Authors: Paul Antony Jones
Also by PAUL ANTONY JONES:
THE EXTINCTION POINT SERIES
Extinction Point: Exodus
Extinction Point: Revelations
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Paul Antony Jones
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and 47North are trademarks of
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Cover design by Shasti O’Leary-Soudant/SOS CREATIVE LLC
For Samantha, my writing partner and constant companion. We miss you.
A single bead of perspiration ran down Emily Baxter’s forehead, rolled across her flushed cheek, and dripped slowly off her chin.
“Relax, Em. Just ease forward on the stick,” said MacAlister from the Black Hawk’s copilot seat, his arms folded across his chest, well away from the duplicate set of flight controls. “That’s it. Watch your altitude and air speed, don’t want to stall her.”
Far below, the canopy of the red jungle stretched out toward the horizon covering everything that had once been San Diego County and beyond. Not a single sign of humanity’s dominance over the planet remained now; all had vanished beneath the creeping red plant life or succumbed to the alien fungus that devoured everything it touched. Everything, that was, except for the last remaining outpost of humanity: Point Loma, the former military base where some five hundred survivors now eked out an existence.
“Wine,” Mac said, out of nowhere.
“What? What the hell are you babbling about?” Emily replied, trying to keep all of her attention focused on keeping the helicopter level.
“No more wine. Ever. Grapes are extinct. So that means there won’t ever be any more wine.”
It was something every survivor had experienced at some point: the sudden realization that something from their past life was gone, forever, irretrievably lost, thanks to the alien invasion. Mac had made a point over the past two years of vocalizing each of his as they came to him.
“I thought you told me you were a teetotaler?” Emily said this as she banked the helo hard left, moving it back in the direction of Point Loma.
“Well I am now, that’s for sure. But I would have liked to have had the chance to try a bottle of the good stuff at least.”
Emily’s right hand, moist with sweat, pushed forward on the controls of the Black Hawk. She felt her stomach rise as the helo dipped down toward the ground, still a few hundred feet below them.
“I’m kind of busy here,” she said.
“I know. Sorry . . . You’re doing great, keep it steady . . . watch your yaw, we’re drifting to the right a little too much . . . that’s better.”
Emily worked the foot paddles that adjusted the surprisingly agile machine’s attitude, squaring it up with the yellow
of the landing pad she could see below, about two kilometers away. She had over eighty flight hours under her belt now thanks to Mac’s tutelage. This particular flight was his final test before qualifying her to fly solo, the tail end of an intense training regimen leading up to this day.
Besides being her adorable husband, Mac was one of the biggest assets the survivors at Point Loma had: apart from his training as a special forces operative with the British Special Boat Service, he was also the only person still alive who knew how to pilot a helicopter. In this new world, skills had become the most prized asset, and the possibility of the world’s last remaining pilot tripping on an untied shoelace and breaking his neck was apparently too great to allow. So Point Loma’s council had asked if Mac would be willing to teach a select few how to fly, and he’d agreed, but only after he had insisted that Emily would be his first student.
“It’s a smart move,” he told her. “It’ll strengthen your standing in the camp and give those idiots on the council something to think about.”
Emily had agreed. There was an air of discontent within the
camp these past few months that had both of them concerned, thanks
in part to some of the new appointments on the council. Learning
unique skills from her husband would go a long way toward ensuring that both of them would remain indispensable assets.
For someone who just a couple of years earlier had not even been able to drive a car, Emily had quickly learned how to handle a wide range of vehicles after her predicament as the apparent sole survivor in New York; she had driven an SUV across the United States and Canada and then a snowcat over the desolate frozen wastes of Alaska, before piloting a boat to the Stockton Islands and the terrible disappointment she had found there. Since their arrival at Point Loma she had also learned how to ride one of several motorbikes the group had salvaged from the various parking lots around the camp. It was a lot of fun to ride the dirt bikes—“chicken chasers” Mac called them because of the
sound the engines made—although she still found herself missing the freedom her bicycle had given her. Learning to fly a helicopter seemed the logical next step, especially as no one had been willing to teach her how to captain one of the four submarines docked at the base . . . at least, not yet.
The landing pad was growing closer too quickly, so Emily eased back on the throttle and gradually brought the Black Hawk to a hover before slowly descending until she felt the undercarriage touch the ground with a slight jolt.
She turned to look at Mac’s grinning face.
“Perfect,” he said.
Emily smiled back, resisting the urge to lean across and kiss him. Instead she went through the post-flight shutdown procedure and waited for the ground crew to secure the craft. When they were done she pulled off her headphones and unstrapped herself from the pilot’s seat.
Outside the air was moist and sweet, the sky a flawless blue, accompanied by the sound of the ocean crashing against the beach less than a hundred meters or so away. If Emily closed her eyes she could almost imagine the world was normal. But when she opened them there would still be the vast hedge of the red jungle off in the distance to remind her that the world was a very different place from the one that had existed before the red rain.
“So, how’s it feel to officially be the only other person in the world who knows how to fly this thing?” said Mac, as he walked around the front of the Black Hawk to join her.
“Pretty damn good, considering my husband was the one who taught me.” Emily leaned in and kissed him deeply. “Thank you,” she said when she pulled away.
Pleasure’s all mine,
his grin said.
They had a total of three working helicopters now: the Black Hawk they had used to fly on the mission to Las Vegas, and two others cobbled together from slightly damaged craft and spare parts Chief Engineer Parsons and his engineering crew had scavenged from around the base and the naval supply center, just across the bay on Coronado Island. “We’ll need to set up a schedule to start training the other students as soon as possible . . .” Emily paused when she saw a look of indecision on Mac’s face. “What’s wrong?”
Mac’s smile had faded, and he took on what Emily recognized as his professional soldier’s demeanor, one she knew was usually reserved for delivering bad news. He took a deep breath, held it for a second, and then puffed it out. “The council’s given the go-ahead for the mission to Svalbard Island.”
Emily stopped folding her flight gloves and stared at Mac. “When did that happen?” As hard as she tried, she was unable to keep the note of disappointment from her voice.
“Last night. I didn’t want to tell you the mission was on until
we got through this flight. Besides, you were so damn tired, I just—”
Emily held up a solitary hand to silence the Scotsman. “How long until you leave?”
“Two days,” MacAlister said, stepping in a little closer and taking her hand. “If all goes according to plan, we will be in and out again in about a month and a half . . . two, tops. It’ll be a piece of cake.”
Emily thought back to the last council meeting just a week earlier. The group of survivors—specifically the first group of scientists who had arrived on board the USS
just a few months earlier—had been working on alternative sources to supplement the camp’s resources. The survivors had managed to scavenge significant amounts of food from the cities surrounding Point Loma before they had vanished beneath the unrelenting onslaught of the red jungle, and the submarines had also been pretty well stocked. But those stores were finite and were dwindling rapidly.
One of the scientists, a food chemist named Franklin, had been studying the effects of the Antarctic’s extreme cold on some kind of manufactured protein when the world ended. He managed some success creating a mostly edible dried food bar from the alien plant life surrounding Point Loma. His first few attempts had been pretty fucking awful according to . . . well,
. But his latest creation was almost tasteless, and with some decent nutritional value. The only problem was that the process of extracting and curing the alien weed was slow and laborious. Still, they were manufacturing enough to supplement everyone’s daily rations.
But even with the current rationing there was simply not enough food left to allow them to survive much past the next year. So Mac had proposed that they take one of the subs and travel to Svalbard Island off the coast of Norway in the hope that the seed bank they knew was there would be untouched by the advance of the alien plant and animal life that now dominated the world. If they could recover sufficient stock from the Svalbard seed bank, then they could turn this little spit of land they called home into a sustainable farm. During her mission to Las Vegas, Emily had been captured by the aliens responsible for unleashing the red rain that had destroyed life across the planet, reforming Earth into the strange world the survivors now lived in. The Caretakers, as the aliens called themselves, gave Emily a message to take back to the survivors in Point Loma: stay where you are and you will be allowed to live; ignore this warning at your own peril.
In the months after her return to Point Loma, two submarines had made the fatal mistake of ignoring the warning Emily passed to them, choosing instead to try and settle in their home countries. Within days of the crew setting foot back on land, all radio communication with them had been lost.
Then of course there were those within the community—more than Emily was comfortable admitting to—who simply did not believe her story. There had been more than one occasion where she had been accused of outright lying about what she had experienced on board the alien craft after her capture by the Caretakers.
Emily’s concern right now was for her husband’s safety. She desperately wanted to go with him—and would have been prepared to argue her case until he gave in—but she had responsibilities here now, not least of all their son, Adam.
“How many of you are leaving?” she asked quietly as they walked back toward the encampment and the family quarters.
“Full crew of the
and the eight-man assault team I’ve been training. It’s going to be a piece of cake, Em. Trust me.”
“God! I really wish you’d stop saying that.”
Mac paused and placed both hands on his wife’s shoulders, turning her to face him. “This is what I do, Em. I’m the only one who’s qualified, and if I don’t do it, then one of these other Muppets will. And I can guarantee they will cock it up. We can’t risk that . . .
can’t risk it.”
Emily knew he was the best man for the job, and she knew he was more than capable of taking care of himself. If she were being honest, her frustration stemmed more from not being able to go with him. Life during the two years since she and the other survivors had arrived at Point Loma, while certainly no bowl of cherries, was boring compared to the time she had spent travelling from New York to Alaska, and finally on to California. She felt . . . trapped, and she so wanted to go with him, to explore the world she knew lay beyond the reservation that had been assigned to the remains of humanity by the Caretakers. Humanity, what was left of it, lived on a dramatically changed planet now. And while all the continents remained the same, it was a world that, for all intents and purposes, might just as well be another planet altogether.
Mac and Emily walked the remaining distance back to their quarters in silence, Emily’s frustration on a low simmer. She managed a smile when they reached their apartment as she spotted Thor, her Alaskan malamute, friend and rescuer, lying in a ray of sunlight on the front stoop. His eyes popped open at the sound of the couple’s approach. He stretched and sat, tail sweeping back and forth as Emily and Mac climbed the steps to the porch.
“How you doing, boy?” Emily said, reaching down to caress the dog’s head. Thor licked her hand in return and wound his body around her legs like a cat, blocking her way until he had received the satisfactory amount of attention.
“We’re home,” Emily called out as they stepped through the front door.
Rhiannon appeared from her bedroom, her hair tied back in a bun. Every day she looked more and more like the beautiful young woman she was quickly becoming.
They grow up so fast,
Emily thought, with only a hint of irony. And that was going to bring trouble all of its own. Emily had seen the furtive—and, worryingly, some outright lecherous—glances the girl received whenever she stepped outside. With a disproportionately larger population of men to women, competition for Rhiannon’s attention was going to become more and more intense. With the majority of the survivors being military there was still a fairly firm grip on authority, but who knew how long that would last? Thankfully Rhiannon seemed not to notice the attention; she was completely taken with helping care for little Adam. Of course, the fact that she carried her own pistol on her hip, and that everyone had seen how good of a shot she was, helped ease Emily’s worries. The kid—she would not be able to call her that for much longer, she supposed—had proved more than once that she was capable of holding her own.