Read Ex-Patriots Online

Authors: Peter Clines

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BOOK: Ex-Patriots
9.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



Peter Clines

Published by Permuted Press at

Copyright 2011 Peter Clines.

Cover art by Garret DeChellis.







The night breeze swept the black cloak away from
Stealth’s body. As the folds of fabric opened up, they revealed the
array of straps and sheaths crisscrossing her skintight uniform.
Her boots shifted on the water tower’s sloped peak until the warm
wind died down and her cloak and hood settled around her again.

Her featureless mask looked down at the
figures gathered around the base of the tower. They filled the
streets of the modern-day fortress which had come to be known as
the Mount. Some of them staggered and made awkward lunges at each
other. Many of them were eating. Shouts and cries echoed up to

She shook her head and turned to the man
hanging in the air near her. “This is a waste of time.”

“No, it isn’t.”

St. George, once known to the world as the
Mighty Dragon, floated next to the tower and ordered gravity to
ignore him. A solid six feet tall, his body was well-muscled but
leaned towards wiry. His leather jacket, the same golden brown as
his shoulder-length hair, was decorated with sutures and grafts. At
this point it was two jackets stitched into one. A five-inch tooth
was tied to the coat’s ragged lapel with thin straps.

Stealth glanced over her shoulder at the
building that served as her office and the
de facto
hall. “We should be drawing up schedules for this week’s
construction. The north wall is close to done.”

“It can wait,” he said. “They all need this.
They probably don’t even know how bad they need it.”

“So you keep insisting.”

Below them, the celebrating people packed the
streets and alleys. Families gathered on the rooftops. They cheered
and laughed and called out to one another. Even the guards along
the wall seemed more relaxed.

“You’re grumpy,” said Claudia. She picked her
nose while she stared at Stealth.

Inside her hood, Stealth turned her head to
the little girl perched on St. George’s left shoulder. “I am

“She is very grumpy,” St. George told the
child, “but we’re working on it.” He pulled his arm across her legs
like a seatbelt and spun around in the air.

“Go higher!” yelled Timmy from the other

“Actually,” said the hero, “I think time’s up
for you guys. Down we go.”

“No!” the boy shrieked.

“Goodbye, grumpy lady,” said Claudia with a

St. George drifted down to the crowd and
handed the kids off to their parents. Dozens of little arms reached
up but he waved them off. “No more rides for now,” he told them.
“Show’s going to start soon.”

A few yards away, the blue and silver form of
Cerberus waded through the crowd. The battle armor towered over the
tallest citizens of the Mount. Most of their heads didn’t reach the
American flags stenciled across its gleaming biceps. The metal
limbs were extended out, and gleeful children swung from each
massive forearm.

The titan’s armored skull looked up at the
sky with lenses the size of tennis balls, then back to St. George.
The armored suit was androgynous, but after working with its
creator for so long George tended to think of it as female. He gave
her a thumbs up and got back a nod from the helmet.

He looked up to the star-filled sky and keyed
the microphone on his collar. “Hey up there. You ready to do

Far above the Mount, one of the stars swung
back and forth through the sky, tracing zigzags and figure-eights
across the night. Barry’s voice echoed in St. George’s earpiece.

“No problems?”

“No, of course not. What could go wrong?”

“Didn’t you say something yesterday about
setting fire to the atmosphere?”

Well... yeah,” Barry said
after a brief pause. “But the chances of that happening are really

From inside the Cerberus armor, the voice of
Danielle Morris echoed across the channel. “You could set part of
the atmosphere on fire?”

“Not part of it,” said Barry. “Look, the odds
are slim to none, seriously. There’s a better chance of one of us


“I just got struck by lightning up here.
What’re the odds of that?”

“Quit it,” growled Cerberus. She set down the
children who were climbing on the armor.

“Trust me,” said Barry, “everything’s going
to be fine. Make your little speech.”

St. George gave the armor a smile as he
drifted upwards. Another round of cheers broke out as he spiraled
into the air, and several bottles saluted him. Matt Russell’s
homebrew reserves would be gone after tonight. The hero gave the
crowd a wave and soared back to the top of the water tower.

Stealth was watching the walls when he landed
next to her on the sloped peak. “Are you certain all guards are on
duty tonight?”

“Yes,” he said. “And so are you or you
would’ve already dealt with it. Try to relax for one night,

She said nothing.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” boomed Cerberus from
below. With the suit’s speakers at full volume she was louder than
a bullhorn. The voices quieted.

“A year ago,” she continued, “we’d barely
been in the Mount for eight months. We were all still working
around the clock just to make this place livable. There was no time
for fun. No time for celebration. It was all about survival.” She
paused and let the echo of her voice fade. “And not all of us

The crowd murmured its agreement, and a few
more bottles were raised.

“So this year, we wanted to make sure
everyone remembered the day and everyone had time to celebrate.
We’re alive. We’re together. Happy Fourth of July.”

There was a rumble of thunder and a bright
red flower of light filled the sky. A moment later a white blossom
appeared next to it, followed by a blue one. Cheers rose and spread
out across the Mount. Hundreds of children screamed with joy. The
lights faded and four more bursts went off in a row. The sharp
thunderclap of a distant cannon echoed in the sky.

Barry’s voice came over the radio again. “I
thought you said you were going to do the President’s speech from
Independence Day

“No,” said Cerberus, “you kept saying I
should do it. I ignored you.”

“That’s such a great speech.”

“Weren’t you about to blow up again or

Above the Mount, the night sky lit up with
another burst of light. The applause echoed for blocks. St. George
keyed his mic again. “How long do you think you can keep this

“I can probably do another ten or twelve like
this,” said Barry, “maybe a dozen quick ones as a grand finale. You
can’t have fireworks without a finale.”

“Not going to be too much for you?”

“I had a big dinner.” Two more bursts lit up
the sky, followed by another thunderclap. “Besides, this is totally
worth it for the view. I can see most of North America. The top of
South America, too, I think.”

“Wow,” said Cerberus. “How high up are

“Pretty high. I just dodged a satellite.”

“Wait,” said St. George. He looked up at the
sky and tried to spot Barry’s gleaming form between the stars.
“You’re out in space?”

“Technically, yeah,” Barry said over the
speaker, “but I was joking about the satellite. I’m right about at
the Karmann Line.”

“Are you... okay with that?”

Well, it’s not like I need to
breathe or anything. And this way we’ve got the ozone layer between
me and Earth, just in case.”

“Just in case what?”

“Hey, I’m letting off a lot of energy here.
Some of it’s going to slip into the more dangerous wavelengths.
Can’t be helped.”

“It is a wise precaution,” said Stealth.
She’d listened on her own earpiece without looking away from the
Mount’s defenses. “As you were, Zzzap.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Barry. They could all hear
his grin. A pair of gold flowers exploded across the sky and
another cheer came from below.

St. George looked up at the display and
pretended not to watch the woman next to him.

“If it matters so much to you that I take
part,” she said, not lifting her gaze, “please just say so.”

He shrugged. “I just think it would be good
for you, too. You need a morale boost as much as anyone else. Maybe

“I do not find it as easy as some to set
aside my responsibilities for a few hours of frivolous
entertainment,” said Stealth. “Especially to celebrate the
anniversary of a country which, in most senses, no longer exists.
There are always more pressing concerns.” She looked out across the
dark metropolis.

He followed her gaze. Each burst of light
illuminated the city. Beyond the high walls of the Mount, past the
barricaded gates and the rows of abandoned cars in the streets, he
could see the other inhabitants of Los Angeles.

The ex-humans.

The more distant ones staggered aimlessly.
Closer to the Mount, where they could see the guards, they clawed
at barriers and reached through gates. They made slow swipes with
emaciated fingers. Not one of them reacted to the thunderclaps. Not
one of them looked up at the brilliant display in the nighttime

Not one of them was alive.

From the top of the water tower he could see
tens of thousands of the walking dead—maybe hundreds of
thousands—stumbling through the streets in every direction. During
the flashes of light, he could pick out some with twisted limbs and
many more stained with blood.

The sounds of celebration and the echo of
Zzzap’s fireworks almost hid the chattering. The constant noise
that reached everywhere in Los Angeles, that echoed off every
building and down every street. The mindless click-clack of dead
teeth coming together again and again and again.

If Stealth’s estimates were correct—and they
almost always were—there were just over five million of them within
the borders of the city.

St. George sighed. “You can really kill the
mood sometimes, you know that?”

“My apologies.”



Chapter 1 - The Doctor Is In




I was in my private lab, gathering the notes
for my one-thirty lecture. My teaching assistant, Mary, was
dividing her time between searching for the flash drive which
contained my PowerPoint slides and organizing a pile of
correspondence and journals that had spilled onto the floor from my
desk. To her credit, she’d let the papers fall and grabbed the
photos of my wife and daughter.

My beard was scratching against my collar.
I’d wanted to have it trimmed before the start of the semester and
lost track of time. Now I was heading off to my fourth lecture and
it still was a shaggy mess of too-much-silver hair. Eva hates it
when my beard gets too long. It was short when we met in grad
school. I needed to stop by the campus barber before I ended up
looking any more like Walt Whitman.

I heard the door open behind me while I
packed my briefcase, but thought nothing of it until I heard my

“Doctor Emil Sorensen?”

The speaker was a young man I didn’t
recognize. He wore a well-tailored suit he looked uncomfortable in.
A double-Windsor-knotted tie. Tight, cropped hair above sharp

I’d seen this ploy many times. Every
professor sees it at least once or twice a semester. There are a
few different names for it, but here the faculty calls it the VIP
play. An undergrad tries to look or sound important to put
themselves on equal footing with their instructor. Then they
explain the extenuating circumstances behind a certain grade or
exam result. They drop the names of people who would be
disappointed because of it. Which all leads, of course, to the
suggestion they should be allowed to resubmit a paper, retake a
test, or—in some bold cases—simply have their grade changed to
something acceptable.

I was running late and it was too early in
the semester for such schemes. “You have ninety seconds,” I said.
“Can I help you with something?”

Even as I spoke, two more men stepped in
behind the first. They were larger and more solid than him. One
carried an attaché case. All their suits matched.

Mary stopped looking for the flash drive. Her
gaze shifted from me to the trio of men.

“John Smith,” said the man. “I know it sounds
like a joke, but that’s really my name. I’d like to speak with you
for a few moments, if I could.” He had a broad smile I knew from
fundraisers and alumni dinners. A practiced smile, but not a
well-practiced one.

“This really isn’t the best time. I have a
lecture in about ten minutes on the other side of campus, and—”

BOOK: Ex-Patriots
9.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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