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Authors: M. R. Cornelius,Marsha Cornelius

H10N1

BOOK: H10N1
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H10 N1

 

By

Marsha Cornelius

 

What readers are saying:

 

 


Once I started reading H10N1, I couldn't put it down for long! Some of it was pretty intense and I'd have to walk away & catch my breath, but then I was diving back in. Dialog, body language, signaling between the characters, all very real and right there--and what a ride! I never felt a missed beat or a scene that didn't look right; and yes, I put my eyes on automatic and just watched the show. More, please--and thank you!!!
” Sher – Grand Rapids, Michigan

 


Interesting plot - likeable characters - well-written - I didn't want to put it down. Wasn't ready for it to end. Would like to read a sequel. Looking forward to more from M R Cornelius.

Susan – McKinney, Texas

 

“…intriguing exercise in how communities would resettle after a massive pandemic… The virus has killed the majority of the world's population and as a result all the services and functions of commerce, government and civilization have ended…a combination of "the wild West" mentality and the barbarians’ sacking of medieval Europe.” Richard – Hendersonville, NC

 


H10N1 captured my attention from the beginning. I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this book. An "apocalyptic" theme has intrigued many authors, but M. Cornelius took this theme and wrote a very interesting, suspenseful novel. The characters were great! I ...couldn't put it down.
” Daphne – Macedonia, Georgia

 


Great plot, believable characters, and non-stop action! What more could anyone ask for? I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I hope it's the first of many from this author.” Eillene – Woodstock, Georgia

 


Loved it! Such an interesting story and plot that held my every attention. Could not put it down. Could not believe this was the author's first book. It was written like a pro. Cannot wait for the next book
. ” Becky – Kendallville, Indiana

Copyright © 2011 by Marsha Cornelius

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

 

 

Many thanks to my editorial guru Kristen Weber. Your professional expertise and encouragement have made this book a reality.

To Deidre, Nancy, Ami, Jim, Andy and Sid. Thanks for slogging through the many rewrites and telling me what I needed to hear. A special nod to Trish Milburn and Ann Fisher for your valuable input. Sergey Brin and Larry Page – thanks, dudes. To fellow members of Atlanta Writers Club – never give up.

Most importantly, to my sons, Will and Taylor, my husband, Bill, my parents, family and friends. Thanks so much for your love and support. It’s been a long time coming, hasn’t it?

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

“Suicide Help Line. This is D.”

The operator leaned back in her chair and waited, squeezing absent-mindedly at a small, white bump on her upper arm. Most of her calls came in one of two ways, either the caller was crying, or suddenly went mute when D answered. The criers took longer, struggling to get it together, but the mutes were tricky. Sometimes they’d hang up before uttering the first word. She had a mute on the line. Patience was key.

“I’m right here. Take your time.” D peeked beyond the beige partition of her cubicle. Four seats over, J nodded his head, listening to a caller. The operators used letters for names at the center. The anonymity gave them some added distance from their callers, and from each other. J turned in D’s direction and faked a yawn. He must have a crier.

Her caller’s data blipped onto the monitor. Some place on Central Park West. The only calls they received now came from trusters — rich conservatives who still believed that somehow someone was going to make it all better. They stayed behind in their million dollar homes, with their security systems and private generators and stock-piled supplies, waiting.

“My husband…” a woman’s voice spoke barely above a whisper. She took a deep breath and sighed. “My husband took one of those Nexinol tablets.”

“I see.” D nodded into her headset. “And he’s dead.” Callers had a tough time dealing with death, so D liked to put it out there for them. Usually just hearing the word helped them put things in perspective.

“Yes.”

“Are you alone now?”

“Yes.” The woman’s staccato answer almost hid her fear. “The doorman isn’t even answering my page.”

“Is he the one who gave your husband the Nexinol?”

“He delivered them to all the residents.” The woman snorted with disgust. "Said the military passed them out. I don’t believe for one minute that President Birch authorized–”

“Maybe the doorman took one of those tablets.”

The woman fell silent. Mulling over the possibility?

D kept things moving, following an informal protocol. Don’t allow the caller to become defensive. Don’t give them time to rationalize. Above all, don’t get into what D referred to as the “shoulda-coulda-woulda” argument.

“Do you have your own generator in the apartment?” she asked her caller.

“No. There’s a large unit in the basement.”

“But if the doorman is gone, I’d have to think there’s no maintenance staff either,” D reasoned. “The generator will eventually stop. That means no lights, no refrigeration, no air, not even enough power to recharge a cell phone.”

The woman got the gist of D’s observation. “Dear God.”

Brutal. D used to agonize over shoving reality into a caller’s face, but she needed this job and her employment hinged on the successful culmination of each call. Even though she didn’t receive a salary, the government provided room and board, a safe haven from the madness outside.

“Sounds like you could use a drink. Do you keep any liquor in the house?”

The question jerked her caller in a new direction. “I believe there may be some Courvoisier in the cabinet.”

“Great. Why don’t you pour yourself a glass, just to steady your nerves.” D wanted her caller to take one last look at her opulent surroundings, and understand that her lifestyle was at an end. Futility was D’s biggest ally. “In fact, why don’t you bring the bottle?”

When the caller came back on the line, D encouraged the woman to take a nice big drink before asking, “When is the last time you saw a newscast?”

“I can’t remember,” the woman said. “Once Wall Street stopped reporting—”

Stopped reporting? Wall Street was dead. That bastion of legalized gambling imploded months ago when the last few players gathered up their worthless chips. There was no cashing in.

“It was always news bulletins about this Korean flu, how far it had spread, how many were sick or already dead.”

D slipped into a rant. “I’m not even convinced it is influenza. The CDC has issued so many conflicting reports. Who ever heard of millions of people dying from the flu? Personally, I think we’ve been hit with some kind of biological weapon and they’re covering it up.” She crossed her arms, her fingers massaging the skin in search of another bump.

At first, Americans had taken it personally, thinking they’d been targeted. But the whole friggin’ world was being wiped out. The big question was why?

D heard the clink of expensive crystal as the woman banged her goblet on a table. “That’s what my husband said. But how could that happen? Why would anyone intentionally do something like this? Have you seen the people outside roaming around?”

“Yeah. I didn’t know you could be that sick and still be alive. It’s been weeks since I’ve left the building. What about you?”

“Heavens, no. With all the looting and burning?”

“How have you been getting food?”

The woman’s uncertainty turned to arrogance. “We have the money and the connections. People will do anything if the price is right.”

For the past few weeks, rumors had been circulating through the call center about profiteers who were venturing out. These guys scoured warehouses and abandoned trucks, selling what they pillaged to the highest bidder. She’d heard about a couple fools who drove all the way to Florida. With most of the working class dead, the oranges were just waiting to be picked. Supposedly, the guys made a killing on the sales, but D wondered what they thought they were going to do with the money. How much more did this woman think her fortune would do for her?

Time to shake the caller’s confidence again. “Did you hear someone blew up nuclear power plants in Texas and California?” D asked. Technically, no one was really sure what happened. D’s supervisor insisted the plants blew because they weren’t properly staffed. He compared it to leaving a pot on the stove and going to bed. But J and some of the others were convinced the plants had been attacked.

“When!?”

“About a week ago.”

The woman gulped cognac, then answered in a raspy whisper. “So there will be fallout.”

People always feared radiation. They imagined huge clouds of destruction circling the globe, wiping out everything in its path. In reality, the fallout from the blast in Texas hadn’t traveled much more than ten miles. The true destruction was the loss of power. But fear was a great hot button. All the operators were using it.

D made her move. “Tell me, do you still have your Nexinol tablet?”

“Yes. It’s in my pocket.”

“Drop it in the cognac. And tell me about your husband. Did he do much traveling in his business?” The old dual-assignment. The caller got so caught up in answering part two, they didn’t pay much attention to part one.

“Of course he did. Jonathan was CEO of Parker and Southington. He flew exclusively in their private jet.”

“Wow! If you had access to a jet, why didn’t you leave the country?”

“Where would we go?” the woman screeched. “Mexico and Latin American are full of rotting corpses, the Canadians have made it quite clear we aren’t welcome. Even Europe is in a shambles.”

“Fiji?”

The woman blurted a laugh. “And do what? Live in a little grass hut and eat coconuts?”

Of course not. She and her husband were too good to scrabble in the soil to grow food, too proud to sweat in the hot sun.

“He sounds honorable.” D laid on the bullshit. “Let’s drink a toast to Jonathan, a good man, proud and true.” She waited patiently.

The woman finally answered with a whispered, “I did it.”

“Wonderful. I’ll just stay on the line until you feel drowsy, okay?”

“Are a lot of people doing this?”

“They sure are. I answer calls all day long, helping folks.”

“What will happen when everyone’s gone?”

Damn. D knew what was coming. “I’m not really sure.”

“Are you going to take a Nexinol?”

Why did callers always ask that? D leaned back in her chair to check on J. He gave her a thumbs-up as he finished his call and punched the next line. Once he identified himself, he leaned out into the aisle, wagged his finger between him and her, sign language for “me and you”, tapped his watch, “after work”, then grabbed his crotch and rolled his eyes back into his head. Why not? She could think of a lot worse ways to spend her final days. Hell, she could be working at the Medical Center with the dregs of the city, or driving one of those buses loaded with the living dead.

The sound of shattering glass brought her back. “Say hello to Jonathan for me.” She clicked the next button on her console. “Suicide Help Line, this is D.”

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

From her second story office window, Taeya Sanchez watched the burning apartment building across First Avenue. At first, all she’d seen was smoke wafting up out of the roof, but she knew what was happening inside—flames were gobbling up curtains and chairs, favorite jeans and photo albums. Once the fire gathered up enough strength, a fist of flames would punch through a window, sucking in air and growing.

Who had started this particular blaze? A survivor cooking on a barbecue grill or a camp stove? Without power, the few remaining residents still holed up in their apartments were getting creative. One man who came into the Medical Center had burns on his legs and feet from one of those ten-gallon turkey fryers filled with boiling oil. She shuddered to think what he might have been cooking. It wasn’t a Butterball. He’d barely escaped before the spilled oil ignited the propane tank, blowing out a wall, and setting yet another building on fire.

The recently homeless who’d been burned out of their own flats, moved into abandoned buildings and started the process again. And it wasn’t just cooking accidents. A kerosene lantern got kicked over. A candle was left burning all night. She was sure pyros and looters intentionally set some of the blazes.

BOOK: H10N1
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