as general edits and suggestions.

  Michael “Subdude” Gants for some unclass details of life on a fast attack. Sorry, Mike, Dallas stays for now.

  There will be a much longer list for the sequel, To Sail a Darkling Sea. But I gotta get this to the publishers, like, now.

  John Ringo

  Chattanooga, April 2013

  BOOK ONE

  LIGHT A CANDLE

  At the end of the river the sundown beams

  All the relics of a life long lived

  Here, weary traveler rest your wand

  Sleep the journey from your eyes

  from “Turn Loose the Mermaids”

  Nightwish

  Imaginaerum

  CHAPTER 1

  “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.

  “Confirm.”
>
  The return message was immediate.

  “Confirm, confirm, CONFIRM. Q4E9. CONFIRM!!”

  Shit.

  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…”

 
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