Chapter 1: Dawn's Early Light

Caution: This Science Fiction Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Ma/ft, Consensual, Fiction, Science Fiction, Post Apocalypse, Spanking, First, Slow, .

Desc: Science Fiction Sex Story: Chapter 1: Dawn's Early Light - Something has happened, killing off most of the world. A small handful of people struggle to survive the aftermath and build a new life for themselves. (Note: Story Codes include acts from future chapters.)

I woke up slowly, feeling the throbbing in my head from too much to drink. I kept my eyes closed, feeling my body, my skin, the hair moving beneath my breath. I was lying over a table, with my head on my arms. Strange.

I'd woken up in uncomfortable positions before. Anyone who spent time down range could tell you similar stories. But my last memories were not of Iraq or Afghanistan. My last recollection was of looking at young women dancing provocatively, celebrating with my nephew, Sam.

Allen was my brother, the good son. He'd grown up, gone to school and then law school, to make Mom and Dad proud. I was the black sheep. Oh, I'd gone to school but on an NROTC scholarship and then into the Navy. While Mom had smiled bravely on my last visit home, just before I shipped out to the Middle East, I knew I'd broken her heart. Of course, Allen marrying a Jew and then converting to her faith had probably been worse for Mom. I'm sure that's what had put dad in his grave. What would his parishioners think? How could a man of God have his own son flee his religion?

In many ways, having my parents die within a few weeks of each other was probably a blessing. I came home for their funerals but Allen had taken care of everything. Sam was only a few years old then. Somehow, during those cold December days of mandatory obligations, I'd discovered that I liked being an uncle. After that brief interlude in my violent career, I'd started taking time to connect with my brother and his family in ways I never had, when I was younger.

Allen's seven years older than I am. He and his wife, Sarah, had Sam during my senior year at A&M, a year after they'd moved to Florida. Now, thirteen years later, it was a little like coming home. I'd made it a point to spend a few weeks with them anytime I was stateside and, during my tours in San Diego, they'd come and visit me, at least once a year. Sam always loved going with me to the base or to tour ships. I enjoyed having them around, even though Sarah continually tried to fix me up with her younger friends and cousins. On this trip, she had a friend's niece in mind for me. At least she found attractive women to try and fix me up with.

Of course, I had no intentions of settling down with a future Florida housewife.

My flight had landed in Orlando on Wednesday evening and, after picking up my luggage, I'd rented a sharp looking Escalade and driven down to West Palm Beach and their stuccoed mansion in its gated community. I'd chosen to put on a suit, despite Sam's asking me to wear my uniform and sat through an excruciating service at Temple. I did my duty for pictures and helping to dress the Torah and plastered a sincerely fake smile on my face as all of Allen and Sarah's friends tried to make small talk with me at the reception, afterward. Yes, I was still in the Navy. Yes, I was an officer. No, I was not getting out soon.

Luckily, Allen and I broke free for a round of golf that afternoon. It was pleasant in the Florida fall, with temperatures in the mid seventies. We had a few beers at the nineteenth hole and watched a storm update for a possible hurricane coming our way before heading back to his house to get dressed for the evening. Sarah introduced me to Kate about thirty minutes before the party and asked if I would mind driving her tonight. She was an attractive blonde with green eyes. She was a little old for my tastes, but on par with what I was expected to chase stateside. I gave her a smile and we headed out.

I'd been surprised by the Bar Mitzvah party. Allen and Sarah had gone all out with a full bar and prime rib for dinner. Kate was pleasant company. She laughed at my jokes and asked intelligent questions. We danced a few times before the DJ switched to younger music for Sam and his friends. Kate and I had enjoyed a scotch together as we watched the kids dancing with much more energy than either of us had. I remembered commenting to the fact that a few of the girls looked like they were aspiring pole dancers in their short dresses and suggestive dance moves.

It was the last thing I remembered from the night.

My headache didn't seem to be diminishing but I decided to bravely open my eyes. My arms shielded the dim light, as I lifted my head.

"Shit."

Kate was sitting next to me, with her head lolled back and her mouth gaping. The other six diners at our table were also lifelessly sprawled around.

"Shit."

I stood up and then forced myself to reach out to her neck. No pulse. I looked around. The lights of the DJ were still strobing, but the music had stopped. I glanced at my watch. It was five A.M.

My training kicked in. I'm pretty good under pressure and in strange situations. I had spent twelve years in Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal. My hands did not shake as I began checking the others at the table for signs of life.

Sarah was harder on me than Allen. She had always had a kind word and warm smile for me. Sam was lying on the dance floor with his friends. There were no signs of panic or violence. It was as if we had all dropped off in an instant but only I woke up. Suddenly, it was too much. I rushed out the door, through the hallway and into the early morning light before throwing up a mixture of dinner and drinks.

"Shit!" I said as I spit and tried to catch my breath. It was unnaturally quiet. I took another deep breath. I pulled my phone out and hit 911. It rang through to an automated system. The fact that no dispatcher picked up told me this was more than one party with a problem.

I knew I needed to finish the job. Slowly, I headed back inside to continue checking bodies.

I found one of the aspiring pole dancers near the women's bathroom. I almost walked past her before seeing her chest move. In an instant, I was next to her checking for a pulse. She was a pretty thing. Long straight blonde hair and an oval face with pronounced cheekbones. She was wearing a little black dress that barely reached her thighs, and heels that would have done a Philippine hooker proud but not too much makeup. Once I confirmed her pulse, I stepped into the bathroom and got some damp towels. I dabbed her face and neck until she stirred.

"What happened?" she asked as she opened her eyes and stared at me. "You're Sammy's Uncle."

I forced a smile. "I am ... and who are you?"

"Cassie Stanton. I was in the fall play with Sam. What happened?" She sat up quickly and then swayed a little. "What time is it?"

"It's a little after five. I don't know what happened. I just woke up myself a few minutes ago."

"What do you mean?" She struggled to get up, ignoring her dress as it rode up to flash her black panties at me. God, she had long legs and I felt like a heel for noticing them. She tugged her hem down as she gained her feet.

I grabbed her arm as she started toward the ballroom the party had been in. "You don't want to go in there," I said.

She spun and glared at me. "Why not? Is everyone asleep still?"

She pulled her arm free and hurried to the door. I followed and managed to keep her from falling as she took in the bodies spread around the room.

"Are they all..."

"I think so. I haven't checked everyone yet. I found you before I was done."

"How? Oh my God!" She lurched away from me and ran out of the room. I heard her sobbing and then heard the outside door being pushed opened. I was torn with following her or finishing in here and being done with it all. I decided my duty was in here, in case someone else was still breathing. I steeled myself and headed back to the dance floor.

I was nearly done checking bodies when I heard her return.

"My parents didn't answer when I called," she sobbed as she came back into the room looking for me rather than at the bodies.

I looked up and nodded. "I tried 911 and got no answer."

I stood up and went to her. She grabbed me and hugged me. The pretense of a grown woman was gone now. She was a scared little girl, sobbing against my chest.

"How can they all be dead?" She asked.

"I don't know."

I held her until she regained some semblance of control, stroking her back and neck in what I hoped was a comforting manner. After a few minutes, she pulled back and looked up at me with her blue eyes.

"Are we the only two people left?"

I nodded. "So far. I've got two tables left to check. Why don't you wait for me in the hallway?"

"Are you sure?"

"Cassie, no one should have to look at this. Unfortunately, I've seen worse. Let me finish up in here and then we'll figure out what to do next."

She nodded and headed back out to the hallway as I turned to the last two tables. I held little hope, but knew the difference between little and none. It turned out I was right to keep checking.

The third survivor was another young woman. She was a brunette in a green top and black skirt, just a little longer than Cassie's dress. She was barefoot, but it looked like the green sandals under her table were hers. I finished checking the other bodies and then picked her and her shoes up to go find Cassie.

"Tabitha!" Cassie said as I exited the ballroom. "Is she alive?"

I nodded and laid her out on a bench. Cassie grabbed her hand as I went for some more wet towels. By the time I got back, the two girls were holding each other, crying. Damn - I hated women crying.

I sat down next to them, tuning them out and forcing myself to think. I closed my eyes and laid the wet towels across my forehead. Checking over two hundred corpses for a pulse had taken a toll on me.

"Are you listening, mister?"

I opened my eyes. Cassie was standing with her friend Tabitha. The younger brunette had her arms crossed in front of her, glaring at me.

"No, Tabitha, I am not listening to you," I said tightly. "I'm trying to think what our next move will be. The police aren't responding. Girls, nearly three hundred people are dead in that room. We seem to have survived, and I don't know why. I also don't know why they died and I don't like not knowing about things that can kill me," I said grimly.

My tone seemed to set her back. She licked her lips and glanced at Cassie. Finally, she looked back at me.

"I'm sorry. Do you think you could give us a lift to my house? My mom will know what to do."

I looked at both of them and then patted my pants pocket to check for my keys.

"Okay, but first, we'll stop by Allen's to get my stuff."


A couple of wrecks indicated not everyone had been home or off the roads when whatever hit us happened. No Hollywood explosions and fires, just mangled cars and few dropped trees but still a grim reminder of our new world order. We didn't see anyone living on the streets while driving back to Allen's gated community. Luckily, he'd given me one of the automatic passes that opened the gate arm. The girls didn't seem to notice that the guard house was noticeably empty. I did.

"Stay down here," I told the girls as we entered the house and I headed upstairs to change and grab a few things. "See if you can find a cooler and fill it up with water."

Three minutes later, I was heading back down the stairs in more suitable clothing.

"Shit, are you a Marine?" Cassie asked when she got a look at my field utilities.

"No. Navy EOD." I paused to pull on my web harness and pistol. The pistol was the only thing not government issue. It was one I had gotten for Allen several years ago. I always traveled with at least one set of 'work clothes' as I thought of them. I had too many unexpected detours from leave to not come prepared.

"Why do you need a gun?" Tabitha asked.

"I'd rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it." I pulled the nine millimeter Walther PPQ out of the holster, checked that a round was chambered and then returned it to my hip.

"You two stay here. I'm going to check the neighbors and see if anyone is up."

I had a feeling I could have said 'alive'.

Ten minutes later, I had checked two houses to each side and three across the street. No one I found had a pulse. Two sets of eyes followed me through the window by the door as I came back.

"Nobody home?" Cassie asked hopefully.

"Nobody alive," I said. Both girls' eyes got bigger.

"Let's go check your houses now. Can you give me directions?"

Cassie nodded and we piled into my rented Escalade. I put the cooler of water they had assembled into the back seat with Tabitha. I pulled three bottles out and handed one to each of the girls.

"Drink it up," I said as I did the same. "If your heads feel like mine, water should help."

Soon we were driving into Cassie's neighborhood. I had to stop at the guard house and open the gate for us. The guard was dead at his desk.

"Mom! Dad!" Cassie shouted as she entered the house. I hurried to follow her while trying to scan the street for any signs of movement.

"No!" I caught up with her and Tabitha in her living room. Tabitha wrapped her arms around the taller girl as she stared at her parent's unmoving bodies on the couch. I reached out to feel their necks. No pulse.

"Tabitha, take her to her room. I'll check the rest of the house. Help her get changed into some traveling clothes and pack a bag. Just the essentials. Okay?" I used what is known as my 'command' tone. Sailors knew better than to ask questions when they heard it. I hoped it worked on young women as well.

Tabitha nodded and guided Cassie by her shoulders down the hallway. It took them over fifteen minutes, but they did come back out with Cassie dressed in khaki shorts, a polo shirt, and tennis shoes. I guess that is what teenage girls considered traveling clothes. I had taken the time to lay her parents on the floor and cover them with a sheet from the hall closet. She gave them a glance and then looked back at me.

"Thank you for taking care of them."

I nodded and grabbed her bag.

"Let's hope we find something better at Tabitha's," I said.

Unfortunately, we didn't.

"You go in first," Tabitha insisted after she unlocked the door. I nodded and felt her hand against the small of my back as I headed inside and she followed. The lights were on, but no one was on the first floor. I was surprised when I looked in the bedroom. Two men were on the bed, naked. I tried to keep emotionally detached as I checked them for a pulse.

"That's my dad and Michael, his lover," Tabitha said nonchalantly. I figured it was shock setting in. Her tone had changed and her spine had stiffened.

"We need to check Mr. Timmons' place. Mom usually went to visit Consuela when Michael came over."

"Consuela?" I asked.

"She was sort of like a younger aunt. Like you were for Sam. Mom always said to go to Consuela if anything happened here and she wasn't home."

"Okay. Where is Mr. Timmons' place?"

"Just down the block. Let me get changed. Can you keep Cassie out of here? I don't feel like explaining everything right now."

I nodded.

"In fact, I'll tell Cassie to stay in the car." She ran down the hallway and out the door. I closed the bedroom door and met her on her way back in.

"Can you stay with me?" She asked as she grabbed my hand and pulled me toward her room. I followed. It seemed that she had her own tone of voice that did not broke an argument.

She deftly planted me in the one chair in her room, tucked in the corner to face both her closet and the doorway. Without another glance my direction, she turned and whipped off her top, revealing a nicely tanned back with no annoying tan lines. The skirt followed, revealing a nicely shaped and well toned ass that was barely covered by a pair of thin beige panties. She peeled those off as well, without a glance and then stepped into her closet. I was ashamed to have a sudden, raging hard on as her dead, gay father lay a few dozen feet from us.

Luckily, she was at least in panties and shorts when she stepped back into view. She was pulling a collared shirt over her head, giving me a lovely view of her budding breasts and pointy nipples. She seemed to have no modesty about her body.

"So, Commander, what should we call you?" she asked as she threw a duffle bag on her bed and began putting clothes into it.

I managed to find my voice with only a little trouble. "Jack. Jack Hampton. You seem to be handling this better than I expected."

She nodded and kept packing. "I expected it, though I hoped I was wrong. Finding Cassie's folks made me assume the worst. I'll be just as stoic at Mr. Timmons', but I've got to know."

"I understand."

"So where are we going?"

"I don't know yet. Either the police station or the hospital, I think."

"Mom's a doctor. If we find her, she'll insist on the hospital."

"Maybe we'll find someone to tell us what the hell is going on."

"I hope so. What about the Navy?"

"If we don't get any answers here, I'll try that next. Let's see if we can find your mom, first."

Tabitha threw a last jacket in her bag and then zipped it shut before motioning for me to grab it. She was going to make some man a handful, if there was a man left for her now.

I had the girls wait in the car when we got to Mr. Timmons house. Tabitha had told me he was an older man, and the Consuela was his live-in house keeper. I went inside alone and immediately was glad.

A man in his eighties, at least, was lying on the floor, naked with a dog collar around his throat. The leash was held by a dark haired woman dressed up in a French maid costume. It was obvious where she lay that there was nothing under the skirt. I checked her for a pulse, and then checked him as well. It looked like Mr. Timmons and Consuela had at least died happy. No sign of Tabitha's mother. I had looked at a family picture in their house. There was no mistaking the French maid for the petite dirty-blonde woman Tabitha had pointed out as her mom.

I moved deeper into the house, checking bedrooms upstairs, and then looking at the bodies in the entry way. They looked like they were coming from somewhere on the way upstairs. I looked into the kitchen.

No basements in Florida, but there was a slight hallway off the kitchen. I followed it, and stepped into a room straight out of a sex shop. It was walled in dark red with a black tile floor. The far wall was hung with different instruments from whips and paddles to various shaped dildos and butt-plugs. To the right, a woman was bent over a padded horse, wrists cuffed to her ankles, with a pony-tail butt-plug stuck into her.

"I guess I'm glad I had the girls wait in the car," I said aloud as I stepped into the room. I could at least put her mother in a little more dignified position.

I nearly shit when I saw the woman shiver as I pulled the pony-tail device from her ass. She struggled weakly against her bonds as I hurried to find a key. I ended up running back to the door and searching the maid. The only key was one she wore on a chain around her neck. Luckily, it was the key for the cuffs. I undid them and then helped the woman straighten as I worked the lock on the ball gag that had kept her quiet.

"Who the hell are you?" She asked after rubbing her jaw for a second. "And where in the hell is Connie? She should know better than to leave me like that."

"I'm Jack Hampton, a friend of a friend of your daughters', and I'm pretty sure Connie had no intention of leaving you like that."

I took a moment to admire the firm body of the blonde standing before me. She was curvy in all the right places and wore her nakedness with a regal air, despite having just been helped to get a butt-plug out of her ass. I let her remove her own nipple clips, and tried not to smirk at the shriek of pain she felt as circulation returned to her sensitive breasts.

"Where is Tabitha? Why did she bring you here?" She bolted for the door.

I caught her as she made it to the kitchen.

"Hold on. Tabitha is fine. Let's get you in some clothes and then you can see for yourself." She seemed to hear the sense of my words. Three minutes later, she was in a pair of expensive pants and blouse, after pulling on some lacy underclothes while I explained.

"Nothing kills like that," she said as I explained waking up from the party, and what we had found in the houses so far.

"Well, nothing is pretty fucking deadly, then," I said, already a little tired of her attitude. "You might be a doctor but I know dead when I see it and feel for a pulse. Proof is in the entryway."

She stomped toward the door and then stopped in her tracks as she looked at her companions dead on the floor.

"Shit." She knelt and checked for a pulse. "And you said everyone else you've found is dead?"

I nodded. "So far, I've counted three hundred and seventy bodies. Most of them were at the party. Four of us have survived."

"Nothing kills 99% of the people, that quickly." She motioned at the bodies on the floor. "Neither of them look like they moved to help the other. I was forty feet away and lived. It makes no sense."

"I agree but it does not change the facts. By rough count, one out of a hundred people survived. It's still early, but I don't think we are going to find many people getting up for church this morning."

She spun toward me, taking umbrage at my tone. "So what's your plan then, mister military?"

"You mean besides bending you over my knee and spanking you until you lose the attitude?"

She had the grace to blush. After a pause, she nodded.

"I'm sorry. Any thoughts?"

"Yeah, let's not let the girls in here."

"Agreed. We need to run back to my house and I'll change and get a few things. We should check the hospital."

"We can but are you sure?

"I can at least run some blood work and try to figure out what the hell did this. It's better than nothing."

"Maybe ... but we also need to be learning how widespread this is."

"Well, let's get going then."

We headed back outside and Cassie hugged me as Tabitha bolted to her mother. I'm not sure how I became Cassie's surrogate parent, but I wasn't really going to complain. It only took a few minutes to get back to Tabitha's house.

"Girls, you stay with Jack while I get a few things," Tabitha's mother said as she headed upstairs.

The two teenage girls looked at me.

"Tabitha, we need a couple of pads of paper." She brought some paper from their printer. I motioned them toward the kitchen table and pulled out my cell phone.

"Girls, get your phones out and start calling all of your contacts. On the paper, write down their names and phone numbers so we have them if something happens to the phones. If you get hold of them, find out where they are and what's happening around them. Okay?"

Both girls nodded and whipped out their phones. I hit the contacts on mine and started at the top.

Fifteen minutes later, I had strong evidence that the problem reached to at least San Diego and up to Washington. The duty lines at several bases had rung out as well. I looked up from my list of twenty numbers and saw Tabitha's mom step into the kitchen. She was in a similar outfit to the girls, looking more like a much older sister than a mother.

"So what do I call you, Tabitha's mom?"

"Samantha or Doctor Fletcher will do just fine, commander."

I avoided making a "Bewitched" joke.

"Call me Jack." I quickly explained what we were doing. She nodded and grabbed a leather bound personal phone book from the counter.

"We can keep trying at the hospital," she said as she grabbed her suitcase. "We need to figure out what caused this."

Soon we were back in the car. I let Samantha give me directions. It was just before eight o'clock when we pulled into her parking spot.

"Girls, you go with Samantha. I'm going to find the police station and see if there is anyone there."

"No," Cassie said. "I'm staying with you. Nobody should be alone right now."

Samantha gave me a look and I nodded. It's not like I was looking to leave them in the lurch.

"Okay," Samantha said. "The closest police station is six blocks down Sunset on the right." She pointed to the north.

"What's your cell number?" I asked as she stepped away.

"Shit." She rattled off her number and I punched it in my phone before hitting "call". She nodded when her phone rang and I hung up.

Five minutes later, I was entering the police station. A handful of bodies were evident. I moved through the station with Cassie following closely.

"Man, you gotta help me," a voice called from the back as we started past the holding cells.

I pulled my gun and stepped into the well lit room separated by steel bars. Three bodies were on the bed and floor. One man was standing at the door.

"Are you the army, man?" He asked. He looked dirty with second or third hand clothing and a scraggly beard. I could smell him or his cell mates from just inside the door. At least one of them reeked of cheap booze.

"Navy," I said reflexively. "What are you in for?"

"It don't matter man, everyone is dead. You gotta get me out of here."

"It matters to me. What's your name?"

"Stan," he whined.

"What did they lock you up for, Stan?"

"Some old bitch complained about me standing on a corner minding my own business. I wasn't hurting anyone."

"Okay, Stan, let me see what their files say about you and maybe I can find some keys to get you out of here. Okay?"

"You gotta let me out. These guys are dead. I woke up and they were just lying here, dead. It's like a really bad trip, man."

"Exactly like one, Stan. Just hold tight and I'll see what I can do."

I stepped out of the room and motioned to Cassie. "See if you can find a file on that desk with Stan's info in it." I pointed at the booking sergeant's desk. "I'm going to see if I can find some keys."

Five minutes later, I had the key to the gun locker and was looking at the station's small arms cache. I liked what I saw.

"What's that?" Cassie asked as she found me pulling boxes of ammo from the locker.

"Guns and ammo. We will be taking some of it."

"Better to have it and not need it..."

"Than need it and not have it. That's right. Did you find anything on Stan?"

"Yeah. Vagrant charges. Third time in two weeks. They were holding him for county it looks like."

"Well we can't leave a survivor locked up in there. Help me get this stuff to the car and then I'll let him out."

It took nearly twenty minutes to move and store the handguns, a couple of AR-15's, three shotguns and all the ammo. I locked Cassie in the car with a loaded Glock nine millimeter and went to take care of Stan.

"I thought you left me, man," he whined.

"Just had to take care of a few things, Stan. Now, step back from the door and I'll get you out of here.

"You gonna tell me what happened?" He asked as he went to the far wall.

"I don't know what happened, Stan. You're the fourth person I've seen today that's still breathing."

"What?"

I unlocked the heavy door.

"You heard me. I don't know what did it but there are a lot of dead people out here. Frankly, it scares the crap out of me and I don't want to have to worry about looking over my shoulder after I let you out. So, you're going to stay over by that wall until you can count to one hundred. I'll be gone by then. Understand?"

"But what about me?" Who's going to help me out if you leave?"

"You'll have to help yourself, Stan. I'm pretty sure the welfare state is dead along with a lot of other things today. Now start counting."

He looked me in the eye and then seemed to see the nine millimeter in my hand. "One, two, three..."

I headed back out front and saw Cassie relax against the passenger seat as I hurried to the car. I hopped in and we were rolling before I bothered with my seatbelt.

"Is he okay?" she asked as I accelerated away.

"He's alive. I don't think anyone is okay today."

Cassie seemed surprised when I pulled into a grocery store parking lot.

"Let's pick up some food while we're out," I said as I climbed out of the car and checked my weapon.

"What?"

"We've got to eat. I'd rather grab some stuff while we're out and no other survivors are thinking about it than make an extra trip outside before we have to. Come on."

I scanned the parking lot and storefront before entering the large Publix store. No one was evident inside, even though the lights were on.

"Who opened up?" Cassie asked.

"24-hour operation. Probably had a handful of stock boys and a night manager in here. Let's check the employee break room."

"Where?"

"Over there," I said as I motioned to a door marked employees only. I went through the door first, and stopped at the sight of three bodies on the break room floor.

"Okay, let's grab some fresh fruit and produce."

"Salads?" Cassie asked.

"And lunch meat for sandwiches. The hospital should have plenty of water for now. Everything else's should be canned or dehydrated. I'll pack that stuff."

Thirty minutes later we were back in the car. We still hadn't seen anyone else moving about. Five minutes later we pulled into the hospital parking lot and parked near the E.R. entrance. I pulled out my phone and called Samantha.

"Where have you guys been?" she asked in a harsh tone.

"We're outside now. Do we come in or are you coming out?" I asked, ignoring her question and tone of voice.

"Come in through the E.R. We'll meet you."

They were waiting for us as we walked in. Samantha had changed into scrubs.

"Operating?" I asked.

"Labs," she said tersely. "I don't see anything obvious in our blood. Some trace elements are higher, but not to a significant level. Nothing is showing up in the victims either. It makes no sense."

"Any other survivors?"

"I found a note. A nurse and a P.A. appeared to survive. They did rounds and found no one else. We probably missed them by an hour or less."

"At least there are other survivors. Do you know them?"

She shook her head. "Not well. I mostly interacted with the O.R. and E.R. teams. They were both in maternity. Why?"

"Wondering if we should try to call them. We need to be thinking about hitting the road."

"Why and to go where?"

"That hurricane is still heading this way. No matter where it hits on the east coast, it's going to hurt this area."

She frowned. "Then I need to stay here, in case someone needs help."

"Based on our data so far, only around fifty thousand people survived the night in the greater Miami area. Somehow I doubt many of them are power plant operators, ambulance drivers, paramedics, police, or the other people that make sure a major storm doesn't turn this place back into swamp."

Her face paled at my words.

I nodded. "Power is going to go out sooner or later and, with a storm, I'm betting sooner. Bodies are going to start to be a problem as well. It's going to get unhealthier before it gets better. We need to be thinking longer-term than today or tomorrow."

"What are you thinking?" She looked at the two teenage girls sitting in the lobby watching us. They were holding hands.

"Load up and head over to Tampa. That will get us out of the immediate path of the storm. Once we get there, we can decide on next steps but I'm guessing we're not going to want to hang around any major population centers for quite a while, to avoid disease and other unpleasantness."

She gave me a hard look. I guessed it was the doctor equivalent of my command voice. I smiled. I knew I could out-stubborn her on this issue.

"I suggest you pack a heavy duty first aid kit with whatever you think might come in handy. Personally, I'd try to clean out the pharmacy."

"Shit, shit, shit," she muttered. "Tabitha and Cassie, come give us a hand. We need to pack a few things."

It took us about thirty minutes and would have taken longer, if there had been more cases to carry things in. I ended up emptying out my duffle bag and letting her load it up. We were on the road by nine A.M. It was a start.

I ignored both the toll-booths and the speed limit as we headed north. Our route around the north end of Lake Okeechobee had some risks for the drive, but I wanted to avoid congestion around Orlando. It would not have been as quite as the residential areas we had been driving through so far this morning. So far the wreckage and mayhem seemed to be minimized by the timing of whatever it was that killed so many.

The girls sat silently in the back seat while Samantha took the front passenger seat. She was still in scrubs. We had loaded enough gear at the hospital that I could barely see out the rear-view mirror. I plugged my iPhone into the console and turned on some music after setting the speaker balance to play more loudly in the back. Samantha and I need to talk with a little privacy.

"What's this?" Cassie asked as the beat of the music picked up.

"Swedish House Mafia," I said. "I tried to pick something a little more your girls speed." They didn't need to know that I enjoyed working out to the techno-dance music with a strong beat.

I let them settle back down for a few minutes and then looked at Samantha.

"Are you going to ask?" She'd started to give me the thundercloud look of a woman seriously pissed as we pulled onto the highway.

"Yes," she snapped. "What's the plan for Tampa?"

"Can you fly a plane?" I asked.

"No!"

"Me neither. That means we find a decent sized marina to set up base at and then do a little scouting."

"Why a marina?"

"The greater Tampa area has just under five million people. If the ratio holds, only 50,000 will still be alive. My guess is that very few of those survivors will be able to manage a boat, but many of them will be able to manage a car and a gun. I'd really rather not get in a pissing match with any desperate people."

"But we have to help them," she insisted.

"I don't even want to think about stacking that many bodies to burn or bury," I said bluntly. "If we don't do something with the corpses, we'll have disease running rampant. When the food runs out in stores and pantries, people are going to turn ugly and then desperate. That's when I'm guessing another culling of the survivors will happen."

"You are one bleak SOB," she said.

"Oh, I'm real cheerful most days. Unfortunately, I've seen what people with little hope and a gun will do. If you've work an E.R. I'm guessing you've seen some shit people have done to each other. If things are as bad as they look, I don't plan on being on the receiving end of more bad news."

"So you're just going to run away?" The disdain was clear in her voice.

"Damn straight. If you don't want to come with me, then I'd wager you and your daughter will be dead inside a month."

She looked at me with cold eyes.

"I can't believe a naval officer is a coward."

Giving her a cold smile, I said, "I'm no coward ... and since you're so damned smart, you give me some realistic, viable alternatives and I'll listen but, from where I'm sitting, when only one in a hundred people are still alive and they're all after the same commodities in order to stay alive, I don't see many alternatives."

"Why?"

"Maslow's hierarchy of needs," I said. "I figure the power will be on for a week unless a big storm takes it out. That means clean water and food will be limited to what is in the stores already. There won't be any more deliveries. If people cooperate and share, that should be roughly thirty days of food in a metropolitan area."

"How do you figure that?"

"Most major cities have three to six days of food available for consumer distribution on any given day. I'm figuring most stores will be where the survivors are, since they'd be near the housing developments. If there was no spoilage, with a one-to-one hundred ratio, that would last nearly a year, but there will be spoilage. Finally, no power, most folks won't be pumping gas, so they won't range far from home. Thirty days, and survivors are going to start getting hungry. Unfortunately, we probably need close to two hundred days of food to survive."

"Two hundred?"

"If we're in a temperate climate, we could plant in early March but we'll still have to wait months for foodstuffs to grow. That means we need to live off the land or sea for protein. Cities aren't going to give us much ability to forage or hunt. Do you have any ideas for food and water?"

She shook her head.

"Then let's think about shelter. We need a place we can sustain ourselves. That rules out cities. We'll need arable soil and I'd like to have access to fresh water. Outside the cities, we have a good chance of finding decent farmland. We might get lucky and find some livestock as well. A forest would be nice, if it has some wildlife we can hunt for variety. Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texarkana are probably our best bets. Of course, we don't want to be right on the Gulf, due to hurricanes. Finding a good place is going to take a bit of time. That's the other reason a boat might be a good bet, since it'll let us investigate up some rivers and avoid the roads. A boat will also generate its own electricity."

Her face was paler now. "How long have you been planning this?"

"Planning? Hell, I'm thinking out loud as we drive to Tampa. My only plan is to get to the other coast before that storm hits."

She started to say something but stopped as fat raindrops hit the windshield. It was not heavy yet, but a glance to the east told us it would be before too long.

"So what about security?"

"Huh?"

"Maslow. After the physiological needs, security and safety come to mind."

"Well, I can handle the security. I kind of figured you could take care of our medical well-being. Frankly, I hadn't thought much beyond surviving. Once we know we can survive, then we can start building a community; find others, bring in those we trust and like."

Samantha glanced into the back seat and forced a smile for the girls. She was quiet for a few minutes, looking out the window.

"Okay," she said finally. "I can't think of a better approach but that could all change based on what we find in Tampa, right?"

"No plan survives contact with the enemy," I said with a smile. "With a little luck, we might find some friends."

I drove on, keeping an eye out for any signs of movement near the road and followed the GPS directions toward Okeechobee and then St. Petersburg.


Thanks to my editors, Slippery Saddle Bum and BW. Any errors remaining are entirely my own fault.

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