Monday, May 13, 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day - The Eden Plague: Book 1 (Plague Wars) by David VanDyke

The Eden Plague

Plague Wars Series Book 1

(Second Edition)

Prologue

Long, long ago.

As the shining metal serpent wound itself around the tree the woman stared. Good or evil?

Desire for knowledge beckoned her closer.

Beryl and gold shone on its metallic skin. Tiny legs glittered as it moved over the branches, fangs delicately penetrating fruit after fruit, leaving holes glistening with sweet slime.

Aroma overwhelmed the woman, tempting her to pluck a succulent growing orb and eat it all. Finished but unsatisfied, she seized more fruit to bring to her garden, to offer to her man.

More trees awaited the robotic snake as it slithered off, bearing its deadly gift.

-1-

“Just do what I tell you, Elise,” she heard Jenkins say as she stared at the weird weapon. Growing up on her father’s ranch, she’d fired handguns and shotguns and rifles before, but this thing…he said it was an automatic shotgun, but it looked more like a blaster from one of those Star Wars movies.

“Hold it tight in to your shoulder. It’s going to kick like a mule but you shouldn’t have any problem with that.” His unsettling eyes locked with hers, and she asked herself again why she didn’t point it at him and use it once he gave her the ammo.

Because I can’t, she answered herself half-bitterly. Even if I ever was a killer, that option is closed to me now.

She’d made her peace with that feeling, even if it did mean she was under Jervis Jenkins’ thumb. Not exactly her boss, certainly not a colleague, she loathed him to the limits of her ability. She considered biting him and seeing how he’d like to deal with the consequences, but then others would come and stash them away in some deep hole, and throw away the key.

At least now she was a pampered pet. At least now they needed her.

For a while.

“Come on, Elise. Focus. Show me how you like to hold it.” Jenkins played with the ziploc bag of special shotgun shells, relishing his cheesy sexual double-entendre.

Ignoring him and his innuendo, she snugged the weapon in tight like any other shotgun, dry-fired it, then cocked it again. “Nothing to it,” she said confidently. Bravado kept Jenkins happy. Sometimes. She had to play his games, and the Doctor’s games, and even though they never took advantage of her that way, she was still emotionally dead to them, enslaved as she was. She used to think she was an atheist – I’m a scientist, after all, dammit! – but at the end of her rope, she had recently begun praying the same prayer, over and over: Dear God, if you’re out there, send someone to save me.

Jenkins snapped his fingers, master to bitch. “Okay come on, step in there, and let’s go over the plan again.”

***

Daniel Markis thought back to that first meeting as they winged their way southward. It's a bad day when you shoot your future wife. Laughing to himself, he remembered…

Something seemed out of place when he came home from work that afternoon. The side door to his house stood open. Turning into his driveway, he pulled his beat-up old van to a stop and switched it off right away, listening. Suburban Dale City was quiet, just the thwock - thwock of tennis balls in the court across the street.

Daniel stared at the open door. Something was wrong, because he lived alone. Ever since Becky left so long ago, he’s been alone.

Echoes in his head: crazy brain-damaged loner.

Reaching under his seat, he pulled out his car gun. The stock full-sized Springfield Arms XD rested comfortably in his hand, with two extra mags in a clip-on holder. An XD compact, his carry piece, became his backup, nestled on his right rear hip.

God bless Dixie, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Second Amendment.

Daniel lived on a corner – generally a bad idea, he thought, far too much traffic – he’d usually lived on military bases before – getting off track. Keep it together, DJ. They’d said it was the organic damage, so that he couldn’t think like he should. Explosion, concussion, brain injury, three-two-one-boom.

Focus, Daniel. He forced his mind back to the now.

Debating calling the cops for about three seconds, he realized his phone was dead. Forgot to recharge it last night in the house, stupid car charger’s broke, gotta get a new one. Hell with it.

The serpent in the back of his head woke up.

Chemical concentration was called for. Pharmaceutical brainpower. He pulled a ziploc bag full of jelly beans out from under his seat. The purple ones were gel-caps. It was a good way to hide his stash from the cops, and he couldn’t afford to get busted. He chewed two of them, along with some of the candy to kill the taste. The stimulant-painkiller combo flooded into his bloodstream while he sat there wishing he had a cortisone syringe handy for his knee.

Taking a deep breath, he readied himself.

Exiting his van onto the concrete, he kept the XD in front of him and low in a tactical crouch. His left knee was stiff, courtesy of that Taliban IED, but the pain was dulling now. Gritting his teeth, he concentrated on the job in front of him and powered through it.

Probably some kids doing a daylight break-in, though they were stupid to have left the side door open to be seen. They hadn't broken the glass storm door, so he opened that with his left hand and looked at the inner door, ajar. Nothing seemed damaged. Letting his eyes adjust for a moment, he then eased in, listening.

Quiet.

He took a quick look at the door hardware. It didn’t seem broken, and the deadbolt was intact. Did I forget to lock it this morning before work? What if I hadn't come home early? Maybe they’re already gone. Yeah, that’s it. Odds are they already ripped me off and they’re long gone. Still, Daniel Markis goes by the book. Always do the right thing.

His heart hammered and he was having less difficulty focusing now. Better living through chemistry: Dexedrine, hydrocodone and a little epinephrine makes it all better.

Clearing his house room by room, he searched for anything out of place. On the ground floor, his widescreen and his desktop computer were still there. Moving upstairs to the bedrooms and bathrooms, he found no one. Nothing missing or disturbed.

He left the basement for last. If there was anyone in there they should have heard him moving around; At least he hoped so. The house was forty years old, and it creaked. He really hoped they had bolted out the basement walkout into the back yard, over his useless waist-high Housing-Association-approved rail fence and across the neighbors' yards to escape.

No need to shoot some stupid kid or pathetic junkie. I’ve shot much better men for much better reasons and it’s not something I want to do again.

Creeping down the basement stairs, he knew that was bad tactics if he wanted to catch someone unawares. Obviously he should have gone back outside, and tried to sneak in the sliding glass door of the basement walkout. Actually he wanted whoever it was, if there was anyone, to leave by that exit.

Never corner a rat, unless you mean to exterminate him. Always leave him a way out.

At the bottom of the stairs he turned sharply left, back along a short hallway which opened out into the main finished part of the basement. He didn't hear anyone, but he smelled him.

It was easier for Daniel than some people, because everything he used was fragrance-free. Artificial scents bothered him; they made his eyes water and his nose clog up. This smell was faint but unmistakable, man-cologne. Something expensive. Rubbing the bottom of his nose with his offhand finger, he kept from sneezing.

From being fairly relaxed, comfortable on the chems in a combat-mode sort of way, everything inside him shifted sharply into overdrive. This isn’t some kid, he thought, and he isn’t running away. The world crystallized in that way it did when he was close to death.

He’d been there before. The serpent in his head knew someone wanted Daniel J. Markis dead, erased, blotted out. Charging out of its cave it sank its fangs into his hindbrain like a terrier on a rat. Everything took on a cut-glass clarity, with slightly rainbow edges.

Surveying the part of the basement he could see from the end of the hallway, he saw no one in the open room. There was a door into the unfinished part to his left, another door to the three-quarter bath to his left front, the walkout glass doors right front, and the door to the basement bedroom to his right.

A faint sound marked someone in the bathroom and the XD swung left automatically. Daniel crouched behind the end of his battered sofa, set the weapon comfortably on the armrest, and called out, “Come on out of there, you.” Not eloquent, but it got the message across.

A moment’s pause, then the door exploded from the inside. 12-gauge shotgun, a part of him said, the shooter was hoping to catch me napping. Some kind of automatic, since he fired four rounds quick, bang-bang-bang-bang, and Daniel didn’t hear the distinct chack-chack of a pump.

Sweeping the room from his left to right, the shooter fired blind through the thin hollow-core door, spraying clouds of splinters with each shot. The sound was deafening, and the final blast struck the top of the sofa about a foot in front of Daniel, sending pieces of cushion flying. Already fading back and moving left, he avoided the next one that never came, low in a duck walk.

Cursing himself for not retrieving his own shotgun from his bedroom, Daniel realized he couldn’t expect to penetrate two thicknesses of wall at the corner and do any damage with a pistol. He certainly wasn’t stepping in front of that door.

But local knowledge is always a huge advantage, and this was his own house. Opening the door to his left, he slid silently into the unfinished section of the basement, pushing the door almost shut behind. Now, immediately to his right, stood a single thickness of drywall behind two-by-four studs. No insulation, and on the other side, that bathroom and the shooter.

From point-blank range Daniel unloaded seven rounds through the wall, walking them diagonally left to right and slanting from low to high, knee to chest level. The expanding loads punched through the thin gypsum, leaving thumb-sized holes as they went, and he heard a grunt and the thud of a body falling.

The serpent cheered.

Moving already, he took cover to his left behind the water heater and finished off the magazine, firing into the tiny bathroom at about calf level.

He then reloaded, waiting.

No sounds, but he smelled blood and worse. That was a good sign, in this case. It usually meant death.

The serpent rejoiced.

He glided silently up to look through one of the holes in the drywall. Bright red splash, a jumble of flesh and dark clothing, the stink. Standing back up, weapon held in close to his sternum, he kept it pointed forty-five degrees down, still in a shooter’s grip. None of that aiming skyward Hollywood crap you see on TV.

Moving carefully back through the door, he took his left hand off the weapon and pushed at the shattered bathroom door. The shooter’s body blocked it, and as Daniel was fairly sure the man was down and out, he moved to brace himself to shove it open when he heard something behind him.

Clap. Clap.

The serpent coiled, wary.

A slow, sarcastic clap.

Crap.

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Genre – SciFi /Adventure

Rating – PG13

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