Ship of the Dead

Ship of the Dead

by John L. Campbell

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594603139
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/07/2014
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 200,857
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

John L. Campbell, author of Omega Days, was born in Chicago and attended college in North Carolina and New York. His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies, literary magazines, and e-zines, as well as in two of the author’s own collections. He lives with his family in the New York area, where he is at work on his next novel.

Read an Excerpt

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

A GATHERING OF SOULS

ONE

Rosa Escobedo should have stayed with her partner, should have been there to protect her mother. She should have tried harder to report to her unit. She did none of that and instead ran to save her own life. It hung on her as heavy as a cross, one she had carried since that terrible day.

That was the night Jimmy Albright punched the siren, blasting a high-pitched WHOOP-WAAH as he hauled the ambulance left, then snapped it hard right again, neatly cutting around a BMW that hadn’t bothered to pull over for the flashing lights. The rig sped after a pair of San Francisco Police Department Crown Vics, slashing through traffic on the Embarcadero.

“All I’m saying is something’s gotta give, Rosie.” He was smoking in the rig, a supreme violation for Emergency Medical Service crews, the butt clenched between his teeth as he maneuvered the heavy vehicle like a sports car. His red hair was closely trimmed, and he was tall and rangy, thin but with ropy, muscled arms. “You’re gonna burn yourself out.”

The two cruisers split right and left around an Alhambra water truck, and Jimmy came up on its flat back end with sirens blaring, puffing cigarette smoke out the corner of his mouth before he cut right. He cleared the truck’s bumper by six inches at forty-five miles per hour. In the seat beside him, Jimmy’s partner didn’t flinch. After three years together, Rosa was immune to his driving.

“I got it under control,” Rosa said. She was twenty-five, dark-haired and attractive, something noticed by every cop, medic, and fireman she encountered. Most of them asked her out. “If it gets to be too much, I’ll quit something.”

“Yeah, sure.” He stomped the brakes and flung the ambulance down an exit ramp.

Even in mid-August the evening was pleasant enough to let the open windows cool the cab, and Rosa cocked her right arm outside and watched as the city flashed by. “You just want me to quit dancing.” She didn’t look at him.

The rig’s tires squealed as he yanked it left, passing under the highway and chasing the two cruisers through the twilight streets. “We’re not going to have one of those conversations, are we?” he asked. “Because that’s not where I was going.”

She shot him a look. “That’s exactly where this is going.”

Jimmy flicked the butt out the window and made a disgusted noise, the kind people make when they are yet again starting down a much-traveled and worn-out path. “If you’re asking me if I want you to stop stripping for strange men—”

“Dancing!” Beneath the pressed white uniform shirt and dark blue cargo pants was a dancer’s body, firm and full-figured, without the silicone enhancements employed by most of the girls at her part-time job. Jimmy knew what was under that uniform, although that was over now, which made this topic even more difficult.

“Uh-huh, dancing around a pole and taking your clothes off. You want me to lie? No, I don’t like it.”

“See? I told you.” She flashed a triumphant smile and shook a finger at him. “I told you.”

“But . . .” He braked, slowing as he went through an intersection against the light. “I know you won’t quit because you make too much money at it, and med school is going to be expensive.”

“That’s right!” Rosa’s face was burning. She didn’t like talking to Jimmy about that part of her life. He was too close, both on the job and given their brief but pleasant time together, a relationship they had mutually agreed to end because it was making them distracted at work. And yet he was the only one with whom she could talk. It would kill her mother to find out, and her sister out in Sacramento could barely focus on a conversation with five kids constantly howling for her attention. Rosa didn’t have a boyfriend; she had no time for one. Secretly, she doubted that a decent guy—other than Jimmy—would have a stripper as a girlfriend. Dancer, she corrected herself.

“That’s right!” Jimmy shouted back, grinning and punching her arm across the cab of the rig, nearly sideswiping a parked car.

Rosa laughed and punched him back. “You can be so stupid.”

“I know. That’s why I’m dragging my white-trash ass around in this rig. You, however, are not stupid, and you don’t need this job. This is what you should quit.”

The cab fell silent as Rosa stared at him, and Jimmy followed the cruisers into a neighborhood of four- and five-story buildings with ground-floor shops and apartments above. In the distance, still blocks away, red lights of the San Francisco Fire Department were sparkling. It was a non-fire call with injuries, their dispatcher had told them.

“Jimmy . . .” Her voice was softer.

“I’m serious. Look at yourself, Rosie. You cranked out a bachelor’s degree with pre-med in record time, you’re about to start med school, and you’ve told me a hundred times what the workload will be like. On top of it you’ve got a Navy Reserve commitment. And dancing to pay for it all? You don’t have time to be out here with me.”

She frowned. This certainly wasn’t what she had been expecting. “I get practical experience out here. It keeps me sharp.”

Jimmy scowled. “That’s a bullshit answer. You should have your nose in a book, Doc. You shouldn’t be out here scraping bodies off the street, dealing with gunshot wounds, ODs, and abused kids. Up to your ass in human filth,” he finished in a mutter.

She couldn’t remember hearing him like this, so passionate and bordering on anger. For a moment her heart acted like it might do a little flip, and then settled. “I like being out here with you.”

“Yeah? Maybe you are stupid after all.”

They were in the Rincon Hill section, just off Folsom. The rig rolled to a stop behind a squad car just as the officers were sprinting toward a commotion at the front of a building. To the EMS attendants it looked like a crowd of firemen were fighting with a mob of civilians in the street, the white glare of a fire truck’s spotlight making a confusion of shadows dance on a brick wall.

“Hold on,” Jimmy said, clamping his right hand on Rosa’s leg just as she was about to jump out. They watched, stunned, as a civilian grabbed a fireman by the head and bit off one of his ears. Someone screamed, and another fireman hurled himself into the fight, swinging an axe. Cops drew their weapons and fired, making three red circles appear in the chest and belly of a fat man in a bloody wife-beater. He didn’t flinch, lumbered right at them and tackled a cop, pinning him with his weight. He bit the cop’s ear off before going for the face. The fireman with the axe split a man’s head open down the middle. The downed cop’s partner executed the fat man with a pistol to the ear, then rolled his bulk to the side, screaming “Medic!”

Rosa was out the right door and running to the back. Jimmy met her there and they opened the double doors together, grabbing their bright orange kits. Jimmy suddenly pinned her to one of the doors and moved close, startling her. “You be careful.”

She pulled away from him impatiently. “Let’s go,” and then she ran to where one cop was crouched over his fallen partner, holding the man’s head and pressing a hand to where an ear had once been. He was cursing steadily, glancing between his groaning partner and over to where the fireman with the axe, screaming like a mad Viking, had just put down another civilian. Two more people, both Asian women, were clamped to the fireman’s legs, chewing into his knees and thighs. No other cops were in sight, despite the second patrol car.

Rosa pulled on heavy purple latex gloves with a snapping noise and dropped beside the two cops, opening her kit. “I got him,” she said, pressing a thick gauze pad against the side of the man’s head and shouldering his partner out of the way. That cop stared at her for a moment, blinked, and started walking toward the raging fireman, raising his service weapon.

Jimmy Albright saw the gun coming up and cut left away from it, running toward the stoop of an adjacent building, where another fireman was curled into a fetal position, blood soaking the concrete around him. “I’m coming, buddy.” He dropped his kit and knelt, pulling on his gloves.

Rosa’s cop was struggling to sit up, gritting his teeth. “Fucking guy bit my fucking ear off. Marco! Where the fuck did you go?”

Marco continued to walk slowly toward the axe-wielding fireman and shot one of the Asian women on his leg through the head at point-blank range. The snarling body collapsed, but the bullet blasted through the skull and shattered the fireman’s knee. With a scream the fireman spun and swung the axe, cutting halfway through the cop’s neck, making the head flop to one side. As the cop sagged to his knees, the fireman took the head all the way off with a second blow, screaming something unintelligible. The ruined knee collapsed beneath him on the second swing, and the other woman clawed up his body until she was able to bite out his throat.

“Marco!” cried the downed cop, still trying to see as Rosa pushed him back to the pavement.

“He’s doing his job,” she said, hearing sirens and the beat of a helicopter in the distance. “How we doing, Jimmy?”

No reply.

She looked up and saw Jimmy on his back, eyes wide and sightless as a bloody fireman crouched over him, pulling red insides out of the medic’s body and cramming them into his mouth.

“Jimmy!” She bolted to her feet and ran toward them. The fireman looked up from feeding with glassy yellow eyes and growled. Jimmy’s body twitched. Rosa screamed his name again and ran back to the cop, ripping the nine-millimeter from his holster as he shouted a protest. She quickly checked the chamber and flicked off the safety, more than familiar with the weapon after a full tour in Iraq as a Navy corpsman assigned to combat Marines. Rosa walked to the thing eating her friend. “Fucker,” she whispered, and shot it in the forehead.

Her partner twitched again, and she let out a cry of relief, dropping to her knees beside him. “I’m here, Jimmy.” She started to cry. “I’m right here, baby.”

An off-key chorus of moans came from her right, and Rosa turned to see the axe-wielding fireman hobbling toward her on a shattered knee, his throat a raw, red void with flaps of esophagus hanging out of it. The Asian woman who had killed him lurched a step behind, and then more shapes, firemen and civilians and one of the cops from the empty cruiser they had seen when they arrived—all of them torn apart—shuffled out from behind a nearby Dumpster and one of the big red-and-chrome trucks. Her attention, however, was drawn to the decapitated cop’s head, lying on one ear and looking at her with filmy eyes. Its jaw worked silently, snapping at nothing.

Rosa turned and ran.

The cop Rosa had treated propped himself up on his elbows and saw what was coming. “Holy Christ!” He clawed for the hideout pistol strapped to his ankle and fired four times, hitting and missing, but stopping nothing, and then scrambled to his feet and ran into the deepening gloom.

Rosa jumped into the ambulance without bothering to shut any of the doors, watching the cop run away. She thought of how the Marines she had served with never left anyone behind, how they had ingrained that philosophy into their corpsmen, the Navy medics they all called “Doc.” But that was war, and this was some hellish nightmare, a drug addict’s dark fantasy.

And yet Jimmy had moved.

No, he couldn’t be alive after what she had seen. None of them could.

A moment later a bloody palm slapped against the windshield and she screamed. Rosa wedged the cop’s pistol between her thigh and the seat, threw the ambulance into a rocking, three-point turn, and seconds later was roaring away from the scene. She began whispering a Hail Mary as tears ran down her face.

•   •   •

A police helicopter—one of the few remaining since San Francisco decommissioned all but a few of its fleet years earlier—hovered slowly up Main Street. It paused to put a spotlight on the ambulance parked at a curb with its emergency lights flashing and rear doors hanging open. The beat of the downdraft whipped the trees along the nearby sidewalk, blowing leaves off limbs, and then the chopper moved on.

Rosa was in the driver’s seat, knees pulled up to her chest and arms wrapped tightly about them, rocking and crying. Jimmy was dead. She had left him there, and he was dead. She had run away. Her sobs filled the cab where there had once been two voices as she pressed her face against her knees, body shaking. Headlights slid by, but no one stopped.

Only a few blocks away from the slaughter, she stayed there for fifteen minutes, until her tears stopped and her hands quit shaking. She called her mother’s house, but there was no answer. She got out, closed the rear doors, and returned to the driver’s seat.

The radio was going mad. Calls to 911 and chattering code filled the airwaves, excited voices calling for more units, for Life Flight, for police and fire. Gunfire sounded in the background of some of the calls. And screams. The dispatcher called for Jimmy and Rosa’s unit, eager to send them on another call. Rosa ignored the radio.

Main was a one-way street, and she took it up across Mission, leaving the emergency lights on and banging the siren built into the rig’s horn to clear traffic. Around her, all appeared normal, people out at night unaware of the madness she had left behind. At the intersection of Market, however, she came to a full stop. SFPD was setting up yellow sawhorses, their cars crowding the street, all of their attention focused on the wide, brightly lit entrance to the Embarcadero BART station. Every officer seemed to be carrying a shotgun. One of them saw her at the corner and waved her in.

Rosa had no intention of getting involved in whatever this was, so she eased forward slowly, maneuvering around a sawhorse, aiming for the street on the far side of the intersection. She was a third of the way across when bodies spilled out of the BART station entrance, hundreds of them, mostly dressed in business attire that had once been pressed and sharp but was now bloody and torn. They staggered and lurched, pressing forward even though most had great chunks of flesh torn from their bodies, others with limbs twisted at painful angles or missing altogether.

A pair of tear gas canisters was fired into their midst. The crowd pushed through, more flowing out of the station behind them. A bullhorn command was given, and Rosa jumped as a volley of shotgun and pistol fire exploded into the crowd.

They didn’t slow.

More firing, and then the crowd was spreading out, tipping over barricades and pawing their way down the sides of police cars, cops falling back as the torn and bloodied commuters slammed into them like a wall, moaning and clutching and biting. Rosa stomped the accelerator and shot across the intersection. A young woman in what had once been a smart gray business suit—now with half her face torn away and her lower jaw missing—stumbled in front of the rig as Rosa hit the gas. She bounced off the grille with a thump and went flying. The medic bit her lip and kept the accelerator down.

The traffic headed her way in the opposite lane was stopped and backed up as Rosa traveled down Drumm Street, then took a pair of lefts until she reached Pine, another one-way that cut straight across the city. Straight toward home. Voices on the radio were still calling for help, a few of them even crying, and the dispatcher was demanding that all available units respond to a police and National Guard emergency on Market, not far from where Rosa’s ambulance was racing away in the opposite direction.

She shut the radio off.

A traffic accident appeared in an intersection ahead, and she swerved around it, keeping her eyes fixed forward, refusing to look at the dazed, bloody faces watching in disbelief as she drove past without slowing. At Montgomery Street a pair of SFPD cars were blocking cross traffic while uniformed soldiers uncoiled barbed wire across Pine. Rosa tapped the horn and bluffed her way through. She passed a park on the right a few minutes later, and saw shadowy figures stalking through the trees in pursuit of a homeless man struggling to push a heaped shopping cart over grass and tree roots. They were gaining on him.

Just past the Stockton Tunnel she rolled up on the back end of stopped traffic, the flames of a fully engulfed apartment house half a block beyond turning the early evening orange and red. Rosa used the siren again and bullied her way to the next intersection, driving with two wheels on the sidewalk, and then cut up two blocks before circling around and coming back to Pine, on the other side of the fire.

Her mother’s phone continued to ring unanswered, and she redialed three times with the same result. A minute later the chirp of an incoming call caused her to quickly hit the Answer button without looking to see who it was.

“Petty Officer Escobedo, please.”

“Speaking.” She was startled to hear a man’s voice, not her mother’s.

“This is the CINCPAC watch officer. Your reserve unit has been activated, and you are ordered to report immediately to Oakland Middle Harbor, USNS Comfort. Acknowledge the order, Petty Officer.”

Rosa took a deep breath. “Report to USNS Comfort immediately, Oakland Middle Harbor. Understood.”

“Very well, Petty Officer.” The call disconnected.

Rosa resisted the urge to throw the phone at the windshield, cursing softly. The ambulance reached the Pacific Heights neighborhood and she turned north, shutting off the emergency lights and quickly reaching her mother’s block. She slowed as the headlights revealed the scene.

Luggage, clothing, and cardboard boxes littered the pavement and sidewalks, and there was only empty curb on a street where it was normally difficult to find a parking space. The well-kept, three-story row houses blazed with light, but there was no movement in any of the windows. Most of the front doors stood open.

Rosa stopped in front of her mother’s building and got out, tucking the cop’s automatic in her back waistband. In the distance she could hear sirens and the thump of a helicopter, but this neighborhood was quiet. She climbed the steps and went into the first-floor apartment. That door was standing open too, and a note was waiting on the kitchen table.

Rosa,

The Army is putting us in trucks to keep us safe from the rioting. We are going to the Presidio, and should be home soon. My phone is dead, forgot to charge it. Will call you soon.

Love, Mom

Rosa went back to the street and stopped on the sidewalk when she saw a soldier standing near the ambulance’s front grille, arms hanging limp, swaying from side to side. He didn’t have a weapon or a helmet and the headlights revealed that one of his hands was nothing but ragged, chewed stumps instead of fingers. His uniform was charred, and even at this distance she could smell fire.

The soldier lifted his head, blank eyes glistening in the headlights. He made a mournful sound and then started toward her. He moved the same way as those she had seen at the scene where she lost Jimmy, and the word plague popped into her medic’s mind. Rosa ran into the street to the right, the soldier turning to follow her, stumbling on the curb but keeping his footing. Once she had enough distance Rosa pulled the automatic and took a shooting stance, gripping it in two hands. “Stay back.”

The soldier moaned and kept moving.

Rosa fired twice, hitting him center mass. The soldier twitched with the impact but didn’t slow. She fired again, aiming right at the heart, and still the soldier lurched forward, faster now as he raised his hands and emitted a ragged hiss.

Body armor, she thought, raising her aim an inch and shooting him in the face. The soldier dropped immediately and didn’t move. A moment later Rosa was back in the rig heading north on Divisidero Street and following the most direct route to the closed Army base at the Presidio. Whatever was going on, she had no intention of entrusting her mother to some half-assed refugee camp.

Four blocks later she realized it didn’t matter.

The convoy of four trucks and an escorting Humvee was stopped in an intersection, three of the big vehicles burning and lighting the neighborhood in a ghastly orange hue. A dozen bodies lay sprawled on the pavement amid scattered shell casings, the brass reflecting the jumping flames. Dozens more bodies blackened by fire or stumbling about with missing limbs and mortal wounds filled the street.

Other shapes were floundering amid the fire in the back of one of the trucks.

One of them tumbled out and hit the ground, hair and clothing lit like a torch, blackened skin blistering as it pulled taut. The thing crawled toward the ambulance and raised its head, the heat peeling its lips back from its teeth. It reached with one hand, and in the headlights Rosa recognized the silver charm bracelet her mother had refused to take off since her daughter gave it to her at the age of fifteen.

•   •   •

Rosa’s apartment was only six blocks from her mother’s, and by the time she got there she had almost convinced herself that it hadn’t been Marta Escobedo falling out of that truck, crawling as she burned. It couldn’t have been. That would mean Rosa had driven off without even trying to help, and she would never have left her mother like that. So she simply turned those thoughts off. It was a skill she had developed on the pole at the Glass Slipper Gentlemen’s Club: the ability to put aside the most unpleasant parts of life, to dismiss the hungry faces and drunken offers from the edge of the stage, to turn off the shame she felt every time she danced.

This neighborhood was quiet too, the streets and sidewalks empty. Rosa left the ambulance running out front while she went in. There was no roommate to disturb—she lived alone—and she quickly changed into her uniform: blue camouflage and cap, combat boots, the insignia for a Navy corpsman pinned to her collar tabs. Her sea bag was already packed and waiting in the closet, filled with clothes and toiletries, and minutes later she was back in the rig. She didn’t bother to lock her front door. She suspected she wouldn’t be back.

Rosa’s 2007 Toyota Corolla was tucked in a small garage behind the apartment, but she left it there. The lights and siren of an ambulance would get her past obstacles the Toyota couldn’t. She headed back across the city, toward the Bay Bridge.

The civilian radio channels were jammed with breaking news, talk of rioting and looters, and there were reports of savage attacks across the city. Police spokesmen assured the public that they had the situation in hand, but as midnight approached and Rosa drove through the heart of San Francisco, she saw things that strongly contradicted that statement. Buildings were on fire and no one had shown up to put them out; squad cars pushed past car accidents, leaving dazed victims waving in the street, just as she had done; looters were already at work, small groups but sometimes larger crowds smashing windows and kicking open doors, carrying their prizes into the night.

At one point Rosa was forced to stop for another accident, looking for a way around it, and a teenager with a knit cap charged the ambulance with a can of spray paint in each hand. He slid to a stop in front of the windshield, shaking the cans as he waggled his tongue and screamed something she couldn’t make out. He managed to spray a single red line down the passenger-side glass before Rosa leaned out the driver’s door with the automatic and fired a round into the asphalt near his feet. The kid yipped like a kicked dog and skittered away.

Near Fell Street she had to stop again, this time the way completely blocked by a stopped garbage truck, the driver on his hands and knees beside one of the tires, crying and vomiting. A body was pinned beneath the tire, a young man hopelessly mangled. But he was still moving, his mouth opening and closing as the fingers of one hand groped at the truck driver’s shirtsleeve.

The driver saw the ambulance. “Help him!”

On reflex, Rosa grabbed the door handle to jump out. Then a body dropped from a building on the right, hitting the roof of an Altima, crushing it and blowing out the windows. The broken figure rolled off onto the pavement and started belly-crawling toward the truck driver. Two more bodies dropped from above, one exploding in bone and blood on the sidewalk, the other slamming down onto the sobbing garbage truck driver, killing him instantly with the impact.

Rosa reversed the rig and found another route.

Her ability to switch off her thoughts went into overdrive, trying to keep her from facing the how and why of what was happening. She knew this was a childish and foolish way to deal with a dangerous reality, but another part of her insisted that to face it would lead to madness. Instead she locked thoughts of Jimmy and her mother and the rest of tonight’s horrors into a room deep inside herself and focused on getting out of the city. She would report for duty in Oakland and lose herself in her work, safely immersed in the structure of military authority.

At the entrance to Highway 101, her access to the Bay Bridge, she was handed a reality check about her ideas of safety and structure. Traffic was bunched up in every direction, people flashing their lights and leaning on horns. At the on-ramp, a desert camouflage M1 main battle tank was backing off a flatbed tractor-trailer behind a sandbag barricade still being erected by hurrying soldiers. To the right, police and fire lights spun as a team of firemen trained a high-pressure hose on a crowd of people trying to reach the bridge. Bodies fell and tumbled away from the stream. To the left, an eight-wheeled armored vehicle with a small turret, a Marine LAV-25, armed with a twenty-five-millimeter Bushmaster chain gun, rolled slowly toward the roadblock.

A bloody man and woman staggered in front of it. The LAV rolled over them without stopping, crushing their bodies beneath its big tires.

Rosa hit the emergency lights and sirens, thinking she might get the stopped traffic to part, bluffing her way through another roadblock. The cars didn’t move, but the turret of the battle tank rotated in her direction even as the armored vehicle backed off the truck, settling the cavernous muzzle of its 120-millimeter main gun on Rosa’s windshield.

The sight of that death-bringer nearly released her bladder, and she reversed quickly, turning and heading back the direction she had come, finding her way to Mission Street. She headed for the water and the ferry plaza, just off the Embarcadero.

It was after 1:00 A.M. when she pulled into the packed lot, and she left the rig in a fire lane as she grabbed her sea bag and hurried inside. Rosa immediately saw the troops and cops, heard sounds from the main terminal room with which she was familiar: cries of the wounded and calls for help. The high-ceilinged chamber echoed with shouts and groans and smelled of blood and antiseptic.

A man in green-and-gray camouflage with brushy silver hair and a doctor’s coat saw Rosa, spotted the medical insignia on her collar, and pointed at her. “Corpsman! Over here, now!”

Rosa dropped her bag and dove in.

TWO

“How long were you there?” Xavier asked.

Rosa guided the harbor patrol boat across the bay, windshield wipers slapping against the rain, her eyes moving between what lay ahead and what was revealed on the green surface radar mounted near the wheel. She was surprised at the way she had opened up to this man she had just met. He was in his forties with close-cropped hair, his upper body a V of imposing, packed muscle, and his brown face was marred by a long, cruel scar. At first glance, he was someone to be feared. His eyes, however, held a gentleness that pulled her in. He reminded her of Jimmy in subtle ways, his ability to truly listen, not just wait for his turn to talk like most people did. Attractive women could easily tell when a man was listening and when his mind was elsewhere. Xavier listened. He made her feel that nothing in existence was more important than what she had to say. It was a trait she had experienced with only one other person in her life, a beloved uncle long since passed, thankfully before all this.

“Weeks,” she said. “I lost track of the days; they blurred together.” She thought about the big ferry terminal, transformed into a trauma center. “It was a nightmare. We tried to help, but nothing could turn back that fever. Every single person who got bitten died, no matter what we did, and then they turned. All of them. We lost medics and doctors to our own patients before we figured it out.”

Xavier tried to picture what she was describing. The horror of it was easy to imagine. More difficult was imagining going through the experience without being scarred, as she most certainly was. How could she not be?

She went on. “For a while the soldiers just started executing anyone coming in with a bite. The doctors went crazy, ordered them to stop, and one Army surgeon even pulled a sidearm. We almost had a war right there in the terminal. It didn’t matter. We couldn’t save them, not the bitten ones.”

As the boat thumped over low swells, Rosa’s eyes keeping on the alert, she told him about the horrors she had witnessed. Xavier just listened, keeping his own horrors to himself. Rosa talked of seeing men in biohazard suits, soldiers gunning down looters, buildings on fire and cars exploding, even watching as a helicopter suddenly dropped out of the sky and crashed somewhere in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood, its fireball climbing above the rooftops. She spoke of seeing the exodus of ships and smaller boats from San Francisco Bay, about how she and a few others had tried to signal from the roof of the ferry terminal, and how none of the boats detoured from their escape.

Rosa spoke of the dead, sometimes thousands of them in the street, crashing into the terminal in relentless waves, soldiers firing out every door and window to the point that she thought the gunfire would never end. Yet other times they were scattered or gone altogether, leaving the barricaded survivors with no answer as to their whereabouts. She described the eerie sight of their silhouettes moving within the fog, lonely moans echoing through empty streets.

Her cheeks were wet by now, and Xavier rested a big hand gently on her shoulder. She didn’t pull away. “Little by little there were fewer people at the terminal,” she said. “There were casualties during the attacks, of course. And when the streets were clear, cops and soldiers would go out to gather supplies or look for survivors. Most never came back. The doctors began slipping away in the night too, taking food and weapons and sneaking out.” She wiped at her eyes. “Except for that older doc, the one who first called me over to help, the same guy who pulled his weapon on the other soldiers. He was a colonel. He didn’t sneak away. He found a janitor’s closet and put that pistol in his mouth to make sure he didn’t come back.”

Her voice shuddered at the edge of more tears, but she fought them back. “After a while there were only a few of us left.” She nodded at the pregnant couple and Darius. “There were a few patients too. When they turned, I took care of them.”

Rosa didn’t speak for a while, and there was only the growl of the motor and the whispery thump of water on fiberglass. Xavier didn’t speak, only stared out at the bay and felt ashamed for the times he had pitied himself these past weeks, as if he were the only one who had lived through the nightmare.

The young woman suddenly brightened. “One of my patients was a cop, a horseback officer, or whatever they’re called. He and his unit had been doing mounted crowd control, and they got hit by a wave of the dead. It ended up being hand-to-hand combat, and he got some of their blood in his eyes. He had the fever, all the symptoms, but by then the doctors weren’t letting anyone kill them until they turned.”

“If he was down with the fever,” Xavier asked, “how do you know what happened to him?”

She smiled. “Because he made it! He pulled through. That’s when the doctors started talking about something they started calling the slow burn, when we discovered that sometimes a person who had been exposed but not bitten could survive. Most of the time they didn’t, but it could happen.”

Xavier thought about that. Was it cause for hope? Or a setup for even greater disappointment and grief?

Rosa laughed. “Do you know that when he came out of it, the first thing he asked about was his horse?” She laughed again, but it turned into a choking sob.

Xavier kept his arm firmly around her. “What happened to the officer?”

There was a pause, and when she spoke her voice was flat. “As soon as he could walk, he left. Said he had to find his wife and kids. He made it fifty feet into the street before they took him down.” She pulled away then, though not abruptly. “They tore him to pieces, and all I could do was watch.”

The harbor craft hit some steeper waves, rising and falling more sharply. Alameda grew in the windshield before them. Above, the sky was a brawling mass of black and charcoal clouds, and the rain began to fall faster and with more strength. The new intensity of the downpour was more than Darius and the pregnant couple could tolerate, and now that the newcomer on the boat appeared to pose no threat, they hunched against the slashing rain and moved between Xavier and Rosa, going down into a small cabin in the bow.

“How did you come by this?” Xavier asked, rapping his knuckles against the fiberglass.

“We’ve only had it since this morning,” she said. “It was adrift and just floated into one of the ferry berths. There was no one on board, just a lot of blood and a half-full fuel tank.” She shrugged. “I guess all that basic seamanship training is finally paying off.”

The priest gave her a small smile. “Lucky for me. Thanks again.” After losing Alden—the schoolteacher with a heart condition and Xavier’s last friend in the world, it seemed—Xavier had quickly become cornered by the dead at a San Francisco marina. Corpses had swarmed toward him down a narrow dock, trapping him at the end, and it looked like he would go down swinging a tire iron. Then Rosa had appeared with her boat, saving his life. Of course once he was out of the water and on the deck, Darius had tried to take his life, but the shotgun was empty, and Xavier had been spared a second time.

“Finding you was an accident,” Rosa said with a shrug. “We were looking for a fuel pump, and then we were going to try for San Jose. There was talk of a refugee center down there.” She pointed forward. “An actual helicopter sighting trumps a rumor, though, don’t you think?”

“No argument.”

“Are you really a priest?” She wanted to say that his size and frightening scar made him look more like a gang enforcer, but she didn’t want to be rude. She held back a smile. Even at the end of the world, being polite was still important.

“Yes. . . . I guess.” When she raised an eyebrow at that, he pushed on. “Are you really a paramedic and Navy Reservist about to enter med school and paying the bills with exotic dancing?”

She laughed. “When you put it all together I guess it’s a lot. You sound like Jimmy. He’s—was my partner on the rig.” Rosa looked sideways at him. “Are you going to lecture me about how my dancing is a sin and all that, Father?”

“Let’s stick to Xavier, okay? I’m not the person to judge another on what she does to survive. I’m more interested in your medical training.” He told her he had been a Marine in Somalia and said the grunts had nothing but respect for the corpsmen that went into combat with them. He did not tell her that while over there, he had shot down two boys not even old enough to be out of elementary school. They had AK-47s and meant to kill Xavier and his squad so it was considered a justified shooting by many, but that was small comfort for a young Marine overcome with guilt. His inability to reconcile himself with the killing had ended his military career.

Rosa told him her unit had spent a year in Iraq, and that although female medics weren’t allowed out on the patrols, an aid station she was operating in a supposedly “secure” town was suddenly hit by insurgents, and she found herself firing back right alongside the men.

“Did the Navy give you your Combat Action Ribbon?”

She nodded.

“Well, then Semper Fi.” That made her smile, and the priest smiled back. “So why don’t you try to call me Xavier?”

“That’s going to be tough,” she said. “I’m Catholic.”

Xavier nodded at that. “Do your best. I’ll call you Doc, if that’s all right?”

“Sure,” Rosa said. She pointed at the landmass ahead of them in the fading light, a darker strip against a turbulent sky. “The helo set down on the west end of the island, where the naval air station used to be. Somewhere up ahead are the piers where the ships came in, where the Hornet is now. I figure we can dock there, and go on foot to the airfield.”

Xavier nodded. “And the dead?”

“If it doesn’t look safe at the docks we can cruise the water’s edge,” Rosa said, “maybe tie up at some rocks and force our way through the perimeter fence.”

“That sounds good. And if the dead get too numerous . . . ?”

“Then we haul ass back to the boat,” she finished.

“Okay, Doc, what do you need from me?”

“Tell Darius to give you that shotgun and the extra shells. No offense, but it’s better off in the hands of a former Marine than with a sociology professor who can’t manage to kill a man lying on the deck in front of him,” Rosa said, recalling the moment Xavier had climbed out of the cold waters of the bay. He had been shaking and Darius was convinced it meant that the man was infected. He aimed and pulled the trigger on his shotgun, but hadn’t realized he had fired his last shell. Xavier took the weapon away from him, and Rosa thought the man showed tremendous restraint by not giving the professor a beating or simply throwing him over the side. She winked, revealing that there was still some humor and life left in her. “After your little moment together on deck,” she said, “I don’t think he’ll give you a problem about it.”

Darius didn’t. He handed over the weapon, half a box of shells, and another round of apologies. Xavier gave him a smile and told him to relax, which seemed to make the man feel better. When the priest returned to the deck, Rosa pointed to ten o’clock.

“We’re not going to be alone,” she said.

Ahead were the Alameda naval piers, marking the entrance to a sheltered bay Rosa had described. The silhouettes of retired cruisers and destroyers were overshadowed by the much larger shape of the USS Hornet, a World War II aircraft carrier permanently moored at the piers and transformed into a museum.

Approaching the small bay from the left, staying close to the shoreline, was a barge coughing out a cloud of black diesel. At their present speeds, both vessels would reach the mouth of the little bay at the same time. The barge’s flat deck was packed with people crowded around a blue truck. All of them were looking at the patrol boat, their weapons raised.

THREE

Evan Tucker piloted the crowded maintenance barge along the southern edge of the old naval air station, scanning the rocky shoreline for a suitable landing spot. Twenty-five and good-looking, he had blue eyes and black hair down to his collar. Dressed in faded jeans, a denim jacket, and work boots, he looked the part of the wandering writer, traveling America’s roads as he dreamed of crafting the Great American Novel. In the weeks since the outbreak he had gone from vagabond loner to leader.

Out on deck, Calvin and his Family hunched against the rain, many seeking shelter behind the mass of the armored Bearcat riot vehicle. Calvin, a fiftyish hippie with an Australian bush hat and heavily armed, had thus far managed to keep the Family alive. The Family was his collection of free-spirited relatives and friends living a gypsy lifestyle. Their lack of dependency on modern conveniences had made them all the more resilient in what had become of the world.

Maya pressed close against Evan, resting her head on his shoulder. Her silent reassurance was calming, and he needed that now. She was a few years younger than him, with long dark hair and sapphire eyes. Maya had been deaf and mute since birth, but she and the young writer had no trouble communicating their feelings for one another. Her father, Calvin, approved.

The barge was rocking hard, taking the rhythmic surges of the bay full along its right side. They were exposed to more powerful waters out here, a forceful wind hammering them with rain and sudden, unexpected gusts, and yet again Evan was reminded that the long, flat vessel had never been intended for more than puttering about a placid harbor. He was forced to slow down for fear that a wave would tip them over, just as his imagination had pictured, and that action prolonged their exposure and increased the odds of catastrophe.

Though it had occurred less than an hour ago, their narrow escape from the relentless horde of the walking dead on the Oakland pier felt to Evan as if it had happened in another lifetime. For him now there was only the struggle to keep the barge level and on course, and to keep watch out the wheelhouse windows, praying for something more than rock and fence and windblown weeds.

After another hour of achingly slow chugging, during which time Evan’s arm, shoulder, and neck muscles had begun to cramp from his fight with the wheel, shapes in the distance began to materialize out of the rain. As the barge drew nearer, the shapes resolved into a pair of huge concrete piers with vintage gray warships and an old carrier tied to them. Evan let out a laugh, and Maya hugged him from behind. To the left of the piers was a large, rectangular lagoon notched into the Navy base, framed by a cement wall. A buoy floated near the entrance with a rusty yellow sign on it reading SEAPLANES above an arrow pointing into the lagoon. Evan slowed further as voices out on deck started shouting. With the armored van parked beside the wheelhouse he couldn’t see the cause of the commotion, but a moment later Calvin’s brother Dane, wearing a blond ponytail to the center of his back and armed with a lever-action rifle, appeared at the window.

“There’s a boat coming in from the right. It looks like a police boat.”

“You guys will have to handle it if things go bad,” Evan said. “I’m heading for that lagoon.”

“Got it.” Dane disappeared.

The rocking lessened as Evan passed the buoy and angled into the lagoon, aiming for a long, newer-looking dock—empty of boats—leading back toward shore and a cluster of white buildings around a small boatyard. The only vessel in sight was a weathered charter-fishing boat perched on metal stands in an extreme state of disassembly. What appeared to be its motor sat on a plywood worktable nearby, taken completely apart.

Dane returned to the window. “It’s definitely a police boat, but I don’t think they’re cops. There’s only a few people on deck, and they started waving when we got close to each other. They’re following us in.”

“Keep an eye on them,” Evan said, still not quite comfortable with giving orders. “And get some guns up front. I’m going to bring us in slow, and I want a warning if anyone sees drifters. I’m not taking us into another death trap.”

“Calvin’s already on it.” He disappeared again.

Evan scanned the approach. The old warships were far to the right now, and ahead, an access road appeared to run beside the concrete lip at the water’s edge. Derelict buildings with peeling paint lined the other side of the road, each identical to the next. He saw nothing moving on shore, and no one called out. It was small comfort, and he thought of the elderly zombie he had seen rattling the fence. The old drifter wouldn’t be the only one of his kind here.

He throttled back and guided the barge along the side of the dock, hitting it harder than he intended, the impact throwing several people off their feet but thankfully none into the water. The barge made a long scraping sound as it slowed, causing the dock to shudder and splinter in places, and Evan cursed, certain he was going to tear the entire length of boards and pilings apart. He wished for brakes and killed the engine. The left bow struck a sturdy piling and stopped the barge with a wrenching blow, resulting in alarmed cries. In seconds a handful of hippies were tying off, others with rifles leaping onto the dock and going ahead while parents helped their children off the barge.

“We’ll take care of your hog,” Dane shouted back to the wheelhouse, and immediately a group of men muscled the Harley Road King onto the dock, another carefully walking it ahead toward land. Evan and Maya walked out onto the deck, preparing to join the others.

Carney, one of the two escaped San Quentin inmates on the barge, caught up to Evan and stopped him before he could follow. They had spoken only briefly back in Oakland. “I didn’t get your name. You in charge of this group?”

Evan shook his head and pointed at Calvin, who was helping his wife, Faith, with their kids. “I’m Evan, just tagging along.” He introduced Maya.

“Uh-huh.” He pointed to an enormous, muscled Viking of a man covered in prison ink, with long blond hair, his cellmate of many years. “That’s TC. I’m Carney.” He left out their last long-term address. “We’re going to need this,” he said, jerking a thumb back at the Bearcat, its idling engine still knocking.

Evan looked at the truck, then at the narrow dock, feeling foolish. “Right. There’s got to be a boat ramp around here. I’ll beach this thing and you can drive off.” He failed to register that the side of the vehicle said CALIFORNIA D.O.C.

Carney nodded and went back to the truck. TC stood on the deck, smiling at the writer. Evan didn’t care for that smile, though he couldn’t say why. He helped Maya up onto the dock and then started untying the lines that secured the barge.

“I’ll ride with you,” said Calvin, standing near the bow, wrists draped comfortably over the assault rifle hanging around his neck, rain dripping from the rim of his outback hat. He had noticed what was on the side of the truck and easily made the connection with these two big, tattooed men. “If these fellows decide to go their own way, you won’t be left walking by yourself.” Calvin was looking not at Evan as he spoke, but at TC.

The smile slid off the inmate’s face, and his eyes glittered with something unpleasant.

On the other side of the dock, Rosa and Xavier had pulled in shortly after the barge, the Navy Reservist bringing the patrol boat in smoothly. They tied off as their passengers hurried to join the hippies on shore, ducking against the rain.

“I’m a little worried about leaving the boat unguarded,” Rosa said softly, glancing at the crowd of unexpected company.

“So take the keys,” said the priest. “If all goes well with the helicopter, we won’t be back anyway.” He slung the shotgun and climbed off. Rosa hung a bright orange nylon satchel over her shoulder and followed.

On the barge, Calvin spotted the bold red cross on the side of Rosa’s bag. “Hey, are you a doctor?” When the woman shrugged, he pointed at the armored Bearcat. “There’s a really sick girl in there. Could you take a look at her?”

TC gave Calvin a look that Carney noticed from the cab of the truck. It was a look he was familiar with from their days at the state prison, and it never meant anything good for the person on the receiving end.

“I’ll go with you,” Xavier said, and followed Rosa onto the barge. Carney climbed out of the cab and took them to the rear doors, opening them and gesturing to the young woman bound and gagged on the floor. Calvin joined them. The barge’s diesel fired, and Evan backed slowly from the dock.

The medic looked inside to see a girl—a woman, actually, probably not even twenty—lying on the floor, hands, feet, and mouth secured. She wore a mix of fatigues and civilian clothing. Rosa climbed in and crouched beside her, looking over the gag and zip ties to be certain they were secure. She recognized the restlessness and sweating, felt the heat coming off her. “When was she bitten?”

“I don’t think she was,” Carney said. “She got brains and blood in her face, definitely in her mouth, probably her eyes too.”

“No bites?” Rosa pulled on rubber gloves and produced a pair of surgical scissors, cutting away the girl’s clothes. She didn’t see any bite wounds. “When did this happen?”

“This morning,” said Carney, “in Oakland. We got her out of a church where she was playing sniper.” Then he remembered the many bodies in the street, and the accuracy with which she killed. Perhaps playing wasn’t the right word. “She’s been like this since.”

Rosa checked her watch. It was hard to see as the storm chased the last of the daylight from the sky, and the rear of the truck didn’t have a dome light that came on when the doors opened. She figured maybe nine hours. “Any vomiting?”

“Not that I’ve seen,” said Carney. He looked around for TC. The man was nowhere in sight.

Rosa shook her head. “It’s unlikely. If she’d done it with this gag in place, she’d have choked to death.”

Carney looked back into the truck. “She’s sick, probably the virus.” He pointed. “That gag stays in place.”

“No argument,” said Rosa. She lifted the girl’s eyelids one at a time. The right eye was clear and white, but the left had a milky, yellow tint, and the pupil was both enlarged and a cloudy blue, like a cataract. She wrapped the girl in a blanket she found draped over a cardboard case of peanut butter. “We’ll know in another twelve to fifteen hours,” she said, climbing out of the truck. “She’ll have to be watched. If she starts to vomit, we’ll have to get that gag off and clear her airway.”

Carney shook his head. “I don’t know why I saved her in the first place, and I sure don’t know why I’ve kept her with us this long. She’s going to turn into one of those things. What’s the point?”

“Doc, what will we know in twelve to fifteen hours?” Xavier asked.

“Whether she’s going to pull through,” said Rosa. “It could be the slow burn I told you about, exposure to infected fluids from something other than a bite. Inside twenty-four hours the victim either comes out of the fever, or turns.”

No one spoke as that sank in, the sway of the barge rocking them all gently.

“You mean she could live?” asked Carney. “What are her chances?”

Rosa shrugged. “Not great. I saw only a few cases, and only one that lived.” She glanced back at the girl. “I’ll stay with her, if that’s okay.”

Carney nodded.

“What’s her name?” asked Xavier.

“I have no idea,” said Carney, walking back along the side of the truck. The priest, medic, and hippie exchanged glances, followed by introductions. Calvin quickly filled them in on their odyssey into Oakland, and how Evan had come to be with them. Xavier found that he liked Calvin at once, attracted to his easygoing, confident manner. He was clearly a person to whom people looked for answers and guidance, and the priest suspected he would be a good man to have around in a crisis.

The journey to a nearby boat ramp took only a few minutes. “Coming in now,” Evan called from the wheelhouse, and a moment later the barge shuddered as its hull slid up onto angled cement. Carney soon had the Bearcat riot vehicle they had taken from the prison on the access road beside the lagoon.

The large hippie family joined them minutes later, having paused to break open some snack and soda vending machines back at what turned out to be a yacht mooring, sales, and maintenance facility. A bearded young man named Mercury pushed Evan’s Harley up beside the Bearcat, as Xavier and Rosa climbed out to join the group. Carney walked up a moment later, but TC stayed in the truck. Watchful eyes scanned the vacant buildings as evening came on fast under a stormy sky.

“If my sense of direction is right,” said Evan, “the helicopter landed somewhere over there.” He pointed to the northeast, across the lagoon. Warehouses and hangars stood in gray rows where he was pointing, some with streets between them, all with darkened windows.

Rosa nodded. “The airfield is over that way.” When this drew some looks, she said, “I live in San Francisco and I’m in the Navy. I’ve never been here, but the place isn’t a secret. It’s huge, though. If we’re going, we need to move. It’s getting dark.”

“Maybe we should wait until morning,” said Faith, holding her and Calvin’s ten- and twelve-year-old sons close to her sides. “We never travel at night.” Her face, worn from years on the road but normally warm and welcoming, had a strained, cornered look.

“I doubt anyone does,” said Evan, looking around. Everyone shook their heads. “But can we risk waiting and having that helicopter take off before we get there?” More looks, more shaking heads.

“He’s right,” said Calvin. “We’ll stay close together, guns on the outside, and keep moving.” The hippie looked at Carney. “You coming?”

Carney paused, then nodded.

“Maybe you could drive slowly ahead of us, let your headlights show us what’s coming?”

Another nod.

Calvin nodded back. “Couldn’t help but notice the firepower you’ve got in that truck. Spreading it around could—”

“We’re not drinking buddies just yet,” said the con, his lip curling. “You keep your people close to the truck, and we’ll see what happens.”

“I’ll scout ahead,” said Evan, climbing onto the Harley with Maya. Xavier and Rosa returned to the back of the Bearcat, and minutes later the group was moving slowly through the abandoned naval base, the taillight and engine noise of Evan’s Road King vanishing in the thickening gloom of twilight.

In the cab of the rumbling Bearcat, Carney glanced at his cellmate. TC just grinned at him, planted his boots on the dashboard, and cracked open a Red Bull.

FOUR

Naval Air Station Alameda—now called Alameda Point—closed in 1997. Before that, its 2,500 acres had served naval aircraft and provided a berthing for Pacific Fleet ships since before World War II. It was made up of over thirty miles of road and three hundred buildings, from hangars and machine shops to barracks, administration facilities, and on-base housing for military families, as well as the infrastructure to support them: shopping, theaters, barbershops, food service, laundry, and recreation centers.

Over the years since its closing there had been several attempts to create modern housing developments. It was, after all, prime waterfront real estate in a densely populated area. In each case, developers had withdrawn—or been asked to—and so throughout the base were signs of partial demolition and halted ground clearing. Many places were still occupied by silent heavy equipment parked next to towering mounds of gravel and broken brick. Repurposing the base had met with numerous complications. There were issues of soil and groundwater contamination as a landfill in the southwest corner had been found to contain PCBs and was the subject of a Superfund project, as well as concerns over flood plans, local wildlife, and legal issues. There were existing leases to consider, and a stubborn historical society that had hired some expensive lawyers and planted its feet, determined to hold its ground. The Naval Air Museum, which included stewardship for the World War II carrier Hornet, had proven a worthy adversary in the battle to reclaim the valuable property.

The old base wasn’t entirely abandoned. Some buildings had been converted to fitness clubs, design studios, tech companies, auction houses, and nightclubs, as well as a training facility for the City of Alameda Fire Department. Several reality shows—Angie’s Armory among them—regularly filmed out on the old runways when working with explosives. A plane crash had been staged there for one movie, and still another film company had actually constructed a great looping road around the airfield in order to film a car chase.

Most of the three hundred buildings, however, were vacant and decaying in the sea air. Cavernous hangars were home to pigeons and gulls; two- and three-story barracks sat behind dead, brown lawns while weeds grew unchallenged up through sidewalk cracks and asphalt. Vandals had had their way, broken windows and graffiti marring what had once been clean, uniform structures.

Back when it was a naval facility, a high, sturdy fence topped with razor wire had encircled the base, well maintained and regularly patrolled. Now, decades after the closing, the fence was in disrepair: cut or pulled aside in places by curious explorers, rusted and sagging in others, or missing altogether to permit demolition and the passage of bulldozers and dump trucks. The roads into the vacant blocks of the on-base housing sections were closed off only by sawhorse barricades and No Trespassing signs.

NAS Alameda was not secure. Despite its empty and remote nature, it was not free of the dead.

Calvin and his group followed the slow-moving Bearcat on foot as it traveled through the evening streets, keeping close together. They stopped only once, when they found a trio of landscaping trailers parked along a curb, loaded with lawn mowers and tools. They collected whatever they could find: spades, hedge clippers, long-handled limb saws, and scythes. Ragged and armed with these primitive weapons, they resembled a small, medieval army marching behind a siege engine, heading off to war.

In the rear of the armored truck, Xavier sat on a bench watching Rosa as she knelt beside the infected girl on the floor, cooling her forehead with a damp rag and checking her pulse every so often. He knew he should be praying for the girl, but he wasn’t. He had told Rosa he was a priest, but was that really true? While ministering to Alden as he died, Xavier had thought that maybe he hadn’t lost his faith after all and could possibly reclaim what he thought he had forsaken. When the dead had him cornered on that San Francisco dock, he had begun to pray, but did that mean anything? Was it only reflex, a habit? There had been no stunning revelation of faith, no sense of God’s return to his life. As Rosa had pulled the patrol boat into the Alameda dock, he had stood ready with the shotgun not because he feared he would be facing the dead, but because of the armed strangers arriving on the barge ahead of them, his fellow man.

No, still not a priest. And now he was a liar as well.

He wondered what would become of the girl on the floor. She would turn, most likely, and have to be put down. Who would do it? Could he? Not if he had any hopes of regaining God’s grace. He wondered about the men up front too. They didn’t feel like corrections officers, and they had almost certainly come across this van and made it their own, filling it as they scavenged on the move. There was a hardness to them, a dangerous feeling with which he was familiar, and he decided it was more than a little likely that both they and the riot vehicle had come from the same place. They would require watching.

The seat rumbling beneath him, Xavier thought again about the God he had served for most of his adult life. Had He done all this and ended mankind? That was what he had been taught to believe, that everything was God’s will, whether it made sense or not to men. It was all part of the mystery. But this . . . this nightmare. It flew in the face of the idea that He was a loving and merciful God. But then didn’t most terrible events do that? School shootings and genocide, war and famine, even the gut-wrenching poverty and homelessness he had seen in the Tenderloin. Now this, the eradication of mankind at the hands—teeth—of the walking dead. It was enough to make a faithful man doubt. What chance did he have, a man with no faith at all?

The Bearcat rolled slowly through the base.

In the cab, TC glanced into the back, then leaned toward his cellmate, speaking in a whisper. “What the fuck are we doing?”

Carney glanced at him. “Looking for a helicopter.”

“We’re supposed to be looking for Mexico, remember?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“So what the fuck?”

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for Omega Days

“When people ask me to recommend great zombie fiction one of the names I consistently mention is John L. Campbell. Nobody writes an urban battle scene quite like he does. The pace of his storytelling will leave you breathless, and his characters are so real and so likeable you will jump up and cheer for them. Omega Days is, hands down, one of the shining stars of the zombie genre. Do yourself a favor and move this one to the top of your to-be-read pile right now. You can thank me later.”—Joe McKinney, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Savage Dead and Dead City

“Characters as diverse as a priest fallen from grace, to a prisoner who finds his heart, are all in this story of terror….Campbell is good with characters…It’s stories like Omega Days, with a setting in a popular city that most people have heard about, that can take an average story and make it unique.”—Examiner.com

“An impressively convincing vision of a world suddenly gone insane…The maelstrom that Campbell creates is a somber portrayal of the human capacity for both selfishness and, more rarely, altruism. He effectively builds a mood of terror that sweeps the reader along in this powerful example of zombie thriller genre at its best.”—Publishers Weekly

"A highly entertaining read with a style that grabbed me from the very first page...There are creepy echoes…of masters like Koontz and King…If you want highly entertaining, escapist, zombie fiction with plenty of action peopled by rich and interesting characters, you couldn't do better than Omega Days."—SF Revu 

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Ship of the Dead 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was my first read of the series and I am hooked. It takes you right into the heat of survival in the land of the walking dead. It's a keeper and you will enjoy the journey and end up thankful that it's not you having to endure the hardship of the experience. As noted, it is a winner.
LITERALADDICTION_MLO More than 1 year ago
Our Review, by LITERAL ADDICTION's Pack Alpha - Chelle: *Copy gifted in exchange for an honest review Book #2 of the OMEGA DAYS series picks up where book #1 left off in a ridiculous cliff-hanger that had me both ranting at the author and clamoring for Ship of the Dead.  After all ending up in the same place for the most part, all of our favorites (well MY favorites anyway) return in book #2, this time searching for a way to survive in what is exponentially becoming the end of days. As the unexplained and utterly confusing virus waves through the country decimating city after city, our ragtag group of survivors decide that if they're able to win a Navy warship, they just might make it. Like a small floating city, it has everything they need - provisions, electricity, a hospital, etc. The only problem, like everything else, it's overrun by the dead, and they'll need to make sacrifices and fight like hell in order to survive. Slightly more zombie action driven than Omega Days (book #1) and more centrally storyline motivated (without constant shifts of POV between the different groups), there is tons of fabulously horrific gore, plenty of edge of your seat breath-holding moments, oodles of tragedy, action, suspense, and my favorite... the probing of the human psyche, which proves - unfortunately - that mankind may just be the worst monsters out there, especially when placed in a situation where morals are questionable, desperation abounds, and minds are easily lost.  I really enjoyed book #1 of the series, but Ship of the Dead drew me in even deeper, establishing even stronger bonds with some of the remaining cast and desperately making me want to know what happens next in Drifters (book #3 coming in January).  I know there have been mixed reviews with this series, but I really enjoy them, and I would totally recommend them for fans of zombie fiction. If you don't shy away from gore, utterly deplorable antagonists, and the darker side of reality, than take a chance with John L. Campbell and the OMEGA DAYS series. While not The Walking Dead, the books have a bit of that feel, and if you like the psychological side of TWD, I really do think you'll enjoy these books. Not everyone will agree with me, but take a chance and see for yourselves... :)
Anonymous 7 months ago
I really loved this book. I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story continues and doesn't disappoint. Love the different charactors and the way the story comes together. Now, on to book #3 !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago