Read After the Fall: Jason's Tale Online
Authors: David E. Nees
Tags: #Post-Apocalyptic, #Science Fiction
After the Fall
This book may not be reproduced in
whole or in part, by electronic, mechanical or any other means, without the
express permission of the author.
After the Fall: Jason’s Tale
is a work of fiction and should be construed as nothing
but. All characters, locales, and incidents portrayed in the novel are products
of the author’s
imagination or have been used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to any person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Please visit my
website at www.davidnees.com
Without your support and encouragement, this book
would have never happened.
Special thanks go to Diana, who told me that the story was
worth writing and Lynette for her detailed critique and beautiful cover art. I
am indebted to the rest of my family, David, Andrew and Lilith for their
encouragement and faith in me. Thanks also go to my two good friends, Ed and
Jim, who believed in me and encouraged me when my work was not very good. My
buddies from school also were a great encouragement: Greg, Richard and Ron;
thank you guys. It means a lot to me.
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's
“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to
make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” –T.S.
The tramp steamer plodded across the Atlantic, a beast of
burden laboring without complaint through the ocean’s waves, the bow rising and
falling in response to the heavy swells. The diesel engine rumbled in its
efforts, the vibrations continually coursing through the ship. The
superstructure was unkempt. Rust attacked it everywhere; its owners long since
having given up the fight. It was a tired, old ship that should have been taken
out of service years before, yet still continued to subsist on the fringes of
world trade, scrabbling for any dollars it could make. This voyage, however,
would be its last.
Mahmood stood in the wheel house looking out over the ocean.
The gray water and leaden sky merged without a horizon, holding a hint of
danger to come, as if the ocean were saying, “I can turn deadly. I can hurt
He did not like the sea; he preferred the mountains. Man was
a land animal and being on the water was foreign to him. One could not live out
here. One could only pass through. Yet being in the wheel house was better than
being below, closed up in the steel of the ship. The comforting smells of
familiar cooking, the lamb, the onions and peppers, the garlic, the odors that
brought up sharp, welcoming images of his village home in Pakistan, now did not
comfort him. Inside the ship they mixed with the ever present diesel and sweat
to produce a nauseating haze of scent that violated all his cherished memories,
making the comforting now sickening. He had passed through the initial round of
sea sickness, but the uneasy possibility of throwing up always came back when
he stayed too long in the bowels of the ship.
He turned needlessly to the charts where the ship’s dead
reckoning plot was updated every four hours. He forced his impatience down. The
pace was slow but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was that they arrive at
the coordinates at the right time. He knew they were still days from their
position. The GPS and AIS identification system were turned off, the ship was
out of communication with the world, and, Mahmood hoped, the world was ignoring
its presence as well.
Half way around the world, in the Pacific, another
indistinct, small freighter also slowly made its way to pre-arranged
coordinates off the shore of the U.S. The two freighters had a common purpose,
more than two years in the making. In the hold of each of them, hidden in
containers, was a missile that they would fire at a set time. Each Sajjil-2
missile was topped with a nuclear warhead. It was a solid fuel rocket with a
range of 1,300 miles; more than enough to reach their targets. The targets were
not on land, but were points in the upper atmosphere over the U.S. They would
be launched simultaneously and aimed so each would explode over part of the
U.S., effectively blanketing the country with an electromagnetic pulse or EMP.
Mahmood recalled the efforts of his mentor, Nusair, in convincing
the al Qaeda leadership, most of whom did not understand his plan. They wanted
the rockets to drop on major cities. They wanted to see death and destruction
come with fire and explosions. At first they seemed unsatisfied with what his
mentor proposed which would cause the U.S. to die from within. It might not be
as immediately satisfying as raining fire and destruction from the sky, but his
way would be more complete. Nusair had to educate them on how dependent the
people in the United States were on having all goods and services delivered to
As the picture emerged the leadership grew more enthusiastic
with the plan. If one could knock out microprocessors throughout the country,
all would come down. Cars, trucks, planes and trains run on microprocessors.
The EMP burst would destroy them which would stop the vehicles from running. If
they stopped transportation, they would stop the distribution of food, fuel,
medicine, clothing; just about every good and service required for maintaining
modern civilization. Additionally, communications would shut down, ending any
attempt to coordinate relief efforts.
Next, the burst would knock out the energy grid and the
power throughout the country would go down. The country would be blacked out, factories
would shut down, buildings couldn’t be heated and the pipelines that control
distribution of natural gas would stop flowing.
No food, no fuel, no energy, no support systems needed to
maintain the massive population. Nusair won them over. The leadership relished
his vision of massive starvation and the collapse of civil society. The
terrifyingly powerful U.S. army would have to turn homeward to handle the chaos
that would ensue.
Mahmood did not know the effect of launching the missiles
from the ship’s hold. The blast of the rocket could very well sink the ship
even though they had added reinforcing plates to the bottom of the hold. So be
it; Allah will be pleased and Mahmood will be honored by his companions in
arms. He could imagine the tales told around the villages of the man who
brought down the great Satan.
If the hull held together and he lived, so much the better;
the ship would turn towards North Africa and they would flog the engine for as
much speed as they could generate. If they reached the coast they would run the
ship up on a beach and disappear into the interior. He would be assured of his
place of honor and power in the new caliphate that would emerge. There might be
retaliations but Mahmood knew his people would survive them; they were used to
the wilderness—the caves in the deserts and mountains. They would wait until
the fury of the response faded. When the U.S. forces had to turn to the
collapse of civil order at home, they would go away and his people would come
out to reclaim their lands and then take the soft, fat European countries that
would not have any protection from their benefactor across the ocean. He smiled
at the thought of the new order he was soon to initiate.
Tomorrow, I will
trigger an end…and a new beginning.
The launch day dawned clear. As the sun climbed higher, the
ocean turned a sharp blue in reflection of the sky. The tired ship was
throttled down and turned into the gentle breeze. The swells were long and
regular and the old freighter slowly rode up to meet each one; its motion now
more gentle. The captain had taken full control over the ship’s steering and
engine as he expertly kept the vessel holding its place in the water. The
technicians had all retreated to the farthest corners of the freighter taking
the crew with them. Only Mahmood remained in the wheelhouse with the launch
technician and the captain. Everyone was wearing smoked goggles and ear
At the appointed time Mahmood pressed the launch button with
his breath held. Suddenly it was as if the fury of hell erupted in the ship’s
hold. The violence of the ignition threw them onto the floor where they lay,
curled up as the roar of the rocket, heightened by its close containment
reached two hundred decibels, piercing the ear protectors and smashing into their
ears. The blast thrust shattered the windows of the wheelhouse as the missile
cleared the hold.
The old freighter shook, its metal plates screamed as they
were suddenly heated to over 5,000 degrees, stretched, melted and warped.
Sections of the ship buckled, the rivets holding the steel plates bursting free
and shooting through the hold and across the deck in a massively lethal
crossfire over the ship. The hull plates in the now-empty hold pried loose, and
leaks sprang open. The hatches were partly melted and distorted from the
rocket’s flaming exhaust; no covers would go back on them again.
And then it was over, the rocket now a point of fire
receding in the sky and already beginning to angle westward towards its
assigned detonation point. The ship was left open and vulnerable to any assault
from the ocean’s waves.
On board no one could hear. They turned to one another,
deafened and dumbstruck from the ferocity of the launch. The ship was still
protesting the assault on it, though no one could hear it. The engine was
struck dead from the rocket’s heat and fire and could not respond as the
captain recovered his wits and attempted to get the freighter under control.
The ship slowly turned side-ways in the swells and began to list to one side as
she took on water. The captain shouted for his crew to man the pumps, but no
one could hear him. After some time, he was able to gather and direct them, but
the pumps did not work well; it was too little too late. The ship slowly listed
further and the stern began to sink. In an hour, the old freighter ended her
life at the bottom of the sea, taking Mahmood and the rest with her.
He lay on the ground behind the rhododendron bushes. Their
leaves remained through the winter, giving him cover. The earth was beginning
to thaw on this February day. The south facing ground on which he lay hungrily
drank in the sun’s rays. The long, unkempt grass though was still dry and
dormant under him. Only the faint, musky scent of dry vegetation registered as
he pressed his body close to the ground. The cold grip of winter had not yet
fully given way to the freshness of spring.
Jason carefully pulled aside a branch to study the road
ahead through his binoculars. He was hidden at the top of a gentle rise a
quarter mile from the interstate. The road he was following went north under
the highway. The houses had thinned out here, like a forest giving way to
grassland. They stood with doors opened and broken windows, like sightless eyes
looking out at the world, giving mute testimony of their violation. Grass had
grown long, only challenged by the weeds which grew in riotous abundance after
being left alone. Bushes once well trimmed were now beginning to assume their
wilder shapes. He could see no movement, but still he waited. Going down the
hill he would be exposed.
The underpass carried the interstate highway on its back. It
was low and narrow, only having room for the two lane road which he followed.
Above, the four lanes were split into two sections as they went over the local
road. Abandoned cars were scattered along the interstate as far as he could
see. The electromagnetic pulse burst had killed them all in an instant. Jason
could see some crashes had occurred when drivers had lost control. Many cars
sat with their trunks and doors open. Where had all the people gone, he
wondered? It didn’t really matter now. What concerned him was the underpass
made a good spot for an ambush. His route so far had skirted downtown
Hillsboro. He had no desire for another encounter with the militia or gangs,
which seemed to be one and the same. To the north of the interstate lay the
national forest and the wilds of the Appalachia Mountains, his goal. This was
the last obstacle. But there was not enough cover to allow a furtive approach.
He would be exposed as he hiked down the hill.
The empty houses in the suburbs spoke of a retreat. Death
first reigned among the elderly and sick, but without the delivery of food,
life quickly became untenable for even the average citizen. And the ones who
remained alive looked to the town authorities to provide for them. They
migrated into the city when they ran out of food, needed medical help or were
threatened by scavengers. They were looking for food, shelter and safety. In Hillsboro
they found a limited amount of all three, but they came with a price.
Personal freedoms disappeared as strict rules were set up to
stave off chaos. People were catalogued, assigned where to live, where to eat
and to what tasks they would have perform as the price for the succor they
sought. Hillsboro was turning itself into a medieval city. As martial law was
established, Jason had watched personal freedoms disappear, and decided to
strike out on his own in the forest. Crossing the interstate was his last
challenge. From there he would be putting the city and its control behind him.
Over the winter he had made himself a copy of an Indian
travois using aluminum poles and putting wheels at the end. On the webbing
between the frames were two backpacks loaded with food, tools, weapons and
camping gear; all the supplies he needed to survive in the mountains. He was
ready to depart.
He would wait until night. It would be harder to see, but
also harder to be seen. There was still no sign of movement around the
underpass. Jason crawled back twenty yards through the tall, dry grass. When he
was far enough below the rise, he got up and walked to an old oak tree and
relaxed against it.
Get some rest. Don’t be careless now.
his desire to hurry to the forest. It felt like freedom lay just on the other
side of the interstate.
Late that night, with a quarter moon barely softening the
pitch darkness, Jason lay in the same spot, studying the road. His binoculars
pulled in more light than his naked eye, but it was still shocking how dark the
nights were with no lights. There was no movement.
It was time to go. Again, he backed down from the
rise, then shouldered his backpack. Jason carried a Ruger .223 Mini 14 Tactical
carbine and a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. The Ruger held twenty rounds in its
magazine and the 9mm held thirteen rounds. He pulled the charging lever back
and with a click chambered a round in the rifle. He then pulled back the slide
on the 9mm chambering a round. Each weapon was now ready to fire. He flipped
their safety levers on and, with a deep breath, set out. He held the carbine in
his right hand and pulled the travois in his left. He had encountered
scavengers and militia on his journey out of town. Both were dangerous. Jason
hoped there would be no encounter this night.
Quietly he walked down the road towards the underpass.
He stepped carefully in the dark trying to not make a sound. He did not want
his boots thumping on the pavement. Nearing the underpass, he stopped and
crouched in the ditch along side of the road and listened. The night was still.
That would change. With spring approaching there would again be refugees on the
move from Charlotte and cities to the east.
Hillsboro is getting its
defenses ready for them.
He stood up and stepped into the opaque underpass. Carefully
he walked forward, blinking, not yet seeing properly, the darkness closed over
him. His left foot stepped on a branch that snapped with a loud crack. His
right foot was tripped by the rest of the branch as it sprang up. Cursing under
his breath, Jason stumbled forward.
A car door opened on the road above; then another; then some
“Wake up. I heard something below us.” A man whispered.
“What’s up?” another voice asked loudly, in reply.
“Shhh. I think I heard someone underneath the highway.”
“So what? Probably a deer.” came the now whispered reply.
“There ain’t any deer in that underpass. Must be someone
“What would anyone be doing out this time of night?”
“Hell if I know.”
The voices were hard edged, rough. They spoke quietly but
the sound carried easily in the still night air.
“My guess is they got something to hide, stuff we can use.”
“Yeah. We ain’t found much along the interstate, so I say we
take a look. If there’s someone down there sneaking stuff out of town, we can
take it. Get Jake.”
Another door opened. “Damn, I was sound asleep ‘til you woke
me. What’s up?” A new voice entered the conversation. It continued over the
possibility of someone beneath them; someone with supplies they could take.
“Bring your guns; we don’t know what we’re gonna
“Shoot first, look second?” one of the men asked.
“Maybe, if they give it up, we may let them off easy. Be
ready for anything.”
The men had been working their way west on the interstate,
scavenging from the abandoned cars and using them for shelter at night.
Sometimes they could siphon some gas and barter that for food. They were
looking for a gang to join in Hillsboro.
Jason kept still, not wanting to confirm his presence by
moving forward. He couldn’t make it to the end of the underpass before they
would intercept him and to retreat would only expose him to the highway above.
The conversation became muffled, but he understood enough to know they were
coming down and they were a threat. There were sounds of movement now from
The sounds were coming from the direction he was headed.
Were any of them coming from behind him? Jason quietly laid his trace down and
unshouldered his backpack. His Ruger was at the ready position. He ruled out
running. They were too close and he didn’t have a head start. He couldn’t move
fast with all his gear, the travois and backpack, and would be an easy target.
His only advantage was the men above didn’t know exactly where he was. Be still
and wait. Let them come to him.
He was in the dark of the underpass, just before the pale
light that spilled down from the gap in the lanes, splitting the dark tunnel
into two segments. They could come from the end or the middle. His eyes were
now adjusted to the dark of the underpass; he would have a moment’s advantage
and he knew he had to use it. Adrenalin rushed through him. He began to shake.
They sound so casual about taking everything from me.
They’ll kill me just as casually.
He knew there would be no negotiating his
way through this encounter. Images of the wild chase two days ago flooded his
mind. This time there was no outrunning them and no hiding from them.
Three men came down to the road level at the far side of the
underpass. He could hear them talking. They were still sheltered by the
“Do we go under?” one asked.
“He may be armed,” the leader replied.
The men waited, not sure what to do next.
“I don’t hear anything. Think he’s heard us?”
“Maybe, one of you go back up and be ready to come down in
between the lanes in case this guy’s armed,” the leader directed.
Jason heard movement but no one came into view. He waited
forcing his breathing to slow and listened carefully.
They have to give
themselves away when they move. Don’t move, wait.
Then two men stepped into view at the far end of the
underpass. Jason took aim. He knew they could not see him in the greater
darkness. Before they stepped out of the moon light, he opened fire. One man
went down immediately; the other fired wildly into the dark and then fell from
Jason’s return fire.
Where was the third?
He listened. There were
footsteps above. Jason backed out of the underpass and crawled up the
embankment on the south side of the highway. He saw the man’s shadowy image
coming across the far set of lanes. Jason fired at the shadow. The man fired
wildly back. A few more shots from Jason sent the man running west on the lanes
towards Hillsboro. Jason climbed up on the road and shouted as if calling to
another shooter, “He’s running west, see him?” He then fired one more round in
the direction the man fled.
It was over in a moment. Jason stood shaking and panting.
Are they dead?
Then panic set in.
He didn’t know who might have heard the gunfire and how quickly
anyone might come. He didn’t want to be there to find out.
Got to get to the
. He ran back down to the local road, shouldered his pack, grabbed the
travois and started running through the underpass, past the men he had shot.
One lay still. The other made sucking sounds as he struggled to breathe. Jason
shuddered but kept going.
On the other side of the underpass, he turned right and
climbed up the embankment to the still-raw slope where the interstate sliced
through the side of the hill. Jason ran along its base away from the underpass
until the slope became less steep. He strapped the travois to his waist and
shouldered his backpack, then moved diagonally up the slope, crawling,
scrambling and fighting the drag of the pack and travois. He needed to reach
the cover of the trees at the top. From there he could defend against anyone
following. His hands clawed at the rocks and dirt, trying desperately to gain
the top of the slope and the cover above. The stones scratched and cut his
exposed skin. He struggled with the loose slope, pressing his body against it
when he started to slide backward, then crawling upward again.
Finally Jason got though the bushes at the top and into the
cover of the trees. He lay down, drenched in sweat and blood, completely out of
breath. After a few moments he crept back to the edge and looked out to see if
anyone was coming after him. The road below was silent. Through his binoculars,
he thought he saw a shadowy figure moving south on the local road he had used.
Otherwise, all below him was still.
Jason returned to his gear and with great effort dragged it
a few more yards into the underbrush and lay down in a laurel thicket. The
fear, the panic and now the realization that he had killed without warning and
maybe without need overwhelmed him. He started to shake.
He sensed a line had been crossed; what effects it would
have on him, he could not say.
Are we going to become barbarians? Is this
what it will take to survive?
Finally, the adrenaline drained from his
system. His shaking subsided as he sank back in exhaustion. Slowly his body
relaxed and sleep began to envelope him.
Jason awoke some hours later as the eastern sky began to
promise the sun’s arrival. He had a raging thirst. He was covered with dirt and
blood. His hands were cut and sore from clawing his way up the hillside. He
fumbled around in the pre-dawn light to retrieve his canteen. After several
huge gulps, he splashed a little on his hands and face. He avoided thinking of
the night’s events. Sitting against a tree, he stared at the bluing sky, then
searched his surroundings with his ears, listening for anything out of the
ordinary. Nothing. His mind drifted back to the day of EMP burst that previous