Prepared: A novella from the world of Fleet went live in the Amazon Kindle store this afternoon. This short story expands on the world the we first encountered in Fleet, where sea level rise and global pandemic have reduced human civilization to a few scattered enclaves. In Prepared, we are taken to the beginning of the end, the fall of the last major coast metropolis, where a small group of doomsday preppers are making their final stand.
Excerpted below is chapter 1: Bug Out.
“It’s time to go.”
By his friends’ standards, Gary was not a paranoid man. When the media came knocking, he was almost always chosen to represent their small collective. His calm, relaxed demeanor put people at ease. He was prepared for anything, not because he thought they needed it, but because he enjoyed it. He felt a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that, no matter what the world threw at him, he could take care of his family.
So when Gary Simmons got on the broadnet to announce that he and his family were bugging out, people noticed.
Hours earlier, Gary was sitting down for breakfast. His kids were already off to school and his wife, Alicia, left for an early shift at the seed bank. It was a slow autumn at Simmons Marina. The Seawall was bad for business. Only the wealthiest yachtsmen could afford the exorbitant lock fees to get out of the bowl and there weren’t any fish worth catching left inside. The legendary wind that made San Francisco Bay a destination for sailors around the world was quelled by that massive barrier. For a small marina, it was a death sentence.
But there were always small boat owners full of hope, hanging onto their beloved vessels, waiting for conditions to improve. The hundreds of private water taxis still needed a place to refuel and repair on their long runs up to Vallejo – after all, it was the last stop before the checkpoint.
So Gary had nothing to do but relax, watch some news, send his customers their monthly berthing invoices, and work on the next issue of his magazine, Bay Prepared. He could do that from home.
“We have confirmation that V.v. s230 has been detected west of Donner Pass.”
Gary put his orange juice down and turned up the volume on his television.
“Reports are coming in that at least 16 people are showing symptoms of the deadly infection. Initial reports from the CDC trace the source of the outbreak to a contaminated well in Sacramento.” The report cuts to stock footage of a well. They’d never show the real site. Someone would recognize it and start a riot.
“Authorities are concerned that the infection may continue to spread west. The Center for Disease Control and Bay Area Containment Authority are asking all residents of the Bowl and surrounding area to refrain from travel until they complete testing local water reservoirs. The military is closing major metropolitan checkpoints to all but essential services.”
Gary crossed “invoices” off his daily tasklist. No sense reminding his customers that they had an expensive hobby on a day that they were forbidden to sail.
He pulled out his tablet and accessed the latest draft of his “From the Editor”. This issue would be all about disease prevention, so it seemed appropriate to work on it during quarantine. He started typing, the television humming along in the background.
“Since the first documented case of Vibrio vulnificus strain 230, we’ve know that it had the potential to become a major pandemic but it wasn’t until the Chinese collapse four years ago that containment became a major goal of the current administration. The CDC has, until recently, been able to contain the outbreak to the American southeast, where we now know it originated. Major cities west of the Mississippi River have only sporadically encountered small outbreaks, primarily in climate refugee camps. Fencing and enhanced patrols along the Mason-Dixon border have kept…”
The television clicked off. One advantage of living in the Bowl was the abundance of hacker-built lifestyle devices that could be found on the gray market. His propaganda buster, a little chip that monitored broadcasts, shut the set off when his favorite news sites began repeating phrases from a convenient list of government talking points. It was worth the 3 second delay.
Gary went back to working on his article. He smiled as he re-read the first paragraph – The first thing that will happen is that the major checkpoints will be closed. He was frustrated that now no one would know that his prediction came before this morning’s announcement. He went down into the sub-pantry and found his contagion kit. Returning to the kitchen, he dumped the gear on his table and began sorting it. Gary was a man that believed in precision and he needed to ensure that he didn’t miss any critical gear in his article.
The television clicked back on. The patriotic fanfare must have ended.
“…new reports that major outbreaks have emerged in West New York, Detroit, and Kansas City. Authorities are now confirming 80% infection in these cities but the Federal Emergency Manage…” The screen clicked back off.
Gary threw his pencil down and leaned back in his chair. It looked like his article would come out a month too late. He slid over to his terminal and began pounding out a blog post. It wouldn’t be nearly as polished as he wanted this article to be – one of the major goals of Bay Prepared was to emphasize a thoughtful, reasonable approach to disaster, even doomsday, preparedness – but months of research would go to waste if he didn’t get the information out before all hell broke loose. He started typing, furiously.
“…Sacramento PD are confirming major riots around the hospital. The fire department is one the scene as two arsonist have already been caught attempting to purge the outbreak by burning the building. Mayor Larter has requested National Guard assistance, but…”
Gary hit a button to bypass the prop-buster.
“…Colonel Richards reiterates that their policy is not to interfere with local outbreak management. The danger to reservists is too great.”
The news went quiet as the anchor appeared to be whispering to someone of camera.
“We’ve just received word that Sacramento General Hospital has been destroyed. The riots are now spreading down into the valley and out towards Davis.”
Gary highlighted the text he had written and hit ‘delete’. With his hands shaking, he slowly typed the two words that would set off a chain reaction in the prepper community.
He wrote “BUG OUT” and hit publish.
Cameron Simmons was in class when her brother, Gary Jr. dragged her out.
“Get your things, kid, it’s time to go.” Gary was a few years older than Cameron, but only a year ahead of her in school. Their teacher eyed both of them skeptically.
“Can this wait?”
“No, Cameron, it most certainly cannot wait.” The sense of urgency in his voice was enough to convince the nearly invisible teacher that a real family emergency was unfolding. He motioned towards the door and allowed the two to leave.
Once in his truck, Cameron confronted her brother.
“What’s this all about, Junior?”
He pulled a tablet out of his bag and passed it to here. Their father’s website was already loaded, the words “BUG OUT” prominently displayed.
“Is he for real?”
“I think so. Have you been watching the news?”
“No. I’ve been in school, remember?”
“We’re quarantined. The whole Bowl. No one in or out.”
“So what?” The occasional city-wide quarantines were a fact of life in the Bowl.
“The Plague is here. It made it to Sacramento. We’re going to sea.”
Cameron sighed. Well, she thought, at least we’ll be sailing. Gary Jr. started the truck and pulled out of the school parking lot.
Cameron fished her smartphone out of her backpack and thumbed out a quick text message to Lucaya, her best friend and sailing partner.
FAM GONE CRAY DAD DOING BUG THING MITE B FLOATING 4 NEXT FEW DAYS.
A few moments later, the response came back.
Are you going to be ok? Want me to come meet you at the dock?
WOOD B NICE
Alright. I’ll come meet you at the marina. What boat are you taking?
I DONT NO PROLLY VELELLA
Ah, By-the-wind Sailor. Lovely. I just put a fresh finish on her teak-work last week. I’ll see you there.
Gary Jr.’s phone rang. It was his mother.
“Junior, can you pick me up from work?”
“Sure thing, Mom. We’ll be there in 10.”
Alicia Simmons was finishing her shift at the seed bank when her phone pinged. She carefully returned the delicate sprouts she had been nurturing all morning from the gestation accelerator to their stasis drawers, packed up her things, grabbed the picture of her family off the shared desk, and quietly walked out. She had been anticipating this message all day.
She stood outside, waiting for Gary Jr. to arrive. Idly, she began browsing the prepper forums on her eye-patch. Gary’s message came through loud and clear. All over the Bowl, preppers were bunkering down and bugging out. A few big names were taking bids on extra bunker space, trading in gold, bits, and barter – the currency of the paranoid.
It looked like every prepper in the Bowl was on the move.
Gary was on his way to the marina. The bug out vehicle was always packed and he only needed a few minutes to survey the house and grab a few mementos to remind his family of their life in Vallejo before the flight. He hit the house panic button as he pulled out of the garage, locking down the homestead with steel plates and 4 inch deadbolts. As a final act, he walked around to the back of the house and severed the main power line running between the house and their hybrid solar/wind array. Wrapping the cable around his shoulders like a trophy, he returned to his truck. No one would be able to run power to the house and without power, the heavy steel panic-doors would remain in place.
No one was getting in while they were gone.
Lucaya was waiting at the dock when Gary pulled into his marina. She was a small girl, impossible wiry with heavy glasses and a mane of knotted brown hair. She was a hell of a sailor. Lucaya met Gary by the truck and offered to carry the bug out gear down into the waiting vessel.
“Why are you here? Don’t you have school?”
“Cameron texted me. I wanted to say goodbye.”
“You know you can’t come with us. Velella is supplied for 4, no more.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. Besides, I have my own boat to take care of.” She motioned to the small punt-about, a two-person plywood rig that she and her father built one summer. It didn’t look like much, but with the right trim and a competent captain, it was fast.
“I don’t think you’ll get very far in Clever Sheep.”
“I wouldn’t underestimate the Sheep, Mr. Simmons, many have tried and found my little punt to be their undoing.”
“That may have more to do with her captain. I’m pretty confident you could out sail most of our regulars in a bathtub.”
“We’ll, when you get back from your vacation, we’ll find out.”
At that moment, Gary Jr. arrived with the rest of the family. They pulled their equipment out of the truck and met him at the dock. Alicia gave her husband a hug, climbed aboard Velella, and started hauling gear.
“You’re serious, this time?” Cameron confronted her father. “This isn’t like the drill last Christmas? You’re not just dragging us out for fun.”
“Not this time, kid. This time no fun will be had.”
“And there’s no way I can just stay home? Maybe protect the homestead from zombies or whatever?” She looked over at Lucaya as she said this, rolling her eyes.
“Eyes front, soldier! You know the rules. We stick together, no matter what. Now say goodbye to your friend and get aboard.”
“See yah later!” She winked at the young sailor.
“Don’t forget we have a history report due Monday. Just because it’s the end of the world doesn’t mean you get to make the rest of us pick up your slack.”
Gary was furious that his daughter was taking the unfolding catastrophe so casually, but he hid it well. Once on the boat, he turned to her and said:
“In the coming months, you’ll regret not giving your friend a proper goodbye.”
“Go easy on her, Gar. She’s not ready for this. None of us are.” Alicia finished stowing the gear and met the rest of her family on the deck.
“How about you, Junior? Are you ready?”
“I’ve been ready for this my whole life. Let’s go.”
“Alright, hold on, son. There’s one last thing I need to take care of.”
Gary left his family to finish preparing the small ship for departure and walked down the boardwalk to the main boathouse. The air inside was thick with smoke and echoed with the thumping reverberations of the Reverend’s music. Gary cut the power to the main speakers and the Reverend looked up. He was a broad man, almost as wide across the shoulders as he was tall. His arms were covered in faded, sun-bleached ink and his bald head was snaked with a series of shallow scars, the legacy of a life hard lived.
He stood and walked over to Gary, offering his arm for the traditional handshake of the Bikers for Jehovah’s Return.
“Reverend Bonecrunch, it’s good to see you.”
“And you. What brings you to the grease pit on this fine day, Gary?”
“We’re bugging out. Finally making an exit to sea.”
“I see. No plans on returning this time?”
“None. This is the big time. You’ve heard about the quarantine?”
“I saw something about it on my console during lunch. It’s really that bad, huh?”
“I think we’ll be seeing plague in the Bowl by the end of the week.”
“Well, thank God for that.”
“I can’t convince you to take a boat? We could use someone with your skills out on the water. And we could really use a holy man. There’s a second boat prepped at the dock.”
“We’re not here to fight the end, Gary, we’re here to welcome it with open arms. If you really think this is the end, then you should be here with me, welcoming the flood as it overtakes us.”
“You know us, Reverend, we’re fighting to the bitter end.”
“Then at least let me bless your journey.”
“Of course. There’s one other thing, too.”
Gary reached into his pocket and handed Bonecrunch a small manila envelope.
“The marina. It’s yours. I’m leaving it all to you.”
“I don’t know what to say, Gary. Truly I am blessed with generous friends.”
Gary and Reverend Bonecrunch made their way back to the dock when Velella was secured.
“She’s a good boat, Gary. I rebuilt that engine myself. Take care of her and she’ll take care of you.”
“Thank you, Reverend.”
Alicia and the kids came down to hug the giant, grizzled preacher. Upon seeing her old mentor, Cameron finally broke down and started crying.
“Don’t worry, child,” the Reverend said as he held her close. “We’ll all be together again, soon. You’ll see. Once this world is done, the one we’re sailing into will be paradise.”
“Promise?” She looked up into his big, dark eyes.
With their farewells said, Gary and his family boarded Velella. Lucaya and Reverend Bonecrunch cast the lines off from the dock and Gary Jr. slowly pulled them aboard, flaking and stacking them far out of the way. It would be a long time before they’d need to tie up to a dock, if ever.
They had rehearsed this moment hundreds of times, once a weekend for years. Cameron, the strongest sailor, took her position at the helm while Gary and Gary Jr. hoisted the sails, first the main, then the forward jib. Alicia was down below, warming up the old diesel engine and preparing the generator for near continuous operation.
Velella slid across the still water. There was barely enough wind for her to pull away from the dock and head west and south, towards the main locks of the massive San Francisco Seawall.
With the ship safely underway, Gary went below to power up the hard-encryption radio. He entered his personal key and pinged Roger Olsen, the Bay Prepared Preppers’ designated radio enthusiast.
“Ham, Ham, Ham, This is Velella. Come in.”
“Velella, this is Ham hearing you loud and clear, what’s going on out there, Gar?”
“We using real names, Roger?”
“Relax, Gary, anyone who could hack my cipher already knows exactly who we are. Your location is secure. Now what’s going on.”
“We’ve bugged out.”
“You and the rest of the Bowl, it seems. I’m actually surprised it took you this long to check in. You’re the last one. All members of the Bay Prepared Preppers are bugged and snugged.”
“That’s good to hear. Any surprises?”
“A few tag-alongs. Jordan brought his cook and housekeeper.”
“I’m sure his husband will like that. Which one was he sleeping with?”
“Both, I think. That’s going to be one uncomfortable bunker.”
“What’s your vector, Victor?”
“Nothing. Just something to lighten the mood.”
“Any word from Cody?”
“I’ve got him on a stable ping. I can patch you through if you want.”
“I appreciate that, thanks.”
“Alpha Bunker, this is Ham. I’ve got Velella on the cipher.”
“Gary! About time. We were worried you got shut down at the dock.”
“Was keeping it quiet until we hit the water. No sense risking dock-lock during a quarantine.”
“You got the whole family?”
“No tag-alongs? I woulda thought Bonecrunch would have hopped in at the last.”
“Me too, but he’s committed to meeting his maker.”
“Well, those Broken Promise Churchies always were a bit weird.”
“How ‘bout you? Did you and yours all make it out safely?”
“All accounted for. Safe and sound in the finest bunker the Bowl has to offer.”
“Any trouble from the clients?”
“A few last minute panics. A bunch needed supply drops and Greg managed to trip his own security turret on the way in.”
“Took a round to the leg, but he’ll be fine. I had an extra nano-pack for him. Bigger problem is now the poor bastard doesn’t have a single round of ammo to his name. That’s what you get for linking the reserve hopper straight to the castle defender.”
“Another thing you don’t have to worry about if you bugged to sea. No wandering gangs trying to get your stuff.”
“Sure, because pirates have never caused any sort of trouble.”
“Yeah, right. Pirates of the San Francisco Bay. What are they going to do, throw cash at me? Bore us to death with tales of startups and shutdowns?”
“Hell, they might try to crowdsource you.” Ham couldn’t resist cutting in.
“Don’t get cocky out there. People get desperate. And desperate people do crazy things.”
“You be careful, too. Alpha Bunker isn’t exactly a secret.”
“It’s secret enough. The only people that know where it is are underground in their own Rourke-built palaces.”
“What about Justice?”
“It’s a bit early to start planning a post-apocalyptic judicial system, don’t you think?”
“Severance, Cod. Justice Severance.”
“She checked in earlier,” Ham interrupted. “She doesn’t like keeping her line open, but I can patch her to your cipher the next time she calls in.”
“Any trouble on the Promenade?”
“You know those green-stackers, more money than sense. Sounds like most hadn’t a clue the quarantine even happened. Just going about life on the wall without a care in the Bowl.”
“Sounds about right.” Cody was back, “how many of the Just-in-case boys made it up?”
“I think they have a full platoon.”
“Well that will definitely make life interesting on the Prom. Green-stacks aren’t used to having private militia wandering around.”
“After the Presidio riots, I doubt a few extra armed soldiers will even raise an eyebrow.”
“Well, give her my regards the next time she pings in. I won’t be able to keep the cipher open while we’re moving.”
“What about that reporter, Sam Choi?”
“Last I heard, she was up on the wall with Justice.”
“Good. I hope she gets one hell of a story out of the ordeal.”
“I’m sure she will, I just doubt there will be anyone to tell it to.”
“That bad, huh?”
“The first outbreak on our side of the quarantine just came in. You heard about Sacramento?”
“Hospital burned to the ground.”
“That was early. The whole city’s in riot. Davis isn’t far behind. Plenty of panic.”
“They blew the bridges about an hour ago.” Ham, again. “As soon as they got a patient zero.”
“Even Golden Gate?”
“Yup. Dropped the whole span right into the bay. They aren’t taking any chances.”
“Shit. They’re more paranoid than us.”
There was a healthy chuckle on all three ends.
“Where was the zero?”
“Fuck. That’s close. I’m going to sail right past them.”
“Well, you may want to lay low up north for a bit. Wait for things to calm down before trying to run the sanction array.”
“Velella’s too small to set them off. I can slip by.”
“I’ll keep my ears open and try to warn you if anything changes.”
“Thanks, Ham. I appreciate it. How are you doing?”
“The Perch is about as secure as anything else out there. Hell even you two don’t know where it is.”
“You’re good for supplies? I can send a drone out with whatever you need.”
“Thanks, Cody. No, I’m set. Got my microfarm, got my goats, got a tower. Y’all are going to need me if you ever want to climb back out.”
“That’s for damn sure. You two and Justice are our eyes and ears. Stay safe.”
“And to you.”
“Talk to you soon, Cody.”
“Goodnight, guys. The Perch is going dark until 0600.”
Ham cut the line, locked down his cipher, and climbed down out of his perch, high above the San Francisco Bay. It was time to feed the goats.