Prologue

[google-translator]

Alice watched her father, David Scott, as he stood observing the farmhouse. She knew he was anxious about it. Hell, she was too. As much as they’d been through, neither one was ready for any more heartache. As much as they both wanted to find someone else alive, they both knew the odds were that they wouldn’t find them here, yet they were equally threatened by the fact that they just might. That not only would they find someone else, but that they’d be drawn to them, take them into their lives, only to have them die on them just like everyone else had.

It had been a difficult thing, watching the world implode without a sound. Well, maybe not without a sound. There was the wheezing, the gasping, the groaning and the cursing, but there was no major explosions, no fire and brimstone, no armed conflict that signaled the end of the world.

It had started with what seemed like a lucky sighting. Alice had been riding with her father, who she only got to see every other weekend because her mother thought he was deluded, wanting to hide away from life rather than embracing it with both arms as she chose to. But they’d been driving to his house in the country when she saw something she’d never seen before, a meteor streaking through the midafternoon sky.

Her father, David, proceeded to explain all about what they were seeing, describing the physical phenomenon. He’d always taken his role of father seriously, and he wouldn’t let an educational opportunity slip by. But as he described it, they noticed another, then another, and before long, the sky was full of them. The entire sky, which had at first been clear, was suddenly lit up with fire. But then they began crashing to the Earth.

There were no huge impacts or massive strikes like you see in the movies, instead there was simply a steady rain of tiny fragments, tiny shards of death traveling hundreds of miles an hour. But it wasn’t the meteors that were threatening; after all, if one hit you you’d be dead long before you ever realized you were in trouble. No, the real danger was the debris cast off when those little rocks struck something, like a paved road, a car, or a building.

David had driven as fast as he could, trying to get beyond it, but it was soon clear he couldn’t outrun it. And even that attempt proved short lived, as they came across a larger impact site that had left a large crater in the middle of the road, where a woman sat trying to protect herself by huddling inside her disabled car.

Her father had issued strict instructions; she was to run for all she was worth, ignoring him. To seek out the lowest spot she could find, far enough away from the road that she wouldn’t be hit by any cast off debris, and she wasn’t to as much as lean up, looking back to see if he was OK. What’s more, if he was injured, she wasn’t to try to help him until the meteor storm was safely passed.

But he’d come through, just like he always did, carrying the stranger on his shoulder, apparently because she couldn’t respond quickly enough and was threatening not just herself but him as well. Alice had called out, and he’d literally thrown her on the ground before collapsing from the effort of running full tilt in an attempt to escape.

But along with the fear, they were soon plagued by boredom, a strange companion to fright. The storm didn’t end; instead it stretched out for hours. They talked, and it was immediately apparent that her father was taken with the woman, one Ellen Parker, and as they talked, Alice began to scheme.

She’d always worried about her father. For such an intelligent, caring and capable man, he seemed helpless socially and emotionally. He cared too much, and when he hurt, he pulled away from everyone else. So when his wife—Alice’s mother, Linda—had left him years ago, he’d escaped by withdrawing into himself. He worked until he’d keel over in exhaustion every night, never allowing anyone else into his life. So here, in this woman, Alice saw a way of paying her father back for everything he’d done for her. She’d get the two of them together, and this woman, this Ellen, would rescue her father for her.

They were both so cute. They thought they were innocently flirting, but they were both terrible at it. Her father went on about how this worked and that operated, and Ellen would laugh, even when it wasn’t funny. But it was clear where things were heading. So Alice helped it along. She talked her father up, describing fascinating and potentially embarrassing things in his life, letting him spin them into delightful stories that reflected the personality he was afraid to reveal on his own. And it had worked too. Alice had pretended to listen to her music while they tried to be discreet, but it was obvious when they had sex there in the middle of the field, and Alice was glad to see them do it; not because of any interest in observing such a thing—because frankly, that weirded her out—but because it meant that her father would finally be OK, and would stop obsessing about her damn mother.

The meteor storm, however, continued unabated. It lasted long into the night, and only stopped then because it had moved westward. David gathered them up and hurried them both to his house, a little mountain redoubt that he’d built into the side of a mountain in eastern West Virginia. The next day, anxious to know what was happening after the power and communications went out, David had reached out to one of his few friends, a blind man by the name of Bobby, who just happened to be a wiz at radios, and his wife Ma, short for Mary.

In exchange for putting them up until they could have their house repaired, Bobby agreed to provide them with news of the world. And while they were terrified when the meteor shower restarted, it was comforting to know that they were protected, sheltered, and knew more about what was happening than anyone else thanks to Bobby’s ham radios.

However, they didn’t stay alone for long. As they sat, watching the meteor streaked sky, who showed up but her mother, bringing several of her schoolmates and another mother. They’d left after the shower had ended the previous night and had driven even after the shower resumed later that day. They’d kept going because they knew if they stopped they’d never be safe, but Alice’s mother, Linda, felt sure that her ex-husband would provide them a safe refuge.

When they’d finally arrived they were battered and bruised, with one girl suffering a broken arm and another with a large gash in her side. But luckily, Ma was a nurse, and another friend of David’s had sent his wife, Maggie, to stay with him. She’d brought medications he’d rescued from his damaged pharmacy, knowing that David had power for the refrigeration to preserve the perishable medicines the locals would soon be needing. So they were able to treat those few injuries.

But that was when Alice’s plan began to unravel. First of all, her mother suddenly began resurrecting her old feelings for David, feelings that he’d never given up on himself. And unknown to Alice, Ellen decided to give David his freedom to explore whether he still had feelings for his ex. And he did have strong feelings for her; even after all he’d been through since they split up. But he resisted, telling her that he didn’t trust her not to change her mind, and he insisted that he was committed to Ellen.

Alice never found out about this until the next day, a day they’d rescued a young woman from down the street whose house had collapsed. And when she did, she’d hit the roof, upset that her mother had almost single-handedly destroyed what she’d worked so hard to achieve, threatening to drag her father back into his black abyss.

But Alice underestimated Ellen. Instead of being scared off, she committed herself to him, knowing that he’d stick with her through thick and thin. But her way of strengthening that relationship was a bit twisted. She encouraged the ex-spouses to continue to explore their feelings for each other, and when that worked out, she encouraged the other women in the house to cozy up with him as well, figuring he’d remain true, and that it would keep everyone from going crazy.

And it wasn’t just the adults who were acting crazily. Her friends all decided that her father was hot, and while it was clear he wasn’t interested, they took to listening in while the adults made love, something that was easy enough to do since the kids couldn’t sleep, the house was small, and there really wasn’t anything else to do.

But again, it wasn’t any real carnal desire that drove them. Instead they were trying to express their newfound sense of adulthood. They’d each been forced to grow up tremendously in a very short time, and they demanded to be treated like adults. While none of them were ready to crawl into bed with the adults, they didn’t want to be sheltered anymore, and they wanted to be treated as at least partial adults. And thus they formed an uneasy alliance, where the adults knew they were being observed, and the kids would tease them about it, but no one ever crossed the thin line dividing observation and action. None, that is, but the college age girl, Flora, that David had rescued.

But the problem was that the difficulties begun by the world wide meteor shower continued long after the shower itself finally halted, days later. While there was no massive destruction caused by a large meteor—no earthquake, tsunami, or major strike—it had disrupted the many ties to modern life.

There wasn’t any major item of destruction, but it was the many small ones that had doomed society. The meteors had struck everything, and while they’d caused a few building to fall, and sparked wildfires out west, they’d devastated the electrical and communication systems of the world. They’d felled telephone lines and radio towers, blown transformers, and damaged the roadways needed to restore the damaged equipment. In a world build around ‘interconnectedness’, it turned out that the multiple single points of failure began to fail across the board, creating incredibly complex situations out of a series of relatively ‘simple’ problems. Suddenly society was thrown into a silent darkness.

Now as bad as that was, it wouldn’t have been that bad. True, it would have taken decades to recover, but it had introduced something much worse into play.

It seemed the meteor storm carried with it abundant samples of microscopic life, protected in the frozen ice surrounding them. But those little frozen bits of primordial life proved resilient. Not only did they survive the explosion that had destroyed their home world, and the absolute cold of space, and the span of eons, but they also survived a hostile reception on their new home world.

There must have been millions of microscopic organisms in those frozen rocks, exposed when the frozen water on the meteors broke loose and evaporated when they entered the atmosphere. And while surely most of those little life forms must have perished, a few proved persistent, and they found a way to not only survive, but they discovered a new host to give them a chance at life. They discovered they could live off humans.

Only, in their rush to evolve into a whole new life form in only a matter of weeks, they overcompensated. Instead of merely finding a balanced approach of just taking enough from the host for both the host and them to survive, they went into overdrive, killing the very things that offered them a chance at survival. People began to die in droves.

It started slowly. At first the hospitals were filled with the injuries from the meteor shower itself, and then there were a slew of unexplained anaphylactic shock cases. But there were also multiple strange cases that the doctors assumed were simply ‘stress events’, illnesses they couldn’t identify that could only be explained by the patients’ overactive imaginations. Only that theory didn’t hold up as more people began to die.

David, being highly intelligent, having Bobby’s many radios, and having one of the few truly sheltered independent sources of electricity, began raising alarms in both the medical and scientific communities. While there weren’t many equipped to respond, the hospitals began studying these ‘mysterious’ illnesses, and one researcher in California actually identified a new ‘alien’ cell that had never been recorded before that seemed to correspond to the illnesses.

However, in the absence of a reliable scientific response, the information was too little, too late. Even as the country struggled to recover, more and more of the very people attempting to recover fell ill, until soon there weren’t enough people left to keep the electrical systems working anymore, and then the entire world fell into silence.

Through it all, David and his new ‘family’ struggled to keep the world from falling apart. They spoke over the radios to anyone they thought they could help, or who might have more information. They got some kids from the local community college to transfer and erect their FM radio tower, so now David and the girls could transmit their messages to the world at large, or at least to some of the surrounding states. And David struggled with people who were losing hope.

Even as people were falling ill, others attempted to take advantage of the situation, attacking people, trying to steal not only enough to survive, but also attacked anyone with ready weapons in an attempt to survive the decay of civilization they imagined approaching. In a strange way, those who thought they were preparing for the collapse actually hastened it, killing innocents in their rush to provide for an uncertain future.

And David had stood up to that, just as he’d stood up to the collapse of the electrical and communication systems. He became a volunteer policeman, deputized by his friend, Ben Adams, the local Sheriff. However, it was a difficult struggle holding back the ravages of panic.

Alice had watched as her own mother was killed in front of her; though it was never clear whether she died trying to protect David and Alice, or whether she was trying to commit suicide, knowing she was infected with one of a number of plagues that came to be known as the “Great Death”.

They called it that because it wasn’t just a single disease, but a whole host of them, each one similarly effective, and each one rapidly mutating. They became more efficient over time, killing their hosts faster, and they evolved to adapt to more species, spreading beyond humans to most other animals as well.

Somehow, David’s little hole in the mountains had provided security for a long time, but the college kids they’d welcomed in amongst them finally brought the disease with them, and they began to watch as their own began dying.

One by one they fell ill, each dying only days later. The one college kid, Billy, got incredibly ill but miraculously survived; only to fall ill and subsequently die from yet another plague. Alice watched her friends die one after another. Maggie, another of her father’s several lovers, died from being exposed when she attempted to save Linda, Alice’s mother. Her best friend, Amy, died when some crazy old coot shot her with a shotgun, and introduced the plague directly into her blood steam.

Everyone had gotten sick and died, until one day David had awoken and discovered that everyone sharing his bed, Ellen, Flora and Alice herself, had been infected with different plagues. Resigning themselves to the inevitability of their deaths, they sealed the house up, shut down the turbine, and set up house in the sick ward they’d set up outside.

But David never gave up. He kept pushing everyone to struggle to survive; not just for themselves, and not just for him, but because it was only by surviving that they’d find a solution to the Great Death. Surely someone would provide a response to it, and if they did, then hopefully they could spread it, either scientifically or else genetically. But in the end, that effort seemed too far away, and they’d all fallen, one after another.

But then a miracle had occurred. David had recovered after an incredibly painful, agonizing illness that went on for well over a week, although no one knew how long since he’d drifted in and out of consciousness the entire time. When he came to, he was sure that everyone else was dead, since he’d seen them pass away. Ignoring the new love of his life, Ellen, he rushed to the last person he’d seen alive, Alice herself, and she, like him, miraculously pulled through.

In the week it took for them to recover their strength enough to restart the electricity and clean the property of all the dead animal carcasses, they figured out that they’d survived—when no one else had—because they shared some specific genetic advantage, one that provided the key to surviving the disease. It didn’t seem to be a genetic mutation, or at least not one triggered by the diseases themselves, but something they both shared beforehand which allowed them to survive it. Although they had no proof yet, they were both sure they were now immune, since they’d both suffered from each of the diseases, and bore the marks on their flesh as testament to that fact. Thus, no matter what else happened, at least they, and their children—supposedly—would survive to repopulate the Earth. Now it was just a question of who else, if anyone, had survived the final die off. And that was what they were doing now.

They really didn’t expect to find anyone else at this empty farm, there was certainly no signs of life they could observe, but Alice’s father was insistent. Not only did he want to find other survivors, but he realized it was vitally important to save any surviving animals, as each one would be a cog in the machinery necessary for humanity to rebuild and survive their final test.

David was positive that there was even more death lying ahead of them. The temperature had already dropped at least ten degrees, and that was in the heat of summer, when there was more sunlight hitting the surface. When winter came, that temperature change would surely worsen, and whoever survived would face a non-nuclear Nuclear Winter, as the debris thrown off by the burning meteors covered the Earth, hiding the sun and causing the Earth to cool, stealing life from both the surviving plants and those few surviving things that depended on them to continue.

Yet for all that, Alice was focused on a single thing. Her father, for as strong and as resilient as he was, was his own worst enemy. Left to himself, he’d do what he’d always done. He’d retreat into himself, cutting himself off from others in an attempt to hide from the pain he’d suffered as his friends and family had died around him. Alice realized it was probably a problem that every survivor would face, but she knew from personal experience that her father was even more prone to it. Not only was he a perpetual optimist, thinking that no matter how bad things got that somehow they’d survive, but it was only by taking care of others that he found the strength to continue.

Yet Alice knew that as close as the two of them were, strength made even stronger by their mutual survival and what they’d experienced together, her father needed more. He needed someone to love, someone to cling to, and someone to draw him back to life. To allow him to resume his humanity and to accept love into his life once again.

Now all she needed was to find someone—virtually anyone—that could fill that role in his life!

 

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