Back before the release of Strain, I was posting regular snippets for writerly-type themed days like Seven-Sentence Sunday and whatnot, and I sort of got out of the habit of that. I thought I would try to get back into it.
Technically, Juggernaut isn’t a WIP, but I’m not going to restrict myself on those grounds. I’m just going to set Wednesday aside as a day to introduce people to characters and concepts from Juggernaut, Bane, and maybe some of my already released books they’re not familiar with.
For those of you who aren’t already aware, Juggernaut is a prequel, set roughly ten years before Strain, in which we see the events immediately preceding and following the apocalyptic pandemic from the perspective of two men who are tangentially involved in those events. For a nearly five chapter long excerpt please check out the Juggernaut product page at Riptide Publishing. (note: please read the warnings and additional details tabs and/or be advised that the excerpt may contain objectionable or triggering material.)
They helped destroy the world. Now they have to survive the new one.
For rentboy Nico Fernández, it’s a simple job: seduce a presidential advisor to help cement approval to launch Project Juggernaut. He’s done similar work for General Logan McClosky before, and manipulating people for his favorite client beats the hell out of being trafficked for slave wages in some corporate brothel.
Zach Houtman feels called to work with the most vulnerable outcasts of society. But his father, the Reverend Maurice Houtman, insists that Zach work for him instead as he runs for Senate. Zach reluctantly agrees, but is horrified to see his father leave behind Christ’s mandate of love and mercy to preach malicious zealotry and violence instead. Zach even starts to suspect his father is working with fundamentalist terrorists.
When Project Juggernaut accidentally unleashes a deadly plague that claims billions of lives, Nico and Zach are thrown together, each bearing a burden of guilt. With only each other for safety and solace, they must make their way through a new world, one where the handful of people left alive are willing to do anything—and kill anyone—to survive.
In this scene, rentboy Nico Fernandez has just learned the “special jobs” he’s been doing for General Logan McClosky have had an unforeseen–and catastrophic–consequence.
Nico woke to a cold and empty bed, his muscles aching pleasantly. McClosky had been unusually vigorous once Nico had convinced him that he had no problems fulfilling their standing contract. The general hadn’t been cruel or brutal, not like Littlewood, but there had been an undertone of urgency to his lovemaking each night that left Nico exhausted and collapsing in a dreamless slumber in the general’s bed.
And he’d only gotten more intense once a travel advisory extended their holiday weekend well into the first week of December. The storm looked as if it would go on for at least another couple of days.
During the day, McClosky was courteously withdrawn, keeping Nico company for meals but excusing himself to his study to work for hours at a time, leaving Nico to entertain himself. And now he’d left him to wake up alone too. It wasn’t the first time this week, either.
His concern for McClosky mounting, Nico threw back the covers, pulled on his silk shorts, and then reached for his robe. He wrapped it around himself before padding barefoot through the dark cabin to the general’s study.
McClosky, absorbed in whatever he was doing, didn’t seem to hear his approach as Nico entered behind him. It was the first time Nico had dared breach the sanctuary of the study, knowing the general often dealt with classified materials. He peered over McClosky’s shoulder at a graph of some kind on the display. Nico wasn’t close enough to read the labeling on the axes, but he could see it was charting the geometric growth of something that started small and quickly became huge.
“Can I ask what you’re working on, sir? I thought you were supposed to be on holiday.”
The general turned off the display and spun his chair around so quickly that Nico jumped. “You can’t be in here, Nicolás. Go, now.”
“General. Logan.” Taking a deep breath, Nico knelt in front of McClosky, resting his hands on the general’s knees. “You’re my client, yes, but you’ve also been my friend. If I can help . . .”
McClosky’s eyes searched his face for a long, troubled moment, and then he closed them with a sigh. “You and your mother are the oldest friends I’ve ever had. The only relationships I’ve been able to maintain these last thirty years. Did you know that?”
“I’ve always known you didn’t have any family, sir. I wasn’t sure about anything else.”
“I should have fought harder to convince Silvia to stay, for your sake, if not my own. I’m sorry.” When he opened them, his eyes were full of guilt and concern, but they held steady to Nico’s. “I want you to promise you’ll remain here with me. I have supplies, enough to last a year or more. They’re in a hidden cellar beneath the cabin, and I have fuel cells for the generators, and we’re away from the population centers. You’ll be safe here.”
“Safe from what? Is this about the RAL, still?” Nico saw the burgeoning graph from the display in his mind, its data exploding like a horizontal mushroom cloud. That didn’t look like anything to do with the RAL.
McClosky shook his head. “If I tell you more, I’ll be guilty of high treason.”
Nico blew out an impatient breath. “Well, I’m not likely to report you. Is my mother in danger?”
“It may be too late for her now.” The general looked away. “The national news sources have been conveying carefully doctored reports for months, but it’s getting too big. A media blackout just went into effect. All communications satellite uplinks have been subject to censorship for weeks and are now completely shut down to unapproved traffic. The lid’s about to come off.”
“What are you talking about?” Nico gestured to the blank display. “What is it?”
“A juggernaut.” McClosky’s expression was bleak, and he turned on the display again. “Absolutely unstoppable. I want you to imagine how many people a single man—say, an orderly in a hospital—has contact with over the course of three to six weeks. Perhaps a thousand? And how many people do those thousand each have contact with? Hundreds of thousands—possibly even millions—of people were infected before the first case even began to manifest symptoms, before any health authority was ever aware of what they were dealing with. It’s all over the world by now. It is one hundred percent contagious and, as far as we can tell, one hundred percent lethal.”
Nico’s head spun, his stomach twisting. He thought he might actually vomit, but there was something more important to focus on, so he pushed the nausea aside and stood. “I have to call my mother. I have to get her away—”
“Did you hear what I said, Nicolás? It may be too late for her. How many Costas employees do you think could have it by now?”
“I have to try to—”
“You can’t get to her.” McClosky caught Nico’s wrist in an unyielding grip. “The president and VP are dead; there’s no telling how many in Congress and the cabinet have been infected. While you’ve been here, martial law has gone into effect. The official excuse is the megastorm that’s hitting half the country. The highways have all been blockaded. The hospitals where cases have been reported have been cordoned off. Anyone trying to leave them is shot on sight. Armed patrols in hermetic suits are forcing people into quarantine in their houses, dropping off rations, killing anyone who resists. The only other information being broadcast anywhere is on approved channels.” McClosky glanced away again, his eyes both merciless and remorseful when he looked back. “I’m sorry, Nicolás. I tried to protect you. Both of you.”
“Why did you let her leave?” Quivering with rage, Nico shoved the general, pushing his rolling desk chair away. McClosky simply sat there, accepting it. “Why didn’t you tell us before she left? She would have stayed if—”
“I couldn’t, Nicolás. Not before the media blackout. Not before the martial law declaration. I shouldn’t even be telling you now. I’m sorry.”
“Fuck your sorry!” He shoved McClosky’s chair again, tipping it dangerously before the general caught the edge of his desk to stop it. “Fuck your bullshit excuse! We trusted you!”
The general rubbed his forehead, as though overcome by a severe headache, and turned on several more HUDs. On one muted projection, a uniformed woman with a stiff smile was mouthing words, which the captions revealed were instructions for everyone to remain in their homes and wait for supply drops. On other displays there were rapidly scrolling reports of death and infection rates, as well as armed altercations between quarantine enforcement patrols and civilians.
Most horrifying, though, were the pictures of people staring sightlessly from agonized faces covered in suppurating lesions that mottled their skin like rotten fruit.
Nico watched it all with numbed disbelief, grabbing a wastepaper basket to spew into when the twisting of his stomach became too much to bear. When the heaves finally stopped, he wiped his mouth on his sleeve and grabbed McClosky’s console. He entered his mother’s code only to encounter a message that no signal was available.
“Call my mother for me. Get her now!”
The general stared at him a moment, then sighed and typed in codes and authorizations.
Silvia’s face was drawn and worried when it appeared on the display. It was obvious she hadn’t been sleeping. “Nicolás! Are you all right? I haven’t been able to call out from the house for days!”
“I’m fine, Mamá. I’m here with the general still. Are you all right?”
“Yes, but they won’t let me leave the yard. Men in suits threatened me with a gun when I tried to open the gate to go to work the day before yesterday. An applicant I was interviewing is stuck here with me, though, so at least I’m not lacking for company.”
“That’s good, Mamá. You need to stay there. Do you have food?”
“Yes, for now.” Her eyes darted back and forth between him and the general. “Logan, do you know what this is about?”
“Just cooperate, Silvia. I’ll make certain there are adequate rations delivered to you. Stay away from people for now. No one is safe to be around. Don’t try to leave.”
“What’s happening here?” she asked.
“I’m sorry. We have to go. I’m not supposed to be making calls on this frequency except to work.”
“No, please! Nicolás! You’ll stay safe? I love you, mijo.”
“I’ll stay here where it’s safe until I can come for you, Mamá, I swear. I love you too. I’ll talk to you again as soon as I can.”
When his mother’s face was gone, all that was left on the projection displays were those horrific reports, all of which made it clear that the general’s summation of the situation was an optimistic one. Nico took over the console again. Babyl-On and every other network he normally relied on to get word-of-mouth information were all offline. Each search he did came up with no results.
“You won’t find anything,” McClosky said heavily, after Nico slammed his hands against the console in frustration. “A few talented hackers will eventually find a way to access the old landlines and radio-wave transmitters, but that tech has been decaying and unmaintained for half a century or more. Even if they manage to get stories out there, very few people will be able to see them.”
Nico grimaced. He’d always dismissed the posts fretting about the funneling of all data through the communication satellites as tinfoil-hat paranoia. People had been arguing for decades that relying solely on a satellite network controlled by the government would leave the public vulnerable to exactly this sort of blackout.
How long had the government been planning for such a contingency?
Nico sat on the floor, staring out the window as the winter sky transitioned steadily from black to gray. Coffee, and then breakfast, appeared beside him. Both went ignored.
It was past noon when he finally looked at McClosky again.
“You called it a ‘juggernaut,’” he said, frowning as a vague connection began to form. “You’ve used that word before. It had something to do with the reason you sent me to Littlewood.”
The general stared at him without affect; only his bleak, haunted eyes indicated anything might be amiss.
“Was this . . . Was this deliberate? Is it some sort of bio weapon? Germ warfare?”
McClosky continued to stare, but Nico thought he saw a wince.
“Did you do this?” he demanded, trembling. “Did I help you do this?”
The silence seemed eternal before McClosky murmured, “I’m sorry, Nicolás.”
“Go to hell,” he sneered before grabbing the wastebasket to vomit again.