The Last Run: A Novella
Mulligan, and her expression changed. Something roughly akin to hope crossed her features, cutting through her grief like a searchlight illuminated a fog-filled basin on a dark night. She looked at Mulligan, and he knew she wanted him to comfort her. Him, the guy who had always been a friend. Him, the guy who had gently teased her, never going too far because he knew she was at the vulnerable age, when a girl was ramping up to begin the transition to woman, and when she felt her most self-conscious. Him, the guy who had last seen her parents alive.
    Him, the guy who had killed them.
    Mulligan cast around, trying to find his heart.
    Where is it…where is it…
    Only darkness remained. Without saying a word, Mulligan stepped past them, lumbering toward the elevator. The technicians in the area stepped out of his path, suddenly mindful he was among them, as if they were a school of fish and he was a hungry shark. Mulligan ignored them like he had ignored Rachel Lopez. Overhead, a banner was mounted to the bulkhead above the elevator bay. It read:
Quando Mundum Finit, Opus Nos Incipiet.
When the world ends, our mission begins.
    It was Harmony’s mission statement, and it could be found almost everywhere in the base. Mulligan snorted to himself. He’d bought into it when he’d first arrived at Harmony, and had believed in it until just a few hours ago. Now, the motto had no special meaning for him, it was just a string of words designed to elicit a response that was forever beyond him.
    He stalked toward the waiting elevator, and didn’t turn around until after the doors had closed. He didn’t want to see Benchley trying to mend a young girl’s heart, any more than he wanted to confront the fact that he had failed to complete the mission that mattered most to him.
    The United States, and perhaps even the entire world, had come to an end.
    And so had Scott Mulligan.

EARTHFALL
    by Stephen Knight
    © 2013 by Stephen Knight
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BJBI2VS

CHAPTER ONE
    T HE WASTELAND WAS as dry and barren as the surface of the moon. Over the course of decades, the topsoil had been bleached by the sun’s searing rays, the soil converted to chalky dust. No vegetation remained, for no life could exist in a land where the earth and air had been poisoned by nuclear weapons. Sandy ridges and wind-carved rock stood mute sentinel to the passage of time. Despite the fact the land was completely lifeless, the casual observer—had there been one—might still have considered the wasteland austerely beautiful.
    Hidden beneath a pulsating brown-black mass, a vast cloud stalked across the forbidding wasteland like some hungry beast stirring after a long hibernation, the horizon but a memory. Tens of miles across, the ferocious sandstorm grew larger by the second, illuminated by sporadic flashes of lightning. Riding the stiff breeze, the storm’s top rose almost seventy thousand feet into the dry air, which no longer enjoyed the benefit of an ozone layer to strip away harmful radioactive particles emitted by the distant sun. The storm surged forward at more than sixty miles per hour, devouring the land before it, ravaging the wasteland even further with cyclonic winds full of debris that could strip a man’s flesh from his bones in minutes.
    Despite the hostile environment, the powerful storm, and the radiation—both man-made and heaven-sent—there was life.
    A gigantic, eight-wheeled, all-terrain vehicle bolted across the gently rolling landscape, trailing a rooster-tail of dust. While the vehicle raced away from the storm, it became briefly airborne as it crested a small ridge before it slammed back to the parched earth, rocking on its heavy-duty suspension. The rig’s turbine engines roared as they propelled Self-Contained Exploration Vehicle 4 along at almost sixty miles an hour. It wasn’t fast enough. The monstrous storm continued to close, and the gap between its amorphous leading edge and the dirty vehicle slowly

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