All Dave Miller wanted to do was commit suicide in peace. He tried, but the things that happened after he'd pulled the trigger were all wrong. Like everyone standing around like statues. No St. Peter, no pearly gate, no pitchforks or halos. He might just as well have saved the bullet!
Read the sci-fi short story "Sentiment, Inc." by Poul Anderson. A classic science fiction story about psychologists with too much power. With text provided by Project Gutenberg.
Read the sci-fi short story "Omnilingual" by famed sci-fi author H. Beam Piper. A classic science fiction story, with text provided by Project Gutenberg.
This is one of my favorite Christmas stories. "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry. I hope you enjoy.
I’ve got a new story out today! Originally part of a science fiction anthology, Centurion is now available as a standalone ebook (for a mere 99 cents—I’d charge less but they don’t let me.)
Here’s a little bit about the story…
New planet, new problems
Josu and his father trade up for a second chance at life by emigrating from a dead Earth to the Alpha Centauri system.
But their new role as planetary pioneers presents its own challenges.
One of which is that on this wild, waterlogged world, they always have to watch each other’s backs.
How dangerous can a little fishing trip be? Josu is about to find out.
Hope you enjoy it.
This story will also be included as part of an post-apocalyptic short story collection I’m putting together to release in December called Boys and Their Monsters. It will collect all the post-apoc stories I’ve written in the last year and a half into a single volume.
It will also mark my twelfth consecutive publication. My goal this year was to publish a new book or story every month and I’ve nearly done it. The finish line is in sight. Just in time to set bigger, badder, better goals for 2018.
The next short story I’m going to publish as a solo effort is a post-apocalyptic adventure called Centurion, which first appeared in the science fiction anthology At The Helm: Volume 3.
But I like having them available as standalone ebooks, too, and since I’ve now managed to establish a brand for my post-apoc series, it’s really fun to see them all together.
So here’s the new cover for Centurion, which will be published soon. Plus all the other post-apoc stories I’ve put out this year, four of them that have covers.
I almost have enough for a low price collection.
This is a brand new story that fleshes out the post-apocalyptic universe I created in The End of the World Is Better with Friends, and continued with Low Desert, High Mountain, Big Lizard. Like those two stories, this one introduces a new character in a dire situation, is packed with action and sprinkled with a dose of sarcastic wit.
You’ll have to read on to learn what makes this tale unique.
Here’s the cover and a blurb.
Make Like The Roaches And Survive
People used to say that after the apocalypse, only the roaches would survive.
Well, there were roaches all right. But that was just the beginning of my problems.
While the world was ending, I was trapped in a basement with only a feral cat to keep me company.
It took me weeks to dig my way out. And THEN it got strange…
I guess that’s what happens when you get buried alive during an alien invasion.
Make Like The Roaches And Survive is a story of scrappy survival in a post-apocalyptic Earth ravaged by mysterious alien invaders. A first contact story of a young man armed only with his wit—and the loyalty of one very fierce feline—in the face of mortal danger.
My post-apocalyptic novelette Low Desert, High Mountain, Big Lizard is now available as an ebook!
Originally published in a monster anthology back in the Spring, this is the first time the story is available by itself—and it’s only $0.99. Here’s the blurb:
Low Desert, High Mountain, Big Lizard
Has the thing lost its blinking mind?
As a scavenger, Das is no stranger to the beautiful and deadly alien creatures the invaders left behind. He’s always careful, like his father taught him, when he’s exploring the ruins. But this is unlike anything he’s ever seen.
Putting himself at risk is one thing…but imperil the lives of the people he loves? Unthinkable. When the mad basilisk goes on a rampage, it’s up to Das to prove himself worthy of his father’s memory, and find a way to put the brute out of its misery before it hurts anyone else.
Earth changed the day the invaders attacked, and even though they’re gone now, departed for reasons unknown, our world will never be the same.
All I want for my son, David, is a chance at a normal life. We survive by scraping together a meagre existence in the Rocky Mountains, but we’re isolated. No friends or family to speak of. That might be living, but it’s a great distance from normal.
So when a woman contacts me on the shortwave radio and tells me there’s a place where David might have a chance to live a normal life, how can I resist?
The Road Is Three is a new story in M.G. Herron’s After The Invasion universe, which chronicles an apocalyptic world through the eyes of the survivors as they adjust to new realities and outsmart the dangers Earth’s mysterious invaders left behind.
Note: This story will only be available here for a limited time! This is a rough draft. I apologize in advance if you find typos or other small errors. This story is for a collection I intend to publish soon, and will be professionally edited at that point.
The Road Is Three
“Dad,” David said, “Why is the road divided into three parts?”
I glanced down at my son, then up at the four-lane highway along which we had been walking for the last several days. David had never seen a highway before, and he gasped when we first came in sight of it.
He had barely been old enough to talk when the invaders came. David had spent the majority of his ten short years and most of his accessible memory in my grandfather’s cabin, where we eked out a living, foraging and hunting for food, surviving on the land, living day to day, season to season. The cabin was several days’ hike into the rockies and far removes from any paved roads.
“Three parts? What do you mean?”
His eyebrows knitted in confusion, like they always did when he was puzzling through something in his head. David was an introspective, quiet kid, with mousy brown hair and sharp green eyes that looked exactly like his mother’s.
If this were the world before, I think he would have loved video games, been a bookworm, gotten good grades in school…but it wasn’t. The hard life we’d been living in the mountains had forced him to grow up faster than I’d ever imagined, faster than I’d ever wanted him to. But what choice did we have? Whereas I was boisterous and selfish at his age, concerned only with taunting my sister, playing with my friends, and concerned only with things that led to my own pleasure, David thought long and hard before he spoke, had no friends except me, and never wasted food or water or anything that we might be able to use later. I was proud of how he’d turned out, but I don’t know that I can take full credit for his thoughtfulness. His was a thoughtfulness born out of necessity. This was a different kind of world, and a different world produced different kinds of people. His generation, the ones who survived the collapse of a global society and the return to a primitive existence, would know a much different life than the generations that came before.
I knew well enough not to interrupt him. We walked for another few seconds while David gathered his thoughts, gazing at the rusted-out corpses of vehicles scattered along the side of the road as he did so. Only a few of the cars, trucks, vans, and semi-trailers been pushed to the shoulder. Most had simply been abandoned in traffic, left where they were as people ran for their lives. The road was like a graveyard of vehicles, and apparently to David the road was three.
“Well, there’s this part,” he said, pointing to the cracked grey pavement along which we walked. A faded dotted line of white paint ran between us. “There’s that part,” he said, pointing to the eastbound lane on the opposite side. “And then there’s the grassy part in the middle.” He pointed to the depressed median between the lanes. “Three parts, right?”
I smiled. “I guess you’re right. Two lanes on either side and a median between them.”
“Median means middle.”
He nodded. “Okayyyy,” he said, drawing out the word as if he was talking to a simpleton. Me. The old man who knew how to navigate the strange ways of the world before. “That kind of makes sense. So what’s the median for? And why is it slanted down like that?”
I was used to him asking a lot of questions. In fact, I encouraged it from the time he could talk. I figured an inquisitive child who questioned everything he saw around him was more likely to survive this hard-scrabble new world. I’d taught him everything I knew about foraging, about hunting, about survival. Keeping your eyes peeled could go a long way. And I had not been wrong. David was as much responsible for our day to day life at the cabin as I was. He knew to boil water before you drank it, how to collect dry wood for the stove, how to build a game trap, how to clean and cook the rabbits we caught. But he didn’t know anything about the world before. I hoped he would fit in where we were going. He’d never met another child his age. I so wanted him to have a normal life. But nothing was normal now.
“It’s hard to imagine, but thousands of cars used to drive this road every day.”
“Thousands?” he said, his voice sharp and disbelieving.
“That’s right. Thousands. So the median is there to keep them from crossing between the east and westbound sides and causing traffic problems—cars are only allowed to change directions at an exit, like the one up there that the green sign is pointing to.”
“Couldn’t they just drive across it?”
“They could. And sometimes people did. But they weren’t supposed to. You could get in trouble for it.”
“Also, the median helps drain water away from the road. So the roads are safer to drive when it’s raining.”
He nodded slowly. Keeping things dry and directing the rain were things we had talked long about. We had barrels that caught water off the roof of the cabin, and I had spent many days showing him how it all worked, and how to maintain it.
“What keeps the roads safe in the rain if the roads are only one or two parts? Like the road we were walking on before we came to this road.”
“This one’s called a highway. The rural roads are usually only two lanes and a ditch on either side. So the ditches drain the water the same way the median does.”
“I see. What does rural mean?”
“Out in the country.”
“Rural.” He twisted his lips as he repeated it. “Rural is a funny word.”
I laughed. “It is.”
“So the ditch on either side drains the water on the two-lane, rural roads.”
He looked very serious as he contemplated these variegations in road and highway design and terminology. It must all seem very alien to him.
“The road is three,” he said. “But it is also one. The world before must have been a strange place, huh, Dad.”
“Did people walk on these roads before, like we’re doing?”
“No. Just the cars.”
“So where did people walk if they had to take a road trip?”
“They didn’t. They drove.”
“All the time?”
“Most of the time.”
He shook his head. “Do the cars work anymore?”
“Most of them don’t, no. No gas left to run them. No electricity to charge them up.”
We passed the green sign. David read it out loud. “Air Force Academy.”
“That’s where the lady told us to go, right?”
We took the exit. It circled around and dumped us out on a long road that led up to the academy grounds—another two lane road.
“I’m scared, Dad,” David said, taking two steps closer so he was right by my side. His head came up to my waist.
I put an arm around his shoulder. “It’s okay,” I said, though I felt far from certain that everything would be okay. I hoped none of the nervous fear that had bubbled up in my gut as we approached the end of this trip had bled through into my voice. I didn’t want David to think I was afraid.
But the fear was there all the same. What if the woman we spoke to on the shortwave radio, the so-called President of New Colorado, had been lying about how they had established a city here? What if it was a trap meant to lure us in and steal what supplies we had? These were desperate times, and despite contacting people on the radio before, we’d never given out our location or gone out of our way to find anyone. Sometimes, the guilt of my selfishness overwhelmed me. But then I’d look at David and be reminded about how he relied on me to be strong. We couldn’t afford the risk that other people brought…until I learned about New Colorado.
We’d hiked for days to get here. The dried meat and water we carried on our backs were enough to take us home if we were careful. If we were careful. If no one tricked us. I tightened the pack on my back.
A tree trunk several feet thick had been lain across the road like a kind of drop bar, presumably to keep unwanted vehicles from passing. Buildings loomed in the distance beyond—buildings that had withstood the invasion were an incredible sight, but I wasn’t about to let my guard down yet. We climbed over the logs and approached a closed and padlocked chainlink fence built across the road ahead of us.
There were people here all right. People who didn’t want other people to get in unless they were invited.
We had been invited. I stopped in front of the gate, and waited. Once we’d made contact, her instructions were simple. We waited here, just like the lady on the radio told us to.
As the minutes passed, my mind raced. I had no backup plan. If things went bad, I needed to make sure that David could get home. That he remembered what he was supposed to do to survive in a worst case scenario. I’d trained him for it. He was young, but he was thoughtful and strong and smart—nothing I could take credit for, but the inevitable result of fighting for your survival every day for your whole life.
We came here because I didn’t want that to be his whole existence. I wanted nothing more than a normal life for him. I wanted him to have friends his age. I wanted him to have an education. I wanted him to have opportunity. But coming here was a risk all the same. I scrambled to come up with something he’d remember—something that would help keep him safe if the worst happened.
“The road is three,” I said. “Remember that David, the road is three.”
“Isn’t that what I said?” His brow furrowed over his green eyes.
“The road is three. It’s where you were, where you are, and where you want to be. If anything happens to me, this road can take you home. Do you think you can get home on your own?” I turned and looked behind us, in the direction we had come.
He looked up at me with those beautiful green eyes that reminded me with a sudden, sharp pang in my gut of his mother. Clearly, I hadn’t managed to keep the fear out of my voice. But David he was a strong kid. I knew he could do this.
“I—I think so,” he said. He turned and looked long and hard down the road, then pointed—correctly—in the direction of our cabin in the mountains, several days’ hike and maybe forty miles distant. He met my gaze. I nodded. His hand dropped.
“The road is three,” he said. “It’s where you were, where you are, and where you want to be. But we want to be here, don’t we Dad?”
I turned back to the fence. Several people could be seen through the fence now, walking toward us. In the distance, I thought I heard the low sound of an engine rumble to life. Hope flared in my chest, impossible hope.
“I hope so,” I said. “But that could change, and I need to make sure you’re ready.”
David took a deep breath and let it out with a heavy sigh. “I’m ready.”
Together we waited to be welcomed—or turned away—from New Colorado.
Copyright © 2017 by M.G. Herron. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
If you liked this story, you might also enjoy The End of the World Is Better with Friends or Low Desert, High Mountain, Big Lizard. Both are in the same universe, and follow different young men as they face down deadly monsters the invaders left behind. Click the covers to buy the books on Amazon!
Ahoy, stargazers! I’ve returned to Austin from a week-long vacation at the land of 10,000 lakes. Just in time to deliver you a new sci-fi short story.
Not Alone is about a freighter pilot who’s down on his luck but won’t give up his dream.
Here’s the blurb:
Astrobiologist Ackley Griven once set out to answer that question…and came up with squat.
The mining companies, though? They struck gold on the red planet. Gold and oil.
When accidents in the low mines bring Griv back to Mars with a delivery of mining bots to replace the ones that were inexplicably destroyed in electrical fires, his stale search for Martian life is thrust onto a surprising new trail.
Not Alone is a science fiction short story about space ships, superstition, and one man’s lifelong obsession.
A sample from the beginning of Not Alone…
After paying for the station mechanics to repair a small breach he discovered in the hull of his ship during the journey back from Mars, Griv bounced off his freighter like a man half his age and fifty pounds lighter. A message from Deirdre had synced to his personal inbox when he docked, and though they had bickered bitterly last time they spoke, the prospect of seeing his daughter elated him. Not even the cost of the repairs could get him down just now. It felt like someone in the control room had cranked back the artificial gravity on the space station.
He relished the floating sensation as he strode in worn leather boots through the familiar bustling traffic of pilots, passengers, and supplies on the hangar floor. His equally battered duster—not leather or canvas, but a heavy, breathable synthetic the color of which matched his brown boots—billowed appreciatively behind him.
Near the far end of the hangar, Griv stopped and waited while a young mechanic with a scraggly goatee guided a replacement spacecraft wing through a thick crowd. The wing was supported on a maglev cart. Griv knew the metal floor was lined with magnets so that a single person could move heavy equipment—like that wing— across the hangar. But most civilians had never seen such a thing. A knot of Asian businessmen and their wives—space tourists—whispered and pointed excitedly, and waved the mechanic to a halt.
A geriatric gentleman wearing a green casino visor and fine polished shoes of expensive leather separated himself from the others. With a wide grin plastered on his face, he approached the mechanic. The young man’s expression went blank and he nodded, but Griv noticed his posture stiffen as the tourist ran his hands along the sleek metal surface of the spare wing. A woman handed a small camera to a third man, and sidled up next to old gent. The third man took photos of the couple in two poses, and another when the woman pulled the mechanic into a third shot. The young mechanic’s face softened into a hesitant smile. The old man laughed aloud, then lounged back onto the edge of the maglev cart and jostled the heavy metal wing.
The mechanic’s face went pale. He tore himself away and fumbled with a controller in his hands. The top-heavy wing began to tilt and the mechanic desperately threw his own shoulder under the wing. Griv brushed through the crowd, elbowing the frightened tourists out of the way, and added his own hands to the other end of the wing. The mechanic finally managed to stabilize the maglev cart with one hand on the remote control.
“Thank you,” the mechanic whispered to Griv.
“Damn tourists,” Griv muttered under his breath, winking at the younger man.
The mechanic blanched, then rapidly hurried off in the opposite direction, using the remote to speed the wing to safety, away from the tourists. They hollered apologies as he retreated.
Griv chuckled and shook his head as he walked onward. It was no surprise that the mechanic kept his mouth shut at Griv’s comments, but it rankled him at the same time. The lucrative space tourism trade greased the metaphorical wheels of every space station now, he knew. Near-Earth orbit was the new exotic getaway.
Ridiculous, he thought.
Silence finally came like a thunderclap as he passed from the orderly chaos of the hangar into the narrow corridors of the space station proper. On the High Road—a long, slightly curved foot path that encircled the rotating core of the station—where he had time to think, Griv began to worry what his daughter might say. Could they just have a nice lunch together, or would she bring it up again, all that stuff about his health and how he needed to settle down? She was just like her mother that way. Griv lengthened his stride, knee joints popping from lack of use. He used to be able to do a dozen round trips to Mars with barely a dock-day between them, but the same pace was much harder on his body these days.
He finally stepped off the High Road and turned into the newly constructed greenhouse extension, where Deirdre said she would be. The round entryway door spiraled open with a soft sigh of air, and Griv waded into the thick smell of rich earth, thyme and rosemary and—he wrinkled his nose—cabbage. Vines hanging from a lattice overhead brushed his shoulders as he wandered deeper into the place.
Incredible that they’d set all this up here. The scientist in him, long dormant from lack of use, began to wonder how they’d transported the soil, and what percentage of the water used to grow this lush opulence was recyclable. Was it a drain on the station’s ecosystem? Was growing thyme extravagant, and should they focus more on the staples of the human diet—potatoes and cabbage for instance?
Deirdre would know. The company she worked for, Sustainable Rotation, had been crowing about a sustainable future for humanity in near-Earth orbit for over two decades. They ran nearly a dozen of the so-called Habitation Stations, space stations meant only for civilian use, and reserved for the ultra-rich.
But this was something else entirely.
Griv rarely made it out of his ship, let alone wandered to the experimental side of this station. Remarkable what they’d managed to achieve. Would it reach their goal of full sustainability? And if so, how long would it last? He absent-mindedly cycled through water-use calculations in his head, but was quickly overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of it, and was that much more impressed with his daughter’s abilities. She was light-years ahead of him as a scientist. Good for her.
“Ackley Griven!” A man’s surprised voice cut through the thick air. “Is that you?”
The prideful glow dampened, and Griv turned to see a group of lab-coated scientists surrounding a man wearing designer jeans with more holes than fabric. The difference in the man’s appearance drew his eyes—he was a full foot shorter than Griv and wore a Henley t-shirt with all three buttons opened at the top to reveal an annoyingly well-muscled chest. His head was as hairless as his chest, and he was missing both eyebrows. Once a genetic disorder called alopecia, full hairlessness was now an affectation of the ultra wealthy.
“Well, I’ll be,” Griv said, extending his hand. “The man himself. I wasn’t sure you’d be here, Sinclair.” He owned this station—he owned nearly a dozen of them. Of course Griv knew Sinclair Axelrod would be here. He was just hoping he wouldn’t be.
“Deirdre,” Sinclair said, mock disapproval in his tone. “You didn’t tell me you were expecting a visitor.”
Griv’s daughter stepped out of the pack of scientists that surrounded Axelrod. Auburn curls framed her lightly freckled face. Soft cheeks cut down to a pointed chin the exact opposite of Griv’s own chin, which in recent years had seemed to merge into his neck. Her face was hard, her green eyes flat and angry. But a big, loving smile spread helplessly over Griv’s face at the sight of her, and his daughter’s face softened as well.
“I didn’t know if he would come,” Deirdre admitted.
“Here I am,” Griv said, spreading his arm magnanimously. “Sinclair, the space tourism industry has been good to you. This garden is like a slice of Eden. Incredible, truly…but we all know who really deserves the credit.”
Deirdre blushed. “Dad, stop.”
“He’s right, of course,” Sinclair said. “You have a naturally green thumb, and a brilliant rational mind.”
“She inherited that one from her old man,” Griv said, tapping his temple with one finger. Deirdre gave him a wry look. “Do you mind if I borrow your head botanist for a little while?”
“By all means. We were just wrapping up.” Sinclair made a motion, and the cluster of lab-coated cretins followed the little bald man away.
Griv held out his elbow. Deirdre took his arm, looking askance as she pressed her tongue against the inside of her cheek
“You’re not mad?” she asked when the others were out of earshot.
“I can’t stay mad at you.”
“You have to admit, you do spend a lot of time on that ship.”
“That’s how I make my living, sweetheart.”
She looked at the floor. “It’s also become your home, which is not healthy. You can’t live on your ship, Dad. Fill out an application and I’ll fast track you into the Habitat program. You’ll get a place to live, a guaranteed basic income…a cabin all to yourself!”
“I’m not taking charity, Dee. Especially not from goddamn Sinclair.”
“It’s not charity. You’d have to work your hours on the farms or in the water sanitation facility, the same as everyone else. And Sinclair has nothing to do with it.”
“You work for him.”
She frowned at her father. “I work for his company. I live for myself. And I care about you.”
Griv sighed heavily. “What’s the difference if I live in a metal box on my ship or a metal box on a station?”
“Other people live on the station, Dad. I worry about you, spending so much time alone.”
“Pfah!” he said. “I see plenty of people, here and on Mars.”
She gave him a dark look. They didn’t talk about his work much. Griv had been a government researcher once, the head of the first team to conduct scientific research on a foreign planet. No research teams worked on Mars these days. All the money for industry on Mars went toward the hunt for new petroleum deposits, and the lucrative gold and platinum mines. Griv used to be get angry when he thought about the potential signs of ancient life those idiots were probably destroying every single day as they greedily sucked the marrow from the bones of their sister planet.
Deirdre put her hands on her father’s arms and looked straight into his face. His heart broke when saw the tears forming in those big glistening greens.
“Dad, I know why you keep going back. You’re hoping something will change. But there’s no life on Mars. We’ve known that for decades now. I can’t deny that there’s got to be sentient life out there somewhere. You taught me to believe what I can see with my own eyes, and I look out at the stars and think that in all that vastness, there have to be others like us somewhere in the universe. But can’t you look elsewhere?”
Griv said nothing, but his heart ached.
“I love you, Dad, but you can’t go on like this. It’s not good for you. I miss you. Even mom misses you, though she’ll never admit it. Stop searching for something where there’s nothing to be found.”