a novel by Ran Prieur

Book 1 Chapter 13

Apocalypsopolis Main
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Mariana wanted to shout after the Troll, "Don't hijack a car! The bus will be almost as fast." But she stopped herself. Shouting "hijack," in any context, was likely to draw the police, and anyway it would be patronizing. This was his world now, his area of specialization. He'd know what to do.

Still, she felt that his life was in danger, that somehow a lot of lives were. "You guys should go down there too," she said to Freejohn and Jenkins, who were still staring at the unhelpful TV.

"You'll be OK here alone?"


After they were gone, she sat on the floor, the TV still on, and went quickly into a trance.


The Troll did take the bus. It was past noon now, so the southbound express buses went down Eastlake, instead of on the freeway. The delay made him tense, but then, what could he do when he got there? Clearly the medical camp garrisons had mutinied, probably because without the drugs, the ones he had thrown in the trash, they had been ordered to kill sick people. Now what? There wouldn't be a shootout between Army and Army. If they wanted to take the stadiums, they would bring in... Who? For the moment, the troops outside were there to keep the ones inside from leaving. But they must have cell phones in there, and wireless internet. They're getting their story out.

The bus gave him time to think, and the more he thought, the more he was drawn by logic to one conclusion: The mutineers would have to be killed, all of them, soon, and tracks covered, at any cost.

At Eastlake and Republican he saw four men in uniform just standing on the corner, their van parked nearby. The uniforms were close enough to military to fool preoccupied civilians, but the men were hired guns, ex-military "security contractors." They could be working for anyone, and what were they doing at--

Down at the next corner to the west were four more. And at the corner after that, with his 20/10 vision, he saw yet another group. And beyond that -- was that another one of their vans?

When the authorities needed deadly force, they would always use regular military or police if they could, because they were cheap. When they used private security, the reason was always political, maybe just to get around bureaucracy, but more likely to get around attention, to hide something.

Those men are probably lined up all the way from I-5 to the water. They're going to cordon off downtown, but why...

No. Not downtown.

He got off in the middle of the business district, at the University Street tunnel station, still smelling of dead seawater from being filled up by the tsunami. Up on the street he found the parking garage opening of one of the big buildings, and spent a few minutes watching, looking at the people inside the cars that came and went. His suspicion was confirmed: The captains are leaving the ship.

At the south end of downtown, as he expected, there was no cordon. In fact... He searched the faces of the people, and hurried down toward the stadiums.


"Are you sure?" Carl said.

Arch nodded. Out on the street the big SUV rumbled away.

Carl didn't know what to do. "We've got to stop it, right? How do we stop it?"

Arch cringed, frozen, and said in a tiny voice, "I don't know."

"Come on," Carl said. "You can zap it out, right? You can kill its electronics."

Arch shook his head. "Too far."

"Well then you can start a car for me." He was on his feet, moving to the street. "You can unlock a car, and jump start it, and we can chase it, and when we get close--"

Arch covered his head with his arms and ran inside the house.

"Shit." Carl ran out to the street and after the vehicle, which was at the end of the block now, still moving slowly.

Where was it going? He saw, over the ridge to the southwest, some helicopters over the industrial area, the stadiums. There's something happening there, and maybe, though he couldn't think of any rational reason why, maybe that's where the bomb's going. And maybe, he felt, I can cut it off if I run southwest, even though the streets are all north-south and east-west, so I can't really gain any distance, except, he thought, you do gain distance, because the streets are not one-dimensional lines like on the map, but substantially wide, so if I cross them diagonally, and take the inside of every corner... Wow, an atom bomb!

Arch had said "atomic" and not "nuclear," which, if he knew what he was talking about, meant not a hydrogen bomb, but almost certainly plutonium. But how would he know anyway? How does he even know there's a bomb? Why do I believe him?

After running a few blocks it occurred to him that he didn't have to stop the truck himself. He could call the police, and if he said "bomb" they were required to believe him. There was a woman walking out to her car. He ran up to her, and with a great effort of will, because he was uncomfortable talking to people, he spat out, "Do you have a cell phone? I need to call 911."

She immediately handed it to him, and he nervously forced himself to dial the number. Damn, he thought, talking on the phone is the worst. A woman's voice answered, and he stammered, over his gasps of breath, "There's -- there's a black SUV with a bomb in it. It's southbound on 20th, about at Cherry."

She asked his name, and he panicked and hung up. Thinking quickly, he wiped his fingerprints off the phone before handing it back to the stunned woman, and continued running.


Lester Carson's little girl was hurt bad. He had to get her to the hospital, but he was lost. "You should have gone left when I told you," she said. "Now just stay on 20th. We'll take it down to Yesler, and then go right."

But before he got to Yesler, police lights flashed in his mirror. "Keep driving, daddy."

"No," he said. "This is what we need. They can help us."

"No they can't! Keep driving."

He pulled over and jumped out of the vehicle -- the officer was pointing a gun at him! He stopped. "My little girl's hurt. We need to get to the hospital."

Behind him the sound of a helicopter grew louder. He turned and there it was swooping down on him, a military model, all black, with a cylinder of gun barrels at the front, spinning now, firing. He turned again and saw both cops dead, their bodies and the police car full of holes. The helicopter passed overhead, rose, began to turn.

Another police car was coming up from Yesler. Lester scrambled back in, gunned the engine and turned west down a side street. "What's happening?" he said.

"Just drive. Hurry!"

He drove four blocks, five, and then ahead of him, on the narrow street, a man stepped out into his path, and stood there, a tall thin guy, looking totally harmless, like he was in trouble, just standing and waving his hand as the truck bore down on him. Lester hit the brakes.

The little girl screeched "Run him over!"

Lester looked at her, shocked. "...You're not my daughter."

"Fucking drive, you son of a bitch!"

Beside him on the seat now it wasn't a little girl at all. It was some kind of radio, and the voice was a man's voice. I don't even have any kids. Where am I?

Trembling, he got out of the vehicle and sat holding his head in his hands. The man who had stopped him took the keys from the ignition, went to the back, and opened it.

The back was empty.

It's a decoy, Carl thought. Of course! That's how they always do it. The nutty outsider to take the blame, the Ryder truck when the real bomb was already planted inside the building, Hinckley, Chapman, Sirhan, hypnotized and shooting blanks when the real gunman was hidden. I guessed right on the hypnosis, but I forgot the other part. The bomb is already down there!

But now that they knew the decoy had failed, they would either call the whole thing off, or explode the bomb immediately.

Carl turned and ran the other way.


This whole thing stinks, thought Major Jaffee, looking at the assembled troops, tanks, humvees, tents, listening to the terrible local radio stations blaring to cover the sound of the megaphones inside the stadium, talking demands and atrocities. What do they have us down here for? Why am I, a lousy career Major, the commanding officer of something this important? What are they thinking?

Beside him something exploded. Shards struck his leg. Just bits of glass. Someone had thrown a bottle. Angrily, he looked at the point of impact, only a few feet away from him.

In the middle of the glass was a note. He picked it up and read it.

"Major Jaffey, where are the feds? Where are the hiher-ups? At the 2 mile permiter. You are in a trap."

Somebody can't spell, he thought, but has good eyes. He calculated the angle of the bottle and looked, nearly a hundred yards away, to the crowds of civilians behind the cordon at the north edge of the parking lot. And a damn good arm too.

He walked toward the crowd and finally saw him, the huge guy right in front, staring him down. He went up to him.

"Who are you?"

"Sir, they call me the Troll. I'm AWOL from camp two, eight days ago."

The Major nodded. "You. I've heard of you. Come on."

They walked back across the pavement. The Major said, "Tell me about this two mile perimeter."

"Saw it with my own eyes, sir, on the north, at Republican, four guns and a van at each intersection, and on this side, sir, nothing."

Major Jaffee caught the eye of an assistant and motioned him over. "Sergeant, call down to Spokane Street, talk to Mallow, no one else, and ask him to describe any preparations, military or paramilitary, that anyone is making down there. Any little thing."

He turned back to the Troll. "What do you think it is?"

"If the south line is close, it's a chem attack, or bio. South wind. If it's two miles, it's gotta be nuclear."

"You're making a serious accusation on circumstantial evidence."

The Troll thought about what Jenkins would say, or Si. They would have some example, like how you can tell a rock is under the stream by watching the water, even if you can't see the rock. He couldn't pull it off. He could say the words but it would sound stupid. So he just looked back at the Major with the weight of his eyes, and finally said:

"What would you do, if you were them?"

The assistant came back. "Sir, Mallow says there's squads of paramilitary 1200 yards to his south, on 99, 1st, and 4th, just waiting there."

"Two miles," the Major muttered. His cell phone rang. He pulled it out and stared at it. "That's my phone, but that's not my ring." The display was blank. He pushed the button. "Hello."

A woman's voice, faint and echoey, said, "Major Jaffee..."

"Who is this?"

"When you were twelve years old, you were mowing the side lawn, and you found a strange insect, like a wasp, but bright red, deep in the grass. You thought it was evil. You killed it."

He had never told anyone about that. He had forgotten it himself. It was impossible that anyone could know. "Who is this?"

"It's in the RCI Module. Go there now." The voice stopped. The phone, in fact, had been off the whole time.

"Shit," the Major said.

"Who was that?" said the assistant.

"Call the bomb squad, have them meet us at the southwest corner of the exposition center. Let's go."

As the three of them walked down along the side of the football stadium, Major Jaffee said, "I should have figured there was something with the RCI Module."

"What's it do?" the assistant said.

"Do! They won't even tell me what it stands for."

It was the size of a horse trailer, with four heavy tires, antennas on top, its own truck to tow it, and two grim-looking guards, rifles ready, standing in front of its wide back door.

"Open it up," the Major said.

"Sir, you're not authorized to open the RCI Module."

"And what if I do anyway?"

"Our orders are to use any..." As the guard spoke he slid his hand down toward a device on his belt and both of them turned their weapons toward--

The Major never would have guessed that such a big guy could move so fast. With a blur, the Troll's gun was in his hand and two bullets were in the heads of the two guards, and by the time the Major finished turning his head to look, the Troll was in a crouch facing the other way, checking his back. Then he was already at the door of the module shooting out the lock. He pulled the big door open.

As they all looked at the thing inside, the lead bomb specialist arrived, breathless.

The Major said, "Is that what I think it is?"

"Neutron bomb, sir."

"Can you disarm it?"

"No problem."

"How do you know?"

"That's a cell phone antenna on the roof, and a radio antenna. There are the receivers--" he pointed to two different black boxes on the ceiling, with surprisingly thin cords going down to the bomb "--and those go to the detonator. We just break the cords."

"Won't that blow it up?"

"With all respect, sir, that's a James Bond thing. The military isn't interested in making a puzzle for a defuser. They expect it to reach its target. If breaking the wires would blow it up, suppose this thing gets knocked over. It could happen by accident."

"But you're not 100%"

On the ceiling of the enclosure, the black phone receiver rang.

Major Jaffee leapt up and yanked the cords out. They all held their breaths.

The phone rang a second time.

"Someone's calling in to blow this thing up."

"That's right, sir."

"Can you trace the call?"

"Only if the receiver's built to register it, and I can't think why it would be."

In the middle of the third ring, there was a click.

"What's happening now?"

"He's got to enter a code. Otherwise a wrong number could blow it."

The Major said, "I hope it's a long code."

There followed three beeps.

"Was that a fucking three digit password to blow up a neutron bomb?"

"Worse than that, sir." He turned to another specialist who has since arrived. "Was that what I think?"


"What's that?" the Major said.

"It's the phone number translation of the most common alphabetic password in the English language."

"Which is?"



"We have a go."

"But nothing happened."

"Were we told something would happen?"

"Well, not directly. But for these people to be contaminated, wouldn't a bomb have to go off?"

"We've got to trust our command. If there's an abort they'll call us."

"Maybe they can't get through."

"Why would they be unable to get through, if nothing happened?"

"I don't know."

"Our orders are clear. That is now the red zone, and nobody leaves the red zone, dead or alive."

With their guns, they moved out into the streets.


Surfacing from the trance, Mariana exhaled raggedly and pulled herself back on the couch. What the hell, she thought, is an RCI Module? And what's in it? Did I just make a phone call without using the phone? I'm like super-powerful now, since I almost died of the plague. Damn, I can probably fly through the air!

But she was exhausted, and began dozing off. The TV seemed to have gone silent...

The TV had gone silent. She sat up and looked and it was just blank white. Then a picture appeared, the national news set, with the number two male anchor looking super-serious. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have been informed that there has just been a major attack, by whom we don't know yet, on the cities of the west coast, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. Here we have the footage from our network affiliate in Seattle."

On the screen was some kind of protest, with people marching. That's not Seattle, Mariana thought. That's LA. Suddenly a black SUV sped into the crowd, the camera turned to follow it, and then the screen filled with light, and went to snow.

Mariana was already on the phone, calling her mother in Berkeley.

The anchor was saying, "Obviously, and we don't know yet, but obviously some kind of bomb, and we're getting reports from all three metropolitan areas of a deafening explosion, a white flash, a fireball, and casualties as far as two miles..."

"Mom," she said, "I'm OK. There was no explosion here."

"What explosion?"

My drippy mom. "Didn't you hear it? They say there's a nuclear attack on the west coast. But there's been nothing up here."

"...possibly," the anchor was saying, "a nukular explosion."

"I can't believe he just said that. Nuclear! Mom? Did you hear the bomb down there?"

"No, there's no bomb. What are they saying?"

The anchor was saying, "We're asking people to please stay off the phone lines, to keep them open for emergency response professionals, who, we're told, may have to prevent the spread of contamination, if indeed the explosions were nukular..."

In the distance, Mariana heard gunfire.

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