MAXINE UNLEASHES DOOMSDAY by Nick Kolakowski (Excerpt)

File 2.78.93821.2

Date: 5/29/2110

 

Recovered from the hard drive of a Winpple Laptop Series 5, the last generation of that device line to enter the consumer market. Although the drive was heavily damaged (REF: Midtown EMP, “Big Guy War,” Final Stage), our machine-learning algorithms managed to extrapolate most of the missing text using contextual data. Nonetheless, there are still some breaks, which are clearly delineated for your researching pleasure.

This document is particularly interesting as it provides a glimpse into conditions in Manhattan immediately following the Collapse. Those scholars of the life of Maxine Hardwater will find some brief observations of her character during her “terminal” stage.

 

[Begin Recovered Text]

 

Baby, I crashed the sailboat.

Its gleaming white bow crunched into the new oyster reefs off Governors Island, the ones planted by the Revival Brigade to blunt the higher tides, and splintered like a cheap toy. Two months of sanding and painting and caulking and then puzzling out how to rig a sail, reduced in three minutes to fiberglass chunks and slithering nylon rope and bits of foam bobbing in the harbor’s toxic stew.

By the way, the Revival Brigade’s motto is “The Big Apple! Glorious Once Again!” They believe the first Flood was Special Delivery from the Almighty himself. And with enough prayer and repair work on our part, they think He might deign to spare us a second bath. Good luck with that one, I say.

I strapped on my life preserver, offered the dying ship a quick middle-finger salute, and leapt overboard. It took an hour to kick my way back to shore, where I swallowed two handfuls of antibiotics to kill any of those newfangled super-bugs in my bloodstream. The pills went down easy with my weekly ration of Jim Beam.

Do you remember a book on my shelf in the home office, J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World? It turned out to be a remarkably prescient novel: global warming, rising water levels, a little bit of social chaos to keep things interesting. Its hero, a scientist named Keran, ends up wandering south (“Like a second Adam”) into the blooming jungles.

I was taking the opposite path: due north, toward you. By sailing, I would have avoided the crumbling highways, the dead towns and ports stripped of food and gasoline, and New England’s warring clans: the New Iroquois, the Battling Irish, and—just when you think the human race has exhausted its capacity for corny nicknames—King Tut and the Beatdown Seven.

“Love you,” was the last thing you said over the phone, from Halifax, before the connection went dead. I want to believe that Nova Scotia fared better than everything south. Given the rising temperatures, they say, Canada will soon become the breadbasket of the world. Once that happens, they’ll likely demand a stop to any jokes about moose and ending sentences with “Eh.”

Lower Manhattan now looks like Venice with a couple added skyscrapers. Half of Brooklyn is out to sea on a tide of PBR cans and fake hipster moustaches. The latter case demonstrates, yet again, that every bad situation has a silver lining.

In the first hours of our watery doom, when the tide rushed in and the news screamed about the barriers and floodgates finally giving way, I splashed my way uptown past bellowing cops and tiny skiffs from which street capitalists, who only a month before had been shilling Gucci knockoffs, hawked everything from swim trunks to scuba gear. The Bluetooth in my ear connected to the broker in Shanghai.

Don’t roll your eyes: For once, I wasn’t just working the numbers. Remember that Shanghai survived its own deluge, at great cost: thousands of casualties before they erected those concrete barriers and flood channels.

“How did you make it through?” I asked the broker, whose clipped and pleasant voice bore the faintest trace of an Oxford accent. By this time, I had huddled in the vestibule of an apartment building on Park, after slipping the excitable doorman a crisp fifty and waving him away. Screaming crowds and water churned past.

“I stayed in my condo, near the top of a skyscraper,” she said. “I drank beer for weeks, because it was cleaner than the water from the taps. The ones with money survived. The ones with money always survive.”

Considering our three-story brownstone in Brooklyn, the advice about skyscrapers helped me not one bit. “Thanks so much. Let’s short my entire U.S. stock portfolio,” I said, then tapped my jaw three times to end the call.

 

[NOTE: Missing text]

 

I start off every morning with a watery cup of instant coffee and three painkillers. Depending on the weekly rations, lunch and dinner are some combination of energy bars, noodles, and jerky. People around here would massacre a dozen nuns for a bag of fresh apples, but nobody dares touch the fish eating our wreckage.

I call it the “End of the World Diet,” and let me tell you, there is no better way to erase those love handles.

Two weeks after I crashed the sailboat, I awoke and rose and swiped the moisture from the bedroom window and stared out at a world of gray water needled by soft rain. The tide seemed higher than ever, the roofs of parked cars like flat pond stones. Above the white-noise hiss of weather, I could hear Brooklyn settling on its rotted joints: the low growl of crumbling concrete, broken by the occasional shriek of steel on steel. In a few thousand years they might whisper legends about this place, the same way Victorian people once wondered about Atlantis.

“Jake!”

The voice sliced sharp and high through the rain. On instinct, I ducked back and flattened myself against the wall, then peeked around the windowsill. But I knew the figure rowing down my street: skin red and craggy as something left in a smokehouse for a month, the face of a pugilist with no knack for defense. He wore an enormous tri-corner hat, a knee-length brown coat splattered with paint, and a truly impressive cutlass on his belt.

I walked downstairs and unbolted the seven locks on my steel-reinforced door and stepped onto the stoop that now doubled as a small dock. I had my double-barreled shotgun in my hand, out of habit. I said, “How goes it, Walter?”

The burnt man stood in his tiny rowboat and doffed his hat, revealing hair dry and tangled as a bird’s nest. “Dear me, that’s an impressive phallic symbol in your grip. Yet, as the Martians say, I come in peace.” He bowed. “I’m sorry about your sailboat.”

“You saw that?”

“A few uncharitable souls laughed. Not me, I hasten to add.” Walter rocked on his heels, almost stumbling. Bottles clinked along the rowboat’s bottom. “I come with a tale of woe, involving none other but our fearless leaders. Cheats and liars all, but what did we expect of democracy, where any moron can become a king, provided he purchases enough television ads in swing states…”

“You know you talk like a pirate when you’re trashed, right?” Walter served as the gopher for Brooklyn’s Operating Committee, and I suspect they paid him in top-shelf liquor. It seemed like he needed a quart of scotch a day to kill the demons from his tours in Afghanistan and Egypt.

“Doing my best to preserve the King’s.” He shook himself like a dog, scattering rainwater in a wide fan. “Listen, it’s the shipment.”

Ah, I knew it. Every Monday, twenty trucks rolled across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan, loaded with everything from instant noodles to my good friend Jim Beam. For the first two months following the Flood, those supply boxes had “Property of U.S. Government” stamped on their sides—until a federal transport oh-so-mysteriously exploded in the harbor.

I always suspected The Big Guy had ordered that little escapade, from his Midtown skyscraper. If he wanted to keep outsiders away from his island kingdom, it worked. Now our supplies came courtesy of the Sovereign Nation of Manhattan, which in exchange wanted Brooklyn’s brains: our engineers, electricians, horticulturalists, gunsmiths, and the occasional pastry chef.

Investment bankers rank pretty low on that list, and for that I’m grateful: Rumors abound that The Big Guy likes hanging people for middling infractions. Such as speaking your mind.

You see why I want out of this whole mess?

This past Monday, though, the trucks had rumbled halfway across the Brooklyn Bridge—and stopped. Surrounded by men with guns, my buddy Marv told me over chess that afternoon. Add in some snipers on their side of the river. They’re taunting our little City-State here.

I stared at Walter floating off the coast of my front steps, like Blackbeard arriving to the party three centuries late, and wondered anew about the situation. “Last I heard, it was still on the bridge,” I said.

“Yes, yes,” Walter said, “and we need you to get it back for us.”

“Yeah? And how’ll I do that?” Manhattan’s fighters outnumbered ours by a ratio of three-to-one, thanks to its Jersey refugees, and while I can blast decent-sized holes in things with my trusty shotgun, I am not exactly Mad Max reincarnate.

“Because a former acquaintance of yours, one Charles Teague, is apparently The Big Guy’s Bridge Man.” Walter sighed. “We need to know what he wants.”

Teague had been a senior vice president at Goldman, the sort of plus-sized jackass who commissions a self-portrait and hangs it in the living room of his Park Avenue apartment. “He probably wants bottle service,” I said. “You know there’s only one reason The Big Guy put him in that position, right? What are you prepared to offer me for my help?”

Walter moaned. “How about civic duty, cur?”

“Teague likes 30-year-old Scotch and his strippers blonde,” I said.

“Huh?”

“I mean, I know how the man thinks.” Back when I did mergers and acquisitions, my firm and Teague’s targeted the same companies. He once mailed me a gutted trout wrapped in newspaper after I snatched a particularly rich biotech firm from his grasp. Sadly, that was not an unusual occurrence in my former line of work. “They probably have a couple RPGs aimed right at those trucks, you try and launch a raid or something.”

“Aye, we suspect so.”

I thought it over as Walter swayed like a metronome ticking off the seconds. “I’ll do it,” I said, “under one condition.” And I named it.

He shook his head. “Impossible.”

“Then good luck to you.” I turned for my door. From behind me came a furious splashing as Walter tried to dock with the front steps. That sort of action constitutes justifiable homicide these days, but I kept the 12-gauge lowered as I spun around again.

“We got sick people in the hospital,” Walter said, in his panic dropping the stupid pirate affectation. “Some sort of water parasite. Kids are getting it the worst. The drugs we need are on those trucks. How heartless can you be, man? Come on. We’ll work something out.”

 

[NOTE: Missing text]

 

I left my shotgun behind.

As I passed through the crowd on our side of the Brooklyn Bridge, hands reached out to shake mine. Others slapped me on the back. Funny how much people start loving you when they need something. It was three minutes to noon and the rainclouds had burned away, revealing a nuclear sun that glinted and sparked on the span’s suspension wires and the water below.

Before I stepped onto the Bridge, I turned to Walter, who had rowed us from my house to Brooklyn Heights’ drier land. “We have a deal,” I told him.

He nodded, and I started up the slope toward Manhattan. The crowd applauded, a tiny sound against the vastness of the East River, the towers of ruined steel and concrete. After a few moments, it stopped. Nobody wants to celebrate at a funeral.

The sunlight glared off the windshields of twenty battered trucks, parked midway down the Bridge’s three Brooklyn-bound lanes. Dozens of men stood atop their roofs, bulky and spiny with weapons: AK-47s, riot pump-actions, antique rifles, machetes, and a few long spears.

I stopped fifteen yards from the first truck, climbed atop a convenient pile of rubble, and yelled: “I’m here for my buddy Teague.”

I never saw the meteor. It rocketed out of the throbbing blue sky and smashed into my chest, hurling me backward—

No still alive still alive it’s only pain stop screaming—

I blinked. Coughing blood, yes, but alive. On the pavement near my twitching hand, a stubby blue beanbag round, loved by riot cops the world over for its crowd-suppression abilities. That’s okay, I thought. I came with a little weaponry of my own.

The sun went dark, eclipsed by a man. “Small world, huh?” The square-jawed face, once moisturized and exfoliated to a polished sheen, seemed gaunt as a skull. The gray-speckled beard hacked in a ragged line below the chin. He wore a pair of brown coveralls dusted white at the elbows and knees.

“What?” I gasped. “No tailored suit?”

“Real workers don’t wear suits.” Teague glanced toward the trucks and waved. A guard by the outer rail waggled a stubby black launcher, probably the very one whose beanbag destroyed my ribs. “You’re a little far from the boardroom, kid.”

“Remember…DynMed?” My strength was returning, along with my voice.

He cocked his head, confused. “Um, yeah. You lying bastards stole that one from us. Little backroom dealing.”

“What we did,” I said, “was save you…a twenty-million-dollar bath when their HIV vaccine didn’t pan out. Well, it’s…payback time.”

“You’re a funny guy.” Teague knelt on cracking knees, and his scabbed hands circled my wrists, patted my hips and legs, felt along my spine for any weapons. He rifled through my pockets, removing my battered wallet and a silver pen and tossing them on the concrete. “You know why these trucks haven’t moved? Your masters forgot to send our tribute.”

“Teague. Don’t be a douche,” I said. “Those trucks are carrying medicine.”

“You think I don’t know that? Spare me the do-gooder crap,” he said. “They’re giving you something to do this, aren’t they? Maybe if you cut me in, we can do some business.”

“What’s The Big Guy want?”

“Oh, every one of your mechanical engineers.” Teague jabbed a thumb over his shoulder, toward Manhattan shimmering in the heat. “We lost a whole bunch the other night—maybe you saw the smoke? Big accident. I’m surprised Penn Station’s still standing after that, frankly.”

“And if I say no?” I anticipated the creative litany of threats: pulled apart by revving motorboats, perhaps, or fed piece by quivering piece to the fishes.

“Simple. Your sick people die. We shoot you.”

Ah, that golden oldie: a bullet through the frontal lobe.

“I have an alternate proposal.” Reaching out very carefully, I took the pen and lifted it so Teague could see the hinge beneath the clip. “How about your men drive those trucks over to our side of the bridge while I go on my merry way?”

I pressed the hinge, flipping it open to reveal a bright red button.

Teague chuckled, his eyes wary. “What’s that, some kind of toy?”

“It’s a bomb,” I said. “Six ounces of C-4, enough to turn both you and me into a red jelly with bone bits mixed in.” Walter may have pickled his brains in single malt, but I suspect you never really forget how to rig ways to vaporize people.

To his infinite credit, Teague managed some outward cool. “Liar, there’s no bomb on you,” he said slowly. His knees cracked again as he leaned backward. “You always were a bad bluff.”

“Plastic capsule, filled with explosive.” I lifted my left leg, making what my younger brother once called the Universal Fart Gesture. “Too bad you were never a prison guard. You would’ve remembered to check me in that one very special place. Hurt shoving it up there, but it was so very worth it to see the look on your face.”

I tried not to laugh, waggling that pen back and forth like an old-style hypnotist with a pendulum—and for the first time since you left on that business trip to the Great White North, I felt a little bit good. Nothing beats sticking it to a longtime rival, especially in the name of sick kids.

Teague’s eyes darted from mine to the pen. I struggled not to blink. My scalp itched with sweat, my stomach sizzling with acid. I was not ready to die. But if I learned anything in my years on Wall Street, it’s that you sell your story to the bitter end.

“Three trucks,” Teague licked his dry lips. “And I let you live.”

I shook my head. “No. All.”

“Ten. And you bring your own drivers here. We’re not doing it.”

I placed my thumb on the red button.

“We’re going to kill you,” Teague growled, very low. “Maybe not now, maybe not next week. Someday, we’re coming across this bridge.”

“Too bad you won’t see it,” I said, totally calm. We could have been negotiating over deal points, before taking our respective teams to dinner at a walnut-paneled steakhouse.

Teague blinked. I had him then. He knew it, and he knew I knew it. You can take away a man’s Kobe beef and in-office foot massages, but his outsized ego will still demand he pays any price—surrender principle, toss a baby to the alligators—so his precious self can survive to hump another day.

“Your funeral,” he said, raising a fist above his head. The first truck rumbled to life, spewing gritty black smoke, and the guard atop its roof leapt to the pavement. The second truck added its own roar, followed by the third and the fourth. The convoy inched forward, tires crunching gravel and glass, gaining speed as it climbed the grade toward Brooklyn.

I took a burning lungful of air, held it, and stumbled upright on quaking legs. The world reeled and tilted, its edges graying. You will not vomit, my inner drill sergeant yelled deep in my brain. You will not vomit, and you will not die. Take another breath.

I did, and my vision cleared. “You’re coming with me,” I told Teague, raising the pen, “as our very special guest. Or our future bargaining chip. Whichever term suits you best.”

He paled. “You’re sorely mistaken.”

“No, I’m not. You’re my hostage now, buddy.”

He gestured over his shoulder, toward the guards beginning to realize something was seriously amiss: questioning cries, stamping feet, the dry snap of a clip into a rifle. “What makes you think these men won’t just attack?” he asked. “Kill me along with you?”

“Maybe the fact The Big Guy’s your loving uncle, for starters.”

Teague said nothing. I took a slow step, and he matched it. We retreated across the Bridge—lagging too far behind the convoy for my taste—as Manhattan’s warriors circled behind us, wary as hyenas. The shoreline passed beneath our feet, the span sloping into the shadowy canyon of riverfront condos. Our own people had advanced to the exit lanes and pedestrian ramp, their rifles and blades at the ready, closing ranks in the wake of the last truck. My spine tingled, right where I expected the first spear tip or bullet to hit.

“Back in the day, we weren’t good people,” I told Teague. The words rolled out nice and strong, despite the deep throbbing in my chest. “But we were better than this. Call them off.”

Teague had no interest in dying in a crossfire hurricane, either. Turning in mid-stride, he raised his hands to his people, palms outward. They stopped; a few yelled incoherent threats in my direction. If you closed your eyes, they sounded like dogs. “Tell me something,” he said. “Were you bluffing?”

I stared at the exit ramp at the bottom of the Bridge (Welcome to Brooklyn, proclaimed the rusty sign above the turnoff to Middagh Street. How Sweet It Is!), and what seemed like half of Brooklyn swarming the stopped trucks: boxes torn apart, food and bottles disappearing among a forest of hands and heads.

“You’ll never know.” I smiled with bloody teeth.

I could only hope the medicine really made it to those kids.

 

[NOTE: Missing text]

 

That night, they came for Teague. Say what you will about The Big Guy, he obviously cared about his family. We knew something was wrong when the sentries on the bridge failed to radio their usual check-ins. By that point, of course, it was far too late. The only reason I’m alive to write this stupid letter (which, let’s admit it, you’ll likely never read) is because of Maxine.

If I’d been smart, I would have returned to my flooded abode immediately after saving the convoy. Instead, I stuck around for a drink—or five, if I’m being honest—with Walter and some other folks. I’d decided to give sociability a try. Not my smartest move.

Walter lived in this little hut in the shadow of the marble monstrosity that had once housed the Kings County Supreme Court. It was little more than four walls made of aluminum siding and pink-foam insulation, topped with a solar-panel roof, but it was warm and had electric light. Walter had invited the Stray brothers, a pair of twins you could tell apart only by their fading tattoos. We drained one bottle of only-mildly-awful plonk, and Walter was opening another when a peculiar sound came from outside, in the shanty that filled the higher elevations of downtown Brooklyn.

It sounded like a loud, metallic sneeze.

Walter sobered up. Leaping from the table, he tore away a ratty blanket from a battered steel chest in one corner, which he opened to reveal an old-style assault weapon, bolted together from chipped metal and 3D-printed polymer. “Come on,” he said, snapping a magazine into the weapon, and disappeared through the door.

The Stray brothers nodded and, in perfect sync, drew wicked knives from their jackets. They ducked after Walter, leaving me alone at the table with four empty glasses and an unopened bottle. As the shack seemed to lack any other weaponry, I took the bottle with me. Maybe I could confuse an enemy by offering him a drink.

I stepped outside in time to see the first warning flares rocketing into the sky, from the shanties closest to the bridge. The dead buildings around us flickered white and red. I heard that metallic sneeze again, followed by the harsh chatter of automatic rifles. Our friends from Manhattan weren’t even trying for stealth.

The Stray brothers had disappeared, but Walter had taken a position behind a lamppost that someone had refashioned as an art piece, its steel sprayed in bright whorls of neon, topped with a thicket of colored wires and springs. “Look sharp,” he growled. “The ruffians are upon us.”

Indeed they were. As I crouched, holding the bottle like a club and feeling thoroughly absurd, I saw The Big Guy’s men break through the closest line of shanty. It must have been a special team: They wore bulky armor studded with blunt stumps, built from material designed to thwart all kinds of detection gear down to infrared. It was expensive stuff and made them look like porcupines. Their eyes were glowing red circles, courtesy of their night-vision helmets.

They raised their battle rifles, and I cringed back, ready for oblivion.

Then one of the soldiers dropped his weapon, slapped his hands against the sides of his helmet, and screamed. The others turned to watch as he hopped from foot to foot in a madcap jig. One of them cursed—muffled by layers of armor and electronics—before his own rifle fell from his loose hands, and he launched into the same weird dance. The rest turned to run, only to be seized by the same compulsion: the world’s most heavily armed chorus line, jerking and leaping in front of the shanty.

Walter looked at me and shrugged, as if this sort of thing happened every night.

Before I could say anything, the soldiers joined in a collective shriek that rose higher and higher, like dogs on helium, before they collapsed in a still heap. I could sense people in the shanty around us, watching from their peepholes and cracks, waiting to see what happened next.

A woman stepped from the darkness to our right.

She was old, her face etched with wrinkles and battle scars, her left eye covered with a black patch. As she paused to examine the fallen soldiers, I saw the faint light glint off the plastic and steel encasing her left arm. No, it wasn’t armor: It was a prosthetic, a high-tech one that nobody around here could afford. The glow illuminated a faint pattern of purple lines along the top of her brow, which disappeared beneath her chopped gray hair. A small bud in her right ear blinked blue.

“Denied my chance to die in battle,” Walter said, lowering his weapon.

“Trust us, that’s just stupid,” the old woman called out, turning to us. “Who are you?”

Walter swept into an old buccaneer’s bow. “At your service.”

The woman snorted and turned to me. “And who are you?”

“Someone who wants to get out of here,” I said.

“You know this area?” She strode toward us, and I fell back a few steps. I wondered what she had done to the soldiers. If I gave her the wrong answer, she might afflict me in the same way.

“A bit,” I said. Why lie?

“Good.” She tapped her ear. “We are Maxine. We’re here to help. But in order for us to do that, you’re going to have to tell us the best way to get into Manhattan.”

We? Us? I looked around for some companion, but the only figures emerging from the shanty were the local residents, who began stripping armor and weapons from the soldiers. No, she meant whoever was on the other side of her earbud, no doubt feeding her intel.

 

[NOTE: Missing text]

 

This woman and the Pig are going to liberate us all.

 

[END FILE]

 

Description

The United States has collapsed. Bandits stalk the highways, preying on the weak and unaware.

In order to transport goods between heavily fortified cities, companies hire convoy escorts. Maxine is the best of these new road warriors: tough, smart, and unbelievably fast. But she also has a secret: She’s the niece of New York’s most notorious outlaw, a man hunted by what’s left of the nation’s law enforcement.

Maxine wants to live a normal, upstanding life. But a bad incident on the road leaves her mauled, penniless…and fired. If she wants to survive, she’s going to need to embrace her outlaw roots—and carry off the biggest heist that the post-apocalypse has ever seen. It’s a journey that will take her through obstacle after obstacle to the edge of death itself—and beyond.

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday smashes the gritty frenzy of Mad Max: Fury Road with the top-notch suspense of a crime saga like Heat. It’s a brutal thriller that offers a terrifying glimpse of our future.

Praise for MAXINE UNLEASHES DOOMSDAY:

“Take one of Richard Stark’s Parker novels and throw it in the blender with DVDs of Mad Max and The Warriors. Guess what? You just broke your blender. Find solace in this book, which is what you should have done in the first place.” —Rob Hart, author of The Warehouse and New Yorked

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday rolls in with bang-up premise and keeps on punching. This is a trip into the far future and then the near future, where the oceans have swallowed up the coasts, the United States has fractured, and people like Maxine are left in the dust. But Maxine is tough and she’s got no patience for any crap and she will survive…one way or another. Filled with a terrific carnival cast of characters, cracker-jack scenes, and Kolakowski’s witty prose, Maxine Unleashes Doomsday is a fantastic read and definitely well worth your time.” —Jen Conley, author of Seven Ways to Get Rid of Harry and Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens

“Loaded with savvy world-building, memorable characters and precise, sharp plotting, I devoured Nick Kolakowski’s latest. The post-apocalyptic and wonderfully bonkers Maxine Unleashes Doomsday will keep you turning pages at a breakneck pace.” —Alex Segura, author of Blackout and Dangerous Ends

“I don’t know which is more terrifying: how wildly inventive this book is, or how close this fractured world is to ours. In Maxine Unleashes Doomsday, Kolakowski gives us the hero we need for the apocalypse we deserve.” —Nik Korpon, author of Wear Your Home Like a Scar and Old Ghosts

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