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APOCALYPSE

The Wasteland Chronicles, Volume 1

by Kyle West

For Dad: Thanks for the read and advice; not just in books, but in life.

Chapter 1

When a citizen of Bunker 108 turns sixteen, he or she is deemed old enough to start reconnoitering.

Reconnoitering is dangerous work – not so much because of the Wastelander bogeymen that kept me up at night as a kid. There are a ton of ways to die out there – windstorms and cold not being the least of them.

Always, when you go out of Bunker 108, you never know if you are coming back.

Michael Sanchez drew lots with me that day. Michael was a seasoned vet, all hard muscle, and an officer to boot. I looked like a pencil in comparison – five foot seven, and one hundred twenty seven pounds. We were quite the pair as we walked out the entrance door, down the long tunnel to the exit of Bunker 108.

I was nervous as hell. I had never been allowed into the Waste before. Not until now.

Yesterday had been my sixteenth birthday.

As we walked, I felt like I was in a dream – or a nightmare – I wasn’t sure which.

I just hoped I didn’t have to use my rifle, even though I knew how. Everyone was required an hour’s practice each week at the firing range, minimum. Chief Security Officer Chan wanted everyone ready – for what, I didn’t know. We were told Wastelanders would kill for anything.

So, we had orders to kill them first.

Conflicts with Wastelanders are rare. But Chan likes to keep a close eye on things. A “kill first” policy prevents anyone from running away and letting others know that we’re here.

That was what I was most nervous about – not the cold dry wind, the dead world, the red hazy sky stretching above, or the lack of sun dimmed by layers of meteor fallout. No – I was scared that we would find someone, and I would have to shoot him.

We were now at the door. Large bold numbers, 108, were pressed into the thick metal. For my entire sixteen years, that door has served as the barrier between safety and danger, known and unknown, fake and real. And now, I was about to go outside for the first time in my life.

Michael, the person I was partnered with, was twenty-four: tall, good-looking, with coppery skin. He went to the sun rooms often. Officers were allowed longer light baths than civilians. Officers had other perks and signs of status: cushier apartments, more meal credits, and more days off. Chan did everything to incentivize the people who kept him in power. Everyone wanted to be an officer.

Michael twisted the wheel, his muscles bulging beneath his desert camo. It was colder and drier out here in the entrance tunnel. I hopped up and down a few times, trying to get some blood flowing. I felt my own desert camo hoodie bounce up and down on my head. The cold had killed a recon caught in a dust storm, two years ago. It never paid to be too careful.

The wheel groaned as it gave, little by little. Finally, Michael opened it with a clang. He pulled it slowly inward until the Wasteland outside was revealed.

The natural light, though dim, still blinded me. A cold rush of dry wind met my face. I raised my hand to shelter my eyes from dust. As my eyes adjusted, I could first make out distant red mountains, like upside-down, bloody teeth. Then, before the mountains were crimson dunes that looked like they should be on Mars rather than Earth. A dilapidated, rusted crane lay half-buried maybe half a klick out, where it had been since December 3, 2030 – Dark Day, the day where most of humanity, and most of life, died.

“Welcome,” Michael said with a sardonic grin, “to the Wasteland.”

* * *

I followed Michael down the gravelly slopes of Hart Mountain. I pulled my hoodie far over my head to keep out the cold as best I could. It was late September, and got below freezing every night.

Though I had seen countless pictures of the Waste before, I could not help but take it in with numb shock. All vegetation was short, squat, clinging for its life in the sand, cracked earth. Everything was dead – truly dead. What life there was had left long ago. I often imagined Old Cali, like in the movies I watched in the digital archive. I dreamed of a hot, sandy beach, the blue ocean and sky, the bright, heavenly sun without a cloud to bar its light. I loved watching those movies, and would spend hours in the archive living in a dream world and wishing I had been born a hundred years ago, and not 2044.

We had been walking five minutes when Michael spoke.

“You’re quiet, Alex,” he said. “I thought you’d be excited about your first recon. Some luck to draw lots the day after your birthday.”

I didn’t respond. Michael fell into silence.

He was right. I didn’t talk much. I didn’t see the point. I don’t really know why I’m like this – it’s just always been this way. Well, not always. I’ve seen a lot of death. It started with my mom, when I was seven. Then my little sister, also when I was seven. My mom had been giving birth. In a harsh world, death comes often.

We were out of sight from home by now. I shivered as a particularly chilly wind blew. We passed a metallic trailer, shimmering in the late afternoon haze.

“That trailer’s for dust storms,” Michael said. “You never want to be caught in one. It will be the last mistake you make.”

We stopped in front of the trailer. Michael paused.

“Let’s wheel around the mountain,” he said. “We’re taking the long route today.”

“What’s the long route?”

“Finally, some goddamned curiosity. The long route goes all the way around Hart Mountain. It’s about a five mile course, total.”

He walked on. Michael was alright, for an officer. He had a wife and a kid. Like me, he had never seen Old Earth.

My father had. When he was ten, the government had put him and his dad, my grandfather, in Bunker 108. My grandfather, Lorin Keener, was a brilliant immunologist. The government only took the brightest, the highest- ups, and the people with the fattest wallets into the Bunkers. I hate to think of all those people who died, but in the end, I guess it comes down to whoever writes the largest check or has the biggest brain or the prettiest face. Well over 99.9 percent of the nation was left to fend for itself when Meteor crashed down.

The ones who survived are called Wastelanders, and we do what we can to avoid them, and to keep them avoiding us.

Wastelanders aren’t like us citizens. For one, there are more of them. They are violent, brutal, barbaric, and do anything they can to survive. They are like animals, and they kill not just for supplies, but for fun. There have been several deaths during my life due to Wastelanders – men lost on recons, their bodies found later, half-buried in red sand. Sometimes, when raiders camped too close, Chan would order them eliminated in the dead of night. Losses sometimes happened.

The U.S. left the Dark Decade with one hundred and forty four Bunkers. Some didn’t survive due to internal breakdowns, sure. But some were overrun by scared, starving people who wanted the huge stash of food and supplies the Bunkers held. Now, in the year 2060, only four Bunkers are left: Bunker 76, Bunker 88, Bunker 108, and Bunker 114. Bunker 114 is not far from ours – maybe fifty miles. It’s sheer luck that it’s so close and still running. During the Dark Decade, a lot of Bunkers were built in the Mojave because of nearby L.A., San Diego, and Vegas.

If there is a reason for secrecy beyond safety, I don’t know it. I know we are a center of xenobiological

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