River Of Night – Snippet 01
River Of Night
By John Ringo and Mike Massa
During the endgame of the Fall, state governments and major cities of the United States lost their ability to provide essential services to their populations. This development was accelerated by the degree that each state and municipality relied on electrical power that was generated from feedstock, be it natural gas, coal or oil. A unique government corporation formed in 1933, the Tennessee Valley Authority, spanned seven southeastern states and operated a variety of power generation facilities, including traditional fossil fueled plants as well as nuclear power plants and hydro-electric facilities.
These last had a dual role, providing not just immense amounts of electrical power, but also improving the navigability of the economically important Ohio and Tennessee Rivers as well as controlling the propensity of the region to severely flood during seasonal rains.
Unfortunately, all sophisticated equipment requires human supervision and periodic maintenance. As H7D3 took firm hold in the region, the nuclear plants were safely spun down to cold iron. The infrastructure necessary to move fuel to the traditionally powered generating facilities broke down, and these fossil-fuel plants also went dark. Solar facilities and hydro-electric sources of power lasted the longest of all. However, the chaos of the Fall, the desperation of operators trying to protect their families and the inevitable fighting over increasing scarce resources also impacted these parts of the formerly vast network of power generation and distribution that was the TVA.
As the lights went out all over the world, the myriad ways that humans had shaped their world for convenience and entertainment were set afire, shattered or abandoned. As with any radical shift in the environment, there were adjustments. Domesticated animals that had become dependent on humans for their daily survival were rapidly converted into food by the dwindling numbers of healthy humans or by their far more numerous competitors, the infected. However, food animals and what stored crops existed were a limited resource, and the great civilization that was built on automation and sophisticated logistics crumbled to ruins.
It was the beginning of new dark age and a bad time to be human.
On the other hand, there were winners and losers.
The lakes and rivers that dominated the Tennessee Valley region provided a ready source of water to the infected that slowly dispersed from the population centers. A huge number of the dead ended up in the river system, and from a strictly pragmatic view, they enriched the ecology.
Without any natural predators and now free of the bothersome humans, the channel catfish, the flatheads, and the mighty blues prospered, making the most of the expanded food sources so thoughtfully provided by their former hunters.
It might have sucked for everyone else, but it was a pretty good time to be a catfish.
Upper Chippokes Creek, The Chesapeake
“When are we going to LEAVE this FUCKING house!”, screamed Dina Bua, startling everyone around here.
Bua, a young and well adjusted drama teacher at an expensive private boarding school, had started the trip south in a condition of shock. After her last minute attempt to escape New York City with some of her students had ended in a cannibalistic welter of blood, she’d nearly been run over by some speeding SUVs and then had been caught up in a second zombie attack and then a terrifying gun battle.
She had, understandably, nearly frozen in panic.
Huddled with one other teacher and their remaining three students, she’d obeyed the directions of their rather scary rescuers. The soldiers or mercenaries or whoever were clearly accustomed to working together. Despite her apprehensions about her saviors, the long boat ride had been a ticket out of a nightmare that had erased the only home she’d known. Arriving at the little house tucked into a tributary on the James River, the pressure of the emergency had been reduced and she’d appeared to recover somewhat. She’d repeatedly thanked the tall, handsome Bank of the Americas official who’d appeared to be in charge of original group of eight from the boat docks. She’d pledged to do anything to help.
Yet, Bua began to incrementally exhibit different symptoms of the strain she was under.
Long after everyone else had accepted the loss of the cell network and either turned their phones off, or left them on airplane mode in order preserve battery life while using them as music players, she would periodically stalk through the interior of the small house, her iPhone at arms length over her head, hoping to see a single bar’s worth of reception. After the water utilities failed, complicating the task of daily depilation, she’d tried mightily to use treated river water to complete her toilet and shave her legs. Through a quirk of oversight, a supply of artificial sweetener in their hideout had been overlooked so while others added ‘unhealthy refined white sugar’ to their coffee, she’d complained about not being able to enjoy one of the few bright spots in an otherwise endless succession of identical days. Still, she’d complained quietly, mimicking the low profile that her fellow survivors practiced in order to avoid attracting the attention of hunting zombies or predatory survivors.
That is, she’d been quiet until now, when she just couldn’t take it one more day and started screaming. And screaming.
So far their party had survived not due to firepower but from exercising absolute discretion. Anything else put the entire group at risk and everyone knew it.
Emily Bloome, the second school teacher, reached the screamer first. Driven to her knees by Bloome’s tackle, Bua fought and bit like a woman possessed. Bloome rolled away clutching her face, but she had very competent back-up. Kaplan, the former spec-ops trooper turned bank security specialist and Risky, the unexpectedly capable gangsters’ moll, fell on Bua as though they’d rehearsed it many times, which in fact, they had.
A panicked school teacher was a new opponent for them, but just not in the same league as their previous wrestling matches wrangling hyper-aggressive, zombified humans infected with the man-made plague virus called H7D3. A vicious arm bar that painfully threatened to dislocate Bua’s elbow kept the panicking woman from bolting outside, and some duct tape and a belt sufficed to restrain the unhinged survivor while they fished some hemp rope out of a nearby gym bag.
“Is she infected?” Risky said, sweeping her dark bangs out of her eyes. “She went wild so fast!”
Oldryskya ‘Risky’ Khabayeva was an athletic five foot ten inches tall, and appeared to be in her late twenties. Years ago, her youth and sex had been enough reason for the traffickers to keep her alive, but the super-model good looks that prompted their efforts to sell her to an Italian-American gangster had led to their deaths.
It turned out that the Frank Matricardi, the Jersey mobster who ran the Cosa Nova, had a real thing about human trafficking on his patch. So these particular traffickers had, in the words of the head of the Family, been assigned to an involuntary business merger with Cosa Nova’s waste management brand. Ultimately, that led to joining the ceaseless pre-Fall stream of garbage that flowed from New York City towards landfills in other states. Risky had been part of Matricardi’s crew, first as an ornament, and later as a partner. They hadn’t loved each other, but there’d been mutual respect, especially at the end.
And she’d had the pleasure of killing his murderer herself.
“Well, we’ve got all those patch kits just sitting there…” said Jim Kaplan, ‘Kapman’ to his close friends. “Let’s draw a little blood, shall we?”
The former Ranger – Green Beret – ‘unit name redacted – no such record exists’ trooper had been a security specialist inside Bank of the America’s pandemic survival plan. Now he was one of the trusted enforcers living in the safe house along the Charles River, just west of Newport News. He stretched towards a kit bag, but stopped when his boss waved him off. Kaplan rubbed his sore leg instead. Three months on, and the gunshot wound he’d picked up on the way out of the maelstrom that had been the fall of New York remained only partially healed.
Risky had been teaching him yoga, of all things, so his flexibility was coming back, but he walked with a limp.